(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #386 -- 5/13/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
Largely absent from that debate has been the much longer-running, and thoroughly bipartisan, program of government-sponsored anti-drug media campaigns. These include but are not limited to paid advertising buys � which are generally labeled as from the government, to be fair � but go far beyond that. Just as advocacy organizations pitch news media and supply content to them to garner exposure beyond what their advertising budgets could purchase, so does the government:
But often the attention drawn to a drug is unrelated to its popularity or dangers. Often NIDA's spin-meisters don't show good faith to the meaning of a study, but instead promote their own angle which may have little relation to the actual findings. Big drug busts aren't always justified, the defendants sometimes are innocent, but prosecutors don't seem to have a problem denouncing their targets and tearing them to moral shreds before the world long before their guilt has been established.
When taxpayer resources are exploited by public officials with an agenda, freedom is undermined. US political leaders and others have rightfully criticized the Putin government's squelching of independent media in Russia, for example, as a step backward from that nation's young experiment in democracy. But the outright closure of private sector media outlets is only an extreme form of government control of political discourse. When officials use their power and budgets to manipulate attitudes and opinions, in ways going beyond their appropriate participation in public dialogue and debate, and when most media outlets allow them to do it, that also runs counter to the democratic spirit � no less so just because "drugs are bad" in some ways, though broad public acceptance of anti-drug campaigns means there is less criticism fielded of propaganda by the government in the drug arena.
Still, the record shows that even the sacred cow of anti-drug media can sometimes be taken on successfully. Five years ago, journalist Dan Forbes exposed a program in which the Office of National Drug Control Policy reviewed scripts and awarded credits toward commercial ad buys when networks incorporated anti-drug content in their TV shows. It was a scandal � members of Congress even invited Forbes to Washington to testify � and the practice was put to a stop. Clearly we have much further to go, but perhaps there is hope � democracy does still function, after a fashion, anyway, even for drug policy. People don't always recognize when the government is trying to manipulate them through the media, but they don't really like it when they do.
Perhaps a standard should be put in place that restricts the ability of government agencies to use the media to promote their agendas. For example, research funded by NIDA could be announced to the press by the researchers or the universities they work for, not by the NIDA press office. Perhaps police and prosecutors should be barred from holding press conferences when they have merely indicted a suspect but not won a conviction. It ought to be possible to craft standards of conduct for government officials communicating through the mass media in their official capacities, in a way that does not stifle discussion of important issues or infringe on constitutional protections for freedom of speech.
Any restrictions on speech should be carefully considered before being enacted or implemented, even restrictions such as these to be placed on the government. But what is clear is that the willingness of drug warriors to lie over and over to the public through mass media is shameful, and one way or another should be stopped � for the sake of better drug policy and for democracy � and, as drug warriors are fond of saying, for the children.
Alaska remains the only state in the union where adults may legally possess marijuana, after the state legislature ended its session without acting on a bill sponsored by Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) to recriminalize it. With Murkowski's political future uncertain and the legislature having demonstrated its lack of a sense of urgency on the issue, prospects for the bill's revival next year are hazy.
While Murkowski had threatened to add the bill to a special session later this year if it didn't come to a vote during the regular session, that will not happen, Oeschlin said. "The bill is not on the special session calendar," she told DRCNet.
When the Alaska Supreme Court last year upheld a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that legalized the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in the privacy of one's home, Murkowski and the state's law enforcement establishment vowed to override the courts and recriminalize it. In January, Murkowski acted on that promise, sending the legislature a bill that would not only recriminalize marijuana possession, but also create felonies out of pot offenses that are currently misdemeanors.
For Murkowski, passage of the bill would have been only a first step to reversing the marijuana law because the new law would conflict with state law as interpreted by the courts and would thus face a quick challenge. The bill was carefully crafted, however, to lay the groundwork for a state high court review of the original 1975 decision, which found that marijuana was not harmful enough to merit the invasion of citizens' privacy to arrest them for using it at home. In that decision, the court noted that its finding could be revisited if new information on marijuana's harmfulness was presented. The bill's text asserted that "the legislature finds that marijuana poses a threat to the public health that justifies prohibiting its use and possession in this state, even by adults in private." Passage of a bill incorporating that language could help the state in the inevitable challenge to follow.
While Murkowski and his allies in law enforcement hoped to steamroll the bill through the legislature, the legislature proved remarkably resistant. After being stalled in committee for a month, it looked as if the bill might move to the Senate floor. Last week, as the clock ticked down toward Tuesday's adjournment, Murkowski called the bill a "must have," adding, "I want marijuana this session."
But legislators had other priorities � the budget, public employee retirement funding, workers compensation funding � and they showed little enthusiasm for taking up the marijuana bill. Helping to dampen any enthusiasm was a strong showing by both drug reformers and the citizens of Alaska.
Former deputy corrections commissioner Bill Parker led the blocking effort for Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control, the in-state group that works in conjunction with MPP to advance the cause of marijuana law reform in Alaska. The Juneau lobbyist had a bad feeling when Murkowski first announced the attempted rollback, he told DRCNet. "When I came down here, I thought we were going to get rolled," he said.
That is certainly what Murkowski and the bill's backers had in mind. It didn't work out that way, thanks to a good defensive effort by reformers, Parker said. In hearings earlier this session, reformers and expert witnesses effectively refuted the litany of charges Murkowski and his allies were making against marijuana. "MPP and the ACLU of Alaska produced a lot of expert witnesses and a stack of testimony four feet high," he said. "We also had radio ads asking people to send in cards and letters to their representatives, and that had a huge response," Parker said.
It wasn't just organized opposition. The issue generated dozens of letters to the editor from concerned citizens. "There was all sorts of organic stuff happening," Parker said. "We had witnesses show up who we had never even heard of." That should come as no surprise in a state where 44% of the electorate voted to legalize marijuana in November. The state's three largest newspapers also editorialized against the bill.
When asked what happened to Murkowski's push, Parker laughed. "The governor has maranoia, but the legislature doesn't suffer from that," he said. "It didn't really have a champion in the legislature, no one really pushed for it -- a lot of legislators told us they didn't even want to vote on it. Both caucuses in both houses were reluctant to touch this," he said.
Rep. Kevin Meyer, co-chair of the house finance committee agreed. "It just was not a real top priority of anybody but the governor," he told the Anchorage Daily Times.
When given a chance to vote to recriminalize marijuana, Alaska lawmakers turned it down. But that does not mean reformers should be complacent, Parker warned. "There is another side to this. Yes, the legislature was reluctant to take this up. But if they had had to take recorded votes on this, I think they would have voted for the new prohibition."
A year ago this week, DRCNet reported � and we believe we are the only US media outlet to do so -- on dramatic reforms in Russia's criminal code. Under those hard-won revisions, drug users who formerly faced years in prison for simple drug possession now face only "administrative sanctions" if caught with less than ten times the government-set "average dose." People can possess as much as 20 grams of marijuana or one gram of heroin without fear of a being charged with a serious crime. Since the law came into effect, some 32,000 people have received lighter sentences and more than 12,500 have been released from prison.
The Russian drug agency, which fought bitterly against the new law last year, delaying its implementation for two months with endless haggling over "average dose" levels, now complains that the "average dose" measure is too difficult to work with and that the law has undermined law and order. That is debatable, but what the law has clearly undermined is the Russian narcs' ability to create impressive statistics by arresting drug users. According to the Russian government, drug arrests dropped by more than 30,000 compared to the year before the law took effect.
Russia's parliament, the Duma, could consider the proposal by the end of the month, and Russian and international supporters of the reform are sounding the alarm. At an April 27 news conference held to denounce the changes, Lev Levinson, head of the New Drug Policy Program at the Institute of Human Rights, warned that the measure would result in an "unwarranted increase of criminal liability for ordinary drug users," who benefited dramatically from the reform. It is only the "self-interest of law enforcement agencies" that is driving the bill forward, he said.
Levinson cited the progressive stance President Vladimir Putin took on the issue last year, reminding his audience that Putin had introduced last year's bill. And Putin's position has not changed, Levin said, quoting him as saying "It is impossible to solve this problem with prohibition alone" in a recent speech. "What is now happening in the government is in direct contradiction to the president's statements and the interests of our society," Levinson said.
"This proposal has to go to the legal committee of the Duma, and that could happen any time," said Anna Moshkova, program officer for the Open Society Foundation's International Harm Reduction Program, which has sounded the alarm bell internationally on the proposed changes. "We are not sure how quickly they will act, but they want to do it as quickly and quietly as possible," she told DRCNet.
"We are trying to generate some noise, trying to delay the process," she said. "Lots of people have been responding to our call, and there are groups and individuals doing private advocacy, but we won't know until next week what impact we've had."
