(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #117, 12/6/99
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The discovery at the U.S.-Mexico border of possible mass graves of persons killed in drug trade violence has horrified residents and families of missing persons -- while raising important questions about our national drug policy.
According to the New York Times, Mexican officials have files on at least 100 persons who have disappeared in and around Juarez, a city immediately across the border from El Paso, Texas; the El Paso-based Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons has a list of 196, mostly from Juarez, though the missing are thought to include 22 Americans.
Six bodies have been found on a Juarez ranch, and cars riddled with bullets have been found on other properties. Authorities believe these may be mass graves containing the bodies of hundreds of victims, and massive searches have been underway for the past week.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, many but not all of the victims are thought to have had associations with the drug trade. However, many were seen being abducted by what appeared to be corrupt police officers or military, possibly under the pay of the drug cartels. Victor Clark of the Tijuana-based International Commission on Human Rights pointed out, "The bodies (of those) killed by the mafia are always found. It's their way of sending messages."
Last month, several members of Congress urged the Clinton administration to create a "Border Czar" position to coordinate drug control efforts along the Southwest border. The members wrote, "If we are going to regain control of our Southwest border and meet the National Drug Control Strategy's fourth goal -- shield America's air, land and sea frontiers from the drug threat -- we need a Southwest Border Coordinator with some real authority to make decisions and be responsible for coordinating the overall national effort."
But drug reform advocates say the fight to keep drugs from entering the country is futile, and compare the Juarez killings with Alcohol Prohibition-related incidents such as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Al Robison, former chairman of the UT Dept. of Pharmacology, now Executive Director of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, told the Week Online, "If you can't keep drugs out of our maximum security prisons, how do you think you're going to keep them off one of the longest borders in the world?"
Robison added, "We should all be trying to discourage drug abuse, but a "drug free America" is an insane goal because it's never going to happen. And trying to make it happen has caused an enormous amount of misery and violence -- including the mass murders in Juarez."
A report issued by the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation for the Prevention of Violence, a nonprofit research group that grew out of a well known commission created in 1968 by President Johnson, has concluded that the nation has moved backwards because of misguided crime policies and remains "a society in deep trouble," the Los Angeles Times reported on December 5.
The report said that the widely publicized decline in crime rates of the past seven years has resulted primarily from high levels of prosperity, and masks a failure to grapple with the fundamental causes of violence in today's society. The report pointed out that violence is much more common today than 30 years ago in the U.S. or in most other industrialized nations today.
Among the wrong policy choices that have contributed to continuing violence, said the foundation, is a national preoccupation with hard-line policies -- building prisons, waging the war on illegal drugs and creating "zero tolerance" policies toward criminals, which have come at the expense of longer-term solutions such as early intervention programs for troubled youth, job training and drug rehabilitation programs. "Prisons have become our nation's substitute for effective policies on crime, drugs, mental illness, housing, poverty and employment of the hardest to employ."
The report also blamed a doubling in the number of guns, to 200 million, and the continuing problem of poverty and lack of economic opportunities for large segments of the population, noting that more than one-quarter of U.S. children live in poverty.
The report, titled "Violence Commission Update," can be obtained from the Eisenhower Foundation by calling (202) 429-0440, or writing to The Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, 1660 L St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On December
1, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implemented its
The coalition argues that "many of the new guidelines would still be too cumbersome to enable research to move forward as expeditiously as possible." HHS's new guidelines, written in May, explicitly reject the Institute of Medicine's (IOM's) recent recommendation to open a federal compassionate-use program to give individual patients immediate legal access to medical marijuana. The Washington Post endorsed IOM's position on November 6.
A statement urging HHS to
modify its new guidelines was signed by Susan Sarandon, Richard Pryor,
The Marijuana Policy Project
delivered the statement to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala on November 29.
