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Press Release: Licensed Hemp Farmers Heard by US Court of Appeals -- Decision in Lawsuit Could Bring Back Hemp Farming in US

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November, 13, 2008 CONTACT: Adam Eidinger at 202-744-2671 or adam@votehemp.com, or Tom Murphy at 207-542-4998 or tom@votehemp.com Licensed Hemp Farmers Heard by US Court of Appeals Decision in Lawsuit Could Bring Back Hemp Farming in US ST. PAUL, MN – Two North Dakota farmers, who filed a lawsuit in June of 2007 to end the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) ban on commercial hemp farming in the U.S., were heard yesterday, November 12, 2008, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The oral arguments before the three judge panel centered on the farmer’s assertion that because there is no possibility the hemp crop could be diverted into the market for drugs, the Commerce Clause does not allow DEA to regulate industrial hemp farming in North Dakota. If successful, the landmark lawsuit will lead to the first state-regulated commercial cultivation of industrial hemp in over fifty years. The court’s decision is not expected until next year. The farmers, North Dakota State Rep. David Monson and seed breeder Wayne Hauge, are appealing a decision by the U.S. District Court of North Dakota on a number of grounds; in particular, the District Court ruled that hemp and marijuana are the same, as DEA has wrongly contended. In fact, scientific evidence clearly shows that not only are oilseed and fiber varieties of Cannabis genetically distinct from drug varieties, but there are absolutely no psychoactive effects gained from eating it. All court documents related to the case can be found online (http://www.VoteHemp.com/legal_cases_ND.html). Representative Monson observed oral arguments made on his behalf by attorneys Joe Sandler and Tim Purdon. In court Mr. Sandler argued, “Given North Dakota’s unique regulatory regime, nothing leaves the farmer’s property except those parts of the plant Congress has already decided should be exempt from regulation: hemp stalk, fiber seed and oil. The question is whether there is any rational basis for Congressional regulation of the plant itself growing on the farmer’s property. The answer is no — because industrial hemp is useless as drug marijuana and there’s no danger of diversion, so there’s no possible impact on the market for drug marijuana.” The government’s arguments centered on the idea that the plaintiffs should apply to the DEA for permission to grow hemp and that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the issues raised by the farmers. “The plaintiffs should await the DEA’s decision on their application,” said Melissa Patterson on behalf of the government. In response, Judge Michael Milloy asked, “Isn’t it true the DEA will not rule on the farmer’s applications to grow hemp, you’ve had eleven months?” Ms. Patterson answered, “The DEA has not replied out of respect to the pending proceedings.” In response to the jurisdictional objections made by the DEA, Judge Lavenski Smith said, “When there is a legitimate constitutional issue brought before us we can hear the case.” Background In 2007 the North Dakota Legislature removed the requirement that state-licensed industrial hemp farmers first obtain DEA permits before growing hemp. The question before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will be whether or not federal authorities can prosecute state-licensed farmers who grow non-drug oilseed and fiber hemp pursuant to North Dakota state law. Vote Hemp, the nation's leading industrial hemp advocacy group, and its supporters are providing financial support for the lawsuit. If it is successful, states across the nation will be free to implement their own hemp farming laws without fear of federal interference. Learn more about hemp farming and the wide variety of non-drug industrial hemp products manufactured in the U.S. at www.VoteHemp.com and www.TheHIA.org. # # #
Location: 
St. Paul, MN
United States

Evidence: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Drug Crime Lab Case

The US Supreme Court Monday heard oral arguments in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (No. 07-591), and appeared inclined to rule that defendants in drug and other cases confronted with crime lab reports must be allowed to cross-examine the forensic analysts who prepare the reports. The case involves a Massachusetts man who challenged his conviction for cocaine use after he was not allowed to question the analyst who examined the alleged cocaine.

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US Supreme Court
Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which he was riding. A state appeals court upheld his conviction. But this week the Supreme Court listened to his argument.

Crime labs analyzed some 1.9 million substances following drug arrests in 2006, a figure noted by 35 states that joined with Massachusetts in urging the court not to require that cross-examination of lab analysts be allowed. Some 20 states, including California, already give defendants some right to cross-examine lab employees.

Arguing for the state of Massachusetts, state Attorney General Martha Coakley warned that if lab analysts had to be made available to testify, "district court misdemeanor drug prosecutions would essentially grind to a halt."

But Jeffrey Fisher, the attorney representing Melendez-Diaz, told the justices there are not that many cases where defendants want to make an issue of lab reports, mainly because in most cases there is little dispute that the substance seized was illicit drugs. "There is every reason to believe it's not going to cause any problem, because defendants aren't going to want to challenge them very often," Fisher said.

