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

Issue #99, 7/16/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. House Subcommittee Holds Second Hearing Attacking Drug Policy Reform
  2. U.K. National Health Service May Expand Heroin Prescription
  3. Kids On Texas Border Using More Cocaine
  4. Governor Balks as Medical Marijuana Task Force Recommendations Move Forward in California Senate
  5. News in Brief
  6. Media Alert: New York Premiere of "You Know What I'm Saying?"
  7. EDITORIAL: A Drug War Suppressant

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1. House Subcommittee Holds Second Hearing Attacking Drug Policy Reform

Scott Ehlers, Drug Policy Foundation, [email protected], http://www.dpf.org

The House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources held its second hearing on the drug policy reform movement on Tuesday (7/13), continuing its assault on virtually all variations of reform. Although this hearing, "The Decriminalization of Drugs," was not as vicious as the first (see link to WOL story, below), it was nonetheless stacked against reformers. Keith Stroup served as the only advocate for a de-escalation of the drug war, and both Democrats and Republicans were beating the drug war drum with equal fervor.

The hearing started with testimony from the former Administrator of the DEA, Thomas Constantine, who began his statement with the classic government falsehood that "harm reduction is a euphemism for drug legalization," and that the drug policy reform movement is only interested in making drugs more available to children and the poor. Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke was criticized for his drug policy reform views, which, according to Constantine, were to blame for Baltimore's high incidence of heroin use. When Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) suggested that the United States hasn't really fought a war on drugs, Constantine agreed, saying that U.S. citizens haven't made enough sacrifices to create a drug-free society.

The second panel was the most interesting. Keith Stroup, executive director of NORML, Robert MacCoun, a professor and consultant to RAND's Drug Policy Reseach Center, Sandra Bennett, president of Drug Watch International, and Bruce Glasscock, chief of police in Plano, Texas each testified. Stroup began his statement by laying out NORML's policy position, namely that all penalties for the private possession of marijuana by adults should be eliminated, that regulation of the marijuana market should be instituted, with the caveats marijuana should not be used by children, and should only be used in a responsible manner by adults. Stroup made a good case for marijuana decriminalization based on the fact that studies show that marijuana and hard drug use did not increase in those 11 states where marijuana has been decriminalized, and that criminalization is excessively harmful and costly. One message that Stroup reiterated was that the vast majority of "marijuana smokers are otherwise law-abiding citizens who work hard, raise families and contribute to their communities... Arresting and jailing responsible marijuana smokers is a misapplication of the criminal sanction which undermines respect for the law in general."

Professor Robert MacCoun's testimony was one of the best-informed, as it consisted of a review of research he and others had conducted on the effects of marijuana decriminalization in the United States and in countries such as the Netherlands and Australia. According to the available research, little or no increase in marijuana or other drug use has been shown under decriminalization, nor have adolescent attitudes changed as a result. It was noted that the Netherlands saw a significant increase in marijuana use among 18 to 20 year-olds between 1984 and 1992, a time in which the number of coffeeshops selling cannabis in Amsterdam increased tenfold. However, Dutch heroin and cocaine use have not increased, and crime rates have not increased because of the policy. In fact, it appears that fewer Dutch cannabis users go on to use cocaine, possibly because the quasi-legal cannabis market is separated from the illicit hard drug market.

Sandra Bennett of Drug Watch International gave one of the most emotionally charged testimonies, which is understandable given that her son died of heart failure, possibly as a result of cocaine use. She referred to advocates for reform as "scofflaws" and "pro-drug advocates," and accused them of filling the Internet with "deceptive and dangerous rhetoric." According to Bennett, the nation's universities are to blame for our drug problems because of their "permissive campus drug environment" and because "pro-drug advocates are allowed to operate [there] with impunity." She also believes the "media and our educational institutions are rife with harm reduction propaganda." How will the conspiracy to legalize drugs be accomplished? In Bennett's view, "the pro-drug lobby has cut up its agenda into a dozen smaller packages and is busy trying to dupe the public into accepting the whole pie, one bite at a time."

None of the final panelists espoused conspiracy theories, but many were strong advocates for coerced treatment and the need for harsh sentencing statutes to be used as an incentive in the treatment process. Charles Hynes, the District Attorney for Kings County, New York, described the Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison Program (DTAP) he runs, which serves as a diversion program for addicts who commit non-violent crimes to support their habit. The program has been in effect since late 1990, and has shown promising results in terms of reducing recidivism, reducing criminal justice costs, and increasing employment.

Katherine Lapp, Director of Criminal Justice in New York State, sought to make the case that the Rockefeller Drug Laws are not unjust and that people in New York State prison belong there "because of their repeated criminal behavior."

