(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #191, 6/22/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch a TV showing of New Jack City, a 1991 movie about an inner-city crack cocaine ring and its leader, Nino Brown. Brown becomes progressively more violent in the course of doing business, taking over a housing complex to house his operation, taking lives and disrupting the community around him. The movie ends with a bit of editorial commentary, that there are Nino Browns in every city, and that sound bites and sloganeering won't solve the problem.
The comments are all too true, and the portrait the movie painted not exaggerated. Also in 1991, for example, a real-life inner-city Boston-area cocaine kingpin named Darryl Whiting was sentenced to life without parole for his deeds. Like the fictional Brown, Whiting had also taken over a housing complex to serve as his headquarters. Like Brown in the movie, Whiting mixed his violence and intimidation with community philanthropy, funding community centers, concerts, barbecues and amusement-park outings for kids. Like Brown, Whiting killed in the course of doing business.
Though ten years old, these fictional and real-life cases have relevance to our cities and their social pathologies today. After all, the policies have not fundamentally changed. Was Juan Raul Garza, executed by the federal government this week for murders committed in the course of running a marijuana trafficking business, anything like Brown or Whiting? Probably somewhat.
Also unchanged are the sound bites and sloganeering of our nation's drug war cheerleaders. One of the most prominent right now is John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General. Ashcroft promised, on taking office, to "reinvigorate the drug war." He declined to explain how the escalated, record level drug arrests and incarcerations under the Clinton administration represented any lack of vigor.
Giving the go-ahead to the Garza execution, Ashcroft claimed, based on a recent Department of Justice report, that "[t]here is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty." Yet in saying this, he deliberately ignored glaring statistics and serious questions raised in or about the report -- for example, the fact that 85% of federal death row inmates are non-white, or the report's extraordinarily weak claim that there are no caucasian drug trafficking organizations in eastern Virginia. These are not the words of an honest assessor and guardian of justice.
As Senator, Ashcroft was a leading drug warrior who scoffed at those who dissented from the drug war orthodoxy. The idea that people like Whiting and Garza are created and empowered by our drug prohibition laws, and that ending prohibition (through enacting some form of legalization) would reduce crime and save lives, is anathema to Ashcroft and all live in the grip of drug war ideology.
But it is truth. Violent crime substantially rose, then substantially fell, with the enactment and subsequent repeal of alcohol prohibition. Though some drug warriors claim that legalization would not reduce violence, it strains reason to think that sending hundreds of billions of dollars into the criminal underground drug economy, as current policies do, would not increase violence. Since prohibition clearly increases criminal violence, ending prohibition must ultimately help to reduce it.
None of this mitigates the guilt of those who in the course of drug trafficking resort to murder. Yet punishing them, through lifetime incarceration in the case of Whiting, or execution, in the case of Garza, is a pyrrhic victory at best -- their victims are still dead -- and raises moral issues, particularly in the case of the death penalty, over which society does not have a true consensus.
Instead, what is needed is systemic reform to end the power and prevalence of the illicit drug trade and stop these terrible drug wars once and for all. To save lives, to end drug trade corruption, to make our cities safe. To stop the violence.
That is one of many reasons why this organization is committed to the eventual outright repeal of drug prohibition -- while working in the present on smaller portions of the drug issue and with allies in other movements -- but never losing sight of nor swearing off of that goal.
With the DEA trumpeting the dangers of Oxycontin, a powerful time-release opioid effective in pain relief, and local media across the country jumping on the bandwagon, patients, doctors and the drug's maker are reporting increasing problems for pain patients seeking access to the drug.
"I hear it every day," Skip Baker of the American Society for Action on Pain (http://www.actiononpain.org), a pain patient advocacy group, told DRCNet. "Because of this scare, people are having to drive hundreds of miles to find a physician to prescribe Oxycontin."
The scare is reaching epic proportions, with cops and newspapers across the country eagerly scanning the horizon for any sign of the new narcotic nemesis. "Hillbilly heroin... could become a problem in Texas," the Ft. Worth Star Telegram warned last week, citing "pharmaceutical drug diversion investigators." But, the paper added, "few to no reports" of Oxycontin abuse have been logged. In Evansville, Indiana, meanwhile, police "are watching out for" Oxy and "fear it's on the way," the Evansville Courier & Press reports. Police have seized "at least a couple of tablets in recent months," the paper notes. Milwaukee is also at risk, the Milwaukee Journal reports, even though a major metropolitan emergency room had not seen any Oxycontin overdoses. "We're the last to know, I guess," said one hospital worker.
These reports are merely the latest manifestation of a drug panic underway since the spring, when pockets of Oxycontin diversion and abuse began popping up in the Appalachians (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/187.html#oxycontinhype). According to a Boston University study, 120 people have died from Oxycontin-related causes -- out of six million prescriptions last year.
But Purdue Pharma, the drug's manufacturer, disputes even that even that many have died from Oxycontin overdoses. "Oxycodone [the active ingredient in Oxycontin] is used in over 40 different pain meds, including such popular meds as Percocet," Purdue spokesman Jim Heins told DRCNet. "Toxicology tests can determine the amount and presence of oxycodone, but they can't tell whether it's Oxycontin or Percocet or something else. Coroners usually list oxycodone because without physical evidence, such as a prescription bottle, they can't determine which drug was ingested."
Oxycontin only accounts for 25% of all
oxycodone-based prescriptions, Heins added. Also, he said, many of the
deaths attributed to Oxycontin "are the results of multiple drug abuse
But the publicity generated by the DEA and local officials "is already having an adverse impact on good pain care and good medical practice," Hein said. "We get calls, letters and reports frequently from patients who say doctors won't prescribe Oxycontin for them anymore because of the publicity and because they are scared of being investigated and losing their licenses. And that's just wrong," he added.
Gary Kennedy of Norton, in southwest Virginia -- one of the Oxy panic's epicenters -- is one patient who has suffered because of the hype. "Without Oxycontin, I would be in a nursing home," he told the Roanoke Times. "If I take no medication, it is a constant, killer pain," he said. "It hurts you so bad you want to roll in the floor." But he said that although he needs the drug to live a normal life in his home, he must drive 100 miles round-trip to Kingsport, Tennessee, just to find a doctor willing to dispense the powerful painkiller.
Associations of pain patients and pain care professionals are asking for some balance. In a statement on the Oxycontin controversy, American Pain Society President Dr. Michael Ashburn said, "Concerns over diversion and abuse may be decreasing access to the drug for appropriate medical purposes. There have been reports of pharmacies refusing to stock the drug because of fear of theft, and patients have reported that their physicians have become reluctant to continue to prescribe the drug to them. In addition, publicity over the abuse of Oxycontin has led to increased concern over the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain."
Saying he feared pain treatment had "lost ground" because of the Oxy panic, Ashburn pleaded with public officials not to let drug hysterias drive public policy. "When developing public policy, policy makers must be reminded to develop policy that strikes a balance. We should be able to address concerns over diversion without creating barriers to their appropriate use," Ashburn said.
Loretta Johnson, a 66-year-old southwest Virginia resident, told the Roanoke Times she thought news coverage was actually contributing to Oxycontin abuse. She said she used the drug in 1999 with good results after she broke her back in a car accident. "I realize it's a dreadful problem and that people have died and are dying because of it," she said. "But the drug is not the problem. It's just like guns. The gun is not to blame, it's the use of it."
Even as Plan Colombia, the US-authored effort to destroy the Colombian drug trade, falters in the face of rising domestic and international opposition, US academic war hawks are calling for a deeper, more direct intervention in Colombia's long-festering and now flaring civil war.
Responding to intense domestic and international pressure, Colombian President Andres Pastrana has imposed a de facto moratorium on the US-backed campaign of herbicide spraying of coca fields, a key element in Plan Colombia. The Colombian government officially denies that it has halted spraying, but informed observers disagree and US officials are quietly grumbling.
"In no case is there any intention by the government to stop fumigation," Pastrana spokesman Gonzalo de Francisco told the St. Petersburg Times late last month. "There is not a single airplane grounded because of the president," he claimed.
But Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami Colombia expert who advises the US government on Colombia policy, told the Times administration officials told him the spraying had been substantially halted. Pastrana's change of policy "came as a big surprise and it alarmed a number of people in Washington," including the DEA, CIA, Pentagon and the National Security Council," Bagley said. The US response is, "Spray or else, buddy; they're very upset with him," Bagley added.
Colombian anti-narcotics police confirmed Bagley's account. They told the Times that spraying had been halted in southern Caqueta province on orders from Bogota because of protests from indigenous groups and environmental concerns. "It's suspended for those reasons, "said Anti-narcotics Police spokesman Julio Rincon. "Those are the government's orders."
The US State Department has also reported a halt to spraying in some regions. In a report titled "Summary of Counternarcotics Operations in Colombia," the State Department noted that spraying in Putumayo province had been "temporarily suspended by the government of Colombia" on April 10th. Putumayo had been the scene of extensive spraying from December through February, and US officials had hoped to re-spray the affected areas within 90 days to drive home the point that they were serious about aerial eradication.
The State Department report also noted that spraying in neighboring Caqueta province had been halted on May 3rd. In a nice bit of spin control, the State Department argued that Pastrana's decision to halt spraying was "in keeping with the government's integrated strategy to combine social programs, alternative crop development, and aerial eradication."
Adam Isaacson of the Center for International Policy (http://www.ciponline.org) returned from Colombia on Wednesday. He told DRCNet that the spraying indeed appeared to have been halted. "My understanding is that the spraying is on hold at the insistence of the Pastrana government while they wait for alternative development to actually be in place and underway," Isaacson said. "If that is the case, the Colombian government has responded to the broad international criticism of Plan Colombia."
Not only international criticism. Pastrana's own environment minister, Juan Mayr, has filed a resolution opening coca-spraying to legal challenge within Colombia. The resolution took the Colombian drug policy office to task for failing to address questions about spraying's environmental impact. "It can be concluded," read the resolution, "that the documents delivered until now by the drug policy office to define an adequate environmental management plan for the spraying of illicit crops…have not responded to the scope and objectives requested in repeated occasions by this Ministry."
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Mayr said that any Colombian citizen could theoretically use the resolution to sue the drug policy office to stop spraying. It would be up to a judge, he said, to decide if the resolution formed a proper basis for such a lawsuit. No such lawsuits have been filed as of this week, although the Colombian public interest group Fundepublico and environmental activists are studying such a possibility.
"This is not the end of the fumigation process," former US Ambassador Myles Frechette told the Times, "but it's a real monkey wrench." But it is because of the deaf ear that Frechette and US officials have turned to complaints from peasants about poisoned crops, livestock, and children, that the Colombian government has acted. Frechette characterized peasants' accounts of damage from spraying as "folk tales."
As if this weren't enough for Pastrana and the embattled aerial eradication program, the largest outbreak of anti-spraying civil unrest in recent years broke out last week in Tibu, a town near the Venezuelan border with a strong paramilitary presence. Over the weekend of June 8-11, thousands of coca farmers rioted against aerial fumigation. According to press reports, the protesters, numbering as many as 4,000, burned down a refueling base for US spraying aircraft, along with pesticides stored at the local airstrip and the fire station adjacent, as well as looting businesses in the town itself.
They were protesting a limited spraying campaign that had gotten underway two weeks earlier. "We want fumigation, but not for coca," said protest leader Rafeal Arciniega. "We want it for malaria and for dengue," which plague the region, he added.
One spraying aircraft was hit by ground fire on June 11, local police officials said.
President Pastrana is increasingly caught between a rock and a hard place. Forced aerial eradication infuriates coca growers and other peasants, along with environmentalists domestic and worldwide, and potential European aid donor countries. But any moves to halt spraying bring US denunciations.
"This is crazy," said an unnamed US military official quoted by the Miami Herald. "So, if every farmer in Colombia makes a warm and fuzzy promise to destroy his own crops, Pastrana won't spray at all?"
While President Pastrana walks the tightrope, a new study of Plan Colombia by the RAND Corporation has raised the stakes in the US debate over Colombia. The 113-page study, "Colombian Labyrinth: The Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and Its Implications for Regional Stability (http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1339/), accuses US policymakers of making a faulty distinction between counter-drug efforts and siding with the Colombian government in its decades-long guerrilla war with the FARC.
The two wars cannot be disentangled, write the report's authors, RAND analysts Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk. "This synergy of drugs and insurgency has generated a new kind of security threat -- neither an old-fashioned insurgency nor a simple criminal cartel, but a threat that incorporates elements of both... The United States should reexamine the utility of distinguishing between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency assistance and consider providing assistance to improve Colombia's conventional military capabilities."
"You would have to help Colombia double or triple its military budget for the next few years," scoffed CIP's Isaacson. "You're talking about $2 or 3 billion a year."
The RAND study did grant that further spending would be necessary for the Colombian armed forces to militarily defeat some 8,000 right-wing paramilitaries, 18,000 FARC guerrillas and 5,000 of their ELN cousins, not to mention a Colombian drug business that the report called "flatter, less hierarchical, and more diversified and hence harder to prosecute" than its repressed predecessors, the grand Medellin and Cali "cartels." But it didn't venture any hard numbers.
The report calls Plan Colombia a "doubtful strategy" because it relies on attacking coca production and distribution to weaken the FARC, and it criticizes the aerial spraying program. "[M]oving against the drug-producing areas could have the effect of increasing support for the guerrillas among those who stand to lose their livelihood," write Chalk and Rabasa.
"They have some of the same criticisms we do," said CIP's Isaacson, "but, boy, we certainly differ on policy prescriptions."
When it comes to specific policy, the RAND analysts pick some historical examples that are sure to bring back some very ugly memories. Perhaps instead of independent paramilitaries, Colombia could have "a network of government supervised self-defense organizations," they suggest, conjuring up visions of the Guatemalan military dictatorship's mandatory "civil patrols" and the Peruvian government's anti-guerrilla peasant "rondas" of the 1980s.
In another evocation of what the authors see as a foreign policy success, they write, "The US program of military assistance to El Salvador during the Reagan administration could be a relevant model." During the 1980s, the US government spent roughly $4 billion to help the Salvadoran oligarchy and its armed forces fight a broad-based popular insurgency to a bloody draw. Nearly 75,000 persons were killed, the vast majority at the hands of the Salvadoran military and associated death squads.
"This is truly frightening," said Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies (http://www.ips-dc.org), "but I think the drug reform movement, with all the noise it has made about Colombia, can take some credit for pulling the legs out from under this phony drug war. The hardliners are now dropping the pretense that this is about counternarcotics," Tree told DRCNet. "Historically, RAND, and specifically its Air Force division [which commissioned this report] are the guys who got us into Vietnam -- and kept us there."
Isaacson similarly saw trouble if the report's prescriptions are followed. "The US military keeps referring to the 'successful example of El Salvador,' but you know what happened there. There was only a negotiated peace after the military lost US aid. What kind of victory is that? It was very ugly, and there is no shortage of ugliness right now in Colombia. Do we want to make it worse?"
Well, maybe. According to the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer, the RAND report "reflects the growing frustration in some Washington foreign policy circles" over the threat of peace negotiations between Pastrana and the FARC and the stalled state of Plan Colombia. Oppenheimer, well-connected in circles that consider the Caribbean "our pond," writes that, "Conservatives are running out of patience to continue paying lip service to Pastrana's peace process, and liberals are running out of arguments to keep praising it as a successful effort to end Colombia's war."
Still, Oppenheimer predicts "a growing shift in support of both greater US anti-guerrilla aid, and greater human rights conditions on it."
Back in early May, DRCNet reported that dramatic sentencing reforms had passed overwhelmingly in the Louisiana Senate (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/185.html#alabamalouisiana). Last week, the Louisiana House approved the measure by a 65-35 vote, with minor changes. Gov. M.J. "Mike" Foster (D) supported the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law.
