(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #49, 7/10/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
The War Over the War on Drugs
Yesterday was a momentous day in the anti-prohibition effort. As the federal government kicked off its billion dollar anti-drug ad campaign, the very media that are running the ads greeted them with an air of skepticism. Even in the once sacrosanct realm of kids and anti-drug messages, there is now another "side".
Drug policy reformers aren't against prevention. In fact, most of us see such efforts as part of a peaceful alternative to current policies of police and prisons. But we do have things to say on that issue, as well as about prohibition itself, and the media is now ready to include us in the debate. And as one of our supporters has pointed out, people from outside the ranks of the reform movement have begun to make our points for us, perhaps the most convincing evidence so far that the tide of public opinion is slowly but surely shifting in our direction.
Bill Press, before switching to a commercial break on CNN's Crossfire last night, referred to the drug policy debate as "the war over the war on drugs". CNN wouldn't call this a "war" if they thought it was just a discussion among intellectuals that was destined to fade away into insignificance. The drug policy debate -- the war over the war on drugs -- has begun in earnest. Our moment in history has arrived.
You, the members and readers of DRCNet and the organizations with which we have allied, have a special role to play. Wonderful events of the past two years -- medical marijuana passing in California and Arizona, the open letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan, for example -- have had an enormous impact in opening the debate on drug policy, bringing us to this exciting point in time. But bringing the final victory home will also require a true mass movement of citizens, getting the phone calls going into Congress, the letters into the media, setting up the forums, handing out the flyers, circulating the petitions, marching in the streets.
Because of our Internet structure, the ease of connecting with and staying in touch with us, DRCNet is very well suited to the task of building this movement. Our numbers have passed the 6,000 mark. We need your help to build that 6,000 to 60,000 and that 60,000 to 100,000 or more. You can help by sending your friends to our web site, talking about us in online forums, redistributing our bulletins, collecting e-mail addresses at public events, and of course by responding to our action alerts and maximizing their impact. (Though we ask that you tell people first what you are signing them up for and get their permission.)
You can also help by becoming a supporting member of DRCNet. Thanks to enthusiastic reader response, our paid membership rolls broke the 1,000 mark this week! Yet many more are needed in order to strengthen the organization's finances and help us grow and do more. Will you cast your vote for reform and join today? Annual membership dues are $25, or $10 for "virtual", e-mail only membership. Sign up through our secure registration form at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html (hit reload if you get an error message), or just send your check to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036. Note that contributions to DRCNet are not tax-deductible.
Thank you for your support, and for marching with us in this time of change!
P.S. Check out the July 13 issue of New York magazine, now on the stands, for an outstanding 1 1/3 page review of Mike Gray's Drug Crazy -- or read it online at http://www.newyorkmag.com/Critics/view.asp?id=1551. Pick up Drug Crazy in your local bookstore, and when you do, read about DRCNet on page 203! Or visit the Drug Crazy web site at http://www.drugcrazy.com.
Table of Contents
This week (7/9) the Office of National Drug Control Policy, along with the Partnership for a Drug Free America, launched the most expensive and wide-ranging anti-drug media campaign ever targeted at America's youth and parents. The proposed five-year plan will cost taxpayers $1 billion and the government hopes that an additional $1 billion can be raised from private sources. According to media sources, the campaign will be the fifteenth-largest media buy in history, surpassing Nike, American Express and Sprint, among others.
Interestingly, American media outlets, many of which stand to reap large profits by selling time to the campaign, were nevertheless willing to air dissenting opinions in their coverage of the launch. From CNN's Crossfire and Talk Back Live to the national network news shows, drug policy reformers were well-represented. This level of coverage is a continuation of a trend which has been building for some time but which has become even more pronounced in the wake of high-profile protests during the recent United Nations' Special Session on Narcotics in June.
"As recently as two years ago, a launch like this would have been portrayed in the American media as a feel-good fest, with drug warriors, unopposed, preening for the cameras and telling America how much they are doing for their children" said DRCNet executive director David Borden. "The media's response to what would once have been seen as a non-controversial, if politically-motivated program indicates that the reform movement can no longer be brushed-off as a fringe group. The debate, once limited to one "side" advocating more prisons and the other "side" advocating many more prisons, is now very definitely seen by the media gatekeepers as being between the Prohibitionists and the reformers. And since people tend to become more inclined toward reform the more they learn about the issue, this constitutes a major, major step forward for the reform movement."
Reformers, including The Lindesmith Center's Ethan Nadelmann (http://www.lindesmith.org) and Mike Gray, author of the new book "Drug Crazy" (http://www.drugcrazy.com), spoke of the need to address more serious concerns, such as children's unabated access to drugs, as well as the need to support programs that have been proven to work in reducing teen drug use, such as after-school programs. Gray challenged drug czar Barry McCaffrey on the drug policy record of The Netherlands, pointing out that Dutch officials are upset enough at the U.S. government's mischaracterizations that they are considering filing a diplomatic protest.
Ty Trippet, a spokesman for The Lindesmith Center, told The Week Online, "think of what a billion dollars invested in after-school programs, invested directly in kids, could do in terms of connecting them with mentors and involving them in positive activities. That is real prevention. That is how we'll keep kids off drugs. This campaign is more about putting a do-something face on an accomplish-nothing drug war. And people, media included, are starting to get it."
Nightline featured a discussion of the ad campaign, including Brandweek Senior Editor David Kiley, who pointed out that there has been very little research or data gathered on the effectiveness of these types of ads (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/5-22.html#brandweek).
(Transcripts of yesterday's discussions on CNN Talkback Live and Crossfire are available on CNN's web site, at http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/9807/09/tl.00.html and http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/9807/09/cf.00.html. CNN's report on the ad campaign, with video audio samples, are at http://www.allpolitics.com/1998/07/09/clinton.drug/. As of this afternoon, Nightline had not yes posted a transcript of this report, but it will probably be there within a few days; check at http://www.abcnews.com/onair/nightline/.
The federal government filed an ex parte motion with U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer (7/7), asking that the U.S. Marshal be authorized immediately to close down medical cannabis clubs in Oakland, Marin, and Mendocino County. If granted, the motion would mean immediate forcible closure of the clubs, which currently serve over 2,000 Bay Area medical marijuana patients.
Attorneys for the defendants are hopeful that the hearings will lead to a jury trial of the defendants, who enjoy strong support in their local communities. In the meantime, medical marijuana advocates are praying that Breyer will not let federal authorities close the clubs.
An earlier government motion to let marshals close the clubs was rejected by Judge Breyer last May. This time, the government is arguing that the clubs have continued operations in violation of the court's injunction, which forbids distribution of marijuana in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act. As evidence, the government has submitted testimony from DEA agents that the clubs are still open to patients. However, agents conspicuously failed in an effort to buy marijuana at the Oakland club, in an episode videotaped by news media on May 21. (The operation coincidentally took place at the same time the club was holding a well-attended press conference.)
Jeff Jones, who runs the Oakland club, told The Week Online, "We're expecting a bust any day now. The feds, acting against the stated intention of the local government, are totally out of hand. But we're awaiting our day in court. We strongly believe that we are not in violation of the court order. This is about people, sick and suffering people, and a community that wants to allow them to help themselves in the best way they see fit. It is also, thanks to the 'zero-tolerance crowd' about an abuse of power and the overstepping of boundaries in an effort to enforce a punitive and morally bankrupt ideological position. We are extremely confident that in the end, the warriors will be exposed for what they are... and they won't end up looking too good."
Oakland, July 7, 1998: The Oakland City Council this week unanimously approved what are thought to be the nation's strongest and most patient-friendly police guidelines to protect medical marijuana users from arrest.
The guidelines, based on the federal government's own dosage allotments to the eight medical marijuana patients it supplies, allow patients to possess up to 1.5 pounds of marijuana (a three-month's supply) or up to 6 pounds (a one year's supply) if grown in their own gardens.
