August has begun, and with it the US Congress has gone into recess, its Senators and Representatives returned to their districts and states. This is the ideal time to pay a visit to their local offices and make the case for and against current legislation of importance in drug policy. Get some friends or family members to go with you in a group! Below we list some issues and bills to bring up, with instructions for figuring out where to go and suggestions for when you do. Please write us at [email protected] to let us know what actions you've taken and what responses you've gotten from your legislators or their staffs.
First, though, DRCNet has just made up StopTheDrugWar.org pins, with our usual stop sign logo, that you can wear for the occasion. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/donate/ and contribute $10 or more and we'll send one to you by first-class mail for free. (If you can't afford the $10, we'll send you one anyway, for less or even for free if necessary.) If you want to send your donation by check, please e-mail us at [email protected] and let us know, and include your mailing address so we can send your pin now. Also let us know if you would like more than one, and add an additional $1.00 for each (or whatever you can afford). Our mailing address for checks is: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. Remember that donations to the Drug Reform Coordination Network are not tax-deductible, though you can make a tax-deductible donation if you prefer to the DRCNet Foundation, same address.
Visit http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov for links to your legislators' web sites (which generally include local and DC contact information), and for online tools for determining who they are if you don't already know, or call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them. It's best to look presentable when you have your visit, so your legislators know that not only do you take this issue and the political process seriously, but other people who will vote in their races in the future take you and your opinions seriously.
This is not a complete list of every relevant issue affecting drug policy, but only the ones that are most "in play" at the moment.
1) HEA: DRCNet, with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, has a major national campaign to repeal a provision of the Higher Education Act that delays or denies federal financial aid to students because of drug convictions. There is a likelihood that legislation will pass this year that will exempt would-be students who were not in school at the time of their offenses. While this is a positive development, it is important for Representatives and Senators to hear that constituents feel it is not enough and that only full repeal of the law will adequately resolve the issue. Bring a copy of our 2002 sign-on letter at http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/Letter/ that strongly makes this case, and include the impressive list of organizational endorsers.
H.R. 685, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank, has 62 cosponsors and would repeal the drug provision in full. Please urge your US Rep. to sponsor this bill if he or she is not already. (See http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/685.html for the latest cosponsor listing.) Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for extensive information on this issue, to send an e-mail or fax to your Representative and Senators and the President, to make sure you are receiving district-specific HEA alerts as well as the general ones, and to get more involved in this campaign. Visit http://www.ssdp.org for info on student drug reform activism.
2) MEDICAL MARIJUANA: There are currently two pro-medical marijuana bills in Congress, H.R. 2233, the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, and H.R. 1717, the Truth in Trials Act. States' Rights would eliminate federal prohibition of medical marijuana in states that have passed medical marijuana laws. Truth in Trials would create a medical necessity defense for medical marijuana use in those states. We ask you to urge your US Rep. to cosponsor and support both of these bills. Visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR02233:@@@P and http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d108:HR01717:@@@P to read the latest cosponsor listings.
Also, there was a medical marijuana vote in the full House last month, and you should determine how your Rep. voted before you have your meeting. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/july23-yesno.pdf (PDF) or http://www.drcnet.org/wol/july23-yesno.xls (Excel) or http://www.drcnet.org/wol/july23-yesno.txt (tab-delimited plain text) to find out. Visit http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/medicalmarijuana/ to send e-mails and faxes to Congress and the President in support of these bills.
3) PLAN COLOMBIA AND THE ANDEAN DRUG WAR: Also last month, the House voted down an amendment to reduce drug war funding to the Colombia military. Now, the full Andean Counterdrug Initiative legislation has moved to the Senate. According to the Latin American Working Group, the Senate has no plans to even debate Colombia funding. DRCNet opposes the Andean drug war entirely, and we also support a call by the Latin American Working Group for Colombia aid to be debated on the Senate floor. Please ask your Senators to vote against continued funding of the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, particularly Colombia funding, to support any amendments to eliminate or scale it back, and to demand a real debate on the Colombian drug war on the Senate floor.
The Andean drug war is not only harmful, it is futile and ridiculous. We have a graph that is useful for making that point (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/coca-growing.gif). The graph demonstrates how source country anti-cocaine efforts have only caused coca cultivation to shift from place to place, not to reduce it -- the amount of the shifts is far greater than the change in total coca growing, indicating the supply filling demand is the dominant force, not eradication programs.
Also consider bringing a copy of "Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington's Futile War on Drugs in Latin America," a new, concise but thorough overview of the issue by the Cato Institute's Ted Galen Carpenter -- visit http://www.drcnet.org/donate/ and donate $35 or more and we'll send you a free copy -- let us know if you're bringing it to a legislator visit and we'll send it first-class -- or donate $60 or more for two copies -- or $85 or more for three.
Visit http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/stopthehelicopters/ to send e-mails and faxes to your Senators in opposition to the Andean Counterdrug Initiative and for links to further resources for working on this issue.
4) RAVE ACT: Last year, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) obtained passage of the controversial Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act by sneaking it into the popular Amber Alert bill. The RAVE Act threatens to suppress freedom of speech and assembly by making club owners subject to draconian criminal penalties if patrons engage in illicit drug activity. Though Biden promised the law would not be used to stifle legitimate events, it has already happened. Please tell your Senators and your Representative that the RAVE Act is dangerous and undemocratic and should be repealed -- and that in the meantime they should exercise great scrutiny of law enforcers to prevent its further abuse. Bring a copy of our Week Online article on the shutdown by DEA threat of a NORML-SSDP fundraiser in Billings, Montana to make the point (http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/290/dearave.shtml).
Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org for further resources for working on this issue.
5) SENTENCING AND INCARCERATION: Thanks in part to draconian mandatory minimum sentencing and insufficiently flexible federal sentencing guidelines, our nation's prisons and jails hold more than half a million nonviolent drug offenders -- more than the number of people imprisoned for any criminal offense in the entire European Union, even though the EU has more people than the United States. Overall, the US has more than two million people incarcerated, the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation known as the Feeney Amendment (now Sec. 401 of the PROTECT Act) that will strip even more discretion from judges by requiring the US Sentencing Commission to enact changes to the federal sentencing guidelines reducing the frequency of "downward departures," affecting sentencing across the board including for drug offenses. A measure introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Edward Kenney (D-MA), the JUDGES Act (S. 1086 and H.R. 2213), would repeal Sec. 401 and other unjust provisions of the PROTECT Act.
Please ask your Senators and your Representative to support the JUDGES Act and to go further and repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences in full. Visit http://www.famm.org/pdfs/FGsummer03final.pdf for further information on this legislation and visit http://www.famm.org for additional resources on this issue.
That is our recommended federal lineup. We have not discussed DRCNet's overall philosophy on drug policy, which is that prohibition should be ended and drugs and the drug trade be brought within the control of law -- meaning some form of legalization, to use the more popular word for the concept. This doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about this when you have a meeting. That is a judgment call you have to make based on what you know about the legislator and on the flow of things when you are there. If you only have a short time, which is probable, you might only want to bring up the current legislative issues.
If it seems like your Senator
or Rep. (or more likely one of their staffers) is interested in having
a dialogue on the larger issue, it may be worthwhile to bring it up.
You can point to conservatives who have either called for legalization,
such as National Review magazine (http://www.nationalreview.com/12feb96/drug.html),
If you do have such a conversation, it's a good idea at the end to point out that whether or not they agree with you, it's important to at least make positive progress on the smaller issues (such as the ones outlined above) on which you both agree.
You have a few weeks to make these appointments, so start thinking about it and hopefully acting on it now! If you can't do it in time but still want to do this kind of activism, you can still have meetings with your legislators' staffers later.
Please forward this bulletin to other likely reform supporters, and please keep following DRCNet action alerts, sending the e-mails and faxes, making the phone calls and paying the visits. Though last month's two big votes were lost, they were closer than has ever happened before -- see our reports at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/297.shtml if you haven't already -- proof that you can make a difference and that the drug war can end, but only with your help.
Again, please write to [email protected] to let us know what actions you've taken this month and what you've learned about your legislators' intentions and views. Thank you for standing with us against the drug war.