On Rummy, Meaningful Hallucinogenic Experiences, and Ending the Drug War

"How many people here have had a meaningful hallucinogenic experience?" So asked one of the speakers at a fundraising dinner for the Drug Policy Alliance held last night in Los Angeles.

Only a few hands went up in an audience that was surprisingly light on youthful stoner-types. It was much more of a pro-justice, pro-human rights, anti-drug war crowd.

The event, honoring anti-drug war activists Jodie Evans and Max Palevsky (and, truth in blogging, me), and billed as "An Evening of Comedy and Music to Benefit the DPA," certainly delivered on that promise, with funny and topical performances by John Fugelsang, Beth Lapides, Jeffrey Ross, singer Jill Sobule, and an Andy Kaufman-eque appearance by Andy Dick featuring a wheelchair, a broken guitar, and a hash pipe. All hosted by Bruce Vilanch, who joked that he only got the gig "because they couldn't find an illegal immigrant to do the job."

When it was my turn to speak, I confessed that I have never had a meaningful hallucinogenic experience -- indeed that I have never even had a meaningless hallucinogenic experience. Other than the time I was seated next to Don Rumsfeld at a Washington dinner party.

"It was a long, hard slog," I told the crowd. "But, as you know, you have to go to dinner with the dinner companion you have, not the dinner companion you want."

The Rummy riff was more than a punchline -- it was a way of highlighting the many similarities between the debacle in Iraq and America's disastrous war on drugs. Both are wildly expensive, counterproductive, and underreported wars that have left tens of thousands of ruined lives in their wake.

And both wars are laying waste to the MSM's musty right-wing-vs.-left-wing frame, as more and more conservatives are taking stands against the Bush administration's failed war in Iraq and failed war on drugs.

Let's face it, it's not exactly left-wing to come out against a $40-billion-dollar-a-year War on Drugs that has unfairly targeted people of color, siphoned resources from the war on terror, and pitted the government against its own people.

Nor is it left-wing to want to put an end to a War on Drugs that has turned into a war on America's minority communities. While blacks make up 13 percent of drug users, they account for 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. And the average prison term for black drug offenders is 69% longer [pdf] than for whites.

It's not left-wing. It's not right-wing. It's common sense. And it's why people from all parts of the political spectrum are finally speaking out on the issue.

As I've said before, on how many issues do Jesse Jackson, George Soros, Walter Cronkite, the ACLU, Cato, Bill Buckley, George Shultz and the Heritage Foundation agree?

We saw this left/right realignment played out on the issue of drug treatment vs. incarceration for nonviolent offenders here in California back in 2000 when Prop. 36 passed despite being solidly opposed by the state's Democratic political establishment, including Diane Feinstein and Gray Davis. The measure was supported by Republican Tom Campbell, then a member of the House, who until recently served as Gov. Schwarzenegger's finance director.

Campbell's influence is likely one of the reasons the Governor has thankfully earmarked another $120 million to continue funding of Prop. 36 in his next budget.

The other reason, of course, is that treatment flat-out works -- as a new study from UCLA proves. According to the study, diverting nonviolent first and second time drug offenders from jail into rehab has saved the taxpayers of California $800 million over the last five years.

What could be more conservative than that?

The only ones who don't seem convinced are our political leaders, who continue to hide on the issue -- just as so many of them are hiding on the war in Iraq. And they're doing it for the same reason: they are terrified of being seen as soft on defense, soft on the military, soft on terror, and soft on crime and drugs.

And their fear is making them soft in the head -- and soft in the spine.

Aren't you sick and tired of politicians who are supposed to be on your side betraying you -- and betraying common sense -- because of their fears?

And it's not like they even need to worry about offending voters, who have shown time and again that, by a large majority, they see drug abuse as a medical problem best handled through treatment, rather than as a crime best handled by incarceration.

So, once again, the public, which has been leading the way in opposing the war in Iraq, is also leading the way in opposing the war on drugs.

Bottom line: both when it comes to Iraq and when it comes to America's War on Drugs, it's time for our troops to stand down.