(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #158, 11/3/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
In October, DRCNet reported on a number of initiatives on state ballots. That report is available online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/153.html#elections2000.
DRCNet supports the following initiatives and urges citizens to do their civic duty by getting out and voting:
ALASKA -- MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: Ballot Measure #5 would do away with civil and criminal penalties for persons 18 years or older who use marijuana or other hemp products. 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. DRCNet has no position on the panel but supports Measure #5 because of its other provisions.
According to late polls, this measure could go either way.
CALIFORNIA -- SENTENCING REFORM: Proposition 36 would require those convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses for the first or second time be sent to rehabilitation programs instead of state prison.
DRCNet endorses Proposition 36, with a qualification. Drug treatment is certainly better than prison, and this initiative, if successful, would be a major reversal of drug war-style policies. However, DRCNet does not support coerced drug treatment. Prop. 36 does improve, however, on the drug court model of mandatory treatment, in that defendants maintain important constitutional rights that are current bargained away as a condition of being diverted to drug court.
Overall, Prop. 36 is a significant and politically realistic step in the right direction, which will keep large of numbers of people out of prison who don't deserve to be there. Ultimately, however, coerced treatment is not an acceptable end goal for the drug policy reform movement.
CALIFORNIA, MENDOCINO COUNTY -- MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION: 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 to seek an end to state and federal marijuana laws.
This measure is partially symbolic, since state and local law enforcement could still prosecute marijuana crimes, but would relieve some law enforcement pressure and help to fuel debate.
COLORADO -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Amendment 20 provides for legal medical marijuana use by patients with serious illnesses. Following the Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) template, the measure sets low limits of the quantity of marijuana and limits approved uses to certain specified illnesses or symptoms.
DRCNet doesn't endorse the measure's limits on quantity and conditions which qualify, but supports Amendment 20 because current Colorado has offers no such protections, and some protection for medical marijuana patients is better than none.
MASSACHUSETTS -- SENTENCING AND ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM: Question 8 would divert nonviolent drug offenders from prison to drug treatment. It would also 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 the easier-to-obtain probable cause rulings that suffice currently.
DRCNet endorses Question 8, with the same qualification as stated above for California Prop. 36: mandatory drug treatment is preferable to prison, but not an end goal for drug policy reform. Question 8 would be a major reversal of drug war-style policies and a step in the right direction.
NEVADA -- MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Question 9 is the required second round of popular voting to approve this initiative. Following the Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) template, the measure sets low limits of the quantity of marijuana and limits approved uses to certain specified illnesses or symptoms.
As with the Colorado initiative,
DRCNet doesn't endorse the limits, but supports Question 9 because it offers
some protection for medical marijuana patients, where none exists in Nevada
UTAH -- ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM: Initiative B will hold the state government to stricter standards of proof that property was the proceeds of crime or used to commit a crime. It also bars forfeiture unless the owner of the property is first convicted of a crime involving the seized property. Profits from seized assets will be deposited in the school fund.
So go and vote!
Leaving aside drug policy initiatives on the ballot in several states, the role of drug policy in this year's elections is, with a few notable exceptions, minimal. This state of affairs, while disappointing to activists who live and breathe the issue, may not be as dire as it would appear at first glance.
At the least, this year we do not have candidates waving bags of white powder at TV cameras and demanding an escalation of the War on Drugs. Instead, Democrats and Republicans alike appear to have concluded that "tough on crime" stances and the War on Drugs have reached a point of diminishing political returns. Whether from lack of ideas or from lack of fortitude, the attitude of most major party candidates toward drug policy is "it's broke, but don't fix it." Better to whistle past the graveyard as their bipartisan consensus on drug policy crumbles at the edges.
And gnawing at those edges are the Green and Libertarian parties. Both have strong drug reform planks in their platforms, although the Libertarian platform is unquestionably the more ideologically coherent and radical on drug policy. Both parties' candidates, both at the national level and for state and local offices, hammer away at drug reform, although again, the Libertarians have been more consistent and insistent.
According to the party's official web site, http://www.lp.org, the party will run more than 1,420 candidates for local, state, and federal office this year, the most in party history, and more than all other alternative parties combined.
Libertarians are running 256 candidates for the US House of Representatives, 26 for the Senate, and nine for governor. The 256 House candidates mark the first time in 80 years that any third party has fielded candidates in a majority of congressional districts, according to Ballot Access News. The Socialist Party last did it in 1920.
They have also run strong ads on drug policy on national television. The most recent, which has appeared on CNN and the Sci-Fi Channel, emphasizes the lengthy prison sentences many drug offenders are serving and has Browne asking whether "Al Gore and George Bush would be better off today if, for their youthful indiscretions, they had served 10 years in prison?"
The ad can be viewed online at http://www.harrybrowne2000.org/misc/warning.htm.
Still, the party's national standard bearer, Harry Browne, is struggling to climb above 1% in national polls, and he has been effectively excluded from the major media. NBC's Meet the Press, for instance, invited Ralph Nader and Reform candidate Patrick Buchanan to debate, but did not invite Brown even though he leads Buchanan in most polls. Neither do Libertarian candidates appear poised to substantially influence the outcome in other races.
In the one senate race where a major party candidate, California Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, has made drug reform a major issue, he will be easily defeated by incumbent drug warrior Senator Dianne Feinstein, according to all polls. Pollsters have Campbell running ten to twenty points behind Feinstein.
It is unclear to what extent Campbell's stand on drug reform has gained or cost him votes. Feinstein is a formidable, well-financed, and popular incumbent.
What is clear is that Campbell's proposals, which include heroin maintenance programs, increased access to drug treatment, and an end to the country's "lost" war on drugs, have generated significant news coverage for him -- and for the issue.
Campbell's repeated calls for drug reform have forced Feinstein to respond, and while she revels in her drug warrior stance that "I think the people who deal in narcotics are the worst people in the world and I'm going to stand against them whenever I have a chance" -- she has had to debate the issue with Campbell.
Campbell told the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board he was "thrilled" to raise the issue of drug reform and that Feinstein "has attempted to demonize the issue and thereby lower the debate."
In one of this year's electoral ironies, Campbell's appeal to drug reform voters could be diluted by an aggressive and well-known Green Party candidate, Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange.
"The war on drugs is an excuse for making war on poor communities of color and an excuse for US intervention overseas," Benjamin told the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The Greens, she says, "call for harm-reduction policies: needle exchange, medical marijuana, the decriminalization of marijuana."
"We think drug addiction should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal-justice problem. But we put it in the context of the prison-industrial complex: there are too many people in prison, serving sentences that are way disproportionate to their crimes."
In one incident, Benjamin supporters laid siege to a TV station where Campbell and Feinstein debated, but Benjamin was excluded. Her Northern California campaign director was among those arrested.
In the Florida senate race, reformers can take heart in the looming defeat of Republican Rep. Bill McCollum, one of the movement's most intransigent foes. McCollum was a sponsor of the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, opposes medical marijuana, supports Plan Colombia (although he doesn't think it goes far enough), and in general has not seen a piece of repressive legislation he couldn't support.
He has consistently trailed Democratic candidate Bill Nelson, a former state treasurer, in polls, with the latest polls showing him losing by seven to ten points. Drug policy has not been an issue in that campaign, but it appears likely that McCollum will still be gone next year.
Kentucky's 6th Congressional district, where long-time marijuana activist Gatewood Galbraith is running on the Reform Party ticket, is a disappointment. Despite gaining 30% of the gubernatorial vote in that district in 1998, Galbraith is polling only 8% now.
The incumbent in that race, Republican Ernie Fletcher, has been targeted by activists from Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) for his vote in favor of barring students with drug convictions from obtaining student loans. He leads his Democratic opponent, Scotty Baesler, by a margin of 42% to 36%, according to a Lexington Herald-Leader/WKYT-TV survey. (Note that SSDP as an organization takes no position on candidates.)
Although Galbraith's pro-marijuana, pro-gun, "don't tread on me" campaign trails badly, the number of his voters exceeds the spread between Fletcher and Baesler, and a strong Galbraith vote could arguably send Fletcher back to Washington. But with the Galbraith candidacy's unusual appeal to disaffected throughout the political spectrum, it is difficult to gauge whom he is hurting more.
In Washington, DC, the Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia and activist Matt Mercurio are running a Libertarian tag-team campaign for DC "delegate" to Congress and for an at large position on the city council, respectively (http://www.kampia.org).
The duo and their supporters have plastered the city with bold "STOP the Drug War" and "Medical Marijuana Now!" campaign signs and, according to Kampia, have made drug policy the talk of the campaign.
"Everyone agrees that DC should have a congressional vote," Kampia told DRCNet, "so that issue is non-controversial. Drug policy is not. We are talking about drug reform versus sending large numbers of black men to prison, and that is what people want to talk about at community forums."
Kampia has realistic goals, though. "Our goal is that at least one of us gets 7500 votes, which is 5% of the electorate here. That would qualify the Libertarian Party as a major party in DC, so next time we could run a slate to advocate drug reform without having to overcome the onerous hurdles of petitioning to get our names on the ballot."
There are no polling figures available on the DC races.
Across the land, there are local brushfires of drug reform politicking, but these are isolated pockets, such as Boulder, Colorado, where local candidates for District Attorney all criticized current drug policy.
Still, despite a growing popular clamor for drug policy reform, the issue remains untouchable for most mainstream politicians. Some are still true believers, some may privately confess that current policy is a perverse failure, but the number who are willing to take the logical next step can be counted in the single digits.
With the elections just around the corner, drug policy reformers once again face the same dilemma that has confronted insurgent popular reform movements in the past. Do reformers maintain fealty to one of the unresponsive major parties, or do they strike out on their own with minor party candidates who support their issues?
In this election, the answers to these questions may make the difference between a victory for George W. Bush and one for Al Gore. The presidential race is in a dead heat, and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, with a strong drug reform platform, is threatening to take enough votes away from Gore in critical states to give Bush the election. Libertarian candidate Harry Browne, running on a platform that includes both full drug legalization and elimination of the income tax, could siphon votes from Bush.
But if an admittedly unscientific sampling of opinion from some leading reformers is any indication, many could care less about the fate of Al Gore and the Democrats. Nor is there any groundswell of support for his Republican challenger. Instead, there is an overriding -- if not unanimous -- sense of frustration and anger with both parties, and in some cases a determination to make them pay at the polls.
Whether the people whose opinions are expressed below are representative of either the drug reform movement's leadership or its mass base is an open question. But if they are, it would appear to be bad news for both major parties.
Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the Institute for Policy Studies, evinces a popular frustration with the two-party monopoly. "Its ironic that Eskimos have 16 words to describe snow, while we have only two words -- Democrat and Republican -- to describe politics in this country."
Scott Ehlers of the Campaign for New Drug Policies, which is sponsoring California's Proposition 36, is a refugee from the two-party system. "I'm voting third party. I'm sick and tired of both Republicans and Democrats."
The Marijuana Policy Project's (MPP) Chuck Thomas agrees, although he reserves special scorn for the Democrats. "The problem is that people like Gore and hypocritical former pot-smoking Democrats have nothing to fear from people who use drugs or consider drug reform to be an essential issue," said Thomas.
"The Democrats can kick drug users and reformers around because they know these people can't go to the Republicans for help. As a result, the GOP attacks Democrats as soft on drugs and the Democrats respond by trying to be as tough. And the next election, it happens again, only now we've ratcheted up the punishments yet another notch."
Tree agrees that portions of the Democratic Party have been unresponsive. "The Democratic Leadership Committee and that wing of the party have given progressives the back of their hand."
Still, says Tree, "there are two parties within the party, and the only congresspersons who have spoken out for drug reform, such as John Conyers, Barney Frank, and Maxine Waters, are to be found within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party."
Those three certainly don't advocate third party or single-issue voting, especially with the presidential election too close to call at week's end. In fact, they are, as is to be expected, working hard to ensure a Gore victory.
Conyers, who is in line to head the House Judiciary Committee if the Democrats retake the House and who will sponsor an Omnibus Drug Reform Act in the next session, has recently urged voters to stay loyal and criticized Ralph Nader's civil rights record.
Presenting the prestigious Letelier-Moffitt human rights award to the November Coalition last month, Conyers expressed confidence that Democrats would win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and that he would be the next Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, an historic opportunity to reform drug policy and criminal justice. Conyers asked the audience if they would rather see him working with President Al Gore or President George Bush.
Barney Frank has been an especially vocal critic of third party defectors, and by extension, drug reformers advocating a third party vote. In a recent piece in Tikkun magazine responding to editor Michael Lerner's essay, "Don't Vote Lesser Evil Politics," Frank accused progressives who threaten to bolt to Ralph Nader or (less likely) Harry Browne of exercising a "right to ignore the consequences of your own actions."
"What if the 'other candidate' will oppress minorities, or worsen the situation in life of the most vulnerable, whereas the 'lesser evil' candidate would try to help these two groups, albeit less completely than you prefer?" asked Frank.
The Massachusetts Congressman hammered at the differences between Republicans and Democrats, pointing to Gore endorsements by organized labor, women's and abortion rights groups, gun control advocates, and gay and lesbian groups as indications that these liberal progressives understand "it is not the case that Gore is the lesser evil."
But Frank didn't mention drug policy.
One topic Frank did mention was Supreme Court appointments, which he argued were a critical reason to stay within the Democratic fold.
Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation generally agreed, but pointed out that, on drug policy, those differences are not as clear-cut as on other issues.
"The difference between Gore and Bush regarding Supreme Court appointments is as important as any difference between them," he told DRCNet. "This issue is a good argument for voting for Gore, particularly in swing states."
"On drug policy, and in terms of everyday civil liberties issues, a Gore justice would more likely be sympathetic," Sterling said, "but an extreme Bush appointee might buy the argument that drug laws are unconstitutional by exceeding the scope of the interstate commerce clause, much as the court did in the gun-free school case."
Others, while not advocating a Bush vote, pointed to pro-drug reform Republican politicians such as New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and California senate hopeful Tom Campbell (see "Races of Note," above) as signals that the Democrats are no longer the default option for two-party drug law reformers.
Both Johnson and Campbell have endorsed Bush despite their huge differences on drug policy. In a September interview with DRCNet (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/155.html#governorjohnson), Johnson explained his position: "Believing that either Bush or Gore will win, I have to ask myself where do I have the most impact on this issue? I can have more of an impact working with Gov. Bush; after all, outside of drug policy we are pretty much in line. Do I not advance the issue further given that I would get a sympathetic ear at a Bush White House?"
The CNDP's Ehlers also looks to the Republicans, although more out of political calculus than sympathy. "The drug war will be ended by a Republican, not a Democrat," said Ehlers. "It's like Nixon in China -- they're the hardliners and only the Republicans, as the tough-on-crime party can end this without appearing 'soft.'"
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne could do to Bush what Nader is doing to Gore, albeit to a much smaller degree. According to most polls, Browne is hovering at the party's traditional 1%, enough to make a difference in only the squeakiest of races.
