Monday, March 13, 2006

Conference takes on the drug war

The Missourian

Columbia, Missouri - When Cliff Thornton takes the stage, he tends to talk about race and class biases associated with the war on drugs.

The Green Party candidate for governor in Connecticut will give the keynote address this evening at the Midwest Drug Policy Conference in the Arts and Sciences Building on the MU campus.

“Cliff’s focus is on issues that relate specifically to minority and poor people who are often victims in the war on drugs,” said Dan Viets, state coordinator for the National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Those groups are often disproportionately impacted by drug laws.”

Thornton, who also serves on the marijuana group’s board of directors, is one of several speakers who will be advocating for more lenient drug laws. Other speakers at the conference, sponsored by the MU chapters of the marijuana organization and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, include medical marijuana patients, lawyers and activists. Both sponsoring organizations support the decriminalization of minor marijuana offenses and helped promote successful ballot initiatives in Columbia that deferred prosecution and limited the fine for possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana to $250.

Also the founder and director of an organization called Efficacy, which works to find peaceful ways to respond to social problems, Thornton believes education is the most important step in reforming drug laws.

“People need to know that the drug war is made only to be waged, not won,” he said.

Thornton said he also focuses on the drug war because it can be connected to crime and other social problems.

He favors the outright legalization of marijuana and the decriminalization of all drugs including heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy.

“The drug war is based on three phenomenon: greed, racism and fear,” he said.

Because he has spoken of these issues in more than 450 venues across the world, Amber Langston, former president of the student policy group, said Thornton brings experience. “He also takes things much more from a sociological perspective than most of our other speakers,” she said.

Saturday’s closing address will be given by Ed Rosenthal, author of more than 30 books relating to issues concerning marijuana, including medical use and criminal law.

“Ed has a unique background as an activist being in Oakland, California, which is considered the epicenter of medical marijuana,” Viets said.

Rosenthal said he plans on discussing the relationship between marijuana and society and the criminal justice system.

The war on drugs is important because America cannot afford to waste the $30 billion they spend on prohibition costs, he said.

Approval of the Columbia marijuana ballot issues in November 2004 helped attract both Thornton and Rosenthal to the conference, they said.

“I hope the conference brings together a lot of different perspectives and people,” said Langston. “Issues related to the drug war and how we can approach policy differently need to be brought to public light.”


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