(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #175, 2/30/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
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Latest Drug Czar nominee rumor: Elizabeth Dole
TABLE OF CONTENTS
When medical marijuana user, activist, and former Libertarian Party contender for California Governor Steve Kubby and his wife, Michele, were targeted, raided and arrested at their Lake Tahoe, California, home in 1999, local cops and prosecutors failed to realize they had a tiger by the tail. Kubby, the founder and director of the American Medical Marijuana Association (http://www.americanmarijuana.org) was ready, willing, and able to mount a an aggressive legal strategy that would turn the tables on Placer County prosecutors.
Last week, the couple's two-year legal saga came to an end as the case against them ended not with a bang but a whimper. After a grinding, contentious, and closely-watched four-month trial, with the Kubby legal team demolishing witness after prosecution witness and establishing that the couple fell well within California's Compassionate Use Act guidelines, the prosecution's case was in tatters. Last month, a Placer County jury delivered the death blow to the prosecution with a hung verdict on the pair's marijuana charges: Jurors voted 11-1 for acquittal.
Seeing the writing on the wall, prosecutors declined to retry the Kubbys, and they gave up a similar case against Michael Baldwin, an Auburn dentist who is a medical marijuana patient.
Kubby was found guilty of possessing a dried psychedelic mushroom stem and a peyote button (he argued that the former was a teaching aid and the latter was left by a guest) found during the raid. But last week, over prosecutors' objections, Judge John Cosgrove reduced the two drug possession counts from felonies to misdemeanors, sentenced Kubby to probation and community service, and dismissed the case. Cosgrove also formally dismissed the Baldwin case.
The Week Online spoke with Kubby on Thursday. Below are excerpts from that interview.
WOL: How do you feel now that you've been vindicated in court?
Kubby: We feel that until our case, the opposition was picking the cases and forcing indigent patients to defend the law. We set ourselves up as a test case from the beginning. Mark Greer [of DrugSense] and others knew we were under surveillance and were prepared for us to be raided. We believed that once we showed we were legally asserting our cultivation rights, we would be able to resolve it in court, but instead we were treated like common criminals and it degenerated into a political witch hunt.
At that point, we realized we would not only have to defend Prop. 215, but also the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For two years, we weaved our way through the court system battling for three things: First, the right to counsel of our choice -- they didn't want to allow Tony Serra to represent me, and we had to go through a bunch of judges who considered us guilty until proved innocent before we could prevail on that fundamental issue. Second, the right to the defense of our choice -- the right to use the Compassionate Use Act as a defense. The prosecution took the position we were commercial growers hiding behind the law. The Prop. 215 defense would "confuse the jurors," said the prosecution. And third, the right to the witnesses of our choice. The prosecution would require us to suddenly produce witnesses without warning; they would hold hearings to disqualify our witnesses any way they could.
Tony Serra has gone through over 600 jury trials, and he told me that never in his career has he seen such slimy tactics or prosecutorial misconduct as in our case. But we beat 'em. Their narcs lied, their witnesses lied, and we caught them in lies. We had to fight on their own turf, by their own rules, and we still beat them.
WOL: Still, you must have mixed feelings about all this. This trial cost you time, money, incalculable stress.
Kubby: Mahatma Gandhi said people do not pay any attention to your message until they see you suffer. Now people are paying attention. Frankly, we'll do whatever it takes. Now, we're finally getting our message heard.
WOL: You haven't been only on the defensive, but also on the offensive. Tell us about the recall drives you and American Medical Marijuana Association are aiming at prosecutors.
Kubby: Actually, we are totally prepared to engage in a recall election against the district attorney here in Placer County; we have the backing of key members of the community. We see recall actions as a means of convincing local prosecutors to comply with Proposition 215. This isn't a vindictive thing on the part of patients. It's a matter of survival. We have a statewide chairman, Dr. Jay Cavanaugh, who is the former Commissioner of the California State Pharmacy Board -- heck, he used to accompany the DEA on raids. He is on our medical board because he's outraged that effective medicine is being denied to people. We will use the recall process as necessary. I can say that right now we anticipate a recall in Shasta County, as well as in Placer County.
WOL: There have been reports that you will be relocating to British Colombia. Are you going as an embittered marijuana refugee, or what?
Kubby: We're still residents of the United States and California residents, but we have signed an agreement with Pot-TV (http://www.pot-tv.net) up there to produce three shows a week. I'll take a one-year leave of absence. But as for the US, I prefer to remain here and be an embarrassment and annoyance to the prohibitionists.
Before I go, I would like also to extend our profound gratitude to DRCNet. They were there within the first day of our arrests helping to broadcast what had been done to us, and we will always remain grateful for DRCNet's help.
