(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #375 -- 2/18/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
Leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) has been waging his own war against harm reduction -- the notion that the way to deal with potentially dangerous behaviors, such as drug use, is to attempt to reduce the damage associated with them through, among other things, programs such as needle exchanges, safe injection sites, and opiate maintenance regimes. From his perch as chair of the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources, Souder has previously lashed out against harm reductionists at home and abroad.
The first sign that it might turn out differently came as more than two dozen people sporting bright yellow labels reading "Clean Needles Saved My Life," many of them clients of Housing Works, a major AIDS housing agency in New York City, strode off a bus chartered by the same agency to pack Room 2154 of the Rayburn Building, the Government Reform Committee's hearing location. The arrival of Housing Works' forces presaged an unexpectedly strong show of strength by harm reductionists and support from sympathetic members of Congress. By the end of the session, harm reduction had won a clear moral victory despite its proponents having endured some abuse. Those who stuck it through the lengthy deliberations were also treated to the occasional circus-like moment as passions flared on both sides.
The hearing came with the US government in the midst of a broader offensive against harm reduction activities. In November, then Undersecretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Robert Charles met with United Nations Office of Drug Control head Antonio Maria Acosta to strongly urge the UN to remove all references to harm reduction from its literature, a demand with which the UN cravenly complied.
Similarly, Souder himself last week complained to drug czar John Walters about the US Agency for International Development (USAID) logo appearing on materials associated with last year's international harm reduction conference in Thailand. "Souder was upset that the USAID logo appeared on some harm reduction brochures that taught people how to inject safely," said Drug Policy Alliance national legislative director Bill Piper. "By the tone of his comments, it was clear he thought it was an inappropriate use of taxpayer money to pay for that sort of thing."
And in a recent Dear Colleague letter from Souder and Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, sent to every member of Congress, the two of them attacked the harm reduction concept and cited the findings of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) to help make their case -- erroneously, in the opinion of another congressman, discussed below.
And earlier this year, Souder staffer Mark Wheat announced his intention to hold hearings into the funding sources of the leading harm reduction group, the Harm Reduction Coalition. "Mark Wheat announced that HRC takes money from companies and then tells people how to beat drug tests!" exclaimed HRC executive director Allan Clear. "Maybe what he meant to say was that HRC tells people how they can remain HIV- and Hep C-negative by using sterile needles." Souder and his staffers also attacked HRC over its national harm reduction conference in New Orleans last year, Clear said. "You will remember that he attacked our funding from pharmaceutical companies for that conference."
Thanks to sympathetic members of the Democratic minority, Souder and his committee heard stout defenses of harm reduction. Democrats led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, whose district includes Baltimore, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of Government Reform, also stood up to the onslaught on harm reduction. And one of the witnesses was Peter Beilenson, Commissioner of Public Health for Baltimore, Cummings' city, where harm reduction programs such as needle exchanges are credited with saving lives by reducing the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.
Souder was followed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), whose Baltimore district has seen the benefits of needle exchange programs first-hand. Cummings laid out an overwhelming case for needle exchanges, citing a lengthy list of studies, including one done by the National Institutes of Health at the request of Cummings and Rep. Waxman. "The bottom line," said Cummings, "is that in Baltimore, needle exchange programs are a fundamental component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Only a misinterpretation of the scientific literature could lead one to believe that needle exchanges are ineffective or result in increased drug use," Cummings said.
But while indirectly attacking Souder for his anti-harm reduction position, Cummings also gave the Indiana Republican a left-handed compliment for sponsoring legislation that would allow increased access to buphrenorphine, a heroin substitute, subtly pointing out that Souder himself had embraced a harm reduction program.
Washington, DC's Delegate in Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC is not afforded a voting US Rep.), spoke for the District, saying, "We deeply resent in DC being the only jurisdiction in the United States that is not allowed to spend our own money on needle exchange programs." Norton also took issue with Souder's contention that harm reduction is about keeping people on drugs. "I take strong exception to those who say that we believe such things if we support harm reduction," she said, making clear that while she supports needle exchanges, she does not support either heroin maintenance or "legalization."
Rep. Waxman stopped in to briefly join the fray. While courteous toward Souder, Waxman was also blunt. "This hearing appears designed to bolster an ideological point of view," he said. "But the best way to be pragmatic is to listen to the science. If you're going to ignore the evidence," he told the chairman, "you're putting ideology over science." Waxman criticized the aforementioned Souder/Davis Dear Colleague letter, saying that it mischaracterized the contents of a recent report of the International Narcotics Control Board as opposing needle exchange. In fact the report acknowledged a role for needle exchange programs, albeit grudgingly. Souder and Waxman then engaged in a back and forth in which Souder defended the letter but Waxman stood by his criticism. It was the first of many contentious moments during the session.
The cavalcade of witnesses -- pro and con -- then began. It was not an auspicious start for the prohibitionists, as former DEA head Peter Bensinger spoke about Switzerland's "Needle Park" -- which he dubbed "Needle Exchange Park" -- asserting without any evidence that needle exchange programs are ineffective, and instead recommended returning to the glory days of the 1980s, when "just say no" would suffice.
Next up was Zainuddin Bahari, chief executive officer of the Humane Treatment Home in Malaysia, the first a group of Asian treatment hardliners imported from Asia for the hearing, a number of them associated with the largely US-funded Colombo Plan Drug Awareness Program. All intoxicants are forbidden by the Muslim faith, Bahari said. Harm reduction and continued drug use are "unacceptable," he said, and needle exchanges and safe injection sites are "delusions." Also represented were Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Yunus Pathi, of Pengasih Treatment Program, also from Malaysia, spoke words that may have revealed the main intent of the hearing. "There is a confused message from Washington," Pathi complained. "The US government needs to clarify what its policies are. People are saying that USAID and INL will fund needle exchange, and we need to hear from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the State Department that that is not US policy." But Pathi also, perhaps inadvertently, revealed the lack of a consensus to support his position within his own nation -- the people saying that there is US funding for needle exchange are people who presumably want needle exchange or perhaps even offer it, and other Malaysians are presumably permitting them.
And that couldn't be more important, according to Chris Beyrer, an expert in international public health from Johns Hopkins University, who called the rise in global HIV/AIDS outbreaks among injection drug users (IDUs) "explosive." Beyrer cited a raft of distressing statistics including grim numbers from Thailand, where "HIV prevalence among Bangkok IDUs went from 2% to 40% in 6 months in 1989." The pandemic has been "transnational," has often though not always, "led to further spread among non-injecting populations" and has "proven difficult to control."
The testimony went on all afternoon and into the early evening. In addition to prohibitionists like Voth, Barthwell, and former Michigan drug czar Robert Peterson, the panel also heard from some prominent harm reduction advocates. Among them was Dr. Robert Newman, head of Continuum Health Partners and director of the International Center for Advancement of Addiction Treatment. Newman, a leading proponent of methadone maintenance, came out strongly for fully funding treatment on request. But Newman also spoke out for harm reduction, calling it a needed approach "to lessen suffering, illness, and deaths."
The panel also heard from the Rev. Edwin Sanders, pastor of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville and leader of Religious Leaders for a More Compassionate Drug Policy. While Sanders acknowledged the "horrors" of the drug situation in African-American communities, and stopped short of calling for legalization, he called criminalization "an expanded horror."
Following Sanders was Baltimore health commissioner Peter Beilenson, a pioneer in getting needle exchanges started in that heavily drug-using city. "We are proud that in Baltimore we have nearly tripled the number of people in treatment from 11,000 to 25,000," he said, "but we need 40,000 slots." But treatment isn't the only means of dealing with the drug using population, he said. Needle exchange programs "are the way many addicts interface with the public health system," he said, pointing out that Baltimore's needle exchange program "has enrolled over 2,300 persons into drug treatment programs and has high treatment retention rates."
"This turned out to be a really good discussion of harm reduction issues, and needle exchanges in particular," said DPA's Piper, who attended the hearing. "I think our side did really well in presenting harm reduction as scientifically proven and laying out the evidence, while painting the other side as merely ideological," he told DRCNet.
"I think his aim was to discredit harm reduction and set the stage for blocking the use of federal dollars for harm reduction efforts abroad," Piper wagered. "Congress already prohibits the use of federal funds for domestic needle exchanges, but it sometimes gives money to international harm reduction organizations. While that federal money may be earmarked for other things, some of these groups do needle exchange and maybe he wants to go after those."
But, Piper continued, Souder heard a strong defense of harm reduction from people like Beilenson and the Democratic subcommittee members. "The hearing made clear that science is on the side of harm reduction and needle exchanges. I could tell from the expression on Souder's face that he was getting a perspective he wasn't expecting," the Hill watcher said. "It's hard to say where he is going to go now."
Nevertheless, it did not all go easily for the harm reductionists. Again pulling out their copy of "It's Just A Plant," Souder and freshman Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) used it to figuratively bash Newman and Sanders for their association with Drug Policy Alliance -- listed in the book as a funder of it -- as members of DPA's board of directors. The nastiness proved too much for one observer, who called out to McHenry "why don't you just smoke a joint and relax" and walked out in disgust.
But Souder's and McHenry's bile were more than matched by support and an unusual degree of backbone from committee Democrats. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), an active proponent of support for ex-offenders, read out loud the entire text of a pro-harm reduction letter signed by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) Roosevelt University (Chicago) chapter, SSDP's national office, and the Midwest Harm Reduction Institute.
And Cummings rose to the occasion by defending his invitees and criticizing their treatment to which they were subjected. "This reminds me of the Clinton hearings," Cummings remarked, protesting that "[Sanders] doesn't even know about this book." Cummings cited the respect he had shown to the majority's witnesses and demanded the same treatment for the minority's witnesses. "These are Americans, all of whom want to make a difference in the world," he said, likening Souder's and McHenry's attacks to "McCarthyism." Cummings also lamented that "we just spent all this time doing what we did, whatever that was," and displayed some irritation after Souder debated Beilenson on the fine points of data from Baltimore's needle exchange program in an attempt to question the studies' pro-needle exchange conclusions. "Maybe, just maybe, it's because Baltimore has a great public health commissioner," he spoke in a voice dripping with sarcasm, "just maybe."
Norton also took on former deputy drug czar Barthwell, noting that Barthwell supported methadone maintenance even though there were problems with some of the programs. "If that didn't stop you from supporting methadone, why can't you support well-run needle exchange programs like in Baltimore?" she demanded. Norton also skeptically commented on the "sweeping statements" that characterized Barthwell's testimony.
"It became clear that the Democrats were already supportive, and I was pleasantly surprised at how forceful they were," said DPA's Piper. "I don't think this hearing changed anyone's positions, but if anything, Souder may now have a better understanding of what harm reduction is all about." Still, Piper said, "It's clear that Souder is trying to make harm reduction a big issue this year. This hearing was designed to get his perspective on the record, to try to give harm reduction a bad name, so that when he tries to restrict such activities later this year, his groundwork will already be laid. Souder has made it clear that he is concerned that federal tax dollars are going to harm reduction efforts, and these hearings are part of a larger campaign."
"The fact that Souder is holding this hearing is a particular hallmark of how far out of the mainstream this government is prepared to go," said Clear, he argued during a teleconference just before the hearing. "Harm reduction is a public health strategy that is already national policy in the Britain, Holland, Australia, Canada, and other countries. These are not maverick programs. We've had harm reduction programs in Hawaii and New Mexico, needle exchanges in cities across the country, and those programs have been evaluated as successes for more than a decade. If the science didn't show that needle exchanges work, we wouldn't be investing in them," he said.
The attack on harm reduction is an attack on society's weakest members, Clear continued. "These attacks suggest that the government thinks that some people have value and some people don't. And drug users have no value whatsoever," he said. "If we cannot protect our most vulnerable, we can't protect anyone."
"As far as I can tell, Souder has never attempted to communicate with anyone from the harm reduction world," said HRC's Donald Grove. "His method is to talk to people from the drug czar's office, drug prevention, and law enforcement, not us. This is not real participatory democracy. Souder is trying to construct a position not based on who is doing harm reduction or what it looks like or what it achieves, but instead based on ideological opposition to the whole concept," he told DRCNet before the hearing. "Our big question is what is he seeking? What will Souder consider success?"
Robert Cordero, director of federal advocacy for Housing Works, was pleased with the hearing's outcome and called out to Rep. Souder to get the message. "Harm reduction advocates across the country should thank Congressman Souder for organizing a hearing that clearly demonstrated the flawed logic of those who oppose the science-based intervention of needle exchange programs in reducing HIV and Hepatitis infection, while increasing access to health care and drug treatment for drug users. Housing Works clients know that needle exchange programs save lives. As DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton stated at the hearing, 'we should all be concerned about death reduction.' Congressman Souder, are you listening?"
Next possible front in the international harm reduction wars: the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, where prohibitionists led by a Swedish MEP are hosting a conference this March 1-2, whose featured speakers include US drug czar John Walters. The conference convenes with important EU drug policy decisions looming in the near future. More about this in Drug War Chronicle soon.
With a deficit-riddled budget geared to national defense and homeland security, even the war on drugs is no longer sacrosanct. While the Bush administration's fiscal year 2006 drug budget of $12.4 billion represents a 2.2% overall increase over this year, several sacred cows have been led to slaughter this year. The budget is causing grumbling on both sides of the aisle in Congress, and Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters got an earful when he showed up at Capitol Hill February 10 to explain and defend the Bush drug budget proposal.
Hard core drug warriors such as Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), chair of the House Government Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources of the Government Reform Committee voiced concerns about cutbacks in state and local law enforcement assistance, while Democrats such as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) bemoaned the elimination of prevention spending. But Walters, citing reductions in self-reported teen drug use, claimed the Bush drug policy was a success and gamely defended it from the critics.
