To mark Drug War Chronicle’s 1,000th issue, we asked our former associate director and the publication’s first editor for a guest editorial.
A thousand issues is a long run for a weekly publication, particularly one that’s been published entirely online.
Adam J. Smith (craftcannabisalliance.org)
I first got involved with DRCNet (as StopTheDrugWar.org was called in those days) as a law student back in 1994. At that time, DRCNet was a single email discussion list that Dave Borden had launched from his bedroom computer in Boston. When I joined, the list was comprised of perhaps 30-40 activists of various stripes (needle exchangers, cannabis activists, prison reformers, etc.) from around the country, with a couple of international participants thrown in. At that moment in history, fewer than 12% of Americans had Internet access, and fewer than 25% believed that cannabis should be legal for adults. Reform seemed a long way off, but we were engaged in the first serious drug policy reform efforts online, and we were convinced (despite the snickerings of more than a few old school organizers) that the Internet was going to enable us change the world.
By 1996, I had finished law school and moved down to Washington DC, to become DRCNet’s Associate Director (which sounds impressive, until you know that there were only two of us) where our little discussion list had become an actual, if small, organization, with multiple topic-oriented discussion lists and a growing web presence. Despite its small size and smaller budget, DRCNet was, unequivocally, the center of drug policy reform on the Internet. It was an interesting time, and an interesting place to be.
When we launched The Week Online, in the summer of 1997, long before it was re-named Drug War Chronicle, the percentage of Americans with Internet access had climbed all the way to 18%.
Our first several issues were mainly a re-cap of our recent action alerts, blurbs about key news stories, a link of the week, and my editorial. Truly, we were making it up as we went along.
In those days, the mainstream media covered drug busts and drug hysteria far more than they covered actual policy. Because why cover policy when there was such broad agreement that this was a law enforcement problem? When they did cover policy, it was generally framed as a debate between those who wanted to build more prisons, and those who wanted to build A LOT more prisons. Quotes were spread evenly between law enforcement and grandstanding politicians, with occasional input from hackish “think tanks” such as Joe Califano’s Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, or someone from the Drug Free America Foundation.
That was not the conversation we were having online.
Into that breach, we quickly expanded both the breadth and the scope of The Week Online. We began covering stories on our own — often the same stories that the MSM was covering — but with quotes and perspectives from experts and professionals who had a very different take on both drugs and drug policy. The experts that we were quoting had the advantage of being far more experienced, and far more credible in their fields than anyone being highlighted in the mainstream press. And people started to listen.
We were the only online publication in the country covering drug policy from a reform perspective, and it felt important. Over time, The Week Online’s readership grew considerably, and it soon became a must read for anyone — in government, public health, academia, or advocacy — involved in these issues. We did interviews, and broke national stories. We highlighted injustice, and framed issues. And we did what we could to show how all of these issues, and all of the various efforts at reform starting to bubble up around the country, were connected as part of a larger movement that was just starting to assert itself in the national dialogue.
For the first 138 issues, The Week Online was the centerpiece of my work and my activism. The publication brought me into contact with many of the most knowledgeable, engaging, and courageous voices in drug policy reform, and I could not have asked for a better seat at the table, nor for a richer opportunity to delve deeply into the myriad areas being impacted by our nation’s second disastrous foray into Prohibition.
When I left DRCNet in May of 2000, I was exhausted from the grind, but I was thrilled to see my chair filled by Phil Smith. Phil has long since surpassed my time at the helm, and it has been his hard work and unwavering dedication, along with Dave Borden’s steady and often quirkily brilliant leadership that has brought the (now) Drug War Chronicle to the almost unbelievable accomplishment of a thousand issues.
A lot has changed since July 1997. The Internet is ubiquitous, of course, and drug policy is being covered in thoughtful and intelligent ways across a range of media. Cannabis is legal in eight states and counting, with 64% of Americans, including 51% of Republicans in favor. Ending mass incarceration too, has bipartisan support, and substances like MDMA and psychedelics are seen as promising medical options. And the drug war — that failed, expensive and destructive experiment in controlling people’s consciousness at the point of a gun — is crumbling across the hemisphere beneath the weight of its own insanity.
And every week Drug War Chronicle, that original online news source for a movement that has gone global, is there.
Congratulations to Phil and Dave on reaching issue #1,000. And thanks to everyone who has ever written a piece, or provided insight and perspective, for being part of what is undoubtedly one of the longest-running weekly newsmagazines on the Internet. I truly believe that this publication set a standard that helped move the public debate forward, and I am honored to have been a part of that. May our collective progress towards rational and humane drug policies continue. And may there be no need for issue #2,000.