A decade of rising levels of drug trafficking, with its associated violence and other social problems, has cracked the facade of a unified hard-line approach to drug policy in this Caribbean island dependency of the US. The recent decision by newly-elected Governor Sila Maria Calderon of the Popular Democratic Party to create an office of the "drug czar," while successful, also revealed increasingly organized opposition in the form of an island drug reform movement rooted in a public health and harm reduction approach.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Puerto Rico has enjoyed the dubious honor of being the leading Caribbean platform for Colombian cocaine traffickers eyeing markets in the US and Europe. The island is especially attractive because, although it is not a state, it is US territory -- no more international borders to overcome between San Juan and Miami or New York.
The past few years have been Puerto Rico's hour in the international drug prohibition regime's eternally fruitless game of "squeeze the balloon." As US drug agencies squeezed drug trafficking routes first in Florida in the 1980s and then on the Mexican border in the 1990s, the traffickers merely adjusted accordingly, routing through places such as Guatemala, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
According to United Nations estimates, by 1999, the Caribbean had for the first time in years outstripped the Mexican border as the leading point of entry for cocaine into the US, accounting for more than two-thirds of the estimated 500 tons of cocaine produced in South America. Puerto Rico is getting a large piece of the action.
Big enough to make then Attorney General Janet Reno take notice in 1998. "During the past decade a public safety crisis has developed in Puerto Rico... Up to 30% of all cocaine entering the US is transshipped through Puerto Rico," she said in a 1998 report.
In response, the US has dramatically increased enforcement efforts in Puerto Rico in the last five years. While the Drug Enforcement Administration was too coy to tell the trade magazine Caribbean Business how many agents it had in Puerto Rico, the DEA Caribbean Division has seen its staff increase by 181%, with the number of DEA special agents ballooning from 40 in 1996 to 131 last year. The FBI has doubled its Puerto Rico budget since 1996, increasing the number of FBI agents on the island from 116 five years ago to 177 last year.
Puerto Rico not only won a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation in 1996, but three years later joined even more exclusive company when San Juan was named by the Justice Department as one of four High Intensity Financial Crimes Areas (HIFCA). Only the Mexican border area, Los Angeles, and New York-Northern New Jersey share such a designation, derived from high levels of reported suspicious banking transactions.
And the enforcers have been busy, with semi-annual mass sweeps arresting thousands and seizing tons of cocaine year after year. Photos of DEA agents standing in front of huge piles of the powder have become commonplace.
And the end result? Here's what Rogelio Guevara, the DEA's Special Agent in Charge for the Caribbean told a press conference last week to celebrate the seizure of 1,300 pounds of cocaine off the Puerto Rican coast:
"The price right now remains steady, which tells me the availability is pretty much the same," Guevara said. "That is something we'll be looking into."
But Puerto Rico is paying the price in historically high murder rates, which authorities tie to the drug trade, as well as other criminal activity, increasing levels of domestic drug abuse, and corruption. The drug warriors argue that more of the same medicine will cure such ills, and trafficking, too, but drug war-weary Puerto Rican politicians are now at least paying lip service to a shift in emphasis.
Gov. Sila Maria Calderon made a revamped drug policy part of her legislative fast-track agenda and, according to local press accounts, argued that prevention and treatment -- not being tough on criminals or drug users -- should be the focus of the island's approach to drug problems. Her proposal also called for a designated drug-policy advisor, or drug czar.
Gov. Calderon had someone in mind from the beginning, according to the Commission for the Study of Crime and Addictions (CECA), part of a nascent Puerto Rican drug reform coalition that also includes health professionals in academia and the service sector, the Puerto Rican Bar Association's Human Rights Commission, and the Puerto Rican Psychological Association.
Calderon's choice, Col. Jorge Collazo, a School of the Americas-trained "super-policeman," as CECA put it a chronology of recent events obtained by DRCNet, was an early indication that Calderon's reform rhetoric exceeded her policy plans. According to CECA, "Col. Collazo participated in persecution of pro-independence members of our community and there is some indirect evidence that he might have supervised violent acts from right-wing squads against pro-independence organizations."
As Calderon's drug czar bill went through the legislative process, the evidence that she would preside over more business as usual on drug policy became more clear. The drug reform coalition had for the past five years been taking steps to shape public policy on the island, including successful efforts to have the PDP's health committee recommend a public health approach to drug policy, but found itself effectively shut out of the deliberative process on Calderon's drug bill.
It was a stealth project, according to CECA. The legislative hearings were very quietly scheduled and witnessed restricted.
"We found out that only public order agencies, the DEA, FBI, and HIDTA had been invited to the Senate hearings," the CECA chronology noted. "The Health Department had not been sent a copy of the bill nor invited to react. Neither had the lead state mental health and drug treatment agency... We worked together in pressing for hearings to the larger community... and after a lot of pressure, we were finally invited to public hearings."
Drug reformers were initially denied a chance to testify at House hearings as well, but according to CECA, "We convened a press conference at the steps of the Legislature, which was covered extensively by TV, radio, and the written press. We were able to speak to several members of the House and stressed the need to have the principles upon which drug policy is to be sustained legislated. Hearings were opened and all of us were given audience."
While CECA found cause for optimism in each contact, each news story and each testimony, reformers proved unable to pass an amendment to the bill that would have pointed policy in a public health direction.
"Our group realized the legislation was going to pass," CECA member Dr. Carmen Albizu told DRCNet, "and we attempted to mitigate harm by requesting that certain amendments be considered, foremost, one which would have stipulated the principles of public health (harm reduction) that should sustain development of drug policy. It didn't pass."
Albizu chided legislators for their complacency. "They think that by merely including language that the policy will address treatment, prevention, etc., there is a guarantee that effective strategies will be designed or that fiscal resources will be assigned in adequate amounts," she told DRCNet.
The drug czar bill has passed both houses and awaits action in conference committee.
Puerto Rican drug reformers did not yet have the strength to forge drug policy in a less destructive direction, but their efforts are slowly, steadily building the popular base for the turn to harm reduction and public health approaches in the future.
Last week, DRCNet reported that Thai authorities, bedeviled by a massive epidemic of methamphetamine trafficking and use, are considering everything from Thai army drug treatment camps for imprisoned users to government-owned methamphetamine stores that would sell the drug cheap and knock the financial underpinnings out from beneath the lucrative trade, based primarily in neighboring Burma and controlled by the insurgent United Wa State Army (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/175.html#thailand).
Since then, the Thai Office of the Narcotic Control Board (ONCB), the country's lead drug policy agency, has announced a national conference on the topic to be held next week in the northern town of Chiang Rai. In a move to broaden the discussion, the board has invited not only the military and law enforcement agencies, but non-governmental organizations and Thai public health and safety agencies.
ONCB Deputy Secretary-General Thirapat Santimatanedol told the Bangkok Post that cabinet ministers, high-level ministry officials, and military and police officials, as well as academics, researchers, and representatives of private groups will attend the conference.
The summit, to be held March 11 and 12, will be chaired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who told the Bangkok Post the summit will produce "clear-cut measures to combat drugs."
Such a consensus, however, on how to deal with methamphetamine, or yaba ("mad medicine"), as the Thais call it, has not yet been reached, if pre-summit press reports are any indication.
Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a veteran cold warrior, argued for a reprise of the counter-insurgency strategy he said proved successful in fighting communism. In what would be a drug war version of the "drain the sea to get the fish" strategy of separating guerrillas from their social base, the armed forces would separate users from traffickers by herding users into treatment camps. At the same time, drastic action would be taken against drug traders and producers.
The simultaneous treatment with repression program would be operated by the formerly commie-fighting Internal Security Operations Command, which has been restructured to combat drugs.
The Bangkok Post reported that Royal Thai Army Supreme Commander Gen. Sampao Chusri has already assigned 30 camps to the task.
Prime Minister Thaksin will demand the death penalty for traffickers and producers, the paper said.
Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan also wants tougher penalties for methamphetamine dealers and a speedier justice process, and complained that the Food and Drug Administration had run out of space to store drugs being held as evidence.
But Sudarat also echoed earlier calls to consider a government-operated, low-priced methamphetamine distribution system. At least twice in the last year, prominent Thai political figures have called for the Government Pharmaceutical Organization to sell cheap speed tablets as a means of knocking methamphetamine traffickers out of business.
"We're not saying whether it would work or not, but we should study all suggestions. Studying the matter does not mean we will take up the idea," she told the Post.
Whether a coherent policy will emerge from the cacophony of policy proposals remains to be seen. DRCNet will report on the conference results next week.
[On Tuesday, March 6, the Drug Policy Education Group, an Arkansas nonprofit working to address the harm caused by the war on drugs, held a one-day conference on the drug war and people with disabilities. The account below is excerpted from an account released by the Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas (http://www.ardpark.org).]
"I've had pain since I was 14," one woman stated. Her voice cracked with emotion and she paused to brush back a strand of white hair. "I've learned to live with it, to be satisfied to be alone."
Another woman, middle-aged, attractive, described the frustration of coping with fibromyalgia, an ailment only recently acknowledged in mainstream medicine and still without effective medication. Even more upsetting to her was the fact that her daughter has it, too, and as a young adult is now fighting her way through pain clinics and other practitioners who each have their own theories and preferred therapeutic approaches, most of which are not effective.
The speakers were part of the "Drug War Effects on People with Disabilities" conference, and it seemed each of them had some story to tell, although many were present in their professional capacities to learn more about helping their clientele. Social workers, counselors, nurses, and disabled persons shared variations on the common theme: medicine that might help is not available.
The morning presentation by Dr. Donald Kreutzer focused on the hysteria surrounding "controlled" drugs.
"Patients who need narcotic pain medications," he pointed out, "may be 'dependent' on them, but only in the same way that people with diabetes are dependent on insulin."
Kreutzer questioned whether agents of law enforcement were the people who should be deciding whether a patient is receiving appropriate medication. The patient is the one who suffers as a result of these policies, he said. Some patients, caught between a doctor's fear of over-prescribing and the crippling reality of constant, agonizing pain, commit suicide. Others search out illegal drugs in an effort to find some relief. For the majority, however, pain becomes the ruler of their lives, there at every dinner hour, every step, every conversation, in spite of the fact that modern medicine has very effective medication that could relieve them of most of their pain.
Mary Lynn Mathre, MSN, RN, CARN, an addictions specialist at the University of Virginia Medical Center, agreed with Dr. Kreutzer, but raised another issue where the drug war bureaucracy is even more oppressive -- medical marijuana.
"One of the most difficult parts of my job is to face a patient who is taking 16 pills a day, strong medications that are damaging their liver and keeping them so doped up they can barely function, and not be able to recommend to them that they might find more effective relief from marijuana. It's easier when they come to me and say they have already tried it, or that they would like to try it. Then I can talk to them about dosage, safety, and other important information they need to know."
Studies conducted by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, completed in 1999, supported her, she said.
"The study examined all research that had previously been done on marijuana... [It] concluded that marijuana was not a gateway drug, that it was not addictive, and that it did have significant medical uses. The study even went further -- it said that there is no alternative to smoked marijuana for some patients."
"But here we are two years after the release of that study and the government is still refusing to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana. In fact, the federal government is still fighting laws that have passed in nine states allowing medical use."
One speaker, suffering complete disability that resulted from a car wreck, said that current US policies are a "national moral disgrace."
"We hurt people in new ways, on top of the ways they are already hurting," she said. "And the BS dished out by the government on this is just that -- they say more research is needed. Well how much research does somebody need? If it helps me feel better, that should be enough. Marijuana never killed anybody. And who's going to do the million dollar studies to get marijuana approved by the FDA? Pharmaceutical corporations are in it for the money. They can't make any money off marijuana. People can grow their own!"
Mathre said that medical professionals who know the benefits of marijuana are often afraid to speak up. Instead, she urged those attending the conference to work through their professional organizations.
The war on drugs may be actually increasing, not decreasing, teen drug use. Or it could be having no impact at all. Such are the responses provoked by a study released this month. The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) survey, comparing drug use between American teenagers and European teenagers, found that a much higher percentage of American teenagers consume illicit drugs than do their European counterparts.
The study, which was released last month at a meeting of the World Health Organization in Stockholm, was conducted by questioning tenth graders from nationally representative samples. 110,000 teens from Europe and the US participated in the questionnaire.
One of the ironies of the drug war is that where it was been waged most loudly and enthusiastically is precisely the place where teen drug use is now most entrenched. Conversely where drug war rhetoric is comparatively mute, teen usage of illicit drugs is much lower. In the Netherlands, for example, which has the most liberal drug policy in Europe and where marijuana is effectively legal, marijuana use among teens is actually lower than in the United States. The survey found 28% of Dutch teens smoked marijuana as compared with 41% of American teens, and 23% of American teens had experimented with other illicit drugs as compared with only 6% of European teens.
But when it comes to legal drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol, teen usage is much higher in Europe. Thirty-seven percent of European teens had smoked cigarettes in the past month as compared with only 26% of Americans. Sixty-one percent of European teens had consumed alcohol as compared with only 40% of Americans.
When asked about the disparity, Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy pointed to the lure of the forbidden as a major factor. "It is worth pointing out that the Dutch, when they made marijuana available for purchase, said one reason they were doing so was to 'make marijuana boring,'" Zeese told DRCNet.
"Our approach, making marijuana a forbidden fruit where the primary educators on the topic are DARE police officers, has the opposite effect. We make marijuana a magnet for the natural rebellious period of the teen years," Zeese explained. "The laws are easy to break, highlighted in ads and schools, the schools lie about the dangers of marijuana and police are the messengers -- that all adds up to a recipe for encouraging, rather than discouraging teen use. Then, our failure to separate the marijuana market from other illegal drug markets makes it natural to purchase other drugs from the high school dealer."
But one drug policy analyst, Peter Cohen, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, disagrees. He told DRCNet that the study simply shows the drug policy has no effect on drug use. "All modern studies, if done in a way that allows some comparison at least, do not show a very convincing effect of drug policies at all. Determinants of drug use are complex and multiple, like fashions, cultural basics, economic and social situations, etc," Cohen argued.
"Drug policy -- a set of formal rules and laws -- does not seem to play an important role here. Drug policy is much more a tool for value communication and symbolic suppression of perceived deviance, than for real impact on drug use levels," said Cohen.
Cohen said that even though a report he conducted comparing San Francisco with Amsterdam showed drug use much higher in the context of San Francisco's comparatively draconian drug policies, he did not believe liberalizing drug policies in the US would in fact lessen the amount of drug use among US teenagers. "Drug policies (liberal or suppressive) are not much of a tool to impact drug use levels," the policy analyst told DRCNet. "One could easily speak here of the 'irrelevance of drug policy'." Cohen went as far as to say it is a waste of time for governments even to develop a drug policy. He said he could find no evidence of drug policy impacting drug use.
The ESPAD numbers bolster Cohen's argument. They found teenage drug use rising across the continent despite widely varying approaches to the phenomenon. British teenagers, who live under one of the continent's most heavy-handed drug regimes, remain Europe's most prolific teen drug users, with 36% having smoked marijuana -- more than in the Netherlands, with its famously lax laws.
