(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #119, 12/17/99
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Vice President Al Gore, speaking before a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire, appeared to endorse a serious break with Clinton Administration policy regarding the medicinal use of marijuana when he advocated giving doctors "flexibility" on the issue. At a press conference following the event, however, Gore retreated quickly back to the party line on the need for more research before any change in policy could be considered.
In response to a question from the town hall audience, Gore gave responded that doctors and patients "ought to have the option" to use marijuana to relieve suffering. "Where the alleviation of pain in medical situations is concerned, we have not given doctors enough flexibility to help patients who are going through acute pain," he said. "Many of us have seen that ourselves."
To prove this last point, Gore again referred to his sister's battle with cancer, claiming that her doctor had prescribed marijuana to her, but that it had not produced "the desired result" and she had stopped using it. Asked how her doctor procured the marijuana, Gore said, "it came in a prescription container with a label on it." Gore's sister was treated at the Vanderbilt Hospital, and, he noted, her doctor was the former head of the American Lung Association.
Gore admitted to the audience that the position he was advocating was at odds with the stated position of Clinton Drug Policy chief Barry McCaffrey.
At a press conference following the public event, however, Gore was quick to retreat to the party line.
"If the research shows that there are circumstances in which there is no alternative for alleviating the pain that doctors believe can be alleviated through the use of medical marijuana, then under certain limited medical circumstances -- if the research validates that choice -- then it should be allowed. We are not at that point."
Chris Lahane, press secretary for the Gore Campaign, told The Week Online that "Al Gore believes that more scientific research needs to be done, but that after that is accomplished, if the findings are favorable, only then should we should consider making it available under tightly controlled conditions."
Asked whether the untold thousands of patients currently using marijuana to relieve suffering should be arrested, as is current federal policy, Lahane said that Gore "is strongly opposed to the legalization of marijuana through the state referendums and initiatives that he has seen."
Richard Evans, a Massachusetts attorney and member of the national board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told The Week Online that "what was said by the candidate is not as important as the fact that he addressed the issue. We must continue to force candidates and public officials to treat the issue seriously."
Currently, there are 13 states that have compassionate use programs on the books, under which doctors could theoretically prescribe marijuana, under research conditions, if they could succeed in getting a supply of cannabis from the federal government. Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Week Online that Gore's sister must have been part of the Tennessee program that has since been discontinued.
"The results of the Tennessee program showed that for most of the participants, marijuana was effective. In fact, compared with pharmaceutical THC, the doctors there found smoked marijuana to be 23% more effective. The only subgroup that did not seem to benefit were lung cancer patients, who presumably had trouble handling the smoke. Al Gore's sister, as he has stated publicly, had lung cancer, and so it is not surprising that it did not have the desired effect in her case."
"The question," Thomas continued, "is whether Al Gore, as President, would order the federal government to resume supplying marijuana to the state programs, which are themselves part of the research that he claims does not exist."
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy, a Brown University-based group of national leaders in the field of medicine, has been outspoken on the need to shift priorities from law enforcement to public health in the nation's battle against substance abuse. Last week, their efforts were given a major boost in the form of $1.35 million in grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The grants will be used to raise awareness of the need to make treatment more readily available to those who need it. Among the specific programs covered by the grants are an effort to pair physicians with community groups, provide educational materials, and produce videotapes summarizing existing research in treatment and prevention for use by police, judges and physicians.
Dr. David S. Greer, professor of community health and dean of medicine emeritus at the Brown University School of Medicine, told the Brown Daily Herald that the group advocates major changes in our nation's drug policies.
"We look at the extent of effectiveness of incarceration and look at the extent, or lack thereof, of treatment," Greer said. "We want to shift priorities from interdiction and incarceration to treatment and rehabilitation."
Physician Leadership made news in March 1998 with the release of a study regarding the efficacy of treatment over incarceration, and its consensus statement calling for a host of public health strategies in place of current, enforcement-based drug policies.
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy is comprised of a broad range of national leaders in the fields of medicine and public health, including high-ranking officials from the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations.
Members include Louis Sullivan, M.D., Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bush, Edward Brandt, MD, Assistant Secretary of HHS under President Reagan, and David Kessler, MD, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Clinton. The group also includes a former Surgeon General, a Nobel laureate, and the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of The American Medical Association.
Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy has a web site at http://www.caas.brown.edu/plndp/ where physicians can register as PLNDP Associates, endorse PLNDP's consensus statement and receive updates on the organization's activities and the issue.
The Week Online spoke with Dr. David Lewis, director of Brown's Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, and project-director of Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy, about the project and his hopes for the PLNDP.
(Read the PLNDP consensus statement online at http://www.caas.brown.edu/plndp/consensus.html. You can read The Week Online's March 1998 story on PLNDP at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/034.html. Join Together is on the web at http://www.jointogether.org.)
Just months after its agents seized 20 tons of hemp birdseed bound from Canada to the US, the Drug Enforcement Administration has approved a research project at the University of Hawaii that will develop strains of the plant suitable for industrial use in that state. When the first seeds were planted in the research plot on Tuesday (12/14), behind a 12-foot security fence topped with razor wire and 24-hour surveillance cameras, Hawaii became the first state in more than 40 years to legally cultivate hemp.
The project will be funded by a $200,000 grant from Alterna Professional Hair Care Products, a California based company that uses imported hemp seed oil in its products. "Alterna feels a responsibility to help support America's farmers and affording them the opportunity to grow industrial hemp for American-made products is our ultimate goal," company president Mike Brady said in a press release.
The political force behind the project has been Hawaii State Representative Cynthia Thielen, who lobbied her colleagues and Governor Ben Cayetano for three years until legislation approving hemp cultivation was passed in May. Thielen, whose web site includes a "hemp primer" to help acquaint her constituents with the plant's industrial uses, contends that hemp could provide a valuable boost to the state's agricultural economy, which has been dependent on a lagging market for sugar cane.
In spite of the fact that hemp's illegal status stems directly from drug war hysteria -- it is classified along with its cousin, marijuana, as a Schedule I narcotic, yet it contains only trace levels of THC -- Thielen has taken care in her crusade to distance her issue from drug reform in general. Indeed, when The Week Online asked her to comment on this story, she refused. "I don't want to be quoted in your publication, because this isn't at all related to marijuana legalization or medical marijuana," she said. "It's an agricultural issue, not a drug issue."
Nevertheless, few could argue that Thielen's single-mindedness has not paid off. This week, local drug policy groups applauded Thielen's efforts and expressed excitement about the research project. "DPFH is proud that Hawaii has become the first state since World War II to plant industrial hemp and believes it has tremendous potential to help the state overcome its economic woes," said Pamela Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii in an e-mail to The Week Online. "Kudos to Representative Thielen for her commitment and persistence in the face of opposition from her colleagues, state law enforcement officials, and the Feds. This pilot program represents a true breakthrough for common sense and hopefully marks an evolution in US drug policy to a more science-based and pragmatic approach."
First marijuana was decriminalized, then medical marijuana was made available and now, voters in Alaska may have the chance next year to make marijuana completely legal and regulated like alcohol. Campaigners for 99Hemp, as they've dubbed their initiative, say they have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November, 2000 ballot.
The signature gathering for the initiative is sponsored by Austin, Texas businessman Michael Kleeman of the Texas Hemp Coalition, and the initiative drive is being run in Alaska by Libertarian activist Al Anders and author Jack Herer. Herer is the author of "The Emperor Has No Clothes," a book detailing the many uses of industrial hemp and probably the all-time best selling book about marijuana. Campaigners chose Alaska because of the relatively small number of signatures required to place a question before the voters, and because of the state's tradition of supporting the right to privacy.
In the 1970's, the state decriminalized marijuana. In 1990, a re-criminalization initiative passed, but three years later a judge threw out that result, ruling that the initiative was unconstitutional. And just last year Alaskans voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Recent victorious medical marijuana campaigns in several states were preceded by careful opinion polling that deemed them likely to succeed, but Anders said 99Hemp had conducted no polling on the issue of marijuana legalization, and does not plan to do so. That news prompted a warning from National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law's executive director, Keith Stroup, who told The Week Online that while he feels the Alaska initiative is well-intentioned and fully supports the campaign's efforts, "They are flying blind not doing any polling."
But Anders said the campaign could count on the 46 percent of voters who voted against a recent effort to re-criminalize marijuana, and build on that number with an aggressive voter registration effort. Since marijuana is so controversial, Anders doesn't think participants would be honest with their pollster. "Polling on this is like polling on David Duke," he explained. If the initiative goes down to defeat, Anders won't worry about the bad publicity, he said. He would simply try harder the next year.
Anders' 46 percent base may be inflated because support for decriminalization does not necessarily translate into support for legalization. Polling conducted around the country indicates many voters support decriminalization and yet remain adamantly opposed legalization. A legalization initiative in Oregon in 1986 received only 27 percent of the vote.
Others in the drug policy reform movement say Alaska is not as liberal as it was ten years ago. Conservatives connected with the oil boom have moved in, weakening the state's libertarian quotient. A recent statewide poll found that 46 percent of Alaskans identified themselves as "conservative" or "very conservative," but that same poll found that 64 percent of Alaskans said yes when asked, "Have you ever been with someone who's smoked marijuana?" Pollsters say this number is extremely high and indicates tacit approval of marijuana smoking.
But marijuana legalization may not be the toughest sell for 99Hemp's campaigners. Beyond clearing the records of all people prosecuted for marijuana criminal offenses, the text of the initiative calls for a committee to be formed that will explore the possibility of reparations "for all persons who were imprisoned, fined or had private personal or real properties forfeited as a result of criminal or civil actions for cannabis/marijuana-related acts which are hereby no longer illegal."
Stroup said the provision goes too far. He also predicted the federal government would not let the initiative stand even without the reparations request, because it remains illegal to sell and distribute marijuana under federal law. "They would ask for an injunction and I think they would get it. The response to this would be far stronger than it was with medical marijuana."
When asked about the reparations provision, Anders said a committee would decide on the particulars of the restitution and conceded, "It probably wasn't a good idea to put that in the initiative. It may make it harder to pass."
Steve Silverman, [email protected]
A majority of black, as well as white, Americans report that racial profiling is widespread in the United States today, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Respondents were provided with the following neutral description of the practice: "It has been reported that some police officers stop motorists of certain racial or ethnic groups because the officers believe that these groups are more likely than others to commit certain types of crimes." They were then asked if they believe the practice to be widespread.
The poll reveals that 59% of the sample of 2,006 people (including 1,001 blacks) believe that the practice of racial profiling is widespread. But when the respondents are sorted by race, we see significant differences. 56% of whites perceive the practice to be widespread, compared to a staggering 77% of blacks.
Other questions explored the respondents' personal experiences with police. Asked if they ever felt that the police stopped them just because of their race or ethnic background, 42% of blacks believe they have. And among this 42%, about six out of ten believe they were stopped more than three times because of their race, including 15% who say it has happened eleven or more times.
The most distressing numbers are reported by young black men aged 18-34. Of these men, 72% feel that police have pulled them over because of their race. Blacks with higher incomes and more education did not, however, appear less likely to be pulled over.
The poll also revealed that black people, of all ages, have significantly less favorable opinions of their local and state police than do whites.
Further info on the Gallup racial profiling poll is online at http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr991209.asp. For further information and action items on profiling, visit the ACLU web site at http://www.aclu.org/profiling/.
Steve Silverman, [email protected]
The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned Denver, Colorado officials for launching a "no-knock" drug raid in September which resulted in the death of a father of nine.
Ismael Mena, 45, was shot to death by masked SWAT officers who broke down his door in the middle of the night. The officers, who had obtained the warrant based on a tip from an informant who claimed there were drug dealers in the house, later said they shot Mena after he pointed a gun at them and fired. No drugs or evidence of drug dealing were found in Mena's house, and an autopsy revealed no drugs in his body.
"If the government officials who authorized the warrant had followed the law, Ismael Mena would be alive today," said Mark Silverstein, the ACLU's legal director in Colorado. "No-knock warrants should be the rare exception and not the rule," he added.
Craig Silverman, a Denver trial lawyer and a former prosecutor summed up the absurdity of no-knock warrants by asking, "Why do you have police officers risking their lives and putting other people's lives at risk for a crime that routinely results in no incarceration in Denver?"
Silverstein said that while any request to search a home must be evaluated with care, judges should be especially wary of requests for no-knock warrants. "No-knock warrants pose a danger to the lives of police officers as well as innocent civilians. Many Colorado residents legally own firearms, and Colorado's controversial 'Make My Day' law increases the risk to police. If police do not successfully communicate their identity in the split-second hen they kick down the door, they are likely to encounter gunfire from citizens who believe they are justifiably defending their homes from lawless intruders."
In 1997, the Supreme Court unanimously held that a warrant to search for drugs does not automatically justify a no-knock entry. "The Supreme Court requires facts that are based on the specific case and the specific home to be searched," said Silverstein. "Police cannot rely on the easy generalization that a drug case means that the suspects inevitably will start shooting or attempt to destroy evidence. The warrant in this case, however, was based on the precise stereotype that the Supreme Court unanimously rejected in 1997."
(The Supreme Court decision is available online at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/96-5955.ZS.html.)
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has promised a thorough probe of Mena's death. The FBI has also launched its own investigation.
Peter Watney and DRCNet
Last week, the Australian Capitol Territory government approved plans to set up a trial safe-injecting room in their state, but harm reduction advocates had little leisure to savor the victory. Before the logistical planning could get underway, a sudden show of temper from the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board this week has put the project -- along with similar trials planned for Victoria and New South Wales -- in peril.
In a letter to Australia's ambassador to the United Nations, INCB president Antonio Martins warned that, "By permitting injection rooms, the government could be considered to be facilitating in the commission of possession and use crimes, as well as other criminal offences including drug trafficking," according to excerpts published Wednesday (12/15) in the Canberra Times. The letter went on to hint that Australia's role as a host of the 2000 summer Oympics could be tarnished if the trials go forward.
The letter was followed up by Prime Minister John Howard, who wrote to the governments of the ACT, Victoria and NSW and asked them to consider scrapping their plans for medically supervised safe-injection rooms. Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Tasmania was being drawn into the fray, as its multi-million dollar pharmaceutical opiate industry could be threatened by INCB actions against Australia.
But so far, the renegade states appear to be hanging tough. Andrew Refshauge, Deputy Premier of NSW has reaffirmed that the proposed Sydney safe-injection trial will proceed as planned. Victorian Health Minister John Thwaites has said the project in his state will also move forward. And Kate Carnell, Chief Minister of the ACT, said that while she is willing and anxious to discuss the matter with the Commonwealth Government, legal advice has confirmed that a trial would not violate either the letter or the spirit of international treaties or the UN drug conventions.
The law in question states that countries may make exceptions to conventions requiring drug prohibition in the case of clinical trials and in order to avert serious threats to the public health.
Not everyone is hopeful that the matter will be resolved in the states' favor. Ian Matthews, former managing editor of the Canberra Times and co-author of the book, "Drugs Policy -- Fact, Fiction and the Future," told The Week Online that he's concerned that a safe-injecting room trial might not be approved on the basis of medical research, and said that whether the social and criminal outcomes could be reviewed in a scientific manner and thus constitute scientific research, was in his opinion a fragile question.
Matthews did point out, however, that Prime Minister Howard only makes use of International Treaties and Conventions when they agree with his prejudices, and has on several occasions affirmed his Government's duty to put the interests of the Australian people first.
Howard's prejudices against harm reduction and in favor of US-style "zero-tolerance" drug polices are well documented. Last year he invited FBI chief Louis Freeh to Australia to discuss law enforcement approaches to drug abuse, and he has publicly condemned the NSW and Victorian governments' safe-injecting room proposals.
The INCB's distaste for harm reduction is equally well known. In its annual report last year, it criticized Switzerland's heroin prescription program and warned against other countries that might consider adopting similar measures. The INCB would also be the key to punishing Tasmania's pharmaceutical opiate producers, since its powers include the international regulation of such industries. Similar threats are widely thought to have cowed the Australian government into abandoning its own plans for a heroin prescription trial last year.
You can read about safe-injecting rooms and other harm reduction initiatives on the Lindesmith Center web site at http://www.lindesmith.org. The International Narcotics Control Board is online at http://www.incb.org.
Last month the Week Online reported that Morgan Grams, son of Senator Rod Grams (R-Minnesota), had apparently received "special treatment" from the Anoka County chief deputy sheriff for marijuana found in Grams' car while he was on probation -- the 21-year old Grams was driven home while his 17-year old passenger spent a month in a juvenile detention center (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/116.html#hypocrisyII).
Grams has now been charged with misdemeanor traffic and marijuana offenses, and deputy Peter Beberg is retiring, after an outside investigation headed by the sheriff of nearby Dakota and Washington counties found that the traffic stop involved "less than stellar police work," according to the New York Times. Investigators did not, however, find evidence that the Senator had requested special treatment for his son.
If convicted, Grams will face a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $700 fine. The younger passenger was convicted of a felony. Beberg is remaining in his position as mayor of Anoka.
(press release from the Drug Policy Forum of California, 12/10/99)
California Drug Offender Prison Population Up from 0 in 1900 to 46,000 at End of Century, One in Eight Imprisoned for Simple Possession
The century is ending with a record number of drug prisoners in California, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Corrections. As of June 1999, the state prison system held 45,874 drug offenders, a record 28.3% of the prison population. Of these, 19,743 -- a record 12.2% of all prisoners -- were being held for simple possession (not sales) of drugs that were entirely legal when the century began.
The number of marijuana prisoners (1,903) is also near record levels, up 12% since the passage of California's medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, and nearly twenty times the level of twenty years ago.
Not included in these figures are prisoners held in county jails and federal prisons.
While the number of drug prisoners in California has exploded over fivefold since 1986, and their proportion in the prison population has doubled, illegal drug usage has remained more or less constant over the same period.
"The figures show clearly that the war on drugs is bankrupt," comments DPFCA spokesman Dale Gieringer. "California taxpayers are spending over $1 billion per year to incarcerate people for inherently non-violent drug crimes, with no evident public benefits. When this century began, drug crime was unknown. Opiates, cocaine and other drugs were legally available over the counter in drug stores, yet addiction rates were no higher than today."
The state's war on drugs began in 1907, when the legislature banned sale of opiates and cocaine except on prescription. Since then, the century has witnessed some 6 million drug arrests in California. Over 3 million Californians committed drug crimes this year, mainly possession.
A ballot initiative to eliminate prison sentences for non-violent drug possession offenders and substitute drug diversion programs instead is being circulated by the Campaign for New Drug Policies.
For further information, call Dale Gieringer at (510) 540-1066, or e-mail [email protected].
Signature-gatherers are needed to help circulate the Mendocino Personal Use of Marijuana Initiative. The initiative would put the county on record in favor of decriminalizing possession, use and cultivation of marijuana in amounts of 25 plants or less. Volunteers should contact Bruce Hering at [email protected]. Non-Mendocino residents may circulate, but not sign, the initiative. The initiative text can be found online at http://home.igc.org/~canorml.
The counties of Alameda, Berkeley, Contra Costa and Oakland have passed emergency orders supporting needle exchange programs, according to yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle (12/16), fulfilling the requirements of a law passed this year by the California legislature. The emergency order requirement was a compromise with Gov. Gray Davis, who had threatened to veto the original version (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/106.html#ab518).
Needle exchange has drawn support from across California's political spectrum. "I think it's a legitimate means to address the problem," Scott Gordon of the Contra Costa County Republican Central Committee told the Chronicle on Tuesday. "I support it. I know a number of other Republicans do."
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation HIV Prevention Project (HPP), which runs the nation's largest needle exchange program. Is accepting applicants for a 30 hour/week administrative assistant position. The successful applicant will provide administrative and contract development support to HPP with particular focus on assisting the Associate Director in contract development projects, data entry and compilation, and general clerical support.
For a complete job description and application guidelines, e-mail [email protected]. (DRCNet will also forward you SFAF's job posting, upon request.) Resumes can be submitted to [email protected] or fax (415) 487-3019 to request a complete job description, or sent to: Human Resources (ATTN: HPPAA.JD), San Francisco AIDS Foundation/HPP, P.O. Box 426182, San Francisco, CA 94142-6182. Resumes must be received by Jan. 7, and SFAF is not accepting phone calls.
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
As the days until the coming of the big '00 dwindle to a hurried few, it seems the proper time to take some stock of where we are, and where we're going. That's why a report, issued last week by the Justice Policy Institute, should give us pause. Its central finding is uniquely disturbing for what it says about America, and American leadership, as we prepare to pass through this numerical but socially significant milestone of time.
According to JPI, one of the first significant American events of the post 1900's will take place on February 15, 2000. On that date, the prison and jail population in this country will reach 2,000,000 for the fist time in our history. More than half of those will be non-violent offenders. The largest category of offenders, by a wide margin, will be drug law violators.
No other nation on earth, nor any nation in history, as far as anyone can tell, has ever incarcerated so large a percentage of its citizens. And not only is the raw number growing, but the rate of increase is growing as well.
In 1970, there were fewer than 200,000 people behind bars in the US. By 1980, that number had grown to 315,000. Between 1980 and 1990, the number rose to 739,980. Ten years later, we have added more than one million to that total. What we have witnessed, then, in a span of thirty years, is a tenfold increase in the number of people in a prison system that has, by virtue of this growth, become an industry unto itself.
As we reach the end of the American Century, it seems that cages have become our one-size-fits-all answer to nearly every persistent social ill. Poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, all have become fodder for the prison-industrial complex. Hundreds of thousands of people have been removed from the unemployment statistics, from the rolls of understaffed mental health services, from overcrowded poor neighborhoods. People who self-medicate, who don't fit in, who show a preference for the wrong intoxicants. All of them have a home in one of our many correctional institutions. At twenty to thirty thousand dollars per year per person.
We are a nation of jailers... and of jailed. We have zero-tolerance, and we brag about it. Our leaders ride to power on the backs of the convicted. Brown backs, black backs, for the most part. We have created powerful lobbies of people whose livelihoods depend on putting more of their fellow citizens in cages, for longer stretches of their lives, and we cannot seem to appease those lobbies fast enough.
This is America, home of the free, at the dawn of the new millennium. We are a nation singular in our urge to punish, and in our willingness to indulge that urge. But we are paying for that indulgence.
We are paying with our tax dollars, both what we spend to catch, convict and incarcerate the two million and what we fail to collect from their potential wages. We are paying in distrust of our system and of our institutions among those groups, Black and Latino mostly, against whom we have chosen to enforce the most punitive of our laws. We are paying with our futures, in the education dollars that have gone, in state after state, into the building and running of prisons, more so every year. And we are paying with our souls, scarred and hardened by our growing willingness to accept that which we know is immoral and inhumane and corrupt.
So here we are, at the end of 1999, rushing headlong toward two million, and not so far, at the current rate, from four million, and six million and twelve million behind bars. Today, with less than 5% of the world's population, the United States houses 25% of the world's inmates. This is the future we are handing to our children. This is the America they are growing up to know, and to accept, and to expect. On February 15, 2000 we will mark the next great milestone in America's all-encompassing social program. Perhaps this truly is the end of the American century.
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