Such are the mantras of "harm reduction," the two-decade-old European philosophy now finding support in America. Its advocates bluntly acknowledge what is becoming increasingly evident: that the drug war has failed, and causes at least as much suffering as addiction itself. It's not an idea limited to pipe dreamers--not anymore.
Take Ethan Nadelmann, Harvard Ph.D. (and Harvard Law School grad, and London School of Economics grad), who spoke at the fourth national Harm Reduction Conference, which drew 1,300 people to Seattle last week. Nadelmann gave up his Princeton professorship in 1994 to become one of the drug reform movement's leading apostles. The head of the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug-war think tank, Nadelmann proposes that Seattle become American exemplar of drug policy reform.
Interviewed after his December 3 speech to an enthusiastic crowd at the downtown Sheraton, Nadelmann spoke optimistically about local change, despite recent electoral reverses in Ohio, Nevada, and Arizona.
"Something really remarkable is happening here," Nadelmann says. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is the only chapter in the country with a staffer, Andy Ko, dedicated to drug reform work. Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper was the only top cop in the country to publicly proclaim harm reduction a "moral imperative." The King County Bar Association has been studying the drug war's impact, and educating the legal community about their pro-reform findings. Even Norm Maleng, King County's "hard-ass prosecutor," understands the need for harm reduction measures.
Ko says the first item on his wish list is the passage next year of I-75, an initiative requiring Seattle police to deprioritize enforcement of pot laws. And he points to Vancouver--where the new mayor, a former drug cop, just won a handy victory on a drug reform platform--and says he hopes to bring Canadian reformers down to Seattle to educate local and state politicians about their efforts. Change is coming, Ko says, but it will take time and education.