(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #226, 3/1/02
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 3/1/02
While DRCNet's founding purpose is to bring about an end to drug prohibition, in the meantime we believe it is important to engage the drug war in its current excessive and violent form, and to support the work of organizations involved with reform efforts that have a chance of political success in the shorter term.
Last weekend, I attended the national workshop of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (http://www.famm.org), a roughly ten year old organization devoted to sentencing reform, principally repeal of the draconian mandatory minimum sentences that send minor, nonviolent offenders to prison for years or often decades. I have been attending the now bi-yearly FAMM gatherings since 1995. They are a sobering dose of reality for anyone involved with or interested in drug policy reform.
This year was no exception. Last Friday, immediately after hitting the button to send last week's newsletter, I headed over and arrived in time for the first day's lunch. I sat down and exchanged greetings and introductions with the others at my table. To my right sat a woman whose brother had initially been sentenced to 10 years. The judge felt the sentence was unjust and imposed it only because the law required him to do so, but urged him to appeal and wished him luck. He didn't have the kind of luck the judge was hoping for -- on resentencing, the prosecutor dredged up an old minor charge from when her brother was 17 years old, getting his sentence enhanced to 20 years. And while her and her brother's story may have been the worst at the table, other stories were scarcely comforting. To her right, for example, sat a couple whose son is facing another 8 1/2 years on his sentence. I didn't find out how long he has been incarcerated already.
The other situations at the table were happier, but only because of the amount of time that has gone by. To my left sat an old friend whose son was recently released after a lengthy sentence. Across the table sat another friend whose son, seated to her right, was released since the last time we met. It is heartening to see people finally set free, even more so that they and their loved ones remain part of the fight. But hard prison time is indelibly written into their pasts.
One of the most dramatic portions of the conference was the screening of "Guilt By Association," Court TV's first original movie, telling the story of an innocent woman caught up in the Orwellian web of federal drug conspiracy laws, sentenced to 20 years for the activity of a marijuana ring of which her former boyfriend was a part, twice as much time as any member of the actual offenders. The basis of the conviction was that she sometimes took phone messages for her boyfriend on unspecified topics.
While the individual story -- which ends with a presidential pardon after six years by President Clinton -- is a composite of a number of different cases, it is both reasonable and representative of a large class of real-world cases. Anyone who doesn't believe that should attend the next FAMM conference and meet the people intimately involved in some of them.
Other than a few cosmetic changes, in fact -- such as FAMM president Julie Stewart, a tall brunette, being played by a short blonde woman, and the real world FAMM's Monica Pratt changing into Mark McNamara for the big screen -- the movie is devastatingly realistic in both overview and its portrayal of the details of cases and prison life. It is premiering on Court TV on the evening of Wednesday, March 13.
While we carry on the effort to change our nation's misbegotten drug laws, it is important to remember that hundreds of thousands of people languish in our jails and prisons who don't deserve such treatment. People who faced 10 year sentences when I first got involved in this are only now starting to get out, and others are facing 20, 30, even life. Only a change in the laws can help that last group of people before their time runs out. Such a change must come to pass, and soon. It's time to lose patience with the drug war.
Rep. Mark Souder, the Indiana Republican responsible for the anti-drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), thought he would be safe from students angered by the provision if he held an event in his home district. He was wrong. Last Friday evening a delegation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) members from Indiana, Illinois and Washington, DC, made the congressional drug warrior uncomfortably aware that his HEA anti-drug provision, which has barred 43,000 students from receiving financial aid so far this year, will make him the object of protests and outrage wherever he goes. And with Souder facing a strong challenge in the Republican primary this spring, his authorship and continued support of the provision could well become a drag on his electoral chances.
The event last Friday in Fort Wayne was supposed to a photo op event for Souder. Instead it turned into a footrace and heated parking lot discussion between the fleeing congressman and students demanding he repeal the provision before the congressman leapt into his limo and sped away into the night. Souder, along with Sallie Mae, a student financial aid assistance corporation, was cosponsor of "Paying For College," a forum open to the public about receiving federal financial aid for college. But what should have been a time for Souder to bask in his constituents' good will instead saw the congressman heading for the exits rather than defend the HEA anti-drug provision.
"Souder had very little notice, but he knew we were coming," said SSDP media consultant Adam Eidinger. "We tipped off the local media, and all three local TV stations and both local papers showed up," he told DRCNet. "And we leafleted beforehand; we made sure everyone in attendance knew he wrote the law denying aid to 43,000 students."
Although attendees expected a question and answer session, Souder strode into the room saying he couldn't stay. "He usually takes questions and answers," said SSDP national director Shawn Heller, who confronted the congressman outside the event. "But this time he only made a couple of brief comments. When I yelled out 'Congressman Souder, a quick question,' he bolted for the door," Heller told DRCNet. "We followed him, and the TV cameras followed us."
