(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #6, 8/8/97
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
(visit last week's week online)
1. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released their annual Household Survey results this week. Teen marijuana use appears to have leveled off, with past month use estimated at 7.1% of those aged 12-17, as opposed to 8.2% of that population during the previous year. Past month cocaine use remained well below its 1985 high of 3% of the population, with 1996 estimates at 0.8%, up slightly from 0.7% last year. (Use declined slightly among 12-17 year-olds.)
Heroin use, both injecting and smoking/snorting, was down in the 12-17 age group, from an estimated 101,000 injectors in '95 to 84,000 in '96 and from 71,000 other users (smoke/snort) to 48,000 in '96. Heroin use rose, however for those 18-25 from 144,000 to 160,000 injectors in '96 and from 139,000 to 222,000 other users (smoke/snort) in '96.
It should be noted, however, that the government drug use surveys rely on young people's willingness to accurately report their drug use (a willingness that varies with the political and cultural climate), miss key high-risk segments of the population, and have other limitations. A discussion of this, by the US General Accounting Office can be found at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/gao/gao5.htm.
Information on the survey can be found online at http://www.samhsa.gov (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) or http://www.health.org (National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information).
2. Needle Exchange:
Despite numerous studies which document the effectiveness of needle exchange programs in combating the spread of AIDS, (as well as the support of the AMA, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Academy of Sciences) the Clinton Administration has not displayed the courage to lift the ban which currently forbids states to use federal AIDS dollars to fund NEPs. In the face of this inaction, two members of congress have introduced a bill to save the lives that are currently being sacrificed to political considerations.
Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Nancy Pelosi (D- CA) have introduced H.R. 2212, which would allow states to use federal funds that are already going toward AIDS prevention to be used for needle exchange. Whatever your political opinion on the use of federal funds for state health programs in general, it is both discriminatory and short-sighted to single out these programs, and thereby IV drug users and their families and partners, for exclusion. H.R. 2212 would give state governments the ability to spend existing federal AIDS funds on needle exchange programs, if they so choose. Reps. Cummings and Pelosi will be seeking co-sponsors when the house returns to session in September, and are planning to bring needle exchange clients to Washington to testify.
DRCNet urges our members to write to their representatives asking that they support H.R. 2212, and further, that they consider co-sponsoring the bill. We would note that your representatives will be "home" for most of August, so a personal visit, especially by a group of constituents, would be a great way to show your support. If you cannot make it to your Representative's office, or if they will not be in during August, remember that letters are more effective than e-mail, faxes or phone calls. Also, if you are a member of an organization in your district, you might consider seeking their support as well. (Of course, a fax or phone call would be far better than nothing.)
DRCNet's AIDS web site section at http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS has information on the threat of drug-related AIDS transmission, specific to each state. For more information on the effectiveness of needle exchange programs, visit the Safe Works AIDS Project at http://www.safeworks.org and make use of their extensive collection of documents and links to other sites. You might even bring information from these web sites to your Rep's office for his/her edification.
3. International News:
While most American media outlets feed their consumers drug war pablum, the international press is often willing to dig down to the issue's rotten core. In the wake of the recent San Jose Mercury News series on CIA links to drug trafficking, which was roundly criticized by such papers as the New York Times and Washington Post, it is refreshing, indeed almost shocking, to see what the rest of the world is reading about America's longest and dirtiest war.
While the foreign press is less than accessible to most English-speaking Americans, a service called the Weekly News Update on the Americas regularly culls and translates such articles. The current week's update includes excerpts from a series carried in the Spanish-language weekly "Cambio16- Espana" Colombian edition, called "Confessions of an Agent."
Included in the series are accusations, made by a reported DEA Latin American operative, of CIA complicity in cocaine production and trafficking from a secret facility in Huanchaca, Bolivia, the US-ordered assassination of a Bolivian Congressman who made public charges about the facility and was about to demand the expulsion of the DEA from that country, a CIA operation that brought about the escape from a Colombian maximum-security prison of convicted trafficker Jose Santacruz Londono, and the subsequent US- ordered assassination of Londono when he wouldn't be lured to a country from which he could be extradited to America.
This is only the tip of the iceberg of this week's coverage. Go to http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/wnusup02.html, or e-mail [email protected] for more information on the Weekly News Update on the Americas.
