(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #364 , 11/26/04
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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These are turbulent times in issues related to the drug war. In one frightening criminal trial, Dr. William Hurwitz, a Virginia physician who has helped numerous chronic pain patients whom other doctors wouldn't, is facing drug charges -- charges many observers consider unreasonable if not trumped up. And in an epic case coming to the US Supreme Court Monday morning, patients who use medical marijuana are arguing that the federal government overstepped its authority when it interfered with their lives.
Dr. Hurwitz is a long time hero to the pain patient movement. In 1996 he was exonerated by the Virginia Board of Medicine after an ugly investigation that drew calumny upon the board and drove at least one of Hurwitz's former patients to suicide for lack of treatment. Not satisfied, federal prosecutors targeted him again.
During the multi-week trial, which is ongoing at the Alexandria, Virginia, federal courthouse, DAs have trotted out addicted drug convicts who went to Dr. Hurwitz for prescriptions. These former Hurwitz patients -- who presumably are being compensated with leniency in exchange for their testimony -- claim to have sold some of the opiate drugs Dr. Hurwitz prescribed to them. Prosecutor Paul McNulty is arguing that Hurwitz must have known they weren't being honest with him about their pain levels, and that by prescribing them what they wanted he crossed the line "from healer to dealer." If he convinces the jury of this, Dr. Hurwitz could go to prison for life.
Frank Fisher, another doctor who faced down the authorities over pain control at great personal cost, describes Dr. Hurwitz as the "most ethical" doctor in the pain movement. Hurwitz treats the patients other doctors are most scared to treat -- pain patients whose backgrounds or histories, including addition difficulties, might make them more of a risk of abuse or drawing prosecution. Hurwitz treats them, according to Fisher, because medical ethics, humanitarianism itself, requires they be treated. Fisher told me, following a recent Congressional briefing on this subject organized by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, that the question lying at the heart of the Hurwitz case is whether there is a class of people who are not allowed to receive appropriate treatment for chronic pain.
Angel Raich and Diane Monson, medical marijuana patients, and their two anonymous caregiver/growers, brought suit against John Ashcroft after the Dept. of Justice initiated raids three weeks after 9/11/01 against medical marijuana cooperatives across the state of California. The heart of their case is a challenge to the government's interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause in the US Constitution. Raich and Monson charge that provision of marijuana, to patients who need it as a matter of medical necessity, by private growers intra-state (within the state's borders), is not interstate commerce (across state lines). The government contends that any activity involving marijuana can be regulated by Congress, because in theory the marijuana could cross state lines and be sold elsewhere -- even if it's not. The case is considered one of the most important on the court's docket.
As Dr. Hurwitz's trial was looming, the DEA and a number of medical organizations and experts released a "consensus statement" on pain control. Then, a few weeks later, DEA suddenly retracted the statement, saying it contained errors but not explaining what they were. Pain advocates charged it was because the document was cited by Dr. Hurwitz's lawyers in his defense, and DEA didn't want anything out there that might help him. A short statement published this month seemed to indicate that DEA's motives included a desire to preserve unfettered the government's ability to investigate and prosecute any doctor at anytime. Drug War Chronicle tried to write an article for this issue about this latest DEA communique, but neither the DEA nor any of the several medical bodies involved in the consensus statement whom we contacted returned our phone calls. There seems to be a lot of embarrassment about this. To which I say, there should be, at least on the DEA's part.
With Raich v. Ashcroft looming, the plaintiff's side gained some unexpected allies in the form of the attorneys general of three southern states. They are not pro-medical marijuana -- one of them told Time magazine he considers the state medical marijuana laws to be "misguided" -- but for them it is about states' rights. We'll see what happens.
Regardless of the outcomes, patients should not have to resort to the courts to claim their natural rights against the government; and doctors practicing honest, compassionate medicine should not have to be dragged through the courts to prove that they shouldn't spend their lives in prison for doing it. On both counts, this court of public opinion finds the federal government guilty.
REP. BARNEY FRANK, 4TH DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS, US CONGRESS
THE JOHN W. PERRY FUND
On Thursday, December 9, 2004, 6:00-8:00pm, Omni Parker House, Alcott Room, 60 School Street (corner of Tremont), Boston. RSVP to [email protected], (202) 362-0030 or (617) 426-7979. Light refreshments will be served. Suggested minimum donation $25, sliding scale or free admission available on request. (No one will be turned away.)
Supporting speakers to include representatives of DRCNet, DPFMA, the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Change the Climate and others to be announced.
Barney Frank has been in Congress since 1981. He is the Senior Democrat on the Financial Services Committee and is also a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security. Previously he was a Massachusetts State Representative and an assistant to the Mayor of Boston. He has also taught at several Boston area universities. Rep. Frank has been a vigorous champion of reforms to draconian US drug policy, including medical marijuana, asset forfeiture reform, a "safety-valve" exemption to mandatory minimum sentencing, and repeal of a 1998 law that has delayed or denied financial aid eligibility to more than 150,000 would-be students.
BACKGROUND ON THE PERRY FUND:
DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help students affected by the law stay in school. Though we can directly assist only a fraction of the 34,000 would-be students who've lost aid this year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.
Please join us on December 9 in Boston to thank Rep. Frank for his important work on this issue while raising money to help students stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
ABOUT JOHN PERRY
John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Visit http://www.dpfma.org for further information on the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com and http://www.SSDP.org online.
Facing a general election five months from now, embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday took the opportunity of the annual Queen's Speech to unveil a "tough on crime" drug bill as a centerpiece of his pre-election legislative program. According to British press reports, Blair personally intervened to ensure that the drug bill is one of five measures to be given priority in the coming session of parliament.
The Blair drug bill would give police new powers to conduct compulsory drug tests on people arrested for minor crimes and would allow for them to be arrested and prosecuted on drug possession charges if they test positive. The bill foresees a rapid expansion in drug treatment capacity to deal with the expected influx of people ordered into treatment after being charged with "internal possession." It would also expand laws that allow the closure of crack dens as public nuisances to allow public housing councils to evict tenants who allow even casual drug use to take place on the property.
The bill targets some 200,000 "high-harm" drug users and street dealers, who the government believes are responsible for the bulk of drug-related crime. If adopted, the bill would double the number of police station drug tests to nearly half a million each year.
Coming the same week as reports that arrests for cannabis consumption have jumped markedly since the herb was reclassified last year as a less serious drug and arrests became optional for police, the Blair drug bill appears to signal a reversal of pro-drug reform policies and attitudes, at least in the Labor Party's campaign strategy.
While the drug bill has the support of Prime Minister Blair and his political advisors, who reportedly see it as key to playing on British voters' concerns about crime and "anti-social behavior," it is being attacked by drug reformers, police officials, public health specialists, opposition politicians, and even some members of the Blair team.
"The government has demonstrated a firm commitment to tackling drug abuse, but drug policy needs to be driven by a public health and social welfare agenda and not just crime," said Martin Barnes, chief executive of the reform group DrugScope (http://www.drugscope.org.uk). "We do not support a further extension of drug testing at this time. There is a need to first improve existing arrest referral and drug treatment programs with a greater emphasis on accessing treatment voluntarily and on after-care services upon completion to keep people off drugs."
Barnes was equally critical of the proposed "internal possession" law. "DrugScope is very concerned to hear of reports that the Government is considering extending the laws on possession to include the presence of drugs in the blood. Making the presence of drugs in the body will criminalize more drug users and would risk driving drug abuse further underground. The last thing we would want to see is people not accessing treatment or schemes such as needle exchanges for the fear of arrest," he said.
If anything, the reform group Transform (http://www.transform.org.uk) was even more critical. "The drug bill announced in the Queen's Speech is an enormously retrograde step," Transform chief executive Danny Kushlick told DRCNet. "It is the illogical conclusion of prohibition's overwhelming propensity to stimulate property crime, and it is the crudest of attempts to force heroin and crack users into treatment by making their drug use an offense. Imagine if we forced alcohol, prescription tranquilizer, or tobacco addicts into 'treatment.' There would be a huge public outcry," he said.
A bill mandating coerced drug treatment would be unnecessary if the government made treatment available on demand instead of trying to impose abstinence on drug users, Kushlick said. "If it were treatment, it would be overseen by Department of Health and its focus would be on health and well-being, not crime reduction. What is intended here is coerced abstinence. If a variety of effective treatment modalities were made available on a voluntary basis, there would be no need for coercion."
Kushlick called the proposed bill "a conjuring act" that would fail because it fails to address the underlying causes of crime and drug abuse. The bill is not favored by those who deal directly with the problem, he said. "It has no support in the drugs field, amongst police officers, backbench MPs, or even the Home Office," he said. "Let us hope that it is pre-election flag-waving to pander to the law and order lobby. We have enough on our hands campaigning for alternatives to prohibition without needing to respond to new draconian legislation."
The Blair drug bill is "ludicrous," Lord Victor Adebowale, head of the social welfare organization Turning Point, told the Daily Mirror on Monday. "We need to focus on making current treatment programs more effective, not dreaming up new offences to shovel people into the system," Adebowale said. "Instead, we see both the Conservative and Labor parties in a pre-election pantomime trying to prove who's toughest on drugs. It flies in the face of the evidence. The key is that you punish the crime and treat the addiction -- that distinction is starting to be lost through the war on drugs. Now we're talking about punishing for having drugs in the bloodstream."
British business interests are also critical of the bill. Former Confederation of British Industry head Adair Turner told the Mirror that rather than launching "unwinnable wars," it is time to end drug prohibition.
Labor MP Paul Flynn, a staunch supporter of ending drug prohibition, told the Mirror hard drugs should be made available by prescription. "A benign drug policy must follow the failure of prohibition," he said.
Criticism is even coming from within Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence. According to the Mirror, Blair aides in his Strategy Unit warned him in a secret report that the drug war is being lost and that a new crackdown will have no effect on crime rates. Instead, the Strategy Unit advisors said, cracking down on street sellers and users would only increase prices and cause crime rates to go up. "Heroin should be prescribed," they said.
But if the Blair drug bill is a step backward, it could have been worse. According to the Mirror, several Blair "big thinkers" recommended breaking the confidentiality agreements between drug users and social workers to allow them to pass information to police, allowing them to arrest more users.
"There were some seriously punitive ideas flying around among the blue skies thinkers which would not end up getting people into treatment," a "senior source" told the Mirror. "The Home Secretary and the PM are absolutely at one on this in that they want everything that is done to be linked to treatment. There is no point criminalizing people if you are not locking it into treatment. Otherwise we're back to the revolving door syndrome."
And while the bill was announced in time to allow Blair to claim his "tough on crime" credentials for the election, it will not be introduced to parliament until after the election. Home Secretary David Blunkett told reporters Tuesday he will wait for the elections. "It is not my intention to try and push a bill through this side of the general election, whenever the prime minister calls it," he said.
That means opponents of this backward step will have some time to try to kill it.
The beats were breaking and the dance floor was shaking upstairs at Lupo's Chop House a block south of the University of Maryland campus in College Park last Saturday night as nearly 300 members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) marked the completion of the group's sixth annual national conference. The hard partying came only after a rigorous three days of speeches, lectures, workshops, and congressional lobbying.
Formed by a handful of students at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1998, SSDP has since become the leading force for drug reform among university students, with active chapters at around a hundred campuses and new chapter information requests flowing steadily into SSDP's headquarters in nearby Washington, DC. The group, led this year by former UC Berkeley student Scarlett Swerdlow, has, naturally enough, focused on a drug policy issue dear to students: repealing the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision.
Under the HEA anti-drug provision, anyone with a drug conviction -- no matter how minor -- is denied federal student financial aid for a specified period (one year for a first possession offense, two years for a first distribution offense). Since the provision, authored by Indiana Republican drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder, came into effect, some 157,000 students have lost educational opportunities through the loss of financial aid.
Now, however, SSDP faces something of a dilemma, with a "fix" for the HEA anti-drug provision being touted by Rep. Souder. Under Souder's fix, which he claims is what he intended all along, only people who got busted while attending college would lose their financial aid. While SSDP welcomes any move that reduces the deleterious impact of the anti-drug provision, it remains fully committed to full repeal.
"Whether or not a small reform occurs, SSDP will continue to advocate for repeal of the provision in its entirety. It remains the key issue for us," said executive director Scarlett Swerdlow, who added that she is not at all certain the Souder fix will pass. "Grappling with this is difficult because there are students and people who want to go to school who would be helped by this proposal. On the other hand, we don't want some partial reform to take the wind out of our sails. Our message remains that we want the provision repealed, and we will let legislators know that the things that are wrong with the provision now would still be wrong if that passed. The Souder fix is no fix," she said.
But the students' interest in drug policy extends beyond self-interest. In the SSDP National Congress held during the conference, in addition to renewing its goal of repealing the HEA anti-drug provision, the group's chapters voted to reiterate their pre-existing positions in favor of the application of harm reduction principles to drug policy and against the drug testing of high school students and US policy in Colombia. And in their first step outside the strict parameters of drug policy, SSDP chapters also voted to support efforts to end the disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions -- and not just drug felonies.
"There was some discussion about limiting this to people with drug offenses," said Swerdlow, "but for many people there was a principled position that this should include all offenses. There is so much wrong with the war on drugs that the drug war will continue to be our main focus, but in order to organize and create and join coalitions it is useful to address the larger context," she told DRCNet. "A lot of the problems with drug policy mirror problems in the overall criminal justice system in general."
While the National Congress met Friday night, the SSDP conference actually got underway the previous day as some 40 groups of freshly arrived students donned their best garb and met with their representatives on Capitol Hill, lobbying primarily around the HEA anti-drug provision. "This was the first time we tried direct lobbying on the Hill," said SSDP national outreach coordinator Abby Bair. "While it will take time to see what impact we had, it is already clear going to Congress has given some of our members a whole new view of how national politics works," she told DRCNet. "Besides, we've exhausted every other way to effect change."
Friday was a day devoted largely to the nuts and bolts of organizing and effecting that desired change. From "Making a Dynamic SSDP Chapter" to "Engaging the Political Process" and "Using the Media" to "Revolutionizing Student Government," conference goers heard what works from those who made it work. SSDP communications director Tom Angell took students through the intricacies of press release and media advisory writing, while the SSDP SUNY New Paltz crew explained how one of their own, Justin Holmes, managed to get himself elected chair of the student senate. Similarly, SSDP legislative director Ross Wilson introduced students to the intricacies of finding a way to win in Washington, while SSDP campus activists Gabrielle Guzzardo (University of New Mexico), Danielle Schumacher (University of Illinois) and Trevor Stutz (Brown University) explained what they had done to turn their chapters into powerhouses.
"This conference was really useful because we got to interact with and learn from people who share the same goals and see what really works," said an appreciative Leslie Greene, 23, a University of California Santa Cruz student attending her first national convention. "It has been really inspiring and motivating. I've learned a lot."
If Friday was for practicalities, Saturday was a day for the big picture, as drug reform luminaries addressed the gathered students to offer their wisdom and encouragement. Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org) head Rob Kampia, Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) head Ethan Nadelmann, Connecticut-based reformer Cliff Thornton (http://www.efficacy.org), and Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org) head Steph Sherer were among the big names participating.
In a hard-edged speech, Sherer, who was visibly displaying the symptoms of the injuries she suffered at the hands of a Washington, DC, policeman -- the injuries that changed her trajectory from anti-globalization activist to medical marijuana defender -- urged students to be revolutionary, not reformist on drug policy. Students should keep their eyes on the prize, Sherer said. "If you want to end drug prohibition, then ask for it," Sherer said. "You can negotiate from there." Cliff Thornton of the Connecticut-based group Efficacy echoed similar sentiments during the same session.
While Sherer and Thornton's words and sentiments were appreciated, SSDP itself has not decided whether to embrace a position calling outright for legalization. "This is something we have not addressed and need to work on," said Swerdlow. "It is important tactically that we have a strategic vision and are able to tell people what that vision is and what we want in the end. Similarly, having an overarching goal will help us put things in context as we take on other campaigns."
But with this year's national conference over and done with, whether SSDP will decide to embrace ending prohibition as a formal goal is a question that will have to wait.
While it is safe to say there was a consensus among attendees and speakers alike about radically changing current drug policies, not all speakers were ready to call for an end to the drug war. UCLA sociologist Mark Kleiman was perhaps the most provocative presenter. In a debate with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (http://www.leap.cc) representative Jim Gierach, a former prosecutor from Cook County, Illinois, Kleiman challenged SSDP to address the harms of drug use as well as the harms of prohibition and advocated for drug courts, drug testing, and even licensing for "problematic" drug users.
Kleiman called on SSDP and other drug reform groups to not be too one-sided. "The debate over drug reform largely consists of two sides screaming at each other," he said. "SSDP should indeed be sensible, and it should recognize not only the damage done by prohibition but also the damage done by drug abuse."
Although Kleiman couched his argument in the garb of "reducing net aggregate harm" from drug use and efforts to control it, his advocacy of intrusive measures to control drug use did not sit well with many. "I don't agree with a lot of what Kleiman said, but if we are going to be successful as a movement, we have to address his arguments," said SSDP board member Matt Atwood.
"We know that inside our movement, people have differing views about what should be done, and we thought we would address some of those issues," said Bair. "We brought in Kleiman because he is a respected academic representing the public policy approach to this issue and we need to hear what he has to say. Our job as an organization is indeed to figure out what is a sensible drug policy," she explained. "We used this weekend as an opportunity to brainstorm, and Kleiman certainly gave people something to think about."
With six years as an organization, SSDP is now well into its second generation of students, and if this conference is any indication, well down the road of institutional maturity. "The question of what we advocate is something we've always struggled with," said Swerdlow. "Now we are really beginning to tackle it and we are beginning to understand the importance of having an end game. We are finally talking openly about our long-term vision and values. That's part of the growth process."
SSDP's institutional maturity also shows up in other ways. "One of the most striking things about this year's conference is the caliber of the students," noted Bair. "Some of them were SSDP undergrads, and now they're in grad school or law school and they're gaming the academic system to advance SSDP goals. The newer students will benefit by going down the paths cleared by these trailblazers."
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature has unanimously passed a bill aimed at reducing the state's engorged prison population by shifting nonviolent drug and alcohol offenders out of prison more quickly and into treatment programs. Gov. Ed Rendell (D) signed the bill into law on November 19, and it will go into effect 180 days from that date.
Under the measure, Senate Bill 217, persons convicted of drug and drug-related offenses will be sentenced to State Intermediate Punishment, a program that sets a minimum of seven months in prison to be followed by at least two months in a drug or alcohol treatment facility, which in turn will be followed by at least six months of outpatient treatment and supervised release for the remainder of what will be a 24-month sentence.
The new law marks the first retreat from a Pennsylvania imprisonment binge that began nearly a decade ago under then Gov. Tom Ridge (R), who is currently serving as Homeland Security secretary in the Bush administration. While "tough on crime" measures appealed to voters, a nearly 50% increase in the number of state prisoners since then and the concomitant steep rise in the state's correction budget -- from $453 million in 1994 to $1.34 billion proposed for next year -- got the attention of cash-starved legislators.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the change will save the state more than $20 million a year in corrections operating costs. State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery County), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee and sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press prison spending has grown faster than any other part of the state budget. "I think we have to be smart in regard to how we incarcerate people," he said.
With this measure, Pennsylvania joins the more than half of all states that have loosened sentencing laws in the last three years, a period that coincides with the emergence of the 2001 budget crisis in the states. But with a sentencing "reform" that merely shifts carceral custody from the prison walls to the barred gates of a treatment facility and then imposes continuing supervision on nonviolent drug offenders, like the other states, Pennsylvania is not moving to end its war on drugs, only to rationalize it. Read the bill, SB217, at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/BI/ALL/2003/0/SB0217.HTM online.
The results of two surveys of Canadians came in this week, and both suggest the Canadian government is behind the curve with its plan to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a ticketable offense. When taken together, the two polls, one of attitudes toward marijuana law reform in Canada and one of marijuana usage rates, strongly indicate that pot has won broad social acceptance up north.
In a poll conducted for the Canadian National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (http://www.normlcanada.org) and released Thursday, 57% of respondents effectively backed legalization of the herb. Those persons said that persons caught with small amounts of marijuana should be "left alone." This poll marks the first time a Canadian majority supported removing pot possession from the realm of the courts and police.
According to the survey, only 8% of Canadians support sending pot smokers to jail, while 32% favor a scheme of tickets and fines rather than a criminal conviction. That minority position is the one embraced by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin with his bill to create a system of fines for possession of less than 15 grams (one-half ounce).
Even more strikingly, 53% of those surveyed either "somewhat support" or "strongly support" taxing and regulating marijuana in the same way alcohol and tobacco are taxed and regulated. Only 37% opposed taxed and legalized marijuana, while 3% had no opinion and 9% mysteriously selected "neither."
The survey was conducted by the respected polling firm SES Canada Research for NORML Canada and has a 3.1% margin of error.
"A clear majority of Canadians believe that individuals who possess small quantities of marijuana for personal use should be left alone," said SES president Nikita James Nanos.
"The results show Canadians feel the government is going in the wrong direction" said NORML Canada executive director Jody Pressman in a statement accompanying the poll results. "The people are way ahead of government on this issue because they understand prohibition isn't working now and it never will. Taxing and regulating cannabis would generate billions of dollars in new revenue for social programs and finally remove the criminal element from the sale and distribution of marijuana," said Pressman.
A day earlier, the Canadian government reported that its surveys showed that marijuana use nationwide had nearly doubled in the last 10 years, with reported annual use rising from 7.4% in 1994 to 14% last year. The survey from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse also found that among young people, 30% of 15-to-17-year-olds and 47% of 18-to-20-year-olds had toked up.
"Criminal prosecution and enforcement has only led to increased consumption of marijuana. We need a smarter strategy, starting with the recognition that the current approach has failed," said Pressman. "Criminalizing use has ruined people's lives, cost hundreds of millions, and only served to fatten police budgets and the profit margin for organized crime. Over three million Canadians use marijuana and they are tired of being treated like criminals. Government is out of touch with public opinion on marijuana," said Pressman. "Instead of perpetuating the failed policies of the past, NORML Canada calls on government to regulate and tax marijuana like beer, wine, and spirits."
For more on the NORML Canada poll, visit http://www.sesresearch.com/news/press_releases/PR%20November%2025%202004.pdf online.
To view the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse survey, go to http://www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-004804-2004.pdf online.
To read the Canadian government's "decrim" bill, C-17, go to http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/Bills_House_Government.asp?Language=E&Parl=38&Ses=1 and click on C-17.
Medical marijuana continues to pick up support, both among the public at large and among medical professionals. The latest medical profession endorsement of medical marijuana came last month in Connecticut. On October 15, the Connecticut Nurses Association passes a resolution in support of medical marijuana at its annual conference.
The resolution calls for "patients to have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis under appropriate prescriber supervision." It also supports the removal of criminal penalties from medical marijuana users and prescribers, for cannabis to be moved from Schedule 1, and for "the continuance of controlled investigational trials on the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis, including alternate methods of administration." In addition, the resolution calls for education of nurses about marijuana's medical uses and discussion of those uses by health professionals "without the threat of intimidation or penalization."
With the passage of the resolution, Connecticut nurses joined 11 other state nursing associations, the American Nurses Association and the American Nurses Society on Addictions in endorsing therapeutic cannabis. The nursing groups have been joined by dozens of other health professionals' organizations in supporting medical marijuana.
Meanwhile, a poll this month has found that 75% of Texans say seriously ill people should be allowed to use marijuana for medical reasons. Conducted by Scripps Howard, the poll queried 900 randomly selected adult Texans. 19% opposed medical marijuana, while 6% had no opinion.
Texans for Medical Marijuana (http://www.texansformedicalmarijuana.org), a group formed in January to push for its legalization there, pronounced itself "pleasantly surprised" by the results. "This goes beyond party lines," the group's leader, Noelle Davis told the Austin American-Statesman. "Everyone wants their loved ones to be comfortable when they're suffering."
The poll results will come in handy when the group seeks sponsorship for a medical marijuana bill in the Texas legislature next year, said Davis. "We hope for strong bipartisan support and the poll shows Texans support this."
Indiana Republican Congressman Mark Souder just can't get enough of the war on drugs. While Souder is best known as the author of the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, which bars students with drug offenses from receiving federal financial aid, and is in the midst of an effort to "fix" that law so it only applies to people in school when their busts occurred, that has not stopped him from attempting to intervene in any number of other drug war issues.
Just two weeks ago, Souder was busy threatening Canada over pending legislation there that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/362/souder.shtml). Under the Canadian proposal, people possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana would only be fined and not stuck with a criminal record. If Canada went that route, Souder warned, it could see border slowdowns and other nastiness from the Americans. Never mind that next door in Ohio, people can possess up to a quarter-pound of pot with only a ticket.
This week, Souder and five other Republican lawmakers filed a friend of the court brief in the landmark Raich v. Ashcroft medical marijuana case urging the Supreme Court to reject states' rights arguments and uphold the use of the interstate commerce clause as a tool for federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in that case Monday.
Souder warned that a Supreme Court failure to uphold that reasoning would lead to a lessening of the federal government's ability to write and enforce national laws. "We've always had federal narcotics laws because of the Interstate Commerce Clause. This is a challenge that says states can not only change the schedule of prohibited drugs but they can override the Interstate Commerce Clause," he told the Indianapolis Star.
In his brief to the court, Souder warned that even limited permission to use medical marijuana "would undermine drug regulation by giving drug traffickers a new strategy to evade arrest, creating geographic 'safe havens' for drug dealers to base their operations, increasing the risk of diversion from 'medical' use to purely recreational trafficking, increasing the supply and lowering the price of marijuana and potentially increasing the demand for the drug through reduced public perception of marijuana's harms."
That same week, the conservative congressman was also focused on methamphetamines. In a November 18 interview with the Oregonian newspaper, which recently ran a series of special reports on the drug, Souder said his subcommittee is working on a comprehensive package of anti-meth legislation to be introduced in the next session of Congress. That same day, Souder's subcommittee held a hearing in Washington to examine strategies for stopping the spread of the stimulant.
