(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #153, 10/2/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
As US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright jetted around Latin America this summer drumming up support for the US war effort in Colombia, she stopped off in Bolivia to praise former dictator and current president Hugo Banzer's efforts to wipe out coca cultivation in the landlocked Andean nation. After all, Banzer's "Plan Dignity" had, with significant American financial assistance, greatly reduced Bolivian coca cultivation, dropping Bolivia, once the world's largest coca producer, into third place behind neighboring Colombia and Peru.
Under pressure from the US and eager to gain certification as a country cooperating in the US drug war, Banzer put together a brutally effective coca eradication program. Banzer and Albright may be pleased with the results, but that sentiment is not shared by the hundreds of thousands of Bolivian "cocaleros," as the coca-growing peasants are known.
Organized in the Six Federations of the Tropico and led by left-wing member of parliament Evo Morales, the cocaleros have for years opposed government efforts to destroy their crops. Now, already impoverished and infuriated by Banzer's program, the cocaleros are in open revolt against the government's "zero option coca" program and its plans to build three military bases with US assistance in the Chapare, the country's coca heartland.
On 8/24, the Six Federations petitioned the government to open a dialogue on nine points, including long-promised alternative development assistance, a human rights review, and no building of military bases in the region, which the petition said "represent a violation of national sovereignty and are the focus of foreign intervention in the name of the War on Drugs."
The Banzer government did not reply, nor did it respond to entreaties from the Catholic Church and human rights organizations to talk with the cocaleros.
According to the Bolivian government's own figures, the poverty rate among cocaleros in the Chapare, has risen to almost 95%. And local human rights organizations say the coca-eradication campaign, designed to pacify the gringos, has resulted in a brutal, heavy-handed crackdown with thousands of arrests and numerous human rights violations.
"The Chapare has been militarized. Homes are illegally searched; people are being illegally detained and tortured," a representative of the Permanent Commission on Human Rights told a Dallas Morning News reporter in late August.
It has only gotten worse since then. In actions beginning 9/18 and still ongoing, thousands of cocaleros have blocked roughly 200 miles of the country's main east-west highway and clashed repeatedly with troops on the highway and in several towns in the region. At latest report, civilian wounded were estimated at over 120, including 5 deaths in La Paz department and 7 in Cochabamba department, which includes the Chapare. Human rights observers have charged that indiscriminate military use of force in Vinto, near Cochabamba city, caused one death and 29 injuries on 9/30.
On 9/21, according to an Agence France-Presse report (the US media has been almost uniformly silent), hundreds of soldiers and police fought a pitched battle with club-wielding, rock-throwing cocaleros at Villa Tunari, one of the Chapare's larger towns. Soldiers temporarily regained control of the town, but peasants continue to reinstall roadblocks on the highway as fast as the military can clear them.
Human rights observers in Villa Tunari report that troops used live ammunition against the protesters on the 21st, leaving one dead and 12 wounded. An additional 20 persons were arrested, but only seven showed up at local jails, leaving 13 "disappeared."
By early last week, according to press and human rights groups reports, the toll of dead and wounded continued to climb, Villa Tunari remained in the hands of the cocaleros, an estimated 3000 vehicles were stuck on the main highway, and the government estimated economic losses in the Chapare alone at $20 million.
In the wake of violence by the armed forces, the Six Federations have broken off talks with the government and have called for Banzer to resign. In so doing, they join with broad sectors of Bolivian society, from teachers and factory workers to the national peasants' union and opposition political parties, all of which are also engaging in strikes, blockades, and other actions that have disrupted the country for the past two weeks.
Although Banzer is facing the worse crisis of his presidency, the United States stands by him. The Washington Post quoted a "senior State Department official" as saying, "We have full confidence President Banzer and his government will get through this."
The unnamed official didn't think the situation in Bolivia "was all that terrible," and added about the cocaleros, "We cannot forget that what they are doing is illegal."
By 9/29, as the strife entered its third week, the death toll climbed into the double digits, and Banzer remained intransigent on the cocalero's key demands, the US felt impelled to restate its support for the regime. Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesmen spelled out the official line.
"The United States and the international community fully support Bolivian President Banzer's Plan Dignidad to rid the country of illegal coca," said Boucher. "The United States also provides in excess of $40 million annually in counternarcotics assistance for Bolivia, and an additional $110 million is earmarked for this purpose out of the recent supplemental appropriation for Colombia and the region."
As for the cocaleros, said Boucher, "we believe both the demands and violent tactics of the coca growers are destructive to Bolivia's national interests."
Boucher did not comment on deaths at the hands of the military, nor have US officials commented on the licit coca industry and the cocaleros demand for a minimum amount of legal coca cultivation per family, half a hectare, already rejected by the Bolivian government.
Mallku, the leader of the CSUTCB, a federation of Bolivian peasants, transport drivers, market vendors, rural teachers and colonos, was interviewed on Bolivian television on Monday night for an hour. He explained that the main demands are a revamping of the land ownership law, withdrawal of the water and water export laws and respect for coca, a basic religious and social instrument in Bolivian indigenous culture.
In 1986, US military forces entered Bolivia in a short-lived effort to eradicate coca. Currently, Bolivia is the second largest recipient of anti-drug aid under the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia.
Visit http://www.narconews.com/pressbriefing.html for the most up-to-date English language coverage of events in Bolivia, including translations of local and international press. Visit the Andean Information Network at http://www.scbbs-bo.com/ain/ for extensive information on the crisis in the Chapare and the consequences of the US-led war on drugs in Bolivia.
The nation's highest court has begun its fall session, to include several cases with drug law enforcement and policy implications. All involve questions revolving around the Fourth Amendment's protections against unlawful search and seizures.
In Kyllo v. United States, the Supreme Court will consider whether the police use of thermal imaging devices to detect indoor marijuana grow operations constitutes a search that would require a warrant.
Because indoor marijuana grow operations typically use high-intensity lights which generate considerable heat, thermal searches are an increasingly popular tool for police seeking to ferret out such activities. Defendants have frequently challenged the use of thermal imaging as unconstitutional searches, but the lower courts have been divided on the practice.
Danny Lee Kyllo, an Oregon resident, was convicted of growing marijuana after police used a thermal imager to scan his residence and subsequently used "a suggestive heat pattern" as evidence to obtain a search warrant. The thermal search was not random; Kyllo's wife had been arrested on a drug charge and police suspected the couple was involved in a marijuana growing conspiracy.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Kyllo argues that his case "raises the fundamental question of whether the Fourth Amendment's guarantee of personal security in one's home must yield to scientific advances that render our traditional barriers of privacy obsolete."
In rejecting an earlier appeal, the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals held that the use of thermal imaging did not constitute a search because the device "intruded into nothing" and did not violate a reasonable expectation of privacy. Similarly, in urging the Supreme Court not to review the case, the Justice Department argued that using thermal imagers "did not intrude on any expectation of privacy that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable."
In City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, for which oral arguments will be heard Tuesday, Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure are again at issue. That case grew out of an arrest made after Indianapolis police set up a drug interdiction checkpoint on a city street and used drug-sniffing dogs to check stopped vehicles.
In the checkpoint program, which began in 1998, police pulled over a predetermined number of cars and asked drivers for their licenses and registration papers while drug-sniffing dogs walked around the stopped vehicles. Police conducted six roadblocks in high crime areas, stopping 1,161 vehicles and arresting 104 people, 55 of them on drug charges.
Indianapolis residents James Edmond and Joell Palmer, filed suit against the city, saying the police tactics were unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit US Court of Appeals agreed. In their opinion, the judges noted that the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints and border roadblocks to detect illegal aliens, but argued that those were instances of "regulatory" controls. The Indianapolis roadblocks were different, said the court of appeals, because "the city concedes that its proximate goal is to catch drug offenders in the hope of incapacitating them, and deterring others, by criminal prosecution." For such crime suppression goals, said the court, probable cause must be shown.
"This is a significant case, one that will define a city's power to conduct random searches of vehicles whenever it perceives it has a problem," Kenneth Falk, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union lawyer arguing the case, told the Associated Press.
He added that a ruling that allows such searches for drugs also could allow random stops to find people who fail to make child-support payments or people who have not paid traffic fines.
Although the city has since stopped the practice, Gary Secrest, a lawyer for the city, told the AP the city filed the appeal "to keep open all options for detecting and arresting people who use or sell illegal drugs."
And in yet another Fourth Amendment case, on Wednesday the court will hear oral arguments in Ferguson v. City of Charleston, a case that has inflamed passions for nearly a decade. In the middle of the crack baby hysteria of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Medical University of South Carolina, which served as Charleston's municipal hospital, made a practice of performing drug tests on the urine of unsuspecting pregnant women and turning them over to the police.