4. Medical Marijuana:
The National Institutes of Health panel on medical marijuana was convened over five months ago by National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Alan Leshner. At that time, Leshner announced that the report "should be available sometime over the course of the next four weeks." Well, it took five months, and the stunning conclusion? According to Dr. Paul Palmberg, professor of opthalmology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, "NIH review panels need to take another look" at funding of medicinal marijuana research.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) had obtained the official transcript of the panel's roundtable discussion, held at the NIH "Workshop on the Medical Utility of Marijuana" on February 19-20, 1997. Despite the fact that the panel's composition was criticized by patients and activists as not representative of their views and experiences, the transcript revealed a very positive tone toward the efficacy and suitability of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Most of the medical professionals on the panel, in fact, made statements which directly contradicted the administration's position.
But despite the panel's positive early statements, the report "will have no bombshells" says Palmer. Chuck Thomas, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, says that the four month delay, which produced only a call for more research seems like a "stall tactic" and that earlier statements by the panelists suggest that this report could have been issued within the promised, four-week time frame.
According to Chuck Thomas, MPP's Director of Communications, "Seven of the eight panelists made very strong statements in support of marijuana's safety and efficacy as a medicine." He went on to say, "While the report calls for more research, that cannot justify continuing to throw sick and dying people in prison for their choice of medicine."
To read the MPP release in its entirety, including full quotes of the panelists' statements supportive of medical marijuana, and reaction to the report, visit http://www.mpp.org/nrnihrpt.html on the MPP's web site.
The NIH press release can be read online at http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/aug97/nih-08.htm, and has a link to the full text of the report.
5. 60 Years of Marijuana Prohibition
August 2, 1997 marked the 60th anniversary of the Marijuana Tax Act, the de facto start of marijuana prohibition in America. In commemoration of this dubious anniversary, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has issued a report called "Still crazy after all these years: Marijuana prohibition 1937 - 1997."
The report reminds us, among other things, that American taxpayers are spending over $7.5 billion in federal dollars per year to enforce marijuana prohibition, that non-violent marijuana offenders often serve longer sentences than many rapists and murderers, that another marijuana arrest happens every 54 seconds, and that an estimated 70 million Americans have been made into criminals in the eyes of the law for having ingested this non-toxic substance at one time or another.
"Still Crazy" is an interesting, often eye-opening look at the folly of America's 60 year-old war on marijuana users. You can find the report on NORML's web site at http://www.norml.org/warcrimes/crazy/index.shtml.
6. Quote of the Week:
This week's quote comes from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), on why he introduced a bill to lift the federal ban on funding for needle exchange programs.
"We cannot close our eyes any longer and pretend if we 'just say no' people are going to do the right thing.... It is now time to lift the ban."
7. Link of the Week:
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez, an 18 year-old American high-school student was tending his goats near his family's home in the border town of Marfa, Texas when he was shot and killed by a camouflaged American marine out on a "drug patrol." The shooting, details of which are in dispute, has outraged Americans along the border and elsewhere, and has called into question the expanding role of American military forces in domestic counter-drug operations. The Texas Rangers have launched an independent investigation of the incident and the local prosecutor has convened a grand jury to explore homicide charges.
In response to the outcry over the shooting, the US Military has temporarily suspended domestic operations along the border. While this response has been applauded by experts who question the legitimacy of such a domestic role for the armed forces, it appears that the military's objective is not to examine the wisdom of its mission but rather to insulate itself from accountability for such incidents in future operations.
"Such counter-drug operations expose soldiers and Marines to legal liability, which is unacceptable to the Department of Defense, and definitely not fair to the members of our armed forces," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Campbell, Pentagon spokesman.
While the military is concerned about "fairness," others are concerned about a policy that has obliterated over 200 years of separation between the military and domestic law enforcement. According to long-time activist Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy, "It is amazing to see how fast the slippery slope of military involvement in civilian enforcement has moved. From a criminal prohibition against the military being involved domestically (under the Posse Comitatus Act), which lasted for most of US history, to a limited exception in 1981, followed by a series of broader exceptions in the late 1980s, and now, potentially, to the military operating domestically and being exempt from civilian laws for reckless or criminal activity of their troops."
The Drug Policy Forum of Texas has been monitoring the case and has lots of information, including recent news articles, on its site. Check them out DPFT's Esequiel Hernandez focus section at http://www.mapinc.org/DPFT/hernandez/. And tell them DRCNet sent you.
Does the US Government really want to "Win" the War on Drugs?
A report out of Reuter's News Service this week highlights a special report in Latin Trade Magazine regarding the enormous sums of drug money being laundered in Mexico. According to Latin Trade, an estimated $15 Billion in drug profits, equal to 5% of Mexico's GDP, is flowing through Mexican banks and into real estate, the Mexican stock and bond markets, and other legitimate sectors. The report concludes that if this money were to stop flowing, the Mexican economy would be "seriously destabilized." This does not even address the additional concern of the concentration of Mexican assets in the hands of criminals. (And Mexico is far from the only country with this problem.)
The current (August 21) issue of Rolling Stone Magazine details the extraordinary volume and complexity of money laundering worldwide, as the largest and most profitable criminal organizations in the history of the world reintegrate their wealth into the stream of legitimate business. This has resulted in a thriving black market in American currency in source countries such as Colombia, where otherwise legitimate businessmen can buy American currency from drug traffickers at a 17% discount.
The New York Times has reported that American companies including General Electric, Microsoft, Apple Computer and General Motors have sold goods to fronts for the "Cali Cartel." The illegal money flowing into Colombia is such that it has turned a $5 billion per year US trade deficit into a $5 billion trade surplus as American products are bought for newly laundered funds. The US government also gets a stream of revenue from whatever illicit funds it can lay claim to, whether seized outright or bargained-for in return for lighter sentences for captured drug kingpins.
In response to the enormous scope of money laundering in the US, the Treasury Department's hope is to reduce notification requirements (the threshold at which a financial transaction must be reported to the IRS) from $10,000 all the way down to $750. This would give the government unprecedented knowledge of and control over the financial activities of its citizens, yet another level of public surveillance justified by the exigencies of the Drug War.
Perhaps the booty from the illicit drug trade, much of which comes from the pockets of the poor and middle class, is not necessarily a "problem" for the US government after all. It props up a Mexican economy (which we only recently bailed out to the tune of $50 billion) the stability of which is important to US security (and securities). It pads the accounts of legitimate US businesses in the form of exports, both to front organizations and to legitimate source-country businesses operating with discounted currency. It gives Uncle Sam an excuse to watch its citizens more closely. And it is being reabsorbed by the US government both through seizures and by taxes on US corporations.
Just how big is the global trade in illegal drugs? The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs estimates that the total is about $500 billion. That's about the same size as the international telecommunications trade, larger than the international petroleum trade, and larger than the Gross Domestic Products of nearly every nation on earth.
Incredibly, the U.N. estimate does not include the enormous "legitimate" business of Drug War Inc. (prisons, law enforcement, defense, military hardware, drug testing, forced treatment, etc., etc., etc.)
It is worth noting that the price of drugs, and thus the relative size of the illegal market, is wildly inflated by Prohibition. Any system which removed the black market premium from the price of drugs would immediately see the economic size of the trade reduced by orders of magnitude. What remained would be significant, to be sure, but certainly not a primary cog in the functioning of the world economy. (According to an editorial in the 7/26 issue of The Economist, legalizing certain drugs would slash, overnight, profits that account for "perhaps three-quarters of all the laundered money.") The longer it takes to reign this in -- and that will not be done by building more prisons in the US, nor by sending more weapons to Latin America -- the more dependent the world economy will become on a policy which thrives on massive incarceration, the unrestrained seizure of citizens' assets, and the destruction of millions of lives.
The Drug War then, is a game of money and power and control, sold to Americans as if it were about drugs and children and health. Given the mythical opportunity to "win" the drug war, that is, to make drugs disappear forever, the US government would most likely have to turn it down. There is too much being gained in this never-ending game of cat and mouse. But you will never hear General McCaffrey tell you that, nor President Clinton, nor Jesse Helms nor Newt Gingrich. Because for them, 'tis the game that's the thing. And in this game, where the government wins by merely playing, they don't want to have to tell us that the stakes are ours, and that we can only lose.
Adam J. Smith
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