(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #56, 8/28/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
CORRECTION: Oops! In the email version of Issue #55, the editorial failed to include the source of the report which showed that one in every thirty-five American adults is either in prison or jail, on probation or parole. That report was issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice (as was indicated in the news story in the same issue).
NOTE: You can also find Adam's editorials each week in G-21 "The World's Magazine" a terrific online zine featuring news, satire, humor and more. Check out G-21 at http://www.g21.net.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
(visit last week's Week Online)
or check out The Week Online archives
1. Household Survey Reports: Teen Marijuana Use Up Again
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week (8/24) released the results of the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). The survey, which polled approximately 24,500 Americans, showed that while overall rates of drug use remained stable over the past year, rates of youth marijuana use increased. In 1997, for instance, 9.4% of teens, aged 12-17 admitted to having used marijuana during the month prior to the survey, compared with 7.1% in 1996.
Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project told The Week Online, "These numbers clearly indicate that an unacceptable number of adolescents are still using marijuana, which indicates that arresting even record numbers of adults for marijuana possession has had no bearing on teenage use patterns."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is involved in a brewing legislative battle over funding for the administration's current drug war plan, had a different take on the numbers.
"This excellent study confirms the significant threat from illegal drugs to our children. We must face this threat head-on, which we intend to do" said Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey in a statement released to the press. "We embrace today's findings as further proof of the need to fully fund the National Drug Control Strategy."
Interestingly, of the 24,500 people surveyed, over 8,700 of respondents came from just two states, California and Arizona, illustrating the federal government's hopes of gaining rhetorical ammunition against the medical marijuana movement. But so far at least, medical marijuana has not led to higher rates of youth drug use. Among youth age 12-17, the results are mixed. Teens in Arizona report more drug use than the national average, whereas California teens report less.
For marijuana, the numbers on past-month marijuana use are: 9.9% for U.S. excluding AZ and CA, 13.1% for Arizona, and 6.6% for California.
Rob Stewart, director of communications for the Drug Policy Foundation, reports that:
"Because the sample populations surveyed in California have been large in past NHSDAs, HHS was able to compare previous years with the 1997 oversampling data. There appears to be no increase between 1996 and 1997 in marijuana use, either by adults or youth. (Curiously, HHS says that they can compare California data back till 1994, but don't provide a glimpse of what was happening before the Prop. 215 campaign caught fire in 1996.) In addition, there was no significant change in attitudes about the risks associated with most drug use from 1996 to 1997."
And despite McCaffrey's contention that the rise in teen marijuana use indicates the need for a redoubling of current efforts, many people, including drug educators, hold a different view.
Sandee Burbank, director of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), told The Week Online, "After decades of this type of punitive approach, marijuana is more available than it has ever been to our kids. This study, like the studies that have come before it, underscores the need for honest, fact-based drug education and information, regarding both licit and illicit substances."
The survey, and the complete results, can be found online at http://www.samhsa.gov/oas/nhsda/nhsda97/httoc.htm. The Marijuana Policy Project can be found online at http://www.mpp.org. Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse can be found online at http://www.mamas.org.
2. Trial In Canada Brings Medical Marijuana To National Attention
Kris LotlikarIn a trial with potential national ramifications in Canada, medical marijuana user and proponent Grant Krieger has been convicted of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking after admitting to giving a wheelchair-bound Calgary man marijuana to treat his aliment. The judge is faced with what Krieger's lawyer, Adriano Iovinelli, calls a "catch-22". The court can either give him a fine, which would be seen as condoning Krieger's actions, or put a man suffering from multiple sclerosis in jail for promoting what he sees as a miracle medicine.
Krieger previously attempted suicide after he being largely crippled by multiple sclerosis. Since using marijuana to treat his condition, he is able to walk without a cane and enjoy other activities such as jogging. Krieger says that he will continue his usage whatever the court decides to do. Iovinelli told The Week Online, "Grant is a man on a mission. He could have ended this quickly without the media coverage and low chance of conviction. He choose to see this all the way thought." "I'm in this for the long term; I'm hoping for the best," Krieger stated to the Lethbridge Herald. "This issue has become bigger than me and that's what I intended."