What followed was a five-minute discussion between Heller and Souder as the cameras rolled, with the congressman growing increasingly angry as his assertions were challenged. "What really ticked off Souder was when Shawn started talking about how the bill had never even been debated," said Eidinger. "Souder got visibly angry then, shaking his hand beside Shawn's head. And then he took off."
"We wanted to raise awareness of this issue and to expose Souder for what he really is," said Heller. "We won't let him hide behind his rhetoric; he needs to repeal this law. Unless he moves to repeal this law, he should expect more of the same," Heller added.
SSDP is keeping an eye on Souder's events calendar and will be developing a strategy to have a greater presence in Souder's district, said Eidinger. "There is an SSDP regional conference in Chicago on April 12, and after that we will have a three-week window to work this issue before the May 7 primary," he said. "We're hoping to have students go into the district and we're hoping to get students in the district out to vote. This is an open primary, anyone who is registered can vote, and a few hundred votes could decide it," he added. "If Souder's vote total drops by 2,000 votes, he could lose." Members of SSDP are forming a political action committee (PAC) for the effort.
Souder is particularly vulnerable this year for a couple of reasons. First, his old congressional district has been redrawn this year, so he has largely lost the power of incumbency and is competing for a new 3rd District. As important, he is facing his strongest Republican challenger yet in former Fort Wayne mayor Paul Helmke, a social moderate who only announced two days before the deadline, but who has emerged as potent competition for Souder.
"You shoot one monkey to scare a hundred," said Eidinger. "This is a campaign issue now and Souder's opponents can use his HEA anti-drug provision against him. If Souder goes down, that will send a real message to other politicians who are considering similar approaches."
Carolyn Lunman, an SSDP member from George Washington University, was a member of the Souder Squad. "It was an exhilarating experience to see Souder make an ass of himself," she told DRCNet. "He had no response to anything we said, because there is no good response." As for continuing to shadow the congressman? "He'd better watch his back," vowed Lunman. "We'll be there."
View the SSDP-Souder confrontation in Real Video, at http://www.ssdp.org/video/souder-confrontation.rm online.
The DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation invites you to celebrate the launching of
THE JOHN W. PERRY FUND
Tuesday March 26, 6:00 to 8:00 PM, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 W. 64th St. (at Central Park West), New York, NY 10023
Ira Glasser, former Executive Director of the ACLU will speak on "American Drug Laws, The New Jim Crow Justice." He will be joined by Norman Siegel, Freedom Legal Defense and Education Project, as well as representatives of DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy), family and friends of John Perry and others.
RSVP to [email protected] or (212) 362-1964. Light refreshments will be served. Admission free, suggested minimum donation $25.
In 1998, Congress enacted an amendment to the Higher Education Act that denies loans, grants, even work-study jobs to tens of thousands of would-be students every year who have drug convictions. All these young people, who have already been punished once for their offenses, are being forced to spend more time working to pay for school, reducing their course loads or dropping out entirely. Since that time, a major student-led campaign to overturn the law has spread to hundreds of campuses around the nation, aided by civil rights, education and drug policy reform organizations, and a bill in Congress to repeal the HEA drug provision, H.R. 786, has garnered 57 cosponsors. A resolution opposing the drug provision has been adopted by 87 student governments at the time of this writing (February 2002).
Now, the DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help some of students affected by the law stay in school. Though we will only be able to directly assist a fraction of the more than 43,000 would-be students who've lost aid this school year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.
Please join us on March 26, 2002 in New York City to celebrate the launching of this scholarship program and raise needed funds for the students who apply to it. Ira Glasser, former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union and president of Drug Policy Alliance, will deliver the keynote address, joined by representatives of DRCNet, SSDP, financial aid professionals and other concerned parties.
You can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. The DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
ABOUT JOHN PERRY
John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Ira Glasser served as Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978 until his retirement in 2001. His essays on civil liberties principles and issues have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Village Voice, Harper's, The New Republic, The Nation, and Christianity and Crisis, among other publications. In 1991, he published a book, Visions of Liberty: The Bill of Rights for All Americans, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. He is currently president of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Please contact DRCNet at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, to get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit:
Dr. Philip Leveque, a 78-year-old osteopath from the Portland suburb of Molalla, is the leading prescriber of medical marijuana patients in Oregon, where the state operates a registry of persons certified to use medical marijuana under state law. By his own count, he has signed for some 1,800 patients in the last two years -- more than 40% of all medical marijuana applications submitted in the state since the law went into effect in 1999. That's too many for the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners (BME), which this week filed a formal complaint against Leveque, alleging that he engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to conduct physical exams of all patients for whom he signed certifications. Leveque's prolific certifications earlier prompted the state to tighten up the rules for doctors certifying patients, and now the state has struck again.
But Leveque, who has requested a hearing before the board, insists he has done nothing wrong, and some of the state's leading members of the medical marijuana community back him up.
