(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #65, 10/30/98
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A study released jointly last week by The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch finds that 13%, approximately 1.4 million African American men, are ineligible to vote -- many permanently -- due to their criminal records. That percentage is seven times the national average. Overall, 3.9 million Americans have been disenfranchised.
Laws vary widely between states regarding a convicted felon's right to vote. 31 states restrict voting for those on probation or parole, while in 14 states, a single felony conviction can lead to lifetime disenfranchisement. In Arizona and Maryland, two-time offenders lose their eligibility for life.
Marc Mauer, Assistant Director of The Sentencing Project, spoke with The Week Online.
WOL: This report seems to have hit a nerve with people -- not unlike a previous Sentencing Project report which found that one in three young black males in America were under criminal justice supervision -- what kind of response has the organization gotten?
(The Sentencing Project/Human Rights Watch study, which is titled "Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States," can be found online on the Human Rights Watch web site at http://www.hrw.org/reports98/vote/. The Sentencing Project is online at http://www.sentencingproject.org. The third annual conference of the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy, a project that is affiliated with the Sentencing Project, will be held in Bethesda, Maryland on Nov. 12-14 -- for information, call (202) 628-1903, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.crimepolicy.org.
Pat Eymer, mother of three, was shot once in the shoulder when a group of officers broke down the door of her trailer home. Ms. Eymer -- whose children, ages thirteen, four, and four months, all witnessed the shooting -- was holding her four year-old daughter in her arms when she was shot. Ms. Eymer's thirteen year-old daughter passed out after seeing her mother shot. The .45 caliber hollow-point bullet destroyed most of the bone in Ms. Eymer's right shoulder. She is listed in stable condition, but is not expected to re-gain much use of her arm.
No guns or weapons of any kind were found in the home. The other three adults present, Ms. Eymer's husband, her cousin James Hinkle, and his friend Tammy Bedwell, were charged with "possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and use of a police radio in the commission of a felony." Mr. Hinkle, however, claims that there was nothing illegal in the home and that the evidence against them was planted by police.
Both Hinkle and Ms. Bedwell told the WorldNetDaily Exclusive that the police search turned up nothing, and that a female officer took Ms. Eymer's purse outside only to return in a few minutes and comment to another officer, "it's been done." Ms. Eymer has not been charged.
"They absolutely found nothing on me or my girlfriend," Hinkle told WorldNetDaily. "They were totally in the wrong. They found nothing. He just shot her ass, OK? Straight up. Walked in the house, shot her."
(Latest article at http://www.worldnetdaily.com/exclusiv/981030_cover-up_in_sallis.shtml.)
On November 3, voters in five and possibly six states plus Washington DC will have an opportunity to vote on the question of whether patients who choose to use marijuana for certain ailments will be legally protected, or face arrest. Voters in California and Arizona decided in favor of patients in 1996, in both cases by wide margins, leading to a reaction resembling apoplexy by some elected officials.
Leading up to those elections, three former presidents, as well as Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and others came out strenuously against the initiatives. In Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl, speaking on the floor of the Senate days after the election, claimed that his constituents had been "duped" and in the Arizona state house, legislation was passed which gutted the intent of Prop. 200. Arizona's citizens will vote on Prop. 300, a bill that would maintain the legislature's changes -- no on 300 would restore Prop. 200.
In California, the federal government stepped in, first to threaten doctors with loss of their prescription licenses and arrest if they discussed the benefits of marijuana with patients. After a federal judge issued a restraining order against those plans based upon first amendment concerns, the feds moved to plan B, shutting down patient cooperatives, arresting activists, and allegedly working behind the scenes with state law enforcement to defy the spirit, if not the letter of the California law.
This year, the U.S. Congress passed a "sense of the house resolution" against the medicinal use of marijuana. And finally, in an act which raises important constitutional issues, the Congress, as part of the District of Columbia's omnibus appropriations bill, forbade federal monies from being used for any DC initiative which would lower penalties for marijuana.
Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and former counsel to the House Subcommittee on Crime (1979-89), who said that the Constitutional implications of the provision are relevant for all Americans. "The fact is that the Congress has the power, once an initiative is passed in DC, to vote it down, nullifying its legal impact. But this act, to keep Washingtonians from even expressing themselves on the issue, seems to contravene the constitutional right of the people to petition the government for redress of their grievances. A prior restraint to interfere with the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances is something that every citizen around the country should be concerned about ... and wonder why providing marijuana to sick people could provoke such an extreme reaction by the US Congress."
The Colorado initiative has also run up against problems in the weeks leading up to election day. In that state, the Secretary of State, Vikki Buckley, initially announced that petitioners had failed to present enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. (They needed 52,000 and had turned in over 80,000.) That led to a court challenge in which it was determined that the count was indeed erroneous, and that the initiative should be on the ballot. An appeal of that determination led to a decision requiring that office to do a full line by line (rather than statistical sampling) count. Buckley later claimed that the new count also showed the petitions insufficient, and so the initiative was off the ballot. But backers of the initiative went back and checked the work again, and claimed to have found thousands of errors in the count, which they will present to the court late this week. At our deadline, it was still undetermined whether or not the citizens of Colorado would have an opportunity to decide the question for themselves. But other than that, proponents of the initiatives headed into their final week of preparations confident that they would win most, if not all, of the initiatives that did make it to the ballot.
Bill Zimmerman, director of Americans for Medical Rights, told The Week Online, "The polling, both our own and the polls done by TV and newspapers, indicate that the medical marijuana initiatives are running ahead in all five states and the district. But of course, our opponents are working hard to nullify the will of the voters in Colorado and also in Washington DC, which, I would mention, is not one that we have worked on. In the case of Colorado, our people have looked over the work that was done by the Secretary of State's office and have found ample numbers of signatures that were improperly disqualified, and so we are hopeful that we will be on the ballot. If not, we will seek redress through the courts."
Rob Kampia, Director of governmental relations with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington DC, has been working on the DC initiative for several months. He told The Week Online that he was "appalled but not surprised" that Congress used the backdoor of the appropriations bill in an attempt to deny the citizens of the nation's capital a chance to be heard on the issue. "This will not be successful," Kampia said. "For a representative from Georgia (Bob Barr, R-GA), three days before he goes home, to essentially legislate the people of Washington DC out of their own local decision-making process is a stunning indication of just how meaningless freedom and democracy are, as concepts, to many members of the House. This vote will be counted, and all necessary steps will be taken to make sure of that."
(Medical marijuana initiatives are on the ballot in Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Oregon will also vote on recriminalization of marijuana and Arizona will vote on broader drug policy reform measures. Detailed info on all the initiatives is available online at http://www.drcnet.org/election98/.
As noted above, DC's I-59 has already met opposition in Congress, with Election Day still four days away. Supporters of the initiative are considering how they will assure that I-59 is counted and enacted, despite anti-democratic forces in Capitol Hill.
I-59, like the other medical marijuana bills, provides protection from arrest and prosecution to seriously ill or dying patients whose doctors have recommended it for primary treatment or as a mitigation against side effects of other treatments. It would prohibit discrimination or retaliation of any form against any physician who recommended the use of marijuana, and protects their identities, and would permit possession, acquisition and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana destined to be used solely by the patient for their medical needs. The bill allows patients to designate up to four primary caregivers to act as their agents in securing marijuana solely for the patient's medical needs, as well as to organize and operate not-for-profit corporations for the express purpose of providing patients with their medically-necessary marijuana. I-59 also provides that the use of medical marijuana will be no defense against any criminal actions of violence, driving under the influence, or public endangerment, would require that the District's Director of the Department of Health submit a plan within 90 days that for providing safe and affordable marijuana to Medicaid patients, and asks that the District Mayor formally request, on behalf of District citizens, the development of a federal framework for legal provision of medical marijuana.
I-59 has been endorsed by the Democratic, Republican and Statehood party candidates for Mayor, and by most of the City Council members, with the exception of the member from Ward Six in troubled Southeast Washingtonm who has said she believes that medical marijuana would increase problems with the already-pervasive open-air drug markets of Washington.
Perhaps predictably, DC Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has voiced his opposition to the initiative, stating that he felt it was inappropriate to allow voters to decide medical issues best left to scientific regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration. But in a surprising announcement this week, the National Black Police Association publicly endorsed the measure.
Though there has been little organized public opposition to the bill, a rider attached to the 1999 DC budget, by Congressman Robert Barr, a Georgia Republican, prohibits the use of District funds to conduct and certify a vote on medical marijuana. The ballots had already been printed when the provision went into effect; however, there is still concern that the District government could be prevented from certifying a count of the votes next week.
Wayne Turner of ACT-UP DC, the sponsors of the initiative, told The Week Online, "We'll be filing our case against the federal government tomorrow (Friday, 10/30). The ACLU has taken the case, and I want everyone to know that the votes will be counted. So we want everyone to go to the polls on Tuesday and cast their votes in favor of self-rule and the rights of patients. How dare they try to take away the rights of District residents to vote on this issue. If they thought they would win, the federal legislators would be down here certifying the votes themselves. But the fact is that they are going to lose, and lose badly, and so, being bereft of good arguments for their side, they have adopted a dictatorial strategy. 'To hell with the people, they can only vote if we agree with them.' But this is America, and it just doesn't work that way."
- Bear Wilner(DRCNet wishes to thank Bear for keeping our readers up to date on the goings-on in Oregon, where voters will decide on two separate marijuana-related initiatives. We hope that post-election, Bear will continue his valuable efforts for The Week Online and for the reform community at large.)
With just a few days to go before November 3rd, hundreds of thousands of Oregonians have already voted on the state's two marijuana-related ballot measures. Voting by mail is more prevalent in Oregon than in any other part of the US, and another initiative on this fall's slate seeks to make it the standard for every election, doing away with the voting booth altogether.
Still, there are plenty of voters left who do plan to head to the polls on Tuesday. Oregon's voter turnout rate, even in off-year elections, remains far above the national average. This is most likely an attribute that bodes well for the campaigns against Measure 57, which would recriminalize possession of under an ounce of marijuana, and for Measure 67, which would allow the medical use of marijuana under a caregiver's supervision.
These campaigns have taken to the airwaves in recent days, even as absentee voting has begun. One television ad against Measure 57 depicts two highly unsavory characters being released from prison to make way for newly convicted marijuana offenders. TV ads for Measure 67, financed by Americans for Medical Rights, feature Stormy Ray, a courageous wheelchair-bound activist, and chief petitioner Dr. Rick Bayer, among others. Meanwhile, anti-Measure 67 radio ads have just started to run, with former First Lady Barbara Bush making part of the pitch.
The struggle on the ground has also continued. Dr. Bayer and attorney Dave Fidanque of the Oregon ACLU debated top prohibitionist spokesperson Rob Elkins, police chief of the town of Molalla, before the City Club of Eugene recently. Eugene is the second-largest city in Oregon and home to the University of Oregon, and its daily and weekly newspapers have editorialized in favor of Measure 67 while opposing Measure 57. The debate was polite but revealing. Although vehement in his denunciations of the reform position, Chief Elkins was forced to make statement after statement assuring the listeners that his side was not out to lock people up, and that their minds were not closed to potential health benefits of marijuana -- they simply felt that the risks outweighed these benefits.
Although the state's largest newspaper, the increasingly conservative Portland Oregonian, made its endorsements on the anti-reform side, many other Oregon papers, such as the Albany Democrat-Herald, have joined Eugene's Register-Guard in calling for a Yes vote on 67 and a No vote on 57. The members of numerous citizen organizations, such as MAMA (Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse) have been putting in plenty of time on the effort. In general, Oregon appears to be poised to join California and Arizona in the camp of states where drug laws have been amended by the voters.
The New York State Court of Appeals dealt a blow to a controversial but popular tactic in marijuana enforcement last week (10/22) when it ruled that people arrested in reverse sting or "sell and bust" operations cannot be charged with criminal solicitation.