The claims about a crack baby epidemic and that crack cocaine was responsible for a variety of pathological conditions in newborns have not withstood sustained scientific scrutiny. For an overview of the research, see the Lindesmith Center's research brief at http://www.lindesmith.org/cites_sources/brief2.html.
Some 30 poor women, 28 of them black, were arrested while pregnant or immediately after giving birth and charged with distributing cocaine to a minor. Some were literally dragged to jail in their nightgowns, still bleeding from childbirth. In appealing their convictions, ten of the women argue that the hospital's policy violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.
City officials counter that the program met a "special government needs" exception to the Fourth Amendment because of the health problems and costs they associated with maternal cocaine use. The program was ended in 1993 when its legality came under challenge.
The 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Richmond agreed with the city, ruling that the testing was necessary and effective, and that it intruded only minimally on the mothers' privacy. That court found that because taking a urine sample is a normal part of medical care for pregnant women, any infringement on their rights was negligible.
The women's lawyers disagree. In their appeal to the Supreme Court, they argue that the government must show a search is not driven by law enforcement priorities if a warrantless search is to be allowed. Furthermore, they say, the 4th Circuit's reasoning would allow the government to conduct warrantless searches as long as it had a health or safety reason, a rule so broad the Fourth Amendment would be effectively gutted.
In their appeal, the women's lawyers wrote that the women "entered the care of the hospital as free citizens. They were assured by the hospital that their medical records would be treated as confidential."
Priscilla Smith of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Law & Policy, one of the lawyers representing the women, told USA Today, "This deceptive scheme strikes at the core of the physician-patient bond, undermining the trust and confidence."
The appeal has garnered support from the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as more than twenty other public health, civil liberties, and drug policy reform organizations. All have filed on joined in briefs to the Supreme Court urging that the convictions be overturned.
The Supreme Court will issue its rulings on these cases next spring.
(news release from The Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation)
More than 100 physicians, health care professionals and medical ethicists recently sent a letter to US Surgeon General David Satcher urging him to take a stance on the policy at issue in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Ferguson v. City of Charleston. Signatories fear the outcome of the case could jeopardize the health of pregnant women and their families by turning doctors and other health care providers into agents of law enforcement.
The case concerns a 1989 policy that called for the Medical University Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina to work in collaboration with the police and prosecutor's office to search certain pregnant women and new mothers for evidence of cocaine use. Those who tested positive were arrested -- some shackled to their hospital beds and still bleeding from childbirth. The policy was carried out almost exclusively against African Americans.
Treatment, added belatedly to the policy, was administered by individuals without experience in treating pregnant women or new mothers, and without the services proven effective in such cases.
"Threat-based approaches have been shown to deter pregnant and parenting women not from using drugs, but from seeking health care," says the letter. "In short, the Charleston policy undermines rather than advances the interest in maternal, fetal, and child health."
Signatories were from a variety of individuals from prominent hospitals, medical schools and health organizations nationwide, including: American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, South Carolina Nurses Association, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Yale School of Nursing, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Beth Israel Medical Center and drSpock.com.
"Police and politicians are in no position to make medical decisions, just like doctors are in no position to assist in making arrests," said Robert G. Newman, MD, President of Continuum Health Partners in New York and a signatory of the letter to Dr. Satcher. "Nobody is saying that pregnant women should use drugs -- or alcohol or tobacco for that matter. But if they do, the worst thing for the baby is to treat these fundamental health issues as criminal justice matters."
The Ferguson case, being argued by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, questions whether the pregnant womens' Fourth Amendment rights were violated when their urine was tested for drugs without their knowledge and the results shared with the police. To search for evidence of a crime, the defendants claim the Charleston program met a "special need" to protect the baby's health, and was thereby exempt from the warrant requirement.
"There is nothing worse than knowing your doctor is legally allowed -- even obligated -- to violate your right to privacy," said Dan Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs at The Lindesmith Center -- Drug Policy Foundation, who filed an Amicus brief in the case. "The War on Drugs is no excuse to supercede both medical needs and the Constitution."
Organizations who signed onto amicus briefs condemning the Hospital's policy include the American Medical Association, American Medical Women's Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Civil Liberties Union, National Partnership for Women & Families, American Public Health Association, Physicians for Human Rights and the South Carolina Medical Association.
This case is also consistent with the tendency of the War on Drugs to disproportionately target minorities. Of the 30 women who were arrested under the Charleston policy, 29 were African American. The one patient who was not African American was described in hospital records as "liv[ing] with her boyfriend who is a Negro."
"The real threat to pregnant womens' health is inadequate medical care, discrimination and poverty," said Lynn Paltrow, Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, who filed the case. "The Medical University hospital joined forces with the police instead of doing what a hospital is supposed to do --- provide effective medical treatment -- not arrest the patients the hospital has failed."
(Visit http://www.lindesmith.org/about_tlc/ferguson_intro.html for the text of the sign-on letter and additional information.)
Back in June, the Week Online reported on threats by disgruntled state prosecutors on the Texas border to quit prosecuting drug cases developed by federal agents because the cases drained the resources of poor border counties (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/140.html#texasglimmers). Later in the summer, federal officials responded with $12 million Southwest Border Local Assistance Initiative, which would reimburse the counties for the costs they accrued prosecuting the drug cases. That move ended talk of a border revolt among the prosecutors.
But the funds have yet to reach the prosecutors. Instead, they have been tied up in a dispute among prosecutors, lawmakers, and federal officials over whether they can be used to defer jail costs, which the DAs say account for the majority of their expenses.
Now, with the $12 million yet to be seen, the prosecutors are again vowing to quit prosecuting federal drug cases effective October 1st and federal prosecutors are preparing for an avalanche of small-time (less than 100 pounds of marijuana) drug cases, the San Antonio Express News has reported.
For El Paso DA Jaime Esparza "The bottom line is the bottom line. It's too expensive to subsidize the federal government by doing what is clearly theirs to do."
Esparza told the Express News the 60 prosecutors in his office try about 500 federal drug cases each year, at a cost to local taxpayers of $8 million.
Hidalgo County DA Rene Guerra told the paper that his office prosecuted 200 federal cases a year and complained that the booming federal law enforcement presence on the border creates too much work for his office. "This is interfering with the efficient prosecution of state cases," he said.
All told, six of eight border DAs in Texas are refusing to prosecute after October 1st. Webb and Zapata County DA Joe Rubio, however, is not. He started refusing federal cases in 1997, but reached an independent agreement with the federal government. Webb County now receives $1 million annually to pay for jailing small-time drug violators.
"Instead of having to spend annually on incarceration and prosecution, we're making a million dollars," Rubio gloated. "There's no federal law saying we have to take these cases."
Hard-pressed federal prosecutors are talking tough, but adjusting their strategies. A spokesman for Bill Blagg, US Attorney for the Western District of Texas told the El Paso Times, "No one is going to get a free walk; we'll do what we have to do."
The same day, Blagg announced that his prosecutors will charge small drug offenses as misdemeanors.
After a run of successes, drug reformers continue to take advantage of the initiative and referendum process to bring the issue directly to the voters. This fall, the movement to loosen marijuana laws is flourishing in the West, while some of the movement's bigger guns are moving on to broader challenges to the war on drugs.
The initiative and referendum route to political change, where citizens initiate a petition drive to place a proposed change on the ballot, has proven especially popular with drug reformers facing entrenched and unresponsive elected officials. The Initiative and Referendum Institute (http://www.iandrinstitute.org), a non-profit organization devoted to analyzing the impact of initiatives on the political process, this year named drug policy as its number two hot issue, second only to animal rights (!) and ahead of such perennial hot-button initiative issues as taxes, gun control, and health care reform.
Drug policy-related initiatives this year fall into four broad categories: medical marijuana, legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, sentencing reform, and asset forfeiture reform.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Seven states and the District of Columbia have already approved medical marijuana through the initiative process, but despite an unbroken record of electoral victories there are only two medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot this year, in Colorado (Amendment 20) and Nevada (Question 9). In Nevada, voters approved medical marijuana in 1998, but must go back to the ballot for a second round approval. The campaigns in both states received funding and technical support from the 800-pound gorilla of the medical marijuana movement, Americans for Medical Rights (AMR).
The influence of AMR is evidenced by the carefully crafted, narrowly drawn wording of the initiatives, typical of AMR-supported efforts, but criticized by some reformers as too restrictive. Both initiatives call for a low specified number of plants or quantity of marijuana and limit approved uses of the herb to certain specified illnesses or symptoms.
AMR is funded by a troika of wealthy backers -- financier George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling -- and Soros alone has given more than $900,000 this year to finance drug reform efforts on the ballot in California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, and Nevada, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Still, AMR is retrenching slightly, spokesperson Gina Pesulima told DRCNet.
"We are only involved in the Colorado and Nevada initiatives this year," she said. "We don't have the money to be everywhere and we're concentrating on consolidating our victories in states where we have already won at the ballot, such as Maine, but where actually delivering marijuana to the patients remains problematic."
As the slew of recent court battles over medical marijuana delivery in California makes clear, AMR has its work cut out for it.
According to recent polls, the initiatives should pass easily in both states. A mid-September poll conducted by the Rocky Mountain News and Denver's TV News 4 showed the Colorado measure leading 71% to 23%. A Las Vegas Sun poll, also taken in mid-September, indicated that the Nevada measure was also comfortably ahead, 63% to 28%.
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: Voters in Alaska, having already passed a medical marijuana initiative and having experienced decriminalization from 1975 to 1990, will have the opportunity to vote for total legalization in November. Ballot Measure #5 would do away with civil and criminal penalties for persons 18 years or older who use marijuana, or other hemp products.
The groundbreaking initiative, co-sponsored by Alaskans for Privacy, Free Hemp in Alaska, and Hemp 2000, not only legalizes the consumption, possessions, growth, and distribution of marijuana for adults, it also grants amnesties to person previously convicted of marijuana crimes, and establishes a panel to study the question of reparations for those harmed by marijuana prohibition.
In an early sign of popular support, campaign organizers garnered 40,000 signatures for their petitions, nearly twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. According to a Free Hemp spokesman, popular support remains strong with some 58% telling independent pollsters they will support the initiative, up slightly from early August figures in Free Hemp's own polls. But another late poll, from Anchorage-based Dittman Research, has the measure failing.
The Alaska effort has been grass roots, with no funding from AMR, and has instead relied on donations, t-shirt sales, bumperstickers, "you name it," a Free Hemp volunteer told DRCNet.
"We've been on the road all summer," he said, "and in Alaska summer is the only time people get out. We've hit every major event, every fair, every music festival."
"We are winning and we will win. Call your bookie in Vegas and put some money on it because it's going to happen," he predicted.
"It's not about marijuana, or medical marijuana, or confiscating people's property, it's about common sense and justice. We want a free and just country."
Alaska voters are not the only ones contemplating legalized marijuana; in California's Mendocino County, Measure G would allow adults to grow 25 plants apiece, but not for sale. The measure further directs the county sheriff and prosecutor to make marijuana crimes their last priority and directs county officials ro seek an end to state and federal marijuana laws.
Mendocino County is part of California's "Emerald Triangle," the heart of Northern California's billion dollar marijuana industry. The measure has no organized opposition.
SENTENCING AND ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM: The most closely watched of this year's drug policy initiatives is California's Proposition 36, which, in a frontal attack on the imprisonment binge, would require those convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses for the first or second time be sent to rehabilitation programs instead of state prison.
Sponsored by Campaign for New Drug Policies (http://www.drugreform.org), another face of the AMR drug reform goliath, Prop. 36 has generated intense opposition among California's powerful police and prison guards' unions and provoked fierce editorial page battles across the state.
Still, with the office of the California Legislative Analyst reporting that the proposition would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the medium-term and divert 25,000 drug offenders into treatment annually, the measure maintains a significant but shrinking lead in the polls.
The latest Field Poll, conducted at the end of August found 55% supporting the measure and 27% opposed. The June Field Poll had the measure passing 64% to 20%.
CSDP's Scott Ehlers is unflustered. "The other side has a built-in advantage with its network of opposition groups. In every county, there are sheriffs, prosecutors, drug court workers who are organized," Ehlers told DRCNet.
"But we've actually gained ground, I think, since that poll; we've been on the offensive," he said.
The well-funded CNDP campaign most recently fought back with ads in the Hollywood Reporter attacking actor Martin Sheen, chairman of a "vote no" campaign, for his repressive stance.
And, said Ehlers, CNDP recently brought on board Gretchen Burns Bergman of Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing (PATH) to chair a statewide campaign on behalf of the initiative.
"Gretchen's story contrasts nicely with Martin Sheen's," Ehlers pointed out. "Current policy means treatment for rich people, while poor people go to jail instead. Charlie Sheen went to treatment, Gretchen's son went to prison."
Massachusetts' Question 8, also well-funded by the AMR/CNDP troika, is virtually identical to California's Proposition 36. In addition to diverting nonviolent drug offenders from jail into treatment, the measure includes asset forfeiture reforms.
Question 8 asks Massachusetts voters to direct forfeited proceeds to a drug treatment trust fund and would require the civil equivalent of a guilty verdict before allowing property to be forfeited, instead of an easier-to-obtain probable cause ruling.
Rob Stewart, the initiative campaign's communications director, explained to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that asset forfeiture reform was a matter of fundamental fairness.
"Now the law puts the burden on the property owner to prove his property is innocent," Stewart said. "It's the only example I know of when someone's guilty until proven innocent."
And, he added, allowing the police to keep seized property only "encourages seizing instead of policing."
Reformers in Oregon (Ballot Measure 3) and Utah (Initiative B) are putting asset forfeiture alone on the ballot. The measures, nearly identical and both receiving funding from George Soros, will prohibit asset forfeitures unless the owner of the property is first convicted of a crime involving the seized property.
The measures will also hold the government to stricter standards of proof that the property was the proceeds of or used to commit a crime. In Utah, profits from seized assets will be deposited in the school fund, while in Oregon law enforcement agencies would be restricted to claiming no more than 25% of seized assets.
The Utah measure, also known as the Utah Property Protection Act, has gained the support of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, but unsurprisingly is opposed by police and prosecutors' groups. Both major party gubernatorial and attorney general candidates oppose the measure. No polling numbers are available.
In several other states, drug reform initiatives failed to make the ballot. In Arizona, a medical marijuana initiative lost steam after AMR and local supporters abandoned it because of "flawed" language. Opponents of the measure claimed that its wording allowed people certified to use medical marijuana to avoid prosecution for any drug law violation.
Local drug attorney Michael Walz attempted to move forward anyway, but his group, Plants Are Medicine could not gather enough valid signatures on their petitions to qualify. Walz told the Arizona Daily Star they will be back in 2002 -- and without the ambiguous wording.
In Oregon, an initiative that would have had recreational marijuana sold through state liquor stores failed to get enough signatures to make the ballot, and Michigan saw both a state-wide decriminalization initiative and an Ann Arbor medical marijuana initiative fail, though for different reasons. The state-wide grassroots effort, led by Saginaw attorney and NORML state coordinator Gregory C. Schmid, chronically low on funds, could gather only half the necessary 300,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Schmid, too, vows to return. "With a little luck and $75,000, we should be able to successfully pull it off" in 2002, he told the Saginaw News.
Ann Arbor Libertarians, who spearheaded the medical marijuana measure in that university town, fell victim to an interim city clerk who gave them the wrong deadline for filing their petitions.
Libertarians filed nearly 6,000 signatures on August 15th, almost 1700 more than necessary, but the correct filing date was August 9th, and a county circuit court judge ruled that the Libertarian Party was responsible for knowing the correct deadline.
If passed, the initiative would have been the first local medical marijuana ordinance. In one bit of good news, the judge ordered the city of Ann Arbor to return the petitions to the Libertarians, who say they will submit them, along with more, well ahead of next year's deadline.
In Florida, Floridians for Medical Rights began a medical marijuana initiative, but despite support polled at above 60%, failed to make the ballot. Reformers there, however, have four years from the beginning of their drive and are aiming at 2002.
Republican Congressman John Mica, representing Florida's 7th District, is an inveterate drug war zealot. Nearly every week, he strides to the House podium to deliver another broadside in his prohibitionist crusade, attacking Panama or Mexico, sounding the tocsin about "club drugs," or vowing eternal war against reformers. No matter that he often speaks to an empty chamber; his words are preserved for posterity by House cameras, the Congressional Record, and on his House web site (http://www.house.gov/mica/drugspeeches.htm).
Now, Mica has made a shocking claim calculated to gain public and media attention and is broadcasting it onto the Internet via the web site of of the committee he chairs, the House Committee for Government Reform's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources (http://www.house.gov/reform/cj/).
"Nations [sic] Drug Deaths Now Exceed Murders," blares the link that takes the reader to Mica's September 22nd press release, which goes on to quote Mica as saying:
"Recent figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that drug induced deaths soared to a record 16,926 people in 1998. The murder rate, as reported by the FBI, is 16,914. Considering the fact that nearly half the murders are drug related, we have a national catastrophe that is being ignored."
The congressman is mistaken. Doug McVay, a research analyst with Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org) was first to spot Mica's jimmying of the numbers, and he did so by going right to the source, the Centers for Disease Control's National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 48, No. 11, published July 24, 2000. (The report is available online at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/releases/00news/finaldeath98.htm -- once at that page, click on "view/download PDF").
On page 5, Table B, the report lists the top 15 causes of death in the US for 1998. Homicide is listed as number 13. Drug-induced deaths are not listed in the top 15.
The report lists 18,272 deaths from homicide and legal intervention (p. 53, Table 10) and 16,926 deaths from drug-induced causes (Table 20).
As the report notes, "The category 'drug-induced causes' includes not only deaths from dependent and nondependent use of drugs (legal and illegal use), but also poisoning from medically prescribed and other drugs. It excludes accidents, homicides, and other causes indirectly related to drug use. Also excluded are newborn deaths due to mother's drug use."
As McVay noted in his critique, posted on a reform movement listserv, some perspective may be added by noting that the number of alcohol-induced deaths in 1998 was 19,515. This number has the same exclusions as the drug death category. By way of comparison, the 1998 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) figures on drug deaths provide a figure of 10,123. The DAWN data, consisting of reports from medical examiners in 144 metropolitan areas is admittedly incomplete, but it is safe to assume the majority of drug deaths are reported there. Those figures include deaths not only from illicit drugs, but also prescription and non-prescription drugs.
Clearly, Mica is wrong about drug-induced deaths exceeding murders. But he also claimed that "nearly half the murders are drug related." Oops, wrong again.
Citing the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 1998, the year for which Mica claimed there were 16,914 murders, McVay notes that murders committed by persons involved in drug law violations or "brawls due to the influence of narcotics" totaled 795. The largest categories for murder causes were "other arguments" and "unknown."
Or perhaps Mica meant to say nearly half the murders are alcohol related. That would have been closer to the truth. McVay lets the US Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics make the point: "Convicted murderers in State prisons reported that alcohol was a factor in about half the murders they committed."
It seems there isn't too much left of Rep. Mica's argument.
Reuters reported Friday that Colombia's largest guerrilla force, the 17,000-member Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), has warned that US soldiers will be "military targets" if they participate in any front-line combat role in that country's decades-long civil war.
"The FARC declares United States soldiers a military target," read the headline of a statement distributed on the Internet by the FARC.
The FARC, peasant-based leftist revolutionaries, have been in revolt against the central government since 1964. They currently control roughly 40% of Colombian territory, including vast tracts where peasants grow coca. The US-sponsored Plan Colombia, on which US taxpayers have just made an initial investment of $1.3 billion, is designed to retake the coca-growing regions.
The US has said that it does not plan a combat role for American troops, but the Colombian aid package allows for as many as 500 US military advisors, and that limit can be waived in the event of "imminent involvement" in hostilities. Other US military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel are also involved in the muddied anti-drug/anti-guerrilla conflict. Five US military personnel died last summer when the plane they were using to overfly FARC territory crashed for unknown reasons.
"All Colombian or foreign military personnel in combat zones will be a military target of the FARC," said rebel commander Andres Paris in the statement.
"At the moment FARC guerrillas do not wish to reveal if there are concrete plans to attack United States military bases in the country," said Paris, but several bases where US soldiers are stationed are "very close to regions where guerrillas recently staged intense combat that caused government forces important casualties."
The FARC has stepped up its attacks on Colombia police and military forces since the US aid package was passed two months ago, with a combat death toll in the hundreds since then.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has resoundingly defeated a motion by Supervisor Amos Brown that would have allowed police to confiscate the cars of drug buyers and johns, even if they were never later convicted of a crime.
Brown hoped to follow the example of cross-bay neighbor Oakland, which has such a law on the books. That law is under challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has lost at the superior court and appeals court levels, but has appealed to the Supreme Court. It had also vowed to sue San Francisco if it approved Brown's measure.
The bill's backers argued that it would be a useful tool in cracking down on rampant drug dealing and prostitution in San Francisco neighborhoods.
But opponents cited due process and fairness concerns. Supervisor Leslie Katz told the San Francisco Examiner, "I have heard in countless communities the stories of mothers having to walk their kids to school through a gauntlet of dealers, prostitutes, and their customers... Unfortunately, this vehicle seizure ordinance is just not a method we should embrace."