Eliminated in the proposed budget is the Byrne law enforcement grants program, which had funded the creation of local anti-drug task forces across the country. Along with the dramatic cuts in the COPS program, the cut in the Byrne grants means less money and fewer police to prosecute the drug war at the local level. Also facing the ax is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which began as a targeted effort in limited districts little more than a decade ago, but has expanded into a pork-barrel program covering most of the US population.
On the prevention side, the new budget eliminates funding for the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program and fails to increase funding for the widely-criticized ONDCP media campaign. Even the drug czar's office itself takes a big hit, with the ONDCP budget being cut by $239 million.
Some drug budget winners:
[Before wading into the budget discussions, it is worth pausing a moment to ponder the basis of Walters' claims of drug policy "success." According to University of California-Santa Cruz youth sociologist Mike Males, who has just published the results of his research into 30 years worth of teen drug surveys (see newsbrief this issue), making teen drug use prevalence the sole measure of success in drug policy -- as Walters and the national drug control study do—obscures more than it reveals. "Since Bush took office in January 2001, drug abuse has skyrocketed as never before," Males told DRCNet. "Hospital emergency cases resulting from illicit drug use rose by 70,000 (led by increases of 30,000 for cocaine and methamphetamine), and drug abuse deaths rose by 2,500 to record peaks from 2000 through 2002, with another big increase presaged by California figures for 2003," he pointed out.
"Bush officials and drug-war advocates have obscured their catastrophic policy failures by trumpeting distractors such as self-reporting drug-use surveys, which are of dubious accuracy and bear no relationship to the well-being of teens or adults in any case," Males argued. "If drug-war supporters want to grab credit for meaningless decreases in drug 'use' they should likewise be forced to assume blame for giant, far more worrisome increases in drug abuse, hospitalizations, and deaths that occurred on their watch."]
On Capitol Hill, the critiques were not nearly so radical, but Walters was soon getting hit from both sides. Rep. Souder, the chair of the committee, was quick to complain about cuts in the Byrne grants program. "These cuts would certainly have a very dramatic impact on drug enforcement at the state and local level, at least in the short term," he told Walters. "I am also concerned that the damage to federal, state, and local law enforcement cooperation would be even more long-lasting. Most drug enforcement takes place at the state and local level. We need to be very sure that we continue to treat state and local agencies as partners in this effort."
Rep. Cummings, the ranking minority member on the committee, came out swinging on the cuts in prevention and education funding. "The proposed federal drug budget demonstrates that President Bush has misplaced priorities and is out of touch with the real needs of Americans," he said. "It is fiscally irresponsible to drastically slash funding for key drug prevention and public safety initiatives that help save lives. The proposed 2.2% increase in the federal drug budget fails to even keep up with inflation and threatens to wipe out any positive gains we have made in battling illegal drugs through prevention and treatment.
Souder joined Cummings in criticizing the cuts in prevention, especially the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program. "I have serious concerns about this," he said, even as he conceded the program was not shown to be effective. "It is true that many prevention programs (particularly the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program) have had difficulty maintaining an anti-drug focus, and demonstrating results in terms of reduced drug use. However, terminating them outright, or refusing to fully fund them, sends the message that the federal government is backing away from prevention. Reducing demand is a crucial element of drug control policy. Rather than terminate prevention programs, we should look for ways to improve them by forcing them to measure their real impact on drug use."
But Walters was blunt in defending the cuts in the program. "It was not working," he said, adding that funding community groups, treatment, and drug testing was a more efficient use of resources.
Souder also questioned the stagnation in funding for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign, which stayed at $120 million, saying that given inflation in advertising rates, the line item represented a cut in real terms for the program. But Walters responded that the ad campaign would continue to reach 90% of its intended audience. He had had to fight White House budget cutters to keep the funding at the current level, he added.
But while congressional overseers waxed wroth over cuts in any component of the drug budget, drug reformers saw some positive signs amidst the dross. "We definitely like where the administration is going in terms of reprioritizing high level traffickers and terrorism," said Bill Piper, national legislative affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "In the hearing, Walters basically said that we cannot just keep on arresting low-level drug offenders generation after generation," Piper told DRCNet. Piper also hailed the cuts in the Byrne grants and Safe Schools programs. "To the extent that money is going for bad things, like drug task forces, we would be happy to see it go away," he said. "But that money doesn't have to go to task forces; it could go to drug treatment."
The Bush administration is doing something unusual with drug war funding, said Piper. "They are admitting that a large number of drug war programs are ineffective, they have said they will eliminate ineffective programs, and that's what they are starting to do with this budget," he said. "Unfortunately, they are not completely eliminating the National Youth Media program, which has been proven to be ineffective. Likewise, the funding for Columbia and Afghanistan won't be effective, but at least they are paring back what the federal government is actually doing in the US."
A bruising battle over medical marijuana legislation in the Illinois House took a surprise -- and disappointing -- turn Thursday as John Walters, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, swooped into Springfield to persuade members of a committee considering the bill to vote against it. The Thursday hearing and vote are only a temporary setback for medical marijuana patients and their supporters, however, since the same committee will have a chance to vote again on the measure later this session.
The campaign to pass a medical marijuana bill in Illinois has already been remarkable for the mobilization of forces on both sides of the issue. Spearheaded in-state by Illinois Drug Education and Legislative Reform, which has enlisted an impressive array of state medical groups behind the measure, the effort is also being supported by the Marijuana Policy Project, which has brought television talk show host and medical marijuana user Montel Williams on board on the bill's behalf.
Opposition to the measure has been equally active, led by drug czar Walters' former deputy, Andrea Barthwell. In a series of speaking engagements across the state in the last two months, Barthwell has made the usual arguments against medical marijuana, including describing the effort as a "hoax" perpetrated by "drug legalizers." Aided and abetted by a coterie of professional drug warriors, including former DEA head Peter Bensinger and Educating Voices leader Judy Kramer (the newsletter is a publication of the prohibitionist Drug Prevention Network of the Americas, Barthwell has been the public face of opposition to the bill. It is also opposed by law enforcement groups, such as the Illinois Association of Police Chiefs. But as Walters' surprise appearance at Thursday's hearing indicates, opposition to the measure is coming straight out of the White House as well.
The bill in question, House Bill 407, the Illinois Medical Cannabis Act, was introduced by Chicago Democrat Rep. Larry McKeon, an HIV sufferer, and would allow people with debilitating diseases such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain to legally possess up to two and a half ounces of marijuana and up to 12 cannabis plants. Patients would have to register with the Illinois Department of Health to obtain an ID card that would exempt them from arrest and prosecution. The bill would also allow for designated caregivers to grow marijuana for patients who are unable to do so.
For McKeon and co-sponsor Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), the bill is all about getting medicine to patients. "Through the grace of God and modern chemistry I'm doing fairly well," McKeon told the Moline Dispatch last weekend. "I don't know if my health was to progress to cancer or (something else) what I would do, but I'd like to have the opportunity without being criminalized in the process."
