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A Guide to the Drug Legalization Movement





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When Reading Criticism of John Walters' Qualifications, Consider the Source

By Sue Rusche
Executive Director, National Families in Action, Atlanta, Georgia

Shortly before the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for John Walters as director of the Office for National Drug Control Policy (subsequently postponed by the terrorist attacks), a new group, the Coalition for Compassionate Leadership on Drug Policy, issued a report highly critical of the candidate. The report received widespread coverage in the press, typified by USA Today (September 7, 2001), which identified the group as "a coalition of civil liberties and public health groups. . .which says it does not endorse or oppose nominees."

Of the 24 organizations that compose the coalition, some two-thirds are organizations working to overturn the nation's drug laws and legalize drugs. Most post action alerts on their websites asking browsers to write Congress to oppose John Walters' nomination. Many are funded by George Soros's foundation, the Open Society Institute (OSI). According to data from the grants index of the New York City-based Foundation Center, eight of these groups (American Civil Liberties Union, Common Sense for Drug Policy, Harm Reduction Coalition, Justice Policy Institute/Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation, Marijuana Policy Project, NORML, and the Sentencing Project) have received some $7.67 million from OSI. Add the $5 million gift specifically earmarked for challenging drug laws that Peter Lewis recently gave to the American Civil Liberties Union and the total comes to $12.67 million. (Mr. Lewis, CEO of Progressive in Ohio is a second major funder of drug-legalization organizations and ballot initiatives. The third is John Sperling, owner of the University of Phoenix.) Below is a list of those organizations that are members of the coalition that advocate legalization in one form or another and a brief description of each, taken from their websites and publications.

Coalition for Compassionate Leadership on Drug Policy: Member Organizations

1. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) 末 Ira Glasser, former ACLU president, held several offices on the Drug Policy Foundation board and advisory board throughout most of the 1990s. (1) The Drug Policy Foundation was founded in 1986 to legalize drugs. (2) Mr. Glasser's successor at ACLU, Nadine Strossen, advocates drug legalization also. (3) The three major funders of the Drug Policy Foundation (and most other legalization groups) are New York financier George Soros, University of Phoenix owner John Sperling, and Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Lewis of Ohio. These men also financed ballot initiatives in several western states that have legalized marijuana as medicine, decriminalized all drugs, and/or greatly weakened the significant role drug courts play in mandating drug addicts into treatment and shepherding their progress into recovery. (4) Mr. Lewis, according to press reports arrested last year in New Zealand for possession of marijuana and hashish, (5) recently gave the ACLU $7 million, earmarking $5 million "to be used to finance litigation challenging drug laws." (6)

2. Alliance for Progressive Drug Policy 末 An Internet Google search found this organization no longer maintains a website. A pop-up window claims the URL is for sale, signifying the organization may no longer exist. In a Google cache file, the Alliance described itself: "A foundation of our approach is that. . .we must challenge many of the traditional methods of drug control developed by politicians, government bureaucrats, and those intent on fighting a war on drugs as well as drug users." (7)

3. Center for the Study of Social Structures 末 Located in Santa Barbara, California, the Center describes its drug policy, in full, on its website: "What if we treat drug addictions (sic) as an illness rather than as a crime? How old should you be to write your own prescriptions? Drug laws make criminals." (8)

4. Common Sense for Drug Policy 末 Founded by Kevin Zeese, this organization is "dedicated to expanding discussion on drug policy by resonating the voices of those raising questions about existing law and educating the public about alternatives to current policies." Mr. Zeese co-founded the Drug Policy Foundation, serving as vice president and counsel. He is also a former executive director and chief counsel of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). He advised former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan on drug"reform." He received the Richard J. Dennis DrugPeace Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform from the Drug Policy Foundation. (9)

5. Council on Illicit Drugs 末 This is one of several councils that make up the National Association of Public Health Policy. The Council on Illicit Drugs lists the following officers: David F. Duncan, DrPH, Chair; Thomas Nicholson, DrPH, Vice Chair; and John B. White, PhD, Secretary. At the association's website, (10) a click on "Council on Illicit Drugs" brings forth a "Survey of Recreational Drug Use by Successful Adults." Authors listed at the end of the survey are "John White, Thomas Nicholson, and David Duncan."

6. Criminal Justice Policy Foundation 末 President Eric E. Sterling states his organization's viewpoint in a letter to the Washington Post: "The real lesson is to abandon the approach of zero tolerance advanced by Mr. [William] Bennett [first director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy] and adopt a reality-based drug strategy. A conservative strategy of regulation of drug use, production, and distribution offers the only opportunity to achieve controls over the market and the users and bring down the social costs." (11)

7. Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) 末 The purpose of the Drug Reform Coordination Network is "to stop the chaos and violence of the illegal drug trade, end the bondage of mass incarceration suffered by hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders, stem the spread of deadly epidemic disease, secure the right of patients to appropriate medical treatment, restore Constitutional protections and ensure just treatment under the law for all. Current policies of punitive prohibition place illegal drugs and drug markets outside of the law, therefore beyond society's control and ability to mitigate harm. We at DRCNet are dedicated to working together and with our allies for the reform of our nation's drug laws and to bring the currently uncontrolled markets in illegal drugs within the law. . ." (12)