Chuck Thomas, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), told The Week Online, "What sweet irony it is that these guidelines, which will undoubtedly upset people like (California Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate) Dan Lungren, are taken directly from the federal government's own guidelines. These amounts were arrived at by the federal government's own doctors. That'll certainly make it difficult for them to credibly complain. Sheer genius."
Patients may grow up to 48 flowering plants indoors, or up to 96 total (allowing for unflowering males), or 30 flowering plants outdoors, up to 60 total outdoors.
"Oakland is to be congratulated for leading the way out of reefer madness and towards a truly enlightened policy on marijuana," commented California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, an Oaklander.
Substantial parts of the two previous stories were reported by Dale Gieringer of California NORML. You can reach Dale at [email protected] and you can find NORML on the web at http://www.norml.org, or California NORML at http://www.norml.org/canorml.
- Chad Thevenot, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
A report released this week by Drug Strategies, a drug policy think-tank based in Washington, DC, finds that in 1996, 41% percent of all South Carolina arrestees tested positive for illegal drugs on the day they were arrested, However, because marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug, is fat-soluble, making it detectable in the body much longer than alcohol and other drugs, this figure is misleading. Arrestees testing positive for an illegal drug does not accurately indicate if such persons were under the psychoactive effects of a drug while committing the offense. According to the Drug Strategies report, in 1996, four percent of arrestees in South Carolina tested positive for alcohol, while 51% admitted having used alcohol within
In 1995, forty percent of probationers reported being under the influence of alcohol when they committed their offense compared to 14% who reported being under the influence of illicit drugs, according to a Department of Justice report. In regards to violent offenses, the gap in percentages widens to 41% of offenders reporting being under the influence of alcohol and 11% reporting being under the influence of drugs (Christopher J. Mumola, "Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995," Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, March 1998, NCJ 166611)
According to a Department of Justice report on alcohol and crime, "nearly 4 in 10 violent victimizations involve use of alcohol, about 4 in 10 fatal motor vehicles accidents are alcohol-involved; and about 4 in 10 offenders, regardless of whether they are on probation, in local jail, or in State prison, self-report that they were using alcohol at the time of the offense." Sixty-five percent of spouse violence victimizations involved alcohol only, compared to 5% involving illicit drugs only. In regards to rape and sexual assaults, 30% of offenders were using alcohol while 4% were using drugs (Lawrence A. Greenfield, "Alcohol and Crime," Bureau of Justice Statistics report, April 1998).
(Chad Thevenot is Operations Manager for the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, 1899 L St., NW, Suite 500,
- Kris Lotlikar
The National Institute on Mental Health has begun testing certain chemicals in marijuana for whether they might protect brain cells during a stroke. THC and cannabidiol have both exhibited promising results, but the study is being concentrated on cannabidiol because of its lack of psychoactive properties. Cannabidiol (CBD) proved to be a potent antioxidant in a test tube for protecting brain tissue exposed to toxic neurochemicals produced during a stroke. Aiden Hampson, the team leader feels that CDB is a better candidate than the other chemicals found in marijuana. Dr. Hampson's research team has now started giving intravenous CDB to rat and reveal the preliminary results are promising. He stated to the UK Guardian, "We have something that passes the brain barrier easily, has low toxicity, and appears to be working in the animal trials. So I think we have a good chance."
This discovery has special importance in the political arena, with medical marijuana initiatives possibly appearing on five states ballots this fall. "This study adds to the list of studies showing that there are more useful chemicals in the marijuana plant than just THC," Chuck Thomas, director of communication for the Marijuana Policy Project told The Week Online. "This should be no surprise, considering that most patients prefer smoking marijuana to the THC pill (Marinol)."
Dr. Hampson claims that cannabidiol has so far been considered an inactive ingredient. According to Paul Armentano, director of communication for NORML, however, cannabidiol has been studied for various uses in the past. "This may look like a new discovery, but Israeli pharmacists have been studying it for about 4-5 years," commented Mr. Armentano to The Week Online. Research on CDB has been conducted to treat epilepsy and Huntington's disease. In Israel, a biotechnology company called Pharmos has developed a derivative of CDB called Dexanabinol, and has recently begun phase III testing, using human subjects. Pharmos claims Dexanabinol can control neuronal cell death, the damage caused by head trauma and strokes.
