Monday, May 3, 2010

The War No One is Talking About

Back in 2004, Stephanie Miner was a Syracuse Common Councilor and the head of the city's finance committee. She agreed to hold a discussion about the war on drugs and its financial impact on the city.

Six experts testified during the hearing, which lasted more than two hours. It featured testimony from City Auditor Minch Lewis, LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) founder Jack Cole and Pierre Claude Nolin, the head of the Canadian Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs.

A local group called ReconsiDer helped put together this slate of experts to testify. The group's leader, Nicolas Eyle (left), says the hearing couldn't have gone better.

But, there was a problem. No one showed up.

"Well it got no media coverage in the newspaper because the newspaper didn't want anything to do with it," Eyle said during an interview this past April. "It was too radical."

The Post-Standard sent a reporter to cover the discussion, but Eyle says the reporter stood in the back of the room, giggling with the head of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). The newspaper printed a story about the hearing on page 17 the next day.

Eyle says there wasn't enough public demand to change the city's drug laws. Even with Miner on board, the group struggled to promote its message - the legalization of all drugs - without media coverage.

Since that hearing, ReconsiDer has stopped taking on new members. At its peak, the organization had more than 1,000 members, including people outside the United States.

But it's core - Eyle, Gene Tinelli and Peter Christ - are still fighting to reform drug laws in Central New York.

"I don't want to see us do with drugs what we did with alcohol, I don't want to see us legalize drugs and embark on a 50 year bender pretending we don't have a drug problem," said Christ (right), a former town of Tonawanda police officer.

Christ first got involved with the drug legalization movement in the early 1990s after he retired from the police force at the age of 42. He has served as the group's spokesman for more than a decade, speaking at rotary clubs and libraries.

The group's message is simple.

"When you choose a policy of prohibition to deal with these kinds of problems, you have chosen a policy that gives you total deregulation and decontrol of this marketplace," Christ said. "We have to get this out of the hands of gangsters and thugs, and turn it over to legitimate business people."

While Christ is traveling, Gene Tinelli (left) is doing his part to change drug policy. He's an addiction psychiatrist, and an associate professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

He seems committed to promoting the drug legalization movement in Central New York. And that includes debating Onondaga County district attorney, William Fitzpatrick.

"He won't debate me anymore." Tinelli said. "He's paid to enforce the law. And he's also elected. So there's the political input and what seems to get the most votes."

Fitzpatrick says that's not true.

"I don't know where he's getting that from," he said. "I don't clear my calendar with Gene. I have a secretary.

"It's just flat out dangerous. You're going to have more addicts, you're going to have less productivity, you're going to have a greater drain on the economy, you're going to have a greater drain and strain on the healthcare system."

As for the future of the drug legalization movement, Eyle, Tinelli and Christ say they're committed to putting the War on Drugs back on the map.

Click here to listen to the full story.

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