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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #78, 2/12/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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  1. As Certification Debate Nears, Mexico Declares "Total War" on Drugs
  2. White House Releases Drug Strategy Amid Criticism from Reformers
  3. New York State's Top Judge Calls For Rethinking of Rockefeller Drug Laws
  4. County Requests Federal Okay To Conduct Medical Marijuana Study
  5. Impact of the Closure of a Needle Exchange Program
  6. EDITORIAL: Young Entrepreneurs and the Culture of Prohibition

 

1. As Certification Debate Nears, Mexico Declares "Total War" on Drugs

As Congress and the President prepare once again to debate certification of the nations of the world regarding their perceived cooperation in America's Drug War, Mexico, the subject of fierce and bitter debate over the past several years has announced a $500 million two-year program to combat drug trafficking. At a briefing last week (2/4), high ranking Mexican officials announced that President Ernesto Zedillo is prepared to put "all the power of the law and the government" behind the effort.

Mexico has come under fire in Congress in recent years due to entrenched corruption and the fact that large percentages of the drugs imported into America are transported through that nation. Certification is the process by which the U.S. Government approves or disapproves of a nation's anti-drug efforts. De-certification carries a host of economic consequences including potential trade sanctions and restrictions on U.S. aid. Last year, under pressure from congressional Republicans, President Clinton de-certified Mexico but waived sanctions in the interest of national security. Certification decisions will be made in March. (See The Week Online's coverage of last year's certification debate at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/036.html#mexico and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/032.html#certification -- check our archives at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/archives.html for the recent history on many drug policy topics.)

Most of the money from this new initiative will be spent on new, high-tech hardware for the detection of drugs and drug shipments.

A spokesperson for Representative John Mica (R-FL), chairman of the house subcommittee on criminal justice and an outspoken opponent of Mexican certification in the last Congress, told The Week Online that the Congressman was taking an open-minded approach to this latest development.

"On the one hand, Representative Mica is pleased to hear the Mexican government say that it is committed to implement such an ambitious program and to make use of the technology that's available. On the other hand, however, there have been promises made in the past, when it turned out that the Mexican government was heavy on rhetoric but light on action. The congressman was briefed this morning on the matter and his attitude going into the certification debate is that he wants to wait and see what transpires."

Sources on the Hill have told The Week Online that drug policy is an area in which Republicans hope to gain traction against the Clinton administration this year. With rumors circulating about the impending departure of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, a towering and nearly unassailable figure due to his military record, drug war hawks are likely to feel free to take off the gloves in assailing the administration as insufficiently "tough" with regard to both domestic law enforcement and international interdiction efforts, despite the fact that Clinton has presided over the greatest increases in both interdiction spending and drug arrests in our history.


2. White House Releases Drug Strategy Amid Criticism from Reformers

Scott Ehlers, Senior Policy Analyst, Drug Policy Foundation, [email protected]

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its 1999 National Drug Control Strategy this week, calling for $17.8 billion to be spent in FY 2000. The request represents an increase of $735 million (+4.3%) over 1999's regular appropriations, and $1.1 billion (+6.5%) more than the projected FY 2000 budget included in last year's strategy. (See also "Clinton's New Drug Control Strategy Repeats Mistakes of Past," online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/077.html#strategy in last week's Week Online.)

The strategy is seeking to reduce illicit drug use and supply by 50 percent by 2007. Domestic marijuana cultivation should be reduced by 50 percent as well, and the Department of Agriculture will begin conducting annual crop estimates to track the government's progress in its efforts to eradicate the plant.

The plan received its usual lashing from reformers and Republicans alike, but drug policy reformers dominated the press coverage of the strategy's release. The Associated Press quoted Ethan Nadelmann of the Lindesmith Center (http://www.lindesmith.org) as saying, "Unfortunately, it's just another example of throwing billions of dollars down the bottomless pits of interdiction and failed prevention programs." The Washington Post quoted the Drug Policy Foundation as characterizing the strategy as being "hypocritical and disappointing," and Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (http://www.cjpf.org) as saying, "This is a betrayal of what the White House says it's doing, promising a balanced strategy when it is lopsided." Sterling was referring to the fact that 66% of the strategy's budget will go to law enforcement, prisons, and other supply reduction efforts, while only 34% goes to drug prevention and treatment.

Oddly enough, the only Republican response came from Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who criticized the White House for talking about prevention and treatment, but spending the vast majority of its budget on law enforcment. He told the Orange County Register, "My concern is that the president's budget priorities don't match the rhetoric from the White House."

