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Feature: Colorado Looks At Legalizing Marijuana in 2012

Angered by a pair of bills aiming at regulating the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry just signed into law by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), one group of medical marijuana advocates has announced plans to get a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in 2012. But there is already another legalization initiative filed with state officials and ready to go.

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Colorado Marijuana Boot Camp for activists, organized by SAFER
The competing efforts suggest a certain fractiousness in the state's increasingly crowded and complex medical and recreational marijuana communities, but they also illustrate the growing momentum toward legalization on the ground in Colorado. Just last month, a Rasmussen poll showed marijuana legalization hovering on the cusp of majority support, with 49% of likely voters approving, 38% opposed, and 13% undecided. A 2006 legalization initiative got only 39% of the vote.

The initiative effort in the news this week is called Legalize 2012, and is being led by the Boulder-based education and advocacy group Cannabis Therapy Institute (CTI), which is deeply unhappy with the new regulations provoked by a massive boom in dispensaries in the past year or so. "The problem we have in Colorado is that the medical marijuana amendment didn't set up a distribution system, and now, 10 years later, that flawed language is coming back to haunt us," said institute spokesperson Laura Kriho. "The only way to cure the problems patients are now having is across the board legalization for all adults. It will simplify things for law enforcement, patients, and people who aren't patients."

Kriho had a litany of complaints about the recently approved medical marijuana regulation legislation. "Anybody convicted of a marijuana felony in the past is not going to be able to be a dispensary owner anymore. Dispensaries are not allowed to compensate doctors or patients. The local bans on dispensaries that will be found unconstitutional, but who knows when. So many hoops for dispensaries to jump through, and they can still deny a license," she recited. "The stated intent was to put a big chunk of the dispensaries out of business, and I think it will," she predicted.

"On the patient side, they're requiring three different follow-up visits to the doctor, plus registration fees," Kriho said. "For most of the patients I know, coming up with $90 for a license and $100 for a doctor's exam was the limit to what they could afford. If you push it up higher, people won't be able to afford it. "

The initiative effort is just getting under way, said Kriho. "We're just in the process of getting it going, we're forming the language committee," she said. "It's important to us to make sure the language is acceptable to all the people in Colorado. With a year and a half to write this, we should be able to get a good consensus. We have a unique opportunity now -- people have tasted that freedom and had it yanked away by the government."

"They were upset with the regulation bills and have some major issues with them," said Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado, which lobbied for some of the provisions in the measures. "But we are committed to working with them. We do have patient access issues here in Colorado -- for example, patients with severe depression or PTSD can't currently access it under state law. If we just legalize it for all adults, those individuals would have access."

"We might have some philosophical differences with groups like Sensible Colorado," said Kriho, "but we have to remember the end goal: keeping people out of jail."

"We need to agree on what we're going to agree on and work together on these issues," said Vicente. "CTI, Sensible Colorado, and SAFER have enough common ground that I'm optimistic we can work together."

"I think we can build an effective coalition," said Jessica Corrie, an attorney, Republican, mother, and nationally known legalization advocate. "We have everybody from evangelical Christians to hard-core labor activists. There are some concerns about the radical fringe of this movement, but we can't ignore them and shouldn't ignore them. I've seen many people with passionate radical views come into the fold. In the eyes of most voters, this was all about tie-dyed hippies, but now it's people like me. The effort should be to bring people together to the extent it's possible."

"I support any effort to change marijuana laws so adults are able to make the safer choice, but this effort seems short-sighted and unlikely to garner the support of the voters," said an uncharacteristically tight-lipped Mason Tvert, whose SAFER (Safer Alternatives For Enjoyable Recreation) ran the successful 2005 Denver legalization initiative and the 2006 statewide legalization initiative that won 39% of the vote.

Tvert and SAFER already have a legalization initiative drafted and filed with the secretary of state's office. Known as Initiative 47, the measure would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, three seedlings, and three mature pot plants by people 21 or older. It also calls for licensed marijuana cultivation and sales outlets, and it calls for a maximum tax of $50 an ounce.

"CTI decided to announce this because they think there should be no tax on marijuana," said Tvert. "The initiative we filed has a tax of $50 an ounce at most and allows licensed production and distribution, no penalties for adult use or possession, and people can grow up to six plants. That seems to me like a proposal that will be met with support by most Coloradans."

Tvert is willing to put that to the test at the ballot box. "We have every intention of running a ballot measure," he said. "The language is approved, the title is set, but we're holding off until 2012. We shouldn't have any problem getting through that process again."

If there is one thing everyone seems to agree on, it is that victory is within grasp. "We're looking for freedom for the whole plant, untaxed and unregulated as much as possible," said Kriho. "Legalize 2012 comes from that. We have to take this next step, and we have to get ready now. Legalization is polling 49% now and will be over 50% by 2012."

"I think the prospects are very good," said Corrie. "If you look at the 2006 initiative, legalization outperformed the Republican gubernatorial candidate, and we saw a dramatic shift in terms of voter demographics in 2008. Now it's polling at 49%, eight points more than any statewide candidate for office, and when you ask voters if marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and taxed, there is a jump of five or six points, which is a reflection of dire budgetary circumstances. That's where the Republicans we see on board are coming from. They think marijuana is bad, but they're tired of paying outrageous tax bills, and given some persuading that marijuana is safer than alcohol, I think they are reachable."

Married women with children have historically been one of the toughest demographics for marijuana law reform, but having activists like Corrie on board may be able to swing some of the worried mom vote. "Younger mothers worry that if we legalize marijuana, it's an endorsement of marijuana use," said Corrie. "My response is to ask whether prohibition stopped us from using marijuana. We mothers are the most powerful tool for preventing our children from engaging in dangerous behaviors, and so many women across the ideological spectrum have handed government bureaucrats the responsibility for taking care of our children," she explained.

"In speaking to older Republican women, many of them were actively involved in DARE in an effort to be the best parents they could be. They want to feel like there was some good in that, and I tell them they did the best they could with the information available at the time, but now it's time to work together with the best information to protect our kids," Corrie said. "This isn't a conversation you have in 10 minutes. This is a process of getting people to rethink ideas and concepts and political views, and that can be difficult, especially when people are forced to admit the government wasn't correct."

"I think Colorado is ready right now," Vicente laughed when asked if an initiative could pass in 2012. "But 2012 is when we'll actually have the resources."

Still, Kriho and CTI aren't putting all their eggs in one basket. "We are working with Roger Christie and his THC Ministry to bring on a cannabis religious revival," she said. "The Colorado constitution specifically protects method of worship, and we're confident the THC Ministry qualifies as a legitimate church. We may be forming branch ministries, like the church sanctuary movement. It's about protecting patients. Sincere religious practitioners should form a church to get protection," she said.

But if Colorado's marijuana community can keep from flying apart, in a couple of years, patients and recreational pot smokers alike might have made the entire state a sanctuary, through the ballot box.

Feature: Fired Up in Albuquerque -- The 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Jazzed by the sense that the tide is finally turning their way, more than a thousand people interested in changing drug policies flooded into Albuquerque, New Mexico, last weekend for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance. Police officers in suits mingled with aging hippies, politicians met with harm reductionists, research scientists chatted with attorneys, former prisoners huddled with state legislators, and marijuana legalizers mingled with drug treatment professionals -- all united by the belief that drug prohibition is a failed policy.

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candlelight vigil outside the Albuquerque Convention Center (courtesy Drug Policy Alliance)
As DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said before and repeated at the conference's opening session: "We are the people who love drugs, we are the people who hate drugs, we are the people that don't care about drugs," but who do care about the Constitution and social justice. "The wind is at our backs," Nadelmann chortled, echoing and amplifying the sense of progress and optimism that pervaded the conference like never before.

For three days, conference-goers attended a veritable plethora of panels and breakout sessions, with topics ranging from the drug war in Mexico and South America to research on psychedelics, from implementing harm reduction policies in rural areas to legalizing marijuana, from how to organize for drug reform to what sort of treatment works, and from medical marijuana to prescription heroin.

It was almost too much. At any given moment, several fascinating panels were going on, ensuring that at least some of them would be missed even by the most interested. The Thursday afternoon time bloc, for example, had six panels: "Medical Marijuana Production and Distribution Systems," "After Vienna: Prospects for UN and International Reform," "Innovative Approaches to Sentencing Reform," "Examining Gender in Drug Policy Reform," "Artistic Interventions for Gang Involved Youth," and "The Message is the Medium: Communications and Outreach Without Borders."

The choices weren't any easier at the Friday morning breakout session, with panels including "Marijuana Messaging that Works," "Fundraising in a Tough Economy," "Congress, President Obama, and the Drug Czar," "Zoned Out" (about "drug-free zones"), "Psychedelic Research: Neuroscience and Ethnobotanical Roots," "Opioid Overdose Prevention Workshop," and "Border Perspectives: Alternatives to the 40-Year-Old War on Drugs."

People came from all over the United States -- predominantly from the East Coast -- as well as South Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe (Denmark, England, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, and Switzerland), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico), and Asia (Cambodia and Thailand).

Medical marijuana was one of the hot topics, and New Mexico, which has just authorized four dispensaries, was held up as a model by some panelists. "If we had a system as clear as New Mexico's, we'd be in great shape," said Alex Kreit, chair of a San Diego task force charged with developing regulations for dispensaries there.

"Our process has been deliberate, which you can also read as 'slow,'" responded Steve Jenison, medical director of the state Department of Health's Infectious Disease Bureau. "But our process will be a very sustainable one. We build a lot of consensus before we do anything."

Jenison added that the New Mexico, which relies on state-regulated dispensaries, was less likely to result in diversion than more open models, such as California's. "A not-for-profit being regulated by the state would be less likely to be a source of diversion to the illicit market," Jenison said.

For ACLU Drug Policy Law Project attorney Allen Hopper, such tight regulation has an added benefit: it is less likely to excite the ire of the feds. "The greater the degree of state involvement, the more the federal government is going to leave the state alone," Hopper said.

At Friday's plenary session, "Global Drug Prohibition: Costs, Consequences and Alternatives," Australia's Dr. Alex Wodak amused the audience by likening the drug war to "political Viagra" in that it "increases potency in elections." But he also made the more serious point that the US has exported its failed drug policy around the world, with deleterious consequences, especially for producer or transit states like Afghanistan, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.

At that same session, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda warned that Latin American countries feel constrained from making drug policy reforms because of the glowering presence of the US. Drug reform is a "radioactive" political issue, he said, in explaining why it is either elder statesmen, such as former Brazilian President Cardoso or people like himself, "with no political future," who raise the issue. At a panel the following day, Castaneda made news by bluntly accusing the Mexican army of executing drug traffickers without trial. (See related story here).

It wasn't all listening to panels. In the basement of the Albuquerque Convention Center, dozens of vendors showed off their wares, made their sales, and distributed their materials as attendees wandered through between sessions. And for many attendees, it was as much a reunion as a conference, with many informal small group huddles taking place at the center and in local bars and restaurants and nearby hotels so activists could swap experiences and strategies and just say hello again.

The conference also saw at least two premieres. On the first day of the conference, reporters and other interested parties repaired to a Convention Center conference room to see the US unveiling of the British Transform Drug Policy Foundation publication, After the War on Drugs: A Blueprint for Legalization, a how-to manual on how to get to drug reform's promised land. Transform executive director Danny Kushlick was joined by Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies, Deborah Small of Break the Chains, and DPA's Nadelmann as he laid out the case for moving beyond "what would it look like."

"There's never been a clear vision of a post-prohibition world," said Kushlick. "With this, we've tried to reclaim drug policy from the drug warriors. We want to make drug policy boring," he said. "We want not only harm reduction, but drama reduction," he added, envisioning debates about restrictions on sales hours, zoning, and other dreary topics instead of bloody drug wars and mass incarceration.

"As a movement, we have failed to articulate the alternative," said Tree. "And that leaves us vulnerable to the fear of the unknown. This report restores order to the anarchy. Prohibition means we have given up on regulating drugs; this report outlines some of the options for regulation."

That wasn't the only unveiling Thursday. Later in the evening, Flex Your Rights held the first public showing of a near-final version of its new video, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. The screening of the self-explanatory successor to Flex Your Right's 2003 "Busted" -- which enjoyed a larger budget and consequently higher production level -- played to a packed and enthusiastic house. This highly useful examination of how not to get yourself busted is bound to equal if not exceed the break-out success of "Busted." "10 Rules" was one of a range of productions screened during a two-night conference film festival.

The conference ended Saturday evening with a plenary address by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who came out as a legalizer back in 2001, and was welcomed with waves of applause before he ever opened his mouth. "It makes no sense to spend the kind of money we spend as a society locking up people for using drugs and using the criminal justice system to solve the problem," he said, throwing red meat to the crowd.

We'll do it all again two years from now in Los Angeles. See you there!

How are Women Affected by the War on Drugs??

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Feminism Without Borders is honored to co-host Nydia A. Swaby of the Marijuana Policy Project in D.C. to speak to us about how women in particular are affected by drug war policies. Come one, come all, and bring your friends! For more information, contact 410-971-6588 or reformdrugpolicy@gmail.com.
Date: 
Thu, 03/05/2009 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Location: 
University of Maryland
College Park, MD
United States

Drugs, Pregnancy, and Parenting: What Experts Have to Say

People working in the field of family law and child-welfare often have cases that involve issues of drug use. These lawyers, social workers, counselors, advocates and investigators, however, are often trying to do their jobs without the benefit of evidence-based research or access to experts knowledgeable about drugs, drug treatment and the relationship between drug use, pregnancy and parenting. That is why on February 11, 2009 we are sponsoring a spectacular one-day continuing education program entitled: Drugs, Pregnancy and Parenting: What the Experts in Medicine, Social Work and the Law Have to Say. Please join us and please help us spread the word. You can register now: http://napwtraining.eventbrite.com/ If your work involves family law, child welfare law, advocacy on behalf of children, parents or families pregnant and parenting women and their families or issues of drug use – this continuing education program is for you. Even if this is not specifically your field of work, this truly interesting day will be a great way to earn continuing education credits. Substance Abuse Counselors can earn New York CASAC credits. This dynamic program features nationally and internationally renowned medical, social work, and legal experts as well as people with direct experience who will help distinguish myth from fact, evidence-based information from media hype and provide meaningful tools for improved advocacy, representation, care and treatment. Panelists will discuss current research on marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, as well as other areas of research regarding drug use, prenatal exposure to drugs, recovery, treatment and parenting. This up-to-date research is critical for effective representation and care. Discussion points will include: • What does a positive drug test predict about future neglect and abuse? • What tools can I use to distinguish between myth and fact regarding the effect of drugs and other claims made about drug use and drug users? Is there such a thing as a "crack baby"? • Is there a difference between drug use and abuse? Can a person parent and be a drug user? • How should social workers, lawyers, counselors, advocates and judges use and interpret drug tests? • How do we determine what, if any, treatment should be required and how do we measure its success? • What is the relationship between drug use, abstinence, relapse and recovery? • What does evidence-based research tell us about the effectiveness of different kinds of drug treatment? • How can we implement safety plans that keep families together? • How can I best advocate for/ help my client when drug use is an issue? No matter what kind of work you do or practice you have, this course will challenge your assumptions, identify valuable resources and generate hope about families where drug use is an issue. Registration: The fee is $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Breakfast, lunch and beverages will be provided.) Financial aid is available. Please register at: http://napwtraining.eventbrite.com/ This program was developed through a consultative process with representatives from all aspects of New York City's child welfare system. We really appreciate the time people have taken to inform us and to share their knowledge and experiences with us. This program is co-sponsored by: National Advocates for Pregnant Women, New York University School of Law, and New York University Silver School of Social Work Continuing Legal Education, (7 NY-CLE credits) Social Work and CASAC credits for full or partial day program available for New York. This program is appropriate for practitioners at all levels. Students are welcome as well. For more information, contact Allison Guttu, NAPW Equal Justice Works Staff Attorney, at 212.255.9252 or aguttu@advocatesforpregnantwomen.org.
Date: 
Wed, 02/11/2009 - 9:00am - 6:00pm
Location: 
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY
United States

Search and Seizure: Long Island Woman's Strip Search Suit Can Move Forward

A federal appeals court ruled October 8 that a Long Island, New York, woman's rights were violated when police strip searched her in a room with a video camera after finding a marijuana stem in the vehicle she was driving. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the $1 million lawsuit filed three years ago by Stacey Hartline against the Village of Southampton and four of its police officers.

Hartline was driving a work vehicle owned by her construction company in 2001 when she was pulled over for lack of a rear license plate. After the arresting officer spotted a pot stem on the floorboard, he cuffed Hartline, then searched the vehicle, finding a roach and other small amounts of pot debris. Hartline was placed under arrest for marijuana possession, taken to the police station, and subjected to a strip search by a female officer in a room with a video camera while male officers allegedly watched on monitors.

Hartline was "crying hysterically" while she was forced to remove her lower garments and allow the officer to inspect her orifices, then lift up her bra and allow the officer to inspect her breasts, according to her account.

Hartline sued, alleging two violations of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. First, she argued, police had no probable cause to think she was hiding contraband, and second, the search was unconstitutional because the Village of Southampton had a policy of strip searching all female arrestees while it did not have such a policy for male arrestees.

Her civil suit was thrown out in 2006 by US District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip. Hurley held that police did have reason to believe she was hiding contraband and that no higher courts had dealt with such circumstances.

But in last week's opinion from the 2nd Circuit, the appeals court judges sharply disagreed with Hurley. It was irrelevant that no other court had ruled on the circumstances, the judges said, and whether police had "a reasonable suspicion that she was secreting contraband on her person" was a question to settled by a trial court, not Judge Hurley.

"Ultimately, if the facts of this case amount to reasonable suspicion, then strip-searches will become commonplace," the judges further wrote in a 15-page opinion. "Given the unique, intrusive nature of strip-searches, as well as the multitude of less invasive techniques available to officers confronted by misdemeanor offenders, that result would be unacceptable in any society that takes privacy and bodily integrity seriously."

Now, Hartline's case will go to trial. No trial date has yet been set.

Hartline told the Associated Press after the decision that she was relieved. "It's very hard to sit back and challenge a municipality," she said. "It's frightening. I've lived in this town my whole life. I love Southampton. The relief I feel is tremendous. I'm so pleased this won't happen to anyone else."

Drug Testing Pregnant Women Produces False Positives (And Kills Babies)

A major and underappreciated problem with drug testing is that the stupid tests don’t even work. They say people took drugs when they didn’t. The problem is particularly apparent in the case of pregnant women who are frequently targeted for drug screening, but whose changing body chemistry throws off the results:

Hospitals' initial urine- screening drug tests on pregnant women can produce a high rate of false positives - particularly for methamphetamine and opiates - because they are technically complex and interpretation of the results can be difficult, some experts say.

Tests for methamphetamine are wrong an average of 26 percent - and possibly up to 70 percent - of the time, according to studies by the University of Kansas Medical Center, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. [DailyNews]

Of course, drug policy and science cannot coexist harmoniously, thus babies are taken from mothers who test positive, even though the tests are constantly wrong. In one tragic case, a child died in foster care after being wrongly separated from her mother:

Growing up in Los Angeles County's foster care system, Elizabeth Espinoza is sure of one thing: A baby needs its mother.

Espinoza, who was separated from her own mother when she was young because of neglect, also had her newborn baby taken by the foster-care system when she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine at the hospital after giving birth.

Just three months later, the baby, Gerardo, died when his foster mother strapped him into a car seat, took him to a neighbor's home and left him in the car seat on a bed, according to a lawsuit filed against the county's Department of Children and Family Services seeking unspecified damages. [DailyNews]

I hope I'm not being generous, but I really think almost anyone would agree that this is just sickening and horrible. The press coverage will hopefully initiate progress towards cleaning up the procedures that contributed to this travesty. I will hold out hope that common sense can prevail over the mindlessness of taking children from their parents based on evidence that is proven to be wrong up to 70% of the time, particularly now that the alternatives we have available for those children have been demonstrated to be fatally inadequate.

But there is also a larger lesson here that must not escape our attention. Think for a moment about how many women have already been falsely accused under this wildly unjust policy. Think about the social consequences of tearing families apart based on deeply flawed science in a criminal justice system that strikes without hesitation but drags its heels when it comes to righting such ubiquitous wrongs. Ask yourself, also, how such a policy was ever implemented in the first place, doomed as it was to destroy innocent families so capriciously.

Once again, we are faced with a monumental travesty, grand in scope, yet remarkably simple in origin; we should protect unborn children from drug-using mothers. We've wreaked unimaginable and undue suffering upon innocent parents and children in pursuit of the noblest of ideals. That, unfortunately, is the story of most aspects of our drug policy when they receive appropriate scrutiny. The totality of such repeated travesties forms a terrifying mosaic, the true, yet largely untold story of how our drug policies destroy innocent lives each and every day in ways we might never expect.

It is precisely because the idea to protect babies from drugs is such a no-brainer that a plan was drafted with no brains.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," by Silja Talvi (2007, Seal Press, 356 pp., $15.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Forty years ago, some 11,000 women were imprisoned in the United States. By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 110,000, and if you add in the women in jails on any given day, the number of women behind bars is around 200,000 -- many, many of them on drug charges.

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While the overall US prisoner population has rapidly increased over the past few decades, the growth in the number of women behind prison far surpasses the overall rate. Yet most studies of the US prison and jail systems focus on the much larger male prisoner population. That's something investigate journalist Silja Talvi hopes to redress with "Women Behind Bars," and she has done an outstanding job of it.

Visiting numerous prisons -- not only in the US, but also, for comparative purposes, in Canada, England, and Finland -- and conducting hundreds of interviews with prisoners, guards, and advocates, as well as perusing the academic literature, Talvi has constructed a portrait of the US criminal justice system's treatment of women that is a harsh indictment of not only our prisons, but also the culture that perpetuates the resort to mass incarceration as a response to social problems.

It is not easy reading. After all, who wants to read about women prisoners being sexually harassed and raped by guards, who wants to read about prison wings full of mentally disturbed women prisoners screaming incessantly or rubbing feces on their cell walls, who wants to read about women prisoners committing suicide after being locked into cell-like "suicide prevention" rooms seemingly designed to drive them over the edge? Who wants to read about some of the weakest and already most brutalized members of our society who turn to dope or prostitution (or, too often, dope and prostitution), only to be imprisoned for their "crimes"?

It's an ugly subject, and that's part of the problem. Nobody wants to think about our world-leading prison population or the agonies we inflict upon it. In fact, our prison system is geared to shutting them up behind grey walls hidden from the public eye and, hopefully, from the public consciousness. But Silja Talvi is determined to rip the scales from our eyes and force us to look at what we have wrought.

She does so with verve, grace, and humanity. Not only does Talvi bring a keen critical intellect to bear, she also gives voice to the voiceless, standing aside at times to let the women prisoners of America speak for themselves. Their tales of suffering are heartrendingly grim, sometimes seeming as if they were coming from the seventh circle of Hell. The treatment of mentally ill women prisoners is a scandal. The use of female prisoners as sexual playthings by corrupted prison guards is another.

All too many of those stories are because of the decades-long, relentless escalation of the war on drugs. For many reading these words, the story of the imprisonment juggernaut created by the drug war legislation of the 1980s and nurtured by political inertia ever since is an already familiar tale. But Salvi tells it again, eloquently and passionately. We meet women like Amy Ralston, who suffered in prison for more than a decade because she wouldn't rat out her estranged husband , and Regina White, a black woman from South Carolina doing 12 years after crusading pro-life prosecutors charged her with manslaughter for doing cocaine while pregnant -- even though there was no evidence linking her child's death to her drug use.

Talvi offers a harsh critique of the policies and practices that generate thousands of new women prisoners on drug charges, many of them only spouses or girlfriends of the law's actual targets. All too often, Salvi notes, these women end up doing more time than the real culprits even if they had little or no involvement in any drug conspiracies. Prosecutors routinely make conscious decisions to charge them as co-conspirators and send them up the river for years or decades despite knowing that the women are small change. It is a cruelty and cynicism that makes even the hardened heart weep.

Talvi isn't a prison abolitionist; she argues that there are indeed some people who need to be behind bars, but that that number is a tiny fraction of those who actually are, especially women. But she is ready to take on the drug war, sex laws, and other freedom-sucking laws and practices: "I personally would prefer to see the decriminalization or legalization of drug use, the legalization of all forms of consensual sex (including prostitution), far more opportunities for truly therapeutic intervention, prevention- and intervention-minded counseling, real vocational education, and a regular and fair parole review," she writes.

Her book, a cry from heart, will hopefully help hasten that process. We should all hope so, for as the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once famously noted, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." As it should be, for we are all complicit in this by our silence.

In fact, as I ponder this, I am reminded of another quote, this one from a freedom-loving radical in our national past. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." That was Thomas Jefferson. He's probably been spinning in his grave for so long, there's nothing left by now.

Maybe, just maybe, Silja Talvi will help save us from ourselves by forcing us to help those we victimize the most. Let's hope lots of people read this book and take its lessons to heart.

(Copies of Women Behind Bars are available as part of our latest membership offer.)

Mexico takes a risk using soldiers in drug war

Location: 
Apatzingan
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexarmy17may17,1,5927313.story?coll=la-headlines-world

Opinion: A devastating link: prisoner rape, the war on drugs in the U.S.

Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Clarion-Ledger (MS)
URL: 
http://www.clarionledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070516/OPINION/705160306

Supreme Court of New Mexico Strikes Down State’s Attempt to Convict Woman Struggling with Addiction During Pregnancy

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2007 CONTACT: Reena Szczepanski (DPA): 505-983-3277 or Nancy Goldstein (NAPW): 347-563-1647 Supreme Court of New Mexico Strikes Down State’s Attempt to Convict Woman Struggling with Addiction During Pregnancy Leading Physicians, Scientific Researchers, and Medical, Public Health, and Child Welfare Organizations Applaud Court’s Order On May 11, the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico turned back the state's attempt to expand the criminal child abuse laws to apply to pregnant women and fetuses. In 2003, Ms. Cynthia Martinez was charged with felony child abuse “for permitting a child under 18 years of age to be placed in a situation that may endanger the child's life or health. . .” In bringing this prosecution, the state argued that a pregnant woman who cannot overcome a drug addiction before she gives birth should be sent to jail as a felony child abuser. Today the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the Court of Appeals decision, which overturned Ms. Martinez’s conviction. New Mexico joins more than 20 other states that have ruled on this issue and that have refused to judicially expand state criminal child abuse and related laws to reach the issues of pregnancy and addiction. The Drug Policy Alliance (“DPA”) and the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (“NAPW”) filed a friend-of-the-court brief http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/NMvMartinezAmicusBrief.pdf on behalf of the New Mexico Public Health Association, the New Mexico Nurses Association, and nearly three dozen other leading medical and public health organizations, physicians, and scientific researchers. During oral argument, the Justices referenced the amicus brief filed by these organizations and expressed grave concerns about the deterrent effect such prosecutions would have on women seeking prenatal care. Tiloma Jayasinghe, NAPW staff attorney, explained, “Making child abuse laws applicable to pregnant women and fetuses would, by definition, make every woman who is low-income, uninsured, has health problems, and/or is battered who becomes pregnant a felony child abuser. In oral argument, the state’s attorney conceded that the law could potentially be applied to pregnant women who smoked.” Reena Szczepanski, Director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, said, “I hope that this case serves as a reminder that pregnant women who are struggling with drug use should be offered prenatal care and drug treatment, not prosecution. There are better ways to protect our children in New Mexico, and ensure that future generations will be safe and healthy.” A complete list of the Amici appears below: New Mexico Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists New Mexico Public Health Association New Mexico Nurses Association American College of Physicians, New Mexico National Association of Social Workers National Association of Social Workers, New Mexico National Coalition for Child Protection Reform Child Welfare Organizing Project American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry The Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse American Public Health Association Citizens for Midwifery Doctors of the World-USA Family Justice The Hygeia Foundation, Inc. National Perinatal Association National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health National Women's Health Network Our Bodies Ourselves Pegasus Legal Services for Children Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy Center for Gender and Justice Yolanda Briscoe, M.D. Bette Fleishman Norton Kalishman, M.D. Eve Espey, M.D. Gavriela DeBoer Dona Upson, M.D., M.A. Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Ph.D. Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H. Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D. Nancy Day, M.P.H. Leslie Hartley Gise, M.D. Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. Ms. Martinez was represented by Jane Wishner of the outhwest Women's Law Center and Joseph Goldberg of the law firm of Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg & Ives, P.A.
Location: 
NM
United States

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