Drug Policy Forum reflects on successes

Group helped pass marijuana ordinance, conducted opinion poll

It’s been one year since a new group surfaced in Lawrence with the goal of making Kansans rethink the war on drugs.

In that time, the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas has succeeded in helping pass a city marijuana ordinance, conducted a statewide public opinion poll and obtained official tax status as a nonprofit.

Executive director Laura A. Green said the group’s e-mailed newsletter has grown from about 50 recipients to more than 600.

Green said that, typically, people who speak out for drug reform are labeled “radicals or legalizers” – something she’s tried to avoid in her dealings with law enforcement and elected leaders.

“I’m not there to challenge them. I’m there to discuss the policies,” Green said Thursday as she sat inside a west-side rental home she was renovating, wearing a T-shirt with the words “No More Drug War” on the back. “It’s important that we have civil discourse with our elected officials and our law-enforcement community. … Being antagonistic and critical is not our mission.”

Green cited a statewide poll of 500 frequent voters, conducted by Jayhawk Consulting, as one of the group’s main accomplishments in its first year. Among its findings:

¢ 73 percent of those polled agreed that students in junior high and high school who participate in extracurricular activities should be drug tested. But she cited research, including a 2003 study by the University of Michigan, that showed drug-testing in schools does not deter drug use. She said the group is planning a town-hall style forum on the subject where both sides will be presented.

¢ 52 percent of those polled believed we are losing the “war on drugs.”

¢ By nearly three to one (60 percent to 21 percent), those polled said they viewed someone with a drug problem as a criminal to be punished, rather than a person with a health problem.

¢ 62 percent were unopposed to changing Kansas law to allow marijuana use by someone with a “serious and terminal medical condition” if it was recommended by a doctor.

One of the group’s goals is to promote “public health” alternatives to the current criminal justice approach to drugs.

“For 35 years, we’ve had the same policies, and they’re not working,” Green said. “Our mission is to elevate the debate so that both sides are presented, so that the general public can make up their own minds on the issues.”

The group first came into the public eye when it began pushing for a city marijuana ordinance that would allow cases to be handled in Municipal Court instead of District Court. According to Municipal Court, 66 cases have been prosecuted so far under the new law.

Green, however, said the changes have turned out to be somewhat of a “nonissue.” The $200 fine adopted by the city for marijuana possession – which is in addition to a $100 fee for an evaluation – was higher than Green wanted to see, and the law left police with the discretion of whether to arrest someone or issue a citation.

Green said the group is supported by donations and grants it has received from the groups Common Sense for Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance. Lawrence lawyer Bob Eye is a founding board member, and Carolyn Jones, of Lawrence, is the board secretary.

Lt. John Eickhorn, a Kansas Highway Patrol spokesman, said he and Green may not agree on the issues, but that, so far, their contacts have been cordial and professional. The two spoke at length earlier this summer, when Green questioned the increased law enforcement presence and police check lane at this year’s Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival.

As of this week, Green is awaiting a response to a records request for information on how federal anti-drug grant money was used at the festival, as well as statewide.

“They expressed their concern, and I think that they did it in a polite way,” Eickhorn said.