Third Global Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Palermo-October 2000


Coalitions are a necessary and valuable tool, when faced with well-resourced legalisation lobbies. The processes for developing coalitions mirror and overlap those for developing policies. This paper addresses both, and suggests guidelines based on the author’s experience. The special potential which effective prevention has, in countering legalisation arguments, is discussed.

Key Words: Coalition, Policy, Practice, Legalisation, Prevention, NGOs



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My colleague Calvina has given you an expert overview of several of the key policy issues around legalisation which must be addressed by some means. I will try to show how you can do this most effectively, through the use of coalitions.
Policy development may alter in form, depending on the level at which you are working – from international summits all the way down to dialogues on the street corner. But though the form may change the essence will remain the same. My own organisation works at all these levels, so I hope that in hearing our experiences you will be able to extract what you need for your own purposes.

Individuals can sometimes generate a change in policy, but for most of us the more usual means of getting what we want – or stopping what we don’t want – is to work together; the Coalition. What we are all doing here in Palermo is one kind of coalition, and I hope it will grow into many permanent coalitions. This isn’t always easy; the word coalition ‘contains’ the word ‘coal’ – and coal is something that burns fiercely if ignited! What ignites a coalition?  Policy discussion.  A wise man once said



“Tasks unite. Issues divide.”

You cannot avoid confronting issues (meaning Policies) forever, especially in a subject like legalisation, but you can start with tasks that allow your coalition members to bond with each other, before you get into the inflammatory area which is Policy. You are also likely to find that coalition members arrive with their own agendas, or are competitive with one another. These and other spurs to disagreement can actually be very constructive, provided they are channelled properly – in fact, if you can’t hear any vigorous discussion in your coalition, you had better check for signs of life!
But even before you get to the stage of managing your coalition, the first two basic questions to ask yourself are “What use is a coalition to me?” and “Can I succeed without one?”.

Too many people embark on forming coalitions without a clear picture of their situation, their goals and their methods. Coalitions have many uses besides developing and delivering policies: they define and bond your interest group, and strengthen you, through knowing that you are not alone. And, by the way, having a coalition does not mean you cannot also have individual agents, role models, honest brokers, fixers, kamikaze pilots and so on. Your political process needs to be at least as sophisticated as that of both your target audience and your competitors.

Success without coalition? For the case of drug legalisation there is no doubt in my mind that you must have coalitions – plural. (I’ll tell you later why one coalition is not enough). So why exactly do you need coalitions for the drug legalisation issue? I can suggest some reasons:

– the nature of government and community today – interest groups are the norm.

– the size and complexity of government and community today – too much for one.

– their expectations of “interest groups” like you – amateur efforts will not do.

– the need to optimise skills/resources by sharing

– their existing knowledge/ignorance/bias – you have big barriers to overcome.

– the competition in trying to be heard, and

– your opposition’s strength and tactics

Let’s assume you have decided you do want a coalition for policy development on legalisation issues. Now, how do you build one? There are no architect’s plans to guide you, though the publication “The Future by Design” – published by the Centre for Substance Abuse Prevention (USA) is a valuable reference work which I would recommend you to obtain. (REF 1). On a more general level, there are some tried-and-tested guidelines from other fields of endeavour. It is also true that the processes you have to go through to develop a coalition are largely the same ones you have to go through to develop a policy, so in learning one you will learn the other. At the higher levels of central or local government, there will probably be accepted structures and procedures for coalitions and their policy development, but even here it is possible to waste time and energy by not having a clear definition of goals and methods to achieve them.

In simple terms, what you need is a Business Plan. Don’t be frightened by this term; there are basic but invaluable elements in a Business Plan which will enormously help the effectiveness of your anti-legalisation coalition. Even if you leave much of the rest of business planning to one side, you will greatly benefit from working on two key elements; these are “A to B” and “SWOT”.

A to B:

This comes from William Lofquist’s classic book for drug workers: “Discovering the Meaning of Prevention”. (REF 2) It is a model designed to help you think clearly.

A – exactly what is my situation now?

B – exactly where do I want to go?

Arrow – how will I get there? (methodology)

Ruler – how will I know I’m going in the right direction?

You should answer all these questions as fully as possible; for example:

A: what is the position of Government, significant opposition parties, other people/groups with influence on legalisation? Who is for you/against you/on the fence/apathetic? What are your resources? What have you achieved so far?