The next day on
"Shalala is misrepresenting
reality," Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Washington,
For more info, see http://www.mpp.org/guidelines/sign1.html
(Congressional signatories), http://www.mpp.org/guidelines/ltr1.html
(letter to Donna Shalala) and http://www.mpp.org/guidelines/ltr2.html
Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams, barred by a federal judge from presenting any information regarding the medicinal use of marijuana, their own medical conditions or even the existence of Proposition 215, entered separate guilty pleas in federal court in California.
McWilliams, from his wheelchair, gave up his right to appeal the decision in return for a sentence of 0-5 years in the hope that his deteriorating medical condition would convince the judge to give him probation rather than jail time. McCormick pled guilty to counts that carry a five-year mandatory minimum prison term, but in so doing, maintained the right to appeal the judge's decision denying him a medical defense.
"The government is accusing us of attempting to sell marijuana to a medicinal buyers' club, and yet they say that we can't even discuss the medical issues in our own defense. That's just outrageous," McCormick told The Week Online.
McCormick and his attorneys hope that the judge will allow him to remain free pending his appeal. McCormick has been free on half a million dollars bond, put up by actor and activist Woody Harrelson since his arrest last year.
Yesterday's Seattle Times (12/2/99) reported that the U.S. Attorney for Washington state, Kate Pflaumer, has informed state law enforcement that her office is not interested in prosecuting patients possessing less than a 60-day supply of marijuana. Pflaumer also said her office would not prosecute police officers for returning marijuana to individuals whom they believed met the medical marijuana standards.
In New Mexico, Health Secretary Alex Valdez has drafted legislation, at the request of Gov. Gary Johnson, to revive a medical marijuana law passed in 1978. More than 250 people had made use of the Lynn Pierson Act, named after a 25-year old cancer patient, until the legislature stopped appropriated the annual $50,000 needed in 1986. The law allows use of marijuana for alleviation of cancer chemotherapy and eye pressure from glaucoma, and for a review board to certify additional conditions as protected medical marijuana uses.
A federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit brought by 165 medical marijuana patients seeking to have a federal program that provides marijuana to eight patients reopened to new applicants. (See previous coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/082.html#hirsch.) DRCNet will post information relating to any appeals.
Two weeks ago, we reported that TV personality "Judge Judy" Sheindlin, on a two week tour of Australia promoting her new book, had attacked needle exchange programs, calling them a "liberal indulgence" and saying "Give em dirty needles and let 'em die," according to the Courier Mail in Brisbane (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/116.html#judgejudy).
In response to a barrage of criticism, much of it delivered through the Judge Judy web site's feedback form and toll free number, Sheindlin has posted a statement at http://www.judgejudy.com/drugs.html "clarifying" her views. Criticism was not limited for very long to the Internet, however.
On Nov. 18, the Melbourne newspaper "The Age" quoted the Alcohol and Drug Foundation of Queensland's chief executive, Bob Aldred, calling Sheindlin's comments "callous and deplorable," adding, "The popular symbol of American justice has managed to devalue young lives without recognising the growing drug problem." Then on Nov. 29, conservative, nationally syndicated U.S. columnist Arianna Huffington slammed Sheindlin in a piece titled "The New Callousness" (http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/files/112999.html).
If you've seen Arianna Huffington's column on Judge Judy in your local paper, please write a letter to the editor. Remember that newspapers rarely print letters longer than 200 words, and the shorter your letter, the more likely it is to get published.
Last but not least, give Judge Judy a piece of your mind if you haven't already -- call 1-888-800-JUDY (5839), write to P.O. Box 949, Hollywood, CA 90078, or use Judge Judy's web site feedback form at http://www.judgejudy.com. Also please note that our original article had identified the Judge Judy show with the Fox Network, but that identification was erroneous; Judge Judy is a syndicated program that appears on different stations in different locations.
Please read our commentary on Judge Judy and needle exchange, second to last article of this issue. You can also get substantial information on needle exchange programs, for your letters or other purposes, from the following web sites:
Syringe Exchange Resources
The Lindesmith Center
The North American Syringe
The Dogwood Center
Coinciding with World AIDS Day, December 1, the organization AIDS Action released its second annual "Report Card," rating the federal government on its efforts in the fight against AIDS. While giving the government an "A-" for research, a "B" for care and treatment, and a "C" for the fight against global AIDS, the feds received an "F" in HIV prevention. AIDS Action Executive Director Daniel Zingale said, "President Clinton and Congress need to untie the hands of public health forces trying to educate a new generation at risk for HIV."
The 1999 Until It's Over Report Card was certified by a panel of AIDS experts and advocates including Mary Fisher, person living with HIV; Steve Gunderson, former member of Congress (R-WI); Julia Ormond, actor; Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998; Tavis Smiley, host, BET Tonight; Jeanne White, the mother of Ryan White, and Zingale.
BET Tonight, with Tavis Smiley, spent that evening discussing AIDS in minority communities. When asked how prevention efforts could be improved, Hilary Shelton, Director of the Washington Bureau of the NAACP and a guest on the show, focused on implementation of needle exchange programs, a public health intervention that we "know works."
The discussion did not touch on the state level issue of the legality of needle exchange and pharmacy distribution.
More information on AIDS Action's "Report Card" can be found online at http://www.aidsaction.org.
On November 29, the University of New South Wales withdrew its offer to operate Australia's first safe-injecting room experiment, citing concerns that it would be unable to both run the service and fulfill its original obligation to evaluate the clinical trial. But by Tuesday, officials from Sydney's Uniting Church had stepped in accept an offer from the state government for permission to take on responsibility for the project.
The future of the proposed safe-injecting room, which would provide Sydney's injection drug users with clean needles, an array of social services, and a place off the streets to use drugs, has been uncertain for the last several weeks. The New South Wales government had initially approved a plan by the Sisters of Charity, who run St. Vincent's Hospital, to conduct an 18-month trial of a medically supervised safe-injecting room. But the Sisters were forced to rescind their proposal in the last week of October, after the Vatican issued a directive ordering them to abandon the project. That move prompted one of Victoria's senior judges, Justice Frank Vincent, to resign as chairman of the Catholic Church's drug task force in protest.
Uniting Church's decision to enter the fray has already caused some dissension among its ranks. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on November 30 that two high-profile Sydney Uniting pastors have come forward to oppose the move. One of them, Rev. Dr. Gordon Moyes, reportedly accused supporters of the plan of advocating "a theology of death."
Meanwhile, UNSW's researchers are still expected to conduct the official evaluation of the project once it is underway. A scientifically sound and objective evaluation of the trial, which harm reduction advocates hope will result the same decreases in disease and overdoses as similar experiments in Europe have shown, is critical to its success.
(Please e-mail event listings, large or small, to [email protected], so we can make the Reformer's Calendar as complete as possible.)
December 14, 7:00pm, New York, NY. Coerced Treatment: Can Welfare Reform Eliminate Drug Use? Corinne Carey, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center and the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, will discuss the impact of regulations requiring success in treatment and abstinence in pushing many welfare recipients off the rolls and into the streets. At the Harm Reduction Coalition, 22 West 27th Street, 5th Floor (between 6th Ave & Broadway). RSVP to Suzie, (212) 213-6376 ext. 31, [email protected].
January 13-14, 2000, Seattle, WA. Preventing Heroin Overdose: Pragmatic Approaches, hosted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, Univ. of Washington, with initial cosponsors including the Addictive Behaviors Research Institute, Evergreen Treatment Services, Harm Reduction Coalition, The Lindesmith Center, North American Users' Union, Seattle Police Department, Street Outreach Services, and Urban Health Study, Univ. of California, San Francisco. For info, e-mail Nancy Sutherland at [email protected], Phillip Coffin at [email protected], or visit http://depts.washington.edu/adai/conf/heroin.htm on the web.
February 3-5, 2000, Washington, DC. "NORML 2000" Conference, annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, at the Washington Plaza Hotel. For further information, call (202) 483-5500 or check http://www.norml.org.
April 7-8, 2000, Iowa City, IA. First National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, sponsored by Patients Out of Time, at the University of Iowa. For further information, call (804) 263-4484 or e-mail [email protected].
April 9-13, 2000, Jersey, Channel Islands. 11th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, leading gathering of the international harm reduction movement. For further information, contact: The Conference Secretariat, HIT Conferences, +44 (0)151 227 4423, +44 (0)151 236 4829 (fax), e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.ihra.org.uk/ on the web.
April 26-29, 2000, Portland, OR. North American Syringe Exchange Convention, sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network. For information, contact NASEN at (206) 272-4857, (206) 272-8415 (fax), or e-mail [email protected].
May 17-20, 2000, Washington, DC. 13th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, sponsored by the Drug Policy Foundation. For information, contact: Drug Policy Foundation, Conference Department, 4455 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 537.5005, (202) 537.3007 (fax), or e-mail to [email protected].
October 21-25, 2000, Miami, FL. 3rd National Harm Reduction Conference: Communities Respond to Drug Related Harm: AIDS, Hepatitis, Prison, Overdose and Beyond... For information, call Suzie at the Harm Reduction Coalition, (212) 213-6376 ext. 31, or e-mail [email protected].
The Marijuana Policy Project is hiring applicants for two full-time positions and two internships: Executive Assistant, and the best applicant for either Director of Communications or Director of State Policies; and Maryland Coordinator and Grassroots Lobbying Coordinator.
Applications for the MPP positions are being accepted by e-mail or fax; phone inquiries are not being accepted. The top applicants will be contacted for interviews. If you are located on the west coast or in the northeast, you may be able to interview in or near your own location during the next few weeks, if you are selected. The positions will begin in early January. Visit http://www.mpp.org/jobs.html for further information on the positions and how to apply.
Housing Works Supportive Services is seeking candidates for the following two positions:
Harm Reduction Coordinator, providing individual and group counseling to substance users based on a harm reduction philosophy, assisting clients in making decisions and taking responsibility for their own substance use, and advocating for clients in securing and maintaining services needed to meet those ends. The Coordinator is also responsible for screening, assessments, case conferences, and treatment planning, assuring that treatment plans are consistent with those goals and objectives established by the client and their primary Housing Works case manager; assisting with referrals to outside drug treatment facilities; providing education to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS; and providing staff training and lectures on principles and practices of Harm Reduction in coordination with the Syringe Exchange Coordinator. Interested persons should contact Peter Morse at (212) 966-0466 ext. 188 or Steve Chassman at (212) 966-0466 ext. 187, or fax resume to (212) 966-8597.
Program Assistant, carrying out the day to day clerical duties of Supportive Services, including developing and filing Supportive Services forms, client tracking and creation of a S. Services data base, maintaining paper work, coordinating and scheduling S. Services activities, and compiling data for monthly reports. Interested persons should contact Ms. Vinessa Sinclair, or fax resume to (212) 966-8597.
This site, at http://www.corpwatch.org/feature/prisons/, features articles and commentary providinges substantial information on the growing prison industrial complex and associated for-profit industry.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
From Australia, where she attacked needle exchange as a policy led by "liberal morons" while on book tour, to the pages of newspapers around the United States, TV Judge Judy Sheindlin has drawn criticism for what writers and drug treatment specialists condemn as "callousness."
This commentary was not written as part of an anti-Judge Judy effort, but rather to take this as an educational opportunity to elucidate some of the complexities of an issue that our opponents often characterize in all too simple terms. However, a closer look at Sheindlin's statements on the issue shows that criticism is deserved.
First of all, many of the groups that have called for needle exchange, such as the American Medical Association, can be scarcely be thought of as either "liberal" or "moronic." Needle exchange is favored by an overwhelming consensus in the professions concerned with public health. In Sheindlin's own city of Los Angeles, in fact, needle exchange is supported by the Republican mayor, Richard Riordan.
Responding on her web site to public comment, Sheindlin wrote, "Anybody who thinks that I would advocate the government supplying tainted needles to addicts is a fool. However, I have seen, during my 25 years of court experience the innocent victims of drugs -- thousands of victims of violent crime perpetrated by addicts looking for money for their next fix and countless thousands of innocent babies born drug addicted who never recovered from their birth defects. These are the innocents -- and they have no choice. Addicts have a choice." In her previous book, Sheindlin wrote about the clients of a needle exchange program, "Since none of these characters looked like they worked on Wall Street or anywhere else I knew that the money to support their 300 dollar a day habits came from victims: people who were killed maimed or, if they were lucky, only emotionally, traumatized for life."
The victims of crime and irresponsible behavior should be recognized, to be sure. But Judge Judy fails to recognize another class of truly helpless victims: children born with HIV/AIDS. In June 1995, an episode of the Discovery Channel's Cronkite Report titled "The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace?" featured the case of a young boy struggling with AIDS. He was being cared for by his grandmother, because his mother had already died. She was not an injection drug user, nor was the boy's father; she had caught HIV from a previous boyfriend who, unknown to her, had been an injection drug user prior to their relationship. Sheindlin's scornful dismissal of needle exchange and the lives of addicts omits any acknowledgment of the consequences to larger society of allowing deadly infectious diseases to spread. Hepatitis C, a frequently fatal disease which spreads much more easily than HIV, may be an even bigger problem, also fueled by the unavailability of sterile syringes to drug users but placing all of us at risk.
Secondly, it is highly misleading to imply that all addicts are violent victimizers who rob innocent people at gunpoint. Some of them are, but many more finance their habits -- typically less than the $300 per day that Sheindlin cites -- through begging, prostitution, or reselling some of their drugs to other users, all of which are activities that involve willing participants, not victims. Do the nonviolent addicts deserve to die in extended misery for these sins? Can we trust the objectivity of a judge who thinks they do? We shouldn't trust the objectivity of anyone who described all addicts, or all people from any group, as the same or meriting the same treatment.
An even more basic issue is that the problem of crime by addicts exists because prohibition has made the drugs so expensive; it wasn't a major problem among opiate users before prohibition, and it's not a major problem among users who have enrolled in heroin maintenance programs in nations such as Switzerland and Great Britain. If Sheindlin really wants to reduce criminal victimization -- as opposed to merely judging and pontificating about it -- she should be advocating legalization, or at least medical drug maintenance for addicts, just as loudly as she now denounces needle exchange.
Sheindlin wrote on her web site, "What I do oppose is a policy which even tacitly sends the message that we, as a society, approve or condone drug use, and that includes free needles and a government sponsored place to shoot up."
This is a flawed viewpoint for at least two reasons. Most seriously, Sheindlin, similarly to politicians such as New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, has focused on the government funding question while ignoring the most basic and pressing side of the needle exchange issue -- legality. It is illegal to perform needle exchange in a majority of states in the U.S., and it is illegal in most states for pharmacies to sell syringes without seeing a prescription. Needle exchangers, working with volunteers and private funding, have literally been arrested, handcuffed and sent to jail, for trying to protect society by preventing the spread of disease. Blasting government handouts of free needles to addicts makes a good sound bite. It's a lot harder for drug warriors to criticize privately funded exchanges or letting users buy the syringes with their own money. But those options need to be brought up if we are to have an honest discussion of the issue, as opposed to demagoguery and entertainment.
Secondly, each of the several major studies of needle exchange programs, carried out by institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the University of California and the Centers for Disease Control, have concluded that needle exchange programs do not increase the use of drugs. Indeed, some exchanges have become the leading source of referrals to drug treatment programs in their communities -- programs that Sheindlin says she supports being funded. It is strange, then, that in her previous book, Sheindlin described needle exchanges as "social programs that keep junkies hooked." The evidence is that the programs are helping addicts find the help they need -- help to get off drugs when they're ready, and to stay alive and free of AIDS in the meantime.
