Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader received multiple standing ovations when he declared the war on drugs a complete failure at the Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice conference last weekend.
He encouraged an audience of about 200 mostly Students for a Sensible Drug Policy members to advocate fair drug policies and not drug use Sunday night at the downtown J.W. Marriot.
Nader’s lecture marked the end of a weekend conference on drug policies and justice.
“The hard evidence all points to the same conclusion: the war on drugs has produced the opposite of what it was intended to produce,” Nader said. “After tens of billions of dollars have been spent on the war on drugs, drugs are getting cheaper and more abundant.”
Nader said major political players do not discuss the war on drugs because it is a topic “suffused with taboos” and is dangerous to their political careers.
“We are dealing with institutionalized cowardice on Capitol Hill,” Nader said.
Nader insisted politicians do not want to talk about negative effects of the drug war such as rising prison populations and racist jailings.
“In California, they are spending more on prisons than they are on higher education. The biggest public housing project in the U.S. is prison building,” Nader said. “In New York, 90 percent of those incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses are minorities.”
One of the SSDP’s main efforts is opposing the 1998 Higher Education Act that denies federal, need-based financial aid to those convicted of selling or using drugs. Nader relates the HEA with the rest of the war on drugs by saying it is not doing what it is designed to do.
“It is based on a clinically insane philosophy,” Nader said. “Some one caught smoking pot then is not going to be able get an education? It is like arresting the homeless for vagrancy.”
Nader said the first thing to do is decriminalize addiction and come up with a better way to attack the demand side of the drug problem.
“Drug education needs thinking beyond Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no,'” Nader said.
Nader drew mixed reactions from an otherwise receptive audience when he offered his opinion of some of those fighting against the drug war.
“You cannot get credibility in this struggle if you don’t urge everybody not to take drugs,” Nader said. “Some want to legalize drugs just so they can take more drugs.”
Many students respected Nader’s position on drugs.
“I was impressed,” freshman Nate Landry said. “I liked how he stressed that ending the failing war on drugs does not mean condoning heavy drug use.”