(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #26, 1/23/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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Table of Contents
According to a story in the January 26 New York Observer (on newsstands 1/22) the administration of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has withheld a report, prepared by his own Office of AIDS Policy Coordination last June, calling for the city to invest in needle exchange. The 37 page report, obtained by The Observer, finds that a $2 million investment by the city in needle exchange programs would likely prevent at least 2,000 cases of HIV, and would ultimately save the city in excess of $54 million in Medicaid expenditures.
The Observer reports that the report was written under the auspices of the H.I.V. Health and Human Services Planning Council of New York City, a federally mandated 45 member body which is charged with determining spending priorities for anti-AIDS funding that the city receives under the Ryan White Act. It was apparently never shown to the Council, however, as one member told The Observer that she "had never heard about it." Apparently, only high-level aides of the Mayor had ever seen the document prior to this.
It is not surprising that the report was covered up, as Giuliani was engaged in a mayoral campaign during and after which he has touted his plan for a "zero-tolerance" drug war, which will include approximately 1,600 new police officers paid for with federal money. In a story in the New York Daily News (1/22), Giuliani denied having read the report, or having suppressed it. About needle exchange, the Mayor said, "It's something I'm skeptical about, but it doesn't mean I'm not willing to look at the argument on the other side. But I don't think it's a good idea to give people needles in order to inject heroin into their arms."
Keith Cylar is the Co-Executive Director of Housing Works, a full service harm-reduction agency working specifically with an HIV positive population. He spoke with The week Online concerning the report and its suppression.
"The nicest thing that I can say is that this is just another indication of the fact that Rudolph Giuliani has blood on his hands. He is a murderer, not only for the suppression of the information contained in this report, and for his refusal to support syringe exchange in the face of all of the evidence which supports it, but for his continuous attacks of the budget for vital services for those suffering from this disease. It goes without saying that most of these people are substance users or are gay or lesbian. Where is the quality of life under this administration for these people? Clearly their lives are not the mayor's concern."
On January 15, President Clinton announced that the Justice Department would be giving $120 million to the city of New York to pay for the 1,600 additional cops that Mayor Giuliani promised in his inaugural address. The money represents more than the total of $118 million in Justice department money which will be divided up among 620 other law enforcement agencies around the country.
Giuliani said the money, and the additional police, would be used to target illegal drug use and sales. New York City's crime rate has dropped precipitously in recent years, but, according to the mayor, the drug trade "is probably the thing that's holding us back the most right now."
As of June 30, 1997, there were more than 1,700,000 Americans behind bars, up from 1,600,000 one year earlier, according to figures released by the Justice Department on Sunday. That total means that as of the middle of last year, one of every 155 Americans were incarcerated either in federal or state prisons, or in local jails. At the dawn of the War on Drugs, in 1972, there were 200,000 Americans incarcerated.
The increase of 6% was only slightly below the average increase of 6.5% during the years 1990-1997. The largest increase was in local jails, at 9.4% while state and federal prison populations grew by about 4.7%.
Jerome Miller, author of Search and Destroy: African Americans and the Criminal Justice System, a fellow at the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, spoke with The Week Online about these figures.
"That number, one in every 155 Americans incarcerated is shocking in its own right. But if they wanted to let the public in on a real tragedy, they could have easily included the fact that the number for African American males is one in ten incarcerated. Almost 600,000 in prisons alone. And it's very clear that the drug war is the driving force behind these numbers."
"According to the FBI statistics, only 23% of new admissions to jails are for violent offenses, and even that is inflated to a large degree both by how we define a violent offense, and by the fact that prosecutors are encouraged by the system to overcharge. Somewhere between 70 and 80% of those involved no actual physical contact, but only a threat or perceived threat. Of course, much of the real violence, and that certainly does exist, is itself driven by the black market in drugs and the effects of prohibition."
