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

Issue #90, 5/7/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. DRCNet Passes 10,000 Subscriber Mark, 90th Issue of Week Online
  2. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Calls for End of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Felony Disenfranchisement
  3. Medical Marijuana Petitioners File Federal Suit, Allege Threats, Harassment at Polling Locations
  4. Hyde, Conyers, Barr and Frank Introduce Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill
  5. Mounties Back Canadian Marijuana Decriminalization Effort
  6. SPECIAL REPORT: Safe Injection Room Opens in Sydney
  7. Australian Perspective
  8. Los Angeles: Citizens' Fact Finding Commission on US Drug Policy, 5/22-23
  9. San Francisco: Medical Marijuana Researcher to Speak at Forum, 5/25
  10. EDITORIAL: A Monument to Failure

(visit last week's Week Online)

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1. DRCNet Passes 10,000 Subscriber Mark, 90th Issue of Week Online

This week saw a milestone in DRCNet's history: our Week Online/action alert list has passed 10,000 subscribers! Thanks to those of you who have been with us and helped get the word out, and welcome to those of you who have just arrived.

As our readership has grown, the cost of maintaining our expanding programs has also grown. Your support is needed now more than ever! Please consider taking a moment right now to make a small donation or a large donation to the cause. Just visit our online registration form at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html to donate by credit card or to print out a form to mail in; or just send your check or money order to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036. Consider joining the monthly credit card donation program!

Members donating $35 or more will receive a free copy of the book "Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War. Shattered Lives will sadden and anger you at the injustice and self-inflicted tragedy of US drug policy. Or, members donating $75 or more will receive a free copy of the video "Sex Drugs and Democracy," by Red Hat Productions, a telling examination of the Netherlands' pragmatic approach to social issues.

A second milestone was reached this week, issue #90 of this newsletter, The Week Online. Stay tuned this summer for issue #100, and keep reading as DRCNet and the movement move onward and upward!


2. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Calls for End of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Felony Disenfranchisement

Representative James Clyburn (D-SC), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, used the occasion of the April 30th Washington DC Democratic Committee Awards Dinner to list mandatory minimum sentencing and felony disenfranchisement, along with the 2000 census, as the most serious civil rights issues facing the nation today. Clyburn, pointing to long-ignored recommendations of the Federal Sentencing Commission that mandatory minimum sentencing ought to be eliminated, noted that "something in the milk ain't clean."

Rep. Clyburn, who is known as a moderate voice for the Caucus, joins a growing list of Black leaders who have recently taken issue with various aspects of the Drug War. Last month, Black and Latino members of Congress were joined by other Democrats in introducing legislation aimed at studying the problem of racial profiling on highways, and H.R. 1053, which would repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act of 1998, has also drawn support from members of the Caucus.

Representative Clyburn told The Week Online that the time has come for society to face these issues.

"This mandatory minimum business is something has to be addressed in this country. We cannot reduce judges to the role of clerks in the courtroom. Judges need to be able to have discretion and flexibility in sentencing. If you look at what's happened in this country because of mandatory minimums, our jails are filled to overflowing -- what used to be a misdemeanor is now a felony, what used to result in probation now results in a mandatory five year minimum. The broader impact is clear as well. In places like Florida and Alabama, more than 30% of African-American males are ineligible to vote. Much of that is due to the sentencing laws. We have to get serious and address this."

Asked whether the time had come to reexamine the basis of America's drug policy, Representative Clyburn didn't hesitate to say that it had.

"We're at the point where we have to take a hard look our entire drug policy. I don't know the answers, and I'm not claiming to have that sort of expertise. But I do know this: If we continue to go the way we're going, we are headed toward catastrophic consequences. We are the most civilized nation, the most technologically advanced nation on earth, yet we have the highest levels of incarceration. These things just don't jibe. I believe that there's enough ingenuity, enough intelligence to solve these problems, but we haven't developed the good will and, in all honesty, the willingness to solve them. And that's what we've got to do."


3. Medical Marijuana Petitioners File Federal Suit, Allege Threats, Harassment at Polling Locations

Floridians for Medical Rights, an independent, state-based organization that is trying to gather the almost half a million signatures required to get their issue on the state's 2000 ballot, filed suit in federal court on Wednesday against the Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections of Jacksonville. The suit alleges a failure to abide by a prior negotiated settlement to uphold the rights of petitioners, resulting in threats and harassment at several polling locations where they were legally attempting to collect signatures. Floridians for Medical Rights has called on the US Department of Justice to investigate the matter.

According to FMR, petitioners outside of the polling location at the First Southern Baptist Church were approached first by a poll worker and later by Pastor Jack Youngblood and ordered to leave. The petitioners displayed the federal court settlement that they won after facing similar difficulties at a different polling location in November. Eventually, the police were called and, in an exchange caught on audiotape, Sgt. Asa Higgs of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Department told the petitioners that they could not remain and collect signatures. When told of the federal court settlement, Higgs replied, "I don't care."

The Week Online spoke with Pastor Youngblood who said that his church doesn't "open our grounds for any issue to be petitioned." He added that had he known of the possibility, he would never have leased the space out as a polling location. Pastor Youngblood called the petitioners "very aggressive" and claimed that the 50 feet from the door requirement was insufficient to keep the petitioners from essentially blocking all access to the facilities, which house a K-12 school, a college and the church, as well as the polling location.

"I came out to intervene when I was informed of a petitioner preaching to a fourteen year-old girl on the benefits of marijuana use" he said.

Pastor Youngblood, however, blames the incident on outgoing Jacksonville Supervisor of Elections Tommie Bell, who claimed to have sent out election notices to all polling locations. Pastor Youngblood claims that he never received a notice, and that he canceled his church's participation as a polling location on the very day of the election.

"I can't prove anything" said Youngblood, "but given the problems that they (the FMR petitioners) apparently posed in November, I believe that there was a decision made by the Supervisor of Elections not to send those notices out, rather than face the prospect of numerous churches declining to participate in the election."

Youngblood also said that the state should go back to requiring 200 or 300 feet of space between petitioners and the entrance to polling sites. "Fifty feet doesn't help us here. The way our facility is constructed, there's a choke point between our two buildings that is fifty-five feet from our entrance. That allows the petitioners to accost everyone coming here for whatever reason. In the past, the law was at least 200 feet. That would put them on the outskirts of the parking lot and I'd have no problem with it." He added, "This church has never surrendered the sovereignty of our facility to any entity, governmental or otherwise."

The suit seeks criminal prosecution of the officers involved under Florida's election law, as well as an investigation into the ongoing neglect by the Jacksonville Sheriff's office and the supervisor of elections office to protect the petitioners first amendment rights.


4. Hyde, Conyers, Barr and Frank Introduce Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

Press release from the Drug Policy Foundation:

WASHINGTON, May 4 -- Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Barr (R-GA), and Barney Frank (D-MA), last seen bickering loudly during the House impeachment hearings, are back together today in a much friendlier fashion. Each is a cosponsor of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, a bill written by Hyde and scheduled to be introduced today. While the bill has important policy implications, it will also be fascinating to watch the old enemies come together around something they all support. DPF has worked on civil asset forfeiture issues for many years and supports the passage of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act.

"Civil asset forfeiture is such a gross misuse of police powers that it's easy to understand why lawmakers representing a broad spectrum of ideologies are against it," DPF Senior Policy Analyst Scott Ehlers said. "Civil asset forfeiture comes awfully close to being legalized theft."

Under the guise of fighting the war on drugs, law enforcement officers can seize your home, car, or money without ever charging you with a crime. Known as civil asset forfeiture (CAF), it is one of the most abused police powers in America today.

