(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #172, 2/9/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
New York prosecutors have, not surprisingly, emerged as the primary foes of any changes to the Rockefeller laws, the state's draconian mandatory-minimum drug statutes. They made their message clear in a letter from the New York State District Attorneys Association, representing all 62 county prosecutors, to Gov. George Pataki, and to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Pataki introduced a 10-point program that would effectively cut the sentences of some 600 prisoners serving 15-years-to-life terms, would divert minor offenders from jail or prison to treatment programs, and would restore some sentencing discretion to judges. The package has received mixed reviews from drug reform activists and prisoners' rights groups (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/170.html#patakibill).
Despite the Pataki package's rather modest reforms, prosecutors are up in arms, especially on the issue of judicial sentencing discretion. Statutes that restrict the ability of judges to impose appropriate penalties end up concentrating control over cases in prosecutors' offices. Under mandatory minimum sentence schemes, the sentence is effectively reached when the charge is brought. Prosecutors also use their power over sentencing to force plea bargains from some offenders and force others into treatment.
"Violent crime is down dramatically in New York State and, in our view, one of the main reasons for the decline is the vigorous enforcement of our drug laws," wrote the prosecutors. "It would be extremely shortsighted to respond to these outstanding reductions in violent crime by taking away the very tools we have used so effectively to make our communities safer."
The letter's author, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, who is also president of the state prosecutors' association, added: "We can't live with a system that takes out of prosecutors' hands the right to send predatory drug dealers to prison."
The prosecutors' offensive is partly driven by the sense that, unlike years past, drug reform of some shape will actually make it into law. "My concern is that we not go too far in giving away our discretion," the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, told the New York Times. "This is the first year where I've sensed something is going to happen."
That's because for the first time, the governor and both parties' legislative leaders are pushing for reform. The district attorneys have been careful to not directly oppose any of Pataki's proposals, but seem to be positioning themselves to act as a counterweight to Democratic Assembly Speaker Silver. Silver has criticized Gov. Pataki's plan as not going far enough, but has not yet introduced his own proposals. Silver has invited the prosecutors' group to meet with him, and "aides" told the New York Times they expected a tough battle over what to do with low-level drug offenders and whether judges or prosecutors will decide who goes to jail and for how long.
The District Attorneys Association is also sending a group to meet with Gov. Pataki and has lined up a meeting with members of the Republican-controlled Senate. Other New York law enforcement associations -- the state prison guards' union, the police chiefs' association, the sheriffs' group -- have so far remained quiet in comparison with the district attorneys.
Prosecutors are coming up against an increasingly formidable coalition of groups demanding softening of the laws, from Catholic bishops and human rights organizations to African American and Latino elected officials. Judges, too, would like to see sentencing powers returned to the bench. Chief Justice Judith Kaye has expressed "cautious support for softening the mandatory sentences," the Times reported.
The prospect has some district attorneys making strange arguments. Queens DA Richard Brown, formerly a state judge for 16 years, attempted to explain why judges couldn't be trusted to make sentencing decisions: "They have enormous calendars, they have cases to try," Brown told the Times. "The pressure they are under is to try to get people into treatment. Prosecutors are in the best position to make independent judgments."
He did not explain how he had been able to sentence defendants during his tenure on the bench, why putting people in treatment is undesirable, or why prosecutors, who live by their conviction records and are, after all, advocates, would be more solomonic than people who are paid to be so.
The Queens County chapter of "Mothers of the Disappeared," an organization opposing the Rockefeller Drug Laws, issued a press release calling Brown "New York's foremost drug war hustler," charging that "the amount of money wasted on prosecuting and incarcerating low level drug offenders is a major league fraud DA Brown is perpetrating on the citizens of Queens."
It was April 1998 when two white New Jersey State Troopers, John Hogan and James Kenna, pulled over a van carrying four young men -- three black and one Hispanic -- on their way to a basketball camp. Before the stop was over, three of the travelers would lie wounded by police gunfire, and the issue of racial profiling would be propelled to the nation's front pages.
New Jersey officials conceded last year that the practice of singling out minority motorists for traffic stops to do drug searches had been longstanding, dating back at least as far as 1989. The state has already signed a consent decree with the Department of Justice to halt racial profiling and has been forced to release more than 90,000 pages of documents related to the practice (http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/). And the fallout continues.
Last Friday, New Jersey Attorney General James Farmer agreed to pay the four men nearly $13 million dollars to settle the civil rights lawsuit they filed against the state. (Civil actions against the two officers remain pending, as do criminal charges.) He also dropped criminal charges against 128 other persons who claimed they had been arrested because of racial bias.
Under the terms of the settlement, the state of New Jersey does not admit guilt in the shootings, but at a press conference last Friday, Peter Neufeld, who represented one of the men, said the settlement spoke for itself.
"In the agreement, there is no statement admitting or denying liability," Neufeld said, "however, they just agreed to pay out $12.9 million, and we think that number speaks volumes about what happened that night."
