Reform 2009 - Reflections from outside.

From Marisa Felicissimo to Drug Policy Alliance and Open Society Institute on November 30th, 2009.

Of course, treaties and norms don't restrain the outlaws”, James Traub, once wrote in The New York Times Magazine, referring to Saddam Husseins' invasion of Kuwait. Some time later, on his book “What We Say Goes”, Noam Chomsky wisely rebated Traub's statement saying: “The United Sates is a leading outlaw state, totally unconstrained by international law, and it openly says so”.

I chose to introduce my article with quotes of important players at the international political scene, to show that we don't need to be a professor of linguistics or a famous writer to conclude that the United States is a outlaw state. If we look back and follow the tracks of history, we will find out that the US has been disregarding many United Nations decisions and not signing so many other important conventions, like the ones on Human Rights and the rights of child. So why the US is such a strong follower of the single convention, that established this unfair and harmful drug prohibitionist system, and that has been consistently proven to be a blatant failure?

In his excellent presentation at the 2009 Reform Conference Alex Wodak, Australian psychiatrist, raised some questions on way prohibition has survived despite all odds. He said: “Is it because there is no alternative plan? Or advocacy is poor? Is it because self-motivated interests prevail? Or is it because prohibition is one of the major political Viagras of our time?”. Looking at the drug policy reform movement, at least one answer is clear to me: it is not because of lack of alternatives or poor advocacy.

Once again, during the biannual Reform Conference, Drug Policy Alliance and its partners managed to gather advocates from nearly all US states and dozens of different countries, to prove that activists, scientists, drug users, students, people who hate drugs, people who love drugs, and even religious people and some politicians are all, in their own individual or collective ways, fighting for the same cause: end this irrational war on drugs.

During the extremely busy three days of conference it was possible to see very clearly, that there are many alternatives to substitute prohibition. Good examples are all out there. From the relatively long time successful experiences of the Europeans, Canadians and Australians, with their decriminalization laws, that allows some degree of access to marijuana and sets ground to the expansion of progressive harm reduction practices, like the heroin prescription centers, to the recent experience of US medical marijuana state laws that defying its own federal law, takes the first steps toward the beginning of the end.

It is to us,“from outside the United States” as Ethan Nadelmann described at the opening plenary, and more specifically to us, from Latin America, struggling in our own ways in this war, that ultimately criminalizes poverty, corrupts governments, undermines democracies and kills and incarcerates thousands of young people, it is to us, that any step away from this drug war, that the US takes, is specially important.

Despite of the grown of the drug reform movement in Latin America, which gained important advocates and unprecedented media exposure this year, changes tend to come slowly here and geopolitical reasons are often used as an excuse to not challenge the imported American prohibitionist system. It is in this sense that I strongly believe that, only when the war on drugs ends in the US, favoring the collapse of the global drug prohibition system, that real changes will finally happen in Latin America.

Inspired by those thousands of activists, “the outlaw sate” that more then once, used its power to neglect international conventions, should realize that it is a question of principle, freedom and social justice, to repeal the single convention and once and for all, ends this war on drugs.

At the 2009 Reform conference I could see that the end is near. It was my second time at this conference and it is always an unique experience. A magnificent source of inspiration and an important moment to recharge batteries that no activist in this field should miss. I look forward to meeting you all again and hundreds more in Los Angeles 2011!

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