(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #131, 3/31/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Over the past ten days, the campaign to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act has gained the support of student governments at Yale University, University of Texas at Austin and Douglas College at Rutgers University as well as by the Association of Big Ten Schools. The drug provision, which denies or delays financial aid eligibility to any student for any drug conviction, goes into effect this year.
At Yale, the student association not only called for repeal, but also urged the school's administration to make up for any financial aid lost to the new law.
A more complete update on the HEA campaign will appear in The Week Online next week.
On Thursday, March 29, the House of Representatives was expected to vote on and pass an Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 3908), including a $1.7 billion anti-drug assistance package to Colombia and its Latin American neighbors, championed by drug czar Barry McCaffrey and some conservatives in Congress. Amendments that would have eliminated the Colombia package, or stripped out the military component, were rejected on the House floor on Wednesday.
The Colombia package has been more controversial that its proponents expected, however, and human rights, Latin America and drug policy reform advocates were encouraged by the degree of opposition shown on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) held a press conference with Sylvester Salcedo, a retired Navy Lt. Commander who has come out against the drug war, and Ramstad presented an amendment to eliminate the Colombia package (see interview below).
The Ramstad amendment received 158 votes in favor, 89 Democratic, 68 Republican and 1 independent. (Visit http://22.214.171.124/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2000&rollnumber=86 to see who voted for and against.) An amendment by Rep. David Obey (D-WI), eliminating the military portions, received 186 votes, 127 Democratic, 58 Republican and one independent (results at http://126.96.36.199/cgi-bin/vote.exe?year=2000&rollnumber=84).
The appropriations bill now moves to the Senate, where it is facing opposition from Sen. Trent Lott, who says he is opposed to various additional spending having been included and that he wants it to be debated during the usual appropriations session next fall. Sources report that the package could easily come back sooner, even as soon as Tuesday.
Please visit http://www.drcnet.org/stopthehelicopters/ to write your Senators in opposition to the Colombian drug war funding.
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation has released a four-page briefing paper about the current state of drug trafficking and drug control in Colombia and the proposed anti-drug aid package, online at http://www.cjpf.org/pubs/ColombiaPaper.html. Rep. Ramstad's statement is available on his web site at http://www.house.gov/ramstad/, click on the March 21 link.
When Sylvester Salcedo, a 43-year old Lieutenant Commander retired from the US Naval Reserve, heard about the administration's Colombia initiative, he decided to make a statement. Salcedo, a veteran of anti-drug operations and a recipient of a Navy achievement medal, decided to return his medal to President Clinton in protest.
The Week Online interviewed
Salcedo. We print the interview here, followed by the text of Salcedo's
letter and some links for further military perspectives on drug policy.
Salcedo joins a number of former military in speaking out against the drug war. In 1997, Col. Robert H. Dowd published The Enemy is Us: How to Defeat Drug Abuse and End the 'War on Drugs'. Joseph Miranda, a former instructor at the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center, writes about the drug war frequently and authored "War on Drugs: Military Perspectives and Problems" for DRCNet, online at http://www.drcnet.org/military/.
The Week Online interviewed Timothy Dunn, a scholar of the militarization of the US-Mexico border, in February 1999, online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/077.html#dunn.
With little fanfare and no opposition, a watered-down version of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act passed the Senate unanimously this week.
Years in the making, the Act, sponsored in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), shifts the burden of proof from the property owner to the federal government when the police seeks to seize property linked to crimes such as drug trafficking.
Supported by a wide spectrum of groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association, the original bill sponsored in the House by Reps. Hyde and Conyers, which passed last June by vote of 375 to 48, was amended to assuage the concerns of the Justice Department and law enforcement interests.
The bill's latest incarnation, S. 1931, will go back to the House for a final look-over before rapid implementation. "Rep. Hyde may be able to avoid a conference committee by getting the House to agree to the compromise version," predicted Brenda Grantland, president of Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR), a group that advocates for civil forfeiture reform at both state and federal levels. "This would speed up the effective date of the new law. Since [Attorney General] Janet Reno agreed to this compromise, it presumably has the President's support, and should be signed into law without further ado after the different versions are reconciled."
The biggest change in the bill had to do with the burden of proof the government has to shoulder in forfeiture proceedings. The House version of the bill stated that the government must have "clear and convincing evidence" that property is being used in an illegal act. Currently, the burden of proof rests entirely with the property owner.
But the Clinton Justice Department said that "clear and convincing evidence" sets too high a bar for federal prosecutors. House and Senate lawmakers Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch and Henry Hyde met last week with Attorney General Janet Reno to work out a compromise that now states the government must make its case "by a preponderance of the evidence."
Rachel King, who worked on the bill for the ACLU, told The Week Online, "We certainly would have liked a stronger bill, but I think it is amazing we got anything through the Senate."
Other property owner protections the bill provides include: enabling a judge to release property to the owner if continued government possession poses a substantial hardship; extending the time a property owner has to challenge a seizure in court; ending the requirement that a person seeking to recover property post a bond with the court; and providing for court-appointed counsel to represent indigent property owners.
The court-appointed counsel provision and the elimination of the cost bond were important victories for reformers. "This will go a long way toward leveling the playing field for poor and middle class forfeiture victims -- particularly innocent owners -- and will force the US Attorney's Office to take a look at the merits of the case, instead of having the seizing agency win most cases by default when the claimant fails to file a claim and cost bond on time," said Grantland.
Still, FEAR is not completely pleased with the bill as it stands. "The Hyde bill, the one that was passed by the house, isn't perfect, but it is much better than this," Grantland said. "Hyde needed to make compromises to make sure the president wouldn't veto the bill. We think 'clear and convincing evidence' is required because (forfeiture) is punishment." Still, she added, "'Preponderance' will make sure more people are able to go to trial, because there won't be as many cases in which judges grant summary judgments for the government based on the flimsy burden of proof the government has to show. Now, the government will have to go to court over these cases and they're not going to want to go to the trouble over these $1,000 seizures."
Why would law enforcement agree to such a law? "They got concessions on the other end," Grantland said. "In exchange for protecting innocent people and giving them due process, they're taking away some of the advantages that criminal defendants who have their property seized have. It is leveling the playing field; taking away some of the advantages that criminal defendants have in criminal forfeiture and increasing the protections for people not charged with a crime."
King doesn't see this reform as much of a concession, and noted, "They [DOJ] were losing on this and they tried to cut their losses as much as they could." But, King continued, "they still have way more power than they should have."
When asked whether the unanimous passage of this bill signified a change in the war on drugs, Jonathan Lamy, an aide to Senator Leahy, told The Week Online, "I think it signifies everyone was concerned about overzealous confiscation of property. The question was finding the right balance between law enforcement and property owners."
With the passage of this legislation, FEAR is not finished with their work. They want to take law enforcement back in time to 1984, a time before our current drug civil forfeiture statutes were passed, enabling, as Grantland put it, "The cops to keep the proceeds. It became an overnight boom industry for the cops. The ones seizing property getting to keep it is a total conflict of interest. That's going to be the hardest battle of all, because the cops are well funded from assets they've seized."
Violence broke out last Saturday (3/25) between police and attendees of the funeral of Patrick Dorismond. Dorismond, 26, was shot and killed by a New York City Police officer on March 16 during a marijuana "buy and bust" operation in mid-town. Dorismond was unarmed, was not selling and did not possess any marijuana (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/130.html#dorismond).
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has continued to take heat this week for his characterization of Dorismond as "not an altar boy," based upon Dorismond's minor criminal record including an arrest, for which no charges were filed, at the age of 13. Protesters and others, including former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, have called for the resignation of Mayor Giuliani and/or Police Commissioner Howard Safir for their release of those juvenile records, which had been sealed by court order.
Meanwhile, on Monday (3/27), a New York City undercover officer, with gun drawn, chased a suspect in a street-level marijuana sale into a schoolyard filled with hundreds of elementary school children. The children screamed and fled and one child fell to the ground and was slightly injured. The officer, along with at least three backup officers, subdued the suspect and placed him under arrest. Parents of the students at Public School 305 in Brooklyn, were outraged.
"The drug dealers have no business being near our school, but the cops had no right to draw their guns," parent Quienna Green told the New York Daily News.
On Tuesday, Mayor Giuliani said that he was "very concerned" about the reports and Wednesday, the officer who initially pursued the suspect was put on a desk job. The NYC Police Department would not release the officer's name due to the fact that he works undercover.
Reports from the scene, however, indicate that other officers involved in the chase also entered the playground with guns drawn. "There were four to five men running in, and every one seemed to have a gun in their hand," school aide Bonita Anderson told the Daily News.
Amherst, MA: Amherst voters approved a non-binding referendum on March 28 that asks local police to "deprioritize" marijuana enforcement and also urges state and federal lawmakers to repeal anti-marijuana laws. The vote, which passed with 1,659 in favor and 981 against, is the second time Amherst voters have passed such a measure -- in 1976, a town meeting approved an article calling for marijuana legalization.
The question voters approved reads: "Shall the following proposal be passed? In Affirmation and expansion of the Amherst Town Meeting vote of May 12, 1976 (Article 52, Part 2), we urge the members of the Selectboard and the Town Manager to persuade our state representative, state senator, U.S. representative and U.S. senators to repeal the prohibition of marijuana; and, in the interim, before repeal has been effected, we urge the Amherst Police Department to deprioritize the enforcement of laws covering the possession of marijuana against persons over the age of eighteen."
In addition to the proposal, Anne Awad, an employee of the Massachusetts Board of Public Health and a supporter of the marijuana proposal, beat incumbent Hill Boss in the race for a seat on the Amherst Select Board 2189 to 1429. Awad's position on the marijuana proposal gained her strong support among Amherst students. Turnout was 20.4%, which is considered strong.
"I don't know anyone who believes that arresting people for simple possession of marijuana is less harmful for them than marijuana itself, said Richard Evans, Esq., who serves on the boards of directors of both DRCNet and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Most people recognize that the worst thing about marijuana for adults is that it can get you arrested."
Visit the U-Mass Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition, one of the organizations that petitioned to get the referendum on the ballot, at http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~verdant/. Further information is available on the MassLive web site, at http://www.masslive.com/news/pstories/hf329ele.html.
A blue-ribbon study commissioned by Britain's Police Foundation, an independent think tank, has concluded that criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana and other drugs should be lowered drastically, but government spokesmen were quick to announce they had no intention of following the report's suggestions.
"Drugs and the Law," released this week after two years of research, found that the problems associated with marijuana's illegal status outweighed its relative health risks, especially when those risks were compared to the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco. The report recommends that marijuana be downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, carrying no jail sentence and a maximum fine of UKP500 for possession.
The report also recommends that LSD and Ecstasy, currently Class A drugs along with heroin and cocaine, be downgraded to Class B, and that the penalty for their possession be a fine no greater than UKP1000. As for heroin and cocaine, the report suggests that the possession or use of these drugs be punishable by no more than one year in jail; currently, persons convicted of possessing Class A drugs face jail terms as long as seven years. Penalties should be raised for higher-level drug dealing, providing children with drugs and drug-related violence.
Ultimately, the study concluded that law enforcement resources are better focused on the investigation and prosecution of drug dealers, not users, and that the drug policy pursued by the UK since the passage of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act had resulted in greater harms from drug abuse and the criminalization of unacceptably large numbers of people.
In effect, "Imprisonment is neither a proportionate response to the vast majority of possession offences nor an effective response," the report reads. The report cited the success of the Netherlands in that country's pursuit of decriminalization and harm reduction strategies as one possible model.
The panel commissioned for the report by the Police Foundation, which is headed by Prince Charles, included top representatives from Britain's law enforcement, legal, and academic communities.
But the report's recommendations drew immediate resistance from the government. A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair told The Independent newspaper that Blair believes "it would send the worst possible signal if we were to soften our laws in the way being suggested." Blair's "Drug Czar" Keith Hellawell and the Home Office echoed those sentiments, and assured that no steps would be taken to revise or reduce the drug laws.
Paul Flynn, a Labour MP who serves as joint-vice-chair on Parliament's Drugs Misuse all party group, gave The Week Online one explanation for the government's dismissal of the report. "The Government are hooked on the belief that there is a harvest of votes in the election in appearing to be 'tough' not 'soft'" on drugs, Flynn said via e-mail this week. However, he said, "The report is very good news and has been warmly received by the press. It will be extremely difficult in future for the Government to misrepresent what has happened in the Netherlands."
Flynn said the report's recommendations are worded similarly to a bill coming up for a second reading in Parliament on June 9.
Unanimous Pro-Fourth Amendment Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court reined in some of the government's power to stop and search people based on anonymous tips, according to the Associated Press. In a unanimous ruling this past Tuesday (3/28), the court found that Miami police violated a juvenile's Fourth Amendment rights in 1995, when arresting him for gun possession after an anonymous caller claimed someone matching his description had a concealed weapon. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court, "The question is whether an anonymous tip... is, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. We hold that it is not."
Ginsburg also wrote, "That the allegation... turned out to be correct does not suggest that the officers prior to the frisks had a reasonable basis for suspecting J.L. of engaging in unlawful conduct. The reasonableness of official suspicion must be measured by what the officers knew before they conducted their search." Ginsburg added that allowing such searches "would enable any person seeking to harass another to set in motion an intrusive, embarrassing police search of the targeted person simply by placing an anonymous call."
Vermont Methadone Patient Killed, Son Injured in Crash During Long Trek to Nearest Massachusetts Clinic
A Vermont woman, Linda Clark, was killed in an auto accident and her son critically injured last Saturday morning during a 400 mile round-trip drive to the closest methadone treatment program in Springfield, Massachusetts, according to Seven Days Newspaper in Vermont (http://www.sevendaysvt.com/-thisweek/col/track.html). Clark made the journey several times a week, due to a Vermont law banning methadone. The Vermont House is currently considering a bill, opposed by Governor Dean, that would permit methadone and other pharmacotherapies for treatment of opiate addiction (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/128.html#methadoneaction).
Earlier this week, the online magazine salon.com interviewed Mark Dion, a Cumberland County, Maine sheriff who is supporting marijuana distribution by the state drug enforcement agency to medical marijuana patients, in the wake of the state's successful medical marijuana ballot initiative. See http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/03/27/sheriff/ to read it.
A 3/13 Salon article discussed "the Netherlands' drug policy of tolerance and ambiguity." Read the article at http://www.salon.com/health/feature/2000/03/13/dutch_drugs/ in the Salon archive.
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
Patrick Dorismond, a 26 year-old father of two, was shot to death by an undercover New York City police officer last week in Midtown Manhattan. Dorismond and a friend, who were unarmed and doing nothing illegal, were apparently singled out for an attempted "buy and bust" simply because they were two young black guys standing in front of a bar.
New York's mayor and Senatorial candidate Rudolph Giuliani has received plenty of attention for his nearly incomprehensible handling of the situation -- failing to express sympathy to the family, unsealing Dorismond's juvenile records (one arrest at age 13) and generally blaming the victim despite a total lack of evidence of any wrongdoing on Dorismond's part. But the furor over the mayor's response, as well as the growing sense of outrage at the New York City police in general has tended to overshadow the fact that incidents like this are almost unavoidable as we attempt to enforce an unenforceable prohibition.
Protesters took to the streets in Denver recently after a 65 year-old grandfather of nine was shot and killed in his home during a "no-knock" drug raid on the wrong house. In Houston, Pedro Oregon Navarro, age 22, was killed in a similar incident. 18 year-old Esequiel Hernandez was shot and killed while herding his family's goats on the US-Mexican border when he was mistaken for a smuggler by United States Marines on a four-day surveillance mission.
Corruption is another unavoidable cost of prohibition. In Los Angeles, the city is putting off all new spending priorities. Rather they are saving the money to pay civil damages to victims of the biggest corruption scandal in the city's history. Other cities and towns, including Philadelphia, Chicago and Denver have also recently learned that lesson.
And what is the upside? That's difficult to say. Last week, upon the release of yet another annual "Drug Strategy" seeking yet another increase in drug war funding, Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey told the nation that we are "winning the war." But the fine print in that document revealed that today, illicit drugs on our streets are less expensive, more pure and move available than they have ever been.
Strict enforcement of the drug laws has forced the trade indoors, or, in some instances, just further into the shadows. If police are to continue to log arrests, they must increasingly rely on no-knock warrants secured with information garnered from informants -- or resort to buy and bust operations -- or even sell and bust operations. These practices are dangerous, and not only for innocent civilians like Patrick Dorismond, but also for the police.
But even these tactics, it seems, are having no impact in making drugs less available on our streets and, the black market being unregulated, to our kids.
In the end, we can protest all we want. And we can convene grand juries to hear evidence against police who, in the line of this fruitless duty, make tragic errors. And we can keep reading about police corruption scandals, and we can build bigger and better internal affairs divisions. But we're only fooling ourselves. Because unless and until we are willing to face reality, we will continue to bury innocents, and we will continue to find corruption. And we will continue to hear chipper bureaucrats like Barry McCaffrey talk about "progress" while the drug trade rages on, out of control, within easy reach of our kids.
It is time to face that reality. It is time to dispense with the rhetoric and to take a hard look at the very premise of our "drug control" strategy. It is time for a responsible society to take control of these substances and to bring them back under the rule of law. Before the rule of law, through violence and corruption, can no longer be distinguished. And before we bury the next Patrick Dorismond, and the next, and the next...
If you like what you see here and want to get these bulletins by e-mail, please fill out our quick signup form at http://stopthedrugwar.org/WOLSignup.shtml.
PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.
Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.