Last but not least, we need to discuss the problem of drug use during pregnancy. No one thinks its a good idea. The medical evidence is that the birth defects Sheindlin cites are caused by use of the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. Using opiates or cocaine during pregnancy can cause other problems and should very much be avoided. But the biggest problems in this area are from the legal drugs, both in frequency and severity. These are facts that were obscured in the media frenzy over "crack babies" -- a phenomenon that has not withstood scrutiny when correlated factors such as poverty, malnutrition and insufficient parenting skills are factored in -- but they are medical facts nonetheless. And even those who would disagree with that statement would certainly agree that alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy is a serious problem in its own right.
And Judge Judy would doubtless concur that women shouldn't drink or smoke during pregnancy to the point that their unborn children are harmed; perhaps it has even come up on her show. But will she advocate total prohibition of alcohol and nicotine, for all adults, at any time?
Hopefully Judge Judy is a fair and impartial arbiter of justice in the cases which come before her in court. But she is addicted to, or at least intoxicated by, drug war ideology, and is in denial of the overwhelming moral and scientific case for needle exchange.
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
This week, authorities in the U.S. and Mexico announced the discovery of several mass graves holding the bodies of scores of the murdered, the mutilated and the "disappeared" of the drug war. Among those expected to be identified are dozens of American citizens, many of whom were reportedly abducted by uniformed members of Mexico's military and police forces. This grisly discovery, while not entirely surprising given the scope and profitability of the black market, ought to give every American pause the next time one of our leaders extols the virtues of prohibition as a "drug control" policy.
The discovery also puts the lie to statements by officials such as drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who detests the term "drug war" and would rather we analogize our policies to the treatment of cancer. While it is true that people do die of cancer, and even, sometimes, from the treatment itself, they do not die in the manner of those whose bodies are being dug up just south of our border. Those people died of gunshot wounds and other violent means. Many of them were tortured before being killed. And, as mentioned, many were abducted off the streets by men in uniform.
This, as retired four-star general McCaffrey most certainly knows, is how people die in war.
But no matter how many bodies are discovered in the newly found graves, they represent just the tip of the iceberg. The casualties of this war stretch across the globe, from Afghanistan and Burma to the Colombian rain forest and the streets of every city and town in the United States. Drive-by shootings, the killing of witnesses, the slow and painful death of uncountable preventable AIDS cases, the drawn-out suffering of a million non-violent incarcerates, the young teens, drawn into the drug trade by the lure of easy money, men and women whose fates are sealed by childhood decisions. All of these and more, victims of the war no less than those whose remains keep coming up out of the ground in Mexico.
The drug war, like any profitable but perniciously disastrous public policy is shrouded by its defenders in a litany of excuses and justifications. "Drug use is down," they say, "kids' attitudes are changing," "we must not surrender our kids to drugs, whatever the cost." But none of this has anything to do, really, with whether or not we continue to arrest millions of people, spend billions of tax dollars, impugn the sovereignty and security of less powerful nations or militarize our domestic law enforcement. Education and the fight to reduce substance abuse would be part of any rational drug policy. In fact, our children's share of the resources would increase exponentially if we stopped spending money on punitive policies which have failed to reduce their access to drugs by one iota over a period of decades.
The mass graves that two governments are exhuming in Mexico bring to mind the Wild West, a lawless society marked by unpunished and unpunishable acts of violence and revenge. This is an apt metaphor for the drug war. For no matter how many prisons we build, or how many new weapons systems we send into the simmering conflicts of Latin America, or how many civil rights we trample here at home, nothing will tame this beast until currently illicit substances are brought back under the rule of law in a rational, regulated and controlled system.
The graves, the bodies that the earth will give up, and the thousands that will never be found, stand as mute testament to the absurdity of denials that there is, in fact, a war on. It is a war on people, and on rationality, and on the rule of law and the primacy of civilized society. Official denials in the face of the unearthed carnage notwithstanding.
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