(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #173, 2/16/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
For nearly 30 years, the United States has been on an imprisonment binge, largely propelled by drug prohibition. The number of Americans (and foreigners) behind bars broke the two million mark last year. Now, however, come signs that the nation's appetite for incarceration may be sated.
New York State this year saw its first decline in prisoners in decades. Although the decline is small -- from 71,750 prisoners on February 1, 2000, to 70,293 on February 1 this year -- it marks a startling change of direction for the state. State officials project that the number of prisoners will decline to 65,200 by next February, which would constitute a 9% decline since 1999.
Those projections do not factor in any additional decreases that could result from changes in the state's harsh drug laws. Gov. Pataki earlier this year introduced a 10-point proposal to do just that, and it appears likely that some sort of reform package will be signed into law this year.
In Texas, home of the nation's second largest prison system, the state's Criminal Justice Policy Council reports that the number of inmates has remained essentially unchanged since last fall. According to the agency's executive director, Tony Fabelo, an increase in prisoners receiving parole was the primary reason for the stagnation.
Texas legislators, not noted for coddling criminals, have in recent years also begun to notice the huge costs of building and maintaining the state's massive incarceration industry. Some legislators are calling on the state parole board to expedite releases and tread more softly in revoking parole for minor administrative violations.
In Pennsylvania, a spokesman for the state corrections department told the New York Times that the department expected an increase of only 234 prisoners per year through 2006. The spokesman attributed the slow-down in the rate of increase to a larger number of halfway houses where prisoners can be paroled.
In California, with the nation's largest state prison system, the electorate last fall sent a strong message to the state's political class with Prop. 36, which will divert an estimated 25,000 drug offenders from prison into treatment. According to the latest figures from the California Department of Corrections, the prison population was already leveling-off. The 162,533 prisoners at the end of the third quarter of 2000 were only 152 more than a year earlier, a change of 0.0%, the department noted.
The trend is not uniform. In Illinois, the number of adult male prisoners has stabilized, but an increase in female and juvenile offenders has caused a 12% increase in total prison population since 1998, to 45,275, said Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Sergio Molina.
And Florida, too, continues to see increases, up from 68,599 in 1999 to 71,233 last year. Debbie Buchanan, a state prison spokeswoman, told the New York Times the increase was attributable to laws enacted in the mid-1990s that required prisoners to serve longer portions of their sentences.
[The Florida increase may also be partially explained by the state's reflexive response to cases such as that of the author's alcoholic brother, who served time in Florida in the early 1990s. He then returned to his home state of South Dakota, where he continued his career as a repeat DWI offender. After each DWI arrest and punishment by the state of South Dakota, the state of Florida then demanded he be returned as a probation violator. He is currently serving a seven-year Florida sentence for probation violation after having served a two-year sentence in South Dakota for the DWI.]
DRCNet spoke with Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project (http://www.sentencingproject.org) about the apparent change of direction in prison populations.
"This is possibly the beginning of the end of the incarceration mania," Mauer told DRCNet. "With the exception of a few lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures, I don't hear those same old demands for more prisons -- not from criminal justice practitioners, not from other leaders."
"Some noted conservatives, such as John DiIulio [just appointed to head Resident Bush's faith-based services initiative] are now saying we have enough prisons," Mauer pointed out. "If you took a cross section of criminal justice leaders, you would find a great sentiment for a more balanced approach, with great interest in community-based prevention and sentencing reform."
Although Mauer cautioned that not all the evidence was in, he said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the rate of increase in imprisonment is slowing nationally and that the incarceration rate itself is beginning to decline in some states.
When pressed for explanations for the slow-down, Mauer expressed some uncertainty. "We don't know exactly why this is happening now," he said, "although if I had to rank the factors, I would put the eight-year decrease in crime first, of course, followed by sentencing reform."
"Some states say their diversion programs are having an impact and they are making better use of sentencing options," Mauer added.
