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

Issue #80, 2/26/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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The Week Online with DRCNet

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. See 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


  1. UN Drug Control Board Laments Reform, Urges Member Nations to Toe the Drug War Line
  2. Iran Says Executing Drug Smugglers "Unsuitable Solution" --but US Legislators Want to Try It Here
  3. DEA Chief Constantine Rips US Drug War Efforts, Bemoans Mexican Situation
  4. Jesse "The Governor" Ventura on the Drug War
  5. Sen. McCain Seeks Radical Cutbacks in Methadone Maintenance
  6. California Officials Comment on Medical Marijuana
  7. South Carolina Mulls Making Sale of Urine a Felony Offense
  8. American Farm Bureau Reverses Position on Hemp at Convention
  9. Canada: Terminally Ill Man Will Continue to Smoke Marijuana Despite Conviction
  10. Author of "Drug Crazy" Lecturing in Dallas, March 2nd
  11. EDITORIAL: 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 groups."

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 The Lindesmith Center web site can be found at

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 opium.

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 Iranian law.

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 security.

"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 opposition.

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 officials.

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."

Certification recommendations by the President are due in Congress on March 1.

4. Jesse "The Governor" Ventura on the Drug War

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 Maintenance

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 addict.

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 somewhat unrealistic."

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 Marijuana

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 to patients.

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 medicine.

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,

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 Committee.

8. American Farm Bureau Reverses Position on Hemp at Convention

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 you."

10. Author of "Drug Crazy" Lecturing in Dallas, March 2nd

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 Washington

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 joke.

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 war.

"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 be idiotic.

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 nation's capitol.

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 already has.

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