(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #202, 9/7/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 9/7/01
Late last month, in its annual convention held in Albuquerque, the organization Veterans for Peace passed a resolution condemning the "war on drugs." The resolution called the drug war "militaristic, punitive and brutal" and decried "an unacceptable level of collateral damage" being wrought upon our society and others around the globe.
I found this confluence of the peace and drug policy reform movements evocative of another war, from another time, and another organization of veterans who stood up as loyal opposition to call for an end to it: Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and a prominent leader of that organization, the young John Kerry.
In a stirring, now famous speech before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1971, Kerry described crimes and lies committed in the name of the war, and protested a climate of intolerance to debate, saying "[n]ow we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost."
Kerry had his chance to speak, forever woven in the tapestry of events that made up that chapter of our nation's history. Yet youthful idealism can be hard to sustain, and Washington sometimes induces a moral amnesia. In 1994, an older John Kerry, now a powerful member of the same committee he had addressed years before as an activist, used his office to try to silence the voice of another veteran turned peacemaker from a different war.
That veteran was Gustavo de Greiff, Prosecutor General of Colombia, and the war was the drug war. De Greiff had coordinated the pursuit of Pablo Escobar, the murderous drug lord who had assassinated officials in the hundreds and terrorized a nation. Escobar was killed in the operation, but so were many others on both sides. De Greiff understood that all their efforts, all their lost lives, would ultimately merely elevate one cartel over another, bringing about no long term reduction in the availability of drugs in the US or anywhere, no solution to drug abuse, no progress toward victory in the war on drugs. Violence and corruption were the fruits of drug prohibition, and de Greiff decided, as he put it, to "trumpet" the cause of legalization at every opportunity.
One of those opportunities was a conference in Washington, DC, hosted by the Drug Policy Foundation, and another was the editorial page of the Washington Post. That earned him John Kerry's ire, and the Senator, along with officials in the State and Justice departments, leveled vicious criticisms at him and made veiled threats that the nation of Colombia itself would suffer if he continued to speak out in this manner. In May of that year, responding to an invitation from the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to give the keynote address at a conference at Harvard Law School, de Greiff wrote back, saying:
"I was ready to accept your invitation, but recent actions of the Department of Justice as well as Senator Kerry accusing me of false attitudes and actions, together with the fear of the Colombian government of retaliations against Colombia, by the U.S. government... have convinced me that I could cause serious problems to my country, so, deeply regretting it, I have decided not to accept it. It is regrettable that the government of a country where civil liberties were literally born assumes the attitudes it has taken concerning myself."
Three years later, Kerry the one-time peacemaker published a book, "The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security," describing international criminal enterprises in some detail and calling for increased curtailments of civil liberties, including the exportation of America's asset forfeiture practices -- serious concerns over which have been raised on both sides of the Congressional aisle both before and since.
I found it ironic that a man whose career had been launched through a struggle for peace, had now aligned himself so closely with what he himself described as a "war." Not that some valid rationale for the seeming contradiction couldn't exist -- sometimes it only takes one side to start a war, after all, and much of the criminal activity described in Kerry's book is legitimately threatening. But such a reason can only truly apply if there are no better ways to address a situation. And there clearly are better ways, but ways which the Senator apparently doesn't wish to see debated.
At a talk in a Washington, DC bookstore, Kerry discussed the vast profits that such organizations garner, particularly from the drug trade. I attended the talk, asked him what his estimate was of how much money organized crime derives each year from illegal drugs, pointed out that these vast profits exist, and enrich international criminals -- potentially financing terrorism and other threatening activities -- because of, and only because of, drug prohibition. Therefore, I asked, shouldn't we consider legalization of drugs, in order to stop the vast flow to organized crime of hundreds of billions of dollars each year and all the terrible, frightening consequences that flow from this?
It didn't take Kerry long to come up with his answer -- "no" -- after which he launched into a nice sounding, but essentially meaningless oration about kids and prevention programs and safeguarding our communities and families from the harms of substance abuse. A portion of the audience, perhaps "groupies" or other such enthusiasts, broke into applause. At least some others, though, were more critical, and one member of the audience came up to me afterwards and pointed out that the Senator hadn't answered my question.
Of course he hadn't! And an important question it was. As the Veterans for Peace resolution pointed out, the consequences of the drug war are numerous and serious: "the dissolution of families, the neglect of children, joblessness, crimes of violence, 'historic levels' of official corruption... the callous disregard for life and family and children, and the indefensible squandering of enormous resources of the people of the United States, all of which permeates these policies and their application."
And so, when a one-time peacemaker avoids answering an important question, to justify the escalation of a "new war" in which he has become embroiled, I can only ponder: How soon, immersed in politics and power, can we forget that for which we once stood. How varied and compelling the temptations to war, how awful the consequences to the casualties and the souls of the warriors themselves.
