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

Issue #149, 8/11/00

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Marijuana Spraying Kills One, Sickens Hundreds, Mexican Villagers Report
  2. Ecstasy Panic Spreads, Draconian New Laws Claim First Victims
  3. Interview with DanceSafe's Emanuel Sferios
  4. New Mexico Courts Face Consequences of Asset Forfeiture Double Jeopardy Ruling
  5. California Medical Marijuana Fight Continues
  6. Trial for Former Gubernatorial Candidate to Resume Next Week
  7. How Many Drug Offenders Behind Bars: New York Times Distorts the Numbers
  8. Drug Testing on the Job Loses Popularity, Tight Labor Market Cited
  9. Job Listing: Pennsylvania Coalition to Save Lives Now
  10. ALERTS: Colombia, Mandatory Minimums, California, New York
  11. HEA Campaign
  12. Event Calendar
  13. EDITORIAL: America Needs Its Drug Users
(read last week's issue)

(visit the Week Online archives)



1. Marijuana Spraying Kills One, Sickens Hundreds, Mexican Villagers Report

In stories picked up by New Mexico State University's Frontera NorteSur border news service (http://www.nmsu.edu/~frontera/), El Diario (Ciudad Juarez) and El Norte (Monterrey) reported that the Mexican government's spraying of an alleged marijuana field in the state of Chihuahua killed one child and sickened 300 villagers.

A delegation from the remote Tarahumara indigenous village of Chorowi (a 24-hour walk from the nearest road, according to map notations) came down from the mountains to file a complaint about the incident with the Chihuahua State Human Rights Office (CEDH) on July 31st, although the incident supposedly occurred on July 12th.

Villagers told the human rights office that agents of the Federal Judicial Police, the dreaded "federales," sprayed an herbicide believed to be paraquat on a marijuana field.

In their sworn testimony to CEDH, villagers said two groups of federales, one on the ground and one in the air, arrived in the area on July 12th. The villagers accused the federales of destroying homes and sowing "panic and terror" among the town's population, as well as spraying the herbicide. The villagers said they were given no warning that the herbicide was to be used and that the police undertook no safety measures.

According to a CEDH spokesman, "the herbicides fell over the inhabitants of Chorowi, over their houses, their belongings and their animals. According to their report, this has caused them a series of injuries and problems, including skin sores and sores on their scalps, damage to their vision, airways and mucous membranes."

Two-year old Armida Muela Loera fell sick after the spraying and died two days later, villagers complained.

Villagers also reported that the spraying killed livestock such as chicken and pigs.

The Attorney General's office belatedly responded to the villagers' charges by telling reporters that the claims could be part of a plot by narcotraffickers to discredit law enforcement, El Norte reported on Thursday.

The governor of Chihuahua, Patricio Martinez, in his weekly radio address said that a study of the alleged paraquat spraying is now under way in Chorowi. He also said that he has yet to see an autopsy or medical report for the child's death.

The governor described the Chorowi area as thick with marijuana and further claimed that a large part of the community is involving in growing it.

In a jab at the federales, Gov. Martinez noted that they seem much more adept at marijuana spraying than catching murder suspects in Ciudad Juarez. The governor has recently and repeatedly said the federales should leave the state because they fail to solve murders and keep getting themselves arrested.

The indigenous Tarahumara people have increasingly been victimized by both drug traffickers and drug warriors as US-backed Mexican efforts to disrupt the regional marijuana trade have pushed growers onto Tahahumara lands. As was the case in Chorowi on July 12th, the federales soon follow.


2. Ecstasy Panic Spreads, Draconian New Laws Claim First Victims

In June, DRCNet reported on increased official concern about ecstasy (MDMA) this year (Ecstasy Panic Looms: 1985 All Over Again? -- http://www.drcnet.org/wol/139.html#panic). Since then, law enforcement officials and an all too uncritical press have created the elements of a full-blown drug panic. Fueled by a fearful fascination with "rave" culture and huge increases in ecstasy seizures this year, the mass media, government officials, and moral entrepreneurs across the US and Canada are mobilizing to "do something."

They drew first blood on July 31 when Kenneth Gregorio, a 23 year old student, hung himself in the Neptune, New Jersey jail after being arrested under the state's harsh new ecstasy law, pushed through the state legislature by Republican Gov. Christy Whitman in a not so deliberative three weeks in June. Under New Jersey's old law, Gregorio could have expected probation; now he faced a possible 20-year sentence, the same as if it were a cocaine or heroin offense (see last week's editorial, Whitman's Victim, http://www.drcnet.org/wol/148.html#editorial).

"The promise of a quick thrill is not worth a lifetime of suffering and impairment," Gov. Whitman told reporters as she pushed for the bill's passage in June. The governor has not commented on Gregorio's death.

Other states and localities are moving in the same direction. In Illinois, House Minority Leader Lee Daniels (R-Elmhurst) has introduced legislation that would dramatically increase penalties for possession of middling amounts of the drug. Under Daniels' proposal, 15 grams, or about 75 tablets (worth about $600 on the near-street wholesale level) could net a 30-year sentence with a six-year mandatory minimum sentence and no possibility of probation. The current maximum sentence is two years.

That bill appears very likely to become law. As statehouse watcher Rick Miller wrote in a critical editorial in the Illinois Times, "No doubt about it, Daniel's bill will pass. The hype is just too fierce and the politics are just too good. I would bet money that there will be almost no debate before it flies out of both legislative chambers and is signed into law."

It has been helped along by police propaganda swallowed straight and regurgitated by papers such as the Chicago Tribune, which in a recent article referred to ecstasy as "a so-called designer drug linked to at least three deaths in the Chicago area," ignoring its own reporting that those deaths were in fact caused by another drug, PMA, not ecstasy.

The Tribune story quoted Master Sgt. Terry Lemming of the Metropolitan Enforcement Group of Lake County, describing the drug to a Illinois House Republican Task Force on Designer Drugs panel called to drum up support for the punitive new law. "We call it the 'kill pill,'" said Lemming.

That meeting came on the heels of two early June police pow-wows hosted by the DEA to warn police of "the ecstasy menace," as the Tribune called it. More than 140 law enforcement officers from across the state gathered in Chicago to get DEA insights on the drug and its users before heading home to spread the word.

North Carolina upped its ecstasy penalties as of January 1st. Possession of any amount of ecstasy is now a felony, and those arrested with more than 100 pills face trafficking charges with a minimum 35-month sentence.

The North Carolina legislator who sponsored the bill, Sen. Fountain Odom, told the Raleigh News and Observer he did so after hearing from concerned police officers. "They thought it was as bad if not worse than some other drugs covered" under existing laws, said Odom. "They thought folks were beginning to use it because it was not covered."

In Virginia, the ecstasy scare has become an issue in the US Senate race, where former Republican Gov. George Allen is challenging incumbent Democrat Charles Robb. Allen, who gained a reputation as a fierce "tough on crime" governor, is calling for tougher penalties for ecstasy, powder cocaine, and methamphetamine, the Roanoke Times reported. Allen chastised his opponent and the Clinton administration for lacking the "moral authority" to fight drugs.

On the local level, concern over ecstasy mixed with fear of the rave culture has produced efforts across the country to repress both. Chicago officials nixed raves in their city, as have officials in Oakland and San Francisco. Toronto is in the middle of a temporary ban on raves, while in Colorado, pressure from the Larimer County Sheriff has led to new restrictions on the dances.

Expressing a sentiment common among law enforcement officials, Sheriff Jim Alderden told the Denver Post, "The whole idea of these raves is that they're wrought with drugs."

In San Francisco, at least, the increasing concern has prompted harm reduction measures. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in late June approved an ordinance requiring large dance clubs to provide "free, cool drinking water" as a means of preventing overheating among ecstasy users.

But even there, board members expressed concern about legitimizing drug use, prompting Dr. Marshall Isaacs, head of the city's paramedic service to comment, "Common sense is not as pervasive as we hope, or we wouldn't be here today. Gosh what a no-brainer," the free water idea is, he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meanwhile, police officers and politicians across the nation are taking the fight to community meetings and forums. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch held hearings trumpeting the "new danger" in Salt Lake City and Cedar City, Utah, last month. Other meetings have been reported in locations as diverse as Huntsville, Alabama, Kansas City, Toronto and San Diego. These meetings typically feature police officers, doctors, parents, and a reformed drug user.

On the national level, legislators have introduced the Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000, which is making its way through committee hearings. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate. Using identical language, the bills increase penalties for dealing in ecstasy to make them equivalent to similar methamphetamine offenses.

But according to Drug Policy Foundation analyst Bill Piper, neither of those bills is likely to pass as the Congress grinds toward its fall recess. Instead, Piper told DRCNet, the language of those bills has been folded in to the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Anti-proliferation Act, which remains alive.

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime held hearings on the ecstasy bill on July 15th, and again law enforcement officials conflated rave culture and ecstasy use. The committee, for instance, heard testimony from Miami police Detective Eladio Paez, a self-described expert on raves, who explained to the legislators that the rave subculture "hides behind" a philosophy of peace, love, unity, and respect (PLUR).

"But let's drop the word rave, rave is only what crack became to free-base cocaine," raved Paez in his written statement. "Rave is only a name tagged on this movement, which was previously known as underground. A movement that has evolved from a trend to mainstream, seducing a great portion of society and promoting the adoption of MDMA, Ecstasy, as the drug of choice," the confused cop continued.

Saying that "one of the greatest obstacles we face is misinformation," Paez then proceeded to provide some of his own.

"There are countless episodes of deaths caused by [small] amounts of MDMA," Paez testified. In fact, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) survey of hospital emergency rooms, there were a total of 27 deaths attributed to ecstasy from 1994 through 1998.

Referring to the raves, Paez asserted that "the violence that surrounds this scene is immense." However, Paez mentioned only the case of a pipebomb-making club owner, and even he was forced to admit that raves themselves are decidedly peaceful events.

Paez also seemed especially perturbed by the sensuality of the ecstasy experience, worrying at length that it would lead to rape, date rape, and people "no longer being able to make a decision about whether they want to have sex or not."

Later he described raves as "havens for sexual predators that enjoy the chemically induced lack of inhibitions and lovey-dovey atmosphere."

According to Philip Jenkins, a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of "Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic Politics of Designer Drugs," Paez's testimony was an example of themes that have historically emerged in other drug panics. "If you look at the first drug prohibition, opium, you find great concern about white women being seduced in opium dens," he told DRCNet. "The same sort of thing occurred with blacks and cocaine in the early 1900s and again with marijuana in the 1930s."

Likewise, the fear of a new youth subculture is nothing new. "This has been going on for 150 years," Jenkins said. "Every time a new youth culture, a new music, emerges, this sort of thing happens."

Jenkins, who studies "moral panics," which he defined as occurring when reaction to an issue is massively out of proportion to the phenomenon at hand, also testified before the House panel. In his testimony (available at http://www.house.gov/judiciary/jenk0615/ and well-worth perusing), he made the case that the current wave of concern over ecstasy is becoming "a classic moral panic, based on exaggerated fears and misused evidence."

Listing some of the main themes in the media and public discourse on ecstasy, Jenkins notes that reports beginning "Law Enforcement Experts Claim" must be treated with great caution. "By definition," said Jenkins, "agencies whose primary mission is the control or suppression of illegal drugs have a vested interest in portraying those substances as threatening and ubiquitous... No agency is likely to present Congress with a statement asserting that the illegal drug menace is under control or largely defeated."

Such experts will frame the problem through the use of threatening metaphors and other rhetorical devices that often bear little relation to reality, argued Jenkins. "Rape drugs," "the crack of the 90s," "the serial killer of drugs," even "epidemic" and "addiction" are all deliberately misused, he said, to enhance the threat.

What is more, Jenkins added, these panics often carry a racial component. Historically, "substances are condemned because of their symbolic association with a particular ethnic or racial group, and striking at the substance in question is a means of stigmatizing that particular group."

In the case of ecstasy, however, the dynamic is different. In recent years, "drug policy was dominated by fear of a next crack cocaine, of a new chemical which could make white people fall prey to the problems that traditionally characterize blacks and Hispanics."

Ecstasy, like methamphetamine in the mid-1990s, has become a lightning rod for such fears. The media and law enforcement officials are adept at using racially-coded phrases to convey such latent messages. "Inner city" (black and hispanic) woes threaten "the heartland," "Main Street," and "nice suburban kids" (white).

Jenkins told the committee that the problems identified with ecstasy result primarily not from the drug itself but with its current illicit status. "Adding new legal restrictions is almost certain to make the situation worse, not better," he argued. "I propose that our emphasis should be on harm reduction, not further repression, and still less in opening a new front in the drug war."

Although Jenkins' analysis no doubt displeased the committee, even relatively friendly expert witnesses as RAND's Jonathan Caulkins counseled congressional restraint. After carefully considering the relative efficacy of various law enforcement and prosecutorial strategies to quash use of a given substance, Caulkins concluded that " if one believed that XTC is likely to turn out to be a very harmful drug (more like cocaine than marijuana in the toll it takes on the average user) and one believed that we are at the brink of an XTC epidemic -- two statements about which I am agnostic -- then it might make sense to direct more law enforcement effort at XTC. However, even in that case, it still would not make sense for that additional law enforcement effort to take the form of mandatory minimum sentences of the sort we have for cocaine and heroin at the federal level."

Which of course, is precisely what the committee is considering.


3. Interview with DanceSafe's Emanuel Sferios

As the ecstasy situation continues to heat up, Emanuel Sferios of DanceSafe is in a unique position to comment. DanceSafe is a harm reduction-based organization best known for providing access to pill-testing for purity or adulteration at raves or through its several offices. DanceSafe can be found on the world wide web at http://www.dancesafe.org.

WOL: We have Customs figures that show a dramatic increase in ecstasy imports and we certainly have increased law enforcement attention, but the measures for ecstasy use, such as the DAWN emergency-room reporting system and the "Monitoring the Future" surveys of high school students are both tenuous and behind the curve. Is ecstasy use really increasing?

Sferios: I think it is the hot drug now. Aside from my work, those are the only indicators I have. I think the "Monitoring the Future" project is a good indicator, but the number is probably higher because of self-reporting, the tendency for people to understate their involvement in illegal acts. We should note, however, that in England the figure is 17% of high school students having used ecstasy as opposed to the 2.5% here. The only reason is that England is closer to the source. The US is lagging behind a couple of years because of the time it takes for criminal syndicates to develop effective import strategies.

There is no reason to assume that ecstasy will not be as popular in the US as in rest of the Western world. The drug produces a very pleasant experience that is highly appreciated by a great many people. It's appreciated by middle class professionals who would otherwise not use an illicit drug, such as speed or heroin, because ecstasy simply doesn't have the side effects, doesn't destroy peoples' lives like addictive substances. It produces an almost therapeutic experience; many users report ecstasy use helped them.

The bad news is frequent use can cause depression in many people. It's very common. Heavy users will often report depression in midweek. My professional opinion is that those people may have preexisting depression that ecstasy exacerbates through depletion of serotonin. This is all happening without there necessarily being any neurotoxic effect.

WOL: But Gen. McCaffrey is telling us that it causes brain damage.

Sferios: This has become the leading justification for the crackdown and the heavy enforcement emphasis being taken by the police and the DEA; they're claiming to be saving the children from this drug that produces brain damage. But there is currently no evidence that there is any permanent cognitive impairment from ecstasy use. In the 11 studies comparing heavy ecstasy users with a control group on which this argument is based, only about half of them found slight but statistically significant differences in short-term memory, and only short-term memory. Even here, those differences were subclinical; no one's memory was considered to be a problem. We know there's probably neurotoxic damage going on in heavy users, but we don't see any evidence for permanent cognitive impairment.

I can say that there is no one on the planet today who has put more effort into explaining the risks of ecstasy neurotoxicity than myself. And I can say that neurotoxic effects should have no bearing whatsoever on crafting drug policy. Take alcohol, for example. Alcohol is also neurotoxic and damages the brain so significantly that it doesn't take any sophisticated controlled studies to see its effects on the brains of alcoholics. Yet we have decriminalized and regulated alcohol in such a way as to reduce the harm it has upon young people in our society. If ecstasy is extremely dangerous, the most appropriate response would be harm reduction. If ecstasy is a relatively benign, the most appropriate response is harm reduction. The most appropriate response is harm reduction.

WOL: What about these reports of deaths, overdoses and emergency room visits?

Sferios: The vast majority are heatstroke. Heatstroke can happen whether or not a person has taken a stimulant drug, although stimulants certainly increase the chances. The emergency room visits and the vast majority of deaths have not resulted from an overdose of ecstasy but rather from behaviors and an environment which contributes to heatstroke. By calling these incidents ecstasy-related, the media gives users the false impression that as long as they don't take too much they'll be okay. But these are not overdoses; the adverse reaction is not related to the amount of the drug consumed.

