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

Issue #133, 4/14/00

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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North American Syringe Exchange Convention, Portland, Oregon, April 26-29, http://www.nasen.org

13th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, May 17-20, Washington, DC, http://www.dpf.org

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Canadian Senate Calls for Study of Drug Policy
  2. Report Says Customs Targeted Black Women for Drug Searches, Customs Says Recent Reforms Are Working
  3. House Approves Compromise Forfeiture Reform Bill
  4. Dorothy Gaines Clemency Petition
  5. The Corner to Premiere on HBO this Sunday
  6. Pain Update
  7. Job Opportunities in Harm Reduction
(visit the last Week Online)

(visit the Week Online archives)



1. Canadian Senate Calls for Study of Drug Policy

By unanimous vote, the Canadian Senate this week approved a motion to create a five-member special committee to reassess that nation's drug policy.  Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, who introduced the motion, has said that his intention is to move the nation away from a criminal justice approach to drugs and toward a drug policy based upon public health which will "truly reflect the values of Canadian society."  Committee members will be chosen shortly.

Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy told The Week Online that the road to approval for a select committee was a long one, but that the payoff appears to be worth the wait.

"In late 1995 and early 1996, we (CFDP) appeared before the senate calling for a joint House of Commons and Senate committee to reexamine Canada's drug strategy.  When the committee issued a report in late '96, they too recommended a select committee in language that closely mirrored our initial call.  Last year (1999) Senator Nolin got in touch with us to ask for a report on the need for such reevaluation, and we provided that to his office.  (The CFDP report can be found on the web at http://www.cfdp.ca).  Last June, Senator Nolin held a press conference announcing his intent to pursue the creation of such a committee."

That announcement, and the motion that was approved this week, is even more promising than Canadian reformers had hoped, according to Mr. Oscapella.

"The fact that this committee will be strictly an endeavor of the Senate is promising.  In Canada, the Senate is not an elected body, and so there is good reason to believe that the product of the committee will be more objective and less beholden to political concerns than it might be if the House of Commons were involved."

Senator Colin Kenny, in a statement in support of the Senator Nolin's motion, seemed to give credence to Mr. Oscapella's observations, saying, "The Senate is the ideal institution to examine the whole problem of illegal drug use.  The social and economic costs of the war on drugs constitute such a burden for Canadian society that we must reexamine the issue with complete objectivity.  We hope to propose new avenues to the government, less expensive and above all more effective."

Ms. Barbara Reynolds, appointed this week as clerk to the special committee, told The Week Online that the process is in the very early stages, but that the work of seating and getting the committee underway will happen quickly.

"At this point, what we have is an Order of Reference.  The next step is for the selection committee to decide who will serve on the special committee.  That selection process will begin in the next two weeks, while the Senate is officially on Easter break.  We should expect the committee to be selected by the first week of May.  Next, the powers of the special committee must be agreed upon.  Will they have the authority to travel -- either within or outside of Canada, as well as other issues.  What we do know from the Order of Reference is that the scope of the issues that the committee will be charged with debating will be broad.  Unlike past efforts of this sort, the Special Committee will be able to look at the whole of Canada's drug strategy, and to make recommendations that go to the core of the issue."

To Mr. Oscapella, that is a key point.

"In 1996, Parliament undertook a half-baked study which was very restrictive in terms of the Order of Reference.  That report did not, could not address core issues, and so its impact was minimal.  This looks like an entirely different and more important opportunity.  The timing too is important because what we are beginning to see in Canada is a political shift toward more fear-based, American-style campaigning.  On the other hand, there has developed in Canada a profound sense of unease with regard to our prohibitionist drug policy.  Crime, corruption and health problems have made it increasingly apparent to most Canadians that what we are doing in the name of drug control simply is not working.  The idea of abandoning prohibition, therefore, is one for which we are seeing greater acceptance, even among the most conservative Canadians."

The committee is expected to spend three years on their work.

To access the Order of Reference on the web, visit http://www.parl.gc.ca then click on English, then on Parliament Business, then on Chamber Business, then on Journals, then on Senate, then on April 11, and scroll to pg. 4.


2. Report Says Customs Targeted Black Women for Drug Searches, Customs Says Recent Reforms Are Working

A report released Monday (4/10) by the US General Accounting Office (GAO) found that women, and particularly African-American women who traveled internationally, were much more likely than other travelers to be strip searched or X-rayed by US Customs, even though they were no more likely to be carrying drugs.  Customs has claimed, based on new data released this Monday, that stricter search selection criteria and other reforms instituted over the last year and a half have resulted in less racial disparity -- and increased drug seizures overall -- during the past six months.

The GAO report, which studied Customs search data from 1997-1998, was ordered by Illinois Senator Richard Durbin last year amid increased complaints of racial bias in the way travelers were chosen for searches, and the extent or invasiveness of the searches to which certain travelers were subjected.  Those complaints have also prompted more than 1,300 African-American women to join a class action lawsuit against Customs for searches they endured while traveling through Chicago's O'Hare airport.

Among the GAO report's findings:

  • Only about 3 percent of passengers selected for pat downs and other body searches are found to be carrying contraband.
  • Three quarters of passengers selected for strip searches are innocent.
  • African-American men and women were nearly nine times as likely, and Hispanic-American men and women nearly four times as likely as White-American men and women to be X-rayed, though they were no more likely to be found carrying contraband.
  • African-American women were nearly nine times as likely as White-American women to be X-rayed, even though they were half as likely to be carrying contraband.
  • African-American men were nearly nine times as likely as White-American men to be X-rayed, even though they were no more likely to be carrying contraband.
Senator Durbin found the gender and racial disparities cause for concern.  "The US Customs Service has the difficult responsibility of protecting our borders from the flow of illegal drugs, but the agency also is responsible for providing the most dignified treatment possible for all who pass through their care," Durbin said in a press release this week.

But Durbin also said he was encouraged by the changes Customs has made in the past eighteen months.  "I commend (Customs) Commissioner Ray Kelly for his work to address concerns that have been raised, and I look forward to working with him to ensure no one is stripped of his or her civil rights or dignity by being unfairly selected to be searched by the Customs Service," he said.

According to its own data for the first six months of Fiscal Year 2000, Customs has cut the number of more invasive personal searches, such as X-rays, cavity searches and monitored bowel movements by more than half compared to the same period in FY 1999.  Yet seizures as a result of invasive searches have increased by 18 percent over all.  Cavity searches and monitored bowel movements have turned up drugs in every case in which they were used, the report said.  X-rays and body searches found drugs in about half of the cases in which they were used.

"The new statistics indicate that Customs is searching fewer innocent travelers of all races and genders, and more effectively targeting those carrying contraband," said Customs Commissioner Raymond Kelly.  Customs credits Kelly's reforms, which include requiring Customs officers to obtain permission from a supervisor before conducting invasive searches, with the improvements.

But civil rights and privacy advocates say the reforms at Customs don't go far enough to protect innocent travelers.  Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Week Online that too many innocent travelers are still being stopped and frisked or subjected to more invasive searches.  "Customs' solutions to these problems has been completely inadequate," Nojeim said.  "It's answer has been to turn pat downs into electronic body scans.  This is not an advantage to passenger privacy, nor an advantage to passenger quality."

The body scanning devices, installed last year at six US international airports, project a naked image of a passenger's body onto a screen where same-sex officers can look for drugs or weapons.  Customs considers the scanners to be on a par with a pat down or frisk, and have ordered them installed at 20 more airports this year.

In addition, Nojeim said, Customs had asked for regulations requiring a judicial magistrate to sign off on strip searches, but has since backed off that request.  "Customs now requires forced strip searches without any judicial intervention whatsoever.  To fail to address this is to guarantee that strip searches of innocent people will continue to occur."

Meanwhile, Senator Durbin plans to introduce a Reasonable Search Standards Act which will prohibit Customs from profiling travelers based upon race, religion, gender or national origin.  In addition, the bill would require Customs to keep detailed records of searches, and to submit annual reports of the data to Congress.  This would help to "make sure that (recent Customs reforms are) a permanent policy that lives beyond Kelly and this particular report," Durbin told the Washington Post.

Nojeim said the ACLU supports Durbin's legislation, but wants to see more.  "Additional legislation should be introduced to protect everyone by reducing the likelihood that Customs will continue its practice of searching mostly innocent people," he said.

GAO reports can be found online at http://www.gao.gov.  US Customs is on the web at http://www.customs.gov.  The ACLU has launched an Internet-based privacy campaign.  You can learn more about it at http://www.aclu.org.


3. House Approves Compromise Forfeiture Reform Bill

The US House of Representatives approved the compromise version of Rep. Henry Hyde's civil asset forfeiture reform bill this Tuesday (4/11).  The Senate approved the measure unanimously two weeks ago, and President Clinton has said he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

The new law is intended to increase the burden of proof the government must show when it seizes a citizen's property.  Since the passage of civil forfeiture laws in the 1980's, federal authorities have been empowered to seize a person's property simply upon a showing of probable cause that it is connected to a criminal act.  The law was intended to prevent drug dealers and other criminals from profiting from their crimes or using proceeds from criminal activities to finance their defense in criminal cases.  A 1991 investigative report by the Pittsburgh Press, however, found that in more than 80 percent of civil forfeiture cases, the property owner was never charged with a crime (see http://www.fear.org/pittpres.html).

Under the new law, the government must show that the property it wishes to seize is connected to a criminal act "by a preponderance of the evidence."  In addition, the 10 percent bond that a property owner must pay to challenge the seizure has been dropped.  The new law also provides for legal representation for indigent property owners, and includes a provision awarding attorney's fees to property owners who successfully challenge a seizure.

But the bill, which was supported by a diverse coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union and the US Chamber of Commerce, also contains compromises written in to secure the support of the Justice Department, which had opposed earlier versions.  The compromise includes provisions making it easier for the government to seize property following a criminal conviction, and increases the scope of federal investigators' ability to obtain access to a suspect's financial records.

The impact of the new law upon the average citizen remains to be seen.  Most US states have enacted laws similar to the federal forfeiture statutes of the 80's, and in many states local police departments may keep the profits of the assets they seize.  But in states where local authorities must remit seized assets to other state agencies, it had become common practice to turn large forfeiture cases over to the federal government, which then returns 80 to 85 percent of the assets to local police departments.  The new law, then, might help to curtail what some forfeiture reform advocates have called a police version of "money laundering," at least in cases where the evidence of seizability is marginal.

For more information about civil asset forfeiture reform, visit the web site of Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR) at http://www.fear.org.


4. Dorothy Gaines Clemency Petition

The May issue of Marie Claire magazine features the case of Dorothy Gaines, a Federal prisoner sentenced to 235 months for her role in a crack cocaine conspiracy.  Gaines has steadfastly insisted on her innocence, and her case was featured on the PBS Frontline documentary Snitch last year.

The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation has provided a clemency letter to President Clinton, which can be accessed, sent or printed online at http://www.cjpf.org/gaines.html.

Those wishing to send letters of support to Ms. Gaines can write her at:

Dorothy Gaines
#05609-003
Cherokee A
P.O. Box 7006
Marianna, FL 32447-7006
An article by Rob Stewart in the Winter 1998 issue of the Drug Policy Letter featured an in-depth report on the Gaines case, available online at http://www.dpf.org/JOIN/Newsletter/Winter_1998__Dorothy_Gaines.html.


5. The Corner to Premiere on HBO this Sunday

This Sunday (4/16) at 10:00pm eastern time, HBO will premier the first episode of a six-part miniseries called The Corner.  The series is based upon the critically acclaimed nonfiction book of the same name, which detailed drug dealing and life on the streets of Baltimore.  DRCNet has not reviewed the HBO series, but the book, coauthored by David Simon, a journalist and Edward Burns, a former police detective, offers a stinging indictment of the drug war and a searing look into how the enforcement of that policy has played out in one inner-city neighborhood.

(Visit http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767900316/drcnet/ to purchase the book online.)


6. Pain Update

A Senate Judiciary Committee has indefinitely postponed a legislative markup of H.R. 2250, the "Pain Relief Promotion Act," scheduled for Thursday, April 6, according to the Last Acts Policy Newsletter (http://www.lastacts.org).  The bill, sponsored by Reps. Hyde and Nickles, was a response to the passage of laws legalizing assisted suicide, authorizing DEA to target physicians who provide opioids (narcotics) for suicide while providing education on pain management to address the problem of undertreatment.

The medical community has been divided on the bill, which some organizations believe would worsen the DEA's impact on the provision of opioid medications for severe, chronic pain.  (See our coverage of this legislation when it was introduced last June, "Palliative or Repressive?  Conservative-Sponsored Legislation Impacts on Pain, Suicide and Drug Policy Debates," http://www.drcnet.org/wol/095.html#painbill).

The text, summary and status information on H.R. 2250 and any other federal legislation is available at http://thomas.loc.gov/.

Also according to Last Acts, a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (vol. 283, no. 13) has found that increasing opioid use in pain management does not necessarily lead to an increase in drug abuse.  Using data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), David Joranson and colleagues at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School's Pain and Policy Studies Group found "data indicate that there is some abuse of opioid analgesics" but that "compared with... other drugs, ... the abuse of opioid analgesics appears to be relatively low.  The study can be found online at http://jama.ama-assn.org/issues/v283n13/abs/joc90972.html.

Visit the American Society for Action on Pain at http://www.actiononpain.org.


7. Harm Reduction Job Opportunities

Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center

Job Description:  Senior Case Manager, Vital Services Program, reports to the Director of Harm Reduction, case manager and team leader in provision of client services under Ryan White Harm Reduction/Relapse Prevention/Recovery Readiness Program (Vital Services Program).

Essential Duties and Responsibilities include: Intake and service plan preparation for HIV clients; Assist with entitlements, housing, mental health services, and healthcare; Make external and internal referrals; Review case records and conduct regular quality assurance reviews; Coordinate collection of statistical information for reporting to funders; Prepare narrative and statistical reports; Is responsible for overall coordination of activities performed by Ryan White Harm Reduction/Recovery Readiness/Relapse Prevention Program staff.

BA in Human Services or three to five years experience, competitive benefit package, salary $31-33K, commensurate with experience.  Mail or fax resume and cover letter to: Mark Gerse, Deputy Executive Director, Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, 39 Avenue C, New York, NY 10009, or fax to (212) 228-7874.

San Francisco AIDS Foundation HIV Prevention Project

Hiring Evening/Weekend Logistic Staff, to provides logistic support to volunteer syringe exchange staff, including equipping teams with supplies, removing biohazardous waste from sites, and supporting inventory control mechanisms.  Participates in special projects as assigned by the Associate Director.  Application is Wednesday, May 3, 5:00pm.  E-mail [email protected] to request a complete description or visit http://www.sfaf.org/aboutsfaf/jobs/ (this listing not yet posted).


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