(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #157, 10/27/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Tattered Cover, one of the nation's flagship independent bookstores, has been ordered to hand over records of customer book purchases to aid a police drug investigation.
On October 21st, Denver District Court Judge Stephen Phillips lifted a temporary restraining order in place since April that had prevented police from executing a search warrant to get at the records. The police said they wanted to use the records to determine which inhabitants of house raided on a methamphetamine warrant had purchased two books on methamphetamine manufacture.
Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis had fought the warrant from the beginning. "When an individual purchases a book, they do so expecting to have the writer and the reader come together in the privacy of his or her home," said Meskis. "They don't expect it to become a public matter," she told the Denver Post in April, when police first attempted to execute the warrant.
At the time, her attorney, Daniel Recht, told the Post, "The Tattered Cover feels very strongly that its customers have a privacy interest in the First Amendment to not have anybody find out what they are reading. It's very important and has been litigated by libraries, booksellers and individuals that government agencies can not come in without a court order and obtain information on what people are reading."
They were not alone. Some 15 literary and bookseller organizations submitted documents supporting the store's efforts to keep the records private.
After the decision, Meskis called the judge's ruling "chilling" and said she is considering an appeal. She has 15 days.
"A bookstore is a house of ideas," she told the Post after the setback.
"We certainly have the responsibility to protect customers' rights to those ideas, and the right to privacy that goes along with that."
Librarians' and booksellers' organizations and civil libertarians lined up to support Meskis and denounce the ruling.
Judith Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, told the Denver Post drug investigators unfairly are "making the connection between what people read and what they do."
"Our concern is that what people read, what goes into their heads will no longer remain private."
Chris Finan of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) was restrained in his comments. "We're of two minds on the decision," he told DRCNet. "The judge's ruling limited the scope of the warrant to a couple of items, which was good. On the other hand, we continue to believe this will have a chilling effect on the customers of the Tattered Cover."
Finan told DRCNet that Meskis and the ABFFE are pondering whether to appeal. "What we're considering is whether in appealing the bad part of the ruling, we could lose the good part."
Finan added that they would probably use the entire 15-day appeal period to reach their decision.
Sue Armstrong, executive director of the Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was blunt. "Key principles of the right to privacy and freedom of speech have ultimately been compromised by the decision," she told the Post.
The case arose on March 14, when agents of the North Metro Drug Task Force raided an Adams County mobile home. They discovered a meth lab and the two books, "The Construction and Operation of Clandestine Drug Laboratories" by Jack B. Nimble and "Advanced Techniques of Clandestine Psychedelic and Amphetamine Manufacture" by Uncle Fester. Police also found a shipping envelope and invoice from the Tattered Cover. They said they hoped bookstore records would help them pinpoint which of the trailer's residents was the chemist.
According to court documents, a DEA agent with the task force first obtained an administrative subpoena for all information Tattered Cover had on the suspected person, but was thwarted by attorney Recht, who argued that the subpoena was deficient. The task force then asked the Adams County district attorney's office to issue a search warrant for the bookstore records, but was turned down, partially to avoid a public relations fiasco. The task force then turned to the Denver District Attorney, who, unaware of the county DA's rejection, granted their request.
Meskis' attorney strongly criticized the police warrant hunt as "forum shopping" and "abuse of process."
When police armed with the search warrant arrived at the Lower Downtown Tattered Cover in April, owner Meskis fended them off while her attorney contacted the Denver DA and convinced that office to postpone the search until Meskis could challenge it on First Amendment grounds in court. The following week, a Denver judge imposed a temporary restraining order barring the police from executing the warrant.
The case recalls independent counsel Kenneth Starr's 1998 subpoenas directed at two Washington, DC, bookstores as he investigated gift exchanges between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. A federal judge, writing that the state showed "no compelling interest" in that information, quashed the subpoenas.
Denver District Judge Phillips rejected the Lewinsky precedent, however. He said the Tattered Cover case was "dramatically different" because in the Lewinsky case, "The subpoenas were exploratory in nature, and the government was unable to show any need nor any nexus to a criminal event."
In his order, the judge ruled that in this case law enforcement's ability to investigate crimes outweighed First Amendment rights "to receive information and ideas, regardless of social worth."
The Metro North Drug Task Force was not concerned about such legal niceties.
Task force commander Lt. Lori Moriarty told the Denver Post, "If it only takes one or two records from a bookstore to help us eliminate drugs on the street, then so be it. We need all the tools possible to help law enforcement do its job."