B: what are your goals in relation to legalisation (or other law changes)? What is your fall-back position i.e. where are you prepared to concede a little and where will you stand and fight without concession? What other policies do you want to see conserved/introduced/strengthened, so as to buttress the drug laws?

Arrow: what methods will you employ to achieve your goals? Which of these are familiar to you and which are new?

Ruler: what observations/measurements can you take; what mile posts can you establish to reassure yourself and others that you are going in the right direction?

What you should end up with is an ‘A to B’ for your overall strategy, with other ‘A to B’ structures nesting under this for each of your Policies and, under each of them, the same for your Actions.


This is a classic business management tool; the value of it is to highlight those assets which you can capitalise upon, and indicate those areas where you need to repair or strengthen your coalition. SWOT stands for



Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

Again, be as detailed as you can and as honest as you can, in answering each of these headings. It is quite usual to turn a Threat into an Opportunity, with a little positive thinking. It’s what the Buddhists call “turning poison into medicine”.
Policy Issues around Legalisation

Before you can properly measure your ‘A to B’ and ‘SWOT’, you need to define the policy issues which should concern you, in the context of legalisation. Some of these will be obvious and immediate; others less so. You won’t need to address them all at once, but you do need to be aware of them all now. These are just some of the issues which I think you will encounter in relation to legalisation:

– validity of the laws

– crime to pay for drugs

– crime because of drug use

– the justice system for youth and adults

– social disruption

– moral fabric of society

– health (personal and societal) including physical, mental-intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and environmental aspects.

– liberty – individuals and groups

– social inequality

– housing and employment

– children: healthy development

– choice – the limits

– religion: drugs as competition

– politics: drugs as soporific or revolution-maker

– the work place and commerce

– the media

– safety and security

– honesty in sports

– parental authority

– rights versus responsibilities

– teacher authority

– who teaches the teachers?

– Harm Reduction – when, where and what?

And the one that everybody forgets: Prevention.

In the extensive dialogues that you will undoubtedly hold in developing policies which address these and maybe other subjects, do not overlook that section of society which is the most involved, and is often characterised as “the problem”. By this I mean Youth. In another of his classic texts, (REF 3) Lofquist has very clearly described different adult attitudes towards youth; what you should be aspiring to achieve is engagement with youth as resources. This does not mean that they have supremacy, for your views are equally valid and your longer experience must also be taken into account. But what it does mean is that through partnership with youth you have a chance to produce a stronger set of policies, ones with which young people will feel “ownership” and thus be much more likely to assist in developing.

Building your Coalition: managing policy

“He who is my enemy’s enemy is my friend” (Arab proverb )

We can learn from this proverb; its use is in commending us to look very widely for allies. This is especially true of the non-governmental sector. Legalisers are very good at this, never more so than when it comes to public relations. In the back room they may be stabbing each other, but when the cameras roll they are unlimited in their praise of, and respect for each other. Is this unethical? Debatable. On the other hand, is public argument with your allies stupid and suicidal? Absolutely. In this, as in other aspects of the legalisation debate, look and learn from your opponents. They have probably been at it longer than you, and they certainly have more money behind them – George Soros estimated over two years ago (REF 4) that he had, by that time, put no less than $90 million into weakening drug laws, and he is not the only backer of the legalisers. So, observe the methods of policy development and practice which these people have spent so much time and money on, and pick their best ideas – they may not actually cost you very much to implement.

With the honourable exception of people like Drug Watch International and Drug Prevention Network of the Americas- the legalisers have also been better at international networking. If we look at some of the major legalisation initiatives, we can see that different “lead strategies” are applied in different countries (although all of the strategies will show up at some point in the priority order). What this means is that if a particular lead strategy succeeds in one country it can be fairly rapidly adopted as the new lead strategy in others. Of course the legalisers are helped in this ‘crusade’ by enjoying a much readier acceptance from the media than we do, and this is also on an international stage. This also means they get a lot more books published. But since those books are out there on the shelves, when you are looking for ideas on strategy, policy or tactics, why not take a tip from General George Patton? After defeating the master strategist General Rommel, Patton was asked by newsmen how he had managed to pull off this surprising victory. ” “Simple” said Patton. “I read all his damned books”.

A coalition which addresses legalisation issues will find it has a bewildering array of potential coalition partners. Choosing how much effort to give each one, and the priority of each target is a difficult judgement call, made more difficult by the fact that the priority rating of any target will change in relation to which issues are “hot” on the day.

