(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #100, 7/23/99
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
or check out The Week Online archives
On July 3, 1997, DRCNet launched The Week Online, the nation's only weekly news magazine dedicated to original coverage of the drug war and drug policy reform. The movement has come a long way in the short time since that first issue; nine more reform-oriented voter initiatives have been approved in the United States, harm reduction -- and drug policy reform generally -- continue to gain mainstream acceptance around the globe, two US governors, along with numerous prominent citizens and the editorial boards of a growing number of the nation's largest newspapers have called for a reexamination of the drug war; African-American leaders have come to the fore to openly oppose mandatory minimum sentencing, racial profiling, the number of young Black males in prison and official foot-dragging on syringe exchange -- drug war issues all; and factions of the US government have displayed their concern over the growing movement to end the drug war by redoubling efforts to demonize, harass and slander the advocates of reform.
Over the past two years, DRCNet has grown as well. Back in July of '97, DRCNet's staff consisted of Dave and Adam, working out of a room in the offices of the Drug Policy Foundation (to whom we are indebted for their continued support). Today we have a full-time staff of four, (Karynn and Kris have both been here for over a year) with two part-time -- but vitally important -- staff-members (Nissim and Jane) and a growing internship program that has brought us Taylor, Peter and Will. We have been in our own office here in Dupont Circle for more than a year and a half, and we even have a laser printer!
The most important indicator of our growth, however, is you. Issue #1 of The Week Online arrived by email to just over 2,000 subscribers. Issue #100 has been sent out to a subscription list of more than 11,000. And many of you (you know who you are) regularly re-post, re-print and forward all or part of each issue to countless others. We thank you.
But the real reason for this work is far more important. It is the hundreds of thousands of Americans who sit today behind bars for non-violent drug offenses. It is America's children, who have easy access to dangerous substances in the unregulated black market. It is the Constitution of the United States, which has been chiseled away by years of "drug war exceptions," and it is the future of this nation and a world awash in a violent and insidiously corrupting industry which buys off governments, finances despots and terrorists, and makes a mockery of the rule of law and the ideals of freedom, liberty and personal responsibility.
We thank you all for being part of the solution, and we hope that in the time it takes to produce the next hundred issues of The Week Online, you too will redouble your commitment to ending America's longest war. It is a war not on drugs but on people, and families, and principles. It is within our power to end this war, and as the leading edge of the growing resistance, it is our responsibility to do so. The future is truly in our hands. Let us shape it wisely, together.
- The staff of DRCNet.
2. DC Appropriations Bill Moves Forward -- Medical Marijuana Vote May Be Counted, Syringe Exchange May Be Re-funded
Taylor West, [email protected]
Opponents of "social riders" attached by Congress to last year's DC spending bill celebrated two victories this week in the House Appropriations Committee. During debate in the committee over this year's DC Appropriations Act, Representative James Moran (D-VA) successfully added two amendments that reversed provisions in last year's spending legislation. Moran's first amendment allowed the certification of Initiative 59, the medical marijuana vote which has remained uncounted since it took place on November 3rd of last year. The second amendment removed last year's prohibition of local funding for syringe exchange. Both amendments must now survive debate on the House floor in order to take effect.
With a vote of 24-13, the Appropriations Committee approved Moran's amendment to remove last year's ban on the use of city funds to certify the District's referendum vote on medical marijuana. The vote took place nearly nine months ago, but Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) pushed through a measure in last year's spending bill that allowed no local expenditure for officially counting the results. The estimated cost of executing that count is less than two dollars. In response, supporters of the initiative have challenged the constitutionality of the amendment in federal court; the case is pending.
If the vote certification amendment survives House floor debate, the results of the referendum -- which exit polls estimated at nearly 70% in favor of the medical use of marijuana -- will finally be announced. At that time, the House, the Senate, and the Clinton administration will have 30 days in which to take action to block the implementation of the initiative. If a move to block is not approved by all three bodies within 30 days, the initiative will become law in the District.
