(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #164, 12/15/00
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The past few weeks have seen what one media outlet described as a "floodlight" of attention on the issue of racial profiling on New Jersey highways. Fueling the discussion, which has been particularly intense in the New Jersey media, was the release to the public, this past November 27th, of 91,000 pages of documents collected by the NJ Attorney General's office.
That floodlight now promised to turn into a spotlight aimed at details of the archive's contents, as DRCNet posts the entire 91,000-page archive to its web site.
David Borden, DRCNet Executive Director, explained, "We decided to make the profiling archive available on our web site, so that civil rights organizers, media, attorneys and other concerned citizens worldwide could take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities these documents afford."
Documents reveal the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as both hero and villain in the profiling debacle. While DOJ's civil rights division has taken a leading role in opposing racial profiling, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), another branch of DOJ, has overtly encouraged police forces around the country to use race-based profiling techniques, as part of its controversial "Operation Pipeline." Subsequent issues of the Week Online will link to specific documents revealing DEA's role in encouraging profiling.
The New Jersey Racial Profiling Archive was previously available only by on-site inspection at the Attorney General's office, or on CD-ROM provided only to media outlets at $1,000 per set. The documents can now be accessed via DRCNet's web site at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/.
Recent DRCNet coverage of this issue can be found at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/163.html#profilingappeals, http://www.drcnet.org/wol/162.html#njprofiling, and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/160.html#njprofiling. Other profiling news links can be found on our profiling site at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/index.html#news.
Say "student activism" and most people conjure up images of the anti-globalization protests in Seattle and Washington, DC, or campaigns to aid sweatshop workers, or the hordes of students who volunteered in the fall election campaigns.
But in the last two years, a long dormant student reform movement aimed at changing US drug policy has begun to reemerge. While NORML chapters have existed on some campuses since the 1970s and independent single-campus groups and movements have flickered in and out of existence, student activism around drug policy issues has been limited and sporadic.
Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN), a drug war zealot, deserves some credit for changing that. As a member of the House Education committee, he introduced an amendment to the 1998 revision of the Higher Education Act (HEA) that bars some students with drug convictions from obtaining federal financial aid. Once Souder and his colleagues passed that bill, it was only a matter of time until student outrage began to percolate from campus to campus.
One place students got mad was the Rochester Institute of Technology, but they didn't just get mad, they got organized. Working with the DRCNet's HEA Campaign, RIT activists were the first in the country to successfully lobby their student government to pass a resolution calling for repeal of the HEA drug provision.
RIT's activists then went on to form the first chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org). Now boasting more than 60 active chapters on campuses across the country, SSDP is taking on the full panoply of drug policy issues and has become the nation's largest student-based drug reform organization.
"And we have about 40 more chapters in the process of formation," newly-appointed SSDP National Director Shawn Heller told DRCNet. "It's been a really incredible two years."
Although dismay with the HEA loan provision was the initial motivation for many students, said Heller, the group's aim is higher.
"Our goals are primarily to educate and raise awareness of the harm caused by the war on drugs," Heller, who is about to graduate from George Washington University, explained. "We have a broad educational campaign; we've been bringing speakers onto campuses, holding teach-ins and seminars, writing op-eds in student newspapers," he said.
"Students contact us and we mail them an organizing manual," explained Heller. "It tells them everything they need to know about how to get official student organization status, how to join our list-serves, things like that.
"We're a bottom up organization," said Heller. "The national office facilitates the actions of the chapters and tries to increase the number of chapters."
"But," Heller chuckled, "there's nothing like a big media hit to increase interest. After Rolling Stone did a story on us, our number of new chapters and chapters in formation nearly doubled."
Some schools form chapters for more immediate reasons. In October, a large Ecstasy bust at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville left three current and six former UVA students under indictment on state and federal charges, along with seven non-students. In a press conference announcing the arrests, University Police Chief Michael Sheffield said the operation was "designed to identify and investigate sources of illegal drug distribution within the University of Virginia student population."
Sheffield also told reporters that both police and students were involved in undercover operations on campus, and that student involvement in the investigation was "critical," because student informants were able to verify information obtained by the police.
In the wake of that bust, UVA students contacted the ecstasy testing and harm reduction group Dancesafe (http://www.dancesafe.org), which in turn put the students in contact with SSDP. Already politically aware, the students were catalyzed by the bust, and another SSDP chapter is now in formation.
SSDP has held two national conferences, including a 1999 meeting on Drug Policy and Justice that, said Heller, was the "largest student drug policy conference ever." Earlier this year, SSDP brought chapter heads from across the country together in Washington for the group's first national congress.
"And we work with other groups, as well," Heller pointed out. "For example, we're working closely with the Prison Moratorium Project," which ties in nicely with SSDP's "Education Not Incarceration" campaign.
Last week, Prison Moratorium Project activists at Ithaca College in upstate New York, which also boasts an SSDP chapter, held sit-ins and mass demonstrations demanding the college sever its ties with food service provider Sodexho Marriott, the major investor in Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison operator.
The Ithaca actions were not the first against Sodexho Marriot, only the most dramatic, and they serve to demonstrate the way students working on disparate campaigns find themselves linked in an interlocking web of activist issues. Sodexho Marriott has drawn protests not only from prison activist groups, but from pro-union students at SUNY Albany and students opposed to its environmental practices at campuses across the country.
"So, organizing around HEA is one of our national agenda items," explained Heller, "but it's not the only one."
It is, however, a very potent one. Coordinated by DRCNet, a broad array of educational, drug reform, religious, women's, and minority rights groups banded together to create the Coalition for HEA Reform (http://www.raiseyourvoice.com). The Coalition's goal has been to pass H.R. 1053, a bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) that would repeal the HEA drug provision, or equivalent legislation in this or the next Congress.
Yet the primary factor enabling the Coalition to impact on the media and politics of this issue has been student activism: One of the coalition's primary tactics has been to urge student governments to pass resolutions, like RIT's, calling for the provision's repeal. That tactic has paid off: Since the campaign's inception, more than 30 colleges and universities have passed the resolutions, as well as a number of statewide and multi-school student associations. (See the link above for a list of schools that have passed the resolution.)
Some colleges have done more. Yale University's student association not only passed the HEA campaign's resolution, but actually called on the school to make up the difference in federal aid lost by students under the provision out of university funds. Hampshire College students went even further, holding a student body referendum to actually allocate $10,000 of student activities funds for a financial aid fund for drug offenders; the referendum passed overwhelmingly.
Hampshire has also demonstrated how students speaking out can cause an issue to bubble up to other levels. Last summer, Hampshire's President, Gregory S. Prince, became the first college president to endorse the Coalition's educators' sign-on letter.
At the University of Wisconsin, senior Dan Goldman has been involved in the same fight. "We passed the HEA resolution last year," he told DRCNet. "We're working right now to get other schools in the University of Wisconsin system to pass the resolution, so we can present our congressman with a united front."
"Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) voted against repealing the drug provision," Goldman said, "and we're looking to meet with him early on to show him the error of his ways."
For Goldman, SSDP filled a gap. "Ever since I went through the DARE program as an 11-year-old, I knew something wasn't right, but it's hard for a kid to articulate that. There are lots of people out there who know the War on Drugs is wrong, and what SSDP does is provide an organization for students who want to be active on the issue but never found a home."
Goldman is yet another example of the interlocking nature of student protest movements. "Here in Madison, we're working to bring attention to the Supreme Court crack baby case," he said, "and we're working with the women's center on that."
"And I plan to work on Colombia with Chicano or Latino groups," said the senior. "Drug policy can be related to lots of issues. We're trying to build coalitions -- ad hoc or continuing -- with as many groups as possible."
SSDP's Heller is proud of the HEA coalition's progress and predicts that repeal "will come easily."
But maybe not this year. "We are making progress on all fronts -- media, legislative, public education -- but I don't know if we have the votes yet," he mused.
"Getting a vote this year is not the most important thing; winning that vote is," he added. "Going ahead prematurely and losing would be a setback."
Heller also saw great potential for overcoming student movements' perennial inability to forge strong relationships with students of color.
"The majority of SSDP groups reflect diverse student bodies," he told DRCNet, "and most chapters are in coalitions with minority groups on their campuses."
"For example," Heller continued, at Mt. Holyoke they are having a "War on Drugs Month," which SSDP and the Black Peoples' Union are cosponsoring. "They're not just signing on; the Union will run mandatory minimum week," he said.
HEA reform is also helping to forge alliances with predominantly minority campuses, including prestigious Howard University in Washington, DC.
"We think this HEA provision discriminates against low income students, many of whom are African-American and Hispanic students," Howard University Student Association President Sellano Simmons told the Week Online. "We're looking past the War on Drugs rhetoric and seeing who will truly be affected."
"Student government members have discussed this," said Simmons. "We will vote on it on January 17th, and it will pass. Definitely."
Sellano told the Week Online that the Howard student government was working together on the issue with its counterparts from other Washington schools in the DC Metropolitan University Alliance. Those schools include Howard, American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Marymount University and others.
Sellano's initiation into the politics of student loans came courtesy of DRCNet Campus Coordinator Chris Evans.
"A lot of students didn't know about that provision," said Sellano, "but Chris definitely let us know."
That's his job.
Evans, along with fellow Campus Coordinator Steve Silverman, works full time at DRCNet on the effort to see the HEA drug provision overturned.
Following a wall chart that lists the colleges in each targeted congressional district, Evans works the phones. District by district, school by school, he attempts to contact student government leaders, student newspaper writers, and campus organizations to urge them to pass the resolution.
Evans has had some success -- five schools in his set of districts have passed the resolution this semester, with more coming soon.
"Most of the student leaders are receptive, and quite a few are shocked," said Evans. "But not everyone is with us. Sometimes you get one of those politicians-in-training, the guy who wants to be so balanced on an issue that he won't take a stand one way or the other."
And then there are the would-be gatekeepers.
"Sometimes I get a faculty advisor or administrator, usually at a small religious college, and she will want to 'protect' her students from the issue," said Evans.
For example, Dean of Students Karen Young, of the Methodist-affiliated Wesley College in Delaware, refused to allow Evans access to contact information for Wesley student organizations. Young was unresponsive both to the ideal that students should be able to consider issues for themselves and to the fact that a branch of their own church, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, is a member of the Coalition for HEA Reform!
Nevertheless, the intertwined HEA/SSDP efforts continue to score successes around the country. Eleven student governments have endorsed the resolution this semester alone, ranging from small schools like Goshen College in Indiana and Dalton College in Georgia, to major universities such as the University of Delaware and University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with more seemingly on the way.
From Austin to Boston, on grassy campuses and in Washington office buildings, on the barricades and in the halls of student government, a new student movement gathers its forces.
In an open letter to the next president, nine prominent mainstream academic Latin Americanists have called for broad changes in US drug policy at home and abroad.
The letter, "The Case for Early and Sustained Engagement With the Americas: A Memorandum to the President-Elect and His Foreign Affairs/National Security Team," was released under the auspices of the University of Miami's Dante B. Fascell North-South Center on 12/11. It is available online in its entirety in English at http://www.miami.edu/nsc/pages/pubs-white-pdf/memorandum.pdf, with Spanish and Portuguese versions of the executive summary at http://www.miami.edu/nsc/pages/pubs-white-pdf/nuevopresidente.pdf http://www.miami.edu/nsc/pages/pubs-white-pdf/presidenteEleito.pdf respectively.
Writing that "the drug war remains a mission that has not succeeded," the signatories argue that drug policy has distorted and "narcotized" US policy toward Latin America. The academics note the continuing easy availability of cocaine in the US despite years of effort and billions of dollars spent on enforcement and interdiction. Referring especially to Colombia, they also warn of growing regional concern "that US drug policy may have the unintended consequence of spurring region-wide violence."
The signatories had five broad recommendations for drug and national security policy toward Latin America:
The signers of the letter, including Richard Millett of the United States Marine Corps University, Georges Fauriol of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center and Georgia State University, make clear with some of their recommendations, as well as their affiliations, that they are well within the mainstream political consensus.
On Colombia, where the US is committed to a $1.3 billion (so far) war plan, the signatories appear to wish only to modulate US policy, not radically alter it. Likewise, their call to "energize" the hemispheric repressive apparatus will only send chills down the spine of any good civil libertarian.
And when viewed in the context of other policy recommendations in the letter -- on freedom and democracy, trade and growth, and bilateral relations with key countries -- the drug policy recommendations take on the steely tenor of realpolitik. Calling for expanded free trade and presidential fast track authority to negotiate new such agreements, the authors' bottom line seems to be that "seen coldly, US interests in a prosperous, free, and democratic hemispheric are not secure," suggesting that they call current drug policies into question only insofar as they contribute to that perceived insecurity.