"This is a health-care bill. It's not a law-enforcement bill. It's not a drug bill," added Fritchey. "This is a bill that is about compassion and a recognition that traditional medicines don't always work in all circumstances."
Bill supporters were confident of a favorable vote earlier this week. "We're expecting a vote this week and we're expecting to win," said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken Wednesday.
"We are very confident we can get this passed," said IDEAL Reform executive director Matt Atwood the same day. "If we don't have the votes Thursday, we can come back again later."
But bill supporters were blindsided by Walters' appearance at the Thursday hearing. Taking full advantage of his prerogatives as a high federal honcho, Walters roared up to the capitol in a motorcade of SUVs replete with a high-visibility security detail and proceeded to testify for an hour. The stature of the federal drug czar was enough to raise doubts in the minds of committee members, leaving the measure defeated by a margin of 4-7 at its first hearing. "We didn't know he was coming," said Atwood. "He testified against the bill, he lobbied the members, he pulled one of the Republicans out of the committee, and after Walters was done, we lost that first vote," he told DRCNet early Thursday afternoon.
The testimony of Walters and other opponents of medical marijuana outweighed the passionate appeals of doctors and medical marijuana patients, who testified to the suffering they endured attempting to use a medicine that can get them arrested. One of the patients lined up to testify Thursday was Brenda Kratovil of Waukegan. Kratovil, who suffers from glaucoma and multiple sclerosis, told DRCNet Wednesday she had already been raided twice and was tired of being worried about the police. "I have already been convicted of possession of a marijuana plant," she said. "That is a felony. I've never been arrested before in my life, and I don't like being known as a felon. I want protection from the police," said Kratovil, who is legally blind. "It's no fun having them raid you and treat you like a drug dealer. They knew as soon as they looked at me that I was no drug dealer, but they still charged me."
The committee also heard from Irv Rosenfeld, one of a handful of people nationwide approved by the federal government to use marijuana medicinally under a since discontinued federal program. "This medicine should be in the hands of physicians, not politicians or the police," he said.
For his pains, Rosenfeld found himself briefly detained by Illinois Capitol Police as soon as he left the committee room. But once the police were educated as to Rosenfeld's protected status, he was released, Atwood told DRCNet. "He's free now; he's standing right beside me," he reported.
"What happened to me illustrates why this bill is necessary," Rosenfeld said moments later. "For 22 years, I have received my medical marijuana directly from the federal government, and yet after I spoke, I was stopped and detained by the police. Had this been any other patient, they would be in jail now, no matter how sick they are or how much pain they are in. Medical marijuana has enabled me to live a normal life and have a successful career as a stockbroker, and it's not fair that only a few of us have legal access to this medicine while so many others with the same need are forced to risk jail for it every day."
While pronouncing themselves disappointed with Thursday's results, bill supporters are prepared to fight on. "We will have a chance for another vote, probably in the next month," Atwood said. "Members today expressed some concerns about specific portions of the bill they want reconsidered. We will work with them on that, and then we'll be able to pass it out of committee," he predicted.
Rep. McKeon had a few harsh words to say after the vote. "I can't remember ever seeing any White House, Republican or Democrat, put such a massive effort and spend so many taxpayer dollars trying to quash a state bill just having its first hearing," he said. "This is an outrageous misuse of tax dollars, and I am distressed that my fellow Democrats couldn't muster the courage to resist this White House interference."
With more to come, it has already been a bruising battle. Barthwell's statewide speaking tour at first generated largely uncritical coverage, especially in smaller down-state newspapers, but also generated openings for bill supporters to fight back. Rep. McKeon lambasted Barthwell for her lies and distortions in an op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times, and Montel Williams also contributed an op-ed in favor of the measure. McKeon challenged Barthwell to debate him on the topic -- an offer she has so far been able to refuse.
"We've been in hand to hand combat with our friend Andrea Barthwell," said MPP's Mirken. "I'm really tempted to send her a dozen roses for all the help she has provided by discrediting the message on the other side. She has been saying things that are clearly nonsensical, and we have been able to publicly call her on it. She has been going around the state simply lying about the issue. And I think it is very telling that this woman who says this is all a hoax and we are using patients won't debate the sponsor of the bill, who is a person living with AIDS."
Mirken also lauded Montel Williams' decision to get involved in the issue. "Having Montel out there dynamites the whole notion that the poor patients are being exploited by this terrible band of drug legalizers," he said. "We've been working with Montel for quite a while, and one of the things he offered was to do an op-ed piece. He is very committed to this issue, and he has good reason to, given his experiences."
After high hopes for a quick and easy passage were dashed Thursday, bill supporters are preparing for a new round of lobbying and politicking. With a 2002 poll showing that 67% of Illinoisans support medical marijuana -- that figure rises to 77% if the patient is terminally ill -- the measure clearly enjoys popular support. Now the question is how to translate that support into a victory at the statehouse in the face of entrenched opposition from law enforcement, local drug war entrepreneurs like Barthwell, and her former boss, the drug czar.
special to DRCNet by Steve Beitler, part of an occasional series on sports and drugs
For nearly two-and-a-half years, a relentless drumbeat of allegations, confession and innuendo has sullied Major League Baseball's self-image and provided endless fodder for pundits inside the game and out. The current drama began in May 2002, when Ken Caminiti, a standout third baseman who retired in 2001, described for Sports Illustrated his own use as well as the rampant and routine use of steroids and amphetamines by big leaguers. The second act began unfolding in September 2003, when investigators raided Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or BALCO, a northern California firm that specialized in legal nutritional supplements and, according to the feds, illegal substances that BALCO had provided to elite athletes in track and field, football and baseball.
Two months later, Major League Baseball announced that between 5% and 7% of its players had tested positive for steroids during the previous spring, an outcome that meant the league would move toward its first full-scale testing in the spring of 2004. Meanwhile, the pressure only increased. In his State of the Union speech in January 2004, President Bush urged the sports establishment to remedy the drug situation, and the following month, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a 42-count indictment against four men in the BALCO case, including founder Victor Conte. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) threatened congressional action to "clean up baseball" if the game didn't act.
Major league baseball owners and players huddled and announced on January 13th the new ground rules for drug testing. At press time the agreement had not been finalized, but a spokesman for Major League Baseball said he expected to have final wording by March 1. On the day of the announcement, players union head Donald Fehr said he would be "very surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely." Asked last week to assess his sport's drive against steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told reporters, "As a sport, we have done everything that we could at this point… we've done what we needed to do."
Selig's and Fehr's eagerness to put baseball's drug issues behind them is understandable, but few people expect steroids to vanish from baseball quickly. The new rules do mean more frequent testing and slightly harsher penalties. Rather than one test per year as before, players are now subject to one unannounced test per season and may have to take additional random tests in or out of season. For a first positive, a player will be suspended for 10 days without pay and named publicly. Before, a first violation put a player into treatment and not into the headlines. Now a second violation brings a 30-day vacation without pay, compared with 15 days off and up to a $10,000 fine. A third violation means a 60-day suspension versus 25 days under the old rules. A fourth offense will result in a one-year suspension, as compared with 50 days or a $50,000 fine under the old rules.
