(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #178, 3/23/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Mexican President Vicente Fox last weekend become the second Latin American leader to embrace the legalization of drug use and the drug trade as a possible means of dealing with the grave social problems created by the existing drug prohibition regime. In remarks made to Mexico City newspapers, he has now seconded Uruguay's President Jose Batlle, who has been arguing the case for legalization since last fall (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#uruguay).
Fox's comments came in response to reporters' questions about Federal Police Chief Miguel Angel de la Torre. In an exclusive interview the week before with Notimex, the government news agency, de la Torre had called for legalization of drugs as the only method of ending the violence and corruption of the illicit drug trade (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/177/html#narconews).
According to accounts published in the Mexico City dailies Unomasuno and El Sol de Mexico, the question and answer session went like this:
"A high official of the Federal Preventive Police has called for opening debate on drug legalization in Mexico," asked the reporter. "What is the president's opinion?"
"My opinion is that in Mexico it is not a crime to have a small dose of drugs in one's pocket. Those people are not arrested or jailed, but they are committing a crime. Nevertheless, this has not lowered consumption; to the contrary, it is growing," replied Fox. "Drug consumption is a separate issue. That must be the task of the Secretary of Health, that must be the task of parents, that must be the task of society as a whole."
The reporter pursued the question, asking Fox whether he agreed with de la Torre's view that ending prohibition was the only way to stop violence and corruption.
"That's right, it's true, it's true!" exclaimed the Mexican president. But he quickly added that Mexico would not act alone.
"But the day when the alternative of freeing drug consumption from punishment comes, it will have to be done throughout the world because we are not going to gain anything if we do it in Mexico, but the production and trafficking of drugs to carry them to the United States continues here. Thus, some day humanity will view it [legalization] as the best in this sense."
Fox's comments are a turnaround from his election campaign last summer, when he refused to countenance talk of legalization and instead argued for tougher penalties and "zero tolerance." They also suggest that a Mexican drug policy independent of the United States could be forming despite Mexican kowtowing to the US hard line at the Fox-Bush post-inaugural summit in January. The joint communique released then said, "Drug trafficking, drug abuse, and organized crime are major threats to the well-being of our societies. To combat this threat, we must strengthen our respective law-enforcement strategies and institutions and develop closer, more trusting avenues of bilateral and multilateral cooperation."
But as DRCNet has previously reported (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/162.html#mexicoreformers), two of Fox's cabinet members, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and public safety czar Alejandro Gertz Manero, have publicly and cogently argued for the case for drug legalization. And although Castaneda signed on to the January document, he has also called for a global crusade to strangle the violence and corruption of the illicit drug trade by ending prohibition. And while Fox has vowed to wage "the mother of all battles" against violent cartels, his remarks indicate he has begun to realize the futility of such a strategy.
With Uruguayan President Batlle vowing to put legalization on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City next month, Fox's comments give resonance to Batlle's efforts. But Mexico's ambassador to Canada, Alfonso Nieto, told the Vancouver Sun that Mexico will not bring up the subject at the meeting.
"The president is talking about the possible decriminalization for possession of some drugs for personal use as some other countries have done, but that would require international agreement," Nieto said. "But for the time being, we have declared war against drug trafficking."
The debate on drug legalization is heating up in Mexico. And by the way, "Traffic" opened there last weekend. It set a record for the largest foreign film premiere ever in Mexico, opening at 250 screens nationwide.
DRCNet thanks NarcoNews for their ongoing coverage of the drug war and drug war debate in Latin America and wishes them good fortune in their impending court battle. Please visit http://www.narconews.com for further information and to find out how to help.
People arrested on federal ecstasy (MDMA) charges will soon face more severe penalties than cocaine traffickers, the US Sentencing Commission decided this week. The commission acted at the direction of Congress, which last year passed an anti-ecstasy bill that called on the commission to set tough new standards.
The Sentencing Commission approved a temporary emergency rule good for six months, and will approve permanent new sentencing guidelines in May. The new standards effectively triple the amount of time those convicted of federal ecstasy charges will serve.
The commission's decision did not come for lack of effort by harm reduction activists, doctors, and scientists.
"MDMA is less likely to cause violence than alcohol, less addictive than cocaine or tobacco, and less deadly than heroin," New York University psychiatrist Julie Holland told the commission. Holland, who works in Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric emergency room, added, "I see alcoholics and crack addicts every time I go to work. I do not see people whose lives have been ruined by MDMA."
"Not only are MDMA-related cases a small percentage of all drug-related emergency room visits," Holland testified, "but a large percentage of these cases are not life-threatening. The most common adverse effects from acute MDMA intoxication are anxiety or panic reactions."