"In this ordinance," Katz continued, "the forfeiting of vehicles runs the risk of forfeiting those rights we hold dear, and that is my primary concern."
Katz' position prevailed, 8-3.
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation seeks your help in its outreach effort to clergy around the country, asking them to sign a letter calling on President Clinton to grant clemency to low-level, nonviolent, Federal drug offenders. Visit http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/ to learn more about this effort, and download a copy of the statement to show to clergy in your community. Contact Chad Thevenot at (202) 312-2015 or [email protected] for additional information.
In a related effort, the November Coalition is turning in its first batch of petitions in the Jubilee Justice campaign during a visit to Washington the middle of this month. Signature gathering will continue through the end of this year, but November needs what you have now. Visit http://www.jubileejustice.org for further information.
Salon Scoop: -- an LA police investigator charges that LA police chief Bernard Parks had knowledge of the extensive corruption at the Rampart division but discouraged further investigation and hid evidence from prosecutors. Visit http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/09/27/rampart/ to read this potentially explosive expose.
Jim Crow, the Sequel: Arianna Huffington blasts mandatory minimums, felony disenfranchisement and the imprisonment binge in a column publish last Thursday. Visit http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/files/092800.html to read this column.
The Santa Cruz needle exchange program is hiring for two positions:
PROGRAM DIRECTOR: A regular, full-time, salaried position with benefits, including health, dental, vision, paid vacation and sick leave. The Program Director is responsible for administering SCNEP/HIVEPP's volunteer program, coordinating program operations and coordinating specific administrative and special projects to ensure the efficient and effective day-to-day operations of the needle exchange program. Minimum 2 to 5 years' administrative and supervisory experience; two years direct experience with needle exchange operations preferred; proficiency in Microsoft Office; experience working with diverse communities. Salary $25,000-$38,000, depending on experience. Submit resume and cover letter explaining experience to SCNEP - Program Director Position, P.O. Box 661, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, fax to SCNEP - attn: Program Director Position, (831) 429-4215 or email [email protected]. No phone calls please, applications must be received by October 13, 2000, 5:00pm.
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE: A regular, full-time, salaried position with benefits, including health, dental, vision, paid vacation and sick leave. The Director of Finance provides administrative and contract maintenance and development support to HIV Education & Prevention Project (HIVEPP) with particular focus on fiscal management, supervises two to four staff and office volunteers, and provides backup to assisting the Executive Director in contract development projects, data entry and compilation, and general clerical support.
Submit resume and cover letter explaining experience to SCNEP - Director of Finance Position, P.O. Box 661, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, fax to SCNEP - attn: Director of Finance Position, (831) 429-4215 or e-mail [email protected]. No phone calls please, applications must be received by September 29, 2000, 5:00pm.
The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program/HIV Education & Prevention Project (SCNEP/ HIVEPP) recognizes the value of having significant representation of people living with HIV infection and AIDS among its staff and volunteers. For this reason SCNEP/HIVEPP strongly encourages applications for employment from people with HIV/AIDS. SCNEP/ HIVEPP provides several health care coverage options including an HMO plan with no pre-existing conditions clause for employees working 25 hours or more per week. All employees with disabilities, including people living with HIV infection, may request reasonable accommodation (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act and California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Act).
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 15, New York, NY, 1:30-3:30pm, "How Drug Courts Threaten Civil Liberties and Undermine the Presumption of Innocence," with Hoover Institute Fellow Dr. Joseph McNamara, former police chief of San Jose and Kansas City. Presentation will focus on the proposed drug court expansion recommended by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye's New York State Commission on Drugs and the Court. At the Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th St. For information contact Polly Cleveland at (212) 873-2982, [email protected], or Judy Wallach at (212) 769-2081, [email protected].
October 16, Washington, DC, 5:30pm, 24th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards, sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies, international award honoring Bolivian grassroots activist Oscar Olivera and domestic award honoring The November Coalition, entertainment provided by singer-songwriter/activist Bruce Cockburn. Reception at the National Geographic Society, Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St., NW, dinner at Madison Hotel, Dolly Madison Room, 15th and M. Event $35, Event and Dinner $150. Call (202) 234-9382 ext. 235 for further information.
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.
Editorials will return next week.
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