While conceding Cohen's point, Zeese hammered away at the counterproductive nature of US drug laws. "We tend to give too much credit to laws," Zeese agreed. "Laws are not really the primary method of controlling behavior -- societal norms are more important."
But Zeese said he believes that current policies might very well have a paradoxical effect on teen usage. "Sometimes making something illegal undermines societal norms," resulting in the counterintuitive situation where drug prohibition can actually serve as an incentive for teen drug use.
And, Zeese added, there is another problem with relying on a prohibition regime to suppress teen drug use. "Relying on laws also results in parents feeling like they have less responsibility because the law has taken care of it," he pointed out, "so parents become less involved."
Marijuana as a political issue has definitely come in from the cold. In what the Marijuana Policy Project refers to as "the second wave" of marijuana activism (initiatives being the first wave and changes at the federal level being the third and final wave), the focus is shifting from the street to the statehouse. Not that the days of smoke-ins, picket signs, and petition drives are over, but the outsider politics of the demonstration and the grassroots initiative are now being supplemented by the insider politics of suited lobbyists and back room deals. As the nation's state legislatures lurch through their brief and frenetic sessions, marijuana-related bills are under consideration across the land.
For the majority of states that lack the initiative and referendum process -- only 24 states, mostly Western, and the District of Colombia allow it -- the legislature is the only resort for changing repressive marijuana laws. As a result, popular pressure is starting to make itself felt in the halls of power.
Medical marijuana bills have come up or will come up in as many as 20 legislatures, as states such as Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas compete to join Hawaii, now the only state where medical marijuana has become the law through the legislative process. In seven other states, medical marijuana has arrived through successful citizen initiatives. (District of Colombia voters passed a medical marijuana initiative in 1998, but Congress has ever since blocked the will of the voters in its fiefdom.)
In four of the states where medical marijuana initiatives passed -- California, Maine, Nevada, and Washington--bills addressing the messy issue of implementing the initiatives are on the table.
And in at least eight states, lawmakers faced or are facing measures to lessen penalties for recreational marijuana use, or in at least two states, Massachusetts and New Mexico, outright decriminalization. Those efforts remain alive.
But few of these bills are likely to pass. Medical marijuana bills have already been defeated this year in three states -- Maryland, South Dakota, and Wyoming -- and the chances of success elsewhere remain uncertain.
That does not surprise nor especially concern National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Keith Stroup.
"No one should be surprised that it takes two and sometimes three years before a state feels comfortable enough with a new proposal to generate the support to pass it," he told DRCNet. "This is really the second year for many of these states, and we've made some headway, but we still have lots of hurdles," he added.
"My experience has been that making law through the legislative process is a long, hard struggle because it is easier to stop a bill than to pass one," the veteran reformer argued. "Even in a fairly progressive state with strong support, it's still possible to defeat a bill by tying it up in committee. Trying to change public policy legislatively is a difficult challenge, but it can be done."
Marijuana Policy Project legislative analyst Richard Schmitz offered a similar perspective.
"If you look at the history of a state like Hawaii, which passed medical marijuana last year, it takes time," Schmitz told DRCNet. "At the end of the second year, it looks depressing, but then you're able to push it through."
"One thing that's encouraging," Schmitz added, "is the increase in the number of medical marijuana bills. Last year we had 15 or 16, but this year there will be at least 20."
For NORML's Stroup, the difficulty in achieving reform through the legislative process is another indication of the disconnect between public opinion and the political class.
"We have polls that say 58% of the public doesn't support throwing pot-smokers in jail," Stroup noted, "and these problems in the states are a reminder that even though we enjoy enormous popular support, there is a big gap between public attitudes and official policy."
Stroup remains hopeful, although his optimism is tempered with a healthy dose of political realism.
"Over the next two or three years, we will get to point that the remaining states will find it easy to pass medical marijuana bills, but we're not there yet," he argued. "Remember, 41 states don't allow medical marijuana now, so we are still in a position of having to build momentum."
"This is an example of the real politics we have to deal with," Stroup added. "Any bill that deals with pot is still hot to handle for politicians; they get frightened. And they worry about things that don't seem very serious to us -- like the idea that patients who grow their own will be neighborhood pot dealers -- but we have to deal with that."
Both Stroup and Schmitz had been optimistic about Maryland, but what took place in Annapolis this week is a prime example of the sort of obstacles reformers face. In Maryland, the medical marijuana effort devolved into an ugly fracas, as Walter Baker, the chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, enraged patients and reformers by engineering an early vote to kill the measure. To compound matters, Baker added insult to injury by belittling witnesses and senators interested in their testimony.
"Members of the committee, this bill is not going anywhere," Baker interrupted at one point. "I wish you'd quit asking the questions and let the witnesses put on their show," he sneered.
Later in the hearing, the would-be humorist quipped, "Medical marijuana. On the street, they call it pot."
That prompted Sen. Perry Sfikas (D-Baltimore County) to protest that even if the bill had little chance of passing, he wanted to hear the witnesses.
"Ask a question if you want," Baker retorted, "but don't make a speech."
Baker's attitude had the bill's sponsor, Delegate Donald Murphy (R-Catonsville) up in arms. "It's bad enough that politicians think they know better than doctors," he told the Frederick News Post, "but I can't believe they think they're god."
Murphy was also none too pleased with the Maryland State Medical Society, which opposed the bill on the grounds that it placed doctors in the position of recommending illegal activity. Murphy this week struck back against the doctors by introducing a bill that would subject doctors who recommend marijuana to the same penalties their patients would receive if arrested.
"Doctors can't have it both ways," a frustrated Murphy told the Prince Georges Journal. "If they want to oppose a bill to protect their patients and privately endorse marijuana use, they should suffer the same consequences as the patient."
Things are going much better in New Mexico, which, because of the atmospheric shift generated by Gov. Gary Johnson's bold attack on prohibitionist policies, is well-placed to pass medical marijuana legislation this session. The medical marijuana bill supported by the governor has already won committee approval in both houses, and the Senate approved it on a 29-12 vote this week. The only remaining legislative hurdle is a vote by the House.
And Johnson's marijuana decriminalization bill remains alive, having survived its first committee votes. The bill, which would make possession of less than an ounce a civil infraction punishable by a fine, was approved by both the House and Senate committees on consumer affairs this week. Both committees approved the bill with "no recommendation," instead of a more favorable "do pass" recommendation, which does not bode well for its chances. The bill must also survive other committee votes in both houses before coming to floor votes in the House and Senate. Opponents have vowed to try to kill the bill in committee.
David Goldstein, an analyst with the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation's New Mexico office, told DRCNet, "Things are looking much better than we thought two weeks ago. We expect medical marijuana to pass, and even the decrim bill stands a chance."
Chances for medical marijuana also look good in Massachusetts, where voters last fall startled politicians with broad support for local medical marijuana and legalization initiatives. H1188 would revive and expand the state's dormant medical marijuana provisions, and allow patients to grow their own. And it is accompanied by no less than four bills calling for the decriminalization of marijuana in one form or another.
Meanwhile, four of the states that okayed medical marijuana through the initiative process are attempting to redress deficiencies in their implementation strategies, while in Hawaii, reformers are fighting a rear-guard action against efforts in the Senate to limit eligible medical conditions to those currently enumerated. On Monday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved SB 1182 SD1, which would remove any way of qualifying new conditions for treatment with medical marijuana.
But according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the bill's chances are not good. It still must be voted on by the entire Senate, and in the unlikely event it passes, would have to be signed by Gov. Cayetano, the man who originally supported and put his signature on Hawaii's medical marijuana bill.
But for a movement that a few short years ago couldn't get a serious hearing, the political dynamic has changed dramatically. While progress may be difficult to achieve, progress has already been considerable, especially when we consider that most of the legislative battles this year are around enacting affirmative bills -- not fending off draconian new punishments.
The tenor of this year's state legislative marijuana politics is perhaps summed up by the notation the Marijuana Policy Project appended to its updates on states where no action is pending: "The good news from this year's legislative session is that there are no bills that increase penalties for marijuana. The bad news, as you already know, is that there are no positive marijuana bills, either."
(Both NORML and MPP maintain frequently updated web sites for tracking legislative activity. For NORML's page, go to http://www.capwiz.com/norml2/issues/ -- and access MPP's updates by visiting http://www.mpp.org and pressing the "Select Your State" button.)
Saginaw attorney Greg Schmid is at it again. Last year, his all-volunteer effort to legalize marijuana through Michigan's initiative and referendum process never made it to the ballot, falling well short of the 302,000 voter signatures to qualify. But Schmid is back, and this time he thinks he can pull it off.
Schmid has a new, improved, four-part Personal Responsibility Amendment this year, which would legalize hemp, medical marijuana, and personal marijuana use and possession by adults, and would direct asset forfeiture funds away from law enforcement and into drug and alcohol treatment programs.
If he succeeds, it will be a first. No legalization initiative has yet led to victory at the polls, and even other drug reform initiatives, such as medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform, and sentencing reform have generally succeeded only when well-seeded with money, especially in states as populous as Michigan. And the really big money deemed necessary to win such initiatives is only provided by the famous troika of drug reform philanthropists, George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling, who have made it clear that they consider legalization too far ahead of the political curve to merit funding.
Schmid is aware of the record and wishes the big money would come around, but he tells DRCNet that he expects to do it with volunteers and small donations. And he gives Soros and his ilk credit. "For me or against me, those are the people who made marijuana a word people could hear and not shudder," he said. "If not for their medical marijuana initiatives, we would still be where we were a decade ago," Schmid conceded.
"But I think those big groups listen to their political consultants too much," he told DRCNet. "Still, if not for them, I couldn't do what I'm doing. I owe them a huge debt, and I wish they would reconsider their stand on legalization initiatives."