Other researchers attacked oft-repeated government claims that ecstasy causes long-term physiological damage. David Nichols, professor of molecular pharmacology at Purdue University, told the commission ecstasy has a "low addiction potential" and is unlikely to be used on a daily basis.
But the most impressive opposition to increased ecstasy penalties came from a high-powered group of academics and scientists gathered under the auspices of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), whose Drug Policy Project submitted to the commission a biting statement full of statistical comparisons. The group included famed criminologist Alfred Blumstein, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University; Nixon era drug czar and current University of Maryland professor of clinical psychiatry Jerome Jaffe; Mark Kleiman, editor of the Drug Policy Analysis Bulletin and UCLA faculty member; University of Maryland professor and former RAND Corporation drug policy researcher Peter Reuter, and ten others. (The FAS statement and endorser list can be found at http://www.fas.org/drugs/MDMAsentencing.pdf online.)
The FAS experts said bluntly that there was "no justification, either pharmacologically or in policy terms" for increased penalties. "If the commission were to ratify the published proposal, the change in sentencing... would divert enforcement resources away from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine toward MDMA. The result of such a diversion would be to make the overall drug abuse problem worse."
But commissioners made plain their fear that if they did not enact penalties harsh enough to appease Congress, lawmakers would pass even worse sentences.
"If we don't follow that directive or satisfy Congress that we've done it in a reasoned way," commission chair Diana Murphy said, "their remedy is a mandatory minimum."
And the panel was swayed by a drumbeat of testimony from federal officials about the dangers posed by the increasingly popular drug.
Federal sentencing guidelines, which constrict the range of sentences that federal judges may impose, are based on the quantity of the drug involved as measured in "equivalency" to one gram of marijuana. Under existing law, one gram of ecstasy has an equivalency of 35 grams of marijuana. In other words, selling one gram of ecstasy would result in the same "offense level" as selling 35 grams of marijuana.
The FAS argued that, "It would be more reasonable to treat ten doses of MDMA as equivalent, for sentencing purposes, to one dose of heroin. That would imply an equivalency of one gram of MDMA to 10 grams of marijuana." For the FAS, the current 35-gram equivalency was the upper limit of the tolerable.
Under the commission's published proposal for new guidelines, one gram of ecstasy would be considered the equivalent of 1,000 grams of marijuana. But, swayed somewhat perhaps by the scientific testimony, the commission settled for a 500 gram equivalency, placing ecstasy in the same offense category as cocaine.
Under the new guidelines, a person selling 200 grams of ecstasy -- about 800 tablets of the drug -- would face a prison sentence of between five and six-and-a-half years. Under the earlier guidelines, that person would have had to have been caught with 11,000 tablets to get the same sentence.
Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (http://www.maps.org) was glum at the outcome. "I guess you could call that a slight victory," he told DRCNet, referring to the commission's small retreat on equivalencies.
"But even that's misleading," Doblin said. "We think the commission estimated the weights incorrectly. We believe the average pill may be more than the 300 grams the DEA said. We're trying to verify that. If could be that the number of pills to get you five years is less than 667."
Doblin also pointed out that a logical response for the ecstasy trade was to move to powders. "Manufacturers, users, and dealers will focus on reducing the weight of pills, or go into powder. People who sell pills get penalized for the weight of inert substances in the pills, not the actually amount of MDMA, which would be only a fraction of the weight."
The resulting ease of adding cuts or adulterants to the powder form of the drug is only one of the harmful consequences Doblin sees as a result of the change. "It will also produce pressure to do other drugs that are more dangerous. The basic thing is that if this causes young people to party with alcohol instead of MDMA, we're totally worse off."
Julie Holland told DRCNet she also was relieved that the changes weren't as bad as proposed. "I'm happy they didn't push it as high as they could have," she said. "They were under a lot of political pressure to increase it."
And, said Holland, she learned a civics lesson while in Washington for her testimony. "I learned that the corrections industry does a good amount of lobbying," she said. "It's not just them, but the pharmaceutical companies, tobacco companies, the alcohol industry, lots of people with vested interests who want to keep certain drugs inaccessible."
"I think we're seeing a real crackdown beginning," said Doblin. "With this and the moves against raves, using the crack house legislation, and the horse-and-pony shows they're running up on the Hill, these people are serious."
