Monday, December 10, 2007

Drug policy reform seems closer

I just returned from one of the more exhilarating weekends in my life. The Drug Policy Alliance held its semiannual international conference in New Orleans and on Saturday night, at the awards banquet, I received the Edward M. Brecher Award for Distinguished Achievement in Journalism (ahem!), as did AlterNet, the progressive Web site, represented by Don Hazen. Since previous recipients have included Hugh Downs, the Economist magazine, Catherine Crier and Jacob Sullum, I felt quite honored. Ethan Nadelman, DPA's executive director, whom I have known for years, made the presentation and was very generous.

Ed Brecher was a science and medicine writer who in the 1970s did a pioneering book, "Licit and Illicit Drugs," for Consumers Union. It was a systematic listing of the benefits and drawbacks of hundreds of over-the-counter, prescription and illicit drugs. Brecher couldn't help but notice that many licit drugs were more dangerous than many of the illicit drugs, and that most of the harm from some drugs came from the fact of their being illegal rather than their pharmacological properties. He became an eloquent advocate for reform.

More exciting than receiving an award and being treated like royalty, however, was the spirit and enthusiasm at the conference. There were about 1,200 attendees, about 50 percent more than had attended any previous DPA conference, and from those I had a chance to talk with, most are intelligent, high-quality, committed advocates for drug law reform. I feel more enthused about the real possibility of changes coming than I have in some time. Especially gratifying to me were the number of students and young people, most members of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which held its convention concurrently, who attended. These are smart and articulate kids. The future of the drug policy reform movement -- which I hope will be a short one because we get sensible reform soon -- is in good hands.

I also made my occasional pilgrimage to Bourbon Street and Preservation Hall, and got a chance to tour the Ninth Ward and other areas devastated by Katrina and the flooding that followed, about which I'll write in separate posts.

No comments: