(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #152, 9/22/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(a special DRCNet feature by Phil Smith, [email protected])
In the endless mountains of British Columbia, on the Gulf Islands scattered along its Pacific Coast, and in countless basements and greenhouses across the province, British Columbia's marijuana trade is booming. No one can say with certainty, but US and Canadian officials and industry insiders put the industry's annual take at $1 to $3 billion annually. Much of the crop is destined for markets in the United States.
Police estimate that there are some 9,000 grow operations in Vancouver alone, with another thousand in Nanaimo, a medium-sized city a ferry ride away on Vancouver Island.
Statements ranking the province's pot business as its second or third largest, behind only logging and possibly tourism, are both common and uncontested.
Seemingly every town of more than a few thousand people has its own grow store to supply the equipment for sophisticated indoor hydroponic marijuana cultivation. Vancouver alone boasts more than 30 such establishments. By way of comparison, the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, with nearly twice the population of greater Vancouver, has one such business.
And the local product has gained a global reputation among connoisseurs as high-THC, high-quality smoke. Some of the seed strains developed there in the last two decades are considered among the most desirable in the world.
Although there is local variation, the province has effectively decriminalized marijuana. It is still legally possible to be arrested for possession, but with establishments such as Vancouver's Blunt Brothers coffeehouse and the Amsterdam Hemporium in touristy Gastown encouraging customers to light up on the premises, tokers surprised by the police are more likely to hear "sir, could you please roach that joint" than "you're under arrest, dirtbag."
And compared to US standards, sanctions against marijuana growers are positively genteel. In a study of 112 growers prosecuted in Vancouver in the late 1990s, the Vancouver Sun found that roughly a quarter served no time and paid no fine, about half paid fines of under $1200, and only 14% did any time behind bars at all.
The maximum sentence for marijuana growing is two years, compared to a possible life sentence in US states such as Texas or a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence under US federal guidelines. But in a stark illustration of prevailing attitudes, last month the British Columbia Court of Appeals slapped down a local judge who had the audacity to actually hand out the 2-year maximum.
The appeals court cut the sentence in half. "They just found it a bit excessive," the defendant's lawyer explained to the Sun.
The US is not amused. The Customs Service has just unveiled a $5 million border surveillance pilot project called ISIS (Integrated Surveillance and Intelligence System), complete with motion detection sensors and video cameras, along the border south of Vancouver. In July, Senators Slade Gordon and Patty Murray, both from adjoining Washington state, called on the INS to increase staffing on the border.
"Drug smuggling has exploded and last year's arrest of suspected terrorist Ahmed Ressam illustrates that we must be vigilant at all our northern points-of-entry," they wrote in a letter to INS Commissioner Doris Meissner.
In early August, the INS heeded the call. The agency announced plans to shift 25 agents from California and Nevada to Washington state, according to the Associated Press.
Still, despite a trend toward ever increasing seizure figures on the Canadian border, the amount of BC Bud seized is only a fraction of that seized on the Mexican border. In the year ending in September 1999, the Customs Service reported that its agents seized 20,000 pounds of BC Bud compared to nearly a million pounds of Mexican weed.
The differences reflect higher levels of enforcement on the Mexican border, as well as suggesting a difference in quality between the boutique grade BC Bud and the usually bricked commercial grade Mexican product. The BC weed goes for roughly $3000 a pound on the US side of the border, compared with roughly $800 a pound for the Mexican.
Carey James, Chief Patrol Agent for the Border Patrol in the Vancouver area, reflected official US attitudes when he told a local newspaper, the Aldergrove Star, he hated to be critical but "Canada is too lenient on its growers and smugglers."
The Canadians are cognizant of but not especially impressed by US concerns. Editorializing about marijuana policy, the Toronto Globe and Mail commented, "Outright legalization would cause serious trouble with the United States," and thus recommended decriminalization. "Therefore, Canada should follow its historical nature and take a middle path."
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police agrees with the Globe and Mail.
And the Vancouver Sun, in a survey done in May, found that 56% of residents agreed that provincial courts should "ignore the Americans and hand out sentences we think are appropriate." An almost identical percentage said possession of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.
Responding to a March State Department report critical of Canadian policies, Justice Robert Metzger was tart and to the point. "I want to say to them, 'Don't talk to me about how to get rid of a drug problem'," he told the Sun. "You hand long sentences and your jails are full of people, but your problem isn't going away."
Such attitudes please Boris St.-Maurice, a founder of the Marijuana Party, and recent challenger to Canadian Alliance Party national leader Stockwell Day in a parliamentary by-election in the province's interior Okanagan Valley.
Although St.-Maurice garnered only 1.6% of the vote in the socially conservative area, sometimes called "the Bible Belt," he is optimistic. Not only did his candidacy receive repeated favorable press coverage, "We laid the groundwork to turn this into an election issue," St.-Maurice told DRCNet.
The charming St.-Maurice added, "There are a lot of angry activists, but we just want to sit down and work together. I invited Stockwell Day to come down and he did, he hung around for five minutes. We're hoping to get an official meeting with him so he'll be better informed."
But even Day, an Evangelical Christian whose party is perhaps best described as conservative populists hostile to the central government, doesn't think marijuana possession should result in jail, he told the Vancouver Sun.
In Vancouver's chic West
End, lithe and tanned young women descend from tony apartment buildings
to discuss their international seed-selling businesses. Things are
booming, they say. They are doing well by marijuana. Life is
Heroin users inject in nearby alleyways and recessed doorways, sometimes right on the Main Street sidewalk behind a curtain of friends. Crack smokers in the throes of the pipe light up openly as school children skip by and elderly women from adjoining Chinatown move slowly toward the bank across the street. The faces of passengers on the bus stopped at the corner register curiosity, disgust, indifference as they gaze at geeked-out crack-heads bent at the waist, their heads bobbing, their hands periodically shooting to the sidewalk to examine every tiny bit of trash or piece of gravel in the obsessive, forlorn hope that it would be a lost rock.
They resemble nothing as much as chickens pecking the ground, a compulsive behavior so bizarre and compelling it has shown up in police slang in the US Northwest; its practioners are referred to as "cluckers."
The crack smokers and heroin addicts don't merely go about their business. They relieve themselves on sidewalks and in alleys, they prostitute themselves on local corners (some 30 of them have "gone missing" in recent years), they burglarize houses, cars, and businesses; and they fall ill from AIDS and Hepatitis C in appalling numbers and die of overdoses in the hundreds.
If the impression from the street is disturbing, the hard numbers are downright frightening. With some 9,000 hard drug users clustered around the Downtown Eastside, overdose deaths have become the leading killer of adults aged 30-49, according to a government report. Deaths have hovered around 300 a year for the last several years. And AIDS/HIV is running rampant, with 47% of injection drug users infected last year and another 9% expected to test positive this year. Injection drug use is now the leading cause of HIV infection in British Columbia. Hepatitis B and C are also running at epidemic levels.
In short, Vancouver's relatively progressive harm reduction approach to hard drug use is in crisis. Begun as a needle exchange program in 1988 and expanded dramatically in 1995 as conditions worsened, the limited harm reduction model manages to provide minimal services to addicts but has proven unable to reduce disease and overdose rates or to create a decent quality of life in the Downtown Eastside.
Not surprisingly, no one is pleased. Not the Victory Square Merchants Association or the Community Alliance, which represents 13 business and resident groups in adjoining areas and whose politically powerful members have made crystal clear how tired they are of stepping over junkies on their doorsteps. Not the mayor, who has been supportive of harm reduction programs, but who last month imposed a 90-day moratorium on new such facilities.
And not the drug users themselves, or at least their representatives in the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). The group, which, among other things, runs a needle exchange program under an annual government grant, has emerged as a vociferous advocate for the Downtown Eastside's drug-addicted population.
Demanding to be heard, they have disrupted press conferences called by the merchants' groups. They have carried coffins into city hall to dramatize the deaths that they say will result from the mayor's moratorium. And they have become skilled at using the mass media to get their message across.
Yet even VANDU's activists are quick to agree that the status quo is intolerable. The group's Dean Wilson told DRCNet, "I want a society where my children can sit at the bus stop and not having people shooting dope."
But unlike the merchants' associations, which advocate only the repression of the scene, VANDU and Wilson want to see a better quality of life for everyone, specifically including the area's hard drug users.
"The merchants just want to see the addicts dead," declared VANDU leader Anne Livingstone.
For Livingstone and Wilson the only solution is to move forward, not back.
"I was an addict for thirty
years and have been stabilized on methadone for a year," said Wilson, "and
I couldn't stand another friend overdosing or being taken down by HIV."
"We have to do the same thing here. What we are proposing is putting a comprehensive strategy in place, but let's face it -- we know we can hardly open one center, let alone a dozen simultaneously," he continued. "But let's begin with low threshold methadone, where you don't have to be in treatment, but can just walk in off the street and say 'I'm sick and need something.'"
"This makes the most marginalized addicts eligible. They did that in Frankfurt with great results," Wilson continued. "Another part of the strategy is for resource centers -- they called them crisis centers in Frankfurt -- with sanitary facilities and access to information. That's a way to get addicts involved without coercion."
And, added Livingstone, "Heroin maintenance has to be part of the strategy."
Wilson agreed. "Listen, no matter what we do, some percentage of the population will be addicted. "That incorrigible part of the addict population is probably responsible for half of the criminal and medical problems. It is the sickest, those with the worst habits, who cause the most crime."
For Wilson, the bottom line is simple. "I care about every damned death," he said. "With the status quo, we can only attract about 20% of the addicts. The rest don't trust anybody. We have to get to those people, and it is going to take a comprehensive program."
As British Columbia embraces decriminalization of marijuana, the danger exists that hard drug users will be further marginalized. VANDU and other public health advocates, including the city and provincial governments, are by no means certain of being able to push public policy in a progressive direction and they could use the support of the marijuana movement.
But the pot people, for the most part, have little to say about the Downtown Eastside, other than that it is a shame.
Anne Livingstone professes some degree of irritation. "I'm a little ticked off at the marijuana people," she says. "They have the support of the Canadian middle class and they're doing so little with it."
The Marijuana Party's Boris St.-Maurice says that he is sympathetic, but "we focus on marijuana."
St.-Maurice argues that it may be strategically wiser to keep the issues separate. "I'm glad there are other organizations addressing these other drug issues, but for the moment it is import to keep each group in its area of competence. We should have some advocacy separation."
Still, said St.-Maurice, "I would never want to see marijuana legalized at the cost of increasing the repression against other drug users."
The Higher Education Act Reform Campaign is shifting into high gear with the new school year, working with students, educators and supporters around the country to mobilize against the new law stripping students convicted of drug offenses of their eligibility for federal financial aid. Please visit the newly redesigned and updated web site http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to download an activist packet for students, a sign-on letter for educators and to learn more about the issue. Special thanks to DRCNet member Matt Koglin for revamping our web site!
Victims of the new law are still needed to work with the campaign and help raise awareness of the law's unfortunate consequences. Please contact Steve Silverman and the rest of DRCNet's HEA team at [email protected] if you've been affected or think you can help find someone who has and who is willing to come forward.
Following is our news release of this past Monday, written in conjunction with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, distributed to campus papers around the country:
NEW ANTI-DRUG LAW UNDERMINES
Washington, DC (9/18/00): Fall 2000 marks the first semester a new law delaying or denying federal financial aid to students convicted of illegal drug offenses takes effect. At last count, more than 6,000 students or would-be students have lost some or all of their aid as a result of the drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), enacted in late 1998. More than 750,000 applicants left the drug question, #28 on the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), blank, and are receiving aid this school year. Under new regulations, however, applicants leaving the question blank in subsequent years will not receive aid, escalating the number of people likely to be impacted by the provision into the hundreds of thousands.
The HEA drug provision has sparked widespread criticism on campuses across the nation, as well as from a wide range of advocacy organizations and a growing contingent in Congress. As of Sept. 15, 2000, the campaign, which is being organized online at http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com, has seen its resolution adopted by more than 25 student governments, ranging from University of Michigan to Yale University to University of Kansas, as well as by multi-campus organizations such as United States Student Association, Student Association of the State University of New York, United Council of University of Wisconsin Students and Association of Big Ten Schools.
At Hampshire College (western Massachusetts), students voted in a campus-wide referendum, passed overwhelmingly, to allocate $10,000 of student activities funds to help Hampshire students affected by the HEA drug provision attend school.
The Coalition for HEA Reform has charged that the new law is discriminatory by both race and class. "Unsolved biases in the criminal justice system, such as racial profiling, will now be indirectly thrust upon the higher education system via this new law," said David Borden, Executive Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet), which is coordinating the Coalition's efforts. "And the law directly discriminates against the poor and working class, because it doesn't affect those wealthy enough to attend school without financial aid."
The Coalition for HEA Reform's endorsers include such groups as the NAACP, ACLU, National Organization for Women, American Pubic Health Association, and a wide range of civil rights, education, religious, women's and drug policy groups. The Coalition submitted a letter to Congress on May 25, calling for passage of H.R. 1053, a bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to repeal the HEA drug provision.
"Denying access to an education is a counterproductive approach to the problem of substance abuse," said Shawn Heller, co-National Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Placing roadblocks in the way of young people who have had trouble with the law, but are trying to move their lives in a positive direction through education, will increase, not reduce, social problems like drug abuse." Heller added, "Students can see firsthand that the so-called 'war on drugs' has failed, and are standing up to 'just say no' to harmful drug laws like the HEA drug provision."
ADDENDUM TO NEWS RELEASE:
Congressional activity can be highly complex, and the HEA issue is no exception. We list here the different bills and amendments involved to try to make it all clear:
HIGHER EDUCATION ACT (HEA): The Higher Education Act was passed by Congress in 1965 and is the legislation authorizing and dealing with federal financial aid programs and related matters.
HEA DRUG PROVISION: The brainchild of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the HEA drug provision was passed in late 1998 and delays or denies all federal financial aid for any state or federal drug offense.
H.R. 1053: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced H.R. 1053 last year to repeal the HEA drug provision. H.R. 1053 currently has 29 cosponsors, all of them Democrats. The bill will have to be reintroduced in January when the new Congress (107th session) begins.
H.R. 4504: This bill, titled "Higher Education Technical Amendments of 2000," made a variety of mostly minor changes to the Higher Education Act. It contains language submitted by Souder himself that 1) limits the applicability of the drug provision to students who were receiving financial aid at the time the offense for which they were convicted was committed; and 2) requires the Dept. of Education to treat students who don't answer the drug question on the FAFSA financial aid application as ineligible until they do. H.R. 4504 was passed on May 25 by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Because it is very widely supported (despite having this one controversial provision), it became law under expedited procedures without further debate.
Scott Amendment: Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced an amendment in the Committee yesterday to strike the drug provision entirely, like H.R. 1053 would do. The Scott amendment failed by a vote of 31-16. It was opposed by all the Republicans and five Democrats.
In early August, DRCNet reported that the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the world's oldest and largest grouping of police executives, had issued a call to major party presidential candidates to establish a national commission to conduct a comprehensive review of problems in the US criminal justice system (article available online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/148.html#chiefscommission).
The police chiefs cited a number of problems leading to a lack of popular trust in the criminal justice system, including "highly publicized incidents of use of force, racial profiling, corruption, and instances of unethical behavior of police officers and executives."
