(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #63, 10/16/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
(visit last week's Week Online)
or check out The Week Online archives
DRCNet readers are often people who believe in many good causes and support, or are in some kind of contact with, many nonprofit organizations working on those issues. Many of us receive frequent pleas from good organizations, whether by e-mail as in our case, or by mail to our homes. Some will respond to requests from all groups in whose work they believe. But most of us have to pick and choose. How do we pick which groups we will support financially, which groups to which we pledge our loyalty and our commitment to action?
A good reason to support drug policy reform groups is that the number of people supporting our cause, whether at the major donor level or the member level, is still small compared with the numbers of people and level of resources available to most other issues. This is not to say that other issues don't need and merit your support. But in the drug issue you are in a position to make a big difference, because at this early stage you are one of the few.
For example, earlier this year, contributions from members added up to more than we expected, helping DRCNet to climb out the debt in which it had ended 1997, and paving the way for us to be able to hire our webmaster, Karynn Fish, and our membership coordinator, Kris Lotlikar, both of whom have done wonders to enhance the scope and professionalism of our operation.
But while major gifts have increased, member donations during this second half of the year have not kept pace with the excellent support you provided during the first half. Your contribution to DRCNet this month, be it $10 virtual membership, $35 to become a full member and receive a copy of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War, $100 to become a Friend or a monthly donation by credit card to continue to fuel DRCNet's work on a regular basis, in a real way will determine how many of our strategic goals we will be able to accomplish this year and early next year. Will we be able to continue to develop our soon to be announced web site on needle exchange, intended to be the most comprehensive source of policy-related information on that topic? Will we be able to continually work the net to increase our hit rates and bring in more and more new subscribers and supporters for the movement, or promote this newsletter to the media and our radio segment to stations, carrying the reform voice even further?
We have a corps of talented young people who have interned or volunteered here, and who are willing to work here part-time if only we can set aside the $80 or $100 a week that they are earning on their current jobs, and their help can produce much added value for the organization and the cause if we can make that happen. This is an amount of money that your small contributions can easily add up to, if only a few more of you decide to take that step and bring DRCNet into your family of organizations that you support one or more times a year.
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2. Federal Judge Orders Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club Shut Down -- City to Consider Providing Marijuana to Patients
Oct. 13, 1998: In what was called a surprise ruling, Federal District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Oakland's Cannabis Buyers' Club is not entitled to a jury trial on the issue of medical necessity, thus clearing the way for federal marshals to shut the club down as early as Friday evening, October 16. The club is charged with violating a previous injunction against distributing cannabis to its registered patients. Breyer ruled that patients would not face the requisite "imminent harm" necessary to the medical necessity defense.
"This decision will have a devastating impact on our patients," warned OCBC director Jeff Jones, "closing the Cooperative will force patients with AIDS, cancer and other debilitating diseases to turn to street dealers for the medicine they need."
Or perhaps not.
On Tuesday, October 20, the Oakland City Council will meet to determine whether or not to declare a state of medical emergency in reaction to the expected federal shutdown. They will also discuss possible courses of action, up to and including distributing marijuana themselves.
Council member Nate Miley spoke with The Week Online.
WOL: The council has been very supportive of the Oakland club. Can we assume that you are all comfortable with how it's been run?(Please call Congress and the White House and tell them to stop blocking the will of the voters and to cease their campaign against the medical marijuana cooperatives. See our alert at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/10-14.html for the details.)
3. Oregon Poll: Reform Positions Hold Lead
With campaigns across the
nation entering the homestretch, Oregon's No on 57 and Yes on 67 forces
began their radio and television advertising efforts this week. These
ads are supported by money from Americans for Medical Rights (Yes on 67)
and Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement (No on 57). While the opposing
side has certainly been fighting hard
Even before the ads began running, however, reformers were buoyed by results from a new poll. This statewide survey, released on October 11, was conducted for Portland's Oregonian newspaper and KATU-TV under the supervision of experienced local pollster Tim Hibbetts. It found that 54% of voters are opposed to Measure 57, which would recriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with 38% backing the proposed law. Measure 67, which would permit the medicinal use of marijuana within certain boundaries, was favored by 59% of voters, with 37% against.
State medical marijuana campaigns with web sites:
4. Pain Went Up Sharply Among Oregon's Dying in Late 1997
A statewide study found that family members of patients dying in Oregon hospitals reported a sharp increase in the level of pain suffered by their loved ones during November and December 1997.
The study's lead investigator, Susan Tolle, an expert in end-of-life care at Oregon Health Sciences University, told the Associated Press, "What made it happen? Is it still happening? We don't know." Tolle suggested it could have been heightened expectations about pain control from the publicity surrounding the political campaign over assisted suicide, nurses or pharmacists concerned about providing parge doses of pain medication and possibly hastening death, or doctors' fears from a threat by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to punish doctors who aid in suicide. The DEA's threat was leveled a week after Oregon voters voted to keep a state law permitting physician-assisted suicide in early November.
Skip Baker, President of the American Society for Action on Pain (http://www.actiononpain.org), told the Week Online that he believes the DEA is at the root of the problem: "I would say that it's the DEA that has doctors terrified of providing pain medication, not only to the dying, but to patients living with long-term chronic pain. I get letters almost daily from patients who are contemplating suicide because they can't get adequate pain medication from their doctors, and in many of the cases their say it's their fear of the DEA that keeps them from providing their medicine."
Ann Jackson, head of the Oregon Hospice Association, also believes there is a connection between the DEA threat and the increase of reported pain, telling the Associated Press, "I think that it's very likely that there's a connection here."
(Last July, DRCNet forwarded an alert on a federal bill that pstensibly was to allow the DEA to revoke the controlled substances licenses of physicians who prescribe controlled substances for assisted suicide. In actuality the bill would have set unrealistic limits on pain prescription quantities, the exceeding of which would trigger DEA scrutiny. A wide array of medical organizations opposed the bill, and their efforts under the umbrella group, Coalition for Effective Pain Management, succeeded in educating enough Senators and Representatives on the issue to prevent the bill's passage this year. Another fight is anticipated next year, and DRCNet plans to let our readers know how they can help get the DEA out of our doctors' offices. We also hope to provide a report on the Coalition's efforts next week.)
5. Swiss Okay Controlled Heroin Distribution
The upper house of the Swiss Parliament this week (10/9) approved a plan which will allow doctors to prescribe heroin to long-term addicts. The plan, which passed by a vote of 30-4, comes on the heels of a successful three-year trial in which 1,100 Swiss heroin addicts were offered regular access to the opiate in a clinical setting.
The results of the Swiss trial showed that among enrollees, homelessness and crime fell significantly, employment rose, drug use stabilized or declined, and many participants voluntarily entered treatment. (You can find the Swiss Report online at http://www.lindesmith.org/presumm.html.)
Opiate maintenance is a promising addition to currently accepted modalities for dealing with addiction, but it is also politically controversial. Soon after the results of the Swiss trial were released, the Australian government indicated that it was interested in launching a similar experiment. Just days before approving that protocol, however, Australian Prime Minister Howard nixed the plan. It was later revealed in the Australian press that the U.S. State Department had threatened to have the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy shut down Tasmania's legal opiate industry if the plan went ahead. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/004.html#blackmail for further background.)
But despite the pressure being applied by the U.S., at least three nations (Germany, The Netherlands and Great Britain) are currently in various stages of discussion or action with regard to heroin maintenance. Proposals have also been presented in Canada. In September, a conference on opiate maintenance was held at the New York Academy of Medicine that was attended by over 125 people from more than a dozen countries.
Ty Trippet, spokesman for The Lindesmith Center, a drug policy think tank in New York, told The Week Online, "This action by the Swiss reaffirms that governments can, in fact, deal rationally with issues such as opiate maintenance. The evidence is clear that stripped of political and moralist rhetoric, there is a case to be made for a whole range of modalities in dealing with addiction. The Swiss Parliament acted out of concern for their citizens, and after three years of clinical experience during their trials, there is every reason to believe that they have voted responsibly."
Switzerland itself faced an internal challenge to its burgeoning harm reductionist drug policy in September of 1997 when a group calling itself "Youth Against Drugs" placed a referendum on the ballot which would have sent the country back to a punitive, rather than a public health approach to substance use. That referendum was defeated at the polls, however, by a margin of 71% to 29%, giving Swiss officials the political leeway they needed to move forward.
The current plan is expected to take effect this Saturday and estimates are that at least 2,000 Swiss citizens will soon be receiving heroin legally.
6. Oklahoma Police Chief Threatens Harassment of Man Who Opposes the Drug War
Chet Olsen of Oklahoma City doesn't believe that escalating the drug war is an effective or rational policy. Mr. Olsen, in fact, wrote a letter which was printed in the September 3 edition of the Woods County Enterprise, a local newspaper, urging the town of Waynoka to reconsider its planned purchase of a drug dog. His letter sparked some interest, apparently, and the debate raged for some weeks on the letters page of that publication. Until October 8, that is, when John Fuqua, the chief of police in Waynoka, let it be known what could happen to those citizens who are not fully behind the War effort.
Chief Fuqua's letter to the editor included the following statement:
"Also a couple of my friends who work for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in Oklahoma City were so impressed with (Olsen's) letter that they told me they were going to contact Mr. Olsen and visit with him about his concerns."
