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Drug War Chronicle
(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)

Issue #384 -- 4/29/05

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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

    Hungarian reformers have captured the public's attention through "civil obedience."
    A well conceived civil disobedience, or obedience, by fellow reformers abroad is effectively illustrating the pointlessness of drug prohibition.
    A campaign by drug users and former drug users has been giving Hungarian police fits -- and putting drug reform in the media spotlight just as a Hungarian parliamentary committee examining the subject is getting underway.
    The federal government has long stalled efforts to reclassify marijuana and obstructed attempts by researchers to do studies that could lead to the development of marijuana as a legal prescription medicine. Now, a Univ. of Massachusetts researcher is seeking a DEA hearing to allow him to seek scientific truth.
    Front-line harm reduction workers from around the country converged on Tacoma, Washington, last week for the annual North American Syringe Exchange Convention.
    Hard drug users are demonized in Canada too, not just the US. But in Vancouver, home to one of the hemisphere's largest concentrations, they have organized and are taking a prominent role in shaping the city's cutting edge drug policies. Ann Livingston has been with the group from the beginning and talks to DRCNet about how it happened and how it can be replicated.
    Please join DRCNet and the Perry Fund for the first west coast stop in our national tour raising money for student scholarships and awareness of a bad law.
    From the Big Apple to the Heartland, this week's roll of dishonor includes both corruption based on good, old-fashioned greed and the perhaps even more corrosive corruption of law enforcement officers abusing citizens and the law itself in their efforts to fight the drug war.
    Texas state senator Juan Hinojosa worked to restrict the use of undercover police agents in the wake of the Tulia scandal. Now he has two bills that have aroused the ire of at least one Texas drug task force, and those cops are fighting back.
    The US prison system grew by about 900 prisoners a week between June 2003 and June 2004, and now tops 2.1 million.
    Washington's prohibition establishment is beginning to eat its own tail, according to a report this week in the National Journal.
    If it is almost May, it is also almost time for the annual march for marijuana legalization coordinated by Dana Beal and his New York City-based organization, Cures Not Wars.
    The conservative Dutch government's attempted hard line against cannabis was shaken this week as one cabinet member went off the reservation by calling for the complete legalization of "soft drugs throughout Europe.
    A British program that provides free heroin to addicts is set to expand in June, the National Health Service's Treatment Agency announced last week.
    Farmers in the countryside surrounding the high-tech center of Bangalore have been growing opium for years, apparently oblivious to laws restricting the cultivation of poppies. That has changed this month -- and the farmers aren't happy.
    Events and quotes of note from this week's drug policy events of years past.
    Celebrity events coming up on two coasts will support the cause.
    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. Editorial: Pointlessness

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

David Borden's usual Thursday night editing session
Amidst the continuing furor of anti-drug polemics and hysterics, it's easy to make the casual observer forget one of the basic realities of this issue: Most people who use drugs are okay. For most of the people who use drugs, it's okay that they are using drugs. We may legitimately worry about those who truly have problems with their drug use, and the people they may affect; we legitimately worry about the consequences of the illicit trade in drugs -- which is to say, the consequences of prohibition. And we would like to see the drug trade made less accessible to children.

But when one faces facts straight on, they say a simple thing: Most people who use drugs are okay. If results are what count, in most cases it's okay that people are using drugs. Not in all cases, to be sure. But in most cases.

Certain types of civil disobedience can illustrate the pointlessness of criminalization of drug use in a vivid enough way to be both noticed and understood. Members of the European Parliament Marco Cappato of Italy and Chris Davies of Great Britain accomplished this three years ago when they presented themselves to police in the London suburb of Manchester with minute quantities of marijuana attached to the back of a couple of postage stamps, getting arrested in the process. Cappato and Davies weren't even using the marijuana, it wasn't even enough to be used, they clearly were not menacing society in any way, they are highly respectable citizens. Yet it was enough to get them sent to jail in handcuffs. That is an effective demonstration of the pointlessness of criminalization.

Drug reformers in the formerly-Communist nation of Hungary are doing something similar right now. Roughly 30 of them have turned themselves in as drug users to Budapest and other city police headquarters since the beginning of April. Among them was a famous novelist who is also grandmother -- clearly not a threat to society. Police are being forced to arrest these people and make the law look ridiculous in the process. It is fueling discussion, not only about casual use of marijuana but also how society deals with the truly problematic drug users. It is raising the issue of the unlucky ones who get caught and might not get a lenient sentence. It may well help to change the country's drug laws.

The criminalization of responsible drug users is only one of the many pointless aspects of drug prohibition. Criminalization of the trade in drugs itself is also pointless, though for more complex reasons that involve economics, public health and many other factors. But criminalization of users is pointless on its face. People may miss that obvious point a lot of the time. But they are capable of grasping it, without a lot of effort, if it is pointed out in a clear and compelling manner.

I believe they can understand the rest of it too. As New Mexico's former governor, Gary Johnson, has put it, support for the drug war is a mile wide but an inch deep. Our drug policies are so far off-base, with such serious consequences, it isn't that hard to get a lot of people, perhaps most, to understand at a minimum that some things are wrong. Prohibition is pointless, but our efforts to end it need not be.

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2. Feature: In Civil Obedience Campaign, Hungarian Drug Users Turn Themselves In

For the past month, drug users and former drug users have been giving Hungarian police fits as they march up to police stations and turn themselves in, demanding to be charged as violators of the country's repressive -- by European standards -- drug laws, according to reports from participants and organizers. The campaign has managed to put drug reform in the media spotlight just as a Hungarian parliamentary committee examining the subject is getting underway.

Kendermag poster
The unique protest began in late March, when, under the glare of dozens of TV cameras, three activists escorted by lawyers from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union went to Budapest police headquarters to turn themselves in for their drug use. Surprised police hustled the three into the building to record their confessions, then transferred them to a police laboratory for a urinalysis. They have since been released and are awaiting formal offers from prosecutors to take six months of drug treatment or choose criminal prosecution. Most activists intend to seek prosecution, organizers said.

The self-confessed drug criminals have since kept coming, and are beginning to include well-respected and well-known Hungarians. Eight people turned themselves in the first week in April, and approximately 30 had done so by this week. Earlier this month, established Hungarian novelist and literary figure Julia Langh, a 63-year-old grandmother, joined the civil obedience campaign, appearing at her local police station to announce that she had been using cannabis without ill effect for forty years -- a move that rekindled the media spotlight on the issue.

Organized by the Hemp Seed Association, or Kendermag, a nonprofit group that advocates for drug users' rights and drug reform in Hungary, the "Civil Obedience" campaign is designed to express discontent with Hungary's drug laws. Under those laws, simple possession of illicit drugs, including cannabis, can result in a two-year prison sentence. In a 2003 "reform," the ruling Socialist-Liberal government created the option of a six-month stay in a drug treatment program. In the rhetoric of the current government, drug users are not "criminals" but "sick people" who need treatment. That is not a paradigm Hemp Seed and other reformers are buying, and by presenting themselves for arrest, drug users hope to point out the glaring injustice of those laws, organizers said.

With some 4,000 drug arrests annually, 90% of them for simple possession, according to government figures, the prosecution of drug users is keeping the courts busy. And with a series of raids on raves where hundreds were arrested on drug charges, police aren't helping.

