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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #377 -- 3/4/05

Drug War Chronicle, recent top items


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"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

Phillip S. Smith, Editor
David Borden, Executive Director

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Table of Contents

    Culture Clash:
    The Drug Czar in Amsterdam
    Two weeks ago DRCNet reported on Rep. Mark Souder's hearing and the international attack on harm reduction it presaged. While some anti-harm reductionists like to borrow Neil Young's song title, "The Needle and the Damage Done," globally it is ignorance causing bad policies that is driving up the spread of HIV and AIDS.
    The Bush administration's attack on harm reduction internationally has gone into high gear -- and so have harm reduction supporters.
    US drug czar John Walters unveiled the country's 2005 National Drug Control Strategy last week, only to run into criticism from unexpected quarters and research findings that contradicted some of its primary planks.
    A bill passed last week by the South Dakota legislature as an anti-methamphetamine measure defines use or distribution of ANY hard drug in a location where children are present as child abuse. Under civil law that means the state can take people's children away from them.
    A misguided law written by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder has taken financial aid for college away from more than 160,500 would-be students because of drug convictions. A House bill to repeal the law will be reintroduced next week. Your help is needed to get one in the Senate.
    Please join DRCNet and the Perry Fund for the second stop in our national tour raising money for student scholarships and awareness of a bad law.
    Order DRCNet's new Stop The Drug War coasters -- and enjoy your favorite beverages while talking about prohibition.
    Events and conferences are coming up around the country -- come out and get to know the people in the movement!
    This week has been a quiet one on the police corruption beat. We go on nevertheless, not so much with corrupt cops as with cops on dope.
    In a bloody incident certain to raise the decibel level as Canada grapples with marijuana law reform, four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were shot to death Thursday morning as they investigated a marijuana grow in remote northwestern Alberta.
    In a Monday column for the Internet version of Business Week, contributing economics editor Christopher Farrell called for legalizing currently illicit drugs and taxing them at very high rates.
    A coalition of Washington state professional and civic groups led by the King County Bar Association officially kicked off its campaign for alternatives to drug prohibition with a Seattle news conference Thursday.
    Nearly four years after the Texas legislature enacted legislation to track racial profiling, a study has found that blacks and Hispanics continue to be stopped and searched at higher rates than whites.
    DRCNet reported a month ago on the progress of an Arkansas bill that would have reduced sentences for some methamphetamine offenders. It was too good to be true.
    Proposed legislation in Utah to divert drug offenders from prison to drug treatment appears to have been mortally wounded by legislators' refusal to spend $6 million to fund the program.
    Colombia's leftist rebel army, the 17,000-strong FARC, is demanding the release by the US of one of its top commanders as a condition for the release of 63 hostages it is holding, including three American mercenaries and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
    As British Conservatives gear up for elections in May, they are staking out a tough anti-drug position. So is Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party.
    With British Conservatives and Laborites busily embracing random student drug testing as they vie to out-tough each other on drug and crimes issues ahead of looming parliamentary elections, a respected think-tank has released on report challenging both the efficacy and the ethics of testing school kids for drugs.
    The touring show of "The Marijuana-Logues," which has been wowing stoner audiences off-Broadway for a year, has been canceled because star Tommy Chong's parole officer was threatening to send him back to prison.
    The comic book-style Dickens parody/drug war critique is now online in two more languages.
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Showing up at an event can be the best way to get involved! Check out this week's listings for events from today through next year, across the US and around the world!

(Chronicle archives)

1. The Ignorance and the Damage Done

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden
Two weeks ago, DRCNet reported on the "Souder Circus," an anti-harm reduction hearing -- with some esteemed harm reduction representation -- convened by the Drug Policy Subcommittee, of the US House of Representatives' Committee on Government Reform -- a grouping chaired by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). I attended that hearing, and it quickly became clear what Souder's agenda was. Souder was getting ready to go after harm reduction -- strategies like needle exchange to the reduce disease and death associated with drug use -- on an international scale. He imported several representatives of Asian anti-drug organizations to make the point -- but no Asian AIDS groups, and none at all from Europe where harm reduction is most advanced. The issue is now in full press, with US diplomats exerting growing pressure on agencies like the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Two months ago, an anonymous writer in Pittsburgh's Tribune Review paper borrowed the Neil Young song title, "The Needle and the Damage Done," for an editorial. Well, you never know if it was the author or staff at the paper who supply an editorial's title. But that's what the title was. Unfortunately, the piece was less a lament over addiction than a poorly conceived attack piece against harm reduction. The ignorance such screeds embody might be pardonable if they did not reflect great and willful prejudice. And the consequences of such ignorance are themselves wreaking much -- very much -- damage, around the world and within the US itself.

The AIDS epidemic is exploding in new populations around the world, particularly in developing nations whose resources for offering the expensive treatments common in more wealthy nations are much more scant. According to a statement this week by Human Rights Watch, drug injecting accounts for a majority of HIV cases in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Baltic states, and all of Central Asia, as well as much of Southeast Asia and South America. Russia, HRW points out, has more HIV cases now than all of North American, and drug injection is responsible for as many as 80% of them.

That is why pressure is growing on our side of the issue, too. The HRW statement was issued on the occasion of the release of an open letter on the topic signed by numerous organizations from 56 nations around the world, including the very nations represented by anti-drug groups at Mark Souder's hearings two weeks before. Editorials in both the New York Times and the Washington Post were right on time, criticizing the Bush administration's stance on the issue last weekend.

To be blunt, if the Souders of the world have their way with the UN, untold millions will die, unnecessarily. In the face of such a catastrophe, a catastrophe already in progress, "the needle and the damage done" hardly speaks to anything useful. A better refrain for our time might be "the ignorance and the damage done." Ignorance which greatly increases the harm of the needle.

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2. International Harm Reduction Battle Heating Up

US drug czar John Walters is in Europe this week to "combat so-called 'harm reduction' policies," his new blog announced, while at the same time some 50 groups from around the world have signed onto a Human Rights Watch letter denouncing the war on harm reduction and the US attack on needle exchange programs in particular. To add fuel to the fire, both the New York Times and the Washington Post criticized Bush administration policies in the field in editorials over the weekend.

John Walters toured Amsterdam's
"Red Light District"
Walters was in Brussels to carry on the fight, and he was enlisting some all-too-familiar faces in the struggle. While his main business was attending the "International Dimensions for European Drug Policy" conference, he was also working with the "International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy" to attack harm reduction principles. The task force, whose primary contact is listed as Calvina Fay, a well-known fanatical drug fighter, also includes prominent American anti-drug activists Betty Sembler, Dr. Eric Voth, and Kevin Sabet, as well as a host of similarly inclined people from Europe and Latin America.

In a consensus statement on harm reduction, the task force came out four-square against the approach. "We support a policy of no use of illegal drugs or destructive use of legal drugs. Rational drug policies which recognize that the temporary use of measures to reduce harm with the goal of ultimate abstinence are fundamentally different from so-called 'harm reduction' drug policies which accept the inevitability of drug use," the statement read. "The phrase 'harm reduction' and its obvious meaning has been hijacked and cynically employed by those whose goal is to legalize drugs. They use the obvious, universal desire to reduce harm to promote the legalization of drugs. Drug legalizers use the phrase to gain the sympathy of well-meaning people and government officials... We support the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) position on so-called 'harm reduction' that does not support stand alone needle exchange programs and so called 'safe' injecting rooms because such policies encourage drug use and violate UN Conventions."

If Walters and his crowd are "pushing back" against harm reductionists, well, the harm reduction community is pushing back, too. Citing recent moves by the US to stop United Nations agencies from promoting harm reduction strategies such as needle exchanges for the prevention of HIV infections, scientists, researchers, and public health advocates Wednesday released a letter to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs urging it not to capitulate to US pressure. "Silencing the UN on needle exchange is deadly diplomacy," said Jonathan Cohen of Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS Program. "The United States should be encouraging proven HIV prevention strategies, not attacking them."

"The fastest growing epidemics in the world are being driven by injection-drug use, and provision of sterile injection equipment is among the most important, proven strategies to contain them," said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch of the Open Society Institute, another of the letter's signatories. "It is reprehensible that the US would try to compel the UN to keep silent about one of the best studied and most effective HIV prevention measures."

Despite complaints from conservative moralists that such programs aid and abet drug use, needle exchanges have been endorsed as an effective means of HIV-prevention by leading scientific, public health, and medical associations in the United States, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the National Academy of Sciences. The World Health Organization has also endorsed syringe exchange.

Those same moralists also oppose HIV-prevention through sexually explicit messages, instead advocating an abstinence-based "just say no" approach. "Whether it's sex or drugs, the US is exporting an abstinence-only agenda to countries hard hit by HIV/AIDS," said Joanne Csete, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "If governments do not stand up to this bullying, millions will pay the price."

Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Institute, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network were among the 334 organizations and individuals who signed onto the letter delivered Tuesday to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. "We write to express concern about US efforts to force a UNODC retreat from the support of syringe exchange and other measures proven to contain the spread of AIDS among drug users," the letter said.

The Washington Post and New York Times were critical of the administration effort to harm harm reduction as well. In a Sunday editorial titled "Deadly Ignorance," the Post accused the administration of "undermining the global battle against AIDS" with its opposition to needle exchange, and singled out Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) for special mention.

A day earlier, the Times, in an editorial titled "Ideology and AIDS," accused the administration of "contributing to suffering and death" by opposing harm reduction programs. Blaming "right-wing" lawmakers with a moralistic agenda, the Times wrote that, "Washington's antipathy toward needle exchanges is a triumph of ideology over science, logic and compassion. The United States should help pay for these important programs. If it cannot bring itself to do so, it should at least allow the rest of the world to get on with saving millions of lives."

With the moralist right on the move and the harm reduction community mobilizing, the battle has been joined. Much is at stake.

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3. National Drug Control Strategy Taking Lumps from All Sides

Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) head John Walters unveiled the country's 2005 National Drug Control Strategy last week, only to run into criticism from unexpected quarters and research findings that contradicted some of its primary planks. The broad contours of the drug strategy come as no surprise -- it was largely foreshadowed in the 2006 federal budget released last month -- and deviate little from the Bush administration's long-standing commitment to more, better drug war.

According to the drug strategy and Walters' remarks upon its introduction, the administration will push for an expansion of drug courts, encourage school districts to begin drug testing programs, and aggressively attack drug crops and trafficking routes in South America and Southwest Asia. But while Walters did not emphasize the fact, the drug strategy also envisions cutting some prevention and law enforcement programs, cuts that are written into the 2006 budget and which have raised anguished howls of protest.

Here, in the words of the drug czar's office, is what the National Drug Control Strategy emphasizes:

  • A total of $3.2 billion for drug treatment. This is an increase of $141 million over last year.
  • $150 million -- an increase of over $50 million -- for President Bush's Access to Recovery program. Access to Recovery is an innovative voucher program that provides drug treatment to individuals who otherwise might be unable to obtain it. People in need of treatment receive an assessment of their treatment need and are issued vouchers to obtain help at effective treatment centers, including faith-based and community organizations.
  • Continuing support for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The campaign is an integrated effort that combines advertising with public communications outreach. The campaign will continue to develop a series of advertisements that coach parents in monitoring teen behavior and promote early intervention against signs of early drug use.
  • The Strategy highlights the importance of student drug testing, a prevention approach that deters drug use while guiding users to needed treatment or counseling. The Administration requests $25.4 million for student drug testing programs -- an increase of $15.4 million.
  • Increased support for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) programs. SBIRT programs work by screening all individuals accessing medical settings such as emergency rooms, trauma centers, health clinics, and community health centers for possible drug problems.
  • An increase of $219 million to help secure our borders by interdicting drugs before they reach the streets of America.
  • Continuing strong support of drug supply reduction efforts in the Andes including Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, and Panama. The Administration is asking for $734.5 million.
  • The President's Budget includes an increase of $166.2 million in support of counternarcotics programs in Afghanistan. This enhancement will bring total counternarcotics funding to $188.0 million in 2006. Funds will be used to expand the Central Poppy Eradication Force of 100-member Afghan teams to continue the annual poppy crop eradication campaign. Funds also will provide technical advisors, equipment, helicopters and bases to develop the Rapid Interdiction Force and strengthen ground mobile interdiction teams. They will also help build democracy and prevent narco-terror.
Walters pushed drug courts as a cornerstone of the drug strategy he introduced last week in Miami, home to the nation's first drug court. The administration is calling for a $30.5 million dollar increase in funding for drug courts, which in the past 15 years have grown to more than 1,600 in all 50 states. "Drug treatment courts are now a national phenomenon," said Walters. "They are an effective way of reducing the drug problem in America. By giving judges the power to refer people to treatment we reduce criminal recidivism, save taxpayer money, and heal those who have become enslaved by drug addiction."

Walters got at least limited support from a Government Accountability Office (GA0) report issued last month. In its review of the efficacy of drug courts, the GAO found that adult drug courts did result in "recidivism reductions," but could not explain why. Those reductions in re-offending extended to up to one year after the completion of drug court, the watchdog agency found.

But while the GAO could point to reductions in recidivism, it found that evidence that drug courts led to reduced drug use was "limited and mixed." Oddly, the agency found that while drug testing of participants showed reductions in use, self-reporting did not. Furthermore, many drug court participants never make it through the program. The review showed completion rates ranging from 27% to 66%. Not surprisingly, reductions in recidivism and drug use were linked to completion of the drug court program. Still, the GAO concluded, "drug court programs can be an effective way to deal with some offenders."

Walters should have been so lucky with the drug strategy's touting of "success" in eradicating cocaine in Colombia, where the administration wants to spend $734 million this year. While Walters and the drug strategy gloated that the three-year-old aerial eradication campaign against Colombian coca had put a serious dent in cocaine production -- "there is simply less to go around" -- a Rand Corporation report conducted for ONDCP and completed in November, but not released until the day after the drug strategy's coming out party, found that years of eradication efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Colombia had yielded no results, at least when measured by US street price and purity. To the contrary, Rand found that cocaine prices were at an all-time low, while purity remained high, although not as high as in the late 1980s. "Cumulatively," Rand noted, "powder cocaine prices have declined 80% since 1981."

That finding raised eyebrows among scholars who follow drug supply and demand, who questioned the efficacy of the program. "There is no evidence in these data, any more than there's been evidence in the previous 20 years of data, that massive enforcement succeeds in pushing mass market prices up," Mark Kleiman, director of the drug policy analysis program at UCLA, told the Portland Oregonian last week.

"The underlying theory of enforcement is that enforcement increases price and price reduces demand," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor at Pittsburgh's Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. The falling price of cocaine, he said, "is obviously contradictory to the intended effect" of the administration's Andean Initiative.

And while the administration continues to emphasize law enforcement and prevention and the drug budget increased 2.2% over last year's $12.2 billion, that increase was less than the rate of inflation. The result is cuts in some favored programs, including a zeroing-out of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, the slashing of funds for state anti-meth programs, a massive reduction in federal drug-related law enforcement grants, and the virtual elimination of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, all of which have raised howls of protest.

As an analysis of the federal drug budget by Carnevale Associates noted, "The Administration's proposed budget of $12.4 billion for drug control for FY 2006 portends major changes in federal drug control policy. The request increases funding for overseas and interdiction programs to curb the flow of drugs from abroad and enhances border control. It also proposes a net decline in funding for demand reduction programs, reduces or eliminates certain state and local law enforcement programs, and shifts more responsibility for domestic drug control to state and local governments and other partners."

"It is fiscally irresponsible to drastically slash funding for key drug-prevention and public-safety initiatives that help save lives," said US Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking minority member on the House Government Reform Committee's drug policy subcommittee. "Our states cannot shoulder the responsibility of drug control on our own."

If people like Rep. Cummings are hungry for additional funding for prevention and public safety, law enforcers are absolutely insatiable, and deeply perturbed that their sacred cows are headed for the slaughter. The Bush administration's proposed cuts in federal aid to state and local anticrime programs—more than $1.3 billion out of $3 billion in all federal anti-crime aid, including programs earmarked for the drug war—"undermine the basic infrastructure" of homeland security and represent "a major retreat in the recent gains in the war on crime," complained the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities. In the drug field, some of the biggest losers would be the anti-drug task forces funded through the Byrne law enforcement grant program.

One Alabama lawman who heads a drug task force told the Associated Press his $430,000 budget would vanish. "The task force would be shut down," said Sgt. Jim Winn of Huntsville. "Small towns don't have the money to do narcotics enforcement," he said.

Cops are getting rhetorical support from their elected representatives. The budget cuts would "devastate narcotics enforcement" in Alabama, Rep. Bud Cramer (D) told a congressional hearing last week. "Crystal meth is sweeping through the state. It's going to eat us alive."

A proposed cut in federal funds for anti-methamphetamine efforts in the states is also generating criticism. Last week, Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager accused the administration of "abandoning" the states and vowed to lobby to restore the funding.

"At a time when the problem of methamphetamine manufacture, sale and abuse is exploding in Wisconsin communities, the President has announced a 60% cut in the funding states will receive to effectively combat this problem," Lautenschlager. "This is not a strategy in the war on drugs -- this is abandonment, and it couldn't come at a worse time."

But despite the criticisms, beleaguered Bush administration officials are hewing to their position that some cuts were necessary. "The president is very concerned about the deficit," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a Justice Department budget hearing. "Some very difficult decisions were made."

ONCDP spokesman Tom Reilly told the Associated Press the drug budget cuts do not reflect a strategic shift away from demand reduction. "The best way to see this is as an evaluation of programs and which need more money and which need less," Reilly said.

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4. Under New South Dakota Anti-Meth Law, Drug Use Equals Child Abuse

Under a bill passed last week by the South Dakota legislature as an anti-methamphetamine measure, people who use or distribute ANY hard drug in a location where children are present can be criminally charged with child abuse and neglect and be faced with civil proceedings to have their children taken away. The law builds on a measure passed last year that made cooking methamphetamine where children are present prima facie evidence of child abuse or neglect. South Dakota law already includes a provision defining illicit drug use or "abusive" alcohol use by pregnant women as child abuse.

Under the law, a child is defined as abused or neglected if his or her "parent, guardian, or custodian knowingly exposes the child to an environment that is being used for the manufacture, use, or distribution of methamphetamines or any other unlawfully manufactured controlled drug or substance."

South Dakota officials told DRCNet that the law does not apply to marijuana. Although marijuana is an illegal drug, it is treated separately from other illegal drugs and is not considered a "controlled substance" under South Dakota statutes, said Regina Wieseler, spokesperson for the state Department of Social Services Child Protective Services Program.

The measure was proposed by a state methamphetamine task force and championed by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, whose office told DRCNet he will indeed sign it into law. The 33-member task force included ample law enforcement, social service, medical, and drug treatment contingents, but as is typically the case in the United States, it excluded the very people who were its subject: actual methamphetamine users.

Rep. Van Norman is a lonely voice of
reason in South Dakota's legislature.
The measure passed both houses of the South Dakota legislature with minimal debate and by overwhelming majorities. Only one state senator and three state representatives voted against the bill.

"There is a significant risk to children where drugs are being used or distributed," Secretary of Human Services Betty Oldenkamp told legislators in one hearing. "Parents or caregivers have diminished capacity to provide care or nurture. There is a risk of second-hand smoke, there is a risk of needle-sticks and HIV transmission, there is the potential for the involvement of firearms. Children whose parents abuse drugs or alcohol are three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to be neglected. HB 1258 seeks to remove any and all doubt that knowingly exposing children to a drug-oriented environment is within the definition of an abused or neglected child. It sends a strong message to the public that this constitutes abuse and neglect."

The measure is not limited to methamphetamines because the state is looking ahead, said Oldenkampf. "This was brought to our attention through the meetings of the methamphetamine task force, but the trend may move on to other drugs -- that's why all illicit drugs are included. But the measure does not include marijuana and it does not include drugs obtained through legal distribution," she added.

But while state officials had the requisite horror stories to tell -- one man on meth, believing he was being followed, left his child on a snow bank; one woman had her children removed because she was tweaking all night, sleeping all day, and neglecting her kids -- the numbers do not appear to support claims that methamphetamine abuse is an epidemic. According to Anne Holzhauser, director of the Department of Social Services, of more than 2,000 families being tracked for abuse and neglect reports since July 2004, only 7% were there for meth-related concerns. The number of children placed outside their homes for meth-related reasons now stands at about 100 in the state, Holzhauser told the legislature.

While South Dakota social service officials and lawmakers pronounced themselves well-satisfied with passage of the bill, advocates for the rights of parents, dissident lawmakers, and former South Dakota meth users contacted by DRCNet were less than enthused.

"This will be enormously harmful for children in South Dakota," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. "It will make it that much more likely that children will be needlessly taken away and face the torment of needless placement in foster care. What the governor and legislature have done is take a swing at bad parents, but the blow will land squarely on the children. If they were really serious about helping children, they would be making drug treatment available on demand for everyone who needs it," he told DRCNet.

"South Dakota wants to go for the national record in tearing children away from their parents," said Wexler. "It already ranks fourth in the country in the rate of removing children by our measure, which compares the number of children removed over the course of a year to the total number of impoverished children. South Dakota already removes children from their parents at a rate almost three times the national average, and now the state is going to take its dreadful approach to child welfare and make it worse. We know from the research that those children's development will be compromised if the state resorts to foster care instead of drug treatment for the parents. And the more you overload a foster care system, the less safe the homes become and the greater the risk to the children. It is perfectly reasonable to decide on a case by case basis that a parent is unfit, but to automatically declare drug use child abuse is setting the stage for additional enormous harm to the state's children."

The state will not automatically prosecute or file child removal actions against drug-using parents, protested Department of Child Protection Services spokesperson Wieseler. "What could happen is that a petition could be filed, but it will be up to the state's attorney to look at the information and decide if the case will move forward in court. You have to look at the totality of the circumstances, but what this bill does is give us one more tool to work with."

"Presuming neglect based on a single unconfirmed alcohol or drug test does not protect children", said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "Such a law will deter women from getting the prenatal care that can help them and their babies and will result in too many unnecessary and traumatic removals of children from families that love them and can care for them," she told DRCNet. "States that have implemented similar policies have removed children from new mothers who tested positive for a drug given to them during labor, from women receiving federally approved and successful methadone treatment, from women who had false positives, and from women who in fact have drug problems -- but who can nevertheless provide love and care for their children."

Instead of trying to punish families, said Paltrow, lawmakers would be better served by seeking to help them. "Providing family treatment services works and is cost effective," she said. "Presuming neglect and involving the child welfare system is extremely costly, fails to protect the children who really need it, and transforms mothers or pregnant women with health problems into child abusers even before they have had a chance to parent."

But helping drug using parents is not what legislators had in mind, said state Rep. Thomas Van Norman (D), one of the representatives who opposed the bill. "I asked for $100,000 for drug treatment in that bill. No one would second my amendment," he said.