A decade-long legal fight to protect the rights of pregnant women has resulted in a sweeping victory in the Supreme Court. The court ruled that hospitals cannot test pregnant women for illegal drug use without their consent and then turn results over to the police. The case grew out of a Charleston, South Carolina, hospital's plan, drawn up with police and prosecutors in the midst of the crack-baby hysteria of the late 1980s, to drug test pregnant patients and turn positive results over to the police.
Because the hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina, served a poor, predominantly black population, issues of race and class justice as well as the rights of pregnant women came prominently into play. Before the hospital modified its policy in 1994, 30 women -- all of them black except one -- were arrested, with some being dragged off to jail in shackles shortly after giving birth.
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, originated the case and represented the plaintiffs in the lower courts. "We're just thrilled," she told DRCNet. "It's a wonderful decision for anyone who goes to a health provider. They can be sure that the questions asked and the tests performed are for a diagnosis, not a criminal prosecution."
In a prepared statement, Paltrow elaborated. "The decision affirms that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects every American -- even those who are pregnant, even those with substance abuse problems -- from warrantless, unreasonable searches," she said. "This case represented the intersection of the war on abortion and the war on drugs -- using claims of fetal rights and false and alarmist assertions about drug use to justify unprecedented violations of patients rights to the detriment of women and children."
Writing for the majority in Ferguson v. the City of Charleston, Justice John Paul Stevens held that, "A state hospital's performance of a diagnostic test to obtain evidence of a patient's criminal conduct for law enforcement purposes is an unreasonable search if the patient has not consented to the procedure. The interest in using the threat of criminal sanctions to deter pregnant women from using cocaine cannot justify a departure from the general rule that an official nonconsensual search is unconstitutional if not authorized by a valid warrant."
The court's ruling overturned the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which in 1999 held that regardless of the women's consent, warrantless drug testing was "minimally intrusive" and justified by the "special needs" of stopping drug use among pregnant women. The Supreme Court has recognized the "special needs" exception to Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections in limited circumstances for health and safety purposes, such as highway drunk-driving checkpoints.
But Stevens wrote that "special needs" could not apply to a program so directly connected to law enforcement ends. "The central and indispensable feature of the policy from its inception was the use of law enforcement to coerce the patients into substance-abuse treatment. While the ultimate goal may have been to get the women in question into substance-abuse treatment and off drugs, the immediate objectives of the searches was to generate evidence for law enforcement purposes in order to reach that goal."
The fact was, Stevens wrote, that the policy "was designed to obtain evidence of criminal conduct by the tested patients that would be turned over to the police and that could be admissible in subsequent criminal prosecutions."
The decision was 6-3, with Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting.
The text of the Supreme Court decision is available at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/99-936.ZS.html online.
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee this week began hearings on racial profiling -- the practice of stopping and searching motorists based on their race -- and state officials' response to the now disavowed practice. Testimony by state police officials and members of the state attorney general's office has contradicted earlier claims by state officials -- particularly former Attorney General Peter Verniero -- who have testified that they had no knowledge of the practice until 1998.
Verniero, now a state Supreme Court justice who barely survived his confirmation hearing as the racial profiling controversy swirled around him, testified at those hearings that he did not know about the policy until after the April 1998 shooting of three black and Hispanic men by state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike. With that incident, racial profiling exploded into a nation-wide civil rights issue.
But a line of state police officials told lawmakers Monday that they had been supplying racial profiling data to Verniero and his aides since 1996. On Tuesday, two deputy attorneys general testified that Verniero and other top state officials were so anxious about bad publicity that they discouraged aides from providing data that confirmed the extent of the problem.
Sgt. Thomas Gilbert, the state trooper assigned to collect racial profiling data beginning in that year, said he regularly delivered "explosive" reports on the practice to the attorney general's office. He also testified that he had attended two meetings with top state officials, including then Attorney General Verniero, to discuss the topic many months before the April 1998 shootings.
Sgt. Baker and retired State Police Capt. David Blaker also told the committee that although the data they had collected and presented to Verniero showed an unusually high number of minorities had been subjected to searches, Verniero vowed never to negotiate a consent decree with the Justice Department, which had intervened in 1996 as the practice of racial profiling scandal began to draw increasing notice.
Gilbert told the committee he began gathering racial profiling data in 1996, after a judge in Gloucester County found a pattern of racial profiling in traffic stops on the southern part of the New Jersey Turnpike. By the end of that year, he said, the data clearly showed racial disparities. "At this point," Sgt. Gilbert wrote to a superior, "we're in a very bad spot."
Gilbert also testified that in December 1996, he was summoned to a Christmas Eve meeting with Verniero and his aides, where the participants discussed strategies for dealing with the Justice Department inquiry.
