(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #143, 6/30/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Lindesmith Center drug policy think tank has joined with the organizations Call to Renewal, National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, Common Cause, United for a Fair Economy, Public Campaign and author and syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington, to present "Shadow Conventions 2000: A Citizens' Intervention in American Politics." The Shadow Conventions will challenge the major political parties on the issues they would most like to ignore: poverty, campaign finance, and the bankruptcy of the war on drugs.
On July 31st, through August 2nd, the first Shadow Convention with these and many other participating groups will challenge the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. On August 14-16, in Los Angeles, the second Shadow Convention will convene and challenge the Democratic Convention. Each Shadow Convention will devote a full day to each of these three issues, with the second day of each event, August 1st and 15th, devoted to drug policy. DRCNet will be participating in these history-making events, and we urge advocates of social change to come out and be part of one or both.
DRCNet doesn't have general policy positions on how to address problems like poverty and corrupting campaign finance influences -- just as the organizations focused on non-drug issues might not have overall positions on the war on drugs. But there are clear interrelationships between these three issues that can make the discussion very fruitful, in addition to the substantial publicity and attention to our cause that the events could draw.
For example, the mass incarceration of minorities in the drug war, and the urban violence from the drug trade, caused by drug prohibition, are among the primary forces standing in the way of addressing urban blight. And campaign finance has definitely had a major impact on drug policies; for example, the great economic power of the California prison guards union (see our California initiative article below) and the influence of a helicopter manufacturer on the Colombia spending package (see our "link of the week," also below).
Participating with the organizing groups are a broad range of activists, political leaders and celebrities, including Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Paul Wellstone (D-MN); Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM); Representatives Tony Hall (D-OH), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), John Lewis (D-GA), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Warren Beatty, Geoff Canada, John DiIulio, Al Franken, Jesse Jackson, Jonathan Kozol, Paul Krassner, Lewis Lapham, Skip Long, Bill Maher, Mary Nelson, Eugene Rivers, Harry Shearer, Ron Silver, and Diana Jones Wilson, more to be announced.
Whatever your views are on how to best address poverty and campaign finance, we hope you'll come out and be a part of rejuvenating the national dialogue on these important issues. Further information is available online at http://www.shadowconventions.com, and stay tuned to DRCNet for ongoing updates.
If Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has her way, New York will become the first state to place nearly all nonviolent addicted drug offenders in treatment instead of sentencing them to prison terms. Drug courts or other diversion programs are available in localities across the country, but no state so far has enacted a statewide program.
Chief Judge Kaye, who has broad control over the state courts, last week ordered the courts to begin phasing in the program immediately. The program should be in place statewide by 2003, she said.
To be eligible for the program, arrestees must test positive for drugs and be willing to plead guilty. They will then enter a strictly monitored, two-year treatment program with frequent drug tests.
If arrestees in the program relapse, they face the possibility of being sent to prison, where they could serve longer sentences than are currently imposed.
The program will not, however, apply to nonviolent offenders convicted under New York's punitive Rockefeller laws, who often serve lengthy sentences for relatively minor drug felonies.
The state spends nearly $650 million each year to imprison drug offenders.
The proposal was welcomed by criminal justice experts, prosecutors and court officials, but some reformers foresee serious problems, both in actually implementing the program and with the details of the program itself.
Critics point out that while Judge Kaye can dictate policy to the courts, she does not have the ability to force the state's 66 county prosecutors to participate. Nor will the plan alter sentencing laws that leave decisive power in the hands of prosecutors.
Robert Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, which monitors prison issues, told DRCNet, "What is problematic is that it doesn't include drug law reform. If you expand the drug courts without changing the sentencing laws," he continued, "you leave the power in the hands of prosecutors." Gangi added that, "We have to return sentencing discretion to judges. Her plan doesn't."
David Leven, Deputy Director of The Lindesmith Center, a New York-based drug reform group, agreed: "What is needed is that judicial discretion must be restored."
Both emphasized that fundamental reform must begin with repealing or amending the Rockefeller laws. "That is key," said Gangi.
