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Goodbye Arnold Trebach, radical anti-prohibitionist in the USA

Marco Cappato and Marco Perduca remember Arnold S. Trebach, the first honest and genuine anti-prohibitionist in the US, for years a member of the Radical Party with which in 2002 he relaunched the activities of the International Anti-Prohibitionist League ahead of the “Ministerial Segment” that the United Nations held in Vienna in 2003, five years after the Special Session of the General Assembly entirely dedicated to “drugs”.

“Arnold Trebach, born in 1928, lawyer and law professor, who in 2002 was already retired, transformed his involvement in the civil rights movement of the Sixties into anti-prohibitionist militancy. If his first book in 1964 “The Rationing of Justice, Constitutional Rights and the Criminal Process” tackled the respect of constitutional rights in criminal justice in the US, with particular attention to trials against African-Americans that he also experienced personally as a young lawyer, the second, in 1982, “The heroin solution” and the third, in 1987, “The Great Drug War: And Radical Proposals That Could Make America Safe Again” were focused on how to react to the Reagan drug war. Trebach’s conclusions were the same as Pannella’s: legalization.

David Borden, director of the Drug Reform Coalition Network with whom we had unrolled the  “Stop the War on Drugs” banner in front of the UN HQ (and with whom we are still in touch) because he was the only one who wasn’t afraid to promote the legalization of all drugs and to do it together with people calling themselves radical, was crucial in relaunching our relationship with Trebach. He got us a meeting in Arnold’s living room in Virginia where the aged anti-prohibitionist immediately (re)joined the Radical Party, making himself available to the cause.

Trebach’s leadership availability, and important OSI funding, allowed the defreezing of the APL (that he helped found in 1990), which in the meanwhile became a committee chaired by Arnold. At the same time we relaunched the Parliamentarians for Anti-prohibitionist Action, PAA, active in the 90s. With Trebach’s assent and participation we organised an anti-prohibitionist meeting at the European parliament; a counter world report on drugs that unmasked Arlacchi’s mystifications; a parliamentary appeal asking for a radical revision of anti-prohibitionist laws and policies through a scientific evaluation of years-long prohibitions; the preparation of a draft resolution for the national and European parliaments to be adopted ahead of the UN meeting; the calling of the first panamerican anti-prohibitionist conference in Merida, Mexico; the preparation of alternative paragraphs to replace the draft decisions pre-cooked and the United Nations in Vienna; the presentation of the reasons behind the evaluation of prohibitionist policies all over the world in those countries that, in our UN encounters, seemed less closed to dialogue with civil society and a press conference in Washington DC. In addition to Arnold, “conservative” Canadian senator and anti-prohibitionist Pierre Claude Nolin (who died in 2015) also took part in the conference.

Trebach was a libertarian interested in justice and social justice. His Jewish origins deeply involved him in a reasoning about the fight against terrorism launched by George Bush after the 9/11 attacks and even on this we had the chance to discuss personally and publicly during his participations to general councils and congresses of the Radical Party.

In one of these meetings Trebach reacted to a speech by Marco Pannella saying that the Radical one wasn’t a history but an epic – there were so many things done all over the world, with varying degrees of success and involvement but constant effort.

Trebach leaves us at a time when in the USA anti-prohibitionists who grew up reading his books and listening to his conferences are bringing home the reforms he proposed in the 80s. A piece published by Reason in his honor on July 27th reminds us how in 1986, when he founded his Drug Policy Foundation, Joe Biden, now presidential candidate with a platform that would promote criminal justice reform, wrote the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which prescribed new minimum terms for drug crimes, creating a perverse mechanism in which crack (mostly used by African-Americans) was punished as if it was 100 times worse than cocaine powder (preferred by whites).

Not listening to reformers when it would be necessary – and often urgent – creates a condition in which the alternative is between evil and a lesser evil. But thanks to Arnold there’s a basis at the local level for popular participation to make a difference, even against prohibitions.

Thank you Arnold for the long road we walked together, and for the impassioned discussions!”

Marco Perduca and Marco Cappato