(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #221, 1/25/02
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 1/25/02
There's more than one way to deceive or mislead. Speaking an actual untruth, a bad fact that is known to be false, is only one of them. Another, very effective, way to deceive your audience is through selective presentation of facts. In this scenario, every statistic you cite might be technically true, but crucial elements of the issue or situation you are discussing are omitted, fundamentally warping the picture of reality presented to your listeners or readers.
An op-ed in the Washington Post the weekend before last resorted to this second method of deception. Dennis Jett, former US ambassador to Peru and Mozambique, now Dean of the International School of the University of Florida, made shockingly un-academic omissions in an editorial published on Sunday, January 12.
Jett called for the resumption of US support for the anti-drug airplane shootdown program in Peru. This program was halted, at least temporarily, last April, after it resulted in the downing of a plane carrying American missionaries and the killing of one of them and her infant daughter. Jett argued that the war on drugs, like the war on terrorism, is a necessary war to protect our nation. Sometimes innocent people are killed in war, and it is tragic and all efforts should be made to minimize it, but we still must defend ourselves from our enemies, in order to prevent greater tragedy.
I happen to consider the airplane shootdown program to be an abominable crime against humanity. But that's not my primary issue with Jett. He's entitled to his opinion, scary though it may be. I also think Jett's equating of terrorist bombings and poisonings of helpless civilians with drug trafficking -- in which inanimate commodities are delivered to willing customers who desire them for personal, private use -- is totally off base. But if Jett wants to believe that terrorism and drug sales are somehow comparable, well, I might think that's nonsensical, but again, he's entitled to his opinion on that. That's what democracy is all about, even if some democracies seem to make more use of nonsense than others.
My problem with Jett is the way he made his case for the interdiction program. Jett wrote that the area under coca cultivation in Peru fell from 115,000 hectares in 1995 to 34,000 in 2000, crediting the interdiction flights with playing a key role. But Jett failed to mention, nor even allude to in the slightest way, that coca cultivation in neighboring Colombia rose by approximately the same amount during the same time. Total cultivation remained pretty much unchanged, the only change being one of location. Drugs flowed into the United States and everywhere else at an unchanged rate. In fact, drug prices on US streets dropped dramatically during the 1990s, key proof that interdiction didn't work.
In making his case, then, Jett deliberately disregarded evidence of a hemispheric scale that the program for which he advocates, never actually did a thing to help our country. The unchanging economic law of supply and demand intervened to ensure that it never could.
Perhaps Jett simply disagrees with this economic and policy analysis of the anti-coca campaigns, overwhelming as the evidence seems to be. If Jett had mentioned the fact that Peru's decline in coca growing was replaced by increases in other countries, and then made his case why he nevertheless considers it a success that helped and can still help our country, I wouldn't call him dishonest. I would find the argument unpersuasive. But he would be entitled to that opinion and to argue for it.
But Jett had his chance in the Washington Post, and he didn't take it. Instead of pointing out the very strong evidence on the other side of the argument, making his case for the interdiction programs and letting the readers decide for themselves, he chose to omit the evidence and selectively put forward one statistic in isolation from all the others, to created a skewed impression of the usefulness of the programs.
To me, this verges on academic dishonesty. Some may consider that too strong a condemnation. But think about what Jett was arguing for: the shooting down of airplanes, and the toleration by the US public for the deaths of innocents in the process, to defend our nation from drugs. Clearly, the existence of significant evidence that the program doesn't actually protect the nation, affects the moral calculus involved in such a decision, and is an essential component of any informed and forthright discussion of the issue.
Post readers, and the public at large, have the right to expect a realistic portrayal of the evidence, particularly on such an important issue as drug policy, and particularly from a public servant and academic leader such as Dean Jett.
On the eve of an international donor conference designed to fund the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, bowed to international pressure and reinstated the Taliban's year-old ban on the production of opium poppies. But Karzai's edict, announced January 15, goes further than the Taliban ban. The new edict also bans processing, trafficking, and use of opium and its derivatives. It was greeted with applause from both drug warriors and opium dealers.
"The ban on opium production announced this week in Afghanistan represents a very important step in international drug control efforts," the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCCP) told Agence France-Presse.
"We'll be rich," a delighted Kandahar opium trader told the New York Times. Ali Muhammad and a crowd of other traders in the city's booming opium market concurred that the ban was just the thing to stop plunging opium prices. According to the traders, opium prices had fallen by half in recent months, with farmers planting more poppies and middlemen releasing warehoused stocks on the market.
If farmers were allowed to grow the poppies unimpeded, said the traders, prices could fall back to levels seen before the Taliban ban. At the Kandahar market, opium is presently wholesaling for $150 per pound, half as much as it fetched in August, but about five times as much as in the years before the ban, when legally grown opium flooded regional markets.
But at least one wise old trader was skeptical, the Times reported. Hajji Abdul Rahman, a white-bearded veteran, told his fellow traders not to count their money yet. He said he doubted the will of the loose alliance of warlords who run the country to honor the ban. "The people with guns will keep growing it, and big businessmen will benefit the most," he said.
The UNDCCP and other international anti-drug bureaucrats have expressed concern that it may be too late to stop the current crop, planted in the fall for harvest this spring. "There are only two or three months to make this ban meaningful and effective for this year," said UNDCCP. "For the plan to be effective, there needs to be a two-track approach" of suppressing production while providing alternative crops, it said.
