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

Issue #142, 6/23/00

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Senate Passes Colombia Military Assistance, Marginal Differences With House Version Head to Conference Committee, What Next?
  2. Cops and Drugs:  Police Departments Tolerating Past Drug Use by Job Applicants
  3. Canadian Marijuana Party Forms:  "Look Out Ottawa, Here We Come!"
  4. Australia: In Victoria, Drug Reform Comes Painfully Slow, Injection Room Bill Faces Tough Battle
  5. Delaware Mandatory Minimum Sunset Bill
  6. Lies, Damn Lies and the Drug Abuse Warning Network Statistics
  7. US Surgeon General's Latest Research Review Supports Needle Exchange Programs
  8. ALERTS:  Free Speech, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington State
  9. HEA Campaign
  10. Event Calendar
  11. EDITORIAL:  Cops, Drug Use, Symbolism
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)



1. Senate Passes Colombia Military Assistance, Marginal Differences With House Version Head to Conference Committee, What Next?

The US Senate voted Wednesday for a massive escalation in US military intervention in Colombia.  Senators voted overwhelmingly for the package after turning back two amendments supported by Latin American, human rights and drug policy reform groups, including DRCNet.

The Wellstone amendment, which would have diverted $225 million from the Colombian military to domestic treatment programs, lost 89-11.

The Gorton amendment, which would have cut the assistance down to $200 million, was defeated 79-19.

While some differences with the House version of the bill remain, massive US involvement in Colombia is now virtually a done deal.

The vote results sparked harsh criticism from some senators, as well as from human rights and drug policy organizations.

Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA) told his colleagues, "The capacity of this body for self-delusion seems to this senator to be unlimited.  Mark my words, we are on the verge... of involvement in a civil war in Latin America, without the slightest promise that our intervention will be a success...  This is a down payment, and a down payment only.  Next year we are likely to hear we need more money and more men."

Winifred Tate of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told DRCNet, "We are deeply disappointed in the superficial debate, the failure to seriously reevaluate failed counternarcotics policies and the failure to develop new strategies for combating drug abuse at home and realistically dealing with Colombia's problems."

Sanho Tree, Drug Policy Director at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) told DRCNet, "In Colombia, the roots of conflict are social, political and economic.  Guns and helicopters won't remedy the problems of poverty in the Andes or addiction in America."

"The region needs a mini-Marshall Plan, and we're sending them Desert Storm," added Tree.

And the storm should arrive soon.  WOLA's Tate said training and hardware shipment will get underway quickly once the bill gets out of conference committee and is signed by President Clinton.  The bill should go to conference committee next week, she said.

Both Tree and Tate still see opportunities for making marginal improvements in a bad bill in conference committee.  According to Tate, the Senate version contains stronger language conditioning aid on human rights accountability and contains less money for the Colombian military than the House version.

The House version contains some funding to assist the 1.5 million Colombians already internally displaced by the decades-long civil war, noted Tree.  But, he added, "The bill contains money for future displacements.  We are now planning to displace additional people, as if 1.5 million people isn't enough."

While the immediate battle has been lost, advocates of an enlightened policy toward Colombia are not giving up.  "Our emphasis will be to continue to educate people about the impact in Colombia," said Tate.  "We are committed to continuing to monitor the situation on the ground there."

And, Tate added, "This is just the first step.  They'll be coming back for more money soon.  There will be many battles down the road, and each one will be an opportunity to renew our questions, our concerns, our activism."

In the meantime, both Tate and Tree concur that concerned citizens should contact their senators and let them know how disappointed they are.  "We are particularly disturbed about the failure of some people who usually champion concerns about civil society to oppose this bill," said Tate.  She nominated Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Joe Biden (D-DE) for particular opprobrium.  "Biden returned from Colombia only to misrepresent the concerns of the Colombian human rights community," she said, "and Durbin reneged on the Wellstone amendment."

Tree, meanwhile, fingered the entire Connecticut delegation.  "Chris Dodd (D-CT) was the biggest whore in the Senate on this," he said, "but the entire Connecticut delegation, usually very good on Latin America and human rights, all marched in lockstep."  The reason, says Tree, is that they were in the pocket of United Technologies, parent company of Sikorsky, a helicopter manufacturer.  Dodd offered a failed amendment to switch from cheaper Huey helicopters to Sikorsky's Black Hawks.

"All of them [the Connecticut delegation] supported giving military aid to the worst human rights abuser in the hemisphere, to their everlasting shame," said Tree.

The following Senators voted in favor of Paul Wellstone's amendment shifting $225 million in military aid funding to domestic drug treatment:  Boxer (D-CA, co-sponsor), Byrd (D-WV), Dorgan (D-ND), Feingold (D-WI), Grams (R-MN), Harkin (D-IA), Leahy (D-VT), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Specter (R-PA), Wellstone (D-MN).

The following Senators voted in favor of Slade Gorton's amendment slashing the Colombia package from nearly one billion down to $200 million in order to pay down the national debt:  Allard (R-CO), Boxer (D-CA), Collins (R-ME), Craig (R-ID), Crapo (R-ID), Enzi (R-WY), Fitzgerald (R-IL), Gorton (R-WA), Gramm (R-TX), Grams (R-MN), Gregg (R-NH), Harkin (D-IA), Hutchinson (R-AR), Kohl (D-WI), Leahy (D-VT), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Specter (R-PA), Thomas (R-WY).

If you are represented by any of the senators listed above, please thank them for taking the right stand on this issue.  Visit http://www.senate.gov to find their contact information, or call (202) 224-3121.  If either or both of your senators is not on one of these lists, call them and voice your criticism of their disregard for human rights and common sense.


2. Cops and Drugs:  Police Departments Tolerating Past Drug Use by Job Applicants

The Los Angeles Times reported last week (http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/20000618/t000057769.html) that police departments across the country are hiring admitted former drug users.  The article focused on the Denver Police Department, where controversy over police hiring policies broke out last year, but also compared Denver's policies with selected other departments.  Denver, the Times found, is not unique.

In Denver, where the Times looked at the employment applications of every police officer hired last year, 52 of 80 new hires admitted to past drug use, usually, but not always merely marijuana.  Ten of the new hires had used other drugs, including LSD, psilocybin, ecstasy and amphetamines.

One officer listed about 75 drug experiences over a 20 year period, including speed, LSD, cocaine, and Librium.  Another admitted to having bought quarter-ounce bags of weed on several occasions, but described the buys as "a mistake I deeply regret making."

All of the above cases fit the Denver PD's guidelines for acceptable past drug use, which require only that the applicant's have been clean for the last year.

Other departments surveyed by the Times also have policies that allow the hiring of persons with drug use histories.  In Dallas, you can have smoked marijuana on as many as 75 occasions, but you must wait a year for every 10 usages.  If you admit to having smoked 10 times, come back in a year; 10 to 20 times, come back in two years.

The Tempe (Arizona) Police Department has different criteria: You can have smoked pot up to 20 times, but only 5 times after you've turned 21, and you cannot have smoked in the last three years.  In Tempe, even hard drug use is not an automatic disqualification.  Fewer than five times gets you a free pass, but only if was more than seven years ago and before you became an adult.

In Austin, applicants can even have sold marijuana in the past, as long as it was at least 10 years ago and they were never arrested.  For marijuana use alone, a three-year wait, and a five-year wait after "narcotics" use.

Seattle's policy is identical to Denver's one-year rule, except for a 10-year wait after using hallucinogens.

Even the FBI has loosened up.  The agency, which maintained a strict ban until 1994, now operates under guidelines that allow prospective applicants to have smoked marijuana up to 15 times, though not within the previous three years; hard drugs up to five times, though not within the previous 10 years.

FBI Denver office spokeswoman Jane Quimby told the Times, "The general preference is still to hire someone who hasn't broken the law, but the harsh reality is... there just aren't that many people."  Quimby, who was in charge of Denver police hiring from 1997 to 1999 said that of 35 agents hired on her watch, one-third admitted to having smoked pot.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the DEA has also made provisions for at least some drug users, agency spokeswoman Rogene Waite told DRCNet.  "In the case of marijuana specifically, youthful indiscretion is allowed for.  Use of any other drugs is an automatic disqualifier," she added.  Unlike many other law enforcement agencies, DEA does not have a set of quantitative guidelines, Waite said.

The law enforcement hiring practices mentioned above are replete with ironies and contradictions.  For one thing, they reflect a growing crisis in police hiring, which has resulted in departments relaxing their standards at the same time drug laws have become more severe.

"If you think you're going to try to hire police recruits who have never used drugs, you're just whistling," former San Jose (California) Police Chief Joe McNamara told the Times.

Such comments inspired the Times to ask, "How can a substance be so pernicious that thousands of Americans are arrested every day for using it, yet so acceptable that a user can still grow up to be a cop?  In some cases, officers bust people for acts they themselves have committed.  If police are that permissive with their own, how can the law be so punitive with others?

And that question points up another contradiction: the huge disconnect between relaxed social attitudes toward drug use, especially marijuana, and the harsh, punitive laws in place to discourage drug use.  Americans routinely defy drug laws, in numbers so large that police departments are now being forced to make allowances for hiring drug law violators, yet police departments spend billions each year trying to arrest these same people.

When asked to reconcile these conflicts, law enforcers turn begin to sound like soft-hearted apologists, the Times reported.  They sling around phrases such as "human frailty" and "putting mistakes in context."

Such selective compassion arouses people like Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).  "It's ironic and sad that police are given more leniency than the people they pick up," Stewart told the Times.  "These are people who don't get a second chance... who aren't looked at in their entirety."

The Times turned to renowned criminologist Elliot Currie for a last word.  Most of our institutions recognize that minor drug use "is not a particularly dreadful thing," he told the Times.  The fact that police, the very symbol of order and authority, tolerate past drug use "tells us that our draconian system of drug laws bears no resemblance to reality."


3. Canadian Marijuana Party Forms:  "Look Out Ottawa, Here We Come!"

Last Thursday, veteran Canadian marijuana reform activists announced they had formed a national Marijuana Party.  The Vancouver press conference took place in an empty building formerly housing the Cannabis Cafe, shut down by authorities in May 1998 in an effort to quash open marijuana consumption.  Party organizers revealed plans to run at least 15 candidates in British Columbia and more 50 nation-wide during the next federal elections.

The new party's platform is simple -- to legalize marijuana in Canada.

Citing poll numbers, arrest statistics and usage estimates, party leaders Marc Emery and Mark St.-Maurice told assembled reporters that marijuana law reform is past due.  "There are 7.5 million Canadians who have admitted to having tried marijuana," said St.-Maurice.  This is not isolated in some narrow band of society of alternative what-nots.  The interest in political action is very high, and the time is right."

St.-Maurice, 31, of Montreal, is the founder and interim leader of the Marijuana Party.  The new national party builds on the work of St.-Maurice and others, who won 10,000 votes for the "Bloc Pot" in the 1998 Quebec provincial elections.  They hope to garner ten to twenty times that number of votes in the next elections, which must be held by next spring, but could come as early as September.

Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture, director of Pot TV and owner of Canada's largest marijuana seed company, will head the campaign in British Columbia, the nation's most important marijuana-producing region.  Along with emphasizing civil rights abuses and the hypocrisy of the major parties, Emery also pointed to the economic impact of marijuana production for the province.

Emery estimates that "B.C. Bud," as the high-potency local product is known, is one of the province's largest cash crops, worth up to $5 billion Canadian to the British Columbia economy.

"If the police campaign [to eradicate marijuana] were successful," Emery asked at the press conference, "how could the province possibly cope with a $4 to $5 billion drop in revenue?  That would be the most catastrophic economic event to ever happen to this province."

Emery told DRCNet that in British Columbia the party will field candidates primarily in urban districts and on Vancouver Island, a pot growers' bastion.  Emery said the party will make extensive use of the Internet as a campaign tool.

With some two-thirds of Canadians supporting decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a recent poll in the respected National Post newspaper, the Marijuana Party is optimistic about its prospects, but also realistic about what it can achieve.

"We don't expect to win any ridings (districts)," Emery, who will manage the campaign in British Columbia, told DRCNet.  "Our objective is to shame the other candidates and the parties who have publicly committed to decriminalization, but done nothing," he explained.  "We will make marijuana a central issue and we'll be unrelenting until they legalize."

St.-Maurice agreed, telling DRCNet, "The Canadian electoral system is not geared for small parties to get win seats.  We'd like to see a system of proportional representation; with that system we would absolutely win seats."

"What we're trying to gain is some real leverage and we'll do it the old fashioned way, with votes, not dollars," he added.  "By getting voter support and quantifying the number of Canadians who support marijuana legalization, we can gain leverage and generate the political will to change the laws."

St.-Maurice, who is barred from the U.S. because of previous marijuana convictions and who faces trafficking charges arising from his role in the Montreal compassionate use movement, will himself run, although he has not yet decided on a district.  And, he says, he would very much like to see Canada "send a wakeup call to our neighbors down south."


4. Australia: In Victoria, Drug Reform Comes Painfully Slow, Injection Room Bill Faces Tough Battle

By most accounts, the new Victoria Labor government led by Premier Steve Bracks is sincere about dealing with the state's heroin problem in a humane and harm minimizing fashion.  The state, whose largest city is Melbourne, had 359 heroin fatalities last year, and Bracks campaigned on a platform calling for the establishment of "injection rooms," or safe and sanitary facilities where addicts could shoot up.  The heroin issue helped Bracks defeat a popular Liberal Party incumbent.

In January, Bracks began making good on his campaign promises.  He appointed a commission of drug experts headed by Dr. Richard Penington to study how to implement the injection room program.  Then, on June 1, the Bracks government introduced the Injecting Facilities Bill in the state parliament.  The bill calls for:

  • Supervised injection rooms to be established in municipalities, provided that the municipality approves them.
  • The Health Minister to select and enter into service agreements with the non-governmental operators.
  • The Health Minister to have final responsibility for selecting injection room sites.
  • Each agreement to meet criteria set out in a statewide framework.
  • Parliament to approve each injection room agreement, with both the upper and lower houses having veto power.
But by the time the bill was introduced, it was already in serious trouble.  Opposition to injecting rooms came from several directions.  The Victoria opposition Liberal Party, led by Parliament Member Denis Napthine, appears intent on turning the program into a political football.  Bracks' Labor government needs Liberal votes in the upper house if the bill is to pass.

The Liberals, or at least their leadership, seem more interested in embarrassing the Bracks government than in cooperating responsibly to resolve the heroin problem.  Liberal leader Napthine told the Melbourne Herald Sun, "The party has severe reservations about these facilities," and added that he found one downtown Melbourne center "obscene."

That comment inspired the Wesley Central Mission's Rev. Tim Langley to tell the Herald Sun, "What's obscene is the 30% increase in the number of young Victorians who died last year of a heroin overdose."

Whether the Liberals really have "severe reservations" remains to be seen.  The Australian media has quoted some Victoria Liberal parliament members as saying they gave qualified backing to the concept of injection rooms, if not necessarily to the bill.

But despite the Bracks' governments efforts to modify the bill to make it more palatable to the Liberals, nothing so far has mollified them.  Bracks offered a two-stage approval process, with a vote on approval of the plan "in principle," slated for August.  That vote would be followed-up with a February vote on the merits of individual injection rooms.  Labor Party leaders told The Age (Melbourne) that the plan would give the state parliament a "double veto" and ensure that the parliament will be "the final arbiter of a rigorously controlled trial."

Health Minister John Thwaites told The Age the plan needed to move forward.  "If it doesn't work, we'll wear the blame," he said.  "All we want to do is get them (the Liberal opposition) on board, so we can try it."

Thwaites told The Age that the opposition "is trying to have it both ways."  He said the Liberals had asked to be involved in developing the injection room proposals, and his government had given them that opportunity.

Liberals, however, continue to snipe at the bill, criticizing it for, among other things, being undemocratic.  Liberal spokesman Robert Doyle charged that the municipal councils, which must approve injecting rooms within their locales, did not represent the views of their communities.  Since the councils are democratically elected, such charges have not gone unchallenged.

The mayor of Port Phillip, Julian Hill, said his council was "very representative" of the community.  "I think Mr. Doyles' comment is a stupid throw-away line," he said.

Citizen and business groups inflamed by anti-drug zealots and moral entrepreneurs are also throwing up roadblocks to the centers.  Three of the five municipalities proposed for injection rooms have already rejected them, often after long and bitter public meetings.

Those meetings have provided a forum for legitimate local concerns, but have also served as an outlet for social conservatives eager to gain political capital by grandstanding on the injection room issue.  Peter Faris is a case in point.  An attorney and former head of the National Crime Authority (he resigned under a cloud of scandal in a matter of months), Faris is making a name for himself as a leading opponent of injection rooms.  He has led unruly crowds at municipal council meetings and has been quoted as admitting that injecting rooms would save lives, but still opposes them.

Prohibitionist sentiment is not limited to the Victoria injecting room debate.  As the argument in Victoria heated up in mid-June, drug war fundamentalists convened the Australia Drug Summit 2000 in Sydney.  Convened by the Salvation Army's Major Brian Watters, the summit claimed the support of Australian Premier John Howard, a Liberal, and New South Wales opposition leader Kerry Chikarovski, also a Liberal, as well as that of Parliament Member Rev. Fred Nile, considered a crackpot by drug reformers.

Highlights (or lowlights) of the conference, which called for a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, included presentations by California Pastor Sonny Arguinzoni, who claims to have overcome heroin only with God's help and a shrill warning about the dangers of marijuana from Dr. John Anderson.  Anderson, who has long campaigned against marijuana, told a receptive audience that, "If you smoke a joint once a week, you are under the influence of cannabis constantly."  Anderson is also convinced that pot is linked to "cognitive deficit," schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder.

Despite the opposition, say Australian drug reformers, the bill can still make it into law.  Alex Wodak, director of alcohol and drug services at St Vincent's Hospital, told DRCNet that, day-to-day ups and downs notwithstanding, "Victoria is steadily moving down a reform path, but the speed is glacial."  In the broader national context, said Wodak, "It is a very similar picture across many states of the country."  And Wodak is optimistic that Premier Howard, who has impeded reform, will be defeated in the next election.  "The next Prime Minister of Australia, whoever that will be, will be far less supportive of zero tolerance and may even allow some cautious reforms to take place," he said.

Brian McConnell, president of Family and Friends for Drug Law Reform, also sees the struggle in Victoria as both important and winnable.  "Victoria is in many ways a leader," he told DRCNet.  But, McConnell said, it is crucial that supporters of the bill take actions to improve their prospects.  Among them, McConnell includes convincing parents who are affected by drug use or deaths in their families to speak out, responding promptly to lies and misinformation promulgated by opponents, and holding supporters to high standards of honesty and openness.

Also, supporters say, it is important to understand that the parliamentary situation is still fluid.  Only three members of the parliamentary opposition need to vote in favor of the bill in order for it to have sufficient votes to pass.  In the meantime, it is important that the Victoria Labor Party government keep its resolve and solidify its votes.

Finally, Peter Watney of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation points out, injecting room proposals are also on the table in the Australian Capitol Territory (Canberra) and New South Wales, home of Sydney, the nation's largest city.  "In order to make a decisive win," Watney told DRCNet, "the opposition really has to defeat injecting rooms in all three areas.  They may defeat us in any one of the three, perhaps even two of them, but hopefully at least one will open for service."

Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform is online at http://www.ffdlr.org.au.  The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation is online at http://home.vicnet.net.au/~adlrf/.


5. Delaware Mandatory Minimum Sunset Bill

Two Delaware legislators, State Senators Liane Sorenson of the 6th Senatorial District and Myrna Bair of the 5th District, both Republicans, have introduced a bill that would end the state's current mandatory minimum sentence regime.

Delaware Senate Bill 331 would "sunset," or end, every mandatory minimum sentence in the Delaware Code two years after the bill is passed.  The bill would, however, allow for mandatory minimums for any particular crime to be reenacted upon recommendation by a special commission empowered to review all such sentences.

Along with much of the nation, Delaware spent the last few years bleeding money in a prison-building binge largely necessitated by harsh mandatory minimum sentences.  According to the Delaware Department of Corrections, the state prison population has increased 58% in the 1990s.  The state spent $180 million for prison space to accommodate this influx.

In a recent opinion piece in the Newark (Delaware) Post, Senator Sorenson wrote that constituent pressure to "do something" about mandatory minimums left her "quite surprised."

But, she added, "I believe that mandatory minimum sentencing has tied the hands of Delaware judges, ruined the lives of many Delawareans who made a relatively minor mistake and cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.  I believe it is time for a change."

To learn more about mandatory minimum sentencing, visit Families Against Mandatory Minimums at http://www.famm.org.


6. Lies, Damn Lies and the Drug Abuse Warning Network Statistics

The University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR, http://www.cesar.umd.edu) devoted its latest weekly CESAR FAX (6/19), which goes out to some 4500 subscribers, to some dramatic but misleading numbers from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN).  DAWN reports on emergency room visits for "drug-related" episodes, which it defines as emergency room visits "induced by or related to the use of an illegal drug(s) or the non-medical use of a legal drug for patients 6 years or older."

The fax's headline tells the story: "Marijuana-Related Emergency Department Visits Now as Common as Heroin-Related."  The brief accompanying text describes a steady increase in marijuana-related ER visits, from 16,251 in 1991 to a projected 79,088 this year.  Heroin-related visits are estimated to hit 77,009 this year.  Cocaine, meanwhile, will account for a projected 154,956 ER visits, the highest number for any illicit drug.

The inference to be drawn from the headline is that marijuana and heroin are somehow having a roughly equal impact on users, at least in hospital emergency rooms.  The headline, however, ignores the huge difference in the universe of heroin users and that of marijuana users.  The ratio of marijuana users to heroin users is roughly 20:1.  A more apt headline could have read, "Heroin 20 Times More Likely than Marijuana to Be Mentioned in ER Visits."

In the fax's text, CESAR descends even further into distortion.  The text describes ER incidents where marijuana has been mentioned as occurring "because of marijuana use."

"CESAR should know better," said Doctor of Public Health David Duncan of Westat, a research organization doing work under contract with the federal government.  One of Westat's ongoing contracts involves evaluating the utility and efficacy of the DAWN program.

"Merely because marijuana was mentioned," Duncan told DRCNet, "doesn't mean the visit should be attributed to the drug."  One of the problems with the DAWN numbers, Duncan said, is the confusion between mention and causation.  "If you are struck by lightning and the autopsy finds cocaine in your system, for example, "that would be listed as a cocaine-related ER incident."

Similarly, DAWN methodology allows for the mention of up to four drugs for each incident, so someone who comes in with a heroin overdose but mentions having smoked marijuana will go into the statistics as a marijuana mention as well as a heroin mention.

According to Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project, another problem with DAWN is that it does not distinguish the qualitative differences among different ER incidents.  Unlike life-threatening hard drug overdoses, Thomas told DRCNet, most marijuana-related ER incidents are presumably "anxiety attacks."  "Someone gets too high and his friends aren't smart enough to put on some mellow music and tell him to calm down," said Thomas, "so they go to the hospital and the staff there tells him to calm down."

DAWN's limitations are familiar to professionals in the field.  Problems arise, however, when the data are misinterpreted or misunderstood, either willfully or because of lack of understanding of methodological issues.  Likewise, the selective cherry-picking of isolated statistics, as CESAR appears to have done, distorts the overall findings of the DAWN reports.  Among the findings CESAR did not see fit to mention:

  • All drug-related ER episodes declined 7% from the first half of 1998 to the first half of 1999.
  • There was no sign of increases in any of the illicit drugs tracked.
  • ER mentions of marijuana were "statistically unchanged" during the period in question.
  • Heroin-related ER incidents for 26-34 year-olds declined by 20%.  (Adios to Gen-X heroin chic?)
  • The most commonly cited reasons for heroin- and cocaine-related ER visits was "seeking detox," in other words, access to treatment.
CESAR merits criticism for its misleading reporting, but it is not alone.  CESAR Research Assistant Uyen Pham told DRCNet that the organization sends its weekly faxes to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) for prepublication review.  "We do fax for SAMHSA approval, even for the title," said Pham, "and they suggested no changes."

According to Dr. Duncan, the paramount point for people to remember when discussing the DAWN numbers is "that they represent only people who mentioned the drug in some way, not that it had any role in causing the visit."

And, he cautions, "These numbers track only ER visits for the substances listed; they do not track drug use levels.  Neither do they track alcohol, the most widely abused drug in America, because the DEA wasn't interested in that."

The DAWN report is available online at http://www.samhsa.gov/OAS/DAWN/DawnMidYr/99mid_year.pdf.


7. U.S. Surgeon General's Latest Research Review Supports Needle Exchange Programs

Surgeon General David Satcher and the Department of Health and Human Services have completed a review of all peer-reviewed, scientific studies of needle exchange programs completed since April 1988.  Their primary conclusion follows:

"The senior scientists of the Department and I [the Surgeon General] have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does not encourage the illegal use of drugs."  (The report is available at http://www.harmreduction.org/surgreview.html.)

Completed in response to a request by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the report, also addresses numerous issues within the needle exchange debate.  The findings, as summarized by the American Foundation for Aids Research, only strengthen the case for needle exchange as a key tool in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS:

  • Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) consistently attract persons with highest risk profiles for HIV infection and severe drug use and are successful in referring clients into detoxification and substance abuse treatment programs.
  • SEP-referred clients have similar rates of retention in substance abuse treatment as individuals from standard referral sources, despite severe baseline drug use and high-risk lifestyles.
  • Clients participating in SEPs have decreased reuse of contaminated syringes and reduced sharing of injection equipment.
  • The data indicate that the presence of a syringe exchange program does not increase the use of illegal drugs among participants, and in many cases, a decrease in injection frequency has been observed among those attending these programs.
  • Provision of sterile injection equipment through SEPs and pharmacy access is cost-effective; one HIV infection can be prevented for one-third the cost of medical care for an infected person.
  • The scientific evidence accumulated to date provides a basis on which municipalities that are heavily affected by an HIV epidemic driven by injection drug use should consider syringe exchange programs as a tool for the identification, referral, and retention of active users of injection drugs into these services, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention plan.
In related news, the American Medical Association has taken the position that physicians should be allowed to prescribe sterile syringes to persons addicted to injection drug use.  The platform was approved by delegates at the recent AMA convention.

Visit http://www.harmreduction.org/surgeon1.html to see AMFAR's summary of the review in its entirety.

Visit http://www.dogwoodcenter.org/survivors/survivehome.html for personal stories of people affected by injection-related AIDS and the absence of needle exchange.


8. ALERTS:  Free Speech, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Washington State

FREE SPEECH:  Don't let freedom of speech become a casualty of the war on drugs!  Visit http://www.drcnet.org/freespeech/ and tell Congress to reject the unconstitutional drug provisions in the anti-methamphetamine, anti-ecstasy and bankruptcy bills (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/141.html#freespeech).

MINNESOTA:  Support medical marijuana!  Visit http://www.mpp.org/Minnesota/ to support the legislator sign-on letter (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/141.html#minnesotamedmj).

NEW JERSEY:  Oppose Gov. Whitman's anti-Ecstasy panic -- no new penalties!  Visit http://www.drcnet.org/states/newjersey/ and tell your legislators to just say no to the drug war (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/141.html#whitmanpanic).

NEW YORK:  Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws!  Visit http://www.drcnet.org/states/newyork/ to send a message to your legislators in Albany.

WASHINGTON STATE:  Help the "Reasonable People" campaign get their drug policy reform initiative on the ballot -- visit http://www.reasonablepeople.org and involved!


9. HEA Campaign

We reprint our action calls on the Higher Education Act campaign below -- it's not too late to get involved!  Also, the "Shewire" has run a nice article on this issue -- visit http://shewire.chickclick.com/articles/4167.html to read it.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  1. We urgently need to hear from students who have been affected by this law, especially students who are willing to go public.
  2. Educators are needed to endorse our sign-on letter to Congress.  If you teach or are otherwise involved in education, or are in a position to talk to educators, please write to us at [email protected] to request a copy of our educators letter and accompanying activist packet -- available by snail mail or by e-mail.
  3. We need students at more campuses to take the reform resolution to their student governments.  Campuses recently endorsing it include University of Michigan, Yale University, University of Maryland, University of Kansas, the Association of Big Ten Schools, Douglass College at Rutgers University and many more.  Visit http://www.u-net.org for information on the student campaign and how to get involved.
  4. All US voters are asked to visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to send a letter to Congress supporting H.R. 1053, a bill to repeal the HEA drug provision.  Tell your friends and other like-minded people to visit this web site.  Follow up your e-mail and faxes with phone calls; our system will provide you with the phone numbers to reach your US Representative and your two US Senators.
  5. Please contact us if you are involved with organizations that have mainstream credibility that might endorse a similar organizational sign-on letter -- organizations endorsing already include the NAACP, American Public Health Association, ACLU, United States Student Association, NOW, and a range of social, religious and other groups.

10. Event Calendar

June 23-25, Lodi OH, NORML Festival 2000, at the Crazy River Ranch, sponsored by Northcoast NORML.  Tickets available at Cannabis Connections, 16019 Madison Ave, Lakewood, (216) 521-9333 or The NORML Shop, 113 N Chestnut, Ravenna, 330-296-4377.  Visit http://www.timesoft.com/ncnorml/ for further information.

June 24-25, Sweetwater, TN, Fundraiser for the Tennessee Cannabis Action Network.  For information, call (662) 578-0518 or visit http://www.webnow.com/nfnmusic/.

June 25, San Francisco, CA, 7:30pm, Musicians for Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert, Great American Music Hall.  Tickets are $25. For more information please call 510-869-5391.  Proceeds will help medical marijuana clubs.

June 26, Houston, TX, New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson addresses the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Marriott Medical Center, Noon-1:30 PM.  $35 per plate for DPFT members, $50 for non-members.  Call (713) 784-3196 (or 1-888-511-DPFT outside Houston) or fax (713) 784-0283 for reservations.

June 29-July 3, Anaheim, CA, Libertarian Party National Convention, at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.  For information or to register, call the Balcom Group at (202) 234-3880, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.lp.org.

July 4, Washington, DC, Fourth of July Hemp Coalition presents the Fourth of July rally, march and concert, noon-8:45pm, Lafayette Square (across from White House).  E-mail to [email protected] or [email protected].

July 8, Hackensack, NJ, 10:00am-5:00pm, First Northeast RegionalvConference and Symposium on Police Brutality.  Sponsored by New Jersey Copwatch and Hartford, Connecticut Copwatch, at Edward Williams College, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 125 Kotte Place.  Admission $5-15, contact (201) 487-3748 for further information.

July 10-16, Nashville, TN, "33rd Race Relations Institute" at Fisk University, one-week seminar devoted to discussing how racism affects the life cycle.  For further information, call Theeda Murphy, Information Specialist, (615) 329-8812, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.fiskrri.org.

July 15, Prison Reform Unity Project vigils outside every prison in America, demonstration times are 1:00 Pacific Time, 2:00 Mountain Time, 3:00 Central Time and 4:00 Eastern Time.  Contact [email protected] or visit http://www.prup.net.

August 10-13, San Francisco, CA, "Fourth Annual Hepatitis C Conference," sponsored by the HCV Global Foundation.  For information or to register, visit http://www.hcvglobal.org or contact Krebs Convention Management Services, 657 Carolina St., San Francisco, CA 94107-2725, (415) 920-7000, fax (415) 920-7001, [email protected].

September 9-13, St. Louis, MO, "2000 National Conference on Correctional Health Care," sponsored by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, at the Cervantes Convention Center.  For information,contact NCCHC, (773) 880-1460 or visit http://www.ncchc.org.

September 13, New York, NY, "Race-ing Justice: Race and Inequality in America Today," with Manning Marable of Columbia University's Institute for Research in African American Studies.  at 122 West 27th Street, 10th floor, sponsored by New York Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, $5 requested but not required, call (212) 229-2388 for information.

September 13-15, Durham, NC, "North American Conference on Fathers Behind Bars and on the Streets," sponsored by the Family & Corrections Network and the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families, at the Regal University Hotel.  For information, contact NPNFF, (202) 737-6680 or visit http://www.npnff.org.

September 16, Denver, CO, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined.  Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.

October 11-14, Hamburg, Germany, "Encouraging Health Promotion for Drug Users Within the Criminal Justice System," at the University of Hamburg.  For further information and brochure, contact: The Conference Secretariat, c/o Hit Conference, +44 (0) 151 227 4423, fax +44 (0) 151 236 4829, [email protected].

October 21-25, Miami, FL, "Third National Harm Reduction Conference," sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, at the Wyndham Hotel Miami Biscayne Bay.  For information, call (212) 213-6376 ext. 31 or e-mail [email protected].

November 11, Charlotte, NC, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined.  Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.

January 13, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined.  Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.


11. EDITORIAL:  Cops, Drug Use, Symbolism

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

The meager symbolism of our nation's drug laws is illustrated by the fact that police departments across the country have chosen, out of the most practical necessity, to tolerate past violations of drug laws by job applicants.

Meager, because the laws and their enforcement have been the most dramatic of failures -- so much so, that even police departments must resort to hiring confessed former drug law violators.

Symbolic, because only those who get caught suffer the hard hand of the US criminal justice system, often, these years, for horrifically lengthy, unjust sentences.  Those who don't get caught -- such a vast majority that our police forces can't function without hiring some of them -- may go on to enforce the very same laws.

Perhaps one strategy for the drug policy reform movement would be to advocate that police agencies apply the "zero tolerance" philosophy, of which drug warriors are so fond, to all their policies across the board, including hiring.  That is, consider any previous use of any illegal drug to be an automatic disqualifier for the job of police officer, period.

Then, since police departments have already admitted they can't find enough cops without hiring some admitted past drug users, police forces would be left shorthanded.  Faced with the need to manage limited resources, politicians would then have to decide what kind of law enforcement is truly important, and would de-prioritize drug law enforcement in favor of focusing on crimes of violence.

Actually, I don't recommend such a strategy; zero tolerance is too dangerous a movement and concept to support, even when wielded against the enforcers of these most destructive of laws.  But isn't it ironic that the very laws requiring massive expansion of police forces, also force those agencies to hire confessed, former violators of those laws?

Now that's symbolism.


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