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

Issue #53, 8/07/98

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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  • Sorry, no editorial this week! But don't worry, the editorial section will be back next week.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

    1. Marijuana Arrests Up For 6th Straight Year in California
    2. Chavez Turns Down Plea Bargain
    3. Arizona Supreme Court Judge Sides with Legislative Council: Voting Pamphlet Will List "Heroin, LSD, and Some Forms of PCP" in Prop. 300 Description
    4. D.C. Appropriations Bill Would Ban Even Local Spending on Needle Exchange
    5. Misusing the Evidence
    6. British Columbia Looks to Harm Reduction Strategy
    7. National Party of Western Australia to Debate Heroin Maintenance
    8. Health of Afghani Women Deteriorating Under Taliban Regime
    9. Citizens Truth Commissions
    10. Fall 1998 Soros Fellowships in Drug Policy Studies
    11. Conferences Coming Up

    (visit last week's Week Online)

    or check out The Week Online archives


    1. Marijuana Arrests Up For 6th Straight Year in California

    (press release from California NORML)

    The number of marijuana arrests in California increased again in 1997 despite the passage of Proposition 215, according to newly released figures from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics, The data show 57,667 marijuana arrests in 1997, up from 56,956 in 1996, conclusively refuting claims by Attorney General Lungren that Prop. 215 has effectively legalized marijuana.

    The new data come in the wake of a wave of arrests and prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers around the state in a crackdown by anti-215 D.A.'s led by Attorney General Lungren.

    • In Orange county, patient David Herrick was sentenced to 4 years in prison for supplying less than an ounce of marijuana to patients of the Orange County Cannabis Co-Op. Judge William Froeberg instructed the jury to ignore Prop. 215 and the medical benefits of marijuana. Herrick's sentence will cost taxpayers $25,000 per year for less than $100 of pot.
    • In a related case, Orange County Cannabis Co-Op Director Marvin Chavez, who suffers a degenerative spinal disease, faces a possible 12-year sentence for distributing medical marijuana. Judge Robert Fitzgerald has ruled that Chavez can not claim protection under Prop.215 and has ordered the club's patient records to be turned over to prosecutors. Chavez's trial and jury selection are set to begin on August 3, 8:30am at the Orange County Central Courthouse, 700 Civic Center Drive West, Division 39, 10th floor in Santa Ana.
    • In San Diego, patient Steven McWilliams and Dion Markgraaff are charged with growing pot for patients of a now-defunct San Diego club.
    • In San Jose, Santa Clara Medical Cannabis Center director Peter Baez faces felony charges for distributing marijuana.
    • In the US District Court in San Francisco, five medical marijuana clubs have been charged with contempt of court for violating a preliminary injunction by distributing medical marijuana. Hearings before Judge Charles Breyer are scheduled August 31, 1998, 2:30 pm at the San Francisco Federal Building.
    • In San Bernardino county, disabled patient Gene Weeks was arrested for growing his own marijuana by sheriffs who told him that Prop. 215 "doesn't apply" because of federal law.
    • In Los Angeles, author/patient Peter McWilliams, patient Todd McCormick, and seven others have been indicted on federal charges of conspiring to manufacture medical marijuana for patients in Southern California. Under federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the cost of their imprisonment alone could exceed $1 million.
    California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer argues that the government has spent more money trying to persecute medical marijuana patients than trying to implement Prop. 215. A proposed bill by Sen. John Vasconcellos to let counties and cities establish local medical marijuana distribution programs has been stalled under opposition from Lungren and Gov. Wilson.

    "Attorney General Lungren's war on medical marijuana shows he is more intent on creating crime than preventing it," argues Gieringer. "Not only has he ignored Prop. 215's mandate to establish a plan for "safe and affordable" distribution of medical marijuana, he is wasting taxpayers' money persecuting those who do so."

    Speaking in a gubernatorial debate last Friday, Lungren called for more anti-drug enforcement. In fact, California now has a record number of marijuana and other drug prisoners, and marijuana arrests have been increasing for six years in a row. Despite this, surveys show marijuana use had increased under Lungren's tenure as attorney general.

    The onslaught of arrests shows that California's war on marijuana is bankrupt, says California NORML. This August 10th marks the 85th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in California. Over this period, usage has increased from near-zero to millions of adults. Over the same time, there have been over 1,800,000 cannabis arrests, 1,000,000 of them felonies. In 1975, the legislature partially decriminalized marijuana, saving the state an estimated $100 million per year in enforcement costs. Since then, however, arrests have continued at half their preceding level.

    California NORML proposes a three-step program to reduce the costs of marijuana enforcement: (1) Implement a "safe and affordable" distribution system for medical marijuana as called for in Prop; 215; (2) Decriminalize personal use cultivation of marijuana by adults to reduce dependency on the illicit market, as in some Australian states; (3) Allow cities and counties to establish regulated zones where licensed cannabis clubs could provide cannabis to adults, as in Amsterdam.

