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

Issue #96, 6/25/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Governor of New Mexico Calls Drug War "Failed" -- Calls for Discussion of Alternatives
  2. Hyde's Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Passes House Easily
  3. Vancouver's Cannabis Cafe, Hemp BC Closed
  4. Activist Banned From Talking About Marijuana
  5. NEW YORK: Staten Island Assemblyman Wants Needle Exchange Banned
  6. IDAHO: "Drug Bust: The Longest War" TV Special Preempted by Drug Testing Speech in Boise
  7. News in Brief
  8. Supreme Court Roundup
  9. WASHINGTON: Free Video and Lunch-Talk Series
  10. EDITORIAL: Can't Keep a Good Idea Down

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1. Governor of New Mexico Calls Drug War "Failed" -- Calls for Discussion of Alternatives

Gary Johnson, Republican Governor of New Mexico, ignited a firestorm in his state on Wednesday (6/23) by calling for a re-examination of the failed drug war and a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization.

"It (the drug war) needs to get talked about," he said in an interview, "and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization. We really need to put all options on the table."

Johnson, who said that the drug war was a "miserable failure" that "hasn't worked," noted that "the drug problem is getting worse. It's not getting better."

The suggestion became a big story in the New Mexico media, with the state's largest newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, running it as the lead story the following day (see http://www.abqjournal.com/news/3news06-24.htm) and local news stations interviewing DARE officers and others for reaction.

Steven Bunch, President of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, commended the governor for bringing the issue to public debate.

"Governor Johnson is absolutely correct about the failure of the so-called drug war. Prohibition has caused more problems than the policy has solved. It has corrupted our nation and it insures that our children have access to substances that we cannot possibly control in a black market."

Predictably, not every New Mexico elected official was receptive to the idea.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Skeen (R-NM) told the Journal that the congressman's views "can be summed up in three words: 'Just Say No.'"

Johnson, who is 46 years-old and is the father of two teenage children, has previously acknowledged that he had used marijuana, and occasionally cocaine while in college. Now an avid triathlon, he stopped using drugs in his early 20's and has not used alcohol in 12 years.

"What I did was criminal," he said, "and yet those people that I knew that did the same and those that still do it today, I don't consider them criminals."

MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Write to Governor Johnson and let him know that you appreciate his political courage -- especially if you're from New Mexico. If you have family or friends in New Mexico, urge them to call. The Governor's number is (505) 827-3000, or you can write to Governor Gary E. Johnson, Office of the Governor, State Capitol Building, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87503, or comment through the net at http://164.64.43.1/opinion/Opinion.htm. His office needs to hear from people, especially constituents, so Governor Johnson will know there is support for what he is trying to accomplish.

Submit letters to the editor to the Albuquerque Journal at [email protected], fax to (505) 823-3812, or mail to: Letters to the Editor, The Albuquerque Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103. Your letter needs to include your name, address and phone number, and your signature if using fax or snail-mail. It should probably be under 200 words, to have the best chance of getting printed.


2. Hyde's Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act Passes House Easily

(press release from the Drug Policy Foundation, http://www.dpf.org)

WASHINGTON, June 24 -- The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 1999, a bill sponsored by Reps. Henry Hyde (R-IL), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Barr (R-GA) and Barney Frank (D-MA), sailed through the House of Representatives by a 375-48 margin at 5:05pm today.

"This is the most important property-rights legislation to come out of the House this year," said Drug Policy Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Scott Ehlers. "Americans are a step closer to being protected from some of the worst abuses of police power."

Ehlers said that proponents of the bill were hoping that it would pass by a wide enough margin for the Senate to take notice. "The House has clearly and resoundingly said that property rights are important and that the Senate should pass this bill."

An amendment by Reps. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY), which would have watered down H.R. 1658 and strengthened civil asset forfeiture laws, failed by a 268-155 vote. H.R. 1658 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 the owners' having to prove that their property is not guilty;
  • Creating an "innocent owner" defense, whereby property owners unaware of criminal activity occurring on their property could recover their property;
  • Providing indigent defendants with appointed counsel; and
  • Eliminating 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.
(Thanks to the many of you who responded to our asset forfeiture alerts. We will alert you when there is a bill to lobby for in the Senate. Visit http://www.fear.org for further information.)


3. Vancouver's Cannabis Cafe, Hemp BC Closed

Peder Nelson, [email protected]

The Cannabis Cafe and Hemp BC of Vancouver, British Columbia were closed by court order on Wednesday, June 9. The closing came after Supreme Court Justice Thomas Melnick upheld a city council decision denying the businesses an operating license. At the same time, Melnick granted an injunction to Vancouver city council lawyers to close the two proprietorships.

Marijuana activist Marc Emery, who stirred up local, national, and international politics with his outspoken views, founded the stores in 1994. In 1998, Emery sold the shops to Shelly Francis, who operated them until the shutdown. Both the shop and the cafe were raided several times by local police, and were the subject of an investigation run jointly by local authorities and the US Navy.

The city council held a special show-cause hearing on May 17-18, 1999, to determine whether a business license would be granted to Francis. Her request was denied. The council cited reasons such as lack of cooperation with local police, patrons smoking while in the establishments, and the degradation of the community. Nevertheless, local merchants and community members attended the meeting armed with 10,000 signatures on a petition in support of the Cannabis Cafe and Hemp BC. The denial prompted an application for relief by both parties directed to the BC Supreme Court.

In his decision, Justice Melnick noted that the city attorney's demands of Francis at the show-cause hearing "would make the expression 'red tape' appear inconsequential," but that in the end, "the city faces losing credibility in enforcing its licensing scheme" if the injunction were not granted.

The closing of the businesses represents a victory for Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, who had publicly vowed that the stores would be "toast." A spokesman for the mayor told The Week Online he had no comment for this story.

"I guess they've won," Francis said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. "[But] I will always continue this fight to decriminalize marijuana. It's one that has to be fought." Her lawyers said Ms. Francis is planning an appeal.

Read DRCNet's earlier coverage of this story at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/061.html#hempbc. The Hemp BC website is still online at http://www.hempbc.com.


4. Activist Banned From Talking About Marijuana

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ordered a medical marijuana user to stop speaking publicly about marijuana, or face a two year prison term. Joe "Hemp" Kidwell was sentenced last week by Judge Albert Matthews for cultivating fourteen marijuana plants in a storefront office in Venice Beach in 1998. Kidwell, whose doctor testified in his defense at his trial, is protected under the state's laws barring prosecution of people who use marijuana medicinally. But the judge also restricted him from using marijuana anywhere but inside his own home.

Kidwell has been an outspoken and controversial marijuana activist. Before his conviction, he operated First Hemp Bank Distribution Network, a Venice buyer's club. He was arrested two other times last year, once for offering a police officer a joint, which resulted in a misdemeanor conviction. The other arrest, resulting from a report that he was smoking marijuana on a public promenade, will go to trial next week.

The Week Online spoke with Kidwell's attorney, Ronald Richards, who said Kidwell will appeal the probationary restrictions under statutory and Constitutional grounds. Kidwell also criticized the government's continued reliance on prohibition, saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and thinking it's going to solve a social problem." "Locking everybody up and making them criminals for simply growing some marijuana, not for sale, is insane."


5. NEW YORK: Staten Island Assemblyman Wants Needle Exchange Banned

Taylor West, [email protected]

A bill that would effectively ban legal needle exchange in the state of New York has been introduced into the state assembly by Eric Vitaliano, a Democrat from Staten Island. The legislation comes on the heels of recent plans to launch a needle exchange program in that borough and New York Governor George Pataki's appointment of Dr. Antonia C. Novello as Health Department Commissioner.

Vitaliano's bill would rescind the provision in New York's state code (Title VII, Section 3381) that allows the Commissioner to grant exemptions for individuals and "classes of persons" from the state's law against the possession or distribution of hypodermic instruments. That provision has allowed for the establishment of 12 state-licensed needle exchange programs throughout New York since 1992.

Kristine Smith, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, stated the department's opposition to the bill. "We do not support this legislation. We feel that our needle exchange programs have been very successful in reaching out to individuals who otherwise may never come in contact with treatment and prevention opportunities. It is important also to stress our commitment to gaining community support before we establish each exchange." Newly confirmed Commissioner Novello has also publicly stated her personal support for New York's needle exchange programs.