"I think this is encouraging, but the real challenge is to convince policymakers and the public that if we're leveling off at two million prisoners, that's still a disaster," Mauer emphasized. "We shouldn't forget that we've almost doubled the prison population in the last dozen years, that we have almost half a million drug offenders behind bars, and that a majority of prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes."
"We still need to push very aggressively for sharp reductions in the use of incarceration and make use of other options for nonviolent offenders," concluded Mauer.
If, as recent figures indicate, California's record-breaking prison population is leveling-off, it isn't because of the state's harsh "Three Strikes" law. Under that law, which took effect in March, 1994, anyone convicted of a felony who had previously been convicted of a "violent" or "serious" felony (which includes most drug charges as well as burglary of an unoccupied dwelling) is subject to enhanced punishment. Persons with one previous conviction are sentenced to twice the term prescribed by law, and must serve 80% of it.
Persons with two prior felony convictions are sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.
According to figures from the California Department of Corrections, at the end of last year, there were 5,887 persons serving "Three Strikes" sentences. More than 1100, or 19%, of them had been sentenced for drug crimes, including 32 persons sentenced to life for marijuana violations. A clear majority of "Three Strikes" defendants were not sentenced for crimes of violence.
For people serving "two strikes" sentences, the number doing so for other than violent crimes climbed to 75%.
The human stories behind some of those sentences shock the conscience. The following are taken from Families to Amend California's Three-Strikes (FACT), http://www.facts1.com on the web:
Proposition 36, the "treatment not jail" initiative passed into law by California voters in November, does, however, amend the law. It allows people charged with simple possession of drugs to go into treatment programs -- rather than suffer a "Three-Strikes penalty -- if the drug possession occurred more than five years after the defendant's release from prison or last felony or violent misdemeanor conviction.
There are also signs that local prosecutors are amenable to political persuasion. In Los Angeles County, Steve Cooley defeated incumbent Gil Garcetti in the District Attorney's race at least in part because he promised to not try nonviolent or minor drug offenders under the "Three Strikes" provisions. (Instead he offered to only try them as "two-strikers," merely doubling their sentences.)
Early this month, Cooley was forced to live up to his campaign promise after his office first moved to prosecute two men, one charged with receiving two stolen cans of ArmorAll and the other with cocaine possession, as third-strikers. The reversal came only after public defenders complained publicly, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But that is not nearly enough for opponents, who call for comprehensive reforms of the law. FACT has posted a multi-point reform plan (http://www.facts1.com/forms/amend.pdf) calling for the law to apply exclusively to new violent crimes; no applicability for crimes committed before its enactment in 1994; no counting multiple felonies during a single act as multiple strikes; a 10-year limit on offenses that would count as strikes, removing burglary of an uninhabited dwelling from the list of serious felonies; and retroactivity, so prisoners already sentenced under old provisions could appeal for reductions.
While the coalition to reform the "Three Strikes" bill is broad-based -- an alphabetical listing of endorsers finds the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, the League of Revolutionaries for a New America and the Libertarian Party listed consecutively -- it is still small. But the activists vow to continue until justice is done.
One of the people who has stood in the way of drug policy and sentencing reform is the new Attorney General, John Ashcroft. As a Senator, Ashcroft was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low level, nonviolent drug offenders.
While the new president himself has actually voiced the need to reconsider certain drug war excesses such as lengthy mandatory minimums for first time possessors and the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, John Ashcroft has advocated an escalation of the drug war that if enacted could launch the nation's incarcerated population even further above the two million mark than it stands at already.
In an interview given to Larry King Live on February 7th, Ashcroft stated, "I want to escalate the war on drugs. I want to renew it... refresh it, re-launch it..." Pressed by King for specifics, however, the Attorney General declined to provide them, other than a "Parent Drug Corps" idea proposed by the new administration.
When asked by King if the drug war was a failure, Ashcroft seemed to be stuck in the 1990s, oddly citing early Clinton-era events as an explanation for subsequent increases in teenage drug use. For example, Ashcroft pointed out that the Clinton administration reduced the staff size of the drug czar's office from 140 to a little over 20 in 1993, implying that that represented a backing off in the drug war that was responsible for the drug war's subsequent eight years of failure. Ashcroft also cited candidate Clinton's famous "didn't inhale" remark from the '92 campaign, and Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' remarks on the drug legalization issue as factors.