Schmid, who has now become the head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law's (NORML) Michigan chapter, will be getting support from the national organization.
NORML executive director Keith Stroup told DRCNet the national group would do what it could to help.
"I'll be going up to Ann Arbor for the PRA forum and the Hash Bash," Stroup said, "and national will do whatever we can, but realistically, we don't have the resources to hire people to collect signatures and we'll have to do this as a volunteer effort."
So why would a volunteer effort succeed this time around? Schmid has some answers.
"First off, we have a better time frame," Schmid said. "Last year our six-month window for gathering petitions ran from January to July, so we got three months of hard, Michigan winter, and we missed the summer festivals. This year, we're using April to October, which gives us the benefit of good weather, leaves us 13 months to campaign after the petition drive, and leaves open the opportunity to extend the drive if we're close, but not quite there."
"Second, we now have seasoned petitioners," Schmid continued. "Last year, they were all novice petitioners and many had never before been engaged in the political process. Now they are trained and seasoned. And the fact that we got 151,000 signatures last time has been a lesson both to the people who were overconfident and to those who doubted. With concerted effort, it is doable."
His volunteer list has mushroomed from 1,000 to 3,000, Schmid told DRCNet, and he is building local NORML chapters as a base for the petition drive, but again the conversation turns to funding.
"Our needs are modest," Schmid maintained. "We pay for mailings, but not for signatures; we have high-priced consultants, but we just don't pay them. I hope and expect national groups will help to the extent they can, but we're relying on the money and efforts of thousands of people, $50 here, $100 there."
But, his tone turning steely, Schmid had a message for the big boys. "Once we earn our way onto the ballot, if we were to lose a general election with 13 months to prepare because the people with the money wouldn't stand by us, then I think those groups' constituencies would have something to say to them."
The PRA 2001 petition drive gets underway in less than a month in Ann Arbor with a National Symposium on Cannabis Prohibition Reform on Friday, April 6, and the 30th annual Hash Bash starting at noon the next day.
Information on the PRA initiative can be found at http://www.prayes.com online, or call the Schmid Law Office, (517) 799-4641.
New York, NY: Part-time counselor/case manager wanted for Harm Reduction Drop-in Center for homeless youth in the Lower East Side. 60% of 31k, full benefits. Hours: Wednesday & Friday 10:00am-4:00pm, Thursday 1:00-10:00pm. Requirements: comprehensive experience, team player, comfort working in an environment balancing low-threshold engagement services with clinically-based counseling and syringe exchange with young IVDU's under age 24. Send resume to Stacey Rubin at [email protected] or fax to (212) 695-2317.
Grand Rapids, MI: HIV/AIDS Services, Inc., a small nonprofit, is looking for a full-time Outreach Coordinator. Responsibilities include primary day-to-day operation of needle exchange program, approximately 75% of time. Additional responsibilities include recruitment, training and scheduling of volunteers for other agency HIV prevention efforts to MSM, IDU, and HRH populations, with focus on minorities and youth. For job requirements or to apply contact Jan Koopman, Program Director, (616) 456-9063 or fax to (616) 456-9075.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
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 13, 7:45-9:30am, Boston, MA, "And Justice for All... Sentencing Guidelines and Public Safety." Public forum sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation, and MassINC, at Suffolk Law School, 120 Tremont Street. Panelists include House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Massachusetts Sentencing Commission Chairman Robert Mulligan and others. For further information, contact Neil Mello, (617) 742-6800 ext. 123 or [email protected].
March 13, 5:00-7:00pm, Washington, DC, "Community Forum on Unethical, Racist Approaches to Women Who Use Drugs." Discussion of the "Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity" (CRACK) program, with Wyndi Anderson of South Carolina Advocates for Pregnant Women and Shelia Clark of the National Black Women's Health Project. At the Sumner School, 17th & M Sts., contact Karyn Pomerantz at (202) 994-2976 or [email protected] for information.
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 24-25, 10:00am-5:00pm, Ames, IA, Tenth Annual Midwest Regional Hemp Activists Meeting. Hosted by Iowa State University NORML, at the Memorial Union on Lincoln Way. For further information contact Derrick Grimmer at (515) 292-7606, or Becky Terrill at (515) 268-3105 or [email protected].
March 26, 6:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, Hemp Dinner with Richard Rose, of Hempnut, Inc. and author of "The HempNut Health and Cookbook." Book and the Cook night at the White Dog Cafe, 3420 Sansom St., $45, includes three-course dinner and discussion. Reservations required, RSVP to (215) 386-9224, visit http://www.whitedog.com for further information.
March 29-30, St. Paul, MN, Symposium on Prison Reform: Restoration, Responsibility, and Rehabilitation. Sponsored by the University of St. Thomas and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. For further information, contact Dr. Gene Scapanski, (651) 962-5950.
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 call 91-11-6237417-18, fax 91-11-6217493, visit http://www.ihrc-india2001.org on the web, e-mail [email protected], or write to Showtime Events Pvt. Ltd., S-567, Greater Kailash - II, New Delhi 110 048, India.
