Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Report from Pittsburgh

Jack Cole, myself and a civilian volunteer, George, spent three days at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh. NN is an annual convention for progressive bloggers that grew out of the success of the Daily Kos blog.

I was part of a panel called "After the Shooting Stops," which focused on drug policy reform. It included moderator Ryan Grim, Professor Mark Kleiman, libertarian Radly Balko (aka The Agitator) and Professor Jonathan Caulkins.

With four panelists, one moderator and Q & A from the audience, we had to keep our comments brief. I introduced LEAP and explained the need for ending drug prohibition. A debate ensued with Kleiman and Caulkins opposed to legalizing and regulating drugs, although they both appeared to leave the door open when it came to marijuana reform. Although neither wanted to end drug prohibition, they demonstrated a strong interest in reforming other parts of the U.S. criminal justice system, and I felt they both had some good ideas in that regard.

One frustrating part of the panel was when Mark Kleiman said he had walked by the LEAP exhibit booth and noticed a poster that stated "98%" of those asked would not try heroin or cocaine if it was legal. He suggested that the 2% who would try hard drugs was higher than historical drug use rates, and therefore legalization was a bad policy. I didn't get a chance to respond to this at the time, but the poster in question actually stated 99%, not 98%. This statistic came from a Zogby poll taken in October 2007 of 1028 likely voters. Only 0.6% said "yes," 0.4% said they weren't sure, and the remaining 99% said "no." Interestingly, 100% of the 18-34 age group said "no." (Given the margin of error with most polls it would be helpful to see results of several polls done over a period of time.)

During our last day, Jack went to the RightOnline convention, which was also being held in Pittsburgh. RightOnline is the conservative equivalent of Netroots Nation. He was able to sign up some members there, which speaks to the fact that drug prohibition is an issue with detractors across the political spectrum. All told, LEAP signed up over one hundred new members from both conventions, including some of the most influential bloggers in the United States.

Last but not least, these conventions inspired us to start the new blog.

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