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Leaders will debate drug policy, tribal sovereignty

Large crowd expected for Johnson/Hutchinson debate

Two campus debates, one featuring Gov. Gary Johnson, will address drug policy and American Indian sovereignty tonight at the UNM Continuing Education Conference Center.

Johnson and Asa Hutchinson, administrator for the Drug Enforcement Administration, will go head-to-head during "Directing America's Drug War: Which Way to a Safer Society?" at 4 p.m. at 1634 University Boulevard NE.

Kevin Gover, former Bureau of Indian Affairs director, and Tom Gede, executive director of the Conference of Western Attorneys General will exchange ideas during "Nations Within: The Conflict of Native American Sovereignty" at 7:30 p.m.

The UNM School of Law and KUNM-FM 89.9 are sponsoring the debates, which are free.

Gover and Gede will discuss whether reservation casinos should be free from state and federal taxes and if reservations should be exempt from state and federal laws, among other topics, according to a press release.

Johnson and Hutchinson will share their views on incarceration verses drug treatment, legalization of certain substances and quantities, minimum sentences for drugs and the role of the federal government in drug prevention and education, the press release said.

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This will be Hutchinson's first debate about drug policy since President Bush appointed him, it said.

Tim Canova, UNM associate law professor and consultant for the event, said too many people are in prison for drugs.

"I personally believe that we should be treating it as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue," he said.

Both Bush and Gore have admitted to using drugs, Canova said, but are quick to put others in jail for it.

"It's almost as if they're going to lock up black and brown kids to make a statement - to scare white kids that are never going to go to jail," he said.

Canova said he plans to attend both debates and that he expects a large crowd in the auditorium.

"I'm worried that it won't hold everyone," he said.

Gloria Valencia-Weber, law professor and director of the Indian Law certificate program at the UNM School of Law, said 560 American Indian tribes in the United States are federally recognized as sovereign. Many people with poor educations grow up never realizing that, said Valencia-Weber, who was a consultant for the debate.

"The popular conception is that Indians are just another ethnic group," she said.

About one third of the nation's sovereign tribes allow gambling on their land, Valencia-Weber said.

"It's a choice made by any sovereign government," she said. "Conservative people in Iowa are putting gambling boats on the Mississippi River now - many of the states."

Many tribal governments use gambling to aid economic development, Valencia-Weber said. She added that sovereignty and land boundaries are ongoing debate topics- even among states.

She said a U.S. citizen who commits a crime or is involved in an accident in Canada should expect to be prosecuted under Canadian law.

"Tribes are asking no less than that," she said. "They are asking for the same treatment, the same authority of any government that has to provide safety and security to those within its borders."

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