"They think I'm the crazy doctor who wants to make everybody a pothead," laughed Leveque. "But there are more than 8,000 doctors in Oregon and only about 700 have ever signed for a medical marijuana patient," he told DRCNet. "Only 277 have signed for more than one patient. That's outrageous. That's where the problem is. The doctors are afraid of George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, and Oregon BME, and the patients are suffering."
"The large number of people Dr. Leveque signed for, that's a trumped up charge against him by people stunned by the sheer numbers," said John Sajo, director of Voter Power (http://www.voterpower.org), an Oregon group instrumental in passing and defending the state's medical marijuana laws. "Voter Power was intimately involved in Leveque signing up so many people. We held clinics around the state to meet a compelling need from patients who clearly qualified under the law, but could not get a local physician to sign the paperwork," he told DRCNet. "The doctors would tell the patients, �go ahead and smoke it, but I'm not going to sign for it.' They're scared. That's why Leveque signed up so many. Without someone like Leveque, if you have a debilitating medical condition and marijuana helps you, but your doctor won't sign you up for it, you're in a world of hurt."
The Eugene Compassion Center (http://www.compassioncenter.net) also worked with Leveque, according to Oliver Lambert, a member of the center's board of directors. "Leveque is not a poor doctor, he's a cultural hero," Lambert told DRCNet. "We have worked with Dr. Leveque and sent roughly 200 patients through him. He is doing the job that no one is willing or capable of doing right now," Lambert said. "Instead of persecuting Leveque, the BME ought to be issuing immediate relief to all physicians in the state by issuing some clear, current guidelines for implementing the program."
Leveque said that he worked with six different medical marijuana organizations. "What they do is assemble the patients, then screen them, and if something seems fishy, they'll say sorry. That is very helpful to me," he said. "There are also 150 veterans whom I've taken care of because the Veterans Administration doctors are forbidden by federal law to sign the medical marijuana applications," the World War II veteran added.
But although Leveque and the Oregon medical marijuana movement suspect that it is the large numbers that are behind Leveque's troubles, that is not what the BME is alleging. In its complaint, the board accused Leveque of signing applications "without examining the patient, conducting medical tests, maintaining an adequate medical chart, reviewing for possible contraindications, or conferring with other medical care providers." The complaint cites three examples of Leveque practicing medicine "below the standard of care" required of Oregon doctors. Two involve patients Leveque never met or examined but approved for the program; the third cites a letter Leveque wrote to the board challenging the utility of physical exams in detecting or diagnosing diseases such as AIDS, chronic pain, and cancers.
Leveque is anything but contrite. "I rigorously followed the law as written," he said. "For the first 900 patients, no physical exam and no personal interview was required. The law said I had to review their previous doctors' medical records when available, and especially their own personal medical histories. I did that."
As for signing applications without meeting patients, Leveque said it was out of consideration for the patients. "I have patients 300 miles away, disabled, and they're supposed to come see me in Portland? Give me a break. I don't require quadraplegics, paraplegics, the blind, epileptics, or people with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis to come see me," he said. "That's torture. So I'm a bad ass doctor because I'm helping patients, what a load of crap."
Sajo also scoffs at the allegation that Leveque practiced substandard medicine. "This is a witch hunt," he said. "There are no patients complaining, no adverse health consequences reported, no allegation of harm. That should be the driving force behind going after a doctor, but there is no allegation of harm," he said.
Quite the contrary. "Virtually all the patients are reporting health benefits, some perhaps trivial, but others say that medical marijuana is keeping them alive. This isn't about Leveque's medical practices, this is about the marijuana and the number of people he signed for. The BME should be focusing on why so many physicians are afraid to recommend it; instead, they're trumping up charges against the one physician with the courage to act."
Lambert agreed, but worried aloud what would happen should Leveque be sidelined. "The state and the BME are vilifying a 78-year-old doctor for following the letter of the law. These personal attacks are unforgivable," he said. "And what if they suspend him or take his license? It could have a devastating effect on our program. If he has signed for 40% of all medical marijuana cards, what happens when those cards expire in a year? What will the state do? This only creates additional anxiety for the patients, and that is just obscene."
Leveque remains unbowed. "I guess I'm a cannabis kamikaze. I was a battalion scout in the army," he said. "When you're out in front you get shot at, and I'm getting shot at. But medical marijuana needs all the publicity it can get and it has to be nationwide. I'm not going away."
But if Leveque is unbowed he is also angry. "Whoever these bureaucrats are, they're trying to drive me crazy and put all the patients in jail. They're acting like a bunch of second lieutenants -- if you've been in the Army, you'll know what I mean. They're harassing me and my patients. Some of my patients are absolutely panic stricken. That's the worst thing of all."
Sasha Abramsky, 29, is a
New York-based journalist whose work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly,
New York Magazine, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. He has covered
crime issues for the last five years, and was awarded a Soros Foundation
fellowship to write "Hard Time Blues" (Thomas Dunne Press/St. Martin's,
$25.95 HB). "Hard Time Blues" tells the story of the growth of the
American prison system in the past quarter-century, focusing on the petty
criminals who fill it as well as on the politicians who created that growth
and the broader social conditions that laid the groundwork for it.
The Week Online spoke with Abramsky on his cell phone as he drove toward
Washington to promote the book.
After Colombian President Pastrana last week ended three-years of fruitless peace talks with the leftist guerrillas of the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) and the Colombian military began moving into the rebels' former safe haven, Pastrana and his military high command pleaded for the US to allow its military assistance program to be used for broad counterinsurgency war instead of being limited, as now, to explicitly counternarcotics missions. In something of a surprise move, the Bush administration this week turned them down.
Despite backing from civilian officials in the Pentagon and drug czar John Walters, the Bush administration has rejected -- for now -- two proposals that would have dramatically escalated US involvement in the Colombian civil war. The first proposal, that President Bush issue a new secret directive to replace a Clinton-era directive limiting US military assistance to counternarcotics efforts, would have allowed for US military aid and intelligence-sharing to be used explicitly to defeat the FARC. The second proposal, even more far-reaching, would have made defeating the guerrillas an integral part of the Bush administration's "war on terror."
But according to a report in the Washington Post on Thursday, a foreign policy triumvirate of Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, nixed the plans for significant escalation. The decision was based on Rice and Powell's belief "that a fundamental shift in US policy was not advisable at the moment because of uncertainty about congressional reaction and upcoming Colombian presidential elections in May," the Post reported.
"We think this is a good decision," said Jason Hagen, Colombia associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (http://www.wola.org), "but we don't think this is the final gesture the administration will take. We anticipate that the administration will try to work with Congress to ensure that any military assistance will not be restricted to counternarcotics," he told DRCNet. "This is something of a tactical move. We expect significant pressure from the White House to get Congress to allow them to share military intelligence with the Colombians."
And with the gloves now off in the wake of Pastrana's decision to end peace talks and send the army into the FARC's Switzerland-sized safe haven, the Colombian military is going to need all the help it can get. Despite decades of US assistance and mentoring and billions of dollars in US assistance over the years, the Colombian military has yet to show much indication that it can defeat the 17,000 soldiers of the FARC and the roughly 5,000 soldiers of the smaller ELN (Army of National Liberation).
Still, the Colombian military is now moving into the former safe haven, bombing villages, and cautiously creeping toward the FARC guerrillas, who abandoned towns and cities in the safe haven, but only to retreat into nearby villages, jungles and mountains. They are presumably taking their hostages with them, including Green Oxygen Party presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was seized Saturday as she attempted to be the first candidate to enter the former safe haven. And the Bush administration has allocated an additional $98 million to equip and train a new Colombian army brigade whose task will be to protect oil pipelines belong to Occidental Petroleum.
With the end of the peace talks, fears are rising that Colombia's 38-year-old civil war, an already bloody conflict that kills thousands each year and has left almost two million internal refugees, will get even worse. The rhetoric of the Colombian government has turned increasingly shrill, with Pastrana now referring to the FARC as "terrorists," while the FARC has begun a campaign of attacks on the country's economic infrastructure and is threatening to take the civil war into the cities.
"Once more, the Colombian oligarchy impedes the path of dialogue from constructing the structural, economic, political, and military changes Colombia requires to exit the profound crisis" left as the legacy of elite two-party rule, the FARC charged in a communique issued late last week. "It is clear that the true objective of the government in deciding to end the peace process is to make the discussion of fundamental themes contained in the talks' agenda to build a new Colombia disappear," the FARC added. The communique also contained a promise to work with the next government if it "shows interest in retaking the path to a political solution of a social and armed conflict" (http://www.narconews.com/farc0202.html).
Whether the FARC, Colombian government or US government wish to see such a solution realized remains to be seen.
The latest edition of the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of adolescent drug use was released this week, and the benchmark study had decidedly mixed findings. MTF, one of the key measures of teen drug use, has been surveying 8th, 10th and 12th graders since 1975. This year's sample consisted of more than 44,000 students from 424 junior and senior high schools across the country. Overall, the study found, teen drug use has continued the slight upward trend evident since the early 1990s after declining from record highs in the late 1970s.
But only one drug, MDMA (ecstasy), showed a significant increase in use, the study found, and even for ecstasy, the rate of increase has begun to slow after several years of rapid growth. For 12th graders, 11.7% reported having used ecstasy at least once, more than double the figure from 1998, but only a .7% increase over last year.