And how long until we, as a nation and as a world, remember the lessons of the past?
Grover T. (Tom) Crosslin lived for the cause of marijuana legalization. Early this week he died for it. Crosslin, 46, the owner and operator of Rainbow Farm, an alternative campground and concert site in Newberg Township outside of Vandalia, Michigan (http://www.rainbowfarmcampground.com), was shot and killed on his property by an FBI agent Monday afternoon. His long-time partner, Rolland Rohm, was shot and killed by Michigan State Police on the property early Tuesday morning. The shootings ended a stand-off that began last Friday afternoon, but the fallout from the killings is only beginning.
Throughout the Labor Day weekend, according to law enforcement accounts, Crosslin and Rohm systematically burned down the ten structures on their beloved farm, shot at and hit a news helicopter filming the fires, shot at and missed a police surveillance plane, sprayed the woods bordering the 34-acre property with gunfire to keep police at bay, and separately confronted law officers with raised weapons, only to be shot dead.
[In the rural Midwest, the marijuana culture sometimes intersects with an angry populism inscrutable to progressives on both coasts. Here, where Waco and Ruby Ridge echo still and where militia men mix with less militant redneck potheads and even more mellow country hippies, conspiracy theories are already springing up around the killings. Everything from the size of the alleged bullet holes in the news chopper ("too big") to the alleged shooting at aircraft itself ("too convenient" -- it allowed the FBI in), to the actual details of the killings has already been challenged in the movement's electronic media. But while the official version of events provided by state, local, and federal officials remains unverified, it also remains so far uncontradicted.]
As the four-day stand-off progressed, while negotiations between Crosslin and Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood sputtered and ultimately failed, Rainbow Farm supporters gathered nearby by the dozens to mount a vigil and demand justice and a peaceful resolution of the siege. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible demand violent revolution," read one sign at the roadside.
Beginning in 1996, Crosslin had sponsored pro-marijuana rallies under a variety of names at Rainbow Farm. While he was a visible and outspoken proponent of reforming the marijuana laws, the rallies caused few legal problems until this year. But things began to unravel in May when local law enforcement authorities, using the traffic death of a youth who had attended the festival as a pretext, swept down on the campground, arresting Crosslin and Rohm, among others, and charging them with a variety of marijuana and firearms violations. Though police emphasized the traffic death (which occurred the day after the youth was at the campground) in justifying the bust at the time, they later revealed that it came as the result of a two-year-long investigation of Crosslin's activities at the farm.
By mid-summer, the pressure on Crosslin and Rohm was mounting. Crosslin faced 20 years in prison on the marijuana and weapons charges, was out of jail on a $150,000 bail bond, and the state was moving to seize Rainbow Farm under civil asset forfeiture proceedings. A local judge had issued an injunction barring Crosslin from holding any further marijuana-related gatherings at the campground. And in a move that must have elevated the pair's situation from intolerable to unbearable, Michigan child welfare authorities had taken Rohm's 12-year-old son and placed him in foster care after the May raid.
In mid-August, Crosslin defied the injunction, holding a small rally at the campground. Police observing the property reported they had seen Crosslin and Rohm smoking marijuana. Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter then moved to have Crosslin's bail revoked, which in all probability meant that last Friday, when the bail revocation hearing was scheduled, would have been his last taste of freedom for years to come.
Crosslin didn't show up for the hearing. As county officials were preparing a warrant for his arrest, they received reports of fires at the farm's address on state highway M-60, 13 miles west of Three Rivers. Crosslin and Rohm, apparently deciding that all was lost, had begun torching buildings. Police, claiming they had received an anonymous tip that the fires were an ambush, stayed on the perimeter, but built up their forces to include a SWAT team complete with an armored personnel carrier. By Monday, they were joined by FBI agents, who gained jurisdiction because of the alleged firing at aircraft, a federal crime, and by Monday afternoon, Crosslin was dead, shot by two of three FBI agents in an observation post at his property line. Crosslin, armed and wearing camouflage, according to law enforcement accounts, and accompanied by 18-year-old Brandon Peoples, refused FBI orders to surrender his weapon, instead pointed his rifle at them, and was shot and killed. Peoples, who had snuck past police lines onto the property, suffered minor injuries, was questioned by the FBI and released. Under instructions from the FBI, he has not spoken publicly about the shooting.
Rohm died early the next morning at the hands of Michigan State Police, who, according to their own account, had moved in to accept his surrender. Police said Rohm had agreed to surrender if he could first meet with his son, but shortly before the agreed upon hour another fire broke out and Rohm emerged from the burning building, armed and in camouflage. He refused to surrender his weapon, police said, instead pointing it at them. He was then shot and killed.
