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

Issue #106, 9/3/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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  1. California Governor Offers to Sign Revised Needle Exchange Bill
  2. CASA Study Finds Marijuana Easier for Teens to Get Than Beer
  3. Doctor Sanctioned for Undertreating Patients' Pain
  4. Los Angeles Police Forcibly Enter Home, Kill Grandfather in Raid
  5. News in Brief
  6. Swiss Government Promises Marijuana Decriminalization
  7. ACLU Report Urges Businesses to Rethink Employee Drug Testing
  8. Media Alert: Print and Screen

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1. California Governor Offers to Sign Revised Needle Exchange Bill

After threatening to veto AB 518, a needle exchange bill passed by both houses of the California legislature, Gov. Gray Davis has offered to sign a compromise bill that allows communities to authorize needle exchange programs, but only by issuing emergency orders that must be renewed every two weeks. Davis' shift follows calls from elected officials of both parties, including Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, and 21 members of California's Congressional delegation, in an open letter organized by U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi. AB 518 was sponsored by Assemblymember Kerry Mazzoni, who represents Marin County, one of the jurisdictions that issues emergency orders to protect the local needle exchange. The original bill required local authorization of needle exchange programs, but did not require the biweekly emergency orders.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, 9/1, Pat Christen, Executive Director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said, "It is deeply discouraging that a compromise was necessary given the lives at stake, the overwhelming scientific evidence and the polling data in support of needle exchange. Nevertheless, the compromise is clearly a step in the right direction, consistent with our agency's harm reduction approach to HIV prevention." SFAF operates the HIV Prevention Point needle exchange, the largest such program in the country, which provides over 2.1 million syringes annually, to over 5,000 people.

Many communities, however, have shied away from needle exchange programs, due to the legal ambiguity of local official support vs. state law that makes provision of syringes without a prescription a misdemeanor. SFAF Public Policy Director Regina Aragón said, "Our hope is that, once [AB 518 is] enacted, additional communities across the state will take advantage of these legal protections."

Because the exact language of the compromise has not been finalized, it is not yet possible to assess the likely impact on communities that wish to offer needle exchange.

(See for results of the recent Field Institute survey and for additional background information on AB 518. Visit Syringe Exchange Resources Online at for much more about the needle exchange issue.)

2. CASA Study Finds Marijuana Easier for Teens to Get Than Beer

Joe Califano's Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released results this week of a survey that asked 2,000 teens and 1,000 parents about attitudes and opinions on drugs and drug use. Among the least surprising, if most trumpeted results are findings that teens who have stable relationships with both parents are less likely to use drugs than those who describe their intra-familial relationships as antagonistic.

Bonnie Ross, a high school prevention, resource and intervention counselor in Oregon, told The Week Online that the issue of kids' parental relationships as a risk factor for substance abuse was a no-brainer.

"How much did they spend to do that survey?" she asked. "That conclusion would be a pretty obvious one for anyone who works with kids who use or abuse drugs. The money for that survey would have been better spent on resources for these kids. Stable connections, whether it be with parents, educators, coaches, any caring adult, really, serve as an anchor. Kids who feel disconnected and adrift in the world are more likely to seek escape and to engage in high-risk behaviors."

More interesting, but buried in the news coverage of the report, was the teens' response to a question about the availability of various substances. Specifically, teens were asked which was easier to obtain among cigarettes, beer and marijuana. While the overwhelming majority of teens listed cigarettes as the easiest, marijuana was a clear second. In fact, seven times as many teens (35%) listed the prohibited marijuana as easiest to obtain as listed beer (5%), which of course is legal and regulated.

Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum, Director of The Lindesmith Center-West, a drug policy think tank, told The Week Online that the availability of marijuana relative to alcohol is a product of a misguided policy.

"The question of availability is part of the larger question, that is, what are we getting for our money in the drug war," said Rosenbaum. "We're spending two thirds of our federal drug budget on efforts to keep drugs off the streets. The teenagers in this survey tell us how well that's working. It isn't."

"Interdiction has never worked, and will never work," she continued. "That is a given. If marijuana markets were operating under a system similar to alcohol, it would be more difficult for our kids to get access. People who support the status quo in drug policy often smear reform efforts by frightening people with the word "legalization," when in fact what reformers are talking about is regulation and control. Under prohibition, we have no control and thus we have kids who can buy marijuana at any age with no problem at all."

3. Doctor Sanctioned for Undertreating Patients' Pain

Last April, the Week Online reported that the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners had taken the unprecedented step of disciplining a doctor, Dr. Paul A. Bilder, for undertreating pain ( In
the "war on drugs," medical boards and drug enforcers have more often favored very limited prescription of opioids, or narcotics, substances which are also used and abused non-medically. (See our discussion of drug policies' impact on pain control at

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Board had determined a penalty in the case, requiring Bilder, 55, to sign a stipulated order acknowledging that his treatment showed unprofessional or dishonorable conduct and negligence; complete the Physicians Evaluation Education Renewal program (PEER), a one-year program in which another doctor in Bilder's field works with him to assess his practice and make improvements; complete a course on physician-patient communication; and continue meeting with a psychiatrist who will give regular reports to the board for at least a year.

Dr. Harvey Rose, a California physician who led the effort to pass California's Intractable Pain Treatment Act, feels the penalty was too severe. Rose told the Week Online, "It reminds me of the old cartoon of the devil offering his new visitor the choice of two doors: one of them labeled 'damned if you do' and the other 'damned if you don't'." Rose explained, "The article says that people described him as a compassionate doctor, and he probably was. But he was a scared doctor, and the board is the reason he was scared, because of its past policies." Rose suggested the board's approach at this point should be educational, rather than punitive. "They should have made him take some CME courses to be reeducated on pain management, and kept him under observation for a year to give him a chance to modify his practice." Rose continued, "the danger of punishing doctors for underprescribing, when for years the situation has been the opposite, is that doctors won't want to have anything to do with pain patients at all." Dr. Rose was featured in an August 9th article in the New York Times.

Fear of medical board sanctions may pale in comparison to the fear of criminal prosecution by drug enforcers. Dr. Allen S. Licher, former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, told the New York Times that relatively few criminal cases for overprescribing narcotics have been brought against doctors, "but the ones that were had a tremendously chilling effect. Doctors just did not want to take the chance of getting caught up in that." Fear of hard prison time at the hands of prosecutors and juries who misinterpret the evidence on pain control could go a long way to explain why doctors undertreat or don't treat pain.

(Visit the American Society for Action on Pain at for much more information on this important issue and how patients can help themselves find adequate treatment. See our June 18 issue at to read about current pain legislation that some advocates think will hurt rather help pain control. Read our 1996 article, War on Pain Control at for an example of what can happen to pain patients and the doctors who treat them in the drug war.)

4. Los Angeles Police Forcibly Enter Home, Kill Grandfather in Raid

20 officers from an "elite" Los Angeles SWAT team operating under the jurisdiction of the El Monte police department shot the locks off the doors of the home of Mario Paz, grandfather of fourteen, in raiding his house as part of a marijuana investigation in Compton last week. Once inside, the officers used stun grenades to create a distraction, and shot Paz twice in the back, killing him, as he kneeled on the floor of his bedroom. Paz, who had no criminal record, kept at least two firearms in his home for protection, but was unarmed at the time of the shooting.

But neither Paz nor anyone in his family was a suspect in the investigation. In fact, police got the warrant to enter the Paz home simply because his address appeared among the papers of one of the suspects, who had years ago lived in the house next door to the Paz family.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department told The Week Online that the police "had information linking the house to a narcotics operation." The spokesperson, however, said that his office had no information on the specifics of the warrant.

The El Monte police department told The Week Online that there was no one available to comment on the case.

Brian Dunn, attorney for the Paz family, told The Week Online that the methods used by the SWAT team were wholly disproportionate to the situation.

"This case represents an extreme example of police brutality, misconduct and ruthlessness," said Dunn. "The manner in which they executed this was homicidal. The police shot through both doors and a window with shotguns at eleven o'clock at night. Everyone in the house was asleep. The family all thought that they were being robbed. We have no evidence that the police so much as identified themselves. Mr. Paz and his wife were both in their underwear when he was shot twice in the back."

In this case, Dunn continued, the police had no evidence to make them believe that anyone in the home was even involved in the crime they were investigating, nor that there was any dangerous person in the house. If you're going to blast your way into a private home, you'd better have some convincing information that there is either a war going on inside or that someone inside is waiting to kill you. This was just outrageous."

5. News in Brief

Jane Tseng, [email protected]

BCCLU Fights Spy-Cam in City Park

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Union announced last Friday (8/27) that they were planning to ask the federal privacy commissioner to rule that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police acted improperly when they failed to warn the public about a security camera they installed in a park in downtown Kelowna, BC in July. Local police claim the camera led to the arrest of several suspected drug dealers before it fell victim to arsonists. BCCLU spokesman Dan Beyerstein told the Daily Courier that the privacy commissioner, which handles complaints against the RCMP, had no authority to prohibit the reinstallation of the camera, but that a ruling in the BCCLU's favor could be useful to defense attorneys. At a city council meeting last month, Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray defended the use of spy-cams, saying that "Security Cameras are now a way of life. If we can get four or five or six more of them, we will. So there."

Web of Federal Anti-Crime Initiatives Along the Border Netting Small Fry

The Houston Chronicle reports this week that the federal Southwest Border Initiatives, which took effect five years ago in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, have resulted in federal dockets being overloaded with cases against small-time drug dealers and people who cross the border illegally. In Texas alone last year, federal courts reported a 69% increase in drug prosecutions.

Ron Woods, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in Texas, told the Chronicle that the reason for the shift in resources from prosecuting high-level traffickers to people caught dealing as little as half a pound of marijuana is partly because, "it's easier to do the smaller cases than to put 10 agents on a complicated case for a year."

The increase in federal prosecution of drug and immigration crimes has also filled federal prisons to the point where some prisoners are now being housed in state prisons, at a cost to the federal government -- thus, to taxpayers -- of $650 million a year.

"It's a numbers game," Woods said. "The administration likes to point to the number of indictments and say they're up. They're tough on crime."

6. Swiss Government Promises Marijuana Decriminalization

(courtesy NORML Foundation,

Sept. 2, 1999, Switzerland: Switzerland's marijuana prohibition may be a thing of the past, as government officials have promised to decriminalize marijuana use and possession. Drug use will remain illegal for children under 18 years of age.

A Swiss government study shows 27 percent of 15-35 year olds in the country use cannabis. "We remain in the lead for the innovative approaches addressing drug-related issues," said Thomas Zeltner, director of Switzerland's Federal Department for Health. "The consumption of cannabis can't be avoided through prohibition," the Swiss Department of the Interior said in its proposal. "We aim to adapt legislation to reality in the area of drug consumption."

The proposal stated cannabis "does relatively little damage to health" and under certain circumstances "can have a therapeutic effect." The Swiss Government has also suggested criminal penalties for the use of harder drugs such as cocaine be eliminated as well.

In June, voters approved legislation to legally provide heroin to addicts if they have a prescription. "It's amazing to see just how isolated the United States is becoming on the issue of marijuana," said Allen St. Pierre, NORML Foundation Executive Director. "While European countries and Canada are crafting meaningful legal reforms -- reflecting modern mores in a rational public policy --America is increasingly relying on expanding the budgets and power of the 'three Ps': police, prosecutors, and prisons."

7. ACLU Report Urges Businesses to Rethink Employee Drug Testing

(from the American Civil Liberties Union,

This Wednesday (9/1), the American Civil Liberties Union issued a special report urging corporate America to drop workplace urine testing, citing evidence that the tests do not pay dividends in decreased accidents and absenteeism or increased efficiency and productivity.

