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: