Last week a Bill in US Congress made surprisingly smooth progress through the House of Representatives on its way to the Senate. The House bill establishes a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission which will have two million dollars to investigate and research independently of the political process - "to review and evaluate United States policy regarding illicit drug supply reduction and interdiction".
The following is from the Miami Herald (10 Nov), U.S. may take new look at `war on drugs'
"Billions upon billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been spent over the years to combat the drug trade in Latin America and the Caribbean. In spite of our efforts, the positive results are few and far between," said Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who chairs the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee. ``Clearly, the time has come to take a fresh look at our counternarcotics efforts.''
What's interesting about the planned independent drug policy commission is that the idea didn't come from a pro-legalization advocate, nor any leftist or libertarian crusader. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), opposes decriminalization of drugs for non-medical use, and is as mainstream as members of Congress come.
But Engel's frustration over the results of the U.S. war on drugs is symptomatic of Washington's growing skepticism about U.S. anti-drug policies these days.
The following is from the news agency Inter Press Service, US: Reconsidering War on Drugs:
The premise of the commission is not, of course, that we’re doing great but that our policies aren’t working and we need a rethink," says John Walsh, who works on drug policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). He says actions like this "speak to the level of frustration" over the impotence of past drug policies.
"You need to take it to the level of an independent commission to get it out of the crevices of politics," says Walsh.
WOLA released its own recommendations Tuesday on new directions these policies could take. Their report says past policies that have focused on eradication of coca and opium crops are counter-productive unless they are preceded by rural development. "Proper sequencing is crucial: development must come first," it reads, or else, without alternative livelihoods firmly in place, people will have no choice but to return to growing crops for illicit markets.Introduced by: Rep. Eliot Engel
Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2009 HR 2134
The Commission shall review and evaluate United States policy regarding illicit drug supply reduction and interdiction, with particular emphasis on international drug policies and programs directed toward the countries of the Western Hemisphere, along with foreign and domestic demand reduction policies and programs. The Commission shall identify policy and program options to improve existing international and domestic counter-narcotics policy.
This is of particular interest to me because I met with a staffer from Rep Engel’s office when I was in Washington a few weeks ago, following my visit to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Conference in Albuquerque. During the meeting, which I attended with Bill Piper from the Drug Policy Alliance, Eliot Engel's staffer suggested that if it went under the radar, it could clear the Committee by December. Amazingly, they managed it.
The DPA kindly arranged a number of meetings with Senators and Congressmen in a power packed schedule over two days. In short but punchy meetings I:
- Presented After the war on Drugs – Blueprint for Regulation
- Mentioned the potential political synergy between the US and UK if David Cameron gets in. Both Obama and Cameron, before becoming leaders of their respective parties, went on the record critiquing the war on drugs (and both former users).
- Showed that the head of the UNODC has identified the drug control system as a major cause of harm
- Suggested that the US review drug policy, as per our calls for Impact Assessment.
The pitch was universally well received, but had special support from both ends of the political spectrum, in the persons of Congressmen Rohrabacher and Kucinich.
I also had the opportunity to meet with Senator Jim Webb, who has his own bill, scrutinising the whole of the US criminal justice system, (with a particular section on drug policy) making its much slower way through Committee stage: National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009.
Unfortunately the Webb Bill, hit the media and the radar, and has been mauled by those trying to water it down with substantive amendments.
See below for my itinerary on Capitol Hill:
WED 18 Nov 2009
- 10am – Meet w/ staff for Senator Cardin (D-MD). He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee
- 11am – Meet w/ Senator Webb (D-VA). He is the sponsor of the criminal justice commission bill. Also is a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Joint Economic Committee
- 2pm – Meet w/ staff for Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Engel is the sponsor of a bill to create a commission to examine the efficacy of eradication and interdiction efforts. He also sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee
- 3pm – Meet w/ Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). Cohen sits on the House Judiciary Committee, supports drug policy reform
- 4pm – Meet w/ Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Rohrabacher sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee
- 4:30pm – Meet w/ Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Paul sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Join Economic Committee
THUR 19 Nov
- 12:30pm – Meet w/ Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Kucinich is a former presidential candidate who chairs the subcommittee with oversight over the drug czar’s office
- 1:30pm – Meet w/ staff for Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA). Specter chairs the Senate Crime Subcommittee. A former Republican who just changed parties earlier this year
- 2:00 – Meet w/ Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). Conyers chairs the House Judiciary Committee and is on DPA’s honorary bar.