One area of "prevention" that the White House is supporting is "countering attempts to legalize drugs" and "countering attempts to legalize marijuana" (p. 52-54). Much of the anti-legalization section is devoted to attacking harm reduction by mischaracterizing it as a ruse for legalization. According to the strategy, "The real intent of many harm-reduction supporters is the legalization of drugs, which would be a mistake... At best, harm reduction is a half-hearted approach that would accept defeat. Increasing help is better than decreasing harm." Assuming that the current policy is considered to be "increasing help," one might ask how prison, the refusal of college financial aid and education, forced joblessness, and the refusal to fund proven HIV-prevention programs like syringe exchange "increase help?" The strategy failed to address that question.

In regard to medical marijuana, the strategy claims that the "U.S. medical-scientific process has not closed the door on marijuana or any other substance that may offer therapeutic benefits," but that process cannot be subverted by state initiatives. The strategy also notes that "hemp cultivation would result in de facto legalization of marijuana cultivation because both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant..." But according to the strategy, a Department of Agriculture review of university studies shows that hemp is unlikely to be a sustainable, economically viable alternative crop, so, according to the government, there really isn't a need to legalize the crop.

In order to combat "encroaching efforts to justify legalization," the 1999 Strategy outlines ways to "counter the potential harm such activities pose." The countermeasures include: "informing state and local government as well as community coalitions and civic organizations about the techniques associated with the drug legalization movement" and "working with the international community to reinforce mutual efforts against drug legalization."

Will the Clinton administration begin educating community groups on how to counter Steve Forbes' efforts to create a federal flat tax? Will its next target be the National Rifle Association's attempts to allow citizens to carry concealed weapons? Or will changes in drug policy continue to be the only public policy reforms that the Clinton administration actively opposes with Americans' tax dollars? Stay tuned to find out.

The 1999 National Drug Control Strategy is online at <http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/policy/ndcs.html>. The Drug Policy Foundation's press release on the 1999 Strategy is located at <http://www.dpf.org/html/prstrategy.html>.


3. New York State's Top Judge Calls For Rethinking of Rockefeller Drug Laws

Judith Kaye, New York State's chief judge, proposed several changes this week to that state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, which are among the toughest in the country. Enacted in 1973, the laws were among the first mandatory minimum sentences ever enacted, requiring, among other things, a fifteen year minimum for distribution of more than two ounces or possession of more than four ounces of cocaine or heroin.

Kaye's proposal would allow appeals court judges to take into account the nature of the offense and of the offender in reassessing sentences handed down under the current scheme. The proposal would give the court of appeals the option of reducing a sentence to a five-year minimum.

"We do not presume to take on the larger policy issues," said Kaye. "But we do seek to address aspects of the law that can work unjustly, and to supplement the law with some of the lessons we in the courts have learned over the past decade on effective responses to drug based crime."

Robert Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, told The Week Online that while it was important for Judge Kaye to take a stand on the Rockefeller drug laws, her proposals left something to be desired.

"We who have been studying and chronicling the destructive impact of these laws are certainly pleased that Judge Kaye, a public official of great standing and a politically unassailable voice in the state, has called attention to the problems that the Rockefeller laws have caused. Unfortunately, her proposals were fairly weak in that they do not seek to rectify the primary problem with the laws, the fact that the sentencing judge has no discretion in these cases. It is well-known that in New York State, the political force behind the status quo are the upstate Republicans. From here, it looks as if Judge Kaye took politics into account in tempering her criticism.

"Judge Kaye, who ought to be speaking in the interests of her constituency -- the judges of New York State -- doesn't address the fact that the sentencing judge is not permitted to decide the threshold question: whether or not to incarcerate a particular defendant. Her proposal for the most serious felonies, in which 4 ounces are possessed of 2 ounces are distributed, is to leave it to the appellate court to decide if an injustice was done, and then to limit the court of appeals in their remedy. As for lower level felonies, she proposes that the sentencing judge have the right to divert an offender to treatment, but only with the blessing of the prosecutor. The problem here is that the prosecutor is still making the determination on sentencing, and this proposal codifies that system, which is an improper role for the D.A., and one that has led to numerous injustices in this state. Given the level of dissatisfaction with these laws among New York's judges, I'm quite surprised that Judge Kaye did not take a more forceful stand on these issues."

See our coverage of the Correctional Association of New York and Justice Policy Institute's recent report -- online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/069.html#newyork -- on the correlation between prison spending increases and educational spending decreases in that state.


4. County Requests Federal Okay To Conduct Medical Marijuana Study

article appears courtesy of the NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org

February 11, 1999, Redwood City, CA: San Mateo county officials will apply for federal permission to begin medical marijuana trials on human patients. Officials seek approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA is the only legal supplier of marijuana for research purposes.

Last year, the Redwood City Board of Supervisors appropriated $50,000 to conduct medical marijuana research. The proposed three-year study hopes to include between 500 and 1,000 patients.

County officials anticipate a federal response to their request by April 1, 1999.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, NIDA provided medical marijuana to state-sponsored research programs in seven states: California, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont. Through these programs, thousands of cancer patients found relief from legal marijuana cigarettes. NIDA discontinued supplying medical marijuana to these programs in the late 1980s, and most recently refused requests from the Massachusetts and Washington Boards of Health to allow those states to permit medical marijuana research.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.


5. Impact of the Closure of a Needle Exchange Program

Social scientists with the University of Connecticut, Storrs, have released the results of an empirical study on the closure of an established needle exchange, and its impact on the risk behaviors of the exchange's injection drug-using clients and the community-at-large. The study was conducted by sociologists Robert S. Broadhead, Ph.D., Yael Van Hulst, M.A. and Douglas D. Heckathorn Ph.D., funded by a multi-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study was released during a formal presentation by the study's authors at a colloquium series sponsored by the Yale AIDS Program on January 28, 1999. The study also appears in the February 1999 issue of Social Problems, a prestigious social science journal of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

Background

In April 1998, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, declared that, "A meticulous scientific review has now proven that needle- exchange programs can reduce the transmission of HIV and save lives without losing ground in the battle against illegal drugs." The Secretary was responding to a 34-member Presidential Advisory Council's review of scores of empirical studies on the effectiveness of needle exchange programs on reducing the risk behaviors of injection drug- using clients.

The study released by Broadhead et al. looks at the effectiveness of such programs from a different angle: It is the first empirical study of the impact of an established needle exchange's closure on injection drug users' risk behaviors, and on the community. The study was conducted in Windham, a small city in northeastern Connecticut where a state-sponsored needle exchange operated for several years serving several hundred injection drug users. The exchange was closed in March, 1997 following ten months of tumultuous public debate and controversy. The program's opponents succeeded in placing blame on the needle exchange program for virtually all of Windham's drug-related problems, and even the economic decline of the city itself. While not a perfect program, the exchange became a convenient and ready scapegoat by its opponents. Thus, like a storm, as the controversy began, gained in strength, peaked, and then blew itself and the needle exchange away, virtually all of the problems blamed on the exchange still remain in Windham, including a very large and active illicit drug scene.

Design of the Study

For three years prior to the closure of the Windham needle- exchange, the Eastern Connecticut Health Outreach (ECHO) project, directed by the researchers, conducted 330 initial and 173 follow-up interviews on HIV risk-related behavior of Windham drug injectors. Following the closure of the exchange in March 1997, the ECHO project began re-recruiting former respondents who remained in the area and continued as active injectors. This resulted in 111 "post-closure initial" interviews and 78 three-month "post-closure follow- up" interviews focusing on any changes in their risk behavior status.

The ECHO project also continued the practice, begun many months before the closure of the needle exchange, of systematically surveying several public outdoor areas in Windham where high levels of drug use occur. During these surveys, the project recorded the number of discarded syringes found, as well as dope bags, syringe wrappers and caps, and other injection-related debris. Both as a public service, and to avoid recounting such items during subsequent surveys, the ECHO project collected these materials.

Results

The results indicate that the closure of the needle exchange profoundly and negatively impacted drug injectors' access to clean syringes, which proportionately increased their risk of using syringes infected with HIV. Before the closure of the exchange, only 14% of Windham drug injectors reported that their primary source of "new" syringes was from family or friends, diabetics or street sources. These are unsafe sources because drug users cannot be sure that such syringes are unused and sterile. At the post-closure initial interview, respondents' rate of obtaining syringes from unsafe sources increased to 36% -- a 165 percent increase, and to 51% at the post-closure follow-up interview -- mostly from street sources -- which nearly quadrupled the pre- closure baseline rate. This change in the number of respondents who obtained syringes from street dealers -- the least safe source -- was more alarming. Whereas before the closure of the exchange, only 4% of respondents obtained their syringes from the street, after the closure the rate increased to 38%.

