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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #23, 12/20/97

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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Table of Contents

  1. Holiday Message from DRCNet
  2. California's Prison Population Expected to Increase Dramatically
  3. California Court Rules Cannabis Buyers' Clubs Not "Caregivers" Under 215: But Peron and SF Prosecutor Hallinan think there's a way out.
  4. Report on Institute of Medicine's First Public Hearing on Medicinal Marijuana
  5. Cannabis Decriminalization Conference in the UK: The Independent on Sunday hosts an historic beginning to a national debate.
  6. Health Canada Set to Approve Medical Marijuana on a Case-by-Case Basis: "There is no problem with marijuana as medicine" says Canada's chief regulator.
  7. Media Alert from Families Against Mandatory Minimums: Women bearing brunt of unjust sentencing.
  8. November Coalition Spearheads National Show of Protest: "A Light in the Window" for the holidays, for the duration, until the prisoners of the Drug War come home.
  9. Editorial: The drug warriors claim they are "Protecting our children"? Sacrificing them in service to Drug War profiteers is more like it.
  10. How to Donate to DRCNet

(visit the last Week Online)


1. Holiday Message from DRCNet

Well, 1997 is just about over, and what a year it's been for the reform movement! 1998 promises to be an even more eventful year with several medical marijuana initiatives in the works, the first-ever UN Special Session on Narcotics scheduled for June, and progress expected on numerous fronts. The most important thing that will happen next year, however, is continued education on this issue. At DRCNet, we're committed to making this happen, and, with your help, we hope to be reaching a far larger audience in 1998.

Our special thanks go out to everyone who has supported our work this year, even if it was just by sending a note of thanks. If you haven't already done so, perhaps you'll consider giving a holiday gift to the cause of reform by sending a donation. (Information on how is included at the bottom of the newsletter.) You might also consider checking out EyeGive, an innovative new program which supports your favorite non-profit. (Learn more by visiting http://www.eyegive.com/html/ssi.cfm?CID=1060.) We would also like to thank everyone who took the time this year to send us a news story (our subscribers are an important part of our information pipeline) or wrote a piece for The Week Online or for the web site.

Last, we would like to extend our best wishes for a better year to all of the victims of the War, as well as to their families and friends. It is for you, and for the hundreds of thousands who will be joining in your suffering during the next year of the War, that we do our work. Our hearts and our thoughts go out to you in this season, and all we can say is "keep the faith." There are people out here working on your behalf, and we won't rest until the War is over.

So to one and all, have a wonderful and a healthy holiday. And may we suggest that you resolve this New Year to do just a little bit more, to write just one more letter, or to raise your voice just a little bit louder in the cause of reform in 1998. Truth and justice are certainly on our side. And together we will change the world. Peace.

Adam and Dave

(The Week Online with DRCNet will return during the first full week in January.)


2. California's Prison Population Expected to Grow by 37% in Five Years

California, which already has one of the highest per-capita incarceration rates of any governmental entity on earth, has announced that it expects the population of its state prison system to increase dramatically over the next five years. According to the Orange County Register, state officials said this week that that they expect that the number of Californians incarcerated in the state system will increase by about 57,733 inmates, or 37%, to a total of 213,420 by the year 2003.

It should be noted here that of young (18-29 years) African American males in California, over 40% are currently under the "supervision" of the criminal justice system. It should also be noted that in the 1996 state-wide election campaigns in California, the largest single campaign contributor was the California Prison Guards Association.


3. California Court Rules Buyers Clubs Not "Caregivers"

The following article was re-printed with the permission of the NORML Foundation. You can find them on the web at http://www.norml.org.

Court of Appeals Reinstates Injunction Against San Francisco Cultivators' Club Ruling Threatens Existence Of Clubs Throughout State

December 17, 1997, San Francisco, CA: Cannabis Buyers' Clubs in California do not qualify as "primary caregivers" and are not protected under the state's medical marijuana law, the state Court of Appeals, First Appellate District ruled on December 12. The ruling reverses an earlier decision by Superior Court Judge David Garcia stating that CBC's were legal as long as they engaged in the not-for- profit sale of marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.

The District Court ruling, which goes into effect in 30 days unless stayed by further appeals, reinstates an injunction barring the San Francisco Cultivators' Club -- the state's largest CBC -- from distributing medical marijuana. "The court has nullified the will of the voters as expressed in the success of Prop. 215," club founder Dennis Peron said. He vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. State Attorney General Dan Lungren -- who has consistently argued in favor of outlawing cannabis clubs -- praised the ruling and announced that law enforcement may move against other clubs if they do not voluntarily close within 30 days.