Marvin Chavez, founder of the Orange County Cannabis Co-op, was arrested in his home last Thursday night and has been charged with eight felony counts of conspiracy and marijuana sales. Chavez, who has operated the co-op out of his home since the passage of proposition 215 in November of 1996, was released Friday on his own recognizance. In order to comply with a recent court decision which declared sales of medicinal marijuana, the co-op has been accepting donations from patients rather than charging for their services.
In Thousand Oaks, California, Mayor Mike Markey and City councilman Andy Fox sent a letter requesting that federal prosecutors investigate the Ventura County Medical Cannabis Center. "Since our society has spent considerable time and effort to teach children to 'Just Say No' to these drugs, we fear the impact that these unregulated facilities will have on our local children" the letter said.
Advocates note that the only reason "unregulated" medical marijuana outlets exist in the first place is that despite the passage of the initiative, there has been no regulated distribution scheme put into place by state or local officials in California. The recent federal court decision, which has led to a civil lawsuit against six currently operating outlets, makes it illegal for patients to procure marijuana by any means outside of growing their own, or having a friend grow it for them. This, according to medical marijuana patients and activists, constitutes an unreasonable burden on an affected population which includes many seriously and terminally ill people.
Supporters of Chavez insist that the Orange County Co-op provided marijuana only to those with a demonstrated medical need. Chavez, through his attorney, Bob Kennedy, said that "the club will continue to meet its obligation for those unfortunate individuals who are in need of medicinal marijuana." Prosecuting Deputy D.A. Carl Armbrust, however, seemed determined to make sure that everyone involved would face criminal penalties. "We know that Chavez has some volunteers" he told the Orange County Register, "we're trying to figure out where they are and if they're going to continue this co-op."
Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights, told The Week Online, "For the police, shutting down these distribution facilities is like shooting fish in a barrel. They have been operating openly and counting on the good will of local officials to work with them in finding the most appropriate ways to implement the law. Obviously, that faith is not being rewarded. The truth is, however, that even if federal and local authorities are successful in shutting down every one of these outlets, the need for, and the procurement of marijuana for medicinal use is not going to disappear, it will simply recede back underground, which will, of course, have serious consequences for a lot of seriously and terminally ill people. What will disappear is the opportunity to regulate distribution, and thus to insure that medicinal marijuana stays out of the hands that the government claims to be so concerned with."
(From the NORML Weekly News, 1/22, courtesy the NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
January 22, 1998, Fayette, MO: A Missouri judge sentenced an adolescent first time offender to ten years in state prison after finding him guilty of selling $20 of marijuana within 2,000 feet of the Central Methodist College. State law classifies the offense as a Class A Felony that carries a sentencing range of ten years to life.
Billy Polson, 17, helped Alex Martinez acquire 3.4 grams of marijuana from students at the Missouri college campus. Martinez -- who dated Polson's sister at the time -- later revealed that he was working undercover for the Boonville Police Department. He also admitted purchasing malt liquor for the defendant shortly before Polson agreed to sell him marijuana.
Missouri attorney and NORML board member Dan Viets -- who represented Polson -- called the felony conviction "horribly unfair."
"I told the judge that if he wanted to help Polson get along with his life, then giving him a felony conviction record was the worst thing he could do," Viets said. He explained that the judge had the option of placing Polson on probation without a conviction. Viets also said that the prosecutor in the case, Greg Robinson, could have charged Polson with a lesser offense to avoid the excessive sentence. Viets said that Robinson wished to make an example out of Polson before the upcoming elections.
Attorney Tanya Kangas, Director of Litigation for The NORML Foundation, questioned why law enforcement would use its limited resources to target someone like Polson. "Alex Martinez was a reserve officer with the Boonville Police Department," she explained. "He was paid to become intimate with a young woman to gain the trust of her younger brother. The police department paid Alex to encourage a minor to drink alcohol. The department paid Alex to arrange a transaction close to the college to increase Bill's sentence under a law designed to protect elementary school children from drug dealers. Except here in this case, the law served to incarcerate a kid who is younger than the attendees of the nearby school. Since when is this the proper role of law enforcement?"
