(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #169, 1/19/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
An article by investigative journalist Dan Forbes, released yesterday evening by the Progressive Review (http://www.prorev.org), has confirmed something that drug war observers had strongly suspected: John Ashcroft, as Missouri Governor, agreed to "look the other way" while state police federalized asset forfeitures in order to keep money seized in their agencies -- violating a Missouri constitutional requirement that forfeiture funds instead go to the state's school system.
If this information receives the attention it merits, it will raise serious questions about the AG nominee's willingness to obey the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Information provided in recent weeks by DRCNet made the case that legislation sponsored by John Ashcroft as Senator showed a disregard for the 1st and 4th amendments to the bill of rights of the US Constitution (http://www.stopjohnashcroft.org). Now, hard evidence exists showing a disregard for the Missouri state constitution as well, in Ashcroft's actual practice as the state's chief executive. Strongly suggestive evidence of the same was also presented, earlier the same day, by syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington.
Asset forfeiture reform is an issue that has recently received bipartisan attention. Legislation championed by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) to curb some excesses of federal asset forfeiture law was passed by an overwhelming margin in the House of Representatives, and unanimously in the Senate, last year. The issue is drawing increased scrutiny in state governments as well; for example, forfeiture was a major topic at a recent conference of southern state legislators, with action promised by some attendees (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/161.html#southernforfeiture).
Some states have specifically addressed the issue of forfeiture federalizations. A ballot initiative passed by Utah voters this November diverts asset forfeiture proceeds into education, a similar initiative in Oregon into drug treatment. The Missouri Constitution requires that asset forfeiture funds be transferred to the school system. In Utah and Oregon, a court hearing would be required before any funds are transferred to the federal government, and would mandate that any funds returned would be used as specified in the initiatives.
More than spending choices lies at the heart of such requirements. One of the harms of asset forfeiture is the distortion of law enforcement priorities and standards -- police agencies will sometimes choose cases that promise a lucrative forfeiture take over other cases with greater bearing on public safety -- and the lure of forfeited drug money provides an incentive to take shortcuts with suspects' Constitutional rights. Requiring that forfeited funds go to budgetary areas other than law enforcement is intended to reduce those risks.
In order to circumvent state laws imposing such requirements, however, police agencies will often turn forfeiture cases over to the federal government, which in turn will return most of the money back to the state or local police, rather than to the places the state legislatures intended. This is what happened in Missouri -- where a provision of the state's Constitution, affirmed by the courts and the legislature, directs that forfeiture proceeds go to the schools instead.
The aiding and abetting, by a top state official and the US Department of Justice, of a constitutional violation by that state's police agencies to keep money that lawfully should have gone to the state's schools, could well be seen as having bearing on that official's suitability to head the Department of Justice.
Read Dan Forbes' detailed expose at http://www.prorev.com/ashcroft.htm -- and Arianna Huffington's column at http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/files/011801.html -- and decide for yourself.
With Democratic senators allowing Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft's hard-line positions on drug policy to go unchallenged, demonstrators less infected with the spirit of bipartisanship found it necessary to do the job themselves. It happened Wednesday afternoon when the tone of gentlemanly civility in the Senate hearing room was abruptly, if briefly, shattered when four spectators seated in the galleries stood up and began shouting. Although their shouted words were mostly unintelligible to television viewers -- except for the loud and clear yells of "Stop Ashcroft!" -- the quick arrests were beamed across the country by C-Span and MSNBC cameras and their identities and mission explicated by network newsmen.
The four men arrested are all members of Housing Works (http://www.housingworks.org), a minority-controlled, community-based, nonprofit corporation providing housing, health care, advocacy, job training, and vital supportive services to homeless New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS.
In fact, Housing Works is the nation's largest minority-controlled AIDS service organization, and one of its most innovative, especially when it comes to dealing with mentally impaired or chemically dependent aids sufferers. Instead of insisting on abstinence-based programs, Housing Works has offered "low-threshold" programs designed to work with current drug users "where they're at." These programs include syringe exchange as well as the whole panoply of harm reduction measures.
DRCNet spoke with the group's legal counsel, Michael Kink, to find out what provoked the quick but nationally-televised demonstration.
"DRCNet gave us all this great info on Ashcroft's record," laughed Kink. "It's true, we got information from you guys, but we provide advocacy and harm reduction services for homeless people with HIV and that's why we were concerned."
"Harm reduction through needle exchange is a core mission for us," Kink explained. "Federal funding for needle exchange programs and harm reduction initiatives is desperately needed. Here in New York we're fortunate in that we have some state funding, so we can integrate needle exchanges and harm reduction measures into everything we do, but that's not the case everywhere," he said.
"We felt the Ashcroft nomination sent a very bad signal, since he has been such an outspoken leader of the congressional faction blocking needle exchange programs," said Kink. "We felt folks needed to put their bodies on the line and speak out as loudly as possible to highlight his record and raise the issue's profile in the context of this incoming administration."
Housing Works put together a six-person team for the operation, with four members -- all men of color with HIV -- prepared to risk arrest, Kink said. "These men all have personal experience being people in need of HIV prevention services," Kink told DRCNet. "They all believe strongly in expanding needle exchange programs and harm reduction services, and they all were willing to risk their personal freedom to make this critical point."
Charged with "disruption of Congress," a misdemeanor, are four New York residents: Housing Works co-executive director Keith Cylar (also a member of DRCNet's board of directors), staffer and former client Nelson Trinidad, and current clients Earl Ellis and Zonell Wright. The four will appear in court on February 1st, said Kink.
"People should feel free to contact us and/or come to court to support us," Kink encouraged.
With all eyes on the confirmation hearings for former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO) as Attorney General, another critical vacancy for drug policy reformers is receiving scant attention. The Bush transition team has had nothing to say about who is in line for the drug czar's position being vacated this weekend by Gen. Barry McCaffrey, and, with few exceptions, the drug reform movement has been equally silent.
That hasn't stopped prohibitionist stalwarts, who hear the footsteps of reformers gaining on them, from attempting to influence the choice -- and the general direction of drug policy. According to the Washington Times, a coterie of Republican House drug warriors sent a letter to President-elect Bush urging him to "reenergize" the drug war and not to drop the drug czar's cabinet-level status.
"We believe that any downgrade of the drug czar position below Cabinet status at the outset of your administration would be a political misstep," said the letter. "Early on, President Clinton's misguided efforts to severely reduce the ONDCP staff was met with strong public and congressional condemnation and eventually reversed."
The letter's signers included powerful Republican Reps. John L. Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Government Reform criminal justice, drug policy and human resources subcommittee and co-chairman of the Speaker's Working Group for a Drug Free America; Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; Cass Ballenger of North Carolina, vice chairman of the International Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee; and Benjamin A. Gilman of New York, past chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
The congressional drug warriors called on Bush to choose a "nationally prominent figure" as drug czar, and according to the Washington Times, the man they have in mind is former Congressman Bill McCollum (R-FL), notorious as a drug policy hard-liner during his years in Congress. McCollum lost a close race for a Senate seat to Democrat Bill Nelson in November.
The Washington Post's political gossip columnist, Al Kamen, seconds the scuttlebutt on McCollum, but adds that another Floridian and inveterate drug warrior, James McDonough, is also on the short list. McDonough, formerly an assistant to McCaffrey in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is currently Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's drug czar.
In an odd twist, Kamen also mentions Republican Michigan Gov. John Engler as a possibility for the job, mainly because the Bush team has not yet found a cabinet post for him, not because Engler has any special interest in drug policy or the drug czar position.
And in a sadly unremarkable jeremiad, the New York Times' Abe Rosenthal urged Bush to "show what presidential compassion means for Americans" by appointing a new drug czar on inauguration day. And if Rosenthal had his druthers, the new drug czar would be... William Bennett, self-appointed moralist and former drug czar.
In a warning to the incoming president, Rosenthal makes clear that if Bush does not wage a sufficiently vigorous drug war, people like Rosenthal will accuse him of "indirectly strengthening the relatively small but overly influential clique of Americans who belittle and befoul the advances made in fighting illegal drugs."
Those people, with their "well-financed and skillful propaganda machine... set up and win innocuous-sounding state referendums, disguised simply as permitting the use of narcotics for sick folk," but what they really want is "a sly crawl to legalization," writes Rosenthal.
Those "pro-drug lobbyists," Rosenthal continues, wiping the froth from his lips, need "the disgust of society against them," but that has not happened "for shameful reasons" and because of a "politically correct and socially vile attitude has persuaded some normally sensible people to believe the war is being steadily lost."
Another drug warrior, former New Mexico Public Safety director Darren White, has also thrown his hat into the ring, at the behest of someone in the Bush transition team, he told the Albuquerque Tribune. White, who as Public Safety director also served as the state's drug czar, has as his apparent primary qualification the fact that he opposed Gov. Gary Johnson's drug reform efforts.
White resigned in 1999 saying that Johnson's pronouncements on drug policy were hurting police morale and credibility. He is also applying for DEA administrator.
And that brings us to Gov. Johnson. Gadfly columnist Arianna Huffington has used her bully pulpit to nominate Johnson for the post. Writing that "it's time to bring on a drug czar who can skip the cheery rhetoric, face the fact that the facts aren't good and turn the wheel before we head over the cliff," she urged Bush to give him serious consideration.
Johnson told Huffington, "the first thing I would do is institute truth-in-advertising rules at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, because a lot of what has been coming out of it is pure hogwash -- especially the claims of victory." But always the realistic politician, Johnson added, "It would be too bold a statement for Bush to choose me. I'm a little radioactive. But I definitely think that a bold choice is what is needed."