Presently, there are approximately 20 active clubs across the state. California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer said although the ruling was not unexpected, he believed it would be an injustice to shut down the state's chief suppliers of medical marijuana. "Legally, this decision doesn't surprise us," he said. "It was plain from the beginning that Prop. 215 doesn't legalize sales. "Still, it would be a serious mistake for the Attorney General to shut down the state's cannabis buyers' clubs. In addition to supplying thousands of patient's [with their medicine,] club[s] ... provide a peaceful and hospitable haven for patients, keep drug dealers off the street, keep marijuana away from kids, and generate business for the community."

Although some state counties have proposed distributing medical marijuana to certified patients from state-run facilities, no such plans are presently active. A legislative proposal introduced this year to establish a Medical Marijuana Research Center at a campus of the University of California was held over by the state Assembly. "Cannabis buyers' clubs remain the only viable source of medical marijuana in California short of home cultivation or purchasing marijuana on the street," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said. "To close these clubs would force thousands of seriously ill patients to suffer needlessly and force many patients to enter the black market or go without the medicine they need to survive."

Peron said that he will keep the club's doors open as long as it is physically possible to do so. "I feel like we're fighting the second revolution here," he said. "I'm ready to go to jail. I'm not going to send AIDS patients and cancer patients back out to the parks." Peron and five others still face felony marijuana charges stemming from an August 4, 1996, raid by state law enforcement agents on the San Francisco club. For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or Dale Gieringer of California NORML @ (415) 563-5858.

But -- Peron, Hallinan Hope to Circumvent Ruling

Citing loopholes in Court of Appeals' injunction against the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivator's Club, San Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan told the San Francisco Chronicle the Club might find a way to continue to provide marijuana to its 5,000 members. In order to meet the definition of a "caregiver," the court says Club owner Dennis Peron must show that he is providing marijuana for specific patients. Hallinan suggests, therefore, that they might work out a system whereby particular plants are designated for specific club members.

Peron says that there is "wiggle room" on the issue of marijuana sales, as well. "The ruling said we can't sell marijuana," he said, "but it also said that people who provide it to a patient can be remunerated for production costs." The San Francisco club, along with other California buyers' clubs, is slated for shutdown within 30 days of the ruling, according to California prosecutors.


4. Report on the Institute of Medicine's First Public Hearing on Medical Marijuana

This first-person report has been re-printed with the permission of Dale Gieringer, Coordinator, California NORML, who testified at the proceeding.

    Medical marijuana patients and advocates delivered powerful testimony at the Institute of Medicine's first public hearings on medical marijuana in Irvine last Sunday (Dec 14). Panel investigators Dr. Stanley Watson of U. of Michigan and Dr. John Benson of Oregon Health Sciences U. listened attentively to a dozen personal accounts by seriously ill patients, including Todd McCormick, author Peter MacWilliams, Jo Anna McKee (Washington Green Cross), Marvin Chavez (Orange County Co-Op), Etienne Fontan (Cannabis Alliance of Veterans), Kenneth Smuland (WAMM), Lynnette Shaw (Marin Alliance) and Bonnie Metcalf (Yuba County Co-op), among others.

    The investigators treated the testimonials seriously, asking questions about differences in dosage patterns, responses to different kinds of cannabis, unusual interactions and adverse side effects. A single hostile witness came to testify, Sandra Bennett of the Northwest Center for Health & Safety, a prominent critic of medical marijuana. Ms. Bennett sheepishly admitted that she was in hostile crowd, then went on to relate how her son had died of cocaine, which Dr Lester Grinspoon had called safe, making his opinions on medical marijuana unreliable, and how the study of Rick Doblin and Mark Kleimann was likewise unreliable, both being notorious drug reform advocates. She also professed to having an intractable medical problem of her own, irritable bowel syndrome. Speaking immediately after her, I took the opportunity to note that California NORML had heard of an amazingly wide spectrum of anecdotal uses of medical marijuana, one of which was indeed irritable bowel syndrome! (This amused Dr. Benson, who told us that he was not only a colleague of Ms. Bennett at OHSU, but had actually treated her as a patient.)

