Statement of Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, the Drug Policy Alliance

February 18, 2004

Government Censors Marijuana Reform Ads

WASHINGTON -- One can only hope that most members of Congress did not know what they were voting for when they voted for Congressman Istook's amendment.  This is yet another example of Congress passing drug laws with no regard for cost, compassion or the Constitution. 

The American people know that the drug war policies of the last thirty years have failed.  Federal, state and local governments have wasted hundreds of billions of dollars, arrested and incarcerated millions of Americans, and trampled on basic constitutional rights - yet the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with drugs and the drug war continue to mount.  

More and more Americans support drug policy reform.  Voters overwhelmingly back medical marijuana, sentencing reform and treatment instead of incarceration. Support for more far-reaching reforms, such as regulating marijuana like alcohol, is also rapidly growing. Since 1996 voters have approved over a dozen statewide ballot measures in favor of drug policy reform and state legislatures have enacted over 150 reforms. In a desperate attempt to stop this growing reform movement, drug war extremists in Congress have dangerously turned the electoral process upside down by spending taxpayer money on efforts to persuade voters to change their minds. 

They have spent over a billion dollars in public money on a slick anti-drug media campaign that we know from court records was created to influence voters to reject drug policy reform at the ballot box, and now they want to spend a billion more. Tens of millions of public dollars have gone to extremist, private groups that do little except campaign against sensible reforms. Drug Czar John Walters and his staff spend taxpayer dollars campaigning around the country against state and local reforms. 

Despite such political shenanigans, support for drug policy reform continues to grow. Now, outrageously, drug war extremists are trying to censor advocates of reform.  Americans have fought long and hard, both at home and abroad, to preserve and advance our First Amendment rights. What a shame that Rep. Istook is on the other side of this struggle.

There is, of course, a silver lining to the Istook amendment. It's outrageous acts like this that often prove most effective in sensitizing Americans to the excesses of the war on drugs.  Substantial reform of our nation's drug policies within the next several years is inevitable, no matter what drug war extremists say and do today.  But we think Congressman Istook's crass proposal will likely accelerate the pace of reform.  For this we thank him.

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