Troy Dayton is campaign manager for Rob Kampia and Matt Mercurio's anti-drug war insurgency in Washington, DC. Kampia and Mercurio are running on the Libertarian Party ticket for DC delegate to Congress and at large city council member, respectively, on a "Stop the Drug War" platform. Dayton is planning to vote for Harry Browne.
If there were no Libertarian candidate, Dayton told DRCNet, "I would either not vote or vote for Bush. Bush and Gore are equally bad on drug policy, but at least Bush is not for growing the government."
And, said Dayton, Browne is a better choice for drug reformers than Ralph Nader.
"Neither Nader nor Browne will win," Dayton argued, "so the question becomes what message is your vote going to send? Nader almost never talks about the drug issue, and a vote for him will be interpreted as a vote for the environment or universal health care or against corporate power -- not a vote for drug reform."
"Browne mentions the drug war in every single interview -- every Libertarian does -- and has spent over $200,000 running drug ads on major networks. Nader does not have a drug war ad.
"Nader simply wants to end the current drug war and decriminalize marijuana; his is not a principled stand to end prohibition, like Harry Browne's," Dayton concluded.
Dayton's remarks notwithstanding, in recent days Nader has spoken out more forcefully for marijuana legalization and ending the drug war. In Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday, Nader's denunciation of the drug war drew the most enthusiastic response of any from his largely student audience. That appearance was taped for "Hardball with Chris Matthews," and aired nationwide on MSNBC.
Activists universally trashed Gore for his retreat on medical marijuana, while going somewhat easier on his Republican counterpart, perhaps because they never expected anything from George Bush in the first place.
Allen St. Pierre of NORML is frustrated with both candidates' positions on medical marijuana. "Gore has flip-flopped on medical marijuana," he snorted, "a year ago he supported it, but now he's stuck to the party line that there is no science supporting it, which is totally false."
"And Bush," said St. Pierre, "says he supports states' rights but will vigorously enforce federal law. That's a classic have-it-both-ways answer."
Thomas shares St. Pierre's frustration -- in spades. "Medical marijuana is the simplest test of whether Bush and Gore are really trying to be compassionate or whether they are just warmongers out to please the prison lobby and the law enforcement bureaucracy," said Thomas. "On that issue, both have failed miserably. Gore talked early about distributing medical marijuana, but now he has the Clinton position. He doesn't care how sick you are, if you're on your deathbed, if you put a joint in your mouth you're going to jail."
For Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP), Gore's reversals on medical marijuana "make it very difficult for drug policy people to support Gore." He told DRCNet, "Patients are angry. During the Texas Jubilee Journey for Justice, we did a demonstration at the Democratic Party headquarters in Austin and had patients smoking in the office, much to the consternation of the party officials."
"We need to see more of that, particularly in California, where the issue is so contested right now," Zeese suggested.
So, what else are people interested in drug policy reform to do?
Thomas minced no words in describing his solution to the drug war deadlock. "People who support reform on drug policy need to vote single issue."
He doesn't buy the "lesser of two evils" argument. "When I talk to liberals and I tell them I will not vote for Gore because of his drug policies, they tell me how great his other policies are and tell me how much worse Bush is. My response to them is, 'Well, you better convince Al Gore to take a more favorable position on drugs if you want my vote.'"
"If people start voting single issue, in one of these elections one major party candidate will win because the other candidate lost all of the drug reform votes to a third party candidate," argued Thomas.
"When someone loses because he didn't take a good position on drug policy, then we'll start to see real victories," he added.
"There are already 20 to 30% who say they favor ending the drug war," Thomas continued. "If only half of those folks would vote single issue on drugs, we could turn this around within two elections."
CSDP's Ehlers also advocates single-issue voting. "If we want to end drug war, then yes, we must vote single issue. If Gore had taken stronger stands, there's a good chance I would have voted for him. But because of his backsliding, especially on medical marijuana, there's no way."
"I see the Democrats' point of view," Ehlers continued, "but they need a swift kick in the ass. They've taken people's votes for granted for too long; maybe they need to lose an election."
For NORML's Allen St. Pierre, the single-issue voter strategy is not so appealing. "It's hard to imagine that the drug war can be reduced to a single issue that would motivate people to vote for or against," he argued. "Generally," said St. Pierre, "single issues are falling by the wayside. Even the abortion people sometimes vacillate."
"Focus and polling groups don't necessarily tell reformers that the public is so willing," St. Pierre suggested, "but one can look at the other candidates. All of them -- Harry Browne, Ralph Nader, even John Hagelin -- are wearing their opposition to the drug war, and especially the war on marijuana, on their sleeves. They must see opportunities there."
