(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #378 -- 3/11/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
The campaign to repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision got a big boost Wednesday as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and 55 other members of Congress introduced the Removing Impediments to Students' Education (RISE) Act, H.R. 1184. With 55 cosponsors already onboard, this year's RISE Act starts out well ahead of the corresponding bill Frank introduced in 2003, which had 38 sponsors at launch time.
Authored by arch-conservative congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the HEA anti-drug provision bars students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial aid for specified periods of time. The provision applies to any state or federal drug arrest, no matter how minor. Although passed in 1998, the provision went into effect in 2000 and was not aggressively enforced until 2001. Since then, some 160,500 students have lost financial, according to the US Department of Education. Untold thousands more have not even applied, knowing their applications would be rejected.
Rep. Frank has championed bills to repeal the provision for the last six years, but this year's version begins from the strongest position yet. Thursday, Frank and six other members of Congress stood with representatives from some of the more than 200 organizations that support repeal at a noon press conference on Capitol Hill.
"I have seen students come into my office and cry, and weep because they couldn't get financial aid," said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), adding that such punitive policies are "archaic, insane, make no sense, and are utterly ridiculous."
"The NAACP continues to be ardently and absolutely opposed to any automatic delay or denial of federal educational assistance to students with past drug offenses on their record," said Hilary Shelton, director of the group's Washington bureau. "The NAACP is further committed to do all we can to see to it that this over-punitive and consistently racist policy is overturned."
HEA anti-drug provision victim Marisa Garcia, now a student at Cal State-Fullerton, also addressed the press conference. "More than 160,000 students have been affected by the anti-drug provision," she said. "I am one of them. In January 2000, I was caught with a marijuana pipe. I pled guilty, paid my fine, and thought I'd be able to get on with my life. But when it came time to fill out my student financial aid application, there was that question asking if I ever had a drug conviction."
Without financial aid, Garcia struggled to stay in school, but, thanks to a timely refinancing of the family home and her mother's credit card to buy her books, she was able to stay in college. "Many others are not so fortunate," she said. "It's time for Congress to admit that passing the HEA anti-drug provision was a terrible mistake. Only full repeal of this law will allow students like me to go to college."
Supporters of repeal include the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, whose Larry Zaglaniczny told the press conference "our members believe it is an inappropriate use of federal power to utilize the student assistance programs to deny such assistance to individuals." For Zaglaniczny, the association's congressional liaison, the answer was clear: "Repeal should be accomplished now."
In a spirit consistent with that of Rep. Jackson Lee, who spoke not only of opposing the HEA drug provision but of "standing against it," advocates are not merely seeking to overturn the HEA anti-drug provision but are also working to provide alternate financial assistance to its victims. To that end, DRCNet created the John W. Perry Fund in March 2002. Named after New York City policeman, anti-prohibitionist, ACLU member and libertarian John Perry, who perished saving others at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the fund seeks to make up for the financial assistance lost to students under the HEA anti-drug provision.
While the fund's ability to help students in need has faced financial constraints, fund organizers this year have embarked on an ambitious campaign to increase the size of the kitty while raising awareness of the law and energizing the "bases." Patricia Perry, John Perry's mother, expressed the sentiment in a written statement she provided -- read to attendees by event emcee Arnold Trebach, founder of the Drug Policy Foundation -- in which she concluded, "I encourage all of you to support students through the John Perry Fund as you work to make the Fund unnecessary." Wednesday evening's event was the continuation of a campaign that began in Boston three months before and will wind through locations such as Santa Fe, Seattle and others before it is done.
Looking beyond HEA to the larger drug war, keynote speaker Kemba Smith -- one of a handful of people granted executive clemency by President Clinton from lengthy mandatory minimum drug sentences -- spoke of her friends left behind in federal prison, some serving life sentences, and the dream she has of seeing them one day walk free. Rep. Conyers offered his perspective on the larger political situation as it impacts a range of issues reaching beyond drug policy. Conyers staffer Keenan Keller also took the floor, discussing reentry issues for ex-offenders -- a hot topic on Capitol Hill for both parties these days -- listing the barriers facing the once convicted including not only the HEA drug provision but stretching from welfare on one end to denial of voting rights on the others. Also speaking Wednesday night were David Baime of the American Association of Community Colleges and Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Institute, as well as Garcia and Swerdlow and DRCNet associate director David Guard.
"The drug provision wrongfully denies equal opportunity for education to young people who have made mistakes in the past," said the bill's leading sponsor, Rep. Joseph Almeida. "We should let these kids move on with their lives instead of holding their mistakes against them by denying financial aid."
While Delaware legislators have already passed a resolution calling for repeal of the drug provision and Arizona legislators will vote any day now on a similar measure, the Rhode Island bill marks the first time a state legislature will consider funding students who have lost their financial aid because of the provision.
"Too many students have had the doors to education and opportunity closed to them because of the HEA Drug Provision," said Chris Mulligan, CHEAR outreach director. "Congress should heed the advice of these concerned Rhode Island legislators, and repeal the law immediately."
With anti-drug provision author Rep. Souder now backtracking furiously and saying he never meant the law to apply to students convicted of drug crimes before starting college, momentum is growing for change -- not just for a partial "reform," as Souder is offering -- but for repeal too.
