ERRATA: Last week,
we incorrectly listed the Mothers in Prison, Children in Crisis rally as
taking place on Friday, May 9. The correct date is Friday, May 7.
for the rest of the information. Please pass this correction along
to anyplace your forwarded the original article.
NOTE: In issue #77,
we provided an 800 number for the American Bar Association, to order copies
of their report on the ineffectivess of increased penalties on drug use
If you've had trouble getting through on the 800 number, try their direct
number at (312) 988-5000. Also check out the ABA's report on the
federalization of crime (article at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/079.html).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
UN Drug Control
Board Laments Reform, Urges Member Nations to Toe the Drug War Line
Iran Says Executing
Drug Smugglers "Unsuitable Solution" --but US Legislators Want to Try It
Constantine Rips US Drug War Efforts, Bemoans Mexican Situation
Governor" Ventura on the Drug War
Seeks Radical Cutbacks in Methadone Maintenance
Officials Comment on Medical Marijuana
Carolina Mulls Making Sale of Urine a Felony Offense
Bureau Reverses Position on Hemp at Convention
Terminally Ill Man Will Continue to Smoke Marijuana Despite Conviction
of "Drug Crazy" Lecturing in Dallas, March 2nd
Mr. Ventura Comes To Washington
1. UN Drug Control Board Laments Reform, Urges
Member Nations to Toe the Drug War Line
Efforts in some countries
to lessen the impact of punitive drug policies came under fire in the annual
report from the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released at
the UN this week. The report, an overview of UN member states' attempts
to implement UN drug control conventions, warns against harm reduction
initiatives that threaten to undermine the prohibitionist policies outlined
in the conventions.
The report stresses the board's
concern "over the possible proliferation of heroin experiments" such as
the clinical trial soon to be underway in the Netherlands, which will test
the feasibility of providing co-prescribed heroin and methadone to hard-core
addicts. The board was more critical of Switzerland, which voted
in 1997 to continue its own heroin maintenance program after a three year
experiment and a national referendum. Referring back to its 1997
report, the board reiterated its earlier concerns about the Swiss government's
positive evaluation of its own heroin program, which the INCB said led
to "misinterpretations and hasty conclusions by some politicians and the
media in several European countries."
Similarly, the report expresses
the INCB's suspicion of harm reduction strategies such as safe-injection
rooms, which some governments have explicitly or tacitly supported as a
way to reduce the disease and public disorder associated with hard drug
use. Ultimately, the INCB "urges those States to consider carefully
all the implications of such 'shooting galleries,' including the legal
implications, the congregation of addicts, the facilitation of illicit
trafficking, the message that the existence of such places may send to
the general public and the impact on the general perception of drug abuse."
The report does not elaborate on what it believes such a message to be.
Although other sections of
the report note the high incidence of AIDS and HIV among injection drug
users in the United States, Canada, Ukraine, Estonia, and many other countries,
it makes no mention of needle exchange.
The report is curiously silent
on many countries' efforts to scale back prosecution of the drug war.
In mentioning Belgium's decision to make prosecution for minor marijuana
offenses the "lowest judicial priority," it comments only that, "It is
unfortunate that the directive has been widely misinterpreted as a move
towards the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis." Similar
reforms on the way in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and other countries
are not discussed in the report.
The board was more strident
in its dismay over the passage of medical marijuana initiatives in several
US states. "The Board trusts that the United States Government will
vigorously enforce its federal law... in states that, pursuant to referendums,
have authorized the use of cannabis, contrary to the federal law prohibiting
the medical and non-medical use of cannabis" reads one section. In
another section, widely publicized in US news accounts, the board "renews
its call for additional scientific research" on medical marijuana, insisting
that "such decisions should have a sound medical and scientific basis and
should not be made in accordance with referendums organized by interest
But some of those interest
groups say the INCB is merely stonewalling. DRCNet spoke with Dave
Fratello, a spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights, the California-based
group that has sponsored many of the US medical marijuana initiatives.
"The UN is taking a position very much like the one the US government has
taken, which is that we shouldn't do anything about medical marijuana until
some unforeseen time many years down the road when all the science has
come in," he said. "What we're seeing from around the country where
people are willing to vote yes on medical marijuana initiatives, and our
Attorney General here in California is trying to make Prop. 215 work, is
that you don't have to wait for that science. The science has already
been done in many regards. And the cases of individual patients that
have been so well publicized to date demonstrate that there's no justification
for keeping laws on the books that criminalize these patients. Especially
when you've got a situation where it could go on for ten or fifteen years,
who knows how long just for the research to be done -- and we're talking
in many cases about terminally ill patients."
