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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #346, 7/16/04

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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  1. In the Wake of Blakely: Senate Committee Hearing Seeks Sentencing Fix, 2nd Circuit Seeks Quick Supreme Court Hearing
  2. Bryan Epis Appeal On Hold Pending Supreme Court Raich Review
  3. Movie Review: Maria Full of Grace
  4. Nevada Secretary of State Says No to Three Ballot Initiatives, Including Marijuana Measure -- Sponsors Go to Court
  5. MPP Pulls Out of Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign -- Locals Vow to Continue Ballot Qualifying Effort
  6. Newsbrief: Delaware General Assembly Calls for Repeal of Higher Education Act Anti Drug Provision
  7. Newsbrief: Fiji Marijuana Farmers Resist Police Raids
  8. Newsbrief: Drug Czar Flack Barthwell Steps Down in Senate Bid
  9. Newsbrief: Iran Allows Harm Reduction Efforts in Heroin Fight (Unofficially, Of Course)
  10. Newsbrief: Hiring Freeze at Federal Bureau of Prisons, Layoffs Possible Next Year
  11. Newsbrief: Another Pain Doctor Indicted -- Could Face Death Sentence
  12. Newsbrief: 20th Anniversary of Law Raising Drinking Age to 21
  13. This Week in History
  14. Media Scan: Reason on Kerry, Daily Camera on New Prohibition
  15. Job Opportunity: Communications Assistant, Drug Policy Alliance, NYC
  16. The Reformer's Calendar
(last week's issue)

(Chronicle archives)

1. In the Wake of Blakely: Senate Committee Hearing Seeks Sentencing Fix, 2nd Circuit Seeks Quick Supreme Court Hearing

The US Supreme Court's June 28 decision in Blakely v. Washington continues to send shockwaves through the federal courts, and now those waves have reached Capitol Hill. Even as federal judges across the country postpone sentencing, cut sentences, and rule the federal sentencing guideline structure unconstitutional (one has found they are indeed constitutional), the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to begin to seek a fix for the Blakely mess.

US Supreme Court
In its decision in Blakely, the Supreme Court threw out Washington State's sentencing guidelines, holding that they improperly conveyed to judges the authority to impose sentences exceeding statutory maximums based on facts never proven before a jury. While the Supreme Court decision did not explicitly overturn the federal sentencing guidelines, judges and legal scholars around the country have read the decision to mean that the current federal guidelines system is doomed, and have been acting accordingly.

Since the Blakely decision, federal appeals court judges in the 6th and 7th Circuits have ruled the federal guidelines unconstitutional, while in the Bryan Epis case (see story this issue) the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed lower court judges to apply Blakely if and when he is resentenced. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the guideline scheme, while the 2nd Circuit has sent the Supreme Court an emergency request to clarify its decision and "adjudicate promptly the threshold issue of whether Blakely applies to the federal sentencing guidelines."

Federal prosecutors across the country are now rushing to add aggravating factors that could result in harsher sentences to indictments, and plea bargaining in many districts is at a standstill. Under direction from the Justice Department, prosecutors are also aggressively trying to get defendants to sign "Blakely waivers," where, as part of a plea bargain, defendants would agree not to appeal their sentences based on the Blakely decision. But at least one US District Judge, Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, has told prosecutors she will not accept such waivers until she gets instruction from a higher court that they are constitutional.

"Blakely is having a revolutionary impact on the sentencing structure," said David Michael, a San Francisco defense attorney who helped defend California medical marijuana patient and grower Bryan Epis, who received an enhanced sentence because of aggravating factors found by a judge, not by a jury. "It was more than due," Michael said. "The government has been warned by judges for years about the dangers of what it was trying to do, about trying to usurp the power of the courts. Now the whole structure is threatened."

And Capitol Hill politicians are not waiting for the Supreme Court to bestir itself to bring order to the chaos. At a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, legislators heard a number of proposals to "fix" the Blakely problem.

Committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) warned that since Blakely "the criminal justice system has begun to run amok" and raised the specter of judicial discretion out of control.

"I fear that some judges might view Blakely as an opportunity to selfishly garner judicial power in the hopes of restoring unlimited judicial discretion with respect to sentencing," Hatch worried, citing cases where judges dramatically cut sentences this month.

Hatch also made the bizarre argument that Blakely would somehow hurt defendants in plea bargaining. One possible fix, Hatch said, was that "Congress may respond by creating new mandatory minimum penalties to compensate for the unfettered discretion." But Hatch said he favored "raising the maximum penalties within a guideline range."

Ranking committee Democrat Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont disagreed with the Supreme Court's Blakely decision, saying it "threatens a return to the bad old days" of indeterminate sentencing. But at the same time, Leahy recognized that the pendulum had swung too far on the side of harshness and rigidity, citing an "ever-increasing number of offenses" subject to mandatory minimum sentences "determined by politics rather than any systematic analysis of the relative seriousness of different crimes."

"The attitude underlying too many of these recent developments seems to be that politicians in Washington are better at sentencing than the federal trial judges who preside over individual cases, and that longer sentences are always better," Leahy complained. "Somewhere along the line we appear to have forgotten that justice is not just about treating like cases alike; it is also about treating different cases differently."

US District Judge Paul Cassell, who had ruled the guidelines unconstitutional last week, told the committee that despite the confusion in courts across the land, the judicial branch could resolve the question and Congress should move slowly and carefully.

That suggestion evoked sputters of disbelief from Leahy. "Judge Cassell, you say there's no crisis but you just held the entire criminal justice system unconstitutional?" he asked incredulously.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reacted similarly. Noting that four federal judges in Utah alone had arrived at different rulings on how to apply Blakely, Graham criticized Cassell for suggesting the Congress not move swiftly. "When you have four district judges in the state of Utah all rendering different opinions, it seems pretty close to chaos to me," said Graham.

But it was Indiana University law professor Frank Bowman and New York University law professor Rachel Barkow who provided concrete models for possible fixes. Bowman, reprising the arguments he made in a post-Blakely memorandum to the US Sentencing Commission, told the committee the Blakely problem could be fixed by simply raising sentence maximums to very high levels, thus removing the constitutional problem of judges raising sentences beyond the maximums. Under a Bowman-type scheme, offenses that currently garner a sentence of 12-18 months could instead garner 12-120 months.

But Barkow was having none of that. "Congress should flatly reject this proposal as unconstitutional," she told the committee. "As I have expressed elsewhere, I believe that Members of Congress take seriously their oath to uphold the Constitution. In this instance, obeying the oath requires rejection of Professor Bowman's proposal because it unconstitutionally interferes with the jury guarantee." Neither should Congress enact more mandatory minimum sentences, Barkow said, calling that option "significantly worse" than Bowman's loophole suggestion.

Instead, Barkow suggested a two-part approach. "First, Congress should immediately, as an interim measure, make the Guidelines advisory and not legally binding. This will give Congress and the Sentencing Commission sufficient time to devise a sound alternative while respecting and preserving the Constitution's jury guarantee in the meantime," she told the committee. Congress should then direct the Sentencing Commission to identify sentencing guideline factors it considers important enough to trigger longer sentences. "Any factor of such importance is required, by the Constitution, to be treated as an offense element to be found beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury. Only after the jury makes such a finding can the increased punishment be imposed."

So it goes in the first congressional effort to get a handle on the Blakely decision. From the comments of Hatch, Leahy, and the others, it appears the battle over federal sentencing will be waged on at least two fronts, the court and the Congress. And while Blakely so far appears to be largely a victory for defendants, if Congress moves in the wrong direction, the country could end up with a more rigid and severe sentencing structure than the one Blakely overthrew.

Visit to read the prepared statements for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

2. Bryan Epis Appeal On Hold Pending Supreme Court Raich Review

Chico, California, medical marijuana patient and grower Bryan Epis won a victory of sorts this week when the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent his case back to a lower court to review both his sentence and his conviction. The problem is Epis is already two years into a ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentence on Terminal Island, and the 9th Circuit's action ordered the lower court to wait until the US Supreme Court decides a California medical marijuana case that could influence whether his conviction will stand. That means Epis, a former law student and father to a 10-year-old daughter, will have to sit months, perhaps as long as a year, waiting for the Supreme Court to decide Raich v. Ashcroft, the medical marijuana case where the 9th Circuit found the Controlled Substances Act unconstitutional as applied to medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal.

Bryan Epis
(photo courtesy The November Coalition)
Unless he is released on bail. Three previous motions to free Epis pending appeal have been denied without explanation. Attorney Brenda Grantland, who is representing him on appeal, told DRCNet she is about to file a fourth. "I'm concerned because the prior motions were rejected without explanation," she said, "but I'm hoping that since they have postponed making a decision indefinitely and because he could end up serving his entire sentence before this is decided, that will tip the balance this time. That would turn this into a really positive ruling," Grantland said.

Epis is serving the 10-year sentence after being found guilty of growing more than 1,000 plants and growing them near a school. During his trial, Epis and others testified that he was part of the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregivers, a group of four patients growing together, but federal prosecutors argued that he was involved in a commercial grow and was merely trying to hide behind the state's medical marijuana law.

"Set him free!" said William Dolphin, communications director for Americans for Safe Access (, the Oakland-based group that defends medical marijuana patients and providers. "Give the man bail and let him return to his daughter," Dolphin told DRCNet. "The 9th Circuit has effectively punted on this, waiting for the Supreme Court. It's one thing to let things drag out when it's a civil matter, like the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Co-op, but we're talking about a man in prison here. To take another year of this man's life waiting for this to be sorted out is not appropriate," he said.

While at this point, the 9th Circuit's decision to remand the case does not make things any easier for Epis, it does show the potential impact of a favorable Supreme Court decision in the Raich case, as well as illustrating the multiplying ramifications of the Supreme Court's Blakely decision last month. In that case, the justices ruled Washington State's sentencing guidelines unconstitutional, a decision that has been interpreted by legal scholars and federal judges alike as implicitly rendering the federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutional as well. (See related story this issue.)

"What the 9th Circuit's remand order does is find explicitly that if Raich is upheld, Bryan would get a new trial. That order will be published in the Federal Reporter, and that means it sets precedent," said Grantland.

It would have been difficult for the 9th Circuit to disagree with Grantland's legal arguments, since they relied on the court's own reasoning in Raich. In her brief to the court, Grantland argued that because medical marijuana has "no direct or obvious effect on interstate commerce," federal drug laws are being "unconstitutionally applied against the cultivation and consumption of the herb in this state." That is precisely what the 9th Circuit said in Raich.

"This shows the importance of the Raich case," said ASA's Dolphin. "It indicates that the Supreme Court decision in that case will affect a great number of other cases. We have already seen similar remands in the OCBC case, as well as cases in Ukiah and Marin County," he said. "The remand order also tells the district courts they need to reconsider cases based on the Raich decision, and it makes clear that the Supreme Court has the opportunity to effectively harmonize the conflict between state and federal law on this."