    I went on to argue for the need for making club-grown cannabis available to researchers, and for developing safer smoking devices. The IOM also heard strong presentations from non-patient advocates Anna Boyce, Jeff Jones, Chris Conrad, and Ellen Komp. The day before the hearings, a group of us met the IOM team at a site visit of the Oakland cannabis buyers' club. We were impressed by their sincerity, open-mindedness, scientific honesty, and sympathetic line of questioning. They did not express doubts about whether cannabis is medicine, but rather expressed interest in how it worked, what different effects might be produced by different varieties, how research should proceed, etc. Having observed the IOM team, I can confidently predict that their report will put a final end to the talk of marijuana as "Cheech and Chong" medicine.

Dale Gieringer, (415) 563-5858 // [email protected], 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco, CA 94114


5. Conference on Cannabis Policy in Britain

Last week, the Independent on Sunday newspaper hosted a spirited and possibly historic conference on cannabis law reform in England. The conference grew out of The Independent's 12 week-old campaign to legalize marijuana, which has sparked a national debate on the issue. Attendees of the conference included 15 Members of Parliament, doctors, substance abuse professionals, police officers, cannabis users, patients and even the authors of the book "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, Drs. Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan, who flew over from the states to participate. All told, over 700 people gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, in the heart of Westminster, to debate the question, "Cannabis: Should it be Decriminalized?"

Notable in their absence were any high-ranking members of the ruling Labour party. According to The Independent, George Howarth, junior Home Office minister in charge of drugs, "had been invited a month earlier. At that time his diary for Thursday's conference was clear. But last week his staff announced that he had a 'prior engagement.' Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, left it until Monday to explain that he, too, would be unable to attend."

Straw sent a message to the conference which indicated that, like their counterparts in America, British Prohibitionists have mastered the art of "Drug War Think." The message stated, "As you know, I am only too happy to debate [the decriminalization of cannabis]" (despite the fact that he failed to show up for such a debate) but added, of the British government, "we are against the legalization of cannabis."

The speakers who did appear included representatives from both sides of the debate, including MP Nigel Evans, who stated "if you visit any mental health hospital you will find young patients who have gone crazy from smoking strong cannabis." Professor Lynn Zimmer, who followed Mr. Evans, held up a copy of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, and told the audience "I brought this copy of the book especially for Nigel Evans, in the hope that he'll become beter informed on the science of this issue." One observer told The Week Online, "They must not train their drug warriors as well over there (in the UK). Mr. Evans looked positively pleased to be presented with the book. He was nodding and smiling as if he had just won a door prize. After Ms. Zimmer finished speaking, he ran right up to her to collect."

Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, one of the principle sponsors of the conference (along with Richard Branson of the Virgin Group) spoke passionately about the immorality of a Prohibition on the medicinal use of marijuana. Mike Goodman, Director of Release, a British reform organization, told the crowd that in 1967, there were 2,393 cannabis- related convictions in England. "Now there are over 1,500 a week. By 2000, a million mostly young people will have been dealt with by the police and courts for cannabis offenses."

The closing statement was delivered by the Editor of The Independent on Sunday, Rosie Boycott, who said:

"By staging this debate, we are giving the nation the first opportunity to join in a frank and balanced forum on the whole issue of cannabis. When we launched this campaign at the end of September we let loose an avalanche which even in my wildest dreams I didn't think would happen. Letters continue to pour in to the offices..." "It has come from across the world, from MP's and from America. A few British MP's have supported us publicly. In private a great many more, some in the Government, have expressed their support. But in the main, Westminster has been silent. Quite astonishing considering that both the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Wolfson, have been moved to say how urgently a debate is needed."

The Week Online will continue to keep our readers updated on the emerging debate in the UK, as well as on the rest of the international scene. You can follow the Independent on Sunday's campaign to decriminalize cannabis on their web site at http://www.independent.co.uk/sindypot/index.htm.


6. Health Canada Prepared to Okay Medicinal Marijuana: Will they call it MacKenzie Brothers medicine?

A few bureaucratic hurdles are all that remain between Jean Charles Pariseau and the medicine his doctors believe is saving his life. Pariseau, who suffers from AIDS and its associated "wasting syndrome," had tried more than a dozen prescription drugs to fight nausea and increase his appetite, but none of them had worked. He weighed just eighty-two pounds and was told he had three months to live when, on a friend's advice, he began to smoke marijuana.