Ethan Nadelmann, director
of the New York based drug policy research institute the Lindesmith Center,
agreed. "Remember," he said, "just as we say that Washington, DC
is the last place that we're going to see change in the United States,
the UN is one of the last places we're going to see change internationally.
The UN systems are among the most rigid and ossified -- not all of them,
not UNAIDS or UNDP -- but the UN Drug Control Program and the INCB, these
are organizations where there is no benefit for anyone in these organizations
to advocate for reform."
Nadelmann questioned the
scientific legitimacy of the board, and said the INCB itself tends to operate
as a political, rather than a scientific body. "It's an organization
which is always looking for the supposed legalizer behind any harm reduction
innovation," he said. "In many respects it seems like a sort of creaky,
old Politburo of international drug control."
Asked for his reaction to
implications in the report questioning the legitimacy of the Swiss heroin
experiment, Nadelmann scoffed. "The Swiss did their best to do a
legitimate scientific study, and it was one that was inevitably constrained
by political circumstances, one in which research designs were adopted
to political constraints -- imposed not by reformers, but by those who
were opposed to the experiment in the first place."
Still, Nadelmann said he
was pleased to see that the INCB report was forced to acknowledge at least
some of the international movements toward drug reform. "They sense
the smell of reform in the air," he said, "whether it's in the United States
with the passage of the ballot initiatives and referendums last November,
or the current developments in Europe -- especially in Germany, but also
in places like France and Belgium and Switzerland and other countries.
So it's nice to see that the INCB is actually awakening to the fact that
there are serious calls for change out there."
While it may be awakening
to signs of change, the INCB shows no signs that it will give up its attachment
to punitive drug prohibition any time soon. Despite numerous mentions
throughout the report of purer, cheaper drugs more widely available than
ever, despite its acknowledgment that even the United States, with some
of the harshest policies in the world, has done little to ameliorate the
condition of hard-core drug addiction, the report insists that "History
has shown that national and international control of drugs has proved to
be an efficient tool for reducing the development of drug dependence and
is therefore the choice to be made."
Maybe next year.
(The INCB report is available
online at http://www.incb.org. The Lindesmith
Center web site can be found at http://www.lindesmith.org.)
2. Iran Says Executing Drug Smugglers "Unsuitable
Solution" -- but US Legislators Want to Try It Here
Last Wednesday (2/18), a
top aide to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told Iran's official news
agency (IRNA) that that nation's ten year old policy of publicly executing
drug smugglers has not and will not achieve its intent of stopping or even
slowing the drug trade. Iran has executed more than 2,000 people
for drug offenses, many of them publicly, over the past decade.
"Executing drug smugglers
is not a suitable way to fight drugs and our 10-year experience shows that
this has not been a solution" the aide said.
Iran's strict code mandated
death to anyone caught in possession of 30 grams of heroin or 11 lbs. of
Perhaps Iran's experience
might be enough to deter US legislators from re-introducing the Drug Importer
Death Penalty Act of 1997. The bill, which called for a mandatory
death penalty for anyone convicted for a second trafficking offense, was
sponsored by then-speaker Newt Gingrich and attracted a list of 37 co-sponsors,
36 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Though the Act does not specify weight
limits, it would be violated whenever someone was caught importing an amount
"equal to 100 doses" of any controlled substance. Such a calculation
would impose death for a far smaller amount of heroin than did the failed
In fact, by that standard
it would take the importation of only a small amount (likely well under
2 oz.) of marijuana to violate the act. First-time offenders under
the Act would receive a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Calls
placed to the offices of several of the original co-sponsors of the Importer
Death Penalty Act by The Week Online were not returned. A Democratic
staffer who declined to be identified told The Week Online that although
there was no indication as to whether or not the bill would be re-introduced
in this session, "It really wouldn't surprise me. Politicians introduce
all kinds of crazy legislation, and, if they're willing to work at it,
they can get a lot of it passed."
3. DEA Chief Constantine Rips US Drug War
Efforts, Bemoans Mexican Situation
With decisions on the certification
of 30 drug producing nations upcoming, rumors of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's
imminent departure, the arrival in town of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
to testify before the house subcommittee on criminal justice, candid statements
by Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who was attending the annual Governors'
Conference, and efforts by the Republican party to gain political traction
in the wake of impeachment, Washington has been abuzz this week with talk
of the drug war.
