Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

A Short Activist’s Guide

This short activists guide has been based on a publication called "Persuasive Strategies" by Clifford A. Schaffer. His work can be found at the DRCNET drug library at "druglibrary.org/schaffer/activist/persuas.htm".

The issue is deaths and tragedy.

The issue is not legalization or decriminalization because we really do not know if we will ever do those things. The issue is how many more people will have to die and how many more families will have to suffer before our current drug policies are changed.

You cannot successfully defend decriminalization or legalization to most people at this point, because it is not here and they cannot see it. Turn the issue around to make them defend what we are doing now. The drug policy has not worked and there is not a drug law enforcement official in the Australia who pretends that it can work. Once they are on the defensive, it is easy to get them to admit that it is time to look for another approach - whatever that approach might be.

Don't use the "L" word or the "D" word.

Don't use "legalization" or "decriminalization". These words tend to set some people's heads on fire. In the first place, these words will cause many people to go into an immediate complete mental shut-down and they will not hear another thing you say. In the second place, it is wrong to reduce what must necessarily be a complex policy under any circumstances, to a single word. It only serves to further distort the issue.

Do your homework.

There is enough information available in official reports to sink anyone who supports the claim that we are winning "the war on drugs". The reports were written because the present policies are not working.

Be reasonable.

If you can present a sound and reasonable approach to solving the drug problem, and maintain that stance, you will short-circuit most of the negative emotions and hostility which may be raised against you. Notice that I have said a reasonable "approach" to solving the drug problem, not a reasonable "solution" to the drug problem. By approach, I mean a method of finding a solution. Do not try to present a solution because that only gets you into trouble. Instead, promote a fair and reasonable method of finding a solution -- such as developing policy based on evidence.

At the same time, this reasonable stance forces our opponents to either be reasonable or adopt ever more extreme positions on drugs. One question for them is: "What do you have against an open and honest review of the evidence?" If they disagree then they clearly demonstrate that they are too extreme to even consider the facts.

Win by inches.

Don't try to bring people too far in their thinking. If you can simply convince them that our current policy is a disaster which could never work (and that is really easy!) then they will ask themselves - what should we do? When they confront this question, they have started down the road of change.

Take the moral high ground

Most dealers are dependent users who will on-sell a portion and retain the balance for their own personal use. The line between user and dealer at the lower level is blurred. There is nothing moral about incarcerating these people and not treating their addiction. There is nothing moral about a drug policy that seeks to destroy people, not heal them. The damage being done by this policy is too great to allow anyone to maintain the pretense that this drug war is something holy and moral.

Don't advance your own plan for selling drugs.

Do not discuss your personal plan for how legalization would work. First, convince them we should change the laws. There will be plenty of time for how later. When you suggest how it should be done then your individual ideas become the focus. If your plan fails for any reason, then your whole argument will fail. The real secret is that there is no one right answer to drug policy.

Don't get tied up in debates over the health risks.

The evidence is quite clear that, by any standard of comparison, alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous than almost any of the illegal drugs. However, the relative health risks are not really the issue.

We all know that tobacco and alcohol are hazardous to your health but we all would agree that prohibition is not the best policy for those hazards. Prohibition of alcohol was a terrible mistake when it was tried.

The question is: what is the best policy for those dangers? Bigger prisons do not equal better public health policy.

Avoid complex arguments

It is necessary to make arguments which are as simple and as easily understood as possible.

In general, most people will not be persuaded by philosophical arguments about civil liberties, or arcane arguments about economics. It may be sad, but it is true.

Attack the very foundations of the drug laws.

The drug laws were the product of racism and ignorance. They never did have anything to do with public health and safety. It is important that people understand this point. Most people wrongly assume that the drug laws were passed because it was necessary to protect people against dangerous drugs. Most people do not know that, at the time the laws were passed, there was no medical evidence to show that these drugs were dangerous. Once people begin to understand that there never was a good reason for the laws in the first place, then it is perfectly legitimate to ask what is the reason for these laws now.

Stick to the issue.

Don't get sidetracked. Drug policy is one of those issues which is closely intertwined with other issues such as morality, education, health care, welfare, and many others. The issue is whether more deaths and tragedy will solve the drug problem.

Get the facts out.

Most people do not know the actual statistics on things like drug deaths, the number of people in prison. When they hear the facts, they really begin to wonder about the current policy.