Deputy Attorney General George Rover, whose job it was to provide racial profiling statistics to the Justice Department, told the committee he was ordered by superiors to passively obstruct the federal review. He was instructed to supply Justice only with documents it had specifically requested, he said.
Although Verniero has claimed that he only learned racial profiling was "real, not imagined" after the 1998 shootings, Rover and Deputy Attorney John Fahy both testified to the contrary. Fahy told the committee that as early as the Justice Department investigation in December 1996, Verniero realized racial profiling was a problem for New Jersey prosecutors. In January 1997, Fahy testified, a letter he wrote to the Justice Department for Verniero to sign was sent with the paragraph dealing with police searches deleted --without his knowledge, Fahy added.
Rover told the committee that then executive assistant attorney general Alexander Waugh, Jr. told him not to send documents to the Justice Department unless the department specifically asked for them. Rover said the practice continued under Waugh's successor, David Hespe.
According to Rover, Hespe told him, "Don't turn it over. Tell them we're working on something. Let me know if they call again."
This week's testimony is only strengthening the case that New Jersey officials, and Verniero in particular, not only attempted to sabotage the Justice Department investigation, but also studiously avoided reviewing the racial profiling data themselves. The political firestorm over what the state of New Jersey knew and when it knew it will only increase next week. Verniero is scheduled to be the final witness.
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee has hearing transcripts, notes, and other evidence available at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/apjud.htm online. DRCNet has posted extensive documents on racial profiling released by the New Jersey Attorney General's office late last year, available at http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/njprofiling/ online.
The first attempt to pass a comprehensive drug reform package at the state level ended last weekend with mixed results. Caught in the press of last-minute business at the state capitol, the most far-reaching elements of the Republican governor's reform package were not defeated but timed out.
In the frenetic last days of the session, drug reform took a back seat to issues such as education reform (done), electric power deregulation (wait five years), and battles over whether New Mexicans should be allowed to carry concealed weapons (they will) or face tougher penalties for drunk driving (they won't).
Gov. Gary Johnson and legislative supporters succeeded in passing four bills, three from his package and one other that will affect thousands of state drug offenders. That bill restores voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Asset forfeiture reform and medical marijuana bills passed both houses, but died for lack of time to reconcile minor differences.
David Goldstein of the Lindesmith Center/Drug Policy Foundation's New Mexico office was upbeat despite the mixed results. The session was "absolutely a victory," he told DRCNet. "A year ago, the legislature said it wouldn't even discuss drug reform. This year, drug reform has been a significant theme, and we did get some legislation passed into law."
TLC-DPF was the primary sponsor of the legislative push. The organization hired a pair of well-connected New Mexico politicians as lobbyists in addition to opening the New Mexico office to support the reform effort.
In a news conference after the session ended, Gov. Johnson also emphasized the positive.
"Arguably, what happened during this session advanced a set of bills that have never gone this far in any legislature in the country," he said. "So on one hand, gosh, I wish a few more of them would have been heard or voted on and passed. On the other hand, as far as they went, they went a long way."
The three bills that passed both houses and will be signed by Gov. Johnson are:
Medical marijuana came closest, with slightly differing bills having passed both houses. But as the clock ticked down, medipot supporters were unable to press the lawmakers to schedule a Senate vote on the House bill. (The Senate had passed a bill with a comfortable 29-12 margin, compared to a much narrower margin of victory in the House.)
"That medical marijuana passed both houses, but died because they couldn't get around to reconciling the minor differences, is a major disappointment for us," said Richard Schmitz of the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org). "It was the one bill that came closest to passing, but we think it fell prey to active efforts by the opposition to keep it off the agenda on Saturday [the session's final day]," he told DRCNet.
As for marijuana decriminalization -- the governor's bill would have made possession of seven ounces or less a civil violation subject only to a fine -- "We would have liked to have seen decrim, but it became apparent that the bill's chances of gaining approval weren't that great," Schmitz told DRCNet. Still, said Schmitz, "Not once did those marijuana bills lose a vote, in committee or on the floor. We see that as very promising."
Keith Stroup, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org), who worked with Gov. Johnson to push through the reforms, told DRCNet the package may have fallen victim to partisan conflicts not directly related to drug policy. Both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats, while Gov. Johnson is a Republican.
"The Democratic leadership apparently made the decision not to bring it up," said Stroup. "Especially on the medical marijuana bill, there were partisan currents that had little to do with the debate. There are frequently issues between the Democrats and the governor, and sometimes it's payback time. I suspect that was the case this time."
The governor's sentencing reforms, which would have marked a sharp retreat from the drug war's emphasis on incarceration, made even less progress in the legislature.
Surveying the messy results at session's end, NORML's Stroup said he was "disappointed," but saw no reason for reformers to despair.
"People have to understand that it's easy to kill a bill, difficult to pass one, and somebody threw a monkey wrench in the works this time," Stroup argued. "Yes, it's a disappointment, but it's also a good first step. The second time around, we can win."
"The governor deserves enormous credit," Stroup continued. "He pushed the drug reform package more strongly than any governor ever has. I think because of Johnson's efforts, it was clear that the whole debate had an enormously more positive tenor than it did two years ago. He has used his office to good advantage in educating voters about drug issues."
But Stroup also acknowledged that the drug reform movement is still saddled by its origins in the counterculture of the 1960s. "Look, we had popular support and the governor behind us, and we still couldn't win. There's a lot of ignorance and misinformation to overcome, and face it, marijuana still carries with it associations of antiwar demonstrations and long-haired hippies. Some of those folks in the legislature were using that issue to fight a larger cultural battle. When you mention marijuana to people like that, it's like waving a red flag in front of a bull."
Indeed, the unsuited and somewhat scruffy appearance of some New Mexico activists became a topic of discussion among reformers, exposing tactical fault lines within the movement.
For Lindesmith-DPF's Goldstein, the task is not exposing divisions but establishing a lasting presence in the state. "We're here for the long haul," he told DRCNet. "We're going to be dealing with the bills that were passed, and we'll be forming a New Mexico coalition for a sensible drug policy. And don't forget our national conference; it'll be here in Albuquerque in May."
And, Goldstein added, there are still two more legislative sessions possible during Gov. Johnson's remaining tenure. If Johnson and the legislature cannot resolve pending budget disputes, he could call a special session in September. While Goldstein said addressing unfinished drug reform business at that session was "not likely," at his Saturday press conference Gov. Johnson said he might ask lawmakers to reconsider the medical marijuana bill.
Goldstein also pointed out that in next year's short legislative session, devoted primarily to budget matters, the governor can introduce bills not related to the budget. The governor has given no indication of any plans to reintroduce his remaining drug reform bills then.
Visit http://governor.state.nm.us/drug_policy/ for more detailed information on the bills as well as Gov. Johnson's broader drug reform agenda.
With the New Mexico legislative
session now over and drug reformers having had mixed success, DRCNet sought
out the governor's point-man in the legislature, Dave Miller, for an insider's
assessment of what went right, what went wrong, and where we go from here.
Miller spoke by phone from his office in Santa Fe.
Like an uneasy ghost, recently retired drug czar General Barry McCaffrey has risen from his brief respite and returned to public life, this time to haunt the citizens of Puerto Rico. Earlier this week, McCaffrey signed on as a senior advisor on drug policy to Gov. Sila M. Calderon, who recently pushed a bill authorizing the creations of a drug czar's office through the island's legislature.
Not surprisingly, McCaffrey endorsed the recent vote to establish an office of the drug czar for the island, arguing that drug use and the drug traffic threaten Puerto Rico's health and stability.
"The threat is not only the violence associated with the drug traffic, but addiction, which threatens the family, which is the center of Puerto Rican life," McCaffrey told the San Juan-based newspaper El Nuevo Dia.
Playing to his new audience, McCaffrey told the Puerto Rican daily that he was honored to work with Calderon, whom he had known when she was mayor of San Juan, and that under her leadership, Puerto Rico could become a strong link in the war against drugs in the Americas.
Activists on the island are worried by this development. Dr. Carmen Albizu of CECA told DRCNet that supporters of a public health/harm reduction approach were concerned that the McCaffrey appointment was part of a pattern in which Gov. Calderon refused to address the concerns of reformers.
"Our governor has opted to hear only Gen. McCaffrey and has ignored the community of policy analysts, non-governmental service organizations, professional associations, health professionals, social scientists, and organizations concerned with human rights (the Bar Association's Committee on Human Rights) who have expressed that the law recently enacted does not provide any guarantees that harm reduction strategies will be supported," wrote Albizu. She added that while legislators and the governor claim that the law is balanced between supply and demand control strategies, that has not been the pattern with the drug czar's office at the national level.
"We are well aware of Gen. McCaffrey's disposition to misstate the facts," wrote Albizu, "and we think it is quite likely that public health advocates have been demonized for her benefit.
"The governor has not responded to the letter we sent her on March 5th requesting that she receive a five-person delegation from among the broad coalition indicated above. We expressed our concern that she has not had an opportunity to listen to the arguments against sustaining public policy primarily focused on criminal justice activities," wrote Albizu. "We understand that she has not had the chance to confront the facts regarding the results of drug war efforts sustained on supply control. She has obtained her data from the ONDCP and from advisors such as Collazo."
