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Rare gathering on ‘war on drugs’ this weekend

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

The war on drugs has failed and it’s time for a new approach, based on science, compassion, health and human rights, says a grass-roots group that has assembled an array of bright, thoughtful participants for an unprecedented conference aimed at “charting a new course in drug policy for New Jersey.”

The “New Directions New Jersey” confab this Saturday boasts a distinguished panel that includes state Attorney General Paula Dow; Newark Police Director Garry F. McCarthy; Todd Clear, the dean of Rutgers University‘s School of Criminal Justice; and Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is coordinating the event.

The goal is to examine the decades-old ramifications of President Nixon’s declaration of the “war on drugs” in urban communities such as Newark.

The experts will discuss various topics, including: treating drug use as a health issue, reducing crime and incarceration, and successfully managing addiction. Thanks to participants flying in from around the globe, the group will examine drug policies that have worked elsewhere.

The organizers have pointed to comments made by, among others, President Obama, who said he advocates “shifting the paradigm, shifting the model, so that we focus more on a public health approach [to drugs].”

They also cite the president’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, who told the Wall Street Journal last year that he doesn’t like the term “war on drugs” because “[w]e’re not at war with people in this country.”

For those busted on minor drug charges, it feels like a war, they said.

“[T]hey are virtually permanently barred from the legal workforce for the rest of their lives,“ said one of the participants, the Rev. Dr. M. William Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church. “We must take our stand against the destructive scourge of drug abuse and trafficking by developing new, sensible strategies that solve more problems than they create.”

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the conference will be guided by four principles:

* The war on drugs has failed and it is time for a new approach to drug policy;

* Effective drug policy balances prevention, harm reduction, treatment and public safety;

* Alcohol and other drug use is fundamentally a health issue and must be addressed as such;

* Drug policies must be based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

The free conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Bethany Baptist Church, 275 West Market Street in Newark. For more info and to RSVP: Bethany-Newark.org

Other panel members and conference speakers include:

Michelle Alexander , Esq., associate professor, Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity; Author: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”;

Beny Primm , MD, executive director, Addiction, Research and Treatment Corporation, Brooklyn;

Donald MacPherson , former drug policy coordinator, City of Vancouver;

Alex Stevens , professor of Criminal Justice, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, Chatham, UK;

Stephanie Bush-Baskette , Esq., Director of Rutgers’ Joseph C. Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies;

Deborah Peterson Small , founder and Executive Director of Break the Chains: Communities of Color & the War on Drugs.

For a full list of panel members, go to: NewDirectionsNJ

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