Huffington has been almost alone among drug reformers in lobbying for a progressive drug czar. Bill Piper, legislative analyst for The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, offered some reasons why. "We are really busy with the Ashcroft nomination," he said, "but more importantly, we're frozen out. They aren't going to listen to us."
Common Sense for Drug Policy is making noise anyway. In a common effort with the United Methodist Church, the National Public Health Association, and the National Black Police Association, the group has placed print ads listing job requirements for the new drug czar, but without putting forward a specific candidate. (Visit http://www.csdp.org/ads/wanted.htm to view the ad online.) According to the ad, the successful candidate will have experience in public health, the courage to speak out against drug war ideologues, the honesty to admit that some illegal drugs are not as dangerous as some legal ones, the willingness to impartially review scientific studies, and an understanding of market principles. The ad appeared in the National Review, the New Republic, the Weekly Standard, the Nation, Reason Magazine and The Progressive.
Voters in Nevada having in two consecutive elections demonstrated their support for medical marijuana through their approval of carefully crafted initiatives, it is now up to the state legislature to write and approve bills to implement the voters' mandate. Although the legislative session doesn�t begin until February 5th, parts of the Nevada medical establishment and the state attorney general's office have already presented a proposal that would thwart the popular will.
The wording of Nevada's medical marijuana initiative, which is now enshrined in the state constitution, is clear: "The legislature shall provide by law for" medical marijuana use for an open-ended list of specified and "other" disorders and conditions upon a physician's advice. It also "shall provide by law" for a registry of patients and "appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to use it."
That message does not seem to have gotten through to Nevada Medical Marijuana Initiative Work Group, formed by three state health boards on their own initiative in the wake of the November election results. The group of pharmacists, doctors, and osteopaths last week issued a "white paper" calling on Gov. Kenny Guinn and the legislature to restrict medical marijuana use to research projects. Under the Work Group's plan, such research would have to run a bureaucratic gauntlet of approval first by a state committee of health care professionals, then by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Louis Ling, a former Deputy Attorney General and counsel for the state pharmacy board, who in that capacity represents the board in the state attorney general's office, coauthored the report. Ignoring a growing body of science supporting medical marijuana, he wrote that marijuana remains "a potential medicine" that must be "subjected to rigorous and exacting medical and scientific research."
The report conceded that its proposal "may restrict the access of some people to marijuana, since marijuana will only be available through approved medical research programs." After all, the report said, "access to experimental drugs is, by necessity, limited."
The Work Group also cited concerns about possible federal prosecution of doctors and patients. "The beauty of this medical research system is that once the feds have an approved research project, everybody involved is legally protected," Ling told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "You are not going to be exposing patients, doctors, or pharmacists to legal prosecution because it's federally approved."
Those arguments failed to sway Dan Hart, a spokesman for Nevadans for Medical Rights, the group that promoted the successful initiative drives. "It disturbs me that this self-appointed committee thinks its wisdom is greater than the voters," he told the Las Vegas Sun. "The voters were specific. They didn't want a study," Hart said. "If they were going to have a study, they didn't have to vote."
Hart sent a letter of protest to Ling asking, "Who will you choose, Mr. Ling? What patient will you deny their rights under the state constitution? Which physician will you notify that their constitutional right to approve the treatment of their patient has been denied by your ad hoc 'research' approval committee?"
Hart also blasted Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, whose office is thwarting the will of the voters, he said, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal jumped in with an editorial harshly criticizing Del Papa. Her job is to enforce the laws, not to write them, the paper scolded. "Attorney General Del Papa should butt out," concluded the editorial.
But Gina Pesulima of Americans for Medical Rights, the parent group and sponsor of Nevadans for Medical Rights, told DRCNet matters were not quite so clear-cut. "There is a lack of clarity about the origin of the Work Group," she said. "It was initiated by members of the state pharmacy board, and Louis Ling represents the board in the attorney general's office, but we haven't gotten any indication from Del Papa that she will endorse those proposals."
"We are trying to meet with her," Pesulima added, "and she has told us that the Work Group is not making proposals in her name."
"The Work Group invited us to participate, and Dan Hart sent a representative to one meeting, but it soon became clear that this group wasn't looking at implementation and distribution questions," she explained, "but were merely a group of individuals who already had an agenda. They accused us of being 'legalizers,'" said Pesulima. "We decided not to participate or endorse this effort since there would be no viable proposals coming from the Work Group."
Hart told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that group members accused his representative of being "either a dealer in illicit narcotics" or of having "a real estate interest in a marijuana plantation."
According to Pesulima, Hart and Dan Geary are leading the legislative effort, with Hart lobbying at the state house and Geary overseeing the grassroots and public relations aspects of the campaign.