With meth having pushed its way East across the continent in recent years, the political will to enact tough legislation is growing, Souder said. "Now is the time we push. You've now reached a threshold. It's crossed the Mississippi," Souder said of the drug's rapid spread. "You have a majority of Congress now interested in this. Meth has not been a focus," Souder said. "Everybody's scrambling to catch up with what is happening at the ground level."
Look for new, repressive legislation to emerge from Souder's committee shortly. It should be a combination of increased penalties for meth possession and manufacture and new restrictions on the chemical precursors used to make the stuff.
Two University of Vermont students arrested in April at an on-campus "420" rally because they advocated legalizing marijuana will be paid $7,500 each by the university for violating their First Amendment rights, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The university agreed to the payments to avoid a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on the students' behalf.
Over the years, Vermont students gathered on campus at 4:20pm on April 20 (4/20) to rally for marijuana legalization, but in the last three years the university has attempted to squelch the rally by flooding it with police and by scheduling alternative events. Last year, for the first time in years, there was no 420. "Due to the nature of how the event evolved over time, it became our goal to stop this 420 event from taking place," Enrique Corredera, the university's communications director, told the Chronicle.
The rally, which attracted up to a thousand people, had become "one big party," said university police chief Gary Margolis, who viewed the gatherings less as a political event than an excuse for massive law-breaking. "There is a difference between a political rally and an all-out party with purposeful violation of the law," he told the Chronicle.
But Margolis apparently doesn't know what that difference is. When Vermont student Thomas Wheeler organized a revival of the rally this year, five or six hundred students and 20 university police officers showed up. Wheeler and another student, Nikolai Sears, were quickly arrested by university police and charged with disorderly conduct.
Apparently having a firmer grasp of the Constitution than Chief Margolis, local prosecutors dropped the charges, but the university continued its efforts to persecute Wheeler and Sears. A disciplinary hearing found the pair innocent of any charges related to the rally, but suspended Wheeler for a year for an unrelated noise violation.
That attracted the interest of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which threatened to file suit against the university for violating their First Amendment rights. "The students had been unlawfully arrested," Vermont ACLU director Allen Gilbert told the Chronicle. "There should be no university action taken against them."
Wheeler and Sears asked for $15,000 each, a formal apology, and the revocation of Wheeler's suspension, but agreed to split the $15,000 and gave the university the option of either formally apologizing or shortening Wheeler's suspension from one year to one semester. The university chose the latter.
As for Wheeler, he plans to celebrate his return to the halls of academe with another 420 next spring, when his suspension expires. "This one was a good start in revitalizing the tradition," he said. "I got arrested, but later my rights were protected. People will notice this; the seed has been planted." So to speak, of course.
The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled late last month that police may remove and drug test large amounts of hair from a suspect's head, neck and shoulders without a warrant or probable cause. The ruling came in the case of a Pennsylvania state trooper who was forced to provide hair samples after his superiors suspected he was using drugs. No drug residues were found in the hair samples, and the trooper subsequently sued the Pennsylvania State Police for violating his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unwarranted, unreasonable searches and seizures. The trooper, William Coddington, lost in federal district court, and the appeals court decision upheld that ruling.
According to the logic of the 3rd Circuit, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to one's hair. Since most body hair is visible, individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy and taking a hair sample is thus not a search, the court reasoned. "The taking of hair is not subject to restrictions imposed by the Fourth Amendment," the court held.
Since the Fourth Amendment governs both search and seizure, the ruling strongly implies that police can also seize (for whatever purpose) hair without a warrant or probable cause.
That ruling caught the attention of Rutgers Law School professor and Findlaw columnist Sherry Kolb who pronounced it "bizarre" and "wrong as a matter of logic and constitutional analysis."
"For the police to behave as they allegedly did toward Coddington, without having to act on suspicion or otherwise justify their actions, is a frightening prospect," wrote Kolb. "And make no mistake. Under the 3rd Circuit's approach, the police can shave the hair of anyone who appears in public at any time. They do not need to have any reason whatsoever for suspecting the unwitting shavee of a crime."
Like much of Southeast Asia, the Philippines is in the midst of drug war hysteria. The newspapers are filled with drug busts and sympathetic accounts of death squad killings of drug users and sellers -- a recent headline about yet another death squad killing was titled simply, "Die, Druggie." Yet even in the Philippines, voices for drug reform can be heard.
It happened last week in Visayan, when city councilor Noel de Jesus, a physician accredited with the national Dangerous Drugs Board, called in a forum for the decriminalization of the use and possession of marijuana. Criminal penalties should be replaced with administrative sanctions, he said, according to a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
"If we decriminalize marijuana, we will decongest our judicial system and we will be unburdening our law enforcement authorities," de Jesus said, pointing to the experience of other countries that have decriminalized marijuana use. "This might sound very revolutionary in our setting, but this is to help defuse a problem that has gone out of proportion," he said.
What de Jesus is suggesting is indeed a far cry from official policy in the archipelago. Under current Philippine law, possession of 500 grams (a little more than one pound) of marijuana is punishable by death, while possession of between five and 499 grams merits a life sentence. The law goes easier on small-time offenders: Those who possess less than five grams face only a 12-year prison sentence.
