(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #189, 6/8/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
One of the burning topics discussed at last week's drug policy reform conference in Albuquerque was the growing shift from incarceration to mandated treatment. Of particular issue were ballot initiatives such as California's Prop. 36, which unlike outside forces such as the drug court movement, emanate from our own drug policy reform institutions. The debate was not over the appropriateness of forced treatment in and of itself -- few if any attendees would have defended that -- but of its appropriateness and wisdom as an interim step to help keep people out of prison while we continue to work for the larger decriminalization of drugs.
I come down on the side of getting as many of the half a million incarcerated nonviolent drug offenders out of jail or prison as soon as possible. Having been involved in this cause for nearly eight years, and having friends whose loved ones were incarcerated then and are still incarcerated, I have to view a treatment a requirement for getting out of prison as a decidedly lesser evil on the whole.
Nevertheless, some of the arguments cautioning against a wholesale embracing of the forced treatment approach are also compelling, and I tend to agree with those in our movement advocating a "wait-and-see" approach to observe the real-world results in California before moving much further. The emerging drug court movement is a good example of why coerced treatment as an interim approach should be approached with caution. While many drug court judges are doubtless good people who see themselves as rescuing young people from lives of crime and incarceration, the system and movement as a whole has shown itself to be unreliable in its beneficence and uncomprehending in its approach to treatment and addiction.
Operating under a dogma that verges on the religious, drug courts have almost uniformly failed to recognize or allow for methadone maintenance as a treatment for heroin addiction. Yet the scientific and medical consensus on methadone is that it is the most effective legal treatment available for heroin addicts and for many of them is an absolute necessity.
Operating under a set of attitudes that wholly conflict with basic medical ideals, drug courts demand immediate, total and permanent abstinence from all the drugs under their jurisdiction. Screw up, go to jail. Screw up again, go to jail for longer. Nothing could be more at odds with the medical reality of addiction, in which relapse is understood to be undesirable but normal, not invalidating the individual's overall success in managing his or her addiction. And there is no other medical condition for which relapse of imperfect recovery is punishable, certainly not by incarceration!
And have the drug courts weeded out and avoided the truly abusive drug treatment programs, groups like Straight that have scarred clients for life, only surviving lawsuits and scrutiny through the power of money and political connections? That is an important topic that needs to be examined.
Last but not least, drug courts do not always succeed in achieving their mission of diverting low-level drug offenders from prison. Sometimes they even make matters worse. In an article published last year in the North Carolina Law Review, Judge Morris Hoffman charged that drug courts in Denver had actually sparked a sharp increase in drug incarcerations. Upon institution of the drug courts, Denver police immediately started to arrest much greater numbers of much more minor offenders. Those who entered the system for diversion, but subsequently failed treatment, would wind up going to prison where they might previously have been left alone. Not all drug court systems necessarily have this effect; but devil is very much in the details and the lesson should be well-heeded by justice advocates everywhere.
It is easy to understand why the drug court judges believe they are helping people. After all, they are keeping people out of prison, at least in many cases. And statistically, some of the people moved through their courtrooms will truly be grateful. Statistically, some really will have serious drug abuse problems that threaten their ability to function in society. Statistically, some of those people will get their lives together while under the influence of the courts. Drug court judges will run into those grateful people in their communities, their favorite restaurants.
Of course, the ones who have a problem with how they were treated by the court or the fact that they had to deal with the court at all are much less likely to come up to the judge and introduce themselves and chat. If they're not in prison, that is.
At a recent forum in Washington, DC, Judge Jeffrey Tauber, former executive director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, insisted that drug addicts don't voluntarily seek treatment, or if they do, don't stay long enough to get effective help. This bit of drug court dogma is equally untrue. Addicts don't always seek help when others would like, but will do so eventually, if help is available when they are ready. If addicts didn't seek help voluntarily, then our nation's drug treatment programs would not be overflowing with waiting lists stretching into the weeks or months. It just doesn't add up the way Tauber and his cohorts would like us to believe.
So, it is clear that involving the state in coerced drug treatment can certainly be done badly. Perhaps the coercive element even makes that inevitable to some extent. Should our movement therefore eschew and reject the entire concept? Defenders of efforts such as Prop. 36 point to the fact that drug court proponents hate the initiative passionately. By involving our movement in the current policy process, we can bring some of our values to it, restore some legal rights to drug defendants and minimize the eventuality of incarceration -- albeit within the context of an imperfect, even offensive system -- but a system that we did not create and which is being driven forward by larger political forces, with or without us.
The answer may be different for different organizations. Those with funding to mount ambitious ballot initiatives have to forge their initiatives carefully, in ways that intersect with prevailing current popular opinion, so that their initiatives will pass. Grassroots and educational organizations, however, have no such constraint. In fact, one of the functions of such organizations is to push the envelope and engage the public in debate on longer term visions, so that one day in the future decriminalization or legalization will be a realistic possibility.
Whether or not, then, ballot initiatives like Prop. 36 will ultimately help or hurt, remains to be seen. But the rest of us, whose activism is not primarily focused on initiatives, have a much clearer path ahead. We should be focusing our energies where we are needed most: partial reforms where we are in a position to make a unique difference, and shouting out the truth about prohibition and the war on drugs and why they must end -- so that one day end they will.
As of June 1, Colorado joined the growing list of states with active medical marijuana programs. The move comes in the wake of last November's voter approval of Amendment 20, the medical marijuana initiative sponsored by Coloradans for Medical Rights and its parent group, California-based Americans for Medical Rights, and after the Colorado legislature passed necessary implementing legislation this spring.
As of June 7th, the state registry for medical marijuana patients had sent off 150 applications to patients and received 13 completed application forms, registry administrator Gail Kelsey told DRCNet. Ten medical marijuana program ID cards have already been sent to patients, Kelsey said. "We expect about 800 patients this year, based on the experience in Oregon, which operates a similar program," Kelsey told DRCNet.
If Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Attorney General Ken Salazar had their druthers, those people would be behind bars. They went so far as to ask the US Attorney for Colorado to prosecute medical marijuana patients, and also attempted to scare doctors away from the program. In a joint statement released on May 31st, the day before the medical marijuana program went into effect, the two opponents of the measure wrote:
"... [W]e remind anyone intending to register for the program -- as well as physicians considering prescribing marijuana to their patients -- that it remains a federal crime to possess, manufacture, distribute or dispense marijuana. To fulfill our duties under federal law, we are today contacting the Colorado Medical Association to remind the physicians of Colorado that doctors who dispense marijuana for any purpose risk federal criminal prosecution. We are also writing the acting United States Attorney for the District of Colorado to encourage the criminal prosecution of anyone who attempts to use this state program to circumvent federal anti-drug laws."
Calling the voter-approved program "an absurd and wasteful state-sanctioned protest vehicle against federal drug laws" with "no apparently valid legal purpose," the disgruntled duo also urged the federal courts and Congress to act against medical marijuana.
But Owens' and Salazar's effort to intimidate patients, caregivers and physicians ran into a wall of indifference from acting US Attorney for Colorado Richard Spriggs. "We in the US Attorney's Office are truly grateful to Gov. Owens and Attorney General Salazar for sharing their problem with us," Spriggs wrote in statement released later that same day. "We, however, are not the solution to their problem. That solution (if there is one) lies with the 22 duly elected district attorneys and local police. Neither the governor nor the attorney general should engage in unfounded speculation about who might be prosecuted in federal court," Spriggs chided.
When queried about Attorney General Salazar's apparent poke in the eye to Colorado voters, Deputy Attorney General Ken Lane told DRCNet "that doesn't matter to us." When pressed on the issue, Lane qualified his response. "The Attorney General upheld the validity of the law," Lane said, "but federal law is an entirely different matter."
Still, it appears the Attorney General's crusade to sic the feds on medical marijuana patients is at an end. "We are making no further efforts" to involve the federal government," Lane told DRCNet.
Even if the Attorney General's Office wished to assist federal prosecutors, Amendment 20 limits its ability to do so. Colorado Solicitor General Alan Gilbert told the Denver Post that regardless of his boss's position, the Attorney General's Office must comply with the law's confidentiality provisions. "We will defend as vigorously as we can the confidentiality of the registry," Gilbert said, adding that the department would fight any federal attempt to subpoena such information. To breach the confidentiality of the registry is a misdemeanor criminal violation under the enabling legislation passed this spring.
Health department spokeswoman Cindy Parmenter echoed Gilbert's position. "The concern is what would happen if federal agents wanted the names of everyone who applied," Parmenter told the Associated Press. "The law says we will keep the names confidential, and it's our plan to do that."
Julie Roach of Coloradans for Medical Rights told DRCNet that while Owens' and Salazar's statement probably scared off some patients and doctors, she does not expect a federal crackdown on medical marijuana patients. "I don't see the feds going after patients. These are sick people who are going through a difficult time. Federal agents are not doing this in other states with medical marijuana laws," she said.
"I think the governor and the attorney general were looking for a way out, but this only blew up in their faces," Roach continued. "Both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, which editorialized against Amendment 20, came out and said the governor and the attorney general should not oppose the new law. We are totally disappointed with their statement, but it is mainly making them look bad. It looks like they are spitting in the face of the voters. I had hoped the governor and the attorney general would uphold and protect the Colorado constitution. That is their job."