Consequently, wrote Albizu, the governor's message to the legislature on her proposed budget "mentioned the drug problem solely within the context of law enforcement. There was no mention of funds for dealing with drug issues within the health care or educational system. It reaffirms that the problem is still formulated as one having to do with public order."
And, the doctor told DRCNet, the drug czar's office was approved with a $500,000 annual budget, which has now mysteriously ballooned to $2 million. "The governor says this was an action by the Senate, the Senate says it must have been the Governor. Where is the money coming from? Nobody seems to know."
Public health and harm reduction activists continue to try to be heard, Albizu told DRCNet. CECA is organizing a showing of "Traffic" on March 31, followed by a forum and discussion about alternatives for which Puerto Rico can readily opt, without altering the current state of law. The press and community leaders have been invited.
"We shall continue to insist that we have to be taken into account in developing drug policy for the island," concluded Albizu.
Though Albizu and company were unable to block the creation of the island drug czar's office or exert much influence over the shaping of the office, they did manage to derail the nomination of the governor's first choice for the post, Col. Jorge Collazo. His nomination came under fire from citizens concerned that he had admitted participating in keeping intelligence files on pro-independence activists. The Puerto Rico Herald (San Juan) reported that Collazo asked Calderon to remove him from consideration on March 15th.
A second candidate for the position, retired police Col. Hector M. Lugo may face similar problems. The San Juan newspaper El Vocero de PuertoRico reported that Lugo was head of security for the island's long-distance phone company when it was involved in a scandal over secretly intercepting phone calls.
McCaffrey suggested a third candidate, Puerto Rican Francis "Pancho" Kinney, who is currently director of strategy for the federal drug czar's office. Calling Kinney "very capable," McCaffrey told El Nuevo Dia was well-acquainted with US and Puerto Rican drug problems. But, McCaffrey added, he believed that Kinney would stay in Washington.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard this week purged his main drug advisory panel of prominent harm reduction advocates, leading to charges from the opposition Labor Party and drug reformers that Howard wants to create a body wedded to his own zero-tolerance views on drug policy.
Alex Wodak, director of Drug and Alcohol Services at St. Vincent's Hospital, told DRCNet that Howard and Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) chair Salvation Army Major Brian Watters were trying to "organize a zero-tolerance cheer squad." But, said Wodak, even with the panel's new complexion, most members "regard zero tolerance as a fantasy, not a drug policy."
Howard dumped four of fifteen panel members -- a fifth quit -- replacing direct representatives of youth, drug users, schools and families affected by drugs. Tony Trimingham, the outspoken founder of Family Drug Support, got the boot, as did harm reductionist Wesley Noffs. Jude Byrne, who represented drug users, was also dropped (or "emancipated," as Wodak put it).
Howard also removed Karen Hart, former head of the national School Principals Association and an advocate of realistic, practical drug education in the schools. Professor Wayne Hall, head of the University of New South Wales' National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, resigned.
The Reverend Bill Crews of Uniting Church was among many the many drug policy shareholders to blast the moves. "To my way of thinking, Tony Trimingham was one of the best people to come along in 30 years in this area," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. "By taking him out of an advocacy role and others like him who favor a harm-minimization approach, all we are doing is condemning society to more of the same."
"Just at a time when society is starting to realize that we need different approaches and we are lurching toward an understanding that new ways have to be tried, new ways like harm minimization, the Prime Minister is moving the other way," said Crews.
Annie Madden of the Australian Intravenous League, which represents drug consumers, told the Australian newspaper that her group was dismayed by the changes. "Without adequate consumer representation, how can the council possibly reflect the needs of the people most affected by illicit drugs?" she asked.
Prime Minister Howard, stung by the attacks, defended himself. "Any chance that members of the ANCD are chosen because they support one particular approach to drug policy runs contrary to the central ethos of the council," he angrily told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Labor spokeswoman for health Jenny Macklin took issue with Howard's explanation. "The drug debate needs to involve a variety of voices and a variety of solutions, not just those the Prime Minister wants to hear. This is the Prime Minister at his arrogant worst. His claim that the proposed appointments add to the range of expertise on the council is clearly incorrect. Zero tolerance now dominates the committee," she told the Morning Herald.
But newly appointed members shrank from the zero-tolerance label, and Dr. Wodak told DRCNet "most members of the previous committee and most members of the new ANCD strongly support evidence-based harm minimization."