Video footage and extensive photographs from both events will be posted online sometime next week.
The United Nations' Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting this week in Vienna became the latest battleground in an effort led by the United States to de-legitimize harm reduction strategies in general and needle exchange programs in particular. The CND is the UN's policy-making body on drug issues and is charged with developing proposals aimed at dealing with global drug use. While the formal agenda item is strategies for slowing the spread of injection drug use-related HIV, the clear subtext is the fight over the role of harm reduction.
The practices under fire from the Bush administration are those that seek not to repress drug use but to reduce its adverse consequences for drug users and society alike. Similar to the notion that one way to reduce sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies is through condom distribution, harm reduction strategies for drug use include needle exchange programs, safe injection sites, and drug maintenance programs.
The Vienna meeting came against a backdrop of heightened US efforts to attack harm reduction and its practitioners led by US drug czar John Walters, congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), and State Department Assistant Secretary of State for international narcotics matters Robert Charles. Last fall, Charles met with UN Office of Drug Control Policy head Antonio Mario Costa to urge him to strike all references to harm reduction from UNODC materials. Rep. Souder has been using his post as chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources of the House Government Reform Committee to demand investigations of possible US funding of harm reduction activities abroad, while czar Walters is using his office as a bully pulpit to sound the alarm about harm reduction.
Last week, in preparation for this week's Vienna meeting, AIDS groups, human rights groups, policy analysts and researchers from 56 countries urged the commission to "support syringe exchange, opiate substitution treatment, and other harm reduction approaches demonstrated to reduce HIV risk." The letter was distributed by Human Rights Watch, which accused the Bush administration of exerting pressure on the UNODC to stop supporting needle exchange programs.
But Walters, undeterred by the critics, took his road show to Vienna this week, where he addressed the CND on Monday. In a coded slap at harm reduction, Walters said the international community should not "acquiesce or practice appeasement with addiction." Instead, Walters argued, "drug use is both a preventable behavior and one that we can intervene against and stop." When it comes to HIV, the best approach is not to provide clean needles, he said: "The single greatest way of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS through drug users is taking those addicted and getting them to recover. Continued drug use is a fundamental cause of the dangers we face from blood-borne diseases."
Walters rejected the idea that opposition to needle exchanges is "somehow an impediment to efforts addressing another global crisis, the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis C." And he addressed critics of the UN conventions on drugs, the legal backbone of global prohibition, which UN agencies read as prohibiting harm reduction activities such as safe injection sites and opiate maintenance therapies. "This charge is wrong. The conventions (opposing such programs) are a bulwark against the public health tragedy of blood-borne diseases and the public health tragedy of drug use and addiction," Walters said.
But although UNODC head Costa had appeared to buckle under to US pressure to remove references to harm reduction last fall, he gave at least rhetorical support to harm reduction and needle exchanges in particular in his speech Monday. Needle exchanges are "appropriate as long as they are part of a comprehensive strategy to battle the overall drug problem. We must not deny these addicts any genuine opportunities to remain HIV-negative," Costa said.
Costa may have had his spine stiffened by near unanimous support for harm reduction practices by countries attending the session. Besides the US, only Japan spoke out forcefully against harm reduction, arguing instead for more effort toward creating "drug-free" societies.
On the other side of the debate were UN agencies and much of the international community. The European Union and several of its member states voiced explicit support for harm reduction. Even staunchly prohibitionist Sweden "fully associated itself" with the EU's pro-harm reduction statement. Australia, Brazil, Norway, and Switzerland also supported harm reduction efforts, according to on-the-scene reports from Hungary's Peter Sarosi and England's Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, who were representing the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the European Coalition for Safe and Effective Drug Policies, respectively. In contrast to previous years, harm reduction also drew support from Moslem countries, with Iran and Morocco reporting they were working together to forge a response to injection drug use. China reported that methadone maintenance programs were underway and that "exchange of needles and syringes is expanding step by step."
UNAIDS, the program in charge of global HIV/AIDS prevention supported access to sterile syringes and condoms as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV, and the World Health Organization, which recently released a new report finding needle exchanges were an effective means of HIV prevention, called for six harm reduction measures that should be accelerated in countries with injection drug use epidemics: needle exchange, substitution therapy, HIV testing and counseling, outreach and peer education, services for preventing sexual transmission (including condom distribution), and HCV vaccination.
But if harm reduction appeared to be winning the debate, UNODC director Costa could not resist referring to and attacking the "pro-drug lobby," as he labeled critics of prohibition and the UN conventions. Critics make "a false dichotomy between drug control and crime control," he said, "namely, on the argument that drugs are a matter of choice, and that the legalization of drugs would curb organized crime."
Despite the resistance to the US' effort to attack harm reduction, European drug reformers were less than thrilled about this week's session. "As always, the CND meeting is about maintaining the impression that there is total consensus among governments that the UN drug conventions are untouchable, and that everybody is on the same track concerning the goal of diminishing the supply and demand for drugs," said ENCOD's Oomen. "In the meantime, there is a growing feeling of unrest among governments that want to apply harm reduction about the efforts of US and UN to discredit this strategy. This feeling is strengthened by the comments of NGOs and international experts like the WHO and UNAIDS," he told DRCNet.
The dispute over harm reduction language, said Oomen, "looks like a simple detail that will be solved by adjusting the wording. Costa is willing to obey US pressure to eliminate harm reduction as a concept from UNODC statements and programs, but he feels the pressure from other UN organizations to maintain needle exchange. There is still a long way to go before we can expect some significant debate going on inside the CND -- at least publicly -- about the fundamental course of drug policies."
With injection drug use linked to 39% of new HIV cases in Philadelphia in 2001, stopping people from sharing needles is a serious but vulnerable enterprise. Prevention Point Philadelphia had been running needle exchange programs (NEPs) to reduce the spread of HIV under an executive decree from the mayor for more than a decade when the Philadelphia police launched Operation Safe Streets, an effort to crack down on the city's burgeoning and sometimes brazen drug markets by saturating hard-hit sections of the city with uniformed police.
Citing declining crime statistics, police have deemed Operation Safe Streets and its successors a success, but according to Prevention Point and some recent academic research, the massive police presence has had an unintended, and unhappy, side effect: It has scared injection drug users away from the NEPs, which have been proven repeatedly, most recently by the World Health Organization, to reduce the rates of HIV infection among drug users.
Philadelphia's experience could prove useful for other NEPs faced with law enforcement agencies who, while not necessarily opposed to them, fail to take them into account when planning and prosecuting heavy-duty enforcement actions.
In a study of the impact of Operation Safe Streets on NEP participation, a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers led by Corey Davis found a dramatic decline in NEP use after the police action got underway. Yes, police were able to disrupt the open-air drug markets, the study found, but "this benefit came at a cost: the operation was significantly associated with a reduction in the use of Philadelphia's syringe exchange programs, especially among black and male participants. Such a reduction in syringe exchange program use can be expected to lead to increased sharing and reusing of syringes, with an attendant increase in blood-borne infectious disease incidence among IDUs who formerly used syringe exchange programs," concluded the article published last month in the American Journal of Public Health.
"What we found was that after the start of Operation Safe Streets, the number of people using the NEP went down precipitously," said Davis, the study's lead author. "We saw the number of African-Americans using the NEP go down more than whites; we saw the number of males decline more than females," he said.
The decline in NEP use was not because the clients were getting arrested, Davis pointed out. "It is interesting that this police operation wasn't based on arresting users. They did not arrest very many, so the decline came not because clients were incarcerated, but because they were scared off."
The study jibed with what the NEPs were experiencing on the ground. "What we were hearing from our clients was that it was almost impossible to get to the exchange sites because police officers were on the corners where they were," said Casey Cook, executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, the group that runs the city-approved NEP. "I don't think the police planned it that way, but that's what happened. Our people felt like they had to pass through a police cordon to get to the sites, and when they would come out carrying the brown bags we give them, they would be ID'd as exchangers and get stopped and harassed. We saw an immediate impact in attendance at our outreach sites, and it had a lasting effect," she told DRCNet.
Prevention Point Philadelphia tried to reduce the harm by contacting city officials, a strategy that is paying some dividends. "At our request, the Health Department intervened, and we've been having meetings with officials in the police department to address this. One thing we're doing is developing a training video on NEPs to be shown in all 23 police districts in the city."
City health and law enforcement agencies responded. "When Operation Safe Streets went into place, it brought a number of new police officers into the streets who were unaware of the NEP sites and the mayor's executive order authorizing them," said Philadelphia Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran. "That created some problems. When we became aware of those problems, we met with the police department leadership and intervened to get the word out among that new group of officers. The problem has been resolved," he told DRCNet.
Well, not exactly. "It's very clear that the leadership in the police department has gotten the message," said Cook, "but I don't know that it has trickled down to the officer on the street yet. We are still getting reports from participants that they're being stopped and harassed, they're getting their needles confiscated, both new and used, and police officers have even been throwing used ones in the sewer drains."
While the Philadelphia experience with Operation Safe Streets is unique, the question of police-NEP relations is one faced by almost all exchanges, and the impact of police crack-downs varies. "Nationally, the situation is too varied for me to generalize," said Dave Purchase, executive director of the North American Syringe Exchange Network. "Here in Tacoma, we have a very mature program -- at more than 17 years, it's practically an institution -- and we don't get bothered by more than the occasional cowboy cop, some uniform in a cruiser who one day finds out what we're doing. We just call the sergeant, and he sets him straight."
That relationship with local police was the result of careful work by the Tacoma needle exchange. "Back in the early days, there were lots of meetings," said Purchase. "We met repeatedly with the police chief and all that, but as the time wore on and the community got more comfortable with us, we tended to meet only on an as-needed basis. But I keep up with the guy who runs the downtown precinct, I make sure I meet the new one whenever they change, and I know he'll take my calls."
[Tacoma is next month hosting the 15th North American Syringe Exchange Convention -- visit NASEN for info.]
Enlightened police chiefs and commanders make a big difference, but there aren't enough of them, said Susan McCampbell, director of the Center of Innovative Public Policies, which has an initiative (now largely dormant for lack of funding) for promoting collaboration between police and NEPs. "The problem is that the police have been backed up against the wall by administration policy and by some police organizations to oppose NEPs. When all of this NEP stuff started with Barry McCaffrey back in the 1990s, the drug czar's office asked these police member organizations to pass resolutions opposing NEPs, and they did so. There was no debate -- the feds asked them, and they did it," she told DRCNet. "Two of them, the National Sheriffs Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, get money from the feds. With the sheriffs, I've talked to some members and some of them understand that was perhaps premature, but as for the IACP, there is no hope with the current leadership," she said.
To work with police is a slow and laborious -- but necessary -- process, said McCampbell, a law enforcement veteran who served as head of the Broward County, Florida, Department of Detention and Community Control for four years and Assistant Sheriff in Alexandria, Virginia, for 11 years. "You have to establish relationships with police, build bridges, find commonalities, agree on public safety strategies that include needle exchange," she said. "It doesn't happen overnight."
But it does happen, McCampbell argued, pointing to successful efforts by Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Peter Beilenson, who got Baltimore police to include NEP instruction in their police academy training. Dr. Jody Rich in Providence has done the same thing, said McCampbell, and so has Chuck Stoudt in Boulder. "All of these people worked with police and broke down barriers, and as a result police are working with NEPs instead of against them."
While NEPs have some national ramifications, they are ultimately local issues and have to be handled locally, said McCampbell. "This is a jurisdiction by jurisdiction battle. You have to get a chief in a position where it doesn't look like he's supporting drug activity. You need to make this primarily a public health -- not a public safety -- issue. Then you can get chiefs to places where they don't have to even say anything."
But it's not just police indifference or hostility toward NEPs that is a problem, said McCampbell. There is also hostility among some NEP activists toward police. "I spoke at NASEN, and I was hissed and booed when I said you need to build bridges to police," she said. "I was taken aback. I didn't understand that they are as entrenched as the police are. I understand that these people may have been victims of police actions and they maintain a skepticism or even downright dislike for the police, but unless you have saner heads you are just wasting your time."
NASEN's Purchase didn't quibble with McCampbell's account of her reception. And while he could empathize with needle exchange activists who have a bad attitude about police, he didn't see it as useful, either. "Some activists do have an attitude, and I can understand why, but I think it's incorrect. Harm reduction doesn't take sides on anything other than what reduces harm," he said. "This idea of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, it's a game that's best not played.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, study author Corey Davis was pondering the lessons learned. "Policing doesn't have to be done this way," Davis said. "There is no reason that the goals of increasing public order and decreasing the negative effects of drug use have to be incompatible with the goal of providing access to harm reduction activities and drug treatment. Operation Safe Streets was a prime example of how not to do it."
Howard Wooldridge is the very picture of the long, tall Texas lawman: Cowboy boots, jeans with big belt buckle, mustache, cowboy hat. There is just one jarring note -- the t-shirt he wears: "Cops Say Legalize Drugs," it says in large, colorful lettering. "Ask Me Why."
A veteran of 18 years as a Texas police officer, Wooldridge, 53 and now retired, is a founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the fast-growing conglomeration of cops and ex-cops who have seen first-hand the futility of drug prohibition and who are now calling for the drug war to be replaced wit h a system of regulated access to currently illicit substances. While LEAP has made a name for itself through its members' strong presentations to law enforcement and service organizations, Wooldridge has embarked on a unique effort to carry the message across the heartland, winning converts one by one out on the lonely highway, at rest areas, roadside cafes, camp sites, and watering holes.
It's not the first time for Wooldridge and Misty. Two years ago, the duo rode from Georgia to Oregon to take the drug reform message directly to the people. Wooldridge was so impressed with the results, he has decided to do it again this year, only this time he is heading from West to East.
"I'm about 10 miles south of Banning, California, right now," the lanky lawman told DRCNet Wednesday. "It's day five of the ride, and we've done about 80 miles so far," he said. "We'll be in New York City November 1, God willin' and the creek don't rise."
Reaction so far has been positive, he said. "I just sat down with nine horse women in their 40s and 50s, and they all agreed we have to treat drugs like whiskey, regulate it, and stop wasting money on all those prisons. We all get a little cynical listening to the politicians, but sit down in a café and start talking, and people almost always respond positively to my message, at least about marijuana, and most say we should just legalize it all."
Wooldridge and Sapp are not just seeking drivers, she added. "If you live in an area where Howard is coming, come out and say hello, send out the local media, find a place where he and Misty can sleep for the night," Sapp said. "What we need is food and water and plenty of attention. If there are medical marijuana patients or other drug reformers, come on out and accompany them for awhile. We had a medical marijuana patient from Washington state come down and push his wheelchair alongside Howard and Misty for a couple of miles in California. We need to see this happen all across America. People need to come out and get the media out."
"We need people from Denver on East," said Wooldridge. "Come out and come along for a day or two, or just come out with a care package and say hello; that would be much appreciated. The hardest thing is getting the horse fed, and for me, the loneliness. Misty is a good listener, but she's not much of a conversationalist."
After leaving California, Wooldridge will trek across Arizona and New Mexico before heading north into Colorado along the Front Range of the Rockies. But before that happens, he is taking a week off to fly to London, where he will be honored by the Royal Geographic Society. "Because I already rode from Georgia to Oregon, I am being recognized as a long-rider by the society," he said. "They've invited me to lunch in London, and I'm looking forward to it. It's an honor and a privilege, and I wouldn't miss it for anything."