But it's still early, she told DRCNet. "We're looking toward sponsoring legislation, but there is nothing set in stone yet. We're working with legislators to help create a distribution system now," she added.
Pesulima is confident of the ultimate outcome. "We're going to have to work hard, but one thing we have working for us is the clear intention of the voters as expressed in the elections. No legislator will want to take credit for thwarting the will of two-thirds of the voters."
Last year's round of successful medical marijuana initiatives may be the last sponsored by Americans for Medical Rights, Pesulima told DRCNet. "The sense is that we're going to stay entrenched in those states where we won victories and make sure they are implemented," she said. "If AMR had unlimited money to pass medical marijuana initiatives, we would do it everywhere, but we've gotten the signal from our big funders that there is a limit to their support for medical marijuana alone," she said.
"They would like to see the medical marijuana challenge taken to a higher level, and we are doing that in states where we've already won at the ballot box and we're seeing that with the California cannabis co-op case going to the Supreme Court, and in ongoing battles in Nevada and Maine on distribution. Now we're squaring off with the feds."
But, said Pesulima, AMR has other plans as well. "In the next couple of months we'll meet and figure out a few states where we'd like to do some polling about whether initiatives along the lines of California's Proposition 36 could win."
"Listen," said Pesulima, "for at least a decade, drug reformers have been issuing reports, holding conferences, and making suggestions on how to reform the laws, but the drug fighters never budged. Now we're raising the stakes."
In a new tactic targeting the broader rave culture as well as the popular "club drug" Ecstasy (MDMA, a stimulant with mild hallucinogenic properties), federal prosecutors in New Orleans have indicted three men for organizing a series of raves where large amounts of the drug were allegedly consumed. The raves took place at New Orleans' State Palace theater over a five-year period beginning in 1995.
The innovative bust comes as law enforcement officials, legislators, and newspapers nationwide are ratcheting up the noise level about the Ecstasy "menace." Departing drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, in remarks earlier this month on his final drug strategy report, singled out Ecstasy for special attention. He warned that the drug is spreading rapidly, with an "explosive increase in exposure among our children."
The numbers back him up, except among "our children." That Ecstasy use has become increasingly popular is undeniable. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which reports emergency room mentions for all sorts of drugs, shows Ecstasy mentions going through the roof, from 68 in 1993 to 2,200 last year. Law enforcement activity also suggests substantial growth in the Ecstasy trade. The DEA seized nearly a million Ecstasy tablets last year, seven times the previous year's number. But US Customs numbers dwarfed the DEA's: Customs seized nearly 10 million tablets in 2000, 3.5 million in 1999 and 750,000 in 1998.
State and local authorities from Des Moines to Daytona also report substantial Ecstasy enforcement operations (which they too often confused with harassing raves and ravers), and press accounts from across the country paint pictures of a hearty, thriving Ecstasy culture extending far beyond raves and into the dance halls, dorms, and living rooms of white, middle class America. Recently, Ecstasy use has begun to spread into the black and Hispanic communities as well, if press accounts are to be believed.
Anecdotal accounts available to DRCNet suggest much the same. Admittedly informal surveys of twenty- and thirty-something, white, college-educated drug users in the Northeast, Texas, and on the West Coast yielded similarly responses. Among their drug-using peers, is anybody doing crack? Hah. Coke? A few. Heroin? A few. Ecstasy? Everybody.
It's a different story, however, with "our children." McCaffrey was apparently referring to the students surveyed in the venerable Monitoring the Future annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Among those closest to being "children," the 8th-graders, Ecstasy use has actually decreased by .3% between 1996 and 2000. While it began to increase again last year, use remains lower than five years ago. Among 10th graders, Ecstasy use has increased by less than one percentage point since 1996 (from 4.6% to 5.4%), according to Monitoring the Future. Where Ecstasy use has increased most markedly is among the oldest students surveyed. Among the 17- and 18-year-old twelfth-graders, the rate of Ecstasy used increased from less than one in twenty to less than one in ten.
McCaffrey was on even shakier ground when, in an attempt to frighten potential Ecstasy users, he warned them not to forget "the possibility of dropping dead the first time you use it."
That chance is infinitesimal. Given
reported seizure figures and rule of thumb estimates that seizures account
for only 10% to 25% of contraband items, the number of Ecstasy tablets
consumed in the United States in the last decade is probably in excess
of 50 million and could be as high as 100 million. The total number
of deaths properly attributed to Ecstasy, generally caused by preventable
overheating, not by overdose, was 27 as of 1998, the last year for which
DAWN provides mortality numbers.
And in a move that aims a dagger at the heart of rave culture, federal prosecutors last week indicted New Orleans rave promoters Robert and Brian Brunet and James Estopinal under a federal law designed to close down crack houses. That law makes it a federal crime to make a building available for the use of illegal drugs.