The Organization of American States' (OAS) Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD, for its Spanish acronym -- http://www.cicad.oas.org) is hearing this week in Washington, DC, from some 34 government-appointed experts, who will present the commission with the results of its first country-by-country survey of drug control efforts in the Americas.
The study, known as the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), is an outgrowth of the 1996 Hemispheric Anti-drug Strategy and, as such, reflects US efforts to export its drug policies to the rest of the Americas.
But it also represents an opening for Latin American governments angered and humiliated by the annual ritual of "certification" by the US State Department of their compliance with American drug policy objectives.
"If the MEM gets the credibility that we think it will," Mexico's ambassador to the OAS, Claude Heller, told the Austin American-Stateman, "it will weaken the need for unilateral certification."
But it is up to Congress to shelve or renew certification, and Heller's is not the view of some congressional drug warriors.
Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who has made a career out of talking tough on drugs from his soapbox as chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy, and human resources, is adamantly opposed.
"Would I let an international organization or another state decide whether a country should get financial aid, trade benefits, or international assistance from the United States?" asked the congressman. "When you think about it, it's almost farcical. No way."
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, was less hard-nosed but still skeptical.
"I welcome any effort to make countries, including the United States, take the need for a counter-drug policy seriously," he told the American-Statesman, "but I'm concerned about the MEM because it looks like it could be a gimmick to water down accountability, and nobody needs that."
Grassley's querulous concerns, however, do not seem to be borne out by an examination of the MEM's goals and methods.
According to CICAD, "the objective of the MEM is directly to strengthen mutual confidence, dialogue and hemispheric cooperation in order to deal with the drug problem with greater efficacy."
The MEM accomplishes its goals by using a comprehensive standardized questionnaire to ascertain each of the 34 countries' progress in meeting objectives in five broad areas: National Plans and Strategies; Prevention and Treatment; Reduction of Drug Production; Law Enforcement Measures; and the Cost of the Drug Problem.
Many of the 61 questions, or "indicators," used to evaluate each country's progress betray the heavy hand of US drug control doctrine in shaping the MEM (questionnaire online at http://www.cicad.oas.org/en/mem/09matrix.pdf). From the establishment of a national anti-drug strategy to the ratification of international anti-drug treaties, the indicators consistently cite US-endorsed -- if not insisted upon -- positions as the correct ones.
More disturbing for friends of civil liberties are the indicators for progress in the law enforcement end of drug policy. Borrowing copiously from baleful American models, the MEM cites such techniques and practices as the use of undercover investigations and informants, controlled deliveries of illicit substances, plea bargaining, and the criminalization of attempts and conspiracies to commit drug crimes as evidence of progress.
But despite its general adherence to the US line of drug policy, the MEM has as one of its principles "the exclusion of sanctions of any kind," and for congressional drug warriors, that is the rub. Such language is a less than oblique jab at the US' self-appointed role as monitor of drug policy in the Western Hemisphere and its practice of sabotaging the economies of countries which fail to fall in line.
When Drug Czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey traveled to Salt Lake City last week to deal with doping of the Olympic variety, he could not resist the chance to set Democratic Mayor Rocky Anderson straight about the virtues of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.
Anderson had had the temerity to editorialize in Utah's largest newspaper against DARE as "a fraud upon the people of America" and then cut the program's funding. (See our coverage at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/148.html#saltlakedare/.) Adding insult to injury, the renegade mayor went on to make pointed attacks on current drug policy at last summer's Shadow Conventions, which resulted in profiles in Rolling Stone and the New York Times, where his views reached a larger, national audience.
Their encounter on December 6th was hardly a meeting of the minds.
Although Anderson diplomatically told the Deseret News the meeting was "honest and interesting," his blow-by-blow account was more telling. Anderson said he told McCaffrey the DARE program was "miserably ineffective" and that Drug Strategies, a respected, moderate Washington, DC, drug policy research group had given higher grades to alternate programs favored by the mayor.
"I stressed my view that we should focus our resources on what we know to be effective: good prevention and treatment programs," Anderson said.
"McCaffrey dismissed Drug Strategies," the mayor said. According to Anderson, McCaffrey claimed it lacked credibility because it was funded by George Soros, the drug czar's billionaire bete noire.
Anderson responded that it wasn't Soros, but foundations such as the Kansas Health Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that funded Drug Strategies.
Actually, both men are partially correct. According to the Drug Strategies web site (http://www.drugstrategies.org/about.html), the organization receives funding from 15 different foundations, including Soros' Open Society Institute.
Anderson also tried to acquaint the drug czar with the scientific research discrediting DARE.
"I pointed out that there hadn't been one research article in a peer-reviewed journal reflecting that DARE is effective," said Anderson. "On the other hand, there have been numerous peer-reviewed studies finding that DARE is absolutely ineffective and a waste of money."
"He challenged me on that," continued the mayor, "but he was unable to cite anything that supports his long-held position on DARE. I gave him my card and told him to call if he found any such research."
Anderson should not have been surprised at the drug czar's stand. McCaffrey has repeatedly proven immune to scientific evidence that contradicts his opinions. This, after all, is the man who, when challenged on NBC's Today Show about DARE's inefficacy, retorted, "When you look at the faces of these children, that's all the science that I need."
Undaunted, McCaffrey also took Anderson to task for supporting the decriminalization of marijuana -- a step Anderson has not taken.
"He'd read that I'd advocated decriminalizing marijuana," Anderson said. "I do not favor decriminalization. I do favor a different approach, once people are in the criminal justice system, of treatment and education."
But not all was discord, the mayor said. The two non-controversially agreed that schools should play a major role in drug education and that athletes should not use performance-enhancing drugs.
McCaffrey has not commented on the meeting.
(Visit http://www.drcnet.org/DARE/ for further information on the DARE program.)
As Vancouver authorities and concerned parties grapple with the final shape of that city's program to deal with its hard drug problem, British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has offered his first comments on the plan. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/162.html#vancouver3.0 for a detailed look at the plan.)
Dosanjh told The Province (Vancouver) and the Vancouver Sun in separate interviews last week that he supported the plan, even going so far as to say he could support a program that would provide medically prescribed heroin to addicts.
The Vancouver plan calls only for the city to participate in a North American study of heroin maintenance programs.
"My preference would be to expand the methadone program and to expand counseling programs," Dosanjh told The Province. But, the premier added, heroin maintenance under "very strict, controlled conditions" could benefit users who cannot be "stabilized" through methadone or other treatment regimes.
Dosanjh used almost identical language in his interview with the Sun's editorial board.
The premier also told both newspapers he supported drug courts, which the Vancouver plan proposes.
The plan also calls for a task force to study the desirability of safe injection sites, but Dosanjh has vacillated in his position on the controversial harm reduction proposal. In his interview with The Province, he joined Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen in rejecting the idea out of hand. Owen has publicly worried that safe injection sites would draw addicts from across Canada.
But his comments to the Sun the next day were more equivocal. He seemed to retract his flat opposition to safe injection sites, instead saying sites alone would not suffice.
"Safe injection sites per se won't do the job," he told the Sun, before going on to reiterate his conditional support for heroin maintenance.
Activists in Vancouver have vowed to open such sites -- with or without government assistance -- early next year.
Dosanjh also said the province was ready to assume a role in financing the latest incarnation of the Vancouver Agreement, providing that the federal government also does its part.
The agreement's overarching goal, which it calls key to the overall success of the plan, is to achieve a coordinated response from all levels of government. Dosanjh's comments indicate he is listening, but he has yet to indicate at what level the province will fund the effort, which is estimated to cost $20 million US over the next few years. Under Dosanjh's direction, the provincial government has so far contributed $1.3 million US to Vancouver health and addiction services.
Fallout continues from Oregon voters' overwhelming decision at the polls to reform that state's asset forfeiture laws. Last week, DRCNet reported on the loud wailing and gnashing of teeth in law enforcement and prosecutorial circles as they faced the prospect of losing the self-perpetuating funding opportunity that was asset forfeiture (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/163.html#forfeitureinits).
Now, the threat of new, restrictive standards is beginning to bite. Oregon police agencies, including the Oregon State Police, the Portland Police Bureau, and some of the state's 25 drug task forces,b have decided to restrict asset forfeiture cases. The State Police ordered a temporary halt to asset forfeiture cases where the goods in question are valued at less than $10,000 and said it will not seize any vehicles related to drug crimes.
"This is just an interim action," State Police Lt. John Salle told the Oregonian (Portland) on Sunday. Salle, who heads the state police's 36-member drug enforcement branch, said police were awaiting clarification in the state legislature. "We didn't want to continue to do business as usual because the complexion of the law has changed," he added.
Also last week, the Multnomah County (Portland) District Attorney's office advised county law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to suspend property seizures until the legislature acts to bring existing law into compliance with the changes mandated by Measure 3.
Multnomah County DA Michael Shrunk, in a memo circulated to all county law enforcement agencies, said it would not be prudent to pursue with new cases given the current uncertainty. Shrunk also worried that prosecutors or police could be hit with fines three times the amount of the property seized if the case violated the new standards.
"We have moved on the side of caution," Shrunk told the Oregonian. "The risk is relatively high because of the lack of procedures. If we get an adverse ruling, a government agency may be subject to damages."
Responding to Shrunk's missive, the Portland police and the Regional Organized Crime Narcotics (ROCN) task force announced they will temporarily suspend seizures of cash or property, unless it is held as criminal evidence. Portland police also announced they would quit seizing the cars of persons soliciting prostitutes and repeat drunk drivers, both of which had been allowed under local ordinances. They complained that because they would no longer gain forfeiture revenues, they could no longer afford to pay storage fees for vehicles awaiting their owners' convictions.
Since the vote, Multnomah County prosecutors have dismissed some 15 forfeiture cases stemming from low-level drug dealing or possession busts in which they expect to gain no convictions.
But county prosecutors have also handed five larger forfeiture cases over to the local US Attorney's office for federal forfeiture proceedings, and Assistant US Attorney Leslie Westphal, who handles asset forfeiture cases, told the Oregonian her office would prosecute more such cases in an effort to dam the breach caused by the voters.
"In the past, we have not gone after smaller cases," she said. "But now that local agencies don't have that authority, we're going to have to take many of these."
Typically, under federal forfeiture law, the federal government returns as much as 80% of the value of the seized goods to the arresting state or local agency. But whether this practice can continue in Oregon is now up for debate. Measure 3 mandates that such funds be instead used for drug treatment or education.
According to Dave Fratello of the Campaign for New Drug Policies, which managed the Oregon campaign, "there is a real potential conflict here."
"No one has talked much about this," he told DRCNet, "and it will be interesting to watch how it plays out."
Washington state prison officials have suggested the state consider cutting the prison sentences of current and future drug offenders. Their proposal comes in response to a request by Gov. Gary Locke that all state agencies identify possible budget cuts.
The state is facing a billion dollar budget shortfall. Reducing drug sentences and granting early release to drug prisoners could save $26 million in the next two years, the proposal said.
According to the proposal sent to the governor by the corrections department, shortening the sentences of convicted drug offenders would free up 525 to 700 prison beds.
Margaret Vonheeder, deputy secretary for administration for the Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press the department also proposed reducing the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders, including drug sellers.
"You'd be looking at people who pose the lowest risk to public safety," Vonheeder said. "We've talked about a lot of different sentencing changes."
The governor's criminal justice policy adviser, Dick Van Wagenen, told the Associated Press the governor is still reviewing spending proposals, but that changes in sentencing were possible. "I don't think anything is going to be off the table in terms of how the legislature deals with this," he said.
The corrections department also suggested cuts in drug treatment and job training, despite Vonheeder's admission that such cuts would be "antithetical" to the agency's mission to rehabilitate offenders. Vonheeder said she saw no other way to make large spending cuts without gutting entire programs.
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
An Alberta judge this week not only cleared the way for a multiple sclerosis patient to legally grow marijuana for his own treatment, but stated if Parliament does not amend its marijuana laws to allow for a legal supply to medical marijuana patients within a year, it will be legal for anybody to grow cannabis in the province.
In the case, Justice Darlene Acton dismissed marijuana cultivation charges against Grant Krieger, a multiple sclerosis patient. In her ruling, Justice Acton cited the "absurdity" of the current regulations for patients with a medical exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. There are over 70 patients in Canada who can legally use marijuana medicinally, but as Justice Acton stated in her ruling, "The irony is that there is no source in Canada for marijuana at this time."
"It's another message to the government of Canada that they have to address this issue more thoroughly and Section 56 just doesn't cut it," said Adriano Iovinelli, QC, Kreiger's attorney. A similar ruling was made this summer by an Ontario judge who gave Parliament until July 31, 2001 to allow for the medical use of marijuana or marijuana possession will be legal for all Ontario residents.
The seemingly controversial notion of an amnesty for drug offenders has some likely and unlikely supporters. Visit http://www.nydailynews.com/2000-12-07/News_and_Views/Beyond_the_City/a-91401.asp and read Zev Chafetz's interesting column.
DRCNet readers are uncommonly knowledgeable about US drug policy, and may be interested in applying to the incoming presidential administration for the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (the "drug czar").
According to the Bush-Cheney transition team web site, bushcheneytransitionapplication.com, "One of Governor Bush's top priorities in the months ahead will be to select men and women of the greatest ability and highest ethical and professional integrity to serve in policymaking and key administrative positions in his administration."
But the job isn't for everybody. The web site continues:
Still, interested parties can visit http://www.bushcheneytransitionapplication.com on the web -- and let us know if you hear anything back!
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [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.
January 27, 2001, 1:00-5:00pm, Portland, OR, Teach-In on "Colombia, America's Next Military Nightmare." At the First Unitarian Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. For further information, contact Kim Alphandary, (503) 537-9014 or [email protected], or Chris Falazo, Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, (503) 236-7916 or [email protected].
February 22-24, 2001, New York, NY, "Altered States of Consciousness" conference. At the New School, e-mail [email protected] for further information.
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://www.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 19-21, Washington, DC, 2001 NORML Conference. Call (202) 293-8340 for information. Registration and other information to be made available soon at http://www.norml.org.
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]
Americans are still reeling, or are relieved by, the long-awaited end of the post-election presidential legal saga. Sealing George Bush's victory, and Al Gore's defeat, was a Supreme Court ruling based, rightly or wrongly, on the requirement of equal protection under the law.
The ruling, in its own words, set an unattainable standard for meeting that requirement in the Florida vote count by the deadline it set for the count's completion. Cheer or cry, applaud or boo, that is a feature of the ruling that its authors directly acknowledged in the written opinion itself.
But the court's defense of equal protection in Florida's election stands in stark contrast with its rulings on equal protection under the drug laws. Those rulings also set unattainable standards, but not with the effect, or intention, of enforcing equal protection. Rather, the Supreme Court's rulings in drug cases have set an unattainable standard of evidence that defendants must present in order to benefit from equal protection.
In 1992, for example, Christopher Lee Armstrong and four friends, all of them black, were arrested for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. At trial, according to David Cole's "No Equal Justice," Armstrong's lawyers raised a claim of selective prosecution: In the 77 crack cocaine cases that the Los Angeles federal public defenders office had taken in four years, 72 of the defendants were black and five Hispanic. Yet many white defendants had been prosecuted for crack cocaine in California's state system, where the penalties are much less harsh.
Federal evidence added even more weight to the charge: The United States Sentencing Commission found in 1995 that 65% of crack users are white -- yet of 2,400 people charged with federal crack cocaine violations over a three-year period, all but eleven were black, and none white.
A trial court considered this strong enough evidence to open prosecutorial records ("discovery," in legal terms) to determine whether Armstrong's claims of racial selectively were well-founded. But prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered the records closed. As Cole writes, "The Court seemed to go out of its way to ensure that Armstrong's claims of race discrimination would not see the light of day."
Nevertheless, it is clear to any reasonable observer that prosecutorial choices had led to much harsher sentencing for all black and Hispanic crack cocaine offenders during the three-year period examined, than of all white crack cocaine offenders during that period, at least in the populous state of California. How strong does evidence for unequal protection in drug cases have to be, before the Supreme Court will even allow the evidence to be allowed, much less overturn a conviction or reduce a sentence?
Equal protection, by one interpretation at least, won the day for the George W. Bush campaign. But the "drug exception" to the Constitution brooked no such consideration for Christopher Armstrong as he faced hard years out of his life in a federal penitentiary, and to prison he went.
He never had a chance, not before the Supreme Court. The standards were simply unattainable.
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