Last week I flew up to San Francisco for a screening of the documentary, Breaking The Taboo. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with heavy hitters like Sir Richard Branson, Gavin Newsom, Laura Thomas (Deputy State Director of The Drug Policy Alliance), George Gascon (District Attorney of San Francisco), Dorsey Nunn (executive director of legal services for prisoners with children), and moderated by Emily Chang of Bloomberg Television. The film was a fascinating and provocative perspective on the many statistics that we hear about the drug war. With interviews from former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, this film finally has put the facts in one place.
Branson, (who's son produced the film), joined the Global Commission on Drug Policy Reform in 2012 and has been active in speaking out for drug policy reform. When Branson was asked: "Of all the things that you do and all of the things that you can do, why drugs? Why take on this fight?"
“I think it's important that people speak out on anything that is patently wrong,” Branson said. “As an entrepreneur, if I have a failed business, I will change tact and close it down. The war on drugs has now failed for over 50 years." He went on to explain how 12 years ago, Portugal eliminated criminal penalties for drug users which has by and large has gotten on top of the country’s drug problem.
Newsom was then addressed: "Mr. Lieutenant Governor, marijuana has now been legalized in two states, how do you feel about the legalization of marijuana?" After thanking the audience for coming, he praised the film and went on to say, "It's a film that, please don’t quote me, PISSES ME OFF! We are at a point in time where we have to move past these juvenile discussions of flippantly referring to folks that believe in moving in a new direction as pot heads, or stoners, or hippies. The next iteration of this film I hope is what are we doing to solve this issue." He also stated later in the panel that his focus is specifically on the marijuana issue.
Many of the attendees were local activist and cannabis patients, and most people in the room seemed to want answers to HOW things can change.
I raised my hand for the Q&A and was the last question from the audience. I began by stating that I was from HIGH TIMES Magazine and the room immediately applauded! I shared my personal cause and passion for cannabis to the panel as a cancer survivor, I recalled my experience with switching from pharmaceuticals to cannabis, and that I know that cannabis saved my life. “I feel that pharmaceuticals is the real enemy!” Again, another round of applause came. I continued by saying that “legalization or decriminalization on a federal level (even if just medically to start) could help the community so greatly to see safe access for patients and less people getting arrested in this country for possession.” I also shared that there is an army of activists who are working diligently to create initiatives and campaigns happening to change the media’s perception of what cannabis consumers are like. My question to the panel was this, “How can you as a panel, help us as a community achieve the change we want to see and start the beginning of the end of the drug war?"
George Gascon, DA, responded by speaking about an initiative coming in 2014 in CA that will reduce all possession of drugs for personal use from a felony to a misdemeanor. It is thought that it will create somewhere between $150-$250 million in savings, which will then be directed toward substance abuse programs, mental health, and K-12 education.
Although it was not exactly the answer I was looking for, I applaud the efforts of the DA and look forward to reading the initiative and supporting full force if it is in the best interest of our community. It's time for action and it is time for people to put their money where their mouth is by donating to the cause in order to see the change we want in the world. The statistics are overwhelming, the people are in place, but the financing and resources to support the army of activists are lacking.
The overall tone of the evening was a reminder that it’s time to #SparkTheConversation on a global level and make change our priority. Campaigning and fundraising should be a priority and is the only way change will come.