Why are some of these apparently extraneous Groups/individuals mentioned? Firstly, because the effects of drug misuse are reaching them (whether they know it or not), and secondly because your coalition needs to be as widely-based as possible. It is a basic truth that people not directly involved in an issue are likely to be supportive of it, if there is some overlap with their own experience (REF 5), provided that they can see your coalition knows which way it is going, is under good leadership, and preferably will not put them into any “uncomfortable” situations.

Uncomfortable? Keeping all your allies allied is a full-time job. They will be quite happy to stand behind you while you do battle on their behalf, but sometimes they will get nervous if you seem to be too outspoken. Others will be worried about compromising their funding if they are seen to be too close to you (you may be viewed as ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know!’) – this is especially true if your country has libertarians liberally insinuated into its government or other fund-giving structures, as we have in Britain. Your allies may therefore want to pressure you into watering down your policy statements. This is a tough decision for you; a dilemma not easily or quickly solved. You will have to take this on an issue-by-issue basis and, over time, help them to achieve an understanding that on some subjects it is necessary to be courageous and take a stand – even if this upsets a few people at the time, they will respect you for it later. In doing so always stay cool, attack the plan but never the planner. Don’t rush into this, sustain your effort and keep repeating it: one of Britain’s oldest think tanks, the Fabian Society, works to a guiding principle which they call “The Inevitability of Gradualism”. Now that’s clever.

I said earlier that you should have coalitions – plural. Why would you need this? Firstly, to make your “Army” look bigger, and frighten the opposition. Secondly, to impress the decision-makers. And thirdly, to have other coalitions still in action if one of yours becomes damaged in some way or becomes unacceptable to the decision-makers. The legalisers are also good at this; when the earlier coalitions they formed became discredited as “hippy potheads in tie-die shirts” with antagonistic names like Legalise Cannabis Campaign, they replaced them with suit-and-tie organisations, giving them soothing, intelligent-sounding names like the Drug Policy Foundation or – even more obscurely – the Lindesmith Foundation, names which conveniently hide their purpose.

The Beau Geste stratagem

There is nothing to stop you having groups which belong to many coalitions; there is also nothing to stop a few individuals forming many groups – or forming groups which sound enormous and impressive to the public, but are far from it. I have heard the Director of NORML Canada, an organisation you might think was huge, admitting that his total membership coast to coast was nine people. In Britain, in a subject area very much related to drug misuse, we have a group of people who have been extremely active in ‘fabricating’ “Children’s Rights” groups. (Funny how we never hear of groups pressing for “Children’s Responsibilities”) Less than 20 of these people have established around 15 groups, all of them enjoying national standing. (REF 6). As I said earlier, look and learn.

Getting it right, getting it heard: Policy Development

So now you have a coalition (or family of coalitions). You clearly understand your present situation, and your goals – your ‘A’ and ‘B’. Now how do you get to B? Here is a suggested sequence of tasks:

– Develop Mission Statement (to match ‘B’)

– Develop Resolutions (to support ‘B’)

– Develop Policies (to achieve ‘B’)

– Develop Action Plan (‘A’ to ‘B’)

– Agree Action Plan within your Coalition – Define Milestones (Ruler)

– Get funding

– Divide tasks between appropriate activists in your Coalition

– Deliver, achieve your goals (arrive at ‘B’)

– Review, evaluate, improve (redefine ‘A’)

Let’s focus on Policy Development for a minute. We burn up a lot of time and energy reacting when we should be “pro-acting”- opposing when we should be proposing. As a means to better policy, why not invest time in your own unofficial Policy Think Tank, and make your first focus the development of policies to get what you want, before moving on to consider how to stop the other side getting what they want? I have given some suggestions in the handouts, but as a starting agenda for discussion, how about the following?:

Strategy: A Healthy Society for All

Some Policy Nuggets:

– Prevention that engages the whole community

– Parents re-empowered to develop a healthy children through a proper mixture of love, guidance and discipline.

– Education that imparts sound values and goals

– Teachers who are trained to achieve this, in partnership with parents

– Police who intercept and divert young offenders early on

– Justice systems that give rehabilitation more than they take revenge

– Health systems that do more than just react to sickness

– Workplaces that get involved in healthy working

– Laws that underpin health goals and are worthy of respect

– Faith bodies that show courage and speak unequivocally

– Media that puts truth above ratings, society’s health above self-indulgence

– Sports systems that bring out the best in behaviour

– Drug services that focus on abstinence, and

– Citizens who know the meaning of the word “Citizenship”.

In a phrase   –          “Don’t solve the drug problem – PREVENT it!”