By baseball standards this is dramatic progress, but the sport still lags others by a certain standard of "toughness." The National Football League tests athletes year-round; a first violation means a four-game suspension, or 25 % of the regular season, which would be 40 games for a baseball player. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which runs college sports, has year-round testing in football and track and field as well as testing at its post-season championships. Student-athletes who fail a test can lose a year of their collegiate eligibility. But the gold standard in testing is the Olympics, which conducts anytime-anyplace check-ins, with first-time violators facing a two-year ban.
While opinions on the impact of baseball's new program vary widely, there's no mistaking the strategy. Drug testing is the heart and soul of baseball's new rules, old rules and just about its whole approach to patterns of drug use in the sport that have shifted over decades. Like presidents and drug czars, Selig's record on the drug question has not dimmed his confidence in the sport's ability to eradicate drugs or in the tools they're using. He has been a staunch advocate of testing as the key and "zero tolerance" as his mantra.
"I've been saying for some time that my goal for this industry is zero tolerance for steroids," Selig told the Chicago Tribune in announcing the mid-January agreement. "This agreement… is an important step toward achieving that goal." In Selig's ideal world he would bring the minor leagues' policy up to the majors: four random tests per year, a 15-game suspension for a first positive. But in the major leagues Selig and the owners tangle with a powerful and confident union whose leadership, unity and negotiating leverage have pummeled the owners for decades.
Baseball's January announcement that it had addressed its "drug problem" evoked a lot of derision. Many people skewered the penalties, which some believe confirm yet again baseball's love-hate relationship with performance enhancement. "Every major league owner would like to see steroids removed from every team except his own," is how one former big league manager expressed it to Allen Barra of The Village Voice. "You know that everybody knew what was going on, but as long as the turnstiles kept clicking, they didn't care," a veteran baseball man told Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Tuesday, the New York Daily News published the comments of an FBI man in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "I alerted Major League Baseball back in the time when we had a case [about 10 years ago] that (former player Jose) Canseco was a heavy user and that they should be aware of it," Special Agent Greg Stejskal told the Daily News. "I spoke to the people in their security office." Baseball officials denied Stejskal's story, which came to light as Canseco, a once-feared slugger, resurfaced as the author of the best-selling expose titled "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big."
Also under heavy fire has been baseball's omission of amphetamines, which, according to published reports going back to the early 1970's, have been about as hard to score in baseball as a Snickers bar. Tony Gwynn played for 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres and was one of the modern era's greatest hitters and most respected players. In 2003 he told the New York Times, "People might think there is a steroid problem in baseball, but it's nowhere near the other problem; the other, it's a rampant problem. Guys feel like steroids are cheating and greenies (amphetamines in pill form) aren't." According to Joe Christensen of the Baltimore Sun, Gwynn estimated that half of the game's position players (non-pitchers) routinely use amphetamines. If a player chooses not to pop a greenie for a game, his teammates say he is "playing naked."
Another reason for the skepticism about baseball's new program is the shortcomings of testing. Dr. Gary Wadler teaches medicine at New York University and is widely recognized as a knowledgeable observer of performance enhancement. Wadler told the New York Times that Selig's confidence that baseball can banish steroids is "absolutely a pipe dream. The best you can ever hope for is to decrease the incidence, hopefully in a meaningful way." Wadler pointed out some tough technical issues as well. "How is baseball going to do this and who will pay for it?" he asked of the Miami Herald. "You're talking about physiology, chemistry, pharmacology, laboratory science, adjudication, appeals mechanisms, transparency. And it's only going to get more complex."
In December 2004, Victor Conte, the man at the center of the BALCO case, told ABC News that passing drug tests "is like taking candy from a baby." Dr. Charles Yesalis of Penn State has studied and written about steroids for more than 20 years. "Drug testing," he said to Dave Kindred of The Sporting News, "catches only stupid, foolish and careless people."
The steroids-in-baseball uproar is touching a deep nerve in America's collective psyche. It throws together national passions for baseball, altered states and winning with cultural beliefs about competition, fairness and the purpose of sports. Steroids-in-baseball is a passion play full of intriguing characters, complex plots, cultural weight, and fresh twists and turns, all unfolding against a backdrop of huge money and celebrity.
For the drug policy reform movement, steroids-in-baseball is noteworthy for its growing usefulness to politicians who want to shape perceptions and define issues. In addition, there are clear signs that performance-enhancing substances are the hot new growth front in the War on Drugs. Over the years, baseball's approach to performance enhancement has mirrored that war in its broad strokes. Baseball demonizes users and substances; shapes policy based on political calculations and not on effectiveness in achieving a worthwhile goal; keeps the substances and users underground and beyond the reach of science and medicine; and assumes that ever-harsher penalties will deter extremely competitive people from gaining an edge in an ultra-high-stakes game. With spring training, a great secular American ritual, beginning this week, baseball is still a long way from home.
A growing chorus of Mexican drug trafficking experts have pointed out how the Fox administration's war against the cartels has increased violence. The dire prospect of "Colombianization" in the Pablo Escobar style is a possibility, they warn. But the article, while very good, stops short of the obvious solution -- legalization -- an option for which some of the very experts it quotes and others have called.
Visit DRCNet's Prohibition in the Media blog to read more, and click here to subscribe to our blog updates list or update your DRCNet subscription information.
It's been a relatively slow week by recent standards. We have only three cases worthy of a mention in this feature, two of them unresolved:
In yet another case of a prison worker gone bad, a food service employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Beto Unit prison was arrested February 10 on a second-degree felony bribery charge. Justin Griffin, 29, was arrested by the Dogwood Trails Narcotics Task Force on charges of taking bribes from inmates in exchange for contraband tobacco and illicit drugs. He is out on $15,000 bond while awaiting trial, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
Thing are a little more serious in small town Cloverport, Kentucky. According to Louisville TV station WLKY NewsChannel 32, both officers in the tiny town's two-man police department were forced to resign in January after property seized in a drug case disappeared. Former Police Chief Rob Vanderhoef is under investigation by the Kentucky State Police, but the other fired policeman, Officer David Pace, committed suicide on February 9. Pace killed himself by eating more than 200 prescription pills, the county coroner reported. Don't look for any quick answers; the State Police are warning that "it's going to be a complex, lengthy investigation. Right now, there are some allegations of maybe some funds missing and some misused property."
Meanwhile, in Iowa, a former Waterloo police officer has been sentenced to life in prison on drug dealing charges. Eddie Louis Denton, 70, was sentenced in US District Court in Cedar Rapids Monday after being convicted of conspiracy to sell crack cocaine, powder cocaine, and marijuana, the Associated Press reported. That conviction came in a February 2003 trial. Denton was convicted of helping convicted drug dealer Herbert Speller move kilograms of cocaine from California to Waterloo. Denton resigned from the Waterloo Police Department in 1990 amid bribery allegations. While Denton faced a sentence of from 10 years to life, Judge Linda Reade hammered him with life because he carried a gun during some of the drug activity and lied on the stand. Denton's defense attorney Peter Berger argued to no avail that Denton suffered from a head injury, making him incompetent to stand trial.