The justices appeared unsympathetic to Coakley's arguments. "I do wish you would comment on the argument that the state of California, a huge state with many, many drug prosecutions, seems to get along all right," Justice Anthony Kennedy said to Coakley. She had no reply.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that there have been repeated reports of lab analyses poorly done, tests not actually run, and results manipulated to hurt defendants in recent years. "Aren't there some things I read in the paper all the time about these laboratories in various places, and they lost the results, they got it all wrong?" he asked.

Expect a decision sometime next spring or summer.

Hemp: North Dakota Farmers Head to Federal Appeals Court

A pair of North Dakota farmers who want to be able to grow hemp were in US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, Wednesday to argue their case. Farmers Wayne Hauge and David Monson, who is also a Republican state representative, applied to grow hemp under North Dakota's hemp law but have yet to receive a permit to do so from the DEA. They filed suit in federal district court in Bismarck last year, but lost at the district court level.

The farmers and their attorneys, Joe Sandler and Tim Purdon, are appealing on a number of grounds, including the district court's ruling that hemp and marijuana are the same. The farmers argued that the scientific evidence is clear that hemp is genetically distinct from drug varieties of cannabis and that there are no psychoactive effects from ingesting it.

The DEA, which has jurisdiction over drug scheduling decisions, does not recognize any difference between hemp and marijuana. Under current federal law, anyone who grows industrial hemp for use in foods, lotions, fuels, cloth, and paper, among others, is subject to prosecution under federal marijuana cultivation statutes.

Justice Department attorney Melissa Patterson told the court that state law cannot override federal law. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce between states, Patterson said, and that is the basis of federal drug laws. "What states do cannot expand or contract Congress's interstate regulation powers," Patterson told the judges.

But Sandler retorted that that was not the question before the court. "The question here is whether the mere existence of a plant can affect interstate commerce," he said.

In an effort to allay the concerns of the appeals court panel, the farmers and their attorneys argued that North Dakota's law is so strict that their hemp could not be converted into psychoactive marijuana and that the state's monitoring of hemp fields would prevent illicit marijuana cultivation. "It would be the last place in the world that anybody would do anything illegal," Sandler said.

A decision could come down in weeks or months.

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

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The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

Feature: Looking Forward -- Who Should Be the Next Drug Czar?

If there is one man who symbolizes and epitomizes the federal war on drugs, it is the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), colloquially known as the drug czar's office. For the last eight years, that man has been John Walters, a protege of conservative moralist Bill Bennett, the first ONDCP drug czar. With his anti-marijuana media campaigns, his innumerable press releases, and his interference in various state-level initiatives, Walters has been drug reform's bête noire.

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Walters parody from 2004 Common Sense for Drug Policy ad (csdp.org/publicservice/potency04.htm)
Now, Walters and his boss, President Bush, are preparing to exit stage right, and the Obama administration will have to choose his successor. Given the foreign wars and failing economy facing the incoming administration, filling the drug czar position doesn't appear to be a high priority for the new resident at the White House. Only one name has been publicly mentioned, Los Angeles police chief William Bratton, and he has said he's not interested. A US News & World Report list of potential White House appointments doesn't even list any names for consideration as drug czar.

But for people interested in undoing some of the harms of the Bush era drug war, ONDCP is very important. As ONDCP explains on its home page:

"The principal purpose of ONDCP is to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation's drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. To achieve these goals, the Director of ONDCP is charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy. The Strategy directs the Nation's anti-drug efforts and establishes a program, a budget, and guidelines for cooperation among Federal, State, and local entities.

"By law, the director of ONDCP also evaluates, coordinates, and oversees both the international and domestic anti-drug efforts of executive branch agencies and ensures that such efforts sustain and complement State and local anti-drug activities. The Director advises the President regarding changes in the organization, management, budgeting, and personnel of Federal Agencies that could affect the Nation's anti-drug efforts; and regarding Federal agency compliance with their obligations under the Strategy."

So, who is it going to be? Drug reformers and others consulted this week by the Chronicle had few actual suggestions -- some worried that anyone suggested or supported by the reform movement would be doomed -- but plenty of ideas about what type of person should replace Walters. And some even speculated about the possibility of just doing away with the drug czar's office altogether.

"The reform community needs to be looking at someone who has a comprehensive public health orientation or who has an evidence-based focus," said Eric Sterling, former counsel to the House Judiciary Committee and currently president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "This would be someone who says goal number one is treatment of people with hard-core addiction problems and number two is to make sure our prevention programs are effective and well-grounded."

