Dozens of advocacy groups gathered at Chuco's Justice Center in Inglewood on Saturday to call for the end of the nation's war on drugs.
The rally came a day after the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's declaration of war against drugs and coincided with more than 50 similar events throughout the country, according to Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance, which sponsored the event along with other advocacy groups.
Anti-drug policies have harmed low-income communities and led to overcrowding in state prisons, activists said, adding that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. "What better time than now to get the community together and discuss the failures of the drug policies?" said Rodrigo "Froggy" Vazquez, an event organizer and a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
This month a group that includes world leaders declared the war on drugs a failure.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, led by former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders, said the current approach isn't working and recommended that governments "end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others," according to the group's statement.
The 19-member commission also encouraged governments to experiment with drug legalization as a way to undermine organized crime, expand treatment programs, educate youth to discourage drug use and focus on reducing violence from criminal organizations that harm individuals.
Vazquez said the current drug policy is broken, and lawmakers have tried to patch it with more flawed policies. "For 40 years they have been doing this!" he said. "That's a long time."
Oscar de la Torre, a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board member, said he hoped the event could help spark a national dialogue to create a new approach. He urged elected leaders to become involved in the discussion. "Politicians are inclined to be tough on crime, but what we need are elected officials to be smart on drugs," he said. "It's a risk because you have to challenge old paradigms."
De la Torre said those paradigms consist of an industry made up of judges, public defenders and correctional officers, as well as unions.
"The war on drugs has failed," said Eugene Hernandez, a member of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes who participated in a panel discussion. "All drugs should be legalized because it takes the wind out of the drug cartels, the gangs, and it forces the restructuring of our justice system."
In addition to devoted activists, the event drew people who were curious about the issue. Jose Solis, 19, is in favor of legalizing marijuana but said there should be more drug rehabilitation centers and more education on drug abuse for youth.
Gloria Galvez, 24, said society needs to change the way it views people who use drugs. "When people think about drugs, they think it's evil," Galvez said. "The users are criminalized already."