Finally, Barbara Broderick, the State Director of Adult Probation in Arizona, presented the preliminary results of research on the effects of Proposition 200, the Arizona Drug Medicalization, Prevention and Control Act. The law requires that persons convicted of a first and second drug possession charge must receive treatment rather than jail time. Prop. 200 created the Drug Treatment and Education Fund (DTEF), which distributes money generated by alcohol taxes to probation-based treatment, as well as to the Arizona Parents Commission on Drug Education and Prevention. According to Ms. Broderick, $3.1 million went to probation-based treatment programs in the first year, with 2,600 additional treatment slots being created. Three of five probationers successfully completed treatment, with treatment costing half as much as incarceration.

While the hearing did not get much coverage in the press, Chairman Mica (R-FL) seems intent on continuing with the charade of having an "open debate" on drug policy. Stay tuned for another "debate" later this month, which is scheduled to focus on medicinal marijuana.

(Scott Ehlers, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Drug Policy Foundation (http://www.dpf.org), testified last month at the first subcommittee hearing. A report is online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/095.html#slanderandthreats, including links to testimony by Ehlers and others. Ehlers is speaking next Thursday on the topic of international drug policy alternatives, as part of the Institute for Policy Studies brown bag lunch drug policy video and speaker series, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1029, Washington, DC, noon. Call (202) 234-9382 for information, or visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/096.html#videoseries for the full summer listing.)


2. U.K. National Health Service May Expand Heroin Prescription

Taylor West, [email protected]

Britain's National Health Service (NHS) is considering expanding the prescription of injectable, pharmaceutical heroin to severely addicted users. The plan would encourage qualified and certified doctors to prescribe diamorphine to addicts for whom methadone treatment have failed.

Recent research from the National Addiction Centre in London shows that some drug users whose addictions do not respond to orally-administered methadone are able to stabilize their addictions -- and their lives -- on a carefully managed injection diamorphine program. Currently, methadone accounts for 96 percent of all opiate prescriptions for treating drug dependency in the UK. While British doctors have long been allowed to prescribe injectable heroin, it accounts for less than two percent of the total number of prescriptions for opiates.

The NHS proposal would encourage qualified doctors to apply for diamorphine prescription licenses. This license would allow a doctor to prescribe heroin as part of a drug addict's treatment if the doctor's clinical judgment deems it appropriate and support services are available. Estimates from local drug organizations indicate that approximately 20,000 severely addicted drug users could benefit from the treatment if the proposal is adopted.

For more on heroin and methadone maintenance, check out The Lindesmith Center's online collection of articles and research on heroin and methadone maintenance:

http://www.lindesmith.org/library/heroinmain_index2.html
http://www.lindesmith.org/library/methadone_index2.html


3. Kids On Texas Border Using More Cocaine

The Orange County Register (7/10) reports that high school students living along the Texas-Mexico border are more likely to have tried cocaine than their cohorts in other parts of the state. Overall, cocaine use by Texas secondary school students has increased by 40% since 1988.

Al Robison of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas told The Week Online that the troubling news can be attributed to the drug war.

"The border is awash in drugs. You'd have to be blind not to see that" Robison said. "Why is cocaine so easily accessible near the border -- even more so than other parts of the country? Why are there no enforceable age restrictions on who can buy it? Why are we talking, once again, about drug use increasing among teenagers in Texas despite the fact that the state incarcerates so many people for drugs? One word. Prohibition."

The Drug Policy Forum of Texas can be found on the web at http://www.mapinc.org/DPFT/.


4. Governor Balks as Medical Marijuana Task Force Recommendations Move Forward in California Senate

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

July 15, 1999, Sacramento, CA: Governor Gray Davis' office announced yesterday that he opposes recommendations made by the "Attorney General's Task Force on Medical Marijuana," and would likely veto Senate legislation that seeks to implement them.

The 30-member task force of police, prosecutors, and medical marijuana advocates, which convened this spring under the direction of Attorney General Bill Lockyer, recommended the establishment of a voluntary state-run registry that would issue ID cards to qualified patients and caregivers. Persons legally possessing the cards would be immune from arrest under state law for the possession, transportation, delivery, or cultivation of medical marijuana. The task force also endorsed allowing "qualified persons to collectively or cooperatively cultivate [medical] marijuana."

Senator John Vasconcellos introduced legislation last week to implement the committee's recommendations. The Assembly Health Committee passed the measure, S.B. 848, Tuesday by a 9 to 3 vote. Davis' office announced his opposition following the Health Committee's action. Vasconcellos called the governor's response offensive. "This defies anything I've seen in 30 years," he said. "I thought the people of California elected the governor, not Barry McCaffrey." The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Davis has previously argued that elected officials should respect the will of the voters when they approve initiatives.


5. News in Brief

Jane Tseng, [email protected]

Hawaii Governor Signs Hemp Bill

Last Wednesday (7/7), Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano signed a measure that will seek federal approval to establish an experimental plot of hemp on the island of Hawaii. Upon the measure's signing, the Los Angeles-based Alterna Applied Research Laboratories, which produces hemp-based consumer products, gave the state a $200,000 grant to pay for the quarter-acre plot on state-owned land. Before any hemp seeds can be planted, however, the laboratory must first obtain a permit from the DEA, which has not issued such a permit in four decades. Cayetano said the measure demonstrates his administration's support for finding different ways to diversify the state's economy. Opponents of the measure argue that the measure sends a message to the Hawaii's youth that the state is softening its stand against illegal drugs.