There has been little progress on either track. At this point, the new Afghan government can barely pay its employees or provide essential services, let alone wage a war of repression against the country's largest cash crop. Muhammad Akram, head of police for the four provinces surrounding Kandahar, told the Times his understanding was that the ban would be extended in stages, province by province. According to Akram, there is no official word on whether the ban extends to his region, home of half the nation's opium crop.
One opium farmer the Times interviewed, Basher Muhammad, said he would reluctantly destroy his crop if forced to do so. "But the farmers will gather and go to the governor's house and demand compensation," he said. "If we don't grow opium, we can't live."
The treasuries of the nation's state governments, fat with surpluses not long ago, are facing leaner times now, and that could prove to be a boon for the drug reform movement. As the economy began edging into a recession last year and with the aftershocks of the September 11 attacks rippling through it since that date, governors and legislators belatedly began to realize the well was running dry. Some states, driven more by the impulse to cut budgets than by social justice concerns, have already closed prisons; others are moving to enact sentence reductions for drug and other offenders. Drug reformers have a chance to make further progress by targeting the budgetary impact of drug prohibition if they do it wisely, some prominent figures in the movement told DRCNet.
"The recession and the budget crunch in the states is a bigger opportunity for reform than the war on terrorism," said Kevin Zeese, president of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org). "Terrorism made people think about priorities; tight budgets will make them think even harder," he told DRCNet. "We've done a great job of laying the groundwork, but now we have to get the public to take the next step. Economic realities may force that hand."
In statehouses across the land, those economic realities are grim, indeed. As early as last October, a report commissioned by the National Governor's Association warned that state and local tax revenues could "very well turn down for the first time on record" (http://www.nga.org/cda/files/TAXREVENUES.pdf). And the latest fiscal outlook report from the National Conference of State Legislatures concluded bluntly in December that "state fiscal conditions continue to deteriorate" (http://184.108.40.206/programs/fiscal/sfo2002.htm). According to the report, 43 states reported revenue shortfalls during the fall and 21 states and the District of Columbia reported spending above budgeted levels. At least 36 states have made or are considering budget cuts in current budgets or for the next fiscal year, the report noted.
Only six states had both spending and revenues within targeted levels, and 21 states are experiencing both spending overruns and lower than expected revenues. Those states, which would appear to be particularly vulnerable to fiscal arguments against expensive prohibitionist drug policies are: Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.
"These budget problems, yes, they are an opportunity," said Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (http://www.cjpf.org). "It will not be an easy fight, but with a well-organized effort, budget battles are something with a lot of potential," he told DRCNet. "Areas where people are asked to make sacrifices will be controversial. In Virginia, for example, incoming Gov. Warner's budget calls for an increase in university tuition. Everybody who pays tuition ought to be asking themselves which makes more sense, forcing me to pay more or keeping thousands of nonviolent offenders in Virginia's prisons?"
The example makes a broader point, said Sterling. "What people need to be asking is how much should we be spending in state funds for our investigations, prosecutions, and incarcerations in low priority drug cases," he said.
Zeese agreed. "Our approach is cheaper and more effective," he said. "If we can get that message out there, we can make progress. The whole Rand Corporation cost-benefit analysis, which showed treatment to be so much more effective than imprisonment or interdiction, well, you'll find that holds true everywhere. The drug czar's TV ad campaign, the DARE program, all are proven failures," said Zeese. "Look at the cost of treating AIDS patients. For pennies we can give them needles, or we can pay thousands to treat them later. The Great Depression was the key to ending alcohol prohibition, and this recession is an opportunity to enact a whole lot of changes now."
Some states aren't waiting for drug reformers to add more pressure. The New York Times reported on January 21 that Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois have all moved to close prisons and lay off guards within the past month. California, which has seen its prison population decline for the first time in years, will not renew contracts with five private prisons later this year. Colorado and Illinois have put new prison plans on hold.
The fear of budget shortfalls is also adding momentum to a California effort to put an initiative on the November ballot that would greatly restrict the number of felons eligible for that state's draconian and expensive three-strikes law, the Times reported.
"My sense is that budget problems are making people ask fundamental questions about whether we can afford to keep on doing what we've been doing," Oregon Department of Corrections assistant director Steven Ickes told the Times. "We are going to have to make some tough choices about prisons versus schools, and about getting a better investment return on how we run our prisons so we don't have so many prisoners re-offending and coming back," Ickes said.
"It is absolutely clear, compelling, and cogent that budget cuts in human services must be balanced against budget cuts for the prison system," said Michael Cutler, national coordinator for the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (http://www.vcl.org), an attorney organization fostering dialogue on drug policy, based on the prohibition-era committee of the same name. "It is that type of pressure that will get both state legislators and voters to begin to ask the type of fundamental questions about bang for the buck that drug reformers have been trying to put on the table for years," he told DRCNet.
But cutting prison budgets isn't the only reform issue that may see progress because of budget considerations, said Cutler. In Massachusetts, he said, criminal justice spending has yet to emerge as a major political issue, but marijuana decriminalization may benefit from the crunch. "There are several decrim bills filed and there is clearly a sense within the legislature that there is money to be saved and very little political risk," said Cutler. "We have 11,000 annual adult arrests for marijuana in Massachusetts, and that costs us about $8 million. Given the budget cuts that have already been imposed and the people at risk for lack of services, that's a lot of money."
