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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #325, 2/20/04

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Editorial: Long in the Making
  2. ACLU, Drug Reform Groups Sue over Federal Ban on Public Transit Drug Reform Ads
  3. Utah Asset Forfeiture Reform Law Under Attack
  4. As Continental Harm Reduction Movement Hits Bump, Brazil House Passes Drug Possession Depenalization Bill
  5. Oakland "Regulate and Tax" Marijuana Legalization Initiative Getting Underway -- Poll Says Public Support Strong
  6. Action Alert: HEA Campaign Entering New Stage -- Your Letters and Phone Calls Needed!
  7. Newsbrief: DEA Moving to Restrict Vicodin
  8. Newsbrief: Canadian Government Reintroduces Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
  9. Newsbrief: Methadone Maintenance Doctors Under Attack in Britain
  10. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story
  11. Newsbrief: Drug War First -- Florida Town Offers Used Car Drug Inspections
  12. This Week in History
  13. Psilocybin Cancer Research Study Seeking Participants
  14. Asian Harm Reduction Network Launches Online Resource Collection
  15. Offer and Appeal: New StoptheDrugWar.org Ink Stamps and Strobe Lights -- DRCNet Needs Your Support in 2004
  16. The Reformer's Calendar
(last week's issue)

(Chronicle archives)


1. Editorial: Long in the Making

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 2/20/04

David Borden

One of the major breakthrough issues of relevance to drug policy reform the last few decades has been the emergence of medical marijuana as a popular, mainstream issue. Medical marijuana, in the modern political sense, has been long in the making. At least as far back as the 1980s, pioneers like Bob Randall, whose lawsuit led to the establishment of the small program under which seven patients still receive medical marijuana legally from the government, or early patient/activists Barbara and Kenny Jenks, were pushing the envelope and undertaking the hard, slow-paced work of mounting the early stages of what they hoped would be a movement and a solution to an injustice.

It doesn't seem so long ago, then, when former San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan contributed to the medical marijuana debate by telling a Los Angeles Times reporter on February 26, 1995, "I have no problem whatsoever with the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I am sensitive and compassionate to people who have legitimate needs. We should bend the law and do what's right."

Some time has passed by now since even then, of course. Nine years and several ballot initiatives later, San Francisco is still kind to patients needing medical marijuana and Washington's federal uber-oppressors and their henchmen around the country are still cruel.

Fitting, perhaps, that Jordan's compassionate quote should be recollected during Americans for Safe Access' Medical Marijuana Week 2004 (http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=785). Though Randall and his fellow pioneers have left us, their cause continues and has become something greater than they might have dared to imagine. Numerous acts of courage and solidarity honor their commitment to helping others. An enthusiastic and committed grassroots movement around the country rallies to the defense and doctors and patients. And Congressional intransigence notwithstanding, victory may be within their grasp; I believe that legalization of medical marijuana is all but inevitable.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with everything Mayor Jordan said on that day. Of course I agree with his call for sensitivity and compassion. But I don't think it's necessary to "bend the law" in this case to do what's right. It's the other side that has bent the law to their dark will. The Constitution -- the nation's highest law -- is one our side, not theirs -- not according to Court rulings, perhaps, but in truth. The law banning medical use and prescribing of marijuana, like all the drug laws, is based on an "interpretation" of the Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause that is stretched beyond belief. The power to regulate interstate commerce does not rationally translate into permission for the federal government to pass laws permitting armed agents of the state to break down doors, handcuff patients and their providers and caretakers, and lock them inside metal cages in prison buildings for using and dealing in marijuana grown inside of a state's borders for use in medical treatment. The same, of course, goes for non-medical use.

The warping of the Interstate Commerce Clause to serve the political purposes of drug warriors is also long in the making. Americans for the most part are unaware of the nation's past before drugs were banned but society didn't fall apart. Scenarios in which currently illegal drugs are managed in a different way, even medical prescribing of marijuana, still seem surreal in the context of current US culture and politics. But that is conditioning only.

Long in the making though it be, the unmaking of drug prohibition is a just cause and must be done. It is possible, if all of us do our part.


2. ACLU, Drug Reform Groups Sue over Federal Ban on Public Transit Drug Reform Ads

Three drug policy reform organizations and the ACLU filed suit Wednesday against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) after it refused last week to run ads at subways and bus stops advocating drug law reform. The lawsuit, filed by Change the Climate (http://www.changetheclimate.org), the Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org), the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) and the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project (http://www.aclu.org/DrugPolicy/) claims that WMATA's refusal to display the ads is an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech rights.

But while WMATA is the named defendant, the suit's real target is a new law passed last month as part of a massive omnibus federal spending bill. Sponsored by Rep. Don Istook (R-OK), who took great umbrage at an earlier Change the Climate WMATA ad linking marijuana and sex, the law cuts off up to $3.1 billion in federal funds to transit agencies if they display public service ads advocating changing the nation's drug laws (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/314/istook.shtml).

But the ad rejected last week is different. Featuring a photo of people locked up behind bars, the ad runs text across the top saying: "Marijuana Laws Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars to Lock-Up Non-Violent Americans." Unlike Change the Climate's controversial ads last fall, there is no linking of sex and marijuana and it is difficult to see how anyone could claim it is encouraging drug use or the commission of crimes. And unlike the earlier ads, which were placed as part of public service announcement programs, the ad rejected last week was a paid ad.

advertisement rejected by WMATA under the Istook amendment
"The government does not want the public to know how badly our drug policy has failed, so it is trying to silence Americans who oppose the war on drugs," said Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project. "Fortunately, the First Amendment clearly prohibits this kind of blatant viewpoint-based censorship."

"Rep. Istook's backdoor amendment proves that the Congress is willing to violate the Constitution in order to hide from citizens the most basic facts about the impact of our current drug laws," said Change the Climate head Joe White. "Government censorship to quell criticism of its own policies should not be tolerated in the United States. If politicians really want to reduce marijuana use by young people they would regulate and control it like alcohol and tobacco, instead of making it easily available on the mean streets of America," he said.