In one of his first acts as US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales has asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a series of federal court rulings allowing a New Mexico church to use an hallucinogenic tea known as ayahuasca in its rituals. Ayahuasca is both illegal and potentially dangerous, the government argued.
In November, the full US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld two previous rulings blocking the federal government from interfering in the religious practices of the US branch of the Brazilian church, the Union of the Vegetable (UDV). The case began in 1999, when US Customs agents raided the church's US headquarters in Santa Fe, NM, and seized 30 gallons of ayahuasca, a tea brewed from two plants found in the Amazon. But Customs picked on the wrong people. The US branch of the UDV is headed by Seagram's whiskey fortune heir Jeffrey Bronfman, who promptly sued for relief claiming violations of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Bronfman and the church have won every time in court on the issue.
In an early hint the Bush administration was prepared to continue to fight the case, US Solicitor General Paul Greenburg in early December asked for and won a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court blocking the church from using its sacrament until -- and if -- the case made its way to the nation's highest court (The Supreme Court overturned that injunction two weeks later.). With his February 10 announcement, Gonzales has made it official.
In a filing seeking Supreme Court review of the case, the Justice Department attacked the 10th Circuit's ruling and reasoning. "The court's decision has mandated that the federal government open the nation's borders to the importation, circulation and usage of a mind-altering hallucinogen and threatens to inflict irreparable harm on international cooperation in combating transnational narcotics trafficking," the filing said.
If the high court agrees to take the case, it will not be heard until the next term.
A medical marijuana defense group, Americans for Safe Access, has filed a lawsuit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) on behalf on medical marijuana patients in the Golden State. The lawsuit charges that a CHP policy of confiscating marijuana found during traffic stops even if travelers present valid documentation of their status as patients or caregivers violates not only California law but also the state and federal constitutions.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, when voters passed Proposition 215, also known as the state's Compassionate Use Act. Last year, in response to complaints from law enforcement and medical marijuana advocates alike about ambiguities in the law, the legislature enacted a law clarifying the meaning of Prop. 215 and explicitly allowing for the transportation of marijuana by qualified patients and caregivers.
ASA filed suit on behalf of seven plaintiffs, all of who are documented medical marijuana patients and all of whom were stopped by CHP for alleged traffic offenses and had their legally possessed medicine confiscated. The experience of plaintiff Mary Jane Winters was representative. Winters, a registered nurse who uses marijuana to treat chronic pain stemming from three herniated discs in her spine, was pulled over by the CHP on Thanksgiving Day, 2004 while on her way to deliver flowers to a homeless shelter. The CHP officer took two ounces of marijuana from her despite being presented with a physician's recommendation that she use marijuana medicinally. "Confiscation from legal patients is a civil rights violation," said Winters. "They had no reason to believe that I was not in compliance with California law."
It appears that CHP's policy of seizing medicine from patients in compliance with the law is the result not of ignorance of the law but of willful disobedience to it. "A number of patients were told by CHP officers that they don't recognize Proposition 215," said Kris Hermes, ASA's legal director. "CHP officers are sworn to uphold the laws of this state, not subvert them."
In a report issued last August, ASA found that law enforcement officers in the vast majority of California's 58 counties improperly seized marijuana from qualified patients and caregivers, but that the CHP was the worst offender. For CHP, seizing people's medicine is a matter of policy: "Even if a Section 11362.5 H&S claim is alleged, all marijuana shall be confiscated and booked as evidence." As ASA noted, all that is required to document the legal status of a patient is a copy of doctor's recommendation, and there is nothing "alleged" about it. Either the person has documentation and thus is in legal possession, or he does not. Now, perhaps, CHP will begin to grasp that not-so-subtle point.
Iowa and South Dakota have quickly become the first states to reject medical marijuana this year. Bills are pending or about to be introduced in about 20 other states, and national marijuana reform groups have said they hope to see the measures pass in at least a pair of states. It apparently won't be happening in the corn states of the far Midwest this year.
In South Dakota, the state legislature effectively killed a medical marijuana bill on January 30, when the House Health and Human Services Committee deferred consideration of the bill until the session's 41st day. The session only has 40 days.
Medical marijuana polled a whopping 81% approval rate in the predominantly rural state in 2001, but legislators there took their cues not from public opinion but from such medical marijuana "experts" as the state attorney general and the superintendent of the state highway patrol. Representing the attorney general's office, Charlie McGuigan told legislators his office opposed any bill that would "legalize marijuana in any form, whether it's medical marijuana, industrial hemp, or any other concoction that would give credence to this substance." Furthermore, McGuigan argued, "The federal government has determined that it has no medical use and is highly addictive."
South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Dan Mosteller told the solons he opposed the bill because, like industrial hemp, it was a stalking horse for the legalization of marijuana nationwide. "It's no coincidence that all these people are working together because the agenda is the softening or the legalization of marijuana in this country," said Mosteller. "These types of movements, in my opinion, are merely a smoke screen to legalize or soften the drug laws in this state and other states in the union."
Bill sponsor Rep. Gerald Lange, D-Madison, denied he was part of any national legalization cabal. He told his fellow lawmakers he submitted the bill at the request of a constituent suffering from a chronic illness and that his bill was crafted to limit medical marijuana use to patients who received recommendations from physicians and who registered with the state health department. "So, this is kind of a control on the usage of this normally illegal drug," said Lange. "This is a wave that is coming," said Lange. "This bill is very restrictive. It is not a slippery slope." Lange cited reports from the New England Journal of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health showing the herb's efficacy as a medicine, but his fellow legislators apparently preferred to get their medical information from police and prosecutors.
Lange does not sit on the committee. Only one committee member, Rep. Bill Thompson (D-Sioux Falls), spoke in favor of the measure, relating the story of his wife's grandmother, who used marijuana while battling liver cancer. Thompson also provided the only vote in favor of moving the legislation forward.
The following week, Iowa legislature committee heads effectively killed a medical marijuana bill in the Hawkeye State. The bill, Senate File 64, would have recognized the medical use of marijuana for specific conditions. But in a bipartisan move to stifle it, Senate Judiciary Committee co-chairs David Miller (R-Fairfield) and Keith Kreiman (D-Bloomfield) said they would not hold hearings or debate on the bill. "I don't support it and I don't think it has a chance to come out of committee," Miller told the Ottuma Courier on February 2. Sen. Kreiman told the Courier passage of the bill would send the "wrong message" when the state is fighting other drugs. "I don't think the state should be in the business of legalizing marijuana," Kreiman said. "We're in a fight right now against methamphetamine, ecstasy and other illicit drugs." While the medical marijuana bill, introduced by Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) is not officially dead, given the refusal by the Judiciary Committee co-chairs to schedule hearings, it is effectively dead.
