(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #22, 12/12/97
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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We here at DRCNet are pleased to announce the addition of Tim Devlin to the staff of The Week Online. Tim is a veteran of both print and broadcast journalism in Western Canada, where he currently resides, and is in the process of writing a book on the Drug War. Tim will be covering international news, with a particular focus on Canadian developments. We are sure that Tim's contributions will make The Week Online even stronger, as we endeavor to cover, and to end, the war on drugs. A short bio of Tim's career will be available in next week's issue. For the moment, we know that you all join in welcoming Tim to DRCNet.
Tim Devlin, from Canada
A major victory in Canada for proponents of the medical use of marijuana. Laws, which prohibit medicinal use of the drug, have gone up in smoke.
Ontario Provincial Court Judge Patrick Sheppard has thrown out charges of cultivation and possession of marijuana layed against 42 year old Terry Parker. Judge Sheppard ruled the laws are unconstitutional in cases of medical necessity. The Canadian Charter of Human Rights includes the "right to access to a medical treatment for a condition representing a danger to life without fear of criminal sanction."
Parker was busted in 1996 after police discovered 73 plants in various stages of growth in the man's high-rise Toronto apartment. The body of evidence presented during the trial painted Parker as a tragically ill man forced to become a criminal to relieve epileptic seizures that have made his life a living hell.
The Torontonian has suffered from massive seizures since age four but conventional drugs that doctors have prescribed for the problem have serious side effects and do not relieve his condition. Parker discovered 20 years ago that smoking marijuana helps dramatically, and he has been using it to control his seizures ever since.
Judge Sheppard's decision on Wednesday clears the way for Ontario doctors to prescribe marijuana and allows patients to grow and possess it for their own medical use. Sheppard even ordered that police return three of the seized plants to Parker.
The Toronto man is ecstatic about the ruling. "I applaud the judge," Parker says. "It's pretty brave." He hopes the decision will force politicians to change the current laws. Parker was convicted of possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking and received a one year suspended sentence.
Dianne Riley, co-founder of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy Reform, a professor at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, was one of the many experts to testify for the defense. Asked for her reaction to the verdict, Dr. Riley told the Week Online, "It certainly sets a precedent for patients in Ontario. It's only a first step, of course, but given the backlog of medical marijuana cases pending throughout Canada, and Parliament's recent indication that they would be willing to re-examine this part of the drug law, I'd say that it is a very important decision."
Federal drug prosecutors have not indicated whether the constitutional ruling will be appealed to a higher court. So far the decision only applies to Ontario, but the precedent will undoubtedly be used in similar cases pending in other Provincial jurisdictions across Canada.
A recent poll indicates that 83 per cent of Canadians believe marijuana should be made legally available for health purposes.
4. Clinton's AIDS Advisory Council Criticizes Administration on Needle Exchange, Sets Deadline for Action
President Clinton's National Advisory Council on AIDS released a report at its December meeting which criticized the administration for its second-term handling of the AIDS epidemic. The report paid special attention to the failure of the administration to lift the ban on the funding of needle exchange programs, saying that Clinton had "failed to exhibit the courage and political will needed to pursue public health strategies that are politically difficult but that have been shown to save lives."
Many on the Council had been considering resigning in protest unless the ban was lifted by December 1. (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/10-11-1.html#interview) Dr. R. Scott Hitt, who chairs the 30-member council, told reporters, however, that the council's anger was assuaged somewhat by the administration's successful efforts to keep Congress from usurping the executive branch's authority in this area. He added that the council was waiting to see if that authority would finally be used.
Moments before going to press, The Week Online has learned that the Advisory Council has presented President Clinton with a letter "strongly recommending" that action be taken, lifting the ban by January 27, 1998 (scheduled date of the State Of The Union Address). The letter, signed by Dr. Hitt on behalf of the Council, urges that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, make the necessary determination that needle exchange availability reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS without increasing drug use, and implores the President to commence meetings with affected groups and exchange professionals to establish guidelines for the use of federal AIDS dollars for such programs.
Next week's issue will feature in-depth discussion from a member of the Council on both the current situation and the history of the Council's dealings with the administration. And of course, The Week Online will keep you informed as the situation progresses. For more information about efforts to lift the ban on such funding, visit the web site of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now, at http://www.safeworks.org/savelivesnow/.
On December 9, the AMA, the US' largest and most influential physicians' organization, passed a resolution calling for the government to stay out of discussions between doctors and patients concerning the potential use of marijuana as medicine. The recommendations were contained in a report approved by the AMA's House of Delegates. This was the first time that the historically conservative group has taken a favorable position on the issue.
At a press conference held on December 31, 1996, in the wake of the passage of Propositions 200 in Arizona and 215 in California, the Clinton administration threatened to revoke Medicare participation and DEA prescription licensing, and possibly to prosecute doctors who so much as discussed the issue with their patients. The administration is currently in court appealing a restraining order which prevents it from carrying out the threats.
"The AMA believes that effective patient care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions," the resolution said.
While the report avoided a wholesale endorsement of the medical use of marijuana, and made no recommendations concerning the legal status of the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of patients who currently risk arrest and imprisonment for their use of it, the report did recognize that a body of evidence exists which indicates its effectiveness. Significantly, the report notes, "Smoked marijuana was comparable or more effective than oral THC (Marinol)... in reducing nausea and emesis." Marinol is legally available by prescription in the US.
Finally, the report urges that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) provide marijuana for FDA-approved research into marijuana's medical uses. NIDA, the only legal source of marijuana for research purposes, has steadfastly refused to provide marijuana for any study which is not being directly funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH has funded many studies on the potential dangers of marijuana, but has refused to fund research into the plant's potential medical benefits.
According to Chuck Thomas, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, "The AMA's recommendations are a step in the right direction. It should now be easier for researchers to conduct the few remaining studies necessary to enable the FDA to approve marijuana as a prescription medicine."
NOTE: You can find the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) on the web at http://www.mpp.org. MPP has been working to inform the AMA, and they are continuously lobbying Congress on behalf of more rational policies on cannabis. Their work is vital to the reform movement, they are good guys, and they deserve your support. And make sure to tell 'em that DRCNet sent you.
In an 8-3 vote this week, the city council of Denver, Colorado endorsed, in theory, the implementation of needle exchange programs to thwart the spread of AIDS in their city. The caveat is the key here, as the measure requires that the state of Colorado change their paraphernalia laws to allow such programs before Denver moves ahead. Boulder Colorado has had needle exchange since 1989, in defiance of state law, with the tacit approval of city officials.
Paul Simons, Executive Director of PEERS, spoke with The Week Online concerning the situation: "Colorado is essentially a state with multiple personality disorder. There are a couple of cities, but the rest of the state is essentially frontier. The vote in Denver was important because rural legislators outnumber urban legislators here, and this sends a message to them that this is an important issue for the cities."
We next asked Mr. Simons about the prospects for a positive response by the state. "We think that the chances are good. Last year, we lost on the floor of the House by one vote. This year, for the first time, we have the strong support of the state health department. We are also fortunate in that the bill is being sponsored by one of the most powerful Republicans in the State Senate, Dottie Wham of Denver. Senator Wham is very strong on health issues, and she may be the only legislator who is really capable of shepherding this through. It's vital that we are successful this year, though, because it looks like the next Governor will be a Republican, and political pressure might make it difficult for that person to sign any bill that comes through."
NOTE: It is estimated that there are between ten and fifteen thousand IV drug users in Denver, of which approximately 6% are HIV positive. Therefore, literally thousands of lives may be saved if the state will simply stand aside and allow these programs to be established.
Anyone who would like to lend support to the effort in Colorado can contact Greg Daurer of PEERS at (303) 455-2472.
7. On Eve of Historic Conference, Soros Signs on to British Paper's Cannabis Decriminalization Campaign
On the eve of a conference, sponsored by The Independent on Sunday newspaper to discuss their campaign and the growing call for the legalization of cannabis in the UK, George Soros, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and one of the great philanthropists of this or any other time, has come out in support of the Independent's efforts. In a letter to the Independent, Soros, while indicating that he does not necessarily support the full "legalization" of cannabis, lamented the "wasted resources" inherent in the doubling of arrests, since 1991, for possession of cannabis in the US, and called again for non-punitive policies worldwide. He also said that it was a "shame that the American war on Drugs continues to block efforts to remove sanctions on doctors and patients to treat pain and nausea with whatever medications work."
Mr. Soros, an American citizen who, in his younger days, fled first the Nazis and then the Communists, gives away over $350 million dollars per year through his Open Society Institutes. His giving is based on his philosophical belief in "open societies," including tolerance for minorities and free and unfettered debate as an antidote to authoritarian rule. While the vast majority of his philanthropy has gone to promote public health and education in the former Soviet republics, the size of his commitment to American projects has continued to rise. His support of medical marijuana initiatives, as well as for other drug policy reform efforts, has made Mr. Soros a favorite target of American Drug Warriors.