"Since 1998, ecstasy use has roughly doubled among American teenagers," said lead investigator Lloyd Johnson in a prepared statement. "While we are seeing a continuing increase this year, we are also seeing evidence of a deceleration of this rise, as growing proportions of students are coming to see this drug as dangerous. In the past, we have seen a turnaround in use occur for other drugs as a result of more young people seeing them as dangerous," he added. "We have been saying for some time that the use of the drug will not turn around until young people begin to see its use as risky, and this year, for the first time, they are finally beginning to see it as more dangerous."
According to the study, the proportion of 12th graders saying there was a great risk in experimenting with ecstasy increased from 38% in 2000 to 46% last year.
But, Johnson warned, ease of access to the drug continues to increase. The proportion of 12th graders reporting easy access to ecstasy rose from 40% in 1999 to 62% last year. "This reflects an extremely rapid spread in availability, which is due in part to the fact that this drug is still reaching new communities," said Johnson. "Thus, even if fewer students are willing to use ecstasy in the schools where it has been present, that decline very likely has been more than offset by the continuing rapid diffusion of the drug to additional areas."
Ecstasy's popularity has ironically been bad news for LSD, which has been dropping in popularity among 8th and 10th graders and remaining stagnant among seniors. The study's authors speculate that a substitution effect is occurring, with ecstasy "displacing LSD as a drug of choice."
The increase in ecstasy use, however, is more than offset by decreases in other drugs. Smoking or snorting heroin among 10th and 12th graders declined last year from historically high levels. That decline began a year earlier for 8th graders. MTF 2001 found that 1.5% of seniors had ever smoked or snorted heroin, down from 2.4% the year before.
But marijuana, by far the most popular illicit drug among teenagers, is holding steady, the study found. Nearly half -- 49% -- of seniors reported having used the drug, as did 40.1% of 10th graders and 20.4% of 8th graders. These numbers are an insignificant decline from the most recent peak of teen marijuana use in 1997. For seniors, for example, the decline from 1997 amounts to one-tenth of 1%.
Likewise, many other illicit drugs held steady as well or saw increases or decreases of less than 1%, among them injectable heroin (1.8% of seniors), cocaine (8.2% of seniors), crack (3.7% of seniors), and methamphetamine (6.9% of seniors).
Finally, MTF suggests that while use of any one drug may fluctuate wildly, the proportion of adolescents willing to use any drug is much more stable. While usage rates for any drug reflect factors specific to that drug -- risk perception, benefit perception, accessibility, peer group approval, knowledge of psychoactive effects -- the study noted, "the proportion of students prone to using such drugs and willing to cross normative barriers to such use change much more gradually."
Visit http://monitoringthefuture.org to examine the survey findings online.
The Israeli Anti-Drug Authority (ADA) has released a survey of drug use in Israel showing an upswing in the last four years, especially among young adults. According to the survey, released last week, a quarter-million Israelis, or about 3.5% of the total population, are drug users, and most of those are cannabis users. But according to Ale Yarok, the Green Leaf Party, Israel's cannabis legalization and environmental party (http://www.ale-yarok.org.il/html/indexe.html), the government's figures underestimate the extent of drug use in the Jewish state.
According to the ADA survey, overall drug use has climbed 2.4% since 1998, the year of the last ADA survey, with drug use among 18-to-24-year-olds increasing the most, up 5.7% from 1998. Currently, 13.5% of that age group are drug users, the survey found.
"The ADA's findings did not surprise us in the least," wrote Rechavia Berman, Green Leaf's communications director. "These findings definitely coincide with the overall trends we are noticing empirically," he told DRCNet. "But our estimates as to the overall number of drug users -- especially cannabis, but others as well -- are significantly higher than the ADA numbers. We believe there are at least 500,000 cannabis users in Israel rather than the 250,000 the ADA claims."
While saying Green Leaf lacked the resources to do statistically valid research, Berman wrote that Green Leaf's estimate is based partly on 1999 election results, where it received 34,209 votes. "Based on our knowledge of the Israeli constituency in general and our target audience in particular, we believe that fewer than one in ten cannabis consumers voted for us."
Israeli press accounts paint portraits of frequent drug use in areas such as the Kikar Zion area of Jerusalem, a gritty zone of clubs and discos where ecstasy use is increasing and cannabis consumption is common, but drug use has crept into other areas as well. Avi Bitton of the Jerusalem District Police told the Jerusalem Post in September that drug use could be found in all sectors of society. "Today there is hardly a school that does not have drugs on the premises," he said, specifically including religious schools.
But while the numbers may be high by Israeli standards, youthful drug use remains well below levels in the US. According to the latest Monitoring the Future survey of American eighth, tenth and twelfth-graders, nearly 20% of eighth graders had used an illicit drug within the past year. By contrast, the most directly comparable group in the ADA survey, 12-to-14-year-olds, reported 8.4% usage.