Polson is presently serving his ten year sentence in a Missouri Department of Corrections bootcamp facility. The judge has the option of placing Polson on probation within 120 days.
For more information, please contact either Tanya Kangas of the NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751 or Dan Viets of The NORML Legal Committee @ (573) 443-6866.
(From the NORML Weekly News, 1/15, courtesy the NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
January 15, 1998, Washington, D.C.: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently determined that sufficient grounds exist to justify proceedings re-evaluating marijuana's prohibitive Schedule I status. As a result, the agency has formally requested the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct "a scientific and medical evaluation of the available data and provide a scheduling recommendation" for marijuana and other cannabinoid drugs.
The DEA's action is in response to an administrative petition filed by former NORML National Director Jon Gettman and Trans High Corporation -- publisher of High Times Magazine -- on July 10, 1995. The petition argues that marijuana and cannabinoid drugs lack the "high potential for abuse" required for Schedule I and Schedule II drugs under the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Gettman notes that the DEA has never before voluntarily referred a marijuana petition to HHS for binding review.
"People are sent to jail every day because of mistaken assumptions about the abuse potential of marijuana," Gettman said. "[This] petition observes that HHS has never produced a finding that marijuana actually has the high potential for abuse similar to heroin or cocaine required for Schedule I or Schedule II status. Furthermore, the legislative history of the CSA indicates that Congress only intended for marijuana to remain in Schedule I or Schedule II if such a finding could be produced. This petition challenges the government to produce such a finding or be legally required to end marijuana prohibition by removing marijuana from Schedule I."
Gettman initially asked the Department of Justice in 1994 to request this evaluation from HHS. At that time, DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine argued that the agency was "unaware of any new scientific studies of marijuana that would lead [it] to re-evaluate [marijuana's] classification at this time." Constantine then challenged Gettman to provide documentation indicating that new research had taken place. Gettman responded by filing his 1995 petition.
"The recent referral of the petition to HHS is an acknowledgment by DEA of deficiencies in their familiarity with scientific studies of marijuana, and of the validity of [my] argument and its documented scientific basis," Gettman said.
Petitioners are represented by Michael Kennedy, Esq. of New York City, a member of the NORML Legal Committee. For more information, please contact either the law offices of Michael Kennedy @ (212) 935-4500 or Allen St. Pierre of The NORML Foundation @ (202) 483-8751.
(Press release from the Marijuana Policy Project, http://www.mpp.org)
January 22, 1998
NEW ORLEANS -- Two of the eight patients in the entire nation who have legal permission to use medicinal marijuana testified at the Institute of Medicine's (IOM's) public hearing on Thursday, January 22, in New Orleans at the Marriott Hotel.
IOM is conducting an 18-month "comprehensive review" of "the health effects and potential health risks of marijuana use." This research and subsequent report was commissioned for $1 million by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in January 1997.
IOM's first hearing was held in California in December, and another is scheduled for February 23-24 in Washington, D.C. The topic of the New Orleans hearing was "Acute and Chronic Effects of Marijuana," which focused mainly on the potential health risks of marijuana use.
IOM is not allowed to address policy and legal issues. Instead, the study is limited to scientific and clinical issues. Nevertheless, Marijuana Policy Project Director of Communications Chuck Thomas says, "It is important to make the study investigators aware that thousands of marijuana- using patients are living in fear of arrest and prison -- and IOM's recommendations should reflect this emergency."
Barbara Douglass and Irvin Rosenfeld receive legal marijuana from the federal government to treat multiple sclerosis and pain caused by bone tumors, respectively. This program, which now serves eight (8) patients nationwide, has been closed to all new applicants since 1992. Douglass and Rosenfeld testified that their marijuana use has not caused any negative health effects, despite their use of several joints a day for decades.
Greg Scott, an illegal user of medicinal marijuana, explained how marijuana helped treat his AIDS conditions and contrasted the effects of marijuana with the debilitating effects of the many prescription drugs he has taken, including morphine. Scott said, "Every day, I risk arrest, property forfeiture, fines and imprisonment."
Jim Montgomery, who was imprisoned for using medicinal marijuana, will explain how the horrendous health conditions in prison caused him to have his leg amputated -- which is unquestionably more damaging than his medical use of marijuana.
The MPP's Chuck Thomas said, "Patients face one year in prison for a joint, five years for a plant. Marijuana works as a medicine for some people. Research should not detract from the number one goal of getting smokable marijuana approved as a legal medicine."
Boston, Thursday, 1/29: IS THE DRUG WAR FOREVER? The drug war at 25: looking back, looking ahead.
Inaugural forum of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, moderated by New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis. Opening remarks written for the occasion by former US Attorney General Elliot Richardson, a board member of the VCL, will be read. Panelists will include John G.S. Flym, Northeastern University Law School, David Lewis, M.D., Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy, and the Hon. Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. From 6:00- 8:00pm, C. Walsh Theatre, Suffolk University, Temple Street (behind the State House). For more information, call Richard M. Evans at (413) 586-1348 or Michael Cutler at (617) 739-9093.
Minneapolis, Thursday, 2/5: MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES: ARE THEY WORTH THE COST? Featuring Jonathan Caulkins, Ph.D., lead author of last year's RAND Corporation study on the cost-effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences, and Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Sponsored by the Open Debate Project, a joint project of the Minnesota Drug Policy Council and the Minnesota Consortium for Addiction Studies. Reception 6:00-7:00pm, forum 7:00- 9:00pm, U of M Law School, Auditorium, Room #25, 229 19th Avenue South. For further information, call Scott Warnick at (612) 292-9815 or Mark Willenbring at (612) 839-4482, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].
San Francisco, Thursday 2/5: HEPATITIS C: THE NEW EPIDEMIC, sponsored by The Lindemith Center-San Francisco. With Joanne Imperial, MD, Stanford University, Joey Tranchina, Director of Harm Reduction Projects for HCV Global Foundation and Executive Director of the AIDS Prevention Action Network, Reda Sobky, MD, Medical Director of HAART, Fort Help and Castro Valley Methadone Clinics, and John Irwin, Ph.D., patient. At the San Francisco Medical Society, 1409 Sutter St., RSVP at (415) 921-4987.
Bill Yates is a 38 year-old inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison. He is a former heroin addict who will be eligible for early release in October. That release is unlikely to be granted, however, because Yates refuses to participate in the prison's only substance abuse recovery program. The program, called Summit House, is one of many 12-step programs modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, and is based in large part on admitting powerlessness over an abused substance and turning oneself over to the power of God. Bill Yates objects.
Yates is an advocate for Rational Recovery, a non-religious program for abusers which emphasizes people taking control of their lives, rather than relinquishing control to a higher religious force. Rather than the 12-step "one day at a time" philosophy which binds participants to a lifelong recovery process, Rational Recovery emphasizes a "big plan" for total, final recovery. Yates claims to have quit using heroin, a life-change which he sees as permanent, without 12-step. He refuses, therefore, to be forced into a religious program, against his beliefs, as a condition of gaining his freedom. This time, it is the New Hampshire Department of Corrections which objects.
Steve Kennet, director of substance abuse programs for the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, told the Concord Monitor, "The people who created Rational Recovery, as far as I can see, have problems with God. They can't separate out God from spirituality. They don't like the idea of being powerless. If you're an alcoholic, the fact remains, you are powerless." Yates' application for sentence reduction was recently rejected by warden Michael Cunningham, who wrote in his decision, "I believe a sentence modification should not be granted until he completes the Summit House program." Mr. Yates is currently filing a federal lawsuit on his own behalf.
Jack Trimpy is the founder of Rational Recovery. He spoke with The Week Online. "First of all, we reject the notion that everyone with a substance abuse problem needs to remain an addict for the rest of their lives, surrounding themselves with other such self-defined people, and continuing to profess their powerlessness over their own lives. Alcoholics Anonymous has spawned an entire twelve- step industry, and in cases like Mr. Yates' it is working hand in hand with the state. People are classified according to a presumed genetic defect, their future behavior is predicted, and they are monitored and tracked by these programs for the benefit of the referring court. This collaboration, using the medical model of the powerless individual, has turned these programs into a fellowship of informers."