Today Pariseau weighs in at over one hundred pounds, and his life expectancy has been extended to three years. His doctor, Don Kirby, is convinced that marijuana made all the difference. So when Pariseau was arrested in October and charged with marijuana possession, Dr. Kirby set out to find a way to get Pariseau's medicine restored to him. Now, with the help of a former head of Health Canada's Special Access Program and legal assistance from the Canadian Foundation on Drug Policy, he appears to have succeeded.

Health Canada's Emergency Drug Release Program allows doctors to apply for permission to prescribe unauthorized medicines as life-saving measures on a case-by-case basis. Such applications are common, and are usually approved within 24-72 hours when there is evidence to indicate a drug's usefulness. In Pariseau's case, Dr. Kirby's initial application was rejected on the basis of two technicalities, both of which are expected to be remedied quickly, and neither of which is related to a lack of evidence of medical necessity.

"It would be approved, if the changes are made," said Dann Nichols, who oversees the regulation of all drugs and medical devices in Canada. "There is no problem, basically, with marijuana as medicine." NOTE: Also in Canada this week, prosecutors indicated that they would appeal last week's decision by an Ottawa court declaring the prohibition of medicinal marijuana unconstitutional in the case of Terry Parker, an epileptic.


7. Media Alert from Families Against Mandatory Minimums

Landmark Minneapolis Star-Tribune Three-Part Series: Drug Sentences Often Stacked Against Women

On December 14, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran the first installment of a year-long investigative report--the first of its kind--into how federal drug laws affect women. The newspaper, and reporter Joe Rigert, conducted computer analysis of 60,000 federal drug sentences from 1992 through 1995, examined 118 court cases in depth and interviewed 55 women prisoners across the country. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) assisted the Star-Tribune by providing cases of women prisoners serving long mandatory drug sentences in prisons across the country.

The investigation confirmed that:

  • Many women, caught on the fringes of America's war on drugs, are serving longer prison sentences than men who organize, lead or supply drug operations.
  • Women -- often young, nonviolent first offenders -- go to prison for 10 to 20 years or more, while more culpable male offenders, encouraged by prosecutors to inform on their associates, including women, cut deals and serve shorter sentences.
  • Women are often too loyal, fearful, or know too little, to provide information to prosecutors in exchange for a shorter sentence.
  • Rigid mandatory sentencing policies prevent judges from imposing anything but the most severe penalties, despite a woman's lack of knowledge or limited role in a drug offense.
  • Children of incarcerated women pay the highest penalty, because judges also can't take them into account when sentencing their mothers, and more than half of female inmates are caring for families when they enter prison.
  • Sentencing disparities revealed by the investigation are by-products of the war on drugs that, since 1987, has increased the number of women in U.S. prisons four times. Women drug offenders make up two-thirds of all female inmates.

The entire series appeared in the Star-Tribune from December 14-16, 1997, and is available from the Star-Tribune's web site at http://www.startribune.com. At the Star-Tribune's home page, scroll down to the search engine and enter the words "drug war". The first article in the series appears under the link, "Drug Sentences Often Stacked Against Women." Please be sure to also read the "related items," which include statistics, sidebars and the heart wrenching stories of women prisoners and their families.

For more information on mandatory sentences, women in prison or how you can help FAMM's campaign to end unjust sentencing laws, please contact Monica Pratt at (202) 822-6700, or visit FAMM's website at http://www.famm.org.


8. Put a Candle in Your Windown 'Till the Drug War Prisoners Come Home

The November Coalition, an organization made up of friends, family members and supporters of people imprisoned for non- violent drug offenses, is spearheading a project in this holiday season in hopes of raising awareness on the issue. The project is called "A Light In the Window" and they have asked us to spread the word.

Supporters are asked to place a light (preferably an electric candle) in a front window as a symbol of support for the hundreds of thousands of mostly young, mostly poor non-violent prisoners of the War on Drugs, many of whom are serving decades-long sentences while violent prisoners, not subject to harsh, mandatory minimums, are sent home. The lights will be kept burning until substantial changes are made in American drug policy.

To learn more, visit the November Coalition's web site at http://www.november.org/light1.html.


9. Editorial

On December 20, the University of Michigan released its annual "Household Survey" on teenage drug use and attitudes. True to recent trends, the numbers reveal, at best, no significant decline in teen drug use, along with a continued decline in age of onset. In other words, teens have begun drug-using behavior at younger ages than ever before. In addition, the study shows that once again, nearly 90% of teens will report that drugs are either "easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain.

Government officials, from the President, to his "Drug Czar" Barry McCaffrey, to his Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, will decry the statistics. They'll talk about the need for family involvement and mentoring, which is good, they'll talk about their upcoming anti-drug ad campaign, which is probably harmless, they'll talk about a nation's commitment to it's children, which is politically savvy, but once again, they'll fail to address the major problem: The Drug War, justified in the names of "68 million young Americans" is a sham. Far from protecting children, it is putting them in harm's way.

The numbers show, for instance, that a small but not insignificant number of American eighth graders have used heroin in the past year. From our knowledge of kids and the drug scene we can deduce that probably ten times that number were offered the drug during that time. Why are ten to fifteen percent of our 13 year-olds being offered heroin? Perhaps it is because someone has an economic interest in selling it to them. Rather than a system under which these substances are sold by licensed and strictly regulated outlets (clinics, staffed by medical professionals or pharmacologists for instance) and under which we can set strict guidelines as to the age of buyers and the potency and purity of the product, we have a system under which there are virtually no controls. The stuff is sold everywhere, by anyone, usually by people desperate for the money for their own fix. The purity of the substances, and the adulterants used in them (two of the prime causes of accidental overdoses, especially among young, inexperienced users,) is anyone's guess. Children, who are far less likely to turn out to be undercover cops, are among the most desirable of clients.

Then there are the kids who get lured into the drug trade. Whether it's the easy money, the sought-after acceptance of older toughs whom Prohibition has turned into modern-day "gangstas" and folk heroes, or to gain entry into a gang which the child feels is imperative to his own safety on the streets (another situation largely attributable to Prohibition), our children are finding employment in the black market. And even those not lured by these siren songs are forced to live in a "culture of Prohibition" in which violence is an accepted norm, the police are seen as an invading (and increasingly violent and corrupt) army, respect for the law is nearly non-existent, and drugs are "easy" to get.

Why is a system, the results of which are diametrically opposed to its stated purpose (the protection of children), allowed to continue? Why are our children being used to justify their own endangerment? Why is anyone with the temerity to question the status quo called "pro-drug" and worse by the Drug War's staunchest proponents? In a word, the answer is money. All of those billions of dollars being spent to "protect our children" are going somewhere, and mostly they are going into the hands of a small but influential group of industries who are profiting mightily on the status quo. Construction companies scurrying to keep up with the demand for new prisons, corrections companies getting rich off of the privatization of incarceration, defense contractors supplying arms to American and foreign military and police forces for counter-narcotics operations, private drug treatment companies whose rolls are full of court-mandated clients, and on and on.

These industries, and the people who profit from them, put plenty of money into the coffers of political parties and their candidates. (In 1996, for example, the largest single contributor to statewide election campaigns in California, a state with a shockingly high incarceration rate, was the California Prison Guards Association.) The politicians, in turn, demand that America "protect its children" by the perpetuation and expansion of the very system which has given our eighth graders easy access to heroin.

The War on Drugs as a measure of protection for children? This is The Big Lie written large across the landscape of American politics. Currently, one in three African American males between 18 and 29 are under the "supervision" of the criminal justice system, many, if not most, for drug-related offenses. What of their children? What of the neighborhood kids who look up to them? What of the children of the women who make up the enormous recent increase in female inmate populations, often, as FAMM reports, due to mandatory minimum sentences and only the most peripheral connection to the activities of a drug-dealing boyfriend or spouse? What of the seventeen year-old boy, the captain of his high school soccer team, who was shot by federal agents in Queens last month for having the misfortune to have been carrying a candy bar in a shiny, metallic wrapper, through his own neighborhood, which had been declared a "high intensity drug trafficking area"? And what of every other child who lives in such an area? And why have we let the drug trade loose, unregulated and out of control, on their streets in the first place? To protect them?

If 90% of the nation's teenagers find it "easy" to obtain illegal drugs, it is likely that they have GREATER access to these substances than anyone else. The fact is that if the parents of America's teens wanted to buy drugs, the vast majority would have to ask their own kids to "cop" for them. Perversely, it would be difficult to envision a system under which teens could more easily obtain dangerous and addictive substances. We have put temptation directly in front of them, and have given economic incentive to their tempters.

The War on Drugs is worse than ineffective in the battle to protect America's children. It is counter-productive. It is harmful. And, insofar as Prohibition and its defenders are driven by enormous profits and political contributions, it is evil and sick. Remember that this week when the President starts talking.

Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet


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