After his brief sojourn in London, it's back to the road, where Wooldridge has some speaking engagements lined up. "I'll be talking to about 30 meetings of the Rotaries and the Kiwanis around Phoenix and Albuquerque and up the Front Range in Colorado," he said. "These are real community leaders, and you've got to get that face time in. LEAP puts all our emphasis on reaching out to these key people, meeting with the unconverted, and helping them change their minds."
From Colorado, Wooldridge and Misty will ride roughly due east across the Great Plains and the Midwest, with some detours into Wisconsin and Michigan, before cutting across a corner of Pennsylvania and winding through New York state into Manhattan. "We've got media events lined up along the way, but we need more," he said. "Let your media know something special is headed to town."
So far, so good for both horse and rider, Wooldridge reported. "Misty is doing well. She was stiff from the 1,500 mile trailer ride from Oklahoma, and we had three whole days of nothing but concrete getting out of Los Angeles, but now we're out of the city and have hit our first stretch of green." For you horse lovers out there, not to worry. Wooldridge rides for two hours, then walks beside the horse for one, giving Misty adequate breaks from the burden of carrying him. And just in case Misty goes lame, a replacement, Rocky, is waiting in Oklahoma.
Wooldridge was scheduled to sleep at a Southern California ranch Wednesday night after receiving an invitation from ranchers he met along the way. That is not unusual, he said. "This sort of thing happens quite a bit, and it is really heart-warming. To ride across America is lonely and difficult, but when I get this kind of response, I get motivated to get right back in the saddle and keep going."
It must have seemed surreal to some drug reformers (not to mention some conservatives) to see Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington earlier this month. An event where it seemed the most exciting thing for many delegates was catching a glimpse of ultra-conservative pundit Ann Coulter and where much of the talk was about "good guys" (conservatives) and "bad guys" (liberals), God and guns, might seem an unlikely venue in which to search for allies in the war against the war on drugs. But that's not what Nadelmann and the Drug Policy Alliance think, and not only did Nadelmann address the conference, DPA also acted as a co-sponsor.
It is not the first time in recent months that DPA has reached out to the right. During the Republican national convention in New York City in August, DPA purchased ads welcoming the GOP to New York. Given that drug reformers are largely (though not entirely) a mixture of social justice progressives and libertarians -- many of whom are bitterly and unalterably opposed to the conservatism embraced by the Bush administration and its allies at the state and local level -- Drug War Chronicle thought it was time to ask Nadelmann just what DPA is up to and what it thinks it will achieve by courting conservatives.
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 StoptheDrugWar.org 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 StoptheDrugWar.org 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 StoptheDrugWar.org 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!
Federal prosecutors are seeking to send nationally-known Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz to prison for life. In a memo filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Tuesday, prosecutors argued Hurwitz deserved a life sentence because he "blatantly violated his Hippocratic Oath," his "criminal behavior was simply disgraceful," and he lied on the witness stand. But while prosecutors portrayed him as craven drug dealer, many supporters believe he is unjustly convicted and many patients, including some who testified at his trial and others who came hundreds of miles to attend in moral support, see him as a humane, life-saving physician.
Hurwitz is the prominent, cutting edge pain specialist who was convicted in federal court in Alexandria in December of over-prescribing opioid pain medications and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in a trial that put the clash between the imperatives of drug law enforcers and those of medicine, and pain management in particular, in stark relief. Relying on the testimony of a group of related Hurwitz patients themselves facing drug charges, who never testified that Hurwitz conspired with them, as well as expert medical testimony that has since been discredited, prosecutors convinced a federal jury that Hurwitz' medical practice was beyond the pale.
Hurwitz's defense attorneys, supporters, medical associations, and pain relief experts expressed nearly uniform dismay, anger, and shock at the prosecutors' request. The request is "absolutely insane and way beyond the realm of rationality," Hurwitz defense attorney Marvin Miller told the Washington Post. "This is obscene."
It is not surprising that Miller would stick up for his client, but expressions of concern are also coming from leading pain relief experts. "That's really something. That's unbelievable," said Russell Portenoy, chairman of pain medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. "Such an extreme sentence sends the message to the medical community that the government will continue to go after doctors." Portenoy was one of a group of academic pain specialists who worked with the DEA for years in an abortive effort to arrive at pain pill prescribing guidelines that would satisfy both law enforcement and medical imperatives.
The American Academy of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a 60-year-old organization representing private doctors, also weighed in calling for lenient treatment for Hurwitz even before prosecutors announced they were seeking a life sentence. A life sentence for Hurwitz would be "a travesty," AAPS said in a February letter to presiding Judge Leonard Wexler. "He is someone who took his professional obligations to his patients very seriously and did his utmost to help the most ill among us. He published his work in the medical literature and shared his experiences and research results by speaking at medical conferences, including ours. He is certainly not a drug dealer to be incarcerated for nearly the rest of his life. Dr. Hurwitz is someone we all admire, the criminal actions of a tiny percentage of his patients notwithstanding."