Michael Camfield of the Oklahoma ACLU told The Week Online "This reference is an egregious violation of the First Amendment. The idea that Americans have an inalienable right to espouse views which are not held by those in power is the very essence of the freedom of speech. The chilling effect of this type of threat goes beyond the individual and impacts the community at large. How can the people of that town feel free to express their views if they believe, if in fact they've been told that the chief of police will have officers 'visit with them' if he disagrees with their positions?"
The Week Online contacted Chief Fuqua, who said, "(Olsen) called me after the letter ran and he was all bent. The guy obviously can't take a joke."
(Ed. - Fuqua may have been joking, but if so, it is not dissimilar to joking about bombs in an airport.)
7. Marijuana Ranks Fourth Largest Cash Crop in America Despite Prohibition
(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)
October 15, 1998, Washington, D.C.: Marijuana remains the fourth largest cash crop in America despite law enforcement spending approximately $10 billion annually to enforce prohibition, a new report from The NORML Foundation concluded. Nationally, only corn, soybeans, and hay rank as more profitable cash crops to American farmers.
"These findings clearly illustrate the failure and futility of marijuana prohibition," charged Allen St. Pierre, executive director of The NORML Foundation. "Marijuana should be legally controlled like any other legitimate cash crop."
The report, entitled "1998 Marijuana Crop Report: An Evaluation of Marijuana Production, Value, and Eradication Efforts in the United States," estimates that farmers harvested 8.7 million marijuana plants in 1997 worth $15.1 billion dollars to growers and $25.2 billion on the retail market. The report used marijuana's wholesale value to compare it to other cash crops.
"Had the author's calculated marijuana's total value to growers by street market prices, marijuana would decidedly rank as America's number one cash crop," St. Pierre said. Marijuana stands as the largest revenue producing crop in Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. It ranks as one of the top five cash crops in 29 others. Increases in state and federal spending since 1980 to reduce marijuana cultivation demonstrated little effect in limiting overall production.
The report bases its findings on Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) marijuana eradication statistics, a survey of state police eradication self-appraisals, and published marijuana price reports. Authors calculated marijuana weight and yield estimates based on a conservative ten ounce per plant model. Had the authors accepted the government's one pound per plant standard, 1997's marijuana crop would have been worth $26.3 billion to growers and $43.8 billion on the street.
The report also found that law enforcement eradicated over 237 million ditchweed plants in 1997 compared to only four million cultivated marijuana plants. Ditchweed, otherwise known as feral hemp, is non-psychoactive and has no retail value or market value to farmers. Nevertheless, it comprises more than 98 percent of all the marijuana eradicated annually by law enforcement.
The NORML Foundation is a nonprofit educational, research, and legal foundation that explores alternatives to marijuana prohibition. Its sister organization, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), published previous marijuana crop reports between 1982 and 1992.
Hard copies of the report are available upon request from The NORML Foundation. An electronic version of the report is available online from the NORML website at http://www.norml.org/news/index.shtml#story1.
8. Social Concern a Sign of Teen Drug Use? Ask Orrin Hatch
A 66-page booklet called "How Parents Can Help Children Live Marijuana Free," was published earlier this year by the Salt Lake Education Foundation. The pamphlet features a forward by Utah Senator and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Orrin Hatch. Included in the book is a list of warning signs for parents to be aware of which might indicate that their child is a marijuana user.
In the forward, Hatch urges parents to "carefully study this book... and look for the warning signs of any children who are using marijuana or drugs of any kind."
Among the "warning signs" of marijuana use, the book lists "excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, environmental issues, etc."
Feminism might also be suspect, as the pamphlet, on page 51, expresses longing for those happy days of yore when "teenage sons helped their fathers work the family farm" and "teenage girls helped prepare family meals, sew clothes and care for younger siblings."
The booklet was distributed to parents of children in the Salt Lake City school district.
A spokesman for Senator Hatch's office in Washington told The Week Online that Walt Plum, one of the book's co-authors, was an old friend of the Senator's who had asked him to write the forward which appeared in the format of a "letter to parents." Hatch's office could not confirm whether or not Hatch had actually read the pamphlet.
9. Car Seizure Law Upheld in Oakland
An Alameda County judge this week (10/8) rejected a challenge of an Oakland ordinance which allows the city to confiscate the cars of alleged drug buyers and people who do business with prostitutes.
The case involved a woman whose car was seized after a friend of her husband attempted to buy drugs while using the vehicle. The woman was not present at the time of the man's arrest.
The challenge, mounted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in July, charged that the ordinance violated the spirit of California law, which they said implied that only the state should be able to seize vehicles. Superior Court Judge Henry Needham Jr. disagreed.
Oakland Deputy City Attorney Marcia Meyers told The Week Online that community support for the new law was so strong that the proceeding had to be moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate spectators. Those spectators were thrilled with the decision.