You also need to define a Communications Policy. In your nation, where does the power lie? In Britain, much of it lies with the Civil Service (the Administration), which – unlike America – is not changed every time a new President is elected. They are enormously powerful and therefore they have to be one primary target. Again, for your nation, who are the people with influence on the decision -makers, and how can you get to them? And how should you vary your message to suit different organisations or people? Media Liaison, of which we do a great deal, is a whole subject in itself, for which I have no time – I’m glad, therefore, that Calvina has addressed this vital aspect. These are not just matters of Procedure; which message you give to whom, and when, are all matters of Internal Policy; matters which are intricately mixed with your External policies.

Your Coalition will soon find that it cannot limit itself to a narrow message (such as “Legalisation? Just Say No”). You will have to demonstrate that your message is built on a good foundation of knowledge, understanding, analysis, popular support etc, also that it has breadth of vision – it takes account of the effects on other policies, on other areas of life as a whole, and it addresses (and, hopefully, pre-empts) any arguments by others. Your coalition’s growth will be stifled if members do not freely share information and contacts; this is not as easy as it sounds – old habits of competition die reluctantly. Encourage all to take courage and be generous. After all, a coalition is like a marriage – you are united in order to achieve a common goal. You are partners, so act like partners!



* * * * * * * * * * * *

Calvina has eloquently described much of the significant negative rhetoric which is forcibly pushed into the legalisation debate, and which therefore must be a major focus in your policy development. I would like to finish my contribution to this prevention conference with one of the key positives.
A significant number of people, including many ordinary members of the public – not just the legaliser lobbyists – would prefer the young, and others, not to do drugs, but they have somehow come to believe that prevention is largely ineffective, and that “everybody’s doing it”. Even some who have a gut feeling that it is the right thing to do are still induced to see it as an honourable but futile action – a Mission Impossible.

Because the public believe this to be a fact, they reluctantly conclude that legalisation is the next best thing – a way to “Reduce Harm”. One of our greatest challenges is to overcome this “credibility gap”. If the majority of the public can come to truly believe that drug prevention works, then they will turn their back on the legalisation lobbies – no matter how many millions of dollars, or highly paid journalists they have behind them. And one of the best weapons we have – which too often is under-utilised – is the coalition.

The evidence and the argument for prevention already exists. The “Prevention Works” handout for our coalition, and of which we are already circulating 100,000 copies across the UK, is one example of this. Please feel free to use this leaflet as it stands, or to borrow sections from it. (We would be grateful if you would attribute us when doing so).So, we have the evidence and we have the argument; and our job is to get it out there where it can do some good.

Coalitions can share the load, share resources, and encourage one another to greater achievement. Just one example is the World Wide Web – and again this is an example where we can “look and learn” from the legalisers. There are literally hundreds of websites in praise of legalisation, many linking with each other. How many sites do we have? Not enough!

You do not have to pay large sums of money to establish your website. Ours, which you can find on was designed by a university undergraduate in his spare time, and yet it was judged good enough to beat more than 600 other worldwide entries to reach the finals of the Stockholm Challenge this spring. Why don’t you look around and find a local student web enthusiast – or even a number of them, and run a competition for them, with prizes? But above all, and in all, do something, and do it now.

In closing, here is some final guidance from people wiser than I can ever hope to be. The final quote is from an unknown Chinese poet, but first we hear from Edmund Burke on why we must get together when we face threats like drug legalisation:

“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle”.

And lastly, bear in mind that the best of coalition are run by ‘Invisible Men’ (and Women!):

Go to the people, live among them, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, build on what they have; but of the best of leaders, when their task is accomplished, their work is done, the people all remark “We have done it ourselves”.


1. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (1991) “The Future by Design”. CSAP, 5600 Fishers Lane, .Rockwall 11, Rockville, MD 20857. DHHS Pubn. No. (ADM)91-1760).

2. Lofquist W.A. (1983) “Discovering the Meaning of Prevention”. AYD Publications, Arizona. ISBN 0-913951-00-5

3. Lofquist W.A. (1991) “The Technology of Prevention Workbook”. AYD (as above). ISBN 0-913951-02-1.

4. Time magazine (1997) “.. Soros spent over $90 million..” AP wire 8/25/97.

5. Kelly G.A. (1955) “The Kelly Repertory Grid” (from ‘ Psychology of Personal Constructs’) Norton, NY).

6. Burrows L.(1998) “The Fight for the Family” Family Education Trust, Oxford. ISBN:0-906229-14-6.



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