The Staten Island AIDS Task Force recently requested permission from the Health Department to begin a mobile needle exchange program on the island. The final decision has not yet been made, but the Task Force is moving ahead with planning stages while awaiting the state's approval. Vitaliano wrote a letter to Governor Pataki opposing the program, but received no direct reply.

Elsewhere in New York, needle exchange activists' response to Vitaliano's bill was critical. Donald Grove, director of development for the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition, remarked that the introduction of such a bill "shows just how little science and the reality of microbes and viruses has to do with elective politics."

Grove also related Vitaliano's campaign to those of others attacking needle exchange in the Empire State. "There has been a malicious movement to misinform the New York public about needle exchange programs," he told The Week Online. "This is another example of political goals obscuring the facts about a practice that has been proven to save lives and protect the public health."

The bill is not expected to advance far in the legislature, but Grove acknowledged that it may still affect the needle exchange cause. "Vitaliano's bill is like a Pat Buchanan campaign," he explained. "It is fairly clear that it won't succeed, but it will serve to yank the discussion and the agenda further in his direction. Instead of talking about preventing the spread of viruses and improving the public health, we'll be hearing the same unsubstantiated hysteria from the same parade of people. Every time this happens, it results in more scurrying around within the Health Department, more regulations and restrictions in order to protect public relations."

Meanwhile, Vitaliano's camp maintains its anti-needle exchange position. "There are better ways to prevent exposure to deadly diseases," the assemblyman stated in a press release. The press release did not elaborate on those ways.


6. IDAHO: "Drug Bust: The Longest War" TV Special Preempted by Drug Testing Speech in Boise

Peder Nelson, [email protected]

On Sunday, June 20, television viewers across the country watched an NBC special report, "Drug Bust: The Longest War." The program, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, highlighted many of the failings of current US drug policy. But viewers of KTVB-TV in Boise, Idaho saw a speech by US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue promoting drug testing in the workplace instead. The program was aired as part of "Enough is Enough," an anti-drug campaign the station is sponsoring.

DRCNet learned of the preempting when subscribers in Boise wrote us to complain. Local resident Russ Belville wrote that he had spoken earlier with reporters from the station who were concerned that KTVB's involvement with the campaign could cause a "conflict of interest" for the newsroom. "Seems to me there's no conflict at KTVB's newsroom at all," Belville wrote this week. "If it doesn't follow the 'Enough is Enough' agenda, it doesn't get aired on KTVB -- even if it is a special report from one of their parent network's news department."

Doug Armstrong of KTVB-TV told the Week Online that the station preempted the NBC show because it needed a primetime run for the final episode of "Incredible Idaho," a local nature program. He added that the station had a previous commitment to air the Donohue's speech.

John Brine, a spokesman for NBC, said that while the Idaho station's choice to replace the Geraldo special with a pro-drug war speech was "interesting," there was nothing unusual about an affiliate choosing not to air it. "The show was picked up throughout the nation and broadcast at about the same rate as other shows," he said. Local stations generally have the option of preempting network programs for local shows when they have other obligations or needs.

A summary and excerpts from Drug Bust can be read online at http://www.msnbc.com/news/281474.asp. Enough is Enough has a web site at http://www.ktvb.com/program/enough.html.


7. News in Brief

Jane Tseng, [email protected]

Former D.A.R.E. Officer Sentenced in Cocaine Case

A former D.A.R.E. officer in Wisconsin was sentenced last week to five years in prison for selling cocaine. Kenneth Dodge, an employee of the Menominee Tribal Police Department since February 1983, was fired in June 1997 after selling cocaine to an undercover agent on three occasions while he was a bartender at a local tavern. In addition to the five-year prison sentence, Circuit Court Judge Earl Schmidt revoked Dodge's driver's license for three years and fined him $302 in court fees and fines.

Swiss High Court Rules Ecstasy Sales Not a "Serious" Crime

On Tuesday June 15, the Swiss Supreme Court overturned a one-year prison sentence given by the State Court of Bern to a man convicted of selling 1000 tablets of Ecstasy. In its ruling, the Supreme Court classified Ecstasy as a "soft drug," saying that while Ecstasy was not a harmless substance; it did not pose a serious health risk.

Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, told The Week Online, "It's a link between honest medical research and objective risk assessment, both of which the we could use more of in the United States." The court also rejected a plea from a state court for a harsher sentence for a man convicted of selling more than 1,300 tablets of Ecstasy. Drug offenses classified as "serious," such as dealing cocaine or heroin, carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison under Swiss law.

On Sunday, the Guardian printed an editorial in support of the Swiss Court decision. The editorial can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/.

Scottish Public Health Docs Call for Marijuana Legalization

This week, the British Medical Association's Scottish committee on public health medicine called for the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medical use. The doctors, who plan to put forward a motion at the association's annual conference in Belfast next month, are the first medical professionals to advocate a measure supporting the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. The doctors said they hope the legalization of marijuana will cut down on the use of more dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine. George Venters, the chairman of the Scottish Committee, has said he feels confident that the committee will easily win public support after all the facts are out. A spokesperson for the BMA would only comment that the ideas presented by the committee do not represent the ideas and policies of the association as a whole.


8. Supreme Court Roundup

Jane Tseng, [email protected]

Court Refuses to Hear Singleton Appeal

This week, the Court refused to hear an appeal concerning a ruling last year in which prosecutors offered leniency to witnesses in exchange for testimony. By refusing to hear the case, the Court effectively ruled that the common but controversial federal practice of offering leniency to witnesses in exchange for testimony is still acceptable.

The controversy arose after the January decision by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the conviction of Sonya Singleton in a cocaine trafficking case. Singleton had appealed her conviction, saying that the prosecution's witnesses were offered leniency for his testimony, which helped convict her and other defendants. Singleton's lawyer argued to the court of appeals that the testimony provided by the prosecution's witness could not be used because of a federal law forbidding the exchange of anything of value for testimony.

Singleton's lawyer commented that "the government's practice of buying testimony" will "eat away at the integrity of the judicial system." The Court reasoned that if Congress had written the law to make it illegal for prosecutors to continue their long-standing practice of offering lesser sentences in exchange for testimony, they would have worded the law in such a way as to eliminate doubts. More detailed information on the case in question can be found at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/074.html#singleton.

Dyson Traffic Stop Ruling Overturned

The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by a mid-level Maryland appeals court this week that had ruled that searching a vehicle without a warrant is unlawful. The decision upholds an exception to the 4th amendment dating back to 1925 that states that police do not need a warrant when searching a vehicle. The case came before the court after Kevin Darnell Dyson's conviction of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. The police stopped Dyson on July 3, 1996 and searched his car after an informant told them that Dyson would be on his way home from New York City, where he had allegedly gone to buy cocaine. The police found 23 grams of crack cocaine in a bag in Dyson's trunk.

Dyson appealed his conviction, saying that the search was unlawful because the police had had time to obtain a warrant before searching Dyson's car. The justices noted that previous rulings in 1982 and 1996 affirmed that police do not need a warrant in order to search a vehicle if they had cause to believe there was evidence of a crime.

Court to Hear Case on Juror Removal

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear an Arizona drug case this week which will determine whether or not some criminal convictions would have to be overturned because of jury selection errors. The case concerns Abel Martinez-Salazar, who was arrested in Phoenix and was later convicted for possession of heroin with the intent to distribute and using or carrying a firearm during a drug crime. During the trial, Martinez-Salazar's lawyer used one of his automatic challenges to remove a juror. Martinez-Salazar later claimed that the juror was biased and that his lawyer should not have been forced to use one of his 11 preemptory challenges to remove that juror. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Martinez-Salazar's due-process rights were violated because under federal law, defendants are not required to use their automatic challenges to remove prospective jurors if they show bias. The prosecution argues that because a biased-juror was never allowed on the jury, the conviction still holds.


9. WASHINGTON: Free Video and Lunch-Talk Series

The Institute for Policy Studies' Drug Policy and Foreign Policy in Focus projects invite you to attend their RETHINKING THE DRUG WAR: A FREE SUMMER VIDEO AND SPEAKER SERIES. Films (with experts to speak following film) will be shown weekly though August 19th. Cosponsored by the Progressive Challenge and the Social Action and Leadership School for Activists.