Under the Colorado program, which was largely based on Oregon's two-year-old program, patients with specified illnesses -- including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/ADS and multiple sclerosis -- must obtain a letter from their doctor saying they could benefit from marijuana. The patient then mails the doctor's letter along with a $140 nonrefundable fee to the Colorado Public Health and Environment Department. After health department employees assigned to the marijuana patient registry verify the doctor's letter, they send the patient an ID card good for one year. Patients will have to pay the $140 fee each year. Caregivers can also obtain IDs under the Colorado program.
Registered patients can legally possess up to two ounces of prepared marijuana, six plants (only three of which can be in flower), and smoking paraphernalia. Buying marijuana, however, remains a crime, even for registered patients. Misrepresenting a medical condition to obtain a card, misusing or stealing a card, or altering or counterfeiting cards are misdemeanor offenses.
(Colorado's medical marijuana rules can be read at http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/op/medmarijuanaruls2.pdf online. (Readers who wish to explain the concept of democracy to Gov. Owens and AG Salazar may contact them at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.)
In one fell swoop, Nevada lawmakers have taken a giant stride away from some of the nation's toughest marijuana laws and voted to implement the nation's newest medical marijuana program. The state assembly voted Monday to approve a bill that does both; the state senate had already approved the measure. Gov. Kenny Guinn is expected to sign the bill, according to reports in the Associated Press and the New York Times.
The single bill combines the disparate issues of medical and recreational marijuana use into one marijuana law reform package. Under current Nevada law, possession of any amount of marijuana for any reason is a felony offense, although it is usually plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor. But medical marijuana advocates managed to twice win ballot votes on a medical marijuana constitutional amendment, in 1998 and last November, leaving the legislature only to write the law implementing the will of the voters. At the same time, Democratic Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las Vegas) had been pushing to reduce the state's marijuana possession felony to misdemeanor status.
For possession of small amounts of marijuana, a first offense will be a misdemeanor with a fine, a second offense could make the defendant subject to treatment and a higher fine, a third offense is a gross (more serious) misdemeanor, and a fourth possession offense could be charged as a felony. Although the fourth offense felony provision was added as an amendment in the Senate, Giunchigliani did not oppose it.
Under the bill's medical marijuana provisions, the state Agriculture Department and Department of Motor Vehicles will issue medical marijuana registry cards to patients with qualifying medical conditions -- including AIDS and cancer -- and a physician's recommendation. Patients will be allowed to grow up to seven plants in their homes.
Unlike Colorado, where state officials have urged the federal government to arrest medical marijuana patients protected by state law, Nevada officials have limited themselves to some apologetic language attached in a preamble to the bill. The unhappy lawmakers noted dangers of marijuana abuse, but said Nevada as "a sovereign state has the duty to carry out the will of the people."
"Every legislator had to grapple with this," Senate Human Resources Chairman Ray Rawson (R-Las Vegas) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The people put this in the constitution and asked us to do it."
The bill would also direct the University of Nevada School of Medicine to aggressively seek federal approval of a medical marijuana research program.
The drug reform movement lost one of its heroes last weekend when Robert Randall succumbed to AIDS at age 53 at his home in Sarasota, Florida. It can be said with little exaggeration that Randall pioneered the contemporary medical marijuana movement.
In 1976, Randall made legal and medical history when he persuaded a federal court in Washington, DC, that his use of marijuana to treat his glaucoma was a medical necessity. At the same time, he petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration for permission to legally use it. In November, 1976, Randall became the first person in modern US history to obtain legal, medical access to marijuana. Randall's struggles launched the modern medical marijuana movement in the US.
The federal government attempted to cut off Randall's supply in 1978, but he sued to be able to continue to use marijuana for his glaucoma -- and won again. His victory compelled the federal government to establish a special "Compassionate IND" program, under which he was able to gain access to a non-approved drug. He continued to receive US government-supplied joints ever since.
But Randall didn't stop with his own case. The college professor of gentle mien became a powerful, articulate advocate for those whose ailments could be alleviated through the use of medical marijuana. In the late 1970s, he helped push through laws in more than 30 states that recognized marijuana's medical utility and set up statewide research and access programs. But because of unstinting opposition from the federal government, most of those state programs remained dormant.
In 1981, Randall and his long-time partner Alice O'Leary founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (http://www.marijuana-as-medicine.org/alliance.htm), the first nonprofit organization focused on changing the federal law prohibiting medical access to marijuana. He also drafted legislation establishing a federal program of compassionate, controlled access to the drug which was introduced in the 97th Congress. The bill, unfortunately, was ahead of its time and never got a hearing.
By the early 1990s, Randall was concentrating on the therapeutic effects of marijuana on AIDS sufferers and had established the Marijuana Aids Research Service (MARS) to help AIDS patients gain access to medical marijuana under the FDA's Compassionate IND program. Hundreds of AIDS patients filed under the program, but the federal government abruptly shut it down, cutting off the only legal means of access to medical marijuana. Only Randall and seven other early patients were grandfathered in and continued to be able to receive legal medical marijuana.
Outrage at the US government action helped lay the groundwork for the current round of successful medical marijuana initiatives, beginning with California's Prop. 215 in 1996.
Robert Randall also told his story and the stories of other medical marijuana patients in a series of books. The most recent was an autobiography, "Marijuana Rx: The Patients' Fight for Medicinal Pot," which he wrote with his wife, Alice O'Leary.
Robert Randall was dedicated, compassionate, charming, and a fighter. He will be missed. A public memorial service will be held on June 23rd in Sarasota, Florida. Call (941) 922-4381 for further information.
By social movement standards, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation's annual conference, held this year in Albuquerque in homage to drug-reforming libertarian Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, was an unquestionable success. The first since the two organizations merged last year (DPF started them in the 80s), attendance more than doubled to over 800, Lindesmith-DPF reports, and conference organizers filled the four-day confab with dozens of special sessions on a huge variety of reform-related topics. Elected officials -- Gov. Johnson, of course, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, and numerous New Mexico state and local officials -- showed up, as did clergy members, activists, ravers, ex-cons and drug experts from countries as far removed as the Australia and the Netherlands. The overall mood was confident, if not a little triumphal.
With reason. The drug reform movement has more victories under its belt than ever before, as was noted repeatedly in the conference's first plenary session on Thursday morning. Bill Zimmerman, the political operative behind a plethora of successful initiatives with the Campaign for New Drug Policies, opened the discussion by recounting the growing string of drug reform initiative successes.
Graham Boyd, head of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project, was able to point to significant victories in the Supreme Court on highway drug checkpoints, searching people for drugs or guns on anonymous tips, and the drug testing of pregnant women without their consent, as well as favorable rulings on syringe availability, school drug tests and testing of welfare applicants in the federal courts.
Lindemith's Glenn Backes surveyed state legislative victories on medical marijuana (Hawaii), easing methadone restrictions (Vermont) and access to syringes (Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York); and Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) discussed commutations and the growing prospects for federal mandatory minimum sentencing reform.
But if the conference, "Drug Policies for a New Millennium," showed the drug reform movement poised to create a sea change in drug policy, it also showed a movement bitterly and vocally divided over "coerced treatment," a term that for many includes California's Prop. 36 reform, where drug possession offenders can choose treatment over jail. Despite the impassioned defenses of Prop. 36 by CNDP staffers who insist it is not "coerced treatment" because defendants do have a choice between jail and treatment, many in attendance were not swayed by that fine distinction.
The rift was the subject of much hallway and barstool argumentation and of private meetings alongside the conference. The battle lines over coerced treatment, however, were articulated most eloquently Saturday morning, when ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, Lindemith's Deborah Small and addiction specialist Dr. David Lewis squared off before several hundred listeners in the Hyatt Hotel's main ballroom.
"Coerced treatment is an oxymoron," thundered Glasser. "Government intrusion by police and arrest is anti-treatment. I am not against treatment, I am against government compelled treatment."
The about-to-retire but unretiring Glasser warned dramatically about the growth of the "therapeutic state," where public health invades private life. "Fusing the police power of the state with medicine corrupts medicine and makes it a tool of the state," he said. "Then we get the therapeutic state and pretend that is progress. The worst danger is an ever-expanding net of social control. The 'benevolence' of coerced treatment is a trap. It will allow the state to define acceptable treatment," Glasser continued, "and that means abstinence and piss-testing."
The question, said Glasser, is do incremental reforms like coerced treatment get you closer to your goal? Not necessarily, he answered. "I worry that Prop. 36 will undermine our fundamental principles and reinforce greater social controls. In the long run," Glasser concluded, "coerced treatment takes us further from our principles."
But if Glasser's argument was impressive, Deborah Small's counterargument was equally strong. "How can you question anything that gets people out of the living death of prison?" she asked. "We have to engage with what is actually happening in the criminal justice system," Small argued, "and coerced treatment is an alternative to incarceration."
Coerced treatment is an unhappy compromise, Small admitted, calling it a lesser evil than prison, but still evil. "There is something intensely perverse about therapeutic jurisprudence," she noted.
But then Small drew a comparison with World War II. "Drug users are today's Jews," she analogized. "Just as Schindler saved the Jews from the Holocaust by getting them into forced labor camps, we hope to save drug offenders from prison by getting them into treatment. Certainly forced labor was better than death in the gas chamber, and just as certainly coerced treatment is better than being in prison under horrific conditions."
A strong point. But in his closing comments, Glasser got the last word. "It is not our job to be Schindlers," he told a cheering audience. "I would rather we be Eisenhowers" leading the way to D-Day and victory.
Dr. Lewis, caught between two ardent debaters, quietly pointed out the difference between informal coercion -- e.g., the cop on the beat cajoling the street addict to get to the clinic and help himself, or fear of job loss -- and actual state mandated treatment ordered by judges. And while opposing mandated treatment, Lewis recognized that it nevertheless works for some people who have undergone it.
The conference, with its multiple sessions and intense networking, is too much to cover in one story. Herewith a few highlights and snapshots:
A panel on gringo journalists and the drug war in Latin America:
Al Giordano, the expatriate editor of Narco News, who is being sued by Banamex (recently acquired by Citibank), gleefully recounts his battles-to-be. "We'll subpoena Citibank board members Robert Rubin [who as Secretary Treasury pursued Banamex in the Operation Casablanca case], ex-CIA chief John Deutsch, and we'll put the drug war on trial," he vowed.
Giordano also urged greater attention to Mexico. "Mexico is the only country in the world that can stand up to the United States on the drug war and say 'no more,'" Giordano argued. "The US couldn't blockade Mexico because that would only provoke a wave of migration. The same thing with military intervention. Mexico has the power to lead the way," Giordano said.
At the same panel, Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies adumbrated a lengthy list of potential allies for drug reformers working on Latin America: human rights groups, refugee groups, isolationists ("they know a quagmire when they see one"), environmentalists ("birders are furious, birders are organized, birders scare Congress -- they're the warm and fuzzy NRA"), churches, fiscal conservatives, solidarity groups, the anti-globalization movement, people of color, unionists and journalists. Reach out, said Tree.
Tree also enumerated three factors driving the global drug trade: Poverty in producing zones, demand in rich countries, and the artificial escalation in the price of essentially worthless weeds caused by prohibition. ("We don't think coca is a worthless weed," retorted panelist George Ann Potter, a sympathetic observer of the Bolivian cocaleros who felt they would be upset with her if she didn't point that out.)
More lefties than usual?
Overheard in the hall: "It seems like way more leftists than libertarians here this year," complained one young observer, eyes aglitter over the prospect of a Gary Johnson presidential candidacy on the Libertarian ticket.
On Gov. Johnson:
Although this convention could have been called the drug reform movement's love-in with the libertarian Republican governor and Johnson himself delivered a fine speech (e.g., lines like "Current drug policy defies logic, defies common sense"), not everyone restricted themselves to saying only nice things about him. At the panel on prison conditions, home-state activist Tilda Sosaya of the Committee on Prison Accountability (COPA) lambasted Johnson for a laissez faire approach to inhumane conditions in New Mexico prisons. According to Sosaya, Johnson has allowed the state to become a guinea pig for new incarceration technologies such as "video visits," where prisoners are deprived of even the near-human contact of visits behind glass.
Johnson's libertarian approach to budget issues also earned him a few sharp words from New Mexico state Senator Cisco McSorley, a Democrat and ally who introduced several of Johnon's drug reform bills in the just ended legislative session. Johnson failed to provide any money for drug treatment as part of his drug reform package, McSorley said.
"That was probably the biggest strategic mistake we made in the last session," McSorley told a panel on the New Mexico experience. "When you start reforming drug laws in any state, you have to couple it with treatment and education." Johnson did eventually come forth with a $9.8 million treatment bill, McSorley said, but $40 million was needed.
Rep. Maxine Waters:
The Democratic representative from South Central Los Angeles garnered some of the loudest applause of the entire conference with a stirring speech in the main ballroom. "I will devote the rest of my time in office to reforming drug policy and the prison system in this country, and to get the necessary resources to deal with HIV/AIDS," she vowed.
"The left and the right can come together, and that will change drug policy in this nation," she said; "so Rush Limbaugh, eat your heart out!" Waters also applauded drug reformers from Johnson down to the grassroots activists. "You feel lonely working on drug policy, I know," she said, "but please continue. Every day you are finding more and more friends to defeat this wrongheaded drug policy. One day you will be considered heroes and sheroes."
Waters turned intensely personal at some points. "When I look at drug users, I see many people whose futures were already dashed long before they turned to drugs, including members of my own family. I couldn't do anything for them then, but I can damn sure do something for them now. We are losing too much, destroying too many families," she said.
"I want my legacy to be the end of mandatory minimums," she told the crowd, which responded with a standing ovation. Waters has introduced the Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act, to remove mandatory minimums from federal drug laws, allow for probation and suspended sentences, and force US Attorneys to get special permission before prosecuting low-level cases.
The annual awards banquet:
This annual ceremony felt the most like the DPF conferences of the past. Activists such as Chris Conrad, Mikki Norris and Virginia Resner (authors of the book "Shattered Lives"), Nora Callahan of the November Coalition and Randy Credico of the Kunstler Fund were recognized with the Robert Randall Citizen Action Award in the cause of drug policy reform. Journalists Dan Forbes (freelance, broke many stories including the ONDCP's cash for anti-drug TV show themes) and Dan Gardner (Ottawa Citizen) received the Brecher Award, named for the author of the groundbreaking Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs.