According to Green Leaf's Berman, Israeli anti-drug authorities are engaging in the sort of "drug education" that could cause those numbers to climb. "We were informed only today that lectures take place in high schools in which the students are told the most ludicrous stories in an attempt to scare them off drugs. This particular report had to do with the infamous 'smoked only one joint, for the first time ever at a party, and had a terrible trip in which he actually cut off his own leg' story," wrote Berman. "Inane tactics like these only serve to undermine the credibility of any real information. In a year or two, these students will learn what an insulting lie they've been told, and then will tend to doubt the veracity of the all too true warnings of side effects from heroin, crack cocaine, or even ecstasy."
The ADA is also running a media campaign similar to the drug czar's efforts in this country, Berman reported. "They've been conducting a massive campaign titled 'There's No Such Thing As Soft Drugs -- We Have to Keep Them All Illegal,'" replete with Reefer Madness-style commercials, he wrote, continuing, "In one commercial, a joint morphs into a syringe. In another, a delirious babysitter goo-goos and gaa-gaas over a crib. In yet another, a soldier at a military post is oblivious to the world."
Anecdotal reports seem to suggest that that the stresses of the Palestinian intifadah are contributing to increased drug use among Israelis, soldier and civilian alike. One such report comes from Tal Belo, one of the growing number of Israeli soldiers who have signed the "Fighters' Letter" refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. In a short, sharp essay about a fellow soldier who committed suicide after killing a pregnant Palestinian woman, Belo wrote about an evening of remembrance for his comrade.
"We uncorked a Johnny Walker that Tali's brother gave her, and we were listening to the Doors while smoking some hashish. You can't be a real Nahal Corps soldier without drinking Johnny Walker, listening to the Doors, or smoking hashish. And the select few partake in all three... We'd just gotten back from Lebanon, and after a week of R&R we were sent right to the territories, to Gaza," wrote Belo.
Berman agreed that the intifadah is contributing to rising levels of drug use in Israeli society. "We are unable to conduct any serious research, but one would definitely have to assume that the immense stress from 16 months of almost daily deaths and injuries would drive more people to more drink, smoke, and any other means of consciousness alteration," he wrote.
The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA), long criticized by many observers for bogus science and sensationalism, began the week trumpeting its new study on teen drinking and its headline-grabbing finding that underage drinkers account for 25% of all alcohol consumed in the US. But CASA this time found itself targeted by an unlikely critic -- the federal government -- in the form of the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.
The CASA report, "Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic," attempted to emphasize CASA's case that teen drinking is on the increase by leading with the alcohol consumption figure. The CASA press release began, "Alcohol is far and away the top drug of abuse by America's teens. Children under the age of 21 drink 25 percent of the alcohol consumed in the US." (Linger for a moment over the use of the word "children" to describe people under 21. It is a nice rhetorical move to conflate images of preschoolers with the reality of college students, members of the armed forces, and young married couples.)
Media outlets across the country ran with the figure, as CASA no doubt intended. The only problem was that the media attention caught the attention of the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), which very, very discreetly and politely shot CASA's figure out of the sky. In a press release later the same day as the CASA findings were announced, SAMSHA noted: "An analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that in 1998 underage drinkers accounted for approximately 11.4 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the US. Regardless of any discrepancies between our analysis of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse data and that of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), any alcohol use before age 21 is unacceptable and against the law."
By Thursday, the New York Times had reported the error, and CASA was reduced to back-tracking and wild spinning. The 25% figure was the result of statistical error, the Times reported and CASA admitted. CASA had oversampled the 12-20 age group in its study to ensure a large enough sample to make its data statistically valid, but failed to adjust the data to account for the oversampling.
"It's very unfortunate," said Sue Foster, the center's vice president and director of policy research. "We didn't re-weight the data. But we think the 11.4% number is way too low, since there's so much underreporting," she claimed.
With its back against the wall, CASA went on the offensive, challenging the very numbers it had used in calculating its findings. "The Household Survey [used by CASA] underestimates the level of alcohol consumption because it is self-reported data and because it is taken in households where parents give permission for the interview and are in the next room," a CASA press release argued. "The survey drinking numbers are based on a typical day's drinks and do not account for binge drinking," CASA added. And, as the clincher: "No one under 12 is included."
Then, taking the dictum that the best defense is a good offense to extremes, CASA boldly suggested that its 25% figure could be understating the problem. "Adjusting for these facts could raise the estimate to 30% or more," the press release claimed. "CASA's estimate is that underage drinkers consume 25% of the alcohol consumed in the US. But whether children and teens drink 15, 25 or 30% of the alcohol consumed, the reality is that America has an underage drinking epidemic and alcohol is by far the drug most used by children and teens and poses the greatest threat to their well-being."
CASA, headed by former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano, has long been criticized for suspect studies that are never subjected to peer review. Among CASA's themes has been spreading the "gateway drug" myth; inflating the costs of substance abuse (such as in last January's "Shoveling Up: The Impact of Substance Abuse on State Budgets," which, like the recent federal report on the costs of drug abuse (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/225.html#damnlies) included the costs of enforcing drug prohibition in the costs of "drug abuse"; and exaggerating the dangers of marijuana use, such as in their 1999's "Non-Medical Marijuana: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?" in which Califano and his crew warned that "legalization or decriminalization of non-medical marijuana would pose a serious threat to millions of America's children," and a Califano op-ed declaring "Marijuana -- It's a Hard Drug." The 1999 report noted large numbers of teenagers in treatment for marijuana use, but failed to distinguish between those admitted voluntarily and those in treatment under court orders, nor to acknowledge the role of the overwrought application of coerced treatment to teenage marijuana use.
In the wake of an embarrassing slap-down by the feds, CASA's PR flacks are spinning like a drunken teenager trying to do damage control in the media. This may not be a shining example for scientists, children, or students at their institution of affiliation, Columbia University, but it is a useful formula for propagandists: First, hugely exaggerate. If caught, admit to your methodological error, but claim you really erred on the side of caution. Then, divert attention from your error by focusing on the "real" problem (even if your errors distort and exaggerate it). Finally, continue to repeat the same lie (the study with its false claim are still prominently displayed unchanged on their home page), and hope you'll outlast your critics and people will forget it's not true.
CASA and their study and press releases are available at http://www.casacolumbia.org online.
We've been informed that this Sunday, March 3, Sixty Minutes will feature the case of Dr. Robert Weitzel, a pain doctor in Utah targeted by a prosecutorial witch hunt. TV magazines are notorious for last-minute schedule changes, but barring that possibility there should be an interesting discussion.
Visit these back articles from August on the Weitzel case:Ogden Standard-Examiner ran an article today previewing the Sixty Minutes report.
Last week DRCNet reported that the Libertarian Party intended to run newspaper advertisements parodying and responding to the federal government's drug use-terrorism ads (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/225.html#lpadcampaign). The ads did in fact run this week, in the Washington Times and USA Today on Tuesday, February 26. If you can't find a copy of the papers (well worth cutting out and sticking on the wall), you can still check them out at http://www.lp.org/drugwar/ online.
The Sentencing Project has
released a new report analyzing the impact of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act
on women convicted of felony drug offenses and their children. "Life
Sentences: Denying Welfare Benefits to Women Convicted of Drug Offenses"
can be downloaded from the Sentencing Project's web site at:
The US General Accounting
Office on February 8 issued a report, "Drug Control: Efforts to Develop
Alternatives to Cultivating Illicit Crops in Colombia Have Made Little
Progress and Face Serious Obstacles":
JCANT, the Journal of Cannabis
Therapeutics, has published "Chronic Cannabis Use in the Compassionate
Investigational New Drug Program: An Examination of Benefits and Adverse
Effects of Legal Clinical Cannabis":
A fascinating 1998 report
by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, detailing the activities of the
NIDA-funded University of Mississippi marijuana farm, was recently brought
to our attention:
Last week's article on medical marijuana legislation in Maryland and Vermont incorrectly identified Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as a Republican. Dean, who opposes medical marijuana, is a Democrat.
Click on the links below for information
on these issues and web forms to help you contact Congress:
US Drug Policy Driving Bolivia to Civil
Oppose DEA's Illegal Hemp Ban
SuperBowl Ad Out of Bounds
Oppose New Anti-Ecstasy Bill
Repeal Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences
Support Medical Marijuana
Stop Bad Drug War Bills in Virginia
US Drug Policy Driving Bolivia to Civil
Oppose DEA's Illegal Hemp Ban
SuperBowl Ad Out of Bounds
Oppose New Anti-Ecstasy Bill
Repeal Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences
Support Medical Marijuana
Stop Bad Drug War Bills in Virginia
(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)
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 2, noon-7:00pm, Tampa, FL, "Washington's Birthday Hemp Festival." Sponsored by FORML, featuring music, vendors, speakers and more. At Lowry Park, free admission, contact Mike at (813) 779-2551, visit http://www.geocities.com/forml_2000/moreinfo2.html or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
March 3, 12:30-2:00pm, Durham, NC, " Your Safety or Your Rights: Protecting Civil Liberties in a Post-September 11th World," forum with Chris Fitzsimon, of the Common Sense Foundation in Raleigh and Seth Jaffe of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sponsored by the Drug War Alternatives Action Group of the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, at the ERUUF Commons Room, 4907 Garrett Rd., donations accepted toward costs. Contact Ryan Terry-Lorenzo at (919) 403-7739 or [email protected] further information, and visit http://www.eruuf.org for directions.
March 3, 1:00-5:00pm, Face the Music Festival #1, benefit for the survivors of Tony Martinez and Deputy Sheriff Ruiz, victims of drug raids gone bad. Sponsored by the Anti-Prohibition Coalition, at Clay Pit Restaurant, 1601 Guadalupe St., contact Karen Heikkala at (512) 326-4396 for further information.
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 10, 11:00am, Tallahassee, FL, "The Cost of Prohibition," featuring John Chase of The November Coalition, Allen Turnage of Florida NORML and Toni Latino of Floridians for Medical Rights. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee. Contact [email protected] for further information.
March 13, 4:00pm, Washington, DC, Book Forum on "Drug War Addiction," by Sheriff Bill Masters, with comments by former federal prosecutor William Otis. Free of charge, reception following, at the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., NW. Contact Julie Johnson at (202) 842-0200 ext. 435 or [email protected] to register.
March 13, 9:00 and 11:00pm ET/PT, "Guilt By Association," the Court TV cable network's first original movie, a gripping dramatization of mandatory minimum sentencing and drug conspiracy laws, starring Mercedes Ruehl.
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 16, 5:00-10:00pm, Hood River, OR, MAMA Benefit Dance, supporting Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse harm reduction drug education program. At Dee Fire Hall, in the pear and apple orchards outside town, featuring the Irish-flavored music of Rockwork, as well as food and beverages and a silent auction. For further information, contact Sandee at (541) 298-1031 or e-mail [email protected].
March 19, San Francisco, CA, "Meeting Challenges in the 21st Century: New Perspective and Practical Tools," 1st West Coast African Americans in Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition with the American Foundation for AIDS Research, admission free. At Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, contact Amu Ptah at Amu Ptah at 212-213-6376 ext. 32 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
March 22, 8:00am-5:00pm, Tallahassee, FL, Educational Display on the Shafer Report and the Jenks & Musikka Decisions. In the rotunda of the Capitol, sponsored by Floridians for Medical Rights, Florida NORML and the Florida Cannabis Action Network. Contact [email protected] for 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.
March 26, 6:00-8:00pm, New York, NY, "American Drug Laws, The New Jim Crow Justice," kick-off and fundraiser for the John W. Perry Fund, providing scholarships to students losing financial aid because of drug convictions. Sponsored by the DRCNet Foundation, featuring former ACLU director Ira Glasser, with representatives of DRCNet, SSDP, friends of John Perry and others, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 64th and Central Park West. RSVP to [email protected] or (212) 362-1964, and visit http://www.drcnet.org for further 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, 9:00am-noon, Philadelphia, PA, "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs." Judges forum sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, at Temple University School of Law, Kiva Auditorium (Ritter Hall Annex), $35.00 with CLE credit, $10.00 without, contact Roseanne Scotti at (215) 746-7370 or [email protected] for information or to register.
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 13, 1:00-10:00pm, Tallahassee, FL, "Tallahassee Hemp Culture Fest." Bands and speakers to be announced, contact Florida State University NORML at [email protected] for 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 19-21, Seattle, WA, Amnesty International USA 2002 Annual General Meeting. At the Renaissance Madison Hotel, visit http://www.aiusa.org for further information. (Dues-paying Amnesty members will have the opportunity to vote on a groundbreaking anti-drug war resolution.)
April 20, Eau Claire, WI, noon, Hemp Festival with UWEC SSDP. Music, information, speakers, raffle and more, at the Eau Claire Rod and Gun Park, visit http://www.uwec.edu/Student/CHILI/ for further information.
April 20, noon, Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Hemp Festival. Contact Scott at (904) 732-4785 for further information.
April 20, noon, Kingston, RI, Fourth Annual "Day for HOPE," sponsored by the University of Rhode Island's Hemp Organization for Prohibition Elimination. On the URI Quad, e-mail Thomas Angell at [email protected] for further information.
April 24-27, Albuquerque, NM, "Public Health for All is Justice Served," Twelfth North American Syringe Exchange Convention. For information, e-mail [email protected], visit http://www.nasen.org or call (253) 272-4857.
April 27-28, Middletown, CT, "Northeast Summit for New Drug Policies." Regional gathering of anti-prohibition thinkers and activists, hosted by Wesleyan University Students for Sensible Drug Policy but intended for interested parties of all ages. Contact Booth Haley at (860) 658-4350 or e-mail [email protected] for info.
May 3-4, Portland, OR, Second National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics, focus on Analgesia and Other Indications. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, the Oregon Nurses Association and Oregon Health Division, for further information visit e-mail [email protected], http://www.medicalcannabis.com or call (434) 263-4484.
June 22, Philadelphia, PA, "Mid-Atlantic Criminal Justice Colloquium: Fostering Compassion, Dignity and Hope," colloquium organized by the Drug Concerns Working Group of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). For further information or to get involved, contact Melissa Whaley at (856) 303-0280 or [email protected].
December 1-4, Seattle, WA, "Taking Drug Users Seriously," Fourth National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General. For information, e-mail [email protected], visit http://www.harmreduction.org or call (212) 213-6376.
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