Keyshon Moore was driving south on the turnpike near Trenton as he and his companions headed for a North Carolina college to display their basketball skills in hopes of obtaining scholarships. After the troopers stopped the van, they fired 11 shots into it, claiming Moore had put the van in reverse and tried to run them over. Moore escaped injury, but passengers LeRoy Grant, Danny Reyes and Rayshawn Brown were wounded. Grant and Reyes were hospitalized for 13 days, Brown for two.
No drugs or weapons were discovered.
Grant and Reyes, both of whom still carry bullets in their bodies, will receive $4.4 million and $5.8 million, respectively. Brown will get $1.8 million, and Moore, the only one not wounded, will receive $912,000.
"Obviously, we have to set new goals for ourselves," Reyes said. "My life was based on going to school and playing basketball. Now I can't play anymore and I have to make new plans. Although the settlement may make the transition in our lives easier, it's only halfway to justice."
"It seems like we're still in the struggle," Grant told the press conference. "Like Dr. King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, they all took the back door so we could take the front door, but it seems to me we're still taking the back door."
Even as lawyers were announcing the widely-expected settlement in Manhattan, Attorney General Farmer dropped a bomb in Trenton with his announcement that he would drop charges in 77 out of 97 cases in which defendants sought to suppress evidence on the basis that they were stopped because of their race. 128 defendants had charges dropped.
The Attorney General was not happy. "Let's be clear," he wrote in a statement announcing the decision, "the defendants in these cases may have prevailed in their motions to suppress, but they are criminals nonetheless. All were carrying some form of contraband for distribution in communities in this and other states. It is, accordingly, impossible to view them as victims."
The Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, head of the New Jersey Black Ministers Council, told the New York Times he sympathized to some degree with Farmer's point.
"I think his sentiment is correct," said Jackson, "and yet, even with dismissing those indictments, even with the settlement today, it does not remove the fact that racial profiling is an issue we have to resolve, not only in New Jersey but across the nation."
[Ed: DRCNet takes a less sympathetic view of Farmer's remarks. By definition, the law, which Farmer is supposed to represent, considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. For a state's Attorney General to nevertheless brand un-convicted defendants as "criminals" is extraordinarily unprofessional, perhaps even slanderous. Attorney General Farmer should apologize for his comments or resign.]
Farmer also took the offensive to attack unnamed attorneys for taking racial profiling cases and to rebuke the state legislature for having the presumption to hold hearings on the subject.
"We have laid bare the truth," the Attorney General wrote, "but as we attempt to move forward, we are beset by the debilitating consequences of candor: opportunistic litigation and the disruption of belated legislative hearings which, however well motivated, will, by forcing us once again to inhabit the past, necessarily hinder our efforts to move forward."
Powerful Democrats weren't buying it. Senator John Lynch, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold the hearings, told the Times Farmer "should be ashamed of himself." He said Farmer and his predecessor, Peter Verniero (now a state Supreme Court justice) tried to stonewall the committee in earlier hearings.
"John Farmer shouldn't be complaining about the Judiciary Committee going back and trying to do what it was prevented from doing the first time, getting the truth," fumed Lynch.
Sen. William Gormley, a Republican and leader of the Judiciary Committee, was less harsh, but equally insistent that the hearings were necessary.
"If there weren't a process where the questions could be asked," he said, "how would the public feel about that?"
Last Friday, more than 300 scientists, health care professionals, policy experts and drug reformers met for the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation's "The State of Ecstasy" conference. The event, cosponsored by the San Francisco Medical Society, was the first-ever gathering to explore the scientific, medical, cultural, and legal ramifications of ecstasy and to search for commonsense public policy responses to its popularity.
Participants included legendary psychedelic researchers Alexander (Sasha) and Ann Shulgin, as well as other leading scientists and researchers, and representatives of the rave culture that is rightly or wrongly, in the public mind, so inextricably tied to ecstasy. Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org) mapped out his strategy for reintroducing the drug into the US pharmacopeia.
Leading ecstasy researchers such as Drs. George Ricuarte and Charles Grob offering opposing scientific evidence on ecstasy's dangers. Ricaurte, a researcher at John Hopkins University, argued that, "the emerging evidence suggests that MDMA produces long-term effects on humans and there is good evidence that it damages the brain. We need to confirm and further expose these studies."
Grob, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical center, disagreed, arguing that research so far was limited. Grob called for more research because of ecstasy's potential as a valuable tool for psychiatrists in therapy, but also because it has become so popular.
"Often, when kids are taking ecstasy, they are not sure of what they are taking -- it worries me that so many young people are putting themselves in a position of unnecessary risk," he said. "Reputable institutions can't get this stuff to study it, which is ridiculous."
MAPS' Rick Doblin wasn't so quick to be done with Ricuarte, who, in studies funded by the National Insitute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has documented changes in serotinin levels of chronic ecstasy users. Ricuarte has been a prominent voice in the federal government's campaign against ecstasy, serving up such nice sound-bites as, "People who use ecstasy are putting themselves at risk of brain injury."
In the widely reported remarks, Ricuarte added, "Potential consequences of brain damage induced by the drug are not clear, but may include depression, anxiety, memory disturbance and other neuropsychiatric disorders."
"He's the government's point-person in justifying harsh penalties," Doblin told DRCNet. "He's NIDA-funded, and his message has to be 'don't do it.'"
"What struck me at the conference was the brittleness of Ricuarte's and NIDA's arguments," Doblin warmed up. "His presentation was fundamentally misleading and had more to do with the primacy of imagery than with actual measurable harm," he continued, referring to Ricuarte's infamous "before and after" slides of serotonin systems in the brain.
"You can see the changes in the images, but he doesn't explain that at his 'toxic dose' level only two of nine areas of the brain are affected," said the veteran psychedelics researcher. "But people are left with the imagery, and trying to explain that this dose produces almost no toxic effects in humans just wasn't there."
"Look," said Doblin, "nothing is completely and totally safe -- no one on our side says that -- but this kind of thing leaves people with an erroneous impression. With ecstasy, the risk-benefit ratio is pretty favorable; after all, there are millions taking who don't seem to be harmed. They look at what it does with eyes wide open and decide to continue using it."
"The most they can say based on the neurological toxicity literature is that a small group of poly-drug users score slightly lower on some tests than the controls," he explained. "These are pretty minor findings; if there are any consequences of neurological toxicity, they are subtle indeed. Yet at the same time, these findings are presented as demonstrating that ecstasy is so harmful it needs greater penalties."
"At the order of Congress, the sentencing commission is going to ratchet the ecstasy penalties up to be the same as heroin," Doblin said, "but the government's own research shows all we have are minor neurotoxicological effects."
The conference sessions were not all strife and thunder, as the "dance" culture made its presence felt. In one session, Dustianne North, a PhD candidate in social welfare at UCLA, used music and images to portray the subculture to the more staid group of mostly scientists and health care professionals.
"Rave and dance culture has been misconstrued because of drug war policies," she told the audience, remarking on its emphasis on peace, love, unity, and respect. "Our culture is demonized in the media, but our music is used to sell cars and designer clothes to teens."
DanceSafe (http://www.dancesafe.org), the Oakland-based harm reduction and education group that tests pills at raves for adulterants and substitutions, also showed up at the conference. The group's founder, Emanuel Sferios, called for a temperance-not-abstinence based approach.
"We know that 30 years of drug policies have failed. Harm reduction, or educating users on how to use drugs more safely, is a much better way of keeping young people safe," he said.
Both Sferios and North criticized unregulated nightclubs and some rave promoters as out to make quick money, saying they are "part of the problem."
Shawn Heller, National Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org), had the rave scene and its persecution on his mind as he attended the sessions. "SSDP is very concerned with the ecstasy issue right now," he told DRCNet. "There's been a lot of press about it, and we've seen policy changes toward harsher punishments. One of the things that concerns us is the case of the three promoters in New Orleans who were busted under the federal crack house law (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/169.html#antiecstasy) and what this will mean for the rest of the country."
For Heller, like many other attendees, the conference was also a chance to listen, learn and network. "We came here to find out more about the history of ecstasy and its medical and therapeutic uses," he said. "We provided our materials to people at the conference, and we got a chance to meet more closely with DanceSafe. In fact, we had our first joint SSDP-DanceSafe meeting, between our chapter leaders and their trainers. We'd like to see an SSDP chapter wherever there's a DanceSafe chapter, and vice versa."
It was ecstasy's therapeutic uses, seeded by Shulgin and then stopped short by its classification as a Schedule I drug with no medical use, that provided some of the most positive yet frustrating sessions. Speaker after speaker described the beneficial therapeutic effects of what Doblin calls an "empathogen," and bemoaned the federal roadblocks to further research.
In an illustrative exchange provoked by a Village Voice reporter, Ricuarte was asked why he did not perform "forward-looking" studies where he administered ecstasy in a controlled fashion instead of looking backward on old data sets.
"Any study has to be conducted with an eye toward risk versus benefit," Ricuarte said. "I can't point to one study showing the therapeutic benefit of MDMA."
"Of course you can't," said Grob, "because to date, none have been permitted."
That didn't stop Sue Stevens from delivering an emotionally powerful description of the impact ecstasy had on her marriage as she and her husband Shane faced his terminal cancer. The relationship badly strained, the couple followed a friend's advice to try the drug in a therapeutic setting. Stevens presented a remarkable story of emotional and physical rejuvenation that increased her husband's lifespan and offered both of them an unexpected quality of life for his last few years.
MAPS' Rick Doblin used his presentation at the conference to outline his proposal for a research protocol to study MDMA in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Such a proposal must gain the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, Doblin said.
"The conference was excellent, not only in the diversity of presenters," Doblin said, "but it also provided an opportunity to invite another group of people to a Saturday meeting where we evaluated the protocol. It's in the very early stages, and we want to break the research barrier in the US."
Doblin told DRCNet that his organization, in conjunction with the Vaults of Erowid ("Documenting the Complex Relationship Between Human and Psychoactives") will shortly make all the conference's papers and reviews available online (http://www.erowid.org).
"We plan to provide a comprehensive overview to everyone in the world," Doblin vowed.
Doblin was frustrated by the government's attitude toward MDMA, illustrated, he said, by the sudden and fleeting appearance of the US Sentencing Commission's window for comment on its proposed "emergency" sentencing increases. "The only reason that was an 'emergency' was to limit our comments," he growled. "Maybe people should write in anyway (http://www.ussc.gov/contact.htm). Tell them you object to that 'emergency' designation that precludes effective comment."
"The sad part of this is that our culture and people desperately need what MDMA has to offer in terms of understanding, love, and therapy," Doblin said, "yet our reaction is fear and repression and inflicting legal pain on people."
Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/ecstasy/ for further information on the conference, including complete online audio footage.
"Thousand Arrested, Tons of Drugs Seized in Sweeps," read the headlines last fall when the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) celebrated what it called a major victory against drug traffickers in the Caribbean. The DEA, working with authorities in 36 countries, unleashed Operation Libertador on October 27th and ended it three weeks later.
"Police arrested 2,876 people and seized more than 20 tons of cocaine during the operation," crowed DEA Caribbean director Michael Vigil. "It was a tremendous success," Vigil added.
According to an investigation done by the Knight Ridder News Services' Washington Bureau and first published in the Miami Herald, the bust wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The 2,876 arrests? The investigation found that the DEA had no idea who 375 of those arrested were, or if they were even really arrested. And nearly one-third of the arrests came in Jamaica, where local law enforcement authorities told Knight Ridder most of them were for minor marijuana possession and unrelated to the operation.
Carl Williams, head of the Jamaican narcotics squad, told Knight Ridder that not only were the arrests minor, but that the DEA had taken credit for destroying hundreds of thousands of Jamaican marijuana plants that were in fact destroyed under an existing State Department program.
The DEA also touted its seizure of $30.2 million in criminal assets during Operation Libertador. According to the agency's own records, however, all but $200,000 was seized in a separate operation a month before Libertador began. The other $30 million was seized from accused Dominican trafficker Martires Paulino Castro, along with 360 kilograms of cocaine on September 29th.
That didn't stop the DEA from claiming Castro's arrest as one of Libertador's biggest successes, though. When questioned on the discrepancy, the agency feebly retorted that because Castro was on a suspect list for Libertador, his arrest should be seen as part of that operation.
Neither was the agency much interested in intelligence gathering, according to the investigation. The DEA did not, generally, ask for the names of those arrested, the outcomes of their cases, or the destination of the seized goods and cash.
One former DEA official with experience in Latin American operations called Libertador "seriously flawed."
"It's ridiculous if names are not included," said the official, insisting on anonymity.
In the wake of the investigative report, the DEA is circling its wagons. "Everything was done properly and aboveboard," DEA spokesman Michael Chapman maintained. "We will stick by the reported arrests, because those were the numbers that were called in," he said.
Operation overseer Vigil, who has since been promoted to head all of DEA's international operations, has changed his tune, too. The names and numbers weren't that important, he said.
"The key is that here we have 36 countries that put aside cultural, political, and economic differences to come together," spun Vigil.
Ethan Nadelmann of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation had a different take.
"The criteria for success or failure of our drug policy depends on being able to say you arrested somebody," Nadelmann told Knight-Ridder. Operation Libertador "has essentially nothing to do with the drug problem in the US or with the flow of drugs into the US. Did the operation have any impact whatsoever on the price or availability of drugs? Did it have any impact whatsoever on the number of people addicted to or overdosing from heroin or cocaine? The odds are overwhelmingly no."
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former paratroop colonel who swept the country's corrupt and tottering old regime from power in a 1999 landslide election, is increasingly viewed by Washington's drug warriors and hidebound Cold Warriors as a threat to US policy aims in northern South America and beyond.
They have good reason to be concerned. Since he assumed the presidency two years ago, Chavez has both challenged Washington's neoliberal economic orthodoxy and asserted a vision of a Latin America unified to confront the colossus of the north. He has also used Venezuela's huge oil reserves to push OPEC in a more aggressive direction, and has gone out of his way to thumb his nose at the United States by visiting such US-denominated villains as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Ghadafy. Also worrying the Bush administration is Chavez's nomination of Ali Rodriguez, his former oil minister, as secretary-general of the oil producers' organization in Vienna.
But Chavez' role in his own neighborhood is causing as much concern on Wall Street and in Foggy Bottom. Chavez has embraced Cuban leader Fidel Castro (they even played baseball together) and Venezuela is now supplying Cuba with desperately needed oil. And to the great irritation of US drug warriors, he has refused permission for US anti-drug planes based in the Dutch Antilles to over-fly Venezuelan territory. He is also a bitter and eloquent foe of Plan Colombia, which has brought violence and increasing refugee flows across the border into Venezuela.
All of the above prompted the Guardian Weekly (Great Britain) to report last week that "rumours are circulating that hawks in Washington are seeking allies in the Venezuelan military for a coup against Mr. Chavez."
Now, in a move certain to further tempt any possible coup-mongers, Chavez has appointed the well-known leftist journalist Jose Vincent Rangel as the country's first civilian defense minister. According to a detailed report in Al Giordano's Narco News Bulletin (http://www.narconews.com/rangel1.html), Rangel's first task will be to prevent the formation of paramilitary death squads by Venezuelan landowners near the Colombian border. The Venezuelan press reported last week that landowners were considering such measures "to combat the Colombian guerrilla." As Giordano emphasizes, paramilitaries thrive only where they have the support of national militaries, and Rangel's appointment will serve to check elements of the Venezuelan officer corps who may be inclined to provide cover for such armed formations.
One indication of growing US focus on Chavez comes from Strategic Forecasting, Inc., an Austin-based private intelligence-gathering group (http://www.stratfor.com/home/giu/archive/020501/). Normally staid and reliable, albeit clearly realpolitik in its perspective, Stratfor greeted Rangel's ascension with hysteria, hyperbole, and name-calling. Calling Rangel "a lifelong anti-American Marxist who admires Fidel Castro and is despised widely within the Venezuelan armed forces," the spies-for-hire complained that Venezuela was "adopting a hard line with the Colombian government on halting refugee displacements and cross-border incursions by Colombian army and paramilitary units."
Stratfor's analysis was blasted in a sizzling response the same day from Vheadlines.com, an English-language Venezuelan news provider (http://www.vheadline.com/0102/9938.htm). Vheadlines editorial writer Roy Carson debunked Stratfor's analysis in detail before concluding that Stratfor "should take off its myopic North American blinkers and view President Hugo Chavez Frias' achievements through the past two years in the light of the stark reality that faces Venezuela after more than 40 years of American-backed political and economic corruption."
"In this respect," wrote Carson, "Stratfor has been totally misguiding its readers even if, in its reporting on other events in Latin America, it has calls before they were in the mainstream North American media."
In other Narco News Bulletin news, publisher Al Giordano has issued an appeal for contributions to the crusading online publication's legal defense fund. As DRCNet reported last December (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/165.html#akingump), Narconews and Mexican newspaper publisher Mario Menendez Rodriguez have been sued for libel by well-connected Mexican banker Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, owner of Banamex. After losing three times in Mexican courts, a desperate Hernandez enlisted the help of Washington lobbying and law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which has now sued Giordano and Menendez in New York City.
"They are abusing the laws and the judicial system of the United States to try and spend us out of existence... This case will have a profound impact on freedom of speech and of the press especially on the Internet... The difference between victory and defeat will be whether we can raise sufficient funds to mount a strong defense against this attack. In a United States civil lawsuit, transcripts of depositions cost $500 each. If they must be translated officially from Spanish, the cost doubles. Court translators cost $300 a day. And so much of the evidence that proves the truth of our reports is in Spanish. Their gamble is that we won't be able to pay those costs. They know we can't do it alone."
Those interested in donating to the Narco News legal defense fund can send checks made payable to "Drug War On Trial," and send them to: Drug War On Trial, c/o Attorney Thomas Lesser, Lesser, Newman, Souweine & Nasser, 39 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060. If you would like to receive confirmation of your donation, send an e-mail to [email protected] with the amount pledged and your e-mail address. When your contribution arrives, Narco News promises to send a thank you note confirming its receipt.
Even as British research on the medical uses of cannabis swings into high gear, Parliament is refusing to act on a member's bill to legalize its medical uses.
Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Paul Flynn, a pharmacist by trade, told BBC Radio his bill would "allow cannabis in its natural state to be provided by a limited number of doctors in an unlicensed form to named patients just as heroin and cocaine are prescribed legally now."
He also lambasted the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair for "political cowardice" in three times rebuffing his efforts to change the law. "The response from ministers each time... has had the lingering scent of hypocrisy, callousness, indifference and political cowardice."
But after his fellow MPs refused to nudge his bill forward, Flynn may detect some of that same scent in the halls of Parliament. After debate during the bill's second reading, it failed to gain the votes necessary to move forward and is "certain to fail," the BBC reported.
Opponents of the measure cited fears it would encourage recreational use of cannabis and said the bill was premature in light of ongoing studies. Such comments echoed a 1999 House of Lords select committee report that argued more research was necessary.
Conservative MP Anne McIntosh told Parliament: "I am concerned that in agreeing to this bill, we would give the wrong message to those who seek to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes."
Home Office Minister Barbara Roche, speaking for the Blair government, said, "It would be premature to amend the misuse of drugs legislation to allow the prescribing of cannabis until the quality, safety, and efficacy of a medicinal form of the drug has been scientifically established and a marketing authorization issued by the medicines control agency."
MP Flynn was not impressed by opponents' arguments.
"The medicine of cannabis is the world's most ancient medicine. Trials have been going on for 5,000 years with billions of people," he told fellow MPs. "It was used by the people who built the pyramids for their eye problems. It was used by Queen Victoria for her menstrual cramps."
Cannabis, Flynn said, was "less toxic than aspirin and has never knowingly killed anybody."
Flynn got support from fellow Welsh MP Dafydd Wigley, who told the House of Commons: "This is a matter of urgency and it is something that cannot wait for another four or five years for these tests to be concluded and then evaluated and then acted on."
The parliamentarians were referring to a series of tests underway to test the efficacy of cannabis for medical purposes. In late January, the government-approved Cannabis in Multiple Sclerosis (CAMS) study began distributing cannabis capsules to its first 20 patients. Some will get placebos. After three months, the study will be expanded to 660 patients at 40 research centers across the country.
Participating patients are granted licenses to possess the Schedule 1 drug and thus may legally take their medicine home with them. They will undergo up to five weeks of titration (adjusting the dosage), followed by two months of medication at a steady dose.
"We're looking for a dose that can help relieve symptoms with minimal side effects," researcher Dr. Patrick Fox told the British Medical Journal. "We find that few patients want to be stoned or high when they have to take the drug all the time."
In addition to the CAMS study, a set of three smaller trials have been underway since last fall. In those studies, with cannabis grown in Britain by GW Pharmaceuticals, patients with multiple sclerosis or chronic pain are receiving sublingual sprays containing cannabinoids. Those trials will expand to 2,000 patients over the next two years.
Professor William Notcutt, in charge of one of the studies, told the British Medical Journal he was not overly concerned that patients might be getting high.
"We're looking at overall quality of life as well as pain relief," Notcutt said. "If a patient says he feels better since starting the drug, I'm not going to panic that some of that might be drug-induced euphoria and cut their dose on moral grounds."
The final results for the sublingual trials are not expected until 2003, and the CAMS study is not expected to be completed until after that.
A study published this month in the American Journal of Public Health (http://www.apha.org/news/press/2001_journal/feb01.htm) has found that the so-called gateway theory of drug use "is not relevant to the kids who came before the baby boomers and those born during the 1960s, and it is increasingly less relevant to those who came after."
"Dire predictions of future hard drug abuse by youths who came of age in the 1990s may be greatly overstated," concluded Dr. Andrew Golub, an eminent and prolific drug abuse researcher, who since 1994 has been examining the validity of the gateway theory. That theory, popular not only among ardent prohibitionists, but also in parts of the scientific community and among the public at large, holds that there exists a logical progression in drug use. Starting with tobacco, the use of each drug opens a "gate" to the next drug in the progression.
Golub and his associates analyzed data about teenage drug use from more than 100,000 people who participated in the government's annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse between 1979 and 1997. They conclude that increasing marijuana use in the 1990s is unlikely to result in an upsurge of hard drug use in coming years.
"The drug subculture among inner city youth today encourages marijuana use but discourages use of hard drugs," Golub told the Associated Press. "Many of these kids witnessed the devastating effects of crack and heroin on their own families and neighborhoods."
Golub's findings suggest that the gateway theory is more an historical artifact than an explanation for drug use valid over time. For persons born before World War II, the progression from tobacco and alcohol to marijuana and on to hard drugs was rare. The "stages of drug use" phenomenon began with baby boomers and peaked among persons born around 1960, the study found. Since then, the percentage of people moving from marijuana to hard drugs has declined.
The study's findings carry public policy
implications, Golub wrote in the grant proposal for the research
Golub, who has clearly been thinking about the gateway theory for some time, provided insight into its durability in an interview at Potsdam University (http://www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol-info/InTheirOwnWords/GolubInterview.html). When asked to explain the theory's persistence he resorted to broadly-applicable models of public policy: "I suspect there are a variety of reasons. Graham Allison [social scientist and author of 'Essence of Decision: The Making of the Cuban Missile Crisis,' where he elaborated the theory below] has indicated that there are three domains -- rational, institutional and political -- which affect the formation of public policy."
"The wealth of scientific findings inform the rational perspective. It is convenient to reduce this often dry stack of findings to a simple metaphor. Convenient, but not always correct. The gateway and stepping stone metaphors are particularly compelling because, if they were true, they provide a clear foundation for early substance abuse prevention, a problem of great concern. The true solution to this problem is probably much more complicated as are most problems regarding human behavior and our social condition."
"From the institutional perspective, there are many agencies and policies dedicated to preventing adolescent substance use. Making important sounding statements based on the gateway theory provides a useful justification for larger budgets, increased staff, and job security."
"From the political perspective, there are varied interest groups which appear to be increasingly intolerant of people taking individual risks. These groups are concerning themselves with a wide range of behaviors, automobile air bags, the use of child seats in cars, second-hand smoke, and adolescent substance use. Supporting a theory, like the gateway theory, helps propel their concerns to the forefront."
Perhaps that is why the Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Bob Weiner felt compelled to denounce Golub's study even though he had admittedly not read it.
"The parents of the children who have gone on to cocaine would have more common sense than his findings seem to come out with," Weiner said, apparently foregoing the rational perspective in favor of preserving institutional power and political prerogatives.