The drug reform movement appears united only in its antipathy to the status quo as it confronts the quadrennial dilemma of the political outsider. Given the way the movement cuts across left-right ideological lines, with its conservative diehards who really believed Ronald Reagan would "get the government off the backs of the people"; with its liberals, Libertarians, and libertines; with its "good government" reformers and would-be treatment providers; with its disaffected cops and dismayed judges -- given a movement with such a complex and sometimes contradictory character, such diversity of opinion is not only welcome, it is no surprise.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the US Constitution, but it has rarely been won without a struggle, especially if the opinions being expressed are unpopular with government authorities. From Wobbly agitators spouting class war rhetoric on soapboxes early in the 20th Century to the 1960s student Free Speech Movement and beyond, advocates of unapproved causes have always had to fight for their rights.
Marijuana activists in Florida and Massachusetts now find themselves part of that noble tradition.
In Florida, the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FCAN) has since 1989 sponsored an annual legalization festival known as Hempfest in the college town of Gainesville. City officials, however, disapproved of Hempfest's message and have consistently attempted to block the festival by burying it beneath a blizzard of restrictive permit requirements.
After five years of litigation in the federal courts, FCAN scored a resounding victory when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Gainesville's permit ordinances constituted an impermissible "prior restraint" on free speech.
FCAN filed suit against the city in 1995, after city officials denied two of three permits needed to hold the festival. The group received a temporary injunction forcing the city to allow Hempfest to take place that year. Gainesville amended its ordinances in hopes of meeting constitutional standards, but the 11th Circuit held they were still constitutionally deficient.
Even as the case wound through the courts, Gainesville officials continued to harass event organizers. In October 1999, they tried to require FCAN to get written approval from local merchants when it applied for a street-closing permit. After FCAN threatened to file suit again, the city granted the permit.
"We're really delighted with the ruling," FCAN president Kevin Aplin told DRCNet. "This is a major victory for free speech."
"This ruling applies not only to Florida, but throughout the 11th Circuit, which includes Georgia and Alabama as well," said Aplin. "It removes discretion from government officials so they can't censor events they don't like by denying permits."
And, said Aplin, "The ruling shifts the burden of reviewing permit denials from the citizen back to the government. Before, if officials denied or didn't respond to permit requests, the citizen had to find a lawyer, go to court and seek an injunction. Now, if the city wants to deny a permit, it will have to explain its reasons to a judge."
As matters now stand, Gainesville is without sound and street-closing ordinances. The city could appeal to the Supreme Court, but, as Aplin points out, "It was a unanimous opinion and a clear and convincing ruling from the appeals court."
More likely, the city will rewrite the ordinances to meet constitutional requirements. And FCAN will be looking over the city's shoulder. "They will rewrite and we will scrutinize," vowed Aplin.
The Gainesville case is by no means the only free speech fight in which FCAN is involved. "We've been to federal court against Miami, Orlando, Melbourne, Jacksonville, and Jacksonville Beach on the various obstacles they put in the way of free expression," said Aplin.
FCAN vice-president Scott Bledsoe has two Jacksonsville arrests for engaging in marijuana proselytizing, one outside Altel Stadium before a Jacksonville Jaguars football game and one at a Bush campaign event. The latter arrest came even after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office signed a memorandum of understanding with FCAN attorneys acknowledging that FCAN had the right to engage in political speech on public property.
"We've sued Jacksonville twice," says Aplin. "Our attorneys are happy to take their money."
For Aplin, such tactics are business as usual. "We like to be the ACTUP of the drug reform movement," he told DRCNet. "We're out on the street informing citizens about things they may not know about."
"I applaud the policy groups for the way they put out the information, but our job is to get that information to the man on the street."
"It is then that we get resistance from bureaucrats and law enforcement," Aplin explained. "Then we go to court."
FCAN isn't the only drug reform organization going to court to protect freedom of expression. Two thousand miles to the north, Change the Climate (http://www.changetheclimate.org), a nonprofit organization seeking to promote discussion of marijuana law reform, has filed suit in US District Court in Boston against the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) over its refusal to display the group's ads.
The lawsuit charges that MBTA rejected the ads because of their point of view, a violation of the First Amendment.
The series of ads, which may be viewed at the group's web site, include a teenager saying, "It's not cool to smoke marijuana, but we're not stupid, ya know. Marijuana is not heroin or cocaine. Tell us the truth..."
In another ad, a woman says, "I've got three great kids. I love them more than anything. I don't want them to smoke pot. But I know jail is a lot more dangerous than smoking pot."
The third ad shows two policemen in front of a US flag and says, "Police are too important... too valuable... too good... to waste on arresting people for marijuana when real criminals are on the loose."
MBTA spokesman Brian Pedro defended the agency, telling Boston newspapers it can refuse ads it deems unfit.
"We have the right to and will not accept advertising containing violent criminal content, firearms, or promotional material that is harmful to juveniles," said Pedro.
Joseph White, executive director of the group, and the man behind its innovative strategy, disagrees. "Anyone who sees our ads could not in all fairness say they're promoting the use of marijuana," he told DRCNet. "We're simply telling the truth."
MBTA's argument also fails to persuade Sarah Wunsch of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, who is representing Change the Climate.
"The MBTA runs a lot of ads about drug policies from different government agencies, but decided they did not like the point of view in these ads," she told the Boston Herald.
"The MBTA is a government agency and is not allowed to discriminate on the point of view of the ads. The First Amendment prohibits that."