Wayne Turner, director of ACTUP/DC (http://www.actupdc.org) and a leader of the Initiative 59 campaign, was optimistic as he spoke to The Week Online. "It's very exciting for a couple of reasons. First, I think this victory in the committee shows that this is a winnable issue. Many people doubted that. Second, we've been fighting this as an issue of democracy -- allowing the will of the people to be heard. It is heartening to see that some legislators, regardless of their stance on medical marijuana, will stand by that democratic principle. Furthermore, we feel very confident about the court case that is pending. Regardless of how this legislation turns out, we feel good about our chances." Turner also praised Congressman Moran for following through on his commitment to fight the social riders attached in last year's appropriations.
Moran's second amendment would allow the nation's capital to once again help fund a syringe exchange in the District. The Whitman-Walker clinic, in conjunction with the DC Department of Health, began operating a city-wide syringe exchange program in 1996. However, when last year's DC Appropriations prohibited the use of city funds for syringe exchange, Whitman-Walker was forced to end that program. Since then, only Prevention Works!, a small organization funded entirely by private grants, has provided syringe exchange services to the District of Columbia, which has the highest rate of new HIV infections in the nation.
Rob Stewart, Director of Communications at the Drug Policy Foundation, welcomed the possibility of returning city funding for syringe exchange. "In an ideal world, there would be sufficient private funds to keep syringe exchange programs running, but Congress's unwillingness to confront this crisis has only made it more of a public health emergency. Hopefully, both houses [of Congress] will allow DC to spend its money as it sees fit -- a vital component of 'home rule.'" The Drug Policy Foundation has been the chief monetary supporter of Prevention Works!.
Representative Moran has committed himself to continue pushing his amendments on the floor of the House. Jim McIntyre, Moran's press secretary, told the Week Online, "Congressman Moran believes very strongly that Congress should not be telling the District how to spend their locally collected revenue. The Republican leadership has continued to insist on the addition of these social riders, even though they do not involve any federal funds. Congressman Moran is extremely pleased that his amendments passed the full committee, and is optimistic that this victory will help in the House debate."
The DC Appropriations Act is scheduled for debate in the House on Thursday, July 29th. Turner, who has also been active in working for needle exchange in the District, explained his view of the situation this way. "I think many Congress people are afraid of certain votes. They're scared off by the idea of voting for needles and marijuana. However, by offering these amendments, we give them the choice instead to vote for HIV prevention and democracy. Who can oppose that?"
3. Senate Holds First Hearing on Civil Forfeiture Reform
Tyler Green, Drug Policy Foundation [email protected], http://www.dpf.org
The Senate took a first step toward drafting its own civil asset forfeiture reform legislation at a subcommittee hearing Wednesday (7/21).
The Senate subcommittee which oversees criminal justice matters held a hearing born out of the 375-48 passage of Rep. Henry Hyde's (R-IL) Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act in the House. The subcommittee members expressed interest in passing some kind of civil asset forfeiture reform legislation, but it remains unclear how similar that legislation would be to Hyde's bill.
"The Civil Asset Forfeiture Act would provide greater safeguards for individuals whose property has been seized by the government," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the member of the subcommittee most enthusiastic about reform. "This bipartisan legislation passed the House of Representatives last month by an overwhelming majority and it deserves our prompt consideration."
Most other senators on the panel agreed that some reform of federal forfeiture law was necessary, but they weren't sure how far to go. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who chairs the subcommittee, said he didn't like the Hyde bill and was concerned about a provision that would provide indigent property owners with counsel. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the ranking minority member, spoke passionately against Hyde's bill, as did former federal prosecutor Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
"I hope we don't overcorrect for a problem that doesn't exist," Sessions said. "I think this needs some tinkering with, but does not need a major overhaul."
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE), who spoke against H.R. 1658 in his opening remarks, came around to favoring some reforms during one of the question-and-answer sessions. Biden induced representatives from the Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement agencies to unanimously agree on the need for reform in the areas of the burden of and standard of proof, providing compensation for damage done to seized property by federal agents, and the allowing of interest charges. Biden and the panel also found limited agreement on the need to eliminate the 10% bond people must post to get their property back, and on the appointment of counsel for indigent property owners.
No Senate hearings on the issue are scheduled at this time, but it seems likely the subcommittee will revisit the topic again during the 106th Congress.
You can read about the Hyde bill at http://www.dpf.org/html/forfeiture.html. Learn more about civil asset forfeiture on the web at http://www.fear.org.
4. Fuel to the Fire: Drug Czar Proposes Billion More for Andean Drug War, Mostly Colombia
Responding to what he called a "near-crisis," US drug czar Barry McCaffrey has called for an additional $1 billion in aid for the Latin American drug war, most of it for Colombia. McCaffrey has proposed that $570 million be spent in Colombia: $360 million for crop eradication efforts, $130 million for air interdiction, $20 million on the judiciary and legal system, and $60 million for police forces, according to the Miami Herald, last Saturday, 7/17. The Colombian crisis, according to McCaffrey, is an increasing level of coca cultivation and significant military victories by rebel forces, who now control much of the southern part of the country. McCaffrey charged that the rebel guerrillas are financing their activities through drug trafficking, and called it "silly at this point" to differentiate between anti-drug programs and the Colombian government's counterinsurgency war against the guerrillas.
By all accounts, Colombia is in the grip of a crisis of deep proportions. The Marxist rebel forces, known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), control perhaps 40 percent of the country outright. The nation is facing its worst economic recession since the 1930s. And nearly 1 1/2 million Colombians have become refugees in their own country, forced to flee homes and towns from civil conflict and political violence.
Current US policy, however, and the McCaffrey proposal, have drawn criticism from organizations monitoring human rights and Latin America policy.
Robin Kirk, a Colombia specialist at Human Rights Watch, told the Week Online, "Obviously, Colombia's a mess, and there has to be something done to forward peace. I think most people would agree that peace is really the only option. Colombia has tried war for decades, and it hasn't worked. To the contrary, things have gotten a lot worse, and this is first time that they've really tried peace in a profound way. So we see this proposal by McCaffrey, which was actually just picking up on a proposal made to the US government by the Colombian defense minister and the head of the armed forces, as premature." The Colombian government and the rebels have recently begun negotiations on a peace settlement.
Meredith Tate, of the Washington Office on Latin America, explained, "In terms of the impact in Colombia, it's going to be disastrous for the prospects of peace in terms of reaching a negotiated settlement with guerrilla groups, who are going to see this as direct US intervention in the area. It's going to further radicalize them, and it's going to further the social conflict in the areas in which peasant populations are involved in coca production, because there's an increased military attack on this population, without any economic alternatives."
Of particular concern to organizations working on Latin American issues is the Colombian military's human rights record. "The Colombian army remains the most abusive in the hemisphere, particularly in its relationship with the paramilitary groups, which continue to commit most of the human rights violations in the country," said Kirk. The right-wing paramilitaries are illegal private armies, that have close ties to and receive substantial unofficial support from the army at the local and regional levels. While all three of these sides -- army, guerrillas and paramilitary groups -- are considered to be serious abusers of human rights, the paramilitaries account for most of Colombia's political killings. Kirk continued, "We're seeing an average of 3000 casualties a year, of civilians, people who don't have anything to do directly with the conflict, people who are teachers, or nurses, or bus drivers, or truckers, or what have you. We saw almost 200 massacres last year alone (massacre meaning the killing of four people in one place at the same time). We see rampant impunity for the people who commit massacres or commit violations, especially impunity for the military. There's a case right now, an army general who facilitated a paramilitary massacre in 1997. Instead of being jailed -- and he should have been -- he was promoted, and ended up in command of one of the main divisions in the Colombian army."
The human rights violations create legal issues in US funding as well. US foreign counternarcotics funding is subject to the Leahy Amendment, which requires that the aid may only go to units that have not been implicated in human rights abuses. Only three of the six army units in the southern part of Colombia, where most of the coca growing takes place, have passed the Leahy requirements. "So," Kirk said, "we remain convinced that the army has to break those ties with paramilitaries, before they can be eligible [under Leahy] to receive an increase in US funding." Kirk further explained that the drug czar's proposal would be a radical change in US policy, because for the first time a lot of the money would go to the Colombian army, rather than the counternarcotics police who receive most of the aid now.
Tate told the Week Online that the funding increase would be "a tremendous waste of money, in that it's continuing the escalation of aid for counternarcotics policies that have proven themselves to be complete ineffective and basically a total failure in achieving any actual counternarcotics objectives."
Indeed, the documented failure of US anti-drug efforts in Latin America has a history spanning decades. From an estimated 80,000 hectares in 1980, cultivation of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, increased to over 215,000 hectares in 1989, and has fluctuated, but never gone below 190,000 hectares ever since. (The hectare is a unit of land measurement from the metric system, equal to the area of a square 100 meters on each side, or a little over 2 1/2 acres.) Reductions in cultivation in some areas have been subject to the "push down-pop up" effect, eliciting new or increased cultivation elsewhere. For example, recent marked reductions in coca cultivation in Peru have been canceled out by dramatic increases in cultivation in Colombia. (A chart showing the government estimates of cultivation totals from 1980 to the present, for Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, and in total, can be viewed online or printed at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/coca-growing.gif.)
Report titles from the US General Accounting Office tell the same story over and over across the years, for example: US Programs in Peru Face Serious Obstacles (10/91); Expanded Military Surveillance Not Justified by Measurable Goals or Results (10/93); Colombia is Implementing Anti-drug Efforts, but Impact is Uncertain (10/93); Interdiction Efforts in Central America Have Had Little Impact on the Flow of Drugs (8/94); Drug Control: Long-Standing Problems Hinder US International Efforts (2/97); Counternarcotics Efforts in Colombia Face Continuing Challenges (2/98).
GAO testimony before Congress in March of last year described the record and the current situation: "Despite long-standing efforts and expenditures of billions of dollars, illegal drugs still flood the United States. Although US counternarcotics efforts have resulted in the arrest of major drug traffickers, the seizure of large amounts of drugs, and the eradication of illicit drug crops, they have not materially reduced the availability of drugs in the United States" (see http://www.gao.gov/AIndexFY98/abstracts/ns98116t.htm).
A press release from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), dated today (7/23), states bluntly that "over the last three years, drug control programs in the Andes have reduced cocaine production by 29 percent." The figure presumably comes from data in the 1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, which shows a 26 percent decrease, or from a similar data set. However, the authors of the report, unlike the drug czar's office, took pains to explain that the numbers represent potential maximum crop yields, that they are "theoretical numbers" and subject to much greater uncertainty than the cultivation area estimates. Furthermore, the numbers are based on an assumption that Colombian coca has a lower alkaloid content than Peruvian or Bolivian coca, and therefore a lower cocaine production capacity; based on this assumption, the shifting of coca cultivation from Peru to Colombia should decrease the maximum cocaine yield, all other quantities staying constant. However, the ONDCP release also ignored a GAO report issued last month which stated that "more potent coca leaf is being grown in Colombia." GAO estimates the potency increase will lead to a 50 percent increase in cocaine production in the next two years (see http://www.gao.gov/new.items/ns99136.pdf). Hence, ONDCP's claimed production decrease is improbably and transitory at best. The report also states that there is now a "black cocaine" coming out of Colombia, which is very difficult for drug dogs and enforcers to detect.
Kirk explained how causing the coca cultivation to shift from Peru to Colombia has not only been useless, but actually harmful. "Now there are more coca plants than ever before, but they're in Colombia, and they're under the control of the FARC. And the FARC, since 1990, has been taxing these plantations of coca, and has become tremendously wealthy. The cost of the drug war, then, has included a dramatic escalation of Colombia's longstanding civil conflict. "In 1992, you had combat in some isolated areas of Colombia, said Kirk. "You had areas that were considered controlled by one side or the other. In 1999, you can't go anywhere in Colombia without coming face to face with the war. It's throughout the country. And in fact, you have the whole southern part of the country under the absolutely explicit control of the FARC." The FARC has been implicated in a sustained wave of kidnappings, and recently has been holding public executions in a country whose government has no death penalty. "The thing about the drug trade is that it has pumped so much money into this war, that you have standing armies that are extremely well equipped, that are well clothed, that are well fed, who are able to fight indefinitely. This war is run on the American drug dollars, on the demand for drugs in the United States. It's not that the war would not exist without that, but certainly the war would not have reached the intensity that it has."
Nevertheless, Kirk pointed out, it's not only the FARC that is using drug money in the civil war. "Everyone makes money off of the drug trade in Colombia. Paramilitaries make lots of money. Guerrillas make lots of money. Colombia makes lots of money off of the drug trade. It's a booming business. And to say or to suggest that only the guerrillas are profiting from this robust economy is ludicrous. It's a simplification that may sell well in the Beltway, but it has nothing to do with reality."
Tate commented, "The real danger of Barry McCaffrey's remark is that it completely delegitimizes the concerns and interests of the peasant population, who live in that part of the country."
Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Global Economic Liberty, told the Week Online, "I think that [drug prohibition] is one of the central issues in creating the social breakdown that Colombia is experiencing right now. The guerrilla groups receive a large portion of their estimated $700 million in income from the drug trade, which represents profits that they would not otherwise receive, if there were not prohibition. So yes, it does create severe problems for Colombia. A large part of the country is controlled by guerrillas, and the rest of the country suffers from violence and corruption, which is associated with drug policies. In Colombia, it's gotten to the point where it is difficult to separate the people involved in drug trafficking and the guerrilla movement itself, so that any involvement by the United States in trying to fight drug trafficking in Colombia is inevitably going to be an involvement in a counterinsurgency war. And that's probably something that has very little support among the US public."
Vasquez suggested that Colombia should concentrate its efforts on the guerrilla problem, rather than on drug trafficking. "Once that's done, the two issues are divorced, and one is easier to handle than the other. Unfortunately, I think that the current drug policies undermine the institutions of civil society in Colombia, and those institutions obviously include the judiciary, the legislative branch, the military, the media, and the business sector. All of them have been, in one way or the other, affected by the drug war, whether it's through corruption, or an increase in violence, or through intimidation. These are essential institutions that are essential for a society to function."
The McCaffrey funding proposal is still in the talking stages, and is expected to become the subject of Congressional debate in the fall, as the appropriations cycle is finalized. Stay tuned to DRCNet for further coverage of this issue. Resources for further information:
Human Rights Watch backgrounder report, Human Rights and Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean, June 1999: http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/americas/back0624.htm
Washington Office on Latin America's Guide for Citizen Action on International Drug Control Policy: http://www.wola.org/drugsguide.htm
Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org
General Accounting Office reports: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/gao/gaomen1.htm and http://www.gao.gov
5. Florida Drug Czar Killer Fungus Plan Worries Experts
Earlier this year, DRCNet reported that Congress had given the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) $23 million to research and develop fungi, or "mycoherbicides," to wipe out illicit drug crops. That plan was championed by Florida Rep. Bill McCollum, who called mycoherbicides a "silver bullet in the War on Drugs." Now Florida Governor Jeb Bush's "drug czar," Jim McDonough, wants to use a strain of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum to eradicate out the state's marijuana crop, despite warnings from Florida's Department of Environmental Protection.
The St. Petersburg Times reported last week that DEP Secretary David Struhs had written a letter to McDonough which outlined his misgivings about setting the fungus loose in Florida, noting among other things that "It is difficult, if not impossible, to control the spread of Fusarium species" and keep it from attacking other crops. But when McDonough's office asked for the DEP's support in testing the fungus on quarantined state Department of Agriculture lands, Struhs signed on. DEP spokesman Jerry Brooks told DRCNet, "We told McDonough's office that we definitely feel like this can be safely researched in quarantined facilities, and that our concerns can be addressed in the research procedure."
Asked whether the DEP would monitor the research, Brooks said no. "It was really kind of a bizarre thing for us to be involved in -- drug policy is not really part of our job," he said. "I think it was a good thing that the Governor's office recognized the need to make sure that everybody's concerns were addressed. But quite honestly, we just raised the concerns that we thought might need to addressed, and I think now, the real experts need to be the ones that are involved."
It is not entirely clear, at this point, just who those experts will be. Florida Department of Agriculture spokesman Terence McElroy told DRCNet that while that agency had agreed to give the Office of Drug Control use of its testing facilities on quarantined land in Gainesville, it had no plans to oversee the project. "We will provide the facility, and if they need some technical assistance I'm sure we'd be happy to do that," McElroy said. "But as I understand it, it's the Governor's drug policy office who's primarily interested in this, and I would think they would want to retain some control over it."
DRCNet spoke with Jeremy Bigwood, a mycologist who has studied a fusarium outbreak that has destroyed thousands of hectares of coca plants in Peru. He said that even careful laboratory study cannot guarantee how a fungus will behave in the wild. "The problem with those test patches is that oftentimes things go very well. But outside the lab, things may go very wrong," he said. "I think it's a very bad idea, in short."
Bigwood provided DRCNet with excerpts from his own research on fusarium oxysporum, including excerpts from ARS reports which suggest that toxins derived from fusarium oxysporum may be deadly to humans and other animals, not just plants [ARS #59895, May 9, 1995]. In fact, the fusarium genus also produces Fusariotoxin, or mycotoxin T-2, classified by NATO as a biological warfare agent. Bigwood's research stresses that "Fusarium's toxicity to humans and mammals depends on several factors including local environment... the concentration of the application, as well as the strain of fungus being applied." However, it also notes that "laboratory experiments have shown that fungi can produce varying amounts of chemically different toxins... and it is not unlikely that under certain conditions other novel toxins can be produced by Fusarium oxysporum."
Of course, even if this mycoherbicide could be proven safe for humans and other animals, and to work only against marijuana, there is no evidence that once it is on the loose, the fungus would recognize the limits of the state border. Moreover, an ARS spokeswoman told DRCNet in January that it was unlikely that a strain of Fusarium that killed marijuana plants would not destroy industrial hemp plants as well.
The best place to learn about Jim McDonough's plan is from the Office of Drug Control itself, but they're not talking -- to us, anyway. McDonough's spokesman, Tim Bottcher, returned DRCNet's call only to say that his office had "decided not to comment" on this story. When pressed for a reason, he told us that, "Well, we're aware that your organization favors the reformation of drug laws, and we're against that."
DRCNet will continue to monitor this story.
DRCNet's earlier coverage of mycoherbicides is online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/076.html#fungi.
On Tuesday (7/20), the St. Petersburg Times editorialized against McDonough's plan. The editorial is online at http://www.sptimes.com/Archive/072099/Opinion.shtml. Particularly if you live in Florida, please consider writing a letter to the editor encouraging the media to continue their careful investigation of this story. Letters to the editor can be e-mailed to [email protected].
Other major newspapers in
Florida can be e-mailed as well:
Governor Bush's Office of Drug Control has a web site at http://fcn.state.fl.us/eog/drug/control.html. Their public information staff can be reached at [email protected].
6. Speaker Lashes Out at Drug War at Mormon Symposium
Dr. Steve Epperson, program coordinator of the Utah Humanities Council, and a former curator at the Latter Day Saints Church History and Art Museum, and former assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, on Thursday (7/15) told attendees of the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah that the drug war is a "catastrophic moral failure."
Urging all religious communities to "call this nation and its leaders to their senses," Dr. Epperson characterized the drug war as racist, class-biased, corrupting, contemptuous of basic civil rights and detrimental to the health and education of all citizens.
There is a "significant difference" said Dr. Epperson, "between opposing drug use on spiritual and ethical grounds and uncritically supporting a failed public policy."
The Sunstone Symposium is an annual event which features commentary and critique of LDS doctrine and ideas, primarily from within the church.
NOTE: Dr. Epperson is on vacation this week and was unavailable to speak with The Week Online.
You can visit the web site of the Utah Humanities Council at http://www.utahhumanities.org.
The Salt Lake City Tribune published an editorial last month critical of the drug war, archived online at http://utahonline.sltrib.com/1999/jun/06251999/opinion/opinion.htm.
Jane Tseng, [email protected]
8. EDITORIAL: And The Winner Is...
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
This week the nation holds its breath as it waits to hear the results of Election Day, 1998. What is that you say? The election was held more than 250 days ago! True. But while most of the nation learned the results of the races that they voted in on Election Night, the citizens of Washington, DC, capital of the free world, have been prevented by law from hearing whether or not they and their neighbors passed or defeated initiative 59, which would make it legal for sick and dying DC residents to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.
Prevented by law? Yes. Thanks in large measure to Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), who added a rider to last year's DC Appropriations Bill forbidding the District from spending any money to count or certify the results of any initiative which would reduce penalties for the use or possession of marijuana. The DC Board of Elections reluctantly followed the law, and has yet to spend the estimated $1.64 that it would cost to tally and print out the results by computer.
ACTUP DC, a sponsor of the initiative, and the ACLU, brought the issue to federal court right after the election, claiming that it is unconstitutional to bar Americans from learning the results of a free election in which they had taken part. The suit further claims that passing a law to prevent Americans from voting a certain way -- the amendment does not prevent an initiative on increasing penalties for the use of medicinal marijuana, for instance -- is also unconstitutional. Strangely, no decision has been handed down.
But this week, Representative Barr and his duly elected confederacy of anti-democracy dunces failed to get a similar amendment attached to the new appropriations measure in committee. Without such a renewal, the results will be counted -- with or without a decision of the court -- on October 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
There is little risk that the medical marijuana law will ever go into effect, of course, as Congress has thirty working days after certification to simply overturn any initiative passed by the voters of the District of Columbia. This fight then, is not over whether AIDS and cancer patients who have the additional misfortune of living in the capital of our great nation will be able to find relief without risking getting thrown in jail -- hint: they won't -- but whether or not the people of the District will have their voices heard, before they are ignored.
Exit polls show that the people of the District of Colombia voted in favor of initiative 59 by an overwhelming majority. National polls show that Americans on the whole favor access to marijuana for seriously ill and dying patients as well. The existence of Bob Barr, who in addition to being responsible for the first suppression of election results in American history, also recently suggested that those advocating drug policy reform should be criminally prosecuted, shows that just because a person is elected to Congress, doesn't mean that they have even the slightest conception of the principles on which the nation was founded.
Let us hope that the DC Appropriations bill gets final approval this week unencumbered by the anti-American Barr Amendment. There is really nothing to fear, as our elected leaders will most certainly insure that even if the initiative passed, not a single whining, pothead, good-for-nothing, wanna-get-high 73 lbs. AIDS patient will be able to use his or her condition as a convenient excuse to avoid criminal prosecution under our drug laws. Heaven forbid. No, they'll still have to force down food through waves of nausea, or face prosecution, just like Congress wants them to. It's just that on October 1, after almost a year of waiting for Congressional leave to spend $1.64 of tax money, it will be nice to finally put Election Night 1998 to bed.
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