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More than 1,000 Meet in Denver to Develop Drug War Exit Strategy As Poll Finds 58% of Americans Want Pot Legalized

International Drug Policy Reform Conference celebrates this year's unprecedented momentum of the drug policy reform movement.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/ LHF Graphics


Which state will be next to legalize marijuana? What do the Obama administration’s recent announcements about marijuana legalization and  mandatory minimums really mean? What are some solutions to the national overdose crisis that takes more lives than car accidents or gun violence? Why do blacks go to jail for drugs at 13 times the rate of whites even though they use and sell drugs at similar rates? What role can faith leaders play in organizing and mobilizing their congregations to end the drug war?

More than 1,000 people will gather to ponder these questions and many more at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver,  October 23-26  at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.

Support for drug policy changes has never been more apparent. A Gallup poll released Tuesday shows a record-breaking 58 percent of American voters think marijuana should be legalized—up from the previous record high of 50 percent support in October 2011.

In the past decade, voters and legislators have enacted hundreds of drug policy reforms on issues ranging from medical marijuana to treatment-instead-of- incarceration for nonviolent drug law violations. Building on the momentum from these victories, more than 1,000 drug policy experts, health care and drug treatment professionals, elected officials, law enforcement, students, and formerly incarcerated people from around the country and across the world will gather to promote alternatives to the failed war on drugs.

Denver provides a compelling backdrop for the conference – and not just because Colorado made history last year by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana. Colorado is home to a strong base of savvy drug policy reformers advocating for harm reduction policies and sentencing reforms. It is increasingly viewed as a bellwether state in terms of policy and politics, and its national resonance will only increase in years to come. DPA has been deeply involved in the state for more than a decade. In its first foray, DPA spearheaded and managed the campaign that passed the state’s medical marijuana initiative in 2000. After playing a supportive role to our in-state allies for more than a decade, DPA opened an office in Denver in early 2011 to help pass Amendment 64 and advance other policy changes.

“When we first picked Denver to host the 2013 biennial conference, we thought it quite unlikely that we’d be convening in the first state (with Washington) to legalize marijuana,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  ‘But Colorado’s voters ensured a warm welcome with their vote last November.  Now drug policy reformers from across the country and around the world are eager to attend our conference in Denver – not to get high in the Mile High City but to spend three days at the world’s leading drug policy reform gathering and demonstrate their support for Colorado’s global leadership.”

To celebrate the unprecedented momentum of the drug policy reform movement, conference attendees will participate in a “victory walk” and block party to celebrate the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay, as well as recent harm reduction and sentencing reform victories in Colorado. The victory walk and rally will take place on  Thursday, October 24 at 1 p.m. , starting at the 16 th Street Mall from the Downtown Sheraton to Skyline Park (between 15 th and 16 th).

Below is a small sampling of the 50+ panels at the conference. For the full list, including descriptions and speakers, see the conference website

Which States Will be Next to Legalize Marijuana?

  • This roundtable will focus on the states that are likely to move forward with legalization in 2014 or 2016. What are the pros and cons of ballot initiatives when compared to the legislative route? What will it take to reach the national tipping point? And will any state in the South ever legalize marijuana?

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