The Associated Press's long-time Bolivian correspondent, Peter McFarren, has resigned in the wake of a detailed exposé of his attempts to lobby the Bolivian government on behalf of the Bolivian Hydro-Resources Corporation for a $78 million water project. McFarren will quit effective November 1st.
McFarren, 45, was born in Bolivia and holds dual US citizenship. He has been the AP's man in Bolivia since 1983.
Water, as McFarren must know, is an especially sensitive issue in Bolivia these days. In April, Bolivian government efforts to privatize the water utilities provoked a mass insurrection. The Banzer regime had to resort to a state of emergency before backing away from the water plan. Protestors organized around the water fight also joined the nationwide wave of strikes, demonstrations, and blockades that shook the country in recent weeks.
As reported by Narco News' Al Giordano, who broke the story on his web site (http://www.narconews.com/mcfarrenstory1.html) on October 6th, the lobbying effort was only the most blatant example of McFarren's journalistic conflicts of interest and biased reporting. In the first of two reports on McFarren by Narco News, Giordano wrote that McFarren "is so deeply in the tank with an interlocking set of governmental and business interests that his coverage... cannot possibly be considered fair or impartial."
Giordano described the AP reporter as "a near mythical player in the highest levels of Bolivian society. It is not unusual for him to be the subject of press coverage himself as he rubs elbows socially with the Divine Caste of La Paz."
The Narco News series offers specific examples of McFarren's "promotional" work for the Bolivian government. In e-mail correspondence with DRCNet, Giordano singled out McFarren's smiley-face dispatches from the country's conflicted coca-growing regions.
"As recently as January and April of this year," Giordano told DRCNet, "McFarren tried to assure the world that drug interdiction was working, that the peasants were happy to grow bananas instead of coca, that the drug war had been won."
Those dispatches, which touted the success of Banzer's US-backed coca-eradication scheme, came only a few months before angry coca-growing peasants brought the country to a standstill. They were picked up by newspapers in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Little Rock, among others, and ran under headlines such as "Bolivian Coca Farmers are Going Bananas -- And Straight."
For Giordano, McFarren is representative of a systemic problem with US reporting on Latin America.
"The central office at AP, at the New York Times, at too many US media outlets, wants the news covered from Washington's point of view," he told DRCNet. "If Washington backs a regime, the reporter is expected to get quotes and have access to members of that regime."
"At the same time Bolivia was swept up in revolt, the same thing was happening in Yugoslavia. Compare the two types of press coverage and then try to say there is not a double standard in international reporting," argued Giordano.
American news consumers need not be at the mercy of the major media outlets, Giordano told DRCNet. "Believe less of what is in the commercial mainstream press and look more to alternate sources of information," he suggested. "There are too many people who wait until something appears in the LA Times or Washington Post before they take a story seriously."
McFarren's conflicts of interest are only the first part of this story. The reaction of his employer, the Associated Press, is the other part. When Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR -- http://www.fair.org), a liberal media watchdog group, approached AP, the organization's only response was to say that McFarren would resign November 1st.
According to a FAIR press release from October 23rd, when the group asked whether AP intended to investigate McFarren's conflicts of interest and inform readers and subscribing media outlets of the results, AP spokesman Jack Stokes replied, "We don't usually do that." According to the AP's code of ethics, however, a subscribing media outlet should "report matters regarding itself or its personnel with the same vigor and candor as it would other institutions or individuals." After consulting with FAIR, who picked up the story thanks to Danny Schechter (http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/), Giordano pitched the story to Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. Kurtz ran it on Tuesday (10/24).
A full accounting by the AP would involve not only McFarren's conflicts of interest, but also the failure of AP editors to question stories that fly in the face of longstanding reports of conflict and human rights abuses in Bolivia's eradication policies. Human Rights Watch, for example, has reported on incidents for at least the past five years, and DRCNet has been dealing with this issue for at least three and a half years. DRCNet coverage of this issue predating the recent tumults includes the following:
Giordano was pleased to see the mainstream media respond to and report on the McFarren episode -- or, as he put it, "victories like this threaten my innate pessimism." But he was careful to point out that he only reports the news other people make.
"The real credit for McFarren's downfall belong to the Bolivian social movements who rose up, blockaded, and paralyzed the country for much of September and October. They, more than Narco News, deserve the credit for making McFarren out to be a liar."
Giordano is hopeful for the future of the region: "Watch the social movements in Latin America. As with McFarren, they are about to make liars out of many of these 'parajournalists' -- US correspondents who are paramilitaries with press passes."