But Leven also pointed out that not only the Rockefeller laws but also a "second felony offender" statute passed at the same time must be changed. Under the second offender statute, anyone convicted of a second felony within ten years of his first felony conviction must be sentenced to prison.
"It's the Rockefeller laws in combination with the second offender statute that is responsible for sending more people to prison than the Rockefeller laws by themselves," he told DRCNet. "That law needs to be changed to give judges more flexibility."
Gangi, at least, is guardedly optimistic that sentencing reform is possible in the near future, even though the state legislature passed on the chance to amend the Rockefeller laws this year. "The legislature is interested," he said, "and there is bipartisan support in both Houses."
"The governor has made noises about amending Rockefeller," Gangi added. "There is a basis for continuing organizing and advocacy to build public pressure." Gangi asserted that "there is a serious chance of amending or repealing the Rockefeller laws next year."
Other treatment advocates raised more questions about Judge Kaye's program. Dr. Robert Heimer of Yale University School of Medicine's Department of Epidemiology and Public Health told DRCNet he was waiting to see whether methadone maintenance or other forms of pharmocological intervention would be on the treatment menu.
Heimer, who has done extensive research on HIV prevention programs for drug injectors, said flatly, "Methadone is the single most effective form of drug treatment for HIV prevention." He pointed out that in Brooklyn, which long had the only drug court within New York City, does not allow methadone maintenance.
But, Heimer noted, methadone isn't the only pharmacological option. "There are several drugs available for opiate addiction," he said. "You must have a menu of options. We don't give people one and only one drug for mental illness. If one drug doesn't work, we don't say 'you're a failure' and throw them in jail. It ought to be the same with drug addiction."
Without access to such treatments, he said, the drug courts would be worse than ineffective. "If diversion programs condemn people to ineffectual care and then incarcerate them for longer periods if they relapse, that is not a step in the right direction. If recognition that the system doesn't work results in a system that works even less well, then that's just stupid," argued Heimer.
Still, despite the concerns and critiques, all three reformers voiced low-key support for the judge's plan.
"It's a very small step in the right direction, except for the punitive part," said Lindesmith's Leven.
Heimer and Gangi both seemed more impressed by what the judge's move portends than the plan itself.
"Judge Kaye is a major figure, the jurist of highest standing in New York, and her proposals indicate she believes the current way of prosecuting the drug laws is wasteful and ineffective," said Gangi. "This move enhances the credibility of reform efforts."
But, Gangi added, "Probably not much will happen, especially if prosecutors don't cooperate."
"Still, I wish her well," he added. "It is a positive step, and it puts her on record as a critic of the way we prosecute the war on drugs."
For Heimer, what is most noteworthy about the judge's plan is that "we're beginning to see a change in the tide."
With the Santa-Monica based Campaign for a New Drug Policy (CNDP) (http://www.drugreform.org) successful in obtaining the signatures necessary to place its Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act initiative on the California state ballot in November, attention is now turning to the proposal's prospects for passage.
The initiative has been largely bankrolled by a trio of big-spending drug reformers. Hungarian-born financier George Soros, University of Phoenix President John Sperling and Peter Lewis of the Cleveland-based Progressive Insurance Company kicked in most of the $1 million spent in the signature gathering phase of the campaign.
The initiative would mandate treatment rather than prison time for first- and second-time drug possessors and nonviolent parole violators. There are currently some 20,000 nonviolent drug possession offenders in California prisons.
Analysts with the state legislature say the initiative, if passed, would save the state between $100 and $150 million per year by reducing the prison and jail population. In addition, the initiative would generate a one-time savings of nearly half a billion dollars in foregone prison construction costs.
In the opinion of interested observers surveyed by DRCNet, the most formidable opposition to the initiative will come from the politically potent and deep-pocketed prison guards' union, the California Correctional Peace Officers' Association (CCPOA).
"They are the 800-pound gorilla of California politics," said CNDP's Dave Fratello. "They are the only force that matters on the other side," he said, "and they have the capacity to put six or seven figure sums into the campaign."
"Virtually no political body in California will stand up to them," said David Macallair of the Justice Policy Institute. "They are perceived to be law enforcement and they have a lot of money and they spend it lavishly."
"If you oppose them," Macallair continued, "they will label you soft on crime and anti-victims."
Jeff Thompson, CCPOA's legislative lobbyist, confirmed that the union's political action committee had voted to oppose the initiative and will be spending "serious money to deal with these out-of-state liberals," but Thompson said no decision had yet been reached on funding levels.
The CCPOA has certainly spent serious money in the past, and has been extremely effective in getting what it wants. In the last twenty years, and particularly under the leadership of current union president Don Novey, the union has benefited greatly from the California prison boom. It has seen its membership increase to 26,000 guards, who are the highest paid prison guards in the nation.
But CCPOA has not only benefited from the boom, it helped create it. In 1990, the union broke ranks with the rest of organized labor and contributed more than $1 million to the law and order campaign of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. The union, in cahoots with the National Rifle Association, also bankrolled the "three strikes" movement in the mid-1990s. It continues to provide financial support to the powerful California crime victims' movement.
In 1998, the union gave $2.5 million to the campaign of Democratic Governor Gray Davis, who remains a staunch drug warrior. While he has not yet taken a position on the initiative, all indications are that he will join the prison guards in opposition. In a move that appalled Democratic legislators, he recently announced plans to revive an expiring bill from the Wilson era that slaps a six-month drivers' license suspension on minor drug offenders.
CCPOA takes umbrage at any suggestion it is motivated by anything as tawdry as economic self-interest. "This is a public safety issue," said Thompson, "but the initiative is going to try to sell itself on our backs. They're going to try to make us the issue."
University of California-Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring laughed out loud when asked if the union should be taken at its word. "Good god, no," he exclaimed. "It's really very simple: We're talking about a lot of prisoners and a lot of guard jobs."
But, the initiative's supporters say, the union faces some risks in opposing the reforms. "The CCPOA is virtually unknown to the public at large," noted CNDP's Fratello, "and they will introduce themselves to the voters in the context of this campaign and their opposition to reducing the growth of the prison system."
"This will define them in voters' minds as behemoths like the trial lawyers or the insurance companies, who have only their own interests in mind."
Fratello explained that even with the initiative, the prison system will continue to grow and the guards will not lose jobs, they just won't increase as quickly. "Only if they are concerned about the long-term expansion of the union can they see this as a threat," he said.
CCPOA appears unconcerned about potential political risks; in fact, it has played a leading role in the formation of an anti-initiative alliance called Californians United Against Drug Abuse, which is located in the offices of Ray McNally Temple Associates, a political consulting firm. McNally Temple also consults for CCPOA.
According to CCPOA's Thompson, other members of Californians United include the California district attorney's association, the narcotics officers' association and a grouping of drug court judges.
Besides law enforcement organizations, the anti-initiative movement has received funding from San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, who, the Washington Times reports, has kicked in $100,000 to block the measure.
Still, Fratello said, initiative organizers are optimistic. "We started out with two-thirds support and we have the funding to take this to the wire." CNDP gained even more reason for optimism with the release yesterday of a Field poll indicating 64% of voters support the initiative, with only 20% opposed.
The Oregon Health Division has expanded the state's medical marijuana program by adding "agitation of Alzheimer's disease" to the list of qualifying medical conditions, making patients eligible to use state-sanctioned marijuana. Some Alzheimer's patients develop the agitation syndrome, which is defined as the inability to settle down and includes symptoms such as verbal outbursts, pacing, and restlessness, all of which may lead to patient combativeness.
Oregon is one of a handful of states to allow seriously ill people to use marijuana for medical conditions. Measure 67, the successful 1998 initiative allowing medical marijuana use for Oregon residents, already provides for its use in cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cacheixia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms.
Oregon has more than 60,000 Alzheimer's patients, but health officials don't expect an immediate rush to treat the syndrome with marijuana. Typically, doctors prescribe psychoactive drugs to treat the disease. While little research exists on the effects of marijuana on Alzheimer's agitation, the Health Division heard testimony from a seven-member panel of mental health specialists and a patient advocate recommending its inclusion for the syndrome.
But Liz McKinney, executive director of the Oregon Trail Chapter Alzheimer's Association, said her organization is in no rush to promote medical marijuana to treat the syndrome. She told the Portland Oregonian, "It's too early to recommend or deny [the use of marijuana]." McKinney said extensive scientific study was needed to examine both positive and negative effects on marijuana on Alzheimer's agitation. "That clearly has not happened yet, and we really cannot endorse it at this point," she said.
The advisory panel also lobbied to include anxiety and bipolar disorders on the list of approved diseases, but that effort failed.
Under Oregon medical marijuana law, to gain approval from the state Health Division, eligible users need a doctor's written statement supporting the use of the weed. Kelly Page, manager of the state's medical marijuana program, said about 700 people have registered to use medical marijuana since the law went into effect last May. Some 350 physicians have signed medical marijuana statements.
Meanwhile, the group sponsoring this year's Oregon marijuana legalization initiative is suing Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury for his refusal to accept electronic signatures for their petitions. The signatures in question were gathered through <http://www.ballotdirect.com>.
The Campaign for Restoration of Hemp needs 66,786 signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers say they have already collected more than 67,000 signatures and that only a few hundred were gathered electronically. The lawsuit will thus not directly impact the current drive, but is a test case for new technologies.
The initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, would allow the state to sell marijuana to patients and to any adult residents through the state liquor store system. The state would be empowered to tax marijuana sales.
In related news, Washington State's Medical Quality Assurance Commission has added diseases that cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms and seizures or muscle spasms to the list of conditions qualifying under the state's medical marijuana law, according to the NORML Foundation.
The UN official in charge of the global body's international drug control office called last week for a crackdown on the use of the Internet in the drug trade. But his comments left unclear whether he draws a distinction between the use of the Internet to disseminate information about drugs and drug policy and its use in criminal activity by drug trafficking organizations.
Pino Arlacchi, head of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP, http://www.undcp.org), based in Vienna, told a New York press conference last Thursday that his organization will explore giving "universal jurisdiction" to Internet drug crimes because cyber crime so easily evades traditional national jurisdictions.
Under international law, the only crimes that now qualify for universal jurisdiction are genocide and crimes against humanity.
Because of the global nature of the drug trade, Arlacchi told the press conference, "It is extremely difficult to route a case into a precise jurisdiction, so we believe this problem is encouraging us to go in the direction of universal jurisdiction."
He said the idea will be explored in depth at a UN symposium at year's end in Palermo, Italy, to mark the signing of an international convention on organized crime. The symposium will address expanding universal jurisdiction to money laundering and Internet crime.
Arlacchi admitted, however, that use of the Internet in actual drug trafficking or for online drug sales is "very small, it is minimal."
Arlacchi's remarks provided hints that he has more than drug traffickers' use of the Internet in mind. The former Italian Mafia prosecutor added that, "The Internet is more and more important in providing exchanges of information, in expanding the market, particularly the final market, and we are very worried about it."
Arlacchi said that by searching one key word, which he refused to identify, "You receive advice on where to find drugs, you receive a lot of extremely dangerous information."
Even worse, in the drug bureaucrat's view, "You can enter a completely different world where the issue [drug policy] is treated in the opposite view as it should be. Unfortunately, some of these views are spreading and we are now thinking about some instrument to at least stop the expansion of this flow of information."
The preceding statement appears clearly directed not at drug traffickers but at organizations and individuals expressing policy preferences different from those of the UN ODCCP.
To Sarah Andrews, policy analyst for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit civil liberties organization (http://www.epic.org), Arlacchi's remarks "sound like an argument for censorship."
Andrews told DRCNet that Arlacchi's proposal should be seen in context. "This is part of a larger attempt to control the Internet on the international level," she noted. "The European Union has drafted similar legislation," she said, adding that "this reprises the arguments about cryptography, where law enforcement officials spoke of dire threats but the number of crimes linked to it is really small."
Andrews said EPIC would oppose such a move by the UN. "This is an exaggerated response to a small problem," she said. "There is a need for security," she added, "but giving law enforcement more access to private communications only gives them overreaching powers."
Another UN drug agency, the International Narcotics Control Board, has called on nations to restrict the right of their citizens to discuss drug legalization. (See http://reason.com/9808/col.coffin.html for an excellent discussion by Phil Coffin in Reason magazine.)
Arlacchi drew charges of lacking realism after he spearheaded a major UN drug summit in 1998; the summit's title was "Drug Free in Ten Years: We Can Do It."
According to reports from the Chinese government's state-run media organization, Xinhua News Agency, China has executed in the last week as many as 52 people found guilty of drug law violations.
Ten drug offenders were executed the day after China, marking the UN's International Anti-Drug Day, vowed "no mercy" for drug crimes, state media said.
State media reported seven drug traffickers executed in Beijing late last week, while 11 people were executed by gunshots Friday following an anti-drug rally in Chengdu, capital of Guangdong province. In southern Guizhou province, nine were executed for heroin trafficking, and eight more in northwestern Xinjiang province.
Anyone convicted of trafficking 50 grams or more of heroin in China faces the death penalty.
Hang Ming, vice-president of the Supreme People's Court, said the severe penalties were consistent with international standards.
The spate of executions came just days after US drug czar Barry McCaffrey shared the stage with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Fengrui, director general of the Narcotics Control Bureau of China's Ministry of Public Security. The two jointly announced agreements between the two countries to fight drug trafficking by sharing evidence and intelligence on crime and drugs.
"This is an important moment," McCaffrey told reporters at the Beijing press conference. The agreement will "open a door leading to far wider cooperation against drugs," said McCaffrey.
Yang, standing at McCaffrey's side, added that the agreement marked a new stage of cooperation, noting that "international drug problems need international cooperation."
The agreements are expected to lead to much broader cooperation in several areas, including money laundering and control of precursor chemicals. McCaffrey also urged his hosts to allow the FBI to open a Chinese office to assist in joint investigations. "We want to see an FBI presence in China," he told reporters.
When questioned by DRCNet about his country's harsh measures toward drug offenders, Chinese Embassy press councilor Chang Yuan Yuan responded, "China, like some American states, still practices capital punishment. Whether to have capital punishment is a choice China will make." Chang added that, "Some drug crimes are punishable by death."
When queried about how China would respond to any efforts to link improved relations to changes in the Chinese criminal justice system, Chang told DRCNet, "I don't see why there should be any linkage." As for death penalty reforms, he said, "It will be up to us. We will not yield to pressure from other countries."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, as the drug czar's office is formally known, did not respond to DRCNet's calls for comment.
Jack Lang, the French Minister of Education and one of the stars of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's cabinet, stepped into a political firestorm by proposing a "national debate" on how best to address marijuana use and other drug issues.
The 60-year-old Lang, a Socialist and member of the Paris showbiz glitterati, was Minister of Culture under Socialist Prime Minister Jacques Mitterand for nine years. He gained notoriety then for championing gay rights and providing state funds for techno music as part of a government arts program. He joined Jospin's cabinet in February, in the aftermath of a powerful teachers' union strike that left the government reeling.
Lang called for "tolerance" toward marijuana and an end to what he called the "legalistic" approach. In an interview in France-Soir, he was quoted as saying, "We should put our cards on the table, working with doctors and educators and not just over cannabis. We should talk about alcohol and tobacco, which are much more destructive among the young."
Even more controversial was his declaration that he supported social welfare organizations that send teams out to nightclubs to test the quality of the drugs being sold, particularly ecstasy, which is popular in the rave and techno scenes.
Lang's remarks sparked immediate criticism. Phillippe de Villiers, a leader of the conservative Assembly for France, told the Irish Independent that Lang's remarks were "mind-boggling" and called for his "immediate departure."
Similarly, the Federation of Pupils' Parents accused Lang of failing to ensure the moral and civic education of the young. "A drug is still a drug and none is without danger," said the federation.
And the opposition UDF Party told the Independent that Lang seemed to be calling for legal ecstasy.
Lang has given no indication he plans to step down.
France lies on the harsh end of the European drug policy spectrum, making Lang's comments a breakthrough of sorts.
France has long criticized its Dutch neighbors for their lenient policies, even though they appear to be working better than the French approach. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a European Union body, the prevalence of hard drug addicts in the Netherlands is 1.6 per thousand. In France, that number is 2.4 per thousand.
Britain, with some of the harshest drug laws in Europe, is least successful in preventing drug use, said the Centre.
Ralph Nader won the Green Party presidential nomination at the party's national convention in Denver last weekend and, in keeping with the party's platform, used his coronation to speak out in general against the war on drugs.
As part of a lengthy acceptance speech, Nader criticized the criminal justice system for locking up minorities involved in drugs in disproportionate numbers while letting corporations and their executives roam free:
"At home our criminal justice system, being increasingly driven by the corporate prison industry that wants ever more customers, grossly discriminates against minorities and is greatly distorted by the extremely expensive and failed war on drugs. These prisons often become finishing schools for criminal recidivists. At the same time, the criminal justice system excludes criminally behaving corporations and their well defended executives," said Nader.
But the candidate was silent on a number of other drug reform planks in the party platform. These include:
Nader allies, however, claim he opposes the drug war. One of the convention's organizers, Dean Myerson of the Colorado Green Party, told DRCNet, "Nader has come out against the drug war; he is in favor of treating addiction as a medical issue, he is in favor of the industrial use of hemp and the medicinal use of marijuana. He has said this publicly."
Myerson added that Nader told him that drug policy was the most popular issue when he speaks on college campuses.
Not all Greens were so sanguine about Nader's drug politics. Some of them nominated counterculture hero Stephen Gaskin for the presidential slot in an effort to prod Nader on drug policy issues. Gaskin, the author of Marijuana Spirituality, is best known as the founder of The Farm, a Tennessee commune originally peopled in the early 1970s by a band of San Francisco hippies. The Farm is still in operation.
According to Gaskin, consumer advocate par excellence Nader won't campaign on drug policy reform because, "He's hung up on pot being a faulty consumer product that is dangerous to the consumer. During one of our conversations he told me, 'I'm kind of straitlaced. I'm afraid marijuana, cocaine and heroin hurt people.' Just the fact they got to him enough that he put [those three drugs] in the same breath showed he needed more information," Gaskin said.
Gaskin conceded that Nader opposes mandatory minimums, but he argued that Nader is steering away from drug policy because he fears that drug policy will alienate more people than it will bring into his campaign.
"Ralph is a little like Al Gore and a little like George Bush in that they figure it is the political kiss of death and they're afraid to touch it," Gaskin continued. "They need to understand there are more people sympathetic to that cause than there are on the religious right."
Myerson, however, scoffs at Gaskin's views. Saying that the party is solidly behind Nader, he added that, "Early on we pursued a number of people to accept our nomination. I don't think that was done out of any frustration with Ralph Nader. Stephen Gaskin was approached by some Greens before Ralph had made a final decision to run. I don't think it had anything to do with Ralph's position on issues."
Clearly, the Greens are solidly behind Nader. The question remains, is Nader solidly behind the party platform?
(DRCNet will cover another third party's positions on drug policy next week, the Libertarians.)
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
The Dutch Parliament narrowly adopted a resolution this past Tuesday to allow regulated marijuana cultivation, which the government hopes will curb the illicit export of marijuana, an estimated $8.5 billion business.
Legislators passed the resolution by a 73-72 vote. The resolution now awaits the cabinet's consideration, which will likely come on Friday. Coffee shops in the Netherlands are permitted to openly sell marijuana and hash, but it remains a crime to grow marijuana.
"One of the main objectives is to fight crime," said Labor Party parliamentarian Thanasis Apostolou, who drafted the resolution. "By regulating the supply we would know who is selling what and where it is going."
"The Dutch are clearly in the lead in creating a more workable marijuana policy," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of the NORML Foundation. "This is in stark contrast to the US, where most elected officials continue to look for new ways to punish marijuana smokers."
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
Washington, DC: The risk of being arrested for marijuana smoking is far greater in some states than others, and far greater in some counties within a state than in other counties within that same state. A marijuana smoker in Alaska or New York, for example, is three times more likely to be arrested than a marijuana smoker in Pennsylvania, North Dakota or Hawaii. Similarly, a smoker in New York City is nine times more likely to be arrested than a smoker in Nassau County, New York; and a smoker in Trinity County, California, is nine times more likely to be arrested than a smoker in Lassen County, California.
These are the conclusions from a new study released today by the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. According to the study's author, public policy analyst Jon Gettman, PhD, 38% of all marijuana arrests in the United States, nearly 700,000 each year, occur in only 10 counties. The complete study, including state and national maps, Dr. Gettman's commentary and analysis, and charts ranking the 50 states and counties within each state, is available online (http://www.norml.org/facts/arrestreport/).
Gettman reviewed county and state marijuana arrest data nationwide from 1995-97. Detailed data were not available for the District of Columbia, Kansas or Vermont. Arrest counts and rates are provided in the report for 2,951 of the nation's 3,140 counties, accounting for 95.5% of the total estimated marijuana arrests for the year.
"While total marijuana arrests appear to be leveling off, they remain at the highest levels in United States history, both in absolute numbers and in terms of arrest rates," Gettman said. "The greater the level of arrests, the more important it has become for the government to justify these arrests and the accompanying economic and social costs."
Fulton County, Georgia claimed the most marijuana arrests per 100,000 population (775.76) in counties over 250,000 people, with Douglas County, Nebraska (769.82) a close second.
Smaller counties had the highest marijuana arrest rates in the country. Texas contained five counties in the top 10 arrest rates and 12 in the top 25. The national average marijuana arrest rate was 256 per 100,000 people. Hudspeth, Texas, a county with a population of 3,079 on the US-Mexico border, had the highest arrest rate in the country at 6,430.66 per 100,000 residents -- about one out of every 15 people. Daggett County, Utah, a popular tourist area near both Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, with a population of only 794, had the second highest arrest rate in the country at (5,289.67).
In 1997, Alaska had the highest arrest rate with 417.71 people arrested on marijuana charges per 100,000 population, followed closely by New York at 404.59. The marijuana arrest rate was the lowest in Pennsylvania with 125.57 per 100,000 population, followed by North Dakota (131.05) and Hawaii (134.37).
Police in New York state by far arrested the highest number of people on marijuana charges with 73,380, followed by California (58,068) and Texas (54,731). The state with the lowest number of marijuana arrests was North Dakota (840), followed by Delaware with 1,376 arrests.
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).
CALIFORNIA: Oppose "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" bill -- visit http://www.drcnet.org/states/california/ to write your state legislators.
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). Legislation is moving fast, so please take action today!
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!
Federal agencies often try, without much success, to trace the flow of "dirty money," laundered drug profits illegally sifted through the above-ground financial institutions for their owners to use and invest.
A column published this week by columnist Arianna Huffington traces the flow of legal, but arguably no less unethical, campaign contributions by monied interests in the Colombia spending bill.
Visit http://ariannaonline.com/columns/files/062600.html to read how a helicopter manufacturer bribed Congress, at the ultimate expense of US taxpayers and Colombian victims of human rights abuses.
We reprint our action call on the Higher Education Act campaign below. It's not too late to get involved, and we need your help!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
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 3, "Decriminalization Day," nationwide protest against the criminalization of consensual behavior. Visit the Libertarian Society web site at http://www.silcom.com/~taxabo/decrim.htm for further information.
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 f[email protected] or [email protected]\otmail.com.
July 8, Hackensack, NJ, 10:00am-5:00pm, First Northeast Regional Conference 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.
July 21, Dartmouth, MA, 9:00am-3:30pm, "Stopping For-Profit Private Prisons" conference and pre-campaign strategy session, at, part of National Jobs With Justice 12th Annual Meeting. At University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, contact Prasi Gupta at (202) 434-1106 or [email protected] to register. Contact Kevin Pranis at (212) 727-8610 x23 or [email protected] for further information.
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, visit http://www.npnff.org or call (202) 737-6680.
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.
November 16-19, San Francisco, "Committing to Conscience: Building a Unified Strategy to End the Death Penalty," largest annual gathering of Death Penalty opponents. Call Death Penalty Focus at (888) 2-ABOLISH or visit http://www.ncadp.org/ctc.html for further information.
January 13, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The mass executions of drug offenders this week by the Chinese government, marking the United Nation's "International Anti-Drugs Day," is not surprising -- Amnesty International has been writing about it for at least five years -- but raises troubling new questions in light of the US government's recent decision to enter into cooperative intelligence and evidence sharing with Chinese agencies on drug trafficking. Will US drug agents, employed with US taxpayer dollars, indirectly participate in a totalitarian government's cruelties, even subsidize them?
The answer is that there is a clear risk of this happening, over time an inevitability, if the cooperative drug enforcement program goes forward. There will be alleged drug offenders who are apprehended by Chinese authorities as a result of information provided by US agents, and barring a substantive shift in China's criminal justice policies, they will be executed.
Most of them, according to Amnesty, will not be the major drug traffickers that the Chinese and US governments make them out to be; rather, they will be low level drug offenders, often mere possessors, who happen to become caught in the system at a time, such as International Anti-Drugs Day, when a totalitarian bureaucrat needs to fill a quota.
Indeed, many of them will not be guilty at all. Even in the United States, with our multiple levels of appeals and due process protections, we are beginning to face up to the reality that execution of the wrongfully convicted is a possibility and has probably happened more than we would like to believe. How many innocent lives have been taken in China, where there is no realistic system of due process and the death penalty is imposed thousands of times per year? In China, according to Amnesty, there is no presumption of innocence, the right to defense counsel is severely limited, and the outcome of a trial is often predetermined. Torture is sometimes used to extract confessions, and appeals are limited to one try at best, sometimes none.
One case in particular has stuck in my mind since Amnesty brought it forward three years ago: A young woman, returning to Guangzhou province from her honeymoon in Kunming in January 1996, agreed to take a package for an acquaintance in return for some money, a common practice in China. During the train ride, she became suspicious about the contents, tried to open it, couldn't, and began to realize the package contained drugs. Seeing her agitation, a ticket checker on the train discovered the package and turned her in. On June 26, 1996 -- International Anti-Drugs Day -- she was sentenced to death by the Guangxi High People's Court.
For Barry McCaffrey, then, a Cabinet-level representative of our President, to forge such a partnership -- indeed, to meet with Chinese drug officials in person and announce the program with media fanfare -- is abhorrent. That it comes at a time when both the death penalty and trade relations with China are major political issues, is particularly callous. How dare our drug czar make such an agreement, with our resources, knowing that the end application of them will be a summary verdict and a bullet to the back of the head? And how dare the UN Drug Control Program continue to hold its "Anti-Drugs Day" year after year, knowing that each time a totalitarian, rights-abusing government is thereby provoked into carrying out dozens of state-sponsored murders?
Trade relations with China is a complex issue, and advocates of democracy and human rights can reasonably come to different conclusions as to which is the right course to follow on it. There is no possible benefit to human rights, however, from working with Chinese drug enforcement agencies. Nor do any credible authorities believe that international drug control programs have controlled drugs, reduced their use or mitigated the consequences of their abuse, in China, the United States or anywhere else. This is not an issue where it can be argued that one evil should be tolerated for a greater good.
The drug czar's China connection should be severed, and the International Anti-Drugs Day abolished -- before we the people become complicit in yet hundreds more unjustly stolen lives.
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