The voice that cut through
the chatter, however, belonged to DEA Director Thomas Constantine, who,
in separate appearances, claimed that the United States lacks the "political
will" to win the drug war, and that Mexican drug cartels had become so
sophisticated and well armed as to be the single greatest threat to American
"I know one drug mafia in
Mexico alone that makes $2 billion every single year selling cocaine and
methamphetamine in the United States" Constantine told USA Today, "and
it has better technical equipment and countersurveillance equipment and
armored cars than we do."
It is not uncommon, in Washington,
to hear the heads of federal agencies decry the status quo in which the
claimed inadequacy of their budget -- in the DEA's case $1.4 billion per
year with a force of approximately 8,000 -- is implied as the reason for
an apparent lack of success in fulfilling its mission. It must have
been jarring to the administration, however, when on Wednesday, Constantine
testified before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control to
lay the wood to the drug trafficking situation in Mexico, a nation that
the administration clearly would like to certify despite strong congressional
Speaking of Mexican drug
traffickers, Constantine told the caucus, "They literally run transportation
and financial empires, and an insight into how they conduct their day-to-day
business leads even the casual observer to the conclusion that the United
States is facing a threat of unprecedented proportions and gravity."
Constantine said that the
corruption in Mexico is "unlike anything I've ever seen."
If Constantine's words grated
on the Clinton Administration, they were no more pleasing to the ears of
Mexican Interior Minister
Francisco Labastida told reporters that Constantine's remarks "reflect
a vision in which the good are on one side and the bad on the other.
I deeply lament what he said."
by the President are due in Congress on March 1.
4. Jesse "The Governor" Ventura on the Drug
Jesse Ventura, in Washington
this week for the annual governor's meeting, came off the top rope and
planted a forearm shiver right in the chops of the political establishment.
While Ventura's candidacy was largely ignored, and his election treated
as a joke by the Washington establishment, Ventura declared his victory
"a wake-up call" to the two major parties.
After the Governors' meeting,
Ventura spoke at the National Press Club and appeared on Meet The Press
and CNN. On CNN, Ventura was asked by host Wolf Blitzer what he meant
by the statement that, "If someone takes LSD in the privacy of his or her
own home, that should be no one's business." Ventura responded by
saying that "to me, in the privacy of your own home, that has nothing to
do with the government. If you're stupid, and you want to make stupid
decisions, and those stupid decisions don't endanger anyone else, then
it's none of the government's business. And I don't think the founders
of our country had anything like that in mind, that government would intervene
in the privacy of your own home."
"He had a great time in DC,
he really did" a spokesperson for the governor told The Week Online.
As to efforts that his administration might undertake to foster a greater
understanding of Ventura's drug policy views among Minnesotans and beyond,
those plans are on hold. "As soon as we got in, there was the state
budget process, which really took a lot of everyone's time and energy,
and now the legislature is in session, and so we haven't really had the
time to think all that long-term" his aide said. "It's been a very
busy couple of months for everyone."
5. Sen. McCain Seeks Radical Cutbacks in Methadone
Scott Ehlers, Drug
Policy Foundation, [email protected]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
introduced S. 423, the "Addiction Free Treatment Act," on February 11,
which would significantly reduce the number of methadone patients and the
amount of time patients would be allowed to be maintained on methadone.
According to Sen. McCain, methadone maintenance is "Orwellian," and "disgusting
and immoral," and must be stopped to restore the humanity of the enslaved
The bill would require: (1)
Medicaid payments for methadone and Levo-Alpha Acetyl-Methadol (LAAM) treatment
to be terminated after a maximum of six months; (2) clinics to conduct
random and frequent comprehensive drug testing; and (3) the termination
of a patient's treatment if he/she tested positive for illicit drugs.
Federal funds administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration would also be subject to the same restrictions.
In addition to these new
federal restrictions, S. 423 would require the National Institute on Drug
Abuse to conduct a study within three years to determine: (1) the methods
and effectiveness of non-pharmacological, as well as methadone-to-abstinence
rehabilitation programs. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
would be required to submit annual reports for five years on the effectiveness
of non-pharmacological and methadone-to-abstinence treatment.
Sen. McCain's bill is very
similar to a plan promoted last year by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,
which would have required methadone patients at city hospitals to be abstinent
within 90 days. At the end of five months, only 21 of the 2100 patients
were methadone-free, and five of those had relapsed into heroin use.
In January of this year the mayor abandoned his plan, saying it was "maybe
Doctors, patients, and patient
advocates have derided the McCain bill, and are surprised that he would
introduce it after Giuliani's proposal failed so miserably. Dr. Marc
Shinderman, medical director of the Center for Addictive Problems in Chicago,
mused: "It appears that Giuliani's perfected technique of identifying a
stigmatized group and attacking it has become contagious to Republicans
outside of New York. McCain is either painfully ignorant of the facts
regarding the value of methadone maintenance treatment or is politically
motivated to attack it in spite of the overwhelming evidence of its efficacy."