The UK conference, sponsored by The Independent on Sunday, is being supported by Richard Branson and the Virgin Group, as well as by Anita Roddick and Body Shop. Attendees will include 15 British Members of Parliament, as well as a delegation from The Lindesmith Center (a project of Mr. Soros' Open Society Institute), which will include Lynn Zimmer, PhD, and Dr. John P. Morgan, MD, authors of "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts," released by the center this fall. The Week Online will have a complete report on this conference, including reaction from attendees, in next week's issue.
You can follow the Independent's cannabis campaign on the web at http://www.independent.co.uk/sindypot/index.htm. You can find The Lindesmith center on the web at http://www.lindesmith.org. To order a copy of "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts," which has been called "The most important book about marijuana ever published," call Book World at (800) 444-2524, or simply go to your local book store, and, if they don't have it, ask them to order it!
8. Key West Medical Marijuana Club Founder Freed: Judge Okays First-Ever "Medical Necessity Distribution Defense".
December 11, 1997, Key West, FL: Local prosecutors dropped felony marijuana charges against the founder of a club that distributed medical marijuana to seriously ill patients, after a judge agreed to allow testimony that the defendant's marijuana sales were motivated by the "medical necessity" of his customers. Zvi Baranoff, who ran the medical marijuana club for over one year, called the outcome a major victory.
"We have set something of a precedent," he said, referring to Judge Richard Payne's unique ruling last September allowing Baranoff's attorney -- NORML Legal Committee Member Norm Kent -- to argue a defense of "medical necessity distribution." Payne also agreed that Baranoff did not have "criminal intent" in distributing marijuana to seriously ill patients. Last week, the State Attorney's Office decided to settle Baranoff's case out of court. Baranoff agreed to serve 18 months probation. "It has been clearly recognized that marijuana is a medicine, and that people who need it should have it," Baranoff said. "[My case] is on the public record so that others can use it."
Legal analysts claim that Judge Payne's decision was the first time a court acknowledged that marijuana sales could be a "medical necessity" for the ill. For more info, please contact Medical Cannabis Advocates at (305) 293-0190.
A survey commissioned by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 56% of Americans think drug abuse is the greatest threat facing kids, ahead of crime (24%) poor quality of education (17%) and the breakdown of home life (16.6%). 1,501 adults were surveyed. The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 3%.
These results come less than two weeks prior to the expected release of "Monitoring the Future '97," an annual survey of teen drug use and attitudes. Last year the survey showed that while overall drug use by teens seemed to be leveling off, the age of onset of use had dropped significantly.
Bernard Kouchner, France's Minister of Health, became the third French government official in recent months to speak out on the issue of reforming that nation's marijuana laws. Although he didn't speak to the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use, he strongly supported the legalization of medical marijuana. "Obviously, it should be possible to prescribe (cannabis). For a doctor, that could be a real benefit" he said.
Lionel Jospin, France's Prime Minister, stated during his recent, successful election campaign that marijuana should be decriminalized, although he has not addressed the issue since. Dr. Dominique Voynet, France's Environmental Minister, and a physician, was even more direct. "Merde!" (Shit!) she said, when pressed on the issue. She went on to defend cannabis as less dangerous than commonly used sleeping pills, and called for it's outright legalization "both as a doctor and as a politician."
This seeming coalescence around the issue within France's new Socialist-led government does not bode well for US drug warriors, who have come to count on France, with its repressive dug laws, to lead the European chorus for Prohibition. A two-day conference of the French Health Ministry is scheduled for December 13-14 during which politicians, civil servants, doctors and drug experts will make recommendations to Mr. Kouchner. It is expected that they recommend a cautious strategy of encouraging public debate on drug policy issues, with an eye toward developing legislation to take the place of existing policies before the French elections of 2002.
According to Liberation, a French newspaper, the new French Government has moved slowly on the issue so as not to get "too far ahead of the music" of public opinion and European Union policy.
On December 4, Australia's Council of Capital City Lord Mayors announced that they had united in commitment to a new national drug strategy, and the formation of a new national advisory committee on the issue which would report directly to them.
Sydney's Lord Mayor, Cr Frank Sartor, took serious issue with the national Government's law enforcement approach. "It's quite obvious that the political leadership in this country has let us down significantly. It's quite obvious that the current strategies are not working, will not work, and the capital cities need to work much harder."