The three men are not charged with possessing or distributing drugs or conspiring to do so. Still, they face as much as 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Eddie Jordan lashed out at the trio at a press conference on January 12th. "In my time as a prosecutor, this is one of the most unconscionable drug violations I have seen," he frothed. "They used these raves to exploit young people by designing them for pervasive drug abuse."
Jordan explained that "by definition" raves are parties designed to promote Ecstasy use or enhance the Ecstasy experience. Therefore, he threatened, anyone who uses the word "rave" to market an event could be subject to investigation.
In an ominous sign for rave culture across the land, Jordan added that he has heard from other federal prosecutors who want to use the same tactic to "clamp down" on rave organizers in their districts. Local authorities from California to Florida to Illinois and beyond have used a variety of measures to attempt to restrict or ban the dances.
Gerald Rault, a Loyola University law professor, told the Times-Picayune (New Orleans) that the tactic was questionable. Prosecutors would have to prove that defendants were certain widespread drug use was occurring and did nothing to stop it, Rault said. But, he added, the threat of prosecution would have a chilling effect on rave promoters.
"Just the very prosecution of these people becomes very costly to them, and there's the agony of potential conviction, so the very fact of indictment would deter rave parties."
For state and federal officials unwilling to differentiate between a youthful subculture and the drug use of some of its members, that seems to be the idea.
Last October, DRCNet reported on the shooting death of elementary school student Alberto Sepulveda during a raid by the Modesto, California, SWAT team as it executed a federal search warrant in a methamphetamine trafficking investigation (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/156.html#policeshootings). No drugs or guns were found, but the boy's father, Moises Sepulveda, was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
Now, after three separate investigations by Modesto police and the city attorney, Modesto police can say only that it was an accident. Investigations by the county attorney and the California attorney general, which could result in criminal charges against police shooter David Hawn, are pending.
Hawn, a veteran member of the Modesto SWAT team, shot and killed young Sepulveda as the boy, following Hawn's barked commands, lay prone on his bedroom floor. At a January 10th press conference called to announce the result of the department's investigations, Police Chief Roy Wasden said Hawn's Benelli shotgun could have misfired, Hawn could have accidentally squeezed the trigger, or Hawn's equipment, particularly a knife on his belt, could have accidentally caused the gun to discharge.
This wasn't the first time Hawn had problems controlling his weapon. According to the Stockton (California) Record, a year before he shot Alberto Sepulveda, he accidentally shot a dead man. The man had killed himself during a SWAT raid in which Hawn participated. Hawn was cleared of any wrongdoing in that incident.
Facing scathing criticism from a shocked community, Chief Wasden put Hawn on paid leave after the Sepulveda shooting, but he is now back on the job, although he is restricted to investigative functions.
Wasden, however, pointed the finger at the federal law enforcement agencies -- DEA, FBI, and IRS -- at whose behest the Modesto SWAT team executed the warrant. According to the department's investigation, Wasden said, DEA agents requesting help from the Modesto SWAT team told Modesto police that Moises Sepulveda was suspected of belonging to a meth trafficking enterprise and that he should be considered "armed and dangerous." Only during the post-shooting investigation did Modesto police learn that Sepulveda's name came up only at the end of an 18-month federal investigation. They also learned that the DEA had little information about Sepulveda or his home, with the result that SWAT team members forced their way in on the mistaken assumption that no children were present.
In fact, three children were in the home. Alberto, his 8-year-old sister Xitlalic, and his 14-year-old brother Moises, Jr. Police officers attempted to blame Moises for his brother's death, saying that the youth repeatedly tried to stand up after being rousted from his bed and ordered to the floor at gunpoint. The SWAT team leader stood on the boy's back while another officer attempted to handcuff him, the report said, and it was during this commotion that Hawn shot Alberto Sepulveda.
Arturo Gonzalez, attorney for the Sepulveda family, angrily denies the police version. "Moises was nowhere near the officer who fired the weapon," Gonzalez told reporters after the chief's press conference. "He only tried to get up after hearing the shotgun blast. He did nothing to contribute to his brother's death."
Chief Wasden told the press conference that as a result of the investigation, his department will no longer assist federal anti-drug agencies based only on "good faith." Instead, Wasden said, federal agencies must now provide the department with detailed information to justify the high levels of force they typically request.
Wasden also evinced frustration with the feds. "What are we gaining by serving these drug warrants?" he asked. "We ought to be saying, 'It's not worth the risk. We're not going to put our officers and community at risk anymore.'"
Wasden did not address the question widely raised in the community about why Sepulveda could not have been arrested when he left the house to go to work instead of relying on the riskier and more confrontational forced entry raid by the paramilitary-style SWAT team.
The Sepulveda family was unimpressed. In remarks to reporters after the chief's press conference, Gonzalez spoke on behalf of the family, whose members were too distraught to talk to the press.
"We're quite disappointed at what we received," said Gonzalez. "We intend to fight for this little boy until we get all the answers."
Gonzales has already filed a wrongful death claim against the city, and he told reporters that the family would file similar suits against the federal agencies involved. He also vowed to file another lawsuit against federal agencies demanding that pre-dawn SWAT team raids such as the one that led to Alberto's death be banned.
"You've heard of Ruby Ridge and Waco," Gonzales said, "you can add Modesto to that list. What happened here is a tragedy."
Neither are other critics satisfied. Latino activist Miguel Donoso told the Modesto Bee that the report contained little that could not have been determined within days of the shooting and that it did not go far enough.
"I want for the police to come out and say the guy blew it and shot the young boy," said Donoso. "A person with 21 years experience and all that training couldn't make a mistake like that."
The shooting has divided the community, with flurries of letters to the editor staking out opposing positions. Some police supporters have gone as far as blaming "all drug users" for Sepulveda's death, while critics reprised arguments against excessive police force and the war on drugs in general.
As for the boy's classmates, they, too, have been scarred. "I don't like cops anymore," said 12-year-old Melissa McConnell, who lives down the street from the Sepulveda home. "I don't think it was an accident. Nobody I know thinks it was an accident," she told the Modesto Bee.
School counselor Chris Fallentine told the Bee students were upset and distraught. "We heard a lot of questions like, 'Can we trust the police?,'" she said.
Last November, drug policy reformers associated with Americans for Medical Rights took it on the chin when Massachusetts voters statewide rejected Question 8, which would have instituted "treatment not jail"-style reforms in the Bay State. But at the same time, and largely flying under the media radar, Massachusetts marijuana activists won sweeping symbolic victories in four state voting districts. Now they hope to see the fruits of their efforts bloom in the state legislature.
Under Massachusetts law, citizens in each state Senate or house District can petition to bring resolutions, or "questions," up for a vote. These questions take the form of non-binding referendums. In one Senate district (Middlesex 2) and two House districts (Essex 4 and Middlesex 6), the question asked voters to instruct their representatives to vote in favor of legislation reducing penalties for marijuana possession to a civil offense similar to a traffic ticket, with a maximum $100 fine. The questions won in all three districts, by 66%, 67.5%, and 62%, respectively.
In a third house district, Barnstable 4, the question asked voters to instruct their representative to vote for legislation allowing the medical use of marijuana. It passed with 61% of the vote. (See http://masscann.org/pubpolpr02.htm for complete result listings.)
The impact on legislators in those districts has been profound, although not all have been swayed by the voice of the voters. Somerville computer programmer Maddy Webster, a long-time reform activist who worked on the Middlesex districts, told DRCNet that Sen. Charles Shannon (D) heard the voters loud and clear.
"It's important that Shannon has come over to our side because he was historically opposed even to medical marijuana," Webster said, "but he was so impressed with the numbers that he has now agreed to cosponsor decrim legislation."
"We don't think he's changed his mind in terms of policy, but he represents three cities with three different demographics -- Somerville, Medford, and Winchester -- and voters in all of them approved of the question by similar margins," she added. "He has come over because that's where the votes are. And the fact that he's doing this is very important, because he's very influential."
Rep. Debby Blumer (D), the winner in the 6th Middlesex race, is another politician listening to the voters. She said before the election that she would not support marijuana decriminalization, but, she told MetroWest Daily News (Framingham), she is reconsidering.
"I don't know how to read that vote right now," Blumer said. "I will commit to looking into this and talking to people."
Blumer told the newspaper that residents she talked to in the past two weeks of campaigning supported reducing marijuana possession penalties to small fines.
Not all representatives are convinced despite the message from their constituents, but even staunch foes are having to rethink. Rep. Bradford R. Hill (R-Essex 4), told MetroWest he was baffled by the vote. "It would be awfully tough to support something like this," he said. "Smoking marijuana can lead to bigger drugs. I've seen that personally cause the death of three acquaintances since I graduated from high school," the representative asserted.
But even Hill has committed to holding meeting on the subject. "I want to be educated on the issue and the only way to be educated is to hold hearings on the issue throughout the district and find out what people really think," Hill said.
For Massachusetts activists such as Webster, what counts is getting the law changed, and she told DRCNet the election results have helped build momentum heading into the legislative session.
"We got some exciting legislation filed," said an enthused Webster, "We got a bill filed for decrim with pretty much the same language as our initiative. The lead sponsor is Rep. Patricia Jehlen (D), who sponsored a medical marijuana bill on behalf of myself and my partner, who had melanoma and who has since died. We demonstrated to her in '96 that this was a winning isue for her."
"And there are more bills," Webster said. "Rep. Shirley Gomes (R) has filed a medical marijuana bill in response to her constituents' votes in November, and we have multiple sponsors for bills providing a medical necessity defense for possession (seven representatives and two senators) and cultivation (eight representatives and two senators).
There is a snowball effect, according to Webster. "What we did was go into the state house seeking sponsors for these bills and we had the numbers that they look for. We did this in enough places to give legislators the sense that two-thirds of the voters are in favor, and once the first reps signed on, it became easier to get cosponsors."
It is one thing to get legislation introduced, getting it passed is another. Even the sympathetic Rep. Jehlen is uncertain that the numbers were overwhelming enough to get bills through the legislature.
"The legislature is in a state of flux right now," Webster told DRCNet, "committee assignments haven't been settled and the bills haven't even been assigned to committees yet. The critical thing is getting the bills out of committee, and that depends on the senate leaders. Without support from the top, it's hard to move things along," she noted.
DRCNet Advisory Board member Jon Holmes, who also sits on the board of directors of the ACLU of Massachusetts and has been involved in drug policy struggles since 1989, shares Webster's uncertainty. He told DRCNet it was too early to tell, though he noted with some pleasure that the Massachusetts political class was "stupified" by the election results.
"But," said Holmes, "on we go. We've raised a little money for a lobbyist or two, and we're aiming directly at Beacon Hill."
If reform bills fail in this legislative go-round, activists say, they will take their proposals to the ballot box statewide in 2002. National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) spokesman Allan St. Pierre vowed as much to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in December. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MASSCANN), the statewide NORML affiliate, provided the ground-troops for the initiative effort, although, for tax reasons, MASSCANN itself did not sponsor the efforts.
URGENT ACTION ITEM #1: John Ashcroft
At the time of this writing, more than 3,000 people have visited our StopJohnAshcroft.org web site since its launching yesterday afternoon. We believe that the appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General would spell trouble for sentencing/prison policies, medical marijuana, needle exchange, racial profiling, you name it. See our article from two weeks ago for further information about Ashcroft's drug war record (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#ashcroft).
Please visit http://www.StopJohnAshcroft.org to send e-mail or faxes to your two US Senators and to get their phone numbers and local contact information -- or just call 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.
Also, you can send an e-mail or fax to Congress at http://www.savehemp.org.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
January 20, 6:30pm, Portland, OR, Voter Power Inaugural Banquet, celebrating two years of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. At the Doubletree Hotel, Lloyd Center,$50/plate with dinner, $25 not including dinner, or $40 for Voter Power members and sliding scale for patients. Call (503) 786-1905 for reservations.
January 25, 1:00pm, New York, NY, Bob Gangi on the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Discussion with the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, at 35 E. 21 St., 7th floor. Admission $10, call (212) 353-8070 for info 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].
January 29, 6:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, "America's Failing War on Drugs Continues." Table Talk with Ethan Nadelmann, at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., $30 includes three course dinner and discussion, $25 for full-time students registering in advance. For further information visit http://www.whitedog.com or call (215) 386-9224; students may call between for 4:00 and 5:30pm on event days for standby registration, $15 (dinner) or free (discussion only, 7:30).
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 10-11, Fort Bragg, NC, Demonstration for Peaceful Solutions in Colombia. Organized by Peace Plan Colombia, call (919) 928-9828, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.peaceplancolombia.org for further information.
February 13, 5:30-8:30pm, New York, NY, "Yes in My Backyard." Premiere screening of the first documentary portrait of a rural prison town. At the Open Society Institute, 400 W. 59th St., RSVP by 2/2 to Jennifer Page, (212) 547-6997.
February 18, 7:30pm, Philadelphia, PA, "Emperor of Hemp," the story of activist Jack Herer. Movie Night at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., free, seating limited. RSVP to (215) 386-9224 or visit http://www.whitedog.com for further info; restaurant service available before, during and after movie.
February 22-24, New York, NY, "Altered States of Consciousness" conference. At the New School, e-mail [email protected] for further information.
March 5, 6:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, "The Quagmire in Colombia: Addressing the Drug War Habit." Table Talk with Prof. Ken Sharpe of Swarthmore College, at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., $30 includes three-course dinner and discussion, $25 for full-time students registering in advance. For further information visit http://www.whitedog.com or call (215) 386-9224; students may call between for 4:00 and 5:30pm on event days for standby registration, $15 (dinner) or free (discussion only, 7:30).
March 7, 10:00am, Philadelphia, PA, Philadelphia Prison System Tour and Lunch. At the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, 8301 State Road, will include discussion with inmates and drug treatment staff. Lunch provided by the Hard Time Cafe, a culinary arts training program for prisoners. Reservations required, call (215) 386-9224, $6/person for lunch and tour, carpooling available.
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].
March 11, 7:30pm, Philadelphia, PA, "The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace," with Walter Cronkite, and "War Zone," film examining police state tactics in the drug war. Movie Night at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., free, seating limited. RSVP to (215) 386-9224 or visit http://www.whitedog.com for further info; restaurant service available before, during and after movie.