    (Contact: Dale Gieringer, California NORML, (415) 563-5858, [email protected], http://www.norml.org/canorml/.)


    2. Chavez Turns Down Plea Bargain

    Attendees at the trial of Marvin Chavez, cited above, have reported that Chavez was offered a plea bargain in which he would plead guilty to felony charges of distributing marijuana, would receive probation instead of jail time, would be allowed to grow his own personal medical marijuana supply, but would not be allowed to run his Co-op to provide marijuana for other patients. Chavez has reportedly turned down the offer, saying he felt it wasn't right to plead guilty to a law he didn't break. Judge Fitzgerald, taking leave for vacation, has turned the case over to a different judge, who has not yet made a decision on whether to allow a Prop. 215 defense to be presented to a jury. Judge Fitzgerald did not allow the Prop. 215 defense to be presented, a ruling which an Orange County Register called "illogical," noting that Fitzgerald did allow the prosecution to seize and examine the Co-op's records to determine whether there were any fake doctors notes in violation of the conditions of Prop. 215. (Is Prop. 215 relevant for the prosecution but not for the defense?) Further information on this case is available online at http://www.marijuananews.com.


    3. Arizona Supreme Court Judge Sides with Legislative Council, Voting Pamphlet Will List "Heroin, LSD, and Some Forms of PCP" in Prop. 300 Description

    Overturning a ruling by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge last Friday, the Arizona state Supreme Court rejected an attempt by opponents of Prop. 300 to keep "heroin, LSD, and certain forms of PCP" out of the official description of the referendum. "The People Have Spoken" sponsored Prop. 300 in the hopes that its defeat would restore the drug medicalization referendum passed there in 1996 that had been gutted by the state legislature in early '97. Hence, a "no" vote on Prop. 300 is a vote to restore the drug medicalization act passed by the voters in '96.

    The Prop. 300 and final voting guide text are online at http://www.sosaz.com/election/1998Info/PubPamphlet/.


    4. D.C. Appropriations Bill Would Ban Even Local Spending on Needle Exchange

    The House of Representatives passed an amendment to the District of Columbia Appropriations Bill that would ban the Washington, D.C. local government from using any funds -- federal or even local -- for needle exchange. This and other provisions were opposed by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, according to the Associated Press, who said "The D.C. appropriations bill is not the place to take your stand on social legislation. The D.C. appropriation is the place to stand up for democracy." Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) also opposed the amendment, saying that it is unfair to single out the District as the only place where local NEP funding is banned, particularly given that AIDS is "the greatest public health crisis that has ever faced this city." The Clinton administration has also opposed the provision, taking the position that use of local funds for needle exchange should be a local decision.

    The bill faces a possible presidential veto, because of other provisions, and is moving to a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. The conference committee is likely to be formed some time in September. Please call your Senator and your two Representatives, and ask them to ask members of the D.C. Appropriations Conference Committee to support home rule by opposing the anti-needle exchange amendments. You can reach them via the Congressional Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.


    5. Misusing the Evidence

    An opponent of needle exchange, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), cited studies that purportedly show needle exchange to be ineffective at reducing the spread of AIDS during the Congressional debate yesterday, according to the Associated Press. Tiahrt was probably referring to research in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Montreal, which found rising rates of HIV among the injecting population. This study has been used frequently by opponents of needle exchange repeatedly in recent months, including drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who repeated this claim on the Diane Rheim show on National Public Radio two weeks ago.

    The authors of this study, however, took to the pages of the New York Times last April to say that needle exchange opponents have "misinterpreted" their research, which in reality found that the programs in those cities succeeded in reaching the most at-risk populations, but weren't large enough to provide enough syringes to enough users to stem the growing problem of injection-related AIDS in places where cocaine had become the drug of choice over heroin. The average cocaine injectors requires many more syringes each day than a heroin injector would require.

    A article in last month's Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology provides some quantitative understanding of the situation in Montreal. It cites a 1995 study which estimated the number of injection drug users to be 10,000 and that about 10.68 million syringes would be needed annually to provide one-time syringe use for all of them. The researchers also calculated that approximately 338,000 syringes were distributed in 1994, meeting only about 3.2 percent of the estimated need. It was noted that the total number of sterile syringes could have been higher, due to underground distribution within the injection-using community and the illegal drug trade. Still, the numbers are adequate to illustrate that the problem in Montreal was not needle exchange, but that there was not enough of it. Another problem was that the program had a limit on the number of syringes it would provide to any given client on any given occasion.


    6. British Columbia Looks To Harm Reduction Strategy

    - Kris Lotlikar

    Public officials in the province of British Columbia are taking a second look at their current drug policy. Rises in drug use and crime in the province has convinced Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers and Chief Coroner Larry Campbell to endorse alternatives to the War on Drugs.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, what we are doing now no longer works," Chambers said at a press conference last week. "Filling prisons or hospital beds with substance abusers does not make any public policy sense."

    B.C spends near $80 million per year on drug enforcement, but with the profits motive amazingly high and the threat of being apprehended much lower it has been largely ineffective. "It's time somebody steps forward and says the war on drugs is lost," stated Campbell. "We cannot even pretend to be winning the war."

    The Provincial Medical Officer, Dr. John Millar, released a report on HIV, hepatitis and drug use in B.C which got the backing of both Chambers and Campbell. The plan calls for a major expansion in the use of the heroin-substitute methadone to treat addicts; help to be provided for child car whose parents are victims of addiction; a super-committee to co-ordinate a provincewide approach, and a trial program of heroin maintenance.

    The call for offering free legal heroin to addicts with prescription has brought about a barrage of criticism. Benedikt Fischer from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto says that much of the controversy is based on misinformation. "This is an important step towards effective addiction treatment," Fisher told The Week Online. "Methadone should be the central tool in treatment of opiates but alone it is not sufficient. We must expand the continuum of chooses and option available in order to accomplish prevention goals. He explains that this is not a new idea at all in Canada. The respected Le Dain Commission recommended heroin maintenance trials 25 years ago.

    Over 200 residents of B.C have died from overdoses during the first half of this year, which preludes a record 400 deaths by the end of 1998. "It is a signal of society that we have to start doing things differently," coroner Campbell reflects. He pointed that money invested in treatment now will pay large dividends in health care savings. "We can make money by helping these people get better."

    Ujjal Dosanjh B.C attorney general expressed concern about this initiative not being put forward by Ottawa. "It has to be part of a national strategy, otherwise you will have people traveling all over from Canada to Vancouver. That's not desirable." Unlike in the United States, in Canada no new law would be needed to start heroin maintenance trials. Approval would only be needed from The Bureau of Dangerous Drugs which would weigh the scientific and ethical evidence.

    Mark Townson runs the Portland Hotel in East Vancouver. The hotel provides housing for people who could not get housing any other way, many of who are addicts. Those living there have access to medical care, counseling and methadone. He told The Week Online that the new program, "would save people's lives, make people less miserable, and make the streets safer." Mark has seen people are waking up to the fact that the problems of addiction are medical not criminal. "Five years ago we were a fringe group, now the consciousness has shifted," he said. "These officials coming around is long overdue."


    7. National Party of Western Australia to Debate Heroin Maintenance

    The National Party of Western Australia is debating whether to include heroin maintenance trials as part of its drug policy platform, at the party's annual conference this weekend, according to The Australian this week. Earlier this year the party's State Council endorsed steps toward the decriminalization of marijuana, calling for first and second-time users to be issued infringement notices rather than taken to court. Paul Clune, a party member and sponsor of the resolution, said the heroin trial would be based on the Swiss program, which has led to dramatic reductions in drug-related crime.

    Last year's National Party conference rejected a resolution that supported the Australian Capital Territory heroin trials, with opposition to the trials led by party leader and Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan. Premier Richard Court is opposing the trials, saying ""I am certainly very opposed to pumping more heroin into the system," and is also opposed to any liberalization of the marijuana laws.

    Opposition Leader Geoff Gallop countered that "It is pretty clear that the current system is not working and advice to that effect is coming consistently from our police officers, including the commissioner," he said.


    8. Health of Afghani Women Deteriorating Under Taliban Regime

    A report released this week by Physicians by Human Rights detailed a deterioration in the physical and mental health of women under the Taliban regime. The Taliban are an extremist group that has essentially banned health care for women, as well as education. Among the restrictions placed on Afghani women under the Taliban is that they may more go out in public unless accompanied by a close male relative -- widows are out of luck, according to PHR. Another factor contributing generally to diminished mental health is forced attendance at public beheadings of convicts.

    Pino Arlacci, head of the United National Drug Control Program, wants to fund the Taliban to the tune of $25 million per year for 10 years, as part of an opium eradication agreement; "wiping out the crop" was a central theme at the UN drug summit this June. An article by Karynn Fish, in the spring 1998 issue of the Drug Policy Letter, discussed this issue; you can read it online at http://www.lindesmith.org/library/taliban.html.

    We are investigating the status of the UNDCP's Taliban plans, and hope to provide a recent update on them next week. Physicians for Human Rights can be found online at http://www.phrusa.org -- click on "what's new" for information on the recent study.


    9. Citizens Truth Commissions

    The Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, DC-based progressive think tank, is sponsoring "Citizen Truth Commissions on Drugs, Government Complicity and Our Communities," a citizens' tribunal collecting evidence in four areas: 1) How the drug industry operates; 2) Government complicity in drug trafficking; 3) Social impact of drug trafficking; and 4) Social impact of the US war on drugs. IPS is seeking submissions of information throughout the rest of this year, to be presented at a two-day event in January, 1999. For further information, contact Martha Honey or Jim Schrider at the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St. NW, Suite 1020, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 234-9382, fax: (202) 387-7915 e-mail to [email protected], or visit http://www.ips-dc.org/drugs.htm on the web.


    10. Fall 1998 Soros Fellowships in Drug Policy Studies

    The Lindesmith Center, a drug policy think tank that is a project of the Open Society Institute, is inviting applications for a limited number of fellowships to support social science, humanities, and policy research on the history and politics of drug prohibition as well as its costs, consequences and alternatives.

    Pre-doctoral fellowships provide $18,500 for one year; applicants must be "advanced to candidacy" (i.e. working on the dissertation). Post-doctoral fellowships provide $32,000 to $42,000 for one year (depending on years post-Ph.D.). Post-docs must have completed their Ph.D. (or equivalent) within the past six years. All fellows are eligible for up to $4,000 in research/travel expenses. Selection is based on the applicant's achievements and demonstrated interest in issues of drug policy studies, the need for the proposed project, and the proposed project's potential for success. Preference will be given to meritorious proposals that are unlikely to be funded by government agencies. Proposals from outside the United States are welcome.

    Applications files must be submitted by October 19, 1998. For more information, contact Mireille Jacobson at (212) 548-0603, ext. 1469, e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.lindesmith.org/grants/fellow.html on the web.

    (Note that this fellowship is distinct from the Soros Harm Reduction Fellowship, which seeks to promote the development of innovative health, criminal, and/or civil justice programs that minimize the adverse effects of both drug use and drug prohibition, and which is geared primarily to recent graduates of professional schools -- e.g. nursing, social work, medicine, law, etc. -- who wish to develop and implement harm reduction studies and/or policies. For more information on the Harm Reduction Fellowship, call (415) 554-1900 e-mail [email protected], or visit the above-listed web page.)


    11. Conferences Coming Up

    Regulating Cannabis: Options for Control in the 21st Century -- An International Symposium, London, September 5, 1998, Regent's College. The Lindesmith Center and Release, a British agency dedicated to providing a range of services for meeting the health, welfare and legal needs of drugs users and those who live and work with them, invite individuals and organizations with a policy or professional interest to attend a symposium on options for the regulation and decriminalization of cannabis (marijuana). This symposium will bring together leading experts from Europe, Australia and North America in the fields of science, jurisprudence, sociology and government to examine recent experiences and possible options for regulating the world's most popular illicit drug, and aims to shed light on optimal cannabis controls and bring a new maturity and clarity to public debate. Particular attention will be devoted to exploring pragmatic opportunities for reform within the context of prohibition and examining recent constitutional and judicial developments in the regulation of cannabis. For further information, contact Mireille Jacobson at the Lindesmith Center, (212) 548-0603, x1469, e-mail [email protected], or Vicki Charles at Release, at (44/171) 729-5255, fax (44/171) 729-2599, or visit http://www.lindesmith.org/news/cannabis_conference.html on the web.

    Expanded Pharmacotherapies for the Treatment of Opiate Dependence, a conference presenting the latest research, policies, and practices related to the use of opiates and other drugs -- including codeine, morphine, diacetylmorphine, buprenorphine, methadone, and amphetamine -- for maintenance treatment of addiction. Particular attention will be devoted to evidence and experiences outside the United States. Presenters will include leading international and American clinicians, researchers, and health officials. Friday, September 25, 9-5, $50 (lunch included), $20 for students, at the New York Academy of Medicine, 5th Ave. & 103rd Street, New York. NY. Co-sponsored by Beth Israel Medical Center, Columbia University School of Public Health, The Lindesmith Center, Montefiore Medical Center, The New York Academy of Medicine, and Yale University Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS. For further information call (212) 822-7237, fax (212) 876-4220, e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.nyam.org/meded/announcements/treatment.html on the web.

    The Second National Harm Reduction Conference, sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, will convene in Cleveland, Ohio, from October 7-10. Registration is $300, with a 15% discount for current members of HRC, and certain For further information, call (212) 213-6376, or visit http://www.harmreduction.org on the web.


    Due to staff travel schedules and other obligations we are not able to bring you an editorial this week. But don't worry, the editorial will be back next week, so stay tuned to DRCNet! We look forward to bringing you more commentary on the war on drugs and its approaching end. If you're hungry for an editorial, check out our archives at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/archives.html and browse any or all of the back issues.


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