Researcher David Vlahov was awarded the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, for his years of public health research on programs such as syringe exchange and his work supporting research into heroin maintenance. Lynn Paltrow was honored for her work defending the rights of pregnant women prosecuted for substance use, as was the team of physicians who made heroin maintenance a reality in Switzerland. Top honors went to Gov. Johnson, though at a luncheon earlier during the conference, the Richard J. Dennis DrugPeace Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Drug Policy Reform.
Last but not least, Patrick Murphy, former police commissioner in New York City and chief in Washington, DC, received the H.B. Spear Award for Achievement in the Field of Control and Enforcement. Murphy is a long-time advocate for drug policy and justice reform, who could not receive the award in previous years due to being a DPF board member.
An object lesson in the futility of the drug war:
Two conventioneers shoot down to Ciudad Juarez, a high-speed 300-mile jaunt through deserts and mountains to the Texas-Mexico border. There they are offered high quality cocaine ($40/gram) within sight of the international bridge. Returning to the US, the encounter with Customs at the bridge goes without a hitch. Late in the night on the return trip, a Border Patrol checkpoint suddenly looms out of the blackness of the New Mexico desert. "Please get out of the car and sit on the bench while the dog takes a sniff," requested one border guard.
Making idle conversation, one traveler asks the Border Patrol agents if they enjoy their work. "I love it," said one. "It's good money and maybe I can get into Customs." His companion responded differently. "It sucks," he said, "but what else am I going to do around here?" The salesman across the border might have said the same.
While attendees in Albuquerque debated the ethics, efficacy and utility of "forced treatment" or "coerced treatment," and whether Proposition 36-style measures qualify as such, the 800-lb. gorilla of the drug reform movement is moving at full speed to introduce similar initiatives in at least three large states. The troika of billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis and centimillionaire John Sperling will meet later this summer to give final approval for a multi-million dollar "treatment not jail" initiative campaign in the key Midwest states of Michigan and Ohio and the Brave New South of Florida next year.
Last year, fully 28.5% of new admissions to Florida prisons, or more than 7,000 prisoners, were incarcerated on drug charges, according to the state corrections department. In the most recent figures available on the Ohio corrections department website, in 1997 some 6,000 drug offenders entered prison, about one-third of all inmate admissions. The Michigan corrections department web site has no breakdown for drug offenders, although it notes 45,000 prisoners and proudly observes that the department's budget has increased from 3% of the general fund in 1988 to more than 15.4% this year.
"We are already underway in Florida," the Campaign for New Drug Policies' (http://www.drugreform.org) Bill Zimmerman told DRCNet, "and we will meet soon to make the final decisions on Michigan and Ohio. Polling in all three states tells us we have majorities in favor of treatment and sentencing reforms. These will be styled after Prop. 36, with some minor adjustments to fit local political systems," Zimmerman said. "The initiatives will offer treatment instead of jail to nonviolent first or second time drug possessors -- they have the option not to take treatment -- and the initiatives will also reduce some drug sentences. We think the voters are ready to support this."
The careful reliance on polling, incremental steps and not getting ahead of the voters have been hallmarks of Zimmerman and CDSP's work, and while the Campaign has at times raised hackles among grassroots activists for its cautious, pragmatic approach and limited goals, that approach has resulted in an impressive record at the ballot box. Zimmerman, a Santa Monica-based political consultant, has been the point-man for most of the trio's impressive string of ballot-box victories, ranging from California's groundbreaking 1996 Prop. 215 medical marijuana initiative (where the pros joined forces in an uneasy alliance with grassroots activists) to last fall's near sweep in California (Prop. 36), Colorado and Nevada (medical marijuana) and Oregon and Utah (asset forfeiture reform). The Campaign's chain of victories was snapped only in Massachusetts, where by a 52-48 margin voters declined to extend to low-level dealers the same treatment options that would have been available to persons convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses.
The Wall Street Journal recently referred to CNDP operation as "a formidable political machine." It seems especially so in the wake of the Prop. 36 victory in the nation's most populous state, where a 61% majority voted to bring the state's nation-leading drug imprisonment binge to a screeching halt. Now, with a resounding victory in California, the machine is shifting gears to emphasize "treatment not jail" initiatives over its previous favorites, medical marijuana and asset forfeiture reform.
Still, Zimmerman told DRCNet, that does not mean CNDP is leaving either issue behind. "We may support another asset forfeiture initiative if the conditions are right," said Zimmerman. "As for medical marijuana, this is something we will pursue on two levels. We will look at doing another medical marijuana initiative, but at the federal level, it is up to Congress to change the law. We have to be able to demonstrate that there is strong public demand for drug reform across the nation."
Such efforts will almost certainly meet with opposition from the law enforcement and drug court lobbies in their respective states. In an article announcing that Ohio was a possible target state, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was quickly able to find foes of "treatment not jail" reforms.
Stacey Frohnapfel, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, said an initiative patterned after California's, set to take effect July 1, would be "a step back for Ohio." Defending a rapidly expanding drug court system, she told the paper, "We would like to continue to grow the drug court system, which has resulted in cost savings and fewer jail days and less prison time." She added that drug users often need the threat of prison to clean up their acts.
Zimmerman told the Plain Dealer that isn't enough. "I think that there's a difference between making progress and a program actually working," he said. "If Ohio is still sending 3,000 people a year to prison for nonviolent drug use, then it's not working."
The latest Narco News Bulletin reports that New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson intends to raise the issue of legalization in meetings with US and Mexican border governors this weekend, perhaps with Mexico President Vicente Fox. Fox expressed support for globally enacted legalization in comments made to reporters last March. Last April, Gov. Patricio Martinez of the border state of Chihuahua added his support to the debate.
Visit http://www.narconews.com/garyjohnson1.html to read background information and a complete English translation of an exclusive interview with Gov. Johnson published in the national, Mexico City-based paper La Jornada.
Jamaica's National Commission on Ganja is winding down after working since last fall to reexamine the island nation's marijuana policies. Led by Dr. Barry Chevannes, dean of social sciences at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, the seven-member, government-appointed panel has visited eleven parishes and heard from more than 150 people and institutions. Hearings will continue through the summer before the commission's final report is turned over to Prime Minister PJ Patterson in August.
Although an interim report the commission turned over to the government last month gave no direct indication of whether it will recommend decriminalization of the weed widely used in Jamaica, comments by Chevannes at that time suggest that decrim may well be the commission's final recommendation.
"It may be deduced so far that most persons and organisations would support the decriminalization of the use of ganja for private purposes and in private spaces," Chevannes told the Jamaica Gleaner, although he also noted that a minority preferred to "maintain the status quo regarding the criminal status of ganja in Jamaica."
The commission heard from artisans, skilled workers and professional and managerial workers, as well as from a number of organizations, including the National Democratic Movement, the Medical Association of Jamaica, Jamaica Manufacturers Association, the Scientific Research Council and the Rastafarian Centralization Organisation, the Gleaner reported.
The commission recognized the broad popularity of ganja among Jamaicans and suggested that decriminalization would merely regularize the status quo. "One opinion on the commission is that [decriminalization] would not significantly increase the use of marijuana," Chevannes said. "Right now, anyone who wants to smoke ganja is virtually at liberty to do so. It is freely available at large gatherings. And, indeed, if police were to arrest everyone who's doing it, tens of thousands would be in jail."
Still, Chevannes pointed out, Jamaican police arrest about 5,000 people on ganja charges each year, 90% of them for minor offenses. "So, arguably, the only thing the decriminalization of it would be doing is taking the status of a crime off thousands of people," Chevannes said. "And most of them are young people. Were the commission to recommend decriminalization, it would not seriously change anything here."
But Chevannes said the commission also had to keep in mind the "external consequences" of any decision to decriminalize marijuana in Jamaica. A poor nation, Jamaica could find its access to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other funding sources blocked by the United States. If it were to be certified as not complying with US drug war objectives, the country could also be cut off from any direct US financial assistance.
Chevannes pointed to the hard-line attitude of the US government as a real concern for Jamaica. Citing the Supreme Court's recent ruling on medical marijuana, Chevannes noted that, "The US, in the kind of mood it is in today, well, this matter will be one for the commission to weigh."
But Chevannes also pointed to another "external consequence" of any decision to decriminalize. Other marijuana-producing Caribbean nations could opt to follow Jamaica's lead, he said, creating a legal regional marijuana industry.
In its latest annual report on the global drug trade, the US State Department characterized Jamaica as "the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of marijuana" and noted with concern the existence of the ganja commission. As of June 1, US government funds are paying the entire salaries of the "marijuana cutters" employed by the Jamaican Defense Forces in its eradication efforts. (Jamaica refuses to allow the use of herbicides in its program.) For the last year, the US paid half their salaries. US and Jamaican efforts resulted in the seizure of more than 55 tons of marijuana in 1999, the report said.
Still, according to the Los Angeles Times, marijuana remains plentiful in Jamaica, selling on the island for roughly $26 per pound. Ganja remains an integral part of life in the land of Rastas and reggae. The only question now is whether the Jamaican government will bring its policies in line with that reality.
Last January, DRCNet reported that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was attempting to effectively ban imports of products made from industrial, by illegally changing the longstanding interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act that makes an exception for very trace amounts of THC.
Vote Hemp (http://www.votehemp.com) has discovered that the DEA has restated their hemp seed and oil ban proposal in the May 14 2001 Unified Agenda of the Federal Register (vol. 66, No. 93, #1677). DEA is attempting to control hemp seed and oil products through expanding the definition of synthetic THC to cover trace organic THC in hemp seed and oil.
The latest notice is similar to the original November posting (http://www.votehemp.com/deanotice.html) except that:
1) The title is now "Industrial Use of Products and Materials Derived from Cannabis Plants." Previously, it was "Use of Marijuana for Industrial Purposes."
2) The timetable for publishing the new regulations has been pushed back to October, possibly in response to the Hemp Industry Letter to the DEA coordinated by Vote Hemp, and possibly indicating doubts about the proposal within the DEA itself. According to Vote Hemp, Dept. of Justice attorneys have advised DEA that they do not have the authority to regulate trace THC in hemp seeds.
Visit http://www.votehemp.com for ongoing information on the battle against DEA's looming hemp embargo.
Click on the links below for information on these issues and web forms to help you contact Congress:
Oppose Drug Czar Nominee John Walters
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
June 9, New York, NY, Organizers' Training to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Session sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership for Criminal Justice in New York City, for individuals interested in organizing in Harlem against the Rockefeller Drug Laws, to be held at Harlem' St. Aloysius Church. For further information, contact Jessica Dias at (718) 499-6704 or [email protected].
June 14, 7:00pm, Yonkers, NY, "Illicit Drugs: Jump for Jail? Target for Treatment?" Forum sponsored by the Yonkers Democrats, featuring Yonkers' former police commissioner and other specialists. At the Italian American Unity Club, 25 Lockwood Avenue, contact forum moderator Bob Stauf at [email protected] for further information.
June 15-17, Charlotte, NC, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Southeastern Conference on Sentencing Reform. At St. Luke's Lutheran Church, 3200 Park Rd. For further information, contact Elaine Lynch at (704) 947-9728.
June 16, 2:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, Drug War Victim Vigil in honor of Peter McWilliams. Sponsored by the November Coalition and the Libertarian Party of California. Meet at 2:00pm on the front lawn of the West Los Angeles Federal Building on Wilshire Blvd., vigil until 4:00pm, march 1/3 mile to Westwood Memorial Gardens, 1218 Glendon. For further information, contact Hal Chiprin at [email protected].
June 30, New York, NY, Rally in Harlem to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership for Criminal Justice in New York City. For further information, contact Jessica Dias at (718) 499-6704 or [email protected].
July 4, Washington, DC, "32nd Annual Rally, Parade, Concert and Picnic to End Marijuana Prohibition." Rally at Lafayette Park noon-3:00pm, march to Lincoln Memorial Grounds, concerts at the Ellipse until the Fireworks, benefit party 10:00pm after fireworks at the Velvet Lounge, 930 U St. For information, visit http://www.fourthofjuly.org or e-mail
July 21-22, Bethesda, MD, "Saving Our Children from Drug Treatment Abuse," a conference presented by the Trebach Institute in Association with the Survivors of Harmful Treatment Programs. At the Marriott Residence Inn, 7335 Wisconsin Ave., admission $100 or free if you don't have it. For further information, visit http://www.trebach.org, e-mail [email protected] or fax (301) 986-7815.
July 27-29, Clarkburg, WV, "Neer Freedom Festival." Benefit for West Virginia NORML and upcoming medical marijuana campaign. For further information, contact Tom Thacker at [email protected].
September 15, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, "Twelfth Annual Fall Freedom Rally." At the Boston Common, sponsored by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. For further information call (781) 944-2266, visit http://www.masscann.org or e-mail [email protected].
November 14-16, Barcelona, Spain, First Latin Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. For further information, e-mail [email protected], visit http://www.igia.org/clat/ or call Enric Granados at 00 34 93 415 25 99.
December 1-4, 2002, Seattle, WA, Fourth National Harm Reduction Conference. Featuring keynote speaker Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General, at the Sheraton Seattle. For further information, visit http://www.harmreduction.org or call (212) 213-6376.
New York Harm Reduction Educators, New York City's largest harm reduction/syringe exchange program, seeks dynamic, detail oriented self-starter for the position of Deputy Director to run day-to-day operations, supervise staff (8 senior staff and 28 line staff), quality assurance, staff performance assessments, report writing, program development and community relations. Must be comfortable working with active drug users and staff with a history of drug use. Masters Degree, experience working in harm reduction environment, bilingual preferred. People of color encouraged to apply. Reply in confidence to: Terry Ruefli, PhD, Executive Director, NYHRE, 903 Dawson, Bronx, NY 10459.
If you like what you see here and want to get these bulletins by e-mail, please fill out our quick signup form at http://stopthedrugwar.org/WOLSignup.shtml.
PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.
Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.