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Five Ways We Can Build a Movement to Stop This Idiotic War on Drugs

This is a time to put big ideas on the table. We have to learn how to coexist with drugs. They aren't going anywhere.

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3. Obama and Drugs: Personal and Political

President-elect Barack Obama has been refreshingly honest about his current and past drug use. Obama has been making news recently because of his struggles to give up cigarettes. He has written and talked about his marijuana and cocaine use when he was younger. He has never run from or made excuses about his drug use or habits. Like Obama, tens of millions of Americans have tried marijuana, and so far they seem not to be holding his past drug use against him. Having someone in the White House who continues to grapple with relapses from his nicotine addiction will hopefully create more empathy between the executive branch and others trying to give up drug addictions.

On the policy front, Obama made some good commitments during the campaign: He supports repealing the harshest drug sentences, removing federal funding bans on needle-exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, ending federal raids on marijuana dispensaries in states where medical marijuana is legal, and supporting treatment alternatives for low-level drug offenses. President Obama will also have some key allies in the Democrat-controlled Senate and House. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has made our country's prison overcrowding crisis -- fueled by the drug war  -- a top priority.

4. Veterans Are Self-Medicating Because of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

People use drugs for both pleasure and pain; there is no doubt that much drug use is self-medication. One group that will be dealing with self-medication for a long time is U.S. soldiers returning from war. How does one deal with the pain of having friends die in one's arms? What does killing other human beings do to one's emotional stability? What is it like being away from family for a year or more? It's not hard to imagine how such experiences could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, which in turn can lead to drug addiction, homelessness and even suicide.

It's easy to demand that everyone "support the troops." But if we're going to talk the talk, we had better be ready to offer compassion and treatment to our brothers and sisters who need to heal from the damages of war. And once more people realize that incarceration for petty drug law violations is not an appropriate response to veterans' suffering from addiction and depression, then hopefully people will question the logic of giving long jail sentences to others in our society who also could be self-medicating for pain and trauma in their own lives.

5. Incarceration Nation: When Being No. 1 is Not a Good Thing

America likes to promote its self as the "home of the free" but, unfortunately, we have the embarrassing honor of being known as the incarceration nation. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost 25 percent of the world's prison population, incarcerating more of its citizens per capita than any other country in the world. We lock up more people on drug charges than Western Europe locks up people for everything, and they have 100 million more people than we do. A report released last month by the U.S. Justice Department found that 1 in 31 Americans was in prison or jail or on parole or probation last year.

The Time for Change Has Arrived

The world is in an intense time right now! We have wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan; millions of people are out of work; and a growing economic crisis is on everyone's minds. We have a bloody war in Mexico, and states across this country struggling to pay for the overcrowded prisons. But, in my heart, I truly believe there are many reasons to be optimistic and hopeful. We have a new president and millions of activated citizens who helped put him there. The pro-war ideologues have less credibility then ever before. This is a time to put big ideas on the table. We have to learn how to coexist with drugs. They have been around for thousands of years and will be around for thousands more. We are smart and compassionate people, and we can figure out how to reduce the harms from both drugs and drug prohibition.

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