Tuesday, February 15, 2005

ReconsiDering drug policy

I'm late in posting this but Nicolas Eyle, executive director of ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy made the news, gaining some well deserved recognition for his work in Syracuse. In a cover story at the Syracuse New Times Nick is credited with being the driving force behind an auditor's report done last year that illustrated the financial costs of the current interdiction strategies in the war on some drugs. The ground breaking report brought mainstream attention to the issue of drug policy reform and Nick reports he's been contacted by many other cities interested in analyzing their own budgets. He even heard from Scotland Yard who praised his work.

Other activists are taking up the cause and using this model as a strategy to reach the public and are amazingly making headway with local legislators. Cliff Thornton, executive director of Efficacy, a harm reduction organization in Connecticut, has been pitching the concept successfully there.

The sudden responsiveness of mainstream politicians to an issue that has been perceived as countercultural comes as no surprise to Thornton. "We're giving them what they need," he says. "This is really the exit strategy to the financial crisis every city in Connecticut, and I would venture to say every city in every state in the union, has suffered over the past three years. The three biggest items impacting their budgets are law enforcement, mandatory minimum sentences and prison building. And they just don't have the money."

As Nick notes in the article, it is indeed all about the Benjamins.

After a decade of working intensely on the issue, Eyle believes the general public is ready to consider another alternative. "People don't care about inordinately large numbers of black people in prison," he laments. "They don't care about families being broken up. They don't care about invading other countries to put supposed drug lords out of business. They don't care about spraying poisonous chemicals on the rain forest in South America to eradicate coco crops uselessly because they crop up again in the next country. Those issues appeal to some people, but for the general public, they don't care. They care that their taxes are going up and their streets are not safe and the house they own in the city is worth half as much as it should be. And now, in Syracuse, N.Y., they held hearings on the issue that relate to what people care about. The hearings were held based on budget."

Former Syracuse City Auditor Minch Lewis who conducted the now famous audit also attended community meetings and listened to what the people had to say.

Lewis' recommendation to explore alternatives to the local implementation of the war on drugs' total assault strategy stemmed from what seemed a general consensus at neighborhood meetings. "Most people are concerned about the violence that happens when drugs are sold on the corner," he maintained in his report. "They don't care if someone uses drugs in private. Our policy today may be contributing to the violence, just as Prohibition did for the last generation."

That's it in a nutshell folks. Prohibition has cost this country billions and billions of tax dollars in law enforcement and incarceration costs and puts control of what the UN says is the eighth largest business in the world into the hands of criminals. And while your local cop is out busting some kid for smoking a joint or some hapless addict for scoring a $10 bag of dope, violent criminals are left to rule the streets. There has got to be a better way and Nick Eyle can see it from Syracuse.


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