The MBTA, however, has a history of not understanding that concept. It has had to pay thousands of dollars in fees to groups it had unsuccessfully attempted to censor, including a 1994 case when AIDS groups sued over its refusal to place ads urging condom use.
For White, the agency's recidivist history is reason enough to bring out the long knives.
"On advice of our attorneys, we are seeking punitive damages against individual executives at MBTA," he told DRCNet. "They have to learn a hard lesson, which they have not learned in the three previous cases -- all of which cost the taxpayers money."
"This time, if they want to violate our rights, they'll have to pay out of their own pockets," he said.
White might want to add Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci to the list. According to the Boston Herald, Cellucci forbade MBTA from settling White's suit.
When some administration officials suggested MBTA settle, Cellucci "blew his stack," the paper reported.
"I'm not going to settle any case. I want them to fight," Cellucci told the Herald. "Why should a government entity be forced to put up a message that may be harmful to children? That's ridiculous."
"He is a prisoner of the war on marijuana," said White of Cellucci. "He cannot see any other options or solutions, just more arrests and more tax dollars spent on prosecuting marijuana charges."
White told DRCNet that the group's attorneys will proceed with depositions in the lawsuit if MBTA continues to refuse to settle.
But even if the agency settles, it will have to pay a price, said White. "We've asked for six months of free advertisements for a settlement. That would be just dandy."
Officials in Washington, DC, avoided a similar lawsuit after they relented on an initial refusal of the group's ads. White told DRCNet that some 560 ads will appear on DC buses and at subway stops in January -- just in time for the new president's inauguration.
Those ads, White said, will have a picture of a young person looking at the camera and asking, "Why do kids go to jail for doing what politicians did when they were young?"
DRCNet reported on the Tulia travesty on October 2nd. That story is online at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/154.html#tulia.
After receiving official complaints filed by the Amarillo NAACP, the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether Swisher County authorities violated the civil rights of African-Americans in a drug bust that rounded up 40 black people in the small, predominantly white Texas Panhandle farming town last year.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kara Peterman confirmed that the department's civil rights division has opened a criminal investigation of the case.
Federal law prohibits police officers from depriving citizens of their constitutional rights.
"It would be easy to look at what happened in Swisher County and throw up one's hands and believe there is no justice," attorney Jeff Blackburn told the Amarillo Globe-News.
Blackburn helped draw up the complaint.
"I think this is a good way to show there still is justice in this country."
That remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Blackburn is working with the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice in organizing a fundraising appeal for Tulia victims and their families. Persons who wish to help out may send their donations to: The Tulia 46 Fund, c/o Blackburn Law Firm, 718 16th Ave., Amarillo, TX 79102.
Visit the Kunstler Fund's web site at http://www.kunstler.org for pictures of the Journey for Justice's visit to Tulia.
Hawaii Gov. Benjamin Cayetano signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law in June, but no one is legally smoking it yet. It is business as usual in Hawaii until the state writes and implements rules governing the program.
The state law is the first in the nation to come via the state legislature instead of the citizen initiative process.
But it did not provide for distribution of sale of medical marijuana, nor did it provide for certified patients to obtain seeds or clones to grow their own supplies.
The Hawaii Department of Public Safety, which, under the new law, is responsible for administering the medical marijuana program, is developing rules for its use, but is not expected to implement them until year's end, Keith Kamita, head of the department's Narcotics Enforcement Division told the Honolulu Herald Tribune.
The department has now completed a draft of the proposed rules and has scheduled a public hearing for November 22nd. The draft is available online at http://swat.state.hi.us/VRC.htm (once there, see Title 23-PSD).
Medical marijuana activists are scrutinizing the proposals and will testify at the hearing. Pamela Lichty of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii (http://www.drugsense.org/dpfhi/), told DRCNet that her organization has several concerns.
"There is a ban on inter-island travel," she told DRCNet, "meaning that even a qualifying patient could not carry his medicine by plane between islands (which is essentially the only way to travel)."
The islands are all part of the state of Hawaii.
Nor, wrote Lichty, would "sales" be permitted, presumably including transactions between registered patients.
Lichty was also concerned by possible breaches in the wall between medicine and law enforcement. She cited language "permitting state, local and even federal agencies to launch an investigation into either medical malpractice or fraud issues which is vague and broad and therefore troubling."
In a similar vein, Lichty, who is also President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, pointed to "language about additional 'discretionary' information being required of patients -- at the discretion of the department [Department of Public Safety's Narcotic Enforcement Division], that is."
Part of the problem lies in the legislation itself. The fact that the law also leaves the registration of patients and administration of the program in the hands of a police agency makes medical marijuana advocates uneasy.
Lichty told DRCNet the medical marijuana law "was the result of lots of political compromise, of course, so we're not thrilled with it, but feel it can be made to work."
One of the problems in the law, wrote Lichty, was that medical marijuana regulation is to be administered by law enforcement instead of the Hawaii Department of Health. She told DRCNet legislators hesitated to end police involvement with marijuana and health officials were reluctant to oversee the program.
Volcano surgeon Dr. William Wenner, who has recommended patients for medical marijuana use without waiting for the administrative rules to be implemented, told the Hawaii Tribune Herald he feared that the department would turn over users' and doctors' names to the US Attorney, who could still prosecute under federal law.
Honolulu US Attorney Steve Alm told the Tribune Herald that in his view, "Nothing has changed. It's still against federal law." But he added that his office prosecutes only a few large marijuana cases and he will not use the registry of users and physicians to enforce the federal marijuana laws.
"I'm just not going to do it," he said.
Still, Wenner worried. "It's not going to be confidential," he said.
Lichty also pointed to the language limiting the amounts of marijuana permitted, calling the limits "too low."
They law defines an "adequate supply" as three "mature" marijuana plants, four immature plants, and three ounces of usable marijuana.
Under the law, patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, or conditions causing weakness, severe pain or nausea, seizures, and severe muscle spasms characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn's disease are allowed to use medical marijuana.
Potential patients must have a physician's certificate stating that they have an eligible condition and that the benefits of medical marijuana would outweigh the health risks. "Primary caregivers" also gain protection under the law. The doctor's certificate must be renewed annually and would cost $25.
If the legislature's approval indicates broad approval of medical marijuana, there are signs that the island's illegal marijuana industry has also garnered a base of public support. In a national first, Hawaii County (the state's Big Island), has returned a $265,000 DEA drug enforcement grant. The action was forced upon it by local activists, who effectively overturned the council's earlier 5-4 vote approving the grant.
The funds were dedicated to the state's "Green Harvest" marijuana eradication program, which, if the police are to be believed, has been effectively crippled by the action.
By their own count, with the DEA-funded Green Harvest program, police seized 200,000 cultivated pot plants last year on the Big Island, compared to nearly 170,000 plants in the rest of the islands. This year, police told West Hawaii Today, they have done no eradication missions for lack of the DEA grant.
The money would have paid to hire helicopters for Green Harvest eradication operations. Police spokesmen said that while they would still have access to DEA helicopters to spot marijuana crops, they would no longer have choppers available for dropping eradication teams directly onto the site. Instead, officers will have to trek in on foot.
Lt. Henry Tavares Jr. of the Honolulu Police Department's Vice Section told the Herald Tribune, "(the county council) has taken away our tools."
Tavares claimed local marijuana supplies are already increasing because of the decrease in seizures as a result of the council action.
Marijuana advocate Roger Christie ridiculed Tavares' claim, pointing out to the Herald Tribune that supply is up because harvest season has arrived.
Christie can take some credit for the council's action. He has filed impeachment petitions against Mayor Stephen Yamashiro and the council members over its support of Green Harvest. It was the council's response to the threat of impeachment, rather than principled opposition to Green Harvest, that killed the grant.
Under the Hawaii County Charter, officials must pay their expenses to fight impeachment petitions. Worried about that prospect, before voting narrowly to receive the DEA grant, the council added language calling for some of the grant to be used to provide "impeachment insurance."
They couldn't find any insurers, and without the insurance, the grant went unspent.
Explaining the decision, Council Chairman Ron Arakaki told the Herald Tribune, "I'm against marijuana cultivation, but it's incumbent for the government to provide protection for government officials who are doing their job."
The petition-wielding Christie was by no means alone in opposing Green Harvest. West Hawaii Today reported on a July 26th public hearing than lasted for six hours of heated discussion. Forty-two residents of the Big Island testified, 18 supported it and 24 were in opposition.
Opponents of Green Harvest at the hearing attacked the program on both nuisance and harm reduction grounds. Some residents complained of noise and harassment by the police choppers; others argued that concentrating on the local marijuana harvest diverted resources from hard drug problems and that in a shortage, marijuana would be replaced by methamphetamine or crack.
The four council members who voted against the program all along also cited growing constituent complaints about noisy, low-flying helicopters breaching their privacy and disturbing their tranquility.
In the wake of a Washington state appeals court ruling that overturned Seattle's pre-employment drug testing of most city employees, major cities across the state are ending or severely narrowing their municipal drug testing policies.
The ruling was the latest in a three-year-old lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that challenged the city of Seattle's 1996 decision to implement broad, pre-employment drug testing of city workers. A King County (Seattle) Superior Court judge had upheld the policy in early 1999, after the city agreed to dramatically restrict the categories of workers who would face mandatory pre-employment testing.
"One shouldn't have to pee in a cup to get a job with the city when there is no evidence that the individual has any problem with drug abuse," ACLU spokesman Doug Honig told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as he announced the ACLU's appeal last year.
On October 2nd, the Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that Seattle's drug testing program violated privacy rights guaranteed under the Washington state constitution.
The judges wrote: "The national scourge of drug abuse is a proper and abiding concern for government. But even in the face of such concerns, the protections of the constitution control." It rejected Seattle arguments that the program was part of a "zero tolerance" stance that targeted specific concerns about employee drug use and that it saved the city money by reducing employee sick time and accidents.
A 1994 study by the National Academy of Sciences, "Under the Influence? Drugs and the American Workforce," found there was insufficient evidence to show that worker drug testing deters drug use, increases productivity or improves workplace safety.
