Story By Ken Krayeske • 4:40 PM EST
The war on drugs has claimed another politician: Ned Lamont will moderate a forum at the "Drug Policy for the 21st Century" conference at Central Connecticut State University, Wednesday, February 4, 2009.
National legalization experts like keynote speaker Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance, and panelist Jack Cole, from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition will lead the conference, co-sponsored by CCSU's Peace Studies Department and its Institute for the Study of Criminal Justice. Tickets are still available for the conference here.
Give Lamont some credit for guiding the afternoon's premier panel, featuring Connecticut anti-prohibitionists like Cliff Thornton, whose 2006 Green Party campaign for governor I managed, former Hartford City Councilman Bob Painter and A Better Way's Lorenzo Jones.
But surrounded by activists openly touting legalization, with no one on the panel to argue for the drug war, you think that Lamont, who enjoys a part-time professorship in the Peace Studies Department at CCSU, would be forthcoming about his opinions and history with illegal drugs.
"No, I am not answering any of those questions," Lamont said when I asked him if he had ever done any illegal drugs. Nor would he go on the record to analyze prohibition.
"It is a long overdue debate for the state of Connecticut," Lamont would only say. "As a moderator I am going to do everything I can to be neutral. I am going to be a provocateur."
So Ned is playing his participation like a man who is running for office in 2010. And frankly, I tire of leadership - or those who purport to want to lead society via electoral office - equivocating on the most intense, important issues of our day.
Lamont did not make the war on drugs an issue in his Senate campaign. So when did he have this epiphany that the war on drugs was bad? Or does he think by lending his world-famous, Lieberman-slaying name to a conference that endorses legalization, he can still straddle this fault line of an issue?
"A leading indicator of a politician's character is their stance on the drug war, or lack thereof," Thornton said.
While President Barack Obama has not touched the devastating side effects of the war on some drugs, has at least admitted to smoking marijuana and experimenting with cocaine. So what gives, Ned?
When I called him for the interview, I told his secretary who I was, and indicated that I wanted to interview Ned. And I swore that at the beginning of the conversation with Ned, I told him this was for my website and myleftnutmeg.com. But I apparently didn't.
Yet he knows I am a journalist. The first time I met him was to interview him at his office in Greenwich in January 2006. He impressed me enough that I eventually worked for his campaign for two months in spring 2006 before joining Thornton's efforts. And to complete disclosure, I remember introducing Thornton and Lamont at a Saturday night debate fanfare at CCSU during the 2006 election.
This time, on the phone, we made small talk for a minute - I updated him on the civil rights lawsuit surrounding my false arrest, and I mentioned that I read the case for law school that his Uncle Corliss won against the U.S. Postal Service for reading his Communist-themed mail. Then I asked Lamont how he decided to participate in the CCSU conference.
"Cliff had contacted me a year or so ago to do something on drug policy," Lamont said. "It took a year or so to get it together."
When I moved to ask him about his history with illegal drugs, he suddenly inquired if was typing this, and if the conversation was on the record? I said yes, and he said no, he thought we were talking as friends, and it was off the record.
Friends, I thought, as if Ned and I trade chocolate chip cookie recipes or swill beers at Kenney's Red Rock Tavern on Tuesday nights? And if we were talking as friends, why be so defensive?
To respect the reporter's tool of off the record, we negotiated what parts of the conversation I could print, and what stayed off the record. Ned is no dummy, and I bet he wants to run for office in 2010, although he isn't jumping in the race now.
So he seeks to protect himself from the vulnerability of taking a courageous stance. Harbor no doubt that past drug use for those who advocate change remains a political liability. Why else would the opposing lawyer who deposed me in my federal civil rights suit open by asking about my LSD use? I’ve never made a secret of my usage of psychoactive substances.
People who want your vote, though, do want to hide things. But it is dishonest to hold a view privately which could free thousands of people from jail then vote on a budget that funds those jails.
"That is the way of politicians," Thornton said. "He might try to go the back door, doing things like he is doing now and not give one way or the other where he stands. Politicians are scared to death of this issue."
The economic and infrastructural implications of ending the war on drugs frightens politicians, Thornton said. It's not just what are we going to do with the thousands of people jailed in the criminal justice system, but what about the lawyers, prison guards, cops, and even drug test technicians who would lose their jobs if we declared a truce in the war on some drugs?
"We have to use the infrastructure that is in place," Thornton said. "It is a shift in priorities." People will have to be re-trained to help ramp down and unbuild the infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex.
But before we end the age of incarceration, we need a baseline honesty about who has participated in this failed set of laws, a kind of truth and reconciliation approach to it. Obviously, we need to know what drug-dealing black operations the CIA, the White House (like George H. W. Bush) and any other branch of government has been involved in.
And for those who plan to help us change the policy, we also need to know where they stand and how long they have felt this way.
Until everyone is frank about their position and past, drug use will remain a vulnerability for those of us who espouse changing the position, and it will remain an activity that jails people - particularly those of color - by the score.
Obviously, Thornton agrees that Lamont and others who seek to make policy decisions regarding the war on drugs must come out of the closet.
"Anyone that is for this policy has to be directly responsible for the result," Thornton said. "Anyone that is against it, no, they don't have to be accountable for their use. Those in the middle, going along to get along makes one complicit. Ned Lamont is complicit in this."
Thornton has never been known to mince words. Lamont, on the other hand, refused to condemn Israel in July 2006 for using banned white phosphorous munitions on Lebanese civilians. If his campaign hadn't shown me the door before that, I would've walked away then. Why try to out-warmonger Lieberman?
More recently, Lamont showed exactly what kind of a lightweight he is when in September 2008 he said the financial crisis was Greenwich's Katrina. Christopher Keating of the Hartford Courant reported Lamont's the quote, and even the Wall Street Journal found it so absurd as to highlight it.
And there’s still time to check out the Feb. 4 conference at CCSU. Registration is open. Contact CCSU’s Lyndsay Ruffalo at 860-832-1872.