Although Filipino marijuana laws are severe, they do not appear to have chased the weed away. Authorities seized 30 million pounds of pot last year, and the hardy plant is grown throughout the country, especially in the remote mountainous areas of northern Luzon, central Visayas, and Mindanao.
De Jesus added that unlike shabu (methamphetamine), marijuana does not make people violent. Instead, it "keeps them in their place," he said. The doctor also debunked the notion that once people become addicts, they are addicts for life, citing his own experience with cigarettes.
Not everyone liked what they heard. As the Inquirer reported: "Fernando Martinez, the provincial action officer of the Anti-Drug Abuse and Prevention Council, frowned on De Jesus' suggestion."
Well, this week it's not just more of the same old same old. Yes, there are those mundane cases of law enforcement greed and corruption -- drug war corruption will be around as long as prohibition -- but thanks to Austin blogger Scott Henson, we have also been introduced to a Texas cop who hasn't yet found himself facing criminal charges but whose career smells of the institutionalized corruption emanating from those notorious ethical cesspools, the Lone Star State's federally-funded and multitudinous drug task forces.
But first, the usual stuff. And speaking of Texas, the Dallas "sheetrock" scandal continues to take its toll on the Dallas Police Department. Actually a misnomer since the sheetrock turned out to be gypsum (the stuff pool chalk is made of), the scandal involves the Dallas police arresting and the criminal justice system wrongly convicting and imprisoning Mexican immigrants based on seized cocaine and methamphetamine that turned out to be not illicit substances but gypsum.
So far, two narcotics officers who handled informants in the cases have been fired and face criminal charges (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/356/sheetrock.shtml), and now heads have begun to roll higher up. According to the Associated Press, two Dallas police commanders in charge of the narcotics division have been administratively punished. Assistant Chief Dora Saucedo-Falls was demoted to lieutenant on Monday and Deputy Chief John Martinez also faced demotion but opted to retire early instead.
"I made this decision... that there was responsibility up the chain of command and the only appropriate remedy would be these demotions," Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle told the AP. "The message is that we're all accountable for what occurs under our command."
Saucedo-Falls and Martinez may not be the last to go. Their demotions came a month after a report by attorneys hired by the city of Dallas said loose supervision in the narcotics division contributed to the false arrests. The police department has opened 70 criminal cases and 50 administrative cases as a result of that report, the AP said.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, an Anderson County sheriff's drug agent has been arrested on methamphetamine trafficking charges after state narcs learned he was providing protection for a local meth dealer in return for a cut of the profits. According to a copy of an affidavit obtained by the Anderson Independent-Mail, Matthew Brian Durham had fronted the dealer the money to buy a pound of meth in May, with Durham and the dealer splitting the profits. Durham on at least 20 occasions told the dealer whether a person was safe to sell to or not or whether particular locations were safe from police eyes. Durham got $5,000 a week and earned a total of $200,000, the affidavit said. That sum was found in a safe in his home, according to the Independent-Mail.
Durham was arrested November 11 after agents from the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) leaned on "a known methamphetamine dealer" who agreed to cooperate. The dealer called Durham, who told him where it was safe to sell, then agreed to meet for the weekly $5,000 pickup. SLED agents arrested Durham, 33, at that meet. The senior narcotics investigator is being held in another county jail for his own protection, the newspaper noted.
And then there's Guadalupe County, Texas, Sheriff's Deputy Keith Majors. Majors is a perfect example of what Grits For Breakfast blogger Henson calls "gypsy cops" -- law enforcement officers who float from cop job to cop job, being hired by department after department despite leaving a trail of misbehavior, incompetence, or both. Ten years ago, drug task force agent Majors was caught by the Department of Public Safety destroying evidence of a superior's cocaine habit... and then there was the little matter of 54 missing pounds of cocaine. Two years ago, after Majors somehow became head of another drug task force, DPS disbanded it because of evidence missing from 20% of the task force's case files, including drugs and guns. Now, Majors is working the drug beat again.
Read all about Majors, the Texas drug task forces, and bunches of missing drugs and records at http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2004/11/profile-of-gypsy-cop.html and http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2004/11/profile-of-gypsy-cop-part-two.html online.
November 28, 1993: Reuters reports that Colombia's prosecutor general Gustavo De Greiff said that the war on drugs has failed and that Colombia should legalize cocaine and marijuana trafficking because the United States and Europe are decriminalizing consumption.
December 1, 2000: President of Uruguay Jorge Batlle is quoted in El Observador suggesting legalization of drugs.
December 2, 1993: Pablo Escobar
is killed, hunted down by Colombian police with the aid of US technology
which recognizes Escobar's voice on a cell phone and gives police his estimated
location. Police find Escobar's safe house and kill him as he
December 2, 2002: Reuters reports on a study by the RAND Institute's Drug Policy Research Center which concludes that marijuana use does not lead teenagers to experiment with other drugs. The study casts doubt on the "gateway drug" theory, one of the key arguments used by opponents of marijuana legalization.
December 3, 1995: A report released by the Department of Justice shows the number of Americans behind bars jumped by nearly 90,000 during the preceding twelve months ending in June. Criminal justice experts regard the "war on drugs" as the primary source of the increase.
Make a difference next semester! DRCNet and the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) are seeking motivated and hardworking interns for the Spring 2005 Semester. We are especially looking for people interested in the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign, an active, vigorous, visible effort to repeal a federal law that takes college aid away from students because of drug convictions.