- Taylor West
(EDITOR'S NOTE: DRCNet supporters come from the ranks of the progressive left, who support government funding of social services, to the libertarian right, who largely feel the government shouldn't be doing anything. We respect all of these people's viewpoints, and are happy to have them as allies. The issue of federal funding of needle exchange is one where we believe that lifting of the ban on such funding would actually make things better from both points of view. The reason is that the federal government is already funding AIDS prevention. The ban on use of such funds for needle exchange programs amounts to discrimination against drug users and those with whom they come into direct of indirect contact. Lifting the federal ban simply amounts to a deregulation of federal AIDS funding, or a deference of the federal government to state-level decision making. Hence, we see this funding issue as independent of the government vs. private sector debate; and we also believe that furthering the social acceptance of needle exchange will foster the development of a humane drug policy, which is antithetical to the prohibition that it causing so much harm. This is why we are opposing the federal needle exchange funding ban. Note that the bill discussed here would have even further-reaching discriminatory effects than the current policy.)
House Resolution 3717, which would permanently ban the use of federal funds to support needle exchange, passed the House of Representatives on April 29th and has taken its place on the calendar to be considered in the Senate. While the Senate schedule is always tentative, the bill is expected to see debate on the floor as early as this week.
This legislation, sponsored in the House by Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY), amends the Public Health Service Act to state that no money provided by the federal government during any fiscal year may be used "directly or indirectly" to fund the distribution of needles to intravenous drug users. It passed the House by a vote of 287 to 140.
Not surprisingly, H.R. 3717 has drawn sharp protest from needle exchange advocates. "It's economic foolishness. It's inhumanity. And we'll pay for it in the end," warned Dan Bigg of the Chicago Recovery Alliance. Ellen Goldstein from the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies concurred. "It's the worst example of ignoring science and developing policy based on political pressure," she stated this week.
"This is a particularly nasty piece of legislation for three reasons," said Chris Lanier, of the National Coalition to Save Lives Now. "First, it takes the authority for decision-making on needle exchange out of the hands of the administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. Second, it makes the ban we already have a permanent one, which would require more action by Congress to reverse. And third, the language of the bill makes it possible that funding that goes to programs for any sort of intervention could be banned."
That language -- particularly the use of the words "directly and indirectly" -- has other organizations worried as well. Jeff Jacobs, Director of Government Affairs for AIDS Action, told the Week Online, "We're very concerned about the bill language. It could mean that people are prevented even from getting treatment, something both sides agree addicts should get." Because there is not a clear idea of what constitutes "indirect" expenditure of funds on needle exchange, both Jacobs and Lanier fear that organizations which provide many other services in addition to exchange might be cut off entirely.
Another point of contention which has spurred protest from several House members is the process through which H.R. 3717 has seen debate. The bill was put directly on the House floor, without the usual committee hearings or discussion, by the House Rules Committee, of which sponsor Solomon is the chair. Following less than three hours of debate, the bill was passed on to the Senate. Now, once again without committee hearings, it has been placed on the calendar of the Senate floor for debate within the next few weeks. "What we're seeing happen," says Lanier, "is that the issue is not well understood, and yet it's acted on anyway... It allows for greater reliance on politics and less on a reasoned examination of the science."
Despite the bill's overwhelming passage in the House, support is not expected to come quite so easily in the Senate. Indicators from related legislation seem to show that only two or three votes may separate the opposing sides. This means that constituents' efforts to influence their senators may play a major role in the fate of H.R. 3717. For the next week or longer, pressure from the outside will have a vital influence on the course of this legislation, and thus on the future of funding for U.S. needle exchange. Please call your two Senators; you can reach them through the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or write them at United States Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
- Kris Lotlikar
The "650 Lifer" law in Michigan is the toughest drug law in the country. It requires a mandatory sentence of life without parole for individuals convicted of delivery of 650 gram or more of cocaine or heroin. A bi-partisan effort in the state legislature has passed two important reforms to this law. "650 lifers" will now be eligible for parole at 15, 17 1/2, or 20 years, depending on if the individual is a repeat offender and whether the individual cooperated with law enforcement. Judges will also gain some discretion in the sentencing of persons convicted of "650" offenses. The law will now hold a penalty of "life or any term of years, but not less than 20 years." Governor Engler is expect to sign the bill into law this August.
