(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #201, 8/31/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 8/31/01
"America: Love it or Leave it." It's the classic refrain sometimes heard from the mouths of our nation's less thoughtful patriots. Fortunately, most people know better than to pay attention to it. Democracy, after all, depends on the vigor of those who have criticisms to make and who do so out loud. Doing so doesn't mean that they don't love their country, and even those who don't should still be heard, if we do value democracy.
Leaving the country doesn't necessarily help, either. At a benefit recently in New York City, comedian Barry Crimmins said that he isn't leaving the United States because he doesn't want to be victimized by its foreign policies. Like most good comedy, Crimmins' comment is based on truth, in this case a sad truth. As a military and economic superpower, the presence of the United States is felt worldwide in many ways, for both good and evil.
Our government's reaction to growing calls for drug policy reform abroad is a stark example. The past few weeks have seen astonishing developments in the international dialogue on the issue. In Colombia, senators have introduced bills in the nation's congress calling for full drug legalization and permitting cultivation of coca, sparking a vigorous discussion in the media. At the same time, the National Assembly of States, led by Colombia's governors, has called for a serious, global legalization debate.
The tone of the governors' comments indicated that they are less interested in debating whether to make drugs legal than in how best to do so; and a similar initiative came out of the Andean Parliament, which called on its members to take the legalization debate back to their own countries. In the Caribbean, meanwhile, Jamaica's National Ganja Commission has come out squarely in favor of marijuana decriminalization, and word is that the government is serious about doing something about it this time.
So what do US officials have to say about all of this?
US ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson issued a thinly veiled threat, saying that legalization would cause Colombia "problems with the international community." In Jamaica, an embassy spokesperson said that "[t]he US government will consider Jamaica's adherence to its commitments under the 1988 UN Drug Convention when making its determination under the annual narcotics certification review."
In other words, stop talking about legalization, or we'll ruin your economies.
This bullying is nothing new. Back in 1994, when Colombia's top prosecutor, Gustavo De Greiff, came out for legalization, the US Justice Department and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) launched extremely vicious attacks on him. The fact that De Greiff had just risked his life leading the Colombian government's operation against top drug lord Pablo Escobar bought him no slack. The implied threats were so severe that De Greiff turned down a speaking engagement at Harvard because he feared retaliation by the US government against his country if he accepted (http://www.drcnet.org/images/degreiff1.gif).
And the bullying isn't limited to our hemisphere. In 1995, the show "Four Corners" (Australia's equivalent of "60 Minutes" or "Nightline") reported the US government had covertly threatened the country if it went ahead with an intended heroin maintenance trial program (http://www.drcnet.org/guide1-96/meddling.html). The US at that time sat on the UN's International Narcotics Control Board, which has the power under treaty to shut down Australia's legal opiate industry, an important employer in the province of Tasmania. It was neither the first nor the last time that Australians have made such accusations, and heroin maintenance has yet to take place there despite extensive support and good results from such programs carried out elsewhere.
US officials have far less power with which to punish our European allies, but they still try to meddle. At the same conference from which our government frightened De Greiff away, Judge James P. Gray of California reported, that after visiting the Netherlands, that Dutch health officials identified two principal problems they have in dealing with drugs. One is that the country attracts users from around the European community and elsewhere, the cost of being an island of tolerance in a sea of repression. The other big problem for them is the United States, whose foreign officials just won't leave them alone!
The Dutch, at least, haven't been bullied, but have continued to go their own pragmatic way. Interviewed for a 1995 ABC News special, "America's War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions," a Netherlands health official commented, "We are a small country and have no illusion of changing your [the US] drug policy -- but perhaps you have the illusion of changing ours."
Still, our nation's drug war bullies manage to cause a lot of damage -- in the case of Netherlands, for example, by spreading outright lies about their drug policy and its results. A legalization debate manual published by the DEA went so far over the top that the Dutch foreign ministry actually filed a formal complaint with the US State Department. And it's quite possible that without pressure from the US, portions of Europe would actually have ended drug prohibition by now, at least in part.
Who will stop the big bully? In a democracy, that means the people; it is up to us to discipline our government for its misdeeds. Love it or leave it? No, I don't think so. How about, "change it"?
Enthusiasm for US war plans for Columbia increasingly appears to be directly related to distance from the conflict. While Washington is beating the war drums in preparation for a formal announcement that it is prepared to extend its counter-drug mission to include counterinsurgency activities -- which would be the first official acknowledgment that US policy in Colombia is to defeat not only the drug trade but also the leftist guerrillas -- in Colombia the legalization chorus grows louder by the day.