On October 19, Judge Bob Davie adjourned, allowing Iovinelli to gather information about the medical value of marijuana to present to the court. Rob Kampia, Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project told The Week Online, "For many patients marijuana reduces the spasticity caused by MS." Many multiple sclerosis users die from starvation after the stomach muscles tighten and don't allow them to eat. "Marijuana can relieve the muscle locking caused by MS in effect helping to stir an appetite for the patient."
"Krieger is a lamb being lead to slaughter to bring marijuana's medical value to national attention," commented Iovinelli. Krieger has been successful in his efforts as there has been national coverage of the trial and talk in parliament for a sub-committee on medical marijuana.
3. Private Researcher Plants First Medical Marijuana Crop
(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)August 27, 1998, London, England: The first private researcher to receive a federal license to grow marijuana for medical purposes planted his initial crop Monday. He will grow the plants at an undisclosed greenhouse research facility in the south of England.
Dr. Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, received permission from the federal government in June to grow marijuana for medical research. He announced in July that he will begin clinical trials to examine the therapeutic effects of whole smoked marijuana on multiple sclerosis patients, and discouraged efforts to synthesize medical compounds in the plant. "I don't see the value in taking apart something that seems to work at the moment," he previously told a House of Lords committee.
Private researchers in America who wish to follow in Guy's footsteps will be disappointed. Presently, only the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has permission to grow marijuana for research purposes. The agency almost exclusively limits it supply of marijuana to federal researchers hoping to determine harmful effects of the plant. In August 1997, a National Institute of Health (NIH) expert panel on medical marijuana urged NIDA to implement policy changes to expedite medical marijuana research, but the agency has refused to do so.
For more information, please contact either Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500 or NORML board member Rick Doblin at (617) 484-9509.
4. Media Alert: DARE Criticized in Houston
An article in the Houston Chronicle yesterday (8/27) reported that a Houston study had found the city's $3.7 million/year DARE program to be "only marginally successful" in discouraging young people from using drugs. Social Sciences professor Bruce Gay concluded "there is very little compelling evidence to suggest that the primary goal of the DARE program is being reached at a statistically significant level."
Nevertheless, Houston Mayor Lee Brown (former US Drug Czar) insists that "DARE does work," and has opposed efforts by some members of the city council to scale back the program. Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford also insists that the program works, and that they will be able to use the study results to find ways to make it work better. Brown is himself a former Houston police chief.
Please send letters to the Chronicle, asking why the Mayor and Police Chief prefer that Houston's children go through an ineffective program, when numerous more effective programs are available. Brown and Bradford's insistence on sticking with the less effective program is likely to result in higher rates of drug use among kids than could otherwise be the case. For example, a Washington think tank called Drug Strategies (http://www.drugstrategies.com) has published a report called "Making the Grade," which discusses 34 drug prevention programs and 14 general health programs available to school systems. Even better still might be "harm-reduction" based programs, such as that designed by Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (http://www.mamas.org).
One of the reasons that police like the DARE program is that it brings police into more contact with youth, which the police naturally regard as a positive (and which often is positive, though there are horror stories of DARE kids turning in their parents for drug possession, not realizing that it will result in the arrest of the parents, sometimes resulting in the breakup of the family). But in any case, the purpose of the program is to keep kids of drugs; building relationships between youth and police is a secondary goal at best.
You can read the Houston Chronicle article online at http://www.chron.com/content/chronicle/page1/98/08/27/dare_2-1.html (or go to http://www.chron.com and click on "news" if that link doesn't work). You may have to register for a free account before you are able to view the page. Send your response to [email protected], and be sure to include your name, mailing address and phone number. Letters to the editor typically need to be under 200 words to get published. As usual, please send us copies of your letters, to [email protected].
A substantial amount of information about DARE is available on DRCNet's web site at http://www.drcnet.org/DARE/. A DARE discussion group is hosted by Calyx Internet Access, at [email protected] (Send e-mail to [email protected] with the line "subscribe dare-list your name" in the body of the message, to join the discussion.)