Sterling, for his part, cautioned that drug reformers must not come off as opportunists. "Their involvement in the political process needs to be consistent and sustained," Sterling advised. "It also is a critical time of educating allies so that our allies carry the message. You want the teachers' unions saying we're not going to cut public school funding to sustain an excessive prison population and incarceration machinery. We need college tuition-paying parents to say that assuring access to higher education for our youth is more important than locking up low-level drug offenders," he said. "When we talk to people in poor communities, we need to be very clear that maintaining very expensive and ineffective law enforcement approaches may mean that they are especially deprived of the kinds of public programs necessary to protect public health and increase educational and economic opportunities."
Even reflexive support for law enforcement in the wake of September 11 need not be an impassable barrier to reform, said Sterling. "The feeling of being victimized by and vulnerable to terrorism and the resulting desire for vengeance and muscular defense means that arguments based on tenderness are going to be less persuasive," he said. "But if the argument is framed in terms of how do we best protect our infrastructure, our institutions, our schools and neighborhoods from terrorism, then all of our priorities have to be honestly evaluated. Drug enforcement, which is justified as a means of deterring drug use, has proven ineffective," Sterling argued. "We need to challenge ineffective programs and call for their elimination or reduction in this time of scarce public resources and new critical budget priorities."
One point of entry for drug reformers is state sentencing commissions and policy task forces, suggested Cutler. "State legislatures can be encouraged to ask commissions to do cost-benefit analyses of drug policy reforms, such as have been done in California and Arizona," he told DRCNet. "These commissions are usually filled with experienced people who have seen the failures of prohibition in their day-to-day professional lives. And drug reformers can use these commission hearings to put into the record irrefutable statistics that document cost savings from reform and the negative impact on public safety from the failure to enact reform," he said.
"Be organized, get local experts to testify," Cutler urged. "If the decision-makers are fair-minded, at worst you'll get a majority consensus for reform, with a dissent written by prosecutors and prison guard union officials. Then you have something to show the law-makers."
While the budget crunch in the states appears to be a potential opening for drug reformers, it can also, however, result in policy moves in the wrong direction. In Illinois, prison officials have eliminated educational opportunities beyond passing a high school equivalency exam for inmates, citing a $5.4 million savings. In Washington state, Gov. Locke is backing legislation that would reduce some drug and other sentences, but is also leaving the prison budget intact while cutting other areas. And perhaps most disappointingly for drug reformers, in New Mexico, Gov. Johnson's drug law reform package is accompanied by a request for at least $20 million in new prison construction.
On September 21, Chris Hill was the All-American guy, a young, determined Florida entrepreneur who had turned a shoe-string operation into a small business success story. His firm in Sarasota employed 35 people, he had been nominated for the "Small Business of the Year" award by the county Chamber of Commerce, and he was an honorary co-chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee's Business Advisory Counsel. He was even considering a run for the local Republican congressional nomination. The next day, he was an indicted criminal looking at a potential stay in federal prison. A bevy of armed federal agents bearing a warrant from Des Moines, IA, ransacked his home and business, padlocked his warehouses, seized his house, business, and vehicles, and dragged him off to jail as his two daughters, ages one and three, looked on. And, says Hill, to add insult to injury, the raiders also stole $900 in cash.
(Mark Hein, the resident DEA agent in charge in Des Moines did not return DRCNet calls seeking comment on that allegation or Hill's allegation that 10 DEA agents from Iowa used his arrest as an excuse for a 10-day vacation in the Sunshine State.)
So, what was Hill making? Crack cocaine? Automatic weapons? Bioterror compounds? No, pipes. Big pipes, little pipes, glass pipes, water pipes, dugouts, hookahs. Those devices that people use to smoke dried herbal matter. Some smoke tobacco, some smoke exotic herbal blends, others have been known to smoke currently prohibited substances. Hill was a pipe-maker, and his business, Chills, was one of the nation's largest distributors of pipes. He says his business was legit.
"We're the most conservative manufacturer in the country," Hill told DRCNet. "Our customers have to be licensed tobacconists. We do our own investigations of our customers," Hill said. "If we type in 'bong' on the web and their name pops up, they won't be selling our products any longer. But the government doesn't give a shit about the steps we've taken."
Al Overbaugh, spokesman for the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Iowa, where the indictment was filed, scoffed at Hill's protestations of innocence. "The indictment speaks for itself," he told DRCNet. "He'll have his day in court."
DRCNet has obtained a copy of the 16-count indictment against Hill and two former employees. Count 1 charges the trio with conspiracy to sell drug paraphernalia, and there are 12 counts of paraphernalia sales, each based on an invoice sent to a Des Moines store that was raided at the order of the same Assistant US Attorney last year. (Although Overbaugh refused to identify the drug paraphernalia specialist, DRCNet has learned from other sources that he is Assistant US Attorney Lester Paff.) Then, just for good measure, the feds threw in an additional two counts of using the phone to conduct the business. The final count of the indictment authorized asset forfeiture against Hill's home and business and his business vehicles. As a final touch, the indictment allows for the seizure of Hill's personal vehicles if the feds feel the other items "have been substantially diminished in value."
Hill is scheduled for trial in the first week of February. He told DRCNet that government lawyers have threatened to charge him with money laundering and operating a continuing criminal enterprise if he doesn't accept a plea bargain. The latter charge, designed for drug kingpins, carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Overbaugh denies this is the case. "We don't threaten defendants," he told DRCNet.