The Attorney General failed to mention, however, that ONDCP staffing was increased to 150 almost five years ago, nor did the small-government Republican explain why he believes that downsizing a Washington-DC bureaucracy would encourage young people in all corners of our vast nation to use drugs.
Most seriously, Ashcroft failed to acknowledge that the overall federal anti-drug budget increased by more than 60% under Clinton, from $11.9 billion in 1992 to $19.2 billion (requested) for 2001; nor did he mention the near doubling of the US incarcerated population and the record level drug arrest rates, 700,000 annually for marijuana alone.
The Attorney General also seems to have made some numbers up entirely. According to Ashcroft, past 30-day usage of marijuana by high school seniors "increased by 700% between '92 and '97."
Drug use statistics are notoriously unreliable, due to the self-reporting nature of the surveys and their consequent vulnerability to the prevailing social and rhetorical climate: An apparent rise or drop in teen drug use may reflect changes in the willingness of young people to confess to illegal drug use on a government survey, even if filled out anonymously.
Still, the usual source for such estimates is the annual Monitoring the Future survey, conducted at the University of Michigan under contract with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. According to Monitoring the Future data (available at http://www.monitoringthefuture.org on the web), the percentage of high school seniors reporting having used marijuana within the previous 30 days increased from 11.9% in 1992 to 23.7% in 1997 -- a 99% increase in the percentage -- or, more meaningfully, an additional 11.8% of youth -- significant, if one chooses to believe the self-reported results, but nothing to justify Ashcroft's 700% figure.
Ashcroft also claimed that "the number of high school seniors who have tried drugs is at its highest level in over a decade." An examination of Monitoring the Future again paints a different picture. According to MTF, reported lifetime prevalence of past drug use by high school seniors is higher than during the early 1990s, but was lower in 2000 than during 1997, 1998 or 1999, though not significantly so (54.0%, vs. 54.3%, 54.1% or 54.7%).
Ashcroft's one specific proposal on drug policy fell under the guise of an anti-gun violence initiative. Ashcroft has proposed that the state of Virginia's "Exile" program be adopted as a national model for reducing gun violence. Exile was the brainchild of the National Rifle Association, but was also endorsed by an organization on the "other side" of the gun debate, Handgun Control, Inc., according to the state's Exile web site (http://www.virginiaexile.com).
An examination of Exile, however, shows that the mandatory minimum penalties and bail denials mandated under its provisions often have less to do with gun violence than with drugs. For example, a defendant who is caught possessing any quantity of a drug such as cocaine or heroin is automatically subject to a five year mandatory minimum sentence, no parole, if he or she also was in possession of a gun -- even if the gun was legally owned, registered and safely stored. The only exception made is for marijuana, for which a pound or more is required to invoke the mandatory minimum.
No one is known to have been selected for the Office of National Drug Control Policy ("drug czar") position as of this writing. This apparent de-emphasis of that office -- again, conflicting with Ashcroft's rhetoric about the importance of the office -- suggests that Attorney General Ashcroft may turn out to be the leading drug warrior of the Bush administration.
"We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee," sang country music legend Merle Haggard in his Vietnam-era poke at the counterculture, "Okie from Muskogee." They may not have been tokin' in Oklahoma City back then, but they were tweekin' in Tulsa.
Although law enforcement officials treat the current methamphetamine vogue as if it were a new menace, Oklahoma was the scene of one of the nation's earliest amphetamine subcultures more than thirty years ago. Back when Haggard was extolling the virtues of traditional values, Oklahoma truck drivers, farm boys and oil patch workers were speeding merrily down the path from "poppin' little white pills" to injecting crystal meth.
And they never went away. Amphetamines may have been eclipsed by the more glamorous cocaine in the 1970s and 1980s, and even today they are used by only a fraction of the population. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, however, 9.4 million Americans have used methamphetamine, up from 3.8 million in 1994. Speed is definitely back, and its revival has been driven by two factors.
First, Mexican entrepreneurs have supplanted the biker gangs -- the Bandidos, the Hell's Angels, the Outlaws, and others -- who dominated the trade in the 1970s and 1980s. The Mexicans, led by the Amezcua brothers of Guadalajara, rationalized the industry by bringing modern, large-scale techniques to the production process and tapping into already existing smuggling networks. Second, the widespread availability of recipes for manufacturing meth in print and on the Internet have enabled kitchen-sink chemists across the land to do it themselves.
Oklahoma is one of the places where they like to do it the most. Oklahoma authorities dismantled 897 clandestine labs in FY 2000, more than any other state except California, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI). The state medical examiner reports that meth has passed cocaine as the leading cause of fatal drug overdoses.
The state has been fighting back with draconian new laws that could send a meth user to prison for 20 years for stealing $5 worth of anhydrous ammonia and by the creation of specialized task forces aimed at meth users and producers. Such responses have caused the state's methamphetamine arrest rate to increase a shocking 8,000% since 1994. And therein lies the problem.
"In Oklahoma, we have stronger penalties than anyplace else in the country for manufacturing drugs," OSBI spokesman John Duncan told the Daily Oklahoman, "but in 1998, with 300 labs busted, we only had 42 people convicted. The courts are swamped with cases. If we're lucky, we're maybe getting one out of ten."
OSBI isn't the only one complaining. Eastern Oklahoma prosecutors can't get their cases processed because of pile-ups in the courts and in the OSBI's state crime labs, a situation the Tulsa World called "an incredible expanding black hole of backlogged cases."
OSBI's Tahlequah crime lab, which serves Eastern Oklahoma, has more than 1,200 meth cases pending. The logjam at the crime labs has led to long court delays and dismissals, Sequoyah County Assistant District Attorney told the World.
"I have cases here that are sometimes 2 1/2 years old, and I have no lab report back from the OSBI," he complained. "I've had the judge throw out cases right and left because OSBI cannot process the drugs in a timely fashion."
In rural Adair County alone, the number of backlogged drug cases includes two from 1997, five from 1998, 44 from 1999, and 53 from last year. The District 27 Task Force deserves some credit for the morass; its members made 577 drug arrests in 1999, more than 350 of them for methamphetamine offenses. In Adair county, prosecutors have charged more than 400 people with drug offenses over the past ten years, but only one case has gone to trial.
District Judge John Garrett, who presides over the Adair County cases has vowed to remove the backlog, but remains hampered by the crime labs' inability to return test results. "On some of the cases, we're waiting to get results back from the state labs before we schedule a preliminary hearing," he told the Tulsa World.
OSBI officials say they are hiring more chemists and "rushing" certain cases at prosecutors' requests, but are making little headway. "For every case we rush, we're pushing another one back on the shelf," said OSBI spokeswoman Kim Koch.
US Attorneys are taking up some of the slack by prosecuting some offenders on federal charges. "We've welcomed the feds' involvement in Adair County," said District Attorney Diane Barker Harrold, who presides over the District 27 Task Force's four-county domain. "Because of their involvement, repeat drug offenders get more time."
But when all the finger-pointing is done, Oklahoma law enforcement circles all agree that the answer is... a drumroll, please... more money. But while law enforcement's appetite is insatiable, the citizens of Oklahoma are not an endless well of cash.
According to Trent Baggett, assistant executive coordinator for the state District Attorneys' Council, the legislature may balk at more spending increases.
"There's a concern by the public, as well as the legislature, that government is too big," he told the Tulsa World.
Ron DuBois, a co-founder of the Drug Policy Forum of Oklahoma (http://members.aol.com/dpfok/) told DRCNet that throwing more money at methamphetamine enforcement was not the answer.
"Meth is the bathtub gin of our time," DuBois argued, "only in Prohibition, they didn't go after the users like they are now. We are on a monumentally wrong course here; any attempt to cure addiction through punishment is worthless."