Some new members certainly wanted to talk the talk. David Crosbie, of the Victorian Odyssey House program, an abstinence-based program, objected to being labeled as zero tolerance. "I think it's time we dropped these unhelpful zero tolerance versus harm minimization labels altogether," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "I don't care whether the Prime Minister is zero tolerance or harm reduction, as long as we spend the money in a balanced way."
New member Garth Popple, administrator of the We Help Ourselves drug user's program in New South Wales, was described by sources close to him as "distressed" at being given the zero-tolerance tag. "Garth's concern is that the cause of harm minimization has been damaged," they said.
Two more of the newly appointed members, Anne Bressington, founder of the South Australia DrugBeat program, and Nick Gill, manager of the Drug and Alcohol Association in Alice Springs, are described in press accounts as zero tolerance and abstinence-based treatment advocates.
The final new member, Professor John Saunders of Queensland, rejected the hardliner label. "I wouldn't describe myself as zero tolerance," he told the Age. "While abstinence is a noble goal, we have to be realistic."
The Australian National Council on Drugs was set up by the Howard government after it was deluged with criticism for blocking proposed heroin trials in 1997, and was supposed to be a forum for advice to the government from non-governmental sources, such as clinicians, researchers, police, educators, and drug users' and families' groups.
"Its achievements to date have been, well, modest," Dr. Wodak told DRCNet. "There is potentially an important role for an independent, non-government advisory committee made up of diverse experts, but this requires a chair unambiguously committed to evidence-based harm minimization and a Prime Minister who is prepared to consider advice not to his liking."
Despite what Wodak described as polls "showing a high level of discomfort" with Howard's hard-line drug policies, the Prime Minister will kick off a new anti-drug campaign on March 25th, the anniversary of "the mother of all drug treaties," the United Nations Single Convention on Drugs.
Enacted in 1973 when Nelson Rockefeller was governor, the Rockefeller Drug Laws impose cruel and unusual punishment -- extraordinarily lengthy prison terms -- on nonviolent drug offenders for possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. These laws remove sentencing discretion from judges, and cost New York taxpayers more than $710 million per year, and the enforcement of them is racially biased.
Governor George Pataki has talked about reforming these laws, but his proposal would enact only modest sentencing reductions for some drug offenses and would actually increase penalties for marijuana offenses!
Please take part in "Drop The Rock," a day of education and action at the State Capitol in Albany, Tuesday, March 27th, 12:00pm-2:00pm. Inexpensive bus caravans will leave from Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Call (212) 254-5700 ext. 306 or visit http://www.droptherock.org for further information.
Whether you can make it to Drop The Rock or not, if you are from New York please visit http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/newyork/ to write your state legislators: Urge them to reject Gov. Pataki's Orwellian non-reform and insist that the Rockefeller Drug Laws be repealed outright.
New Yorks also please visit http://assembly.state.ny.us and http://www.senate.state.ny.us to find out who your legislators are and how to reach them by phone or in person. A personal contact makes more impact than an e-mail or fax.
Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].
March 23, 10:30am-2:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, "Cato Perspectives in Policy 2001." Seminar by the Cato Institute, featuring luncheon address by New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. At the St. Regis Los Angeles, 2055 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, $100 or complimentary to media. For further information, contact Lesley Albanes at (202)-789-5223 or [email protected], or visit https://www.cato.org/events/010323cs.html on the web.
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, 2:00pm, Brussels, Belgium, "International Drug Policies: 40 Years of Failures." Conference sponsored by the International Coalition of NGO's for Just and Effective Drugs Policy and the European NGO Council on Drugs and Development, presenting concrete alternatives to current international drug control policy. At the Maison Internationale, Rue Haute 139, contact Joep Oomen at 03 - 272 5524 or 03 - 226 3476 (fax) 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.
March 27, 4:00pm, Washington, DC, "The Law and Politics of Medical Marijuana." Forum at the Cato Institute, featuring Alan Bock, author of "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana," with comments by Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy. At 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, contact Megan Brumleve at (202) 789-5229, (202) 371-0841 (fax) or [email protected] by 4:00pm, March 26 to register.
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 6, 13, 20 & 27, 8:45pm, New York, NY, Benefit for Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center's Women's Program. Little Annie, aka Annie Anxiety, will perform at The Slipper Room, 167 Orchard Street (corner of Stanton Street), accompanied on piano by Nicky Paraiso. Minimum donation $5, all profits going to the program. For further information, call (212) 253-7246 or visit http://www.brainwashed.com/anxiety/ on the web.
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].