While the reactions of friends and supporters of Crosslin, Rohm, and Rainbow farm fluctuate from shock to anger to despair to bewilderment and back, prominent members of the marijuana reform movement who share those sentiments are also having to do a cold political calculus. The marijuana movement nationally is seeing record levels of support, and Michigan is itself in the midst of petition drive to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot next year. Crosslin, in fact, had long supported that effort. Whether the Rainbow Farm killings will hurt or help the movement is the question facing the politicos.
While some organizations queasy about the possible political fallout have declined to comment on the shootings, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.norml.org) executive director Keith Stroup talked to DRCNet about the politics of the incident.
"If the goal is to get the public to react with outrage to police use of force, the facts are not perfect here," he said. "But remember, this started out as indictment for marijuana. With these laws, you invite this kind of situation that ends up as a violent encounter. These were two men who were ordinarily quite peaceable and peace-loving, not violent and crazy, but they were driven to behave in a hostile and irrational manner. If the authorities had not done all that they did to these men, they would not have reacted the way they did. I'm not certain I wouldn't do the same thing in similar circumstances," he said.
"But one does not have to entirely defend the actions of these two men to indict the police in this case," Stroup argued. "That they killed Crosslin was a tragedy, but when they came back a few hours later and shot Rohm, that was just inconceivable. Don't tell me the police had no tools in their arsenal but lethal force. If they find a bear rummaging in the trash, they go out and anesthetize it. You'd think humans deserved at least the same treatment. I hope there will be a grand jury to investigate these killings," said Stroup, "I hope there will be indictments."
There is no word yet from local authorities on a grand jury -- the role of Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter as a key target of any investigation makes a local grand jury problematic -- but the US Justice Department has announced that it will investigate the shootings.
"This is dangerous territory politically," said Stroup, referring to the possible impact of the killings on the prospects for Michigan's ongoing marijuana legalization initiative campaign, the Personal Responsibility Amendment (http://www.mi4norml.org). "Our folks in Michigan feel a terrible sense of loss, but they are trying to figure out how to respond without getting into the middle of a battle that is tangential to their main goal. The association of this violence with marijuana could make it more difficult for the PRA to gain support, even though it obviously remains the correct position," Stroup said. "But after the second killing, it is no longer possible to remain silent. We cannot in good conscience sit by and be silent while they execute marijuana offenders."
Saginaw attorney Greg Schmid is the man behind the PRA. "I knew these guys," he told DRCNet. "I've been out there, I've spoken there a few times. Like every other campground where there were rock concerts and the like, people smoked pot. But they used to laugh about it. Tom was a super nice guy," said Schmid. "Those guys did a lot of community service work, handing out toys and Easter eggs and things like that. But by last Friday, those guys had had enough. They had had their kid taken and put in foster care."
Morel "Moses" Yonkers describes himself as a long-time friend of Crosslin and Rohm despite having what he called a "falling-out" with Crosslin last year. "I started working with Tom doing housing renovations in Elkhart," he told DRCNet. "He was always talking about wanting to buy a big, beautiful, peaceful place. Then he got a chance to buy Rainbow Farm and he took it. I spent eight years living on the farm with Tom and Rollie. Tom loved his freedom and wanted to help make everyone else free, too," said Yonkers. For Yonkers, the bust earlier this year and the subsequent persecution of Crosslin by local authorities only amplified Crosslin's mistrust of the government. "He really believed in liberty, and he watched the government hard because of Waco and Ruby Ridge," said Yonkers. But it was the loss of Rohm's child that really tore at the couple, he said. "Rollie was at my camp just a few weeks ago crying about the kid," Yonkers said.
In one of his last communications, delivered through his lawyer during the siege, Doreen Leo, Crosslin emphatically confirmed Yonkers and Schmid's assessment of his motivation. "The right-wing prosecutor (Teter) and his rubber stamp (Cass County) Judge (Michael E.) Dodge have stolen our child and they are who we hold responsible. They no longer serve the people, they only serve themselves. They must resign. Admit publicly what they have done to our family," Leo read.
While Schmid mourns the loss of an ally, he is also wary of the political impact on the marijuana legalization initiative. "There are a lot of people who are very angry about this," he told DRCNet, "and that may help us get the signatures we need. But it may also excite enough interest to beat us in a general election. We are in the damage control mode right now."
While the field marshals wage their wars of position, Crosslin's and Rohm's friends mourn and remember. Moses Yonkers' spirits lifted audibly as he recalled with pride -- that Crosslin shared, he said -- that High Times had named the farm "the 14th best place in the world to get stoned." "Tom believed in our right to smoke," said Yonkers. To that end, Crosslin helped finance his years on the hemp festival circuit. "We created the Hemp Center -- at first, it was basically just to hand out Rainbow Farm fliers -- but Tom paid for my travel and expenses while I went to about every hemp festival in America for five years," Yonkers told DRCNet.
Crosslin's generosity wasn't limited to the movement, according to Yonkers. "Hell, I remember one year when the mayor came to us on Christmas Eve saying there weren't enough toys for the town's kids. Tom jumped up and charged $2,000 worth of presents on his Sears card. He wasn't sure he could pay for it, but that didn't stop him. That's the kind of guy he was."
Yonkers and others took issue with law enforcement depictions of the farm's festivals as dens of depravity. "Those were beautiful events," he said. "I was there for Hemp Aid 2000, there were 5,000 people around the campfires and peace was breaking out everywhere. We had security people, but they didn't have much to do except direct traffic, and maybe chase away the occasional tank of nitrous. Yeah, people smoked pot -- these were pot rallies, you know. We spent five or six years trying to change the marijuana laws, working with Greg Schmid and the PRA."
Richard Lake of Escanaba, Michigan, also attended events at Rainbow Farm. "I knew Tom from the hemp fests and saw him at the Ann Arbor Hash Bashes. He talked there," Lake told DRCNet. Lake, who helps operate the Media Awareness Project's (http://www.mapinc.org) drug news archive, said lurid press accounts of goings-on at Rainbow Farm taken from law enforcement sources were overdone. "I saw their efforts to throw out people who were dealing drugs," said Lake. "They could have found as much drug dealing at any rock concert or on any college campus. Are they closing down the college campuses?"
Other Crosslin supporters expressed their sentiments with signs. Brothers Darren and Lloyd Daniels, who live less than a mile down the road from Rainbow Farm, put the blame squarely on Cass County Prosecutor Scott Teter. "How does it feel to have innocent blood on your hands, Teter?" asked a sign they placed in their yard. The brothers told the local newspaper, the Herald-Palladium, that the prosecution of Crosslin and Rohm typified Cass County's intolerance. "I've got friends here getting busted with seeds and stems," Lloyd said.
"The police should have realized that sending in FBI agents to spy on the property was a provocation," said Lake. "Why? There was a series of mistakes on both sides, I guess. When it became clear to Tom that there was no escape, I'm not surprised they burned the place down rather than give it to the government. I wish the two of them had just gone to Canada. It's sad and scary and a lot of people are angry and upset."
As for protests or other actions, Yonkers said no plans were firm yet. "Right now, we're planning funerals," he said.
(Funeral services for Tom Crosslin will be held Saturday at 11:00am at Walley Mills Zimmerman Funeral Home, 700 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart, Indiana. Rohm's body is undergoing a second autopsy at the request of his family; his funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.)
Three weeks ago, DRCNet (and few others) reported on the 9th US Circuit Court Appeals panel ruling in US v. Buckland, in which the judges struck down both the mandatory minimum sentence provisions and the post-conviction sentence enhancement provisions in the 1984 Controlled Substances Act (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/199.html#apprendicontinues). The ruling in Buckland was the most recent and most far-reaching fallout yet from last year's Supreme Court decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, which held that sentences extended beyond statutory maximums because of post-conviction findings of fact not subjected to a jury's scrutiny were unconstitutional.
Since then, in the first of what threatens to be a wave of cases resulting from the Buckland ruling, whose precedent extends only to the nine states in the 9th Circuit, the appeals court has ruled that the life sentence given a Montana man described in the local press as "one of Billings' most notorious drug dealers" is unconstitutional and he must be re-sentenced in accordance with Buckland.
Pedro Hernandez, 43, was convicted on an 18-count marijuana conspiracy indictment with a maximum sentence of 20 years. But because prosecutors in post-conviction hearings held him responsible for two tons of marijuana, his sentence was enhanced beyond the maximum. The 9th Circuit Court found that the sentencing judge expressly instructed the jury that the government didn't need to prove the quantity of drugs involved -- precisely what its ruling in Buckland forbade.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors alike view the Buckland decision as a major threat to current federal sentencing schemes. "It does affect thousands of cases, which otherwise could be charged with higher penalties," San Francisco federal public defender Barry Portman told the Associated Press.
"This is a big, big deal," echoed Dan Dodson of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "It is very important until and unless it is overturned," he told DRCNet.
Which is a distinct possibility. The 9th Circuit's reading of Apprendi is in conflict with more restrictive readings in five other circuits. While the other circuits have applied Apprendi to bar sentence enhancements beyond the statutory maximum without a jury's finding of fact, only the 9th Circuit has ruled that the sentencing statutes themselves are so flawed as to be unconstitutional. This contradiction will likely result in a final resolution at the Supreme Court sometime in the future. But federal prosecutors on the West Coast are not waiting for that eventuality.
Through a combination of dire warnings and veiled threats, as well as legal action, they have made clear that in their view, Buckland cannot stand. On August 23, the Justice Department and US Attorneys from all nine states in the 9th Circuit formally asked the court to withdraw its ruling of less than two weeks earlier. Press officers for the 9th Circuit clerk of courts office told DRCNet Thursday that the court had not yet acted on the motion.
"The panel's decision will seriously hamper the government's ability to prosecute large-scale drug trafficking in this circuit," Justice Department lawyers wrote. "The panel's decision threatens to invalidate countless sentences and will result in a deluge of litigation in the district courts of this circuit."
That argument got short shrift from Buckland's attorney, Zenon Olbertz, whom the court ordered to respond to the government's arguments by the end of this week. "I think it's pretty disingenuous to say we should interpret the Constitution based on how much work is involved," he told the court-watching publication The Reporter.
If warnings of chaos in the courts aren't enough to sway the judges, the feds apparently think implied threats will work. "In each of the cases in which a court relies on Buckland to impose a sentence below the sentence that would otherwise have been applicable, the United States will consider taking an appeal to this court," blustered J. Douglas Wilson, head of the appellate division of the San Francisco US Attorney's office in a declaration filed as part of his brief. "Thus, every sentence generated by Buckland potentially will generate another appeal for this court."
In his declaration, Wilson bemoaned the fact that defendants in all districts were withdrawing from plea agreements, asking for new trials, and appealing their sentences.
"Well, yes! Goodness me," responded Portman. "The same thing happened after Apprendi and we don't take the Supreme Court to task," he told the Reporter.
The Los Angeles Times, for its part, approved of the Buckland ruling in a recent editorial, calling politicians who complain about rising prison costs and ungodly prison sentences "too gutless" to change the laws themselves. The Buckland ruling should give politicians who claim to want to do something about tempering the laws "the political cover they apparently need," said the Times.
As California's Proposition 36, which gives first- and second-time nonviolent drug possessors the option to choose drug treatment over a possible prison sentence, enters its third month, prosecutors and defense attorneys are skirmishing over the new law's reach. With implementation of the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, as Prop. 36 is formally known, taking place at the county level, the 58 county district attorneys play a key role in making the act work. Some have apparently not yet gotten over their November loss and are contesting the law's scope in a variety of ways, but they are still taking their lumps.
In a victory for reformers, an Orange County appeals court ruled last month that Prop. 36's provisions apply not just to drug offenders, but also to persons charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, such as needles or crack pipes, and that the new law applies even to those arrested before it went into effect on July 1. Meanwhile, a similar appeal is underway in Northern California, and in Alameda County, prosecutors and defense attorneys are tangling over whether to jail Prop. 36 offenders prior to conviction.
In the Orange County case, a two-judge Superior Court Appellate Department panel upheld trial judges who had extended Prop. 36's provisions to those two classes of defendants. The city of Anaheim had challenged the broadening of the law's scope, with prosecutors arguing that paraphernalia offenses were not explicitly mentioned in the law. But the judges ruled that to deny needle possessors the same protections afforded to drug offenders "would lead to absurd results that run contrary to the expressed intent of the voters."
Deputy Orange County DA Brian Gurwitz still didn't get it, though. "Drug offenders should only receive Proposition 36 treatment for offenses listed in the statute," he told the Orange County Register. "We disagree with the court's expansion of the program."
Be that as it may, Anaheim prosecutors announced late last week that they were dropping any further appeals on the two types of cases and would quit seeking jail sentences for paraphernalia law violators. Nine defendants had faced further hearings and possible jail sentences in connection with the paraphernalia and arrest date issues. Now they will join more than 1,400 others ordered to treatment programs in Orange County under Prop. 36 so far.
Prop. 36 supporters and defense attorneys, however, were pleased by the court ruling and the subsequent retreat by the city of Anaheim. Assistant Public Defender Robert Knox told the newspaper he applauded the decision. "We really thought these people were eligible and the sentencing judges were acting the way the law was intended," he said.
And Bill Zimmerman of the Campaign for New Drug Policies, which spearheaded the Prop. 36 initiative effort, told the newspaper, "We're gratified by the announcement by Anaheim." A similar case is underway in Northern California, said Zimmerman.
In Alameda County, meanwhile, prosecutors are trying to keep Prop. 36 offenders in jail pending conviction, even though they cannot be sentenced to jail time. Prosecutors argued that time in jail could motivate defendants to settle their cases quickly and asserted that the strategem is consistent with Prop. 36 because it will help get people into treatment more rapidly. They also argued that Prop. 36 is a "sentencing only" law that does not affect release pending trial.
Defense attorneys weren't buying that argument, and neither was the Oakland Tribune. It blistered the Alameda DA in an editorial last week for a mind-set "a little too much like the philosophy behind the gulag in the Soviet Union." The newspaper noted that if Prop. 36 defendants cannot be jailed after conviction, "it makes no sense to hold them in jail before they are convicted. It is illogical to treat someone more harshly before he or she has been proven guilty of anything.
"The fact is," the newspaper continued, "prosecutors and judges in Alameda County opposed Proposition 36 from the beginning and this latest tactic is simply another attempt to circumvent it. But the voters of California, recognizing the futility of incarcerating people with drug addictions, were very clear about their intention to provide treatment as an alternative. It's the law, and those charged with upholding it should put their resistance aside."
Neither the Campaign for New Drug Policies nor The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation Sacramento office, which is monitoring the progress of Prop. 36, was available for comment on Thursday. Both were involved in statewide meetings measuring the implementation of the act. Stay tuned.
Veterans for Peace (http://www.veteransforpeace.org), an anti-war group composed of veterans of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War to the Gulf War, has joined the growing roster of organizations formally condemning US drug policy. Meeting at their national convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on the weekend of August 24-25, the veterans endorsed a resolution advocated by New Mexico member Joe Minella.
"This had its origins when at the beginning of the drug controversy generated by Gov. Johnson here in New Mexico, the legislature passed a 'drugs are bad' resolution -- pretty much the same old bullshit," Minella told DRCNet. "I just went back and rewrote all their 'whereas's and 'resolved's and created a counter-resolution opposing the drug war," the six-year Air Force veteran explained. He also took pains to give credit to the November Coalition's Nora Callahan, who helped with the draft.
The resolution passed overwhelmingly despite the opposition of the group's Board of Directors, Minella said. "They said it wasn't our area of concern, but after the vote, even a couple of the board members came up to me and told me I was right," he added. "The board's reluctance to deal with this issue is something we run up against everywhere," he said, "but these institutions have to face the issue."
The group, which claims a membership of roughly 3,000 and holds official non-governmental organization observer status at the United Nations, has been involved in anti-war efforts since its inception in 1984. "We know the consequences of American foreign policy because once, at a time in our lives, so many of us carried it out," says the group's web site. "We find it sad that war seems so delightful, so often, to those that have no knowledge of it. We will proudly, and patriotically, continue to denounce war despite whatever misguided sense of euphoria supports it."
VFP members have taken medical aid to war-torn Central American nations, evacuated children from Bosnian hospitals, and sat down with US high school students across the country "so that they may make choices for themselves based on reality, and not myth."
While VFP is "firmly committed to the abolition of war," as its web site states, the resolution passed in Albuquerque marks the group's first formal denunciation of the drug war.
Calling the war on drugs "primarily militaristic, punitive, and brutal," the resolution said the drug war causes "an unacceptable level of collateral damage" through the dissolution of families, the neglect of children, joblessness, crimes of violence, "historic levels" of official corruption, and the encouragement of vicious criminal organizations.
Citing a litany of abuses, including the erosion of constitutional freedoms, the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of nonviolent Americans, the war-making imposed on Colombia and other countries, the disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, and the wasting of government funds that could have gone to social services, the resolution condemned "the arrogant and callous disregard for life and family and children, and the indefensible squandering of enormous resources of the people of the United States, all of which permeates these policies and their application."
As if that were not clear enough, VFP also resolved "that we hereby strongly oppose the efforts by the government of the United States to continue these destructive and cruel policies."
In other business at its convention, VFP also tackled issues ranging from US policy in Colombia, Israel, and Iraq to Native American disenfranchisement and weapons in space, and from US war crimes in the Korean War to the impact of corporate-led globalization on world peace.
Minella told DRCNet the VFP resolution is an organizing tool. "We have already taken it to other groups," he said. "The local League of Women Voters, for example, has a drug study going on here. When we took it to them the first time, before the VFP convention, they said, 'oh, no, this is too controversial,' and buried it. But now we can go back to them and tell them the resolution has some legitimacy, it was passed by the VFP."
The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's largest veterans groups, have yet to address US drug policy, but according to Minella, their relationship with the US government makes a drug policy approach problematic. "Those groups act as go-betweens between vets and the Veterans Administration," he explained, "and they get federal funding for that, which makes approaching them tricky."
Instead, said Minella, he would be concentrating on local and state level organizations for now. "We're aiming at the county Green Party, then maybe the state party," he said.
Minella told DRCNet he retired early because he wanted to work on the drug issue and on his house. "I haven't done a damn thing on my house so far," he said. But he has organized a vigil during Monday's debate between Gov. Johnson and new DEA head Asa Hutchinson. "The ACLU will be there, the November Coalition, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Friends of Justice from Tulia will be there," he said. "Come on down."
With the London borough of Lambeth's experiment with marijuana decriminalization now well underway -- police in the borough no longer arrest cannabis possessors, but merely snatch their stashes and issue warnings -- Lambeth activists are looking to the future, and they see the borough's predominantly Caribbean section of Brixton taking on something of the aspect of Amsterdam. In the first of a series of projected community meetings organized by Cannabis Action London, the cannabis coffee house approach pioneered by the Dutch garnered loud and boisterous support.
The debate, held last week at the Juice Bar in Brixton, showed that at least some segments of the community felt the decriminalization experiment did not go far enough. According to the London Evening Standard, a majority at the debate felt that with cannabis having been widely available in Brixton for decades, the logical next step would be cannabis cafes.
"The opening up of places where people come to smoke releases huge amounts of local government and central government revenue," said Brixton resident and Lambeth schools worker Michael Morris.
Lambeth Green Party drug policy spokesman Shane Collins also called for the cafes. "There should be licensed coffee shops for cannabis," he told the crowd. "We are not going to be given coffee shops by those people in suits. If we are going to have them, we have got to take them and set them up."
Drug reformers were not the only ones speaking up for coffee shops. "Entrepreneurs should seize the moment," said pub owner Martyn Cannan. "If a cafe is licensed and registered in a safe and correct manner, you will know what you buying. Those people who do not want anything to do with cannabis will know where not to go."
Others at the meeting expressed anger at the prevalence of hard drug dealers in the neighborhood and suggested that opening coffee houses would free the police to deal with them, the newspaper reported.
Lambeth councilor Johanna Sherrington, of the ruling Labor Party, however, had words of warning for coffee house enthusiasts. "This is not a decision for Lambeth alone," she said. "The police have the ultimate say about these issues. We have got neighbors. We can't act in isolation. We haven't blocked [the decriminalization experiment], but that doesn't mean we are pro-legalization," she added.
While telling the crowd she had an "open mind" on the issue and that the council's position was to "wait and see," Sherrington also hastened to remind her audience: "Let's not forget that cannabis is illegal."
Cannabis Action London activist Alastair Williams differed with Sherrington, calling the coffee house idea "a socially responsible" approach. "It is within the power of the police authority to have pilot schemes and alternative ways of policing drugs in society," he argued.
Lambeth police have so far not commented on the coffee house idea.
Crusading journalist Al Giordano, whose Narco News web site (http://www.narconews.com) is being sued for libel in New York City by Mexican banker Roberto Hernandez, has won a congressional ally in his David v. Goliath battle with Hernandez' Banamex, Citibank, which just gobbled up Banamex, and the high-powered Washington lobbying and law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Howard & Feld.
Hernandez was accused by Mexican newspaper editor Mario Menendez of participating in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, charges which Giordano picked up and repeated. Although three different Mexican courts threw out Hernandez' libel suits against Menendez, his venue-shopping lawyers at Akin Gump decided to try again in New York City. Giordano was added to the case because of remarks he made in New York.
But the case has turned into a public relations fiasco for Hernandez and Akin Gump, with international media attention and harsh criticism from First Amendment groups and journalist's organizations. Now, in a letter released this week, Rep. Cynthia McKinney has publicly chastised Akin Gump senior partner and former Democratic Party leader Robert Strauss for his firm's role in the affair.
Writing to express her "deep concern and protest" over the lawsuit, which "is clearly, as many of the most-respected media critics in the country have noted, aimed at chilling the free speech of Narco News," McKinney strongly urged Strauss to end his firm's involvement in the lawsuit.
"I write to bring this to your attention because, as a senior partner in a large law firm and former Chairman of the Democratic Party, you should be aware that attorneys from your firm are engaging in this transparent attack on freedom of the press, on behalf of billionaire corporate clients, in your name."
Whether someone like veteran fixer Robert Strauss is susceptible to shame remains to be seen, but Narco News and the vigorous journalism it practices has gained yet another ally.
(McKinney's strongly written letter may be viewed in its entirety at http://www.narconews.com/mckinneyletter.html online.)
According to reports in the Bogota newspapers El Tiempo and El Espectador, as well as the Associated Press, Colombian President Andres Pastrana Thursday used a press conference at the presidential palace in Bogota to call for a global conference to evaluate the "errors and successes" of current global drug policies and urged US President Bush to convene such a summit.
While by no means a call to put legalization of the drug trade on the global agenda -- a demand increasingly heard from Colombian political figures -- Pastrana's comments suggest that even he is finding the US drug war being played out in his country to be increasingly intolerable and politically untenable as currently waged.
"The hour to analyze the errors and blunders of anti-drug policy in the region has arrived," said Pastrana, adding that a follow-up to the Cartagena and Houston anti-drug summits of the 1990s is desperately needed. "Drugs continue to be the first or second largest business in the world," he said, "worth about $500 billion world-wide, and it is urgent to continue emphasizing actions to combat drug traffic and drug use."
But maybe not by fumigating Colombian crops, he suggested. "I believe that where we can truly strike blows at the heart of the drug trade is through interdiction and not simply fumigation," he said. Pastrana is recognizing domestic political reality in attempting to distance himself from the US-conceived program of spraying pesticides on drug crops. The program has generated intense and extensive opposition across the Colombian political spectrum, as well as within international environmental and human rights circles.
The drug-consuming nations of North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union have not done their share, he insisted, and they, too, should attend a global summit. They have not sufficiently reduced consumption or confronted money-laundering and precursor chemical exports, he said. "That must also be evaluated," said Pastrana, "not just the war policy of fumigation and that of interdiction.
"Many things in the realm of combating the drug traffic have changed and new elements now appear, such as fumigation and interdiction, points on which the different governments can make great advances," he said.
But even as he implicitly criticized US anti-drug policy in Colombia, Pastrana was careful to polish his drug war credentials. Saying that the suspension of intelligence sharing about suspicious drug flights since the April shoot-down of a plane full of American missionaries over the Peruvian Amazon "has allowed a lot of drugs to pass through our territory without any control of our air space," Pastrana asked the US to reinstate the program.
Pastrana's comments came a week before Secretary of State Powell arrives in Bogota for talks with the Colombian leader.
The Springfield Union-News in Springfield, Massachusetts,reported on 8/31 that City Councilor Timothy Rooke is seeking to place a non-binding referendum on needle exchange programs on the November 6 ballot. Rooke is not trying to help injection drug users, though -- he opposes them, and wants the questions worded: "Do you want hypodermic needles handed out in your neighborhood to drug addicts to help slow the spread of AIDS?"
A spokesperson for the Springfield Harm Reduction Coalition, Elizabeth Simon, criticized Rooke's wording, saying "This clearly is meant to arouse the fears -- 'Oh, there will be drug addicts running around and they might be dangerous.'"
In Atlanta, meanwhile, the publication Creative Loafing reported 8/29 on the long-term progress made by the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center in becoming an accepted part of the community's public health infrastructure. Formed in 1994 as a subcommittee of ACT UP Atlanta, AHRC has only one paid staffer, Program Director Mona Bennett, and struggles to find money to pay for the syringes it gives away but received funding for other purposes from entities such as the Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund.
In a sign of how times change, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell -- who declared during the American Cities Against Drugs conference in 1995 that "there would never be needle exchange in Atlanta" -- coincidentally the very week that AHRC distributed its first syringes -- Mayor Campbell recently said it was time to applaud grassroots groups that operate needle exchange and condom distribution programs, according to Creative Loafing. Campbell, however, is leaving office at the end of the year, and neither of the leading candidates have made their views on needle exchange programs known.
The summer issue of Yale Medicine includes
a review of the beginnings of needle exchange programs in New Haven a decade
ago, and the research there that proved the programs' effectiveness for
reducing the spread of disease. Read the article at:
Witness for Peace, "an organization that works to change United States national and corporate policies to ones that more fully support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas," is organizing "Unmasking the War on Drugs from Colombia to Los Angeles," a delegation from the west coast that will visit Colombia in June or July 2002.
Led by USC professor of International Relations David Andrus and Witness for Peace Bay Area coordinator Emily Firman, the Los Angeles delegation is one of a series being sent to Colombia each month next year. The Los Angeles organizers have chosen to examine the "war on drugs" as it is fought both abroad and at home.
To get involved, Los Angelenos can contact Rebecca Belletto at (213) 382-3805 or e-mail [email protected].
Orange County Register columnist Alan Bock ponders whether DEA chief Asa Hutchinson is really qualified for the job, in a column written for the WorldNetDaily:
Two weeks ago, DRCNet reported that a national commission in Jamaica had recommended the decriminalization of marijuana (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/200.html#ganjacommission). The full text of the commission's report can now be obtained online, thanks to the efforts of activists Pat Rogers and Buford Terrell. To read it in HTML format, visit:
To obtain a copy in Microsoft Word, visit:
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 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 14-16, 11:00am-7:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, "Summer of Unity," three-day event by the Phat Network, concluding with a "Day of Voice" dealing with multiple issues including the war on drugs. At Pershing Square, Outdoor Concert and Event Center, between 5th, 6th, Hill and Olive, admission free. For info, call (818) 623-0295, visit http://www.phatnetwork.net/summerofunity/ or e-mail [email protected].
September 15, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, "Twelfth Annual Fall Freedom Rally." At the Boston Common, sponsored by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. For further information call (781) 944-2266, visit http://www.masscann.org or e-mail [email protected].
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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