(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #248, 8/2/02
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
the Week Online archives)
1. Editorial: Getting from Here to There
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 8/2/02
It's easy in a cause like ending drug prohibition to wonder if it will ever happen. Public support is not high. Politicians respond to the idea with ridicule, and viciously attack their political opponents (or their allies, for that matter) if they do otherwise. Policies are dramatically in the opposite direction, in the US at least; passing even the smallest partial drug policy reforms that almost everyone agrees with often requires an all out tooth and nail fight.
But if the political currents are against us, the undercurrents tell a different story. During the 10 years I've been following this issue and the nine in which I've been actively involved, opposition to the drug war in its current form as well as support for repeal of prohibition outright have both grown substantially. In 1998, for example, there were zero governors of US states who would speak in a serious way about legalization; by 1999, there were two (New Mexico's Gary Johnson and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura). A spate of leaders in other countries, particularly Latin America, have raised their voices, the presidents of Mexico and Uruguay among them. And of course ending prohibition is possible -- drugs were legal at one time, that can be the case again in the future; it's only a matter of when.
Human nature is such that individuals' opinions are influenced strongly by their perceptions of the prevailing viewpoints of others in society, particularly those they respect or with whom they identify. It is not the only factor forming opinion; people certainly do hold their own ideas, sometimes very independently of even their own friends and families. But the perception of the degree of mainstream or credible support that an idea has is one major factor influencing the perception of an issue. Drug legalization is perceived by the average American to be "radical" or unsupported by other average or respectable Americans, and that, in my opinion at least, is the main reason why support for fundamental reform is not yet sufficient to catalyze changes.
The flip side is that the perceived absence of such support is one major reason why it's difficult even for legalization supporters to believe it's possible. But if we can suspend that disbelief, if we can have the courage to take the needed to raise awareness of the consequences of drug prohibition and transform global consciousness on drug policy, our actions can and will bear fruit. And that may happen sooner than anyone would guess while living under the drug war.
The voices of respected opinion leaders are key to effecting that transformation. When governor Johnson came out for legalization, as difficult of a political time as he got for it in his own state, the issue took a step closer to the mainstream. Some minds were changed, and many more were opened to considering the possibility. The same goes for former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, the editors of National Review magazine, the editors of the Economist, the many governors and parliamentarians throughout Europe and Latin America and many, many more.
The John Stossel special on ABC throws more fuel on that fire. Large numbers of Americans now are aware that a judge and a priest are for legalization and that a big city police chief is at a minimum against the drug war and maybe more. Cite this fact in your conversations with friends, refer to it in your speeches, buy a copy of the tape (maybe from DRCNet within a few weeks from now) and invite people over to watch it. Sign up for a room in your local library and hold a public viewing. Write a letter to the editor about it. Use the names of these prominent and respected anti-prohibitionists to help win the hearts and minds of the public at large.
Change is possible, if we take the needed steps to get from here to there. And that journey begins with the first step.
2. Despite Supreme Court Ruling, No Wave of High School Drug Testing Foreseen
When the Supreme Court ruled in June in Earls v. Tecumseh that local school districts could constitutionally drug test students involved in extracurricular activities, the drug testing industry, some congressional drug warriors, and at least one well-known political hired gun got excited. But a round of interviews conducted by DRCNet this week suggests that school districts are not about to embark on a headlong rush into student drug testing despite the high court's green light.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court expanded its 1995 Vernonia ruling, which allowed districts to test athletes in certain circumstances, to include students who wish to participate in activities such as debate society, chess club, and the like (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/243.html#schooldrugtesting). But while some anti-drugs groups predicted an avalanche of new drug testing programs in the schools, a number of factors are conspiring to make such an event likely.
"We did not see a big increase in school drug testing after Vernonia, and we don't expect to see a big increase now," said Ed Darden, senior staff attorney for the National School Board Association. "This is really a community decision, and there may be cost considerations, political objections and practical concerns that stop districts from moving in that direction," he told DRCNet. "There will be a huge number of school districts who will not move toward drug testing no matter what the Supreme Court said."
"The Supreme Court decision hasn't gotten a lot of play down here," said Dr. Paul Whitten, Associate Executive Director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, which includes representatives from all of the state's more than one thousand school districts. "Those schools that wanted to do testing are already doing it and those that didn't want to aren't going to start," he told DRCNet.
The same sentiment echoed in Alabama. "We've got a handful of districts that have been doing it for awhile and a couple that are considering it now," said Susan Salter, director of public relations for the Alabama Association of School Boards. "But we have not seen much change in the number of boards doing drug testing in the wake of Tecumseh," she told DRCNet.