"This is about sincerity and fairness," said Peter Juhasz, spokesman for the Hemp Seed Association. "If you are a drug user you face criminal prosecution every day -- whether you are arrested is only a matter of luck. The government says it does not intend to imprison and criminalize drug users, but this is evidence that is not true. Just because you smoked a joint some weeks ago, you can undergo a very humiliating procedure and the loss of your freedom. Only 1-2% of drug users in Hungary are problem users, and even they do not need imprisonment, only free and effective services to improve their quality of life."

Drug users just want to be respected and left alone, said Juhasz. "We don't believe in forced treatment and medicalization," he said. "We would like to show that we want to live as law-abiding citizens."

"Many people identify drug users as the dregs of society; let us show them that drug uses are sometimes well-respected people with a normal lifestyle," said Peter Sarosi of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Drug Policy Project, whose attorneys accompany people turning themselves in and which has produced a how-to pamphlet telling people how to do it themselves. "When the police are arresting these people in front of the TV cameras, that shows the irrationality and injustice of the present law. It is also a sort of coming out for the movement."

The Hungarian campaign takes the Gandhian civil disobedience model and flips it, said Sarosi. "Civil obedience is a play on words," he explained. "It is modeled after civil disobedience movements, but it turns the philosophy of disobedience on its head: Why can't we protest by being obedient to the law we want to change? This is Gandhi-style passive resistance: Okay guys, if you think we're criminals, please arrest all of us who have ever used any kind of illicit drug," he told DRCNet.

The campaign has generated tons of publicity, said Sarosi. "The media response has been very intensive and also very positive. After the first arrests, it was the lead story in all the daily newspapers the next day. And you see very few articles or reports that are critical of the action, and those are coming from the right-wing press," he said. The continuing campaign has also led drug reformers to be invited onto television and radio talk shows and generated a letter of support from more than 50 drug treatment and prevention experts urging the government to accept Hemp Seed's proposal and decriminalize drug use.

The timing couldn't be better for the Hungarian drug reform movement, which got underway more than a decade ago with the formation of the HCLU, and the Hemp Seed Association, which cut its teeth with last year's May Million Marijuana March and is busily preparing for this year's. The government is moving on several fronts toward a revision of the drug laws. Discussions are going on among the government ministries on a new law and an ad hoc parliamentary committee to discuss drug policy issues was set up earlier this year.

Sarosi was guardedly optimistic about the prospects for progress on his country's drug laws. "The Alliance of Free Democrats {SZDSZ) last week introduced a proposal in parliament to completely abolish sanctions for simple drug possession, and the HCLU was invited to address one of the interministerial discussion panels. Of six experts tentatively hired by the parliamentary committee, five favor decriminalization, and one of them is another HCLU attorney, Andrea Pelle. We should be able to reach a certain consensus that drug users should not be punished -- in legal terms, that means some form of depenalization, maybe making possession an administrative offense punishable only by civil sanctions if the user causes a public nuisance."

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3. Feature: Marijuana Research Grow Effort Heads for DEA Hearing

During November's Supreme Court oral arguments in Raich v. Gonzalez (formerly Raich v. Ashcroft), the case challenging the federal government's ability to intervene in states where medical marijuana is legal, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that patients ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify marijuana for medicinal use. That would be "the obvious way to get what they want," said Breyer. "Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum," he added.

But the federal government has long stalled efforts to reclassify marijuana and has obstructed attempts by researchers to do studies that could lead to the development of marijuana as a legal prescription medicine. Now, in a case involving a University of Massachusetts scientist who has fruitlessly sought DEA permission to grow medical marijuana for research purposes for the past three years, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project are seeking a hearing from a DEA administrative law judge that would allow the research to move forward.

"Doctors and patients would like to take Justice Breyer up on his proposal during oral arguments in Raich to develop marijuana as a medicine through the FDA approval process," said ACLU staff attorney Alan Hopper. "Justice Breyer calls for 'medicine by regulation,' but the government's idea of 'regulation' is to obstruct research."

Under federal law, the federal government has a monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for research, which comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA) Mississippi pot farm. All other controlled substances are provided to researchers by DEA-licensed laboratories. But scientists seeking to study the medicinal effects of marijuana with the goal of trying to turn it into FDA-approved prescription medicine have been blocked at every turn.

Seeking to get around the research marijuana roadblock, in 2001 UMass researcher Dr. Lyle Cracker went to the DEA to win approval for a marijuana researcher production facility to be sponsored by MAPS. For three years, the DEA failed to act. Only when Craker and MAPS filed a lawsuit against the DEA last year was the agency spurred to act, and it did so by denying Craker's petition in December. Now, Craker and MAPS have been joined by the ACLU as they appeal the DEA ruling before a DEA administrative law judge. A hearing in the case is expected sometime this summer.

"The public has a right to know about possible health effects of marijuana and whether this plant material has any medicinal value," said Craker at a Monday press conference. "Only through unobstructed medical research can doctors and scientists determine the value of marijuana in treating human afflictions. My job is to make plant material available for research, and the refusal of the DEA to allow me to grow marijuana for medical research prevents a full investigation of the potential health benefits of the plant material."

MAPS president Rick Doblin criticized the government's "heavy-handed policies" and urged the DEA to stop obstructing research. "We are frustrated with the DEA's red tape and the federal government's heavy-handed policies that stifle our research," said Doblin. "Drug war politics should not obstruct our pharmaceutical development process, especially when it comes to researching drugs with the potential to reduce chronic suffering and reduce the negative side effects of life-saving medicines."

In papers filed last Friday, the ACLU said that NIDA discriminates against scientists who seek to study marijuana's efficacy and safety. Such research clashes with NIDA's mission to study only the harmful effects of drugs, the group argued.

"We have joined in representing Dr. Cracker because we believe scientists and researchers should be able to pursue the truth about all drugs," said the ACLU's Hopper. "The public has a right to know the truth, and sick people have the right to safely access the medicines they need. We need further research to turn medical marijuana into a safe, affordable, and predictable treatment, but the government has created a catch-22. They always say we need more research, but at the same time they block it. The government is placing ideology above the health and safety of patients," he added.

Researchers need alternatives to the NIDA weed not only because of bureaucratic roadblocks but also because the government-supplied marijuana is of low quality, said medical marijuana patient Phillip Alden. "I've been using marijuana for the past eight years to combat nerve pain," Alden said. "My doctor wanted to do a clinical study involving medical marijuana, and I was the first patient to qualify. But the marijuana we got from the government was freeze dried, which destroys the THC-bearing crystals. The government pot tasted terrible. It was very harsh and contained seeds and stems."

The government weed was so bad, said Alden, he was forced to resign from the research project. "I had to stop smoking the high-quality product I got from the cannabis clubs and smoke a lot of government-grown marijuana every day," he explained. "But I had to drop out because the harsh NIDA weed gave me bronchitis."

"This is a classic market failure," said MAPS' Doblin. "No pharmaceutical company is interested in developing marijuana as a medicine without a dependable supply. Major research foundations are not funding this, no sponsor is trying to make marijuana into a prescription medicine. Right now, we're stuck. We can't buy it, we can't import it, we can't subcontract out for it, we can't grow our own. MAPS is willing to sponsor this research, but the DEA is putting politics over science. They fear the results of the science."

