(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #206, 10/12/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
the Week Online archives)
1. Editorial: I Feel Safer Already
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 10/12/01
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under new leadership in the form of long-time Congressional drug warrior Asa Hutchinson, has found a new target in its federal drug war. DEA's new crusade is sure to ensure the agency's continued relevance as law enforcement priorities are recalibrated in the wake of the September 11th attacks on our nation.
DEA's new target is foods made with hemp. According to DEA, since any hemp contains some quantity of THC, foods made with hemp are illegal. Illegal to sell, illegal to consume. Pretzels, oil, candy bars, cheese substitutes, that sort of thing. Not enough THC in them to get you high, not in a million years.
I feel safer already.
No, I really mean it. I mean, if Americans can eat food made with hemp, it's inevitable that half or more of us will find ourselves sucked into the drug culture and wind up addicted to crack cocaine.
And if you're not sure that last statement makes sense, you can be sure the DEA's hemp policy is equally well reasoned.
And perhaps illegal. Hemp has been considered an exception to the Controlled Substances Act since that act was written. Congress simply didn't mean to ban non-psychoactive hemp. After all, why would they? Regulating domestic cultivation of hemp out of existence is one thing -- that's wrong too -- but it has always been legal to import, sell and consume. DEA has no legal power to change the law. They claim that they are merely interpreting the law, that it has always been illegal; the agency just didn't bother to enforce the law this way since its founding in the 1970s, just as its predecessors didn't bother since marijuana prohibition was enacted in the 1930s.
In truth, non-psychoactive hemp is legal. DEA bureaucrats are lying about the issue in an attempt to change the law administratively, something that constitutionally only Congress is supposed to be able to do.
Which strongly suggests something that some of us in drug policy reform have felt for many years: DEA is a rogue agency run by fanatical kooks.
Do you feel safer?
2. DEA Bans Consumption of Hemp Foods Effective Immediately
In the latest move in the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) quixotic crusade against cannabis in any form, the agency has published administrative rules that effectively ban the consumption of food products containing hemp oil, hemp seed, or any other product containing any quantity of THC -- no matter how miniscule. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but is found in only low concentrations in cannabis plants bred to produce hemp. A common formulation for gauging the consciousness-altering capacity of hemp is "you'd have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high."
In announcing the rules, DEA chief Asa Hutchinson explained that "many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana."
In its press release, the agency clarified further: "While most of the THC in cannabis plants is concentrated in the marijuana, all parts of the plant, including hemp, have been found to contain THC. The existence of THC in hemp is significant because THC, like marijuana, is a schedule I controlled substance. Federal law prohibits human consumption and possession of schedule I controlled substances. In addition, they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use. The rules that DEA is publishing today explain which hemp products are legal and which are not. This will depend on whether the product causes THC to enter the human body. If the product does cause THC to enter the human body, it is an illegal substance that may not be manufactured, sold, or consumed in the United States. Such products include 'hemp' foods and beverages that contain THC. If, however, the product does not cause THC to enter the human body, it is a non-controlled substance that may lawfully be sold in the United States. Included in the category of lawful hemp products are textiles, such as clothing made using fiber produced from cannabis plant stalks. Also in the lawful category are personal care products that contain oil from sterilized cannabis seeds, such as soaps, lotions, and shampoos."
The DEA helpfully listed the kinds of hemp products that are now banned: beer, cheese, coffee, corn chips, energy drink, flour, ice cream, snack bars, salad oil, soda, veggie burgers.
The agency is granting a grace period for merchants and producers stuck with what is now potentially felonious inventory. "As set forth in the rules, any person who currently possesses illegal THC-containing 'hemp' products will have 120 days (until February 6, 2002) to dispose of such products or remove them from the United States. However, during this grace period, no person may manufacture or distribute any such product for human consumption within the United States," the agency explained.
"Oh, my goodness, I didn't know that," said Rose Phillips, the owner of Hemptown Rock, a full-line hemp products store in San Marcos, TX. "This will affect me," she told DRCNet. "I have shampoos, creams, lotions, soaps, and I have cancer and AIDS patients using hemp seed oil. This will hurt people with medicinal needs," she said.
The rules "will be devastating," said the owner of an East Coast hemp foods store and restaurant who declined to be named. "I don't want it known I know the regulations have been published," he told DRCNet.