As DRCNet reported last week (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/200.html#colombiabills), senators in the Colombian congress introduced bills calling for the legalization of drug use and the drug trade, an end to aerial fumigation of drug crops, and the decriminalization of subsistence-size drug plots. But the legalization brush fires have spread beyond the dissident senators. As first reported in English by Al Giordano's Narco News (http://www.narconews.com), both the assembly of Colombian governors and the Andean Parliament, which consists of representatives from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, have moved to put legalization squarely on the table. And Colombian presidential candidates and other leading political figures are picking up on the same theme.
Colombian governors meeting at the 31st General Assembly of Governors in Paipa, Boyaca, on August 23 passed a resolution calling on the Colombian government to lead an international great debate on legalizing drugs.
"We cannot keep our heads between our legs and continue with the same strategies of 30 years ago," said Guillermo Gaviria, governor of Antioquia and president of the National Assembly of States. "Colombia must lead the discussion of the issue on the international stage to commit all the countries of the world without hypocrisy or double standards," El Espectador (Bogota) reported. "There are no magic solutions, and legalization is not necessarily the solution, but I believe in controlled legalization," he said.
Amazonas Governor Hernando Emilio Zambrano agreed. "The entire world is asking for this solution [the legalization of drugs] because we know this is the only way to end the high price," he said.
Further pressure to consider legalizing the drug trade emerged a week earlier from the Andean Parliament, ending its 28th conference in Bogota on August 17. The parliament called on its members to open debate on the regulation of the drug trade in the congresses of their respective countries.
"We have to stop speaking in whispers and confront the issue frankly," said Peruvian congressman Carlos Infanta, who headed the parliamentary commission concerned with drugs. "There are authoritative opinions, including in the United States, that are proposing legalization, and it is not possible that we in the Andes would be more Catholic than the Pope."
Venezuelan congressman Mario Arias, vice-chair of the parliament's drug commission, said that while he did not personally favor legalization, he did support a debate on the topic, and that the debate should be extended to the US. Members of the parliament should take advantage of the presence of US congressmen at the Andean Summit on Drug Trafficking in Caracas at the end of September to press the US politicians to "propose the discussion in their country," El Tiempo (Bogota) reported.
Also last week, Colombian presidential candidate Luis Eduardo Garzon of the Social and Political Front came out for legalization in an address to the Colombian chamber of commerce, meeting in Cartagena. He told the assembled businessmen that "the best way to end this problem and the war it has brought us is to legalize drugs," according to El Colombiano Medellin.
While Garzon's chances of winning the presidency next May are slight, former Interior Minister Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party is leading the early polls. Early this week, Serpa slammed Plan Colombia as a failure. "There is more cocaine being produced, more trafficking, and larger areas under cultivation," he wrote in an editorial in Cambio magazine. "New and alternative formulas are needed, along with a recognition that the counter-drug policies applied to date have been a failure."
Former President Ernesto Samper also joined the legalization chorus in an interview with the Dallas Morning News this week. "The problem is the law of the marketplace is overtaking the law of the state," he said. "We have to ask, is legalization the way out of this? We cannot continue to fight this war alone. If the consuming nations do nothing to curb demand, to control money-laundering, to halt the flow of chemicals that supply the drug-production labs, then in a few short years the world is going to see legalization as the answer."
And, in what must have felt like a sucker punch to the beleaguered government of President Andres Pastrana, the head of his own Conservative Party, Carlos Holguien Sardi, revealed that he had been a closet legalizer for years. He told El Tiempo a national agreement must be reached so that Colombia can begin diplomatic efforts with the international community to arrive at workable formulas for legalization of the drug trade. This would be "a very large task," he said. "The world believes that repression is the better way to fight against this plague," but a more realistic policy would treat it as a public health problem, he added.
The Pastrana government has attempted to fend off the rising clamor, but has not succeeded. Interior Minister Armando Estrada Villa told the governors that "the government is radically opposed to the legalization of drugs, considering it an inopportune and noxious project for the national interest," El Pais (Cali) reported. But even Estrada Villa conceded that the government does not reject a possible debate on the topic, provided that it comes in the context of "interdiction, fumigation, and institutional strengthening, which are issues of high concern to the executive branch."
Yet even as more and more sectors of the Colombian political class come to reject drug prohibition and the role it has played in fueling the country's decades-long guerrilla war, the US appears on the verge of formally expanding what it has described as solely a counter-drug effort into an explicit military intervention against the leftist rebels of the FARC and the smaller ELN. While the US has long complained that the guerrillas benefit from the drug trade, such a policy shift would put the US in a direct confrontation with the rebels and likely spell the end of the slow-moving peace negotiations between President Pastrana and the FARC.
A delegation of officials including Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, commander of US military forces in the region General Peter Pace, and various other officials from the State Department, Justice Department, and the Pentagon, arrived in Colombia as part of a review of US Colombia policy and to pave the way for a visit by Secretary of State Powell in September.
