(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #167, 1/5/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
the Week Online archives)
1. New York Governor Pledges to "Dramatically Reform" Rockefeller Drug Laws, Skeptical Activists Await Specific Proposals
New York Republican Gov. George Pataki used his seventh annual State of the State address to promise "to dramatically reform New York's Rockefeller drug laws."
"Today, we can conclude that, however well intentioned, key aspects of those laws are out of step with both the times and the complexities of drug addiction,” Pataki told the state's assembled legislators. But the governor was short on specifics. He said his proposals would be unveiled in "coming weeks."
As he spoke inside the state capitol, more than a hundred people demonstrated outside to demand an end to the Rockefeller laws. Friends and relatives of New York drug prisoners were joined by prominent critics of the drug war, including Frank Serpico, Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis, Margie Ratner Kunstler, and Ron Daniels of the Center for Constitutional Rights, for a morning vigil and afternoon press conference.
According to Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (http://www.kunstler.org), one of the event's organizers, the Albany demo was "one of our finest hours."
"We've done hundreds of these vigils, but this was the best. We had mothers who lost kids, kids who lost their mothers, it was like the Nuremburg Tribunal, with the witnesses putting the government on trial," Credico told DRCNet. "To hear these families come up and courageously tell their stories was extremely powerful, and the legislators saw it and the media saw it. We're in every paper in the state today," he crowed.
The Rockefeller laws, among the nation's harshest, were enacted in the 1970s. They were a model for the punitive approach to drug policy that swept the nation in the 1980s, but which is fraying around the edges today. Under the Rockefeller laws, someone convicted of a single sale of as little as two ounces of an illicit drug can face 15 years to life. So can anyone convicted of possessing as little as four ounces. According to the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, more than 21,000 people are doing time on drug charges, out of a total of 70,000 state prisoners. Some 600 of them are serving those 15-years-to-life sentences.
Pataki has supported only limited reform efforts in the past -- he got behind a measure to allow a small group of nonviolent offenders to ask for 10 years instead of 15 -- but has signaled his discomfort with the laws' inequities by giving Christmas commutations to 23 people since he took office in 1995, including five last month.
Pressure to lessen the Rockefeller sentences has been mounting for years. Critics include even the nation's drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who has called them too harsh. In an August, 1999 speech in Albany, McCaffrey said, "Even those who helped pass the Rockefeller-era laws now have serious concerns that these laws have caused thousands of low-level and first-time offenders to be incarcerated at high cost for long sentences that are disproportionate to their crimes."
But moves in the legislature to ameliorate the Rockefeller laws have failed in recent sessions, the victim of partisan bickering and fear of appearing "soft on crime." In recent months, however, key legislators have indicated they were ready to support reform. After long opposing such a move, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last fall said he was prepared to look at easing sentencing laws. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno supported some reform measures last session.
Their support may be guided as much by budgetary concerns as by altruism. In a May report, the Citizens Budget Commission, a well-respected, nonpartisan watchdog group, said New York could save nearly $100 million annually from its prison budget and improve public safety if it eliminated "unnecessary and sometimes counterproductive imprisonment" (http://www.cbcny.org/DOCS52000.htm).
Advocates of Rockefeller law reform are pleased, but cautious.
The Kunstler Fund's Credico told DRCNet he was only somewhat encouraged. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he said. "Pataki is doing smart politics. He's running for reelection and he knows this is blossoming into a huge issue across the country. If he follows through, he'll be untouchable as a governor."
But both Credico and Nicholas Eyle of ReconsiDer (http://www.reconsider.org), a New York-based grassroots drug policy reform group, caution that much remains to be clarified.
"The problem is that there are several bills floating around," Eyle told DRCNet. "One would basically get rid of the Rockefeller laws, but I'm afraid it will be portrayed as the extreme position and we'll end up with some halfway measures."
"We haven't even seen what Pataki is going to propose," added Eyle, "and let's not forget that he also wants to do away with parole for felony offenders. It seems as if he's heading in two directions at once."
Credico, too, voiced concern about just what reforms would occur. "We need more than a lessening of the 15-to-life provisions and we need to block the no parole stuff. Parole works."
Robert Gangi, head of the Correctional Association of New York, largely concurred with Credico and Eyle. "We are encouraged, but not complacent," he told DRCNet. "Pataki made a very strong statement, and it will be hard for him to backtrack."
"But he offered no specifics, and the devil is in the details," Gangi continued. "We have to see if his proposals constitute meaningful reform, and we'll be looking at three things: first, restoring sentencing discretion to judges in drug cases, including the threshold decision of whether to incarcerate or not; second, retroactivity; and third, increased funding for alternate sentences including rehab and treatment, so judges have real options."
Eyle worries that so-called reforms will only end up expanding the reach of an intrusive state. "I'm afraid they'll come up with something only slightly better, say it's all fixed, and then concentrate on forcing people into treatment, which seems to be their new angle," he said.
"But you can't just tweak this system to make it better," Eyle argued. "The problem is prohibition. Prohibition doesn't work, you have to eliminate it."
Both Credico and Eyle pointed to the role of race as well. "Black leaders think reforming the laws will have some effect," Eyle said, "but minorities will continue to be arrested in disproportionate numbers."
Credico said that African-American political leaders and clergy in the state have been slow to come on board. "Folks like Calvin Butts and Floyd Flake haven't taken the lead. Sure, they're concerned about drugs in their neighborhoods, but what about all of those people in prison?"
Impassioned, Credico continued: "When people understand the kind of violence the government has perpetrated against its fellow Americans in the name of the drug war, when they see the pain and suffering, they don't want that. If people knew what went on behind prison walls, they wouldn't support that either. This is a brutal, hidden prison system, and its director, Glenn Goord, should be indicted for crimes against humanity."
And Credico had a warning for Gov. Pataki and the legislature. "I got tons of calls from prisoners last night after the governor spoke," he told DRCNet. "He can't renege on this now or those prisons will explode."
2. Still Giuliani Time: NYC Marijuana Arrests Go Through Roof While Coke-Snorting Yuppies Catch a Break
When New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's delicate sensibilities are offended, the citizens of the Big Apple best watch out. It happened again in Midtown Manhattan in November, when the mayor caught a whiff of marijuana smoke on the street as he left a political ceremony.
"I was walking out of the speech that I gave and I smelled marijuana," he told reporters. "I turned around and these guys took off, and my detail couldn't catch them," he added.
Unable to nail the perps, Mayor Giulani extended his wrath to all their compatriots. "You do not get to smoke marijuana. If you do, we're going to arrest you," came the edict.
And so begins the latest version of the crime-fighting mayor's "quality of life" campaign, which has previously targeted the infamous "squeegee men," the homeless, and all manner of minor offenders, from prostitutes and panhandlers to drug users and graffiti artists.
Not that the war wasn't already underway. By the time the mayor smelled smoke in Midtown, his minions had already arrested more than 50,000 marijuana smokers. By the end of November (the latest figures available), that number had climbed to 59,945, including 19 people at a memorial for John Lennon and eight members of an East Village medical marijuana co-op. That's up from 43,122 during the same period last year, a 39% increase.
In 1992, New York police arrested 720 aficionados of the weed.
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Executive Director Keith Stroup is outraged. "What he's doing is arresting kids for smoking pot in the park. Giulani's campaign is based on busting as many pot smokers as possible," fumed Stroup. "It's the largest percentage increase in arrests I've ever seen. Incredible."
"You have to remember that New York is actually a state that decriminalized in the mid-1970s, and Giuliani is ignoring the will of the legislature," Stroup told DRCNet. "They didn't intend that the city continue to spend millions of dollars to arrest and lock up marijuana offenders."
Under New York state penal codes, possession of less than 25 grams is a "violation" similar to a traffic offense and punishable only by a maximum $100 fine. Those caught smoking marijuana in public, however, face slightly stiffer penalties of up to three months in jail. In practice, most cases end in dismissals or fines.
But the real punishment is the arrest and jail time -- an average of 21.6 hours citywide -- spent awaiting arraignment.
Robert Gangi of the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit advocacy group for more humane criminal justice policies founded in 1844, made that point to DRCNet. "These are offenses for which you cannot get a prison sentence, but part of the quality of life strategy is to have the process of arrest and arraignment be the punishment," he said. "That sends a message to the riff-raff."
NORML's Stroup agreed. "What happens is the charges are dropped," he said, "but Giuliani insists that everyone arrested spends the night in jail. That way he gets his pound of flesh."
Giuliani's vendetta against marijuana is not occurring in a vacuum. It is part and parcel of his quality of life campaigns that have coincided with (but not necessarily caused) dramatic decreases in the crime rate while at the same time provoking increasingly bitter antagonism between minority communities and the police.
The city's Operation Condor, which puts teams of police officers and detectives on sweeps of targeted neighborhoods, has eaten up $75 million in overtime funds this fiscal year, and Giuliani and police officials want $125 million more for next year. Officers on Condor assignments alone made 23,000 arrests last year -- three times as many misdemeanors as felonies -- and issued 57,000 summonses for quality of life violations.
Critics, and they are legion, charge that Operation Condor and the larger quality of life campaign are a thinly veiled effort to keep a lid on "the dangerous classes," in this case, primarily the young, the poor, and the non-white.
Robert Gangi told DRCNet, "We're skeptical about the value of Operation Condor. Although it appears to be politically popular, I have serious questions about whether it has been a major factor in the drop in crime."
"What it has done," Gangi continued, "is lock up thousands of people, mostly people of color, needlessly. It is racially discriminatory in practice and has led to a deteriorating relationship between communities of color and the cops."
"There is both the appearance and the reality of disparate treatment based on race," said Gangi. "We may or may not be reaping crime prevention benefits, but we are definitely sowing the seeds of discontent and antagonism," he concluded.
Gerald Lefcourt, a well-known defense attorney and former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also slammed Condor and its predecessors. "This amounts to 'stop and frisk' searches based on racial profiling, or other characteristics such as youth or appearing disheveled," he told DRCNet. "And it encourages police to look at people of color and young people as potential criminals, not citizens."
"They're not after people in suits and ties," said Lefcourt, "but for everybody else, constitutional protections don't mean a thing. We've got to have protections with some teeth in them."
It isn't just the usual suspects crying foul about New York City's version of the drug war. Only two months ago, a Justice Department investigation of the police department's Street Crimes Unit (the folks who gunned down Amadou Diallo), announced it had found that the unit's officers had engaged in racial profiling. That report came on the heels of one by the state Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, saying that the city's street search tactics unfairly targeted blacks and Hispanics.
And last week, the perception of racial and class bias got another boost when a black police officers' group accused federal prosecutors of selectively enforcing drug laws by failing to arrest as many as 2,000 "white, affluent" coke-sniffers caught up in a federal investigation.
While city police busied themselves arresting minor offenders by the tens of thousands, federal authorities were investigating a cocaine delivery service. According to reports in the New York Post, they videotaped hundreds of transactions between the service and its clients at Wall Street banks and brokerage houses and other snooty Manhattan locales.
The office of US Attorney Mary Jo White, after obtaining guilty pleas or verdicts from most of the trafficking defendants, declined to prosecute the buyers. Instead, her office is "contemplating stern letters of reprimand" for the hapless yuppies.
That didn't sit well with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care (http://members.tripod.com/blacksnlaw/), who called it "a racially based double standard" at a press conference called to lambast the decision.
"We are locking up African-Americans and Hispanics for having drug paraphernalia or even one joint," said the group's leader, Lt. Eric Adams. "We have a policy where we arrest someone for carrying vials of crack, but these people go free."
The National Black Police Association agrees that drug law enforcement is rife with racial disparities, but doesn't think the answer lies in more arrests, according to Executive Director Ronald Hampton, a retired 24-year veteran of the Washington, DC, police force.
"This has nothing to do with quality of life issues," Hampton told DRCNet. "It's always been about race and class. Are they as aggressive on Wall Street or Park Avenue as they are in Harlem or the Bronx?"
Hampton answered his own question. "No, of course not, because they would be offending powerful people. If the police treated those people like they do folks in public housing in Harlem, it would be a public relations disaster."
"Look," he told DRCNet, "we've thought for a long time that drug policy needed to be looked at. It hasn't worked, except to victimize the people on the bottom. What has happened is that police departments use the notion of the war on drugs to victimize people."
Hampton could find plenty of people to buy that argument in New York City these days.
3. Hawaii Medical Marijuana: Open for Business
On December 28th, the last bureaucratic obstacle to the legal use of marijuana for medical reasons in Hawaii fell when regulations approved by Gov. Ben Cayetano a week earlier went into effect (http://swat.state.hi.us/Chapter%2023-202.pdf).
It is still too soon, though, for the first "certified" medical marijuana patient to have appeared, because doctors requesting the certification packets are just getting them in hand. The state Department of Public Safety has not made the certification forms available online -- at physicians' request, it says -- so doctors are waiting for them to arrive by mail.
Still, the date is historic, marking as it does the fruition of Hawaii's unique path to medical marijuana. The Aloha State is the only state to legalize medical use through the legislative process. Eight states have done so by citizen initiative, including Nevada and Colorado, who joined those ranks in the November elections.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that 17 doctors had requested the certification forms on day one.
According to Pamela Lichty,
president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and a member
of the Drug Policy Forum
"This is a small place and people are nervous -- decidedly not like California," she told DRCNet. "We don't know of any patient who has been authorized yet, and we don't know who the doctors are who are requesting the forms, except for an ex-board member of ours on the Big Isle, Dr. Bill Wenner."
Wenner has been an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana who recommended it to patients without waiting for the regulations.
According to Keith Kamita, administrator of the Public Safety Department's narcotics division, which will run the program, the operation should run smoothly. After patients pay a $25 annual fee, his office will review the application to make sure the physician is registered and authorized to administer controlled substances, and to make sure the check clears, Kamita told the Star-Bulletin.
"If everything is correct, we can turn an application around in five working days, but the law gives us a leeway of 60 days," he said.
Once approved by Public Safety, patients will receive a temporary license enabling them to legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana, three mature plants and four immature plants, Kamita said.
The role of a law enforcement agency in administering the medical marijuana program gives Lichty cause for concern. Hawaii is the only state to opt for a police agency instead of a health agency to run its medical marijuana program. And despite Kamita's pledge that the program will run smoothly, Lichty tells DRCNet, "The head of the program, Keith Kamita, is the problem since he's hostile to the whole idea. His boss, Ted Sakai, chief of the department, has been very supportive and flexible, but then he was appointed by the governor."
Lichty said medical marijuana supporters will continue to pressure Sakai to ensure that the agency runs the program in good faith. "We've told him people are watching to see how they do since they're the only law enforcement entity in the states involved with medical marijuana."
By press time, Sakai had not responded to an e-mail request for comment from DRCNet.
Other than that, reformers had little to complain about. At public hearings and in conferences, they managed to remove most of the undesirable provisions in the initial proposed regulations in November (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/158.html#hawaiiaction).
"Yes, the rules are pretty good; they took out virtually all of the objectionable parts," Lichty told DRCNet. "Problems still remain with the form for registration itself, which is overlong and very intimidating, with a reference to the fact that it's still illegal under federal law. That's purposefully ambiguous."
But, Lichty wrote, reformers intend to meet soon with Sakai to address those and other minor problems. Whether those final concerns are met or not, legal medical marijuana has come to Hawaii.
4. McCaffrey's Swan Song: ONDCP Releases 2001 National Drug Control Strategy Report
As the clock ticks down on the nation's premier drug warrior, Gen. Barry McCaffrey is still up to the same old tricks.
After helping to engineer five years of escalating drug law enforcement budgets and arrests of drug offenders, and despite his role in crafting the Clinton administration's war plan for Colombia, McCaffrey wants to be remembered as a moderate.
To call it a war on drugs is "misleading," said McCaffrey in the national drug war battle plan, which calls for more of the same.
"Although wars are expected to end, drug education -- like all schooling -- is a continuous process," explained the general. "The moment we believe ourselves victorious and drop our guard, drug abuse will resurface in the next generation. To reduce the demand for drugs, prevention must be ongoing."
McCaffrey once again reiterated his preference for cancer over war as the metaphor of choice to describe policies that criminalize millions of US citizens.
But he placed new emphasis on treatment, which he said can "reduce the consequences of addiction." Treatment for chronic drug users is "compassionate public policy and a sound investment."
Other elements of McCaffrey's final strategy range from the laudable (education) to the impossible (stopping drugs at the US border and eliminating sources of supply) to the paradoxically ironic (reducing drug-related crime and violence).
"Along with prevention and treatment, law enforcement is essential for reducing drug use," McCaffrey said. "Illegal drug trafficking inflicts violence and corruption on our communities. Law enforcement is the first line of defense against such unacceptable activity."
His report had nothing to say about how efforts to prohibit drug use through massive repression "inflict violence and corruption on our communities."
The 2001 National Drug Control
Strategy is available online at
5. Banned in Boston, DC Says Okay: Marijuana Reform Ads Ride the Metro
Change the Climate (http://www.changetheclimate.org) couldn't get Massachusetts officials to grasp the concept of the First Amendment, but it has had better luck in the nation's capital. On January 3rd, the nonprofit group's ads suggesting that marijuana use should be decriminalized began appearing on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or the Metro) subway station walls and on buses throughout the Washington area.
At first, Metro followed the censorious path of Massachusetts and banned the ads, saying they violated a policy that says public service ads must be non-commercial, non-partisan and "not designed to influence legislation or public opinion on a controversial subject," a Metro spokesman told the Washington Post. Metro relented, however, in the face of a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The one-month ad campaign features three ads. The first, which appears in 10 subway stations, including one near the White House, shows a young woman asking, "Why do kids go to jail for doing what politicians did when they were young? Tell us the truth."
The second ad, which appears on small signs inside 500 Metro buses, features an executive who smokes marijuana to ease the effects of his chemotherapy. The third ad, a large sign appearing on the sides of 50 buses, shows two police officers standing in front of an American flag. "Police are too important... too valuable... too good... to waste on arresting people for marijuana when real criminals are on the loose."
Change the Climate paid Metro $2,150, a discounted rate for nonprofits that did not include artwork or printing.
Joseph White, the group's director, told DRCNet in an interview last fall (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/158.html#letmetalk) that the ad campaign was timed to coincide with the presidential inauguration, set for January 20th, in order to maximize the campaign's visibility.
New York and Chicago are next, he said.
6. Bluegrass Festival Threatens Suit Over Drug Checkpoint
For more than a quarter-century, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has drawn thousands of music fans to remote southwestern Colorado each June. But last year, the festival attracted a less welcome presence: a highway checkpoint manned by the Southwest Drug Task Force, complete with a large sign warning approaching travelers of the upcoming "Narcotics Checkpoint Ahead."
According to complaints from bluegrass fans compiled by Planet Bluegrass, the festival's organizers, task force members at the roadblock searched cars of festival-goers and sniffed them with drug-detecting dogs. Press accounts at the time featured a satisfied Dolores County Sheriff Jerry Martin crowing over some 20 arrests, mostly for marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms.
"It just bowled us over," Martin told the Denver Post. "It was a great success. I'm going to be in court for the next six months."
Dolores County adjoins San Miguel County, where Telluride and the festival location are both located. Ironically, San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters has gained national prominence as a Libertarian who is adamantly opposed to the drug war. His department does not participate in the Southwest Drug Task Force. He told the Post he is "philosophically opposed" to drug checkpoints and would not use them.
Sheriff Masters was not alone among local officials in criticizing the checkpoint. "I think it's outrageous," then-Telluride Mayor Amy Levek told the Post. "I'm not sure what the motivation is. The bluegrass festival has had its ups and downs, but for the last 10 years the crowd has been very manageable, a good crowd."
Levek also suggested that the checkpoint's timing to coincide with the festival was an attempt to generate revenue for Dolores County.
Although festival organizer Chuck Ferguson was quoted at the time as saying he "had no problem with officers enforcing the law," he also expressed concerns about festival-goers being targeted for law enforcement attention.
But after hearing from enough complaining bluegrass fans, Ferguson and Planet Bluegrass changed their tune. Ferguson told the Post last week he believes officers are guilty of profiling his customers, some of whom have long hair and drive beat-up cars.
"We feel that driving to a music festival, you know, shouldn't be cause to have your car pulled over and drug-sniffed," he said. "Some people said they did nothing wrong, and they were pulled over and sniffed."
On December 12th, Planet Bluegrass gave formal notice to the state and local law enforcement agencies participating in the Southwest Task Force that it intends to sue them for violating the civil rights of festival-goers. Under Colorado law, the agencies must respond by mid-April; if they do not, the suit will be filed.
The task force consists of members of law enforcement agencies in Dolores, La Plata, and Montezuma counties, as well as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The suit names as possible defendants officials from those counties, as well as Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.
Although a recent Supreme Court ruling banned the use of random roadside checkpoints to enforce drug laws, Dolores and Montezuma County officials vowed to organize another checkpoint this year. The "Narcotics Checkpoint Ahead" sign notwithstanding, they characterized the roadblock as "traffic enforcement."
"The sheriff told me everything was done by the book, and I believe him," Dolores County Commissioner Leroy Gore told the Cortez (Dolores County) Journal. "If they are comfortable with doing it next year, then I support them."
7. Federal Court Drug-Testing Device Under Fire, PharmChem Sweat Patch May Be "Too Good"
For the last four years, federal probation offices have been authorized to use a new drug testing device, a patch worn on the body that absorbs and collects components of sweat, including drugs. Now in widespread use at US probation offices, the sweat patch, manufactured by PharmChem Laboratories of Menlo Park, California, was supposed to enhance law enforcement efforts to catch drug users.
But dogged federal defenders in Nevada, where the US probation office has used the patch since 1997, have blown a huge hole in its reliability. Fallout has so far been limited mainly to Nevada, but could spread across the US Court system. It could also scuttle PharmChem's grand vision of widespread adoption of the patch in the federal workplace.
Nevada defenders had for the past 2 1/2 years sought to challenge the patch in court after hearing repeated complaints from federal probationers who bitterly denied they were using drugs despite positive results from the patch.
Then, in dramatic testimony at a November 30th federal court hearing in Las Vegas, a prosecution witness unexpectedly bolstered the federal defenders' claim that the patch picks up environmental contaminants, thus causing false positive drug test results. The testimony has also prompted federal court officials in Nevada and the local US Attorney's Office to think again about relying on the patch.