"You've got to understand that in parts of Oakland, entire blocks have become open air drug bazaars. For people living in those communities, it's impossible to let their kids out of doors, or even to be assured of their own safety" Meyers said. "It's at the point where one block will be known for heroin, another for meth, another for crack... and with the prostitution, why should an elementary school kid have to be confronted with someone bargaining for, or even having sex on his block. It's quite apparent that arresting a whole bunch of low-level dealers hasn't impacted these communities one bit. By creating this pressure on the consumers of these goods, on the demand side, we have seen some results."
Individuals who have their cars seized have only ten days to file a claim with the city for a hearing, otherwise their cars automatically become property of the city. The fee for filing the claim with the court is $193.
Tom Gordon, executive director of Forfeiture Endangers Americans' Rights (FEAR) told The Week Online "Over 80% of the Americans who have property seized are never charged with criminal conduct. Most of these laws are simply an excuse for governments to take possession of private property. There are plenty of laws on the books to punish people for wrongdoing."
"Another troubling aspect of these laws is the fact that a person has a very short time to respond. Usually, as in the Oakland ordinance, they have ten days before they lose all rights to their property. Add to that the fact that once they do respond, they will have to hire a lawyer, out of their own pockets, to represent them, and that the burden of proof is on the citizen rather than on the government, and you begin to understand why 90% of forfeitures are never contested. The government not only wants your property, they want it without having to justify their actions."
Meyers told the San Francisco Chronicle that her office has been inundated with calls from other cities who would like to pass similar ordinances. And being that the decision might well clear the way those cities, Oakland's chief of police, Joseph Samuels, warned in the Chronicle that "(this law) will be coming to a neighborhood near you."
(You can find FEAR online at http://www.fear.org.)
10. "Driving While Black" Lawsuit Grows
Seven new plaintiffs have joined the American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit against the Maryland State Police for race-based selection of African American motorists for traffic stops, and the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a Friend of the Court brief in support of the plaintiffs. Read more about it on the ACLU web site at http://www.aclu.org/news/n100898a.html, and check out the rest of the ACLU's redesigned web site, including their new drug policy section.
A report, conducted by the University of North Dakota on the potential of industrial hemp as a cash crop can now be found online at http://agecon.lib.umn.edu/ndsu/aer402.html.
12. EDITORIAL: Putting People Before Ideology
This week in Switzerland, the upper house of Parliament voted 30-4 to allow doctors to prescribe heroin to their addicted patients. The measure comes on the heels of a successful three-year experiment in which 1,100 Swiss addicts were given access to the drug under clinical supervision. The experiment was, by all accounts, a success.
A success, that is, if you define that term by measures such as a decrease in crime, an increase in employment, stable lives, greater numbers of people voluntarily entering treatment, reduced rates of disease, increased overall health, a near-total elimination of homelessness and lower overall economic costs to the state. And oh, not a single overdose fatality.
In the eyes of American drug warriors, however, the experiment was a harrowing failure. Driven by both an ideological fanaticism that demands abstinence from every individual at any cost, and by the dollars which flow from their increasingly punitive and expansive war effort, they see no virtue in any process that undermines either. In fact, within weeks of the end of the three-year trial, the U.S. Senate held hearings with the title, "Legalization and the Failure of the Swiss Heroin Experiment."
Fortunately, the good citizens of that country were listening to the facts, and had little interest in political bluster from across the pond. Within weeks of the release of the heroin maintenance report, Swiss voters, by a 71-29% margin, told their government to move forward with just this type of drug policy, one that puts people over ideology. And in the aftermath, governments across the world have begun debating, in some cases even undertaking, their own trials. And now, in Switzerland, the only nation in the world with scientifically-controlled data on the impact of allowing addicts access to heroin, the upper house of Parliament has given doctors a green light to make this an option for their patients.
The U.S. State Department, which has gone so far in the recent past as to blackmail Australia out of starting its own maintenance experiment, has yet to comment on the new Swiss law. But it doesn't really matter anymore, does it? Because despite the best efforts of American "diplomacy," the rest of the world is finding its own definitions of success. And with greater frequency, they are definitions borne of humanity and pragmatism. These definitions of success do not require the state to drive people underground and to treat a whole segment of its society like animals, putting them in cages, for their failure to live up to the State's dictates on the composition of their bodily chemistry.
It's over, of course. The drug war is crumbling around the U.S., which try as it might will not long be able to ignore the results attained in other trials and by other reforms in civilized nations around the globe. And if it seems that drug policy reform is the farthest thing from anyone's mind in Washington, D.C., where oral sex is far more interesting, and easy to pontificate about, than the complexities of the global economy or the failure of our drug policy, don't worry. It will happen. Because very soon the American public will have plenty to compare it with. And when that happens, American politicians will find that their definition of success doesn't ring true with their constituents either.
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