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

Issue #107, 9/10/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. First National Student Conference on Drug Policy and Justice, November 5-6, Washington, DC
  2. New Mexico Poll: 60% Agree Drug War is Failing, Disagree on Solutions
  3. Australia: UN Drug Official Slams Safe Injecting Room
  4. Canada: Starbucks Needle Disposal Prompts Investigation
  5. Insurance Company Reimburses Patient for Seized Marijuana
  6. SAMHSA Study Calls for More Workplace Drug Treatment, but Also Supports More Drug Testing
  7. Quote of the Week
  8. Cato Institute Briefing Paper Warns of "Culture of Paramilitarism" in Law Enforcement, Provides Policy Explanation for SWAT Killings
  9. EDITORIAL: Standing Up 101

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1. First National Student Conference on Drug Policy and Justice, November 5-6, Washington, DC

The first-ever National Conference for Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice will be held on the George Washington University (GWU) campus in Washington, DC November 5-6, 1999. The conference will be co-hosted by GWU Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the GWU Student Association. Sponsors and cosponsors of the event include DRCNet, the NAACP, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and the Drug Policy Foundation.

The conference will feature several keynote speakers as well as various topic-oriented discussion panels and workshops. A partial list of confirmed keynote speakers includes Lindesmith Center Director Ethan Nadelmann and leading civil rights/defense attorney Harry Silverglate. Panel topics will include Consequences of the Drug War, Building Coalitions on Campus, National Campus Campaigns and Incarceration vs. Education. Skill-building workshops will include Leadership Development, Media Relations, Legislative Training, Event Organizing, Working with Student Governments and Drug Policy on Campus.

Early registration (until October 15) for the conference is only $25 for students and $75 for non-students. Register online at http://www.ssdp.org or call Peder Nelson or Kris Lotlikar at DRCNet, (202) 293-8340. Hotel and travel information is also available on the web. Scholarship funds may become available to assist with expenses.

(If you're not sure that you can make the conference, but want to keep informed about this and other important student efforts, send an e-mail to [email protected] with your name, school and contact information.)


2. New Mexico Poll: 60% Agree Drug War is Failing, Disagree on Solutions

A poll conducted last week for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper asked 420 New Mexico voters their opinions on Governor Gary Johnson's recently enunciated stance on drug policy. Of those polled, 60% agreed with Johnson's assessment that the drug war has failed.

Answers to more specific questions, however, revealed a more ambivalent and uncertain attitude regarding potential solutions to that problem.

44% of respondents agreed with the governor's view that the drug war had failed due to "an overemphasis on enforcement and incarceration," while only 40% disagreed with that statement. 24% agreed that drugs should be "decriminalized" with 60% opposed, but a larger number, 30% agreed that drug sales should be "regulated and taxed" similar to alcohol, with 50% opposed.

Steve Bunch, President of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, told The Week Online that the numbers indicate both dissatisfaction with the current approach and a lack of information regarding alternatives.

"As you can see, a majority of New Mexicans understand that what we are doing now is simply not working. It's not working for our kids, for our communities or for our justice system. I think that it's interesting that more respondents favored a legalized, regulated market when it was explained to them than favored "decriminalization" when the word stood alone. This tells me that people have not been sufficiently informed on this issue, and that when they are, they tend to take a more reformist attitude."

"What the governor has indicated is that he'd like to see a broad discussion of this issue across the state," said Bunch. The governor seems to feel, and I agree, that this issue is far too important, and current policies are far too expensive and unproductive to have the debate centered around undefined terms such as "decriminalization." The drug problem is complex, and our societal response to it should be informed rather than emotional. As it stands now, kids across New Mexico have easy access to all kinds of illicit substances, more so even than they do a regulated drug like alcohol. We, as parents ad citizens, owe it to our kids and ourselves to take the time to become truly informed on this issue and to make our choices accordingly."


3. Australia: UN Drug Official Slams Safe Injecting Room

Peter Watney for DRCNet, [email protected]

The Secretary of the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board has written an apparently unsolicited letter to a Sydney pastor warning that, in his opinion, a planned safe injection room for heroin users in New South Wales would be inconsistent with Australia's ratification of UN conventions on narcotics.

The medically supervised safe injection room is to be operated on a trial basis in Sydney by the Sisters controlling St. Vincent's Hospital, under a contract with the NSW government. The government approved the plan after experts at a drug summit last spring recommended such a facility to cope with rising rates of heroin addiction and drug related harm in the state.

The pastor has no official position with the project, and it is not known whether the Secretary has communicated his concerns directly to the NSW government. But last year, Australian plans for a trial heroin prescription program were scuttled after US officials reportedly threatened to use articles of the UN drug conventions to shut down Tasmania's pharmaceutical opium industry.

Last week, lawmakers in Victoria said they would not allow safe injection rooms in that state, despite polls showing that over 70% of the public supports the idea.

(Visit http://www.lindesmith.org/library/focal6.html on The Lindesmith Center web site to learn more about safe injecting rooms.)


4. Canada: Starbucks Needle Disposal Prompts Investigation

Jane Tseng, [email protected]

Toronto police say they will investigate a downtown Starbucks coffee house because of a syringe disposal installed in its unisex bathroom. Starbucks employees installed the bin after a worker found discarded needles in the wastebasket in the bathroom. Police say they are concerned that Starbucks is condoning intravenous drug use on their premises.

"It could affect their service license because they're supposed to take as much precaution as they can to avoid criminal activity on their premises," warned Sargent Kevin Reed.

But the Toronto Public Health Department spoke up in support of the Starbucks. "It can be seen as a harm reduction strategy," said the city's Injection Drug Program manager Shaun Hopkins. The health department has installed similar containers in park and recreation buildings around the city.

Starbucks' public relations firm says the bin is intended to protect staff from the infectious diseases that can be transmitted if a worker is pricked with a dirty syringe.


5. Insurance Company Reimburses Patient for Seized Marijuana

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

Sept. 9, 1999, Fair Oaks, CA: A 71-year-old medical marijuana user received a $6,500 payout from his homeowner's insurance policy -- the claim: reimbursement for the 13 marijuana plants killed from lack of watering after being seized by law enforcement 11 months earlier.

The Sacramento district attorney's office dismissed charges against Robert DeArkland (cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell) in April, due to "lack of evidence." DeArkland then filed a claim with CGU California Insurance, which insures his home, for the damage to the plants and the door which sheriff's deputies broke down during the raid.

At first the insurance company was skeptical of the claim because the deputies had a warrant, but in July, L. Bruce Bogart, a CGU California adjuster, wrote to DeArkland: "I realize the value (of the 13 plants) at maturity approximates $20,500... however the plants were not at maturity. Thus, we need to try to agree on a value." CGU California sent DeArkland a check for $6,500 ($500 per plant) which was the maximum payment allowed under a shrubbery clause in his policy.

DeArkland told the Sacramento Bee, "I had to fight to get my $6,500." This is not the first time an insurance company has reimbursed a policy holder for stolen or seized marijuana. State Farm, the nation's largest home insurer, paid a Washington claimant for his stolen marijuana in May after the company received a doctor's documentation that the marijuana was for medicinal purposes. "It's just one more indication that marijuana is being recognized as a legal substance in appropriate uses," said Dale Gieringer, State Coordinator of California NORML.


6. SAMHSA Study Calls for More Workplace Drug Treatment, but Also Supports More Drug Testing

Ted Bridges, Drug Policy Foundation, [email protected]

On Wednesday (9/8), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a study entitled "Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Practices" to kick off "National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month." SAMHSA announced that special questions in the 1994 and 1997 National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse revealed that 70 percent of illicit drug users, age 18-49, are employed full-time. There were 6.3 million current illicit drug users (7.7% of the full-time workforce), 6.2 million heavy alcohol users (7.6%), and 1.6 million workers who were both current drug users and heavy drinkers. These levels were essentially unchanged from 1994 data.

Administration officials called for greater access to drug treatment for employees. Dr. H. Westley Clark, the director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said, "Employers can help their own bottom line, while at the same time help reduce substance abuse, by creating written policies about drug and alcohol abuse and encouraging substance abusers to enter treatment."

How to "encourage" drug-using employees to get into drug treatment? That was not addressed explicitly at the Capitol Hill press conference. That may be because the report's finding overlook a crucial distinction between the drug users and the drinkers. The survey is designed to identify (1) current illegal drug users -- defined as _any_ drug use in the past month -- and (2) heavy alcohol users -- defined as "drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on each of at least five days in the previous 30 days." Current drug users are less likely to include employees who have problems with their use that carry over to job performance.

Indeed, when one reporter asked whether SAMHSA's survey distinguished between on-the-job drug use and off-the-job use, the report's project officer, Janet Greenblat, simply said no.

While the administration officials did not spotlight workplace drug testing in their presentations at the Capitol Hill press conference, the survey does seem to approve of the increases in workplace drug testing that have occurred since the 1994 survey. Overall drug testing, as reported by 18-49 year olds, increased from 44% to 49% in 1997, which breaks down to 28% of small businesses, 58% of medium businesses, and 74% of large businesses.

The report's endorsement of increased urine and hair testing runs counter to a report released last week by the American Civil Liberties Union (see Week Online coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/106.html#aclureport). The ACLU found that drug testing neither deterred drug use nor predicted the likelihood of on-the-job accidents. One study of the federal government's drug testing program estimated that it cost $77,000 to find one drug user.

"Federal drug officials are still using scare tactics to sell employers on drug testing," said ACLU National Taskforce on Civil Liberties in the Workplace Director Lewis Maltby. "Independent researchers have found that employees who occasionally smoke marijuana in their homes are just as safe and productive as those who occasionally drink beer off the job. Drug testing does little or nothing to improve a company's bottom line. It wastes company assets and alienates employees."

The SAMHSA survey also suggests that current drug use is disruptive because workers who reported current use were more likely than those who did not to have worked for three or more employers, to have voluntarily left an employer in the past year, and to have skipped one or more days of work in the past month. Presented alone, these findings build up SAMHSA's case for casting any past-month drug use as problematic for the workplace. However, the report also reveals that both illicit drug use and heavy alcohol use were highest among workers in transient occupations, such as food preparation, waiting tables, and bartending. These types of jobs tend to be less stable than workers in fields like "protective service" and "professional specialty," where SAMHSA found the lowest rates of reported current drug use.

When the SAMHSA report looked into the fields where reports of drug use were relatively low, it found that, for the most part, employers provided workers with "information" about alcohol and drug use or "written policies" regarding the people who use drugs. "It follows," the report claims, "that three of the four occupations with the lowest rates of drug use were also among the four occupations with the highest rates of drug information and policy in the workplace."

Not necessarily. One problem in getting at the truth of workplace drug use is that the survey asks a very sensitive question, so results could be underreported in certain fields, but not in others. Aside from that, it is equally plausible that employers and employees with critical public safety functions are more careful about any drug use -- on or off the job -- since it could interfere with their on-the-job responsibilities. Not only would employers be more likely to distribute information or have policies about alcohol and drug use, but employees themselves would also be more motivated in policing their personal habits to minimize on-the-job impairment. Just because food preparation workers, waiters, waitresses, and bartenders report above-average alcohol and drug use (as the survey found), it does not mean that they are not getting the right information from their employers.

SAMHSA's concern about job safety and productivity should mean that it favors impairment testing over urine and drug testing in the workplace. Impairment testing measures an employee's vision, reflexes and coordination and compares the results with the employee's baseline responses to determine whether he or she is capable of performing the job safely and effectively. These tests look beyond illegal drugs and chronic use of legal drugs to give the employer the best information ensuring workplace safety and productivity.

To get "Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Programs: Results from the 1994 and 1997 NHSDA," call (800) 729-6686 or visit http://www.samhsa.gov. SAMHSA also unveiled a publication package for employers entitled "Making Your Workplace Drug Free," which is available from (800) 967-5752 or http://www.health.org/wpkit/.


7. Quote of the Week

A superior court judge this week sentenced Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland to nearly a year in jail for violating his parole by using drugs. Weiland, who was originally arrested for drug possession in 1995, was also treated for an overdose in July of this year.

Upon sending him to prison, the judge noted that Weiland is "killing himself" and "has to be punished."


8. Cato Institute Briefing Paper Warns of "Culture of Paramilitarism" in Law Enforcement, Provides Policy Explanation for SWAT Killings

Members of the Compton community in Los Angeles County were horrified at the shooting death last month of Mario Paz at the hands of a SWAT team from El Monte. Paz, a 64-year old grandfather, was shot twice in the back by police. No one in the Paz household was named in the search warrant, but their address was found among papers in the home of a neighbor who was suspected of drug dealing. The police expected to find "marijuana and cash." The 20-member SWAT team shot the locks off the door, shot out a window, set off diversionary explosives within and outside the house, and invaded at 11:00pm, when Paz and his family were asleep. A neighbor told the LA Times, "It was like war." No drugs were found. (See Week Online coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/106.html#badraid.)

