The Week Online will take a one week hiatus next week, for the Thanksgiving holiday, and will return on December 4. If you are looking for something to read in the meantime, try browsing some of the many documents in the DRCNet Online Drug Policy Library at http://www.druglibrary.org. One of our favorites is The History of the Marijuana Laws, a speech by Prof. Charles Whitebread of the University of Southern California School of Law, to the California Judges Association's annual conference, online at http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm, with links to many more important documents, including the full text of the 1972 Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, the Hearings of the Marihuana Tax Act and more. All of us, Dave, Adam, Karynn and Kris wish all of you a happy and a healthy Thanksgiving!
See article 8 for the winners of our Drug Crazy Giveaway Contest!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Federal Court To Decide on Legality of Testimony for Leniency Deals
In what has the potential to be one of the most important legal decisions of the century, the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Tuesday (11/17) in the case of U.S. v. Singleton. The issue to be decided is whether prosecutors are committing bribery when they exchange cash and or leniency for testimony in criminal cases. A sampling of federal criminal cases by the Dallas Morning News found that such testimony was used in 86% of those trials. If the court finds that such deals are illegal, it could affect the status of hundreds of thousands of cases and convictions. Federal officials are understandably concerned.
Leniency deals are particularly important to the prosecution of drug cases, in part due to the consensual nature of most drug offenses and the lack of a "complaining victim". While the exact numbers are unknown, experts claim that it is likely that thousands of Americans are currently incarcerated on the word of an informant alone.
Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, an organization of drug war prisoners, family and friends, told The Week Online, "While no one is keeping statistics on this, it is safe to say that there are thousands upon thousands of cases in which the word of an informant is the only evidence against someone who is serving jail time. There are even more people who plead guilty, and who serve five, eight or ten years in prison rather than face 25 years or more, once they are threatened by prosecutors with the prospect of this type of bought testimony."
Callahan continued, "The government wins 97% of all of the drug cases that they bring to trial. That success rate is higher than for any other type of offense. The reason for this is that if you are prosecuting, say, a murder, you need real evidence, you need motive. In a drug case, the motive, which is either money or drugs, is assumed. All the government really needs is one person who is willing to get on the stand and tell the government's story in exchange for their freedom."
The case at bar involves Sonya Singleton, a 25 year-old mother of two, who was sentenced to four years in prison for her alleged part in a cocaine distribution/money laundering operation. Prosecutors claimed that Ms. Singleton helped to wire some of the money, which she denies. The only witness for the government who identified Ms. Singleton as part of the conspiracy was Napolean Douglas, a convicted felon whose sentence was reduced from fifteen down to five years in exchange for his testimony.
On appeal, Singleton's attorney, John Van Wachtel, argued that federal law, which forbids the exchange or offer of "anything of value" to a witness in return for testimony, applies to prosecutors, as well as to defense lawyers. A three-judge panel of the 10th circuit upheld the appeal. That decision was put on hold just ten days later by decision of the entire 12-member court, pending review.
"In Ms. Singleton's case, the testimony came from an alleged co-conspirator," Wachtel told The Week Online. "My client was twice offered leniency in exchange for her testimony. The first time they (federal prosecutors) approached her, she was twenty years-old. She was told that if she testified, they'd drop charges, but if she refused, they would put her in prison for twenty-five years and that she'd lose her kids. Both times she told them that she knew nothing, and that she wouldn't lie and say she did. Ultimately, (Napolean) turned, and suddenly it's my client they're after."
While federal officials are deeply concerned about the outcome of the case and its implications, Wachtel told The Week Online that exchanging prosecutorial favors for cooperative testimony cannot help but corrupt the process.
"It is one thing to offer a deal in return for substantive assistance in the investigation. It is quite another to have someone testify, with the prosecutors standing over them, when the witness' freedom hangs in the balance depending upon what he or she says. It is an extraordinary incentive either to color the testimony to fit what the government wants to hear, or else to simply lie in exchange for one's freedom."