Civil asset forfeiture is based on the legal fiction that the property that facilitates or is connected with a crime is itself guilty and can be seized and tried in civil court (e.g., United States v. One 1974 Cadillac Eldorado Sedan). Under civil forfeiture law, the government can take a person's property on the basis of "probable cause," which is the same minimal standard required for police to obtain a search warrant. In order to get the property returned, an owner must prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" -- a higher standard of proof -- that his/her property was not used to facilitate a crime.

Whereas under criminal law the defendant is innocent until proved guilty, in CAF proceedings the property is presumed guilty and the owner has to prove otherwise to get it back. CAF funds often turn into unregulated police slush funds. When police departments are allowed to keep what they take, CAF funds exist beyond the purview of legislative or budgetary oversight so it's fairly common for police to misuse CAF funds. Nearly a dozen newspapers have documented this, including the Pittsburgh Press, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for exposing CAF corruption.

"That police can take property without anyone being charged or found guilty of a crime is an abomination," Ehlers said. "Civil asset forfeiture basically provides police with a way to run around the Constitution by allowing them to punish someone without having to go through the criminal process."

A zeal for CAF funds has occasionally led to the use of "profiling," the targeting of minorities by police which New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman recently admitted was standard practice among the New Jersey State Police. CAF-related profiling has been documented in Louisiana, Florida, Washington and Maryland.

Hyde's bill, which was blocked by a cash-loving Clinton Justice Department in 1997, would make numerous changes to civil forfeiture law, including:

  • Forcing the government to prove that seized property is related to a crime, as opposed to the current practice of property owners having to prove that their property is not guilty;
  • Create an "innocent owner" defense, whereby property owners unaware of criminal activity occurring on their property could recover their property;
  • Provide indigent defendants with appointed counsel; and
  • Eliminate the cost bond requirement, which currently requires property owners to pay up to $5,000 or 10 percent of the seized property's value in order to contest the seizure in court.
For more information, please contact DPF Deputy Communications Director Tyler Green at (202) 537-5005.

(Follow DRCNet for an important forfeiture action alert early next week; and visit Forfeiture Endangers American Rights at http://www.fear.org for much more information about asset forfeiture. Visit http://www.dpf.org to learn more about the Drug Policy Foundation.)


5. Mounties Back Canadian Marijuana Decriminalization Effort

(reprinted from the NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)

May 6, 1999, Ottawa, Ontario: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) announced their support for a recent proposal to remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The RCMP said they "fully support" the position adopted last month by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) in favor of decriminalizing minor marijuana offenses. The CACP recommended that first time marijuana offenders receive a ticket and pay a small fine in lieu of arrest or criminal penalties.

Their proposal persuaded MP Keith Martin (Reform Party-Esquimalt) to introduce legislation in the House of Commons last week that would decriminalize marijuana.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751. The RCMP's and CACP's position statements appear online at: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/html/rcmp-cacp99.htm.


6. SPECIAL REPORT: Safe Injection Room Opens in Sydney

Peter Watney, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation

Wayside Chapel in Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, 500 meters from Kings Cross, the heart of Sydney night life, opened a Safe Injecting Room which it has called the Tolerance Room, or T-room for short, on 3rd May 1999.

The law in NSW states that anyone aiding and abetting the consumption of illicit drugs is committing an offense punishable with a fine of up to $2,200 or imprisonment for up to 2 years.

The sponsors of the T-room include the Rev. Ray Richmond of the Wayside Chapel, the pastors of a local Catholic, a local Anglican, and a local Methodist Church, the Director of Alcohol and Drug Services at St. Vincents Hospital, the retired Member of the Legislative Council (Upper House of the NSW Parliament) who chaired the Parliamentary Inquiry into Safe Injecting Rooms, and have all appeared on television outside the Wayside Chapel saying that if they are convicted of aiding and abetting then so be it.

The Attorney General has said that this is clearly against the law, and it is up to the police to investigate and to bring charges if they find that the law has been broken.

The Premier of NSW has said that any action is up to the police. The Prime Minister of Australia has glowered at the cameras and said that it is clearly against the law and "sends the wrong message,' but that it is a state, not a federal, matter. Rev. Richmond has said that if they are charged and convicted they will reopen the T-room.

Two European visitors, Dr. Robert Haemmig of Berne Switzerland, who is involved with the Swiss heroin trials and with safe injecting facilities in Berne, and Franz Trautmann of the Trimbos Institute of Amsterdam were included in the photo of the group announcing the opening of the T-room.

They have pointed out that in the 20 plus years in the Netherlands and in the 12 years in Switzerland and Frankfurt, Germany that safe injecting rooms have been in operation, there has not been a single overdose death in a safe injecting facility, and that there is statistical evidence that there has been no increase in drug use as a result.

Franz Trautmann also pointed out to the media that the start of the change in Netherlands policies was the opening of an illegal safe injecting room in the basement of a Rotterdam church. Furthermore, the European experience has been that public order has considerably improved in the neighborhoods of the SIFs, and that the police and local business have been in favor of them. There has also been a marked reduction in associated crime in the neighborhood of the SIFs.

NSW lawyers have suggested that there is a probable defense for Wayside Chapel sponsors and staff, if they are charged, that it is a traditional function of the Church to provide sanctuary, and that that is what the T-room is doing.

The Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW is on record as supporting the concept of a heroin trial and of safe injecting rooms, but has also pointed out that where an offense is alleged and the evidence supports the offense, he must prosecute. An interesting situation.

Although Australian Capital Territory is separate from NSW, I and at least one other have involved ourselves in that we have both signed a cheque in support of the project and I have signed the supporting letter forwarding the money subscribed by the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, and there are several of us who will go to Sydney to help reopen the T-room if it is closed down.

If it continues to operate and provides similar statistics to those coming out of Europe, the Prime Minister will need to explain how improvements to mortality, morbidity, social conditions, public order and crime on the streets are a worse message than the present feral mayhem.

(To get the latest on this straight from the Australian media, go to http://www.news.com.au/ and click on "The Drugs Debate" link at the bottom left hand corner of the page, or link straight to http://www.theaustralian.com.au/index.asp?URL=/extras/013/index.htm.)


7. Australian Perspective

In the state of South Australia, Paul Rofe, the Director of Public Prosecutions (similar in status to a US state attorney general) said he had no objection to marijuana being sold at the "corner deli," according to a story in The Advertiser. Rofe made the comment at the Australasian Conference on Drug Strategy held last week in Adelaide.

Rofe was also quoted as saying, "I am an addict of tobacco and I'm told there is substantial medical evidence to prove this product is killing me. Governments make hundreds of millions of billions of dollars from the sale of tobacco products. I ask myself why some of these governments set themselves so strongly against the involvement in the supply and distribution of illegal drugs, particularly cannabis. And I think you can stretch the argument to heroin. We are dealing with the legal drug situation -- alcohol and tobacco -- much better than we are with the illicit."

According to today's issue of The Advertiser, two top public prosecutors, Nick Cowdery, and Richard Refshauge, have joined Rofe in calling for heroin to be given free to addicts in safe injecting rooms to reduce crime and ease overloaded courts. The prosecutors stated, "The availability of free heroin on prescription to registered addicts in safe circumstances would significantly reduce the illicit market and consequently the large profits, the motive for the commission of drug-related property crime."


8. Los Angeles: Citizens' Fact Finding Commission on US Drug Policy, 5/22-23

Two day public forum sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies. Prominent speakers will discuss topics including How the Drug Industry Operates, Government Corruption and Complicity in the War on Drugs, and The Social Impact of Drugs and the War on Drugs.

A panel of Commissioners will hear the testimony and issue a final report, including former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, former New York State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Fingerhood, Santa Ana Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, former US Magistrate Volney V. Brown, Jr., and National Prison Project Director-Emeritus Alvin Bronstein, Esq.

The event will also include a reception and a benefit showing of the award-winning movie Slam, with an introduction by Producer/Co-Writer Richard Stratton.