"I voted against that bill because I am concerned that elevating all these child care issues to criminal offenses and making these new laws will not really address the problem at hand, but will leave poor parents with even fewer legal protections," Van Norman, whose district includes several Indian reservations, continued. "We're moving toward a police state where everything you do is a crime, and the state can threaten you with that. That is a really regressive approach," he told DRCNet.

What is needed is not more anti-drug laws but economic development, said Van Norman. "People don't realize how hard the economic situation is here," he said. "We have to make improvements; we haven't invested in schools and after-school programs for kids, we don't have any public transit, we don't have enough jobs, and the ones we do have don't pay enough. Native Americans make up 8.5% of the state's population, but 36% of the women prisoners and 29% of the male prisoners. Instead of dealing with the real problems we face in rural South Dakota, and not just on the reservations, it seems the policy is just to lock everybody up."

"To take a child out of the home hurts the hearts of Native American people. These are the descendants of the people who were massacred at Wounded Knee. Historically, the white man took their children, sent them to far away schools, and now the state of South Dakota wants to do this. You know, even with our best screening, we still can't avoid getting bad foster parents. A lot of times, it is better to keep the kids with their parents. Many of these problems have to do with alcoholism or drug abuse, but the solution is not taking the kids away; instead we need to have treatment available. If you're a doctor or lawyer, you get rehab; if you're a poor white or an Indian, you get your kids taken away."

One former meth-using couple, who asked that they not be identified, was also skeptical of the bill's intentions. Both members of the couple served prison sentences for meth, while their son stayed with his grandparents. The family was reunited once the parents got out of prison. "This is fucking ridiculous," said the father. "This law is totally unnecessary. If they have evidence of neglect or abuse, they can already file charges. This seems to be less about protecting kids than finding yet another way to punish drug users," he told DRCNet.

Some meth-using parents do abuse or neglect their kids, he conceded. "That may indeed be the case, but they don't need a new law for that," he said. "When my wife and I were arrested, we were caring for our son. We didn't neglect him, and you can bet that if we had been, the state would have been all over us and he'd probably be in foster care." As for how the child is doing now, he said, "Well, he's in eighth grade and he just made the honor roll."

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5. DRCNet Needs You to Write the Senate

The Higher Education Act (HEA) Drug Provision -- a misguided law written by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) -- has since taking effect in fall 2000 taken financial aid for college away from more than 160,500 would-be students because of drug convictions. Next week (March 9), Rep. Barney Frank will reintroduce legislation -- now titled the RISE Act, Removing Impediments to Students' Education -- to repeal the law, and the next day the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform will hold a press conference at the Capitol to support it. Though the RISE Act last session garnered 70 cosponsors, a companion to it has yet to be introduced in the Senate.

Please click here to contact your two US Senators and ask them to sponsor a companion bill to repeal the drug provision. Our web site includes a sample letter that you can use but are also encouraged to edit, and it will send your letter to your two US Senators by e-mail or fax. Also please call your Senators directly -- you can use the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or get their numbers from the Senate web site -- and urge them to sponsor legislation in the Senate to repeal the HEA Drug Provision.

BACKGROUND: Added in 1998 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA), the "drug provision" (section 484(r), or 20 USC 1091(r)) excludes students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid to attend institutions of higher learning. The provision has had the effect of disqualifying a large number of deserving, low- to middle-income students from receiving federal aid to attend college for what are often relatively minor drug offenses, including misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

SOME TALKING POINTS: The HEA drug provision is troubling for numerous reasons:

  • It is economically discriminatory, only affects the children of low- and middle-income families who rely on student loans, federal work-study programs, Pell Grants, and other forms of aid to help finance their educations. These are the very students and families whom the HEA set out to assist by expanding their educational opportunities.
  • It is inappropriate to punish people twice for the same offense.
  • Judges already have the discretion to deny federal benefits to those convicted in their courts. Likewise, school administrators have the discretion to discipline and/or expel students who violate university policies. We should let those who are directly in touch with the individual cases make such judgment calls -- not have one blanket policy decided in Washington, DC, for everybody.
  • Studies have shown that those convicted of crimes are far less likely to be re-arrested after having received two years of postsecondary education and that students who leave school after their first year have a dramatically reduced return rate.
For more information on the HEA Drug Provision and how to become active in the campaign to repeal it, please see online. For further suggestions on talking points or strategy, please contact Chris Mulligan by e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at (202) 293-8340.

P.S. If you're in the DC area, please attend our fundraiser for the John W. Perry Fund, our scholarship program helping students who've lost financial aid because of the drug provision, the evening of Wednesday, March 9 -- click here for details!

P.P.S. If you live in Arizona, please click here to write your state legislators in support of a resolution now being considered to put the state on record calling on Congress to repeal the drug provision!

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6. DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature Rep. John Conyers and Kemba Smith, March 9 in Washington, DC

DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation invites you to the second event in a national campaign benefiting:

The John W. Perry Fund
Scholarships for Students Denied Federal Financial Aid Because of Drug Convictions
Memorializing a Hero of 9/11 and Champion of Civil Liberties

featuring keynote addresses by:


and supporting remarks by:

Arnold Trebach (emcee); Hilary Shelton, NAACP; Nkechi Taifa, OSI; Patricia Perry (invited); Larry Zaglaniczny, National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; Scarlett Swerdlow, Students for Sensible Drug Policy; David Borden, DRCNet; others to be announced.

Wednesday, March 9, 6:00-8:00pm
The George Washington University Club, 1918 F Street, NW
Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, DC

[email protected] or (202) 362-0030
Light refreshments will be served.

Host Committee: Paola Barahona, Adam Eidinger, Rob Kampia, Matthew Lesko, Kris Lotlikar, Bill McColl, Matt Mercurio, Bill Piper, Gary & Tanya Reams, H. Alexander Robinson, Eric Sterling, Keith Stroup, Scarlett Swerdlow, Arnold Trebach, Kevin Zeese, John Zwerling, others to be announced

John Conyers is United States Representative for Michigan’s 14th Congressional District. Elected to Congress in 1964, Mr. Conyers is the House of Representative’s second most senior member. He is the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and is the only committee member to serve on both the Watergate Committee and the more recent impeachment committee. He is one of the 13 founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and is considered the Dean of that organization. Rep. Conyers is the principal author of the "End Racial Profiling Act," legislation to ensure that the rights of all Americans are protected by banning racial profiling nationwide and requiring all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to take administrative steps to eliminate the practice. He was a leading sponsor of asset forfeiture reform legislation passed by Congress in 1999, and is a vigorous supporter of drug policy reforms including sentencing, medical marijuana and other issues.

At age 24, Kemba Smith was sentenced to 24.5 years in prison for "conspiracy," an ill-defined legal concept that federal prosecutors used to tie her to the crimes of her deceased, abusive boyfriend, a ringleader in a $4 million cocaine ring. After being featured on the cover of Emerge magazine, her case drew broad support from around the nation, and her sentence was commuted in December 2000 by President Clinton. Kemba is a graduate of Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and is a Soros Justice Fellow. She is a frequent speaker for audiences around the country, on topics such as domestic violence; challenges facing youth; reentry of ex-offenders into society; injustices in the criminal justice system; the social, economic and political consequences of current drug policies; and other issues. Kemba’s story has been featured on numerous outlets including Nightline, Court TV and The Early Morning Show, and in publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, People and Essence.

John W. Perry
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.

Please join us on March 9 in Washington to thank Rep. Conyers and Kemba Smith for their 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.

Visit DRCNet for more information on our work, and contact the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform or Students for Sensible Drug Policy to get involved in the campaign to repeal the Higher Education Act's drug provision. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application or with other inquiries.


David Borden
Executive Director

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7. Coasters to Stop the Drug War

The Black Market... Gang Warfare... Bathtub Gin... Mobsters... Bootlegging... Disrespect for Law... The Roaring Twenties... Crime... The Valentine's Day Massacre... Speakeasys...

