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More than 1,000 Meet in Denver to Develop Drug War Exit Strategy As Poll Finds 58% of Americans Want Pot Legalized

By October 27, 2013July 22nd, 2022No Comments

By Tony Newman

Which state will be next to legalize marijuana? What do the Obama administration’s recent announcements about marijuana legalization and mandatory minimums [3] really mean? What are some solutions to the national overdose crisis that takes more lives than car accidents or gun violence? Why do blacks go to jail for drugs at 13 times the rate of whites even though they use and sell drugs at similar rates? What role can faith leaders play in organizing and mobilizing their congregations to end the drug war?

More than 1,000 people will gather to ponder these questions and many more at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver, October 23-26 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel.

Support for drug policy changes has never been more apparent. A Gallup poll released Tuesday shows a record-breaking 58 percent of American voters think marijuana should be legalized—up from the previous record high of 50 percent support in October 2011.

In the past decade, voters and legislators have enacted hundreds of drug policy reforms on issues ranging from medical marijuana to treatment-instead-of-incarceration for nonviolent drug law violations. Building on the momentum from these victories, more than 1,000 drug policy experts, health care and drug treatment professionals, elected officials, law enforcement, students, and formerly incarcerated people from around the country and across the world will gather to promote alternatives to the failed war on drugs.

Denver provides a compelling backdrop for the conference – and not just because Colorado made history last year by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana. Colorado is home to a strong base of savvy drug policy reformers advocating for harm reduction policies and sentencing reforms. It is increasingly viewed as a bellwether state in terms of policy and politics, and its national resonance will only increase in years to come. DPA has been deeply involved in the state for more than a decade. In its first foray, DPA spearheaded and managed the campaign that passed the state’s medical marijuana initiative in 2000. After playing a supportive role to our in-state allies for more than a decade, DPA opened an office in Denver in early 2011 to help pass Amendment 64 and advance other policy changes.

“When we first picked Denver to host the 2013 biennial conference, we thought it quite unlikely that we’d be convening in the first state (with Washington) to legalize marijuana,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  ‘But Colorado’s voters ensured a warm welcome with their vote last November.  Now drug policy reformers from across the country and around the world are eager to attend our conference in Denver – not to get high in the Mile High City but to spend three days at the world’s leading drug policy reform gathering and demonstrate their support for Colorado’s global leadership.”

To celebrate the unprecedented momentum of the drug policy reform movement, conference attendees will participate in a “victory walk” and block party to celebrate the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay, as well as recent harm reduction and sentencing reform victories in Colorado. The victory walk and rally will take place on Thursday, October 24 at 1 p.m., starting at the 16th Street Mall from the Downtown Sheraton to Skyline Park (between 15th and 16th).

Below is a small sampling of the 50+ panels at the conference. For the full list, including descriptions and speakers, see the conference website [4].

Which States Will be Next to Legalize Marijuana?

  • This roundtable will focus on the states that are likely to move forward with legalization in 2014 or 2016. What are the pros and cons of ballot initiatives when compared to the legislative route? What will it take to reach the national tipping point? And will any state in the South ever legalize marijuana?

International Innovations

  • Join high-level government officials from around the world – including the Guatemalan foreign minister, the Czech “drug czar”, and the Chief of Staff for Uruguayan President José Mujica – to learn about drug policy reform innovations such as marijuana legalization and drug decriminalization.  What impact will these international innovations have on the U.S.?

View from the Right: Libertarians and Conservatives

  • Many libertarians have long been opposed to the war on drugs, and the current climate has increased the opportunities for them to speak out and to be part of coalitions fighting to end the drug war. Some prominent conservatives, coming from a different perspective, have also begun to speak publicly about the need for alternatives to the drug war approach. What are the messages that resonate with these two groups? What are the ways these groups can be most strategic and effective in opposing the drug war, and how do we maximize their impact?

Hip Hop and the War on Drugs

  • More and more entertainers and artists are using their art as an instrument for change. While many artists have been deeply affected by the drug war, many of them have yet to fully embrace drug policy reform. How can the drug policy reform movement help entertainers organize their peers and mobilize their fan bases?

Zombies, Mad Scientists, and Legal Highs: Harm Reduction With Emerging Drugs

  • What do we know about “new” and “emerging” drugs and how do we know it? When it comes to these drugs – some of which have been around for many years – how do we separate the science from the media panic? Are there better policy options than criminalizing new drugs? Learn about lessons and best practices from people who answer these questions all the time.

Organizing While Criminal: Can We Build Power in the Face of Stigma and Criminalization?

  • What does it take for organizers who are labeled as “criminal” to build power when they’ve been deemed powerless by society? How can they develop a shared identity and meaning, when they’ve already been defined? How does one build power to change a system from the margins? And what would it take to move from the margins to the center of advocacy for drug policy reform?

Conscience Verdicts: Using Jury Nullification to Quell the War on Drugs

  • Jury nullification is a powerful tool with which to fight the failed policies of the war on drugs.  This panel will explore the history of jury nullification, its use in drug cases, how to use jury nullification as an advocacy tool, and strategies for building a jury nullification movement to stem the tide of the drug war.

Can You Hear Me Now? Speaking the Language of Reform to Faith Leaders

  • Drug use and criminal conduct are often labeled as moral failures – yet similarly, mass incarceration and the drug war can also be considered immoral and unethical. Is the church doing enough to include people who use drugs and those with criminal convictions in their faith communities? What role can faith leaders play [5] in organizing and mobilizing their congregations to end the drug war?

You Can’t End AIDS Until You End the War on Drugs

  • The criminalization of people who use drugs is driving the HIV/AIDS pandemic [6]. Yet in countries where addiction is treated as a health issue, the fight against AIDS is being won. We know how to virtually eliminate new transmissions, so why aren’t we there yet? What are the barriers to ending HIV, and what are researchers and advocates doing to get there?

This year, the Reform Conference will also feature an interactive photography project that will encourage attendees to use compelling imagery, impactful statements and social media to challenge the war on drugs. The images and messages will focus on three themes: criminal justice, health & harm reduction and marijuana legalization.  Reform attendees will have an opportunity to personalize their own messages and open the dialogue around drug use and people who use drugs. To see the photos from the conference, go to the Reform Conference’s Facebook Page [7], or search #NoMoreDrugWar on Facebook and Twitter.

The Drug Policy Alliance is co-hosting the 2013 International Drug Policy Reform Conference with the ACLU, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Institute of the Black World, International Drug Policy Consortium, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Marijuana Policy Project, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Open Society Foundations, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Visit the conference website [8] for a full list of partners, more information on the conference, and registration details.


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.