In the run-up to the trip, the US government has been on a propaganda offensive celebrating its romantic mercenary pilots and demonizing the FARC in general and the FARC's government-ceded "safe haven" in particular. Ambassador Anne Patterson arranged for journalists to interview the pilots under her watchful gaze, while back in Washington, State Department spokesmen railed against the FARC activities in the safe haven, a Switzerland-sized hunk of territory home to 90,000 people.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher criticized conditions in FARC POW camps in the safe haven, conveniently forgetting that the State Department's own annual human rights report described conditions in government-run prisons as atrocious. (Never mind the conditions in US prisons.) He also highlighted the arrest of three IRA members in Colombia last week, reiterating that the US government considers the FARC a "terrorist organization."
The human rights group Human Rights Watch jumped into the fray on August 26, when its director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, penned a column in the Washington Post criticizing the FARC's human rights performance inside the safe zone. The column, curiously timed to coincide with the State Department's propaganda offensive, has already raised hackles on the left. A Human Rights Watch spokesman who would speak only off the record told DRCNet little more than that the timing was "controversial." A Human Rights Watch researcher the spokesman said would discuss the matter has yet to contact DRCNet.
The Colombian military did its part as well, loudly proclaiming last week that it was about to decimate two FARC columns totaling 2,400 troops that had departed from the safe zone on military missions. As of press time, however, military commanders were downplaying earlier suggestions that they had the rebels surrounded, as the rebels split into smaller units and melted away.
August is usually quiet in official Washington, with Congress out of session and everyone who can leave town having done so, but the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has been crunching numbers and cranking out reports on a near weekly basis this month. In its latest report, released Sunday, BJS announced that that nation's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population reached a new high of almost 6.5 million men and women in 2000, having grown by 126,400 during the past year. That means that 3.1% of the total adult population of the United States, or one in every 32 adults, is either in prison or jail, on parole or on probation.
On December 31, 2000, there were 3,839,532 men and women on probation, 725,527 on parole, 1,312,354 in prison and 621,149 in local jails. The figure represents a 2% increase over 1999 and a whopping 49% increase since 1990. But the increase last year was only half the average rate of increase for the decade as whole. Combined with a similar leveling-off in the prison population (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/199.html#prisonstats), the figures suggest that the country's decades-long incarceration binge may have reached a plateau.
"This could be the beginning of a peak," James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Associated Press.
With about one-third of those under correctional supervision behind bars, some 4.6 million persons are on either probation or parole. While the BJS figures do not provide a breakdown by criminal offense, they do note that among probationers, drug offenses are the most common charge. Drug offenders make up 24% of persons on probation, with drunk driving infractions coming in second with 18%.
More people are out on parole now than ever before -- some 725,000, up 36% since 1990 -- but not because parole boards have become more lenient. In fact, the percentage of parolees released because of parole board action declined over the past decade, from 59% to 37%, BJS said. The rest were automatically paroled after serving a portion of their sentences, as mandated by various state laws. Instead, the increase in parolees can be attributed to the overall growth in the number of prisoners in recent years. The increase in parolees is even more striking when set against the number of states with large declines in parolees because of "truth in sentencing" laws that have done away with parole. States with large declines in parolees include Massachusetts (-20.0%), Rhode Island (-11.1%), Kansas (-35.6%), Nebraska (-16.7%), North Dakota (-23.7%), North Carolina (-23.7%), Virginia (-12.2%), and Washington (-20.0%).
Parole population gains of 10 percent or more were reported in 14 states and the District of Columbia, BJS said. Connecticut and Arkansas led with a 22% increase in their parole populations in 2000, followed by Vermont and Oklahoma (both up 20%).
Racial disparities in criminal justice show up in probation and parole patterns. Blacks continue to be over-represented among parolees and probationers, constituting 40% of the former and a third of the latter. Interestingly, the over-representation of African-Americans under state control is least for probation, the least serious criminal justice sanction.
Georgetown University law professor David Cole, author of "No Equal Justice," told the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour this week that race and drug policy issues fueled the increase in the supervised population. "The drug war has driven this increase," he said. "It is driven by a lot of political rhetoric and by the fact that the costs are not borne by the white majority, the folks who vote in all those 'three-strikes' laws. The costs are being borne disproportionately by blacks and Hispanics. If you saw the incarceration rate among whites where it is among blacks, the politics of crime would be very different. You'd be seeing calls for child care, education, prevention, not more prisons.
"We have an incarceration rate five times higher than our nearest European competitor," Cole said. "This raises serious questions about the meaning of freedom if the country that calls itself the leader of the free world is the leader of the incarcerated world."
(Visit http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/ppus00.htm to read the BJS report online.)
Kenny Kramer has achieved an unlikely sort
of fame as the inspiration for Cosmo Kramer, the wacky slacker on TV's
"Seinfeld." But the 57-year-old stand-up comic and electric disco
jewelry inventor is now parlaying that celebrity into a serious campaign
for the New York City mayoralty (http://www.kramerformayor.com).
Kramer appeared at a DRCNet benefit in Washington, DC, on August 24, but
before the event, he sat down in the DRCNet offices to tell us about his
campaign. Excerpts from that conversation follow.
(DRCNet thanks Kenny Kramer for traveling to Washington to speak at our event last Friday night. We would also like to thank the Velvet Lounge, at 912 U Street, NW, for donating use of their space to us that evening.)
It has been all downhill for federal prosecutors since, with great fanfare, they indicted the managers of New Orleans' State Palace Theater under an idiosyncratic reading of federal "crack house" laws. Theater manager Robert Brunet, his brother Brian and rave promoter Donny Estopinal originally faced 25 years in prison for maintaining a place for the purpose of drug sales. But with no evidence the trio were involved in alleged widespread ecstasy sales and use at the theater, the crack house charges fizzled. In a June plea bargain, one business run by Robert Brunet agreed to pay a $100,000 fine, undergo five years probation, and agree to a list of conditions from prosecutors. Among other things, the feds required the Brunets to ban rave culture accoutrements such as pacifiers, glow sticks and surgical masks from any future raves they held.
Last week, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Drug Policy Litigation Project, the glow sticks and other pseudo-drug paraphernalia got a reprieve, at least temporarily. Representing local ravers, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the restrictions on the rave party favors, as well as at-the-door searches, on 1st and 4th Amendment grounds. On 8/23, US District Court Judge G. Thomas Porteus granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the section of the plea agreement that banned glow sticks, pacifiers and other items.
"We're gonna glow like we never glowed before," rave perfomer Clayton Smith told the New Orleans Times-Picayune after the decision. A participant in the lawsuit, Smith told Judge Porteus that the Air Force drill team, of which he was a former member, used glow sticks in their formations. The techno fan told the judge he had invested countless hours in practice time for his performances at raves.
Also testifying was Emory University professor Claire Sterk, an expert on teenage drug use. She told the court the items in question did not fit the federal definition of drug paraphernalia, which "must directly facilitate drug use." Unlike syringes or crack pipes, the items associated with ecstasy and the rave culture "obviously have no health consequences and don't facilitate the drug use at all," she said. Federal prosecutors attempted to rebut the ACLU with, as the Times-Picayune put it in an editorial critical of the whole State Palace Theater fiasco, "arguments that they themselves must have recognized as silly."
Assistant US Attorney for Eastern Louisiana John Murphy attempted to sell Judge Porteus on the insidious dangers of glow sticks and pacifiers, but the judge wasn't buying. Such items are not drug paraphernalia on their own, Murphy conceded, but when they show up at raves they become tools of enhancing the ecstasy high, he told the court.
"Do pacifiers facilitate the taking of drugs or saving your teeth?" retorted a skeptical Porteus.
Murphy then proceeded to dig himself in deeper. Glow sticks can be rubbed over the eyes to heighten the drug's sensory appeal, he said. Vicks Vapo Rub is smeared inside surgical masks so enthusiasts can get a stronger rush, he added.
Graham Boyd, head of the ACLU's drug litigation project, called the restrictions on glow sticks a "bizarre new extreme" in the drug war. Boyd told the court the banned items might be "associated with drug use," but that people used them "for dancing and self-expression."
Federal prosecutors must now decide whether to appeal the preliminary injunction to the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or face new hearings before Judge Porteus in December. In the opinion of the Times-Picayune, Louisiana's largest and most influential newspaper, "the ban on glow sticks is not worth fighting for. It won't keep anyone from using ecstasy or other so-called club drugs, any more than a ban on tie-dyed clothes and Grateful Dead records would keep anyone from smoking marijuana."
The German government deepened its ambivalent embrace of harm reduction approaches to that nation's hard drug problem last week. According to the Associated Press, on August 22, German authorities signed on to a test project that will distribute heroin to hundreds of hardcore heroin users. According to German government estimates, there are about 120,000 addicted heroin users in the country.
This is only the latest step in Germany's evolving approach to hard drug use. Local authorities in a number of German cities, most notably Frankfort, had for years tolerated safe injection rooms as a means of reducing injection-related harm. Early last year, the Bundestag moved to formalize and legalize the safe-injection rooms. That move came after a Social Democrat-Green coalition took power from the conservatives, who had refused throughout the 1980s and 1990s to legalize the rooms.
In the program, which will include psychological counseling, half of the 1,220 participating heroin users will receive heroin. The other half will receive methadone. The program will last two years and will extend across the country.
German Drugs Commissioner Marion Caspers-Merk told the AP the program would attempt to reach heroin users who had been left out of previous programs. Earlier this year, Caspers-Merk told the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction that 50% of German heroin addicts were receiving drug treatment.
Authorities hope to improve the health of heroin users and also curb the crime associated with the illegal drug trade, Dr. Ingo Flenker told the AP. Flenker, head of the German doctors' association committee on drugs and addiction, added that authorities had not yet determined a price tag for the project.
The most recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of American attitudes toward marijuana found a record 34% favored legalizing it, the highest number since pollsters began asking the question in 1969, the newspaper reported on August 24.
Support for legalization had hovered at about 25% for the past two decades, said USA Today, before rising to 31% in August 2000 and 34% earlier this month. Legalization supporters were most likely to be in the 18-49 age group, residents of the west, and independent voters. Opposition was strongest among the elderly, weekly churchgoers and Republicans, the poll found.
The United States still lags behind Britain and Canada, both of which have repeatedly reported solid majorities in favor of legalization in recent polls, but marijuana reform activists here in the US are still pleased.
"This is the highest level of support we've ever registered," said Keith Stroup, head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org), "and it's moving in our direction. We should all feel very optimistic," he told DRCNet.
"There is an interesting dynamic under way," Stroup said. "We are getting closer to our goal than even the numbers suggest. There is an emerging consensus that the war on drugs is a failure," Stroup said, citing the recent Pew poll that found 74% agreeing with that statement. "The idea of a consensus in favor of the drug war has been demolished. That is an incredibly important point. We're spending $40 billion a year on something that flat-out is not working. Everyone understands that now."
The time is ripe to build a new consensus, Stroup told DRCNet. "The politicians have been timid, they've been afraid to dissent from the drug war, but they read the polls, too. More and more of them will feel safe coming out now, and the numbers will only increase as the debate is joined," he said. "Now the question is what are the alternatives? As we look at what makes sense, legalization will continue to gain support."
But the word itself is still problematic, said Stroup. "We would have received even higher levels of support with a question that avoided the L-word," Stroup said. "If you instead asked 'should we regulate and control marijuana?' we would be close to 50% and if you asked 'should we continue to arrest marijuana smokers?' we would probably get 60% support," he argued. "We all know that when you say 'legalization,' that frightens a good chunk of the American public. They think it means no controls when in fact it means greater control than there is now. This is a semantic problem that we can overcome as Americans begin to grasp the distinctions between legalization, decriminalization and prohibition," Stoup said.
Both Stroup and Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) pointed to the medical marijuana issue as reshaping public attitudes. "People rethink their position on marijuana when they see a federal government disinterested in the plight of patients," said Stroup.
For Thomas, the link between medical marijuana and increased support for legal recreational marijuana is indirect. "Just as the fact we have prescription drugs does not translate into support for recreational use of those drugs, I never thought that allowing medical marijuana would translate into allowing marijuana for recreational use," he told DRCNet, "but the federal government's approach has just backfired on them. "They thought if they could portray marijuana as so evil it could not even be used as medicine, then it certainly couldn't be used recreationally. But with their crackdown on medical marijuana, people see that while the government says it cares about people's health what it really cares about is prohibition. The federal government made a big mistake back in 1996. If they had allowed it to be sold in pharmacies as a prescription drug, people would still think the government did care about people's health, but they took the opposite approach."
But, Thomas added, there are other factors as well. He pointed toward Europe, where from Prague to Amsterdam and Lisbon to London marijuana use has been essentially normalized. "Legalization is no longer a bizarre fantasy notion," he said. "People can picture what ending marijuana prohibition would look like."
And he gives the drug reform movement some credit. "We're up nine points since 1995, the year MPP was formed," he noted, "and I think we'll have majority support within a decade. Even though our movement is still greatly outspent by our opponents, we have been doing a good job of getting the word out about the harms of prohibition. We have a solid base, and as those people get ready to get more involved -- whether through writing letters, talking to their friends or neighbors, or giving money to groups like MPP and DRCNet -- we will only grow stronger," Thomas said.
And don't forget public protest, Stroup added. "There is a massive political change underway," Stroup said. "We just had about 100,000 people gather at the Seattle Hempfest. There will be about 75,000 at the Boston Freedom Rally on September 15. With rare exceptions, no other issue is pulling that number of people into what are, after all, political events. We need to be working with people in other parts of the country to do similar events," he said.
The United States government may be shunning the United Nations' conference on racism -- irked about pre-conference differences of opinion on issues such as reparations for slavery and Israel -- but the US drug reform movement will be present and will be asking the conference to condemn racism in the drug war.
In an effort led by The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, the Campaign to End Race Discrimination, a coalition of drug reform advocates, has sent a ten-person delegation to Durban, South Africa, where the conference begins on August 31. Led by TLC-DPF Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach Deborah Small, the delegation also includes prominent civil rights lawyer James Ferguson II, the Rev. Edwin Sanders of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, and Alicia Young of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Drug Policy Litigation Project.