The call was originally issued in March and announced in an April 7th press release from the IACP, but then sank into oblivion, where it would have remained but for the efforts of Kansas City Star reporter Karen Dillon. Dillon, whose work on asset forfeiture abuses has been lauded in these pages (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/141.html#kcstarseries) challenged both the Bush and Gore campaigns to respond the police chiefs' call, as well as to explain their stands on asset forfeiture.
Both candidates issued statements to the Star in late August. The Bush statement said that, if elected, Bush will convene a national commission along the lines suggested by the IACP.
Bush's deputy press secretary, Ray Sullivan, told the Star that Bush expected the commission "to evaluate changing demands and challenges facing law enforcement and our justice system."
According to a Gore spokesperson quoted by the Star, the Democratic candidate would not commit to convening a commission. The spokesperson added, however, that Gore would deal firmly with law enforcement abuses "if he saw evidence that action was needed."
The Gore spokesperson added that Gore "supports existing forfeiture laws" as well as more funding for both law enforcement and education.
The Bush statement did not address asset forfeiture.
The Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas, a newly created grouping of legislators from the 34 countries of North and South America, will spend part of its inaugural session in Ottawa next March debating the merits of legalizing the drug trade, if Colombian congressman Julio Angel Restrepo has his way.
The Ottawa Citizen reported that Restrepo last week told a steering committee planning for the forum that he wanted legalization on the agenda, which already includes such topics as encouraging democracy, poverty and debt relief, organized crime, and the drug trade. "We believe the time has come to broach this subject," he told the meeting.
Restrepo told the committee that stopping the drug trade in his and other Latin American countries was "virtually impossible" and that the vast profits at stake from the black market trade had kept his country in a state of guerrilla war for the past two decades.
The Colombian representative also cited the laws of supply and demand in arguing that prohibition is doomed to failure. "The prohibitionist laws in the States in the 1920s are a clear example that violating the law of the market is equivalent to kicking the goat," he said.
"Demythicization of this topic could be a great asset in the search for unconventional solutions to the problem of the international trade in drugs," Restrepo added.
"These are the reasons... that lead me to propose to my colleagues at the Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas that the topic of legalization of drugs, until now treated as taboo, be explored. Legalization means depriving drug traffickers of the powerful economic ingredient that makes this illicit activity so lucrative," said Restrepo.
Some members of the steering committee, which includes representatives from Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, and the United States, backed Restrepo's proposal. Restrepo's compatriot, Colombian Senator Antonio Guerra, seconded his call for debate, but also said that efforts to suppress the drug trade must continue.
One of the two Canadian representatives, Liberal Senator Helene Hervieux-Payette, also expressed support for the proposal, noting that the Canadian Senate will also hold hearings on drug legalization.
The Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas was created by the Organization of American States (OAS) out of a perceived need for hemispheric information-sharing and coordination among legislators. The forum has the same membership list as the OAS, but unlike the OAS includes not only governments but also opposition parties. Also unlike the OAS, the forum does not reflect the official policies of member governments.
Almost a year to the day after Jamaica's former police commissioner, Colonel Trevor MacMillan, called for the decriminalization of ganja, the government of Prime Minister PJ Patterson announced it will set up a broad-based national commission to examine the question.
"Countries all over the world
are being forced to give consideration to the complex but delicate issues
of social, economic, cultural, and security policies which relate
Patterson told the Gleaner that the commission, whose chairman is yet to be named, will engage in consultations with "relevant interest groups" and review scientific opinion and research results about health risks and medicinal uses of marijuana. The commission will study ganja's impact on social behavior, the economy, crime and security issues, and how any changes in the law could affect Jamaica's compliance with existing international anti-drug treaties.
After considering such issues, the commission will recommend legislative changes, said Patterson.
The prime minister's announcement comes in response to repeated calls for relaxation of the marijuana laws in the island nation, home to a significant population of Rastafarians who use "Jah herb" as a sacrament. Politicians from both of the island's two major parties, the Labour Party and the Peoples' National Party (PNP), have called for changes. Late last year, Mike Henry, a Labour parliamentarian from Clarendon, offered a bill calling for both a study of decriminalizing ganja for Rastafarians and the naming of Bob Marley as a National Hero. And the leadership of the PNP's powerful 3rd Region has been lobbying for decriminalization for personal use, the Gleaner reported.
Pressure has also come from church leaders and from the National Alliance for the Legalization of Ganja, headed by Paul Chang. Chang, who has been after the government on the ganja issue since 1994, brought representatives of the Drug Policy Foundation and NORML, as well as researchers Dr. John Morgan of the City University of New York and Tim Boekhout van Solinge of the University of Amsterdam to the island for a series of forums of February.
At that time, Chang told a Montego Bay forum that his group was preparing for the commercialization of ganja in a fashion similar to the Dutch model. Chang is also forming the Ganja Growers Association "in anticipation of the law," he said.
Halfway across the globe, New Zealand is also, after two years of delay, preparing its own study of cannabis decriminalization. The parliament's health select committee will review health issues related to cannabis, the committee's chairperson, Judy Keall, told the Otago Daily Times (Dunedin) on September 13th.
Keall said the committee's inquiry will "inquire into the most effective public health and health promotion strategies to minimize the use of and harm associated with cannabis and consequently the most appropriate legal status for cannabis."
The committee's work will lay the groundwork for a parliamentary debate on cannabis this term, with decriminalization the main topic of discussion. Under a proposal supported by Liberal Prime Minister Helen Clark, persons caught with small amounts of the herb would be subject only to a ticket.
According to an August poll of New Zealanders reported in the Daily Times, a solid majority want the government to either decriminalize or legalize cannabis for personal use. The UMR Insight poll found 41% believe cannabis use by adults should be punished with a fine -- not a criminal conviction -- and another 19% want outright legalization.
According to the poll, 36% of those surveyed had used cannabis, with that figure rising to 70% for those under thirty. Among the indigenous Maori, the number who had used cannabis was 56%.
The status of cannabis has become a political football in New Zealand since December 1998, when another parliamentary select committee recommended that the government consider changing its legal standing. The then-governing National Party refused to act on that recommendation and has continued to agitate against reform, most recently working with an association of school boards to launch a petition against decriminalization.
The petition drive has aroused the ire of Green Party Member of Parliament Nandor Tanczos, a Rastafarian who has said he smokes for religious reasons. He told the Dominion (Wellington) he was "appalled" that the school boards would allow themselves to "be so blatantly used for political mileage" in the National Party's anti-cannabis campaign.
Neither does Tanczos believe decriminalization is sufficient. He told the Dominion such a regime would result in "more people getting busted than ever before."
Calling prohibition a barrier to effective drug rehabilitation and education programs, Tanczos argued although cannabis is widely used in New Zealand, it is the young, the poor, and the Maoris who get arrested for it, not decision-makers. Even with a ticket and fine system, he said, many people would end up with convictions for non-payment of fines.
Also in the Pacific, the Guam Supreme has ruled in favor of permitting marijuana smoking for religious purposes.
Benny Toves Guerrero was arrested in 1991 at the territory's international airport with more than seven ounces of marijuana. Guerrero argued that he was a Rastafarian and the herb is a required sacrament of his faith.
On September 11, the Guam Supreme Court threw out his case, a ruling his lawyer told the Honolulu Advertiser was a landmark case for freedom of religion.
The "Journey for Justice, Texas Style" is set to begin today in Houston (Friday, 9/22) traveling for a week through the Lone Star State to conclude at the Governor's Mansion in Austin on the afternoon of September 29.
Based on previous Journeys for Justice in Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio, the Texas event came together at the thirteenth annual Drug Policy Foundation conference in Washington in May. There, the Drug Policy Foundation of Texas teamed up with the Cannabis Action Network and the November Coalition to plan the march. The journey has two primary purposes: to call attention to the huge number of non-violent drug offenders imprisoned in Texas and to emphasize the continuing need to make medical marijuana available to those who need it.
The journey will make several stops on the 180-mile route between Houston and Austin, including prison vigils and a memorial for victims of prohibition in Hempstead. Visit http://www.journeyforjustice.org for further information.
The Washington Post reported that on September 15th the House of Representatives passed the 2001 budget for the District of Columbia, but only after adding amendments barring the use of District or federal funds for needle exchange programs and restricting an on-going, privately-run program.
Republican members of the House tacked on the "social riders" to the budget bill, as they have done on numerous other occasions, including barring the District from counting the votes in a 1998 medical marijuana initiative and later barring the District from implementing that initiative after a court-ordered vote count showed it passed with 69% of the vote.
The rider imposing crippling restrictions on the existing needle exchange program, Prevention Works!, by barring it from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, day-care centers, public housing complexes and other areas where children are present.
President Clinton has opposed such restrictions on needle exchange programs in the nation's capitol and vetoed last year's bill for similar reasons. He is expected to veto the House version this year as well if the objectionable provisions are removed in House-Senate conference. The Senate earlier passed a DC budget bill without the restrictions on needle exchanges.
The House bill passed by a narrow margin, 217-207, generally along partisan lines, leaving DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton optimistic that the District would prevail on needle exchange and other budget items in conference committee.
"The close vote will be helpful in House-Senate conference," she told the Post.
(DC-area readers can join the Capital Action volunteer network at Prevention Works! this coming Monday evening (9/25), from 6:00-9:00pm, 1734 14th St., NW. Help Prevention Works! assemble its "safe shooting kits" to help injection drug users protect themselves and reduce the spread of hepatitis and HIV. For further information, contact Daniela at (202) 375-5639 or Prevention Works! at (202) 588-5580.)
In a September 7th press release, the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, a California-based nonprofit organization devoted to fostering cognitive liberty "including the right to control one's own mental processes," applauded the removal of anti-free speech language from the bill, but attacked its provisions equating methamphetamine and the so-called club drugs.
The combined bill, known as the Methamphetamine and Club Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2000 (HR 2987) will be voted on by the House this month and is expected to pass easily. Once the bill has passed the House, the House and Senate will appoint members to a conference committee to hammer out differences with the Senate version (S. 486). The Senate version, passed unanimously earlier this year, retains the anti-free speech language, but does not include the club drug provisions.
The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics release attacks the House version of the bill for equating methamphetamines with ecstasy.
The Center argues that ordering the Sentencing Commission to equate ecstasy and meth blurs the line between two very different drugs and "threatens to increase overdoses, addiction, and other individual and societal harms."
The Center's press release also argues that equating the two drugs provides unscrupulous dealers with the incentive to falsely market meth as ecstasy. Because the weight-based sentencing guidelines overlook the fact that one gram of meth produces roughly 200 doses while one gram of ecstasy produces about eight doses, "a dealer who seeks to increase profits relative to potential punishment has an incentive to sell methamphetamine as ecstasy."
This result, says the Center, will be "promoting overdoses and addiction among people who unwittingly receive and ingest methamphetamine believing it to be ecstasy."
Further, the Center charges, the club drug provisions ignore earlier findings by DEA administrative law judges that ecstasy "has safe and effective medical uses."
The complete text of the
Center's press release, as well as additional information on the ecstasy
bills is available at:
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected])
September 22-29, Houston, TX and other locations, Journey for Justice, week long journey through locations in Texas, protesting the war on drugs. Visit http://www.journeyforjustice.org for further information.
September 22, Los Angeles, CA, 7:00pm. Screening of documentary Emperor of Hemp, to assist with Jack Herer's medical expenses. At Universal Studios, Screening Room #1, admission $50. Contact (888) 870-1002 for further information.
September 23, Los Angeles, CA, 10:00am-7:00pm, CIA-Drugs Symposium. For information, contact Kris Millegan, (877) 642-8321 ext. 9696, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.CIA-Drugs.org on the web.
