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Last spring, the Baker Institute Drug Policy Program hosted "The War on Drugs Has Failed. Is Legalization the Answer?," a conference on the wisdom, efficacy, economic sense and justice of U.S. drug policies. A recently published conference report by William Martin, who leads the Drug Policy Program, examines the presentations and recommendations offered by the participants -- respected defenders of current policy, leading advocates for reform and academic researchers seeking pragmatic policies focused on reducing the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with drug use.

Highlights include a keynote address by television and radio broadcaster Rick Steves, who urged Americans to look to Europe for proven alternatives to prohibition and punishment of non-medical use of marijuana. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos denied the War on Drugs has failed; what is needed, she said, is careful examination of and concentration on transnational criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking. Conservative Republican judge Michael McSpadden said he worked to reduce the charge for trace amounts of a controlled substance to a misdemeanor; a felony arrest was too harsh a penalty for the offense.

Other conference participants included John Coleman, former key administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and president of Drug Watch International; Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance and widely regarded as the leading figure in the movement to reform U.S. drug policy; and Gary Hale, the Baker Institute nonresident fellow in drug policy and former chief of intelligence in the DEA's Houston Field Division. All acknowledged the legitimacy of considering changes in existing policy, from tinkering at the margins to a sweeping overhaul.