Hill is the only pipe manufacturer and distributor facing felony charges, but he is not the only one who has been raided in recent months, and the industry is running scared. Barmes Wholesalers of Vincennes, IN, was also raided in September and large parts of its inventory seized. Others have gotten out of the business or diversified. No one DRCNet spoke with in the industry wanted to be identified by name.
One online retailer told DRCNet that between the forced closure of Barmes and Chills and the loss of other distributors who have fled the business, they had lost 30% of their product line. "We can't find replacements," he said. "I think it's time to get out of this business altogether. We'll be out as soon as we can find a buyer."
As for getting out of the pipe business, attorney Robert Vaughan thinks that isn't a bad idea. Vaughan, perhaps the nation's leading defense attorney on drug paraphernalia charges, told DRCNet that given the current state of federal law, manufacturers and retailers will be found guilty. Under current federal law as interpreted by the Supreme Court, merely making, distributing, or selling non-traditional pipes is considered objective evidence of violating the drug paraphernalia statute.
"If it isn't corncob or briar, it's paraphernalia in their view," said Hill.
"I may not like the law as it is," said Vaughan, "but I can't lie to these people. You don't have a chance of winning unless you have a bad search and seizure. And if you challenge that and are unsuccessful, you'll really be pissing into a fire then. That means cutting a deal. And with these guys, you have to give up your mother, where she was born, and her maiden name," he said.
"I am not taking any more of these cases," he told DRCNet. "You can't win."
Hill and other manufacturers whose products sometimes end up in the "head shop" market get no support from the tobacco retailing establishment. Don Fader, executive director of the Retail Tobacco Dealers Association, told DRCNet he had worked with US Customs and testified against manufacturers in paraphernalia cases. "We don't want any part of this," he said. "I can't stop people from selling this stuff, but I can make it as difficult as possible to do under my auspices."
As for Chills, said Fader, "I have no sympathy for them. They sent in an ad for our trade almanac which promotes their Survival Kit [a case containing smoking accessories] and I accepted it against my better judgment. I suspect it is being used for other purposes than smoking tobacco. That turns my stomach," he said. "If someone is raiding these guys, what's wrong with that?"
Not everyone in the tobacco trade is as adamant as Fader, however. Chuck Stanchion, editor of the trade journal Pipes and Tobacco Magazine would not comment directly on the Chills case, but expressed sympathy for manufacturers caught in a legal netherworld. "Whether something is to be called paraphernalia or not should be based on the substance used, not the design of the pipe," he told DRCNet. "Trying to say one pipe or another is specifically for drugs is like saying this tumbler is for moonshine, not water."
That's music to Chris Hill's ears. "You have an item that can be used for smoking any organic material, that's the problem," he said. "It's like holding a cutlery company responsible if someone buys a knife and cuts somebody with it. The feds look at appearance alone. That's just ludicrous."
If Fader has no sympathy for people like Chris Hill, he also seems curiously out of date about recent trends in tobacco. He told DRCNet that against his better judgment he let Hookah Brothers, a hookah manufacturer and distributor, attend last year's trade show. "If I refused to let them in I'd get a lawsuit," said Fader, "but if someone tells you hookahs are used for smoking tobacco that's bullshit. I hope he doesn't come back."
Hookah Brothers may not need to come back. According to a profile of the company published in the Economist last May, the company is shipping 4,000-5,000 units a month, along with a ton of sticky, fruity tobacco. Those pipes and that tobacco are ending up in private homes and hookah bars in cities from San Diego to Jacksonville, Boston to Washington. And Hookah Brothers can also attend a competing trade show more sympathetic to non-traditional pipe makers.
Peter Gage is executive director of the Contemporary Tobacco Trade Association, which holds a trade show in Las Vegas each year. Although his show is filled with manufacturers who certainly wouldn't pass the Fader test, he trotted out the same defensive line used by every bong-maker in the country. "All these items are for legal purposes," he told DRCNet. "These are legal adult items that are restricted, outside the view of minors, and made for tobacco or legal herbs."
"They've got Tommy fucking Chong selling bongs there," moaned Hill. "They've got guys laughing about selling Phillies Blunts to inner city blacks. I boycotted that show because I thought it was too close to the edge," he said. "They called me anal and conservative. Are the feds going to bust a thousand bong-makers in Vegas next year?"
A spokesman for Chong Glass took umbrage at Hill's remark. "We just sell tobacco pipes," he said. "We play by the rules, we don't break the law, and we don't do business in Des Moines."
Herein lies a huge problem for what is clearly an industry devoted in large part to supplying the needs of marijuana smokers. Regardless of what people did with the pipes they bought from Chris Hill, many other manufacturers aim directly at the pot market, with ads in magazines such as HighTimes, Heads, and Cannabis Culture. When Furry Freaks Bongs claims its products are aimed at tobacco smokers, it participates in a charade that leaves people like Hill hung out to dry.
"Sometimes you have to embrace hypocrisy for awhile in order to survive until you can end it," said one industry insider. That may be a good short-term survival tactic, but it does nothing to alter the political calculus that results in prison terms for head shop owners or pipe makers. But again, given current legal realities, the paraphernalia industry is an industry that dare not speak its name.
In the meantime, said Gage, retailers and distributors must be aware of community standards. "If a community doesn't like your product, it can ask the federal government to help stop it from crossing state lines," he said. "It is incumbent on store owners and manufacturers to be aware of those standards."
Chris Hill thought he was aware. "I tried to stay in compliance with the law," he said. "If I want to change the law, I will do it through established means. I'm a short-haired Republican. How ironic. Now my pipe company is bankrupt, I've had to lay off most of my employees, I've spent $100,000 on legal expenses, they've been subpoenaing my former employees, making them fly up to Des Moines, and if I want to go to trial, I risk spending the rest of my life in prison," he said. "I thought they would investigate what kind of company I run. How naive."
Attorney Vaughan warned manufacturers and distributors to stay out the Southern District of Iowa, but also the Western District of Pennsylvania. It was the US Attorney there who brought down Barmes, Vaughan said. He also noted that both the Chills case and the Barmes case arose out of earlier busts of local head shops. And he had a chilling prediction. "Before Barmes and Chills, they always went after the retailers. Now they have shifted targets. But the mecca of contemporary pipe making is Southern California. My gut feeling is that in the next six or nine months, we will see some cases against California pipe-makers," he said. "If you have ever done business in Pittsburgh or Des Moines, you'd better be running scared."
President Jorge Quiroga is proving an apt successor to Gen. Hugo Banzer, the former dictator turned president who implemented coca eradication in Bolivia at the behest of the US government. Quiroga may lack Banzer's dictatorial credentials, but has shown that he is a quick study in the fine art of repression. The problem for Quiroga and his American partners is that the Bolivian peasantry is showing increasing signs that it has had enough of Quiroga and his intensification of the Banzer eradication plan, "Plan Dignity."
As DRCNet reported last week, Quiroga further tightened the screws on coca growers by issuing Supreme Decree 26415, banning the drying, transport, and sale of coca in the Chapare region and moving to shut down 15 previously legal coca markets, including the large market in Sacaba, just outside Cochabamba (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/220.html#andeanupdate). Since then, the region has seen repeated clashes, blockades and mass mobilizations. And on January 17, cocalero threats to take up arms against the security forces appear to have materialized, as three soldiers and one policeman were killed in a very ugly fashion.
As the Andean Information Network (AIN) reported, "Angry coca growers intercepted an ambulance carrying two wounded soldiers who were killed: Wilson Cartagena and Elio Pinaya. The ambulance was later burned. They also destroyed tollbooths outside Sacaba. One military and one regular police officer were originally declared missing, but were found dead early on January 18th. Their cadavers showed evidence of intense torture. Their hands had been tied and their heads had been bashed in with rocks. These deaths have created an environment where negotiations and any resolution are extremely difficult."
Those killings came in the wake of the killing of two peasants in clashes at the Sacaba market last week and the beating, wounding and/or detention of dozens of others in various clashes around the Chapare. While the spasm of peasant violence in response may be understandable, it has played into the hands of repressive forces in the government and Bolivian society. Efforts are now under way to eject coca union leader Evo Morales from his seat in the Bolivian parliament and strip him of his parliamentary immunity, which would allow the government to imprison Morales for organizing road blockades. If Morales is jailed, he will join at least 20 other high-ranking coca union leaders sitting in prisons around Cochabamba. Those unionists face numerous charges, including homicide and armed uprising.
This week clashes continued across the region, and the military shut down an independent radio station, Radio Sovereignty, operated by coca growers, on Tuesday. According to AIN, the military also appears to be singling out journalists for special brutal attention. As AIN wrote, "A photographer from the Opinion newspaper was injured in the leg by a tear gas canister. Police hit a reporter from La Razon several times for taking pictures of the incident. A Channel 13 reporter was shot in the cheek by a rubber pellet while taking photos. Security officers told them that they had orders from Cochabamba Prefect Jose Orias to impede photographs."
At press time, the Six Federations coca grower unions were threatening to blockade the Santa Cruz-Cochabamba highway if Morales is removed from parliament. And in an act of solidarity with potential dire consequences for the government, Felipe Quispe Huanca, "El Mallku," the country's most powerful indigenous leader, has vowed to hold sympathy blockades in the altiplano and other rural regions of the country.
Meanwhile, the Bolivian Human Rights Ombudswoman, Ana Maria Romero de Campero, announced that she considers Supreme Decree 26415 illegal. The government does not have the legal right to create new sanctions against coca cultivation, she said. Pointing out that Supreme Decrees were a legacy of dictatorship, she argued that no Supreme Decree can override the coca cultivation law, the penal code, and the constitution.
The government wasn't listening.
The clamor for cannabis reform is growing louder on the continent. Last week, a senior Scottish police commander and the French justice minister came out in support of reviewing and revising the laws against cannabis in their respective countries. They join a growing number of lawmen, politicians and health professionals across the continent in demanding a serious rethinking of the proscriptions on the popular herb.
On January 18, Paddy Tomkins, new Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police in Scotland (or in terminology understandable to Americans, the Edinburgh police chief), called for politicians and health experts to debate the cannabis issue, according to a report in the London Daily Telegraph.
Tomkins' remarks came in the context of questions over the possibility of an Amsterdam-style cannabis café opening in Edinburgh. Kevin Williamson, an Edinburgh publisher best known for "Trainspotting," the Irvine Welsh novel about Scottish junkies, had announced late last year that he intended to launch the enterprise once cannabis is reclassified as a Class C drug, a move that is expected to take place sometime this spring.
Tomkins refused to say whether his police force would tolerate a cannabis café, but told the Telegraph an open-minded approach was needed. "My broader view on cannabis and other drugs is that the situation requires a mature and more open debate than we have had to date -- not just police but politicians and health advisers," he said.
Tomkins said that police under his command would enforce current drug laws "with discretion," but added that: "We will work very hard to make sure we disrupt and arrest people who are supplying drugs to the community. The damage that drugs do can hardly be overstated, not just to individuals but to their families. Some surveys show that [about $30,000 a year] is spent by hard users and 80% of that is acquired through crimes like robbery and so on," said the incoming police chief. "We've got to ask why this is and be prepared to examine our existing policies."
Tomkins' remarks are only the latest call for reform from British law enforcement and political figures as that nation undertakes a serious review of drug policy. A similar call from French Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu may be more politically significant, given France's reputation for a hard line on drug policy. While that reputation is somewhat overstated, Lebranchu is only the third major French political figure to broach the subject.
Responding to a report cited on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that found some nine million French people -- 16% of the population -- had used cannabis, Lebranchu said that the time had come to consider marijuana decriminalization, she told French Inter Radio on January 17.
"I think starting the debate would not be a bad thing," she said, "because it has never been started properly."
In France, consumption or possession of any drugs, including cannabis, is illegal, although in practice consumption of cannabis is almost never prosecuted and possession prosecuted only in more conservative regions, according to ENCOD, the European NGO Council on Drugs and Development (http://www.encod.org/rap-france.htm).
France has also begun to adopt harm reduction measures, including needle exchange and opiate maintenance programs, as well as allowing the testing of ecstasy and other so-called club drugs at raves and other music venues. In that respect, France is actually ahead of some of its neighbors. On the other hand, the French legal establishment remains firmly committed to prohibition, and has even prosecuted several leaflet-distributors and t-shirt sellers for violating a still-current law against any action that "presents illicit drugs in a favorable way." Last year, French activist Jean-Pierre Galland was sentenced to 150 days in jail or a $15,000 fine for selling pro-marijuana T-shirts at a music festival.
Although ENCOD reports that recent opinion polls show 33% of the French population support outright legalization of cannabis, political pronouncements on the topic have not been frequent. Two summers ago, Education Minister Jack Lang raised the issue of decriminalization and voiced support for ecstasy-testing and other harm reduction (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/143.html#francedebate). Health Minister Bernard Kouchner has long advocated harm reduction policies, and in 1999 voiced support for medical marijuana legalization (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/022.html#france).
As momentum for drug reform gains force in Britain and the French head in droves for Amsterdam each weekend, the first cracks in the wall are appearing in France. If France were to enact reforms, Sweden would be the only hard case left in Europe.
As politicians and drug law enforcers unable or unwilling to make a distinction between ecstasy use and the youthful rave culture go after the drug by attacking the music, the electronic music industry is fighting back. Club owners and promoters at the State Theatre in New Orleans and Club La Vela in Panama City, FL, have successfully fended off heavy-handed federal prosecutions. Young club goers and ravers have created organizations, such as DanceSafe (http://www.dancesafe.org), seeking to make taking club drugs safer. Musicians and promoters in cities such as Austin have united to thwart threatened legal assaults. And the industry, backed by The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, has created the Electronic Music Education and Defense Fund (http://www.emdef.org) to provide legal assistance for music professionals whose businesses and careers are caught up in the club drug hysteria.
Now, in an effort to keep the electronic music community focused on the threat posed by club drug hysteria, EMDEF has announced it is creating a database of anti-rave laws and pending legislation. "The database will serve as a reference resource of laws enacted to thwart electronic music events," explained EMDEF's Gary Blitz. "It will also focus attention on various government attempts to restrict electronic music events, and hopefully will motivate people to take action," he told DRCNet.
"Numerous local government entities are enacting laws and ordinances specifically directed at 'raves,'" Blitz added. "The first step toward fighting these laws is knowing of them. We would like to know and be able to inform club owners, promoters, artists, and club goers of these laws before someone ends up in court, instead of after."
With the so-called Ecstasy Prevention Act (S. 1208) still alive in the Congress, Blitz predicts that if it passes it will inspire a new wave of anti-rave legislation. He has good reason. One section of the bill would throw federal dollars at communities that enact anti-rave ordinances or other forms of legal harassment.
The text of Section 3, discussing the awarding of federal grants for ecstasy prevention, reads as follows: "[T]he Administrator shall give priority to communities that have taken measures to combat club drug use, including passing ordinances restricting rave clubs, increasing law enforcement on Ecstasy, and seizing lands under nuisance abatement laws to make new restrictions on an establishment's use."
The federal government seeks to bribe local officials into passing laws threatening the rave culture and, more broadly, the entire electronic music community. Only with information and organization can the community respond effectively. If there is an anti-rave measure, from a local nuisance ordinance already on the books to a bill in a state legislature to restrict the music, EMDEF wants to know. Contact them through their web site.
Phillip S. Smith, Week Online Editor, [email protected], 1/24/02
Some people never learn, and if a recent speech by a high level State Department official is any indication, the denizens of Foggy Bottom are among them. In a January 18 speech to the World Affairs Council of America, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs William Brownfield signaled the Bush administration's intent to continue merrily down the same anti-drug path in Latin America that for the past 30 years has failed to stop drug production in the area or its smuggling to insatiable markets in the US and elsewhere. That policy, on the other hand, has succeeded in creating increases in militarization, political violence, instability, and corruption across the hemisphere.
A close reading of Brownfield's speech reveals a dogmatic commitment to current policy, combined with some comments veering dangerously close to class and race prejudice.
Brownfield told his audience that instead of plying them with a bunch of statistics, "we need to ask six questions -- first, why do we care? Second, what is the threat to the Western Hemisphere? Third, What was the response? Fourth, has it worked? Fifth, where do we go from here? And sixth, is legalization the solution? (Readers will have to hold their breath until article's end to find the answer to this one.)
The first question was easy, said Brownfield. No country can afford to be indifferent to the "scourge of illegal drugs," he said, because the drug trade is a breeding ground for corruption. Brownfield did not mention to his audience that many experts consider corruption to be a function of prohibition and black market economics, not intrinsic to the commodities in question.
Also, Brownfield noted, the drug trade distorts regional economies. "The impact of drugs, even a small amount of production, completely distorts their way of life," he said, referring to subsistence farmers. If by "distorting their way of life" Brownfield means that they are now able to feed their families, he is correct. But such remarks from a well-fed, well-placed, wealthy white man in Washington directed at poor, politically impotent, brown-skinned peasants throughout the hemisphere reek of condescension at best.
Brownfield also complained about the "lawlessness fostered by drug trafficking," which, he said, "gives rise to insurgencies from both the left and the right." Again, it is prohibition and black market economics -- in other words, US drug policy -- that turns fields of plants into booty fueling armed groups around the world.
Brownfield pointed out the impact of drugs on the US by noting the 1.5 million drug arrests annually. He failed to note that these arrests for acts that are not crimes in and of themselves are a matter of deliberate choice by policymakers. In other words, the costs associated with enforcing the drug laws in the US are self-imposed.
Focusing on Colombia, Brownfield said that country was paying the price for the "success" of coca eradication in Bolivia and Peru. "In essence, Colombia was the victim of the success of US anti-drug policies" elsewhere in the Andes, he claimed. "When we dramatically reduced illicit production in Bolivia and Peru, drug manufacturers moved their operations to Colombia." But, as DRCNet has reported, coca and opium production is returning to Peru (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/174.html#cocagoround) and the Bolivian "success story" has had as its latest installment bloody clashes between coca-growing peasants and security forces. Brownfield has apparently not heard of the balloon effect, whereby if production is pushed down in one area, it pops up in another. Again, US anti-drug policy bumps up against the iron laws of economics. At least, Brownfield noted that events in Peru and Bolivia now "give cause for concern, if not for alarm."
Regarding Plan Colombia, Brownfield argued that "it's in the process of working." Well, yes, if you mean it has succeeded in increasing the level of political violence, but no if you mean it actually reduced coca production or increased interdiction of Colombian cocaine.
So what's next? Brownfield told his audience that the US wants to "reinforce the success of Bolivia and Peru," while preventing the spread of drug trafficking into neighboring countries. Much like the way attempting to suppress coca in Bolivia and Peru led to a huge expansion in Colombian coca production?
And let's not forget those terrorists. "After September 11, we can no longer draw distinctions between various issues affecting our national security," he said. "These issues blend together. That lesson was graphically illustrated by the events of September 11 in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania." Many terrorist cells are financed by drug trafficking, he claimed. Well, maybe, but not the ones who hit the US on September 11, as DRCNet reported (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/219.html#nodrugmoney).
Brownfield may have been referring to the Colombian FARC and the smaller ELN, designated by the State Department as terrorist organizations, and a major target of the government's "Plan Colombia." But the FARC, for all its kidnappings and other misdeeds, is in reality a guerrilla force involved in a long-running civil war, not a terrorist organization. The right-wing AUC paramilitaries, who field the notorious "death squads," have more properly been designated as terrorists. Yet our government has yet to come to terms with the extent to which Colombia's armed forces -- funded by the United States -- aid and abet the AUC's vile works.
"How about legalization?" Brownfield asked rhetorically. "Is that a solution? It will not surprise you to learn that my answer is no. (Readers can exhale now.) I will not bore you with a lot of moral arguments, although I think we could have a valid discussion in that context," he claimed. "But pragmatically speaking we cannot legalize drugs if we want to have a civilized society." For example, he said, no society can tolerate drug-addled bus drivers or airline pilots. Here Brownfield is guilty of a non sequitur. It simply does not follow that if drug use were legal, then driving or flying under the influence would be legal.
"Of course," Brownfield continued, "there will always be a market for illicit drugs, particularly among the inner-city underclass. The poor, who are often badly educated, and unemployed or working in low-paid jobs, who may come from broken families and have little in the way of a safety net, are the most victimized" by the drug traffic, he said.
Again, Brownfield is making ugly class and race appeals in the guise of social science pontificating. In fact, drug use levels among the inner city poor and the suburban rich or middle class are approximately equal, according to research by the federal Substance Abuse and Health Services Administration. It is true that the harms of drugs and drug trafficking do have more severe effects on poor urban environments than on wealthy suburbs. But much of that harm results from prohibition itself -- damaging as alcoholism is to some poor inner city dwellers (or wealthy suburbanites), there are no drive-by shootings over the alcohol trade in Harlem, Anacostia or anywhere else -- not since we repealed Alcohol Prohibition in the 1930s.
So, Brownfield concluded, given the success of US drug policy in Latin America so far, what is needed is more of the same. With a "long-term, integrated, and balanced approach that brings together national and international drug policies" and stresses both "law enforcement and security, and treatment for addicts," success is just around the corner -- oops, no it's not, it's a long, long, way away. Americans might not "like the concept of a war that will take 25 years to win, but I suspect that will be the case," Brownfield predicted.
It must be assumed that Brownfield was articulating the State Department position on drug policy, and what a depressing assumption that is. After leading us on one quarter-century of fruitless conflict, Brownfield and company are eager to spend another quarter-century trying to clean up the mess US drug policy helped create. These people must never have seen the movie "Traffic" or heard the phrase "thinking outside the box."
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
(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)
January 25-27, New York, NY, "Maternal-State Conflicts: Claims of Fetal Rights & the Well-Being of Women & Families." Conference sponsored by National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the Mt. Sinai Hospital-Based Clinical Education Initiative. For further information, call (212) 475-4218, visit http://www.advocatesforpregnantwomen.org or e-mail [email protected].
January 26, 8:30am-4:30pm, Pasadena, CA, "Unlocking Los Angeles: LA and the Prison Industrial Complex," conference of the Criminal Justice Consortium. At All Saints Church, 132 North Euclid Ave., e-mail [email protected], visit http://www.idiom.com/~cjc/ or call (626) 296-3338 for further information.
January 26, 9:30pm-3:00am, Miami, FL, Benefit Concert for the medical marijuana petition drive. At the Tobacco Road Night Club, 626 South Miami Avenue, call Flash at (305) 579-0069 for info.
January 29, 7:30-10:00pm, Anniversary Party and Benefit for the Marijuana Policy Project. $10 admission, $5 for MPP members, at the Metro Cafe, 1522 14th Street, NW, featuring music by Sugar Jones (http://www.sugarjonesmusic.com) and a short speech by MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia. For info, e-mail [email protected].
January 29, Tallahassee, FL, Florida State University NORML weekly chapter meeting, featuring guest speaker Kris Krane, national chapter coordinator for NORML. Contact Ricky at (850) 386-5628 for further information.
February 5, Tallahassee, FL, Florida State University NORML weekly chapter meeting, featuring guest speaker Jodi James, director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network. Contact Ricky at (850) 386-5628 for further information.
February 12, 8:00am, Indianapolis, IN, Jeanne Horton Support Rally, medical marijuana patient with multiple sclerosis being prosecuted by Marion County. At the Indianapolis City County Building, Market St. Entrance. For further information, contact Indiana NORML at (317) 923-9391 or (317) 335-6023, [email protected] or http://www.inorml.org.
February 16, 9:00am-4:00pm, Menands, NY, Drop The Rock Upstate-Downstate Coalition Organizers Conference, at the Schuyler Inn, 575 Broadway. Admission $20, includes continental breakfast and lunch, call Mike Smithson at (315) 488-3630 or e-mail [email protected], or visit http://www.droptherock.org for information. For reduced rate lodging, call (518) 463-1121.
February 18, 7:00pm, Canadaigua, NY, "The Effects of Prohibition on Terrorism," presentation to the Finger Lakes Forum by Peter Christ, retired police captain speaking for ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy. At the Canadaigua Country Club, non-members may attend, $16 admission includes dinner. RSVP by February 14 to [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 488-3630.
February 21-23, Washington, DC, National Families Against Mandatory Minimums Workshop. At the Washington Plaza Hotel, call (202) 822-6700 or visit http://www.famm.org for information.
February 23, noon, Tampa, FL, "Washington’s Birthday Hemp Festival." Sponsored by FORML, featuring music, vendors, speakers and more. At Lowry Park, contact Mike at (813) 779-2551 for further information.
February 27, 9:00pm-1:00AM, Fairfax, CA, Medical Marijuana Voter Registration Party, supporting the new "Marin Medical Marijuana Peace Treaty Initiative." At 19 Broadway Niteclub, featuring music by "Brainchild" and "4 Pot Peace," admission free. Call (866) 206-9068 ext. 9986 for further information.
February 28, 7:30pm, Melbourne, FL, "Marijuana: Medical Effects and Legal Consequences." At the Melbourne Community Center, 703 East New Haven Avenue, contact Jodi at (321) 253-3673 for info.
February 28-March 1, 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, Executive Director of 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, 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.
March 14, 7:30pm, Court Watch Project Training Meeting. At the Melbourne Community Center, 703 East New Haven Avenue, with the Florida Cannabis Action Network, call Kevin at (321) 726-6656 for further information.
March 24-27, Rimini, Italy, "Club Health 2002: The Second International Conference on Night-Life, Substance Use and Related Health Issues." Visit http://www.clubhealth.org.uk for info.
March 26, Albany, NY, "Drop The Rock Day," march and demonstration against the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Visit http://www.droptherock.org for information.
April 7-16, upstate New York, New York Interfaith Prison Pilgrimage, mile per day or more walk to major prisons "to vigil, pray, and seek a new, more humane response" to incarceration and the prison system. For further information, visit http://users.bestweb.net/~cureny/walk.htm or contact the Western New York Peace Center at (716) 894-2013, the Judicial Process Commission at (716) 325, 7727, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].
April 8-13, Gainesville, FL, "Drug Education Week," series of presentations on different topics in the drug war, including daily keynote, followed by Saturday free concert. Hosted by University of Florida Students for Sensible Drug Policy, visit http://grove.ufl.edu/~ssdp/ or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
April 18-20, San Francisco, CA, 2002 NORML Conference. At the Crowne Plaza Hotel at Union Square, registration $150, call (202) 483-5500 for further information. Online registration will be available at http://www.norml.org in the near future.
April 20, noon, Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Hemp Festival. Contact Scott at (904) 732-4785 for further information.
May 3-4, 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, 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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