(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #122, 1/21/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. New Bio Alleges Gore Used Marijuana Regularly for Years -- Newsweek Kills Story Set to Run This Week
A DRCNet Exclusive, by Adam J. Smith, [email protected]
The Week Online with DRCNet (stopthedrugwar.org) has learned that Newsweek Magazine decided late Friday to postpone publication of an excerpt of a Gore biography featuring eyewitness accounts of Al Gore's regular and continued drug use over a period of years. The drug use covers a period of Gore's life from his days at Harvard up until the very week he declared his candidacy for Congress in 1976, sources told The Week Online. The book, by Bill Turque of Newsweek's Washington bureau, quotes both named and unnamed sources, including John Warnecke, son of John Carl Warnecke –-architect of the John F. Kennedy grave site, and a long-time friend of the Gores. An exclusive interview with Mr. Warnecke follows this story.
The excerpt had been scheduled to run in Newsweek's January 18th issue, just days before the start of the Democratic primaries. A previous excerpt from the book appeared in the December 6 issue. In that excerpt, which covered Gore's Vietnam experience, Tipper Gore was said to have spent considerable time, distraught with worry for her husband's safety, at Warnecke's house while Gore was overseas.
The Gore biography, to be published by Houghton-Mifflin, was itself originally scheduled for a January release, but that too has been delayed until March 23. A spokesman for Houghton-Mifflin told The Week Online that the delay was "normal."
Al Gore has previously admitted using marijuana, but those admissions fall well short of the type of regular, even chronic use described by Warnecke. Warnecke also says that Gore used marijuana regularly for at least four years after the Vice-President claims to have stopped.
On November 7, 1987, in the wake of Douglas H. Ginsburg's failed Supreme Court nomination, Gore told the Bergen County Record that he had smoked marijuana in college and in the army but had not used it in the past fifteen years. The New York Times reported on November 8, 1987:
"Mr. Gore said he last used marijuana when he was 24. He said he first tried the drug at the end of his junior year at Harvard and used it again at the beginning of his senior year the next fall. He also said he used the drug 'once or twice' while off-duty in an Army tour at Bien Hoa, Vietnam, on several occasions while he was in graduate school at Vanderbilt University and when he was an employee of a Nashville newspaper (The Nashville Tennessean). On November 11, 1987, Gore was quoted in UPI, saying 'We have to be honest and candid and open in dealing with the (drug) problem.'"
Mr. Turque refused to comment to The Week Online. Roy Burnett, a spokesman for Newsweek, acknowledged that the magazine was preparing to run a new excerpt from the book "in the coming weeks." Asked whether there in fact had been a delay, and if so, the reasons behind it, Burnett would say only that it is Newsweek's policy not to discuss its editorial practices.
Gore, as part of the Clinton Administration, has presided over a drug war policy that has led to the arrest and incarceration of record numbers of non-violent drug offenders. In 1998, according to the Justice Department, there were 682,885 Americans arrested on marijuana charges, 88% of whom were arrested for possession. A recent study by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (http://www.cjcj.org) reported that the incarcerated population of the U.S. will reach two million on or around February 15, 2000. Of those, more than half are non-violent offenders, according to CJCJ.
On February 8, 1999, Vice President Gore personally presented the administration's Drug Control Strategy at a Washington, DC press conference. During his remarks, Gore spoke about the "spiritual problem" of drug abuse and about the need for more positive opportunities for young people. Despite this, however, the strategy allocates approximately 2/3 of the federal drug budget on enforcement, with less than one third to be spent on treatment and education combined.
At that press conference, Gore, perhaps inadvertently, pointed out the very problem inherent in a class of political leaders who prosecute a failing drug war while hiding their own experiences with illicit drugs, and the message that sends to young people.
"And if young people... feel there's phoniness and hypocrisy and corruption and immorality," Gore said, "then they are much more vulnerable to the drug dealers, to the peers who tempt them with messages that are part of a larger entity of evil."
An exclusive interview with John Warnecke appears immediately below. An editorial discussing DRCNet's views regarding political candidates and drug use appears below, at the end of this issue. This article and interview can be found online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/gore.html.)
Exclusive to The Week Online, by Adam J. Smith
John C. Warnecke worked as
a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean and was a close personal friend
of the Gores. Warnecke is the son of John Carl Warnecke, architect
for the John F. Kennedy gravesite. The Week Online spoke with Mr.
Warnecke by phone this week.
(An editorial discussing DRCNet's views regarding political candidates and drug use appears below, at the end of this issue, or at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/122.html#editorial. This interview accompanies an article, appearing immediately above, or at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/gore.html.)
While in Arizona, drug policy reformers have successfully reduced the prison population through the ballot box, in Colorado, activists are waging an uphill battle to reduce incarceration the hard way -- passing a prison moratorium bill through a conservative, law and order legislature.
The Colorado Moratorium Project is working with two state legislators, State Senator Dorothy Rupert (D-Boulder) and Representative Penfield Tate (D-North Central Denver) to introduce SB 104, which will ban new prison expansion until July 1, 2003 and establish a 17 member task force to look into alternatives to incarceration. The task force will be composed of state representatives, law enforcement, public defenders and representatives from Human Services and the Department of Corrections.
The project's coordinator, Christie Donner, does not expect the moratorium to get out of the judiciary committee, but believes an amended bill featuring just the task force could get passed by the legislature. Last year the committee passed a similar amended bill with just a six member task force composed of state representatives, but that bill died in the appropriations committee when representatives balked at funding "just another study."
Donner told the Week Online that she believes prospects are better this year due her group's public education campaign. "There should be more public pressure. We've been reaching out to the community." Her group has been educating residents about the impact the war on drugs has had in multiplying the number of non-violent criminals in the prison system. She also believes the expanded task force is an improvement because legislators, by themselves, don't have sufficient background to draw up the comprehensive reform the task force will be assigned to do.
The task force will look into how tougher sentencing and the war on drugs have quadrupled Colorado's prison population since 1985. Among the alternatives the task force will be looking at to reduce incarceration include drug treatment, crime prevention, job training, and education.
If the bill passes the legislature this year, Donner worries the state's tough on crime Governor will veto it. Even though prospects are dim, Donner feels the legislation gives her group "an air of credibility and is really good way of raising the issue." She points out fifty community groups and organizations have endorsed the legislation.
A large chunk of Colorado's prison expansion can be attributed to the war on drugs. Currently it costs Colorado $63.4 million every year to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders. When asked whether it would be easier to pass a drug decriminalization initiative via the ballot box then trying to pass a prison moratorium bill through a conservative legislature worried about seeming soft on crime, Donner said her group was looking into supporting an initiative like the one passed in Arizona. "We could bang our heads trying to pass this legislation for a long time. Voters are more sympathetic." Apparently, voters aren't worried about being soft on crime.
There are other prison moratorium groups campaigning around the country including a California group that helps local communities say no to new prison construction and a New York group that is fighting that state's punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws. The New York-based Prison Moratorium Project is online at http://www.nomoreprisons.org.
(This article was scheduled to appear in last week's issue of The Week Online, but was accidentally omitted due to an e-mail breakdown.)
Salon Magazine last week reported that the federal government, through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has been reviewing the scripts of prime time shows on all six major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, WB, Fox and UPN) and giving financial credit -- through that agency's anti-drug media campaign -- for those that are "on message." The scheme, which has been kept largely obfuscated, if not entirely secret, is seen as unethical by many media scholars and may run afoul of federal payola laws which require disclosure of any consideration paid -- either directly or indirectly -- in return for the airing of content of any kind.
According to the Salon story, ONDCP got into the business of reviewing content like this: In 1997, Congress approved a billion dollars in Partnership for a Drug-Free America advertising buys, on the condition that the networks provided a dollar-for-dollar match in donated ad time. Soon after entering these agreements, however, the networks became swamped with dot-com advertising, making the contributed ad time far more valuable than it had previously been. In order to free-up the ad space that they owed the government, they agreed to a system under which they would get credit for airing shows in which the plot was "on message," showing drug, and in some cases alcohol use, in a light that the government deemed proper.
Pat Aufderheide, a professor at the American University School of Communications, told The Week Online that the practice is extremely troubling.
"It's a very bad idea for government to use carrots and sticks to influence content on commercial programming," Aufderheide said. "There are lots of forums through which the government can legitimately get its message out. You never want to see government using its clout, financial or otherwise, to get programming to conform with its version of the 'right message.'"
"It's not bad to use the mass media to send positive health messages," she said. "What is bad is to use the club of government -- whether through financial incentives to cooperation or the implicit threat of governmental power -- to influence content."
Alan Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, a public interest law firm, told the New York Times, "This is the most craven thing I've ever heard of yet. To turn over content control to the federal government for a modest price is an outrageous abandonment of the First Amendment." To the Washington Post, he added, "The idea of the government attempting to influence public opinion covertly is reprehensible beyond words. It's one thing to appropriate money to buy ads, another thing to spend the money to influence the public subliminally. And it's monstrously selfish and irresponsible on the part of the broadcasters." (This week the Post reported that the Times had also participated in the government's financial plan. A Times writer claimed not to have known this when editorializing about it.)
There are questions beyond the government's role in paying networks to air content that the government deems "appropriate," however, and those revolve around the effectiveness of the government's message, whether in paid ads or surreptitiously placed in story lines. Dr. Joel Brown of the Center for Educational Research and Development, and one of the nation's leading researchers in the field of drug education, questions the very premise of the government's campaign.
"The strategy, as it manifests itself both in the advertising and now, as we come to find out, in plot lines that gain government approval, is focused primarily on the punitive aspects of our response to drugs and drug use. What we know about education, however, is that it is far more effective to focus on the interests, strengths and development of children -- the "resilience approach" if we hope to raise kids who make healthy decisions.
"The idea, if we truly want to provide drug education, is to stress capacity rather than deficits and punishment. 70% of kids who are raised under even the worst conditions, will thrive and make healthy decisions if we strive to educate them in this fashion. The government's anti-drug campaign, going all the way back to "this is your brain on drugs," promotes little more than tired variations on "just say no." This message might be appropriate politically, but it is also largely ineffective."
On the issue of redeeming ad time owed in return for government-approved scripts, the reaction to the Salon story indicates that nearly everyone, other than ONDCP itself, wants to distance themselves from the practice.
NBC, in a statement released on Thursday, said "NBC has never ceded creative control of any of our programs" to the drug policy office or any other government agency. The New York Times reports that the other networks issued similar statements.
But an unnamed participant in the give and take between the networks and the government told Salon that "script changes would be discussed between ONDCP and the show -- negotiated." And Rick Mater, the WB Network's senior VP for broadcast standards told Salon, "The White House did view scripts. They did sign off on them. They read scripts, yes."
Bob Wiener, spokesman for ONDCP, however, told The Week Online that the agency merely viewed the scripts of shows to decide whether or not the network would get credit toward their advertising commitment.
"We worked with over 100 shows. They would submit scripts, mostly after they aired, and we would decide, up or down, whether or not they met the standard to receive credit. Sometimes, we will work with a network, voluntarily, to help them with accuracy. That has been true for years. We will often send them to experts, at CASA (the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) for example, so that they can be sure to get the facts and the message right."
When asked whether there was a distinction between the "facts" and the "message," with the latter implying political doctrine rather than factual information, Wiener replied that his office is "proud of the 13% reduction in youth drug use."
"We plead guilty," said Wiener, "to using every legal means to save the lives of America's children."
Professor Aufderheide, however, believes that the "any means necessary" defense leaves something to be desired.
"In the end," she said, "the American public will have to decide which is more important: drug education as defined by the government, or freedom of the press."
The Salon series can be found on the world wide web at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/01/13/drugs/. The Center for Educational Research and Development can be found at http://www.cerd.org. ONDCP is online at http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.
A coalition of organizations and individuals opposed to government tactics as described in the previous article is forming. Write to Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies ([email protected]) or Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation ([email protected]) to be kept informed of upcoming actions and demonstrations, and to receive a copy of the coalition's sign-on letter, for your consideration, when it is completed.
Note to Washington, DC area residents: On Monday, January 24, there will be a teach-in on censorship, propaganda and the drug war at the American University Kay Spiritual Life Center from 6:30 - 7:45pm. The center is located just off of Ward Circle at the intersections of Massachusetts and Nebraska Aves., NW. At 8:15 that evening General Barry McCaffrey will be speaking at the university's SIS Lounge. We hope concerned people will attend the speech and ask questions. We ask that attendees not disrupt the talk or in any way impede the General's right to freedom of speech.
(NORML and DRCNet contributed to this article, which was accidentally omitted from last week's issue due to an e-mail breakdown.)
The embargo on sterilized hemp seeds entering the United States that was lifted in December has once again been reinstated on order of U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey, because it goes against his office's "zero tolerance policy." Tom Corwin, of the U.S. Customs Department of Trade Programs, said that when the hemp seed embargo was lifted in December, Customs looked at other country's limits for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and decided that 0.3 percent THC should be the limit. He said this decision was made without the knowledge of the drug czar's office. Corwin said McCaffrey was "offended" by this decision because it went against the Office of National Drug Control Policy's National Drug Control Strategy.
A Jan. 5 memorandum from Robert McNamara, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations, instructed U.S. Customs to "suspend the policy that allows for the legal importation into the United States of sterilized hemp seed or other hemp products which contain an amount not in excess of 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol."
But Bob Wiener, spokesman for ONDCP, told The Week Online that the guidelines announced in December were arbitrary, and that ONDCP was not satisfied with them.
"You don't just base it on some random number that some other country comes up with," Wiener said. "Now we're back to square one."
Corwin said that according to the drug czar's orders, every hemp seed shipment arriving from Canada will be detained, and a sample will be taken to a lab to determine if there is any trace of THC. This process takes 30 days. If there is any trace of THC, the shipment will be seized. Corwin said another of McCaffrey's concerns is that even trace amounts of THC in hemp seed products could cause a false positive drug test.
In August, the DEA instructed U.S. Customs to stop the importation of all hemp seed products into the U.S. The first seizure was a 53,000-pound load of sterilized birdseed imported by Kenex Ltd. In November, the DEA lifted the embargo and allowed sterilized seeds to enter the country.
"The hemp industry suffered a huge loss of momentum when Customs illegally cut off our supplies for four months," said Don Wirtshafter of the Ohio Hempery. "We finally were getting back on our feet when the drug czar did this about-face on us. Any new regulations should come only after rule making procedures, not on some bureaucrat's whim."
Background on the current situation may be read at http://www.hempembargo.com, a site maintained by the Hemp Industries Association. The Hemp Industries Association's main web site can be found at http://thehia.org. Previous DRCNet coverage of the Hemp Embargo can be found at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/110.html#hempwar and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/116.html#embargolifted in the Week Online archives.
What role can religious institutions play in the battle for drug policy reform?
What would effective drug education look like?
A January 18th gathering of more than 20 clergy, activists and educators in Menlo Park, California took on those questions in a spirited session that could be a first step toward more organized involvement of local religious organizations in the reform effort.
The event was co-sponsored by Urban Ministry of Palo Alto, a non-profit group, and Stanford's United Campus Christian Ministry. Featured speakers were the Rev. Howard Moody, minister emeritus of Judson Memorial Church in New York City and a longtime stalwart in progressive causes; and Marsha Rosenbaum, director of The Lindesmith Center-West in San Francisco.
The Rev. Moody said that "the voice of religious institutions on drug policy has been a mere whisper. Now we need a clear and certain sound for reform" from churches, synagogues and mosques. "We must raise reasonable, fundamental questions about our failed policy," he said. "We have to reach people at an emotional level."
The Rev. Moody is affiliated with Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy, a New York City-based organization whose mission statement says "it is not enough for us to pray for [people] and ask God to heal the addiction of drug users." The group has called for religious communities to "take seriously the task of examining and speaking out on our current drug policies."
The Rev. Moody's account wove together more than 40 years of personal experience and religious history on drug users and policy. "In the late 1950's, in New York, the church was the only group that worked with heroin addicts," he recalled. "We were responding to the pain of people and families, and there were no services available to addicts -- not a bed, not a treatment center. The closest facility to New York was in Lexington, Kentucky."
He offered several suggestions for what people can do today for reform. "First, we can seek out and support reasonable proposals for reform. We also can't let ourselves be frightened or intimidated by the drug warriors." He described his indignation at a recent National Prayer Breakfast when Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey said that it had never been more important to pray for our young people. "What about praying for all the African-American families your drug war has ruined?", the Rev. Moody thought to himself at the time.
He also urged audience members to push past the inevitable feelings of discouragement, as difficult as that can be. "We have to transcend our sense of futility in trying to end this deadly national tragedy," he declared. He urged his listeners to heed the example of the prophet Isaiah and to "seek justice" with all the energy they can muster.
In her lunchtime talk, Marsha Rosenbaum described a 25-year professional and personal odyssey and her extensive work on drug education. "Honesty is absolutely the key," she said. "What passes for drug education has made kids very cynical."
Rosenbaum noted that realistic descriptions of marijuana are crucial to establishing the credibility of drug education. "What kids are told about pot is inconsistent with their own experience. They hear -- and are still hearing -- that pot is addictive. Then they learn it isn't, and they discount all the other messages," she said.
Rosenbaum said parents should learn as much as they can about drugs and drug policy and insist on better drug education for their children. What would such education look like? "It has to be honest -- based on scientifically sound data," she said. "We also have to integrate drug education with other parts of the curriculum to make it meaningful and real."
Finally, Rosenbaum called for a "risk reduction" component to be pervasive in drug education. "We have to tell kids how to reduce the risks of harm if they decide to experiment," she declared. "The bottom line is health and safety."
At the end of the gathering, several people in the group agreed to work on forming a speakers' bureau whose goal would be to spread the policy reform "gospel" at Bay Area churches, synagogues and mosques.
Steve Silverman, [email protected]
On the weekend of January 13-15, more than 1,000 students from 40 states, 150 colleges, and 50 different high schools gathered in Manchester, NH to get a taste of all things political at the College and High School Convention 2000 (CC2K). The event, sponsored by an assortment of nonprofit organizations, attracted high profile pundits and presidential candidates representing a plentiful assortment of ideologies.
Arguably the most vocal and engaging group present was Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org). SSDP, whose presence at CC2K was sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (CJPF), gathered 25 student activists for the event, representing eight colleges, some as far away as Wisconsin.
Kris Lotlikar, the 20 year-old national director of SSDP and DRCNet's campus coordinator told the Week Online, "We came to New Hampshire primarily for two reasons. First, we want to educate students about the harms of a drug war that was supposedly launched in order to protect us, but is now more likely to hurt us. Second, we are here to show candidates that they can no longer hide behind the bipartisan effort to ignore the failure of drug prohibition."
After the students arrived, there was an immediate call to action: a Thursday night protest at Londonderry High School, where Republican frontrunner Governor George W. Bush was scheduled to speak. As the students prepared, they were interviewed and filmed by a platoon of MTV reporters who later accompanied them to the event.
The students' outdoor protest yielded mixed results. A handful of aggravated policemen, accompanied by menacing looking German Shepherds, refused to let the protesters inside from the sub-zero weather and threatened them with arrest. The protestors countered by editorializing into a bullhorn and unveiling the centerpiece of the protest -- a fellow dressed in an oversized homemade paper-mache George Bush costume dancing around and chanting witticisms such as "Don't vote for the McCain, vote for the cocaine!" Hanging over the puppet's chest was a large sign reading "DRUG WAR HYPOCRITE." This unusual disturbance elicited the rancor of an equally strident crew of Bush supporters who bemoaned the protestors for unfairly disparaging their candidate.
While some braved the stinging cold, others employed more covert tactics. Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) worked with CJPF and SSDP during the weekend's events. He successfully infiltrated the crowd in Londonderry by strategically placing a Bush sticker on his lapel, sitting himself towards the front-center of the room, and getting his hand in the air for the Q&A session. When picked by Bush, Tree tossed him the hot-potato question, "Governor Bush, you've been doing remarkably well in the polls and I congratulate you. It would seem that the American people don't seem to have a problem with your drug past..."
Bush immediately interrupted with a jumbled reply and never let Tree finish. "You're making an assumption, Sir. Sir, sit down, please. You're making an assumption about me, that you have no, you really don't know what you're talking about. And I don't, I don't, I don't accept that assumption. What you need to know about me, is should I swear, I'm going to bring honor and dignity to the office. That's what you need to know about me."
After the Q&A, Tree was swarmed by reporters. The next day, SSDP's activity and Tree's exchange received coverage from the local and national press, as The Union Leader, The Concord Monitor, and the Associated Press picked it up.
Satisfied, the protestors exited the Bush event and continued to a nearby library where Sen. John McCain was speaking. The well-dressed young protestors unobtrusively filed into the meeting room and got into position just as McCain began taking questions. Within minutes, SSDP members had stung McCain with three tough drug policy questions.
David Guard from CJPF asked McCain if he would reconsider his incarceration based drug policies in light of his own wife, Cindy, who successfully overcame a serious addiction to prescription narcotics without having to serve time in jail. In response, McCain tried to show that he was sympathetic to Guard's concerns. "Why are we sending our young people to old schools and new prisons?" he rhetorically asked the audience, followed by applause. "I am in favor of increased rehabilitation," he continued.
In reality, McCain's senatorial record shows a conflicting message. He has sponsored legislation, S. 423, that would prohibit any federal funding for methadone maintenance -- the only known, reliable treatment for heroin addiction -- and he also voted in favor of S.146, a bill that would reduce the amount of powder cocaine needed to trigger harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences for those found possessing it.
Kristy Gomes, an intern with CJPF and president of the George Washington University SSDP chapter, challenged the candidate with a tough line of questions regarding his medical marijuana policy. McCain quoted drug czar William Bennett to justify his support for continuing medical marijuana prohibition. Gomes told The Week Online, "I'm glad that we got McCain to talk about some of the failures of prohibition, but as long as he relies on Bill Bennett for his scientific evidence, we can't hope for him to change his policies."
Friday morning began with an appearance by Reform party candidate Patrick Buchanan. SSDP students managed to shoot off three question regarding drug policy at him; he managed to awkwardly duck them all.
Soon after Buchanan's speech, the students attended an animated and informative drug policy debate between Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and Kevin Sabet, President of a prohibitionist collaboration called International Students in Action. This forum had the highest turnout of all the policy debates.
Sterling delivered a riveting speech in which he documented the institutional corruption and widespread evils that occur from flawed national drug policy. He emphasized that "Our national drug policy is a fundamental failure."
He then addressed the young audience, "Do any of you, or did any of you, go to a drug free high school? Show of hands? No one is raising a hand -- yes, there are 2 or 3 hands, not many in a room of hundreds of students. The number one goal of the strategy is to protect kids from drugs. The 1998 Monitoring the Future survey of high school students reports that seniors tell us that heroin and marijuana -- heroin and marijuana -- have never been more accessible to them, and crack cocaine is more available now than at any time in a decade. Only someone committed to a fantasy view of the world, or a cynical and dishonest propagandist, will steadfastly claim that national anti-drug policy is working."
Sabet's attempted to counter Sterling's arguments by recounting stories of individual tragedy that resulted from misuse of illegal drugs. He then insisted that the numbers of these cases would be greatly magnified if drugs users were not persecuted criminally by the government. He was eventually compelled to admit that we could never really hope for a drug-free America.
As the debate wound down, Alan Keyes supporters filed into the conference room. Keyes lived up to expectations by delivering a speech that invoked intense reactions -- very neagative or very positive -- from the audience members. Dan Goldman, an SSDP member from University of Wisconsin at Madison, caught the attention of the candidate by asking: "Dr. Keyes, I've noticed that African-Americans are greatly under-represented both at this convention as well as on college campuses around the nation, but over-represented in prisons. Do you think this is due to the legacy of slavery, or the drug war?"
Keyes complimented the thoughtfulness of the question, and he explained that there was once a time in America's history when people were able to coexist peacefully with those same substances we now try in vain to eliminate by locking people in prisons.
Of all the candidates present, he clearly took the boldest stance against the drug war by declaring that, "We cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem." He offered that strong morals coupled with a strong religious base are much more effective than imprisonment at keeping people away from drug use.
Later that evening, the students visited a forum hosted by front running Democratic candidate Al Gore. Their caravan swung into a nearby location in town where they were met with polite resistance. The disappointed rabble rousers were told by Gore's minions that their room on the second floor was full. Furthermore, the fire marshal insisted that nobody else could be allowed entrance because of safety codes. The group lamented the fact that they had arrived too late, but decided to regroup and greet Al Gore by arriving early at his next scheduled location.
The sophisticated rowdies arrived at a high school in Salem, NH about an hour before Gore's arrival but were thwarted again by the Gore staff. It seems that they were shielding their Mr. Gore from the pressing students' potentially troubling drug policy questions. They had the wannabe intruders staked out, and gracefully kicked them out into the icy New Hampshire darkness.
The pretension that such gatherings are open to the general public quickly evaporated from the expelled visitors' heads. This Gore gathering was an invite-only affair. A-list attendees could only cross the red velvet rope if they passed a strict test for maximum dullness. The students retreated back to the hotel having learned another valuable lesson about the phoniness of presidential politics. They relaxed, socialized, and got some well-deserved sleep time.
Saturday was the final day of the conference. The remaining students sought the quiet refuge of their display table and passed out literature. Brian Gralnick of George Washington University's SSDP briefed an interested conference attendee on the injustice of a provision in the 1998 Higher Education Act. "This provision," he explained, "will deny federal financial aid to any student who gets caught in possession of even the smallest amounts of drugs. This is counterproductive because access to education is the best way to prevent a life of crime. Why should we let the government keep students from getting an education while they encourage repeat offending? And anyway, this provision is only going to hurt working class kids whose parents can't afford to pay for school if they're denied aid."
The Week Online asked Gralnick if he felt SSDP's attendance at the conference was a success. "Absolutely. We were huge and we really got the word out. One student actually came up to me and he told me that we were the loudest and most visible group there. He asked me if I thought our unorthodox antics were effective, and I said to him, 'Hey, you came up to me, and when this conference is over you and everyone here will know SSDP and what we're all about.' He agreed with me."
(Steve Silverman played the paper mache George Bush at this and other protests.)
A new study by the Sentencing Project found a dramatic surge nationwide in the number of women incarcerated for drug offenses -- an 888% increase between 1986-1996, compared with a 129% increase for all non-drug offenses. While the women's prison population more than doubled during that period, drug offenses accounted for 49% of the rise.
"Gender and Justice: Women, Drugs, and Sentencing Policy," also examined the impact of drug offenses for women in three states, New York, California and Minnesota, finding substantial variation among them. In New York, a whopping 91% of the increase in women sentenced to prison from 1986 to 1985 was due to drug offenses. Drug offenses represented 55% of the increase in California and 26% in Minnesota.
Minority women have been impacted disproportionately by drug policies. Of the women sentenced to prison for drug offenses in those states, 91% were minorities in New York, 54% in California, and 27% in Minnesota, all substantially greater than the minority proportion of each state's population.
The study attributed the dramatic rise in women's incarceration to several factors: the impact of drug abuse on low income women; declining economic opportunities for many women; limited treatment options; and the harsh mandatory sentencing policies adopted in conjunction with the war on drugs. Overall, women in prison are disproportionately low-income, with low education levels, high rates of substance abuse (over 60%) and mental illness (24%). In addition, more than half have been physically or sexually abused.
Marc Mauer, Assistant Director of the Sentencing Project, said, "The 'war on drugs' and harsh sentencing policies have combined to make a bad situation worse for many women. The unprecedented growth in the number of women prisoners affects not only women, but their thousands of children as well."
The study found considerable variation in the degree to which Hispanic women are affected by drug policies. In New York, Hispanic women were substantially over-represented among women sentenced to prison for drug offenses in 1995 -- 44% compared to their 14% share of the population -- while in California, they constituted 31% of the population, but 25% of the women sentenced to prison for drug offenses.
The report also analyzed the impact of rising imprisonment on women and children. Two-thirds of women in prison are mothers to children under the age of 18, many of whom were heading single parent households prior to their incarceration. Half the women inmates in a 191 survey reported never having received a visit from their children while incarcerated. In most states, women convicted of drug felonies are now banned for life from receiving welfare or food stamp benefits, as well as financial aid for higher education.
The report makes several recommendations to policymakers, including repeal of mandatory sentencing laws such as New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws; repeal the denial of welfare and education benefits for person with a drug conviction; expand the availability of drug treatment both within and outside the criminal justice system; and provide support for children of incarcerated mothers by improving parenting skills, providing greater access to treatment, and breaking the cycle of addiction of imprisonment.
"Gender and Justice: Women, Drugs, and Sentencing Policy" was authored by Marc Mauer, Cathy Potler and Richard Wolf, and is available for $8 from the Sentencing Project, 1516 P St., NW, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 628-0871, http://www.sentencingproject.org.
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
(This editorial accompanies articles appearing at the beginning of this issue, and on our web site at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/gore.html.)
This week, The Week Online exposes a story of privilege and position, of hypocrisy in the name of political expediency, of the problems inherent when a leadership class insists upon enforcing an unjust and unworkable policy that they themselves would never, could never enforce upon their own.
So Al Gore reportedly used lots of drugs well into his adulthood. That is not the issue, nor should it disqualify him from consideration for the Presidency. Did he lie? Was political pressure put on Newsweek to kill the excerpt, at least until after the primaries? These are interesting questions and the answers will likely sway some voters.
The most important issue though is this: The American drug war was never meant to be enforced against people of means and privilege. And, if it were, if the children of the rich were being arrested, having their lives disrupted, if their parents' doors were being kicked in, if they were being harassed by the police for their private behavior, if they were being incarcerated for their drug use at anywhere near the rates of America's poor, we would have had a rational and humane drug policy in place decades ago.
In 1987, Al Gore, describing the circumstances under which he "occasionally" smoked marijuana in the early '70's, compared it to drinking moonshine during prohibition. The comparison was more appropriate than he let on. Alcohol prohibition was also a failed social experiment. It's impact was seen in an enormous black market, the wholesale corruption of law enforcement and government officials, easy access to alcohol by children, the enrichment of a new class of organized criminals, an explosion of crime and violence, the poisoning of users and a wholesale disrespect for the law. Sound familiar?
It is time -- no it is long past time -- for our leaders to begin to speak honestly about our failed prohibitionist drug war. To level with the American people about the multitudinous costs and the paucity of benefits, about the profits in prisons and in arms and in money laundering, about the government jobs and the campaign contributions. But honesty is difficult, with all of the interests involved, after so many years and so many lies.
So perhaps the questions of Al Gore's drug use, and George Bush's drug use, and all of the drug use by all of our political leaders should in fact be an issue. Maybe that will allow us to start small, with honest answers to questions about that use. Then maybe, just maybe, we could move forward from there.
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