Police, who are forbidden from selling actual marijuana, generally use a substitute such as oregano when posing as dealers to arrest unsuspecting buyers. That eliminates the possibility of charging them with possession. And because there is no official penalty for "attempted possession" of marijuana, police had been charging arrestees with criminal solicitation. The court ruled, however, that the New York Penal Code stipulates that "a person is not guilty of solicitation when that solicitation constitutes conduct of a kind that is necessarily incidental to the commission of the crime solicited."
This language exists to insure that a person cannot be charged both with a crime and additionally with an act that is necessarily subsumed by the first charge. 54 defendants who had been so charged for their efforts to buy small quantities of marijuana from undercover officers had their cases dismissed.
Thomas Morse, the Assistant District Attorney in this case, insisted that the legal loophole would be closed and that it would soon be a crime in New York to "attempt to possess" marijuana. He told The New York Times, "We're going to move the halls of justice to the corridors of the Legislature. We hope to find a sponsor in the next session."
Peter Patmore, Attorney General of the Australian state of Tasmania, said last week that he favors a policy under which personal possession of cannabis would be legal. He called for public discussion of the issue so that a consensus could be reached before legislation is introduced, hopefully next year.
"My views on the issue are quite clear" he told The Examiner, an Australian newspaper. "Prohibition doesn't work, but there is no use having a debate which splits the community. We actually have more lenient laws in Tasmania on marijuana than in some other states, and if I can show the public a sensible approach to legal personal usage, where precious police time is not wasted, and otherwise law abiding citizens are not lumped with a criminal record, then we can take the next step."
As election day approaches, a report issued by the respected organizations The Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch indicates that 1.4 million, or 13% of all African Americans, are ineligible to vote due to their criminal records. The report is a stunning reminder of the long-term impact of the nation's escalating drug war in communities of color.
Intended or not, the fact is that the drug war has had a devastating impact on Black America. With its emphasis on arresting large numbers of people in order to justify its expense, enforcement will always be focused on poor and marginalized communities. It is in these communities that the drug trade operates in the open, making it far easier to sweep up dozens of low-level foot soldiers than to do the work required to arrest affluent whites whose drug deals, and drug use, occur behind closed doors.
In a previous report, the Sentencing Project found that on any given day in America, fully one third of all African-American males between the ages of 18 and 29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision. It is no secret that the Drug War has contributed vastly to those numbers during the past 15 or more years. African Americans comprise an estimated 13% of the nation's drug users, but make up 55% of those convicted of drug charges. Taken together, these stark numbers indicate that black men are being systematically removed from the workforce, from their families and from the voting booth. They are also being saddled with criminal records which make them easy targets for law enforcement and the justice system should they "get out of line" in any way.
If, as we dearly hope, these effects are unintended by the politicians who continue to pass harsher and harsher drug war legislation, their impact is no less ominous. By criminalizing large, almost unimaginably large segments of the black community, we have brought down official unemployment rates, forced women and children into positions of economic weakness and dependence, created prisons-as-jobs programs in rural, mostly white communities, collected surveillance data and developed networks of informants in black communities, taught a generation of young black kids that the government has coercive power over their lives, made adult males eligible for long prison terms for petty offenses or "disturbances" of any kind, and all the while whittled down the numbers of those who can make a difference at the ballot box.
In short, the drug war is well on its way to re-instituting the legal status that black Americans were saddled with in the dark days of our nation's past, that of non-persons. It is a tragic devolution, embarked upon in the name of protecting America's (mostly white) children. But the truth is that we will never arrest enough Black kids to scare white kids away from drugs. And that is all the drug warriors are really trying to do. Because if one in three young white males were "in the system," or if 13% of the white population were ineligible to vote, there would likely be armed insurrection in the streets. But of course, there is no danger of that.
So on we go, deleting our
most vulnerable and economically expendable populations from the employment
statistics, and the voting rolls, and the streets. It is a neat and
evil way of controlling an entire population. And until we as a society
are ready to face facts about the Drug War, to radically alter the way
we confront the issues of substance use and abuse, the numbers, telling
and disturbing as they are, are only going to get worse.
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