At the hearing, in the case of a woman accused of violating the conditions of her release after the patch indicated she had used cocaine, PharmChem toxicologist James Meeker stunned prosecutors when he revealed that PharmChem's own in-house tests found evidence of external contamination.
Meeker described studies in which researchers placed a tiny amount of cocaine -- invisible to the naked eye -- on the skin of five subjects. Researchers then wiped the skin with isopropyl alcohol before applying the patch. Two of the five subjects tested positive for cocaine, Meeker testified. He also revealed that PharmChem was concerned enough about the patch's reliability that it contracted with an independent lab to conduct further tests.
Although Meeker testified that he still believed the patch "is acceptable and reliable to determine drug use," the damage was already done. Within days of Meeker's testimony, prosecutors ended their effort to revoke the woman's release.
"We didn't want to be in a position where we were trying to revoke somebody based on science that wasn't sound," Assistant US Attorney Joseph Sullivan told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We decided to step back and see whether the potential for contamination is legitimate."
Then US probation officials in Nevada stepped in to announce that, in light of Meeker's testimony, they will no longer use patch test results as the sole basis for violating federal probationers or those on supervised release. Until the patch's reliability can be confirmed, US probation officers in Nevada will use other indicators of drug use, such as urine tests and eyewitness accounts to corroborate the patch.
"We think the sweat patch is a great drug detection device," said senior US probation officer Mike Severance. "The problem is it may be too good," he told the Review-Journal.
Meanwhile, concerns about the patch resulted in two more aborted revocation hearings. In mid-December, US probation officials in Las Vegas withdrew a revocation petition against a man whose patch came back positive for methamphetamines.
"We would now request that this petition be withdrawn due to new evidence shared with our office by PharmChem Laboratories which has shown the patch may have returned positive due to environmental contaminants," the prosecutors wrote in court documents.
And in an early sign of the potential national impact, federal prosecutors in Oakland late in December declined to proceed with a revocation hearing after learning of Meeker's testimony.
That's not enough for Franny Forsman, the head federal public defender for Nevada. "I think it should be pulled off the market until the problems are fixed," she told the Review-Journal. "This thing ought not to be used because it is being used in this city to take people's kids away and to put people in jail."
In addition to the federal courts, judges in the Clark County (Las Vegas) Family Courts have been using the patch when parents in custody battles make allegations of drug use.
The sweat patch is good business for PharmChem. In Nevada, probation official Severance told the Review-Journal, PharmChem gets $5 for each patch and $20 for each test. US probation officials in Nevada used 850 patches in 2000.
But PharmChem wants to get the patch into the federal workplace, where its potential customer base would be in the hundreds of thousands.
"If it gets into the workplace, it's a lucrative proposition for PharmChem," said Forsman, who spearheaded the campaign against the patch.
PharmChem may have to reevaluate its plans, though. Now, thanks to the efforts of Forsman and the Nevada federal defenders, the patch is fair game across the country.
8. Blue Ribbon New Mexico Advisory Group Issues Recommendations for Drug Policy Reform
The Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group, appointed by New Mexico Governor Johnson last May, has completed its Report and Recommendations evaluating the effectiveness of current New Mexico drug policies. The blue-ribbon panel, a diverse group including judges, the Secretaries of Health and of Public Safety, the mayor of Albuquerque, and other policy and medical experts, is recommending a comprehensive list of specific programs and strategies to improve the way that New Mexico deals with drug abuse and drug policy.
The Advisory Group's Recommendations include the implementation of effective prevention and drug education programs, the availability of effective drug treatment on request to anyone who needs it, the expansion of harm reduction strategies to decrease the potential dangers of drug use and abuse, and the reform of criminal justice sentencing for certain drug offenders.
"It's become apparent that the current 'war on drugs' is a failure," said retired District Court Judge Woody Smith, Chair of the Advisory Group. "The question is, what concrete changes can be made to address the dangers of drug abuse and drug-related violence effectively. We hope this Report will help New Mexico answer that question."
According to the NORML News (http://www.norml.org), the advisory group, among the Advisory Group's recommendations is ending criminal sanctions for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by anyone over 18 years old (those smoking marijuana in public would still face a civil fine), and recommended that the Lynn Pierson medical marijuana act be amended to allow physicians to recommend and patients to access medical marijuana when medically appropriate.
According to NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup, "The Governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group joins a long list of prestigious commissions and study groups that have reached the conclusion that we should stop arresting responsible marijuana smokers, including the National Commission on Marijuana Use and Drug Abuse (Shaffer Commission, 1972) in this country, the LeDain Commission (1972) in Canada and the Wooten Report (1968) in England."