A 49-minute video of excerpts from the drug war portions of the Philadelphia and Los Angeles Shadow Conventions is now available. Shadow Conventions 2000: America's Failed War on Drugs, features leaders from across the political spectrum ranging from Republican Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico to Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters of California, as well as actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, family members of those incarcerated for nonviolent, drug-related crimes and many others. Speakers cover a host of issues, including youth and drugs, drug sentencing laws and racial profiling. Copies are free for those arranging group screenings, or $15 for individuals, $25 for two tapes. To order, contact Agatha Ponickly at (212) 547-6916 or [email protected].
The intrusive anti-money laundering "Know Your Customer" regulations (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/076.html#kyc and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/082.html#kyc in our archives), continue to be aggressively promoted by government regulators despite a massive public outcry and rejected by Congress. Brad Jansen, formerly of Rep. Ron Paul's (R-TX) office and now with the Free Congress Foundation, is appearing on the "Endangered Liberties" program tonight (Friday, 2/9) from 7:00-8:00pm to discuss this issue. Endangered Liberties airs on Channel 14 in the DC metro area and on the Renaissance Network across the country (GEI Transponder 19 Digital). Call (202) 548-8510 to find out program stations and schedules in other parts of the country, and phone toll free (866) 825-5876 to call in live.
In early 1999, DRCNet reported on Leonard Mercado's Peyote Foundation and their test of Arizona's religious freedom law (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/074.html#peyote). Mercado and the foundation have now left their home in Pinal County under the duress of harassment by a County Attorney. Please visit the Peyote Foundation's web site at http://www.peyote.net to learn more about the situation, sign a petition, and examine Peyote Foundation artwork available to purchase and thereby help the foundation through difficult times.
Two leading conservative columnists opine on the futility of the US drug war in Colombia:
Visit the newly-redesigned Commonsense for Drug Policy web site: http://www.csdp.org
New online marijuana legalization petition,
dedicated to the memory of Peter McWilliams: http://www.NoJailForPot.com
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
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 15, 6:30-8:30pm, New York, NY, Town Hall Meeting/Speak Out on the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership for Criminal Justice in New York City (an affiliate of JusticeWorks Community) and the Black Radical Congress. At Convent Avenue Baptist Church, 420 West 145th St., to be followed by a candlelight vigil remembering the 22,000 currently incarcerated under the Rockefeller laws. For further information, contact Jessica Dias, (718) 499-6704, [email protected] or http://www.JusticeWorks.org on the web.
February 15, 7:30pm, Westchester, NY, "Criminal Injustice: Is our government addicted to prisons?" Featuring Kai Lumumba Barrow of the Westchester People's Action Coalition (WESPAC), and Mary Barr of ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy. At 255 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., call (914) 682-0488 for info or directions.
February 16-18, Raleigh, NC, "Youth Seeking Justice Now: A Southern Regional Conference on the Progressive Reform of the Criminal Justice System." At North Carolina State University, contact [email protected] for further information.
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.
February 23, noon-6:00pm, Syracuse, NY, forum on Racism and the Criminal Justice System. Sponsored by the SU Law School chapter of the ACLU, location to be determined.
February 24, 6:00-7:00pm, Richmond, VA, Drug War Vigil at the city jail, corner of 17th St. and Fairfield Way. Held the last Saturday of every month, e-mail [email protected] for further information.
February 26, 6:00pm, Spirit of ReconsiDer Award Dinner, honoring John Dunne and H. Douglas Barclay. At La Serre, 14 Green St., tickets $125/person, RSVP by Feb. 10 to [email protected].
February 28, noon, Queens, NY, Press Conference/Vigil held by the Queens chapter of "Mothers of the Disappeared," organization opposing the Rockefeller Drug Laws. At the Supreme Court, Queens Blvd., call (212) 539-8441 for further information.
March 5, 5:00pm, Syracuse, NY, "Is the War on Drugs Working?" Debate at SU School of Law with Michael Roona, ReconsiDer and Prof. Levitsky, Maxwell School of Public Policy. For further information e-mail [email protected].
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 8, 5:00-7:00pm, San Francisco, CA, "Women and the Drug War," forum sponsored by The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation. Featuring Amy Ralston (Pofahl), former drug war prisoner granted clemency by President Clinton; as well as Ellen Barry, Legal Services for Women with Children; Barbara Owen, CSU Fresno Dept. of Criminology; and Andrea Shorter of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. At the San Francisco Medical Society, 1409 Sutter (at Franklin), call (415) 921-4987 or e-mail [email protected] to reserve a space.
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 16 & 17, 8:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, "Outside the Walls," interdisciplinary dance performance reflecting on the lives of families of prisoners. At the Conwell Theater, 5th floor Conwell Hall, Temple University, corner of Montgomery and Broad Streets. Advance ticket sales available through Temple University box office, (215) 204-1122.