Further, before the closure of the exchange, the respondents reported that they reused syringes 3.52 times on average. This increased to 7.68 times at the post-closure initial interview -- a 118% increase. This findings is especially dramatic because a relationship has been scientifically documented between the amount of time syringes remain in circulation and rates of HIV infection among drug injectors. As reported by Charles Kaplan and Robert Heimer in their highly respected "needle circulation" study of the New Haven needle exchange, a needle exchange reduces the circulation time of syringes, which reduces the probability that they will become infected. After the closure of the Windham needle exchange, there was a sharp increase in the amount of time that dirty syringes remain in circulation, creating a proportional increase in the probability that Windham drug injectors are likely to re-use and share infected syringes.

The closure of the needle exchange also significantly increased drug injectors' self-reported syringe sharing. At their last interview before the closure of the exchange, only 16% of Windham drug injectors' reported sharing a syringe within the last 30 days. After the exchange's closure, 34% of the respondents reported in their first interview that they had shared a syringe within the last 30 days, a 100 percent increase. The respondents also reported increases in the sharing of other HIV-related injection materials following the closure of the exchange, such as the sharing of cookers and water used in the preparation of drugs.

Lastly, the surveys of public outdoor areas in Windham where high levels of drug use occur found that the closure of the needle exchange had no effect either on the number of improperly discarded syringes and other drug-injection debris, or on the robustness of the Windham illicit drug scene.

Conclusion

All of the problems blamed on the needle exchange remain in Windham following its closure. In fact, Windham now faces even more problems. First, because of the controversy surrounding the exchange, almost all of Windham's pharmacies no longer sell syringes over-the-counter for fear of being blamed for the city's "needle problem." This forces drug injectors further into re-using and sharing dirty syringes. Second, virtually all of the progress the city made over the last several years in reducing drug injectors' HIV risk behaviors has been lost. Finally, with the closure of the exchange and the campaign against it -- much of it based on assertions now disproved about the exchange causing the city's drug problem and economic decline -- Windham has seriously crippled its ability to protect the community against HIV and other drug-related diseases.


6. EDITORIAL: Young Entrepreneurs and the Culture of Prohibition

Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]

This week in Middletown, NY, an 11 year-old boy was charged with selling marijuana (mixed with oregano) and soap shavings (which he passed off as crack cocaine) to his fifth-grade classmates. The boy was charged with criminal sale of marijuana and the sale of an imitation controlled substance and released to the care of his mother pending a court appearance next week.

So here we are. Several decades and hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the drug war, this moral crusade to "protect America's children" from illicit substances, and we are down to this. 11 year-old children selling drugs to each other, mimicking the actions of the most financially successful young people in their communities and taking part in the one of the most profitable business enterprises on earth.

Did "drugs" make this child into a dealer? And a crooked one at that? Or is it the culture of prohibition that has saturated our society and our children's reality? The fact is that during alcohol prohibition, gangsters like Al Capone, his criminal empire built on the sale of illicit booze, were cultural icons. Bootleggers and rum-runners were glamorous men, living life on the edge, and were, for certain economic strata of children, the most outwardly successful role models around. In those days, entire high schools were shut down due to mass drunkenness, and hip flasks were worn by trendy teens. Today, with alcohol legal and regulated, there are no stories of pre-pubescents selling whiskey to their classmates. Today it is drugs.

It is an easy mistake to make, really. Drugs are bad for kids, and so we outlaw them. But that doesn't work, and so we pass even tougher laws. The reality, however, is far more complex. Part of that reality is the fact that prohibition does not, cannot control contraband. In fact, what we have done is ceded control to a criminal element, and to our children. Another part of the reality of prohibition is that the markets we have created, and the wares that those markets offer are a magnet for a certain percentage of kids. Not bad kids necessarily, but adventurers. The ones who, in different times, dove off cliffs into the river or who jumped their bikes over rows of garbage cans. In clinging to a policy which assures our children access to these substances, no proof of age required, we have created, in the words of the law, an attractive nuisance. And our children are drawn to that nuisance like flies.

In Middletown, NY, an eleven year-old kid sells mostly phony "drugs" to his eleven year-old classmates. He did not, we can be sure, invent the idea himself. He was simply doing something that goes on in every single town and city across our nation, day and night, every single day of the year. Now we must decide what to do with him. Is he the most evil child in his school? Or is he simply the most enterprising? And what will we do with all the others like him, thousands and thousands of them, and most just a few years older than he? This is the fallout from the culture of prohibition. It is a culture that we adults have created. So that now, in the midst of our boondoggle crusade to protect the children, we find that we cannot build the prisons for them fast enough.


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