"In addition, there is no question that the programs are religious based." (The twelve-step pledge includes the following statements: had become unmanageable; We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him; We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects from our character.) "Under the U.S. Constitution, the government has no business forcing, or even referring people into such programs," says Trimpy, "and certainly, the act of keeping someone imprisoned on the basis of their unwillingness to accept and participate in the tenets of these programs is an affront to the principle of religious freedom."
DRCNet Executive Director David Borden comments, "AA and other 12-step programs have been a terrific help for a large number of people. The Dept. of Corrections' mistake, besides the religious and constitutional issues, is thinking it's the only acceptable mode of recovery or that it will work for everyone."
To find out more about Rational Recovery, including how to subscribe to the Journal of Rational Recovery, check out their web site at http://www.rational.org/recovery. An online directory of recovery programs, including 12-step programs like AA, as well as secular program like RR, can be found at http://www.netwizards.net/recovery/.
Julian Heicklen, a 65 year-old chemistry professor at Pennsylvania State University, staged a one-man "smoke-in" last Thursday, right in front of the university gates. The professor, reclining in a lounge chair and surrounded by approximately 50 students and supporters, lit a joint for the first time in his life. "I'm not doing this for the marijuana," he told the Centre Daily Times (PA), "I'm doing this because we have a right to make free choices."
Heicklen, a member of his local Libertarian Party, said that he was carrying $1,500 on him in case of arrest. Police, who were present during the protest, declined to arrest him, however, claiming that they didn't believe that the substance he was smoking was in fact marijuana. Heicklen promised to repeat the act next week.
The Miami-Dade County School Board's plan to randomly drug test all students in grades 9-12 has been altered in the face of a legal challenge by the Florida chapter of the ACLU. As originally intended, students would have had to have parental consent to be subject to the tests, and positive results would have gone back to those parents. Schools would only receive cumulative results, without names.
Some critics argued that since there was no money available to provide treatment or special programs for teens who tested positive, the plan would be ineffective. Other critics, like the ACLU, argued that randomly testing students without probable cause to believe that they had done anything wrong violated constitutionally protected rights. The new plan would allow students to refuse to be tested.
This past Monday, the nation celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King's legacy of non-violence and equality still resonates in a country which has come a long way, but which still has a long way to go, in confronting and overcoming prejudice and discrimination on the basis of skin color. For many, Dr. King's birthday is a day of pride and of hope. But for those who are advocating and carrying out America's drug war, it ought to be a day of great shame.
African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the population of the US, and account for about 13% of drug users. Despite this fact, African Americans make up more than 50% of all new prisoners in the US, the highest percentage in the nation's history. It is no secret that the bulk of those entering the system are jailed on drug charges.
There are several reasons why the war on drugs disproportionately impacts African Americans. First, it must be remembered that the laws against many currently illegal substances were written specifically to impact racial minorities. During congressional testimony at the time, it was claimed that both marijuana and cocaine caused Black men to rape white women. Opium was originally outlawed because it was said that Chinese immigrants, high on opium, could work interminable hours, thus giving them an unnatural advantage over white workers.
In the years between the implementation of anti-drug laws in the early part of the century, and today, those laws, written with the full intention of "controlling" feared minorities, have been used toward precisely those ends.
Another reason for the current disparity in the drug war's impact is that it is far easier to enforce drug laws in poor neighborhoods. The dearth of legitimate economic opportunities tends to bring the drug trade front and center in the local economy. Policing in these communities is often far more aggressive than in whiter, wealthier areas. It is common, for example, for "drug sweeps" to be instituted in which virtually everyone on a block is made to lay on the street while searches and questioning are conducted. Tactics such as this would cause considerable outrage, and no small legal backlash, if conducted in more opulent, if no less drug infested locales, such as Wall Street.
There are other harms perpetrated on African American communities in the name of the War on Drugs. One of the most destructive and pernicious is the widespread use of informants. "Whatever little you gain by this practice" argues Jerome Miller, a long-time corrections administrator and author of the book Search and Destroy: African Americans and the Criminal Justice System, "you lose a great deal more in terms of social cohesion. You create a Stasi-like system where no one can be trusted." Miller says that with long mandatory minimum sentences in place for prosecutors to hang over the heads of minor players, there is incentive for young, frightened arrestees to exaggerate and make things up in order to get themselves off the hook.
"Aside from the psychological damage that this does to a community, it has the additional effect of creating random violence. If the word gets out on the street that someone is a snitch, their lives aren't worth all that much. And it doesn't even have to be the truth. Also, often you'll see people committing horrendous acts just to prove that they're not working with the police. Several years ago in Washington DC, for instance, a young man walked into a police station with a gun, opened fire, killed a number of officers, and then shot himself. The story behind that incident, which went nearly unmentioned in the press, was that the police had put the word out on him in an effort to pressure him into cooperating with them. He did it to prove that he wasn't a rat."
Perhaps the most ironic and troubling aspect of the war's effects on African American communities is that there is still very little protest against Prohibition coming from this most victimized segment of the population. The government has done a good job of selling the idea that it is drugs themselves, rather than economic factors and Prohibition, which is causing crime and violence. This absence of critical analysis of the larger issue of Prohibition is by no means confined to African American communities. In fact, the majority of Americans have bought the prohibitionist rhetoric, but it is in the black community where the War is being carried out in earnest.
Cheryl Epps is a former Assistant District Attorney. She prosecuted narcotics cases in Manhattan. She is also an African American. "There is an enormous amount of destruction being done by substance abuse in poor communities" she says. "A lot of that stems from economic hopelessness, and some is the result of a lack of available resources to deal with mental health issues. So when Black folks look around their neighborhoods, it's quite natural for them to point to the drugs and say 'whatever you have to do, get rid of this.'"
"In addition, the Drug War model is the only alternative that has been presented, the only strategy anyone has seen. The people who are profiting from the mass incarceration, and the politicians that they pay to put in office, have led America to believe that as bad as things are now, any change in the status quo would lead inevitably to anarchy. It's therefore very difficult, politically, for the leaders of these communities to start talking about 'we need to legalize drugs.' This is true all over America, of course, but the problem is magnified in communities of color. The fact is, though, that with one out of three young African American males already caught up in the criminal justice system, the drugs are still there, and they're not going away. How many more young Black lives is the country willing to sacrifice?"
And there are still more problems. The drug war, and the covert nature of the drug trade under Prohibition, has succeeded in casting large segments of the poor population, most notably the young, as suspects in the eyes of the police. A young black male runs the risk -- in fact the near-certainty -- of being accosted by the police simply for being young and black. The overwhelming majority will be arrested or detained at least once before the age of thirty, regardless of how law abiding they might be. All of these factors, of course, have bred disrespect for the law and for those who are paid to enforce it, and have created the cultural view of the police as an invading army. This view inevitably reveals itself in the popular culture. These cultural media, whether songs, movies or videos, are in turn blamed by opportunistic politicians for being a causal, rather than symptomatic aspect of urban problems.
Dr. King's dream, that one day the color of a man's skin would be of no more importance than the color of his eyes, that a man would be judged solely on the content of his character, is certainly closer to reality in America today than it was on the day he lost his life. But in the context of America's domestic war, a war being carried out with a vengeance against African Americans, it is quite clear that the color of a man's skin means everything.
So the next time you hear a politician talking about "getting tougher" in the "War on Drugs," remember that it is really a war on people of color. And when they talk about the war "protecting our children," remember that it is harmful to our children, but it is most definitely protecting the profits of the enormous and growing prison- industrial complex. And then, take a moment to remember Dr. King. And ask yourself whether it is time to put his dream into practice.
Adam J. Smith
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