RETHINKING THE DRUG WAR:
A Free Summer Video and Speaker Series
Thursdays, noon to 2:00pm
Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1020, Washington, DC
Sponsored by IPS' Drug Policy and Foreign Policy in Focus Projects Brown Bag lunch series. Drinks and dessert provided. For information, contact Samara or Jenny at (202) 234-9382, ext. 220.

Thursday, June 24:
Video- "The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace" (Walter Cronkite)
Drug War 101: Overview of US Policy
Speaker: Paul Lewin (Research Director, Common Sense for Drug Policy)

Thursday, July 1:
Video- "Seeds of War" (Australian documentary)
A History of the US War on Drugs
Speakers: William Chambliss (Author and Professor, GWU) and Carol Bergman (Research and Policy Reform Center)

Thursday, July 8:
Video- "America's War on Drugs" (America's Defense Monitor)
Addicted to Failure: the US Drug War Overseas
Speakers: Coletta Youngers (Washington Office on Latin America) and Peter Zirnite (DC-based journalist)

Thursday, July 15:
Video- "Unholy Alliance" (The CIA,the Afghan War, and heroin trafficking) Covert Operations and the Drug Trade Speaker: Bob Parry (Editor and Publisher, I.F. Magazine)

Thursday, July 22:
Video- "Sex, Drugs, and Democracy" (The Dutch Model)
International Drug Policy and Alternatives
Speaker: Scott Ehlers (Senior Policy Analyst, Drug Policy Foundation)

Thursday, July 29:
Video- "Snitch" (PBS Frontline documentary)
How the System Operates: Police, Prosecutors, and Drug Laws
Speaker: Eric Sterling (President, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation)

Thursday, August 5: Video- "The Corner" (Nightline program on a Baltimore drug market)
Race, Poverty, and the Drug Economy
Speaker: Cheryl Epps (DC-based drug policy expert)

Thursday, August 12:
Video- "Women of Substance" (Mothers and Addiction)
Other Casualties of the Drug War: Women and Students
Speakers: Diane Riley (invited)(International Harm Reduction Network) and Adam Smith (Associate Director, DRCnet)

Thursday, August 19:
Video- "The Legacy" (PBS documentary)
Three Strikes and Other Legislative Hysteria
Speakers: Vincent Schiraldi (Executive Director, Justice Policy Institute) and Rep. Barbara Lee D-CA (invited)

Visit http://www.ips-dc.org for information about the Institute for Policy Studies and links to the programs that are sponsoring this series.


10. EDITORIAL: Can't Keep a Good Idea Down

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

File this in the "You Just Can't Keep a Good Idea Down" folder. New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, a Republican, sparked controversy this week by proclaiming the drug war "a failure" and advocating a wide-ranging debate on alternatives, including decriminalization. Governor Johnson's remarks came exactly one week after his GOP party-mates in Congress compared drug policy reformers to child abusers, rapists and pedophiles and even went so far as to urge the criminal prosecution of reform advocates under federal RICO statutes.

Governor Johnson, a 46 year-old father of two and an avid triathlete, has previously admitted using marijuana and occasionally cocaine while in college. "What I did was criminal," he said in an interview, "and yet those people that I knew that did the same thing and those that still do it today, I don't consider them criminals."

There is no question that New Mexico is a long way from Washington, DC. But do not think for a moment that it will go unnoticed within the Republican leadership that one of their governors has broken party ranks on the drug war. The very fact that Congressional hearings were held last week, convened by Republican John Mica of Florida, is testament to the fact that the party is both concerned about the growing calls for reform and determined to do all that it can to discredit them.

Despite the rabidity of the most ideological drug warriors, the issue of drug policy, and particularly the realization that what we are currently doing is disastrous, is gaining currency across the nation. Nevertheless, it is telling that Governor Johnson created a political firestorm by the mere suggestion that we discuss all viable alternatives. Such reaction, along with the ugliness of last week's Congressional hearings, show that even pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is still an act of extreme political courage.

It will be interesting to watch the Republican party as the ideological split over this issue continues to emerge. The drug war is an issue upon which many GOPers have staked their reputations, and filled their campaign coffers. But it is an issue that is beginning to create a chasm that will soon become impossible to ignore. For Republicans, already struggling with internal divisions over abortion, gun control and censorship of the popular culture, there might not be a tent big enough for this one.


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