The committee also recommended reducing first and second drug possession offenses to misdemeanors with automatic probation and substance abuse treatment rather than jail time, the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, and a reallocation of police resources to focus primarily on violent crime and secondarily on property crime, rather than on drug enforcement.
In addition to Judge Smith, the Advisory Group includes Secretary Alex Valdez of the Department of Health; Secretary Nick Bakas of the Department of Public Safety; Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca; Senior Judge John Kane of the United States District Court of Denver; Angie Vachio, Executive Director of PB & J Family Services; New Mexico State Senator Cisco McSorley; Steve Bunch, President of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation; Dr. Steve Jenison of the Infectious Disease Bureau of Public Health; and Dr. Norty Kalishman of the McCune Charitable Foundation.
9. Urgent Action: Ashcroft, Clemencies, Hemp
As we noted last week, drug reformers are faced with not one, or even two, but three urgent action items as we being the year 2001. Please take a few moments to call Congress and the President this week -- it could make all the difference for the coming year!
URGENT ACTION ITEM #1: John Ashcroft
As you may have read in mainstream news accounts, Sen. John Ashcroft, who was defeated for reelection in Missouri by the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, has been nominated by George W. Bush to be the next US Attorney General. It is vital that his nomination be opposed. John Ashcroft is one of the most ideologically extreme drug warriors, and his appointment would spell trouble for sentencing/prison policies, medical marijuana, needle exchange, racial profiling, you name it. See last week's article for more information (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#ashcroft). We will be issuing state-level action alerts shortly, for our readers who have one or more Senators on the Judiciary Committee that will be voting on his nomination.
In the meantime, please call your two US Senators and ask them to oppose the controversial John Ashcroft nomination. You can reach your Senators (or find out who they are) by calling the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can also visit http://www.senate.gov to look up their web sites and find out their direct numbers in Washington and their local phone numbers and locations in your state. Make an in-person visit if you can!
Note that our opposition to the Ashcroft appointment is nonpartisan -- we opposed Clinton's drug czar appointee, Barry McCaffrey, five years ago -- and is based solely on the Senator's drug war record. The fact that Ashcroft is positioned in the rightward end of the political spectrum has not played a role in our decision to oppose him, and in fact our supporters span the full range of the political spectrum -- liberals, conservatives, libertarians and others -- a few who even support Ashcroft for other reasons, despite their disagreement with his pro-drug war stances. We respect their opinions, and want to make clear that we oppose drug warriors regardless of their political party or stands on other issues.
URGENT ACTION ITEM #2: Save Industrial Hemp
Drug warriors at the DEA and ONDCP are trying to ban a whole range of products made with industrial, non-drug hemp. Their motivation, ostensibly, is that hemp interferes with drug testing and creates false positives, causing problems with federal drug testing programs more complicated. Really, they are simply committed to a bizarre ideology that considers hemp a drug, even though you can't get high with it. But in doing so, they are attempting to administratively rewrite 63 years of US law that clearly makes an exception for low-THC hemp in the marijuana laws. Their actions threaten to make a perfectly legal, fledgling industry and its patrons all victims of the drug war.
What is happening is that DEA is planning to publish three "interim rules," which would immediately become effective while they go through the longer process. First, the DEA proposes to change its interpretation of existing law to bring hemp products within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act; second, to change DEA regulations to agree with the new interpretation; and third, to exempt traditional hemp products not designed for human consumption, such as paper and clothing, from being subject to the Controlled Substances Act. (See http://www.drcnet.org/wol/165.html#hempembargo for further information on the looming Hemp Embargo.)
For the rules to become effective, several federal agencies have to sign off on them. The so-called Dept. of Justice has already done so, but they still have to go through Customs, Treasury, Commerce, and the Office of Management and Budget. Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators; ask them to oppose the DEA's illegal hemp regulations and to put pressure on these agencies to reject the regulations. Again, you can reach all three of them via the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or look up their DC and local contact info and locations via http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov on the web.
URGENT ACTION ITEM #3: Appeal to Clinton for More Clemencies
Days before the holiday season, the news came out that President Bill Clinton had granted clemencies to two prisoners whose names are well known to drug reformers: Dorothy Gaines and Kemba Smith, now home with their families. That's the good news; read more about it at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#clemency and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#dorothygaines as well as our editorial, "Awakening from Kemba's Nightmare," http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#editorial from last week.
The action item is to urge Clinton to release more such prisoners. There are hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in the nation's penal institutions, tens of thousands of them in the federal system over which Clinton has jurisdiction. It is wonderful that Dorothy and Kemba have gotten to go home, but two is not enough!
In particular, the 400+ "safety-valve" prisoners should be released. These are people who would likely be free today if they had been sentenced after the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, which allowed judges to reduce the sentences of certain drug offenders who would otherwise get five or ten year mandatory minimums. The law was almost passed with retroactivity, but that fell victim to a frenzied election-year intersection of drug and gun politics. Many similar people's sentences have begun and ended since then. There is no reason not to release them.
A few other federal prisoners or defendants who deserve our support:
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
January 11-13, Los Angeles, CA, "Agents and Assets," performance and symposium about the Fallout from the War on Drugs, and the CIA's alleged drug connections, by the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), in conjunction with Old Stories: New Lives. Showings include Thursday, 1/11, 7:30pm, followed by discussion with Prop. 36's Dave Fratello; Friday, 1/12, with Sandra Alvarez of Global Exchange's Colombia Human Rights Program and Alfred McCoy, historian and scholar of the CIA's involvement in the heroin trade; Saturday, 1/13, 1:00pm and 7:30pm, with 2:30pm forum on arts and social change. At Side Street Live, 425 South Main Street, 2nd Floor (between 4th and 5th), $10 general admission, $8 for Side Street Projects members, seniors or students, call (213) 620-8895 for info or reservations.
January 13, St. Petersburg, FL, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Regional Workshop, location to be determined. Call (202) 822-6700 for information or to register.
January 27, 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 2, 8:30am-5:30pm, San Francisco, CA, "The State of Ecstasy: The Medicine, Science and Culture of MDMA." One day conference, sponsored by The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, at the Golden Gate Club, Presidio of San Francisco. For further information, call (415) 921-4987 or visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/ecstasy/ on the web.
February 22-24, New York, NY, "Altered States of Consciousness" conference. At the New School, e-mail [email protected] for further information.
March 9-11, 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, 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. Visit http://www.norml.org/calendar/conf2001intro.shtml to register or for further information, or call (202) 483-5500.
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]
Once again, New York's governor George Pataki is talking about "reforming" the Rockefeller Drug Laws. He's been talking about it for awhile, ever since getting elected several years ago, actually.
Talk is cheap, though. It's not enough for Pataki to just talk about changing the law. The law actually needs to get changed. At least he needs to make a credible effort to change them. Such an effort, on the part of a Republican governor, would be likely to meet with some success.
I personally don't think "reform" is what is needed for the Rockefeller Drug Laws -- they should be repealed outright. Actually, I think all the drug laws should be repealed, though that's not the issue at hand at this moment. But the harsh Rockefeller laws, at least, could feasibly be repealed, even in the current political context.
But if outright repeal is a little bit too much for Pataki, then the reforms should at least be substantial, not the minimal changes he supported last time this thing heated up (which didn't get anywhere either).
One of the people who spoke up this week to support Pataki's call for reform was outgoing Clinton drug czar Barry McCaffrey. Thanks Barry, you've talked about doing something about mandatory minimums before too. You've talked about reducing the proportion of federal dollars going to law enforcement (2/3) in favor of increasing funding for treatment and prevention (currently 1/3). Your press release yesterday once again claimed that prevention is "goal #1" of the National Drug Control Strategy.
But talk is cheap. Why didn't you do something about it? Every year you submitted a budget proposal to Congress that left the funding proportions virtually unchanged. An examination of those proposals -- including the one you unveiled yesterday -- shows that the supposed "goal #1" of your strategy gets a smaller chunk of the budget than any of the other stated goals your strategy lays out. You could have at least asked Congress to change the spending priorities, if you believed what you said. If Congress wanted to reject that change, let them do that and have that debate take place. Maybe something good would have come of it.
Instead of putting his energy into rolling back the mandatory minimum laws or changing the budget priorities, McCaffrey embarked on misguided ideological crusades against medical marijuana, needle exchange and industrial hemp, defending the ineffective DARE program that's sucking the money away from better drug education programs, and pumping dollars and weapons into a misguided Colombian adventure that human rights organizations and heads of state around the world oppose. In this case, talk was expensive -- expensive in lives, dollars, and missed opportunities to protect our nation's youth.
It's too late for McCaffrey, his tenure as drug czar ending, his last misleading press release promulgated. But it's not too late for Pataki to finally do something beyond issuing a few pardons or clemencies, not yet. The governor should put his money where his mouth is and solidly support some substantial changes to New York State's cruel drug war sentencing regime, before more years go by and idle talk is all he has left to offer.
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