The three-judge panel that wrote the initial opinion on the case said that "Promising something of value to secure truthful testimony is as much prohibited as buying perjured testimony. If justice is perverted when a criminal defendant seeks to buy testimony from a witness, it is no less perverted when the government does so."
There is concern that with so much riding on the decision, either the full 10th circuit or the Supreme Court, where both sides believe the case will wind up, will make their decision not with regard to the law, but rather with regard to the impact that the current decision would have on the federal law enforcement bureaucracy.
The Dallas Morning News story quotes a member of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, who spoke with them on condition of anonymity, who said "If you read the 10th Circuit's opinion, it's well reasoned and easily supported by federal law. But the results would be catastrophic. What do you do as a judge in a situation like that -- follow the law or try to devise a way around it?"
Jack King, spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who filed an amicus brief and who were allowed ten minutes to argue in this case, told The Week Online that federal prosecutors are overstating the practical obstacles that the panel's original decision places in their path.
"They would just have to go out and investigate and gather evidence like the prosecutors do at the state level. An informant could still provide substantive assistance in that investigation, even in return for leniency. What the feds couldn't do would be to pay someone to testify, and then just sit back in the comfortable knowledge that their side of the story has been bought and paid for. They'd have to actually work to make their cases."
Late in the last legislative session, a bill was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would have exempted federal prosecutors from Article 18, Section 201. It is likely that the bill, or something like it, will be re-introduced in the upcoming session.
The Department of Justice declined to comment for this story.
(Attorney John Van Wachtel and NACDL spokesman Jack King were interviewed for the DRCNet weekly radio show, online at http://www.drcnet.org/drcnn/ -- check it out, and if you're motivated, shop it around to your local radio stations and get the word around!)
2. Amnesty International Report: Too Many Children Incarcerated in America
A report issued this week by Amnesty International takes the US to task for its high levels of juvenile incarceration and for the treatment of those children under the imposed supervision of the state. The report's introduction blames "the notion of the super-predator" for a host of short-sighted policies and conditions representing a breach of international standards on the treatment of children.
Among Amnesty's findings are that 200,000 children per year are prosecuted in general criminal courts, with an estimated 7,000 of those children held in jails before trial. Over 11,000 children are currently being housed in prisons and other adult correctional facilities.
While it is the image of the sociopathic child which seems to drive new juvenile justice legislation, such as the effort to have more and more children tried as adults, in 1995, more than half of children whose cases were transferred out of the juvenile courts were charged with non-violent offenses.
Jason Zeidenberg, policy analyst with the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which provided some of the research for Amnesty's report, told The Week Online that the United States is the world's most prolific jailer of children.
"The US puts more of its children behind bars than any other nation on earth. To give you a comparison, the U.S. has more than five times the number of incarcerated children as India, a country of nine hundred million people."
Further, Zeidenberg argues, children who are incarcerated, even in juvenile facilities, are more likely to re-offend, and have worse future economic prospects than those who receive alternative sentences.
"Children who have been incarcerated are three times more likely to re-offend within the next year as children who are sentenced to alternatives to incarceration. Such alternatives can include counseling, community service, reparations and a whole host of others. Also, all of these alternatives are much less expensive than incarceration."
Amnesty's report also notes that despite international standards which preclude the use of solitary confinement for children, the practice is all but standard in the US. The report cites a 1992 national study which found nearly 89,000 cases in which a child was placed in solitary confinement for more than 24 hours.
Those children who end up in adult institutions, however, have it worst of all. Children in adult institutions are eight times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to be raped, and three times more likely to be beaten by staff than are children in juvenile facilities.
"The very act of placing a child into an adult facility, often integrated into an adult criminal population, makes it likely that the child will accumulate physical, emotional and psychological scars that will last a lifetime. Imprisoning children in this manner is an act not of rehabilitation, but rather of debilitation."
The Juvenile Justice Bill, introduced in the last session of Congress, would have mandated that children as young as fourteen be transferred by states into their adult justice systems for certain categories of crimes including certain drug crimes. And while that bill never made it out of the House, Zeidenberg says that some version of juvenile justice legislation can be expected in the next session.
The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice and many of its reports are online at http://www.cjcj.org. The Amnesty International feature section on Juvenile Justice is online at http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/juvenile/.
(Jason Zeidenberg was interviewed for DRCNet's radio show, online at http://www.drcnet.org/drcnn/.)
3. Government Health Officials Deny Marijuana and Pain Study, Again
(reprinted from the NORML Weekly News, http://www.norml.org)
November 19, 1998, Washington, DC: Federal health officials rejected a scientific proposal last week to conduct research on marijuana's effectiveness as a pain reliever in human patients. The denial marked the second straight year National Institute of Health (NIH) officials refused to sponsor human trials regarding marijuana's analgesic potential.
"There remains a remarkable disconnect between Washington bureaucrats who oppose any rational debate on the medical marijuana issue, and those doctors, nurses, and patients who strongly support research and therapeutic access to marijuana," said NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre. "It is disturbing that NIH officials would deny legitimate medical marijuana research only days after voters in seven states overwhelmingly affirmed their support for the use of marijuana as a medicine."
Neurologist Ethan Russo, M.D. of the Western Montana Clinic sought federal permission to compare smoked marijuana to synthetic THC and an injected painkiller in acute migraine treatment. Russo has attempted since 1996 to obtain official clearance to conduct an FDA approved clinical trial evaluating marijuana's therapeutic value on migraine patients. He recently authored an authoritative review of marijuana's history as a treatment for migraine in the peer reviewed journal Pain, the official publication of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
"I am disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to study this important clinical issue this year," said Russo, who speculated that as many as 10 million migraine sufferers could potentially benefit from inhaled marijuana. "Our bureaucrats seem hopelessly mired in political place. They are ignoring the science, as well as the rising tide of public opinion that is clamoring for clinical studies of cannabis."
In the past year, a growing body of medical evidence has emerged indicating marijuana's effectiveness as a pain reliever. At the 27th Annual Meeting of Neuroscientists, researchers announced, "Substances similar or derived from marijuana... could benefit the more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year." Recent animal studies demonstrate marijuana constituents relieve pain on par with those of opiate-based drugs like morphine. Some researchers maintain that the use of cannabinoids like THC and other chemical compounds found in marijuana do not appear to carry the risk associated with the use of opiates, such as addiction and tolerance.
Russo's latest rejection comes more than one year after a NIH expert panel recommended federal health agencies implement policy changes to expedite medical marijuana research. So far, no visible changes have been made.
"It remains federal officials -- not voters or the medical community -- that continue to thwart the use and study of marijuana as a legal medicine," St. Pierre said. "In 1982, the National Academy of Sciences strongly recommended the federal government to undertake definitive scientific studies to determine marijuana's therapeutic value. It is a morally unconscionable that 15 years later, we are still battling to allow this research to take place."
4. Swiss To Vote on Drug Legalization
On November 29, Swiss voters will have an historic opportunity to reject the international drug war. On that date, Swiss citizens will vote up or down on "Droleg", short for the Swiss words for Drug Legalization.
The proposal was submitted in 1993 by a group calling itself "Initiative for a Reasonable Drug Policy." By November, 1994, the group had turned in over 107,000 signatures, qualifying it for the ballot. The government, which has up to ten years to review an initiative, did so and placed it on the ballot.
The language of the initiative is direct. From its opening statement, "The consumption, possession and purchase of narcotics for personal use are exempt from punishment," and throughout its text, calling for the government to establish regulations and necessary licenses for a controlled market, and for the revocation of all international agreements and treaties which would prohibit the initiatives terms.
This is not the first time that Swiss voters have been asked to direct their nation's drug policies. Last year, Switzerland's voters rejected, by a margin of 71% to 29% an initiative which would have stopped the nation's progressive direction on drug policy in its tracks and reestablished a purely punitive regime.
Philip Coffin, a researcher with The Lindesmith Center, a New York-based drug policy think tank, told The Week Online that while the Swiss initiative would be a large and historic step, it would be even more so in a country like the US.
"I think that before a society would be ready to consider the total separation of the issue of substance use from the law enforcement model, that society would first have to experience a shift in paradigm regarding how it thinks about substance use itself. The Swiss are obviously light years ahead of Americans in terms of thinking about drug abuse as a health issue. They've had an excellent experience with opiate maintenance. They're preparing a proposal at the federal level to regulate the sale and possession of cannabis by adults. How deeply that paradigm shift has taken hold, we shall have to wait and see."
Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that if Switzerland were to go it alone in bucking the global drug war, care would have to be taken to avoid the problems of drug tourism that have plagued The Netherlands, where personal possession and use of drugs is tolerated, but not technically legal. They believe, however, that a regulated market would eliminate so many problems, including the ease of access that the black market affords to children, that the switch would be worth the work. The federal government, on the other hand, is officially opposed to the initiative, not because they are enamored with the drug war, but because the initiative "goes too far," and perhaps, in a nation that is already on the path toward legalized cannabis and medicalized narcotics, just a bit too quickly.
But the issue is now with the voters to decide, and even Droleg's supporters aren't expecting miracles. "We will consider anything above 35% to be a victory" said Francois Reusser, a Droleg organizer. "We have to get more than the 29% that voted for stricter laws last year. But we really don't know how it will turn out. We may win."
Droleg can be found online at http://www.droleg.ch -- follow the link written in English for an English version of the initiative language and other information.
5. Australian Officials Call For Heroin Maintenance
Australia's long-debated heroin maintenance trial got a boost of support last week (11/13) from a group of state and federal politicians, who issued a call to Prime Minister John Howard to allow the trials to move forward.
The trial was all but set to move forward with apparent public support earlier this year when Prime Minister Howard canceled the plan at the last minute (see issue #49 at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/049.html#australia. Lord Mayor Dr. John Freeman of Hobart told the Australian newspaper The Advertiser, "We believe the politicians are behind public opinion" on the issue.
6. Methadone Support and Advocacy Network Request for Proposals (RFP)
The Drug Policy Foundation has announced the availability of a grant to foster the creation of a national Methadone Support and Advocacy Network. The Methadone Network is designed to encourage methadone supporters to identify and build consensus around policy issues that meet their own needs while providing decision-makers and other stakeholders with insight into both the effectiveness of methadone and the needs of methadone clients. The network will be comprised of consumers (past and present methadone clients), organizations founded and/or run by methadone clients, methadone providers as appropriate and related supporters of methadone and methadone clients (such as harm reduction organizations, needle exchange programs, other drug treatment consumers and supporters, families, friends and significant others of current and former methadone users). A grant award between $50,000-$100,000 is anticipated.
For further information, contact: Drug Policy Foundation, 4455 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 537-5005 (phone), (202) 537-3007 (fax), e-mail [email protected].
7. Philadelphia Bar Association Holding Medical Marijuana Forum, 12/1
A forum on the issue of legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association, will take place on Tuesday, 12/1, from 12:30-2:30pm at the Philadelphia Bar Education Center in Center City Philadelphia. Producers had hoped to present a balanced panel representing both proponents and opponents or medical marijuana, but all those invited from the federal government (Dept. of Justice and Office of National Drug Control Policy) declined invitations to speak.
Panelists will include:
3) Dr. John P. Morgan, a researcher at the City University of New York Medical School and co-author of the book Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts. Dr. Morgan will speak about medical research on therapeutic cannabis.
4) Robert Kampia, Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to full-time lobbying at the federal level on the issue of marijuana law-reform. Kampia will speak about the state of the reform movement in the US as it relates to marijuana for medicinal use from a policy perspective.
For further information on this event, contact Mariana Rossman, (215) 247-0074 (phone), (215) 247-0931 (fax), [email protected].
Thank you to the more than 900 of you who participated in our Drug Crazy Giveaway Contest. As promised, we are announcing the five winners in this issue. For privacy reasons we have decided not to include the winners' last names, but only the first name, last initial, and state or country.
We're sorry we can only give away five copies of Mike Gray's Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out. But we hope you will go ahead and buy a copy and read and support this important book, perhaps the best exposition of prohibition and the drug ever written for the popular audience. You can read the book's first chapter, endorsements, editorials by the author, online at http://www.drugcrazy.com -- follow the Buy Online link to purchase a copy though amazon.com, and DRCNet will earn 15% from your purchase. Better still would be to pick up or order a copy from your local bookstore -- maybe they'll order more copies or even put them in display!
One of the reasons we made this special offer was to learn more about our readers and what their interests are, hence the online survey included in the contest form. If you didn't enter the contest, but want to help us figure out how to provide more of what interests you, please visit the form at http://www.drcnet.org/contest/ and fill out the survey. We can't offer a book this time, but your participation in the survey will help us do our job better and bring our ultimate goal of a sensible drug policy closer to reality.
So, without further delay, the winners are...
John O., CaliforniaIf you are one of these five lucky winners, you have already been notified by e-mail. If not, maybe you'll win the next contest! Thanks again for participating, and thanks for being a part of DRCNet.
9. Editorial: Thanksgiving in a Time of (Drug) War
(Due to highly positive response, we are re-running our Thanksgiving editorial from one year ago, with a short note added at the end. You can here these editorials read in Adam's own voice, in DRCNet's weekly radio show, online at http://www.drcnet.org/drcnn/.)
As this is the last issue of The Week Online before the American holiday of Thanksgiving, we thought we'd leave our readers with a list of things for which to be thankful.
If neither you nor someone you love has had to decide between the relief of pain, the suppression of life-threatening nausea, or the loss of sight, and the prospect of risking arrest and conviction under state or federal marijuana laws, give thanks.
If neither you nor someone you love has had the experience of armed agents of the state kicking in your door, terrorizing your home's occupants and damaging your personal property, give thanks.
If neither you nor someone you love has contracted injection-related AIDS, or Hepatitis, because there was no legal source of clean needles for themselves or a present or past sexual partner or a parent, give thanks.
If neither you nor someone you love has been the victim of Prohibition-related violence or crime, give thanks.
If neither your child nor another child that you love has been lured by the siren song of the black market, or by gangs, or been shot at by a law enforcement agent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (and for being the wrong color), or been saddled with a life-long criminal record for youthful experimentation, or been banished from school for possession of an aspirin, or been tried in court as an adult, give thanks.
If neither you nor someone you love has had property taken by the state without so much as being charged with an offense, give thanks.
If neither you nor someone
you love has had to suffer the indignity of urinating in a cup, on demand,
If neither you nor someone
you love has sought drug treatment and found that it was unavailable to
If you and everyone that you love can go through this list and be thankful for each and every entry, know that you are among a shrinking group of Americans who have managed to avoid some of the most common consequences of the War on Drugs. But know too, that your tax dollars, in ever-increasing amounts, are helping to make the number of citizens like you smaller each year. So give thanks. But remember too that there is work to be done. Happy Thanksgiving.
P.S. In this time of renewed hope, we also give thanks to all of those who helped to make this past election day a turning point for drug policy reform, and all who came before them and who gave of themselves, their time and their energies to educate their neighbors on some of these important issues. We at DRCNet would also like to give thanks to all of you who have supported our work. We hope that if you have, you will continue to do so, and that if you have not, you will consider a small donation as the movement kicks into high gear. Together, with the truth, we will prevail. Thank you.