Iowa's Proportion of Blacks Behind Bars Second Only to D.C.

The Des Moines Register has reported that 1 in 12 African Americans in Iowa is incarcerated, on parole or on probation. The ratio for whites is 1 in 110. Experts say disparities in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine are partly to blame, and even the local U.S. Attorney, Don Nickerson, isn't pulling any punches. "Some people will argue at that point that the decision [to impose harsher sentences for crack cocaine] was discriminatory," Nickerson told the Register. "I don't know if it was. But I can definitely say it had the effect of being discriminatory."


6. Media Alert: New York Premiere of "You Know What I'm Saying?"

New York City area readers won't want to miss the New York premiere of "You Know What I'm Saying?" on Friday, July 16 at 10:30pm on Channel 13/WNET (rebroadcast Sunday, July 18 at 12:30am).

Directed and produced by Emily Fisher and Frizzi Maniglio, "You Know What I'm Saying?" is a poignant, hard-hitting half-hour documentary about needle exchange, chronicling a community in the South Bronx fighting to survive drug abuse, the spread of AIDS, and the hostility of a larger society in the midst of the drug war. By telling the story of one community's fight for life, "You Know What I'm Saying?," which features the St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction needle exchange program, challenges viewers to rethink the consequences of punitive national and local drug policies, indicting those who favor cramming jails over saving lives.

"You Know What I'm Saying?" is being presented as part of Thirteen/WNET's independent film and video series, "Reel New York." The film series has a companion web site, http://www.wnet.org/reelnewyork/, including video clips, interviews, and other resources.


7. EDITORIAL: A Drug War Suppressant

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

A front page story in the Dallas Morning News this week indicates that teens in Texas are increasingly turning to a new, legal high: cough medicine. Dextromethorphan, an active ingredient in more than 140 over-the-counter remedies, gives users a dissociative, trip-like high when taken at dosages far above recommended levels. The story, which highlights the fact that parents are largely ignorant of the trend, inadvertently points to the folly of the drug war as a whole.

"There's been a real upswing (in teen use)," a DEA agent is quoted as saying. But, he adds, since the substance is legal to buy, sell or possess, "this is out of our realm."

Several years ago, when the problem first came to the attention of the pharmaceutical industry, Whitehall-Robins, maker of Robitussin cough syrup, considered running an ad campaign warning of potential misuse of the product. But Bob D'Alessandro, an independent substance abuse consultant advised against it, reasoning that with the majority of American teens unaware that they could get high off of cough medicine, such a campaign would only raise the popularity of the practice.

The growing trend raises a very important question, one that should be answered before we spend another red cent on interdiction, enforcement or incarceration in the war on the traffickers and users of cocaine, heroin or marijuana. That is: If we could stop all illegal drugs from entering the country, would we accomplish anything at all in our crusade to create a "drug free" society?

Drugs don't have to be illegal to get you high. And they don't even have to be "drugs," strictly speaking. Gasoline, spray paint, household products and even some air fresheners will do the trick, as will a whole host of fauna indigenous to North America. And every day, in labs both licit and illicit, chemists are producing new substances to alter brain functions. Some of these substances will be safer than currently popular drugs, and some will be less so. The bottom line however, is that even if we could eliminate the big three from the face of the earth, the only difference that it would make is to trade one type of high for another. Or another. Or another.

Fortunately for the kids in Texas, and for kids in other parts of the country who are using dextromethorphan, or "DMX" as it's often called, the substance is not physically addictive and is unlikely to cause serious harms or death. Less fortunate is the fact that DMX is potentially deadly when taken in combination with other widely used drugs such as antidepressants and non-drowsy allergy medications. Kids who are using DMX are unlikely to have that information, and under our current "drug education" paradigm, are unlikely to think to even ask.

Perhaps we're going about this all wrong. Perhaps it is impossible to keep "drugs" away from kids. Maybe what we ought to be doing is supervising our younger kids more closely, regulating the most popular and most potentially dangerous substances to make it harder for kids to gain access to them, and providing our teens a with a full understanding and a healthy respect for the risks involved in altering their brain chemistry. Especially with substances whose chemical effects are unknown to them. Such an education, grounded in a far more comprehensive philosophy of health than the current "drugs are bad" model, would protect teens from the unintended consequences that so often accompany drug use, while demystifying the act of getting high and reducing its allure.

As things stand now, we are spending billions upon billions of tax dollars in a failing attempt to keep a very small subset of recreationally-used substances off of our streets. This approach ignores both the impossibility of that mission and the fact that even if we somehow succeeded, it is unlikely that the impact would be other than cosmetic. Even in an age of easy access to prohibited substances, our kids are finding alternative modes of intoxication. Like the caps on the cough syrup our kids are now slugging down, the drug war, it seems, is far from child-proof.


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