March 15-18, Miami, FL, "Reason Weekend," sponsored by the Reason Foundation. For information, call Amber Trudgeon at (310) 391-2245 or e-mail [email protected].
March 26, 6:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, Hemp Dinner with Richard Rose, of Hempnut, Inc. and author of "The HempNut Health and Cookbook." Book and the Cook night at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., $45, includes three-course dinner and discussion. Reservations required, RSVP to (215) 386-9224, visit http://www.whitedog.com for further information.
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 9, 7:30pm, Philadelphia, PA, Storytelling Night with Families Against Mandatory Minimums Communications Director Monica Pratt and members of families affected by mandatory minimum sentencing. At the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., optional a la carte dinner at 6:00pm. Call (215) 386-9224 or visit http://www.whitedog.com for further information.
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.
May 20-27, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Study Tour of Dutch Drug Policy, organized by the White Dog Cafe. Particularly for persons with a background in health and social services, legislation, activism, drug law or policy. Call (215) 386-9224 or visit http://www.whitedog.com for further information.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 1/19/01
(This editorial follows up on our 11/17 "A Message to the President-Elect," http://www.drcnet.org/wol/160.html#editorial in the Week Online archives.)
Dear Mr. Incoming President:
I never heard back from you regarding my letter two months ago. No problem, I'm not sure it even got to you. You see, I didn't know your address at that time, to send it. Actually, Florida was still up in the air, so I didn't know your name either.
But if you remember, there was something I knew about you -- again, not to a judicial certainty -- but with enough certainty that any reasonable person would agree it's true. I'm writing to let you know that I still know and it's still on my mind.
I'll give you a hint -- it has to do with your youth -- the youth you've described as "young and irresponsible." (Youth in this case seems to have extended at least through age 30 -- youth defined as that time during which you won't tell us whether you were "young and irresponsible" in this particular way.)
Figured it out yet? Okay, I'll just tell you, in case you haven't.
I still know you used illegal drugs.
I know this, because you've said you haven't used them in at least 25 years, but have refused to say whether you used them before that, and I can't think of any reason you wouldn't just say you didn't if that was the case.
But don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that past drug use should disqualify you from the presidency. Nothing of the sort. But there is one problem.
It's your drug policies. As Governor of Texas, you promoted harsher sentences for low-level drug offenders -- people much like you, 25 or more years ago -- and have showed precious little mercy to those caught in the criminal justice system's web.
One of those people is Charles Garrett. In 1970, Garrett, addicted to heroin, was caught with a mere two grams of it. The jury sentenced him to life in prison. Anticipating little mercy, however, Garrett had already fled, not to be found for 28 years. During that time, by all accounts, Garrett had left his "young and irresponsible" youth behind and become a model citizen -- a family man, working, paying taxes -- the kind of American you would probably say makes our country great.
But Garrett was caught, and the state of Texas, under your leadership, chose to enforce Charles Garrett's life sentence and take him away from his family forever. You didn't respond to appeals for clemency.
I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to bet that you possessed two or more grams of one or more illegal drugs at one or more times -- maybe even in Texas. But you didn't caught, and if you had, well... things would probably have gone a little bit differently. Certainly as things stand they went better for you, as tomorrow's events demonstrate.
But don't get me wrong -- I don't think you should have gone to prison for being "young and irresponsible" either. But why should Charles Garrett?
The way I see it, you should do one of a few things:
1) Repudiate your "tough on drugs" stance, replace your "tough on drugs" nominees (e.g. Ashcroft, Whitman, Abraham) with more reasonable people, and lead the charge to decriminalize drugs or at least moderate sentencing policies -- in this case, you needn't talk about your drug past, if you prefer not; or
2) Acknowledge that you used drugs when you were younger, and consistent with your current positions, acknowledge that it would have been appropriate for you to serve hard time in a Texas prison and that that would have benefited society -- since you seem to think it benefits society to send other such people to prison today; or
3) Resign. Find out first if Dick Cheney ever used drugs -- your father could still be on the "Kitchen Cabinet" that way.
Speaking of your father, he wasn't always the drug warrior he became as Vice-President and President. The same year that Charles Garrett was convicted in absentia, the younger Rep. George Bush made the following wise remarks on the floor of Congress:
"Contrary to what one might imagine, however, this bill will result in better justice and more appropriate sentences... Federal judges are almost unanimously opposed to mandatory minimums, because they remove a great deal of the court's discretion... As a result [of repealing mandatory minimums], we will undoubtedly have more equitable action by the courts, with actually more convictions where they are called for, and fewer disproportionate sentences."Unfortunately, he went the wrong direction and having helped repeal mandatory minimums, then helped bring them back and worsen them in the 80's. You, on the other hand, have started from the wrong side. Why not flip-flop, like your father did, but this time go the right way?
That would truly be "compassionate conservatism."
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