"We took a little heat for running that 'enjoy better sex/tax and legalize marijuana' ad," White told DRCNet, "but our strategy worked because we wanted to lure the government into making a bad decision that would allow us to communicate our message about the need for reforming the marijuana laws. That ad was our Trojan horse. It provoked the government into showing its true colors --for censorship and for a one-dimensional approach to marijuana issues."

"We are pleased to be part of this effort," said Steve Fox, MPP director of governmental relations. "We had planned to sue on our own, but everyone was thinking along the same lines," he told DRCNet. "Even before the provision became law, we had a letter delivered to Rep. Istook's office and copied to all members of the House and Senate appropriations committees telling them that they should take the provision out and warning them if they didn't we would sue and get good publicity and win in court. It was a wrongheaded provision from the start, but it's in their court now, and we're going to get rid of it."

The ACLU pronounced itself confident of victory. "We are confident that the law is on our side because our ad is promoting political change, not illegal activities or drug use," said Anjuli Verma of the Drug Policy Litigation Project. "That is political speech, and political speech is protected by the First Amendment," she told DRCNet. "Unlike the earlier Change the Climate ads, which were public service announcements, we are paying for these ads. We are a group of private citizens who believe the drug laws need to be changed."

Unlike the controversy over CBS's refusal to air ads critical of President Bush during the Superbowl, said Verma, this case involves public agencies funded by the federal government. "CBS is a private entity and had the right to refuse the MoveOn ads, but transit authorities are an arm of the government and they have to be content neutral."

Congress left WMATA between a rock and a hard place, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told the Associated Press. The transit agency could have lost at least $85 million in federal aid if it accepted the ad, she said. "Given our critical dependency on continued federal funding, we have no choice but to follow the law that Congress passed," she said. "To do otherwise would be a disservice to our customers and the region's taxpayers."

WMATA is the first transit agency to be sued over the censorship law, but it may not be the last, and San Francisco and New York could be next on the list. "Every transit authority in the country is subject to losing funds if it displays such ads," said Verma. "They have a real dilemma. I think they feel like they're being blackmailed by the federal government: 'If you want our money you have to engage in unconstitutional censorship of free speech.'"

"We're waiting to see the response from the court in Washington, DC, both in terms of the decision and the time it takes to make the decision before committing to launching campaigns in other cities, particularly those that have huge amounts of federal transit dollars waiting for them," said Change the Climate's White. "San Francisco is a possibility, and New York is a huge market. Similarly, we might run a campaign in San Jose where we could better reach our target audience," he said, also mentioning Chicago as a potential target.


3. Utah Asset Forfeiture Reform Law Under Attack

In 2002, Utah voters approved Initiative B, which drastically tightened the state's asset forfeiture laws. The initiative won with an impressive 70% of the vote, making crystal clear the will of the state's electorate. But the state's law enforcement apparatus, including state Attorney General Mike Shurtleff, whose job it is to enforce the law, has never accepted the Utah Uniform Property Protection Act. Now, it is in real danger of being undone. A measure that would substantially gut the law in the name of "reform" passed the Utah Senate Thursday and is headed for the House.

Prior to the voter-approved reform in 2002, law enforcement agencies in the state were entitled to keep all the booty they seized -- almost exclusively from drug offenders -- but under current law they are supposed to turn all seized assets over to the Uniform School Fund. The bill approved by the Senate would undo that by allowing police to keep seized goods.

Not that police ever really stopped profiting from asset forfeiture. A year ago, state auditor Ed Alter found that police continued to keep asset forfeiture funds rather than obeying state law. Alter had to ask Attorney General Shurtleff to retrieve nearly $300,000 police had convinced district court judges to hand over to them. And by all accounts, Utah law enforcement has done an end-run around the law by turning over seizures to its federal partners, who in turn kick back a percentage to the locals.

Still, since July 1, 2003, some $483,500 in seized assets has made its way to its intended end use, the betterment of education for Utah's children. They would see no more of it if the bill, SB 175, passes.

"My bill goes right to the heart of preserving Initiative B and even strengthens it," claimed the bill's sponsor, Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), in a display of verbal audacity before darkly adding that out-of-staters had funded the initiative. "They added some language that protected property owners, but the unintended consequence was the elimination of our efforts at drug interdiction."

"He has to claim that to get it through," scoffed Salt Lake attorney Janet Jenson, who coauthored the initiative, "but SB 175 actually weakens just about every aspect of the law. All the procedural protections have been gutted. The worst thing is that it would let all the money go back to law enforcement," she told DRCNet. "The whole idea was to remove law enforcement's incentive to abuse people's rights by removing their profit motive. How this could be called an improvement, I don't know."

But it will be tough to stop, said Jenson. "The attorney general and his assistants are working full-time to get this undone, at taxpayers' expense. We'll try to stop it, but it will be hard. We don't get paid to go sit at the capitol."

While Utah reformers got national help during the initiative campaign, that help has largely vanished. The only organized opposition to the bill is Accountability Utah (http://www.accountabilityutah.org), which is not a drug reform group but a socially conservative grassroots organization. The group distributed flyers in Sen. Buttars' home neighborhood over the weekend in which they referred to him as "a dangerous man."

"We aren't into liberalizing drugs, but we are into due process," said the group's David Hansen. "We just see this as a real conflict of interest when police seize goods and then turn around and use them to fund their own operations. We feel like the drug war is being used to make war on Americans," he told DRCNet. "SB 175 makes it so the locals can pick up more federal money by doing more seizures."