March 23-24, New York, NY, "Widening Destruction: A Teach-In on the Drug War and Colombia." Four panel, two-day seminar sponsored by NACLA and Colombia Students for Enacting Humane Drug Policies, at Columbia University Law School, 435 West 116th Street (at Amsterdam Avenue). Pre-register online at http://www.nacla.org for $8 through 5:00pm, 3/21, or register on site for $10. Contact Anne Glatz at [email protected] for further information.
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 20, 10:00am, Oklahoma City, annual
marijuana law reform event, at the State Capitol. Visit information table
in 1st floor rotunda to prep for meeting your state legislators, speakers
and entertainment on the south side steps at noon. For further information
contact Norma Sapp at (405) 321-4619 or [email protected].
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]
There are a few basic concepts that were intended to lie at the foundation of the US criminal justice system. One of them is the idea that a defendant -- any defendant -- is considered innocent until proven and found guilty in a court of law. If they aren't found guilty, or if their cases are thrown out and never come to trial, then in the eyes of the law, they are not guilty, they are not criminals, period. Observers can believe what they choose -- and it's true that a not guilty verdict doesn't automatically constitute proof of actual innocence -- but in the eyes of the law, they are innocent, just as if no arrest was ever made or charge brought or trial held.
Another one of the fundamental principles is the idea of an adversarial system made up of two equally powerful advocates -- the prosecution and the defense -- with a neutral third party, the judge, as referee to secure true and impartial justice, not tainted by the goals, ambitions, or biases of either of the two adversarial sides -- and in the end, if handed a finding of guilty, to examine the individual circumstances of a case and a defendant and to hand down the sentence that is most just. Not that it happens this way every time, of course, but that's the goal, and that goal is reflected in the structure with which the system was originally designed.
Our nation's legal officers, be they judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys or other, are supposed to have learned and internalized these ideas long before they step up to service in the courts. They learn these ideas in law school. Actually, we're all supposed to understand them; we learn them in high school civics classes. Maybe before that. I learned about it, anyway. Most of my friends seem to understand it, too.
Somehow, though, certain top prosecutors don't seem to have this basic understanding, or have set it aside. I'm referring to people mentioned in this issue of our newsletter.
One of them is Queens, NY District Attorney Richard Brown. Though a judge himself for 16 years, he nevertheless argued, in opposing any changes to the state's draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, that "prosecutors are in the best position to make independent judgments." Judges "have enormous calendars, they have cases to try," he wrote, "the pressure they have is to try to get people into treatment."
Brown was referring to the fact that under the current state law, which is essentially a form of mandatory minimum sentencing, the prosecutor in effect winds up deciding what a given defendant's sentence should be, assuming the jury finds the defendant guilty -- because it is prosecutors who decide what sentence to bring, and when the sentence is pre-determinate, the judge has little or no latitude to change it. Giving discretion back to judges, which repeal and perhaps reforming the Rockefeller laws would do, would shift that power back to the judges, and the prosecutors would lose that power.
But that's the way our system of justice was always intended to work. The judge is the most neutral party in the system. The prosecutor is an advocate for conviction, and in many cases for the harsher, or harshest punishments -- unfortunately, it seems to be built into the culture of the profession, though that's not the way things are supposed to work either -- and so a prosecutor will often initiate a case with a bias toward longer sentences. Hence, the system was designed to have the judge, who is not an advocate, but sits in between and hears both sides, make the final pronouncement of a defendant's fate. Mandatory minimum sentencing has warped that system, but the principle itself has never been repudiated by our society, and it is a good one.
DA Brown evidently doesn't understand this most basic principle of justice, or is unwilling to accept it. He should go back to law school, because we need our officers of the court to understand and honor those basics.
The other one is New Jersey's Attorney General, James Farmer. Farmer was forced to dismiss cases against 128 defendants because of evidence of racial profiling by New Jersey police. It's good that he did this, but what he said about it is unacceptable. "Let's be clear," Farmer wrote, "the defendants in these cases may have prevailed in their motions to suppress, but they are criminals nonetheless."
But in a system where defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty, they are not criminals. No guilty charge was found, perhaps no trial was ever held. Individual members of the public are free to hold whatever opinion they wish regarding whether or not these 128 defendants did in fact possess or distribute illegal drugs or commit other offenses -- though thoughtful observers would most properly have to say they don't know. But in the eyes of the law, those defendants are innocent, and that understanding is binding upon those who in their official capacities represent the law and its power.
For the Attorney General of a state, then, to brand 128 people whom the law considers innocent, as "criminals," is to ignore the most basic principle of our justice system, and is a form of misconduct that may be tantamount to slander. AG Farmer, then, should also return to law school and improve his knowledge of the principles underlying our legal system, and of his own responsibilities within that system.
Why are top cops acting and speaking in defiance of the most basic principles of justice, enshrined since the founding of our country? Perhaps it is the drug war, forcing a degradation of ethics and standards by its very nature, warping the criminal justice system and forcing that system's enforcers into mental contortions to defend it.
All the more reason not to leave ultimate sentencing discretion in the hands of government prosecutors, but to repeal all mandatory minimum laws and return that power to judges where it belongs.
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