SB 239 marks a dramatic turnaround for Louisiana, which currently boasts the nation's highest per capita incarceration rate. Once signed into law, the bill will:
It was tough inside politics, Perez said. "The reforms got a lot of opposition on the floor of the House," he said. "They tried to water in down. But we had the upper hand in conference committee and were able to keep drug sentencing reforms in. That lets a lot of people, a lot of kids on the street, back in the sentencing reform, and that's important."
Legislators who argued for the bill said it would save the state tens of millions of dollars in prison costs. Louisiana spends $600 million annually to house some 36,000 prisoners, 15,000 of them drug offenders, according to the state corrections department. Rep. Willie Hunter (D-Monroe), one of the bill's House floor managers told his fellow solons the state would save $63 million, which could be used to fund drug courts and other alternatives to imprisonment.
According to press accounts, the bill passed because of an unusual meeting of the minds among criminal defense lawyers, district attorneys, New Orleans judges (who administer the state's only drug court) and victims' rights groups. Perez agreed.
"The only group to really work with us was the New Orleans criminal judges, who were concerned that the original draft didn't have drug sentencing reforms," Perez told DRCNet. "They have a certain amount of influence, and getting rid of the mandatory minimums on heroin was really important to them, so they could get people into the drug courts. There was a major battle between the judges and the district attorneys over that, because it allows judges to get people into drug court without seeking the permission of the prosecutor."
But, said Perez, the DAs and the victims' rights groups also got on board -- or at least, got out of the way. "We managed to get the DAs to not fight the bill and by making a few concessions on violent criminals, we managed to bring the major victims' rights groups onboard."
Political leadership also played a role, Perez said. "This is scary for politicians," he said. "One Willie Horton is all it takes. The only way to get legislators to vote for this was to give them political cover, and Gov. Foster did that. He was willing to step out in front; he was on the budgetary hotseat. To the governor's credit, he worked this with the legislature, he got on the radio, he spoke before the committees."
Key legislators also played a crucial role. "Sen. Charles Jones (D-Monroe) and Sen. Donald Cravins (D-Lafayette) were really the energy behind the bill, and Senate president John Hainkel (R-New Orleans) really set the tone when he got on board," said Perez.
More reform efforts could be coming down the Pike, according to Perez. "We'll see how this works in the next couple of years, and then we just might try for more," he said. "Louisianans may not be liberals, but we're pretty easy goin'. It's too hot to get all wound up."
The full text of the bill is available online at: http://www.legis.state.la.us/leg_docs/01RS/CVT8/OUT/0000IYU8.PDF
Just about the time Juan Raul Garza's body was turning cold, in the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Texas announced they would seek to sentence as many as seven other men to death under the same 1988 federal drug kingpin statute used to execute the South Texas marijuana smuggler and murderer.
The Drug Kingpin statute calls for the death penalty for murders committed in the course of a drug trafficking offense.
In an indictment handed down Tuesday in Ft. Worth, grand jurors charged 24 people -- primarily black and Hispanic -- with participation in a local marijuana and cocaine trafficking ring. Seven of those indicted are charged in the separate killings of three people during the course of the trafficking conspiracy. Prosecutors can seek the death penalty against those seven defendants.
Lawyers for two of the defendants told the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram they had already received notice from federal prosecutors that they would do so. Federal District Attorneys must also gain an okay from the Department of Justice in order to seek the death penalty.
Garza, 44, was the first person to be executed under the 1988 federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act. President Clinton had stayed his execution pending a Justice Department study of possible racial bias in the federal death penalty process, but Attorney General Ashcroft last week pronounced himself satisfied with that process.
"There is no evidence of racial bias in the administration of the federal death penalty," Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee.
The population of federal death row is 85% minority, with 14 blacks, 2 Hispanics, and 3 whites. Non-whites also accounted for 83% of all potential death penalty cases brought by federal prosecutors in the last five years. In the states, nearly half of all condemned murderers are white. Ashcroft did not address this discrepancy.
Although Ashcroft noted that prosecutors brought capital charges against a higher proportion of white defendants eligible for it, he failed to mention that four-fifths of the 973 capital defendants were minorities. Nor did he explain the study's finding that whites charged with capital crimes at the federal level were twice as likely as minorities to escape the death penalty by entering into a plea bargain.
The Justice Department study indicates that once people are charged with a federal capital crime, race had little effect on whether they would get the death penalty. The key question is why such a large proportion of people charged with federal capital crimes are non-white.
Robert S. Litt, an associate deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, told the Washington Post: "I don't think most anybody believes that prosecutors are consciously making decisions based on race. But the difficult question they haven't answered is: Why are 80% of people charged with capital-eligible crimes black or Hispanic? Why Juan Garza and not John Gotti?"
Justice Department officials had several responses, some of which came uncomfortably close to race baiting. Pointing to Virginia, one of the leading states for federal death penalty cases, the study asserted that "the defendants in these cases were not White because the members of the drug gangs that engage in large-scale drug trafficking in the Eastern District of Virginia are not White."
"Do you mean to say that they really know there are no white-dominated drug rings in all of the Eastern District of Virginia?" asked Prof. Samuel Gross of Columbia University. In a reference to racial profiling, he told the Post: "To assert that fact with no supporting evidence does really begin to sound like the New Jersey State Police."
Criticisms notwithstanding, the executions of federal inmates will proceed, Ashcroft said.
Last week we reported that H.R. 786, the bill to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, had 49 Congressional sponsors (its author, Rep. Barney Frank, and 48 cosponsors). This week that number increased to 51 -- visit http://thomas.loc.gov and do a search on H.R. 786 to check the status of this legislation at any time.
Thanks to a generous $40,000 grant from the Center for Policy Reform, the 501(c)(4) lobbying affiliate of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, DRCNet's Higher Education Act Reform Campaign continues. We are pushing hard for full repeal of the drug provision, and are hopeful of getting it, maybe even before the end of this year! If we succeed, it will be the first time a federal drug law is repealed since President Nixon declared "war on drugs" in the 1970's.
However, the campaign's costs for 2001, which have included two full-time coordinators and for which a third is needed to help mobilize local coalitions in the most key Congressional districts around the country, is at least $65,000 and really needs to be closer to $80,000. That doesn't even include what our Foundation is spending on educational media work, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, so that people across the country are informed about this law. Hence, we need to raise another $25,000-$40,000 in non-deductible lobbying donations, and as soon as possible, to move this campaign forward to victory.
Please help DRCNet's HEA campaign by making a non-tax-deductible donation -- large or small, it will help the HEA campaign as well as our overall action alert program. Just visit our donation page at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html to contribute by credit card or print out a form to mail in -- or just send your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. If you would rather, you can also phone or fax in a credit card donation (Visa or Mastercard only), to (202) 293-8340 (phone) or (202) 293-8344 (fax).
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Thank you in advance for your support. Please visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com to sign our online petition, learn more about the issue and find out how to get involved.
For hundreds of years, the Bekaa Valley on the Lebanese-Syrian border was known for its luxuriant cannabis crops, most destined to end up as hashish in the pipes of European aesthetes. When Lebanon collapsed into civil war in 1975, the Bekaa's cannabis crop exploded, joined by opium production, and both hash and heroin made their way into the global market. The dope business even trumped politics, with some of that hash and heroin flowing across the borders of invading enemy Israel to supply the denizens of Tel Aviv's nightlife scene.
By 1990, hash was a $500 million per year industry in the Bekaa, according to Dr. Mohammed Ferjani, the Tunisian head of a UN-sponsored rural development program in the valley. He told the San Francisco Guardian that 75,000 acres -- one-third of the valley's arable land -- worth of illicit crops in the valley put roughly $80 million in the hands of farmers each year, with another $400 million generated by associated processing and distribution.
Four years later, it was all gone. With the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, Lebanese and Syrian military forces moved into the lawless Bekaa with a vengeance, burning crops, arresting farmers, and driving the 250,000 person region into deep poverty. Some 25,000 families depended directly on the hash crop. After a hash-free decade, the Gross Domestic Product in the northern Bekaa is $500 per person; the Lebanese national average is $3,500. But by 1994, a UN mission could find no hash production in the valley and a couple of years later the country was rewarded by being removed from the US list of drug trafficking nations.
That was little solace to the farmers of the Bekaa or to the merchants who depend on them. "Butchers in Baalbek used to sell 20 lambs a day," said Ferjani, "though today they are lucky to sell two or three."
That may change this fall, if early reports from the valley are any indication. Fed up with ill-financed and perhaps ill-advised alternative development schemes -- UN experts have advocated substitute crops such as capers, walnuts, walnuts, saffron, and cattle -- farmers are returning to hash production with a vengeance, and they are prepared to fight. Last year, with only a few hundred acres under cultivation, armed clashes broke out when authorities arrived to eradicate the crop. This year, the hash crop has expanded to an estimated 37,000 acres, and farmers are vowing trouble if the government intervenes. "We are ready to fight the government and anyone who comes here," farmer Ali told the Guardian. "We will fight to feed our children." In his village, he added, there are 460 adults and 400 guns.
Another Bekaa farmer, Ali Hajj Hassan, is also planting cannabis this year. Hassan, who works for a UN development program, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he would go broke growing only wheat. He has a 9-by-22 foot cannabis plot. "This little plot of hashish that you see will bring me more money than a few hectares of wheat," he explained. "This year, everybody is planting cannabis again. If there is another eradication campaign this summer, there will be riots."
A mother of six from the town of Hermel chimed in to tell the Inquirer that she, too, was planting cannabis this year. "People are hungry, we need to feed our families," she said. "We know drugs are haram [forbidden by God], but isn't starving your children haram, too?" she asked.
The Lebanese government, for its part, oscillates between blaming recalcitrant foreign aid donors for lack of successful alternative development programs and threatening the Bekaa's farmers with dire fates if they plant cannabis. As spring planting season got underway in March, the Interior Ministry sent army helicopters over the valley to drop leaflets warning the farmers they faced possible life sentences for growing cannabis. They also threatened village leaders with large fines if they failed to turn in local growers.
Villagers reacted with a mixture of anger and disdain, according to press reports. They either tore up the leaflets or handed them in to local Hezbollah leaders. The Bekaa is a bastion of support for Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia that drove occupying Israeli forces from south Lebanon last year.
In fact, the Bekaa has become something of a zone of rivalry for competing Iranian and US alternative development schemes. The US Agriculture Department has introduced Holstein cows at $1,900 a head; the Iranians came back with cows for $1,000. Hezbollah has run ads suggesting the US is dumping inferior cattle, and those ads play well with farmers frustrated by low levels of milk production in the American heifers.
"Let them come and take their cows back wherever they came from," an embittered Hassan Jaafar told the New York Times. "I will even forgive them my down payment. I swear if the government would let me grow just 500 square meters of hashish, I would sell the cows."
Even the Lebanese government understands that economic necessity is proving inexorable. "This year the farmers won't leave any piece of land free of hashish," Lt. Michel Chakkour of the Internal Security Forces told the New York Times.
"If there isn't an alternative crop, then I am going to grow hashish even if the whole government shows up," added one farmer. "In the days of hashish we were so happy. I once owned a car, but now, thanks be to God, I own a cow."
July will be a key month, if past practice is followed. That is when the Lebanese government typically goes after the cannabis crops, as they near harvest and too late in the season for farmers to plant replacement crops.
Authorities in England's largest city are slowly ceding ground on marijuana policy as popular practice and attitudes outpace efforts to contain the plant. On June 15th, Scotland Yard announced it would ease up on pot smokers and possessors in one south London neighborhood. The following day, legalization activists drew 30,000 spectators in a driving rain in Brixton. The same day, a King's Cross health food store operator announced he had been operating a medical marijuana dispensary -- with police knowledge.
While parliament, with the exception of a handful of members, has been loath to address marijuana decriminalization, public opinion is solidly in favor. According to a poll commissioned by the Guardian (London) last October, 80% of Britons support decriminalization, with two-thirds of young adults (18-34) seeing smoking a joint as no worse than downing a pint (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/157.html#britain).
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens told reporters last Friday that, as part of a crime-fighting initiative in the Lamberth neighborhood, police will no longer arrest persons caught with small amounts of marijuana. "We are not turning a blind eye to crime," said Stevens, "but we have to prioritize. Possession and use of cannabis is not a priority."
Under the program, whose start-up date is not yet set, instead of arresting pot smokers, Bobbies will give them verbal warnings and require them to sign a receipt for the seized weed, thus leading to an administrative -- if not a criminal -- record. "The officer will seize the cannabis and it will be signed for by the suspect," Scotland Yard spokesman Commander Brian Paddick told Reuters. "It will be sealed and disposed of. The person in possession has to accept the warning, otherwise they will be arrested," said Paddick, who concocted the scheme.
Under current law, police can arrest and courts can jail small-scale marijuana offenders, but the Scotland Yard officials said it wasn't worth it. Commissioner Stevens told reporters each marijuana arrest could take an officer off the streets for up to six hours. Commander Paddick agreed, saying police could focus on more serious crimes. "I've never met anyone who had to commit crimes to fund a cannabis habit," he told the Guardian," but crack cocaine users commit robbery, burglary, and car crime."
The program could be expanded to the rest of the city if successful, Scotland Yard said.
The following day, tens of thousands of Londoners voted with their feet, tramping to south London's Brixton neighborhood undeterred by pouring rain to attend the Cannabis Freedom Festival. Participants listened to bands from Europe, Africa and South America, pondered the pentameters of "poets for pot," and checked out stalls offering hemp ice cream and hemp clothing, as well as hearing speaker after speaker call for the legalization of cannabis. "We're very pleased with the turnout," festival coordinator Andy Cornwell told the Times of London. "There's growing support from all walks of life."
Police did not interfere. No arrests were made, according to the Times.
That same day, another brick fell from the wall when Tony Taylor, proprietor of Tony's Hemp Corner (http://www.schmoo.co.uk/thc/) in London's red light district went public with his medical marijuana business. He told the Guardian he has around 250 customers, including doctors and lawyers, and he added that police turn a blind eye to his dispensary. Taylor, who was arrested in 1998 for growing and supplying medical marijuana, said the attitude of Islington police now was "really cool."
"The council and police know exactly what's going on and the police think what I'm doing is really good," Taylor told the Guardian. "They come around sometimes and say, 'How are you doing, are there any problems?' We've obviously been granted grace because there are so many other problems in King's Cross."
The police, however, seemed a bit taken aback by Taylor's tale and denied being aware that he was distributing medical marijuana. "We weren't aware that he was prescribing drugs for patients with [doctors'] letters," Detective Chief Inspector Robin Hopes told the Guardian. "We'd like to get around a table with him and work out if what he's doing is legal or illegal."
British law currently makes no provision for medical marijuana use.
Taylor's 250 patients must have a doctor's letter, fill out a form with the club, and undergo a 20-minute interview before being approved for the program. They may then purchase marijuana at below-market prices, Taylor said. He doesn't sell to recreational users, he added.
Meeting this week in Chicago, the nation's largest physicians' organization, the American Medical Association (AMA), debated but failed to pass a resolution shifting the AMA's policy on medical marijuana in a slightly more progressive direction. Under AMA policy in place since 1997, the doctors' organization opposes the use of medical marijuana and rejects its reclassification as a Schedule II drug, but calls for more research on the issue. (An earlier 1995 policy still in place reaffirms the AMA's opposition to the legalization of marijuana, but calls for a reduction in penalties.)
But as the ferment surrounding medical marijuana heightened in the late 1990s, the AMA decided to take another look. The AMA's Council on Scientific Affairs reviewed the rapidly changing social and legal context of medical marijuana use, noting its approval by voter initiatives in eight states and by the Hawaii legislature, cited continuing controversies over marijuana's abuse potential, and perused the literature on medical marijuana in the last few year. The council reported on marijuana's efficacy in treating:
"Until such time as rapid-onset cannabinoid formulations are clinically available, our AMA affirms the appropriateness of compassionate use of marijuana and related cannabinoids in carefully controlled programs designed to provide symptomatic relief of nausea, vomiting, cachexia, anorexia, spasticity, acute or chronic pain, or other palliative effects. Such compassionate use is appropriate when other approved medications provide inadequate relief or are not tolerated, and the protocols provide for physician oversight and a mechanism to assess treatment effectiveness."
That formulation was more than the delegates could handle. Even though, as council member Dr. Melvin Sterling of Orange, California, told the conference, "This report is about suffering; it's not about getting high," other delegates reiterated concerns about the drug's misuse potential and that endorsing medical marijuana could lead to further non-medical use. Some voiced fears that the AMA could be viewed as a "pro-legalization" organization if it endorsed "compassionate use."
According to the Marijuana Policy Project's Chuck Thomas, who attended the sessions, only a few delegates spoke against the "compassionate use" provision, most notably Dr. Michael Miller from Wisconsin. Thomas reports that Miller convinced his state delegation to oppose the provision, telling them it would hurt his ability to testify against medical marijuana bills at home.
Thomas wrote that Miller is an active member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), as is Dr. Stuart Gitlow -- ASAM's delegate to the AMA -- who served on the seven-member reference committee studying the council's recommendations. ASAM, which has been criticized by drug treatment reform activists for providing a home to advocates of abusive treatment modalities on the Straight/Synanon model. (See articles at http://fornits.com/anonanon/ and http://thestraights.com and http://www.peele.net -- which mention ASAM members Richard Schwartz, Robert Dupont and Doug Talbott.) ASAM (http://www.asam.org) has as one of its public policy objectives to be "widely recognized in the media and the public as a leading advocate and authority on the prevention, treatment, and scientific basis of addiction."
In voting not to support "compassionate use" of medical marijuana, the AMA turned a cold shoulder to patients such as Michael Krawitz of Roanoke, Virginia, who traveled to Chicago to tell the AMA how medical marijuana relieved his pain. Krawitz, has an artificial hip and has had part of his stomach and intestines surgically removed, he told the conference. He told the assembled physicians he gets relief from marijuana, but not from marinol.
On a positive note, the AMA did strike its opposition to the Single User Investigational New Drug program, pioneered by Robert Randall in 1978, which allows a handful of persons to obtain the drug from the federal government. The AMA also let stand its 1997 policy endorsing "the free and unfettered exchange on information on treatment alternatives," a clear shot over the bow to then drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey and his efforts to intimidate California physicians from recommending medical marijuana to patients in the wake of 1996's Prop. 215.
MPP's Thomas managed to find a silver lining. "The support for compassionate access to medical marijuana is overwhelming," said Thomas in a press release on the vote. "While the AMA delegates rejected the compassionate access recommendation of their own Council on Scientific Affairs, at least they rescinded their former position, which explicitly opposed compassionate access. Now the AMA is neutral on the issue."
Thomas was also able to prod an AMA spokesman to go on the record stating that patients should not be jailed for taking their doctors' advice to use medical marijuana. "Our plea again is that no criminal sanctions (be applied to marijuana use), and to encourage our patients to discuss this freely with their doctors," said Dr. Herman Abromowitz, an AMA trustee, Reuters reported.
Visit http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/upload/mm/hod_d6_doc.doc to view the AMA Council on Scientific Affairs recommendations online.
County judges in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, are fighting with the local district attorney over their plan to reduce minor marijuana possession from a misdemeanor offense to a citation, the Associated Press reported. Under Wisconsin law, counties and municipalities can pass their own ordinances for some crimes, including first-offense possession of small amounts of marijuana.
If the judges' plan is approved, local police and sheriff's deputies would have the option of charging defendants under either the local ordinance or the existing state law. In practical terms, such a move could mean the difference between receiving the equivalent of a traffic ticket and being arrested and booked with the possibility of six months in jail.
La Crosse County District Attorney Scott Horne opposes the move. He told the La Crosse County Board and La Crosse Common Council he wanted to retain current misdemeanor penalties, but would support an education and treatment program.
Police in some localities in the county have written tickets for marijuana possession for years, the AP reported, but in other locations, pot smokers go to jail.
County Judge John Perlich, who is leading the judges' push, said marijuana possession ought to be a local ordinance violation, not a state misdemeanor. "The punishment ought to fit the crime, and I don't think it does," he said.
For would-be students caught with marijuana, the law could make the difference between losing or keeping their financial aid for school. Under the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, misdemeanors or felonies trigger the financial aid penalty, not lower-level violations as proposed by the judges.
It could be months before the board and council decide on the proposal, the AP reported.
(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
San Mateo, CA: San Mateo County health officials received their first shipment of government grown medical marijuana last week. The federally-provided marijuana will be dispensed imminently to local AIDS patients as part of a groundbreaking local study to better determine its therapeutic value. San Mateo County is the first municipality in the country allowed to legally distribute medicinal marijuana under federal law.
"I see this as a milestone -- a first step -- toward the day when this drug will be available for doctors to prescribe for people who are suffering in great pain," said Michael Nevin, President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Nevin first began lobbying for the program in 1997 and received federal permission to implement the plan last November. In April, local health officials requested 300 marijuana cigarettes from the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The shipment -- approximately a two-month supply, according to health officials -- arrived at San Francisco International Airport last Wednesday. Federal researchers cultivate marijuana for research purposes at the University of Mississippi at Oxford. NIDA is the only legal supplier of marijuana in the United States.
Sixty local AIDS patients will have access to the government-grown pot as part of an 18-month study to evaluate the drug's ability to mitigate symptoms of the AIDS wasting syndrome. Only patients who have prior experience using marijuana are eligible to participate in the program, which will be led by Dr. Dennis Israelski, chief of infectious diseases and AIDS medicine at San Mateo County Hospital and Clinics.
Although there exists a large body of anecdotal evidence indicating that marijuana provides symptomatic relief for patients with AIDS, almost no scientific research has been conducted on humans. Preliminary results announced last year from an ongoing University of California at San Francisco study found that patients who smoked marijuana gained significantly more weight on average than those receiving a placebo, and had slightly lower viral levels.
Patients interested in participating in the trial may contact Mark Traves, Project Coordinator, at (650) 573-2748.
Last fall, DRCNet reported on the decimation by drug warriors of the African American community of Tulia, Texas. A new, 23-minute documentary by the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice provides a shocking look at the Tulia drug sting, proof positive of the racism inherent in America's drug war. More than ten percent of the African Americans in this small town were arrested in a drug sting conducted by a single undercover officer with no corroborating evidence.
To order your copy of "Tulia, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War," download an order form in PDF format from http://www.kunstler.org/images/tuliaorderform.pdf or send your check or money order for $20 payable to The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, to Tulia Video, c/o Sarah Kunstler, 103 16th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215. Proceeds will go to the Tulia 46 Relief Fund. For further information, call (212) 924-6980, visit http://www.kunstler.org or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]. The video can also be previewed at http://www.soros.org:8080/ramgen/tlc/tulia.rm online.
Previous DRCNet coverage of Tulia can be viewed online at:
http://www.drcnet.org/wol/154.html#tuliaOther Tulia coverage includes:
Ariana Huffington's commentary on the Tulia
Jim Yardley's New York Times article
Nate Blakeslee's Austin Chronicle article
The Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force is seeking a Project Coordinator for a nine-month contract with possible one-year extension. The project coordinator will work with the Board and steering committee of the THRTF to achieve the project objectives, which include: conducting an environmental scan of harm reduction work in Toronto, with a particular focus on housing; coordinating and implementing 7 to 9 public forums highlighting contemporary issues in harm reduction practices with a particular focus on housing; producing flexible harm reduction training programs and manuals, including the training of members of the THRTF to deliver effective training programs; organizing a one-day public forum on harm reduction and housing; organizing regular networking/support meetings for front line harm reduction/housing workers; and organizing a harm reduction resource library.
Preferences will be given to candidates who: have an understanding of and commitment to the principles of harm reduction; have experience in working with part-time staff and volunteers; have experience in and commitment to working collaboratively with people who are homeless, marginally housed and/or currently using substances; have experience in project coordination and evaluation; possess excellent organization and interpersonal skills; have experience in designing and delivering training; and are able and willing to work flexible hours including some evenings and weekends.
The THRTF is an Equal Opportunity Employer. People with current or prior drug use experience are encouraged to apply. Interested applicants are invited to submit their resume by mail or fax only to: Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force, c/o Inner City Health, St. Michael's Hospital, 410 Sherbourne Street, Suite 315, Toronto, Ontario M4X 1K2, fax to (416) 926-4911. Salary range is $40,000 to $45,000 (Canadian) plus benefits, per annum, pro-rated. Deadline for applying is 3:00pm, Tuesday, July 3, 2001.
The Toronto Harm Reduction Task Force (THRTF) is an association of professionals, agencies and community members that have been working together since 1996 to reduce harms associated with drug use in Toronto. The THRTF's definition of harm reduction is the provision and maintenance of services for individuals without requiring their abstinence from substance use. The THRTF has received SCPI funding to develop a range of harm reduction strategies directed towards absolutely homeless, transient and marginally housed citizens of the City of Toronto who use addictive substances, particularly illicit drugs.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
June 23, 7:00-11:00pm, Oakland, CA, Fire Carnival and Fundraiser for Casa Segura/SafeHouse. At the Casa Segura parking lot, 3229 San Leando St., call (510) 437-8899 for further information.
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 5, 2:00-4:00pm, Altoona, PA, "Industrial Hemp Festival: Solution to Pollution," outdoor event featuring music, speakers, information booths and the Hemp Car. At the Sinking Valley Fairgrounds, Bellwood exit of I-99, go 3 1/3 miles to Skelp. For info, visit http://www.grassmusic.tv or call (814) 944-8440.
July 20, 8:00am-4:30pm, San Francisco, CA, "Medical Consequences of Illicit Drug Use: Prevention and Clinical Management." At the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Laurel Heights Conference Center, sponsored by the San Francisco Treatment Research Center (TRC) at the University of California, San Francisco, the San Francisco Practice/Research Collaborative, the California Society of Addiction Medicine and the East Bay Community Recovery Project, admission free. For further information, contact Karen Sharp, (415) 206-3971, visit http://itssrv1.ucsf.edu/sftrc/confinfo.html or e-mail [email protected].
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].
August 18-19, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, "10th Annual Seattle Hempfest." Visit http://www.seattlehempfest.comh for further information.
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.
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