Time for a New Bottom Line on the Failed War on Drugs

Press Release December 3, 2007
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646)335-5384 or Tommy McDonald at (646)335-2242

NEW ORLEANS–Why are police officers and current and former police chiefs a growing voice calling for an end to the failed war on drugs? Can hurricane relief and rebuilding efforts be funded, in part, by cutting ineffective and wasteful drug war programs? Why are black men imprisoned for drug offenses at 13 times the rate of white men despite equal rates of drug use across races? Is methamphetamine really the new crack?

More than one thousand people will gather to answer these and many more questions at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Orleans, December 5-8. The conference, at the Astor Crowne Plaza – French Quarter (Corner of Bourbon & Canal), is organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and dozens of other organizations (see list of groups below). The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation’s leading organization working to end the devastating war on drugs and promote new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Over the past decade, voters and legislators across the country have enacted more than 150 drug policy reforms on issues ranging from medical marijuana access to ending racial profiling. Building on the momentum from these victories, hundreds of drug policy experts, health care and drug treatment professionals, elected officials and family and friends of drug war prisoners from across the country and around the world will gather to promote alternatives to the failed war on drugs.

New Orleans is an important location for this international gathering. The United States incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country, fueled greatly by the war on drugs. Louisiana incarcerates more people per capita than any other state. New Orleans locks up more people than any other city in Louisiana. Among the dozens of topics addressed by the conference, New Orleans will feature prominently at a special community event and in many panels.

The New Orleans Community Forum will be held on Friday, Dec. 7 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

In acknowledgement of intersections between the path of devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina and draconian drug war policies, the Drug Policy Alliance will host a Community Forum to engage the local community and conference attendees in a dialogue about avenues for change and recovery. The Community Forum will feature a discussion about the impact of drug enforcement policies and practices from the vantage points of a criminal court judge, a public defender, a local prosecutor and a community leader who counsels addicts and ex-offenders upon release from incarceration. In addition to describing the current situation and challenges, the participants will encourage attendees to take action to minimize the harm that the war on drugs inflicts on the people of New Orleans. Nicole Shepherd and local organizer Kool Black will emcee the event, which will also feature live music and excerpts from a new documentary, “N.O. Justice.” The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at the Holiday Inn Express at 221 Carondelet St.

Drug Cultures in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Implications for Harm Reduction

Drug subcultures were very well developed in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Drug sellers were among the early returnees and due to the near collapse of policing and criminal courts often did not experience the same sanctions as drug sellers in other areas. Shifts in drug preferences among high-risk populations and demands for a return to harsh sanctioning may change this situation in New Orleans in 2008-09. Rather than revert to the same broken pre-Katrina system, panelists will consider options for alleviating drug-related violence while at the same time avoiding reinstating harsh and rigid sentencing guidelines. This conference panel will be held on Thursday, Dec. 6th from 11:00 — 12:30pm.

Post-Katrina, Can New Orleans Afford to Keep Fighting the Failed “War on Drugs?”

A judge, a former cop, a treatment provider, a pastor and others — all local — will convene for a discussion about the impact of relying on incarceration instead of treatment; the need for improved treatment options; the problem of, and ways to address, racial disparities in enforcement of drug laws; and consideration of sentencing reforms needed in the state. Panelists will describe the current and unique situation, post-Katrina, and suggest specific proposals for moving forward. This conference panel will be held on Thursday, Dec. 6 from 3:30 — 5:00pm.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is co-hosting the 2007 International Conference with the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Marijuana Policy Project, and Students for Sensible Policy (SSDP). Other partners include: Canadian Harm Reduction Network, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, DRCNet, Harm Reduction Project, Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, International Drug Policy Consortium, MAPS, Methadone Support, A New Path, Release UK, Sisters of Color United for Education, and the WellProject.

Visit http://conference.drugpolicy.org/ today for more information and to register for the conference.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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