"You can't talk about race in the US without talking about the war on drugs," said Small in a pre-departure statement. "This is not a war on drugs. It's a war on people of color. The drug war is one of the most serious obstacles to achieving racial justice in the US and internationally," she added.
The delegation is carrying a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, signed by more than 150 prominent Americans citing the horrific impact of current US drug policy on minorities and asking the UN to condemn what they called racist anti-drug campaigns by the US and other countries.
"In one country after another we see racial and ethnic minorities targeted and persecuted in the name of the 'war on drugs,'" said the letter. "In the United States and many other nations, it is no longer possible to talk honestly and frankly about racism without talking about the 'war on drugs.' This is not a war on plants and chemicals, but on citizens and other human beings who all too often are members of racial and ethnic minorities."
Citing huge racial inequities in incarceration rates among drug offenders and pervasive racial disparities in the US criminal justice system, the letter generously excused those prosecuting the drug war from charges of deliberate racism, but said "all those concerned with the persistence of racism in our societies must turn their attention to the 'war on drugs.'"
Citing the UN Convention to End All Forms of Racism and Discrimination (CERD), to which the US is a signatory and which requires states to avoid practices with racially disparate effects, the letter called on Annan to place the issue on the Durban agenda. It also called on "all member governments of the United Nations -- and most especially the government of the United States as well as those of its fifty states -- to end the 'war on drugs' and remedy its discriminatory and oppressive consequences."
The letter's signers included four members of the US Congress, New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, Nobel economics prize-winner Milton Friedman, former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, singer Harry Belafonte, and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.
Whether the delegation and the letter they carry can force UN discussions on the theme remains to be seen. A spokesman for Annan, Fred Eckhard, told Agence France-Presse earlier this week that the UN had not officially received the letter, but that US incarceration rates had been discussed during a recent CERD meeting in Geneva.
"It's on the agenda of the United Nations," Eckhard said, but it would be up to member states to decide whether to discuss the issue at the Durban conference.
(Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/race_conf.html for the complete text of the letter, list of signatories and further information. Visit http://www.unhchr.ch/html/racism/ for the web site of the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.)
A new study of drug policies in six European countries argues that the United Nations conventions on drugs and drug trafficking, the backbone of the international drug prohibition regime, are not an insuperable obstacle to drug law reform. The study, "European Drug Laws: The Room for Manoeuvre," sponsored by the British drug reform charity DrugScope (http://www.drugscope.org.uk), compared the drug policies of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. It found that despite fundamental differences in the way those countries deal with illegal drugs, all conformed to the conventions.
The report was released in the context of political turmoil over drug policy in Britain and was clearly designed to intervene in the uproar.
"For many years a major impediment to drug reform has been the belief that UN conventions restrict any change. This study dispels the view that we are tied rigidly by the UN conventions and shows we have considerable flexibility within them to radically modernize our drug laws," said DrugScope Chief Executive Roger Howard upon the study's release.
"The government needs to decide if allowing otherwise law-abiding citizens to get caught up in the criminal justice system for possessing drugs such as cannabis is a proportionate response in the 21st Century," Howard added.
The study, by a team of leading European legal experts, reviewed the variety of approaches to drug policy in its subject countries. In Italy, for example, possessing drugs is prohibited but punished only with civil sanctions (i.e. suspension of drivers licenses); in Spain, drug possession in illegal but not punished unless it occurs in public, and then punishable only by fines; in Holland, drug possession remains a criminal offense, but is not punished under the "expediency principle," meaning Dutch authorities consider charging such offenders a waste of time.
The study also found that the different countries had different means of dealing with small-scale or "social" drug sales. In Italy, users sharing drugs with other users face civil penalties, while in Holland, the sale of drugs is criminalized, but again the "expediency principle" applies, especially for the sale of cannabis to authorized coffee shops and its growth for personal use. Sweden, on the other hand, criminalizes all aspects of drug use, manufacture and sales.
"The wide variation we see is particularly evident in the way countries deal with possessing drugs and obtaining them, for example through small-scale cannabis cultivation," said study coordinator Dr. Nicholas Dorn. "Some countries consider this to be trafficking; others believe it is so closely associated with drug use that -- to ensure legal coherence -- they treat it in the same way as use."
The differing approaches to drug policy are the result of the UN conventions being interpreted at the national level in line with national political, constitutional, and legal considerations, the study said.
Based on its examination of European drug policies, the study finds that governments worldwide could undertake the following reforms without breaching the UN conventions:
The Fraser Institute, based in Vancouver, usually concerns itself it with taxation, welfare reform, government restrictions on business and other themes dear to the hearts of free-market true believers but anathema to progressives, who deride it as a "wacky extreme right-wing think tank." But with the publication of a set of papers on drug policy released last week, the institute, one of Canada's most influential economic think tanks, has become the latest conservative institution to break with the drug war consensus -- and it has done so dramatically.
"The war on drugs is lost," director of the Fraser Institute's Social Affairs Center Fred McMahon said on announcing the studies. "It is completely lost. It is unambiguously lost. It is time to run up the white flag and start looking for more sensible solutions," he said.
Canadian governments, both federal and provincial, have seldom devoted serious thought to drug policy, said McMahon, instead lurching from crisis to crisis. "This thinking has only served to enrich organized crime, corrupt governments and law enforcement officials, spread diseases such as HIV, hinder health care, and feed into an ever-growing law enforcement and penal industry," McMahon said.
"Sensible Solutions to the Urban Drug Problem" is based on papers presented at two Fraser Institute conferences in 1998 and 1999 and updated by the authors, who include Ottawa lawyer and founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy Eugene Oscapella, late Vancouver police officer Gil Puder, the Cato Institute's Patrick Basham, and Swiss drug policy officials Martin Buechi and Ueli Minder.
The seven papers collected in the publication argue that that the societal and scientific evidence show that many of the problems attributed to drug use and trafficking are in fact caused, directly or indirectly, by drug prohibition.
"Drug prohibition has all the characteristics of numerous other well-intentioned, yet expensive, counterproductive government programs that have outlived any usefulness," Basham wrote in his introductory chapter. "Drug prohibition reflects our failure to learn from history; drug prohibition causes crime; drug prohibition corrupts police officers; drug prohibition violates civil liberties and individual rights; drug prohibition weakens -- at times, even destroys -- families, neighborhoods, and communities," Basham continued.
In his paper, "Witch Hunts and Chemical McCarthyism: The Criminal Law and 20th Century Canadian Drug Policy," Oscapella argued that the negative effects of Canadian drug policy extended far beyond the country's borders. "Canada's active support for prohibition is helping to destabilize countries around the world," he wrote, by undermining democratic institutions and trapping innocent civilians in never-ending battles among guerrillas, militias, and government security and law enforcement forces.
"I'm not necessarily encouraging the use of drugs," Oscapella told the National Post. "We're just looking for a regime that doesn't import all those harms that are currently associated with the criminal prohibition of drugs."
Oscapella's paper and the six others in the series are available at http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/publications/books/drug_papers/ online.
In conjunction with our friends at Students for Sensible Drug Policy, DRCNet is this month offering SSDP t-shirts -- featuring the colorful "What Is Wrong With This Picture" graphic depicting the impact of the drug war on our schools -- free to new and renewing DRCNet members contributing $35 or more. Or, donate $60 or more and also receive SSDP's "Talk To Your Parents About Drugs" t-shirt.
In addition to your DRCNet membership and t-shirt, your contribution will (with your permission) get you a complimentary one-year membership in SSDP, and will support our combined effort to overturn the drug offender/college financial aid ban, an effort that is going into fast mode this month as we try to repeal this bad law once and for all! Please visit http://www.drcnet.org/augustoffer.html to donate by credit card or print out a form to mail in with your donation -- or just send your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036 and include a note to let us know it is for this offer.
Please make sure to enter the size shirt you want in the comment box at the bottom of our donation form: baby-tee, small, medium, large or extra-large. Also, you may substitute the "Talk To Your Parents About Drugs" shirt for "What Is Wrong With This Picture?" by leaving a note in the same comment box with that request. (Please also leave a note if you want both; we haven't upgraded our web form yet to automate all these options.)
Again, visit http://www.drcnet.org/augustoffer.html to donate or just send your donation to the address listed above. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/augustoffer2.html to see what the two t-shirts look like. Thank you for your support; with your help the war against the drug war will be won and justice will prevail!
Click on the links below for information on these issues and web forms to help you contact Congress:
Oppose New Anti-Ecstasy Bill
Have you or someone you know or know of lost financial aid for college because of a drug conviction? The Higher Education Act Reform Campaign urgently needs to find students in the greater New York City area who fit this description. The need is urgent because some of the most major media outlets in the country are asking for them, and they want to do the stories now!
Please contact DRCNet at (202) 293-8340 or Students for Sensible Drug Policy at (202) 293-4414 if you can help, or e-mail [email protected]. Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for further information on this campaign.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
September 1, 5:00-8:00pm, State College, PA, Demonstration against the war on drugs and other issues, sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Centre County, cosponsored by Pennsylvania NORML. In front of the Jordan Center (near the football stadium), just prior to the Penn State-Miami football game, speakers welcome. For further information, contact the Libertarian Party of Centre County at [email protected].
September 4, 11:00am-1:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, Protest Against Nomination of John Walters as Drug Czar. In front of the office of US Senator Arlen Specter, 600 Arch St. For further information, contact Diane Fornbacher at [email protected] or (215) 633-9812.
