(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #170, 1/26/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
These are strange and exciting times in New Mexico. The head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) arranging meetings from the governor's suite at the state capitol and holding press briefings in his office. A Republican state legislator handing out free movie passes for "Traffic" (paid for by The Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation) to his fellow solons. A former Democratic governor, Toney Anaya, and a former Republican state senator and current GOP national committeeman, Albuquerque lawyer Mickey Barnett, hired by the same folks as a lobbying tag-team. All working to shepherd Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's drug reform package through the state's hurried 60-day legislative session. (The eight-bill package, a comprehensive reform effort including marijuana decriminalization, medical marijuana, and substantial sentencing and asset forfeit reforms, is described in greater detail at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/168.html#newmexico.)
As Gov. Johnson presses forward with his reform package, drug reformers are walking the halls of power, and that is something new.
"It's a real sea change," an audibly beaming Keith Stroup told DRCNet. "We've been waiting for a long time for a sitting governor to invite us down to help on a decrim bill and a medical marijuana bill."
It's been a long time in the wilderness for people like Stroup, founder and Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "Hell, back in the mid-70s in California, State Assembly leader Moscone let us use a desk in his office... but not since then," he mused.
But now NORML and the slightly more straight-laced Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation are in, in a big way. NORML last week began a $50,000 print and radio advertising campaign, and Stroup told DRCNet their 600 sixty-second radio spots would run for another week.
The ads are "soft ads," said Stroup, meaning they did not advocate a specific position on a specific piece of legislation and thus could be financed with tax-deductible contributions. But, Stroup said, "if it seems appropriate and helpful, we may try to come up with money for a direct advocacy ad campaign, a more pointed, 'contact your representative and support bill such-and-such.'"
Stroup spent part of this week in New Mexico with noted marijuana experts John Morgan and Lynn Zimmer, authors of the authoritative "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts," who traveled there at NORML's expense to meet with and educate legislators and others on the issues.
"I'm going back there next week, and I'm taking Lester Grinspoon [Harvard Medical School professor and author of "Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine] this time," Stroup enthused.
"We had to be part of this," Stroup insisted. "We were invited down by the governor's staff, but we would have been involved anyway. When they specifically asked us to run a series of ads and bring down experts, it seemed all the more positive and worthwhile."
The Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation, for its part, has also been busy. It partially funded the governor's Drug Policy Advisory Group, which not only recommended radical changes, but also cleared the political underbrush for Gov. Johnson. And its affiliate, the Center for Policy Reform, put up the money for the high-powered, high-dollar lobbyists, the Associated Press reported. Former governor Anaya and insider attorney Barnett are expected to work their considerable connections in New Mexico political circles on the package's behalf.
In a statement announcing his hiring and demonstrating his spinning skills, Anaya said he and Barnett agreed the state should adopt a drug policy that "imprisons traffickers, educates kids to stay away from drugs and provides treatment for those addicted."
The center also has three full-time employees now based in New Mexico, led by Katharine Huffman, director of the center's New Mexico Drug Policy Project.
But despite the presence of some of the drug reform movement's big guns, the prospects for Johnson's package remain uncertain. While some legislators are beginning to come on board, opposition remains fierce.
State Rep. Ron Godbey (R-Albuquerque), a bitter, long-time foe of Johnson's views on drug reform, told the Albuquerque Tribune the reform efforts were the work of legalizers in sheep's clothing.
"It's not the medical community that's asking for this," he said, "it's the druggies."
Godbey and his allies will undoubtedly play up the "legalizing billionaire" bogeyman, as he has done in the past, most notably in a "white paper" he distributed last year. In it, he called decriminalization "a half-baked idea that has been tried... over and over again." Godbey also wrote, "While advocating drug legalization, Gov. Johnson aligns himself with a small, well-financed group of acknowledged drug users who are pushing drug legalization in the United States."
But even Godbey supports one of the governor's reform bills, on asset forfeiture, he told the Tribune.
More important for the package's prospects is the attitude of the legislative leadership, and neither party's leaders displayed much enthusiasm.
"I was very disappointed that he had to ask us as legislators to promote his drug plan," House Speaker Ben Lujan (D-Nambe) said. "There are very many more important issues that we need to address. I don't know that New Mexico should lead the way in this area."
House minority leader Ted Hobbs (R-Albuquerque) was equally unenthused. "Most of it (drug reform) is dead-on-arrival in my opinion. Reducing sentences is not very popular," he told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
But there are also signs of increased support in the legislature. Prominent Democratic Rep. Max Coll told the New Mexican he could support the package if the budget is "salted" with money for substance-abuse rehabilitation programs.
Johnson has been vociferously criticized for his repeated refusals to fund treatment programs.
The package has also garnered sympathy from Sen. Roman Maes (D-Santa Fe), who said he generally supports Johnson's proposals.
"There's not a family in this state that hasn't been touched by drugs in some way," Maes said. "Just putting (drug abusers) in jail is not the solution," Maes said. "Society has to take the blinders off."
And Johnson has found a sponsor for the marijuana decriminalization bill, easily the most controversial of the bunch. Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) agreed to sponsor the bill decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults, he told the Albuquerque Tribune earlier this week.
Quick action is unlikely, with the legislative leadership vowing to tackle a host of other issues first, but with a 60-day session the medium-term is fast approaching.
NORML's Stroup is upbeat. "I feel very positive and optimistic," he told DRCNet. "The governor has done his homework, his proposals are all well-reasoned. Each bill will be introduced by a bipartisan group."
"I think a victory on medical marijuana is very likely, and there's a good shot at passing decrim," he prophesied.
In his State of the State address earlier this month, New York Republican Gov. George Pataki announced his intention of reforming the state's harsh Rockefeller drug laws, with their long, mandatory sentences for relatively small-time offenders (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/167.html#pataki).
At the end of last week, the tough-on-crime governor presented his package, the Drug Law Reform Act of 2001. In a January 17th press release touting the package as one that "balances the need to crack down on drug kingpins, armed drug felons and dealers who prey on children, with commonsense proposals to address overly-severe provisions of the Rockefeller drug laws," the governor laid out his 10-point plan:
In a battle of the press releases, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), immediately poo-poohed Pataki's proposals as "a step forward, but not dramatic change" and challenged the governor to work with the Assembly for "effective reform."
"In his State of the State address, the governor called for dramatic Rockefeller drug reform and at the time, I welcomed him to the bargaining table," said Silver. "His proposal today doesn't go as far as we need. The Assembly Majority stands ready to work with him, the Senate and Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye to move this discussion forward."
Taking care to poke at partisan scabs, Silver noted the Assembly's Democratic majority had "long criticized" the state's harsh mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. He did not explain why the Assembly's alleged distaste for the Rockefeller laws had not heretofore been translated into action.
"I am pleased that the governor realizes that we must reform these laws now," added Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Assembly Codes Committee. "It appears that we are all in the same boat in recognizing that the Rockefeller drug laws have been an incredible failure that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars and have done nothing to rehabilitate or provide treatment to drug offenders."
Silver said a framework for meaningful reform must include increased judicial discretion, reduced mandatory minimum sentences, expanded treatment programs, and an emphasis on crime prevention instead of prison building.
Silver's framework sounds as if he has been reading from the same page as drug reform advocates contacted by DRCNet.
"This is a good first step, but only a first step," said Anita Marton, senior attorney for the Legal Action Center (http://www.lac.org), a New York-based nonprofit law firm that advocates for people with HIV/AIDS, addictions or criminal records. "This will need to go a long way before it addresses the changes necessary for meaningful reform."
"First, we need to return discretion to judges," said Marton, "and for the first time, Pataki has a proposal that allows for discretion in some cases. But those are the C, D, and E class possessors, and most people get charged with more serious Class B possession with intent felonies. This chips away at discretion, but still leaves large populations untouched."
"Second, sentences should be reduced to be proportionate with other nonviolent crimes," Marton continued. "Here, Pataki has marginally reduced some sentences, but he is also very cleverly linking it to eliminating parole by moving to determinate sentences, and in some cases he actually exposes offenders to increased penalties. We don't think sentence reductions should be dependent on ending parole, but those sentences still need to reduced to be proportional."
"Third, we need retroactivity," Marton explained. "Pataki does propose retroactivity for those 600 people serving those 15-to-life Class A-1 sentences, but it should be much broader. Anyone who would be eligible for a lower sentence under the new proposal should be able to petition for a new sentence."
"And finally," Marton continued, "the proposal needs to provide funding for treatment and alternatives to incarceration. Our programs are at 90% of capacity now; there's not a lot of room for new offenders, and we're talking about 5,500 annually. Increases in funding for treatment and alternatives will be crucial, and there are none in his proposal."
Robert Gangi, head of the Correctional Association of New York (http://www.corrassoc.org), also sees Pataki's proposals as "an important first step."