Representative Barbara Dobb spearheaded the reform effort. "I would hope this acts as a catalyst for legislators to take a hard look at the harsh mandatory minimum penalties," Rep. Dobb told The Week Online. "Instead of targeting drug kingpins, it has mainly incarcerated low-level addicts and couriers for life, at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers. It's long past time to be smart on crime and make sure that those most involved in the drug trade serve the longest sentences," she also stated. Representative Ted Wallace, Representative Mike Nye and Senator William Van Regenmorter were all instrumental in pulling together this risky election year legislation.
"Make no mistake, the '650 lifer' law remains one of the harshest drug laws in the U.S.," said Laura Sager, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums' Michigan Project. "There is nothing 'soft' about a penalty that is still more severe than that of second degree murder. In addition, it is very difficult for individuals sentenced to life to meet the stringent parole requirements for those with life sentences -- fewer than one percent of individuals serving parolable life sentences for other crimes have been released in the last decade."
Many members of the community have worked to get these reforms in place. Activists include family members, judges, attorneys, clergy and other individuals whose lives have been touched by this law. This is a "tremendous achievement for grassroots activism," Laura Sager commented to The Week Online.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a national, non-profit sentencing reform organization with 33,000 members nationally and 3,100 in Michigan. Visit them on the web at http://www.famm.org.
- Alex Morgan
Penn State Professor Julian Heicklen is in Centre County Prison in lieu of $50,000 bail following his arrest for marijuana possession during the first hour of a 30 hour marathon "Smoke Out" coinciding with the four-day Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
The protest began at "High Noon" at the university's main gate in downtown State College, with Heicklen reading a statement summarizing his six month civil disobedience campaign. Penn State police arrived at 12:15 to inform Heicklen he was in violation of a university policy prohibiting use of a bull horn without a permit. Heicklen responded that the university lacked the power to pass legislation and ordinances and that "... it's my policy to use the bull horn." The police left saying they would be back.
Heicklen lit a joint and passed it around a crowd of supporters. About nine of the 70 protesters smoked marijuana, although the demonstration was witnessed by hundreds of the 100,000 visitors that are in "Happy Valley" for the festival which runs through Sunday night. Also in attendance were reporters from the local CBS and Fox
Heicklen repeated his claim that he is not a pot advocate but a "political smoker... The lighted marijuana weed is the torch of liberty... I believe in freedom. Not only that but I'm a tired old miser, I object to supporting the pot heads in prison with my money. I want all those pot heads out of prison, on the street and working so they can support me and raise my Social Security payments."
The police returned at about 12:30pm, but the joint was out, and they once again failed to convince Heicklen to cease using the bull horn and left saying they would return. Finally, the police returned when Heicklen lit up a second time, confiscated the joint, confirmed it was marijuana and arrested him at 12:55pm.
Heicklen went limp and made the officers carry him into the police car and later into District Magistrate Carmen Prestia's office. According to Heicklen associate Charlie Miller, who attended the hearing, Prestia asked Heicklen if he intended to continue with the protest at the Arts Festival, and Heicklen asked the magistrate if he was asking him to indict himself for crimes not yet committed. Prestia then said he was tired of playing Heicklen's games, and that he was "carrying this thing too far." Prestia set Heicklen's bail at $50,000 cash and scheduled his
Charlie Miller, Press Liaison of the Centre County Libertarian Party, co-sponsors of the protests, will now lead the four day rally during Heicklen's incarceration. "It will definitely continue. We made commitments. These people are showing up (the rally speakers), and we will keep pressing the issue, although its unlikely that a lot of people will be smoking pot." Among the scheduled speakers are nationally known authors Drs. Lynn Zimmer, John Morgan and Lester Grinspoon.