Are the parallels between alcohol prohibition from 1920 until 1933 and the current "war on drugs" glaringly apparent to you? If they are, you and your guests may enjoy reflecting upon the irony of serving your favorite beverages on DRCNet's latest gift item, cork coasters bearing our stop sign logo. Make a donation of any size and receive one coaster for free -- click here if you would like to donate online -- or donate $15 or more to receive a set of five, or $25 or more to receive a set of ten. (For more than 10 coasters add $1 or more for each additional.) We are also pleased to offer our handy travel mugs -- add $20 to your donation to get one of those too, or donate $30 or more to receive just the mug.

Make a statement to your guests that the war on drugs is wrong, and inspire conversations about how drug prohibition drives the thriving and dangerous black market, enriches criminal organizations, places children at risk, spreads death and disease, wastes criminal justices resources, contributes to the decay of our cities, and erodes the Constitution.

If you want to contribute, but would rather not do so online, you can also send your check or money order to: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. Tax-deductible contributions supporting our educational work should be made payable to "DRCNet Foundation" -- non-deductible contributions supporting our lobbying work should be made payable to "Drug Reform Coordination Network" -- both kinds are much appreciated and very much needed. Or again, click here to donate online, order your coasters and support DRCNet's work! (The portion of your donation that is tax-deductible will be reduced if you choose to receive any gifts.)

Does someone you know not agree with ending the drug war, but would practically take up arms if Congress decided to bring back alcohol prohibition? These coasters might help them to see that the current not-so-noble experiment has failed as well. These fun and useful coasters make a great birthday, holiday or random gift! Order yours today!

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8. Events and Conferences Coming Up for Drug Reformers -- Come Out and Be a Part of It

Events and conferences are coming up around the country. One major annual gathering is the conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), taking place this year from March 31 to April 2 in San Francisco. This is a great opportunity to learn and to meet and get to know fellow reformers -- DRCNet will be attendance, so look for us if you're there. Visit NORML's web site for further information.

Later in the year, November 9-12, further south in Long Beach, California, the 2005 International Conference on Drug Policy Reform will convene. This is expected to be a big one -- DRCNet will be there too. Visit DPA online for info.

For those of you in Britain or with a taste for travel, the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm will meet in Belfast, Ireland, later this month from March 20-24. Click here to learn more.

There are many local events coming up around the country -- see our Reformer's Calendar to learn more -- New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Los Angeles, are just a few locations where you can come out and be a part of the movement. One that we particularly recommend, of course, is our own Perry Fund event in Washington, DC, this Wednesday, March 9, featuring keynote speakers Rep. John Conyers and Kemba Smith. Hope to see you there -- click here for info!

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9. Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

This week has been a quiet one on the police corruption beat. Of three officers featured this week, two appear to have been only drug users, while a third may or may not have been doing some dealing on the side. Such behavior, while hypocritical, does not rise to the level of corruption, except in the sense that when officers sworn to uphold the law violate those same laws, they have a corrosive impact on the legitimacy of law enforcement. Here we go, not so much with corrupt cops as cops on dope:

Bridgeport, Connecticut, Police Detective Jeffrey Streck was arrested on February 25 on charges he conspired to possess and distribute oxycodone, the active ingredient in the opioid pain reliever Oxycontin. Streck was overheard talking in code about Oxycontin on cell-phones wiretapped as part of an ongoing drug investigation. The 11-year veteran is one of seven defendants arrested in that case and faces up to 24 years in prison. Streck has been off-duty on injury leave for six months. His attorney told the Connecticut Post that he has a serious back injury suffered while apprehending a suspect.

While Streck's attorney argued that his role in the conspiracy was limited to attempting to obtain pain pills, some of the recorded phone conversations suggest he was being enlisted to "encourage" a late-paying customer's payment and that he had distributed drugs. He has been suspended without pay and is free on bond. He will appear in federal court on March 16 for a probable cause hearing.

Galveston, Texas, Police Officer Price Padgett was charged Monday with possession of Ecstasy after what looks to have been a bit too much celebrating on New Year's Eve. Padgett, 33, an 11-year veteran, rolled his car late that night, and police on the scene allegedly found the drug in his vehicle as they investigated, the Houston Chronicle reported. He faces up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. Galveston Police Chief Kenneth Mack refused to tell the Chronicle whether Padgett had been suspended pending completion of an internal investigation.

Ross Township, Pennsylvania, Police Officer Michael Baird, 37, was arrested along with three other people February 25 at a meth lab bust at his home in nearby Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. They were awaiting arraignment. Baird was hired as a Ross Township policeman in 1997, but reportedly had not been on active duty for several years. His landlord, Thomas Chianelli, told the Tribune-Review he did not conduct a background check on Baird. "I figured I didn't have to do much checking up on a cop," he said.

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10. Newsbrief: Four Canadian Mounties Killed Raiding Marijuana Grow

In a bloody incident certain to raise the decibel level as Canada grapples with marijuana law reform, four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were shot to death Thursday morning as they investigated a marijuana grow in remote northwestern Alberta. The shooter is also dead, apparently at his own hand, Reuters reported.

Unlike the United States, lethal violence against police is relatively rare in Canada. Stunned RCMP officials harkened back more than a hundred years in attempting to find parallels. "The loss of four officers is unprecedented in recent history in Canada," said the RCMP commanding officer in Alberta, Bill Sweeney. "I'm told you have to go back to about 1885 in the RCMP during the Northwest Rebellion to have a loss of this magnitude," he told reporters in the town of Mayerthorpe, 90 miles northwest of Alberta. "It's devastating."

The RCMP lost five officers in 1958 when their boat sank in Ontario and four officers in a 1963 plane crash in the Yukon, but it is not since the Metis and Indians rebelled in western Canada 120 years ago that so many Mounties were shot and killed.

According to Reuters and Canada Press, the officers were part of a team that had staked out a large metal hut where a grow op was suspected. They entered the building Thursday morning and didn't come out. When the officers didn't respond to radio calls, the RCMP called in SWAT teams and armed forces personnel carriers, but when police stormed the building in mid-afternoon, they found the officers and the shooter dead.

Grow ops in Alberta have been under pressure from police crackdowns in recent months, and now police are raising the alarm. "The issue of grow-ops is not a ma-and-pa industry as we've been seeing for a number of years. These are major serious threats to our society and they are major serious threats to the men and women on the front line who have to deal with them," RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said in Ottawa.

The killings come as the minority Liberal government in Ottawa is pursuing a decriminalization bill and Liberal party members in conference are considering a resolution calling for the legalization of cannabis and the cannabis trade. Such moves are opposed by Canadian police organizations, as well as US officials.

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11. Newsbrief: Legalize It, Says Business Week Columnist

In a Monday column for the Internet version of Business Week, contributing economics editor Christopher Farrell called for legalizing currently illicit drugs and taxing them at very high rates. In his regular "Sound Money" column, Farrell called for "a new kind of drug war," arguing that, "The conventional one has been highly costly, with little return. Making narcotics legal -- and very expensive -- can reduce addiction and crime," he wrote.

Citing Boston university economist Jeffrey Miron, Farrell wrote that government at all levels had spent $33 billion in prosecuting the drug war in recent years. "How is the return on that investment?" asked Farell. "Abysmal." Farrell cited the usual litany of disasters to make his case -- continuing strong demand for drugs, the growth of drug trafficking organizations, crime and corruption, overstuffed US prisons.

"It's time to consider a dramatic shift in policy," Farrell concluded. "Instead of the battle cry 'war on drugs,' let's try the mantra 'legalization, regulation, and taxation.' We should regulate narcotics just as we do cigarettes and alcohol, restricting sales to minors and imposing steep excise taxes... Indeed, the model for dealing with alcohol is instructive. Banning alcohol outright in the US was a public policy disaster. Ending Prohibition quickly cleaned up the liquor industry. Gangsters were denied a lucrative source of income, and violent crime associated with the business fell."

While the idea of legalization and regulation is not new, Farrell wrote, it has never been implemented because of fears that cheap legal drugs would create an army of addicts. The solution, Farrell opined, is to tax newly legalized drugs at rates so high that prices remain similar to current black market prices. Even though demand for drugs is relatively inelastic, it is not completely inelastic, he argued. Higher drug prices mean lower drug use levels.

"With the addition of a steep excise tax -- several hundred percentage points above the cost of wholesale production, for example -- the price of cocaine could be greater than the price the fruitless war on drugs supports. It's possible that consumption would be lower in a high-tax regime than it is in today's law-enforcement environment."

Farrell did not come to this conclusion easily, saying he did not look forward to heroin and cocaine being made available at the corner liquor store. "I know that the cost of drug abuse and addiction -- including nicotine and alcohol -- is already substantial, especially measured by increased health-care expenditures and lower worker productivity. And I have no wish to see the numbers of addicts increase. But there's the hope that with a carefully crafted new paradigm of legalization, there could be fewer users. That's positive. There's nothing positive to be derived from staying with the status quo."

In addition to writing the regular "Sound Money" column for Business Week, Farrell also hosts the nationally-syndicated "Sound Money" program for Minnesota Public Radio and contributes to National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program.

(Visit DRCNet's Prohibition in the Media blog to read what DRCNet executive director David Borden has to say on the matter.)

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12. Newsbrief: Washington State Drug Reform Coalition Launches Campaign

A coalition of Washington state professional and civic groups led by the King County Bar Association (KCBA) officially kicked off its campaign for alternatives to drug prohibition with a Seattle news conference Thursday. A day earlier, the Washington state Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill promoted by the coalition that would create a state Commission on Psychoactive Substance Control. The KCBA and the coalition it leads are calling for a fundamental shift in drug policy from a prohibitionist to a regulatory regime, and hope such a commission would advance that goal.

While DRCNet interviewed KCBA Drug Policy Project head Roger Goodman, the point man for the project, about the KCBA resolution adopted in January calling for the creation of such a commission as a step toward ending prohibition and the coalition's planned campaign a month ago, this week's events take the campaign squarely into the public sphere.

At Thursday's press conference, the broad coalition behind the campaign qualified the war on drugs as a "tragic failure" and called for the first steps toward an exit strategy for that failed policy. The coalition called on the legislature to approve the bill calling for a commission of experts to make detailed proposals for shifting toward a regulatory system.

While DRCNet readers read about it in January, KCBA also used the occasion to officially release a major new report, "Effective Drug Control: Toward a New Legal Framework," which calls for "a new framework of state-level regulatory control over psychoactive substances, intended to render the illegal markets for such substances unprofitable, to restrict access to psychoactive substances by young persons and to provide prompt health care and essential services to persons suffering from chemical dependency and addiction, will better serve the objectives of reducing crime, improving public order, enhancing public health, protecting children and wisely using scarce public resources, than current drug policies."

"This is a controversial topic, so we need to be very clear about our objectives," said John Cary, the president of the KCBA. "We want to reduce crime and public disorder, improve public health, protect children from drugs and save public money. By any measure, the current policy has been an abject failure. It's outrageous that criminal gangs control drugs today and that children have such easy access to drugs."

"Physicians know that drug addiction is a curable illness," said Jennifer Mayfield from the Washington Academy of Family Physicians. "The costs of effective treatment are so much lower than the costs of incarceration, and where the harsh criminal justice approach has not worked, it's now time to focus instead on public health measures to address the drug abuse problem," Mayfield said.

"It's critically important that the public get engaged in the conversation about how to change our drug policies. That's why the League of Women Voters has been actively supporting this project from the very beginning," said Nancy Eitreim, president of the Seattle League.

Jeffrey Mero, President of the Washington State Public Health Association, said, "Persuasive and voluminous research indicates that a public health approach to drug abuse -- stressing research, education, prevention and treatment -- is far more effective than the use of criminal sanctions. However, the policy of drug prohibition, which has spawned a range of intractable problems, from a flourishing "black market" to the spread of blood-borne diseases to official corruption, has been a major impediment to employing such a public health approach. We're wasting taxpayer money by using a counterproductive criminal approach."

Rev. Sandy Brown of the Church Council of Greater Seattle said, "Treating drug use as a criminal matter rather than a social and medical issue has not been successful in reducing drug use, nor the harms arising from drug use. For over three decades we have been seeking new tools to fight the persistent crime problem that has inevitably arisen from the policy of drug prohibition, meanwhile distracting both the state and society at large from effectively addressing the problem of drug addiction itself. In the name of social justice we must find a more effective and pragmatic way to deal with this problem."

And Washington state appears to be leading the way.

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13. Newsbrief: Texas Racial Profiling Study Finds No Progress, Calls for Ban on Consent Searches

Nearly four years after the Texas legislature, responding to complaints about racially-based policing, enacted legislation to track racial profiling, blacks and Hispanics continue to be stopped and searched at higher rates than whites, according to a study released in February. The study, conducted by Steward Research Associates of Austin, surveyed 2003 data from more than one thousand Texas law enforcement agencies.

Officially required data reporting showed that two-thirds of law enforcement agencies searched minorities at higher rates than whites. Of those agencies that reported higher rates of minority searches, 71% searched blacks and 90% searched Hispanics at rates more than 50% higher than those for whites (or Anglos, as they say in Texas).

Similarly, minorities were more likely to be the subjects of "consent searches," those searches that take place without any evidence of a crime being committed and where drivers are asked to voluntarily give up their Fourth Amendment rights to consent to a search. Those searches typically come in the form of, "Don't mind if I take a look, do ya?" which is also the title of the report. According to the report, 60% of Texas law enforcement agencies were more apt to ask minorities to consent to searches, and three out of four of those agencies asked minorities to consent to searches more than 50% more often than Anglos.

But police did not gain much by searching minority drivers. Of those agencies that searched minorities at higher rates, 51% were more likely to find contraband among Anglo drivers than blacks and 58% were more likely to find contraband among Anglo drivers than Hispanics. "Without some explanation of mitigating factors by law enforcement agencies, this would indicate that police are not only engaging in race-based policing but are ineffectively and inefficiently utilizing law enforcement resources," the report concluded.

Given the lack of progress in reducing race-based policing in Texas, the report sought means of reining it in through policy changes, primarily by banning consent searches. In addition to creating racial disparities, consent searches simply "aren't fruitful," the study said. "In order to reduce unnecessarily high minority search rates, the Texas Legislature should ban consent searches in Texas," the report bluntly concluded, noting that four states -- Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island -- have already banned such searches, while the California Highway Patrol ended the practice as a result of a lawsuit.

What's so bad about consent searches? Well, they aren't really consent searches. As the Austin American-Statesman noted, "If a person refuses to give consent, police can detain the driver until a drug-sniffing dog arrives, which can take hours, or arrest the person for almost any fine-only offense, such as failing to use a turn signal." The American-Statesman was incorrect in stating that police can hold drivers indefinitely while awaiting a drug-sniffing dog -- federal courts are divided on just how long is reasonable -- but its larger point is well-taken: When asked to consent to a search, you either waive your rights or prepare to be punished.

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14. Newsbrief: Arkansas Bill That Would Have Cut Methamphetamine Sentences Defeated

DRCNet reported a month ago on the progress of an Arkansas bill that would have reduced sentences for some methamphetamine offenders. Given the wave of anti-methamphetamine hysteria sweeping the country, we titled that story "Man Bites Dog." It was too good to be true. The bill made it through the state Senate, but was defeated Tuesday in a House committee vote. There is a slight chance it will be reconsidered, but as things now stand, the measure is in limbo.