Sterling mentioned a couple of possibilities. "I don't think it's realistic to think we can get a reform sympathizer in there. It's not going to be Ethan Nadelmann. It needs to be someone who has administrative experience in some capacity. One possibility would be Chris Fichtner, the former head of mental health for the state of Illinois," Sterling suggested.

Fichtner is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago who has worked with drug reformers in Illinois. He testified in favor of medical marijuana bills in Illinois and Wisconsin.

"Another possibility, someone I know the reform community had a lot of respect for before he went into government is Westley Clark, head of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Services," Sterling continued. "He's African-American, been at the federal level for a long time, has experience managing a federal agency, and a lot of experience in the field."

"If we had our druthers," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre, "it would be somebody like Ethan Nadelmann, with a comprehensive understanding of drugs, but that's a wet dream." Instead, he said, one name being kicked around was Mark Kleiman, a professor of Public Policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs who has written extensively on drug policy and whose innovative ideas sometimes raise as many hackles in the reform community as they do among drug warriors.

St. Pierre mentioned one other possible candidate. "Another name we're hearing is Bud Schuster, a former head of NIDA in the 1980s," he said. "That would be someone coming at it at least from a NIDA point of view, and we need someone like that, not someone just coming at it from a criminal justice perspective."

"I'd almost be happy with any drug czar who doesn't constantly say stupid things," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "We would like to see someone who will approach it from a public health standpoint, who will work to contain the criminal justice system in ways that protect the public health objectives of drug policy."

Borden pointed to a trio of what he called "moderate academics" as possibilities. "People like Kleiman or Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun [coauthors of 'Drug War Heresies'] are not drug war hawks and they are thinking people. We need some logical thought at the White House drug office."

"We're as anxious to see what names pop up as anybody," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We think John Walters set the bar pretty low. If there has to be a drug czar, we want to see someone who bases policy on facts and science, not ideology."

"Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke once said we need a surgeon general, not a military general, and I think that's a good starting point," said Drug Policy Alliance national affairs director Bill Piper. "At a minimum, we want someone coming from public health or medicine, as opposed to law enforcement or the conservative punditry. Drug reformers and harm reductionists and treatment providers have been in the wilderness for 20 years; now it's time for someone who understands addiction and supports evidence-based programs."

"If we're going to have a drug czar, we need one who insists on accuracy, honesty, transparency, and who is is willing to consider alternatives to the drug war including harm reduction approaches as well as modifications of the drug war such as increased funding for treatment and prevention," said Matthew Robinson, professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University and co-author of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."

But, said Robinson, we don't really need a drug czar. "We don't need an ONDCP or a drug war, so therefore we don't need a drug czar," he argued. "Yet, we do need an accurate, honest, transparent agency to evaluate drug abuse control policy (just like with other government policies). It can be ONDCP or some other agency, but if it is ONDCP, it must be removed from the White House since there it is merely a political office whose aim is to further drug war ideology."

Former ONDCP Public Affairs Director (during the Clinton years) Robert Weiner was as critical of Walters and the Bush administration as anybody, but for different reasons. Weiner complained of the systematic weakening of the office in the Bush years.

"This administration has been a disaster in shrinking the power of the drug czar," Weiner said. "They dropped the drug czar's budget certification authority from $19 billion to $13 billion, they took away oversight power over some programs, they've cut the media program, they tried to move out the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program and the Justice Department community grants program. I've shed many tears as I watched the power of the drug czar deflate by his own lack of initiative."

It didn't have to be that way, Weiner said. "When Bush was selecting a drug czar, there were eight or 10 treatment honchos they were looking at, but he chose a partisan hack. It was as if there were no drug czar. His job was to press the drug issue as a national security and domestic health issue, and he didn't do enough of it."

Weiner is less concerned with the field from which the next drug czar emerges than his ability to advance the office's charge. "The most important thing is that he be a forceful, aggressive, forceful advocate," he said. "No matter what side of the fence you're on, everyone is in favor of drug treatment, and drug court is very good. We need someone who will push the concept of treatment not imprisonment for nonviolent offenders," he said.

But while Weiner would like to see a strengthened drug czar, many drug reformers would be glad to see no drug czar at all. "Patients Out of Time sent a letter to Obama transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett on the 9th," reported the group's Al Byrne. "We recommended the drug czar position be abandoned but... if that was somehow not politically feasible then the position be staffed by a health care professional, specifically a MD or RN who is not an academic/political professional."

