Student group drums up opposition to drug war
Gary Davey smokes marijuana and credits the drug with relieving pain from injuries he received in a head-on collision that shattered most of his bones from the waist down and confined him to a wheelchair in 1989.
"The benefit that is available to these people is incredible," Davey said, referring to the use of marijuana. "There were times I literally couldn’t work."
Davey, 44, shared his story yesterday at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwest Regional Conference. The medicinal marijuana session Davey participated in was one of more than a dozen events held at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nationwide organization of college students against the war on drugs, chose Columbia because of the success of marijuana-related Propositions 1 and 2 in 2004. Cliff Thornton, a lawyer and Green Party gubernatorial candidate in Connecticut, was keynote speaker.
Thornton’s drug reform group, Efficacy, was one of 10 sponsors for the weekend gathering. Other sponsors are the Missouri chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, the Cannabis Action Network, Green Aid and the Missouri Cannabis Coalition.
"These drugs are not the problem; the drug policies are the problem," Thornton said in an interview before the conference. "The drug war has placed the African-American community into a de-evolving state."
Thornton, who is black, said drug laws that impose greater penalties for crack cocaine violations than for powder cocaine offenses are specifically designed to target black and lower-class people. That means taxes are funding incarceration of people who otherwise could be paying taxes, Thornton said. "That’s why most inner cities are so poor," he said.
Speakers at the conference included the associate county commissioner of Marion County, Willy Richmond, and a former prosecutor from Kansas City, Kan., Brian Leininger.
"It’s scary, more than anything, how these laws have gotten stricter and stricter," Richmond said in a panel discussion of drug statutes. "It’s not accomplishing anything."
Leininger called the drug war "not only a failure but counterproductive. … It took me a lot of time, I think, to come around. But I certainly saw how fruitless it was."
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, who did not attend the conference, said he believes the war on drugs is working. "I don’t think our policies target poor and minorities," he said.
Boehm said the majority of drug-related calls that Columbia police deal with are sales and activity in poorer areas. "The best we can hope for is to ... cut down on violence that’s related to drug activity," he said.
The Students for Sensible Drug Policy Web site says the group endorses "personal choice and freedom so long as a person’s actions do not infringe upon another’s freedoms or safety."
But Boehm said that "drugs are not only harmful to the individual but harmful to the community. I think that it does inherently infringe upon the safety of the community."
Thornton said the prohibition of drugs has led to a black market that creates violence and makes drugs cheaper and more accessible to the public.
"The only way you’re going to solve this problem is to bring these drugs inside the law," he said.
Joe Bartlett, president of the MU chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said the conference is an opportunity to spread information about their campaign with students from other colleges. He estimated 100 people are participating in the three-day event, including 50 or 60 from outside Columbia.
Lisa Davey doesn’t see her husband’s use of marijuana as a threat to the safety of her community in St. Louis.
"The fact that this is an illegal drug is a sin," she said. "The use of marijuana has given us a near-normal life."By Greg Miller