Citing false expert testimony by prosecution witness Dr. Michael Ashburn -- his testimony has been authoritatively challenged by a group of past presidents of the American Pain Society -- the AAPS challenged the validity of his conviction. "A conviction based on this false medical testimony should not stand, and, respectfully, sentencing should not rest on it," the group wrote under the signature of its president, Dr. Jane Orient.
Dr. Hurwitz is scheduled to be sentenced April 14. Given the controversy that has only increased as he was hunted, indicted, tried, and convicted, that hearing could be highly contentious.
When James Roszko shot and killed four Royal Canadian Mounted Police at his rural Alberta farm last week, he may also have fatally wounded any prospects for that country to move beyond limited marijuana law reform. While the killings were originally played as a marijuana grow-op bust gone bad, that has turned out not to be the case, but in the intervening days, police and politicians alike used the incident to call for a crack-down on Canada's burgeoning marijuana growing industry, and the momentum toward tougher grow-up laws may now be irreversible.
The four Mounties were shot to death March 3 after they went to Roszko's remote farm to try to repossess a pick-up truck on which he had failed to make payments. They went to the farm the previous evening, and stayed there waiting for Roszko after they found stolen truck parts and a small, 20-plant marijuana grow. He found them instead, shot them dead, then turned his rifle on himself. According to Canadian press reports, Roszko was a dangerous loner with a love of guns and a hatred for police.
But those nuances were lost in the early reaction to the killings, the worst slaughter of Canadian police since the Northwest Rebellion 120 years ago. RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli used the killings to call grow ops "a major, serious threat to our society," in an emotional news conference the night of the killings.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said it might be time to crack down on marijuana grows. She and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler will "want to take a look at whether we have the right resources being used in the right ways and whether we have the right laws."
Under current Canadian law, marijuana growers can face up to seven years in prison. But in reality, few are sentenced to prison. Under the government's pending decriminalization bill, penalties for grows would be doubled, with some growers facing up to 14 years in prison. Sentiment now appears strong to pass that portion of the legislation, or even strengthen it, though a backlash to the use of the Mounties' death to push an anti-marijuana position may be growing.
It was already apparent last weekend, as the ruling federal Liberal Party met for its annual convention. With two competing resolutions on marijuana on the agenda -- one calling for the weed's legalization and taxation and another calling for stiffer grow op penalties -- debate was heated in the emotional atmosphere after the killings. Some criticized those who used the killings to argue for a crackdown on marijuana grows. "I find it a shame that on the heels of this tragedy we have people calling for tougher sentences," said Boris St.-Maurice, founding member of the Canadian Marijuana Party who had recently joined the Liberals. "It is, sadly, a lack of respect, I think, towards those fallen officers to boil it all down to marijuana. By doing that, we're not serving their interests. We're missing the boat altogether."
That didn't stop Toronto-area Member of Parliament Jim Karygiannis from using the killings to call for mandatory minimum sentences for pot growers, including a two-year mandatory minimum for someone growing as few as three plants. "My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the fallen officers," Karygiannis said. "The need to discuss tougher sentencing for marijuana grow house operators is paramount. We are facing an epidemic of marijuana grow-house operations."
BC Liberal Ginny Hasselfield, who authored the resolution calling for stricter grow op penalties, also used the killings to shill for her proposal. "We've been concerned about things like this (shooting in Alberta) potentially happening," said Hasselfield. "And that's why we feel we have to get tough on this issue. Grow-ops are a scourge in this country."
Hasselfield's comments drew loud groans from the back of the hall. "Do we want a US war-on-drugs approach to this problem? Or will we sit down and consider a Liberal solution?" responded one delegate to loud cheers.
In votes over the weekend, both the legalization resolution and the grow op penalty resolution failed to win approval to become party policy. At the same time, the federal government was hurrying to get aboard the punish-grow-ops bandwagon.
By Monday, RCMP Commissioner Zaccarellli was retracting his comments linking the killings to the grow op problem. In an interview with the National Post, he conceded that his condemnation of grow-ups the night of the killings may have been hasty. "I gave what I believed was the best information I had knowing full well that at that time I didn't have all the information," a contrite Zaccardelli said. "Clearly, there's a lot of things in there that, in hindsight, we will have to look at in a different perspective."
But now the political landscape has shifted and pressure for tougher grow-up penalties increases.
It's the usual motley assortment again this week: Small time dishonesty in Texas, enterprising jailers in Tennessee, and a cop with a bad habit in Minnesota. Let's get to it:
In the small town of Clute in Brazoria County, Texas, a police department narcotics investigator has been suspended without pay for five-days and placed on six months probation for letting one of his informants rack up a $236 bill on a prisoner's cell phone, the local news sheet The Facts reported on March 5. Detective Sgt. Jay Grimes has turned over the cell phone and a money order to repay the prisoner, Clute Police Chief Mark Wicker said.
There were bigger doings in Memphis, where a dozen Shelby County deputy jailers were arrested Wednesday morning on charges they were involved in a pervasive conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the jail. Also arrested were two former jailers and three others, including a US Postal Service employee. They are alleged to have taken money, usually in installments of $500 or $1,000 to smuggle what they believed to be Oxycontin and crack into the jail. But the drugs were bogus, supplied by FBI agents who were investigating corruption, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. One defendant is charged with smuggling real heroin into the jail. He faces up to 40 years in prison, while the others face 20 years. Shelby County Sheriff Mark Latrell, who is responsible for jail operations, said he was disappointed by the indictments. "It shows we have flaws," he said. "It doesn't look good."