"These proposals represent an important political development," he told DRCNet, "because the governor has identified himself as a drug war reformer, and that will open debate on the issue."
"But there are defects, and we are looking at the Democratic-controlled State Assembly to offer a counterproposal that has greater judicial discretion, a greater degree of retroactivity, and increased funding for alternatives to imprisonment," said Gangi. "We assume the Democratic proposals will reflect their statements in their initial critique of Pataki's proposals."
Gangi saw several factors that made it possible for Pataki to move. "That he has the tough on crime image made it easier," Gangi argued. "And the public is more and more disaffected with the drug war's excesses. As a result, Pataki has made a political judgment that it is safe to come forward."
But, the Legal Action Center's Marton points out, the battle is just beginning. "There is a loose coalition for reform on these issues, and we will all, in our own ways, be trying to get the grassroots drumbeat going louder," she told DRCNet.
"We're trying to work as one voice," she said, "to avoid confusing the legislature with too many advocates with too many different plans. The Campaign for Effective Criminal Justice, led by former legislator John Dunne, a Rockefeller law supporter in his time, will be leading the way in what will be a coordinated campaign."
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Marton confessed. "We'll be up in Albany a lot."
Outgoing President Bill Clinton's last-minute pardons of fugitive financier Mark Rich, Whitewater figure Susan McDougal and assorted other well-connected FOBs (Friends of Bill) grabbed the headlines, but with the clock ticking down on his presidency, Clinton also granted clemency to 21 drug war prisoners. With this action, only some 450,000 people remain behind the razor wire on drug charges.
Most of the drug offenders whose sentences were commuted had received assistance from prisoner advocacy or sentencing reform groups such as the November Coalition (http://www.november.org) and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (http://www.famm.org), as well as clergy-backed campaigns such as the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency (http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/).
The push by clemency supporters included a last-minute Capitol Hill press conference on January 16th, just days before Clinton's term expired. Attended by Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (D), who has become an outspoken proponent of drug policy reform, as well as activists such as FAMM founder Julie Stewart, members of the clergy and prisoners' family members, the press conference was a call to Clinton to use his pardon power in his administration's waning hours.
"President Clinton, during these last hours of your eight-year term... please take a stand against the waste and injustice of our destructive sentencing laws," Anderson said. The Salt Lake City mayor called federal sentencing guidelines far more severe than merited for minor drug crimes and said action by Clinton could be the first step to changing them.
"We must stop this insanity. We must stop this inhumanity," Anderson said. Much better to "commit our resources to prevention programs that really work, to good public health education, and to treatment programs," he averred.
Some Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), weighed in on the side of clemency as well. In a letter to President Clinton released at the press conference, they called for clemency for hundreds of nonviolent, first-time drug offenders.
"President Clinton has one last opportunity to end the meanest, least human, least justified aspect of our federal criminal justice system: the outrageous, excessive jailing of nonviolent people who have harmed no one," said the letter. "These people and their families should no longer be martyred by the demagogic politics of an illogical drug policy."
Anderson took the opportunity to continue his campaign to free Utahn Cory Stringfellow, 31, in his sixth year of a 15-year, 8-month sentence on LSD charges.
"Five and one-half years is long enough for Cory to have spent in prison for his foolishness as a young man. For him to serve another 10 years would be wasteful, cruel and incredibly unjust," Anderson said.
Mobile, Alabama, resident Linda Aaron took her turn to ask for freedom for another prisoner, her son Clarence. Clarence Aaron, 31, whose case has been profiled in the 1999 PBS documentary "Snitch," was a 23-year-old college student when he transported cocaine for acquaintances involved in selling the drug. Aaron refused to plead guilty and cooperate with federal prosecutors, who, after using the testimony of the group's ringleaders against Aaron, managed to convict him on a second try. Aaron got a life sentence; of those more deeply involved who testified against him, none got more than eight years.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Linda Aaron told the press conference her son made a mistake, but did not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison.
"All I ask is, just give him another chance and let him live his life," she said.
Clarence Aaron didn't make the list. Neither did some other high-profile prisoners, such as Cristine Taylor, who is nearly halfway through a 20-year sentence for buying methamphetamine precursor chemicals for her boyfriend when she was 19. Nor did President Clinton act on the group of some 487 "safety valve" prisoners, who could be serving shorter sentences or out of prison altogether if they had been sentenced after Congress adjusted federal drug offense sentencing in September 1994.