April 4-6, East Lansing, MI, "Race in 21st Century America: A National Conference." At the Kellogg Center, Michigan State University, sponsored by MSU's James Madison College and the Midwest Consortium for Black Studies. For further information, visit http://www.jsri.msu.edu/raceconf/ or call (517) 353-6750.
April 6, 8:00am-5:30pm, Ann Arbor, MI, Symposium on Cannabis Prohibition Reform. At the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty Ave., advance registration required. For further information or to register, call the Schmid Law Office at (517) 799-4641 or visit http://www.prayes.com on the web.
April 6, 9:00am-6:00pm, New York, NY, "The Great Debate: Abstinence vs. Harm Reduction," conference sponsored by the New York State Psychological Association and the New School. At the New School, 66 W. 12th St., call (800) 732-3933 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
April 7, noon, Ann Arbor, MI, "Hash Bash." At the University of Michigan DIAG.
April 7, 2:00pm, Richmond, VA, Rally against supermax prisons. At the State Capitol Building, contact Sally Joughin at [email protected] for further information.
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 20, New York, NY, "Convictions" conference, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women and Society, City University of New York. For further information, contact Barbara Martinsons at (212) 817-2015.
April 20-22, Sweetwater, TN, Fundraising Concert for NORML UTK. For further information, visit http://www.normlutk.org/ online.
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.
April 28, Hartford, CT, Youth Rally against Connecticut's proposed 4,500 supermax prison, emphasizing the failure of the war on drugs. For further information, contact Adam Hurter at (860) 285-8831 or e-mail [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.
May 25-28, Vandalia, MI, "Hemp Aid 2001." Call 616-476-2808 or visit http://www.rainbowfarmcampground.com for 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.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
Every now and then something happens that reminds us of why we labor in this cause. It might be an especially unjust prosecution or prison sentence. Maybe someone we know overdosed, or was claimed by drug-related AIDS. It could be a terrifying news report of drug trade violence advancing into yet more unexpected fronts, or of an out of control SWAT team and its unintended victim. Or it might be something good, like a bad law prevented from passing, or a favorable court ruling, or a few more drug war prisoners pardoned or otherwise shown mercy.
This week, I had one of those special experiences that sharpened my focus and resolve as a drug reformer, though not so emotionally riveting as those other examples. What happened was that I participated, as one of five panelists, in a debate on drug legalization, courtesy of the Wake Forest University Law School, baptist country, North Carolina. The debate reconnected me with the purpose of drug reform, by reminding me of just how misinformed our opponents are and how simplistic their thinking is on this issue.
Statements like "70% of cocaine users become addicted on the first try," as the Assistant US Attorney claimed, were only the most over-the-top pieces of misinformation they came up with. Less surprising was the way an extremely complex social phenomenon was characterized with the most over-simplified arguments and unproven assumptions.
For example, a drug prevention specialist on the panel argued that the drug war was working, because use of drugs, as measured by the National Household Survey, had decreased.
A slightly more meaningful analysis would note that: 1) The government's own research shows that these surveys are unreliable and that underreporting of drug use increases as the political and social climate toward drugs becomes harsher; 2) It's only casual use that seems to have decreased, whereas chronic, problematic drug use, which is what we're really concerned with, has remained constant; 3) Other problems, such as drug related AIDS and hepatitis, have dramatically worsened; 4) No one had ever heard of crack cocaine before 1985, and now it's a widespread problem; 4) The street price of illegal drugs has plummeted during the time we've had a "drug war," indicating that drugs are more available than ever before; and 5) More high school students than ever report drugs are easy to obtain -- proving that drugs are more available than ever before, and that drug enforcement and interdiction have therefore failed dramatically for decades.
And more, of course. If that was hard to read, the point is simply that taking one isolated piece of dubious data of secondary importance, and using it to draw broad conclusions about our national drug policy, is not an intelligent or meaningful way to think about this issue. Drug policy needs and deserves the quality of thought that goes into physics, engineering, medicine, archaeology or any other discipline.
Surely the prohibitionists wouldn't drive their cars across a bridge, or move into a house, whose architects had failed to take basic engineering principles into account. That would be a good way to get killed. Yet they have constructed drug policies based on misinformation, framed their arguments at a third-grade level of analysis, and forced them on the entire world. And people are getting killed because of it, and many more are suffering and all of us are paying. Our prohibitionist debate partners clearly agreed on the importance of the drug issue, yet they failed to show that issue the intellectual respect it requires, when doing so would undermine their arguments or contradict their views.
Hence the intellectual leads us back to the emotional. Drug policy reform is an issue and cause that requires sophisticated thought and analysis, and yet it is an issue reaching deep into a well of injustice and suffering in the 20th and 21st centuries. And I am reminded, once again, of the rightness and urgency of our cause. And if I wasn't sure a week ago if I really wanted to take the long drive from Washington to North Carolina, now I'm glad I did.
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