A briefing paper released last month by the Cato Institute explains disproportionate police use of military style force as a consequence of federal policies that have blurred the traditional separation between police and military forces. In "Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments," Diane Cecilia Weber outlines legislative and policy initiatives -- motivated primarily by the war on drugs -- that have led to a proliferation of heavy weaponry and paramilitary tactics in domestic policing.

According to Weber, "Police departments have evolved into increasingly centralized, authoritarian, autonomous and militarized bureaucracies." One of the most disturbing developments has been the dramatic increase in the number of SWAT teams across the country, in communities both large and small, and their deployment in routine policing activity, as opposed to the hostage, sniper and other extraordinary situations for which SWAT teams were originally formed.

Weber writes, "Because of their close collaboration with the military, SWAT units are taking on the warrior mentality of our military's special forces," and "The mindset of the warrior is simply not appropriate for the civilian police officer charged with enforcing the law." While soldiers are trained to confront an "enemy" and to use overwhelming force, officers of the peace are obligated to use the minimum force necessary to apprehend suspects, to bring them alive to a trial with presumption of innocence, and to respect individuals' Constitutional rights. Confusing the police function with the military function has led to dangerous and unintended consequences, including unnecessary killings, such as Mario Paz in Los Angeles and Esequiel Hernandez near the Texas-Mexico border.

"Warrior Cops" is available on the Cato Institute site at http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-050es.html. Also, read about Cato's "Beyond Prohibition" conference in Washington next month, featuring New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, at http://www.cato.org/events/drugwar/.


9. EDITORIAL: Standing Up 101

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

With Labor Day over, college campuses across the country are once again buzzing with activity. Each year seems to begin very much like the ones before. But this year, something is just a little bit different on the college scene. This year, student activism appears to be back in vogue.

By the end of the last school year, two distinct campaigns got underway on campuses, garnering media and public attention. The first is a campaign against sweatshop labor, and, specifically, to stop universities from offering insignia clothing manufactured under such conditions. The second is the Higher Education Act reform campaign, which seeks to have overturned a provision in the HEA, which strips federal financial aid eligibility from any student for any drug conviction, no matter how minor.

In both cases, students were motivated by a sense that they were being used. In the first case, they were being used by merchandisers, who assumed that young people would ignore the plight of mere laborers if the ads looked slick. In the second, they were being used by politicians who continue to assume that the young and the poor are disposable grist for the politically popular and ever more lucrative war on drugs. And the students didn't like it.

In just over one semester of the HEA Campaign, twelve student governments and two statewide student associations adopted a resolution calling upon Congress to overturn the drug provision. The NAACP, ACLU, American Public Health Association and United States Students Association also endorsed the campaign. In March, Representative Barney Frank introduced H.R. 1053, which would overturn the provision. The campaign itself was featured in stories in more than 125 campus newspapers, several major daily newspapers and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Student apathy, long rumored to be a cultural predisposition of the current generation, is beginning to lift. Out of the HEA campaign, chapters of a group called Students for Sensible Drug Policy began to spring up. In November, a national student conference on drug policy and justice will be held in Washington, DC. It is expected that those in attendance will come from all parts of the country and all points on the political spectrum. Students, long taught that they could not trust one another based on differences in class, culture and political philosophy, are coming together.

It is important to note that much of the current activism has been facilitated by the availability of the Internet and the world-wide-web. No longer limited to handing out flyers on-campus, students can now organize nationally, and even internationally. Student leaders thousands of miles apart can coordinate their activities, share ideas and provide support. Once upon a time, students had to start riots, take over buildings or shut down a campus to gain attention for their cause. Not so anymore.

Today's politicians rarely make a move, stake out a position or utter a rhetorical inanity without, in the next breath, explaining that whatever it is they are espousing is "in the interests of our children." Well, today's college students are certainly not children. In fact, they are perhaps the most savvy and sophisticated -- certainly technologically -- generation in history. But given the rate of reelection for incumbents in our system, they were most certainly the children that these same politicians were hiding behind just an election cycle or two ago. And now, the chickens are beginning to come home to roost.

This week, across the country, America's 18 to 20 somethings -- the ones to whom we market sweatshop fashions, the ones we arrest -- and mark for life -- for possessing the wrong intoxicants, the ones we send to war when men and women of a different generation fail at diplomacy -- are back on campus. Summer is over, and just like every other year since the dawn of time, autumn is sure to follow. But this year just might be a little different. This year, as a new millenium dawns, it seems as though our young people are getting sick and tired of being used.


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