Preference will be given to those able to work 20 hours per week or more, though others will be considered. DRCNet needs interns with good people skills, web design skills, superb writing skills, and a desire to end the war on drugs. Office and/or political experience are a plus. Spring internships begin in the second or third week of January and ideally last through April, but the dates are flexible. Internships are unpaid, but travel stipends are available for those who need them.
Apply today by sending a short cover letter and resume to: [email protected].
The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation is seeking an executive secretary or administrative assistant. This is an ideal position for a detail oriented person who wants to work with a high degree of independence in a small office for social justice. CJPF is one of the nation's leading voices for drug policy and criminal justice policy reform. CJPF tries to respond quickly to new events. More information about CJPF's activities is available at http://www.cjpf.org online.
The Executive Secretary or Administrative Assistant will have the following responsibilities:
Administrative: provide administrative support to foundation president; develop and maintain necessary relationships with vendors for office supplies, printing, couriers, telephone, office equipment supply and repair, computers, office furniture, etc.; pay bills, record and deposit checks; manage interns, including advertising, screening and preliminary interviewing; open and sort mail; respond to requests from public for information, by sending appropriate foundation materials; maintain files; update website; manage computer systems, software and technical support; manage fax and e-mail broadcasts infrequently; make recommendations for administrative improvements.
Writing: write miscellaneous correspondence; edit drafts written by foundation president; provide research assistance to foundation president; make recommendations concerning research and program activities.
Job Performance Criteria:
Work is performed promptly, intelligently, self-confidently, accurately
and thoroughly. Writing demonstrates a high degree of English literacy.
Projects are not undertaken until the employee understands the project's
objectives. Projects are carried out with self-confidence and the
The ideal employee will learn rapidly, require minimal supervision, is self-directed, and demonstrates keen problem solving skills. He or she has a high degree of curiosity, a passion for the mission of the organization, and an eagerness to serve and to learn. He or she is mature, professional and enthusiastic.
Apply by fax to (301) 589-5056, or by e-mail with MS Word attachments, to [email protected]. Before applying, visit http://www.cjpf.org to familiarize yourself with CJPF's work and the writing of CJPF's president. Include a cover letter, resume, your best writing sample, and the names of several references.
DrugWarMarket.com, a web site that follows the economy of the drug war, is seeking web sites for affiliations and link exchanges. The site will launch in December.
DrugWarMarket.com is also seeking information on local drug economies -- if you have information on local law enforcement spending in relationship to the drug war, DrugWarMarket.com would like to know about it! Additionally, DrugWarMarket.com is also interested in information on the cost of drugs, including product, weight and price -- be sure to include the location you are writing about in your e-mail.
Contact DrugWarMarket.com at [email protected].
November 18-21, College Park, MD, Students for Sensible Drug Policy national conference, visit http://www.ssdp.org for further information.
November 21-25, Barcelona, Spain, "Psychoactive Botanical Exposition: Magic Plants." At the K.O.L.P. "La Fera," C/ Santa Agata num. 28, contact [email protected] for further information.
November 22-28, Barcelona, Spain, various events celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Lliure Antiprohibitionist Association. At "Casal Antiprohibicionista," c/ dels Salvador num. 20-bajos, contact [email protected] for further information.
November 27, Barcelona, Spain, "Demonstration for the Legalization of All Drugs," sponsored by Lliure Antiprohibitionist Association. Contact [email protected] for further information.
November 27, Portland, OR, "Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards 2004," Seminar & Trade Show 10:00am-4:00pm, Awards Banquet & Entertainment 6:30-10:00pm. At the Red Lion Hotel, Portland Convention Center, sponsored by Oregon NORML, visit http://www.ornorml.org or contact (503) 239-6110 or [email protected] for further information.
December 1, 10:00am-noon, Washington, DC, "Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of US Policy," seminar showcasing the new book from the Washington Office on Latin America. Featuring editor Coletta Youngers, Jorge Rodríguez Beruff, dean of the University of Puerto Rico's Social Sciences Department, Adam Isacson of the Center for International Policy, María Clemencia Ramírez of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History and the University of the Andes, and Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti. At George Washington University's Elliott School Building, Linder Commons Room, 6th floor, 1957 E Street, NW, contact [email protected] to RSVP.
December 1, 8:30pm, New Paltz, NY, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," followed by Q&A with a civil rights attorney, a state trooper, and the director of Residence Life on Campus. At SUNY New Paltz, Lecture Center 100, contact Jenny Loeb at (845) 800-0849 or [email protected] for further information.
December 3, full day, Chicago, IL, Opiate Overdose Intervention, presented by the Chicago Harm Reduction Training Collaborative. Registration $30, discounts available for multiple event signups. At the Bridgeview Bank Building, 4753 N. Broadway, contact Shira Hassan at (773) 728-0127 or visit http://www.anypositivechange.org for further information.
December 11, Annapolis, MD, The Exonerated: a play recounting the true stories of six death row inmates who were found innocent. At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 Dubois Road, reception and panel discussion featuring criminal justice experts following performance. Tickets $20 or $15 for students and seniors, benefiting a fund for the exonerated, for reservations call (410) 266-8044 ext. 127.
April 30, 2005 (date tentative), 11:00am-3:00pm, Washington, DC, "America's in Pain!" 2nd Annual National Pain Rally. At the US Capitol Reflecting Pool, visit http://www.AmericanPainInstitute.org for further information.
April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
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Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.