To add insult to injury to Iowans seeking relief via medicinal marijuana, the Iowa Supreme Court on February 9 rejected a Floyd County man's appeal of his manufacturing marijuana conviction. Lloyd Dean Bounjour, an AIDS sufferer, argued that he should be able to mount a medical necessity defense to the charges. A trial court judge refused to allow him to present a medical necessity defense, and he was convicted in 2002 of growing marijuana.
Tough luck, said the high court. If Bounjour wants relief he should turn to the legislature, the majority wrote. "Use of marijuana is a public-policy issue best suited for the Legislature because it is driven by legal, moral, philosophical and medical concerns that are ill-suited for resolution by this court," the ruling read.
But legislative leaders have killed the bill that would address Bounjour's needs.
Illinois state Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) this week introduced a bill that would require all Illinois high school students to pass a drug test before they could receive their drivers' permits. While Eddy touted the measure as a means of squelching methamphetamine use among teens, any such measure is much more likely to ensnare teenager marijuana smokers.
According to the Monitoring The Future annual surveys of teenage drug use, 45% of high school seniors reported having used marijuana, while only 6% reported having used methamphetamines. Similarly, given marijuana's tendency to stay in the blood system for a long period, a kid who smoked a joint two weeks before a drug test is more likely to come up positive than one who spent the weekend tweaking.
But for Eddy, that is not
the issue. Instead, he said, requiring drivers' license drug tests would
give teens a "peer-acceptable" reason not to do speed. "There's a real
methamphetamine problem in rural Illinois... at that age when they're getting
their learners permits," said Eddy, who is also a school superintendent
in a rural area near the
Who knew that DEA administrator Karen Tandy was an Islamic religious scholar? Pakistanis were no doubt surprised to hear the American drug fighter weighing in on the holiness (or lack thereof) of opium production last week, but that's just what Tandy did during a visit there designed to keep the Pakistanis on their toes in the American drug war.
While in Pakistan, Tandy met with President Parvaez Musharraf and told him that Pakistan could not be certified as opium-free. But she lauded Musharraf and the Pakistan Anti-Narcotics Force for their cooperation in the struggle. "The US and the ANF are very strong partners in the war against narcotics. They are sharing intelligence to stem the flow of poppy and heroin from Afghanistan to Pakistan," she said. And it better stay that way. When asked what the US expected from Pakistan in the drug war, she replied, "continuation of a very close collaboration."
Dictator-turned-President Musharraf, for his part, wanted more money. "There is a need to reinforce our efforts by greater technical cooperation from the international community, particularly the United States, in the form of provision of surveillance and intelligence equipment for the ANF as well as by improving its ground and aerial mobility," he said.
A review of three decades of Monitoring the Future (MTF) and Parents Resource Institute on Drug Education (PRIDE) youth drug use surveys by University of California-Santa Cruz sociologist Mike Males strongly suggests that such surveys are not an efficacious measure of student well-being. Males found that not only are MTF and PRIDE subject to the inaccuracies that afflict all self-reporting surveys, but also that the behavior they measure, student drug use, does not reflect broader measures of generational well-being -- making the surveys a poor guide for setting policy.
In fact, Males reported in the Journal of School Health, despite the obsessive concern with annual fluctuations in self-reported student drug use by drug fighters and reformers alike, classes reporting lower levels of drug use showed higher levels of other undesirable behaviors than those classes with higher levels of reported drug use. "Compared to students in classes that report low drug use rates, students in classes that report high rates were significantly less likely to report having been in a serious fight, injuring someone seriously, having frequent fights with parents, being in a gang fight, stealing a car, committing armed robbery, committing arson, or being victimized by a major or minor theft at school," Males noted.
Males characterized his findings as "striking and unexpected," with serious implications for the setting of drug policy in this country. "Are students, then, better off when they use more drugs?" he asked. "The question addressed here was not whether drug use is good or bad for students, but whether drug use as measured on self-reporting surveys provides a valid indicator of student well-being and thus a viable basis for policy."
For Males, the answer is clearly not. While the surveys are often the "sole means by which drug education policies and programs are evaluated," they not only provide misleading data about the overall welfare of those being surveyed but they also "obscure the fact that higher rates of drug use are connected to student well-being in ways not yet understood," he wrote. Furthermore, "over-reliance on surveys promotes increasingly intrusive efforts to stop all student drug use, and this tend may be counterproductive" given the findings of increased well-being in classes that had higher levels of self-reported drug use.
"In any case," Males concluded, "the conclusion is the same: policy makers, school administrators, substance abuse programs, and the news media attach too much importance to surveys. Students in the years in which 40% reported using drugs were no worse off, and often significantly better off by most important measures, than were students in years when 15% report using drugs. Thus, do policies that focus primarily on reducing numbers on self-report surveys best serve school health objectives?"
One of the noxious side-effects of prohibition is the unthinking application of its edicts. In the name of "drug-free schools," administrators, school boards, and law enforcement routinely subject students to "lock-downs" where drug-sniffing dogs roam the halls and classrooms. They increasingly resort to urine testing of students without cause. And they create policies designed to punish students who would bring banned substances to school.
Even when implemented thoughtfully and flexibly, anti-drug measures that treat students as de facto "suspects" are dehumanizing, not to mention ineffective. But when implemented robotically by overzealous police and school officials entranced by the doctrine of "zero tolerance," drug prohibition's totalitarian tendencies produce results that would be laughable if they were not such a sad reflection on the society that produced them.
A case in point comes from Sikeston, MO, where 6-year-old Michaela Boyd is now enshrined in school district records -- and the mind of at least one local police officer -- as a drug offender. According to KFVS-TV "Heartland News" in the southeast Missouri town, young Boyd found an empty baggie on the ground during recess, filled it with dirt and debris, tied a ribbon around it, and gave it to a friend. But this was no harmless childish exchange in the eyes of school officials, who decided the bag of dirt looked like a bag of marijuana, and gave the child a punishment of two-days in detention for her alleged pseudo-pot peddling.
Young Michaela protested her innocence. "There was nothing in the bag. I just found it on the ground," the first grader explained. So she decided to make her friend a bag of goodies. "They said what did you make this out of? I said out of dirt. And what else? I made it with rocks, clover and dirt." Sticking with her story, Michaela said she then tied the bag shut with a purple ponytail holder and gave it to her friend, saying "here's a bag of dirt."
According to the child's mother, Michele Boyd, the trouble started when the recipient of the gift bag gave it to a teacher when recess when over. The teacher consulted the principal, and mom got a call. At a meeting with the teacher and principal, Boyd said, she was told the bag of dirt "looked like a bag of weed."
"They said it was kind of a drug," Michaela said. "I don't know what those are. I only see cigarettes. That's all I say."
