“Moms are uniting and leading the charge to end drug prohibition, just as they did with alcohol prohibition in the 1930s. It’s time to end the pointless and punitive criminalization of people who use drugs and the needless deaths caused by the illegal drug trade.” -- Gretchen Burns Bergman, Executive Director & Co-Founder A New PATH
By: Dennis Moore
July 10, 2010 (San Diego) –Family members of drug victims have joined forces with healthcare and others to forge a coalition calling for changes in failed drug policies. These policies have led to increased violence and mass incarceration, while failing to curb addiction and overdose deaths.
Mothers, family members, healthcare professionals and individuals in recovery gathered at the San Diego Central Courthouse steps on April 28 to bring focus to the havoc wreaked by the government’s failed drug policies. The rally kicked off a statewide campaign to stop these punitive and discriminatory drug policies. On July 29th at 12:30 p.m., Moms United to End the War on Drugs will hold a rally and vigil at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse to argue that current drug policies are doing more harm than good.
In honor of the 11th anniversary of A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing: http://www.anewpathsite.org/ ) and its advocacy work for therapeutic drug policies, the April 28 vigil was held in San Diego to remember those who have lost their lives, health or liberty to the war on drugs. Speakers included Gretchen Burns Bergman ( mother, A New PATH), Anita Fisher ( mother, A New PATH), NAMI, Julia Negron (mother, treatment provider), the Rev. Canon Mary Moreno-Richardson ( St. Paul’s Cathedral), and Margaret Dooley-Sammuli (, Drug Policy Alliance). This event kicked off a series of rallies, vigils and protests starting in San Diego and moving to Orange County, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Sacramento. A larger rally is being planned at the State Capital in Sacramento building in fall 2010.
Fisher, Education Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), also on the Board of Directors of A New PATH, recently made a presentation before the Bethel A.M.E. Prison Ministry at the Tubman/Chavez Center in San Diego, in regard to the incarceration of those with a documented history of mental illness. She repeated that presentation at the monthly meeting of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Reentry Roundtable.
PATH grew out of a series of pre-Substance Abuse Summit meetings with parents, Superior Court judges and officers of the criminal justice system in the Spring of 1999. Founding members are Gretchen Burns Bergman, Sylvia Liwerant and Tom O’Donnell. The Mission Statement of PATH is: to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness through education and compassionate support and to advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies. With that in mind, “A New PATH” has hosted and sponsored a number of forums to educate the public, most notably, a Prisoner Release 101 forum panel discussion at the Joyce Beers Center, which was profiled in the East County Magazine. At that panel discussion, which I participated in, along with San Diego County Sheriff William Gore, a Position Paper was formulated that articulated our views on prisoner release.
It is the position and belief of A New PATH that current drug policies are doing more harm than good:
• Overdose: In the U.S., men aged 35-54 are more likely to die of a drug overdose than a car accident. In 2006, the latest figures published by the Centers on Disease Control, 26,400 people died of an unintentional drug in the U.S.
• Arrests: Over 1.8 million people in the U.S. were arrested for a drug offense in 2008, 1.4 million of them for drug possession – not sales or trafficking.
• Incarceration: The U.S. represents 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. One in 100 American adults – 2.3 million people – is incarcerated; one in every 32 adults is either incarcerated, on parole or probation or under some other form of state or local supervision. Over 30,000 people are in prison in California for a drug offense; two-thirds of them for a possession offense.
• Life-long exclusion: Conclusions of a drug conviction, or even an arrest, may include the permanent loss of educational and employment opportunities, as well as public housing, food stamps and, in many states, the right to vote.
• Violence: In 2009, 79 American citizens were killed in Mexico. Experts attribute the violence to Mexico’s ongoing battle with drug cartels, which may generate 60% of their profits from marijuana alone. (see Book Review: Police and Public Security in Mexico; East County Magazine, January 13, 2010).
• Wasted Dollars: The U.S. spends $40 billion a year on the drug war.
• Better alternatives: Taxing and regulating marijuana in California could raise $1.4 billion in tax revenues, cut law enforcement and prison costs, and take income out of the hands of drug cartels.
A New PATH is partnering with other organizations – including Families ACT! And Broken No More – as well as individuals across the state in a massive collaborative effort to change our current punitive policies of arrest and imprisonment to health-oriented and therapeutic strategies. Other supporters include the Drug Policy Alliance and Clergy Against Prohibition. Mothers are leading the charge to stop the pointless and punitive criminalization of people for drug use, and to end the needless deaths caused by illegal drug trade.
Dennis Moore is a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild. He has written for LifeAfter50 Magazine in Pasadena, California, and the Baja Times Newspaper in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. He is also the President of Bethel A.M.E. Prison Ministry. The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org