In some states, the Supreme Court ruling is not an issue. "This has absolutely no impact on us," said Mary Gannon, policy services director for the Iowa Association of School Boards. "The Iowa Constitution forbids suspicionless searches, even if the US Constitution does not. We do not do random drug testing of our students."
DRCNet has been unable to find accurate numbers for the number of school districts currently using drug testing programs, but estimates ran from 2% to at most 10% of school districts nationwide. NSBA's Darden said "it's a small number of districts, less than 5%, I'd guess." And based on anecdotal evidence, it appears that drug testing is most likely to occur in small, rural districts. Whitten was able to tick off the names of the Texas districts involved in drug testing -- all were rural and situated in the Panhandle -- although, as Salter pointed out, in Alabama, at least, drug testing is ongoing at affluent suburban Birmingham high schools as well as in rural districts such as Limestone County.
If the Supreme Court has removed an obstacle to wider drug testing in the schools, why is there no move to implement such programs? For Kevin Zeese, author of the Drug Testing Legal Manual and president of Common Sense for Drug Policy (http://www.csdp.org), the answer is that significant obstacles remain. "I attended the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) conference here in July, and advocates for drug testing argued that, with the Supreme Court decision, the law is there, public support is there, and money for testing is there," Zeese told DRCNet. "They are wrong on all three counts. The money is the big one," said Zeese. "There is federal money available, but not very much of it, and it competes with other programs and services that are now seriously underfunded. State school systems are struggling and the money that might go to drug testing competes with programs such as mental health services, after-school programs and prevention programs," Zeese explained. "Drug testing is so unproven at this point, that it is hard for it to compete."
The legal status of drug testing remains problematic, as well, Zeese added. "Districts will have to be very careful to stick to the confines of the Supreme Court decision and go no further, and they will have to worry about the state courts. Some state constitutions offer greater protections than the US Constitution."
The school administration officials DRCNet spoke with all concurred on that count, each warning that districts faced the specter of costly litigation over drug testing policies. "This is the beginning of the legal battles, not the end," said Darden.
As for public opinion, said Zeese, that is a battle to be waged. "There is knee-jerk public support for drug testing, but when parents look at the details, they can be dissuaded. There will be divisions in every school district, and this is an important opportunity for reformers to advance alternative drug prevention and treatment programs for kids," he argued. "If we as a society really want to address youth drug use, we need a healthy kids program, preschool and after-school programs, we need mentors -- that's what works."
If the Earls decision is not creating a rush to school drug testing, neither is there much sense that even broader testing is coming down the pike. "This is the end and the outer limits" of school drug testing parameters said Darden. "If we go beyond testing students in extracurricular activities to testing all students, as some have suggested, our answer is no. If you're talking about testing every student and you have meaningful penalties, you end up taking away core educational rights."
Zeese agreed. "The Supreme Court will not go further, provided the makeup of the Court remains the same," said Zeese. "Justice Breyer was the fifth vote, and in his dissent he said one reason he could support extracurricular activity testing was that it allowed students to be conscientious objectors. They could opt out of the chess club if they didn't want to be tested. They would pay a price, but they could still get an education."
While school administrators seem to have a firm grip on the realities and practicalities of the issue, at least one Republican-leaning hired gun smells blood. Dick Morris, who once advised President Clinton on his "triangulation" strategy of relentlessly hewing to the center, and who has since evolved into a conservative FOX News TV commentator, saw the issue as a potential wedge issue for Republicans in this fall's elections.
"The issue of school drug testing would put a key morality/crime issue back on the national agenda, a focus that has been clearly lacking" in recent years, Morris wrote in the congressional insider Hill News on July 1. "The absence of such an issue haunts Republican prospects in future elections." The GOP should "latch onto this issue" and "recognize its political potential," he added.
But aside from a press conference held by Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) to tout his new bill to provide financial and technical assistance to districts who want to undertake drug testing programs, the Republican masses have not risen up. Perhaps they are more leery of the messenger than the message. Being advised on morality issues by a political Hessian who lost his job with Clinton after being caught spending his evenings sucking the toes of a high-priced DC prostitute, as reported in the British tabloid The Star in 1996.
3. US Prison Population Leveling Off, Feds Drive Small Increase
While the states, faced with growing budget deficits and drug war fatigue, are beginning to rethink their approaches to crime and sentencing and decrease their prison populations, the federal prison system is still growing at a rapid clip, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' latest review of the data. According to "Prisoners in 2001," released this week, state prison populations grew by only 3,193 people during 2001, an increase of 0.3% over 2000. In the last half of 2002, the total number of state prisoners actually declined by 3,700 persons -- a decline of 0.3% and a possible harbinger of a growing exodus from the state prisons.
