Event Report: The FSP at the 2008 International Drug Policy Reform Conference
Free State Project in New Orleans:
The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference
Nearly 1,200 individuals converged on the French Quarter of New Orleans for the International Drug Policy Reform Conference, Dec. 5-8. The event, sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and 5 co-host organizations (the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), was a tremendously positive experience for drug policy reformers. Phillip Allen and I operated a booth on behalf of the Free State Project and the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy (NH Common Sense).
One of the worst parts of being a drug policy activist is meeting people who say, for example, "marijuana should be legal, but it will never happen... never happen... never happen." To those of us who know that it will happen, sooner or later, depending on how effectively we work towards that end, encountering this defeatist attitude from like-minded individuals is nothing short of demoralizing. This conference was the perfect antidote to that, the equivalent of a tent revival for prohibition policy activists.
One highlight of the conference was an appearance by Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Yes, this guy is the UN's "Drug Czar," and he surprised a lot of people by accepting DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann's invitation to speak at the conference. Although Costa opposes most significant reforms, he approached the event with a sense of humor and a willingness to engage opponents of global Drug Prohibition. "This level of discourse with a representative of a global policy-setting agency was affirmation that drug policy reform has truly become a mature movement," Nadelmann wrote.
Costa humorously asked: "Is there some common ground between those who insist on a world free of drugs, and those who propose a world of free drugs? By the time this session is over, I hope we will all be able to answer in the affirmative." Of course, the reaction to Costa's remarks was mixed at best, but the experience was unforgettable. (Here's a transcript.)
Not only did Phillip and I learn a lot from individuals across the world and across the drug policy reform spectrum, we also got to tell a lot of people about the wonderful things we are doing in New Hampshire. We distributed over 900 copies of the "Anti-Prohibitionist Candidate Report Card" produced by NH Common Sense for its SendTheRightMessage.com campaign, which has capitalized on PR/educational opportunities presented by New Hampshire's "First in the Nation" primary. These report cards were very well-received, and they were a great way for us to start conversations about New Hampshire politics. We also promoted the New Hampshire Liberty Forum (where Nadelmann and LEAP's Peter Christ will be speaking), and we handed out lots of FSP schwag: bookmarks, stickers, brochures, etc.
When I moved to New Hampshire almost two years ago, there was next to nothing going on with drug policy reform in the state. NH Common Sense was founded to fill that void last January, and thanks to this conference, we were able to generate a lot of enthusiasm for the future of drug policy reform in New Hampshire. We met at least two individuals who are already signed FSP participants, and they were happy to see and hear about what's already going on in the "Live Free or Die" state. We also met a lot of people, especially young people, who unfortunately have been conditioned to oppose economic freedom, but we managed to have some very productive (and hopefully instructive) exchanges with those individuals as well!
And like they say in all the old church newsletters, "A good time was had by all." It was, after all, the French Quarter. Many thanks to the Free State Project for helping make this trip possible.