April 28-29, Madison, WI, "Illuminating Reality: Social, Intellectual, Economic, and Faith Based Approaches to the War on Drugs in the 21st Century." For further information, contact Jacob Davis or Dan Goldman of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at [email protected] or [email protected].
May 5-6, international, "2001: The Space Odyssey," marches for marijuana law reform. For further information, visit http://www.2001thespaceodyssey.com on the web.
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.
In our story last week on moves within the Swiss government to decriminalize cannabis, we incorrectly reported that Droleg, a Swiss drug reform organization, had sent an open letter to the Swiss parliament (Bundestag). Droleg sent a letter to the government, not parliament, and it was not an open letter. Also, we quoted Droleg's Judith Law; her correct name is Judith Laws. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/177.html#swissdecrim to read the original article.
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
An interesting week: Mexico's President comes out for legalization -- if enacted globally, at least.
The Congress cracks down on the drug ecstasy, harder than they do against heroin or cocaine -- ignoring all scientific and medical testimony, as well as the fact that ecstasy's fatal victims each can be counted on a person's fingers.
Australian and Puerto Rican leaders face criticism for their zero tolerance of, or zero interest in, differing viewpoints.
ABC Nightline shows more interest in discussing a range of viewpoints, and airs several days of drug war coverage inspired by the movie Traffic.
Here in Washington, a week of forums seemed to mirror the increasing global debate about drug policy. A Freedom Forum program at the Newseum discusses drug policy and the media. A panel marks the Pew Trust poll of public attitudes about the drug war -- most Americans understand it's not working, but seem to want more of it. The New Republic magazine's discussion series brings together experts representing different degrees and types of drug policy reform.
The New Republic forum may have pointed toward the next wave of the drug debate. If Americans realize the drug war is a failure, as the Pew Poll showed, sooner or later they'll let go of it. Participants in the New Republic forum, on the other hand, were already in favor of changing drug policy and moving it away from the incarceration approach dominant in today's drug war. That discussion instead focused on where do we ultimately go with drug policy, after the drug war?
Representing the drug court movement and forced treatment in lieu of lengthy incarceration were Judge Jeffrey Tauber and a representative of Phoenix House named James Woods. Against forced treatment in principle was Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy; largely against it in practice, except when substance abuse has played a role in real crimes committed against people, was Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).
Tauber believes that people with drug problems won't seek treatment on their own, for the most part, and that they need to be threatened -- not with mandatory minimum sentences, but with a day or a few days in jail -- in order to get them to face their drug problems.
I submitted a question, which didn't make the moderator's final cut, hoping to ask Tauber how it can be, if people don't seek treatment on their own, that the nation's treatment programs can be filled to overflowing, with waiting lists? If people don't voluntarily seek treatment, one would expect for treatment programs to have empty slots they desperately wished to fill. Tauber's claim just didn't make sense in light of that stark reality. Maybe I'll have another opportunity to pose this to him.
The appropriateness of coercion into drug treatment also needs to be questioned. If treatment in lieu of incarceration is the only option the people or the politicians will accept today, I believe that is preferable to the status quo in which half a million nonviolent drug offenders languish in the nation's prisons and jails without hope -- at least so long as it does not lead to large numbers of people being swept into the system who would not be otherwise, or to harsher penalties for those who refuse or fail the treatment.
Yet even then, how tragic it is, as Zeese pointed out, that in the world's wealthiest society, the answer to drug and mental health issues is criminalization. Coerced treatment is not an acceptable end goal, only a temporary compromise to help open the doors of our prisons and let our fellow human beings walk free now if they choose that option.
Suppose a drug court judge became stranded on an island with only one other person, and discovered that his new neighbor had a drug habit, perhaps even an addiction? Suppose the judge's new neighbor, as a result of his drug habit, was less productive in doing his part to survive and improve their condition, but otherwise left him alone, didn't steal his food, etc. Our judge friend could reasonably say his life was affected by his neighbor's drug use; it would probably be better for him, for both of them, were he to stop.
But have his rights been violated? Would he consider it appropriate or ethical to forcibly restrain his neighbor, or threaten his neighbor, in order to intervene in his drug situation? I suspect and hope that the answer might be no, so long as his neighbor on the island leaves him alone, he must do the same, advise at best but under no circumstances lock him in a cage, tie him down or anything else of the sort. Doing so would ultimately be counterproductive and damage their ability to live together. Why, then, does such coercion become ethical when it is carried out by the modern superstate?
Such questions may be the next wave of the drug war debate. Reformers should work to get people out of prison now, but stand firm on the ultimate goal of ending prohibition outright.
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