(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #21, 12/5/97
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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Table of Contents
1. Correspondents Needed in Britain
If you are a DRCNet subscriber residing in the U.K., DRCNet would like you to consider applying to become a foreign correspondent for The Week Online. Correspondents will be asked to file a maximum of one short story per week (generally 2-3 paragraphs) on a current drug policy-related news item. DRCNet will help you to choose a story and get in touch with experts for quotes and reaction. These are non-paid positions, but your work will be seen by thousands of people each week (great for students aspiring to be journalists, or those who hope to work in the movement)! Drug policy is exploding as a social and political issue in the U.K., but you'd never know it to look at America's mainstream media. DRCNet needs you, and your knowledge of your national media and political picture, so that we can better serve our growing audience of reformers.
If you are interested in becoming a foreign correspondent, please contact DRCNet associate director Adam Smith ([email protected]). A writing sample would be helpful.
2. Massachusetts Study -- Mandatory Minimum Sentences Wasteful, Unjust
A study of drug offenders serving long, mandatory sentences in Massachusetts found that nearly 83% were African American or Latino and that 2/3 had never been convicted of a violent crime. William Brownsberger, a state assistant attorney general, led the study which was conducted at Harvard Medical School. According to Mr. Brownsberger, "Mandatory sentencing laws are wasting prison resources on non-violent, low-level offenders and reducing resources available to lock up violent offenders."
The study, "Profile of Anti-Drug Law Enforcement in Urban Poverty Areas in Massachusetts," comes on the heels of anther study, conducted by the Rand Corporation, which found that mandatory minimum sentences were less cost-effective than traditional sentences. The Harvard study shows that the rate of admission to state correctional facilities for Latinos was 81 times that of whites. The African American rate is 39 times the white rate.
"Incarceration rates among blacks and Hispanics are damagingly high," said Brownsberger. "This study underscores how mandatory minimum sentencing for drug- related offenses is cheapening the deterrent effect of punishment. Overuse of incarceration can worsen the crime situation." The study notes that state drug sentences were often harsher than those for crimes such as manslaughter and armed robbery.
NOTE: We were very pleased at the great response from our subscribers to our November 20 alert, "Take action against mandatory minimums." For those of you who haven't yet done so, there's still time to contact your legislators and have your voice heard. Tell them about the Harvard study! Archived at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/11-20-1.html.
If you want to learn more about mandatory minimum sentencing, and what can be done to reform the law, please contact Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Their phone number is (202) 822-6700. You can also find them on the web at http://www.famm.org -- tell them DRCNet sent you.
3. Study Reveals Racial Disparities in Alabama Drug Sentencing
A study conducted by the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper shows that while blacks and whites charged with drug offenses stand an equal chance of being convicted in Alabama, blacks were more likely to be incarcerated, and for longer periods. In fact, black convicts are nearly twice as likely to receive jail time and nearly two and one half times as likely to receive prison terms of one year or more.
"Highlights" of the study include: Sixty-four percent of blacks convicted of cocaine possession received prison time, compared to 48% of whites; And 35% of blacks convicted of marijuana possession were incarcerated as opposed to 31% of whites. The study also notes that of Alabama's 96 district judges, only six were black, and of 131 circuit judges, only five were black.
You can send email letters to the editor of the Post-Herald at [email protected] (preferably praising them for doing the study and exposing the inherent racism of the drug war).
4. Clinton Backs U.N. Plan to Support the Taliban in Efforts to End Opium Cultivation in Afghanistan
Pino Arlacchi, the United Nations' new "drug czar," has put forth a controversial proposal which would give economic support to the Taliban, Afghanistan's de-facto ruling party. Arlacchi says that the Taliban, who are strict Muslim fundamentalists, "want to (eliminate opium cultivation) anyway." On December 2, the Clinton administration decided to back the plan.
Human rights groups have been up in arms ever since the Taliban assumed power following a long period of internecine struggle, due in large part to their treatment of women and their well-known support of terrorist groups. Taliban rule strictly prohibits the provision of medical care to women, as well as prohibiting their education. Taliban justice involves public and often summary beatings, amputations and executions.
(See this week's editorial for comment.)
5. New Hampshire Legislator Introduces Medical Marijuana, Hemp Bills
New Hampshire State Representative Timothy Robertson is sponsoring two bills, one allowing for the medical use of marijuana and the other, the cultivation of industrial hemp as a cash crop. The 65 year-old Democrat is hopeful that both bills will pass. Last year, Robertson introduced legislation which would have reduced penalties for possession of personal-use quantities of marijuana to a misdemeanor. That bill was defeated. "It's a subject we ought to be discussing in this country" said Robertson.
The hemp bill is currently in the House's Environmental and Agriculture Committee, "It should come out of that committee with a recommendation to pass" he said. The medical marijuana bill goes next either to the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee or the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
DRCNet urges our subscribers in New Hampshire to contact their state legislators in support of these two bills. If you don't live in New Hampshire, but have friends or family there, encourage them to contact their reps. You might also recommend that they subscribe to DRCNet. We'd like to add as many New Hampshire subscribers as possible so that we can help to turn drug policy into a major issue during the millennial presidential primaries and campaign. You can reach the New Hampshire legislature and your rep. at (603) 271-3321.
6. Prohibition-Induced Gang Warfare on Native American Reservation
On November 27, 25 young people were arrested on the Menominee Reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin in the aftermath of an inter-gang battle in which at least 50 shots were fired. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that more than 30 members of the Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings, armed with pistols and sawed-off shotguns were involved in the melee. No injuries were reported.
Tribal Police Chief Karen Neconish-Gardner told the Star Tribune, "Where you have a gang problem, you have a drug problem. This is not about using. This is about trafficking. It is all about criminal activity -- about drugs and crime and power." The "gangsters" arrested were all between 12 and 17 years-old.
DRCNet suggests: Send an email "letter to the editor" of the Star Tribune at [email protected], highlighting the obvious damage being done to these children by Prohibition, over and above the damage that the drugs themselves may be doing on this reservation.
7. Colombia Passes Extradition Legislation... But It Won't Be Retroactive
The lower house of the Colombian Congress passed a bill this week which would allow for the extradition of its citizens. The bill, which passed by a margin of 144 to 15, would not be retroactive however, meaning that traffickers currently serving time in Colombia would remain out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement. This provision angered US officials who have been hoping to bring currently incarcerated Colombian kingpins (and their assets) under U.S. jurisdiction.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley told the Associated Press that it was regrettable that Colombian lawmakers failed to pass an unrestricted bill. In addition, he said, the move will influence the State Department's decision next March on whether to lift economic sanctions, currently in place due to Colombia's lack of "full cooperation" in the Drug War.
(DRCNet's position is that neither Colombian nor U.S. enforcement is effective at reducing drug or drug trade related harm, and that the U.S. should respect other nations' autonomy.)
8. Gun Battle at the Mexican Border
On November 24, an group of armed men opened fire on the Mexican border guards at Nogales, Arizona ,in an effort to free a compatriot who had been stopped carrying $123,000 in cash. One agent was killed and another was wounded in the clash. Two Americans who were waiting to cross the border were also reportedly wounded.
The incident began at approximately 6:00pm when a customs agent pulled over a pickup truck coming over from the US side. The agent inquired about the contents of a large box in the back. Unsatisfied with the response of the truck's occupants, the agent asked them to open it. At that point, the driver handed the box to the truck's passenger who jumped out and attempted to run. The box proved too heavy, however and the man dropped it, causing it to break open, spilling its contents of American currency.
The two were escorted to the office, and, while the agents were counting the cash, a group of between 5 and 9 armed men appeared and opened fire at the officers. Two of the assailants were wounded and taken into custody. The truck's driver and the rest of the attackers escaped.
and... Crusading Mexican Editor Shot and Wounded
On November 27, in yet another example of the destructive effects of American Prohibition on Mexican society, five armed men opened fire on the car of Jesus Blancornelas, severely wounding him, and killing his bodyguard. Blancornelas was the editor of "Zeta" a Tijuana weekly which had railed against the Tijuana-based operations of the Arellano Felix brothers, a major drug-trafficking organization.
9. U.K.'s New "Drug Czar" Denounces Cannabis Legalization Efforts
On November 24, Keith Hellawell, Britain's first "drug czar," told a group of reporters in Scotland that the debate now raging in England over the legal status of cannabis was academic. Hellawell said that the British government would not decriminalize cannabis any time in the next decade, nor would any other European government. Ironically, he also told reporters that any review of the law should be "dispassionate and objective." Hellawell admits to never having used cannabis.
David Borden, DRCNet's executive director, had this to say about Hellawell's comments: "It's quite interesting that in the midst of the very contentious debate that is now going on in England regarding the legal status of cannabis, Mr. Hellawell has chosen to downplay the possibility of change. In addition, he seems to have taken a page out of the play- book of America's 'drug czar' by ignoring some important facts in proclaiming the strength of Prohibition. The Netherlands has had de-facto decriminalization of cannabis for decades. And in many other places on the continent, most notably in parts of Germany and in Spain, cannabis possession has been largely ignored by authorities. So while the world's political climate, and the U.S. in particular, may keep these countries from formally "legalizing" cannabis, the landscape in Europe is very much one of increasing reform." (Interestingly, Dutch teens use cannabis at one of the lowest rates in Europe.)
Visit the Independent's Cannabis Decriminalization Campaign at http://www.independent.co.uk/sindypot/index.htm.
10. Quote of the Week
In honor of U.K. "Drug Czar" Hellawell's proclamation that the British government would not legalize cannabis at any time in the next decade, despite a growing national debate on the issue, we hearken back this week to the days of American Alcohol Prohibition..
"There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."
- Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, September 23, 1930. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933.
11. 11th International Drug Policy Institute -- Now Taking Applications
The 11th Institute on Drugs, Crime and Justice, Amsterdam
and London, June 7-27, 1998
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)