Like Jenson, Accountability Utah has limited resources with which to fend off the "reform," while state officials, law enforcement, and one of the state's largest newspapers are working to ensure it passes. The Deseret News waxed positively Orwellian as its editorialists strove to turn black into white. Asset forfeiture reform has "tied the hands of local narcotics officers," it claimed, adding that SB 175 is a "compromise" that "builds upon protections Initiative B gives citizens" and "refines" the divvying-up of the loot.

"The money now flows through the state treasurer's office for deposit in the Uniform School Fund," the News noted. "However, little money has actually come to the state because local law enforcement has begun partnering with federal law-enforcement and prosecution agencies, rather than handling cases on their own. Federal agencies aren't covered by the law's restraints." Clearly, the News sees that the way to deal with police non-compliance with the law is to reward it. But that's not the point. The point is that those outside forces that helped pass the initiative "are led by people who are vocal in their support for the legalization of drugs" and they "exploited" the newspaper's presumably dim-witted readers. The News and Attorney General Shurtleff know better than the state's naïve voters.

The bill has now been forwarded to the House Clerk. If it is to be stopped, something is going to have to happen soon.

Read the bill online at:
http://www.le.state.ut.us/~2004/bills/sbillint/sb0175s02.htm


4. As Continental Harm Reduction Movement Hits Bump, Brazil House Passes Drug Possession Depenalization Bill

The Brazilian Chamber of Deputies approved last Thursday a bill that removes the possibility of arrest or prison sentences for people charged with drug possession. Earlier in week, a meeting of the Latin American Harm Reduction Network (RELARD in its Spanish acronym) in Sao Paulo dissolved in acrimony amid allegations of corruption surrounding one of the group's most prominent members and charges of dirty doings during voting to choose new leadership.

But while Latin American harm reductionists were recovering from the bout of infighting, the Brazilian lower chamber was making history. If enacted by the Brazilian Senate, which has already passed one version of the bill, drug users would be subject to community service, but not jail, for drug possession offenses.

"This does not decriminalize drug use, but it's an important step in confronting a social hypocrisy because it says there will be no more prison for drug use," Deputy Paulo Pimenta of the ruling Workers' Party told the Folha de Sao Paulo. The bill also sets penalties for drug trafficking offenses and allows for asset forfeiture, said Pimenta, who played a key role in authoring the measure. "Dependence is one thing," he explained. "Repression and the battle against trafficking is something completely different."

While Luiz Paulo Guanabara, director of the Brazilian anti-prohibitionist group Psicotropicus criticized the bill for not going far enough, he lauded it as a step in the right direction. "This bill is a very good thing because it helps mobilize public opinion and is a first step toward a more just and rational drug policy," Guanabara told DRCNet. "In addition to not sending people to jail, there is no forced treatment -- judges can recommend treatment, but this bill does not oblige people to follow that recommendation," he said. "This is a step toward future legalization."

Instead of forced treatment, the bill requires that drug users be given free treatment on demand. It is also an indication that the government of President Lula da Silva is moving on its promises of drug reform. "This bill comes out of the ministries of justice and health and the national drug directorate," said Guanabara. "Those three groups put out the bill."

Under the bill, people charged with drug possession will be ordered to do community service or perform educational activities for a period of up to five months for a first offense, 10 months for subsequent offenses. Although drug users cannot be jailed for avoiding drug treatment, they would face jail time if they failed to comply with the judge's orders.

The bill would also modernize Brazil's drug control apparatus, creating a National Drug Policy System (SISNAD) consisting of all federal, state, and local entities involved in any aspect of drug control, from prevention and education to repression of the drug traffic. The education, health and justice ministries would maintain control of their areas of expertise beneath the SISNAD umbrella. Additionally, the bill would create a repository for information on all aspects of drug use, traffic, and control, the Brazilian Drug Information Observatory (OBID).

The bill would also allow the cultivation of crops containing psychoactive substances for religious purposes, emphasize harm reduction as a guiding principle, and provide incentives for private entities to hire drug users.

While the Brazilian congress was busy pushing reform legislation forward, the Latin American Harm Reduction Network (RELARD) was imploding at its Sao Paulo annual conference. Rocked by widely-publicized allegations of corruption and nepotism against Brazil's most prominent harm reductionist, Sao Paulo AIDS prevention head Fabio Mesquita -- he is on leave from his Sao Paulo post as a complaint is being investigated -- the conference was thrown into deeper chaos by a bitterly fought leadership contest between allies of Mesquita (the Simon Bolivar list) and others who sought a new direction (the Latin American Unity or LULA list).

According to members of the defeated LULA list, the process was doomed both by the lack of financial support for getting representatives of various national organizations to the conference, which led to an under-representation of groups from outside Brazil, and by procedural irregularities in the voting itself. But the conflict also reflected deeper differences within the movement, said Silvia Inchaurraga, who ran on the LULA list.

"What we want is a truly Latin American network, not a Brazilian one," Inchaurraga told DRCNet. "The Simon Bolivar list is not representative of all Latin America, nor are all of its people even related to harm reduction. Also, we want a network that is actually involved in drug policy reform, not just hiding behind HIV prevention. We want an antiprohibitionist network independent of official agencies. Even if those agencies are friendly, we need the autonomy in decision-making that the network has not had up until now. And we are afraid of the harms we see from the most dangerous and addictive drug: power."

In a message circulated on the RELARD list and signed by Eliane Guerra Nunes of the LULA list, Gustavo Hurtado and Agustin Lapetina of the stillborn Consensus list, and Silvia Inchaurraga of the RELARD executive secretariat, the signers denounced the election as unfair and demanded that it be nullified. The election was supposed to be by secret ballot, the letter said, but Fabio Mesquita, who presided over the voting, instead called for a show of hands. The voting needed to be secret, the letter said, because "many of the potential participants could feel pressured to vote for someone other than who they wanted because of contractual links with the members of both lists." The open voting in violation of agreed upon rules, "nullifies the vote and gravely wounds the principle of free choice," the signatories maintained.

Neither was there any control over who could vote in the election, the letter said. Such uncontrolled voting "gravely wounds the principle of legitimacy and representativeness," the letter continued. What's worse, the letter continued, the assembly had already voted to accept a temporary leadership composed of members of both lists (the Consensus List) and the decision to hold another vote "did not respect the decision of the assembly to form a consensus list for the transition leadership." And worse yet, the letter's lengthy litany continued, were irregularities in awarding authority to the president of the assembly and that "some of the members of the Simón Bolívar List are family members of the presidential candidate Sandra Batista and have no background
in the field of harm reduction."

Taken together, the letter said, the missteps mentioned above constitute "a grave and substantial violation of electoral norms, procedural errors, and manifest arbitrariness" sufficient for the results to be nullified. The new RELARD leadership is "illegal and illegitimate" and new elections should be held to replace it, the letter concluded.

"It needs to be emphasized that up until the moment of the assembly we sought a unity list that would strengthen RELARD, said Gustavo Hurtado of the Argentine Harm Reduction Association (ARDA). "In the negotiations in which Fabio Mesquita and I took part, the proposal was that RELARD be led by a Brazilian with broad support of an executive representative of Latin American harm reduction and that in no way would we would support any maneuver at the assembly in Sao Paulo when there was no financial support to ensure that representatives of the networks in all the member countries could be there, and the ones who could come paid their own way," he told DRCNet.

"For us, this is an opportunity that we must not ignore to strengthen RELARD at a time when we are seeing advances in drug reform in Latin America. It is a shame that the ambition for power and the inability to co-direct of some people linked to Fabio Mesquita made it impossible to arrive at an accord," Hurtado continued. "It is unacceptable for us to allow a group of people who are not representative of the harm reduction movement to lead RELARD. We think that the least harm comes from denouncing and nullifying the election, otherwise we would be accomplices in the installation of spurious leadership in an institution that must guarantee transparency in its political practices."

Others have since joined the call for nullification and new elections, including individuals and groups from Argentine, Bolivia, Brazil, and Uruguay. But newly elected RELARD head Sandra Batista rejected the charges of electoral irregularities and the call for nullifying the election. "No, there were no problems at all, as can be confirmed by fully signed procedural documents open to anyone," she told DRCNet. Nor did she confirm that there are fissures in the organization. "We have no information at all about any kind of actual dispute at RELARD," she maintained.

Late Thursday, Batista added that "I do not believe that we have some divisions in the movement. We received a letter from four members who participated fully at the general assembly, complaining about the election process. This was the same assembly they participated in with proposals and votes. This letter was answered and we are waiting for the next step of clarification."

[Editor's Note: In fairness to Batista, Mesquita, and the Simon Bolivar list, we must note that because of deadline pressures, we could offer only a very short time for them to respond to the substantive charges leveled against them, and we had not heard further from them by press time late Thursday night.]

Batista also denied that there was any chance of RELARD breaking apart. "Why should RELARD break up now, when we have so many challenges ahead?" she asked.

But from the sound of it, RELARD's first challenge is to fix its own house.


5. Oakland "Regulate and Tax" Marijuana Legalization Initiative Getting Underway -- Poll Says Public Support Strong

A group of veteran activists is aiming to make Oakland, California, the first place in the country to endorse legalizing the use and sale of marijuana, and they have polling numbers showing strong support for such a move. Filed with city officials Thursday, the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Initiative would direct the Oakland City Council to establish a system of licensed, regulated marijuana sales in the city as soon as legally possible. While legal pot sales would have to await a change in state law and federal law, a second provision in the initiative would have an immediate effect. It directs the city to make personal adult use of marijuana Oakland's lowest law enforcement priority.

"This would be the first time any government entity in the country will have called for what amounts to Amsterdam-style legalization," said Dale Gieringer, California NORML (http://www.canorml.org) executive director and one of the board members of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance (OCLA), the newly-formed group behind the effort. "Twenty years ago, we were asking for decriminalization, but we're moving beyond that now. Even though for much of the adult population there is a sort of de facto decriminalization -- not that many adults around here actually get arrested for pot use -- that still leaves the black market, with all its disruptions."

It could work in Oakland. Already picking up the nickname Oaksterdam for the flowering of medical marijuana dispensaries around Telegraph & Broadway, the city appears ready for the move, at least according to results from a poll commissioned by OCLA. In that survey, conducted last month by McGuire Research Services, 71% of Oakland votes supported the taxed and regulated sale of marijuana, while 75% supported making private adult use the lowest law enforcement priority.

"We started with focus groups last summer to get a feel for what Oakland voters wanted," said Claire Lewis of Progressive Communications, the group hired by OCLA to get the campaign underway, "and the poll results coincided with our estimates based on the focus groups. This is a wonderful population for us," she told DRCNet. "It is extremely low in Republicans and high in Democrats, Greens, and independents. Oakland is a very progressive city hit hard by the federal government's war on drugs, and that's reflected in 90% saying the federal drug war isn't working. Oakland voters are ready to reevaluate what is going on."

Focus groups, polls, and setting up initiative campaigns takes money. The Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) came through for the Oakland effort, Lewis said. "We got a grant in MPP's last grant cycle to do the poll and the start up and the petition gathering for the initiative," she explained. "Opinion research can be expensive, but it gives us a solid knowledge base. We'll use the numbers and messages that we found in the polling and the focus groups. We know that what worries Oakland voters is street crime and street dealing. Voters want to keep it off the streets, and they're worried about serious crime. They don't want to waste police resources on cannabis offenses."

In addition to hiring Progressive Communications, OCLA has brought some of the Bay Area's most dedicated activists together. Along with California NORML's Gieringer, OCLA's board includes Oakland politico Joe Devries, who as former head of the city's Public Health and Safety Commission helped make Oakland medical marijuana-friendly; Richard Lee, owner of Oaksterdam landmark the Bulldog Coffee Shop, and Mikki Norris of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign (http://www.cannabisconsumers.org), which seeks to introduce normal pot-smokers to the American public.