Forums will be held at the University of Southern California campus, West 34th St., between McLintock and Figueroa Streets, 9:00am-6:00 on Saturday, 5/22 and 10:00am-1:00pm on Sunday, 5/23. The fundraising reception will be held from 6:00-7:30pm on Saturday at the University Religious Center, followed by Slam at 8:00pm in Room 201, Taper Hall. For further information, contact Prof. Robert Benson, Loyola Law School, (213) 736-1094 or Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies, (202) 234-9382, ext. 266.


9. San Francisco: Medical Marijuana Researcher to Speak at Forum, 5/25

Prominent AIDS researcher Donald Abrams, MD, the only US researcher currently conducting a clinical trial on medical marijuana, will speak on "Medical Marijuana: Tribulations and Trials" at a forum sponsored by The Lindesmith Center West from 5-7 PM on May 25 at the San Francisco Medical Society (1409 Sutter at Franklin). Dr. Abrams received a grant from the NIH in October 1997 to conduct clinical trials on marijuana's use by patients with HIV infection. He is sure to present a lively and informative discussion of the state of research into marijuana for medicine.

The forum will include a review of the medical uses of marijuana, a review of the different pharmacokinetics between oral and smoked THC, issues of concern for patients with HIV, and an outline of the tortuous route Dr. Abrams was required to take to gain approval for his study. Dr. Abrams is chairman and principal investigator of the Community Consortium, an association of Bay Area HIV Health Care Providers, one of the pioneer community-based clinical trials groups, established in 1985. He is the Assistant Director of the AIDS Program at San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

Physicians, students, health care and treatment providers, patients, and members of the public are invited to the free forum. Please phone the Lindesmith Center at (415) 921-4987 or email [email protected] to reserve a space.


10. EDITORIAL: A Monument to Failure

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

On Monday, May 10, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum opens for viewing. The exhibit, housed within the Pentagon City, Virginia headquarters of the twenty-five year-old bureaucracy, presents the history of drug abuse and drug enforcement in America. The photos and the placards on its walls harken back to the turn of the century, the heyday of patent medicines when elixirs of all kinds were sold virtually without restriction. Many of these tonics owed their soothing powers to ingredients such as cocaine or opiates and, according to the exhibit, "by 1900... one of every 200 Americans was addicted." Mostly housewives.

But for all of the museum's photographs of dead drug users and displays of drug paraphernalia and tommyguns, the most revealing feature comes at the end of the tour, where a placard tells of the situation today, including the emergence of multinational drug cartels and criminal organizations "far more ruthless, corrupting and sophisticated than anything seen heretofore in this country."

The irony is likely lost on the gun-toting bureaucrats, but it is rich, nonetheless. More than eight decades since the first drug laws and a quarter-century after the creation of the DEA, and despite millions of arrests and hundreds of billions of tax dollars spent on the drug war, the situation, on the whole, is undoubtedly worse than ever. According to the government's own estimates, three out of every two hundred Americans is a chronic user of either heroin or cocaine, meaning that addiction is flourishing at three times the rate of the bad old days, before the drug laws and before the DEA.

Given the nature of bureaucracies, we may never know the identity of the person who first came up with an idea for a DEA museum, but we can assume that the person has a hell of a sense of humor. At a cost to taxpayers of $350,000, the exhibit stands as a monument to the futility of Prohibition, and the impotence of even our best-armed and most well-financed efforts to enforce it. Twenty-five years of rising budgets and expanding power, of bigger arsenals and more sophisticated technology. Twenty-five years of the best laid plans, and yet, today, global crime syndicates, "more ruthless, corrupting and sophisticated" than ever, amass fortunes that dwarf the domestic products of many nations.

This week marks the opening of the Drug Enforcement Administration museum on the main floor of that agency's headquarters in Pentagon City, Virginia. Looking back at the history of drug prohibition in America, maybe the person who came up with the idea really was onto something. Perhaps, one day, we'll be smart enough to recognize the point that is being made here. And then we can turn the whole building into a museum.


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