September 4, 6:00-7:30pm, El Paso, TX, Public Meeting of the November Coalition, Doc's Bar-B-Que, 9530 Viscount. Contact [email protected] or (915) 546-8400 for further information.
September 5, 6:30-8:30pm, Oakland, CA, "The Drug War on Trial: Two Judges Speak Out." Forum featuring Judges Vaughn Walker and James P. Gray. At the Independent Institute Conference Center, 100 Swan Way, sponsored by the Independent Institute with the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation. Admission $30 per person, including one free copy of "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It," or $12 without book, $8 for Independent Institute Associate Members. Call (510) 632-1366 for reservations or info, or e-mail [email protected].
September 8, noon-evening, Melbourne, FL, Grand Opening Birthday Bash at the Florida Cannabis Action Network's Legal Support Office. At 703 E. New Haven Ave. (SR 192 Uptown), featuring music, speakers and more. For further information, to donate to the office or access the legal support staff, contact Kevin Aplin at (321) 726-6656 or Jodi James or Kay Lee at (321) 253-3673 or (321) 255-9790.
September 10, 4:00pm, Albuquerque, NM, "Directing America's Drug War: Which Way to a Safer Society?" Third Annual Public Policy Forum at the University of New Mexico School of Law, featuring a debate between Governor Gary Johnson and new DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson. At the Continuing Education Conference Center, 1634 University Boulevard NE, cosponsored by the National AIDS Brigade and KUNM Radio, to be taped by National Public Radio.
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].
September 19, 5:30pm, Syracuse, NY, League of Women Voters Panel Discussion on New York State drug laws. At the Genesee Inn, 1060 East Genesee St., corner of University Ave, sponsored by the Syracuse Metro Area LWV. Speakers include Onondaga County DA William Fitzpatrick, addiction psychiatrist Gene Tinelli, MD/Phd, Patricia Nixdorf of the Women's Transition Program and Assistant US Attorney John Duncan. Dinner is $15, served at 6:00pm, speakers at 7:30pm, call Janet Mallan at (315) 682-8051 to RSVP.
September 23-26, Philadelphia, PA, International Community Corrections Association 37th Annual Conference, on Reintegration and Re-entry of the Offender into the Family. $350 for conference and pre-conference workshops, reduced rate deadline 8/31. For info, call (608) 785-0200, fax (608) 784-5335 or write to ICCA Annual Conference, P.O. Box 1987, La Crosse, WI 54602.
September 26, 7:00-8:00pm, Albuquerque, NM, November Coalition Wednesday Community Meeting. At the Peace and Justice Center, 144 Harvard SE. For further information, call (505) 342-8090.
September 27-28, Washington, DC, "National Mobilization on Colombia, featuring workshops, meetings, lobbying and nonviolent demonstrations. Sponsored by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, Colombia Human Rights Committee, Colombia Support Network, Global Exchange, United Church of Christ and Witness for Peace. Visit http://www.ColombiaMobilization.org for info.
September 28, 4:30-6:00pm, Albuquerque, NM, "Open the Can" Drug War Vigil. At the New Bernalillo Courthouse, 400 Lomas NW. For fuhrther information, call (505) 342-8090.
October 1-3, Ottawa, Canada, "Women's Critical Resistance: From Victimization to Criminalization," at the Government Conference Centre. For information or to submit a presentation proposal, call (613) 238-2422 for information or write to Kim Pate, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, 701-151 Slater St., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1P5H3.
October 6-7, Phoenix, AZ, "Freedom Summit," annual libertarian seminar. At the Embassy Suites Hotel, visit http://www.freedomsummit.com for further information.
October 7-10, St. Louis, MO, American Methadone Treatment Association Conference 2001. For further information, e-mail [email protected] or call (212) 566-5555.
October 26-27, Cortland, NY, "Thinking About Prisons: Theory and Practice." At SUNY Cortland, call (607) 753-2727 for info.
October 24, 7:00-8:00pm, Albuquerque, NM, November Coalition Wednesday Community Meeting. At the Peace and Justice Center, 144 Harvard SE. For further information, call (505) 342-8090.
October 26, 4:30-6:00pm, Albuquerque, NM, "There's Something Fishy About The War on Drugs." At the New Bernalillo Courthouse, 400 Lomas NW. For further information, call (505) 342-8090.
November 13, 6:00-8:00pm, New York, NY, "Women, Prison and Family." At Audrey Cohen College, 75 Varick St., for information call (212) 343-1234.
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.
March 3-7, 2002, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 13th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm and 2nd International Harm Reduction Congress on Women and Drugs. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Association, visit http://www.ihrc2002.net or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
May 3-4, 2002, Portland, OR, Second National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, focus on Analgesia and Other Indications. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time and Legacy Emmanuel Hospital, for further information visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com or call (804) 263-4484.
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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