He added, "The Institute
of Medicine's 1998 Consensus Report on Heroin Addiction called methadone
maintenance the 'gold standard' in the treatment of heroin dependence.
The abstinence-based treatment advocated by McCain was found to result
in relapse rates of 90 percent."
Patient advocates are equally
upset by the bill. Beth Francisco of the Advocates for Recovery Through
Medicine, found the bill to be "horrible," and believed it would result
in less people entering methadone treatment, more people relapsing into
heroin use, and more diversion of methadone into the black market for persons
kicked out of programs. Joycelyn Woods of the National
Alliance of Methadone Advocates noted that "the wording of McCain's
bill is demeaning and he is obviously operating from a position of bias
and misunderstanding. I'm surprised that a senator would be this
ignorant about this issue."
S. 423 had no co-sponsors
at press time and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
6. California Officials Comment on Medical
An op-ed by California state
senator John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose) in the Los Angeles Times this Thursday
(2/25/99) blasted the federal government's opposition to voter-approved
medical marijuana initiatives in several states, including California's
Prop. 215. Vasconcellos asked, "What kind of a government carries
on a crusade against the will of its voters, favors pain and even death
for some of its people?"
According to the San Jose
Mercury News, Vasconcellos is reintroducing a bill to establish a medical
marijuana research program at the University of California, and is co-chairing,
with Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, a 20-person task
force formulating recommendations to Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Prop.
215 implementation. Both Vasconcellos and Lockyer, formerly Senate
President, have energetically advocated availability of medical marijuana
The Mercury also reported
that Lockyer told reporters, following his first State of the Public Safety
address, "It always amazes me that doctors can prescribe morphine but not
marijuana," and stated that Lockyer and attorneys general from other west
coast states with medical marijuana laws are planning to meet with federal
officials to discuss the reclassification of marijuana as a prescription
A spokesperson for Lockyer,
however, told the Week Online that reporters had mistook Lockyer's trip
to Washington as being connected with the medical marijuana issue, and
that while Lockyer is visiting Washington late next month, for the meeting
of the National Association of Attorneys General, there are "no plans,
no meetings, no agenda" in the works for meetings on the medical marijuana
issue. When asked if Lockyer had plans underway for how to advance
the medical marijuana issue after the task force's report is released,
the spokesperson answered that there is not. He also said that there
has been informal communication between Attorneys General offices in states
with voter-approved medical marijuana laws, but no formal committees like
California's task force.
7. South Carolina Mulls Making Sale of
Urine a Felony Offense
reprinted from the NORML
Weekly News, http://www.norml.org
February 25, 1999, Columbia,
SC: Legislation proposed by Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) seeks
to crack down on individuals who attempt to skirt a drug test by using
someone else's urine. General Bill 277 makes "selling or purchasing
urine with intent to defraud a drug screening test a felony" punishable
by up to five years in jail.
Kenneth Curtis, owner of
Privacy Protection Services, a Marietta-based company that markets urine
substitution kits, surmises that the measure is in response to the ability
of products like his to thwart a urine test.
"Lawmakers are trying to
shoot the messenger here," he said. "This situation is an example
of law enforcement encroachment into what is now mostly a private sector
testing business. People should be concerned about government officials
that would support over stepping into private sector testing." Thomas
argues that his legislation is necessary because "the safety of the public
is at stake here." His measure awaits action by the Senate Judiciary
8. American Farm Bureau Reverses Position on Hemp
Marc Brandl, [email protected]
Delegates at this year's
American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico
withdrew language approved last year opposing research and domestic cultivation
of industrial hemp. The issue of industrial hemp has been a contentious
one for the Farm Bureau over the past three years. In 1996, delegates
endorsed a resolution to, "encourage research into the viability and economic
potential of industrial hemp production in the United States... includ[ing]
planting test plots." This language was replaced in 1998 by a vote
of 198 to 168 after Missouri Farm Bureau president Charles Kruse brought
up concerns from law enforcement that hemp and marijuana were indistinguishable.
The American Farm Bureau
now takes no position in regards industrial hemp. According to a
legislative aide with the AFBF in Washington, DC, "The Bureau will not take
a position either way on any federal legislation involving hemp, but this
in no way precludes state chapters from lobbying elected officials either
for or against [hemp]."
9. Canada: Terminally Ill Man Will Continue
to Smoke Marijuana Despite Conviction
A Nova Scotia man with an
inoperable brain tumor was convicted of marijuana cultivation this week,
but he has vowed to continue smoking because, he said, "its the only thing
that controls the headaches." Mark Crossley, a 38-year-old married
father of three, suffers from seizures, headaches, and mood-swings, and
has been unable to work for two years, his lawyer, Brian English, told
the Halifax Herald this week. Crossley was sentenced to four months
house arrest and three years probation, as well as 120 hours of community
service. As he left the courtroom after his sentencing, Crossley
reportedly turned back toward the judge and prosecutor and shouted, "You
can't make decisions about my health. I'm the one that's sick, not
10. Author of "Drug Crazy" Lecturing in Dallas,
Mike Gray, author of the
book Drug Crazy: How We Got Into
This Mess and How We Can Get Out, will speak as part of the Science and
Health Policy Lecture Series of the Department of Pharmacology and Program
in Ethics in Science and Medicine of the University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center. The presentation is on Monday, March 2nd, noon, in
Lecture Hall D1.502, South Campus. UTSW is on Harry Hines Boulevard
next to Parkland Hospital. For further information, call (214) 648-2622,
fax (214) 648-8694, or send e-mail to [email protected].
Be sure to verify the event with the department before taking a trip out.
11. EDITORIAL: Mr. Ventura Comes To
Adam J. Smith, DRCNet
Associate Director, [email protected]
Fifty governors came to Washington
last week to meet and to greet, to discuss common issues and to powwow
with the president. The annual meeting of the Governor's Association
is also an opportunity for those with their eye on national office to get
cozy with the national press, and to have their names and their words and,
if they're lucky, their pictures run in national publications.
But despite the presence
of both Bush boys, as well as Governor Whitman of New Jersey and Governor
Pataki of New York, the man who stole the show, as well as the national
media spotlight, was a man whose candidacy was once considered a joke,
and whose election has been treated as something of an anomaly: Governor
Jesse Ventura of Minnesota. Ventura displayed a sharp, if somewhat
self-effacing wit, a disdain for the ways of the inside-the-beltway set,
a manner that oozed honesty and a willingness to state his beliefs without
regard for poll numbers or political correctness. After meeting with
the governors, Ventura made the rounds, including a speech at the National
Press Club and an appearance on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. By the time
Jesse "The Governor" Ventura got back on a plane to return to the Gopher
State, even the Washington insiders had to know that The Governor is no
Jesse Ventura beat overwhelming
odds to win the election, and he did it without ducking controversial issues.
Even so, the one issue that stands out is Ventura's stance on the drug
"If someone wants to use
marijuana or LSD in the privacy of their own home, it ought to be none
of the government's business." Simple as that. The drug war
has failed, says Ventura, and besides, people have to be responsible for
making their own decisions in life, even if those decisions turn out to
Ventura is not "in favor"
of drugs, or "pro-drug" as the drug war establishment insists on labeling
reformers. "I don't condone the use or abuse of drugs" he told Blitzer,
"but I also understand privacy." Which, as has been borne out by
recent (and not so recent) events, differentiates him from many in the
The American people are starting
to come to terms with this issue. Over the past two election cycles,
drug policy reform ballot questions have been approved time and time again.
And yet, in Washington the overwhelming response has been to try to figure
out ways to thwart the will of the voters, and to introduce harsher and
harsher measures in a vain attempt to find the level of violence and terror
necessary to make prohibition work.
It is a truism in Washington
that you can never go wrong by getting "tough," and that the American people
will always support an escalation of the drug war "to protect the children."
But Jesse Ventura, ex-professional wrestler, ex-Navy SEAL, the big guy
with the 22-inch arms at the Governor's conference who was not supposed
to be smart enough, or savvy enough, is taking on the truism. He
is speaking the truth, and he has gotten himself elected by counting on
the voters to understand and respond.
Jesse Ventura blew into Washington
last week and stole the national stage with straight talk instead of political
platitudes and an unflinching confidence that the American people could
tell the difference. His performance, or rather his refusal to put
on a performance, captured the imagination of the jaded Washington Press
corps, so used to the meaningless blather and stock cliches of politicians.
Ventura is the only Governor in the land with the courage to state the
obvious, that the problem of substance abuse in America will be solved
neither by the nanny state, nor by the police state. By speaking
the truth, he has shown himself to be neither joke nor politician but rather
a man who is trying to lead. The political establishment had better
take notice of Ventura and his message on the drug war. The public
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