NEW BRITAIN - The war on drugs is misguided and needs to change, said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a rousingly applauded keynote address Wednesday at Central Connecticut State University's one-day forum on "Drug Policy for the 21st Century."
The conference was open to university students and faculty, criminal justice and law enforcement personnel, legislators and the public.
Nadelmann, with a Harvard doctorate and eight years of teaching at Princeton University under his belt, has written on drug policy for the journals Science, Foreign Affairs, American Heritage and the National Review. He is also the author of "Cops Across Borders," a study of the internationalization of U.S. criminal law enforcement.
Nadelmann believes support for legalization of marijuana will increase so the government can tax its use. He urged his audience to get behind local activists who want to legalize the use of marijuana.
The public's view is shifting away from drugs and crime being considered a major problem, Nadelmann said, and toward overincarceration resulting from harsh drug laws.
Nobody deserves to be punished or discriminated against for what he puts into his body, provided it doesn't hurt other people," Nadelmann said. "Am I as bad as a drunken driver or a thief simply because I put a substance in my body? That's thinking that can't be accepted. Some people may need help, but they don't need to be criminalized."
The United States is first in the world in the number of people incarcerated - a half-million - and most of those are people of color, he said. Many of the imprisoned are there for violating drug laws.
There, too, things are turning around, he said.
One difference between President Obama and President Clinton is that Clinton in 1993 called for more treatment and incarceration centers. Charlie Rangel and Jesse Jackson were cheerleading for the war on drugs and opposed to reform. People now have woken up. They're beginning to understand there's no way law enforcement can save communities from drugs," Nadelmann said.
He ran down a list of politicians who have weighed in on the war on drugs, saying U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, recently told him he didn't "want to be considered for vice president or anything 'until I understand why so many Americans are behind bars.' He's willing to step out on this issue."
On the other hand, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Chuck Schumer of New York are "two of the worst Democrats in the U.S. Senate when it comes to criminal justice. They're a nightmare. They haven't woken up. But Nancy Pelosi - she gets it, and Henry Waxman and Barney Frank get it."
Pelosi is speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Waxman and Frank are members from California and Massachusetts, respectively.
He also had praise for U.S. Reps. Bobby Scott of Virginia and John Conyers of Michigan.
It's a different world right now," Nadelmann said.
His speech, "Drugs: Think Again," was greeted enthusiastically by the audience. Nadelmann was given a standing ovation.
Central Connecticut residents are already sympathetic to his message. Last month an online poll found favor for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, as Massachusetts has done, at 72 percent in the New Britain area; 74 percent in the Bristol area; and 78 percent in the Middletown area.
We've got to challenge the cliches we've heard again and again in the media," Nadelmann said.
The conference was sponsored by the university's Center for Public Policy & Social Research, the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy, the Institute for the Study of Crime & Justice, The Gov. William A. O'Neill Endowed Chair in Public Policy & Practical Politics, and others.
University of Hartford Center for Social Research.
By SCOTT WHIPPLE
Wednesday, February 4, 2009 10:16 PM
New Britain Herald