After Heicklen was arrested, the police told the demonstrators that they could not use any "sound amplification." The campus police maintained a strong presence in the area all day, as did the State College police across the street.
Miller said, "This is our 26th week of having political protests. We never had a problem before (with the bull horn and literature tables); the police are obviously very sensitive because of the Art Fest. They're saying we're not allowed to pass out literature in State College because
Miller and local activist Diane Fornbacher are making alternative plans to house the speakers that were going to stay with Professor Heicklen. Miller said he doesn't expect Heicklen to be out of jail before the protest ends on Sunday (6/12) at 6:00pm.
- Greg Ewing for DRCNet
On June 21, the mayor of Melbourne (Australia), Ivan Deveson, proposed the establishment of a heroin trial in Melbourne as a way to reduce the growing number of deaths from heroin overdose. Deveson said the trial should be similar to one proposed for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) last year, and which was cancelled by the Federal Government only shortly before it was scheduled to begin.
Counselor Deveson also revealed that the city is close to a decision on introducing safe injecting rooms for heroin users. "We're either going to surpass the road death (with heroin overdoses), or we'll trial a safe injecting room."
Counselor Deveson was critical of Prime Minister John Howard's leadership on drug policy, and also voiced his despair over resistance to change amongst his peers: "... if anyone puts their foot in this water, they will be seen as too soft... because the community is so conservative. (It's) led by our PM, a friend of mine. Two years ago I was just as conservative. But I would have to acknowledge I have shifted in this journey. And I despair at the number of my generation who haven't come on that journey and who now will not understand when I tell them about the problem."
Last year, the province of New South Wales established a joint committee to investigate use of injecting rooms. In one description of a de-facto shooting gallery in Sydney's Kings Cross, the committee was told an average of 60 customers paid $5 for the use of a room for 10 minutes over a 24-hour period. A knock on the door signaled when your time was up, and also gave workers an opportunity to act quickly on an overdose. An ambulance was required to attend three overdoses a week. There had been 10 deaths on the premises over the previous nine years. The committee's report, submitted in February this year, contained a majority recommendation against establishing safe injecting rooms because of safety concerns, arguing that heroin remains an illegal and uncontrolled substance.
Frankfurt has had a steady decrease in the number of people dying from drug overdoses since the city introduced injecting rooms in 1991. By 1996, fewer than 50 people died each year. In Victoria, the total has been climbing steadily since 1991, to more than 160 deaths in 1996.
New statistics show that the Melbourne ambulance service attends 180 overdoses a month, or almost 6 a day. In most cases Narcan can be administered and the patient comes-to immediately. A report last year by the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence cited the absence of reporting systems for the non-fatal overdoses as a reason for the lack of a clear understanding about Australians' heroin use.
Following the mayor's heroin trial proposal, the Victorian Government said that they would endorse a national trial but not approve one held only in Melbourne. The Premier said that such trials in Melbourne could be counter-productive by attracting drug barons as well as users from other states. Educationionalists, students, and several medical bodies
Mayor Deveson later agreed that the council did not have the power to set up injection rooms, but he said "we're reaching a point where more young people between 15 and 25 are dying of drug overdoses than road death. We haven't reached that point, but we will very soon if we don't consider an alternative".
The Lord Mayor states that his concern for Melbourne stems from his experience working in Detroit in the 1960s where he saw a degradation in standards. Over the past few years, many more areas of Melbourne have developed a very visible street-trade in heroin. Demand for syringes in the city had trebled in the past 3 years.
HEROIN USE INCREASING, ESPECIALLY AMONG YOUNG AND FEMALE
Victorian Drug Trends 1997, a federally commissioned report and the most comprehensive assessment of illicit drug use in Victoria, reveals an alarming trend for users to be younger and female. Polydrug abuse was also on the increase.
Just under two-thirds (62%) reported involvement in crime in the previous month and, despite most believing there had been more police activity at the time of the survey, most (60%) said this did not make it harder to get drugs. Forty percent of those involved in criminal activity had dealt in drugs and 36 percent admitted to property crimes.
The survey showed that 56 percent of respondents had overdosed at least once and three-quarters had witnessed an overdose.
Evidence collected also backs up national data showing that most heroin-related overdoses occur in older, more experienced users. The median age of overdose victims attended to by ambulance was 27.
Victoria To Trial 4 Drugs To Facilitate Heroin Addiction Treatment
The first trial will compare two drugs, LAAM and buprenorphine, as maintenance treatment in 522 users, against methadone in 522 users. Another maintenance treatment trial will involve 40 people taking slow-release oral morphine. The third trial will have 250 addicts
VICTORIA ANNOUNCES CAUTIONING SCHEME FOR DRUG USERS (7 JULY)
Following the success of a 6 month trial, Victoria announced that from September 1, first-time cannabis users will be cautioned if they are in possession of less than 50 grams. A pilot for a similar cautioning system for other illicit drugs including heroin and cocaine is also to take place.
Those cautioned will be offered help and advice. For drugs other than cannabis, users would have to undertake to accept some mandatory drug assessment and treatment in return for the caution. The government has approved $600,000 for extra assistance to the 13 to 15 drug treatment agencies that could be involved in the pilot.
During the earlier cannabis-cautioning pilot program, only 8 of the 97 offenders cautioned re-offended during the 6 month trial period and 93 percent of police officers surveyed said the procedure saved resources for more serious matters.
Professor David Penington, who headed the Premier's Advisory Council on Illicit Drugs, yesterday congratulated police on their "substantial" change in attitude. "They've recognized that the (drug) problem hasn't been solved by simple prohibition and that the problem was getting worse, with more young people especially getting involved in the heroin scene."
In an interview with the Melbourne Age, the Chief Commissioner of Police said that during two decades working as a police officer he had been locked into a hard line approach to drug users. But he admitted the approach had not worked and said "I have in recent years changed my mind considerably."
The cost to the Victorian police and court system, through trying and then judging first-time marijuana users, is about $A25-$A30 million.
A SNAPSHOT OF CURRENT AUSTRALIAN CANNABIS LAW STATE BY STATE
* South Australia
Most relaxed laws in country. Decriminalised low-level use in 1987. Cultivation and possession of up to 100 grams or 10 backyard plants attracts $A50-$A150 on the spot fine. For greater amounts normal prosecutions apply.
* New South Wales
Offenders must face court. Fines and prison terms are common, although magistrates can release offenders without conviction.
Same as for New South Wales.
Cabinet approval imminent on proposals to introduce a formal written caution for first-time possession of up to 50 grams. Modeled on the new Victorian policy and will be tried for 12 months.
* Australian Capital Territory
Personal use decriminalized in 1992. Generally up to a $A100 fine, no conviction if found with less than 25 grams or less than 5 plants. Police do however have the discretion to lay a criminal charge.
* Western Australia
Conservative Government has been resisting calls for minor cannabis use to be decriminalized. Offenders must face court but most minor offenders walk away with small fines.
* Northern Territory
On-the-spot fines for possession of amounts less than 50 grams which were intended for personal use.
This week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, in conjunction with the Partnership for a Drug Free America, launched a $2 Billion anti-drug media campaign. Advertise-ments will run nationwide, on television, radio and the Internet. The ads will warn, threaten, cajole and plead with kids to stay away from the illicit drugs that we, after nearly eighty years of drug prohibition, have been unable to keep out of their reach.
The ads, insofar as they are truthful, will probably do no harm, though there is scant evidence that they will do much good, other than to convince American parents that their government is at least doing something. But the very presence of the ads begs the larger and more important question: Why are these dangerous substances so far outside of the control of responsible society that we cannot keep them out of the hands of kids? The answer is that drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has failed our children, and failed them spectacularly.
We have been here before. On February 9, 1925, nearly halfway through America's disastrous national experiment in alcohol prohibition, Colonel William L. Barker, Northern Division, Salvation Army, was asked by a Minnesota newspaper reporter about the impact of Prohibition. Col. Barker's response, which speaks to a vastly increased level of access by children to prohibited substances, is as relevant to the parents of today as it was to the parents of the time. "Prohibition has diverted the energies of the Salvation Army from the drunkard in the gutter to the boys and girls in their teens," he said. "The work of the Army has completely changed in the past five years... Prohibition has so materially affected society that we have girls in our rescue homes who are 14 and 15 years old, while 10 years ago the youngest was in the early twenties."
Today, we are faced with the shocking reality of twelve and thirteen year-olds using heroin, methamphetamine and LSD. And despite ever-increasing efforts to enforce prohibition, Michigan University's Monitoring The Future Survey shows that over the past twenty years, while America's incarce-rated population has grown nearly ten-fold, access by kids to these substances has either risen almost across the board. As for marijuana, the Michigan study shows that nearly 90% of twelfth graders say it is "easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain. And a survey, released in 1997 by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found that when asked which is easier to buy, nearly four times as many 12-17 year-olds answered 'marijuana' as 'beer'.
Drug prohibition, far from a form of "drug control", is in reality the surrendering of control over dangerous and addictive substances into the hands of criminals. Envision a system under which licensed and highly regulated professionals (such as pharmacists) sell well-labeled and reliably pure substances at small profit margins from limited numbers of outlets to adults with valid proof of age under penalty of losing their livelihood. Now consider the reality of our current prohibition, a system under which unknown numbers of individuals, cloaked in secrecy, realize obscene profits by selling unlabeled substances of unknown purity in school yards and on street corners to anyone, of any age who can be convinced to buy them. And kids, young kids, are advantageous customers as they are very unlikely to be either cops or informants.
In testimony on Capitol Hill last month, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey bemoaned the presence of an insidious "elitist group" and their "devious" attempts to reform our nation's drug policy. He spoke of the "horrifying" prospect of "legalization", including "heroin being sold at the corner store to children with false identifications." But when was the last time that a child in this country, attempting to buy heroin, was asked for identification, false or otherwise, under the present system?
In the face of McCaffrey's blatant mischaracterization, there are a growing number of responsible Americans, people like Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, Ronald Reagan's former Secretary of State George Schultz, journalistic icon Walter Cronkite, and millions of American parents, doctors, educators and others who are calling for a re-examination of the very premise of prohibition. These dissenters are neither "devious" nor motivated by some desire to see the drug problem in this country get worse, especially as it relates to children. They simply understand that drug prohibition has not protected our kids any better than alcohol prohibition protected the youngsters of the nineteen twenties.
At the ceremony heralding the launch of the media campaign in Atlanta, President Clinton told students, "These ads are designed to knock America upside its head and get America's attention." But "knocking Americans upside the head" is exactly what the drug war has done for decades, with disastrous consequences. What is needed is rationality and a strategy that emphasizes taking control, not more violence, psychological or otherwise. And who decided that kids, at whom the ads are primarily targeted, will respond to being "knocked upside the head" by their elders? Better we should take the drugs off the streets and concentrate as a society on providing kids with meaningful opportunities to become engaged, to connect with their communities and with people worth emulating. Has Bill Clinton, baby-boomer darling, forgotten how powerful is the pull of youth to ignore or even actively oppose the threats and the moralizing of ones' parents' generation? Or is Clinton, together with the rest of the Drug War establishment, buried so deep in their own bullshit that they are unable or unwilling to recognize the blatant hypocrisy in the rhetoric they trumpet as gospel?
While it is certainly important to provide kids with information and warnings about the potential dangers of drug use, especially use at an early age, it is unlikely that the campaign will have much impact in an era of Prohibition. It is feel-good spending and election-year politics, diverting the public's attention from a record of failure that should shame even the most shameless politician. In the face of very real threats to the safety of our kids, such tactics ought to be repaid in spades on election night. If this is the best that our leaders can do, while junior high school students purchase heroin from the people to whom we have ceded the trade, then it is time for new leadership.
This week, politicians from across the political spectrum will cheer the launch of the government's newest and most sophisticated anti-drug media campaign. But as you watch those spiffy new Partnership ads, ask yourself why our leaders insist on clinging to a system which abandons our children to an uncontrollable black market. And why we, the adults, have been reduced to begging them to just say no.
Adam J. Smith
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