The new administrative rules have been coming down the pike for months, and the hemp industry waged an energetic but ultimately fruitless battle to sway the DEA. The anti-drug agency had also expressed concerns that hemp-based foods would interfere with widespread drug-testing programs, and the industry responded with its Test Pledge program (http://www.testpledge.com). Under the program, companies promised to test each batch of hemp seed or hemp oil to ensure that its THC levels remained low enough to prevent positive results for marijuana in drug tests.
The industry also attempted to persuade the DEA with science, but the agency remained immune. In a study jointly commissioned by the Canadian government and the hemp industry last year, researchers found that "a conflict between hemp food consumption and workplace drug testing is most unlikely" if THC levels common in hemp-based foods are used and if the tests follow federal guidelines.
According to an alert sent out by David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and chair of the Hemp Industries Association (http://www.thehia.org) Food and Oil Committee, representatives of the association are meeting with their lawyers in Washington this week. Bronner wrote that the HIA would seek a temporary restraining order to stop the regulations from taking effect.
Bronner also urged that people engage in civil disobedience by ordering lots of delicious, nutritious hemp goodies from the Test Pledge companies, a roster that now includes 21 businesses, from the Cool Hemp Company ("Christina's Hemp Cookies") to Canadian grower and processor Kenex ("Virgin Emerald Hemp Oil").
Hemptown Rock's Rose Phillips exhibited some of the same defiant attitude. "I will continue to sell until someone walks in my store and makes me stop," she said. "This will make people really angry," she said. "There are a lot of things the government needs to be doing right now, and worrying about whether someone has a hemp seed inside him isn't one of them."
Phillips paused, then added, "My mother has skin cancer, and hemp oil lotions have improved her skin. If they're trying to tell me that giving her hemp oil to help her condition is now illegal, well tough. Go ahead and throw me in jail."
But, she added, in the meantime she will be consulting her attorney.
(The DEA press release, as well as links to the rules as published in the Federal Register on October 9, are available at http://www.dea.gov/advisories.html online.)
3. In First, DEA Raids California Medical Marijuana Doctor, Feds Want to See Patient Records
Federal law enforcement agents have for the first time raided a doctor's medical marijuana practice in a state where the laws allow for medicinal marijuana use. On September 28, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents with weapons drawn raided the California Medical Research Center in El Dorado County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The raiders also searched the home of Dr. Marion "Mollie" Fry and her attorney husband, Dale Schafer, directors of the center, according to CMRC employees and attorney Heather Schafer, daughter of the couple.
The center has provided medical and legal consultations for more than 6,000 medical marijuana patients from around the state. It also provides educational services for registered patients, including classes in cooking and cultivation, the latter of which apparently was the pretext for the raids. Dr. Fry, an outspoken advocate of the medicinal uses of marijuana and a cancer patient herself, has participated in numerous educational events on medical marijuana throughout the state.
No marijuana was found at the center, but DEA agents and El Dorado County Sheriff's deputies destroyed 32 plants being grown at the Fry-Schafer residence for the personal use of Dr. Fry. Fry and her 14-year-old son were handcuffed and detained for several hours, but were not arrested, Heather Schafer told DRCNet.
Agents seized all of the center's patient records, said Schafer, but a federal magistrate has sealed those records because they contain privileged attorney-client information. Despite the loss of its records, the center remains open for business, employee Jaimie Daniel told DRCNet.
The DEA has so far refused to comment on the case other than to say that an investigation is underway.
Activists and patients had been nervously waiting to see what posture the agency would take under the new leadership of Asa Hutchinson and in the wake of last summer's Supreme Court ruling. In the Oakland Cannabis Co-op case, the Court held that state medical marijuana laws offered no affirmative defense from federal marijuana statutes. While federal agencies have harassed medical marijuana doctors, providers and caregivers through civil injunctions and covert surveillance, a raid leading to federal criminal charges would be a first and could signal the beginning of a federal crusade against medical marijuana in the states.
"This was the DEA raiding a medical marijuana center," said Heather Schafer. "We were the first, but everybody in this community and this movement is fearful that they could be next."
"The other shoe has dropped," said Jay Cavanaugh, director of the National Alliance for Medical Cannabis (http://www.letfreedomgrow.org). "We've been waiting to see whether the federal government under Ashcroft and Hutchinson would be true to its pledge to respect state laws or whether the feds would continue to hound medical marijuana patients and caregivers," he told DRCNet. "Now we know."
But, Cavanaugh added, he is not so certain that the orders are coming from Washington. While El Dorado County Sheriff's deputies told Fry and Schafer they were acting only on the behest of the DEA, Cavanaugh suggested that recalcitrant state officials opposed to the medical marijuana law are collaborating with action-hungry DEA agents to disrupt the movement.
"In some parts of California, local authorities have been on a mission to eliminate medical cannabis," said Cavanaugh. "El Dorado County is one of them. The biggest thorn in their side is Mollie Fry. Her practice is limited to medical marijuana consultations, her process is immaculate -- I've witnessed it myself -- and she is one of the largest recommendation providers in the state. And her husband, Dale Schafer, recently announced plans to run for District Attorney."
Berkeley-based medical marijuana advocate Dr. Tod Mikuriya (http://www.mikuriya.com) also pointed toward a local-federal alliance at work. "This is a Rosemary's Baby sort of coven of federal, state and local officials who are engaged in an unconstitutional conspiracy to deprive patients, doctors and caregivers of their rights," Mikuriya told DRCNet. "These people are behaving like a cabal."
Mikuriya should know about harassment of doctors who write medical marijuana recommendations. "There are 47 complaints against me at the California Medical Board," he said. "Not one of them is from a patient." Mikuriya has begun a counteroffensive with civil lawsuits directed at officials in two counties.
Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.canorml.org), told DRCNet it is too early to say that Bush's new DEA team or state law enforcement are cracking down on the medicinal use of marijuana. "I know there's been surveillance at cannabis clubs for a while," he said. "It's premature to say whether it's part of a larger campaign, I don't know yet. It is the first time the DEA has tried to close a medical cannabis center, for whatever that's worth. The question is: will they go after the co-ops next?"
There is another local angle. On September 24, police in El Dorado County announced they had raided what they called a "major marijuana cultivation and sales operation," arresting two employees of FloraCare, the company that allegedly provided the weed to medical marijuana users. Some FloraCare employees are former employees of the center, Heather Schafer told DRCNet, but no longer have any connection with it.
With patients already bringing in copies of medical records now sitting in a federal magistrate's office, the center is turning to the coming legal battles. At an October 4 hearing in federal court in Sacramento, attorneys for the center attempted to convince Federal Magistrate Gregory Hollows that the records should not be shown to law enforcement officials because they are covered by attorney-client privilege.
"Every patient went through an educational process and a legal consultation before even seeing the doctor," Heather Schafer told DRCNet, "so all these records are confidential and covered by the attorney-client privilege. Does the DEA have the right to look at those records? We don't think so, and we hope the judge agrees."
US Attorney Anne Pings disagreed. Citing a "crime-fraud exemption," Ping told the magistrate the attorney-client privilege does not apply to the patient records. "Theoretically, the government is entitled to know what individuals purchased marijuana or were informed about the opportunity to purchase marijuana," she argued.
Her argument was weakened, however, by the fact that the medical center did not distribute marijuana to patients. Informing patients of the existence of co-ops that distribute medical marijuana is not a crime.
Magistrate Hollows did not rule immediately on the issue. He instead announced he would make his ruling public on October 22.
No criminal charges have yet been filed against Dr. Fry or anyone else involved at the center. "But we don't know what the future will bring," said Schafer.
And that may be the point, according to Cavanaugh. "I fear the feds have found a strategy where they can put a real dent in the medical marijuana movement without having to pursue criminal charges," he said. "They know they would have a real problem with California juries, so they just come in and seize the medicine. In their eyes, it's contraband, so they destroy it. They have already done this to a couple of medical grows in Northern California at the request of frustrated local authorities."
The tactic works in another fashion, too, Cavanaugh explained. "By not charging people, the authorities are able to hang over their head the threat of an ongoing investigation. That scares the doctors from writing recommendations, that scares the patients from getting involved in a group under police scrutiny, and they hope it scares Mollie Fry into stopping what she's been doing. They will be proven wrong on Dr. Fry at least."
Mikuriya told DRCNet part of the problem is weak leadership from Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is charged with overseeing implementation of the Compassionate Use Act. "The Attorney General needs to be in there defending Dr. Fry and standing up for the state of California," said Mikuriya. "But Bill Lockyer lacks the command authority experience to demand implementation of the law or measure compliance with it. He could issue statewide guidelines, but he never has. These raids are the result of illicit acts between state, local, and federal officials to contravene the will of the voters."
"This is outrageous," said Cavanaugh, "absolutely chilling for patients and doctors. You know, after those terrible attacks on the East Coast, this is the one time we're cheering for the government, and then we see DEA agents handcuffing a 100-pound, cancer-ridden doctor on the ground for a couple of hours. Gee, maybe she had a box cutter."
4. No Indictments in Missouri Jack-in-the-Box Killings -- Prosecutor Calls Victims "Bums"
Nearly a year ago, DRCNet reported on a wave of police killings of civilians in the course of enforcing the drug laws (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/156.html#policeshootings). One of the cases we highlighted was that of two St. Louis men, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, both 36, who died after being shot multiple times in the parking lot of a suburban Jack-in-the-Box restaurant by police and DEA agents attempting to arrest Murray for small-time crack cocaine sales.
According to law enforcement accounts at the time, when officers approached the vehicle in which Beasley and Murray were sitting, Murray first slammed into reverse, hitting a police vehicle attempting to box him in from behind, then lurched forward toward the approaching officers, necessitating that they shoot in self defense. A local grand jury guided by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch bought the official story, failing to indict the two shooters, DEA Agent Keith Kierzkowski and suburban Dellwood police Detective Robert Piekutowski.
But in the face of questions about the credibility of the cops' account and rising outrage among St. Louis' black community -- repeated demonstrations in the summer of 2000 led to the arrest of 19 demonstrators -- the US Justice Department opened its own investigation into the killings.
Last week, Eastern Missouri US Attorney Ray Gruender announced that although the two officers were not in imminent danger during the incident, as they had testified, they had not violated the civil rights of Beasley and Murray and no indictments would be handed down.
The result did not sit well with St. Louis civil rights groups, defense attorneys, and some political officials, and comments from Prosecutor McCullough the next day that the dead men were "bums" has inflamed them even further.
McCullough, a law-and-order hardliner from a police family, held a press conference in which he defended the police actions and attacked the dead men. "These guys were bums," said McCullough. "The print media and self-anointed activists have been portraying the two gentlemen as folk heroes and have been vilifying the police. I think it is important for the public to know that these two and others like them for years have spread destruction in the community dealing crack cocaine and heroin."
"I am very disappointed," state Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr. (D-St. Louis) told the St. Louis Post.
St. Louis defense lawyer Nick Zotos told the Post the prosecutor's comments were "typical Bob McCullough. He is indifferent to the black community," said Zotos.
Former prosecutor Dan Diemer told the Post McCullough's comments belied his claims to impartiality in the case. "He didn't want to indict the cops," said Diemer. "He wanted to clear the cops. You can present a case to win or present a case to lose before the grand jury."
[Indeed, a common saying regarding prosecutorial control over grand juries is that "a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor told it to."]
US Attorney Gruender took a page from McCullough's book in his investigation. According to Gruender in a post-non-indictment press conference, the officers testified that they shot because Murray, the driver, tried to run them down. That was not the case. The vehicle never moved forward, Gruender said.
"Our evidence found they were wrong," Gruender explained. He did not explain why the officers' false testimony was merely "wrong" and not perjurious.
Gruender added that the officers testified they shot, hitting Murray 12 times and Beasley, an innocent passenger four times, because "we were afraid." That was the key to the case, said Gruender: There was no credible evidence that the officers had not been in fear of their lives. Again, Gruender did not explain how prosecutors could prove a negative.
DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson promptly weighed in, issuing a statement saying he was pleased the investigation "exonerated" the two drug agents.
Local activists had a different take. They were angry, but not surprised. "How can you be surprised?" said the Rev. Earl Nance Jr., head of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition and education liaison to Mayor Francis Slay. "These kinds of cases happen all over the country."
Members of the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, a local grassroots organization including the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, Refuse and Resist, and a number of local black radical and nationalist groupings, walked out of a meeting with Gruender in frustration just before the news conference.
Zaki Baruti, co-chair of the coalition and one of the walk-outs, told the Post he was unsatisfied with Gruender's explanations. "This is a classic example of a legalized lynching," said Baruti.
Baruti and 15 other members of the coalition gathered at the Jack-in-the-Box for an impromptu demonstration the same day, and they promise more actions in the near future.
Faheemah Houston, area program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee and a member of the coalition, told DRCNet the lack of indictments was no surprise. "It's just going to make us work that much harder," she said. "Our coalition is organizing locally, not only around these killings, but also around others and in an effort to get an effective civilian review board to have some oversight over police misconduct," she said. "We are also organizing around the October 22 National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality."
Visit http://www.october22.org for further information on the October 22 demonstrations.
5. Tales of Bin Laden: New York Times Bites on Ill-Sourced Super Heroin Story Peddled by Unnamed Officials
As the war propaganda machinery gears up, the New York Times is doing its part. Despite extremely flimsy sourcing, the nation's premier newspaper on October 4 ran a variation on the bin Laden-Taliban-drugs theme claiming that bin Laden was devilishly attempting to concoct a high-potency form of heroin with which to lay waste to Western Civilization. "Super Heroin Planned by Bin Laden, Reports Say," ran the headline.
Citing unnamed "American officials," who in turn cited "an informer" and "a foreign intelligence service" as ultimate sources, the Times breathlessly reported that "bin Laden or his network were preparing to become directly involved in the heroin trade by developing a super-potent form of heroin."
The move to "super heroin" allegedly came in retaliation for US cruise missile strikes against Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998 in the wake of the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, an act for which bin Laden was indicted in the US. The goal of the alleged project was to create a new form of heroin "that would produce greater addiction and havoc than drugs available in Western cities," the Times reported.
The Times did make a limited effort to confirm the story, but the fact that DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson could tell the newspaper only that the agency had "limited information" about the alleged plot did not prevent the paper from running with it. To its credit, however, the paper did note the "super heroin" announcement was made as US officials sought "to portray the governing Taliban officials and Mr. bin Laden as critical cogs in the world drug trade."
Hutchinson testified before Congress last week that the DEA had "no direct evidence" tying bin Laden to the Afghan opium trade.
At bottom, the Times reported an allegation made by an unnamed US government official with a political agenda, based on the unnamed official's unverifiable assertion of having received unverifiable information from two anonymous sources in the spook demimonde. This is a performance more worthy of the tabloid New York Post than the "grey lady" of American journalism.
As for "super heroin" and the chemists capable of producing it, the Times might want to look at Stamford, CT, the home of Purdue Pharma. That's the company that manufactures OxyContin.
6. Dealing with Ecstasy: As Europe Embraces Harm Reduction, Acting Drug Czar Fumes Against It
What a difference an ocean makes. On this side of the Atlantic, users of the increasingly popular drug MDMA (ecstasy) face increased federal prison sentences, with several states also increasing penalties and others moving to do so. Club owners have been indicted and authorities across the nation are involved in a multi-front war to smash the rave culture. By contrast, in Europe authorities have taken a more peaceful approach. DRCNet has already written about the Dutch response to ecstasy use (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/184.html#thedutch), and now much of the rest of Europe is following the Dutch lead in emphasizing harm reduction over repression.
Pill-testing to determine whether tablets thought to be ecstasy actually are -- and not potentially lethal substitutes such as PMA -- has taken off in Europe. According to a report last week from the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (http://www.emcdda.org/responses/themes/outreach_pilltesting.shtml), "many users still think ecstasy is fairly safe. On-the-spot pill testing is one of the few ways in which groups can connect with people in this scene and tell them in their own language that what they're buying, and the amount they're taking, might not be as safe as they think." The report also warned that "pill testing mustn't be used as a 'bait' to attract people to 'don't-do-drugs' propaganda. It has to be seen as an end in itself, protecting people's health, even lives."
The EMCDDA report, produced by the Vienna-based harm reduction group based CheckIt! (http://www.checkyourdrugs.at), found that pill-testing done by people who are part of the scene plays a vital role in reaching users and others who do not pay much heed to anti-drug warnings. Such efforts can boost users' awareness of the real risks involved in ecstasy use. Such projects are underway in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Although only the Dutch embrace pill-testing and other harm reduction measures for ecstasy as part of official drug policy, other European countries may soon come on board. According to the British newspaper the Observer, pill-testing programs in Spain are beginning to receive official funding now.
One group that would benefit from Spanish government largesse is Energy Control (http://www.abs-ong.org/energycontrol/), a Barcelona-based ecstasy testing and harm reduction group. Energy Control members set up testing stands at raves and clubs throughout Spain. According to the EMCDDA report, Energy Control members have tested up to 75 pills per rave, and they have done so without any interference from the police.
Meanwhile, in yet another outbreak of harm reduction, Irish ravers are now able to consult a website http://www.clubscene.ie) that contains detailed drug information and harm reduction advice, including such suggestions as telling first-time users to try taking half a pill instead of a whole one. The web site, created by Merchant's Quay Ireland, a volunteer organization working with Irish drug users, was developed because there was little accurate information for ravers who are interested in harm reduction, its director of services, Tony Geoghegan, told the Irish Times.
The EMCDDA report noted that pill-testing groups are important for taking the lead in defining the needs and problems of the music and dance scene by "providing pleasant and healthy spaces within techno events, clubs or festivals," and they speak the message of youth, making it easier to communicate key harm reduction concepts. Other activities by such groups include giving out condoms, fruit or drinking water.
None of this sits well with US drug warriors. In a letter to the New York Times this week, acting drug czar Edward Jurith attacked not just pill-testing but the entire concept of harm reduction. "Harm reduction is a political movement, not sound policy based on science," wrote Jurith, who instead suggested that "saying no will be a much simpler decision."
Listing all of the alleged harms from ecstasy that NIDA's billions have been able to dredge up, Jurith wrote that "so-called harm reduction programs only obfuscate the truth."
The drug czar stand-in added that, "At best, harm reduction is an approach that concedes drug abuse prevention is impossible. Pretending harmful activity will be reduced if it is passively condoned is irresponsible," he wrote. "Increasing help for those dependent on drugs is better than decreasing harm."
7. Jamaica: Prime Minister, Ruling Party Call for National Debate on Ganja Decrim
The pace of events is quickening in Jamaica. Since the parliament-appointed National Ganja Commission issued its August report calling for the decriminalization of the personal use of marijuana (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/189.html#ganjacommission), much political jockeying has taken place within the government and the ruling Peoples National Party (PNP). But on October 1, the party's National Executive Council, meeting in Ocho Rios, formally endorsed Prime Minister P. J. Patterson's call for a parliamentary debate on whether or not to decriminalize ganja. That debate should come later this fall and will lay the groundwork for a parliamentary vote on the matter.
According to the Jamaica Observer, Patterson told the council that he agreed with the recommendations of the National Ganja Commission, but that they carry implications that need to be fully discussed and carefully evaluated. Patterson referred to the lack of provisions for lawful access to ganja, as well as the need for diplomatic efforts to avoid international repercussions.
The ruling party's decision to place decriminalization on the parliamentary calendar came only after internal sparring amidst lively press coverage since the commission's report. Early last month, a group of young intellectuals aligned with the PNP, known as the Patriots, urged the government to take a cautious approach to the proposal. The Patriots warned of an international fall-out -- referring primarily the threat of US decertification next spring -- and pointed to international treaties barring the legalization of drug use.
"The country cannot afford to take the risk of attaining the dubious distinction of pariah status over such an issue," the Patriots told the Observer.
But the prime minister was apparently more taken by the logic of Tim Boekhout van Solinge, a Dutch criminologist, who, on the same day the Patriots were worrying to the Observer, was telling the Jamaica Gleaner that Jamaica could decriminalize, should decriminalize, and should undertake an aggressive international campaign to find support.
"It would be wise right now for Jamaica to seek some support from Canada, and European countries, especially those who are also moving forward [in their drug policy]: the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal and the UK," van Solinge told the newspaper. "The trend in the countries of the EU is clearly towards decriminalization, which is the general international trend," he observed. "The one big exception is the United States."
Jamaica need not violate the terms of the United Nations Conventions on drugs to effectively decriminalize, said van Solinge. "Maybe it is not wise now to formally change the law," he suggested. "Countries sometimes have to use creativity to make a policy more liberal."
But perhaps worrying about international reaction is premature. Although ganja is an integral part of Jamaican culture, it is by no means universally favored. Polling numbers have varied, but one recent reliable poll, the Stone Organization survey done on behalf of the Jamaica Observer, found 38% favoring decriminalization and 48% opposing.
Still, support for decriminalization is strong and spreading. The Jamaica Gleaner, one of the island's leading press outlets, editorialized in favor earlier this summer. "We think it is important to recognize some current realities," wrote the Gleaner. "Firstly, neither law nor gentle persuasion will ever eradicate the growth and use of ganja in this society. Secondly, chasing spliff smokers, as happens so often, is futile and counterproductive law enforcement. Policemen must know that the pungent aroma of the weed at pop music sessions and political rallies is more the rule than the exception. It is a part of the popular entertainment scene. In short, ganja is part of Jamaican culture even beyond the ritual usage that is fiercely defended on religious grounds."
Last month, Jamaica Observer columnist Dennis Forsyth urged the government to, even now, "instruct its police and courts to ease up on the arrest and detention of ganja users." Not to do so, wrote Forsythe, would expose the government to charges of cowardice before the US, whose local representatives responded shrilly and threateningly to the commission's proposals. The US State Department has not, however, yet made a formal statement on Jamaican decriminalization.
The ganja debate in parliament, in the form of a resolution put before both the House and the Senate, will occur this fall. Prime Minister Patterson told the Observer that the parliamentary debate would be free, without the party imposing any position on members. After the debate, members will vote on whether to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act.
In a move reflective of national controversy over the issue, Patterson also announced that the PNP's internal structures -- the youth and women's organizations, constituent groups, and regional executives -- will also be debating the proposal.
8. Bolivia Negotiations Stall as Coca Growers Reject Government Proposal
(bulletin from the Andean Information Network)
On October 9, coca growers' representatives met with Bolivian government officials in Cochabamba. Chapare union leaders reiterated their demand that each of the approximately 35,000 families in the region dependent on coca production be allowed to maintain one cato (1,600 square meters) of coca for traditional consumption and subsistence.
The government refused to halt eradication or permit the continuation of coca production in the region and proposed:
Coca producers expressed skepticism about the government's ability to implement its proposal, based on chronic incompliance with past agreements. Representatives also noted that a one-year payment would not adequately substitute income from continued coca cultivation.
Evo Morales, leader of the Six Coca Growing Federations, stated that the group maintains the demand for one cato of coca and gave the government until October 15 to respond. He threatened that road blockades could begin at that time if demands are not met.
Leopoldo Fernandez, Minister of Government, stated that security forces would repress any attempted blockades.
Coca growers maintain their vigil around at least six of the nine eradication camps in the region and other groups maintain in alert along the main road and other strategic locations. Tensions remain high in the region.
At 1:00am on October 5, a group of 150 coca growers including women and children carried out a vigil at the military camp in the town of Isinuta. According to denunciations from residents of the region, members of the Joint Task Force tear-gassed the group, fired live ammunition, and beat some individuals. At this time, two people are receiving medical attention in the Villa Tunari Hospital:
Security forces detained union leader Samuel Chacon to investigate the incident, provoking protests from coca growers' leaders.
For further information, contact the Andean Information Network at [email protected], visit http://www.scbbs-bo.com/ain/ or write to Casilla 4817, Cochabamba, Bolivia.
9. Activists Propose Take-Out Cannabis Cafe in Brixton, Authorities Mum
Despite the alacrity with which authorities in Manchester moved to shut down Colin Davies' cannabis cafe last month (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/203.html#withinminutes), activists in Brixton continue to plan for such marijuana retail establishments to open there. Unlike Manchester, the London neighborhood has been the scene of a months-long experiment with marijuana decriminalization, with police no longer arresting people holding or smoking it. Cannabis Action, a British marijuana reform activism group, last week presented a plan for three Dutch-style cannabis cafes, including one with take-out service.
The proposal comes after a series of consultative meetings organized by Cannabis Action with youth workers, Brixton residents, and pro-legalization campaigners and amidst the rapid dissolution of the consensus in favor of marijuana prohibition in Great Britain (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/202.html#brixton).
Under the scheme drawn up by Cannabis Action's Tim Summers, who has helped organize major pro-cannabis marches in London for the past three years, three cannabis cafes are envisioned. They will be the follow-up to the six-month decrim experiment in the borough of Lambeth, of which Brixton is a part. The first would offer a licensed 24-hour carryout service to serve "drug tourists" and London residents. The second may be sponsored by the area's large Rastafarian community, and a third could be operated by the local hippie community, Summers said.
"We would follow the tested Dutch regulations that mean no advertising, no sales of hard drugs, no nuisance, no alcohol, no sale to those under 18 years, and no sale of more than 30 grams of cannabis for each transaction," he told the Guardian. "The idea is to supersede the criminal trade by being open long hours and offering a wide choice of resin and herbal cannabis at cheaper prices."
Governmental authorities moved quickly to pass the buck. The Lambeth council told the Guardian it was not a licensing authority for cannabis. The Metropolitan Police, who are overseeing the successful decrim experiment in Lambeth, told the newspaper the Home Office would have to make the decision. The Home Office has not commented.
10. Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed in Alaska, Again
Last year, Alaska hemp activists reached for the sky with a radical marijuana/hemp legalization initiative that would also have demanded pardons for pot criminals and a commission to look into reparations for persons harmed by the marijuana laws. Their reach was a little too high: The initiative failed in the marijuana-friendly frontier state, garnering only 39.6% of the vote.
A year later and a year wiser, the Alaskan activists are ready to give it another shot. Anchorage-based Free Hemp in Alaska (http://www.freehempinak.org) last month presented over 900 hundred sponsor signatures to state officials as the first step in getting a new, slimmed-down legalization initiative on the ballot. Once state officials approve the initiative's wording, organizers can begin the petition drive to place the initiative on next year's general election ballot.
A Free Hemp initiative committee headed by Tim Hinterberger, Georgia Mario and Randall Patterson submitted the new initiative for approval at government offices in Anchorage. "The new initiative is the old initiative without amnesty, the panel on restitution and with the age raised from 18 to 21," said the group. "There are a few other changes but basically the new initiative like the old would end criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession and would also allow hemp farming."
Earlier this year, the group attempted to submit a legalization initiative that would have required local governments to tax and regulate commercial marijuana production if the state legislature failed to do so. The state Division of Elections, however, ruled that potential initiative unconstitutional, stopping it in its tracks.
Free Hemp in Alaska was roundly criticized within the drug reform movement for going too far in its language. "That was the most badly-written initiative ever," National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws director Keith Stroup told DRCNet at the time, "but we felt we had to support it. And the fact that even written as it was, 40% of voters approved it, makes me really optimistic that we can go back in two years and get it done."
From the wording of its revised initiative, it seems that Free Hemp has heard the message loud and clear.
11. Alerts: HEA Drug Provision, Drug Czar Nomination, DEA Hemp Ban, Ecstasy Bill, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana
Click on the links below for information on these issues and web forms to help you contact Congress:
Repeal the Higher Education Act Drug Provision
The Marijuana Policy Project is accepting applications for five full-time positions: Director of State Policies, Director of Communications, Assistant Director of Communications, Project Coordinator and Assistant Production Manager.
All five positions are based in Washington, DC. Visit http://www.mpp.org/jobs/ for further information on these positions and the application process. No phone calls.
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
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 8, 9:30am, Philadelphia, PA, "Drug War Reality Tour: The Philadelphia-Plan Colombia Connection." Hosted by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Politics of Recovery Committee. Meeting at 2825 N. 5th St., visit http://www.kwru.org or call (215) 203-1945 for further information.
November 10-11, Washington, DC, Students for Sensible Drug Policy 3rd Annual Conference, at The George Washington University. Call (202) 293-4414, e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.ssdp.org for further information.
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.
December 14 & 15, 8:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, "Corner Wars," play by Tim Dowlin, hosted by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. At the Tomlinson Theatre, 13th & Norris, Temple University Main Campus. Visit http://www.kwru.org or call (215) 203-1945 for tickets or for further information.
February 28-March 1, 2002, New York, NY, "Problem Solving Courts: From Adversarial Litigation to Innovative Jurisprudence." Panelists include former Attorney General Janet Reno, Rev. Al Sharpton and Mary Barr, Exec. Dir. Conextions. At Fordham University Law School, take the A, B, C, D, 1, and 9 subway trains to 59th Street/Columbus Circle and walk one block west. For further information, call (656) 345-5352 or e-mail [email protected].
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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