"The root of the problem is the culture itself," DuBois said, "people are so miserable they'll do anything to alter their mood. "Society is trying to escape its own illness by scapegoating those sick people, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. You have to do something to help people, and throwing them in prison for 20 years is not the answer."
DuBois told DRCNet that Oklahoma drug reformers are working to educate the public and the legislature. "We've got to make legislators part of our circle of friends," he said. "Let them know the war on drugs is insane folly, that punishment for use or addiction is useless, that the use and abuse of drugs is a public health issue, not a criminal one."
DuBois, a Unitarian, told DRCNet that in Oklahoma, Unitarians are an important element of the drug reform movement. "The Unitarians are going great guns in Tulsa, where we have one of the largest congregations in the country," he said, "and are in the midst of a national review of drug policy."
Visit Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform at http://www.uudpr.org online.
(by Al Giordano, reprinted from the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, http://www.drugpolicy.org)
Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights, a quasi-independent governmental agency, shined a spotlight this week on indigenous prisoners and concluded: one third of all indigenous prisoners in the nation are held on drug charges. The finding comes as Mexico's indigenous movement occupies center stage in the nation's press and the Zapatista peace caravan from Chiapas readies to begin its trek to Mexico City on February 24th.
The national daily La Jornada of Mexico City, in a page-one story on February 12th, cited a new report by the human rights agency -- commonly known in Mexico as "the ombudsman" -- that counted 7,809 indigenous prisoners in the country, of which 2,319 (one third) are held on federal drug or arms possession charges. "The majority of these indigenous prisoners are used by organized crime to transport drugs," the report stated. "Suffering from hunger, with poor-quality lands, without resources to plant and forgotten by development, the indigenous either accept or are obligated to transport drugs. They have to survive somehow."
The human rights ombudsman has proposed the release of 1,327 of these indigenous prisoners "because the crimes they are accused of are not serious." Noting the economic pressures to transport drugs, and the fact that authorities regularly arrest indigenous peasants for possession of rifles used to hunt food, the ombudsman office told La Jornada, "We have recommended to the authorities that when these cases come to us, that they review them with caution." The human rights office said it had reached a collaboration agreement with the offices of the attorney general, the public defenders and the National Indigenous Institute to "promote fair treatment of indigenous prisoners."
Noting that Mexico's population of 10 million indigenous people is "very vulnerable" to abuse of its human rights, the commission reported that "they live in isolated places, without communications, where many times they don't know how to speak Spanish and don't have money to come to Mexico City and file a complaint."
The commission added that it would study the problems of "protection of sacred sites" and "the regulation of peyote use in indigenous regions."
The most common complaints by indigenous populations against authorities, reports La Jornada, are against the Armed Forces: "arbitrary detentions, being held incomunicado, and planted evidence."
Meanwhile, last week the most globally-known indigenous political prisoner, peasant farmer and environmental activist Rudolfo Montiel, received a visit from Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, to present him with the Sierra Club's "Chico Mendez Prize" in his prison cell in Iguala, Guerrero.
Montiel, with his imprisoned co-defendant Teodoro Cabrera, had been active against strip logging by Boise Idaho in his region. The two men were detained by the Mexican military, brutally tortured for days, and accused of growing marijuana. Mexican President Vicente Fox recently ordered a review of their cases.
Indigenous rights is the issue that most dominates the front pages in Mexico this winter. Increasingly, the Mexican indigenous question intersects with drug policy and the injustices committed in the name of the drug war.
(Al Giordano also publishes the NarcoNews service, http://www.narconews.com online. NarcoNews has published other coverage of other issues facing Mexico's indigenous. DRCNet is strictly devoted to drug policy reform and doesn't take positions on other issues, but we provide links to them here for readers' information:
Coinciding with this year's Academy Awards, in which the film "Traffic" has been nominated for five Oscars, the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation has launched an online campaign to raise awareness of the movie's drug policy reform message.
"Millions of people who have seen the movie Traffic are suddenly questioning the futility and destructiveness of our nation's drug war," said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Lindesmith-DPF. We wanted to give people something they could do when they got out of Traffic. The movie got people stirred up and got them thinking -- we hope to inspire them to get involved."
Visitors to StopTheWar.com can play an online game in which they select strategies to try to "win" the war on drugs. The site also features a daily drawing to win a free Traffic DVD or video.
Visit http://www.StopTheWar.com to check it out.
Book Review: The Politics of Medical Marijuana
Bock also goes beyond California, surveying medical marijuana initiatives and legislation in other states and describing how they have learned from California's experience. He details the grassroots activism of scruffy radicals and the big-money campaigns of George Soros and his fellow millionaire reformers. Bock has talked to everyone from intensely skeptical cops and prosecutors to patients, doctors, growers, and activists, and he skillfully paints portraits of the sometimes clashing personalities involved.
In so doing, Bock opens a window on the cultural and political differences in the reform movement -- the divide between "suits" and "hippies" -- or "ties" and "tye-dyes" for lack of better terms -- represented most classically, if not entirely cleanly, by the Soros-funded Americans for Medical Rights (AMR) and the local-level grassroots activists who want to push far beyond AMR's limited agenda and who accuse the "suits" of kowtowing to law enforcement concerns at the expense of suffering patients.
Five years after California voters passed
the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), access to medical marijuana remains problematic
in large parts of the state. In fact, it would be fair to say that
the state is in effect a patchwork quilt of medical marijuana laws negotiated
at the city or county level among reformers, elected officials, law enforcement,
and other stake-holders. Bock does readers a great service in disentangling
the snarled web of court cases through which medical marijuana law in California
is actually being created. He also points out how the intentional
ambiguities in the wording of the CUA -- over, for examples, the medical
conditions to which it might apply, the amount of marijuana allowed, and
the means of obtaining it -- provided openings for recalcitrant officials,
ranging from then Attorney General Dan Lundgren to local cops and prosecutors,
to override the clearly expressed will of the voters.
While some may complain that the book has, for instance, too much Dennis Peron and not enough Chris Conrad, or too much Bill Zimmerman and not enough Steve Kubby, or vice versa, those plaints are mild. Bock has produced a remarkably comprehensive and even-handed, although clearly sympathetic, portrait of an increasingly powerful social movement. It should be read by all concerned with the workings of political and social change, not only, but especially for drug policy. For those university professors who wish to teach Medical Marijuana Politics 101, the textbook has been written.
(Ask for "Waiting to Inhale" in your local bookstore, or click to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0929765826/drcnet/ to buy it online and DRCNet will earn a royalty on your purchase.)
Last week's recap of the San Francisco ecstasy conference (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/172.html#ecstasyconference) stated that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had representation at the conference.
There was a speaker at the conference who presented general information on the FDA's drug approval process, and who was identified in the program as working at the FDA. However, this speaker attended only as a knowledgeable individual on her own time, not as an FDA representative.
Previous versions of the Reformer's Calendar incorrectly listed the April "Gathering of the Tribes" event as being primarily focused on mobilizing grassroots opposition to the drug war. Gathering of the Tribes is actually a conference and festival aimed at supporting the tribal dance movement; it focuses on creating events with positive intention and building the communities that grow from dance collectives. While the drug war impacts dance collectives and is an important topic being discussed at the Gathering, it is one topic among many and is not the event's main focus.
(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 20, 6:30-8:30pm, Seattle, WA, "Reforming the Criminal Justice System: A Community Forum and Call to Action." Event discussing activist strategies for reforming criminal justice and drug policy, including a possible ballot initiative. At Seattle Vocational Institute, 2120 S. Jackson St. For further information, contact Jen Yogi, (206) 992-4696 or [email protected], or Dustin Washington, (206) 632-0500.
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]der.org.
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 6, 7:00pm, New York, NY, "Drugs and the Courts: A Debate." Discussing the Report to Judge Kaye by the Commission on Drugs and the Courts. At the House of the Bar Association of New York City, 42 West 44th St. For further info, call (212) 382-6600.
