What We Are Watching at Drug War Chronicle 8/20/04

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Phil Smith
Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor, Drug War Chronicle, [email protected]

Each issue of Drug War Chronicle attempts to discuss what we see as the most important drug policy-related stories of the week (as well as some that are just too fun or wacky to pass up), but with prohibition and the war on drugs affecting so many spheres of our personal and social lives, we can never deliver anything approaching total coverage of everything making up the drug war and drug reform. From being drug-tested at work or school to being pulled over on the highway to being unable to get a pain pill prescription to being imprisoned for years for a non-crime to losing social services because we have to pay for that jobs program for cops and prosecutors that is the war on drugs, the drug war creeps like a totalitarian fungus into every aspect of our lives.

No, we can't cover it all. The Drug War Chronicle is basically one guy with a telephone and an Internet connection who is on way too many e-mail lists. Some weeks we may not cover an issue or event that you think is of crucial importance. But we are scanning all the time for news on any number of important issues, and we are always looking for new information sources, particularly in the rest of the world. Below you will find a list of the issues we think are important and which we intend to cover in a regular, if not always continuous, fashion. If you think we're missing anything, send us an e-mail.


  1. Medical Marijuana: An issue where impressive progress has been made in the past decade, but which remains contentious. In states where it has been legalized, users still face recalcitrant local law enforcement and the specter of the DEA, while in cities and states where it is in play on the November ballot, opposition led by the White House Office on Drug Policy is strong and growing.
  2. Marijuana Legalization: Medical marijuana is one thing, but it leaves millions of recreational pot users out in the cold. As one organization that frankly wishes to end prohibition -- period -- we view the achievement of marijuana legalization, or regulation, in any locale as a landmark to be impatiently awaited. We are watching Nevada and Alaska, where regulation initiatives are on the ballot this year, very closely.
  3. Sentencing Reform: The crime of imprisoning hundreds of thousands of drug offenders who harmed no one will stain this country's reputation for decades, if not centuries, to come. With mandatory minimum sentences and harsh federal sentencing guidelines, the US has become the world's leading jailer. While we may have seen the worst of it -- state-level politicians, if not the feds, have begun enacting sentencing reforms -- the US prison system is a juggernaut that will take years to slow down, let alone reverse, and the number of prisoners in America continues to grow. And we will continue to monitor.
  4. Needle Exchange and Other Harm Reduction Practices: Needle exchanges and other harm reduction programs aimed at reducing the spread of diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C have been on the front line of cracking the prohibitionist consensus, through actions, not just words. But the programs remain on the edge of legality in some places, are resisted by the federal government, and serve as a real lightning rod for moralist prohibitionists. The spread of needle exchange programs is an indicator of both changing public attitudes and individual acts of courage by legislators.
  5. Pain Management: With tens of millions of Americans suffering from the under-treatment of chronic pain, the issue of pain treatment is huge, and it is made vastly more complicated by the heavy-handed intrusion of the federal government into doctors' offices. With hundreds of doctors prosecuted or sanctioned by state medical boards for attempting to prescribe adequate, scientifically justified amounts of pain relief medications, the clash between medicine and drug prohibition could not be more clear or more heart-rending.
  6. Drug Testing: Whether at work or at school, drug testing is a noxious invasion of privacy. The extent of drug testing and the population's acceptance of it is another indicator of drug war orthodoxy or, one hopes, eventually the end of it. Drug testing remains entrenched in large corporations and the public sector, and the Bush administration is pushing for an accelerated resort to drug testing in the nation's high schools.
  7. The Drug Menace du Jour: There always is one. When I first started writing this newsletter four years ago, it was ecstasy. Last year, it was Oxycontin. Now, it's methamphetamine. While any psychoactive substance of course has its risks, once lawmen, the drug rehab industry, and a compliant mass media demonize the drug of the day, reasonable discourse about those risks goes out the window. We will watch for these drug panics and try to deflate the myths and horror stories with realistic reporting.
  8. Police, Prison, and Prosecutorial Abuses and Corruption: They go along with drug prohibition. We won't let you forget it. Abuse of authority is one of the offenses most corrosive of respect for government. While the entire war on drugs may arguably be viewed as one big abuse of authority, as can specific drug war practices such as asset forfeiture, we are watching for particularly egregious examples. Sadly, they just keep on coming.
  9. Creeping Totalitarianism and the Rise of the Police State: Watch your amazing vanishing Constitution here!
  10. The Evolution of the American Drug Reform Movement: It has been little more than a decade since DRCNet was formed, and while we may complain about the glacial slowness of drug policy change, the world of drug reform in 2004 is light years advanced from 1994. Old organizations, such as NORML, have been revitalized, new organizations have sprung up, and grassroots marijuana activism has spread like wildfire across the land. And that's just pot. The drug reform movement has broadened and matured, although not without some bumps and scuffles, and is now no longer the province solely of scruffy longhairs and academic cranks. With harm reduction, drug treatment, public health, and even law enforcement members pressing for radical changes in the drug laws, the pressure for reform is mounting. The movement is a central part of our beat, and we will cover it until its successes mean our work is no longer necessary.
  1. Demolishing the Global Prohibition Regime: Drug prohibition is encrusted in the international legal system through a series of United Nations treaties, the 1961 Single Convention and its successors. These treaties are the legal backbone of global drug prohibition, and glacially-paced efforts are underway to appeal or amend them. We will continue to report from this front.
  2. Building a Global Legalization Movement: This is part of what we do. With our "Out from the Shadows" conference series, DRCNet, in conjunction with numerous other organizations and individuals, seeks to build a broad-based global social and political movement to end drug prohibition. You bet we'll be reporting on new developments from this movement.
  3. The International Harm Reduction Movement: The movement is strong and growing, from Berlin to Buenos Aires, Moscow to Mumbai. Here in the US, we have much to learn from our foreign colleagues.
  4. Drug Prohibition and Political Violence: The nexus is clear: Black market drug profits fund death and destruction, whether it's cocaine in Colombia, opium in Afghanistan, or all of the above in the favelas of Brazil. From Plan Colombia to the US war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, DRCNet will bring you the news about prohibition, war, and US foreign policy hypocrisy.
  5. Peasant Producers: Millions of poor peasants around the world depend on illicit drug crops for a livelihood. In the case of the Andes, that illicit crop is also a traditional sacred plant, the coca bush. Under prohibition, these peasants are subject to loss of their crops, violent attacks by police or soldiers, imprisonment, and even death for trying to make a living. We hope to get to the point where we have to worry about how they're going to make a living in a world where the commodity they grow is no longer illegal.
  6. Drug Reform in Canada: Our northern neighbor has quietly entered the vanguard of drug policy reform. While the marijuana laws there remain intact, the laws clearly lag behind social reality in a country where police in some cities are turning a blind eye to businesses doing over-the-counter recreational marijuana sales and where pot has become an economically significant growth industry. But Canada is also in the vanguard in harm reduction-based drug reform, with Vancouver hosting the hemisphere's first officially-sanctioned safe injection site, heroin maintenance trials planned for this fall, and local activists and health officials now clamoring for a safe crack-smoking site. We'll be checking for more breaths of fresh air from the Great White North.
  7. Drug Reform in Western Europe: Along with Canada, governments in various Western European countries are moving far ahead of the Americans on drug reform issues. Whether it is the normalization of marijuana, the spread of needle exchanges and safe injection sites, the decriminalization of drug use, or the ongoing effort to move the European Union toward a more humane drug policy, we will be watching.
  8. The Lost Continents: Africa and Asia. In Asia, especially Southeast Asia, drug war orthodoxy reigns supreme and is too often practiced in an especially brutal and bloody form. Death squads in the Philippines, police killings in Thailand, executions of traffickers in Singapore, mass show executions in China -- when Asian authoritarianism meets American prohibitionism, we will tell you about the nasty results and asking whether the human rights organizations are doing enough to try to stop it. In Africa, the repression is not as organized or as brutal, but with few exceptions, the continent appears trapped in the Reefer Madness mode of the last century. But even in Africa, the occasional ray of light shines. We will let you know when blinded by the light or driven to giggles by yet another Nigerian narc or Kenyan cop explaining how marijuana is a hard drug.
  9. The Andes: The US government has for more than two decades aimed to export its domestic drug problem and dump it on the backs of the residents of the cocaine-producing regions of South America. Now, under the impetus of the "war on terror," US involvement in the Columbian civil war has undergone mission creep from counter-narcotics to counter-terrorism, while Columbia bleeds and its crops turn brown under aerial fumigation. US policies toward drug producers in the rest of the region have also led to an American alliance with the most repressive sectors of those countries and generated tremendous mass movements, such as the cocalero demonstrations that unseated Bolivian President Sanchez de Losada. The area remains explosive.
  10. Afghanistan: The Taliban suppressed the opium crop there in 2000, but under the US-installed government of Hamid Karzai and his warlords, the country is now once again the world's largest opium producer. Will the US drug war bow before the imperatives of the US war on terror? Will Donald Rumsfeld continue to consort with some of Asia's largest drug traffickers? Will the Afghan opium boom make a hit of smack cheaper than a pack of smokes? Stay tuned.

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

Issue #350, 8/20/04 Editorial: Count the People | What We Are Watching at Drug War Chronicle | California Patients Sue to Get Seized Marijuana Returned | Recount of Nevada Marijuana Initiative Petitions Underway Following Federal Court Ruling | DEA, Academic Pain Specialists Issue New Guidelines on Prescribing Pain Relievers | Newsbrief: Canadian Marijuana Activist/Entrepreneur Marc Emery Jailed for 90 Days | Newsbrief: DEA Raids Massive California Medical Marijuana Grow | Newsbrief: Justice Department Using Pre-Written Op-Eds to Shill for Mandatory Minimums | Newsbrief: DEA Training Narcs in India | Newsbrief: Death Squad Killings Continue in Philippines, Civil Society Begins to Protest | Newsbrief: Iraq Reinstates Death Penalty, Includes Drug Trafficking | Newsbrief: Medical Marijuana "Sends Wrong Message" Claims Challenged By Decreasing California Teen Marijuana Use | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Media Scan: Chicago Reader on Tribune-Hemp Connection, Counterpunch on California and Medical Marijuana Doctors | Part-Time and Temporary Job Opportunities at DRCNet | Job Opportunities at MPP | The Reformer's Calendar

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