The good news is that adverse reactions such as heatstroke are easily preventable. Harm reduction methods which educate users to drink water and stay cool have greatly reduced the number of medical emergencies and deaths in the rave scene in England. Regulation of the rave industry would help. DanceSafe is going to launch a national "safe settings" campaign to encourage club owners to adopt harm reduction measures.

WOL: Much of the ecstasy furor seems to be infused with fear or disdain toward the rave culture. Any comment?

Sferios: I think we live in a prohibition-industrial complex and it's easier to demonize a drug if it can be associated with a subculture that's perceived as countercultural. What's ironic about the rave culture, compared, say, to the hippie culture in the 1960s, is that young people in the rave scene don't see themselves as countercultural. The rave culture doesn't exist in an overtly political context, there is no anti-war movement, nothing like that. Remember, the music they listen to is mainstream; the same DJ's and the same drugs exist in nightclubs in major cities across the country.

Ecstasy is also popular with middle class professionals, but the police don't seem to know how to deal with that. The DEA just had an ecstasy conference in Washington, and perhaps they're trying to figure out how to disrupt its distribution and are looking at the rave scene. In their minds, this is where the drug is being sold the most. Ecstasy is not a street drug, it's not being pushed by inner city youth on street corners or in crack houses where drug selling becomes a nuisance. Ecstasy sales are more hidden and non-problematic; there is no violence. It's clear that the drug is being used by many people outside of the rave culture, but the only locations that are publicly known are the raves.

WOL: Can I tell my mother you said it's okay to take ecstasy?

Sferios: No. Any risk-taking activity is a personal decision and should be carefully thought out. If you are using ecstasy, take lower doses less often and not more than once every couple of months. Test your pills; fake ecstasy is very common. And take precautions to avoid heatstroke. Drink plenty of water. Stay cool.


4. New Mexico Courts Face Consequences of Asset Forfeiture Double Jeopardy Ruling

Late last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court threw a monkey wrench in the state's well-oiled drug war juggernaut when it ruled that seizing a defendant's property and obtaining a separate criminal conviction constituted double jeopardy under the state constitution.

Although the US Supreme Court has upheld similar cases at the federal level, the various states may offer constitutional protections greater than those found in the US Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment's "due process" clause demands that states meet constitutional requirements, but it says nothing about states exceeding those requirements.

While the New Mexico ruling's legal impact will thus be limited to that state, its political impact could be more widespread as various states grapple with asset forfeiture reform.

This month, the trial of an Albuquerque man on drug dealing charges could provide the first courtroom test of that ruling, the Albuquerque Tribune reported.

In State v. Nunez, a divided state Supreme Court ordered that civil forfeiture and criminal proceedings must take place in a "single bifurcated proceeding" to avoid punishing someone twice for the same crime.

Prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys have been left scratching their heads as they attempt to deal with the ruling. The state Supreme Court provided no guidelines for implementing its ruling. Instead, the justices left the details to be worked out in the District Courts.

Michael Anthony Romero will go on trial August 21st on cocaine trafficking and conspiracy charges. The city of Albuquerque cleared the way for this first combined civil/criminal proceeding when it asked a judge to set aside a civil judgment seizing $16,460 and a cell phone police took from Romero during his January 1999 arrest.

The city was forced to act after attorneys in the Romero case and one other asked judges to dismiss criminal charges against their clients on the grounds they had already been punished by the property seizure.

Among the questions left unanswered by the state Supreme Court which will presumably be addressed in the Romero case:

  • Will both criminal and civil rules apply in a bifurcated proceeding and will there be a different burden of proof for both?
  • What role will the jury play? Will it hear both sides separately, or will it decide only the criminal case while the judge rules on civil forfeiture?
  • How will public defenders, who are barred by state law from representing clients in civil proceedings, act in these bifurcated proceedings?
Further information on asset forfeiture is available at http://www.fear.org.


5. California Medical Marijuana Fight Continues

The long-running low intensity conflict between California medical marijuana growers and users and obdurate law enforcement officials has seen two new courtroom skirmishes this week. In a Los Angeles-area case, four members of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Cooperative (LACRC) were arrested after Ventura County police raided their grow operation and seized 342 marijuana plants.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, cannabis (marijuana) patients have taken the offensive in a wrongful arrest lawsuit in Shasta County.

In the Ventura bust, police arrested Lynn and Judy Osburn, Mark Davison, and Carol Jo Papac. The four, who all say they are medical marijuana users and are members of the LACRC, are now out on bail.

The Osburns have been active supporters of Proposition 215, and Lynn Osburn beat a similar growing rap in 1998. He and his wife Judy are the authors of a book on marijuana use in major religions, "Green Gold: The Tree of Life."

LACRC president Scott Imler told DRCNet the patch was indeed intended for the co-op. "It was a co-op garden," he said. "The gardens were clearly marked as property of the LACRC. The fact is, it was our marijuana and we're going to ask for it back."

"This hurts our members," said Imler. "The vast majority of our pot comes from two gardens. Now our 829 members see their supply threatened."

In a letter to LACRC members, Imler urged them to support their comrades. "They need the support of the entire movement to prevail," he wrote.

Another Ventura Country medical marijuana provider, Andrea Nagy, planned to meet with the four to offer her support, the LA Times reported. Nagy, the former owner of a Thousand Oaks cannabis club, reached an agreement with Ventura County authorities in February allowing her to provide pot to patients.

Imler told DRCNet that law enforcement responsiveness to medical marijuana varies among jurisdictions. "In Los Angeles county, we've had a good run," he said. "We've worked out rules with Sheriff Lee Baca, who just happened to be the then division chief sent to meet with us after Prop 215 passed."

Surrounding counties have not been as agreeable, Imler noted. He seemed bemused by the Ventura bust, pointing to the agreement Andrea Nagy had worked out with county officials.

"That garden was marked with our phone number, but the Ventura authorities didn't call us," he said. "Still, there is precedent in the county to work it out."

"We try to educate prosecutors and police, and we ask the courts to take judicial notice of Prop 215," said Imler. "We don't have any secrets; we're not doing anything wrong."

Imler said the co-op's quiet, diplomatic approach pays off. "It's gotten to the point where judges and police are instructing patients to come to LA and get that purple membership card," he said.

If the LACRC is fighting a defensive battle at the moment, in Shasta County it is the authorities who are on defense. A medical marijuana patient's ongoing wrongful arrest lawsuit was amended this week to include a Shasta County prosecutor and to become a class-action suit on behalf of all county taxpayers and cannabis patients, the Redding (California) Record Searchlight reported.

Richard and Kim Levin of Redding were arrested for growing in 1998. Charges against Kim were dropped, while Richard Levin, who has a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana, was acquitted in December of growing marijuana for sale.

The civil suit was filed after the acquittal and asks the court to forbid criminal prosecutions on marijuana charges unless it determines the suspect was not a medical marijuana user or caretaker. The Levins argue that Shasta County officials violate the Compassionate Use Act by spending state funds to prosecute medical marijuana users.

The Levin's attorney, William Simpich of Oakland, told the Record Searchlight, "We're not asking for money. We're asking for justice from law enforcement and an end to the waste" caused by prosecuting medical marijuana patients.

Simpich has a similar suit pending on behalf of seven pot patients in Tehama County whose crops were confiscated and destroyed by drug agents.

Simpich called Shasta and Tehama "the problem counties," and suggested that police are going after medical marijuana grows as "revenue enhancers."


6. Trial for Former Gubernatorial Candidate to Resume Next Week

(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)

Auburn, CA: The trial of Steve and Michele Kubby is expected to resume on Tuesday, August 15 after over a year of delays.

Steve Kubby, a 1998 Libertarian gubernatorial candidate in California, was arrested with his wife on January 19, 1999 after Placer County sheriffs raided their Tahoe home and confiscated 265 marijuana plants and computer records and hardware. The prosecution contends that the Kubbys were planning on selling the marijuana to the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. The Kubbys, both medical marijuana patients, deny the allegations, saying they worked with the OCBC to insure their marijuana garden complied with local guidelines.

"My wife and I are victims of those who seek to gut Proposition 215 and punish those behind it," Steve Kubby said. "We are but two of dozens of patients and caregivers who acted in good faith following the passage of Prop. 215 and have been cynically arrested by narcotics agents who seek to invalidate the voters' will and the present state law."

For more information visit Steve and Michele Kubby's website at http://www.kubby.com.


7. How Many Drug Offenders Behind Bars: New York Times Distorts the Numbers

In an August 10th article, "Number in Prison Population Grows Despite Crime Reduction," New York Times correspondent Fox Butterworth misread one important number, ignored another, and took an unwarranted swipe at sentencing and drug reform advocates.

The result is reporting that distorts and deceives.

Butterworth's story, based on statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), low-balls the number of people doing time for drug crimes. He lists 236,800 state prisoners and 30,470 federal prisoners doing time on drug charges in 1998, for a total of some 267,000.

There are two problems here. First, Butterworth misread the numbers on federal drug prisoners. The 30,470 figure was for 1990; the actual 1998 figure is 63,011. That is some 33,000 prisoners the Times missed. Incidentally, a comparison of the two numbers shows that the number of federal drug prisoners more than doubled in the 1990s.

Second, it ignores the number of people doing time in jails for drug crimes. As DRCNet reported two weeks ago (http://drcnet.org/wol/147.html#risingnumbers), the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice's study, "Poor Prescription: The Cost of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States," found that when those people are counted, the number of people serving time for drug crimes climbs to 458,000.

Butterfield went out of his way to attack reformers, incorrectly writing that the BJS study "contradicted an assertion of advocates of prison and sentencing reform, who say most prisoners are locked up for drug offenses."

In fact, according to "Poor Prescription," "[n]early one in four persons (23.7%) imprisoned in the United States is currently imprisoned for a drug offense."

Similarly, in a Sentencing Project fact sheet (http://www.sentencingproject.org/brief/facts-pp.pdf), that sentencing reform organization wrote that "drug offenders constituted 23% of all 1996 state prison inmates and 60% of all 1996 federal prison inmates."

In demolishing his straw man, Butterfield also wrote that "people convicted of violent crimes accounted for 51% of the increase in state prison populations" during the 1990s. True enough, but in his eagerness to make his case, Butterfield managed to overlook the fact that in the last year of the study, 1998, the 107,000 new state prison drug offender admissions outnumbered new violent offender admissions, which stood at 104,000.

The New York Times can do better than this.


8. Drug Testing on the Job Loses Popularity, Tight Labor Market Cited

According to a study released last week by the American Management Association (AMA), job-based drug testing, along with other employment tests such as medical and psychological exams, is losing popularity among employers.

The AMA polled more than 2000 firms, and found that companies requiring drug testing declined from 62% of those surveyed in 1997 to 47% this year. The number of firms requiring psychological tests dropped from 52% in 1998 to 33% this year.

These numbers represent a sharp reversal from the early 1990s.

The AMA largely attributes the declines to the booming economy. "Companies are adjusting to a tight labor market," AMA spokesman Eric Greenberg told USA Today.

"If you've got an absolutely critical position you need filled and the person shows up dirty on a test for marijuana, you may regret you ever asked. You're dealing with a situation where you don't have the luxury to pick and choose."

Barry Lawrence of CareerBuilders, an online job hunting site, told USA Today, "If you're driving people away, that's tricky in this job market. In a job market where you're doing everything to bring people in, it's a quagmire for employers."

Employers also see declining returns from drug testing programs. The number of employees testing positive for drug use has dropped to the lowest level since 1989, according to Quest Diagnostics, a New Jersey testing provider cited by USA Today. Quest performs 10 million drug tests per year.


9. Job Listing: Pennsylvania Coalition to Save Lives Now

The Pennsylvania Coalition to Save Lives Now (PACSLN) is seeking a Project Manager to:

  • Build an effective statewide program facilitating and supporting effective prevention and harm reduction efforts directed towards the health risks of injection drug use, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and other bloodborne pathogens.
  • Educate and motivate Pennsylvania policy makers, pharmacy associations and others about the public health benefits of making clean syringes available to IDUs and other harm reduction and prevention interventions.
  • Develop relationships with community resources working towards harm reduction/syringe exchange programming.
  • Organize to build and coordinate community support for access to clean syringes and harm reduction within PA.
  • Provide technical assistance and serve as a resource for information and advice to grassroots community workers throughout Pennsylvania, assisting them in launching and maintaining regional syringe exchange and harm reduction programs based on best practice models.
  • Help create a framework for education to clinicians on the benefits of dispensing syringes to IDUs.
  • Coordinate and attend Steering Committee meetings.
  • Other duties, as assigned.
Requirements include drive, determination and commitment. Experience working with people with HIV and/or IDUs is useful, as is a Bachelor's degree in related discipline, but any comparable experience will be considered. Graduate degree highly desirable. Ability to work independently with minimal supervision is essential. Candidate must possess a current Pennsylvania driver's license and have access to an automobile.

The job is part time, approximately 25 hours/week, and is supervised by the Chair of the Steering Committee. PACSLN is an equal opportunity employer. Women, minority candidates and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply. (AA/EOE/M/F/D/V) Starting date ASAP, competitive salary, per experience.

Please send resumes or CV along with a letter of interest to: PACSLN Search Committee, c/o PCASO, 624 West Lincoln Highway, Exton, PA 19341. No phone calls.


10. ALERTS: Colombia, Mandatory Minimums, California, New York

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.

MANDATORY MINIMUMS: See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/145.html (articles 1 and 2) 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.


11. HEA Campaign

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! See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/138.html#partialvictory for the latest major campaign update and point your browser to http://www.drcnet.org/wol/141.html#usatoday for the campaign's latest major press coverage.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

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



12. Event Calendar

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.

August 20, Seattle, WA, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle Hempfest 2000. At Myrtle Edwards Park, Pier 70, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.seattlehempfest.com for further 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.

September 28, Salt Lake City, UT, 1:30pm. Second Annual Community Forum on Drug Sentencing, featuring a keynote address by former New York state chief judge Sol Wachtler, author of After the Madness, sponsored by the Utah Chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. At the Utah State Bar Auditorium, 645 S. 200 East. For further information, call (801) 272-4333 or e-mail [email protected]

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 18, Minneapolis, MN, 7:00pm-3:00am, Benefit for NORML Minnesota. At 7th St. Entry, First Ave. & 7th St., $5 or free for members. For information, call (612) 871-8780, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.normlmn.com.

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 3-4, Chicago, IL. Conference on US Policy & Human Rights in Colombia: Where do we go from here? At DePaul University, sponsored by various organizations concerned with Latin America, human rights and peace. For information contact Colombia Bulletin at (773) 489-1255 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, 2001, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.


13. EDITORIAL: America Needs Its Drug Users

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

There's nothing like a shortage to make companies refocus their planning on the bottom line -- after years of government subsidized marketing and "Drug Free Workplace" rhetoric, workplace drug testing, having peaked at nearly 2/3 of all businesses surveyed, has now dropped to under half. Why? In today's tight labor market, more and more businesses have found they can't afford the understaffing that would result.

As a result, American businesses have had to hire some regular drug users in order to be able to function in today's economy. With that decision, the picture painted by our government and the drug testing industry of the drug user as a hazard to safety and profits goes out the window. Instead, the typical drug user is now seen, by a majority of businesses, as a productive, necessary part of the team, whose personal habits should be left private so long as their job performance is up to par.

America, in other words, needs its drug users.

Not to say that America necessarily needs people to use drugs; nor to suggest that drug users are better at their jobs than non-users, nor anything of the sort. Just that some -- no, a lot of -- Americans do use drugs, and their numbers are such that the rest of us have to work with them, live with them, hire them, so that our economic well-being and overall standard of living doesn't fall.

The extreme case may make the point more dramatically: Suppose that all of our businesses got together and decided that on a single day, in one fell swoop, all of their employees would be given an unannounced drug test, and that those who tested positive would be fired or placed on leave. The result would be economic upheaval on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

Slogans like "drugs don't work" and "drugs are for losers" notwithstanding, businesses facing shortages -- in this case employee shortages -- will do what makes the most economic sense. In some cases, the true substance abuse cases, the slogans might even have some correspondence to reality, though not in a particularly thoughtful way. But most users aren't addicts, don't disrupt the lives of their employers or friends or families, and -- as it turns out -- make up a necessary component of the work force on whom all of us directly or indirectly depend.

Do these same people, needed on the job and contributing to the welfare of the nation, deserve to be criminalized? Does criminalizing them make economic sense? Does it make moral sense?

A new drug policy should instead recognize the interconnectedness and interdependence of all Americans -- indeed, of all people -- and treat them with the respect and dignity that contributing members of society deserve.


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