Activists and prisoners' families expressed mixed feelings about the commutations.
"The families are thrilled to have their loved ones home, and so are we," the November Coalition's Nora Callahan told DRCNet, "but this handful of commutations didn't have anything to do with justice or mercy. If they did, people like Cristine Taylor and Clarence Aaron would have been released."
FAMM spokeswoman Monica Pratt had similar sentiments. "It's been a very bittersweet week for us," she told DRCNet. "We're thrilled, but it also brings to mind the thousands of other people sitting in prison with these egregious mandatory minimum sentences."
Cory Stringfellow did make the cut (although because of a state sentence on a related matter, he could remain behind bars until May 20th). His father, Burton Stringfellow, too, took time amidst his expressions of relief and joy to remember those left behind.
"We owe President Clinton a heartfelt 'thank you' for commuting Cory's sentence," the elder Stringfellow told DRCNet, "but we grieve for the other people who also should have gotten commutations."
Stringfellow, who is now the head of the Utah FAMM chapter, continued, "We think we were deserving, but so were many others. We feel bad for them, because we know how we would have felt. We have to continue our work and we think we are at a real beginning point."
Cory Stringfellow benefited not only from the intervention of Mayor Anderson, who specifically called on Clinton to grant clemency to Stringfellow, but from some more surprising quarters as well.
"[Utah Republican Senator] Orrin Hatch called the White House about two weeks ago, and talked to the chief of staff," relayed Stringfellow, "and asked him to press Clinton to commute Cory's sentence. Hatch called back to say he did it, and he called back Tuesday to congratulate us."
Head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hatch has rarely met a draconian sentence he didn't like.
"He also told us he really respects Rocky, that he thinks he's an honest man," said Stringfellow.
"Sen. Bob Bennett (R) was also sympathetic when Utah FAMM met with him in July," Stringfellow continued, "but so many people played an important role. Jerome Moody, our attorney, who is on the FAMM advisory board, wrote the application for clemency; we had Catholic Bishop George Neiderau writing letters in support, we had Little League coaches and Scout leaders."
"But Rocky was crucial," concluded Stringfellow.
The November Coalition's Callahan shares the Stringfellow family's joy, but she also expressed frustration with a process where those least able to help themselves are left behind.
"If these commutations were about fairness, it would have reflected who is in the prisons -- predominantly poor people of color," Callahan continued. "Many of the people who got commutations this time were white people, and I can verify that these were people who had support on the outside, from people like us, but also from politicians saying 'let them go.'"
"How do people with no one on the outside stand a chance?" she asked.
Monica Pratt of FAMM doesn't think the commutation process is where such social inequities will be redressed, though she is less certain whites got favorable treatment in this round of pardons.
While Pratt could not supply precise figures, she said "a number of cases, a majority, I think, were African-American or Latino."
"But we have to focus on changing the laws, so the punishment fits the crime," she told DRCNet. "With these commutations, it's like reading tea leaves -- you just can't tell who is going to get one and who isn't. Yes, being a FAMM member has helped some people, but we recognize that commutations aren't a cure-all."
"We're extremely thankful that Clinton did those commutations in the final hours, but now the burden rests on the shoulders of the new Congress to do something about this," Pratt said. "The message that we want to send is that this gives prisoners and families alike hope that change is coming. We just need to redouble our efforts to find a way to end these mandatory minimums."
Gen. Barry McCaffrey and the other authors of the Clinton Administration's Plan Colombia, the $1.3 billion effort to wipe out the Colombian cocaine business and those pesky guerrillas, may be gone now, but their creation lives on -- and now it is the Bush administration's problem.
President Clinton bequeathed to his successor a policy that has left the United States internationally isolated, emboldened vicious paramilitary death squads in de facto alliance with the Colombian military, heightened the level of political violence, accelerated the flow of refugees both internally and into neighboring countries, and sent tremors of violence and instability shuddering through the region.
It has not had any measurable impact on Colombian cocaine exports, and even in the best case, will not have any impact for three to five years, McCaffrey himself admitted.
But Plan Colombia is starting to have an impact on the poor peasants who grow coca plants in small patches in the Guamuez Valley in conflicted Putumayo province. Press reports from the area tell of thousands of coca plants destroyed by aerial fumigation with the herbicide glyphosate, coca prices rising, and coca pickers being thrown out of work.
Associated Press correspondent Andrew Selsky traveled through the area this week, and here is his description:
"The fields in Santa Rosa looked like moonscapes, with only deadened branches of the formerly robust green bushes sticking above the brown ground. Adjacent food crops were shriveled and yellowed from the herbicide, as well as some of the jungle. Tribal fish farms were also sprayed, the Indians said."
"All my corn, yucca, and bananas died," peasant farmer Jos Melo complained to the Miami Herald. "What am I going to feed my family?"
The recent campaign has so far sprayed 15,000 of the 110,000 acres planted with coca in the valley, and it began in areas softened-up by a murderous paramilitary campaign over the past 18 months. As a result, armed resistance has so far been scarce, but that will change as the spraying moves into areas still dominated by the leftist FARC guerrillas.
"If they fly around here, we'll be throwing lead up at them," vowed a young rebel at a roadblock an hour's drive further up the valley.
As Plan Colombia heats up, Colombian President Pastrana is on the verge of deciding whether to extend the FARC's "safe haven," a Switzerland-sized area of the country where the guerrillas reign supreme. In a decision that could end the sputtering peace talks between the FARC and the government, Pastrana appears poised to end the area's refuge status, a move FARC leader Manuel "Sureshot" Marulanda has vowed will end the peace process.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the Colombian military had rushed hundreds of troops to a staging point just outside the safe haven. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Colombian military C-130 transport planes flew in more than 600 troops to reinforce the 2,500 soldiers already stationed just outside the zone.
This is the steaming dish Bill Clinton left for George Bush and his foreign policy advisors. What they will do with it remains to be seen. Bush made general comments supporting the Clinton Colombia policy during the campaign, and some of his advisors have made noises suggesting an intensification of the US effort.
But if his confirmation hearings are any indication, incoming Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld isn't one of them, nor does he know much about Colombia. He didn't know the US was busy upgrading an airbase in Manta, Ecuador, to surveil drug flights, he told Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
But he did have some thoughts on supply and demand and the drug war. The drug problem is "overwhelmingly a demand problem," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If demand persists, it's going to get what it wants. And if it isn't from Colombia, it's going to be from someplace else."
Rumsfeld has expressed similar sentiments before. At a 1997 roundtable discussion among former Defense secretaries at the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta, Rumsfeld called the idea of using the military to fight drugs "nonsense."
If the drug problem is ever solved, he said, it will be solved by "families, and by people, and by schools, and by churches, not by the military."
But Rumsfeld may well just get on board with the existing policy, which is what Colin Powell, the new Secretary of State, appears to have done. To the disappointment of those who had hoped his "Powell Doctrine" -- which calls for the use of US military force only when it is overwhelmingly arrayed against a specific and limited objective with a defined exit strategy -- would guide him away from ever-deepening entanglements in Colombia, he instead supported Plan Colombia during his confirmation cakewalk on January 17th.
In another ill omen, Powell also supported the Clinton Administration's failed effort to develop a regional strategy around Colombia. He might want to talk to Hugo Chavez about that.
While the Bush administration makes up its mind, the drug war continues in Colombia.
(bulletin from the Andean Information Network)
According to denunciations from the Nueva Tapacari Community in the Chapare coca-growing region, an UMOPAR (US-funded anti-drug police) unit occupied the region, beat residents and forcibly took them to nearby hills. UMOPAR agents interrogated them about the whereabouts of police officer Silvano Arroyo, reported missing since October 10, 2000. Apparently no one was detained during this mission. Representatives of the Chapare Human Rights Ombudsman's office (Defensor del Pueblo) confirmed the presence of approximately 50 armed UMOPAR officers and four plainclothes agents leaving the area at 1:30pm.
Affected individuals include:
The absence of prosecutors, torture, and illegal detentions have characterized UMOPAR-led search missions for the missing and murdered officers since their initiation in October of last year. It is essential that Bolivian police forces and prosecutors respect clearly established legal norms in their investigations and respect the constitutional guarantees of all detainees, suspects and residents of the region.
HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVERS ATTACKED:
A shot was fired at Dr. Godofredo Reinicke (Chapare Human Rights Ombudsman) and his legal assistant, Silvano Arancibia (the bullet barely missed Arancibia), as they entered the region on foot with two residents to investigate the denunciations.
After several hours in the region they discovered that all the tires on their jeep had been punctured.
They were later denied access to the UMOPAR anti-drug base in Chimore for over an hour, although Bolivian law mandates that representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman's office must be allowed immediate entry into all government offices.
These incidents indicate the continuation of a disturbing pattern of harassment and lack of respect for human rights monitors, as well as obstruction of their investigations that began during the national road blockades in September and October of last year.
The following help is needed from the international community:
In a study released this week, "Improving Anti-Drug Budgeting" (http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1262/), the RAND Corporation's Drug Policy Research Center found that federal agencies involved in anti-drug efforts overstated their spending on drug treatment by more than $1 billion. The study also found that some law enforcement agencies' budget numbers are no more than "educated guesses."
According to Patrick Murphy, one of the report's authors, the US Customs Service was a particularly egregious offender.
"I tracked down one budget guy for the Border Patrol and asked how they figured out the drug budget and he told me, 'We made it up,'" Murphy told the Boston Globe. "He said 10% of their budget seemed too low, 20% too high, so they settled on 15%."
The study was commissioned by former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who, according to the authors, had long been bothered by "soft" figures in the national drug control budget. In a press release, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) said it "asked for the RAND reports because we want the most reliable data" and that it has "used the RAND findings, and will continue to do so, to improve the way drug budgets are presented to Congress and the public."
The RAND study contains no allegations of wrongdoing, but it concluded that "flawed" reporting from different federal agencies made it impossible to know what actual spending levels were. It examined 10 agencies' performance in the Fiscal Year 1998 national drug control budget.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides drug treatment to former servicemen and women, for example, reported spending more than $1.5 billion on medical care for drug addicts. But the RAND study found the actual figure was $1.07 billion -- nearly 1/3 less than the VA reported.
According to RAND's Murphy, the discrepancy arose because, for example, the department counted spending on "heroin addicts who were seeking treatment for a broken arm, not drug treatment."
"If people are serious about spending money on drug treatment, they are going to have to look at the level of services they have been providing, and it's much less than they had thought," Murphy told the Globe.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), another agency reviewed in the study, also came in for criticism. SAMHSA, which annually disburses about $2 billion in drug prevention block grants to the states, collects data from those programs. But, the RAND report said, SAMHSA statistics are a "collection of arbitrary assumptions and rules."
For example, the report said, SAMHSA claims to focus entirely on drug prevention, but some of its block grants are really aimed primarily at alcohol abuse prevention. Similarly, the agency assumes that all funds in its Knowledge Development and Application program are to be included in its anti-drug budget, although those activities cover alcohol, tobacco and prescription and over-the-counter drugs, as well as illicit drugs.
For the RAND study authors, the bottom line was that methodological problems in determining actual anti-drug expenditures were so widespread and systemic that, "handicapped by a 20% margin of error in available resources, the ONDCP Director can neither effectively plan programs to reduce the demand for illicit drugs nor hold agencies accountable for their performance."
But others were less concerned with the drug czar's ability to plan programs than with the over-counting of treatment spending. "I think it's terrible if they are inflating figures that show there's more drug treatment than there actually is," Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA) told the Boston Globe. "If a guy wants to surrender himself for drug treatment in this country, there are not enough places to go."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who will ask for increased drug treatment funding this year, told the Globe the report would only increase her vigilance.
"We are going to have much stronger oversight to make sure the money is being spent in a cost-effective way to face demand," said Pelosi.
The Belgian government last Friday moved to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. In so doing, it joined a number of other European Union countries where the use and possession of marijuana is de facto tolerated, including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.
Part of a broader cabinet white paper on all aspects of drug policy -- from alcohol and tobacco to the pharmaceutical industry -- the marijuana move represents the governing coalition's recognition of marijuana's broad acceptance in Belgium (http://dossiers.lesoir.be/drogues/TousLesArticles/A_011116.asp for those who speak French). The coalition of the left-liberal Liberal Reform Party and Agalev, the Belgian Greens, defeated the conservative Social Christian Party in the wake of recent dioxin scares, and the new official attitude toward marijuana reflects that political realignment.
Government ministers described the marijuana measure as increasing the sphere of freedom. At a packed press conference announcing the policy shift, Health Minister Magda Aelvoet said the change came out of the government's recognition that personal marijuana use did not merit the concern of the judiciary.
"The criminal judge won't interfere any more in the lives of people who use cannabis on a personal basis and who do not create harm or do not become dependent," said the Health Minister. "We want to create an extra space of liberty, but we want to do it in a controlled manner."
There are exceptions. Marijuana use or possession deemed "problematic" to the user or a "public nuisance" could still be prosecuted, with an eye toward guiding the offender toward "drug aid," or treatment, according to the white paper.
And unlike neighboring Holland, famed worldwide for tolerating marijuana sales in "coffee houses," Belgium will not allow open sales. Health Ministry spokesman Paul Geerts told Reuters that Dutch-style coffee houses "would go too far." Instead, said Geerts, Belgians who want marijuana will have two choices: "You can grow it yourself, or most people in Belgium know where you can buy it in the Netherlands."
The new law does not say what amount of marijuana is okay. The law's crafters could not reach agreement on a set amount, with conservatives arguing for a five-gram limit, while Belgian Greens argued for a 15-gram limit. That does not bother Health Minister Aelvoet, who told the press conference the police are experienced enough to know how much constitutes possession for personal as opposed to commercial use.
Similarly, Aelvoet noted that there will be some flexibility in interpreting the "problematic use" or "public nuisance" exceptions to the law. Such terms could be interpreted differently in a rural village than in Brussels, she said.
Belgian journalist Alain Lallemand, writing in Le Soir (Brussels), laid out the likely scenario in more down to earth terms. "Cannabis is not 'formally depenalised,' it is to an even lesser extent 'legalised,'" he explained.
If the police notice cannabis and decide it is for personal use, if the possessor is an adult, and if there is no "problematic use," then "there is no process [arrest or citation] at all and no seizure of ganja."
"It is legitimate to state that the Belgian state is overseeing a limited depenalization of the right to cannabis," writes Lallemand," and as the ministerial directive will soon become a law, the consumer will be able to defend himself in court by referring to that law. Usage is entirely depenalised and possession of a small quantity of [cannabis] for personal use is protected conditionally (for example, on condition of being an adult) by a written law."
"To add the icing to the cake," Lalleland concludes, "importation of small quantities is permitted (Belgium shares a border with Holland), although exportation is not. Growing and traveling with cannabis are also protected."
Some Belgian reformers are not so sanguine. Antoine Boucher, of Chez Infor Drogues, a Brussels drug reform center, told Le Soir that the law needed and lacked "absolute clarity," and that the provisions for "problematic use" and "social nuisance" merited caution.
Infor Drogues director Phillippe Bastin told Le Soir the law was "imprecise, contradictory, and resembles, at worst, a 'poisoned gift.'"
"Under the cover of the 'public health,'" said Bastin, "is a plan with repressive accents. On the one hand, it creates a space for the personal use of cannabis, but on the other, it creates a state of uncertainty before the law."
And while you can possess cannabis, Bastin exclaimed, "the sale remains prohibited in Belgium. It's nonsense!"
Under the Belgian system, the new law will not formally take effect until a royal decree is issued and parliament approves the cabinet's legislative proposal. But at last Friday's news conference, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the decree will go out soon and it will instruct prosecutors not to pursue marijuana possession cases while waiting for parliamentary approval of the cabinet proposal.
Such approval is a foregone conclusion, according to Belgian embassy spokeswoman Cathy Buggenhout. "We have a coalition government," she told DRCNet, "and the cabinet represents the parties in the parliamentary coalition. This will be automatically backed in the parliament," she said.
The New Zealand parliament's Health Select Committee is once again holding hearings and accepting submissions on cannabis law reform, and will do so through February 7th. The select committee's review comes more than two years after it first recommended that the legal status of cannabis be revisited. That recommendation came after an 8-month study with 70 submissions by interested parties.
The long delay is at least partly attributable to stiff and vocal opposition to any change in cannabis' prohibited status.
Foes led by opposition National Party head Jenny Shipley, who last month reaffirmed her party's stance against legalized cannabis, have engaged in an all-out and sometimes laughable campaign. In public forums, newspaper op-ed pages and letters to the editor, opponents have blamed cannabis for everything from "zombie schoolchildren" to a trout shortage. (One angry angler complained to the Otago Daily Times that marijuana farmers were stealing the fish to use as fertilizer for their crops. A park ranger, however, explained that the missing fish had merely spawned earlier than usual and gone on their way.)
Opponents have also engineered press scare campaigns around the tiniest bits of research that could conceivably bolster their cause by demonizing marijuana. Headlines such as "Cannabis Link to Fatal Road Crashes Shown," "Dutch Cannabis Use Leads to Heroin," and "Marijuana Has Same Health Risks as Tobacco," while not uncommon in recent months, reach far beyond the research results on which they are putatively based.
But scare tactics notwithstanding, the governing Labour-Alliance coalition is moving ahead with its review. Earlier this week, Justice Minister Phil Goff and Health Minister Annette King visited Australia to confer with officials there on the long-standing South Australian policy of instant fines for minor cannabis offenders. Since 1987, South Australia has fined possessors of small amounts of cannabis between $50 and $150 rather than take them to court.
"I think there is some merit in it," Health Minister King told the Otago Daily Times. "I think that it is worthwhile us getting more information and putting it into the discussion."
More information may be worthwhile, but Youth Minister Laila Harre rejected the fine scheme at a Wellington youth forum on Wednesday. She told supporters that in other countries the fine model resulted in criminal convictions for non-payment down the road.
"The fines may be nothing more than a tax on cannabis users, heavily weighted against those who are most likely to get caught and less likely to be able to pay, such as young people," she told the Otago Daily Times.
Harre instead called for "partial liberalization," which would allow people to legally possess small amounts, but in which growing and large sales would remain illegal.
That doesn't go far enough for Green Party MP Nandor Tanczos, a Maori Rastafarian, who has led the charge for an outright end to cannabis prohibition. In forums across the country over the past two years, Tanczos has steadfastly hewed to his anti-prohibition line and will argue for it before the Health Select Committee.
The committee review will study harm reduction measures for cannabis as well as its legal status. Proposals so far have run the gamut from doing nothing, to continuing prohibition with a medical marijuana exception, to giving police discretion to issue civil citations or refer users to drug treatment.
Former Youth Affairs Minister Deborah Morris, a member of the Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform, adheres to Tanczos' anti-prohibition position. She told the Wellington forum that prohibition was more harmful than moderate cannabis use, and that it created a climate of fear by isolating and victimizing users, especially youth and the Maori minority.
But cannabis users shouldn't be holding their breath just yet. The Otago Daily Times reports that "progress on legislative change is expected to be slow and unlikely to happen until after the next election."
The marijuana issue has been percolating on New Zealand's agenda since at least 1998, when a high-powered group of physicians and professionals under the auspices of the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust issued a report calling for marijuana legalization (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/036.html#nzdpft).
In a little-noted and far-ranging interview with then President-elect George W. Bush on January 18th, CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley elicited some of the most direct comments on drug policy yet heard from the new Commander in Chief. Below are excerpts from Bush's remarks.
On sentencing drug offenders:
"I think a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for the first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease. And I'm willing to look at that."
On the crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity:
"Well, I mean, that ought to be addressed by making sure the powder cocaine and the crack cocaine penalties are the same. I don't believe we ought to be discriminatory. I mean, I think we ought to be sending a clear signal."
On drug use and drug treatment:
"My point to you on the drug use is that one of the things we've got to do a better job of in our society is helping people cure themselves of an illness."
"Addiction to alcohol or addiction to drugs is an illness. And we have not done a very good job, thus far, of curing people from that illness. And that's one of the reasons why I believe so strongly in faith-based programs to help people change their lives, which would then change their habits."
"One of the things we have got to make sure of in our society is that our drug prevention programs are effective."
On racial profiling:
"My attitude is we ought to ban racial profiling. And I'm convinced that every mayor in America wants to ban racial profiling. I don't think people want racial profiling in America. I don't believe that."
"I think what the federal government can do is work with states and local jurisdictions to help gather the data to make sure racial profiling is not occurring, and if it is, encourage local folks to address the situation. I am absolutely opposed to racial profiling... I think the best way to get at the root of it... is to first understand if it exists. So the federal government can help collect the data necessary to make the right choice."
On perceptions of injustice in the criminal justice system:
"Well, first it's real and if a lot of people believe it's real, that, in itself is reality. In other words, if people feel like our criminal justice system is unfair, then we'd better look at the reasons why, the underlying concerns."
"I do believe there are some in our society who don't think this criminal justice system is fair; that don't believe the American experience is really meant for everybody. They hear Republicans like me talk about prosperity and they say, well, he doesn't really mean it for me, and that concerns me."
URGENT ACTION ITEM #1: John Ashcroft
At the time of this writing, more than 3,500 people have visited our StopJohnAshcroft.org web site to contact their US Senators. We believe 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 info on Ashcroft's drug war record (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#ashcroft).
Since then, the smoking gun has come out: As governor, Ashcroft looked the other way as state police conspired with the DEA to evade Missouri Constitutional requirements for use of asset forfeiture funds.
Please visit http://www.StopJohnAshcroft.org to read more about it, and 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.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
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.
Editorials will return next week. If you haven't read last week's Message to the Incoming President, please check it out at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/169.html#message.
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