The Houston Young Republicans held a forum on Tuesday evening titled, “The War on Drugs Has Failed.” David Jennings previously wrote about this event and my friend Ann Lee asked me to attend. The event was billed as a discussion on drug policy and the question of legalization was raised. Four speakers participated in this discussion: The Honorable John Delaney, Jerry Epstein, Carl Veley, and the keynote speaker and Ann’s son, Richard Lee.
Ann and her family have long advocated for the reform of cannabis laws. While I knew that her passion was related to her son Richard, I did not know the reasoning behind her position. The purpose of Richard’s speech on Tuesday was to send the message to young conservatives that cannabis possession is an issue of liberty. While he did not provide much of his personal testimony on Tuesday, I was interested as to why Richard is so zealous about this issue. After some research, I discovered that, when he was 27 years old, Richard was working as a lighting technician and fell off a scaffold, which broke his back. Richard, a paraplegic, is now wheelchair bound and medical cannabis eased the pain that could not be stopped by standard prescription medication. Since that time, Richard has been working to end the prohibition of cannabis.
Ann and her husband Bob have been tireless workers within the Harris County Republican Party. Ann serves as a precinct chair and is dedicated to our community. If you come to the Downtown Pachyderm meeting on Thursdays, she will remind you that the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States does not include a comma between “one Nation” and “under God.” She is a conservative and I think of her as a true stalwart in the vein of Pat McCall, Louise Wing, and Judith Jones. These women, like Anne Armstrong, activated the women’s movement within the Republican Party of Texas. True trailblazers.
The first speaker was Carl Veley. Mr. Veley provided the standing room only crowd with a historical, financial, and legal perspective of the war on drugs throughout the world. He was filled with knowledge and could have spoken on his own for some time.
Judge Delaney, a judge from Bryan, Texas was the second speaker. He began by telling the crowd about his family and stunned the crowd with the news that his adult son was a drug addict. While the judge provided some interesting statistical information, his fight is clearly personal. The most staggering statistic was that, since the war on drugs began in the 1980s, the United States now houses 743 of every 100,000 persons in prison. The numbers speak for themselves.
While race is a difficult subject to address, it cannot be ignored that the strong drug laws in our country disproportionately affect the African American community. And the comparison between alcohol and drug prohibition is real. How are today’s current gang leaders and drug cartel members any different than Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, or the Italian crime families of the 1920s? Taking advantage of government prohibition is the name of the game.
Judge Delaney asked the crowd to raise their hand if they believed that the war on drugs was effective. Not one hand was raised. As a frequent lecturer on this topic, Judge Delaney asks this question often – and no one has ever raised their hand. So, if this effort isn’t working, what should be done?
The third speaker, Jerry Epstein, spoke further about statistics. His mission is to formulate reasonable and sensible drug policy throughout our world. He emphasized that the drug reform efforts comport with the Republican Party of Texas platform that includes personal liberty and protection.
The keynote speaker, Richard Lee, really emphasized the fact that varied groups are coming together to support drug reform because they see that reform is necessary. He spoke about his efforts in California to promote reform. And, he identified the two groups in California who are working against reform: medical marijuana business owners and law enforcement. Why? It’s simple: job preservation.
At the beginning of the presentation, John Baucum, the program moderator, introduced all candidates and elected officials in attendance. After the presentation, Baucum allowed time for questions and Mike Knox, former Houston Police Department Police Officer and current Houston City Council candidate, was asked about his position on legalization. Mr. Knox restated the Houston Police Officers Union’s policy that marijuana should be treated the same as methamphetamine, cocaine, and every other illegal drug. You may remember that the HPOU came out against the trace policy of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office after it was in place for almost two years. Of course, the press conference was in conjunction with their candidate’s election announcement.
The reality of this situation is that over 50% of Republicans believe that the war on drugs is not working. 81% of Republicans support medical marijuana as an alternative for seriously ill or terminal patients. 77% of self-identified conservatives do as well. What can Harris County conservatives do to create an effective policy against criminal activity? The Honorable Michael McSpadden has long advocated for drug law reform. Harris County saw reform efforts by Pat Lykos but we are currently in a 1980s time warp.
Congratulations to the leadership of the Houston Young Republicans who thought outside of the box and brought a great dialogue to a serious subject.
Help for families http://www.council-houston.org
Drug Policy Forum http://www.dpft.org
Drug Policy – Rice http://www.bakerinstitute.org/programs/drug-policy
Trace Amounts of Cocaine – A Misdemeanor? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6N8vUDYYI-c&list=FLKTJzQiRyZAAE2dIJZWKtXQ&index=49
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