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It has been said that Washington DC is the birthplace of "spin". But whether or not the practice of creative, interpretive media interaction originated in our nation's capital, nowhere has it evolved more completely into an art form.
Take the release this week of the results of the National Household Survey on Substance Abuse, which show that teenage marijuana use is once again on the increase. To those who are unfamiliar with the "all news proves we're right" school of Washington thought, it might appear that whatever it is that we are doing to combat teen drug use is not working. In fact, the truth, as promulgated by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, (and we know that he tells the truth because, well, he's a federal official working for the taxpayers for goodness sake) is that the numbers indicate that we are on exactly the right track, and that things will be great as long as we keep doing the same things... only more so.
In a press release from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) this week, Barry McCaffrey told the nation's media:
"This excellent study confirms the significant threat from illegal drugs to our children. We must face this threat head-on, which we intend to do. We embrace today's findings as further proof of the need to fully fund the National Drug Control Strategy."
In this, the opening paragraph of the press release, McCaffrey makes at least three important points:
1. There are kids in America who are using drugs.
2. It is important to disregard the fact that we have been trying to stop kids from using drugs for the past three decades or more, and focus on what we intend to do. That is, we intend to "face the problem head-on," so you just wait for the results of that collision before you make any judgments about our progress. And,
3. The rising numbers of kids smoking pot proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that our plan must be fully funded by Congress. Trust us, we have over 80 years worth of experience with prohibitionist plans just like this one, and we know what we're talking about.
It is interesting to note that McCaffrey, upon finding out that teen marijuana use is rising, actually said that he "embraces" the findings of the survey, so thoroughly does it prove that he is right.
Flash back one year to 1997, when the Department of Health and Human Services released the results of the Household Survey measuring drug use for 1996. That survey showed teen marijuana use leveling off after several years of steady increase. Not surprisingly, the administration's take on those results had a familiar ring.
".drugs are a sustained threat to our young people," McCaffrey said in a press release issued by HHS in August of `97. "That is why the President's budget increases funding by 21% for the number one goal of the National Drug Control Strategy: to educate and enable America's youth to reject illegal drugs..."
In the real world, people analyze the results of a study or a survey in order to find out what they mean and, thereby, what actions ought to be taken. In Washington, however, people are paid big money to find ways to spin the results to justify whatever strategy has already been decided upon. And since most of the strategies that the government employs cost millions if not billions of dollars, and since there are always several interested parties, including the agency whose budget the money will flow through and the private sector interests that will be enriched in the end, there is always a demand for people who can "give good spin."
So, to recap: If teen drug use goes down, it is because the government is doing the right thing and it is imperative that we continue to fund their efforts at ever-increasing levels. If, on the other hand, teen drug use goes up, it means that (pay attention, this is the tricky part) it is imperative that we increase funding for their strategy, perhaps under a new and improved title or a "four year" or a "ten year" plan which, of course, cannot be blamed for the current crisis since it will only go into effect once the new funding comes through. Got it?
The facts though, show that in every city and town in the country (outside of the beltway, of course), drug use rates, and especially teen drug use rates, have run in cycles wholly independent of how much money the federal government appropriates to the issue. In fact, with the monster's share of drug war funding from all levels of government going to enforcement, and with record numbers of arrests for even the most non-violent of drug offenses (85% of the record 640,000 marijuana arrests in 1997 were for possession), if the results of the Household Survey show anything, it is that we cannot possibly arrest enough Americans to scare teens off of marijuana. And that under Prohibition, and the black market that it inevitably engenders, we cannot keep it out of their hands either.
Teen drug use surveys are notoriously unreliable in their findings, but they are also tremendously important to those whose budgets and careers depend upon the continued prosecution of the Drug War. It makes no difference whether the numbers show a marked increase in use, a marked decrease in use, or no change at all. Any result can be spun to argue for more of the same failed strategy, and for more money to carry it out. This is, after all, Washington DC. And in Washington, more than any other place on earth, to the spinners go the spoils.
Adam J. Smith
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