A 1998 study by researchers at the Le Moyne College Institute of Industrial Relations agreed. Its authors concluded, "The empirical results suggest that drug testing programs do not succeed in improving productivity. Surprisingly, companies adopting drug testing programs are found to exhibit lower levels of productivity than their counterparts that do not... Both pre-employment and random testing of workers are found to be associated with lower levels of productivity." That study is available online at http://www.lindesmith.org/library/shepard2.html.
Mark Kipling, the Seattle attorney who argued the case, told the Tacoma News Tribune, "It's a very important case. It's the first time to my knowledge the state constitution's privacy protections have been (used) in the employment context."
Although the state constitution potentially provides additional privacy-based protections to government employees, it appears that Washington municipalities will rely on federal standards. The US Supreme Court has limited suspicionless drug testing of government workers to situations that present a serious threat to national security or public safety.
The ACLU lawsuit did not challenge drug testing for some public safety employees, including police, firefighters, and bus drivers.
The ruling has already caused repercussions in major cities across the state. At press time, the city of Seattle had still not decided whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Six of its nine council members, however, told the city attorney they did not wish to pursue the case any further. It must also come up with a new drug testing policy that will fall within state constitutional guidelines.
This week, the city of Tacoma announced it is substantially shrinking its pre-employment drug screening program. It, too, will follow federal laws and test only police, firefighters or those driving city vehicles with a commercial truck-driver's license will be tested.
Tacoma officials cited fear of future lawsuits.
"Part of our job in the legal department is to keep pace with court decisions and changing legislation," chief assistant city attorney Elizabeth Pauli told the News Tribune. "If our drug-testing policy is broader than what the court said, we would say, 'OK, do we want to sit back and be challenged? Or do we want to be proactive?'"
Other Washington cities with municipal drug testing programs are also reacting. Bellingham has changed its policy, and Everett's is in the process of being changed. Spokane's policy is now under review, city officials told the News Tribune.
Employees in the private sector should be so lucky. Private employers do not have the same constitutional restrictions affecting government bodies.
A tragic shooting of a Maryland state trooper in northeast Washington this week has awakened DC metro residents of the dangers facing drug law enforcers. Edward Toatley, posing as a drug buyer as part of an undercover investigation by a joint task force of the FBI, Maryland State Police and Prince George's County police had given money to a drug seller and was waiting in his car for him to return with drugs. The seller instead returned with a gun and shot Toatley in the head.
A Washington Post editorial commented on the dangers police face in their work, but failed to note that the drug trade violence which poses danger to police, drug buyers and sellers and bystanders, is a consequence of prohibition. Drug prohibition creates an economy governed by violence instead of regulation and law.
The September 2000 issue of the Drug Early Warning System newsletter, tracking emerging drug trends in Maryland, demonstrates that Toatley's sacrifice was in vain. According to DEWS News (http://www.cesar.umd.edu/dews.htm):
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
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, CA, "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.
November 19, Richmond, VA, 4:20pm, Anti-Drug War Benefit, supporting DRCNet, organized by Virginians Against Drug Violence. Admission $3, at the Cary Street Cafe, 2631 W. Cary St. Scheduled performers include Publik Animalz, Neptune, Parkland Charlie and Mark Fitzgerald. 21-or-over for admission, outdoor facilities for those under 21.
December 2, New Haven, CT, 9:30am-6:30pm, First Conference on Drug Policy and the Prison Overcrowding Crisis in Connecticut. At Yale University, Lindsey Chittended room 101, 203, 204 and 205, open to the public. For further information, contact Luke Bronin at [email protected] or Adam Hurter at (860) 285-8831 or [email protected].
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.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
As Election Tuesday approaches, Americans of all political stripes and persuasions, from all different issue interest groups, are thinking and talking about November 7th and what the day, and the four years that follow it, will bring for our families, our communities, our nation.
Some will vote a party line out of a life-long identification. Some will vote for a candidate in whom they simply believe. Others will vote for what they believe to be a lesser of two evils, and others will cast their ballot based on some more complex political calculus. Some will vote single issue and place their support behind the candidate whose record and positions correspond most closely with their views on one issue of primary importance to them.
Drug policy reform has yet to reach the highest echelons of political power -- neither major party candidate gives us the time of day -- but anti-drug war factions within both parties are growing in numbers and passion. Third party movements advocating drug law reform to greater or lesser degree are growing in strength.
Why does opposition to the prohibitionist drug war span such a wide political spectrum?
Perhaps the answer is built into the clarity of the issue itself. Most policy issues are made up of shades of gray, with compelling cases to be made on all sides and facets. Drug policy, however, is black and white, at least at the level of the most basic questions at stake today: the "war on drugs" must end, for many reasons. Only fear and misinformation stands in the way of this conclusion, a conclusion based on overwhelming evidence, logic and reason -- in the end a basic issue of right and wrong.
Thinkers from all political persuasions, then, can find any number of different pathways leading to the same destination:
A cause that transcends political boundaries. Simply the right thing to do, for all the right reasons.
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