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4. Feature: The North American Syringe Exchange Convention

Front-line harm reduction workers from around the country converged on Tacoma, Washington, last week for the North American Syringe Exchange Convention, the annual gathering of the North American Syringe Exchange Network. More than 150 people gathered for three days of networking, meetings, and nuts-and-bolts information on what works and what doesn't in America's growing needle exchange movement.

While a funding crunch led to the cancellation of the last scheduled national conference in 2003, NASEN head Dave Purchase said that was just a bump in the road. "We're here, we're meeting again, we're not going away," he said.

With more than 200 needle exchange programs now operating across the country -- many legally -- the harm reduction intervention indeed seems increasingly well-entrenched. And even where needle exchanges are still criminalized, they are occurring anyway.

And it was a diverse group that gathered in Tacoma -- more diverse than usually seen at drug policy conferences -- both racially and culturally, with a significant African-American contingent, people representing major countercultural movements (socially conscious punks from Chicago, dread-locked hipsters from California), and multiple genders and sexual orientations in the house. Precisely because of that diversity, the needle exchangers were grappling with issues all too rarely confronted by the broader drug reform movement: How does needle exchange fit into the largely gay-based AIDS movement? How do people of color fit into the needle exchange movement? How does needle exchange fit into the broader drug reform movement?

Participants grappled with those questions and much more during a busy, presentation-packed weekend, with down to earth workshops on topics such as "How to Run a Needle Exchange," "Wound Care Among IDUs and Problems With Receiving Care," and "Berkeley Needle Exchange Emergency Distribution: An Example of an All-Volunteer Collective Syringe Exchange Program."

veteran needle exchange activist Larry Pasco
One surprise was the spread of needle exchange programs (NEPs) into small-town, rural America. In a workshop called "Real People: Urban to Rural," Indiana-based Larry Pasco of the Harm Reduction Institute described how he has been doing exchanges for 14 years, dealing with outlaw bikers and outraged politicians. While the state health department wants his statistics, other state officials want to throw him in prison, Pasco said. "They've been trying to indict me for the last 14 years." But in an indication of mixed feelings in officialdom, said Pasco, "The police chief supports me. He said he'll give me 24 hours notice if he has to arrest me."

Pasco was adamant about not strictly adhering to the exchange part of NEPs. "You don't have to turn in a needle to get a needle from me," he said. "We don't force gay people to carry used condoms around and we don't force addicts to carry dirty needles just to have one to trade. Why should people be forced to carry potentially deadly instruments around with them?" the burly, longhaired Midwesterner asked.

While Pasco's Indiana program is walking the legal tightrope, other NEPs are unambiguously illegal -- but going ahead anyway. In Orange County, California, for example, local officials have refused to declare the health emergency required to authorize needle exchanges, but local activists refuse to wait. In an underground program there that began in January 2004, some 400 people are now receiving an average of 2,500 clean needles each month. "Many of my friends are recovering heroin addicts, and I've lost a few to the drug, too," said the Orange County exchanger, who asked to remain anonymous. "I never slammed, but most of the people I ran with did. I was a painter, but I broke my hand, so I was looking to do something with a larger impact. Here was a place where something needed to be done. These people were sharing needles and sharpening them on matchbooks. Before I started the exchange, maybe one in 10 had severe abscesses and two in 10 had severe tracking from repetitive shooting-up," he told DRCNet.

It's not just handing out needles, said the Orange County worker. "I educate them, give them literature and information about how to use safely," he said. "It's strictly underground; I don't have any interaction with the cops. But that also means it's strictly home-delivery because we can't have a fixed site. The cops already hassle and search people constantly."

In Orange County, it may be primarily heroin that people are injecting, but there, as elsewhere, methamphetamine increasingly looms large on the horizon. Meth was certainly on the minds of conference participants. In a Saturday afternoon session, Naomi Braine of New York's Beth Israel Medical Center discussed risk behavior among speed shooters in NEPs, while Luciano Colonna of the Harm Reduction Project explained links between meth users and HIV and Hep C infection rates in the West and Midwest. The issue will be explored in much greater detail at a national methamphetamine conference set for Salt Lake City in August, Colona was eager to point out.

Relations with the larger AIDS movement were also a hot and sensitive topic at the conference. With attendees complaining that mainstream AIDS activists treat NEPs like the red-headed step-child of the movement, NASEN devoted an entire morning session to discussing whether and on what terms to accept an invitation to participate in the Campaign to End AIDS (C2EA). In the end, the organization agreed to sign on to the campaign, but only after obtaining promises from organizers that its input would be sought and its issues included in the C2EA platform. Foremost among those issues are lifting the ban on federal funding of NEPs.

"The AIDS groups don't want to recognize us," said Pasco. "They're scared about their funders. They call what they do harm reduction, but harm reduction came from small actors, from ACT-UP, from grassroots gay and lesbian groups that did the actual work of harm reduction. Harm reduction without needle exchange is not harm reduction," he said.

Though its members spend time in the trenches daily dealing with some of the most outrageous unintended consequences of drug prohibition, NASEN devoted little time and discussion to the bigger picture. Among the numerous panelists at the event, only Cliff Thornton of Efficacy, the Connecticut-based anti-prohibitionist group, drew the explicit connection in his presentation, "Beyond Needle Exchange and Prohibition."

"We have to talk about race, class, and prohibition," Thornton told DRCNet. "The answer is not federal funding of NEPs or lifting laws on syringe sales, the answer ultimately is ending prohibition." While Thornton was disappointed the issue didn't get more play in Tacoma, at least the needle exchangers were facing it, he said. "The drug reform movement in general is not prepared to grapple with these issues, and that's a mistake."

NASEN may not be ready to slay the giant of prohibition, but after three days of meetings, workshops, and informal networking, participants at the conference came away refreshed, invigorated, and ready to continue the good fight.

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5. DRCNet Interview: Ten Years of Organizing Hard Drug Users -- Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users

In the United States, hard drug users are demonized. They are in Canada, too, even in Vancouver, home to one of the hemisphere's largest concentrations of users in the city's Downtown East Side. But in Vancouver, hard drug users have organized themselves in a way that has allowed them to take a prominent role in shaping the city's cutting edge drug policies, which include North America's only officially sanctioned safe injection site and heroin maintenance program. Taking a lead role in organizing the city's drug users is VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, and taking a lead role in VANDU is Ann Livingston, who has been with the group from the beginning. After hearing Livingston address the North American Syringe Exchange Network conference in Tacoma last weekend, Drug War Chronicle interviewed her about how VANDU has brought power to the powerless and a measure of justice to the Downtown East Side.

Drug War Chronicle: VANDU celebrated its 10th anniversary last month. How did the notion of organizing drug users come about?

Ann Livingston and colleagues at the VANDU office
(courtesy VANDU)
Ann Livingston: I had recently moved to the Downtown Eastside and lived in a co-op housing unit and was working with some quite radical people organizing welfare recipients. I had also been involved in the community -- the Downtown Eastside Youth Society board ran a needle exchange program, and I met people who were serious about organizing there. And then I met Melissa Eror, who put out a magazine called "Hype," and I was sort of taken aback that a drug user was putting out a 'zine. I attended a lecture by Larry Campbell -- that was when he was still the coroner -- and Melissa stood up during the Q&A and said she had been using heroin for 20 years. She was really out about her drug use! She spoke articulately about it, and I had just taken an organizing course and I thought it was really important to organize the drug users. We had our first meeting on April 19, 1995. We spent about $100 for pizza and pop and we had about 20 people show up for the first meeting.

It escalated pretty rapidly. Remember, this was at a time when police were macing people they caught shooting up, and this was happening while we had one of the highest drug overdose rates in the world. We had 250 overdose deaths in the city that year -- that number has dropped to about 80 last year. I used a very neighborly style of organizing -- people knew my home phone number and address -- and the meetings morphed into us getting an $8,000 grant from a Vancouver foundation. Much to their shock and dismay, we used it to rent the cheapest storefront we could find in the Downtown Eastside, and that became our first office. We would do two meetings a week, one for users and one for volunteers.

These are people who had never been asked what they think will solve these problems, so you try to get them to talk more than you. We went around the room with each person saying his piece: What would a drug user group do? What would you like to get out of this group? These are people who have been penned up for years in windowless rooms and prison cells; they've had time to think, and they don't suffer from the sense that they've been treated justly. I don't have to convince them there's a problem.

And you learn some insights. There were people who said, "I never got a police beating I didn't deserve." What?! Who believes that? Someone who's been beaten by the police repeatedly. That's not something middle-class people expect or accept. And when I hear that, I bring the police in and ask them to comment, and they say, "Oh, no, that's not proper policing," and all the drug users get to hear the cops say that. There is consciousness raising going on.

Chronicle: How did you get drug users to become part of the process?

Livingston: My organizing training taught me that you have to listen to the people and let them tell you what the issues are. I would take tons of notes and try to boil down the issues, like police harassment, no place to go, treatment at the hospital, and then I would ask them, "Am I right? Is that what you meant?" That's where an organizer has work to do. Once the issues were identified, it was a matter of being heard. At first it was just going to police board meetings -- and it took a year before a drug user would come with me! But then, if anyone had a meeting on anything, we were there. A new neighborhood action plan seeking comment? We were there. A hearing at the health board about a problem at the hospital? We were there. We would come in with a bunch of drug users -- making sure everyone had eaten first and coming together as a group -- and they do look like addicts. But they speak honestly and thoughtfully and from the heart. And it was great. They would come to meetings with me, and then finally, the first user would get up and speak. And then they just light up like Christmas trees. At those health board meeting, those addicts talking about their lives was a story, and the press was there. Pretty soon we were in the media constantly.

And the public expression of pain is subversive. Canadians are good people. If they knew what was happening in the Downtown Eastside they would help us, so every time there was an increase in overdose deaths, we would do a demo. We had addicts saying, "My buddy died in my arms yesterday." It was honest and heartfelt. My job was to get out of the way and figure out how to let these voices be heard directly.

Chronicle: How do you get people -- police, politicians, local businesses -- to respect what many of them would consider a bunch of junkies?

Livingston: Our first volunteer gig was patrolling the port-o-potties the city set up to stop people from going to the bathroom in the alleys. Our people watched them to make sure they didn't get vandalized. That was because of another meeting I went to where the problem was being discussed and they asked for people to help. We volunteered. That's the way you begin to get respect, to move from being a criminalized drug addict to someone articulate who is doing volunteer work to improve things in his community. VANDU was a vehicle for that, and we did it with active drug users, which presents its own problems. What do you do about the people who will tweak? We tell them if they can't not use for four hours, don't volunteer. People fought long and hard to get these little bits of work, and community volunteers are very respected, so don't screw it up. But through VANDU active drug users can and do volunteer. If they went to most other agencies as volunteers, they would be told come back when you're clean.

Chronicle: VANDU pushed the boundaries from the beginning, didn't it?

Livingston: Never ask permission. Do what you know to be right, do your research. That's what we did with the needle exchange program at Main and Hastings. Before anyone knows it, you're already doing it. The authorities were shocked -- we were giving out a thousand needles a night, and it led to a big fight between the health people and the cops. The cops came with 17 officers and gave us a ticket for blocking pedestrian traffic and took our table away. That's how it was in the early years -- heartbreaking and overwhelming. You just ran on adrenaline. The disaster around us couldn't be exaggerated.

Later, it was the same thing with our safe injection site. We didn't ask for permission. We had active drug users supervising an injection site where 200 people would come on the busiest nights. We had two user volunteers who were paid $10 each and given a pound of coffee and some tobacco, and they were to watch the doors, man the phones, revive overdoses. It was bizarre. We had no money. It was crazy in there, but it was better than the alley. We called it the Back Alley Drop-In. The street nurses would come by frequently. The police would come by frequently, too, but they didn't shut us down.

Chronicle: What is the current membership of VANDU, in numbers and in kinds of people involved?

Ann Livingston: There are 1600 names on the VANDU list, although some of them are dead. But we don't take their names of the list for two reasons. First, those deaths are the foundation of our activism. Every meeting ends with a moment of silence for those who have gone. The idea is that these people did not die in vain; that we will act. Also, if you take someone's name off the list and they're not really dead, they don't like that. I think there are about 5,000 addicts down here. We probably had 800 active volunteers at our peak, and currently have about 400. And there are about 150 or 200 people who will at least come in and drink a cup of coffee. In addition to current or former drug users, we also have a few hundred supporting, nonvoting members.

We very consciously describe VANDU as composed of drug users and former drug users. That gives people some cover. I can stand there and say I represent VANDU and people don't know which group I'm in. It's none of their fucking business, anyway.

Chronicle: What is VANDU doing these days?

Livingston: We have several initiatives as well as a full slate of meetings. We have alley patrols that go out for two hours a day four days a week, two people together, and sometimes a street nurse, to go through the alleys and knock on hotel doors and check on people. They get $10 each. We also do hospital visits -- two people go twice a week. And there are five meetings a week. On Tuesday, we have the rock users group, where everyone is focused on what we're going to do about public rock smoking -- a safe inhalation site, perhaps? On Wednesdays, it's the crystal meth group. That's fairly new, and those people are super-marginalized. People like to pretend that meth is a low-class drug, but everybody's doing it, right? Also on Wednesday, there is the meeting of the BC Association of People on Methadone. There are 8,000 people on methadone in BC, and they need some sort of voice. On Thursday, the VANDU board meets. On Friday, it's the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society, VANDU's aboriginal council. In all Canada, there are no other aboriginal health groups that are into harm reduction. Our group formed a society just so they could get some funding. We also have meetings focused on AIDS, Hep C, housing. The meetings are a way for marginalized people to begin to work their way into the organization. And all the newbies get to volunteer in the office. Most of these meetings are full. If we had the money, we could have meetings like these at three or four locations in Vancouver alone. There would be hundreds more drug users in meetings every day. They want to be engaged.

Chronicle: Is the VANDU model one that is transferable to other cities in political climes that are perhaps not so friendly as Vancouver?

Livingston: What we need is a drug user organizing school. When we make up a curriculum and a methodology, we can expand this. We need a lot more people with these sorts of skills to do drug users' groups. Drug users are creative people. If they can score drugs clandestinely day in and day out, they can do a user group. That's easy compared to trying to score drugs all day.