Visit http://www.narconews.com for unique updates on the Latin American scene, and visit http://www.egroups.com/group/narconews/ to subscribe to NarcoNews e-mail bulletins.
The political rumblings began after a Conservative conference on October 5th, when the party's hard-line crime spokesperson, Anne Widdicome, announced proposals for on-the-spot fines, a permanent criminal record, and even blood tests for cannabis smokers.
Now, however, Conservatives wish they had turned a blind eye to Widdicome. Within days, London tabloids found eight of her fellow Conservative "shadow cabinet" members who confessed to past marijuana use; one even "enjoyed" it. After three weeks of uproar, her proposal has been shelved by party leaders, her party has been thrown into disarray, and the whole affair has become a boost for Britain's growing legalization movement.
Social service and police organizations, including the prestigious Police Superintendents' Association, immediately attacked Widdicome's plan as draconian, unworkable, and "a backward step."
"I have spent years fighting the drugs trade at Heathrow and on the streets of London and my direct experience has convinced me that legalization, not prohibition, is the only viable option," former Scotland Yard drug squad chief Edward Ellison told Reuters.
Another former police superintendent, Francis Wilkinson of Gwent, seconded that opinion. "Cannabis needs to be moved across to the legal drugs side and leave things like crack cocaine and heroin on the other side... so cannabis is not a gateway through the same suppliers into harder and more dangerous drugs," he told BBC Radio.
The Tories also left an opening for the Liberal Party, the country's third strongest political force. Within days, party leader Charles Kennedy took the occasion of a nationally broadcast interview on ITV to announce that he favored decriminalizing cannabis. Kennedy becomes the first head of a major British party to take such a position.
The Conservative misfire appears to have blown out of the water any attempt at imposing a hard-line approach to cannabis on the estimated six million Britons who have tried it. It has also provoked strong, but hitherto silent voices from within the ranks of the police, the press, and the political class to stand for decriminalization or even outright legalization:
In what in hindsight was a political miscalculation of epic proportions, the Tories let the genie of cannabis decriminalization out of the bottle. But now it is the governing Labor Party of Tony Blair that is feeling the pressure.
Last weekend Blair reiterated his opposition to any change in the cannabis laws, and Home Secretary Jack Straw, the cabinet officer in charge of criminal justice, also remains adamantly opposed. On October 17th, his spokesman told reporters, "The Government has a 10-year anti-drugs plan. We have a report out soon and our policy on cannabis remains the same. It is illegal and a criminal offense."
Straw has, however, only inflamed opponents with arguments seemingly derived from "Reefer Madness."
"The long term effects include a very severe exacerbation of mental illness and also include cancer," he told the Guardian Weekly. "It is reckoned that cannabis is between two and four times more carcinogenic as tobacco."
Those remarks sparked a heated denunciation from Dame Ruth Runciman, who chaired the Police Foundation's investigation into drug law reform last year, and whose March recommendations for decriminalization of cannabis were promptly ignored by the Blair government.
Runciman insisted that cannabis was less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, and used her commission's report as ammunition. "The acute toxicity level of cannabinoids is extremely low; they are very safe drugs and no deaths have been directly attributed to their recreational or therapeutic use," she quoted.
Even as Straw was defending his science, opposition emerged within the cabinet, and Prime Minister Blair seemed to wobble with some offhand remarks on being out of touch.
The Mirror (London) quoted Labor parliamentarian and lawyer Helena Kennedy as supporting cannabis decriminalization. "There are a lot of people in the cabinet who take the same view as myself," she said.
Blair's confused comments came on October 15th, when a BBC Radio 4 interviewer asked whether he would prefer his children to "get drunk" or have "the odd spliff."
Blair replied: "I really would prefer my children to have nothing to do with drugs at all and I think most -- maybe, I don't know, I am wrong in this and other parents feel differently -- but that is how I feel."
In the same interview, Blair downplayed past cannabis use by cabinet members or opposition shadow cabinet members. "I think what is important is not what happened on some university campus years ago in respect of particular ministers or opposition spokesmen."
Blair seems to be feeling the heat, and there is more to come. The House of Commons home affairs select committee has ordered Home Office ministers to testify about their rejection of the Police Foundation report recommending decriminalization.
In responding to Blair's comments, a spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers rejected softening the cannabis laws. "We do not believe there is any need to change the current legal framework," he told the Sunday Times. "We are not persuaded of any need to change matters."
In Great Britain these days, that is an increasingly isolated position.
An out-of-control group of Oakland police officers who called themselves "The Riders" waged their personal war on drugs in an 18-month reign of terror in West Oakland, but now have been blown from the saddle -- ambushed by a rookie cop who could not stomach their "anything goes" methods. The rookie has since left the force.
After a two-month Oakland Police Department internal investigation, Police Chief Richard Word recommended last month that the four officers be fired for numerous acts of brutality, planting evidence, and falsifying police reports. They are currently on paid suspension. The officers are accused of at least a dozen instances of mistreating suspects, including one case in which the victim suffered a broken collarbone and another in which the victim was taken to a remote spot and beaten while handcuffed. Numerous persons arrested by the four accuse the officers of planting drugs on them.
But the fall-out is just beginning. The Alameda County District Attorney's office has dismissed drug charges "in a handful of cases," but local authorities told the San Francisco Chronicle that more could follow. Some convictions could be overturned or the defendants resentenced, they said.
"There is certainly a level of outrage over the prospect of a wrongfully convicted client serving time in a state penitentiary," Assistant Public Defender Ray Keller told the Chronicle.
Keller also complained that the officers not only filed false reports, but committed perjury in court.
"You have cops committing active perjury in a courtroom, and that has not been emphasized," he said. "This may have the biggest effect on the criminal justice system in that juries and judges are being lied to."
Keller said the perjury issue is the primary reason for the dismissed cases. "How do you prove one way or another when you've got demonstrably lying cops?" he asked.
Keller is leading an Alameda County Public Defenders office probe of Riders cases. He told the Chronicle the office has found at least 150 questionable drug arrests linked to the four and that he expected more to follow.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office will announce soon whether criminal charges will be filed against the four. And at the request of Chief Word, the FBI is conducting an investigation to see whether the officers violated suspects' civil rights.
Despite Chief Word's quick response, one long-time local observer of the Oakland police said the allegations indicated broader problems within the department.
"If they didn't hide their actions from a rookie officer, there is significant reason to be concerned that other officers either did know or should have known about these allegations but did not take action," San Francisco-based ACLU attorney John Crew told the San Jose Mercury.
The Riders scandal only adds fuel to a long-simmering dispute over civilian oversight of the Oakland police department. For the last five years, citizens have attempted to gain some control over the department. The ACLU and citizen's groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate of police civilian review board, arguing that city officials illegally negotiated its terms in secret meetings with the police union.
"You shouldn't leave it to the police to police themselves," said Crew.
Meanwhile, however, the California Supreme Court has approved another questionable Oakland drug enforcement tactic. The Oakland city council had passed an ordinance allowing police to seize the vehicles of drivers who try to buy drugs or solicit prostitutes. If the city proves in court that the vehicle was being used for those purposes, it can sell the vehicle at auction, with the proceeds to be split among police and prosecutors.
Cars can be seized even if no one is ever found guilty of a crime and even if the owner is unaware of any illegal activity.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the ordinance conflicted with a more restrictive state asset forfeiture law, but in July the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that localities could pass ordinances stricter than state law. Last week, the California Supreme Court declined to review the appeals court ruling.
The state legislature last year passed a bill that would have banned such ordinances, but Democratic Gov. Gray Davis vetoed it.
Across the bay, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last month rejected a similar proposal on an 8-3 vote.
The ACLU's Alan Schlosser, who appealed the case to the Supreme Court, called the court's action "disappointing," but told the San Francisco Examiner that other legal issues remain unresolved. Schlosser said proportionality remains an issue. He cited the seizure of a $5,000 truck over the purchase of $20 worth of marijuana, which an Oakland judge ruled was disproportionate, and said a similar case will soon reach the appellate court.
In a Sunday op-ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Richmond Police Chief Jerry Oliver joined the growing chorus of drug war critics in law enforcement.
His piece, entitled "Police Pay Too: Nation's War on Drugs Exacts a Terrible Price," explored how attempts to enforce laws against consensual activities, such as drug buying and selling, are damaging law enforcement.
Oliver pointed out that law enforcers put "our credibility at risk when police stoop to snooping on fellow Americans over drugs."
Writing that current drug policy "is failing and the trajectory continues downward," Oliver bemoaned the billions spent on drug law enforcement. "These billions might be better spent on demand reduction, prevention, treatment, education, community-building, and supporting families," he wrote.
The Richmond police chief also denounced the "business" of drug crime incarceration, and made a clarion call for the adoption of a harm reduction approach to drug policy.
The op-ed is well worth reading in its entirety, both as a well-written and heartfelt cry for change, and as an article documenting the attitudinal shifts afoot in the land, now reaching the upper ranks of law enforcement. Visit http://www.timesdispatch.com/editorial/oped/MGBLC2FGKEC.html to read Chief Oliver's op-ed online.
Student governments on opposite coasts have provided the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign with its first endorsements of the school year: Amherst College (western Massachusetts) and Lewis & Clark College (Portland, Oregon). These two schools join over 20 others that have called on Congress to repeal the new law that delays or denies federal financial aid to students convicted of drug offenses.
The latest count found that nearly 7,000 students or would-be students, have lost some or all of their aid as a result of the Higher Education Act drug provision in this first semester that the law takes effect. Hundreds of thousands of students, however, left the relevant question on the federal financial aid application blank. They have received financial aid because an enforcement loophole, but students leaving the question blank in future years will be ineligible for aid.
"It doesn't make sense to deny federal aid to a student with a minor drug offense, but permit violent offenders to receive aid," said Joe Bielecki, president of the Associated Students of Lewis & Cark (ASLC). "This law is only going to make things worse for students who could benefit from a college education, and it's not going to do anything to solve the problem of substance abuse on campuses."
"If enough schools around the country could get their faculty and student body to speak out against this educational injustice, the politicians must listen," said Andrew Epstein, president of Amherst College Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), who brought the resolution to the attention of his student government. "The resolution passed overwhelmingly. This shows me that the students are way ahead of the politicians on this issue. Now we've got to let Congress know that we aren't going to sit down quietly while they use our educational opportunities as cannon fodder for their so-called 'War on Drugs,'" Epstein added.
Please visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to send a letter to Congress, get involved in the campaign or learn more about the issue.
(press release from Campaign for New Drug Policies)
Los Angeles, 10/27: Supporters of Proposition 36 are running a new 30-second TV spot as part of a statewide ad campaign. The new ad is viewable online in Quicktime and RealVideo formats at http://www.drugreform.org/media.tpl.
The Prop. 36 spot is the third produced by the Yes on Prop. 36 campaign. The first two, one for radio and one for television, feature Dr. Gary Jaeger, an addiction therapist, making the case for the initiative.
The new ad contrasts the fates of two drug offenders, one who is sent to jail and another who is placed in a drug treatment program. The first offender is pictured in a dark jail cell, exasperated and without hope. The offender who was placed in treatment is shown interacting with a physician and counselor, making progress toward a better life.
A narrator notes that Arizona voters passed an initiative like Proposition 36, requiring drug treatment for those convicted of possession, and that the program there is working.
The Proposition 36 television ads are now running in the five largest media markets in California, covering about 88% of the state. Soon they will be airing in every market statewide, through Election Day.
For updated campaign news and background information, visit http://www.drugreform.org.
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
Portland, OR: The medical marijuana registry in Oregon registered 594 patients in its first year, and since May 1, 2000 another 474 patients have signed-up to receive a medical marijuana identification card. In order to legally qualify for Oregon's 1998 Medical Marijuana Act, patients must possess a doctor's recommendation and register with the Oregon Department of Human Services Health Division (ODHSHS) for a $150 fee (which in turn funds the program).
"Oregon was the first to implement a statewide registration system for patients," said Martin Wasserman, MD, administrator of the ODHSHS. "Our first-year review shows the system is working as it was intended. A substantial number of qualified patients and their physicians are using it, and only a very few inquiries from law enforcement officials regarding patients have occurred." According to a report released last week by the ODHSHS, during the medical marijuana program's first year (5/1/99 - 4/30/00):
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
October 28, Richmond, VA, 6:00-7:00pm, November Coalition Vigil. At the Richmond City Jail, Fairfield & 17th, bring a white candle. For information contact Kwame Binta at (804) 573-2519 or [email protected], or Lennice Werth at (804) 645-7838 or [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 4, Philadelphia, PA, noon, "Liberty Protest: Unity to End the Drug War," at the Liberty Bell, featuring professor Julian Heicklen and other speakers. For information, contact Diane Fornbacher at (215) 633-9812 or [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.
March 9-11, 2001, New York, NY, Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex. Northeast regional conference, following on the large national gathering in 1998, to focus on the impacts of the prison industrial complex in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Visit http://www.criticalresistance.org for further information, or call (212) 561-0912 or e-mail [email protected].
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.
April 25-28, Minneapolis, MN, North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, for further information call (253) 272-4857, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.nasen.org on the web. At the Marriott City Center Hotel, 30 South Seventh Street.
Editorials will return next week. If you haven't read last week's editorial yet, "Saying Goodbye (and Good Riddance) to a Drug Czar," please check it out in our online archive at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/156.html#editorial.
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