Nadine Strossen
Former President, ACLU; Professor of Law; New York Law School
04:13

Nadine Strossen; Decriminalizing Drugs

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Strossen worries about disproportionate drug penalties and the disproportionate effect they have on minority communities.

Nadine Strossen

Nadine Strossen has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties, and international human rights. From 1991 through 2008 she served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Professor Strossen retains leadership positions with the ACLU as a member of its National Advisory Council and Co-Chair of its Campaign for the Future.

The National Law Journal has twice named Professor Strossen one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” In 1996, Working Woman Magazine listed her among the “350 Women Who Changed the World 1976–1996.” In 1997, Upside Magazine included her in the “Elite 100: 100 Executives Leading The Digital Revolution.” In 1998, Vanity Fair Magazine included Professor Strossen in “America’s 200 Most Influential Women.” In 1999, Ladies’ Home Journal included her in “America’s 100 Most Important Women.” In 2005, Professor Strossen was honored by the University of Tulsa College of Law and the Tulsa Law Review, which made her scholarly work the subject of their Fifth Annual Legal Scholarship Symposium titled “Nadine Strossen: Scholar as Activist.”

Professor Strossen’s writings have been published in many scholarly and general interest publications (more than 250 published works). Her book, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (Scribner, 1995), was named by The New York Times as a “Notable Book” of 1995 and was republished in 2000 by NYU Press, with a new introduction by the author. Her coauthored book, Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (NYU Press, 1995), was named an “outstanding book” by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

Professor Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College (1972) and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1975), where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Before becoming a law professor, she practiced law for nine years in Minneapolis (her hometown) and New York City.

Transcript

Nadine Strossen:  I would say the whole criminal justice system and the extent to which it has been bogged down by this endless, so called war on drugs which is still… we still have a mandatory minimums that are much too high. We still are incarcerating people who are not victimizing anybody else directly, who are committing non-violent offenses of possession and it is having an enormously disproportionately adverse impact on racial minority communities in particular. I haven’t looked at the statistics recently, but they are just huge percentages of African American men who are in the toils of the criminal justice system and increasingly that is spilling over to women; so, that has an enormous impact on families and communities and without improving public safety. In fact to the contrary, because there are so many harsh mandatory minimums for these non-violent drug offenses that some violent offenders have to be let out of prison in order to create room for them.I think that we absolutely should decriminalize all substances for mature, mentally competent adults. I think the model of regulation is the one that is endorsed by the public health community in terms of the public health concerns. I think they are more on drugs as a demonstrated disaster in terms of its not preventing people becoming addicted and abusing drugs. It is creating far more problems than it solves in terms of violence and crime, jacking up the prices of the substances and one of the things that really surprised me was after 09/11, I in retrospect naively I guess thought that the war on terror would displace the war on drugs in one important sense at least and that is that we were going after all of the other sources of financing for terrorists, so why the heck aren’t we going after the drugs that are so profitable only because of the world wide criminalization and that is funding Al Qaeda and terrorist networks around the world, but asif it has become to kind of mixed metaphors a sacred cattle and this is one of those issues where I can’t think of a Democratic leader who is willing to speak out on these issues. It is one of those sort of like Nixon goes to China kind of thing where you have very conservative Republicans who have solid credentials as being tough on crime, who have been coming out for a long time advocating decriminalization. The entire national review a generation ago had an issue about this and there have been Republican conservative governors and so forth that have advocated it, but it is something that most politicians, especially Democrats will not touch will a 10 feet pole and I think it is deeply damaging to our country and this ties back to another issue that you raised…you know what is that people aren’t thinking about. I don’t even really hear much discussion about this or the fact that the United States has by far the largest prison population per capita in the world. We just take it for granted now and there is a prison industrial complex where so many communities have…and individuals and corporations, have an economic stake in maintaining this inside our country and again, when you add to that the fact that it is so skewed racially, I think it is an enormous issue of racial and justice as well as criminal and justice.

 

Recorded On: 2/14/08


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