You can do this anywhere. Even in Vancouver, we were up against difficult dynamics, and we really started from nowhere. Every city has a place where the drug addicts go. Go there. Don't say you're going to start a drug user group. Instead, we want to get people with drug issues together to talk about those issues. This gets them thinking about their community; everyone knows somebody worse off than they are. Then you get them thinking what can we do? Find some way they can help. Maybe it's giving out safe injection kits. Whatever it is, people will jump at an opportunity to help; it brings out their good side.

It's all in persistence. You keep plodding along. You know there are 5,000 addicts in the city, and once they get past thinking you're a Christian or a cop, you can start getting somewhere. You don't know if you're going to be successful until you try a meeting a week. If no one comes, you have to ask people why no one is there. Is it the wrong place? The wrong time? And once you get a good time and place, you want to keep it the same. These people aren't carrying daytimers, so we use a lot of postering to remind people. Drug addicts are some of the busiest people on earth; they tend to get quite a bit done. They don't get days off, and they'll work you to death. It is hard to get time off because of the urgency of the situation.

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6. Announcement: DRCNet/Perry Fund Event to Feature US Rep. Jim McDermott, June 1 in Seattle

Jim McDermott
We are pleased to announce that DRCNet is coming to Seattle! In partnership with the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project, we invite you to the first west coast stop in our national Perry Fund Campaign, a series of forum/fundraiser events in cities around the country drawing attention to the drug provision of the Higher Education Act while raising money to provide scholarship assistance to students who have lost their financial aid because of drug convictions.

Congressman Jim McDermott has agreed to deliver the keynote address for this event, which will take place on the evening of June 1st in downtown Seattle. We hope that you'll join DRCNet, KCBA, Rep. McDermott and others for this exciting occasion.

Emceeing the event will be KCBA's Roger Goodman, and additional speakers will include Andy Ko, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington; Dan Merkle, Center for Social Justice; Lisa Cipollone, Sen. Maria Cantwell's Office; Cindy Beavon, Students for Sensible Drug Policy; David Borden, DRCNet; others to be announced.

All proceeds will benefit the John W. Perry Fund, providing scholarships for students who have lost financial aid because of drug convictions while memorializing a hero of 9/11 and champion of drug policy reform and civil liberties. The Perry Fund is a project of DRCNet Foundation.

The Details: The event will take place on Wednesday, June 1, 2005, from 6:00-8:00pm, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel-Seattle, Third Floor Garden Pavilion, 1113 6th Ave., Seattle, WA. Please RSVP to [email protected] or (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, donations requested.

Jim McDermott is United States Representative for Washington's 7th Congressional District. Born in Chicago, IL on December 28, 1936, he was the first member of his family to attend college, and went on to finish medical school. After completing his medical residency and military service, he made his first run for public office in 1970 and served in the State Legislature from the 43rd district in Washington State. In 1974, he ran for the State Senate, and held the office for three terms. In 1987, after 15 years of legislative service, Rep. McDermott decided to leave politics and continue in public service as a Foreign Service medical officer based in Zaire, providing psychiatric services to Foreign Service, AID, and Peace Corps personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. When the 7th district Congressional seat later became open, he returned from Africa to run for the US House of Representatives. He began serving in 1989 to the 101st Congress and is currently serving his 9th term.

John Perry
Background on the Perry Fund: DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help students affected by the law stay in school. Though we can directly assist only a fraction of the 34,000 would-be students who've lost aid this year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.

Please join us on June 1st in Seattle to thank Rep. McDermott for his support of this issue while raising money to help students stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.

About John Perry: John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is

Visit for further information on DRCNet. Visit for further information on the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit and online.


David Borden
Executive Director

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7. Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

From the Big Apple to the Heartland, prohibition-related police corruption knows no bounds. This week's stories include both corruption based on good, old-fashioned greed and the perhaps even more corrosive corruption of law enforcement officers abusing citizens and the law itself in their efforts to fight the drug war. It takes all kinds. Let's get to this week's roll of dishonor:

In Topeka, fall-out continues from the February arrest of then Topeka narcotics officer Thomas Pfortmiller. The Kansas narc was indicted on more than a hundred counts of misuse of public funds, theft, perjury, forgery and official misconduct for allegedly ripping off police drug-buy money. But it now appears that wasn't all Pfortmiller was grabbing. The Topeka Capital Journal reported Saturday that prosecutors in Shawnee County were forced to drop the charges in a major methamphetamine bust because the evidence -- 4.5 pounds of speed valued at between $30,000 and $200,000 -- had gone missing. According to police records, Pfortmiller checked it out of an evidence locker in 2003, supposedly to be taken to a federal laboratory, but it never arrived. Two other cases in which Pfortmiller apparently made off with the evidence have already been resolved, the newspaper reported.

In St. Louis, veteran police officer Reginald Williams is on trial for allegedly planting drugs on two people. The former "Officer of the Year" arrested a woman at a day care center for possession of crack cocaine, but underreported the amount he seized and instead claimed it was in the possession of two men he also arrested. Williams' arrest report "was fabrication from beginning to end," said Assistant US Attorney David Rosen as the case began. Sleazily enough, the framing of the pair did not come to light until Williams partner, former officer Terrell Carter, who has since left the profession and who has admitted repeatedly beating a handcuffed suspect in the case, ratted off Williams to the feds. Williams is being tried on two counts of deprivation of civil rights, three counts of obstruction of justice, one count of making a false statement to a federal official and one count of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Several other officers have been granted immunity from prosecution in a trial that is certain to further tarnish the reputation of St. Louis' finest. Meanwhile, St. Louis prosecutors are reviewing other drug cases in which Williams was involved. Last year, one defendant was freed from prison after prosecutors determined Williams' testimony was no longer believable.

In Westwood, Massachusetts, police officer Kevin McCarthy was fired by town selectmen on March 28 for a series of misdeeds, including stealing drugs, threatening people, illegally searching cars and homes, and offering favors to suspects in exchange for drugs, the Boston Herald reported. McCarthy was fired after a 12-page report on accusations against him found "credible evidence" of misconduct. In one case, McCarthy allegedly took Oxycontin from an elderly woman's home during a medical call and when questioned, claimed it was a joke and that he intended to plant it on a fireman. In another case, McCarthy is alleged to have offered to overlook a minor traffic violation in exchange for drugs. In other cases, the report accuses McCarthy of conducting illegal searches, seizing drugs in traffic stops but failing to turn them in, and taking drugs from the police evidence locker. No word yet on whether criminal charges will be filed.

In New York City, a drug-related police scandal that emerged last year just keeps on going. In October, two NYPD Narcotics Division detectives, Julio Vasquez and Thomas Rachko, pleaded guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug dealers. The lax supervision revealed by their arrest and conviction led to 20 police officers being removed from a watchdog unit that was supposed to oversee the narcs. Those inspectors were disciplined for failing to properly oversee the overtime claimed by Brooklyn South narcs, some 70 of whom were found to have falsified their time sheets. On Monday, the New York Post reported that an additional 13 veteran supervisors and detectives -- virtually the entire "investigations unit" charged with scrutinizing narcotics, vice, and car crime cops -- have been slapped with departmental misconduct charges. The charges range from failing to supervise to misusing time to shaping their work schedules to fit their personal lives. Some supervisors were claiming overtime pay for work they did not do or otherwise cutting corners in their jobs. "They were supposed to be watching search warrants, checking on roll calls and watching overtime," a source told the Post. "But basically they were part of the problem, too."

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8. Bad Cops II: South Texas Drug Task Force Fights Dirty

Texas state senator Juan Hinojosa is no stranger to drug policy reform, having authored bills that restricted the use of undercover police agents in the wake of the Tulia scandal. This year, he has sponsored two bills that have aroused the ire of at least one Texas drug task force, and those cops are fighting back. Hinojosa is sponsoring one bill that would .

As reported in great detail on Scott Henson's excellent Texas criminal justice blog, the South Texas Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force, one of three in the state that have refused state oversight, has fought back by releasing video of a traffic stop where Hinojosa was pulled over on US Highway 281 as he headed south. Task force commander Jaime Garza told the McAllen Monitor that Hinojosa was targeting his group. "I believe that these two bills are geared at us," Garza said. "Hinojosa was trying to say we're all rogues, and I don't go for that. Hell, no," he said.

But if Garza hoped the traffic stop video would aid his cause, he appears to be mistaken. First, the video demonstrates all too clearly why people like Hinojosa feel the task forces need to be reined in. Hinojosa was stopped because the factory tint on his SUV windows was "too dark" and because he "swerved" when he waved at the officer. Such "pretextual" stops are common operating procedure for highway drug law enforcers, who will then seek permission to search the vehicle.

And they are especially common in the task force's turf. According to an ACLU study of highway interdiction in Texas, the South Texas task force reported vehicle searches in fully one-third of traffic stops, with a whopping 93% of them being "consent searches." In other words, in only 7% of the vehicle searches conducted by the task force did its officers have any reason to conduct a search. By way of comparison, only 12% of San Antonio police searches were consent searches and only 14% of Austin police searches. "That's a sign the task force is fishing for assets, not just enforcing the law," said Henson.

"These drug task forces are out there just interdicting and stopping people illegally without probable cause asking to search their vehicles and pretty much harassing citizens of the state of Texas," Hinojosa told fellow legislators at an April 12 hearing. "And all they are trying to do is see if they can find money that they can seize to fund their operations. To me what they do is illegal, improper, and not good public policy," he said.

"Let me tell you I've been stopped several times by drug task forces that don't come under jurisdiction of the DPS," said Hinojosa. "They don't need probable cause to stop you. They just stop you. They will profile you which is illegal to stop you, ask to search your vehicle without probable cause which is also illegal, and I refuse. But a lot of citizens don't know that and what they do is go through your car, snoop around, see what they can find and let you go if they don't find any money. Those drug task forces have no business operating in our state."

And now, through its attempt to embarrass and retaliate against Hinojosa for going after task force abuses, the South Texas Specialized Crime and Narcotics Task Force is squarely in the limelight and helping to make the case for its own abolition. On Monday, Hinojosa's bills were placed on the Senate intent calendar -- typically a signal that they will pass.

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9. Prisons: US Inmate Population Continues to Swell, Now at 2.1 Million

The US prison system grew by about 900 prisoners a week between June 2003 and June 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported this week. With an additional 48,000 inmates, the US prison population is growing at an annual rate of 2.3% and now tops 2.1 million, the agency reported.

Southern Correctional Institution, Troy, NC
Although the crime rate has been in a free fall for the past decade, people are being sent to prison faster than they are being released, said the report's co-author, Paige Harrison. Last year, the number of new admissions to prison exceeded the number of releases by more than 8,000, the study found.

According to Harrison, the ever-increasing prison population is attributable to "get tough" sentencing policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. Among the policies cited by Harrison were mandatory minimum drug sentences, three-strikes laws, and "truth in sentencing" laws that get rid of parole. "As a whole most of these policies remain in place," she said. "These policies were a reaction to the rise in crime in the '80s and early 90s."

Among other findings:

  • With 726 prisoners per 100,000 residents, the United States imprisons people at a rate nearly 10 times that of other democracies.
  • 12.6% of all black men in their late twenties were behind bars, compared to 3.6% for Hispanic males and 1.7% for whites.
  • Women remain the fastest growing segment of the prison population, increasing by more than 2.9% to 103,000. Twenty-five years ago, there were 12,000 women prisoners in the US.
  • Three prisons systems -- the federal, Texas, and California -- hold over 100,000 prisoners each, with the feds in the lead at 179,000, Texas at 166,000, and California at 166,000. Driven largely by drug offenders, the federal prison population continues to grow at a rate more than twice that of the states.

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10. Drug Czar: Walters Under Attack By Prohibitionists

Washington's prohibition establishment is beginning to eat its own tail, according to a report this week in the National Journal. According to the high-dollar Washington insider publication, drug czar John Walters is under attack from the very people who should be his allies -- members of Congress, police, even current and former staffers of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The Dutch don't like John Walters either.
The ONDCP under Walters stands accused of "retreating from its mission, abandoning key programs without consulting with Congress, and losing (or forcing out) key staff members with years of experience," the Journal reported.

Walters was even slagged by arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), chair of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. Walters "is on the verge of gutting his own office," said Souder. "This is a period of more turmoil than we have had since the Bush administration took over, inside ONDCP."

Walters' reign as drug czar has been marked by personnel problems and the loss of key senior officials at ONDCP. One former senior official, John Gregrich, told the Journal Walters began "harassing" career employees with petty conduct complaints designed to punish them or persuade them to resign. Another problem was former deputy demand director Andrea Barthwell, who was the subject of a hostile workplace complaint filed by Gregrich. An ONDCP investigator in that case found, "The management method currently being employed has created an atmosphere of intimidation."

Barthwell left in July 2004 in a failed bid for a US Senate seat from Illinois, and most of her senior aides left with her. Neither Barthwell nor her aides have been replaced. "There has been a flushing of the demand reduction office," a Democratic congressional staffer told the Journal. "There has been a problematic lack of depth" in ONDCP since then, said a Republican staffer.

Walters and ONDCP are also under attack for isolating themselves from their putative allies. "Under the previous administration, as the president of a national group, we frequently met with the director and other ONDCP executive staff," said Ronald Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition. "We have only had one meeting like that since Walters took over four years ago, and that meeting happened right after he took over, and we haven't had one since. Without a dialogue, sitting in a policy office inside the Beltway, how do you make great decisions if you don't ask anybody?" Brooks asked.

But it is Walters' support of the 2006 Bush anti-drug budget, which cuts the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, and other demand-reduction programs, that has really angered his erstwhile prohibitionist pals. Under the budget, HIDTA is set to lose more than half its funding and be transferred from ONDCP to the Justice Department. The program was "unable to demonstrate results," Walters said in defending the cuts.

Rep. Souder told the Journal he was upset that Walters and the administration had failed to consult with anyone outside the White House about the cuts, even though they have the potential to significantly impact anti-drug programs nationwide. "It's the arrogance of it which upset me so much," Souder said. "They didn't talk to anybody."

Now you know how we feel, Mr. Souder.

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11. Marijuana March: Global March May 7 in More Than 180 Cities

If it is almost May, it is also almost time for the annual march for marijuana legalization coordinated by Dana Beal and his New York City-based organization, Cures Not Wars. Now in their fourth decade, the marches began in New York in 1972 and have since spread across the country and the planet. This year, the marches are scheduled for May 7, although there may be some local variation.

Global Marijuana March poster
Earlier this week, organizers announced that more than 180 cities will have marches, up from last year's total of 166. "It looks like we are well on our way to rebuilding the Million Marijuana March up to its high-water mark of 236 cities," Beal said. March organizers have already called on all of this year's cities as well as ones that may have dropped out to sign up now for 2006. "We think that we have real growth potential in India, Australia and West Africa. We'd like to have 400 cities in 2006," he said.

Many of the new cities are in Eastern Europe, including Budapest, Sofia, Kiev, and Prague. In Budapest, the march will mark the culmination of a "civil obedience" campaign where drug users have turned themselves in to authorities to protest the drug laws (See related story this issue). Other cities holding marches this year include just about every major European capital, dozens of smaller European cities, the Latin American metropolises of Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Rio de Janeiro, as well as Auckland, Capetown, Jerusalem, and Tokyo.

In the US, protestors calling for marijuana legalization will march in dozens of cities ranging from New York and San Francisco to Albany, NY; Birmingham, AL; Colorado Springs, CO; Dover, DE; and Rapid City, SD; Spokane, WA; Traverse City, MI; Visalia, IL; and Wilkes-Barre, PA.

This year, the Global March campaign has sharpened its message by emphasizing public health and not just medical marijuana. Organizers estimated that more than half a million lives a year could be saved by switching consumption from alcohol and tobacco to pot. And it's not the smoke, said Beal, it's the nicotine. "Even chewing tobacco will give you cancer of the lip and gum, while there has never been a report of stomach cancer from marijuana brownies," he noted.

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12. Holland: Ministers Squabble Over Cannabis -- One Calls For Legalization, Has Public Opinion on His Side

The conservative Dutch government's attempted hard line against cannabis in a country famed for its tolerance of the herb was shaken this week as one cabinet member went off the reservation by calling for the complete legalization of "soft drugs," i.e. cannabis, throughout Europe. Those comments contradicted the official anti-cannabis line laid down by the Dutch Justice Ministry, but, according to polls released Wednesday, reflect the sentiments of Dutch voters and local elected officials.

While the Christian Democrat-led Dutch government has been making noises about cracking down on the country's famed cannabis coffee shops ever since it was elected, this week's furor began on Monday, when Minister for Democratic Reform Alexander Pechtold told reporters he supported the complete legalization of cannabis in Europe. The comments came as he visited the border city of Venlo, long a favorite of "drug tourists" from nearby Germany and Belgium. Officials there and in other border towns are examining how to deal with the influx of dope-seeking foreigners. While Pechtold said cannabis should be legalized, in the meantime he supported the proposal by some mayors for the creation of a "cannabis boulevard" on the outskirts of border towns where coffee shops could be relocated to minimize problems.

That same day, Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, an anti-cannabis hard-liner, was busily rejecting suggestions from mayors in the southern Limburg region to legalize cannabis. "Southern Limburg would become the narcotics state of Europe," Donner warned. As for Pechtold's remarks, those were a "beginner's error," said Donner.

By Tuesday, Donner was downplaying the controversy. "It is a lot of commotion about nothing," he told reporters. "Essentially, we have no difference of opinion."

But there is indeed a difference of opinion within the Dutch government. The majority Christian Democrats are keen to implement a tougher policy on coffee shops and have introduced legislation making it easier to shut them down to eliminate disturbances. But Pechtold's party, Democracy 66, the junior member in the ruling coalition, calls for the legalization of cannabis. That position puts D66 more in line with the cannabis policies of the opposition Labor and Green parties, both of which greeted Pechtold's remarks warmly.

"There is now a minister who dares to think," said Labor Party leader Woulter Bos.

Pechtold's pro-legalization position also won support from Dutch mayors and citizens polled on the issue this week. In one poll, the newspaper Trouw interviewed the mayor's of Holland's 30 largest cities, and found that two-thirds supported legalization. And in a sounding of public opinion, Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond found that 49% supported legalization, 15% wanted the current policy of tolerance to continue, while only 33% wanted a more restrictive policy.

The brouhaha over cannabis policy has also reached the Dutch parliament. Hearings were set for Wednesday on the issue. But those hearings were upstaged by a joint statement that day by Pechtold and Donner in which Pechtold caved in and embraced the government's position against creating "cannabis boulevards" and that cannabis legalization is not an option for Holland.

Under current Dutch law, the coffee shops are technically illegal but tolerated and regulated. Cannabis cultivation remains a crime that is prosecuted.

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13. Europe: British Heroin Maintenance Program to Expand

A British program that provides free heroin to addicts is set to expand in June, the National Health Service's Treatment Agency announced last week. In an ongoing pilot program, some 450 heroin users who have not responded to methadone or other treatments currently receive the drug. If that initial run is evaluated as being a success, the number receiving prescription heroin could nearly double, an agency spokesman said.

The British government has responded to advice from its own drug experts that similar heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and Holland have significantly reduced drug-related crime and other social problems. A similar experimental program is now underway in Canada, with addicts in Vancouver already receiving maintenance doses and the program set to expand to Montreal and Toronto.

In addition to 450 people receiving prescription heroin, the ongoing trials include another 3,000 who are receiving methadone. According to the National Health Service, there are 56,000 registered heroin users in Britain, but independent drug experts, such as Drugscope say the actual number of addicts is closer to 200,000.

Participants begin with oral methadone, and if that fails to reduce user criminality, injection methadone is the next step. If that, too, fails, heroin injections are prescribed, along with counseling.

"The majority of patients on substitution medication get oral methadone," said an agency spokesman. "What we are suggesting is that, if that is not working, we may need to look at other forms of treatment. That could be a different dose of methadone. It could be injectable methadone or some may benefit from treatment with injectable heroin. There may be an increase in the numbers receiving injectable heroin, but we are talking about hundreds not thousands."

In the 1970s, as much as 20% of heroin addicts were prescribed heroin under NHS auspices, but that withered away under attacks from prohibitionists. Now, once again, the tide may be turning.

Visit and for background on past UK heroin maintenance programs.

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14. India: Crackdown on Opium Growers Spurs Confusion, Protests in Karnataka

The South Indian city of Bangalore may be a burgeoning high tech center, but it's a different world for farmers out in the province, where payasam, or rice pudding topped with opium poppy, is a favored dish. Farmers there have been growing opium for years, apparently oblivious to laws banning poppy-growing except under license for medical purposes. But that has changed in recent months as police, apparently spurred by mention of the practice in the International Narcotics Control Board's latest annual report, have cracked down, arresting 20 farmers last month and seizing unspecified quantities of opium.

incised papaver specimens (opium poppies
The farmers aren't happy and are planning protests later this month, according to a report in the Times of India. They have also apparently convinced Indian authorities they really did not know their crops were illegal and are seeking to win licenses for legal poppy cultivation.

"The farmers will be set free if they prove they are innocent. I admit they were not aware of the ban. Now, we have distributed literature on the crime of cultivation of opium poppy," said state agriculture minister K. Srinivasa Gowda. Still, the eradication drive would continue unless and until the national government responds to his request for licensed poppy cultivation, he said. "In states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the government has issued licenses for poppy only for medicinal applications. I have requested Mr. Sharad Pawar (the agriculture minister) to use his good offices to get similar licences to our farmers."

In the meantime, farmers are grumbling. "We want the government to withdraw cases against farmers and set them free," said K. Puttanaiah, president of the Karnataka State Farmers Association, which called the planned protest rally. "Will the government imprison farmers who grow sugarcane or tobacco because one can make rectified spirit and cigarettes? This coalition government has no inkling of agricultural practices or problems of farmers," he added.

Some farmers have fled to avoid prison sentences of up to 10 years. "My husband did not know this crop is illegal. The person who gave us the seeds said it was for medicinal plants. I have not slept after the police raided our farm (in March)," said Savithramma, 46, whose husband A. Krishnappa fled as soon as he heard about the raids.

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15. Weekly: This Week in History

April 29, 1996: At a speech at a Miami high school, President Clinton calls for a war on drugs -- for the second time. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar, tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer on May 1 that "everything the president has announced is already being done. There's nothing new here."

April 30, 1984: Colombian Minister of Justice Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who had crusaded against the Medellin cartel, is assassinated by a gang of motorcycle thugs. President Belisario Betancur, who had opposed extradition, announces "We will extradite Colombians." Carlos Lehder is the first to be put on the list. The crackdown forces the Ochoas, Escobar and Rodriguez Gacha to flee to Panama for several months. A few months later, Escobar is indicted for Lara Bonilla's murder and names the Ochoas and Rodriguez Gacha as material witnesses.

May 1971: US Reps. Robert Steele (R-CT) and Morgan Murphy (D-IL) release an explosive report on heroin addiction among US servicemen in Vietnam.

May 1995: The US Sentencing Commission votes 4-3 to fully eliminating the disparity in sentencing for powder vs. crack cocaine offenses. Congress overrides the recommendation, for the first time in the commission's history.

May 1998: Operation Casablanca, the largest money-laundering probe in US history, leads to the indictment of three Mexican and four Venezuelan banks as well as 167 individual arrests.

May 1, 1972: Nobel laureate in economics Milton Friedman writes in Newsweek: "Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order?"

May 1, 2003: The Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003 is signed into law, amending Section 416 of the Controlled Substances Act, known as the "crack house statute," to more directly target organizers of dance events, or raves.

May 2, 2001: The Louisiana Senate votes 29-5 to end mandatory minimum sentencing for possession of small quantities of drugs.

May 3, 1994: Columnist "Dear Abby" writes in her column, "Just as bootleggers were forced out of business in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed, making the sale of liquor legal (thus eliminating racketeering), the legalization of drugs would put drug dealers out of business. It also would guarantee government approved quality, and the tax on drugs would provide an ongoing source of revenue for drug-education programs."

May 5, 2001: The United States is voted off the United Nations Narcotics Control Board, the 13-member body monitoring compliance with UN treaties on substance abuse and illegal trafficking.

May 6, 2001: In an attempt to prevent drug overdoses and sharing of used syringes, Sydney, Australia, opens its first legal heroin injection room. The facility is operated by the Uniting Church, in the Kings Cross Neighborhood.

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16. Events: MPP Galas Next Week and the Following

On May 4 in Washington, DC, and May 9 in Santa Monica, California, the Marijuana Policy Project will be holding a star-studded pair of 10th Anniversary Gala fundraisers. Seats are still available, but should be reserved soon because the events are coming up. Visit for further information or to purchase your tax-deductible tickets online.

In Washington, DC, US Rep. Linda Sanchez will present the Public Face of Reform Award to Montel Williams, and former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders will present the Legislative Leadership Award to US Rep. Sam Farr. Acclaimed comic, actor, and Emmy Award-winning writer Rick Overton will serve as master of ceremonies. Also attending will be US Reps. John Conyers, Barney Frank, and Dennis Kucinich.

In Los Angeles, actor Tommy Chong will accept the Courage Under Fire Award, and Supreme Court plaintiffs Angel Raich and Diane Monson will receive the Marijuana Policy Reform Activist of the Year Award. Cast members Christian Campbell, John Kassir, and Amy Spanger from Showtime's musical remake of "Reefer Madness" will perform songs from the show. Comedian Tom Rhodes will emcee, with music by Ray Benson, Inara George, Lily Holbrook, and dj John Kelley.

Both events will feature clips from the new films "Waiting to Inhale" from Jed Riffe and "Chong's Not Here!" from Josh Gilbert.

Again, visit to support the cause and be part of these exciting events!

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17. Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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

April 30, 11:00am-3:00pm, Washington, DC, "America's in Pain!" 2nd Annual National Pain Rally. At the US Capitol Reflecting Pool, call (662) 247-1471 or visit for further information.

POSTPONED -- CHECK BACK FOR NEW DATE -- April 30, 7:00pm, New York, NY, "Drop-The-Rockathon," all night benefit concert against the Rockefeller drug laws. Sponsored by Revel Arts and Liv-I-Culture Holistic Living Arts Collective, at Space 515, 515 W. 29th St. (between 10th and 11th, A/C/E to 34th St. by subway), admission $10-$20 sliding scale. For further information visit http:// or e-mail [email protected].

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 4-6, Columbus, OH, " COPE Corrections: Opportunity for Professional Excellence," 4th annual conference of the Ohio Community Corrections Association. At the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, 50 N. 3rd St., visit for further information.

May 5, 6:30pm, Washington, DC, "State of Fear," film about Peru's decades of political violence, based on the findings of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and discussion with the producer and a member of the commission. At the Elliott School, 1957 E St., Harry Harding Auditorium (Room 213), admission free. RSVP to Jamie Foster at [email protected].

May 6, 8:30pm, Hollywood, CA, "Howard Has High Hopes," medical marijuana benefit comedy show supporting the Eddy Lepp defense fund, local compassion clubs, and Inglewood's Let's Rap Brothers locally and their Operation Africa, a quality of life activity for Black men afflicted with HIV/AIDS. At the Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., admission $20 or $10 for patients with ID, cash only at the door. Visit for 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.

May 14, 1:30-4:20pm, Laguna Beach, CA, "Rally Against the Failing War on Drugs," with OC NORML, November Coalition and So. Cal NORML. At Laguna Main Beach, call (714) 210-6446 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.

June 4, Columbus, OH, 18th Annual Ohio Hempfest. On the OSU campus, contact Tara Stevens at (614) 299-9675 or Arlette Roeper at [email protected], or visit for further information.

August 13, Washington, DC, "Million Family Members and Friends of Inmates March," sponsored by Family Members of Inmates. Contact Roberta Franklin at (334) 220-4670 or [email protected] for further information.

August 19-20, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science and Response in 2005," First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis C. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Harm Reduction Project, visit 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.

August 28, 11:00am-9:00pm, Olympia, WA, Third Annual Olympia Hempfest. At Heritage Park, visit 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.

November 13-16, Markham, Ontario, "Issues of Substance," Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Conference 2005. At Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa, visit for info.

February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit or contact +612-9660 9111 or [email protected].

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

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