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Santa Barbara Moms Stand United in Calling for an End to the War on Drugs

Families ACT! and Moms United to End the War on Drugs take the lead in advocating for treatment and education over incarceration

Dozens of Santa Barbara mothers and others raised signs and flowers in opposition to the War on Drugs during a protest-vigil Friday night at Carillo and State streets.

Most of the protesters belonged to two organizations, Families ACT! and Moms United to End the War on Drugs, which advocate a policy change from incarceration to treatment and education.

“It’s not only a waste of money for all of us, it’s also cruel,” said Suzanne Riordan, executive director of Families ACT! “Instead of helping these people at the very first opportunity, we are incarcerating them.”

The protest followed an event down the street at the Santa Barbara Bank & Trust Community Partners Center that recognized the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs. Those who attended watched a series of video clips from documentaries and interviews about U.S. drug policy and testimonials from local mothers whose children have substance and mental health issues.

“As mothers, in general, we are not in favor of drugs, but we do see the harm of the War on Drugs,” Riordan said, adding that current policy favors pumping money into prisons over treatment centers — the preferable alternative for addicts also dealing with schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

Santa Barbara resident Linda Orozco said she felt powerless to help her son, Michael, while his schizophrenia went undiagnosed for years.

“I fear everyday for my son,” she said.

Orozco said she noticed her son change when he was 18, and he was longer the funny person who loved to cook. As Michael began to self-medicate to treat anxiety and began hearing disembodied voices, the police became his mother’s only answer. He is now 31 and in a sober living home in Northridge, but Orozco fears other people are sneaking in drugs.

“They spend so much on the war (on drugs),” she said. “I don’t understand why they can’t spend anything on treatment.”

Her story is similar to the mothers throughout San Diego, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles who are members of Moms United.

Families ACT! advocates for more intensive, short-term residential treatment in Santa Barbara. Medical marijuana has been a contentious local issue, and Dave Bearman, a drug policy activist and former county supervisor candidate, said cannabis use in general has been central in the international discussion on the war on drugs.

“It’s the main excuse, the main attention getter, the main money maker for the War on Drugs,” he said.

Bearman said his father distributed marijuana when he started practicing as a pharmacist in 1928 until the drug was outlawed in the early 1940s.

Penny Jenkins, president of the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said she opposes decriminalization but supports Families ACT!’s message of education.

“If they want to say no drugs should be illegal, that’s crazy,” Jenkins said. “I would agree they should be working to reduce the demand. I think that is a far better way to spend our money.”

Advisory board member Mark Westwind said Families ACT! is looking to find a middle ground on the issue of legalization, but that addicts should still be accountable for the crimes they commit.

“If they commit crimes while they are on drugs, they should be prosecuted — but taking or possession of drugs shouldn’t be,” Westwind said.

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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