The Adelaide Lord Mayor, Dr. Jane Lomax-Smith said that the lord mayors were disappointed with the recent federal decision to cancel planned heroin maintenance trials. Pat Assheton of DrugAid, a reform organization in Australia, told The Week Online that it is likely that Jim Sorely, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was the driving force behind this action. Mayor Sorely's office said that they had no comment for release at this time.
Brian McConnell, President of Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, joined with the Lord Mayors in decrying the continued reliance on enforcement by the Australian Federal Government: "Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform welcomes the moves by Australia's Lord Mayors. Community political leaders, like our Lord Mayors, are taking seriously the problems caused by prohibition and illicit drugs and are taking action, while other more senior political leaders continue to stick their heads in the sand."
For more about reform efforts in Australia, visit the web site of Family and Friends for Drug Law Reform at http://www.wps.com.au/druglawreform/. Families and Friends is made up of those who have lost loved ones to substance abuse, and who are calling for a public health, rather than a punitive approach to drug policy.
In yet another indication of the anarchy resulting from American drug policy, William Parra, the press secretary to President Ernesto Samper of Colombia and Luis Eduardo Maldanado, a reporter with Radio Cardena Nacional (RCN) were kidnapped this week by the self-named "Extraditables." The group, comprised of a number of drug lords, first surfaced as a terrorist threat in 1980 in opposition to a law allowing the extradition of Colombian nationals to the US. The practice was declared unconstitutional in 1991, but was re-approved last week by the lower house of the Colombian Congress. The proposed measure would not, however, be retroactive, a provision which greatly disturbed American drug warriors who are hoping to get their hands, not only on the drug lords, but also on their considerable wealth. Phone calls from "The Extraditables" to a local radio station indicated that the group planned to release both men within a few days.
The National Review, under the executive editorship of William F. Buckley, has been one of the right's most outspoken critics of the War on Drugs. This week, they are conducting a poll on the question of medical marijuana... should it, or should it not, be prohibited?
Visit their web site at http://www.nationalreview.com and go to "Soapbox". You will be able to vote and even post comments.
This week, around the world, the beating of the drums got decisively louder. It is the sound of impending change. A call, not to arms, but to lay down arms, and to join hands, and to move away from a policy of war, and toward sanity. It is a sound which terrifies the drug warriors, moralists and profiteers, who cannot bear to think that progress might be made without violence. Without subjugation. But no matter how deeply into the sand the warriors may bury their heads, no matter how blissfully soundproof the halls of power, the drums beat nonetheless. And they will not fade away.
In Canada, a judge finds that the prohibition of marijuana to patients who need it violates the "principles of fundamental justice." This ruling, in the case of a severely epileptic man, whose own doctor testified as to the benefits of the herb to his patient, may well induce the Canadian government to act in accordance with human decency, and the will of the vast majority of their constituents. And the drums beat louder from the north.
In Key West, Florida, a judge, recognizing the absurdity of imprisoning one on a mission of mercy, refuses to convict a man who admittedly distributed marijuana to some of the island's many AIDS patients. And the drum beats louder, with a calypso beat.
In England, a campaign to decriminalize cannabis stirs a furious national debate. Members of Parliament, prominent citizens, doctors, academics and government officials attend a conference to support and discuss the possibility. And the drums grow louder from across the pond.
In France, high-ranking members of the new government publicly call for a re-evaluation of a long-standing punitive policy on cannabis. Medical marijuana reform, as a first step, seems just around the corner. And so the bugle calls of war, once the seemingly unshakable clarion call of the French, give way to a hopeful beat.
In Australia, the Lord Mayors, first-witnesses to the War's toll on the cities down under, pick up the drums themselves and beat them loudly enough for the National Government to hear. And they are right in time.
And in the American White House itself, the President's own Advisory Council on AIDS picks up the cadence and publicly calls for needle exchange, for the triumph of health over politics, reason over ideology, and the recognition that people at risk are people, first and foremost. Despite the wartime propaganda which seeks to brand them something less. And the drumbeat grows closer.
Yes. The drums are beating. Louder by the day. And it has come to the point that the very act of denying their volume and their power reeks of desperation and weakness. The drums are beating. Louder and louder. They are coming right up behind our leaders. And they'd better turn around soon. Or they'll surely be run over by the parade.
Adam J. Smith
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