Whether it's music, activism or daily life, the one ideal to which I have always aspired is constant challenge -- taking risks, stepping out of my comfort zone, exploring new ideas.
I am writing because I believe the United States must do precisely that -- and so, therefore, must all of us -- in the case of what has been the most unsuccessful, unjust yet untouchable issue in politics: the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs has failed -- but it's worse than that. It is actively harming our society. Violent crime is thriving in the shadows to which the drug trade has been consigned. People who genuinely need help can't get it. Neither can people who need medical marijuana to treat terrible diseases. We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties.
For too long, the War on Drugs has been a sacrosanct undertaking that was virtually immune from criticism in the public realm. Politicians dared not disagree for fear of being stigmatized as "soft on crime." Any activist who spoke up was dismissed as a fringe element.
But recently, I discovered just how much that's changing--and that's how I came to speak out on behalf of an extraordinary organization called the Drug Policy Alliance.
I learned of DPA, as they're known, while reading what once might have been the unlikeliest of places for a thoughtful discussion of the Drug War -- the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal.
It featured an op-ed that dared to say in print -- in a thoughtful, meticulous argument -- what everyone who has seriously looked at the issue has known for years: the War on Drugs is an absolute failure whose cost to society is increasingly unbearable and absolutely unjustifiable.
The author of that piece is a former Princeton professor turned activist named Ethan Nadelmann, who runs DPA. I was so impressed by his argument that I began reading up on the group.
Their work spoke directly to my heart as an activist for social justice -- because ending the War on Drugs is about exactly that.
For years, the Drug War has been used as a pretext to lock people in prison for exorbitant lengths of time -- people whose "crimes" never hurt another human being, people who already lived at the margins of society, whose voices were the faintest and whose power was the least.
Civil liberties have been trampled. Law enforcement has been militarized. Literally hundreds of billions of dollars -- dollars denied to urgent problems ranging from poverty to pollution -- have been spent. People who do need help with drugs have been treated as criminals instead. Meanwhile, resources to fight genuine crime -- violent crime -- have been significantly diminished.
And in exchange for all this, the War on Drugs has not stopped people from using drugs or kept drugs from crossing the borders or being sold on the streets.
To me, it all adds up to a clear message of exactly the sort I've always tried to heed in my life: It's time to step out of our comfort zone and try something new.
That's where DPA comes in. Their focus is on reducing the harm drugs cause rather than obsessively and pointlessly attempting to ban them.
I'm partnering with DPA because they champion treatment, advocate effective curricula for educating young people about drugs -- and from local courtrooms to the Supreme Court, they are utterly relentless defenders of the liberties that have been sacrificed to the Drug War.
Now, political conditions in Washington seem finally to be aligning in favor of profound change in drug policy. President Obama has openly said the Drug War is a failure. Legislation to decriminalize marijuana is pending on Capitol Hill.
But success is far from guaranteed. Indeed, the echoes of the old politics of intimidation and demagoguery that have long surrounded the War on Drugs can still be heard. We must all work to ensure this issue becomes a priority and is acted upon in a meaningful and sensible way.
That's why I hope you'll join me in becoming a member of the Drug Policy Alliance today. We need a movement that will put the team at DPA in a position to take maximum advantage of the political changes in Washington while continuing to fight for sanity in drug policy across the nation.
Everyone knows the War on Drugs has failed. It's time to step out of our comfort zones, acknowledge the truth -- and challenge our leaders ... and ourselves ... to change.
The Huffington Post
March 31 2010