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 14, 7:00pm, New York, NY. Retired police captain Peter Christ, spokesman for ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, speaks at the Manhattan Libertarian Party meeting. For further information, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.geocities.com/lpmanhattan/ on the web.
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 18, 10:30am-1:00pm, Winston-Salem, NC, sermon and discussion marking Drug War Awareness Month, at the W-S Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, displays and information available every Sunday all month. For further information, call (336) 659-0331 or e-mail [email protected].
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].
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.
May 30-June 2, Albuquerque, NM, "Drug Policies for the New Millennium." First annual conference of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, following in the footsteps of the 13 years of the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform. For further information, call (202) 537-5005 or visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/conference/ on the web.
Phillip S. Smith, The Week Online with DRCNet, [email protected]
(Week Online editor Phil Smith shares a little of his Mexico vacation with readers for this week's editorial. The beach of Oaxaca provides a different perspective on the drug war.)
It's hard to remember that the rest of
the world exists when one is sitting under palm fronds and watching the
endless waves rolling in at a remote beach way down Mexico's Pacific coast.
The sun beats down on cloudless skies as mostly youthful travelers from
Europe, Canada, South America, and, to a lesser extent, the United States
revel in paradise and feed their sensual appetites. The cost of lodgings
is dirt cheap -- starting at 50 cents per night to hang a hammock; primitive
rooms might cost you $5; I splurged on a room with fan and private bath
for $10 -- and if you go to the dirt streets behind the beach, a bellyful
of tacos al pastor or rice, beans, and tortillas can be had for a buck.
In that sense, this sleepy little beach town is a synecdoche for the role Mexico plays in the United States' crusade against drugs. The gringos demand and the Mexicans supply. But other gringos, powerful ones, demand that Mexico not supply the demand. Hence the drug war gets played out south of the border as well as in the streets of the US.
Here at the beach, the drug war means federales occasionally cruising the beach or the back streets, snagging unwary or just plain stupid travelers, and robbing them of cash and valuables in the name of enforcing the drug laws. Corrupt and informal, yes, but perhaps better than the heavy-handed legalism of the US. Better to pay what is in effect a scary on-the-spot fine than to end up under official control for years over a bag of weed.
But these are trivial aspects of the US drug war in Mexico. It is a harsh and nasty affair, with hundreds of murders in the drug trade in recent years as entrepreneurs hungry for black market profits settle accounts with the only tools available to them. If the trade were legalized and regulated, disputes that now end with bullets flying could instead be settled by lawyers.
And the drug war is the stuff of daily life as the US inflicts its misery on Mexico. It is high on the agenda as new presidents Bush and Fox meet this week. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, new Mexican Foreign Minister Castaneda, who has been a strong advocate of legalization, is singing a different tune now that he is in power, promising to be a staunch ally in the war against narcotraffickers. Fox himself has promised to end corruption and wipe out the cartels. If, against all odds, he actually accomplishes something like that, Mexico could then become as successful as the US in its 100-years war on certain substances.
In the meantime, the drugs flow, the violence continues, the cops get rich (the honest ones get dead), and Mexico's prisons fill up. But of course, it's usually not the big shots who are doing time; just this week the national human rights commission noted with despair that more than 2,000 Indians are being held as low-level traffickers. In reality, they are little more than beasts of burden for the smugglers, but the indigenous are Mexico's oppressed minority and they play a social role similar to blacks and Latinos in the US.
And, oh yes, a few more meth labs busted in Mexicali this week, and a few more truckloads of weed popped on the highways, and lots of soldiers and federales on those highway checkpoints. (Some of those checkpoints, left over from the old "permanent campaign against narcotrafficking -- thanks for your cooperation" era have been in the same place for twenty years, leading one to wonder just what their purpose is. Clearly, local smugglers know the checkpoints are there and duly circumvent them. It looks good to foreign officials, though, and Mexico does want to be certified even as it rails against the process.)
The drug war is depressing, even viewed from paradise. But, at least here I can go back to the beach. Next week, I'll get back to being part of the solution.
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