The federal prison system, on the other hand, continued its rapid expansion, adding 11,557 inmates, a startling 8.0% increase over the previous year. Drug war prisoners constitute a majority of all federal prisoners, accounting for 57% of all federal inmates.
The US prison and jail population -- state and federal -- has now climbed to more than 2.1 million persons, yet another all-time high, the report noted.
But despite the continued swelling of the federal prison population, some key states have moved to reduce their prison populations through sentencing reforms, changes in parole and probation rules, and other measures. Prison populations actually decreased in 10 states, led by New Jersey (down 5.5%), followed by Utah (-5.2%), New York (- 3.8%), and Texas (-2.8%). Oddly, all of the states showing the largest increases in prison population during 2001 except one are in the Pacific West. While West Virginia had the largest percentage increase (up 9.3%), the next four biggest percentage increases were in Alaska (8.9%), Idaho (8.5%), Oregon (8.3%) and Hawaii (7.9%).
Other highlights from the report:
4. Needle Exchange 2002: A Long Way Traveled, A Long Way to Go
With needle exchange programs (NEPs) now well into their second decade in the US, the programs continue to expand across the country, but coverage remains spotty and significant obstacles remain.
According to a recently released survey of NEPs conducted jointly by the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and the North American Syringe Exchange Network (http://www.nasen.org), the number of NEPs operating in the US had climbed to 127 by the time of the survey last fall, up from 96 in 1997 and 29 in 1992. In 1987, one NEP was operating in the US. NEPs now distribute sterile syringes to injection drug users in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the survey found.
"We're at 211 active programs now," said NASEN head Dave Purchase this week. "That's the good news. The number of programs continues to expand."
Not only are the programs expanding, the range of services they offer is increasing. More than 90% of surveyed NEPs offered HIV and hepatitis prevention information and information on safe injection techniques, and 87% offered vein and abscess care information. But when it came to onsite medical services, the numbers declined dramatically. While 88% offered HIV testing and counseling, fewer than half offered counseling for hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases or other medical care. Similarly, fewer than half of the NEPs offered any onsite social services assistance.
Funding for NEPs remains a mix of public and private funds. Although the federal government still refuses to fund NEPs, state and local governments kicked in almost two-thirds of the more than $8 million spent operating NEPS last year.
"No federal funding, that's the bad news," Purchase told DRCNet. "There is not a dime of federal support for NEPS in the US. They are the most proven, documented and effective AIDS prevention method known, but the federal government is blind to the science," Purchase said. "Over the years, state and local authorities have been coming around, but we are at an impasse at the federal level."
The creation and development of new NEPS is an uneven and uncertain process, said Donald Grove of the New York-based Harm Reduction Coalition (http://www.harmreduction.org). "It really goes state by state, and sometimes city by city," Grove told DRCNet. "Here in the northeast, there are rays of hope. In both New York and Massachusetts, the state has created legal mechanisms for NEPs. Here in New York, the success of the law to allow syringe sales at pharmacies has helped convince the state health department that there is legislative support for HIV prevention programs," Grove explained. "That showed the health department more people were interested in NEPs than just angry, complaining merchants."
But it isn't looking so good across the Hudson River, Grove told DRCNet. "Things are still locked up in New Jersey," he said. "Governor McGreevey said he would support NEPs, but he has not expended any political capital to make it happen. And that's a shame, because New Jersey is the epicenter in terms of constantly increasing rates of infection."
Farther south along the Atlantic seaboard, NEPs face the additional challenge of operating underground -- without official sanction and sometimes at risk of arrest, Grove said. "In the South, everything is underground. And North Carolina, Jesse Helms' home state, has more underground NEPS than any state in the region. Throughout the South, these NEPs are illegal, but they're generally tolerated," he said.
But it's not only the South where NEPS have to skirt the law. Although city officials in San Diego authorized an NEP earlier this year, the Harm Reduction Center in suburban Encinitas still runs a large, technically illegal NEP in the city and surrounding areas of San Diego County, where officials refuse to take the steps necessary to authorize a legal NEP.
"There's no chance we're going away," said Brent Whitteker, the center's executive director. "We're exchanging 20,000 syringes a week, we're doing home deliveries -- which the city program cannot do -- we have lots of work everyday. We have about 1500 to 2000 participants annually, and through them we reach about 5-7,000 more," he told DRCNet. "But that's out of an estimated 23,000 injection drug users in the county."
Whitteker said the program would like to go legit, but would stay underground if it could not do the work it saw needed doing. "We would like a legal platform, but we cannot conform in San Diego unless they change their regulations," he said. "And there's so much more to it than just needles. The exchange only unlocks the door, it provides the opportunity to begin to show people how to protect themselves, how to get referrals and information about services, basically to assist them in using in a safe way so they can live a long, healthy life."
Community hostility and resistance to NEPs continue to flare up as well. Casa Segura was firebombed in Oakland last year, the Albuquerque city council moved against a local NEP earlier this year, and the "Peoria Needle Lady," nurse Beth Wehrman, has gotten a rather chilly reception in the heartland as well (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/236.html#peoria). It's not always so dramatic, but it is a recurring theme, said Purchase.
"Even the most well-established programs go through cycles with their communities," he said. "It's not about the science or the truth -- if it were, we wouldn't be having these fights -- but it's about politics, the war on drugs mythology and even some more malignant impulses. For some opponents, it's an educational process as well," said Purchase. "That's a slow process."
The movement is starved for resources, said Purchase, and it needs more political support, but he pronounced himself at least partially satisfied with the current state of affairs. "We're not stalled and we've learned a lot, over that period we've managed to back up what was common sense then with science, and now there are over 200 programs," he said. "We've grown more knowledgeable about tailoring programs for a more diverse population. We've made progress with state and local officials."
But Grove pointed to yet another concern. "The model for NEPs has been to start small, gain public acceptance and then grow, but the evidence from the Beth Israel surveys doesn't support that," he said. "If they start small, they tend to stay small. It's great that the movement is spreading, but in many places that means if a key person goes, the program is in real trouble."
And for Purchase the overriding issue remains the same as when he first began working on AIDS prevention in the 1980s. "The unpleasant feeling is no different than it was years ago. Here we are trying to stop the epidemic transmission of blood borne pathogens in a population of millions, and we lack the resources to do it. For me, anger control is always an issue."
5. Baltimore Killings Continue as Politicians Continue to Ignore Role of Prohibition
Baltimore's long hot summer continued to simmer, with at least 24 homicides reported in the last month alone, including three children. And as the death toll rises, the political temperature is rising, too. In the wake of recent shootings, whose victims included a Baltimore police officer, Maryland and Baltimore politicians have begun firing accusations at each other over who is to blame. The only thing they could agree on was that the black market drug trade bears much of the responsibility for the wave of violence.
Recent killings have included the drive-by shooting of a 13-year old boy in West Baltimore, an area of thriving black market drug activity. The boy was with eight or nine other teenagers at the time, the Baltimore Sun reported, raising the question of whether the bullet was intended for him or someone else. Targeted killings like these, which are usually linked to the unregulated drug trade, are contributing to the recent rise in shootings.
A police officer arresting a suspected drug dealer was also shot and nearly killed in July as well. The suspected motive for the shooting was to avoid arrest. The July incident was the third time in 18 months that a Baltimore police officer making a drug arrest has been shot, the Sun reported.
Juveniles have become common victims of shootings in Baltimore. The Sun reported that a 60-year old Baltimore man shot three youths between the ages of 11 and 18 to remove them from his doorstep. Neighbors said the building was being surrounded by young drug dealers, another example of the doleful impact of prohibition and the black market.
Drug war violence has spread from Baltimore to the rest of Maryland. Suburbs such as Owings Mills, once a refuge from area crime, have experienced an increase in thefts and burglaries and drug-related killings, including the fatal shooting of an 18-year old during a marijuana deal at Owings Mills Mall. Westminster, a town almost 25 miles northwest of the Baltimore beltway, has experienced a surge in heroin-related overdoses. High school dealers obtain heroin from Baltimore, which, despite the city's raging drug war remains as pure as 80%, according to local news sources.
In response to Maryland's increasing drug and violence crisis, politicians have formed a circular firing squad. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. accused his opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, of distorting statistics showing a drop in juvenile crime in Maryland, according to the Sun. Back in Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley has ordered a temporary doubling of overtime police hours in high-violence areas, expected to cost at least $10,000 a night. Community groups have criticized the plan as only a way to scatter the crimes geographically, rather than prevent them. O'Malley is also forming a citizens' group to monitor the prosecution of gun crimes, he announced.
O'Malley in turn has criticized State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy for failing to pursue gun charges and not opposing bail for a suspect in the shooting of a 10-year old boy (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/246.html#baltimore). Jessamy, who is running for reelection in a hotly contested race, responded through an aide by accusing O'Malley of skewing crime reports to hide his failure at fighting crime. Court transcripts show that no one from Jessamy's office appeared at the bail hearing.
