A Recap of New Directions

January 24, 2009 at 2:53 am Leave a comment

Between last night’s plenary and today’s conference, a lot was presented in the New Directions for New York conference. The talks centered around the Four Pillars method currently used in Vancouver. The four pillars (and there was one talk about each pillar) are:

  • Prevention
  • Treatment
  • Harm Reduction
  • Enforcement

There were, of course, disagreements on how each pillar should be addressed, but most at the conference agree with the approach – or at least agree that the approach is better than the Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.

The speakers included a range of people with various backgrounds, from Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann to Russell Simmons, and two officials from Vancouver attended the event to discuss the success of the Four Pillars – and how the work is still not yet done.

The conference focused mostly on hard drugs, with very little discussion of marijuana, but many of the arguments presented (eg, arguments dealing with the inefficacy of and problems with encarceration) could be extended to cannabis with little or no adjustment.

Donald MacPherson, the Drug Policy Coordinator for Vancouver, made an excellent point: ‘We are all drug users, for God’s sake – I saw you all in [the breakfast hall drinking coffee’. To talk about ‘drug users’ as a separate class of people – especially cannabis users – is entirely innaccurate, as many recreational drug users are hardly different from their teetotaling counterparts. And, as Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University pointed out, the vast majority who use hard drugs do not even fit the scientific criteria for addiction. It is time to face the fact that drugs – especially cannabis – have proliferated to the extent where there is no longer the typical ‘user’; there is no such thing as an ‘average’ cannabis smoker, any more than there is an ‘average’ person.
According to Dr. Todd Clear of the John Jay College of Criminology, the number of incarcerations in the US has grown continuously since 1972, and this 37-year growth is the longest in the world throughout history. The next closest time would be in the South, when freed slaves were being locked up after the Civil War. Though the incarceration rates have increased, the crime rate has fluctuated and is now about what it was during 1972. In short, (and the rest of Dr. Clear’s research shows this as well), there is no correlation between incarcerations and lower crime rate, and incarcerations may even increase crime rates. When you consider the staggering proportion of arrests that are for nonviolent possession of marijuana, and that these arrests (and the illegality of cannabis) promote gateway crime, that is not surprising in the least.

My favorite line of the evening came from none other than Ethan Nadelmann:

Nobody but nobody deserves to be punished for what they
put in their body, absent harm to others.

Though he was speaking of drug use in general, nowhere else do I see a clearer application of this philosophy than in cannabis. Cannabis use is no more inherently harmful to another person than any other recreational activity, and the notion that people can be punished for it in ways that may affect them for the rest of their lives is nothing short of ridiculous.

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New Directions for New York – Tonight! Are You Cheating Yourself of 280 Joints?

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