Texas Groups Endorse Lenient Drug Laws! 

Texas Groups Endorse Lenient Drug Laws! 
Posted by FoM on December 27, 1998 at 08:22:04 PT

When pharmacology professor G. Alan Robison launched a group in 1994 to push for an overhaul of U.S. drug policy, he worked out of his house and could persuade only 15 others to join. 
Today, the Houston-based Drug Policy Forum of Texas has grown to 300 members and added a Fort Worth-Dallas chapter. Robison still runs the group's operations from his home office, but with a recent $25,000 donation from billionaire philanthropist George Soros, he hopes that his group will soon have a new office and staff."It's a big step for us," said 64-year-old Robison, now retired from the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. "We can do a better job of informing Texas of what we are about."Robison's group is part of a growing army of activists -- equipped with more funding, computer technology and better organization -- who believe that U.S. drug control policies are unnecessarily harsh and self-defeating. These groups want the government to drastically change the way it punishes drug users.Flush with new confidence, the movement is using grassroots organizing to push for change. Among their victories, the activists count initiatives approved by voters in five states and the District of Columbia this year to legalize marijuana for medical use. However, the results are being challenged in Colorado and the District of Columbia. Voters in California and Arizona approved similar initiatives in 1996.These activists are not united behind a single set of changes. Some focus on one cause, such as relaxing laws regarding marijuana possession. Others embrace broader changes, such as reducing sentences for drug users.The central point on which the activists agree: The nation's war on drugs has failed. Boosting the movement's once-shaky credibility, a wider range of voices, including more prominent ones, are joining in. Well- known supporters include Stanley Marcus, the 93-year- old former chairman and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus; former television anchorman Walter Cronkite; former Secretary of State George Schultz; former New York Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy; and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.Conservatives such as William F. Buckley are joined by liberals such as former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.Even some who once led the drug war -- including police officers and judges -- have come to embrace the movement."It's the most promising time in 20 years," said Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Without question, during the last three or four years the debate has been opening up."But those involved in the push for less-punitive drug policies are still a minority -- and are depicted by many government officials as an ill-informed fringe group that refuses to acknowledge that drug use is harmful."One group would be the libertarian right and the second is the traditional left -- one group that philosophically wants to get rid of all laws on drugs, the other group that is always hostile to the drug laws for different philosophical reasons," said Charles Blanchard, chief counsel of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the agency that doles out federal funds directed at combating illicit drugs.Many continue to brand leaders of the movement as radical and self-serving baby boomers who want to use drugs but don't want to face the consequences."The truth of the matter is if you look at the faces, it's quite an unchanged group," said Jill Jonnes, a historian and author of Hep-Cats, Narcs and Pipe Dreams. "Most of them are a bunch of aging baby boomers."Now, both sides in the debate are attempting to win support of the American public."Most people are in the soft middle, and it's a battle for the hearts of that soft middle," said Bob Maginnis, senior director of national security and foreign affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group against decriminalization of drugs.The public began questioning the success of the nation's drug control policies in recent years as drug use among youths began increasing after a 20-year downturn. The questions have taken on a new urgency as heroin use among young people has reached historic levels, and more teens have experimented with cocaine.Those calling for changes argue that the government is wasting billions of dollars on a battle it can't win. Indeed, they say, the war on drugs has made the drug trade only more profitable, without significantly decreasing the supply. And by demonizing drugs, the government is unwittingly luring curious youths to experiment with them, they say."Let's be blunt: The drug war has been lost," said Don Erler, a Tarrant County businessman who considers himself a staunch conservative.Activists point to a dramatic increase in the prison population. Since the war on drugs was declared in the 1980s, the state prison population has zoomed from about 500,000 to 1.5 million, according to Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, a national nonprofit group that conducts research on criminal justice issues.Activists say that the growing number of incarcerations for minor drug offenses is expensive and succeeds only in tearing apart families.Howard Wooldridge, a 47- year-old retired police officer who lives in Keller, said he became disillusioned with the drug war during a 15-year law enforcement career. As a patrol officer in Bath, Mich., near Lansing, Wooldridge said he grew frustrated with handling burglaries and violent crimes committed by drug users. He said he also became concerned about what he believed was a widespread policy of officers violating constitutional rights in searches and seizures."What I found out quickly in police work is that officers become so obsessed with the drug war that they bend or break or completely shatter the Fourth Amendment," said Wooldridge, who recently joined the Drug Policy Forum.Many activists insist that they are not calling for an unregulated drug market or for allowing children to use drugs. Instead of legalization, they say, they prefer decriminalization and policies that reduce the harm that drugs do to society -- such as the spread of disease, crime and unemployment.The country should gradually move toward treating drug users instead of punishing them, they say.Many government officials counter that changing laws to allow drugs in a legal, regulated market would only condone drug use -- leading to more addicts."I'm firmly convinced that legalization of drugs will increase its availability and its acceptance, particularly among teen-agers, and we will see an increase in use," said Blanchard, of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.Some, including Kelly Shackelford, executive director of the Free Market Foundation in Plano, blame the increasing demand for drugs on a weakening of society's moral fabric. The answer is not legalization, he said, but education and parental involvement.Government officials are calling for stronger efforts to stop illicit drugs at the country's borders and to arrest drug dealers, but they say that's not the only answer.Decriminalization activists acknowledge that they face long odds because of the stigma of drug use.But activists have gained some financial backing and have adopted new tactics to broaden mainstream appeal.They are now careful to tell parents that they are against drug use by minors. That's a lesson learned from mistakes of the past, when groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws alienated parents who were worried about their children using drugs, said Stroup, who returned to the group in 1994 after a 15-year absence.Older activists are joined by a growing number of twentysomethings who are credited with helping the movement outpace the federal government on the Internet. Many Web sites have popped up to reach mainstream America, including one touted as "The Largest Drug Library in the World."Marisa Taylor, (817) 685-3819Send your comments to marisataylor
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Comment #2 posted by anthony on July 07, 2001 at 22:32:08 PT:
Texas Marijuana Laws
I also live in Texas and believe that true freedom is making your own decisions. When will they stop telling us what to do? If we don't wake up and realize that we are losing our rights slowly then we will wake up to find them all gone. I have considered moving out of the country because of persecution from my own government, that I help support with my taxes. That's not freedom. Why should a small amount for PERSONAL use get you a minimum of five years in a prison? It shouldn't. Think about it. Especially when the most addictive drug is legal and the easiest to get. (Nicotine) Nicotine is the most addictive drug (more so than heroin) but yet if I want some, then I just run down to the local store. Where is the sense in these laws?
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Comment #1 posted by Joe Rodregez on March 20, 1999 at 05:11:34 PT
I live in Texas and I think they should legalize marijuana and hashish in Texas.
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