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Who We Are and Why We Fight: "People Who Do Drugs, and People Who Don't, Will End the War on Drugs"

The foremost U.S. authority on the harm of the drug war paints a clear and brilliant picture of the path to a better future.

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But, you know, we're making progress. We are making progress. We are making progress. When that global commission on drug policy stood up earlier this year, and former presidents stood up, and they said, “Time for change! Time for the legalization of marijuana! Time to roll back the horrors of the drug war! Time to advance in harm reduction,” They were saying and doing the right thing, and they were catalyzing the debate around the world that began to penetrate, not just America and Europe, but into Asia and Africa.  

When old drug warriors like Jesse Jackson and Charlie Rangel switch sides and want to link arms with us, that’s a form of progress. When people show up to this hall in numbers that have never happened before, that too is progress. When Barack Obama got elected and in the first year of his administration, somewhat to my surprise, he made good on his campaign commitments. In that first year, what did he do? He did, in fact, roll back the oppression of federal agents, in terms of medical marijuana. He did, in fact, go forward with Congress, finally after many decades, legalizing funding for needle exchange. He did assist in rolling back the harsh and racially unjust crack powder penalties. That was progress.   

It's progress when we begin to see America turning, and we see fewer people locked up in state prisons, last year and this year, than we have after 30 years of increases. It’s progress that not just Democratic governors, but Republican governors embrace prison reform; whether it's for budgetary reasons or moral reasons or whatever. It’s progress when right-wingers stand up and create a right on crime initiative, and say that we have gone too far in incarceration in our country. It’s progress when we look around Europe and we see the Portuguese experiment getting more and more notice, and we see the Danes moving forward in this way and Norwegians in that way, and the Poles in that way and the Israelis in that way. It’s progress when people start talking about the human rights of drug-users in Asia and in Latin America. It is progress when people stand up and with a bold social movement leader like Javier Sicilia can speak a movement about transforming drug policies that is entirely consistent with what people on the right are saying as well -- the former presidents and prime ministers of Mexico and other countries as well. It is progress when we can force the American bureaucracies to begin to shift direction in all of this.  

But, of course, that progress is too little. Too slow. Barack Obama... Barack Obama, we needed you, man. We needed you. We needed you to step up there. We needed you to do the right thing, and it looked like you were going to do it, and what’s happened? Now, I’m not going to blame it all on you, when the Republicans take over congress and you’ve got a guy like Lamar Smith trying to come up with the latest crazy drug law idea. When you’ve got state legislatures and republican leaders out allying with Democratic leaders to ban people from receiving unemployment benefits because they smoked a joint. When you’ve got a new drug emerging, and people have got to ban K2 or salvia or bath salts. I mean, don’t they have better things to do already?  

It’s like Adam said, we live in a world in which there is not just the continuing visions of a prison industrial complex desperately defending its own interests, of prison guard unions and private prison builders, and the worst of all... the worst of all the drug warriors, I believe, are the prosecutors. The district attorneys and the U.S. Attorneys. You know, more and more police kind of get it. They keep going along with it. It’s part of what they do; they’ve got to bust people; they want the excuse to do it. They’ve got the laws. But the growth of our allied organization, LEAP, is ample evidence that more and more law enforcement is seeing the light on this stuff. The people in charge of running prison populations, they know they’re overflowing with people who don’t belong behind bars, and more of them are beginning to say we need change. The judges are saying, “What are we doing? We’re just rubber stamping horrific sentences that have no justice in a democratic society.”  But the DAs and the prosecutors, they are out control in American society today. They are out of control. If there is anybody who is the enemy of drug policy reform today, with a few brave exceptions throughout the country, it is the DAs and the prosecutors, and they have to be called out.