The 9th Circuit ruled that the lower court would have to reconsider the Epis case based on the outcome of Raich. If Raich is upheld, conviction would be unlikely. But in the case his conviction is upheld, the court also ordered the lower court to resentence Epis based on the Supreme Court's Blakely decision.

Epis appears to be one of the people for whom the Blakely decision was crafted. After being convicted on the cultivation charges, Epis lost the possibility of avoiding prison under the "safety valve" provision of the federal sentencing guidelines and had his prison sentence lengthened after the district court judge -- not a jury -- found that he had played a role as a manager or supervisor of a drug organization. Blakely says the judge cannot do that, so Epis appears due for a sentence cut if and when his conviction is upheld.

3. Movie Review: Maria Full of Grace

Adam J. Smith, DRCNet's former associate director and founder of this newsletter, contributes this review of the award-winning, about-to-be-released film by Joshua Marston. Adam can be reached at [email protected].

In an early scene in writer and director Joshua Marston's "Maria, Full of Grace," the title character and her boyfriend are making out behind an abandoned building on a Colombian hillside.

"Where do you want to go?" he asks. Their choices are few -- his family's home, or hers. "We can go to my house," he suggests.

But Maria has other ideas. She looks skyward, and, as her nervous boyfriend watches, makes use of tenuous crags and footholds to scale the side of the building to the roof. "Come on up," she urges, but he's not biting, and sulks off without her rather than risk a fall.

As Maria reaches the roof, we see her world through her eyes for the first time. What Maria sees from her precarious perch is a broad vista that reaches far beyond the impoverished town below. Her boyfriend might think she's crazy, but Maria's courage and restlessness give her a perspective that makes the prospect of a life of poverty and desperation all the more unbearable. Marston uses this first person view several times in the film to show us how Maria, beautiful, intelligent and headstrong, yearns to see a world far broader, less limiting and more appealing than her circumstances might suggest.

Maria's combination of fearlessness, intelligence and persistence are precisely the character traits that we recognize as the marks of a successful, even entrepreneurial personality. In the context of the struggling Latin American nation turned narco-state by the United States' failed drug prohibition, however, these qualities are just as likely to lead directly to an entry-level position in the drug trade.

Drug prohibition alchemizes Latin America's 4,000 year-old native coca crop into one of the most valuable substances on earth -- as long as it can be processed and transported across national borders, and specifically into the US. The unrivaled economic opportunities that are among the unintended consequences of US drug policy tempt large numbers of Colombia's most ambitious and visionary young people to forego that nation's limited legitimate economy toward the siren song of fast and easy money.

Prohibition, of course, has always perverted economic incentives; at home as well as abroad. The most successful prohibition era entrepreneurs in the 1920's and '30's went on to sire presidents and corporate CEO's. Today's drug trade attracts plenty of life's losers, to be sure, but also some of the best and the brightest among certain geographic and socioeconomic groups. Entry level positions are easy to find, and the chances of success, at least for awhile, are far better than the chances of a bright, courageous girl like Maria back home in the flower plantations of Colombia.

While 80% of rural Colombians live in poverty (Colombia's annual average income is around $1,800) a single successful run will net a drug mule between $5,000 and $8,000. The same economics apply to America's inner cities, where the most conspicuously successful entrepreneur in the neighborhood is all too often a high-level drug dealer. Given these choices, many young people with the brains and the wherewithal of a CEO will choose the business closest at hand and easiest to break into.

As for the Latin American cartels and their eager pool of mules, in fiscal year 2003, 145 drug mules were arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York. Each of those mules carried around a kilo of heroin or cocaine in his or her system. That's just over 300 pounds. Of an estimated $46 billion annual US market in these substances. The impossibility of controlling such lucrative and easily concealable commerce means that the prohibition economy will flourish long after the careers of today's drug warriors have ended.

But I digress.

When Maria finds herself pregnant, the limitations she has been bucking against are suddenly more constraining, and more urgent. Unwilling and unable to countenance the rigid rules, mind numbing labor and overbearing boss at the large flower plantation where she works, Maria quits her job. When her mother and sister insist that she go back and beg for forgiveness in the face of the family's dire financial situation, almost anything -- including the risk of swallowing dozens of tightly-packed pellets of cocaine in exchange for a small fortune waiting on the other side of US Customs -- seems a more reasonable choice.

Maria Full of Grace is Joshua Marston's first feature-length film, and marks the brilliant beginning of a very promising career. Filmed on location in Ecuador (when political violence in Colombia made filming there impossible) and Queens, New York, Marston mirrored the strong-minded traits of his title character by insisting that the film be made in Spanish. Holding out on behalf of the story's integrity, the young filmmaker bravely turned down earlier offers to finance the movie in English. Marston's commitment to his vision has paid off, as we are treated to a story whose believability and dramatic tension is made all the more palpable by a Colombian cast telling a distinctly Colombian story in its natural tones.

Marston's casting, a mix of experienced and novice actors, was also inspired. In the beautiful Catalina Sandino Moreno, who makes her film debut in the title role, Marston has found a true star. Her freshness and dexterity are breathtaking as she portrays both the subtle and not-so-subtle desires and contradictions of a 17 year-old girl standing at the precipice of an adulthood, which seems, at first, more limiting than promising. Moreno's character is not the only one brought to New York by Marston's vision, as after the filming the actress herself relocated from her native Colombia to pursue her craft. After being recognized for her performance at film festivals around the world, including a Best Actress award in Berlin, her future looks bright indeed.