8. DrugSense 末 The mission of DrugSense is to "heighten awareness of the extreme damage being caused to our nation and the world by our current flawed and failed 糎ar on Drugs.' We aim to inform the public of the existence of rational alternatives to the drug war, and to help organize citizens to bring about needed reforms. . . .We believe that a public well informed about the death, disease and social blight produced by current U.S. drug policy must inevitably seek to reform it." (13) (Author's note: according to a new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report, tobacco and alcohol 末 our two legal drugs 末 kill 530,700 million Americans each year; all illegal drugs combined kill 16,000 Americans a year.) (14) DrugSense also operates an online clipping service and encourages browsers to write letters to the editor to protest articles that support the nation's drug laws and praise articles that condemn them.

9. Family Council on Drug Awareness 末 The URL for the Family Council's website is It presents this quote from an unnamed study whose authors are not identified: "These data . . . provide preliminary evidence that self-described nondeviant, physically and psychologically healthy adults can use alcohol and illicit psychoactive drugs in a safe and controlled manner. . . Policies, laws, education and treatment approaches that treat all drug consumption as unhealthy, and thus drug abuse, appear to be inherently flawed in their conceptual design." At the bottom of the site's homepage, filled with statistics compiled by Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy, is a logo picturing an abundant marijuana plant with this URL overlaid:

A click opens Mr. Conrad's homepage. The site notes that he has been qualified as an expert witness in courts involving drug cases, and describes him as follows: "A quick-witted, internationally known expert on the history, medical, social, economic and ecological aspects of Cannabis hemp, Chris Conrad is author of four groundbreaking books. He advocates full restoration of industrial hemp, medical marijuana with a doctor's supervision, and setting a legal age of consent for marijuana use by responsible adults in a regulated market.

"'Hemp, Lifeline to the Future,' his first book, helped launch the modern hemp industry and cannabis reform movement. It reintroduces hemp as a sustainable natural resource. 'Hemp for Health' discusses medical marijuana and the nutritional and environmental uses of the cannabis plant. 'Shattered Lives, Portraits From America's Drug War,' co-authored with his wife, Mikki Norris, and their colleague, Virginia Resner, explores the human cost of America's prison-based drug policy. The trio also wrote their newest book, 'Human Rights and the US Drug War' as an analys (sic) of drug war policy within the context of international human rights law.

"Chris Conrad is founder and director of the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp (BACH), director of the Family Council on Drug Awareness (FCDA), and a member of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA). He designed and curated the international Hash-Marihuana-Hemp Museum located in Amsterdam, Holland, where he researched cannabis culture and cultivation. He is art director for the Human Rights and the Drug War exhibit. He is also on the boards of Human Rights and the Drug War and the Drug Peace Campaign."

10. Family Watch 末 Family Watch feels that drug laws discriminate against women and should be repealed. According to Kendra E. Wright, Family Watch president: "It is our responsibility to get educated on this issue, share our knowledge, and begin to raise awareness of the crimes our system is committing on women. We have to reduce the stigma of being caught by the ever-broadening net of the Drug War and make people see it is not the non-violent drug offending woman who should be ashamed, but the system for its failures to her and society. . .

"There are many women leaders in the drug policy reform movement; contact Family Watch and National Advocates for Pregnant Women to get involved. Join DrugSense, an internet-based organization that impacts media coverage of the Drug War by writing thousands of letters-to-the-editor. If you are a student, join or start your school's chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which is fighting to overturn the HEA [Higher Education Act] restrictions on school loans. . .Please help advocate on behalf of the thousands of women who have already been harmed by this Drug War, the thousands more who inevitably will be, your friends, your lovers, your family and you." (15)

The board of directors of this organization include women from such legalization organizations as the November Coalition, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction, the Lindesmith Center, and others.

11. Institute for Policy Studies: Drug Policy Project 末 Directed by Sanho Tree, "the project's mission is to help foster a paradigm shift by replacing the punitive and coercive 壮ocial control' model of drug policy with a public health and community economic development model." The Project advances "policies that address the root causes of the drug problem (such as decaying school systems, lack of inner city and rural jobs, shortage of affordable housing, lack of health care, and social alienation) rather than scapegoating the symptoms (addicts, street corner dealers, overseas peasant drug growers, etc.)." It "works to reform national drug policies. . . [and] sponsored a 舛itizens' Fact-Finding Commission on US Drug Policy' that held public hearings in May 1999. The Commissioners examined the social costs of current drug policy, explored government corruption and complicity around the drug war, and promoted sustainable alternatives." (16)

12. Harm Reduction Coalition 末 The Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), which announces on its website that "Congress wants to criminalize youth" with a "new federal anti-ecstasy bill," (17) says that it is "committed to reducing drug-related harm among individuals and communities by initiating and promoting local, regional, and national harm reduction education, interventions, and community organizing. HRC fosters alternative models to conventional health and human services and drug treatment; challenges traditional client/provider relationships; and provides resources, educational materials, and support to health professionals and drug users in their communities to address drug-related harm."

The Harm Reduction Coalition describes its approach to drug education in its national newsletter, explaining how to enter schools as "drug educators" to surreptitiously establish "user groups" to support students' drug use. Gain access, the newsletter advises, with a "proposal that clearly outlines a harm-reduction approach, but uses language that bridges the gap between traditional prevention and harm reduction. One hysterical parent may be enough to get your program thrown out of school." The newsletter advises advocates to "cast a wide net to include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, chocolate, and sugar to break down stigma by showing that drug use is the norm, not an aberration."

13. Human Rights and the Drug War (HRDW) 末 "HRDW is a multi-media project that combines the stories and photos of Drug War POWs with facts and figures about the US Drug War, to confront the conscience of the American people and encourage individuals to take action for social justice." (18) The organization presents such "facts" as these: "2 Million, Too Many Prisoners! This year, the US prison population for the first time in history hit 2,000,000 inmates, largely due to the Drug War." (19) (Author's note: the Bureau of Justice Statistics says the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses is less that one-fourth that. Moreover, the vast majority of those serving sentences for "simple possession" plea-bargained down from more serious charges. Thomas Constantine, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified before Congress in 1996 that the average amount of marijuana possessed by federal prisoners incarcerated for "simple possession" was 300 pounds.) The exhibit was organized by Chris Conrad, director of the Family Council on Drug Awareness (see above).

14. Justice Policy Institute/Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice 末 According to its website, (20) the Justice Policy Institute is a project of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a "private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce society's reliance on the use of incarceration as a solution to social problems." (21) The project issued a report last year titled 'Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States.' The report, released in both Washington D.C. and California in July, 2000, a few months before the November election in which voters were to decide on the Soros-funded ballot initiative Proposition 36, was "funded by a generous grant from George Soros's foundation, the Open Society Institute."

15. The Lindesmith Center 末 The Lindesmith Center was created by George Soros and Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the center, as a part of Soros's Open Society Institute. Mr. Nadelmann contends that drug use is a fundamental human right, one that is violated by the drug laws. He says we must learn to live with drugs, reduce the harm they do, teach people how to use them "safely," maintain addicts indefinitely on the drugs to which they are addicted at taxpayers' expense, and so forth. In a debate with the author, Mr. Nadelmann said that parents should model the "safe use" of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, methamphetamines, and other drugs to their children around the dinner table. (22) Described as "legalization's poster boy" by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, (23) Mr. Nadelmann denies that either he or Mr. Soros want to legalize drugs.

Mr. Nadelmann's colleague, Marsha Rosenbaum, director of The Lindesmith Center West, counsels parents and educators to teach children they can use harmful, addictive drugs "safely,"in her drug-education guide, "Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education." (24) At a Drug Policy Foundation conference a few years ago, Ms. Rosenbaum warned against sending recovering addicts into the classroom. They are "failed drug users," she said, and we should be using "successful drug users" as good role models for children. At a conference The Lindesmith Center sponsored in 1999, Ms. Rosenbaum and Mr. Nadelmann featured, among others, Healthwise, a British company whose drug-education curricula tell parents that their children are safer using drugs than participating in outdoor activities.

16. Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) 末 According to its website, "the Marijuana Policy Project works to minimize the harm associated with marijuana -- both the consumption of marijuana, and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is prison. To this end, MPP focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors." (25)

17. NORML 末 "Since its founding in 1970, NORML has been the principal national advocate for legalizing marijuana. During the 1970s, NORML led the successful efforts to decriminalize minor marijuana offenses in 11 states and significantly lower penalties in all others. Though the decriminalization movement eventually fell victim to the 層ar on drugs,' NORML has remained the nation's principal organization dedicated to ending marijuana prohibition." (26) Since 1996, the organization has been teaching people "Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use,"even though the drug is illegal. (27) NORML says it "serves as the umbrella group for a national network of citizen activists committed to ending marijuana prohibition."

18. Sentencing Project 末 This nonprofit organization, "incorporated in 1986, has become a national leader in the development of alternative sentencing programs and in the reform of criminal justice policy," according to its website. It has issued several reports critical of the nation's drug laws.

19. St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction 末 This organization runs needle exchange programs in New York City. (28)


1. See

2. See

3. See DebatesDebates, "Is Marijuana OK for Sick People," broadcast on PBS TV stations throughout August, 2001.

4. See

5. "Drug Count Against CEO at Progressive 船ischarged'," The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, January 8, 2000; "American Walks Free After Being Arrested," Akron Beacon Journal, January 8, 2000.

6. "An Odd Coincidence?" Denver Post, July 21, 2001.

7. See

8. See

9. See

10. See

11. See

12. See

13. See

14. Substance Abuse: the Nation's Number-One Health Problem, prepared by Brandeis University for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, February 2001.

15. See

16. See

17. See

18. See

19. See

20. See

21. See

22. Statement made in a debate with the author at the Vail Valley Institute, 1998.

23. "Who Smokes Dope?" by Elizabeth Hille, San Francisco Bay Guardian, September 12, 2001.

24. See

25. See

26. See

27. See

28. See


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