"This is exactly where we want to go," said Norris. "OCLA wants to tax and regulate the use of marijuana by adults, and the work of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign fits right into this. We want to get people to come out of the closet to allay the public's fears about what happens to people who smoke cannabis," she told DRCNet. "The long-term goal is to have equal rights in society and not be discriminated against, and this initiative will be a giant step in that direction."

"We've been crafting the language of this right up to the last minute," said Gieringer, "and we set out some parameters. It doesn't apply to kids, there would be licensing for smoking facilities, there would be no advertising on media like billboards and TV. We think Oaklanders are going to be very receptive," he said. "It also directs city lobbyists to lobby for changes in state law that would allow the city to regulate and tax marijuana sales."

The campaign will hit hard on crime and public safety issues, Norris said. "Oakland has serious problems with street crime and murders and kids being exposed. We are offering a solution that would channel some of the street dealing into legitimate businesses that could be held accountable for problems. In the focus groups, a lot of people were really bothered by the street dealing."

The prospect of tax revenues could also prove seductive to social service-starved Oakland voters. "This is arguably the largest cash crop in the state and it's completely untaxed," Gieringer pointed out. "Revenue considerations are very important, and only with full-scale regulation can you tap into those dollars. This could raise real tax money for the city."

With the state of California suffering record deficits and ripple effects hitting cities and counties across the state, it may not be just Oakland voters who get interested. "We can offer at least some sort of solution to the budget crisis," said Norris. "That could get a lot of attention. People across the state are concerned that we're wasting money going after nonviolent offenders and they see a revenue stream just waiting to be tapped into. The cities and counties are hurting, and we have a solution: Tax us!"

While OCLA concedes that state law must change for the initiative to take effect, it argues that the ramifications of a November victory could be large. "There would definitely be a change in the local political climate," said Gieringer. "Politicians would begin to understand that this is a safe issue. And it could also instigate change elsewhere, similar to what happened with medical marijuana. That got started with a local initiative, Proposition P in San Francisco in 1991, then it went on to Santa Cruz and other cities and counties, then the state legislature got interested and passed a bill, only to see it vetoed by Governor Davis. We could follow a similar trajectory, though hopefully without a veto."

City officials now have 15 days to review the initiative and provide it with a title and voters' summary. After that, the signature gathering begins. If all goes well for OCLA, voters in Oakland will get to decide on legalization of marijuana -- in principle, at least -- in November.


6. Action Alert: HEA Campaign Entering New Stage -- Your Letters and Phone Calls Needed!

As you may know, DRCNet, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and a wide range of education, civil rights, religious, drug policy reform and other groups have long campaigned against a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act that delays or denies federal financial aid to anyone convicted of a drug offense, no matter how minor. More than 128,000 would-be students have been adversely affected by this provision. H.R. 685, a bill in the US House of Representatives to repeal the HEA drug provision, has the support of 66 Representatives, and six presidential candidates have spoken out for its repeal as well.

Our battle has recently entered a new stage. The Higher Education Act is itself in the midst of reauthorization, making this a particularly critical moment for working on this issue. Also, our coalition has mounted a major new effort to launch the repeal effort into the Senate, after previously focusing only on the House of Representatives. Finally, responding to growing support for repeal of the drug provision, its sponsor, notorious drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), has offered a proposal to scale the law back so that it only applies to people who were in school at the time they committed their offense. While he has brought up this reform previously, this time it is particularly likely to become law.

While the Souder reform will help some number of people and represents an important partial victory for the students and others working on this issue, only full repeal can adequately address the education, discrimination and other serious concerns that members of our coalition have about the HEA drug provision. For all these reasons, we are asking you to take a moment right now to mark this new stage of the campaign by contacting your US Representative and your two US Senators -- use our web site at http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to do so online -- and to follow up with a phone call to them tomorrow, Friday February 13, or as soon thereafter as you can.

IF YOU USE OUR WEB SITE AT http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com TO CONTACT CONGRESS, WE WILL BE ABLE TO SEND YOU A CUSTOMIZED E-MAIL WITH THEIR NAMES AND DIRECT PHONE NUMBERS. YOU CAN ALSO REACH THEM VIA THE CONGRESSIONAL SWITCHBOARD AT (202) 224-3121. When you are done, please forward this alert to your family and friends or use the tell-a-friend form that we have made available on http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com online.

Also, we and our campaign partners at Students for Sensible Drug Policy will be sending you a special bulletin next week outlining our strategy for advancing the full repeal cause, announcing a NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION this April, and letting you know what students and non-students alike can do to help. You can start getting ready by visiting http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com for extensive information about the issue and resources for getting involved in the campaign, including our newly-updated student and non-student activist packets.

Some talking points for your phone calls:

  • The vast majority of Americans convicted of drug offenses are convicted of nonviolent, low-level possession.
  • The HEA drug provision represents a penalty levied only on the poor and the working class; wealthier students will not have the doors of college closed to them for want to financial aid.
  • The HEA drug provision has a disparate impact on different races. African Americans, for example, comprise 13% of the population and 13% of all drug users, but account for more than 55% of those convicted of drug possession charges.
  • Access to a college education is the surest route to the mainstream economy and a crime-free life.
Again, visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to write to Congress and get involved in the campaign!


7. Newsbrief: DEA Moving to Restrict Vicodin

How's this for a Valentine's Day present for America's tens of millions of pain sufferers? The Washington Post reported February 14 that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wants to make it more difficult for them to get access to some of the most commonly prescribed opioid pain relievers. The agency is plotting a move against hydrocodone, with plans to move the drug, commonly sold as Vicodin, Lortab, and more than 200 generic brands, from the Controlled Substances Act's Schedule III to the much more restrictive Schedule II.

"Hydrocodone is one of the most abused drugs in the nation," said Christine Sannerud, deputy chief of the drug and chemical evaluation section of the DEA. "The agency thinks it would be wise to move it to Schedule II, because that would help a lot in terms of reducing abuse and trafficking," she told the Post.

If hydrocodone is one of the most abused drugs, it may be because it is one of the most widely prescribed. Last year, it was prescribed more than 100 million times to millions of patients who use it to treat pain from arthritis, AIDS, cancer, and a variety of chronic conditions. The DEA cites a 50% increase in emergency room mentions of hydrocodone in the last five years, but that increase has been coupled with a 25% increase in the number of prescriptions written. And with 118,000 mentions in 2002's Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) numbers, hydrocodone accounted for only half the mentions that simple analgesics like aspirin did.

The move is part of the DEA's larger effort to crack down on opioid prescribing, which has so far focused on persecuting Oxycontin and prosecuting physicians, especially pain management specialists, it accuses of overprescribing it. Now, the agency wants to treat Vicodin as restrictively as it treats Oxycontin. The impact of reclassifying doing so would be dramatic. Because Schedule II drugs cannot be refilled, patients would have to visit their doctors more often. Likewise, doctors could no longer phone in prescriptions and would face greater penalties if accusing of improper prescribing, while pharmacists would have to do significantly more paperwork and keep the drug in a safe.

The move has drawn criticism from pain patient advocates and health care professionals. "Rescheduling the drug will bring more hoops and barriers to getting access to the drugs, and it may prevent some minimal amount of abuse," said Richard Payne, president of the American Pain Society. "But my concern is that it will come at the cost of denying access to thousands of patients," he told the Post.

Susan Winkler of the American Pharmacists Association warned of "ripple effects" if hydrocodone is rescheduled. "Our members and doctors would have increased liability if [hydrocodones] are rescheduled, and that will inevitably reduce prescribing," she said. "We urge the DEA to make sure their decision is based on science and will make the situation better, not worse."

And John T. Farrar, a pain specialist at the University of Pennsylvania and consultant to the FDA advisory panel on analgesics, told the Post restricting doctors' ability to phone in prescriptions would hurt patient care. "There's really no substitute that doctors would be allowed to call in," Farrar said. "That means many patients would probably be getting other Schedule III drugs that are less effective for their pain, while drug abusers will just find another source."

Visit http://www.PainReliefNetwork.org -- the newly redesigned and expanded web site of the Pain Relief Network -- for extensive information on this issue and to learn about the upcoming pain patient "March on Washington.


8. Newsbrief: Canadian Government Reintroduces Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

The Canadian government of Prime Minister Paul Martin reintroduced the marijuana decriminalization bill that failed last fall when then Prime Minister Jean Chretien adjourned parliament prior to stepping down. Bill C-10 would decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of pot. People caught by police would be ticketed and would be subject of fines up to $110 US for adults or $75 US for youth. Those caught in possession of between 15 and 30 grams could be either ticketed or charged with a criminal offense at the discretion of the officer involved.

This year, the government has accepted some amendments to the bill, including one that would also decriminalize the cultivation of up to three plants. Under last year's version, small-time cultivation would have garnered up to a year in jail and a fine of up to almost $4,000. Both versions contain stiffer penalties for people operating larger grows.

And in a rebuff to the Americans, who had made noises about using records of marijuana tickets as a means of barring Canadians from traveling to the States, the government also accepted an amendment that would make it a criminal offense for Canadian officials "to knowingly disclose to a foreign government or international organization" the name of anyone ticketed for possession.

The bill remains unpopular both with drug warriors and drug reformers. For the former it is too much; for the latter, too little. "It certainly doesn't win any points with us," said Sophie Roux, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Professional Police Association, which represents 54,000 officers. "We think it should be delayed. We don't think it should go ahead. We're going to fight it."

"The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) opposes this bill because it falls short of the government's promises of decriminalization," said Member of Parliament Libby Davies, NDP's social policy critic. "The federal NDP has long advocated for the full decriminalization of marijuana and for a drug policy that does not primarily rely only on the police and criminal justice system. If enacted, the bill may well lead to increased prosecutions and waste of resources. Replace charges with fines, and people the police would let off with a warming and a wave under the old system will instead be hit with a fine. In other words, decriminalization could lead to more people being punished, not fewer."

But the Liberal Party controls the government with a solid parliamentary majority, and Prime Minister Martin did reintroduce the bill, signaling that the government is serious about pushing it through. Martin and his Liberal Party, however, are currently being kept busy and on the defensive with a $100 million corruption scandal, and elections are expected to be called sometime this spring, so the bill's fate remains to be seen.

Read Bill C-10 online at:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/37/3/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-10/C-10_1/90229bE.html


9. Newsbrief: Methadone Maintenance Doctors Under Attack in Britain

A long-simmering struggle between anti-drug hard-liners and doctors specializing in treating addicts is heating up. Next week, seven doctors prescribing maintenance doses of the heroin substitute methadone for their addict patients must appear before the General Medical Council, British medicine's disciplinary body, after the British government's Home Office filed formal complaints against them. More than 200 heroin addicts now face the prospect of being cut off from their methadone if the doctors are found to have engaged in professional misconduct.

Under attack is the prestigious Stapleford Center in London, whose founder and medical director, Dr. Colin Brewer, is a globally recognized leader in the treatment of heroin addiction. Brewer and six doctors with ties to the center are all charged in Home Office complaints of inappropriate prescribing of methadone.

At the root of the complaints is the belief shared by the Home Office and some doctors that the goal of treating drug users should be to force them to abstain from drugs. Thus, methadone should be prescribed only temporarily and in rapidly-reduced doses under close supervision.

But at Stapleford, Brewer and the other doctors supplied "maintenance prescriptions" to some patients, which, they said, would allow patients to escape the black market and lead normal, healthy, crime-free lives.

British law allows for maintenance prescriptions, but, as the Guardian newspaper drolly noted, the rules for such prescriptions "are unusually complex." Brewer and the Stapleford Center had avoided problems by working closely with the Home Office and encouraging users to detox, but have recently run afoul of high National Health Service officials over the maintenance prescriptions and over his pioneering use of naltrexone in providing painless detoxification. Now, the Guardian reported, Home Office inspectors are poring over prescription records in search of violations of the complex rules.

The Guardian quoted a source close to the Home Office as saying: "They have been talking about getting rid of every private doctor who prescribes for heroin users."

"This is a very poor development, a very negative development," said Bill Nelles, executive director of the Methadone Alliance. "We are very worried about the patients who may end up with no care if these doctors are not allowed to prescribe. This could also have a serious knock-on effect on other doctors who work in this field."

"This is so crass," said Labor MP Paul Flynn, vice-chair of the all-party drugs group. "These are people who would be knighted if there was a decent honors system for their courage in prescribing in a way that is of enormous benefit to the drug users and to their communities who may otherwise suffer from their crime."

Instead of being knighted, though, the good doctors are being hounded.


10. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story

Competition remains fierce as drug war corruption goes banal. One dishonorable mention goes this week to former Hazard, Kentucky, police officer Calvin Sizemore. In charge of the department's evidence room, he staged fake drug burns and instead peddled seized marijuana and Oxycontin. He got 32 months from a federal judge on February 13. Another runner-up is Denver police officer Damon Finley, charged the same day with taking a $10,000 bribe from a crack seller to destroy evidence. Finley took the money but didn't destroy the crack, the aggrieved seller complained, and now Finley is looking at serious time.

But this week's winner comes from Kansas, where former Trego County Sheriff Curtis Bender was indicted February 10 on federal cocaine distribution charges. Bender became the former sheriff in April, when he was first arrested on state charges by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who had been tipped that Bender and a pair of associates were trying to move some cocaine.

Located in the vast flatness of western Kansas, Trego County, whose largest town is WaKeeney (pop. 1,924), is not known for its cocaine habit. But it does sit astride Interstate 70, which like all the nation's great traffic arteries, is, in DEA-speak, "a narcotics trafficking corridor." And there is where Sheriff Bender met temptation.

The cocaine in question, more than one pound, had been discovered in a seized car being readied for a sheriff's auction, and was turned over to Bender for safe-keeping. Instead, according to the federal indictment, the cash-hungry cop saw a chance to turn a profit. Now he faces two counts of cocaine distribution, one count of possession with intent to distribute, one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and, for good measure, one count of possessing a handgun in the furtherance of drug trafficking.


11. Newsbrief: Drug War First -- Florida Town Offers Used Car Drug Inspections

In response to what is apparently a critical problem that had until now slipped under the radar in South Florida, the town of Miramar is offering city residents the chance to have used cars inspected to ensure they're not full of dope, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported. Residents must make an appointment with the Miramar Police drug dog, who will provide the sniffing free of charge as a public service, the department announced last week.

The move is the brainchild of City Commissioner Winston Barnes, who said he thought of it after a resident complained that a friend had been stopped and police found drugs left in a car she had just purchased. By using the program, said Barnes, one could avoid the possibility of getting "stopped at 2:00am and the drug dogs get crazy on your car, and you don't know what is happening."

According to Miramar police Captain John Savaiko, if small amounts of contraband are found, the car will be cleaned and the buyer can leave without punishment. Savaiko didn't say what would happen if large amounts of drugs were found. Not that leftover dope had been a big issue, Savaiko added, but the department wanted to be helpful.

Miramar resident Richard Davis pronounced himself bemused by the whole notion. He would never have thought of it, he told the Sun-Sentinel. "It would be the last thing on my mind if I bought a used car," he said.


12. This Week in History

February 25, 1997: President Bill Clinton proposed spending $175 million for a national television blitz targeting drug use by America's youth. Matching funds from the private sector would be sought. Clinton said, "If a child does watch television -- and what child doesn't -- he or she should not be able to escape these messages."

February 26, 1995: Former mayor of San Francisco Frank Jordan is quoted in the Los Angeles Times: "I have no problem whatsoever with the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I am sensitive and compassionate to people who have legitimate needs. We should bend the law and do what's right."


13. Psilocybin Cancer Research Study Seeking Participants

A study being conducted by Dr. Charles S. Grob at Harbor-UCLA in Torrance, California, is recruiting stage IV cancer patients with anxiety to participate in an FDA approved study with psilocybin. Visit http://www.canceranxietystudy.org for further information, or contact Marycie Hagerty, RN study coordinator, at [email protected] or (310) 222-3175.


14. Asian Harm Reduction Network Launches Online Resource Collection

The Asian Harm Reduction Network (AHRN) has announced the "AHRN Resource Centre," a comprehensive resource collection, compiled over the past five years, on drug use and HIV/AIDS in (and outside) Asia. This collection of titles -- 632 electronic and 754 printed -- is now available online at the AHRN Resources Database. New titles are announced monthly through the AHRN-LIST discussion group and quarterly via the AHRN Newsletter.

Titles are classified according to the categories Drugs; Drug Use/Injecting Drug Use; Harm Reduction; Hepatitis and Drug Use; Tuberculosis, Sexually-Transmitted Infections, and Other Diseases; and HIV/AIDS.

The AHRN Resource Centre can be accessed at http://www.ahrn.net -- free membership registration with AHRN required. Online titles can be downloaded in PDF format, which printed titles are available by contacting AHRN's Librarian or visiting the Resource Centre located at the AHRN Secretariat in Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the future, these titles will include AHRN's CD-ROM and video collection.

For inquiries and publications to add to the AHRN Resource Centre, please contact: Ms. Umaporn Petchlim, AHRN Clearinghouse Librarian, [email protected].


15. Offer and Appeal: New StoptheDrugWar.org Ink Stamps and Strobe Lights -- DRCNet Needs Your Support in 2004

DRCNet is pleased to announce two new "fun" gift items available as our gift to any and all interested parties who want to donate to DRCNet at or above a certain level and also get the message out in their own communities. In addition to our t-shirts, mugs and mousepads, DRCNet's merchandise line now includes a stop sign shaped StoptheDrugWar.org ink stamp (complete with red ink pad) and a stop sign shaped StoptheDrugWar.org strobe light. Mark your envelopes and other papers or appropriate possessions with the StoptheDrugWar.org message via red stamp; and use our 2 1/2 inch octagonal, flashing light as the perfect attention-getter at parties or other events. The StoptheDrugWar.org flashing red light also doubles as a bike safety device as it is visible for up to 1/2 mile, and comes complete with a replaceable battery good for 100 hours of continuous use and a handy clip.

Just visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ and donate $25 or more by credit card or PayPal, and we'll send your complimentary StoptheDrugWar.org strobe light. Donate $30 or more and we'll send you the StoptheDrugWar.org stamp with red ink pad. Donate $50 or more and we'll send you both, or two of either one. Send any amount, large or small and you will qualify for a free StoptheDrugWar.org button and sticker. While you're there, consider getting some of our StoptheDrugWar.org t-shirts, mugs or mousepads, the exciting Flex Your Rights Foundation video "BUSTED: The Citizens Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" or any other item -- use the handy comment box at the bottom of the donation form for any needed clarifications to your order.

YOUR SUPPORT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE SUCCESS OF OUR ORGANIZATION AND THIS IMPORTANT CAUSE. DRCNET HAS SURVIVED THIS TROUBLED ECONOMY BECAUSE OF MEMBERS LIKE YOU. IF YOU VALUE OUR WORK, PLEASE VISIT http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ TO DONATE TODAY!

If you're not comfortable donating by credit card, visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to print out a paper order form to mail with your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. Donations to the Drug Reform Coordination Network to support our lobbying work (like the action alert program) are not tax-deductible. Tax-deductible contributions to support our educational work can be made to the DRCNet Foundation, same address. We can also accept donations of stock: Our broker is Ameritrade, phone: (800) 669-3900, account number: 772973012, DTC number: 0188, make sure to contact us directly to let us know that the stocks are there and whether they are meant for the Drug Reform Coordination Network or the DRCNet Foundation.

Again, please visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/donate/ to check out the new items and help DRCNet work to end the war on drugs! Thank you for your enthusiasm and support.


16. The Reformer's Calendar

(Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].)

February 15-22, nationwide, "Medical Marijuana Week 2004," day of protests organized by Americans for Safe Access. E-mail [email protected], call (510) 486-8083 or visit http://www.safeaccessnow.org to get involved.

February 24, 5:00pm, Oakland, CA, "Triumph Over Fear" Victory Party and Award Ceremony, celebrating the Raich v. Ashcroft court victory. At the Oakland Box Theater, 1928 Telegraph Ave., RSVP to (510) 764-1499 or [email protected], or visit http://www.raich-v-ashcroft.com for further information.

February 26, noon-2:00pm, Washington DC, Washington Council of Lawyers Brownbag on Tulia. At the firm of Hogan & Hartson, contact (202) 942-5063 or visit http://www.washingtoncounciloflawyers.org for further information.

February 26, 4:30-6:00pm, New York, NY, "Over the Influence: Managing Drugs and Alcohol, A Harm Reduction Perspective," forum at The Lindesmith Library, Drug Policy Alliance, 70 West 36th St., 16th Floor. RSVP to Julie Ruckel at (212) 613-8053 or [email protected], or visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/event.cfm?eventID=296 for info.

March 1-2, Houston, TX, speaking tour by Bob Owens of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] or visit http://www.leap.cc for further information.

March 3-11, Idaho, "Modern-Day Paul Revere calls America to the Truth," speaking tour by Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] or visit http://www.leap.cc for further information.

March 27, noon-6:00pm, Sacramento, CA, Medical Marijuana Rally. At the State Capitol, L & 12th, north steps, featuring singer/songwriter Dave's Not Here, speakers, entertainment. Contact Peter Keyes at [email protected] or (916) 456-7933 for further information.

April 1-3, Houston, TX, "Breaking the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs," conference of Drug Policy Alliance, contact [email protected] or (888) 361-6338 or visit http://www.breakingthechains.info for further information.

April 18-20, Washington, DC, "America's in Pain!", March on Washington and Chronic Pain Patients Leadership Summit. For further information, visit http://www.PainReliefNetwork.org or contact Mary Vargas at (202)-331-8864 or Siobhan Reynolds at (212)-873-5848.

April 20-24, Melbourne, Australia, "15th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm." Visit http://www.ihra.net or e-mail [email protected] for information.

April 22-24, Washington, DC, NORML conference, details pending, visit http://www.norml.org for updates.

May 18-19, New York, NY, "Break the Cycle: Tear Down the New Slave Industry -- Criminal Injustice." Conference at Manhattan Community College/CUNY, 199 Chambers St., for further info contact Johanna DuBose at (212) 481-4313 or [email protected], or Victor Ray or Umme Hena at the BMCC Student Government Association, (212) 406-3980.

May 20-22, Charlottesville, VA, Third National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. At the Charlottesville Omni Hotel, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for further information.

September 18, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, 15th Annual Freedom Rally, visit http://www.masscann.org for further information.

November 11-14, New Orleans, LA, "Working Under Fire: Drug User Health and Justice 2004," 5th National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, at the New Orleans Astor Crowne Plaza, contact Paula Santiago at (212) 213-6376 x15 or visit http://www.harmreduction.org/conference/5thnatlconf.pdf for further information.


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Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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