(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #13, 9/28/97
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Dear DRCNet reader:
This 13th edition of the Week Online with DRCNet comes to you a few days late because of a busy week preparing for our move to new office space -- DRCNet is growing! Though this issue does not include some of the usual special sections like the Link of the Week and the Quote of the Week, nor the usual table of contents and interlocking web version, I think you'll agree that the range of events that have transpired around the U.S. and internationally is extraordinary. We see a world gone mad but groping for sanity.
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Table of Contents
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In yet another example of zero-tolerance to the point of absurdity, a nine year-old Virginia boy was suspended from school for giving two pill-shaped Certs candies to a classmate. According to the parents of the classmate, little Joey Hoeffer told their son that the candies would "make him jump higher." When the friend, who apparently did not consume the mints, told his parents what Joey had told him, they immediately suspected that their son had been given some kind of drug.
The one-day suspension was for violation of the school's drug policy which forbids "possession or distribution (or attempted distribution) of drugs, illegal substances, controlled substances, or 'look-alikes' which by dosage, unit, appearance or by representation would lead a person to believe that the substance is a controlled or illegal substance." During his ordeal, little Joey was interviewed by the school's principle, Gloria Jackson, and by a Manassas police officer, who confiscated the mint for analysis.
(The summer '96 issue of the Drug Policy Letter featured similar incidents in its cover story, "The War on our Children", online at http://www.dpf.org/dpletter/30/.
Last week in a magazine interview, French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet offered support for the legalization of cannabis. As a medical doctor, Voynet claimed that "The occasional consumption of cannabis has no impact on health and social bonds." Additionally, Mme. Voynet stated she was more concerned "...by the number of people who need sleeping pills than who confess to having smoked a joint." In the past, the conservative government has upheld a strong anti-drug policy. However, the new government might be taking a different route. Although Voynet's views are not supported by the rest of the Cabinet, others have commented on this subject as well. The Health Minister, Bernard Kouchner, has signed a petition for the legalization of cannabis, while the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin admitted during the election campaign that the drug laws were in need of revision. "Far form preventing drug addiction, the law only aggravates a problem that should be examined in the light of the experiences and policies put into effect by our neighbors."
Rev. Raul Soto Vazquez, a Catholic priest, praised the charitable giving of Mexican drug traffickers and said that it should stand as an example to other Mexicans. Citing a $100,000 donation from Rafael Caro Quintero to the victims of Mexico City's 1995 earthquake, Soto said that "not everything these people do is bad, sinners do some good things." These sentiments are apparently shared by many Mexicans who often see local traffickers as at least partially benevolent citizens, doing good things in their own impoverished communities, much as many Mafia bosses were once viewed in their own communities. Enrique Maza, a priest turned journalist, told the Washington Post, "In poor areas, sometimes priests have to choose between poverty and corruption."
Journalists covering the story were attacked by aides to the Archbishop while attempting to question him after a mass last weekend. One journalist was hit over the head with a crosier (the Archbishop's staff of office) while others were kicked, had recording equipment smashed and threatened that they would be sent to "military camps."
(Philanthropy by organized crime leaders is nothing new and is not limited to Latin America. "Incomplete Reality", an editorial in issue #5 of DRCNet's newsletter, The Activist Guide, discusses the case of Darryl Whiting, a former cocaine kingpin who had virtual rule over a public housing complex in Boston -- online at http://www.drcnet.org/guide2-95/editor.html)
On September 18, Dr. David Beilenson, Health Commissioner for the city of Baltimore, testified in front of the congressional subcommittee on National Security, Internal Affairs and Criminal Justice. The testimony outlined the progress of Baltimore's 3 year-old needle exchange program.
Beilenson prefaced his remarks by voicing opposition to the "martial terms used to define our national approach to drugs today. This is not a War of Battle -- it should be about people, and caring for people who are suffering. AIDS is the number one killer of young adults, male and female, black and white, in Baltimore and many other cities in the U.S."
Dr. Beilenson then went on to document the continued success and effectiveness of needle exchange in Baltimore. Drawing liberally from the most comprehensive studies to date, he vehemently defended the programs as fitting squarely within the mandate of the oath he took to "do no harm" when he became an M.D. Dr. Beilenson went on to cite a 39.7% decrease in seroconversion rates among participants and the exchange's important role as a link to a difficult to reach community and as a springboard into drug treatment programs.
A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all DEA agents (but not the agency itself) alleges widespread wiretaps of DEA personnel by the CIA. DEA Special Agent Richard A. Horn, the named plaintiff in the case, discovered that his home phone had been tapped when he had occasion to see a confidential memo in which his words, spoken over his phone to a fellow DEA agent, appeared in quotes. Plaintiffs' attorney Brian Leighton of Clovis, CA says, "These agencies have a pattern and practice of eavesdropping on DEA agents' and employees' conversations while they are serving the government overseas."
(DRCNet doesn't claim to have information as to why the CIA would be tapping DEA phones, but if we were protecting drug shipments coming into this country, we'd certainly want to know what the DEA was talking about.)
Rather than debate the merits of the CIA's continued existence, we simply offer the words of ex-CIA agent Philip Agee, as told to the Mexican daily, La Journada. "The CIA's legacy is an incalculable human cost... people were tortured to death and disappeared or murdered in one way or another. Today there is a broad opposition to US policy in Latin America. [Opposition groups] will naturally be targets for US repression as their strength grows."
On an appearance on the Derrick McGinty show on Washington DC radio on Wednesday, September 24, a CIA spokesman, discussing operations in which the agency had occasion to use paramilitary training, made an embarrassing and potentially revealing slip of the tongue when he said, "When we were running support operations for the Medellin, er, um, Mujahedin"
Journalists in Mexico apparently have even more to fear from the police than from the church. At least four reporters who have reported on police corruption and ties to the drug trade have recently been kidnapped, tortured and/or beaten and threatened by assailants with haircuts, guns and speech patterns which identified them as police officers.
Mexico, whose laws protecting freedom of the press are very weak, is normally one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, but the number incidents directed at reporters recently has been even higher than usual. But unofficial threats are not the only obstacle facing Mexican journalists. In the wake of mounting corruption in the country, federal prosecutors have increasingly demanded that journalists reveal the names of anonymous sources and a number of government officials have brought defamation suits against reporters, including one in which Foreign Minister Jose Gurria is suing a reporter for printing an interview with a former federal prosecutor who accused the minister of ties to drug traffickers.
The Houston Chronicle has an excellent story on the situation at http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/page1/97/09/24/mexico.html.
In what has been called the biggest political scandal in Pakistani history, the bank accounts of former Prime Minister Banazir Bhutto and members of her family have been frozen over allegations that at least a portion of the millions of dollars they contain are "drug related." If she is convicted, Miss Bhutto could be barred from politics for seven years and possibly jailed.
Swiss voters overwhelming voted to continue the controlled distribution of heroin to addicts, as well as methadone maintenance programs and counseling. Nearly 71 percent of voters rejected "Youth Without Drugs," a referendum sponsored by conservative groups who had gathered 100,000 signatures to force a vote. Health Ministry director Thomas Zeltner announced that the ministry would propose legislative changes to give heroin maintenance permanent legal status.
A recent three-year study showed substantial success in reducing crime and improving health, housing and employment among the 1,100 addicts involved in the pilot program. Proponents of heroin maintenance credit the heroin maintenance program and other government policies for reducing drug-related deaths from 399 in 1994 to 312 last year.
In the U.S., government officials would have campaigned on behalf of the "Youth Without Drugs" initiative. In Switzerland, the federal government and most of the parliament opposed it, calling it a public health disaster. While city voters showed the most support for heroin maintenance, a majority of rural voters rejected "Youth Without Drugs" as well.
The Swiss government's report on their heroin maintenance trial can be found on The Lindesmith Center's web site at http://www.lindesmith.org/presumm.html.
The much-debated Dutch heroin maintenance trial has been approved by Parliament in attenuated "pilot" form and will begin soon. 50 addicts will soon begin to receive clean, measured doses of the drug in a program based on the recent Swiss experiment. If Parliament considers the program a success, the project will be expanded to include 750 long- term addicts.
ALSO IN THE NETHERLANDS: Protestant minister Hans Visser, who recently began his own heroin distribution program among a group of addicts from his church has reportedly agreed to scrap his efforts. Visser's goal was to raise public awareness for the need to get heroin users out of the unpredictable black market and to stabilize their lives.
Lynn Harichy was arrested last week for possession of marijuana after attempting to light a joint outside of a London, Ontario police station in protest over Canada's ban on the use of medicinal marijuana. Ms. Harichy, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 18 years ago, hopes to challenge the constitutionality of Canada's ban in court. More information, and a photograph, can be found at http://www.hempnation.com/med/lynnmain.html.
Proponents of a Washington initiative to reform state drug laws filed complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission and state Ethics Board questioning whether Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen was misusing federal funds to campaign against Initiative 685, "The Drug Medicalization and Prevention Act of 1997." Owen, who vocally admits he opposes I-685, alleges that his present $170,000 anti- marijuana effort is an outgrowth of ten years of anti-drug work and is not an attempt to persuade voters to reject the initiative this fall.
Tacoma physician Rob Killian, who filed the initiative this spring, thinks otherwise. "Ever since I filed this, I've had the federal) government running a campaign against me," he told the Seattle Times. "They will break the law any way they can to ensure there isn't another voice in this war on drugs."
A spokesman for Owen told reporters that the lieutenant governor's staff is aware that current laws prohibit tax dollars from being used to fund a political campaign. However, Owens' advisor on the project -- whose salary is paid with federal funds -- admits that past and present initiatives need to be addressed by the office's current anti-marijuana strategy. "We do take on the drug- legitimizing movement," said program manager Patrick Aaby. Federal moneys also paid for multiple copies of anti- marijuana books and audiovisual materials. The handbook contains detailed arguments against medical marijuana, a key platform of the I-685 campaign.
DRCNet NOTES: The Washington state "anti-marijuana" report also contains criticism of the initiatives passed last year in California and Arizona and of the wealthy individuals who helped to finance them.
Copies of Initiative 685 are available on the web at http://www.eventure.com/I685/.
In separate incidents last week, a 3 year-old child was killed by what police suspect were fumes emanating from a methamphetamine lab in his mother's Phoenix home, and 30 families had to be evacuated when police discovered toxic and explosive chemicals in the garage of a Lubbock County, Texas home, which they believed to be a soon-to-be meth lab.
The Associated Press reports that the environmental damage that is caused by these chemicals has become an alarming problem. The AP cites instances including fires, asphyxiation, the contamination of a children's sand box and the corrosion of the foundation of a neighboring home.
James Schroeder of the Yuma County Sheriff's office summed up nicely (if unintentionally) the dangers inherent in forcing the manufacture of substances into the unregulated black market, when he told the AP, "Ninety-five percent of these goofballs don't have a clue what they're doing. They picked up some old notes from the internet or jail or who knows where, and they don't understand the hazards of mixing certain chemicals together."
Just two days after a boisterous and successful rally in front of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC (during which Shalala was in the building but did not appear), Secretary Donna Shalala faced another protest, this time in her home town of Cleveland, Ohio.
Speaking in a chapel on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, a visibly nervous Secretary Shalala was confronted by two demonstrators from the AIDS advocacy group ACT-UP, who held up signs and read off a list of facts about needle exchange, punctuating each fact with the question "how many more have to die before you lift the ban?"
Keith Cylar, Executive director of Housing Works, Inc., the largest minority-run AIDS service organization in the country, told The Week Online, "Good. Secretary Shalala and the administration need to know that this issue is not going away. It's time for them to show some backbone and do what's right. People are not going to get less angry or less active as more people die due to their inaction. It'll only get more tense and more public."
The past two weeks have certainly provided a glimpse of the absurdity and the impact of the War on Drugs. In part: A nine year-old child is suspended from school for giving a mint to a classmate; journalists are not safe amid massive corruption in Mexico -- which, apparently, engulfs the police, the military and the federal bureaucracy; the democratically elected Colombian government is fighting a civil war that it admits it cannot win, against adversaries who are at least partially financed with drug money; Pakistan's former Prime Minister is accused of having millions of dollars in drug profits; illegal methamphetamine labs are killing children and endangering entire neighborhoods; 6 American ex-lawmen are arrested for drug dealing; a Mexican priest lauds wealthy drug traffickers - and reporters are physically attacked by church officials in the aftermath.
Now in its 9th decade, Prohibition, far from delivering on the promises of its lobby, has given birth to a world-wide epidemic of crime, corruption, violence and political instability. Criminal organizations are more powerful, vicious, and heavily armed than ever, and the billions which have already been laundered back into the world economy have nearly obliterated the line between the illicit and the legitimate. Many of the world's governments are powerless against an industry that has become entrenched in their societies to the point of being ubiquitous.
In source countries, the level of corruption is such that it is nearly impossible to find a single branch of a single government which is not infected with drug money. Candidates for office who oppose the criminals are kidnapped and murdered, and Big Brother USA sits in ivory-tower judgment, "certifying" only those nations which have sufficiently bled and died and sacrificed their chance at stable democracy in service to our profitable war.
Here at home, Drug War Inc., has become an industry unto itself, with profiteers in both the public and private sector who are willing to both finance and stoke the public hysteria upon which prosecution of the war depends. Prisons are filled to capacity -- primarily with young African American and Latino men -- and more construction is planned and carried out as a virtual jobs program for depressed, rural towns. Our own institutions have been corrupted, perhaps to levels we dare not even imagine. Underground alchemists, turning dangerous chemicals into black-market gold endanger the lives of their unsuspecting neighbors. Brutality reigns as law enforcement at all levels becomes more militarized for the "battle" and new weaponry, widespread surveillance and more deadly tactics are sought and endorsed.
And yet, even as we banish nine year-olds from school for virtual thought crimes, over 80% of our high school students claim that they can get drugs easily. So when, we must ask, does the time come to reexamine our strategy? When will the citizens of this great nation stop accepting the disastrous consequences of the Drug War as rationale for more of the same? When will the profiteers, the generals, the moralists and the politicians finally be held accountable for the fact that they have turned our world upside down? When honest governance is impossible, when being Black is tantamount to probable cause, when church officials assault journalists, when heads of state are beholden to criminal enterprises, when 9 year-olds are the enemy, something is very, very wrong. And when the policy behind this perversion of morality cannot claim to have even approached its stated goals, after 60 years of ever-increasing effort, how long until it is time to tear down the wall?
Adam J. Smith
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