The 27-page white paper, "Drug Testing: A Bad Investment," examines ten years of research and empirical evidence on drug use among workers, its impact on work performance, and whether urine testing is an effective tool for identifying drug abusers in the workplace.

Driven by an industry-led panic that drug use is common -- even epidemic -- in America's workforce, employers today require tens of millions of American workers from all walks of life -- most of whom are not even suspected of using drugs -- to pass a urine test to get a new job or to keep the one they have.

According to the ACLU's report, the drug testing industry's promotion of "junk science," based on unsubstantiated claims and phantom research, has fueled the growth of employee drug testing since the mid-1980's. But respected scientific institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences have looked at the record and found little support for most of the drug testing industry's claims.

"We have always believed drug testing of unimpaired workers stands the presumption of innocence on its head and violates the most fundamental privacy rights," said ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. "Now we know that sacrificing these rights serves no legitimate business purpose either."

Among the report's findings:

  • "Lost productivity" studies claiming that drug users cost businesses up to $100 billion each year are based on dubious comparisons of household drug use and income, with no analysis of actual productivity data.
  • The moderate use of illicit drugs by workers during off-duty hours is no more likely to compromise workplace safety than moderate off-duty alcohol use.
  • A recent survey of 63 Silicon Valley companies found that urine testing reduces, rather than enhances, worker productivity.
  • Although some federal employers and private businesses are required by law to test employees in specific safety-sensitive occupations, most employers are under no obligation to conduct drug testing. Yet according to a 1996 survey, 81 percent of Fortune 500 firms conducted urine tests on their employees.
"It's time for employers to ask themselves whether subjecting their employees to such an invasive and humiliating procedure is worth the cost, not only in human terms, but in actual dollars and cents," said Lewis Maltby, director of the ACLU's National Taskforce on Civil Liberties in the Workplace and lead author of the report.

"Alternative solutions, such as impairment testing of workers in safety-sensitive positions and wider use of Employee Assistance Programs are more cost effective and do not raise the same privacy and fairness problems," he added.

Maltby said he is sending "Drug Testing: A Bad Investment" to CEOs, union officials and human resources professionals, along with a letter urging them to consider less intrusive alternatives to urine tests as a condition of employment.

The ACLU has also established a toll-free number, (800) 323-8820, that human resources managers can call for more information on drug testing and its alternatives.

The report's executive summary is online at, and the full text is available in Adobe (PDF) format at

8. Media Alert: Print and Screen

Beyond Legalization: Special Issue of The Nation Focuses on Alternatives to the Drug War

The September 20 issue of The Nation magazine features an extensive set of articles discussing the war on drugs and alternatives to current policies. The features starts with a forum, led off by Michael Massing, with Mike Gray and others responding, also available online at Other articles cover drug policy in Baltimore, drug policy Europe, drug courts, attitudes on drug policy in the black community, marinol vs. marijuana, George Soros' philanthropy, and more. This special issue of The Nation is on newsstands now.

Documentary: The Pursuit of Happiness: Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century

The Showtime cable channel will premiere a documentary by director Robert Zemeckis on September 13, as part of its "In the 20th Century" millenium related series, dealing with attitudes and practices related to drug use and societal responses to drug use in America. According to a film review in the New York Times on August 29, "The Pursuit of Happiness" presents such images as Desi Arnaz hawking Camel cigarettes, Newt Gingrich advocating the death penalty for drug dealing, Jack Webb pontificating on the horrors of LSD, tobacco executives swearing that cigarettes aren't addictive and a psychedelically dressed Sonny Bono urging his fans "not to become potheads."

(You can find the review by visiting and doing an archive search on "Robert Zemeckis." You will have to register for free if you are not already. Visit for further information or to sign up for an e-mail reminder to watch the show.)

Editorials will return next week.

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