Michele Boyd fears her daughter will be labeled a doper. "They said it would be on her school record as far as disciplinary that she made a look-alike drug, but I don't feel like that's right. Because she didn't do anything wrong."
While most people would probably roll their eyes at this ludicrous tale, Sikeston Police Sgt. Shirley Porter is not one of them. In a follow-up story on "Heartland News" a few days after the big bust, Porter said the case needs to be taken seriously. In Porter's eyes, 6-year-old Michaela Boyd was dealing fake drugs, and that's a crime. "If she would have been 14, we would have been arrested her and taken her to jail," Porter said.
February 18, 1999: Dr. Frank Fisher, a pain doctor from Northern California, is arrested and charged with five counts of murder. Over the following six years, all charges and legal proceedings against Fisher fizzle.
February 19, 2004: Veterans and medical marijuana activists in San Francisco hold a protest/rally in front of San Francisco's Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic to ask VA doctors to help provide better access to medical marijuana. Veterans say that many VA doctors resist giving recommendations out of fear of retaliation from the federal government, which oversees VA healthcare.
February 20, 1997: After a two-day meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, an eight-member panel of specialists conclude that marijuana as medicine may be in order for some patients.
February 21, 1971: The United States joins with other countries in Vienna, Austria in signing an international anti-drug treaty, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
February 22, 2000: Due to drug-related violence, the US State Department issues a traveler's advisory warning for Tijuana, México City, and Ciudad Juárez, calling them "dangerous." Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo sends a letter of protest to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
February 23, 1887: The 49th Congress of the United States enacts legislation providing a misdemeanor fine of between $50 and $500 for any US or Chinese citizen found guilty of violating the ban on opium.
February 24, 1999: Common Sense for Drug Policy runs an open letter/advertisement critical of Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Barry McCaffrey's strategies in The New Republic, National Review, Weekly Standard and The Nation, signed by leaders from around the country and multiple disciplinary fields.
February 24, 2000: Members of the Belgian Parliament propose to modify the nation's laws to partially decriminalize possession of cannabis and its derivatives.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is seeking contacts in the state of Maine as part of an effort to advance to Higher Education Act Reform Campaign, the national effort to repeal a law that delays or denies financial aid eligibility to students around the country because of drug convictions.
The HEA campaign is our movement's first, best chance to repeal a federal drug law in full since 1970, and SSDP's Maine project is one part of a major collaborative effort between SSDP, DRCNet and a range of other allied organizations. So, we at DRCNet would greatly appreciate your help on it too!
Please contact Abby Bair, SSDP's National Outreach Coordinator, at [email protected] or (202) 293-4414 for information, to help out or suggest a possible contact. Be sure to send her your name, phone number, e-mail address, and your school, organization or location. Abby will be on the ground in Maine during the month of March.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
February 18-20, Champaign, IL, "Forgiveness Weekend: Double Jeopardy or a New Beginning," sponsored by CU Citizens for Peace and Justice and Salem Baptist Church. At 500 E. Park Ave., contact Danielle Schumacher at (815) 375-0790 for information, brochures or to reserve a space.
February 19, Norwich, United Kingdom, Legalise Cannabis Conference 2005. Visit http://www.lca-uk.org for information.
February 19, 10:00am-5:00pm, Oakland, CA, "Measure Z and Beyond: The Agenda for Marijuana Reform in California," California Activists' Conference sponsored by California NORML, Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project. At the Oakland YWCA, 1515 Webster St. (near City Center BART), $20 registration, includes box lunch and evening reception. Contact [email protected] for further information.
February 20-21, New York, NY, conference on ibogaine treatment, topics to include ibogaine's mechanism of action, safety and efficacy, interaction with memory and neurophysiology, and ethnographic and policy perspectives. At Alex Grey's Gallery, Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, 540 West 27th St., 4th floor, registration $20 per day. For further information, visit http://ibogaine.mindvox.com/index.html?News/2005COSM.html~mainFrame, call (212) 677-4899 or e-mail [email protected].
February 22, 8:00pm, New York, NY, book talk with Ricardo Cortes, author of "It's Just a Plant," sponsored by Columbia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy and The Magic Propaganda Mill. At Columbia University School of Law, Jerome Greene Hall, Room 104, 116th St. & Amsterdam Ave., admission free (bring photo ID). For further information, visit http://www.justaplant.com/reading/ or contact Ramona Cruz at (718) 783-3556 or [email protected].
February 23, 6:30pm, Washington, DC "The Chilling Effect: Pain Patients in the War on Drugs," film featuring Richard and Linda Paey, by Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network. On Capitol Hill, Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539, pizza and beer at 6:00pm. Call (212) 873-5848 or e-mail [email protected] for further information.
February 23, 7:00pm, Flagstaff, AZ, screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters." Sponsored by Northern Arizona University SSDP, at NAU's Cline Library Auditorium. E-mail [email protected] for further information.
February 25, 8:30am-3:30pm, Bridgeport, CT, "The War on Drugs: A Perpetuation of Poverty in America," conference by Efficacy, Ujima and the Better Way Foundation. At Housatonic Community College, 900 Lafayette Blvd., admission free. Contact Ethel Higgins-Harris at (203) 581-2952 or Letticia Brown-Gambino at (203) 218-0460 for further information.
February 25, 6:00pm-midnight, Kingston, RI, "Rock Out with Your Rights Out!", live music and screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters." At Edwards Auditorium, University of Rhode Island, sponsored by URI SSDP, $5 donation requested. For further information contact Micah Daigle at [email protected].
March 5, Los Angeles, CA, beginning of cross country ride by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Howard Wooldridge and his horse. Visit http://www.leap.cc/howard/ for further information.
March 12-17, New York, NY, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition speaker Judge James P. Gray addresses civic groups and audiences at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
March 17-18, New York, NY, "Caught in the Net: The Impact of Drug Policies on Women and Families," conference sponsored by the ACLU, Break the Chains and the Brennan Center for Justice. At New York University School of Law, e-mail [email protected] for info.
March 20-24, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 16th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Sponsored by the International Harm Reduction Association, visit http://www.ihrcbelfast.com or contact Dawn Orchard at +44 (0) 28 9756 1993 or [email protected] for further information.
March 31-April 2, San Francisco, CA, "Get Up, Stand Up! Stand Up for Your Rights!" 2005 NORML Conference. At Cathedral Hill Hotel, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
April 9, noon-6:00pm, Sacramento, CA, rally in support of medical marijuana. South Steps of the State Capitol, near "N" and 12th, singer/songwriter Roberta Chevrette, Reggae/Dancehall DJ Wokstar, speakers and more. For further information, contact Peter Keyes at (916) 456-7933.
April 21-23, Tacoma, WA, 15th North American Syringe Exchange Convention. Sponsored by the North American Syringe Exchange Network, visit http://www.nasen.org for further information or contact NASEN at (253) 272-4857 or [email protected].
April 30 (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.
August 19-20, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science and Response in 2005," First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis C. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Harm Reduction Project, visit http://www.harmredux.org/conference2005.htm after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 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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