On Saturday, O'Malley and Jessamy held a rare face-to-face meeting, where the two called a truce and agreed on pouring more money into the witness protection program and establish programs to increase collaboration between prosecutors and detectives. The witness protection program's budget has been increased from $300,000 to as much as Jessamy feels is needed, up to $17 million. Neither Malley nor Jessamy discussed the role of drug prohibition in creating the illegal drug market and the crime it causes.
While Baltimore remains stuck in the midst of the drug war, the town once known as "The City that Reads" is grimly earning a new moniker, "The City that Bleeds."
6. Stossel Special Spurs War of Letters to ABC
ABC news correspondent John Stossel's primetime Wednesday night special, "Just Say No: Government's War on Drugs Fails," a slashing indictment of the drug war and a ringing call for serious consideration of legalization of drugs, has provoked a flutter of excitement among drug reformers and much wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments among the drug war set.
Featuring Detroit Police Chief Jerry Oliver, Southern California Judge James P. Gray, NYC Rev. Joe Kane and the Institute for Policy Studies drug policy analyst Sanho Tree, with DEA chief Asa Hutchison representing the other side, the hour-long Stossel special ripped gaping holes in the already tattered cloak of prohibitionist orthodoxy. Stossel raised cutting questions such as whether claimed drug use drops are truly the result of government policies and whether the US can wisely fight simultaneously on the two fronts of drugs and terrorism, and hammered hard on the violence created by prohibition in the US and abroad.
Drug prohibitionists, not surprisingly, were displeased, and some of them have voiced their displeasure. Clinton era drug policy spokesman Bob Weiner reacted like a jack-in-the-box, springing out of his Washington lair with an apoplectic press release defending the Clinton drug war and blasting Stossel. "It was a distorted and inaccurate excuse for drug legalization," Weiner wrote, continuing, "It blows off the successes and real reductions in use generated both by government drug policy and efforts by parents, teachers, coaches, businesses, community coalitions, religious leaders, and law enforcement."
The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (http://www.cadca.org), a federally seeded "demand reduction" organization, also lobbed a stink bomb Stossel's way via press release, accusing the program of lack of balance because it failed to discuss demand reduction. General Arthur T. Dean, Chairman and CEO of CADCA, then explained the real problem: "While I believe there is a need for discussions in the public arena, I firmly and unequivocally believe that all illegal drugs must remain illegal, and there is no room for negotiation on that."
And that, perhaps, is what's really eating these guys. Stossel and his guests dared to try to make room for an intelligent discussion of drug policy, driven by rational analysis instead of adherence to hoary propaganda. That's too much for the likes of CADCA, Weiner and their ilk, who know they must maintain a monopoly on the terms of public discourse to have any chance of defending their positions.
Now drug reformers and drug warriors are engaged in a battle of letters to ABC. After CADCA issued a warning to its members the day before the program aired, followed by an action alert the next day, at least three drug reform groups -- DRCNet, the Libertarian Party and Drugsense -- have done likewise, reporting unusually high response rates by their members. At DRCNet, for example, an action alert distributed late yesterday afternoon had yielded 15 copies of members' letters to ABC, delivered to DRCNet by fax within two hours when the office was vacated for the night. The fax machine was still ringing.
The L-word is breaking into the mainstream. Perhaps America is getting ready to begin a debate that its Latin American and European counterparts have explored in depth.
ALERT: Drug warrior organizations like the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (which is more rabidly prohibitionist than many of its members) are now waging a letter writing campaign to ABC to pressure them against questioning drug war dogma in the future. Your help is needed to show ABC that good drug war reporting like Stossel's is not only appreciated by viewers but is needed.
Please write a letter in support of the Stossel special to:
David Westin, PresidentPlease fax us a copy of your letter to (202) 293-8344, e-mail it to [email protected] or mail to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 210, Washington, DC 20036.
If you don't have time to
write a paper letter (the most effective method for making an impression),
please visit http://abcnews.go.com/service/Help/abcmail.html
to submit your comments to ABC News online. You can also visit http://boards.abcnews.go.com/cgi/abcnews/request.dll?LIST&room=stossel
DRCNet will provide info on ordering a video of the program in the near future. In the meantime, you can read an excerpt from it at http://abcnews.go.com/onair/2020/stossel_drugs_020730.html online.
The following is a sample letter you can use (preferably modified and personalized) in your communication to ABC, provided by Marc Brandl of the Libertarian Party's Drug War Task Force:
Dear Mr. Westin: