A lobbying day on Capitol Hill preceded the international Drug Policy Alliance conference in Washington DC yesterday, buoyed by the fact that HR 3713, the Sentencing Reform Act, passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously that morning. Cal NORML deputy director and others from Northern California met with aides to Rep. John Garamendi, Mark DeSaulnier, and got a sit-down with Rep. Doris Matsui (pictured).
At a luncheon for attendees, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR) further charged up attendees when he said, “Obama famously has said he has bigger fish to fry. Unfortunately too many people in the Obama administration are still frying those fish.” Blumenauer said he’d been given time on C-SPAN the day before to call for the DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg to be fired for his unenlightened views on marijuana. He added that he’d had a chance to meet with Obama and thanked him for being the first President to tell the truth about marijuana. He implored Obama to make reform part of his legacy, so that we can stop wasting billions on failed policies, collect taxes with a check, and stop wasting lives. “If all do our job, five years from now it will be game over,” he concluded.
Rep. Bobby Scott (VA) who “was cool on sentencing reform long before sentencing reform was cool” said, “The problem with our criminal justice policy is that it is not based on facts but rather on poll-tested rhetoric.” Scott says we must start with preventing teen pregnancy and offer prenatal care, nurse visits to lower child abuse, and early childhood and afterschool education, all to end the cradle-to-prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college-and-career path. “And it’s actually cheaper to do it,” he added.
Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (CA) lamented that the US is borrowing money from China to pay for jailers and police. “The whole marijuana thing has been one of the worst abuses and waste of tax dollars….we’re wasting resources trying to control people’s private behavior,” he added, harkening to “the guy smoking weed in his back yard.” He said he’s brought 60 Republicans along by arguing for states rights, the 10th amendment, and limited government. He reminded the crowd that Sam Farr is not running for re-election so one ally will be lost, but vowed to keep fighting against those “putting roadblocks in the way of discovering that the herb that God gave us has some medical purposes.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (TN) said when he was asked by Barney Frank when he entered Congress what he would like to accomplish, Cohen replied, “I think I’d like to see that marijuana is legal.” Cohen said The Hill reported he “scolded” Loretta Lynch in a hearing the day before. “No one’s ever been able to show me a marijuana addict so addled they knock off a 7/11 to get a Krispy Kreme,” Cohen said, adding that we’ve created the violence at the sales level that Lynch talks about with policies of prohibition.
DPA director Ethan Nadelmann said there would be 1500 attendees from 71 countries at the three-day conference, the largest ever. Nadelmann said it was an opportune time to bring the conference to DC, since there’s “a mind warp going on” with not just Democrats but a growing number of Republicans supporting sentencing reforms and other measures. “We’re about combining the incremental with the visionary,” he said. “When we have not just coerced abstinence but programs that address the way people really need to be helped, then we know we’re making a just society.”
At the opening plenary today, Nadelmann called Ohio’s recently failed measure, “A constitutionally mandated oligopoly for an agricultural product that every American should be free to grow.” He compared the drug war to McCarthyism and enjoined the young crowd to learn their history from Nancy Reagan to Bill Bennett. “What unites left, right and center in this drug policy reform movement is that we care about freedom,” he said. “It is what unites us with all the human rights movements that have come before us and of which we are increasingly a part.”
The session was opened with a woman and a Latino who were granted clemency for drug sentences by Obama. The crowd was asked to text CLEMENCY to 420420 to ask for others to be brought home. DPA staff attorneys Tamar Todd and Jolene Forman pointed out during meetings with Congressional staffers that many cannot afford to file for clemency, and that retroactive sentencing reform like that in HR3713 are needed.
“We must never forget the millions who have lost their lives and suffered because of the war on drugs,” Nadelmann said, mentioning those who needlessly lost their lives to HIV and overdose because of the focus on punishment instead of health, and also “the farmers and peasants the world over who have lost their livelihood because the plant they were growing was deemed illegal….and we must hold accountable some of those people who justified and allowed those policies to stay in place.”
NORML co-sponsored the conference. Director Allen St. Pierre will speak on a panel on Friday at 11:30 AM. Read more.