"Ideally, ONDCP should be sunsetted," said St. Pierre. "I think many reformers could agree with that, but it doesn't appear to be on the table. If we're going to be burdened with a drug czar's office, we need a break from the two principal models -- the political hacks, like Walters and Bennett, and the law enforcement/military types, like McCaffrey and Lee Brown. If we're going to have a drug czar, make him an MD or someone in the public health realm."

"The nation and the government don't need a drug czar," said Sterling. "One of the important warnings of the 1973 Shafer Commission was about the institutionalization of the anti-drug effort, the creation of self-sustaining bureaucracies. The ONDCP is the prime example of that problem. Because of its prominence, it has the greatest capacity for mischief and gets the most attention for its falsehoods and PR-driven policies," he said.

The federal drug apparatus could be reorganized, he argued. "It may be the case that a reorganization of federal drug agencies is called for, probably with coordination under the Department of Health and Human Services," he posited. "There doesn't need to be a DEA with its SWAT mentality, and the effective management of a drug control program doesn't require White House supervision, either."

The agency comes up for reauthorization in 2010. That could prove an opportunity to try to kill it or, more likely, to try to restructure it. While going for the kill would be sweet, that appears unlikely to happen at this point.

It is "not realistic" to think an effort to sunset ONDCP in 2010 will bear immediate fruit, said Sterling. "The effective drug control movement has not developed a campaign and a political imperative, a drug control organizational paradigm that is a clear alternative to the existing one," he pointed out. "Therefore, there is no campaign in the Congress or in the news media."

Nor is there any evidence that the Obama administration is eyeing ONDCP for the axe. "The only way there would be any drive in the administration to do away with ONDCP would be if there is an analysis from the new cabinet secretaries deciding collectively that ONDCP is a big enough problem that they would want to abolish it," said Sterling.

Another obstacle is that incoming vice-president Joe Biden crafted the legislation that created ONDCP 20 years ago. "Any proposal to do away with the drug czar would get into that history with Biden. It would have to reject Biden's approach, or he would have to change his mind. If Biden were to say ONDCP was now unneeded, that would be one thing, but I haven't seen any sign of that."

With the prospect of killing ONDCP apparently off the table for now, some reformers are concentrating on making the best ONDCP possible. That may be the best to hope for in the near- and medium-term.

"If we could change this office so its responsibility is reducing the harms of both substance abuse and drug prohibition, then it would be very useful," said Piper. "There are very clearly problems with both drug abuse and the war on drugs. Even if the drug war ended tomorrow, there would still be a drug problem and a need for national leadership around harm reduction and treatment, including alcohol and tobacco. Reauthorization in 2010 is a real chance to change what ONDCP is all about. If that's possible it's worth keeping the agency."

Now the waiting game begins. Given the Obama administration's priorities and the full plate of problems it faces, we could be waiting awhile for a new drug czar.

Obama’s Chief of Staff is a Crazy Drug Warrior

President-elect Obama’s selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff is hardly a good sign for reformers. As Jacob Sullum points out, he’s a complete nightmare when it comes to drug policy:

"We are going to continue to find ways within the administration to fight legalization and the notion of legalization," Rahm Emanuel, a key Clinton drug-policy adviser, said yesterday. "We're against the message that the initiative sends to children. Marijuana does not come cost-free. It is illegal and it is dangerous."

Of course, that was more than 10 years ago, when even Bob Barr was still in full-blown drug war demagogue mode. Has Emanuel improved? Unfortunately not, and if anything he’s gotten worse as demonstrated by this totally deranged attack on former AG Alberto Gonzalez for saying the war on drugs wasn’t a "real" war:

"Thanks for the white flag. From the United States' most senior law enforcement official, the man who should be leading the war on drugs, this white flag of surrender will not be reassuring to the millions of parents trying to protect their kids."

This full-scale war mentality regarding drug policy is about as bad as it gets and I just shudder to think this is the guy who’ll have the president’s ear on a daily basis. Obama has called for "shifting the paradigm" with regards to the war on drugs, only to then surround himself with the worst drug warriors in the democratic party.

It’s too soon to call this a betrayal of anything Obama has pledged regarding reform; I doubt drug policy was a factor in Emanuel’s or Biden’s selection. But it’s a harsh reminder that vehement support for the war on drugs continues to thrive on both sides of the aisle. Reform won't come easily for Obama even if he's completely serious about changing our approach to the war on drugs.

Will Bush’s DEA Launch a Final Assault on Medical Marijuana Before January?

President-elect Obama has pledged to end the federal government’s war on medical marijuana, but he doesn’t take office for several weeks. Meanwhile, the DEA has spent the last 8 years periodically raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in California based on undisclosed criteria, stealing money, scaring patients, and even convicting good people on harsh charges for activities that are legal under state law.

So what happens now? With their livelihood threatened, will the bloodsucking narc-warriors dive in for one last bite? They’ve got everything mapped out and they’ve spent years investigating this (which is embarrassingly easy since these are legal, storefront co-ops). No one really knows what the marching orders will be after January, so you can bet there are scores of pissed-off drug cops just dying to throw one last flurry before the bell rings.

You’d think the election of a more supportive president would enthrall the medical marijuana community, but I’m hearing that people on the ground in California are buzzing nervously about the coming weeks with no clear indication of what direction things will go. The potential withdrawal of prosecutorial resources could have a chilling effect, but prosecutions are only one dimension of the problem. Asset forfeiture is another major concern following DEA’s recent threats against landlords, and you can bet there’s no limit to the greed and spite that has defined the federal war on medical marijuana since its inception.

So while I’ll decline to speculate what’s to come, I keep reminding myself that the federal drug warriors’ actions always carry political consequences. These raids have long sought to create the perception of impracticality surrounding state medical marijuana laws, and that strategy has failed. Medical marijuana continues to gain momentum as a political issue, as evidenced by the strong showing in Michigan and universal support from candidates in the democratic primaries.

The faceless drug war army perched over California must consider the ramifications of any ugliness they unleash in the weeks to come, because any action they take will provoke tremendous rallying cries that will surely reverberate all the way to Washington, DC. A final exhibit in the repugnance of the federal war on medical marijuana might be exactly what it takes to bring about the burial of this bullshit once and for all. If DEA wants to play hardball, it would seem wise to wait until the new referee takes the field.

Bye Bye Bertha

Bertha Madras has apparently left her position as deputy director for demand reduction at ONDCP, as evidenced by a missing staff bio and this article identifying her as a "former" staffer. If drug abuse suddenly skyrockets, it will prove she was really good at her job. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

Instead, Bertha will be remembered for saying some of the most horrible things you could ever imagine. Here she is opposing overdose prevention and arguing that drug overdoses are good for you:

Madras says the rescue programs might take away the drug user’s motivation to get into detoxification and drug treatment.

"Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services," Madras says. [NPR]

She will be difficult to replace, I’m sure.

Drug Czar Sets New Standard for Stoner Stereotyping

Just when you thought anti-marijuana propaganda couldn't get any more frivolous and shallow, the drug czar arrives with a new slogan: "Hey, not trying to be your mom, but there aren’t many jobs out there for potheads."



The whole thing is just absurd on its face, released days after a former marijuana user was elected president and weeks after the drug czar’s own blog observed that 75% of illicit drug users have jobs.

These new ads read like a mockery of typical drug czar propaganda, devoid of facts and premised on the self-evidently false proposition that marijuana use is some kind of physical handicap. It is just so over-the-top crazy and childish that I must keep reminding myself that it is the nation’s top drug policy official who is responsible for this.

Criminal Justice Recommendations for New Administration, Congress Released

Friends:


     The 2009 Criminal Justice Transition Coalition, which includes The Sentencing Project and 20 other prominent national organizations, has just released a collaborative report identifying critical needs for federal policy reform. Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress contains comprehensive policy recommendations at every stage of the justice system for the new Administration and Congress.
 
      "Americans of all political stripes, and especially professionals with experience in every aspect of the criminal justice system, recognize that the system is failing too many, costing too much, and helping too few," said the report. Included among the recommendations to overcome these challenges are:
 
·         Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity;
·         Expand alternatives to incarceration;
·         Fund prisoner reentry through the Second Chance Act;
·         Extend federal voting rights to people released from prison;
·         Restore welfare and food stamp eligibility to individuals with    drug felony convictions; and
·         Analyze and reduce unwarranted racial and ethnic disparity in the federal judicial system.
 
     The policy catalogue will be distributed to the Obama/Biden transition team and key leadership on Capitol Hill. The administration's transition team has already identified the need to eliminate crack cocaine sentencing disparities as one of its civil rights agenda items.

     In its entirety, the document identifies 15 issue areas within criminal justice for policy change. Additional issue areas featured in the catalogue include death penalty reform, prison reform, and juvenile justice. The comprehensive document features contacts for various field experts and organizations, and includes issues pertinent to the community of criminal justice advocates, practitioners and legislators.

     We hope you find this document useful in your work, and look forward to collaborating with you on many of these policy reforms.
                                             
-The Sentencing Project

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