(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #76, 1/29/99
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
As part of the $2.7 billion "Western Hemisphere Drug Elimination Act" signed into law last fall, researchers at the USDA's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) will receive $10 million to develop strains of mycoherbicides, or soil-borne fungi, that can be used to eradicate opium poppies, coca, and marijuana in the U.S. and internationally. The project, part of a $23 million package to enhance eradication strategies, was sponsored by Mike DeWine (R-OH) in the Senate and hailed by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) as a potential "silver bullet in the war on drugs."
Mycoherbicides have been used successfully in eliminating noxious weeds, and environmental groups have encouraged their development and use as alternatives to chemical herbicides. But experts warn of the risk of unintended consequences in unleashing genetically programmed fungi on the environment.
DRCNet spoke with George Wooten, a chemical ecologist with the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. "There is no silver bullet," he said. "Suppose this plan were not successful enough; we would have spent a lot of money with no results. But if it were too successful, we could end up with a situation where it killed the entire gene from the earth. And then we would no longer have a source of very valuable narcotics which are used to cure people. The risks are very high." Crucial pain relievers and anesthetics such as morphine are derived from the opium plant. Cocaine also plays an important, though more limited role in anesthesia.
Indeed, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the potential risks of enlisting mycoherbicides in the drug war. For instance, a fungus designed to eliminate only the target plant may work perfectly well in controlled experiments, but there seems to be no way to guarantee how it will behave in nature over time. One fungus deemed particularly promising in ARS reports is a strain of fusarium oxysporum, a naturally occurring outbreak of which has destroyed vast tracts of coca in Peru over the past few years. But other strains of fusarium are devastating to dozens of other crops, causing wilt disease in everything from melons to string beans.
Another concern is just how species-specific these mycoherbicides will be. Will a fungus have better luck distinguishing hemp from marijuana than the DEA?
"Because these narcotics plants are defined based on legal definitions, not biological ones," Wooten noted, "any nation who has a different concept of what should or shouldn't be a narcotic drug would be justified in developing such tools to fight their own particular noxious plants. This might include coffee, tobacco, or other plants that have a use in one country but are considered unacceptable in another. That's the scenario before us, and I don't think we can necessarily stop it. But for the government to fund it -- it seems to be a money thing. There's probably a USDA branch that's in dire need of funds, and this was seen as a positive way to go about solving problems they've recently had in licensing similar patents to confer herbicide resistance on plants. This is a way for the government to fund it, so that companies aren't incurring the financial risk."
A spokeswoman for ARS did not return calls requesting information on the status of the project.
DRCNet will continue to pursue this story. Meanwhile, read Jim Hogshire's "Biological Roulette: The Drug War's Fungal Solution?" appearing in the Spring, 1998 issue of Covert Action Quarterly. The Media Awareness Project has the full text at http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v98/n495/a03.html. ARS publishes research notes on its web site at http://www.ars.usda.gov/.
"This provision will do nothing to address the real problems associated with drug abuse, but will instead needlessly expand the scope of our nation's Drug War into a war on students' access to higher education," said Chris Maj, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Rochester Institute of Technology, the first college to obtain student government endorsement. "We are forming a coalition of groups within the RIT community who see a need for Higher Education Act reform. This coalition will then be approaching our college president and Congressional representatives."
"This law is discriminatory by nature, disproportionately affecting students of low or moderate income, since federal financial aid grants and work assistance are need-based programs," said Peder Nelson, student activist spearheading the effort that achieved in getting its student government endorsement at Western State college in Colorado. "We have also met with the president of our school and he's expressed support for our efforts. We are planning on sending out copies of our petition to our congressman and senators and beginning outreach to other Colorado campuses."
Western Connecticut State College students' association was the third to endorse the reform resolution. The effort was spearheaded by WCSU NORML, whose Dave Bonan is a member of the student senate. The resolution passed 19-2, with one abstention. (WCSU NORML is the sponsor of the annual Johnes Fest, taking place April 17 at the Charles Ives Center for the Arts in Danbury, featuring music and speakers.)
Student activists point to racial disparities in the enforcement of drug laws and a need for Higher Education Act reform. "African Americans comprise only 13% of drug users but make up about 55% of drug convictions, which will result in them being disproportionately affected by this law," comments Lauren Anderson, an officer of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
DRCNet is coordinating a Congressional lobbying campaign with the student effort, to get legislation introduced and passed that would remove the provision. Students will be taking an active role in the campaign by meeting with their representatives and building a broad base of support in their home districts.
To learn how to get involved in the national effort for HEA reform, call (202) 293-8340 or e-mail Kris Lotlikar at [email protected], or visit http://www.drcnet.org/U-net/ for further information. Also see our original story on the HEA at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/062.html#noloans.
Scott Ehlers, Drug Policy Foundation, http://www.dpf.orgThe federal government's latest proposed weapon in the war on drugs is the "know your customer" (KYC) rules, which were proposed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and other financial regulators in December, and are set to go into effect in April 2000 unless regulators change their minds or Congress intervenes. The KYC rules are being promoted as a way to fight money laundering, much of which is generated by the illicit drug trade.
According to the FDIC's notice in the Federal Register, "the regulation would require each nonmember bank to develop a program designed to determine the identity of its customers; determine its customers' sources of funds; determine the normal and expected transactions of its customers; monitor account activity for transactions that are inconsistent with those normal and expected transactions; and report any transactions of its customers that are determined to be suspicious, in accordance with the FDIC's existing suspicious activity reporting regulation" (FR, Dec. 7, 1998, p. 67529-30). Critics have characterized the new banking surveillance system as "Big Brother Banking" that effectively deputizes bankers as law enforcement agents and informers.
One critic is Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who devoted his Nov.`30 weekly column to the issue; Rep. Paul's article, "Privacy Busters: Big Bank is Watching" is available online at http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst98/tst113098.htm. Also see Wired Online's story by Decan McCullaugh at http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/17404.html.
Dr. Paul is on the House Banking Committee, and will soon be introducing three pieces of legislation designed to block implementation of the KYC rules and protect Americans' financial privacy. Under his "Know Your Customer Sunset Act," the KYC rules would cease to be effective upon passage. His "Bank Secrecy Sunset Act" would repeal the Bank Secrecy Act one year after passage. Finally, his "FinCEN Public Accountability Act" would allow citizens to have access to their records that are kept by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is part of the Treasury Department. Dr. Paul believes that, if citizens can see their FBI files and can correct their credit records, they should also be able to do the same with their FinCEN records.
The FDIC and other federal regulators are taking public comments on the KYC rules until March 8. A summary and text of the rules can be viewed online at http://www.bankinfo.com/compliance/newkyc.html. Comments can be sent to the following:
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
In Minnesota, lawmakers introduced hemp bills in both chambers of the legislature. State senate majority leader Roger Moe (DFL-Erskine), is the author of SF0122, which if enacted, would, "Classify hemp as an agricultural crop subject to regulation and registration by the [MN] commissioner of agriculture." This would allow people to apply to the commissioner to grow, "experimental and demonstration plots of industrial hemp." On the house side, Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) is the chief sponsor of HF0064, which is a companion to the Senate bill. Kahn told The Week Online, "Industrial Hemp is an important issue for an agricultural state like Minnesota. Minnesota was a large hemp producer in World War II. We've seen a dying base of knowledge about hemp -- and that brings an urgency to passing this bill."
A similar bill passed in both the Minnesota House and Senate in the last legislative session, but was vetoed by then-governor Arne Carlson. Newly inaugurated Governor Jesse Ventura has made several positive statements about hemp, but obstacles still remain. "A new hurdle [for the bill] is that Republicans now control the house," says Rep. Kahn, "and they voted in their last party caucus to oppose hemp legislation."
In North Dakota, HB 1256 , which would remove hemp from the states list of "prohibited noxious weed seeds," has already been approved unanimously by the Agriculture Committee. The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Dave Monson (R-Osnabrock) who has sponsored successful hemp legislation in the past. Chris Conrad, author of "Hemp: Lifeline to the Future" told the WOL, "we expect that legislators in North Dakota will be raising the issue a lot."
In Hawaii, HB 32 has been introduced on the heels of an endorsement of hemp by Governor Benjamin Cayetano, who thinks hemp production may be a boon to the economy. The bill would take the first step of instructing the University of Hawaii, Hilo to, "Study the feasibility and desirability of Industrial hemp production in Hawaii."
The most difficult obstacle in the way of any state wanting to grow hemp is the response of the federal government. "We obviously need the cooperation of the federal government." Stated Rep. Kahn, "Right now we are in a Catch 22 -- the feds won't move until the states move but when states do act, its somewhat meaningless until the feds come around."
Conrad largely concurs with this sentiment, "The big question is who is going to plant it in the soil. Whichever state does this is going to have a lawsuit from the federal government."
Despite these roadblocks, Conrad is still optimistic about the future of hemp in America, and expects more political candidates to be "hemp-friendly" in the next election cycle. "The more people continue to dislike Congress -- the better our chances of success in the 2000 elections."
The Israeli Ministry of Health appointed a six-member panel last week (1/20) to establish guidelines under which physicians in that country will be permitted to prescribe marijuana for medicinal use. The Committee, which will include physicians, public officials and jurists, will define conditions for which such prescriptions are appropriate, as well as safeguards to insure that the policy is not used as a loophole for recreational users.
Virginia's whirlwind legislative session has begun. Once again we are working with Virginians Against Drug Violence to hold the line against the expansion of the drug war and steer things in a positive direction. We request that residents of Virginia fill out our online registration form at https://www.drcnet.org/cgi-shl/drcreg.cgi so that we can let you know if you live in a key legislative district where your letter or phone call would make a special impact. We ask that all Virginians take a moment to act on this alert, as Virginia's legislative is very short and will be over before you know it. Contact information for the state legislature and places to get more information are included at the bottom of this article. Please send us a note at [email protected] and let us know what actions you've taken in response to this alert.
We are supporting the following four GOOD BILLS:
Last but not least, Lennice Werth of Virginians Against Drug Violence can be reached at (804) 645-7838, or e-mail to [email protected]. Michael Krawitz of VADV can be reached at [email protected]. There's lots of work to do, including opportunities to show your support or even testify in favor of drug policy reform and against the escalation of the drug war. Let Lennice or Michael know if you'd like to get involved!
100th Seminar! Thursday, Feb. 4, 4-6pm. Methadone in New York City: Past, Present and Future, Robert Newman, MD, president and CEO, Continuum Health Partners; Elizabeth Khuri, MD, associate professor of clinical public health and pediatrics and director, Adolescent Development Program, New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Medical College, Cornell University; and Peter V., methadone consumer, assess the evolution of methadone maintenance in New York City, including efforts to broaden availability, allow physician prescribing and incorporate harm reduction principles into methadone provision. Wine and cheese reception to follow.
Thursday, March 4, 4-6pm. Marijuana in Music, John P. Morgan, MD, co-author of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence (Lindesmith Center, 1997), surveys marijuana themes in jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, country western, rock, reggae, ska, rap, Hawaiian and Tin Pan Alley music styles. Morgan, professor of pharmacology at the City University of New York Medical School and adjunct professor of pharmacology and medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, draws on his experience as a disc jockey and member of the American Society of Ethnomusicology.
Thursday, March 11, 4-6pm, Hepatitis C and Harm Reduction, Sharon Stancliff, MD, medical consultant, AIDS Institute, and Dan Bigg, director, Chicago Recovery Alliance, examine the hepatitis C epidemic and implications for harm reduction practice. Stancliff reviews characteristics of hepatitis C, including epidemiology, prognosis, treatment and unanswered questions. Bigg analyzes the impact of hepatitis C on prevention work with injecting drug users.
Wednesday, April 7, 1999, 4-6pm, Illegal Leisure: Recreational Drug Use Among 1990s British Youth, Howard Parker, PhD, professor of social work at the University of Manchester and author of Illegal Leisure: The Normalization of Adolescent Recreational Drug Use (Routledge 1998), analyzes the contemporary youth drug scene in the United Kingdom. Parker, director of SPARC, a British social policy research center, examines the impact of drug law and policy on British youth.
Seminars are held at the Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues), 3rd Floor, New York City. All are welcome. Please call The Lindesmith Center at (212)548-0695 or e-mail [email protected] to reserve a place. Visit The Lindesmith Center web site, including an extensive online drug policy library, at http://www.lindesmith.org.
Feb. 18-19, Washington, DC. National Forum on Restorative Justice, sponsored by the Justice Fellowship. For information, visit http://www.justicefellowship.org or call (888) 870-9473.
March 2, noon, Albany, NY. Protest! Rockefeller Drug Laws, Capitol Building. For info, contact the William Moses Kunstler Fund, (212) 539-8441, e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.kunstler.org on the web.
March 21-25, Geneva, Switzerland. 10th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Association. For info, call 44 (151) 227 44 23, fax 44 (151) 236 48 29, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.ihra.org.uk/geneve/ on the web.
April 22-24, Chicago, IL. The 9th North American Syringe Exchange Convention, sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network and hosted by the Chicago Recovery Alliance. For info, call (206) 272-4857, fax (206) 272-8415, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.nasen.org/nasecix.htm on the web.
*May 12-15, Bethesda, MD (outside Washington, DC). The 12th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, sponsored by the Drug Policy Foundation. (May 11 evening legislative training session.) For further information, call (202) 537-5005, e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.dpf.org.
Location: The Lindesmith Center/Open Society Institute, 400 West 59th St., New York. For fees and info and to register, contact Vanessa Brown, Harm Reduction Training Institute, (212) 683-2334 x30, e-mail [email protected].
The November/December 1998 issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas (North American Congress on Latin America) includes a special set of articles, "Militarized Democracy in the Americas: Faces of Law and Order." The "war on drugs" figures prominently among the forces undermining civilian supremacy and civil liberties. The trend is affecting the United States as well as Latin and South America.
The Emergence of Guardian Democracy, by J. Patrice McSherry, notes that "Since the end of the Cold War, the Clinton government and the Pentagon's Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) have aggressively pushed the Latin American militaries to assume an expansive and multidimensional role in confronting drug trafficking, terrorism, insurgency, immigration and refugee flows," as well as other traditionally civilian functions such as conflict resolution, social welfare and environmental protection.
In "A Military-Paramilitary Alliance Besieges Colombia," Ricardo Vargas Meza examines the impact of coca eradication programs on the nation of Colombia, including deadly armed conflict and the environmental impact of chemical fumigation on the fragile Amazonian ecosystem.
"Deadly Force: Security and Insecurity in Rio," by Steven Dudley, describes how criminal drug trafficking gangs have positioned themselves as protectors of law and order and providers of employment in this city plagued by abject poverty. "Washington's Addiction to the War on Drugs," by Peter Zirnite, discusses the consequences and failure of the Andean source country strategy over the past 28 years.
"Militarizing the Border Patrol," by Carol Nagengast, discusses the confluence of the drug and immigrant wars at the US-Mexico border, and the sharp increase in use of the military and the adoption of military-style equipment and tactics by the civilian Border Patrol agency. Nagengast's article takes us from the May 1997 shooting of 18 year-old Esequiel Hernandez by U.S. Marines in Redford, Texas, to Amnesty International's documentation of increasing violence and civil rights abuses by the Border Patrol against men, women and children, to the American Friends Service Committee's Immigration Law Enforcement Monitoring Project in Texas, Arizona and California. The article also discusses Low Intensity Conflict strategies, the involvement of the military in peacetime operations at multiple levels within society, and the adoption of military-style practices by civilian law enforcement. LIC presents a growing threat to the traditional separations between civilian and military institutions -- there is now even a periodical titled "Low Intensity Conflict and Law Enforcement." Anti-drug missions are an explicit function of LIC military doctrine.
Another article in this issue of the NACLA Report discusses the wave of deportations, in some cases to dangerous countries, of low-level nonviolent offenders. Drug offenders are among the most frequently deported, and there is no judicial review process or discretion on the part of any agency.
This issue, Volume XXXII, No. 3, November/December 1998, might still be available at some newstands or bookstores. If not, call NACLA at (212) 870-3146, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.nacla.org for ordering and subscription information.
This week, Republicans, led by Representative Mike DeWine (R-OH), held a news conference to introduce their newest piece of omnibus drug legislation, "The Drug-Free Century Act." True to form, the bill proposes more spending on enforcement, longer sentences and more money for foreign interdiction efforts. Protecting children was once again a major theme of the day, as was the Republicans' insistence on bringing mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powder cocaine into line by reducing the amount of powder required for an offender to qualify for a five or ten year vacation courtesy of the federal government.
The absurdity of creating harsher sentencing schemes in the name of protecting children, in the face of all evidence against their effectiveness in limiting kids' access to a particular substance was lost on legislators, despite the fact that DeWine himself offhandedly pointed this out. In discussing the crack vs. powder sentencing disparity, DeWine said that we must send "the right signals" both to our youth and to those who sell drugs. He called crack cocaine extremely dangerous "and frankly, easily accessible" to kids, but went on in the next breath to state that he and his colleagues were committed to protecting children by bringing sentences for powder into line with the tough penalties for crack.
John Ashcroft (R-MO) followed DeWine and spoke about methamphetamine, the use of which is exploding in the West and Midwest. Ironically, the penalties for methamphetamine already equal those for crack cocaine.
Clearly, we have passed the point where even the drug warriors are listening to their own rhetoric. DeWine had it right, crack cocaine, its declining popularity among young people notwithstanding, is easily accessible despite the fact that it's possession and sale is punished as harshly as any other illicit substance. In other words, if the idea is to keep the drugs away from children, enforcement and punishment, no matter how draconian, has proven to be an abject failure. If, on the other hand, the idea is to lock up as many young, poor, non-violent and mostly non-white low-level dealers and users as is humanly possible, the strategy has been a raging success. Today in America, one in three young black males is under the supervision of the criminal justice system. It is certain that the booming prison industry, as well as the prison guards' unions and the police lobby think that the Drug Free Century Act is just dandy.
For parents and other taxpayers, however, the time has come to demand an accounting from our leaders. In the text of the 1986 crime bill, it was declared that America would be "drug-free" by 1995. At zero-minus four years, America is not only far from being "drug-free," but our children have greater access to drugs, are being used and placed in mortal danger as informants, are being locked up, and are being inundated with more useless rhetoric masquerading as "drug education" than at any time in this nation's history. Today's phony debate between the Clinton White House and their "ten-year plan" and the Republican leadership and their "Drug-Free Century Act" is yet another exercise in rearranging the deck chairs, while continuing the practice of lining the pockets of their contributors in drug war-related industries.
We have been at this drug war for a very long time now. But hundreds of billions of tax dollars and millions of wasted lives later, our children, not to mention our Bill of Rights, are in greater danger than ever before. Unless and until the American public takes a good hard look at the Alice in Wonderland nature of our drug policy, there will be no end in sight. When leaders of Congress can stand straight-faced in front of the TV cameras and earnestly state that the drug policy that America needs centers on increasing penalties for powder cocaine -- or anything else -- to the same level as we have long required for crack cocaine, something is seriously wrong. Because in spite of the hundreds of thousands of years in sentences that have been handed down to crack offenders over the past decade, the stuff, in the words of warrior Mike DeWine himself, is still "easily accessible" to our kids. Listening to this nonsense makes it abundantly clear that in the war room, the intellectual cupboard is bare.
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