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]
September 28, Honolulu, HI, 7:00-9:00pm, "Getting Real: Drug Use Prevention that Works." Sponsored by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, at the Ala Wai Elementary School, featuring Dr. Rodney Skager of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and others. For information, call (808) 988-4368.
September 29, nationwide. Simultaneous drug war vigils, by the National Vigil Project. For further information, visit http://www.november.org/drugwarvigil.html or call the November Coalition at (509) 684-1550.
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 14, Philadelphia, PA, "US Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow?", one day symposium sponsored by the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review. Featuring Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke with panelists Eric Sterling, US District Judge Robert Sweet, Marc Mauer and others. For further information, contact Steven Kronenberg at [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 or e-mail [email protected]
October 21, Honolulu, HI, 8:00am-5:00pm, "Hawaii's Prison Crisis: Throwing Away the Next Generation." All day forum sponsored by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Community Alliance on Prisons, at the Central Union Church. For further information, call (808) 988-4368.
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.
April 1-5, 2001, New Delhi, India, 12th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Coalition, for information visit http://ihrc-india2001.org on the web, e-mail [email protected], call 91-11-6237417-18, fax 91-11-6217493 or write to Showtime Events Pvt. Ltd., S-567, Greater Kailash - II, New Delhi 110 048, India.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
An international schism is growing over the issues of prohibition and the war on drugs. On the one hand is a U.S. political establishment bent on avoiding a serious dialogue on drug policy at all costs -- those costs being borne by taxpayers and people of all walks of life victimized by the drug war in ways both seen and hidden. This does not apply to every politician, but is the firm consensus of the leadership of both major parties.
On the other is a host of nations talking substantive change, and some of them actually doing something about it. This week's news contains some stunning examples. As the newly-formed Interparliamentary Forum on the Americas prepares to meet, a Colombian congressman has called for discussion of drug legalization to be placed on the agenda. The vast profits of the black market drug trade, says Julio Angel Restrepo, has placed his country in a state of warfare for the past two decades.
Over in the Caribbean, the Jamaican prime minister's own government is launching a commission to study decriminalization of marijuana. Driving the calls for reform are the island's church and businesses leaders. In the Pacific, New Zealand's parliament is also undertaking a comprehensive examination of the decriminalization question. The Guam Supreme Court has taken action, ruling that marijuana use for religious reasons be permitted.
Coming back into the news was a call issued last spring by the International Association of Chiefs of Police -- leaders of a notoriously defensive profession -- for a commission to study problems in the U.S. criminal justice system, including "highly publicized incidents of use of force, racial profiling, corruption, and instances of unethical behavior of police officers and executives."
All this follows a summer in which mainstream political leaders and advocates joined in two "Shadow Conventions" condeming the "failed drug war," among other issues. And all this comes at a time when third parties, while still small, are growing in strength and adding refreshing new perspectives to this and other issues -- like the Libertarians, who want to legalize all drugs, and the Greens, who don't go nearly as far but are calling for significant changes nonetheless.
All these calls for debate and dialogue render the silence of the establishment louder and louder. One major candidate, challenged by a reporter, supports the criminal justice commission -- but still refuses to say whether he, as a youth, used the drugs that as governor he's fought to incarcerate today's youth for using. The other acknowledges his past drug use -- well, some of it, anyway -- but won't support a commission at this time.
A commission called for by the leaders of law enforcement to address problems that threaten the credibility of the system, the integrity of our government and the safety and well being of all Americans. A no-brainer, really.
Why won't they talk about these problems?
An ad run a few years back by the Drug Policy Foundation warned, "[t]he most dangerous drug in America is silence." America's leaders are more addicted to this drug than any junkie is to any drug purchased on the streets of any city. The louder and more frequently come the calls for change, the deeper grows their denial.
At least in public. But never doubt that they are talking about it in private, that they know they have a problem and that they're scared of this new wave in politics, and yes, are scared of this movement and what it is becoming -- are scared of the day when an ideology they've espoused unflinchingly in their public lives is revealed as intellectually bankrupt and morally corrupt.
The day the silence becomes unsustainable.
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