In St. Paul, Minnesota, an
assistant lab director for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has
been caught with his hand in the cokie jar. David Peterson was charged
Monday with possessing more than 25 grams of cocaine he stole from the
state crime lab, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported with a sympathetic
tone usually missing from its portrayal of drug busts. According
to the paper, Petersen was "a man struggling against substance abuse, succumbing
to it, then worrying about how to hide it from his peers." The complaint
against Petersen charges that he used his access to cocaine stored "for
undercover drug buys" (!?) to repeatedly steal from the state stash.
But he got caught when a suspicious fellow BCA agent reported he had been
making many trips to the storage lockers. Petersen cooperated with
investigators, showing them the area in his home where he cut his dope.
Investigators found drug residues there, the complaint said. Petersen
is free on $15,000 bond pending trial. Oh, and he must submit to
a chemical dependency evaluation and random drug tests.
On March 4, medical marijuana patient Thomas Lawrence made Colorado history as the Denver Police Department returned to him a bag of marijuana it had seized during a January 11 traffic stop. While Lawrence didn't have his permit with him when stopped, he did have a state medical marijuana permit, and he went to the police station on February 3 with a court order demanding the medicine be returned. Police initially balked, but last week the weed walked.
"They were really polite -- they apologized for the misunderstanding," said Lawrence. "It was simple; it was like picking up anything else... It was difficult for them to let go of, I guess."
While Lawrence was happy to get his medicine back, his attorney, Robert Corry said police had acted improperly in seizing the marijuana in the first place. "The state government has no right to take his medicine from him... The police need an education on Colorado law. There are certain people who have a right to use medical marijuana," he said. Still, said Corry, the medicine's return was "a victory for the voters of Colorado" and for patients, who, he said, "for too long have been living in fear."
But Lawrence still had one complaint: The condition of his medicine after nearly two months in police storage. "It's a little drier than I'd like," he said.
In a February 22 speech at George Washington University in Washington, DC, Peruvian first lady Elaine Karp said that coca cannot be stamped out because its use is deeply rooted in Andean cultures. And furthermore, it's good for you.
Coca, from which cocaine is derived, has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andes, but is the object of a decades-long US effort to eradicate the crop as part of its war on drugs. For Indian populations in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, chewing the leaf provides a slight stimulation and euphoria that has been likened to drinking a strong cup of coffee. Peru, where an estimated 90% of coca production ends up as cocaine headed for markets in North America and Europe, is now the world's second largest cocaine producer after Colombia. The US and the Peruvian government of President Jaime Toledo are spending tens of millions this year to eradicate coca crops, but last year the amount of new cultivation exceeded the crops that were eradicated by a margin of nearly two to one.
According to Karp, the international demand for coca leaf for illicit cocaine ensures that production will continue. "It's completely market-driven. The demand exists," she said. "Coca cannot be completely eradicated."
The 7th Annual Cannabis March and Festival in the London neighborhood of Brixton, scheduled as part of global Million Marijuana March activities, is in danger of being banned by local authorities, according to the Brixton Cannabis Coalition. But in a sign of disintegration in the local cannabis reform movement, the former organizers of the march, known as the Cannabis Coalition (UK), have disavowed any connection with the event and questioned its current direction.
On February 23, the council in Lambeth, the London borough that includes Brixton, sought to ban the annual event, citing citizen complaints and drug dealing. In a statement issued that day, the council said that while it supported freedom of speech, "the council cannot condone illegal activities such as cannabis use and drug pushing -- both of which have taken place at previous festivals held by the Cannabis Coalition... When the festival has taken place before we have received numerous complaints from local people who have been harassed by drug dealers and we have received many reports of people taking drugs... We do not feel confident that the Cannabis Coalition will be able to prevent such incidents occurring again," the Lambeth council noted. "We have a duty to ensure that any event taking place in the borough is not being used to support illegal activity -- which drug dealing and drug use clearly is."
But it is not the Cannabis Coalition organizing this year's event. That coalition disintegrated over "unresolved disputes regarding the organization of the march," according to a statement posted on the Cannabis Coalition web site. Furthermore, the defunct group noted cryptically, "there has been growing concern about the direction both the march and the festival have been heading." And what is more, "the Brixton Cannabis Coalition was never part of the Cannabis Coalition and seems to mainly represent the interests of the Green Party Drugs Group, which is based in Brixton. It most certainly does not represent the interests of the cannabis movement as a whole."
Be that as it may, the Brixton Cannabis Coalition is fighting to overturn the council's decision and is accusing the council and the Lambeth executive of failing to follow normal procedures in deciding whether the march can take place in Brixton, a progressive mixed neighborhood of West Indian immigrants and urban ravers. "The Brixton Cannabis Coalition regrets the decision supported by the Lambeth Executive to ignore the agreed public events policy and try to ban the Cannabis March and Festival on Saturday 7th May because of cannabis dealers at last years festival," the Brixton coalition complained.
The council has taken the March and Festival to court over alleged minor violations twice in the last six years without managing to win a case, the coalition noted. Accusing the Lambeth council of making "a political football" of the march, the Brixton Cannabis Coalition noted that last year's event attracted only four public complaints, while it was enjoyed by thousands of people.
Claiming to be part of Brixton's progressive and diverse population, the coalition invited the council "to work with us and the police to overcome these issues. However if they refuse and simply try to prohibit the March and Festival then we accuse the Executive of being intolerant of diversity. We note the media's reaction to the Council's ban has already increased the size of the march. Presumably people will want to do something after the march. The question for the Executive is do they want it done licensed or unlicensed. A bit like the sale of cannabis really."
For the past three decades, Amsterdam has been Mecca for marijuana connoisseurs and advocates of regulated cannabis sales and use. Since 1975, the Dutch government has pragmatically allowed so-called coffee shops to sell marijuana to adults even though Dutch law continues to make cannabis sales illegal. But that may be changing -- or it may not.
The conservative Dutch government of Prime Minister Jan Van Balkenende was congratulated last week by the International Narcotics Control Board for making a "crucial and significant change in its policy on cannabis." The Dutch government has promised to crack down on marijuana tourism, street dealing, pot growing, and the coffee shops, the United Nations anti-drug agency noted in its annual report. "The Dutch government notes that coffee shops may discredit the drug policy of the country in general."
"They now say for the first time that cannabis is not harmless and that coffee shops are not blameless," said INCB head Hamid Ghodse.
According to the British newspaper the Independent, citing a "leading drug specialist" and a "government advisor," coffee shops in Holland could be extinct within five years. The number of coffee shops has already declined by half, down from a peak of 1,500 to only 750 now.
The conservative Dutch government has already introduced a pilot project in Limburg that bans foreigners from buying cannabis in coffee shops. Belgians and Germans have flocked to the border region for years to score good weed before returning to their own, more repressive, countries. Similarly, the Independent reported, the government is studying strong varieties of cannabis, which could well result in their being banned. Also, the police are cracking down on home growers.
"The changes have been brought about by the influence of the Yankees, the United States, Brussels and the European Union," said August de Loor, an independent drug policy advisor to the government. "The Dutch approach is usually very pragmatic, but in the past four years things have started to change and there is a more conservative approach. The control of coffee shops has become much more strict. The police are checking up on them more and there is much more strict interpretation of the rules. More and more mayors are banning coffee shops from their cities. I think in four or five years' time there will be no more coffee shops left in Holland," he predicted. "We have a conservative government at the moment but it's nothing to do with the left or right. It's a moral thing. It's a sign of the times."
Not all observers think this is the beginning of the end for Holland's coffee shops by any means. But the Dutch government continues to tighten the screws.
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.
Later in the month, April 21-23, the North American Syringe Exchange Convention will reconvene in Tacoma, Washington.
Later in the year, November 9-12, further south in Long Beach, California, the 2005 International Conference on Drug Policy Reform will be convened by the Drug Policy Alliance. This is expected to be a big one -- DRCNet will be there too.
And 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.
There are many local events coming up around the country -- see our Reformer's Calendar to learn more -- New York, Wisconsin, Washington, Utah, are just a few locations where you can come out and be a part of the movement. Keep an eye out in the calendar for more upcoming Perry Fund events by DRCNet, too, including June 1 in Seattle. Hope to see you there!
March 11, 1966: Timothy Leary is sentenced in Texas to 30 years for trying to cross into Mexico with a very small amount of marijuana.
March 12, 1998: Canada legalizes hemp production, setting a limit of 0.3% THC content that may be present in the plants and requiring all seeds be certified for THC content.
March 12, 1998: The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and West Hollywood write letters to President Clinton asking him to keep the Cannabis Buyers Clubs open.
March 13, 1997: The US House of Representatives votes 251-175 to overturn Mexico's certification as partners in the drug war in good standing
March 16, 2000: An unarmed black security guard, Patrick Dorismond, is shot dead by undercover New York City police officers conducting a marijuana "buy-and-bust."
March 17, 1999: A report by the Institute of Medicine for the Office of National Drug Control Policy states that, "there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs" and that "scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic values of cannabinoid drugs for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation."
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
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 John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Bard High School/Early College and other venues, on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. For further information, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact Mike Smithson at [email protected] or (315) 243-5844.
March 14, Austin, TX, Family Advocacy Day by the Texas Inmate Families Association. Visit http://www.tifa.org for information.
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:// www.interfaithalliance.org/justicereform/ 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 http://www.ihrcbelfast.com 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 http://www.norml.org 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 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.
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 http://www.mpp.org/galas/ for further information.
May 7, numerous locations worldwide, "Million Marijuana March," visit http://www.cures-not-wars.org 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 http://www.mpp.org/galas/ 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 http://www.raiseyourvoice.com/perryfund/ 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 http://www.harmredux.org/conference2005.htm 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 http://www.hempfest.org or (206) 781-5734 or [email protected] for further information.
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 http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/dpa2005/ 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 http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
If you like what you see here and want to get these bulletins by e-mail, please fill out our quick signup form at https://stopthedrugwar.org/WOLSignup.shtml.
PERMISSION to reprint or redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle is hereby granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and, where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we request notification for our records, including physical copies where material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202) 293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank you.
Articles of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.