In addition to his star, Marston coaxes terrific performances from novices Orlando Tobon, who plays travel agent and neighborhood resource Don Fernando, and Virgina Ariza, as Juana, Maria's best friend. Tobon is a travel agent in his real life, and the vital role that he plays in his Colombian immigrant community in Jackson Heights, Queens is vividly and touchingly brought to life in his character.

It is not often that a foreign language film makes a commercial splash in the US, but Maria Full of Grace might well overcome that hurdle. Moviegoers who take the risk will be treated to one of 2004's most compelling films, and one of the year's standout lead performances.

"Maria Full of Grace," has taken home Audience Awards at both the Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals, along with a slew of other awards around the world (including Best First Film and Best Actress). The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 19th, and nationally on July 30th. Spanish, with English subtitles, visit or for further information.

Visit to listen to a National Public Radio interview with Maria Full of Grace lead actress Catalina Sandino Moreno.)

4. Nevada Secretary of State Says No to Three Ballot Initiatives, Including Marijuana Measure -- Sponsors Go to Court

Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller announced Tuesday that the petition drive to let voters remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana possession and regulate its sale had failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Organized by the Marijuana Policy Project ( and its Nevada affiliate, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana (, the effort managed only 34,947 valid signatures, according to Heller, not close to the required number of 51,337.

Heller threw out more than 19,000 signatures because the petitions on which they appeared lacked affidavits, one from a circulator and one from a signatory. Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval advised him that state law required those signatures not be counted, he said Tuesday. The opinion from Attorney General Sandoval also knocked two other initiatives off the ballot, and organizers of those efforts are appealing to the courts. Spokespersons for MPP and CRCM told DRCNet they may also file their own challenge.

CRCM's ballot prospects took a hit last month when the Southwest Group, the firm hired to manage the signature-gathering campaign, lost track of a box containing more than 6,000 Clark County (greater Las Vegas) signatures, leaving the initiative unable to qualify in Nevada's most populous county. Under Nevada law, initiatives must gain the signatures of 10% of the voter turnout in the last election in 13 of the state's 17 counties, so the error need not have been fatal.

CRCM only passed that hurdle in 12 counties, however, according to the Secretary of State. Even if the disputed signatures had been counted, said Heller, "the petition would have failed in Clark County and statewide." MPP and CRCM aren't so sure of that, and the numbers may tell a different story -- 35,000 + 19,000 = 54,000, enough to qualify statewide -- if those signatures also garner CRCM one more county.

"This is a classic case of it ain't over until it's over," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "There are a number of issues related to the validity of the petitions and signatures where we think we and some of the other initiatives were not treated fairly, and this will probably be dealt with in court," he told DRCNet. "The final chapter is not written yet."

Initiatives are a rough business, particularly so in Nevada. "We had a similar situation in 1998 when we collected signatures for medical marijuana," said Dave Fratello, who has managed more than a dozen drug reform initiative campaigns for Americans for Medical Rights and Campaign for New Drug Policies. "The state is very difficult to operate in -- it is rural and distances are vast and you have to qualify in 13 of 17 counties. That's one thing." The initiative made it to the ballot, but it was close. "The other thing, and it is not limited to Nevada or this issue, is that state governments are fundamentally hostile toward the initiative process. State officials will do everything they can, exploit every arcane rule or regulation, to keep initiatives from qualifying. They try to play a 'gotcha' game," Fratello said.

Two "treatment not jail" initiatives were "gotcha'd" in 2002. In Michigan, state officials rejected a measure because of a minor technical error by one of the lawyers hired by the campaign. And in Florida, the state Supreme Court approved the treatment not jail measure, but too late for the state to place it on the ballot. It could have landed automatically on the ballot for the next time around, but funding subsequently dried up to mount the campaign to get it passed.

"Gotcha'd" appears to be what has happened to this year's Nevada initiative, as well as an initiative aimed at "frivolous" lawsuits and another aimed at raising the state's minimum wage. In the latter effort, the Nevada AFL-CIO has won a temporary injunction barring the state from throwing out signatures pending a hearing next week. That hearing could result in a favorable outcome for the marijuana and other initiatives. Or MPP and CRCM could have to take the issue to court themselves.

"They appear to have thrown out all the signatures of people who registered when they signed the petitions, which is outrageous," said MPP's Mirken. "This is one of the legal issues we are discussing. We are conferring with CRCM and planning strategy now." For Mirken, the bottom line remains that the battle isn't over yet.

As for Secretary of State Heller, he says he welcomes the court challenges. "I look forward to the court's assistance in determining if these signatures should be counted," Heller said. "As I have previously stated, people signed these petitions in good faith; but, unfortunately, due to the fact petitioners did not follow the prescribed constitutional requirements, clerks and registrars had to disqualify thousands of signatures."

MPP may win a favorable ruling in court and the initiative could end up on the November ballot, but as of this point, the petition effort is deemed by state officials to have come up short. In the meanwhile, activists from around the nation head to Las Vegas this weekend for an MPP-sponsored training workshop. The mood may be less buoyant than if the week had brought them different news. But the committed are still committed to the cause; and with state or local initiatives moving forward in Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Detroit (MI) and Oakland (CA), they'll have plenty to do.

5. MPP Pulls Out of Arkansas Medical Marijuana Initiative Campaign -- Locals Vow to Continue Ballot Qualifying Effort

The Marijuana Policy Project ( has shut down its Arkansas affiliate and called off its effort to get a medical marijuana initiative on the state ballot this November. But local organizers who have been working on the issue for the last five years vowed to continue in a last push to reach the required number of valid signatures.

"Arkansas has become an extremely costly state to advertise in because it is one of the 17 battleground states in the presidential election," said Chloe Crater, spokesperson for the now disbanded MPP affiliate Arkansas Coalition for Compassionate Care. "After a few days of careful thought and consideration, it became apparent that at this time it would not be advantageous for us to use up our resources here in Arkansas," she explained.

It wasn't just costs in Arkansas that had MPP concerned, said Crater. "The Bush and Kerry campaigns are buying up extraordinary amounts of TV airtime in some of the states where the Marijuana Policy Project is running other campaigns, sending costs through the roof," Crater said. "As a result, they felt they had to reassess their priorities.

There is disappointment and frustration among the patients here, and understandably so," Crater conceded. "But it was just going to be too costly."

"I understand that people are annoyed and frustrated," said Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications, "but it was a matter of looking at resources we were going to be able to bring to bear and the different campaigns we are involved in or committed to supporting, and we had to make some difficult choices. Arkansas was the least far along," he told DRCNet, noting that MPP was also involved in initiatives in Alaska, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.

Under Arkansas law, initiative organizers had to turn in at least 64,500 valid signatures to make the ballot. On July 2, the campaign turned in 71,000 signatures, but organizers are working under the standard assumption that some percentage will be found invalid and the initiative will end up below the required number. Arkansas law includes a provision giving initiative organizers 30 days to gather additional signatures if state officials rule that not enough valid signatures have been gathered.

"We are staying the course," vowed Denele Campbell, leader of the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana (, the five-year local grassroots effort to bring medical marijuana to the state. "Our focus is the sick and dying, and we are going to keep working until we can get protection in place for these people," she told DRCNet. Campbell was quick to assert authority over the initiative for local organizers. "Our ballot committee filed the petitions and retains 'ownership' of the initiative, and it seems absurd to abandon the campaign at this point, when we still have five or six weeks to gather signatures," she said.

The loss of MPP funding does not have to be a mortal blow, Campbell said. "We'd been working for five years without any money already, we've always been a grassroots campaign, and we're used to getting by on t-shirt sales. Poor folks have poor ways," she laughed. "We have also developed a lot of good will from the public and the media, we've always presented ourselves as real Arkansans with real concerns, and we've built some real credibility. And our polling shows that two-thirds of the voters support our issue," she explained. Arkansas organizers are continuing to seek funding, she said, noting that the group had received more than $5,500 in pledges since MPP's withdrawal announcement a week ago.

MPP's Mirken is sympathetic toward patients and other activists who were angered by the decision. "We, too, are certainly unhappy and frustrated that we haven't been able to see this though," he said, "but without MPP involvement it never would have gotten this far. Getting a measure qualified for the ballot is hugely costly. We hoped we could help get it done. There may have been fewer hurt feelings if we had never tried, but then again, the people in Arkansas wouldn't be as close to getting on the ballot as they are right now. We wish them the best."

6. Newsbrief: Delaware General Assembly Calls for Repeal of Higher Education Act Anti-Drug Provision

Both houses of the Delaware General Assembly have adopted a nonbinding resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision. Crafted by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) in 1998, the provision denies federal student financial aid to students who have a previous drug conviction, no matter how minor. According to the US Department of Education, some 140,000 college students have lost financial aid under the provision.

The resolution had bipartisan sponsorship (four Republicans and three Democrats) in the House, where it passed unanimously on a 40-0 vote with one absence. In the Senate, where the resolution was introduced by three Democrats, it passed by a margin of 17-2. In both chambers, the resolution was supported by leading members.

The resolution notes that drug offenses are the only ones for which students lose financial aid, that it doesn't matter how minor the offense was, and that "this federal provision has had the effect of punishing individuals who have already served criminal sentences, paid their fines and are attempting to become productive citizens and taxpayers by obtaining higher education degrees."

While the resolution has no legal force, it could put pressure on two Delaware politicians targeted by the Coalition for HEA Reform (, which seeks to undo the measure. US Sen. Joe Biden (D), is an influential player on crime and drug legislation who has so far supported only a partial reform measure proposed by Rep. Souder that would restrict the law's applicability to people who were in school and receiving federal aid at the time of their drug offenses. US Rep. Mike Castle (R) sits on the House Education and Workforce Committee, which will handle HEA reauthorization.

Now, both Biden and Castle should receive the clear message that the state they represent wants nothing to do with the HEA anti-drug provision except to get rid of it.

To read the resolution and related information, visit then click on Bill Tracking and search on House Concurrent Resolution #78.

7. Newsbrief: Fiji Marijuana Farmers Resist Police Raids

Marijuana farmers in the Fiji Islands are fighting back against law enforcement efforts to seize their crops, the Fiji Times reported on July 11. While the Times reported that the farmers "are not violent," their tactics have reportedly included throwing nails onto roads in the area to puncture the tires of police vehicles and killing the cattle and destroying the crops of informers.

Matters came to a head early this month when a team of 30 officers entered the Navosa highlands, where they uprooted 1,819 plants in one raid and 2,335 in another. As the team was returning from the raids, a tire blew in the police vehicle. Upon investigation, officers found the road strewn with nails.

"Police officers got out of the vehicles to check and they found nails thrown on the road," a police spokesman told the Fiji Times. "We faced the same problem again on [two days later] while returning to the police station after a raid in the interior of Korolevu. Police officers again found lots of nails thrown on the road," he said. Three more vehicles had blown tires, he reported.

Police blame the pot farmers and a community that, at least in part, supports them. "It is the marijuana cultivators, and we believe that it is being deliberately done to try and keep us away," the police spokesman said. "We have the support of only some villagers from the area and others are not assisting because of various reasons," he said.

Peasants in the interior of the islands have turned to marijuana cultivation as a source of income in the face of a tough economy, according to the Times. The Fiji Post reported Tuesday that more raids had occurred.

8. Newsbrief: Drug Czar Flack Barthwell Steps Down in Senate Bid

Andrea Barthwell stepped down as a deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the drug czar's office ( on July 9, clearing the way for her to make a run to be the Republican nominee in the November US Senate contest. Barthwell is part of a growing field of hopefuls to replace Jack Ryan, who won the party's nomination in the spring, but stepped down in the wake of accusations he attempted to persuade his now ex-wife, actress Geri Ryan, to perform sex acts in front of others at sex clubs.

Federal law prohibited her from campaigning while holding the ONDCP post, she told the Associated Press. "I'm interested, I want to be considered and I will make myself available to those who make that decision," she said, adding that she was keeping her options open.

Andrea Barthwell
In little more than two years at the drug czar's office, Barthwell has emerged as a vigorous proponent of prohibitionist policies such as random student drug testing and a staunch foe of medical marijuana. She testified against a California bill that would ban random drug testing last month.

She has also been, along with her boss, drug czar John Walters, a lead Bush administration attack dog against grassroots initiatives, especially those involving medical marijuana. She took time off from her other duties last month to criticize this year's Oregon medical marijuana initiative, OMMA2 ( "No family, no community, no city and no state is better off when it makes drugs more available to its young people with these ridiculous propositions," she argued.

But Barthwell hasn't always been on the wrong side of the issues. Along with Walters, she spoke out against Virginia legislation limiting the location of methadone maintenance clinics. Antipathy toward anti-prohibitionist measures combined with sympathy for drug treatment measures is a natural outgrowth of Barthwell's career. Before joining the drug czar's office, Barthwell was president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (, and before that the suburban Chicago physician headed two major Chicago drug treatment providers, the BRASS Foundation and the Human Resources Development Institute.

Whoever Illinois Republicans choose to replace Ryan will face a tough, come-from-behind campaign against rising Democratic Party star Barack Obama, the half-Kenyan, half-Kansan, Harvard-educated charmer. While some party activists tried unsuccessfully to tempt former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka into running, Barthwell is essentially a political unknown -- last Friday, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told the Associated Press, "Who? Don't know her."

Barthwell's prospects in what is admittedly a very weak field were dimmed further this week when an internal inquiry at ONDCP found that she had engaged in "lewd and abusive" behavior at a drug czar Christmas party. She was accused of -- and does not deny -- making salacious remarks about the sexual orientation and tastes of one of her employees.

9. Newsbrief: Iran Allows Harm Reduction Efforts in Heroin Fight (Unofficially, Of Course)

With cheap Afghan heroin fuelling a switch from traditional opium smoking to shooting smack and a subsequent rise in HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C cases, Iranian authorities are quietly tolerating a harm reduction center in South Teheran. The pragmatic approach contrasts sharply with the Iranian government's official hard-line approach to drug use and begins to reverse a decision taken six years ago to shut down drug treatment facilities and simply punish drug users.

According to Iranian government estimates, some two million Iranians are drug users, with about 200,000 of those using needles. In one of the cruel ironies of drug prohibition, that number is likely to rise as cross-border smugglers turn to the more compact and profitable powder instead of bulky raw opium. In a report from the Khaleej Times, based across the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates, south Teheran street dealers reported that a daily fix of heroin was going for about $2, while a daily fix of opium was going for $8, or four times as much.

According to the Times, a family-run nonprofit organization called Persepolis is running a "drop-in center" for drug users that includes methadone maintenance and a needle exchange program -- and the government is looking the other way. "We get around 100 addicts a day. After they register, they receive breakfast, warm food, shampoo, methadone and a special drug-use package," said the center's manager, Abdolrazaq Ruhi. "The personal drug-use package is the only way to stop transmission of hepatitis and HIV," Ruhi explained. "Patients are obliged to return used syringes to stop sharing them."

The center also provides blood tests and even hospitalization if necessary. And it provides counseling as a first step toward kicking the habit.

That authorities have not moved against Persepolis could be a sign that they are beginning to rethink the notion that drug users are criminals. Iranian anti-drug chief Mehdi Abuie told the Times imprisoning drug users had not worked. "Six years ago, the health ministry and welfare organizations closed down the rehabilitation camps, and there was no other place for us to keep the addicts except jails," Abuie explained.

But drugs were easily found in prisons, too, Abuie lamented, and now drug users were being seen "as criminals who need to be healed," a small step toward treating them as autonomous citizens. And the Iranian government will try a kinder, gentler drug war, he said. "We will try to reopen those camps," Abuie said.

10. Newsbrief: Hiring Freeze at Federal Bureau of Prisons, Layoffs Possible Next Year

The Federal Bureau of Prisons ( is stuffed with almost 180,000 prisoners, more than half of them doing time for drug offenses, and it is running out of money. The BOP began a 30-day hiring freeze last week and could lay off as many as 2,000 employees as soon as March if it can't get more funding. Director Harley Lappin announced the hiring freeze in a memo to employees, and the layoff warning came in a letter from Lappin to a prison guard union leader, a copy of which was made available to the Washington Post.

Although the BOP has a $4.4 billion budget to operate the 104-prison federal gulag, Congress has not fully funded the agency in the last two years, leading to a $140 million shortfall this year and as much as $500 million next year, according to American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals president Phil Glover, the recipient of the letter from Lappin.

Oddly enough, the freeze and the dire warnings of future cuts come as Congress is considering the BOP's annual budget. The House passed a $4.76 billion BOP budget last month, $50 million more than the Bush administration requested, while the Senate has yet to act.

Glover, whose union represents 20,000 BOP employees, told the Post as many as 2,000 could be laid off in an agency struggling to keep pace with the rapid growth of the federal prison population. Driven largely by the effort to enforce drug prohibition, the number of federal prisoners has ballooned from 24,000 in 1980 to 54,000 in 1990, 124,000 in 2000, and more than 179,000 as of last week. During that same period, drug offenders rose from 16% of federal prisoners to more than 54% today.

"You are running short all the time," Glover said. "It's just not a safe situation."

Director Lappin testified before Congress in March that inmate assaults against guards and other prisoners had increased 28% in recent years, which he attributed to overcrowding and understaffing. "The rapid growth of the inmate population and significant crowding have increased the demand on services and facilities," Lappin said. "If not managed properly, this can lead to an increased potential for inmate violence. We must continue to maintain adequate staffing levels and to provide adequate programs and secure our capacity to house the additional inmates."

Or send fewer nonviolent drug offenders to prison in the first place.

11. Newsbrief: Another Pain Doctor Indicted -- Could Face Death Sentence

A Houston County, Georgia, grand jury has indicted Dr. Spurgeon Green on six counts of murder in the deaths of patients, as well as numerous drug charges relating to his prescribing of drugs to those patients. Dr. Green was already facing a murder charge after being indicted last August in neighboring Wayne County in another patient death. He could face a death sentence if found guilty on the murder charges because those deaths would be considered deaths in the commission of another felony -- in this case, the act of writing the prescriptions in question.

Dr. Green joins an ever-growing number of pain management physicians who have been prosecuted for their cutting-edge pain management practices, which often involve prescribing large amounts of opioid pain relievers. The prosecutions, at both the state and the federal level, come as the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has declared war on prescription drug abuse. According to Rep. Ron Paul, who earlier this month attempted to bring the issue to the attention of Congress (, some 300 to 400 doctors have been arrested or investigated in recent years because of their pain management practices.

Dr. Green, 64, had practiced pain management medicine in Perry, Georgia, for the past 30 years and has strong support among patients and other members of the community, who have packed the courtroom at hearings in his cases.

He is accused of prescribing the drugs, including Oxycontin, methadone, and diazepam, that killed seven of his patients. According to the indictment, Green prescribed the drugs "without legitimate medical purpose." In several instances, Dr. Green was indicted for each time he prescribed drugs to one of the patients who died.

But while details on the six cases for which Dr. Green was indicted this week are scarce, the case of David Barbari, for whose death Green was indicted last August, raised more questions than it answers. Barbari, a disabled, brain-damaged chronic pain patient, died after ingesting large quantities of several prescription drugs, including methadone, diazepam, nordiazepam, and meprobamate. Although law enforcement officials alleged Dr. Green knew Barbari was "a drug abuser," that remains unproven, and it is unclear at this point whether Barbari was taking the drugs as prescribed.

Wayne County prosecutor Jim Burke said in a press release that the indictments "were the result of a very in-depth, thorough investigation, primarily by the sheriff's office, with assistance from other agencies." Burke did not elaborate on the number of physicians or pain management specialists employed by the sheriff's office to do the investigation.

Dr. Green maintains his innocence and is free on bail. His medical license has been suspended by the state medical board.

12. Newsbrief: 20th Anniversary of Law Raising Drinking Age to 21

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the federal law that forced states to raise their minimum drinking age to 21. On July 17, 1984, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Uniform 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act, ushering in the day millions of college students, members of the armed forces, married couples, and others undertaking the responsibilities of adulthood would become criminals by virtue of downing a cold one.

Advocates of the legislation, prominently including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), portray it almost solely as an anti-drunk driving bill and credit it with saving thousands of lives over the years. Both MADD and Congress marked the anniversary, as some of the people involved in pushing the bill back then basked in the glow.

"Over 20 years ago, I and many others fought to raise the drinking age to 21 and reduce the number of young people killed each year as a result of drunk driving," said Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who was one of the bill's cosponsors. "And since that day 20 years ago when President Reagan signed my bill into law, we have saved 20,000 lives. This is one of the most successful public health policies in the history of this country."

Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), who as Reagan's secretary of transportation lobbied for the bill, said, "I am truly proud to have played a role in the enactment of the 21 minimum drinking age law. At the same time we celebrate 20 years of success and lives saved by this landmark legislation, it is important that we look forward to what more can be done to curb underage drinking and drinking and driving."

MADD and its congressional allies are pushing a new set of proposals to "step up enforcement" and create a national media campaign to discourage adults from buying booze for minors, MADD said in a release celebrating the anniversary. Those would include "Expanded Impaired Driving and Seat Belt Law Enforcement Mobilizations; Incentives for passage of Primary Seat Belt Enforcement laws; and Strengthened enactment of a National Standard Banning Open Containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles."

As the Institute of Medicine pointed out in a report this year on underage drinking, however, "Despite minimum legal drinking age laws, actual drinking patterns in the United States suggest that almost all young people use alcohol before they are 21." While the 21 minimum drinking laws have an arguable role in saving lives, the also criminalize the behavior of millions of otherwise law-abiding young people, and they are part and parcel of a schizophrenic approach to the nation's most widely used party drug, which teaches kids it is the devil's own poison, until they become 21 and it is now the norm.

Read the Institute of Medicine Report, "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," online at:

13. This Week in History

July 17, 1984: The Drug War and Cold War collide, as the Washington Times runs a story detailing DEA informant Barry Seal's successful infiltration of the Medellin cartel's operations in Panama. The story was leaked by Oliver North and shows the Nicaraguan Sandanistas' involvement in the drug trade. Ten days later, Carlos Lehder, Pablo Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha are indicted by a Miami Federal grand jury based on evidence obtained by Seal. In February 1986, Seal is assassinated in Baton Rouge, LA, by gunmen hired by the cartel.

July 17, 1980: Financed by wealthy ranchers and drug lords under Roberto Suarez Gomez, the "Cocaine Generals" of the Bolivian "cocaine coup" seize power. Within months it is learned that Pierluigi Pagliai and Stefano Delle Chiaie were right-wing Propaganda Due (P-2) terrorists with suspected kills on three continents and Klaus Altmann was none other than fugitive Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons. Barbie, who had sent hundreds of Jews to their deaths, had avoided prosecution when Americans in occupied Germany recruited him as an informer in 1947 and engineered his escape.

July 18, 1956: The Narcotics Control Act/Daniel Act is passed, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

July 20, 1995: The total number of marijuana arrests since 1965 passes the 10,000,000 mark, according to an estimate by NORML.

July 23, 1985: Bogota Superior Court Judge Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, who had indicted Pablo Escobar for the murder of Lara Bonilla, is assassinated as he climbs into a taxi. Throughout 1985, judicial harassment and intimidation becomes commonplace in Colombia.

July 24, 1967: The Beatles run an advertisement in a British newspaper calling for legalization of marijuana.

14. Media Scan: Reason on Kerry, Daily Camera on New Prohibition

Mike Krause and Dave Kopel pen "This is Kerry on Drugs" for Reason magazine:

Clay Evans review Sheriff Masters' "The New Prohibition" for The Daily Camera:,1713,BDC_2516_3021908,00.html

15. Job Opportunity: Communications Assistant, Drug Policy Alliance, NYC

The New York office of Drug Policy Alliance is hiring a Communications Assistant, reporting to the Director of the Communications, Tony Newman, and the Deputy Director of Communications, Elizabeth Mendez Berry. The Communications Assistant will assist the Communications Department in the development and execution of strategic media campaigns on a variety of issues related to drug policy reform. The position begins in August 2004.

Duties will include updating and maintaining an extensive media database of journalists interested in drug policy reform; creating targeted press lists based on specific media campaigns; organizing and tracking media clips generated by or about the Drug Policy Alliance; helping coordinate press conferences, teleconferences, and other media-related events; assisting with pitching reporters by phone to get them interested in particular stories; assisting with writing and editing press releases; and overseeing communications interns.

The Communications Assistant must be very organized, energetic and interested in both media and drug policy reform. Though much of the job is administrative, there is tremendous opportunity to learn how to write and edit press materials, pitch reporters, and participate in strategy.

To apply, please fax a cover letter and resume to Natasha Duncan at (212) 613-8022 or e-mail [email protected] by July 30, 2004. No phone calls please. Salary based on experience. Visit for more information about the Drug Policy Alliance.

16. The Reformer's Calendar

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

July 18, noon-6:00pm, New York, NY, 5th Annual Isidro Aviles Memorial Picnic, teach-in with Teresa Aviles of the November Coalition, contact isidroŠ for further information.

July 23-25, Boston, MA, drug policy reform groups participating in the Boston Social Forum. For further information, visit and follow the criminal justice and domestic repression links.

July 29-31, Colville, WA, "Once in a Blue Moon," November Coalition National Workshop. For further information, visit or contact (509) 684-1550 or [email protected].

August 4, Toronto, Canada, "Oh, Cannabis: A Medical Marijuana Comedy Show Extravaganja," benefit for the Toronto Compassion Centre, featuring Mike Wilmot and others. At Yuk Yuk's, 224 Richmond St. W., contact Howard Dover at (323) 253-3472 or [email protected] or visit for further information.

August 21-22, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, "Seattle Hempfest." For further information, e-mail [email protected], visit or call (206) 781-5734.

August 30, 3:00-6:00pm, New York, NY, Hip-Hop Summit Action Network protest against the drug war and mandatory minimum sentences, requested location 7th Ave. between 24th & 34th Streets. For further information e-mail [email protected] or visit online.

September 7-10, Vienna, Austria, "Ethnicity & Addiction: 16th International Congress on Addiction. For further information, visit or contact [email protected] or +43(0)1-585 69 69-0.

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

September 20, Shrewsbury, MA, "Help or Hurt: Responding to the Criminalization of Mental Illness and Addiction," forum sponsored by the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts. At Hoagland Pincus Center, registration opens June 15, visit 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 for further information.

November 18-21, College Park, MD, Students for Sensible Drug Policy national conference. Details to be announced, visit to check for updates.

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