(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #146, 7/21/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Juan Raul Garza could become the first person executed by the federal government since 1963. The Brownsville, Texas, man was sentenced to death under provisions of the federal "drug kingpin" statute after he was convicted of operating a continuing criminal enterprise, marijuana trafficking, and involvement in three drug-related murders. But his execution is now on hold as President Clinton and the Justice Department review federal death penalty procedures and address complaints from the Organization of American States (OAS).
A federal judge set an August 5th execution date for Garza, apparently to the surprise of the Justice Department, which has been studying racial and geographic disparities in federal death penalty cases. On July 6th, President Clinton personally announced the hold pending the results of the Justice Department investigation.
Garza's attorney, Gregory Wiercioch of the Texas Defender Service, told DRCNet that the White House counsel's office confirmed in a July 7th phone call that the execution was on hold. But, said Wiercioch, he still has not been officially notified and remains uncertain how long the hold will last.
"We would ask the president to wait until the Justice Department commission rules before making his decision," said Wiercioch.
Garza has found an ally in the OAS, of which the US is a member. The OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) has intervened in the Garza case. "The issue we raised with the ICHR is the government use of unadjudicated offenses in sentencing," said Wiercioch. This is inherently unfair and in violation of international law," he maintained.
According to ICHR complaint, federal prosecutors violated an international agreement when, in the penalty phase of Garza's trial, they presented testimony about murders with which he was never charged, let alone convicted, and which allegedly occurred in a foreign country, Mexico.
Wiercioch told DRCNet that the US government has not responded to the IHRC's complaints. "In January, the commission wrote to the State Department, notifying the government of its concerns and asking the government not to execute Garza while they reviewed the complaint."
But, said Wiercioch, the Justice Department failed to reply to the IHRC within the mandated 90-day period. The IHRC filed a second complaint and then a third, the latest coming in May. "The government still has not responded," said Wiercioch.
Wiercioch welcomed the IHRC's intervention, he said, but sees its utility as more likely to come in the political realm rather than the judicial. "The IHRC can have a strong impact on a presidential clemency decision," he said. "The US has previously looked to the commission for guidance in interpreting international covenants, and for that reason the IHRC's complaint could have an impact on Clinton's decision to grant clemency or not."
The prosecutor's use of unadjudicated crimes against Garza in the penalty phase is not the only problem with the Garza case. Garza's prosecutors got the go-ahead for the death penalty from then Attorney General William Barr, who without any formal review had given the okay for 19 out of 21 death penalty requests from US Attorneys. Under Attorney General Janet Reno, who has implemented an elaborate procedure for determining who is eligible for a death penalty prosecution, authorizations for a death penalty prosecution have plummeted. According to Wiercioch, Reno has only approved one-third of the prosecutor's requests.
Wiercioch also notes that cases where the facts were more heinous than Garza's have not received the Attorney General's authorization. "This leads to questions about whether racial or geographical disparities are involved," he said.
Those concerns have merit. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (http://www.essential.org/dpic/feddp.html), three-fourths of inmates on federal death row are ethnic minorities, and for those sentenced under federal anti-drug statutes, 89% are African-American or Mexican-American. Of the 20 federal prisoners currently awaiting the death penalty, five are white, 13 are black, one is Asian, and Garza is the sole Hispanic.
For Wiercioch and his client, however, the big question is what President Clinton will do once the guidelines are in place and the Justice Department's racial disparity study is finished. Clinton will then make a decision on Garza's case.
"We'll have to wait and examine our options at that time."
Bloodied but unbowed, harassed yet heedless, drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey last week rode off to open a new front in his roundly criticized five-year, billion dollar mass media propaganda campaign. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has already cut payola deals with television programs and magazines, in which those media produced anti-drug messages for cash prizes from the drug czar's bounty.
Now, McCaffrey is targeting the movies. "We are making available to the producers, directors, writers -- the creative community -- the resources, the understanding that the National Institute of Drug Abuse gets out of $600 million a year of taxpayer dollars studying this issue," McCaffrey told Congress. "As powerful as television is, some experts believe that movies have an even stronger impact on young people," said McCaffrey. While McCaffrey did not produce a detailed plan for Hollywood's participation, he said the process of enlisting filmmakers and screenwriters had already begun through workshops, briefings, roundtables and one-on-one conversations with industry leaders.
DRCNet spoke with Hollywood figure Mike Farrell about McCaffrey's latest scheme as well as the Raul Garza death penalty case. Farrell, a long-time TV and film actor and producer, is best known for his portrayal of the BJ Hunnicutt character in the long-running TV series MASH, and currently co-stars in the CBS TV series Providence.
Farrell has also parlayed
his celebrity status into a role as a committed and effective activist,
especially on issues related to human rights and criminal justice policy.
He is the Chairman of Death Penalty Focus (http://www.deathpenalty.org)
and the Co-Chair of Human Rights Watch/California, and is a member of the
advisory board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Farrell is also a spokesperson for CONCERN/America, Good Will Ambassador
for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a member of California's
Commission on Judicial Performance.
(Death Penalty Focus of California is a non-profit organization dedicated to the abolition of capital punishment through grassroots organizing, research, and the dissemination of information about the death penalty and its alternatives. They are a sponsor of "Committing to Conscience: Building a Unified Strategy to End the Death Penalty," a conference taking place Nov. 16-19 in San Francisco. Visit http://www.deathpenalty.org to find out more.)
It's been a heady week for medical marijuana supporters in California, where the city of San Francisco and a federal judge took substantive actions that should make it easier for seriously ill people to use marijuana.
In San Francisco, District Attorney Terence Hallinan announced on July 14 that the city will issue ID cards for medical marijuana users that will free card-holders from fear of local prosecution. Three days later, US District Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled that the Oakland Cannabis' Buyers Cooperative could reopen and again begin serving its roughly 5,000 registered members.
The San Francisco program will require a doctor's signed agreement to monitor the patient's medical condition. The cards cost $25 and are good for two years. The cards, which include the patient's photograph, card number and issue date, will also be issued to minors who have their parents' or guardians' permission.
"This represents another stone in the foundation we're building to make people recognize that cannabis is a legitimate medicinal agent," San Francisco DA Hallinan told the San Jose Mercury News. "I'm not really worried we won't be able to work things out with the federal government."
Jane Weirick uses marijuana to help alleviate pain from a back ailment. She told the Mercury News that the ID cards will "finally give us legitimacy."
"I was taking prescription opiates and was stuck in bed all the time," Weirick said. "When I started taking cannabis, I was finally able to function. It was like night and day."
Across the bay from San Francisco, Judge Breyer modified an injunction he had issued in September 1998 in US v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative that shut down the club and four others. The newly modified injunction effectively exempts the clubs from prosecution under federal marijuana possession, cultivation, distribution and conspiracy statutes.
Judge Breyer spelled out stringent criteria for patients who seek such an exemption. In addition to suffering from a serious medical condition and facing imminent harm without access to cannabis, patients are required to have no reasonable legal alternative to cannabis for treating or alleviating their condition or symptoms.
Breyer's original injunction was undone by the US Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The appeals court ordered Judge Breyer to revisit his earlier order and consider an exemption for patients who faced imminent harm and who had no effective alternative to marijuana. The Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Breyer should consider an exemption since the government had failed to rebut evidence that cannabis is the only effective source of relief for a large group of seriously ill patients.
In his July 17th ruling, Judge Breyer said the government had failed to make any new arguments against medical marijuana, instead repeating arguments already rejected by the Court of Appeals.
Patients and supporters of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative were ecstatic. "It's an historic day," Jeff Jones, executive director of the co-op, told the Mercury News. "For the first time in our nation's history, the Controlled Substances Act has been pierced in a way that allows a controlled substance to be given out in a federally exempt way."
Not everyone was so enthused. Some activists condemned the eligibility restrictions Judge Breyer placed on patients, particularly the provision requiring that patients try "all legal alternatives to cannabis" in order to qualify. Others worried that the ruling could be the preamble to a government appeal to an unfriendly Supreme Court.
But most observers, while conceding that the ruling had its flaws, contended that it constituted an overall victory for the medical marijuana movement.
After the ruling was announced, Jones called on the federal government to take the next step and reclassify marijuana as "an accepted therapeutic plant," the New York Times reported. "The medicinal properties have already been accepted at the local and state levels," he said. "We're waiting for the federal government to catch up."
Jones told the Times that the Oakland club, which was the only one of the five to appeal the 1998 ruling that shut it down, could reopen during the week of July 24th. He said his club was working with attorneys to devise the best way to reopen. "We're going to proceed cautiously," he added.
Initial results are in from the first government-approved study of marijuana's effects on people infected with the AIDS virus. The research, done by a team headed by Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California at San Francisco, found that smoking pot does not disrupt the workings of antiviral drugs that inhibit the growth of the AIDS virus -- and the patients involved gained weight.
Abrams announced the initial results at the 13th Annual AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, last week. Further results will be released soon, Abrams told reporters at the conference.
In an indication of the politically charged atmosphere in which research on marijuana in the US currently takes place, Abrams' research proposals dating back to 1992 could not win government approval as efficacy studies (research that would demonstrate the effectiveness of marijuana in improving the appetite, body weight, and general well-being of AIDS patients and others suffering from wasting syndrome).
Instead, Abrams' research was designed to see whether the components of marijuana interfered with the body's ability to break down the components of protease inhibitors, which are antiviral drugs used by thousands of HIV-infected people to maintain their immune systems.
Some 62 subjects participated in the study, and all were confined in a unit of San Francisco General Hospital for the experiment's 21-day duration. Some were given marijuana from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some received marinol, and others received placebos. The 20 patients who received marijuana smoked it three times a day in a closed, ventilated room so that second-hand smoke would not affect other participants in the study. Each patient had a refrigerator stocked with snacks at bedside. The fridges were locked at midnight.
In all three groups, the study showed that levels of the AIDS virus either dropped or remained unchanged. Neither marijuana nor marinol interfered with the breakdown of protease inhibitors. Also, although the research was not designed as an efficacy study, Abrams announced that patients gained weight under the experimental regime, an average of 7.7 pounds for the marijuana smokers and 7 pounds for those who took marinol pills.
The findings have been greeted with enthusiasm by both medical professionals and medical marijuana activists.
"Any good clinician with his eyes and ears open has known for a long time that cannabis is very useful in the treatment of AIDS reduction syndrome and does not harm patients," Dr. Lester Grinspoon told the Associated Press. Grinspoon is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard and author of "Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine."
"When all the dust settles and when marijuana is admitted into the US pharmacopoeia, it will be seen as one of the least toxic drugs in the whole compendium."
"I guess this refutes Gen. McCaffrey's statements about 'Cheech and Chong' medicine," snorted Dale Gieringer, leader of California NORML. "It confirms common sense. AIDS doctors have been using pot widely in the Bay area and California in general for years now," he told DRCNet.
Still, said Gieringer, "medicine has to confirm common sense," but the study's greater significance may lie in the fact that "it got done."
"This is the only study on medical marijuana initiated and completed since Proposition 215 (legalizing medical marijuana in California) passed," Gieringer noted. "It shows the outrageous slowness of the government's response to the mandate of the voters."
"It's astounding that we could only get one study done, and not even an efficacy study at that," he added. "In a sense, we are not one step closer to winning government approval of medical marijuana because it was not an efficacy study."
Gieringer's complaints about government inaction are understated; the attitude of the federal government could fairly be described as obstructionist. The saga of Dr. Abram's research helps explain why.
Abrams had to overcome a series of politically motivated bureaucratic obstacles, beginning with the DEA's 1994 refusal to allow Abrams to import Dutch marijuana for a study of AIDS wasting syndrome. The study had been designed with help from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and had already won approval from the university and the California Research Advisory Panel. None of that mattered to the DEA.
Next, Abrams applied to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), requesting to use some of its marijuana supply for his study. After nine months, NIDA Director Dr. Alan Leshner turned him down, saying Abrams' FDA-approved study was unscientific.
"I wrote him back and said, well, gee, it's been approved by a number of august bodies, and for you to tell me it's not scientific was a little bizarre," Abrams told the Chronicle of Higher Education in a June interview.
When Leshner then suggested he might approve a request that had "favorable peer review," Abrams dutifully applied for a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His proposal, modified to address Leshner's concerns, was rejected.
NIH reviewers expressed concerns about marijuana's toxicity -- which is far lower than that of many approved prescription drugs -- and about patient risk from high cholesterol levels due to increased appetite. "That is really not something people with AIDS wasting have the luxury of worrying about," Abrams told the Chronicle.
By then, Abrams told the Chronicle, he was willing to concede that the obstacles in his path were more political than scientific. Belatedly wising up, Abrams changed his research proposal to examine marijuana's potential negative effects. This must have been just what the NIH doctors ordered, as Abram's revised research project to study whether marijuana interferes with the body's processing of protease inhibitors was finally approved, some five years after he presented his original research proposal.
On the eve of a conference on black-on-black violence set for Chicago this weekend, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) has called decriminalization of drug offenses a "possibility worth exploring," the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week.
Calling a spate of killings on Chicago's South Side "a turf battle over drugs," Rush said the problem could not be dealt with by concentrating on guns and gun legislation "in isolation from the drug wars that are occurring in our streets."
Rush, a four-term veteran who represents Chicago's South Side, has been active in some aspects of criminal justice policy, such as juvenile justice and police brutality, but has not previously broached the topic of decriminalization.
The former South Side alderman entered electoral politics via the civil rights movement and was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. He is now chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus.
"There should be some open discussions pro and con about this issue," Rush told the Sun-Times. "I believe that somehow we've got to look at, at least have a discussion about how do we take the profit out of drug use. And we've got to be bold about it."
Rush's press secretary, Robin Wheeler, told DRCNet that although Rush had not spoken out on drug policy before, his comments were not a departure.
"It may not have been an issue he touted before," she said, "but he's been prompted to put it on the agenda because of the violence issue. All too often, drugs are at the center of the violence, so you've got to look at drug policy."
Wheeler, however, was careful to emphasize that the congressman called only for putting decriminalization on the table for discussion and he was not taking a stance in favor of decriminalization as a policy position.
Rep. Rush will host the Emergency Black Leadership Summit in Chicago on July 22nd. According to a press release from the congressman's office, the aim of the conference is to "end the devastating killing in the black community."
Wheeler told DRCNet that decriminalization will be discussed at the conference.
On July 6th, the New York Times reported that Colombia had agreed to a US program to test and potentially deploy the mycoherbicide fusarium oxysporum (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/136.html#fungus) as an integral part of the US's $1.3 billion Colombian and Andean aid package. Last week, the State Department confirmed the Times report.
But Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr, who has the authority to veto or approve the project, says his government has no intention of testing or studying fusarium. He told the Associated Press in a June 15th interview that the State Department "told lies" when it said Colombia had acquiesced in the plan.
"We will not accept the introduction of any foreign element, which is what they have offered us under the name fusarium oxysporum," Mayr told the AP. "We have told them to forget it."
"I think it makes no sense to permit the entry of an external biological agent that can have an adverse effect on our ecosystems," said Mayr. He added that his position was based on an examination of the plan by government, academic and private sector researchers in Colombia. He said they rejected the plan categorically, warning of possible mutations and harm to people, livestock and the environment.
The plan to use high-flying planes to dump mass quantities of the mycoherbicides on Colombia's vast coca and opium poppy producing regions has been pushed by an unholy alliance of Republican congressional drug warriors, the drug czar's office, the US Southern Command and self-interested scientists.
Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) even successfully introduced an amendment requiring the president to certify that Colombia was in compliance with US directives to implement such a program. In conference committee, however, that amendment was transformed and in its current language now calls for the Secretary of State to report to Congress by early November with details on "the effects on human health and the safety of herbicides used on illegal crops with funds from the aid package."
So, just what is going on here? The short answer seems to be that no one knows. The State Department stands by its position. The Colombian Embassy has not responded to DRCNet's phone calls requesting clarification.
"We don't know," Ingrid Vacius, an analyst for the Center for International Policy (http://www.ciponline.org) told DRCNet. "We're seeing the same things you're seeing, all the conflicting information. There's a big controversy, but that's all we know."
That same response was repeated by all of the interested organizations that DRCNet contacted. Winifred Tate of the Washington Office on Latin America (http://www.wola.org), however, provided some suggestions as to what could be behind the confusion.
"The contradictions between the US and Colombian governments here reflect a lack of transparency by the US and the fact that the US government slipped this into the legislation without proper consultation with their Colombian counterparts," she told DRCNet.
If Tate is correct, US policy-makers' arrogance may prove to be the undoing of the misbegotten fusarium program. But, as the battle of the press accounts suggests, the end result is still up in the air, and US leverage over the Colombians will probably only increase as the flow of dollars and weapons from Washington to Colombia quickens.
Still, Rep. Gilman's amendment has mutated from a demand for the program into a potential obstacle to it. As WOLA's Tate noted, it may be impossible to certify that the mycoherbicide is safe and effective. "These are programs that were shut down in the US for environmental reasons. It seems dubious that there is sufficient evidence these programs can be carried out safely."
The Times' reporting around efforts by the US to prod Colombia to accept US plans to research and implement the fusarium scheme is indicative of the paper's approach. A front-page story on June 6th described US efforts to persuade reluctant Colombian officials.
"They acknowledged high up in the story that environmentalists had grave concerns," said media critic Peter Hart, "but then they spent most of the story pooh-poohing those concerns. They didn't quote any critics." Hart, an analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a progressive media watchdog group, has written about the mass media's coverage of Colombia for Extra!, FAIR's magazine (http://www.fair.org/extra/0005/colombia.html).
The Times article also ignored a host of scientific research and government studies showing that fusarium is potentially mutagenic and potentially lethal to people and animals with compromised immune systems, which can reasonably be expected to be encountered in war zones. These studies are linked from a May Mother Jones magazine article on fusarium available online at http://www.motherjones.com/news_wire/coca.html.
In contrast to the Times' mushy coverage, the foreign press showed a little more spunk. "US Sprays Poison in Drugs War: Colombia Aid Includes Plan to Target Coca Fields With Herbicide Which Kills Other Crops and Threatens Humans," was how the Observer (London) headlined its article on the subject.
What now appears to be the Times' wishful thinking in its premature report that the Colombians had approved research on fusarium is not the only or even the latest example of the paper's odd reporting on Colombia. Just last week, the newspaper of record gave front-page play to a devastating investigation of the massacre of at least 36 people, and possibly as many as 71, by rightist paramilitaries in the small town of El Salado in Uriba province.
The paramilitaries are widely and indisputably linked to the Colombian military and are almost universally held responsible for the vast majority of human rights violations in Colombia. These "self-defense units" originated as landowners' death squads who terrorized peasants involved in that nation's endemic conflicts over land tenure. As Colombian traffickers invested their profits in agricultural landholdings, the paramilitaries morphed into increasingly important players in the cocaine trade. Now some 5,000 strong, the paramilitaries are the de facto shock troops in the Colombian government's war against peasant-based guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers.
Over a three-day period, the Times' Larry Rohter reported, the paramilitaries terrorized and butchered El Salado's inhabitants in an alcohol-fueled orgy of rape, looting, and violence. Nearby Colombian military units not only refused to go to the aid of the town, they blocked humanitarian relief workers from the scene while the paramilitaries did the army's dirty work.
Rohter also detailed some of the longstanding pattern of cooperation and connections between the army and the paramilitaries, noting that the paramilitaries are responsible for the preponderance of human rights violations in Colombia. Rohter also added the telling comment that in Colombia the massacre attracted little attention since it was only one among many.
All in all, a fine piece of reporting -- except that the massacre occurred in February and the article, which would presumably have had an impact on the long-running Congressional debates over aid to Colombia, didn't see the light of day until safely after the votes were cast.
"This is exactly the kind of reporting that would have informed the voting in Congress. There is no reason for it not to have been reported before now. Amnesty International had already released a report on the massacre," Hart told DRCNet.
Indeed, several investigations of the massacre have been underway for months in Colombia, and US Colombia watchers have been making legislators aware of the massacre since the spring. Winifred Tate of the Washington Office on Latin America implicitly demonstrated the impact and political import of what the Times chooses to cover and when.
"Some of the Senators who are most outraged by the Times report, we talked to them about the massacre back in March," she told DRCNet, "but you didn't see any of that reflected in the debate."
In general, the Times' record on Colombia "is erratic," FAIR's Hart charitably commented. "When it is good reporting, like this Rohter piece, it is often way after the fact and far away from any real impact it might have had."
"The Times' coverage of the debate over military aid to Colombia was worse, in the sense of the questions it failed to ask," Hart added. "There were very few questions about exactly where the money was going, although Tim Weiner did a good piece on the helicopters and campaign contributions. Still, a lot of the reporting was White House shorthand."
One example that Hart pointed to in his article was the Times' March 10th characterization of the administration aid package. The Times call it an attempt "to shore up Colombia's tottering democracy and enable its military to step up its war on narcotics traffickers," a virtual paraphrase of the administration line.
(The Times wasn't the only major paper playing the White House handout game. A particularly blatant offender was the Washington Post, which in the run-up to the Senate vote ran a shrill article titled, "Anti-Drug Effort Stalls in Colombia." The article cited variations on "administration officials" and "official sources" 15 times, a Senate staffer once, and quoted no critics of the broader contours of the aid package.)
As for coverage of the paramilitaries, the Times' Rohter seemed to be in the damage control mode in a March 12th story about paramilitary leader Carlos Castano's nationally broadcast TV interview on Colombia's Caracol network. In that interview, Castano admitted that "drug trafficking and drug traffickers probably finance 70%" of his organization's operations.
Other news outlets, notably Reuters, hit the story hard. The lead in the Reuters piece was: "The leaders of Colombia's right-wing paramilitary death squads has publicly admitted the drug trade finances most of the bloodletting committed by his ruthless militia force."
Rohter and the Times, however, avoided mentioning the drug connection altogether and instead played the story as one of a leader who bravely submitted to a TV "grilling" in order to refurbish his image. The Times' seemed more interested in the opinions of a waitress and a magazine columnist who thought Castano had undergone a "surprising metamorphosis."
"Rohter missed that crucial aspect of the Castano story," said FAIR's Hart. "There is an important distinction to be made between the paramilitaries and the guerrillas," he said. "The guerrillas tax coca growers just like they tax other landowners in areas they control, but the paramilitaries are admittedly deeply involved in trafficking."
Which leads to one last example of the Time's erratic reporting. The term "narcoguerrilla" has been widely and unfairly bandied about to describe the leftist rebels. The Times' deserves credit for reporting in 1997 that the term originated with the Colombian military, which used it to blur the distinction between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency efforts. (It was also a term of political art for Reaganite anti-communist drug warriors.) But since then, the Times has used the phrase repeatedly without explaining its derivations or its polemical purposes.
"This is one of the things that leads me to describe their coverage as erratic, " said Hart. That the term is a piece of propaganda is something that "should be repeated and repeated."
"We should get our terms straight and facts correct, but the Times didn't choose to recycle that fact," he added. "If they would keep hitting those points, it's possible, given the national import of the New York Times, that there would be a ripple effect across the media."
For the first time in three years, the Peruvian air force used jet fighters to shoot down a plane suspected of drug-running, the Associated Press reported this week. The incident took place over the Amazon rainforest near the Brazilian border about 370 miles northeast of Lima. Police were searching for the wreckage and the fate of the plane's occupants was uncertain.
The Peruvian air force said its jets used machine-gun fire to down the plane after its pilots ignored radio messages and warning shots.
During the height of Peru's coca boom in the early 1990s, Peru's authoritarian leader, Alberto Fujimori, authorized blowing suspected smugglers' planes out of the skies as part of his aggressive anti-trafficking program.
In the early 1990s, AP reported, the Peruvian air force shot down 25 planes flying along routes between airstrips in the Peruvian Amazon and Colombian cocaine refineries.
A Northeastern University study of drug busts in the Dorchester section of Boston found that black and other minority suspects faced far stiffer charges and longer prison terms than whites, the Boston Globe reported on July 19th. The findings held true even when suspects had similar records or similar roles in the crimes.
The research is only one of a cluster of studies that are zeroing-in on racial disparities in the prosecution of Massachusetts' drug war. It comes on the heels of a report from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission that looked at the cases of some 800 people convicted of drug offenses that carried mandatory minimum sentences. The commission found that in 81% of those cases the offenders were non-white.
Meanwhile, police, prosecutors, and minority leaders last week announced a broader Boston-area study to examine racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
One of the Northeastern University study's findings suggests that laws that provide enhanced penalties for drug offenses in school zones have an unfair impact on minorities, especially in the context of police and prosecutorial practices that the study found target minorities. In urban neighborhoods, schools sit side by side with homes and businesses, thus making predominantly minority inner city dwellers more vulnerable to "drug free school zone" sentencing enhancements. When drug suspects are charged with dealing offenses instead of simple possession, those enhancements take effect.
The study of some 200 cases in one of Boston's seven court districts found that among defendants described as drug "sellers" in initial police reports, blacks were nearly twice as likely as whites to be charged with drug sales instead of the less serious drug possession.
Racial minorities were also found to be more likely to be charged with distribution or intent to distribute cocaine than whites. Cocaine distribution, intent to distribute, or distribution within a school zone requires a mandatory minimum two-year sentence.
When researchers factored in criminal records, the disparities remained. Comparing blacks and whites with no prior drug arrests, researchers found that more than half the blacks got distribution charges, while only 15% of whites did.
Controlling for the amount of drugs seized, researchers found that, among those arrested with at least 1.5 grams of cocaine, 94% of minorities were charged with drug dealing, while only 26% of whites were.
Police and prosecutors criticized the study as flawed and misleading. "The sample size is way too small," said Suffolk County DA's office spokesman James Borgehesani, who apparently is an expert in social science research methodology as well as prosecutorial flackery.
Assistant DA Andrea Cabral spun scenarios questioning the research for the Globe, arguing that known addicts could be arrested with large stashes but only face possession charges, while persons holding small amounts of drugs packaged for sale could be charged with dealing.
In a victory for harm reduction, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved H.R. 2634 this past Wednesday, a bill to allow doctors to prescribe buprenorphine and other Schedule IV and V anti-addiction drugs from their office, by a vote of 412-1. The Senate version, S. 324, sponsored by Orrin Hatch (R-UT), is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has not yet been scheduled for legislative action.
According to Bill Piper, legislative analyst at the recently merged Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation, if H.R. 2634 and S. 324 are enacted, it would be the first time since the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914 that a general practitioner would be allowed to maintain an opiate-dependent patient on a narcotic. Physicians would be able to prescribe Schedule IV or V narcotics if the drugs have been approved for use in maintenance or detoxification treatment by the FDA and have not been the subject of an adverse determination.
In order to prescribe such drugs, according to Piper, doctors would have to be licensed under state law, have the training and experience to treat drug addicts, and have the capacity to refer patients to counseling and other ancillary services. In addition, they could not treat more than 20 people in an office setting at once unless the Secretary of Health and Human Services changed the guidelines.
Visit http://thomas.loc.gov to check the status of these and any other federal bills.
COLOMBIA: In the wake of the late reported El Salado massacre (see story above), Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) is circulating a letter to be sent to President Clinton asking that Colombia be decertified for US military assistance -- i.e. the recently passed "Plan Colombia" -- based on continued human rights abuses. Please call your Senators -- use the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be transferred to their offices -- or visit http://www.drcnet.org/stopthehelicopters/ to tell your Senators that Plan Colombia was a terrible mistake and it's time to call it off before it's too late.
METH BILL/FREE SPEECH: The Judiciary Committee's vote on H.R. 2987 was delayed yet again, but is now expected to take place this coming Tuesday, 7/25. Sources report that the anti-free-speech provisions are still present, narrowed only incrementally so that linking to a web site that sells drug paraphernalia would not be covered. Also, a provision that would have allowed law enforcement officers to conduct secret searches -- entering homes without notice before or after -- has been stripped from the bill. But there is more bad news -- Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL) has submitted substitute language that includes draconian new mandatory minimum penalties for "club drugs" such as Ecstasy. Also, there is a concern that language in a Senate version of the bill allowing law enforcement to order Internet service providers to take down web pages or sites without prior judicial review, on 48 hours notice, could get incorporated into the House version. Please visit http://www.drcnet.org/freespeech/ or call your Representative at (202) 224-3121 to oppose this dangerous legislation!
MANDATORY MINIMUMS: See articles 1 and 2 of last week's issue (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/145.html) for information on the Jubilee Justice 2000 campaign to free drug war prisoners and how you can help. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/justice/ to tell Congress you think the mandatory minimums should go!
CALIFORNIA: Oppose "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" bill -- visit http://www.drcnet.org/states/california/ to write your state legislators.
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!
Europe's Transnational Radical Party (TRP), a leading voice against drug prohibition and for human rights, is now threatened with loss of its consultative status to the United Nations, and with it the ability to use the forum of the UN to give voice to victims of violence and injustice and to alternative viewpoints.
Following a TRP-sponsored presentation to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, by Akhiad Idigov, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chechen Parliament, the Russian delegation to the UN has called for TRP's expulsion -- based not only on their providing Idigov a forum, but also for TRP's advocacy of ending drug prohibition both nationally and internationally.
The motion could be taken up as soon as July 27, during this Summer's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) session. Please visit http://www.radicalparty.org to find out more and sign the appeal to preserve the Radical Party's consultative status to the UN, or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
Women With a Point is an agency taking a non-judgmental approach to its work with injection drug users, and is offering a full position to an HIV Tester/Outreach Worker. Duties will include: providing Orasure HIV testing and HIV/STD education to individuals through outreach on the streets and at homeless shelters and providing brief counseling, advocacy and referrals.
The position requires a bachelors degree in social services or a related field, two years experience in an area of health education, knowledge of HIV/STD prevention, or a combination of education and experience providing equivalent knowledge.
Competitive salary and benefits, send resume to: Women With A Point, 11 W. 15th St. Minneapolis, MN 55403. Application deadline August 16, 2000, people of color/Spanish speaking encouraged to apply, Equal Opportunity Employer.
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.
July 23-28, London, Ontario, Canada, International Society for Individual Liberty's 20th Annual World Conference. E-mail [email protected] for further information.
July 27, Washington, DC, 12:30-2:30pm, "Poverty, Race and the Drug War: Unequal Justice", brown bag lunch and speaker series, with Hubert Williams of the Police Foundation and Australian and Dutch documentary excerpts. At the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1020, call Jaime Yassef at (202) 234-9382 for information.
July 29-August 4, San Diego, CA, "Cato University" seminar covering history, economics, law, philosophy, and foreign policy, sponsored by the Cato Institute. Registration fees start at $1,100, some student scholarships available. For information or registration, call (202) 218-4633 or visit http://www.cato-university.org.
July 31-August 2, Philadelphia, PA, Shadow Convention 2000, visit http://www.shadowconventions.com for info.
August 3, Washington, DC, 12:30-2:30pm, "Women and the Drug War: The Fastest Growing (and Least Violent) Segment of the Prison Population," brown bag lunch and speaker series, with Mary Barr, former prisoner and lecturer on substance abuse, prisons and treatment, with video excerpts from ABC News Nightline and Court TV's "Prisoners of Love." At the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1020, call Jaime Yassef at (202) 234-9382 for information.
August 11, Washington, DC, "The Politics of Marijuana: One Arrest Every 46 Seconds," with Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project and the ABC News documentary "Pot of Gold," 12:30-2:30, Institute for Policy Studies Summer "brown bag" lunch and speakers series, 733 15th St. NW, Suite 1020. For more information, call Jaime Yassef (202) 234-9382.
August 11, Washington, DC, 12:30-2:30pm, "The Politics of Marijuana: One Arrest Every 46 Seconds," brown bag lunch and speaker series, with Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project and the ABC News documentary Pot of Gold. At the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1020, call Jaime Yassef at (202) 234-9382 for 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].
August 13, Los Angeles, CA, 2:00-5:00pm, "What's Missing, What Matters: A Town Hall Meeting," sponsored by The Nation Institute. At the Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd. Free, RSVP required, call (877) 486-9395 or e-mail [email protected] to register or for info. Co-sponsored by the Leo Baeck Temple and KPFK-FM.
August 14-16, Los Angeles, CA, "Shadow Convention 2000," visit http://www.shadowconventions.com for info.
August 17, Washington, DC, 12:30-2:30pm, "International Harm Reduction Policies: How Do Other Countries Deal With Drugs," brown bag lunch and speaker series, with Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition and excerpts from US and Australian documentaries. At the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St., NW, Suite 1020, call Jaime Yassef at (202) 234-9382 for information.
September 8, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Boundary Issues for Service Providers, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
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 11, New York, NY, 9:30am-1:00pm. Workshop: Drugs -- Modes of Administration, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $40. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
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 14, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Harm Reduction and Case Management, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $40. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
September 16, Denver, CO, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
September 19, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Harm Reduction in Counseling, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
September 27, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Clinical Supervision for Supervisors, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
October 2, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Harm Reduction Management, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
October 4, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: The Life Process Program: Harm Reduction in Traditional Practice, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
October 6, New York, NY, 9:30am-1:00pm. Workshop: MICA and Harm Reduction, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $40. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
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 1, New York, NY, 9:30am-5:00pm. Workshop: Using Creativity in Direct Service, Harm Reduction Training Institute, 22 West 27th St., 5th Floor, course fee $60. Contact (212) 683-2334, ext. 32.
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, 2001, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
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