Under Arkansas law, perpetrators of especially heinous crimes, such as rape, murder, and "causing a catastrophe" must serve 70% of their prison sentences. As concern over methamphetamine mounted, Arkansas lawmakers added meth manufacture and possession of paraphernalia for meth manufacture to that list of crimes. SB 120 would have lifted the 70% requirement for first- and second-time meth cooks in possession of less than five grams.

Despite the backing of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorney's Association and the state prison director, the bill failed in the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8-6 after being denounced by Republican lawmakers. Typical was the reaction of Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock). "Unlike other drugs, the actual cooking of meth is extremely dangerous and there are oftentimes children... in the home itself," Hutchinson said. "Meth is an epidemic in this state and across the nation. Meth has more victims than most crimes under the 70% rule."

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15. Newsbrief: Utah Treatment Not Jail Bill Dying For Lack of Funding

Proposed legislation in Utah that would divert drug offenders from prison to drug treatment appears to be on its death bed, mortally wounded by legislators' refusal to spend $6 million to fund the program. The Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Act (DORA) was backed by almost every branch of state government as a means of trying a new direction in the Beehive State's ever more expensive war on drugs. But as lawmakers crafted what will probably be the last spending bill of the session of the Republican-controlled state legislature, both the House and the Senate GOP caucuses declined to cough up the necessary funds. "For some of the things we find success for, there are some we can't. And we always feel bad about that. DORA was one personally that I really felt I wanted to do," said Senate President John Valentine (R-Orem). "But we don't have the ability to do it this year. I expect it'll be back," he told the Deseret News Tuesday.

"It's the dumbest thing I've ever seen," said Sen. Chris Buttars (R-West Jordan), who has sponsored the act for the last two years. Legislators were penny-wise and pound-foolish, he said, arguing that the measure would have saved the state millions of dollars by keeping drug offenders from going back to prison.

DORA would have diverted first-time, nonviolent drug offenders from prison to intensive drug treatment. According to Buttars, the bill would have affected some 4,000 drug offenders who typically receive probation but who often end up behind bars for either failing a drug test or getting arrested again with drugs. "It's a good test because those probationers are re-offending at a rate of about 66%. If you give it a year and all at once it drops, like we said it does, to 30%, then you'd have all those beds that didn't get re-filled."

There aren't enough drug treatment slots available as it is, said treatment authorities. "We're faced with a situation where we've got growing referrals from the criminal justice system and we don't have the resources to adequately treat them," said Brent Kelsey, justice program manager for the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. There is a slim chance the bill could still get funded, the Deseret News reported. But that would require a sponsor in the House, something that has not yet occurred.

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16. Newsbrief: Colombia Guerrillas Demand Return of Commander Extradited to US

Colombia's leftist rebel army, the 17,000-strong FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is demanding the release of one of its top commanders, Ricardo Palmera (better known by his nom de guerre Simon Trinidad), as a key condition for the release of 63 hostages it is holding, including three American mercenaries and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Trinidad was extradited to the US by the government of President Alvaro Uribe to face cocaine trafficking and kidnapping charges.

While the FARC began as a peasant-based guerrilla army in 1964, it has, along with nearly everyone else involved in Colombia's 40-year civil war, turned to the coca and cocaine trade as a means of raising money. Beginning with the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia in the late 1990s, the US has funneled more than $2 billion in military, police, and economic assistance to the Colombian government in an effort to suppress the drug traffic. After the September 2001 attacks on the US, the Bush administration dropped all pretense of limiting US assistance to the war on drugs and has openly embraced a war of counterinsurgency designed to defeat the FARC and the smaller Army of National Liberation (ELN). The administration has budgeted more than $700 million for that effort in its 2006 budget proposal.

But the war continues, and in a February 25 communiqué from somewhere "in the mountains of Colombia" posted two days later on its web site, the rebels blamed the Uribe government's decision to extradite Simon Trinidad, as well as the pending extradition of Nayibe Rojas ("Sonia") for ending the possibility of a prisoner exchange. "The sorrow and deserved discontent of the families of prisoners of war with the government of Uribe grows because he has frozen the possibility of a humanitarian exchange... with the unjust extradition of Simon Trinidad to the United States. Family members know that without the return of Simon to Colombia, the possibilities for an agreement on an exchange are far from being realized, and the responsibility lies with Alvaro Uribe and his government."

The FARC communiqué added that the group's proposal for a prisoner exchange was non-negotiable. "We will deliver the group of people to be exchanged if we receive from the government all the guerrillas in its power, including Simon Trinidad, Ricardo Gonzalez, and Sonia."

Family members of prisoners on both sides, don't hold your breath.

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17. Newsbrief: British Opposition Promises Tough New Drug War if Elected

As British Conservatives gear up for elections in May, they are staking out a tough anti-drug position. So is Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party, but the Tories are trying to one-up them. At a February 23 news conference, Tory party leader Michael Howard laid out his anti-drug program, emphasizing plans to enact mandatory minimum seven-year prison sentences for three-time drug dealing offenders.

"People will face a clear choice at the next election: tougher sentences and more police with the Conservatives or lenient sentences and more talk from Mr. Blair and the Liberal Democrats," Howard said, attempting to trump tough anti-drug talk from Blair in recent weeks.

Howard also criticized the reclassification of marijuana under Labor, blaming the government for sending young people "mixed messages" about drug use. If elected, the Tories would reverse that decision, he said.

Howard promised a massive expansion of drug treatment facilities, which his government would use as a hammer against drug use. "Of course some children will get into drugs. We have a duty to offer them the chance to change -- the chance to go straight," he said. "So a Conservative government will give them a choice: rehab or prison."

Howard said he would expand drug treatment beds ten-fold. "In Britain today there are fewer than 2,500 residential rehab places available for young people. We will expand this massively, providing 25,000 residential places for hard drug users where they can spend six-months getting intensive treatment to get them off drugs. "That's enough to help 50,000 addicts a year. It will allow us, over the course of a year, to treat every young teenage drug addict in Britain."

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18. Newsbrief: As British Parties Embrace Student Drug Testing, Research Report Flashes Caution Light

With British Conservatives and Laborites busily embracing random student drug testing as they vie to out-tough each other on drug and crimes issues ahead of looming parliamentary elections, a respected think-tank has released on report challenging both the efficacy and the ethics of testing school kids for drugs. Britain should not turn to random drug testing until and unless there is better evidence to support it, the report concluded.

"Random drug testing of schoolchildren: A shot in the arm or a shot in the foot for drug prevention?" was released February 23 and is a nicely timed intervention in an election campaign marked by an increasingly hysterical approach to drugs and crime as the May election approaches. The report was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a century-old social policy research center and authored by Neil McKeganey, professor of Drug Misuse Research at the University of Glasgow. In his review of the research on school drug testing, which is extremely rare in Britain, McKenagey concluded that encouraging schools to conduct such tests would be "ethically complex" and could have "adverse consequences."

Despite increasing resort to student drug testing in the United States, McKenagey found, there have been few independent and rigorous evaluations of its impact. "In the light of this," he reported, "it would seem preferable to avoid the ad hoc proliferation of random drug-testing programs until such time as there are clear data on effectiveness."

McKenagey and the Rowntree Foundation also identified several problematic aspects of school drug testing. Random testing is most likely to identify students who occasionally use cannabis, the most commonly used drug, while students using harder drugs are more likely to escape undetected, McKenagey wrote. This could lead to the "perverse consequence" of students switching to harder drugs that leave the body more quickly than pot, as well as "an escalation in attempts to conceal illegal drug taking, rather than a reduction in use."

There are a number of unresolved issues around student drug testing, including costs; ethical issues such as who gets tested, informed consent, and confidentiality; and the undermining of trust between school staff and students, McKenagey noted. Given the problems and unresolved issues, as well as the lack of evidence that drug testing succeeds in reducing drug use, great caution is in order, he wrote.

"It is difficult to judge the true likelihood of drug-testing being widely used in UK schools," he concluded. "Unlike the United States, no central government funding has been allocated for programs. However, if random drug-testing programs were to be piloted, there would be an obvious need to ensure that their impact was rigorously and independently evaluated. Such evaluation would need to be undertaken on a large enough sample of schools to be sure that any positive or negative outcomes were a genuine consequence of the drug-testing program. Research would also need to consider the possible impact of a drug-testing program on young people's wider educational experience."

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19. Newsbrief: "The Marijuana-Logues" Tour Cancelled After Parole Officer Forces Tommy Chong to Quit

The touring show of "The Marijuana-Logues," which has been wowing stoner audiences off-Broadway for a year, has been cancelled because star Tommy Chong's parole officer was threatening to send him back to prison. Chong, half of the comedy team Cheech & Chong, spent nine months in federal prison on charges he conspired to sell bongs and remains under federal supervision for a few months more.

The curtain came down quickly on Chong and the show. "The Marijuana-Logues" road show had only placed two cities, Vancouver and Seattle, before reports started circulating that audiences for the pot-friendly show have been lighting up, something that didn't sit to well with Chong's federal keepers. "The (parole) officer was compelled to revoke his ability to continue on the shows," said Phil Lobel, a publicist for the play, told the Associated Press. "The last thing he wants to do is go back to prison."

The show will go on, but not until Chong gets off parole this summer. "I'm still on probation you know," Chong told the AP before the Vancouver performance. "Doing a show about weed in the United States -- when you just got out of jail for selling weed paraphernalia -- makes me a little nervous."

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20. A Drug War Carol Now Available in Spanish and French

DRCNet readers may be familiar with "A Drug War Carol," a comic book-style critique of the drug war in the form of a parody of the classic Charles Dickens Christmas tale. "A Drug War Carol" now exists in Spanish and French as well as English -- visit to check out all three versions.

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21. This Week in History

March 3, 1905: Congress enacts its first anti-drug law, banning opium smoking in the occupied Philippines.

March 4, 1992: The Bush administration terminates the federal government's Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) medical marijuana program, leaving only a handful of patient already receiving marijuana enrolled. The remainder of applicants, including many already approved, are denied participation.

March 5, 1995: BBC airs a live debate from London on medical marijuana, including Dr. Lester Grinspoon, one of the world's leading medical marijuana authorities. Over 137,000 phone calls are received in less than half an hour, 90% of them affirmative.

March 8, 1973: The US Coast Guard conducts its first Coast Guard-controlled seizure, when the USCGC Dauntless boards a 38-foot sports fisherman boat, the Big L, arresting its master and crew with more than a ton of marijuana on board.

March 9, 1982: The largest cocaine seizure ever to date raises US awareness of the Medellin cartel -- 3,906 pounds of cocaine, valued at over $100 million wholesale, from a Miami International Airport hanger. Officials realize Colombian traffickers must be working together because no single trafficker could be behind a shipment that large.

March 9, 2001: William J. Allegro, 32, of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, is sentenced to 50 years in prison for growing marijuana in his home. "The court imposed this sentence because the court felt obligated to do so under the law," says Judge Paul F. Chaiet, a former prosecutor. "Mandatory sentencing provisions can create difficult results. In the court's view, this is one of those times where the ultimate results are difficult to accept."

March 10, 1839: Lin Tse-hsü, governor of the Chinese province of Hu-Huang, proclaims that the opium trade will no longer be tolerated in Canton, and begins arresting known opium dealers in the local schools and naval barracks. Those found guilty of purchasing, possessing or selling opium are sentenced to public execution by strangulation. "Let no one think," Lin proclaimed, "that this is only a temporary effort on behalf of the Emperor. We will persist until the job is finished."

March 10, 1984: DEA and Colombian police discover Tranquilandia, a laboratory operation deep in the Colombian jungle. In a subsequent bust, law enforcement officials destroy 14 laboratory complexes, containing 13.8 metric tons of cocaine, seven airplanes, and 11,800 drums of chemicals, conservatively estimated at $1.2 billion. The bust confirms the consolidation of the Medellin cartel's manufacturing operation.

March 10, 2004: In a Washington Post article, "Obesity Passing Smoking as Top Avoidable Cause of Death," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, when asked about unhealthy foods, answers, "I don't want to start banning things... Prohibition has never worked."

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22. The Reformer's Calendar

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

March 5, Los Angeles, CA, beginning of cross country ride by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition member Howard Wooldridge and his horse. Visit for further information.

March 7, 8:30pm, New Paltz, NY, Know Your Rights event featuring screening of "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," Q&A with a civil rights attorney and a police officer, free pizza and other food. Sponsored by New Paltz NORML and New Paltz SSDP, at SUNY New Paltz, Lecture Center 100, e-mail [email protected] for further information.

March 12, 7:00pm, New York, NY, Judge James P. Gray addresses the Community Church of New York. At 40 East 50th St., contact Rev. Tracy Sprowls at (212) 683-4988 or [email protected] for info.

March 12-17, New York, NY, further appearances by Judge Gray, including Columbia University, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and other venues, on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. For further information, visit or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.

March 17, 8:30am-2:30pm, Washington, DC, "Framing a Moral Debate: Criminal Justice Reform -- A Dialogue Exploring the Interfaith Community's Role in Addressing Critical Reform." One day dialogue sponsored by The Interfaith Alliance, at the Columbus Club, Union Station, visit http:// to register online, or contact Jason Gedeik at (202) 639-6370 or [email protected] for further information.

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 or contact Dawn Orchard at +44 (0) 28 9756 1993 or [email protected] for further information.

March 24, 7:00pm, Madison, WI, Madison NORML benefit concert. At Café Montmartre, 127 East Mifflin Street, admission $5 in advance or $7 at the door, contact Gary Storck at (608) 241-8922 or [email protected] for further information.

March 29, 6:00pm, New York, NY, art sale to benefit Drug Policy Alliance. At Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th St., contact Livet Reichard Co. at (212) 966-4710 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 for further information.

April 8-9, Iowa City, IA, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwest Conference, organized by University of Iowa SSDP. For further information, contact Diana Selwyn at (210) 860-2077 or [email protected].

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 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 for further information.

May 4, Washington, DC, Marijuana Policy Project 10th Anniversary Gala. Featuring Montel Williams and Rep. Sam Farr, at the Washington Court Hotel, contact Francis DellaVecchia at (310) 452-1879 or [email protected] or visit for further information.

May 7, numerous locations worldwide, "Million Marijuana March," visit for further information.

May 9, Santa Monica, CA, Marijuana Policy Project 10th Anniversary Gala. Featuring Montel Williams and Tommy Chong, at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel, contact Francis DellaVecchia at (310) 452-1879 or [email protected] or visit for further information.

June 1, Seattle, WA, John W. Perry Fund fundraiser, featuring US Rep. Jim McDermott. Details to be announced, contact DRCNet Foundation at (202) 362-0030 or [email protected] for updates or visit online.

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 after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 for further information.

August 20-21, 10:00am-8:00pm, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest 2005. At Myrtle Edwards Park, Pier 70, admission free, visit or (206) 781-5734 or [email protected] for further information.

September 17, Boston, MA, "Sixteenth Annual Fall Freedom Rally," sponsored by MASSCANN. On Boston Common, visit for updates, or contact (781) 944-2266 or [email protected].

November 9-12, Long Beach, CA, "Building a Movement for Reason, Compassion and Justice," the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, at the Westin Hotel, details to be announced. Visit for updates.

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 for updates.

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