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Lordy, Lordy Look Who's 40: The War on Drugs 

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Where were you when the War on Drugs was launched 40 years ago by President Richard Nixon?

I was about to turn 3 years old, living with my mom and soon-to-be stepdad at the infamous Earth People's Park commune in Norton, Vt. I guess they were trying to dodge the draft on that war, not to mention the one still being waged in Vietnam.

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the "War on Drugs" and, to celebrate on the eve of a national day of action, a leading foe of the drug war — the National Drug Policy Alliance — is holding a press conference today in Washington, D.C. Among the featured speakers is one of Vermont's homegrown pols: Gov. Peter Shumlin. Joining him will be Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the Rev. Al Sharpton, among others.

The event is being held at the Newseum, and will be streamed live. Shumlin will participate at the event via Skype from his fifth-floor offices in the Pavilion Building in Montpelier, according to his spokeswoman. .

Shumlin has been a proponent of decriminalization — not legalization — of marijuana. A bill introduced this past session by Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) to decriminalize the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana went nowhere, largely due to opposition from House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown).

A study conducted on Lorber's behalf found that Vermont spent about $700,000 annually to investigate, prosecute and lock up people who were simply in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. "It's time for a smarter approach," Lorber said, as he has done repeatedly.

Last year, the Burlington City Council balked at putting a nonbinding marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot.

The event comes on the heels of a report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which earlier this month claimed: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."

In the introduction to the report, the commissioned noted, "Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use. Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction."

Members of the commission include Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations; Richard Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group; and the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland. George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker are the U.S. representatives to the commission.

The commission proposes a new strategy in this "war." They include:

• Ending the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others;

• Challenging rather than reinforcing common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence;

• Encouraging experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens;

• Focusing repressive actions on violent criminal organizations in ways that undermine their power and reach;

• Investing in activities that can both prevent young people from taking drugs in the first place and also prevent those who do use drugs from developing more serious problems; and

• Breaking the taboo on debate and reform.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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