Moshkova, too, cited the Russian drug police as behind the changes. "The state drug control agency did not want this reform in the first place and has been lobbying all along to get the law changed again," she said. "They say it's not a good idea, but it's really because Putin is personally supervising the agency and asking for results, and they are in hot water because their numbers are down. They want to be able to arrest more people," she said.
The president is placing conflicting demands on the drug agency, suggested Moshkova. "Putin clearly stated that he wants the law to clearly separate drug users from traffickers; he was heard, and that's how the law got changed last year. But he is also applying pressure on the drug control agency to get more results," she said. "We need to get this message to Putin: What is the process where your vision is not being taken seriously? Why do these people have the power to change the law without evaluating how it has worked?"
While reformers and harm reductionists are working to limit the damage, some sort of change for the worse appears likely, Moshkova said. "The law will change," she said flatly. "We don't believe we can stop this completely. But if we can at least delay the process and have some open discussion and independent evaluation, we can at least lessen the harm."
A four-city road show organized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and designed to promote student drug testing as the "silver bullet" to confront teen drug use ended Wednesday in Portland, but the presence of fact-baring, question-asking, literature-providing drug reformers at all four events contributed mightily to taking the luster off the drug testers' pitch.
The drug czar's "School Drug Testing Summits" are part of an aggressive push by ONDCP and the Bush administration to increase the use of student drug testing. The administration has budgeted $25 million in the FY 2006 budget for grants to "support schools in the design and implementation of programs to randomly screen selected students and to intervene with assessment, referral, and intervention for students whose test results indicate they have used illicit drugs." The summits are designed to gin up support for the measure, both among educators, who attend the summits, and the public at large, who reads about them in the press.
But drug reform groups such as Drug Policy Alliance and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which have made student drug testing a particular focus, geared up to counter the ONDCP propaganda in all four cities. They have been joined by individual activists and local groups across the country, as well as other reform groups working the issue.
"This has become a central issue for the Alliance. We see it within the context of a larger movement to erode our civil liberties and maybe end up with drug testing for everybody," said Jenny Kern, DPA point person on school drug testing. "Our office of legal affairs was very involved in the Lindsay Earls case," she said, referring to the 2002 Supreme Court decision okaying suspicionless drug testing of students involved in extracurricular activities. The Supreme Court had already approved the testing of student athletes in 1995.
"Out of that litigation, we decided our strategy would be to craft a campaign to give parents and educators the tools to challenge drug testing in their areas," said Kern. "We've been working very closely with SSDP," Kern said, "and the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, and NORML is very involved in the drug testing issue, too. We are just a few small voices in opposition to drug testing, but because of our presence at the ONDCP summits, they are aware of us and they feel like they have to address our points. We are making them pause."
DPA laid the groundwork for participants in the four cities, Kern said. "We sent out action alerts encouraging our members to go to the summits, we provided an online tool kit, we had fact sheets, fliers, and suggested questions all ready," said Kern. "And we created a web site � http://www.drugtestingfails.org -- where people can access more material."
The first stop on the summit tour was Dallas. Led by ONDCP deputy director Mary Anne Solberg and Drug Free Schools Coalition director David Evans, the panelists told assembled educators and interested citizens that drug testing was a proven means for reducing teen drug use. But while Solberg and her fellow panelists touted science, their spiels were designed to appeal to the emotions. Solberg, for example, regaled the audience with the tale of the high school cheerleader who took one toke from a joint and ended up as a heroin addict seven months later.
Suzy Wills of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas was one of a handful of reformers in the audience for the day-long session. With summit organizers allowing written questions only, Wills and company submitted theirs � and got a response. "They did try to answer some hostile questions from us," she told DRCNet, "but I think they did that to deflect criticism later. We asked why they continued to fight a failed drug war, and no one responded at the time, but in her closing statement, Mary Ann Solberg gave it a try. She said it wasn't a failed drug war, but a successful public health policy. Try telling that to all those people in prison," Wills scoffed.
The tough questions provided an opportunity for Evans, veteran leader of the Drug Free Schools Coalition and tireless proponent of student drug testing, to stick his foot in his mouth, Wills said. "We asked them to explain why all these experts and organizations � we got the list from the DPA book on drug testing -- oppose drug testing. Evans admitted he didn't know why pediatricians were on record opposing it, but then he said the only reason teachers' groups opposed was because they were afraid they would be next. That's not too smart when you're audience is an auditorium full of teachers."
In terms of media coverage, the event was a draw, said Wills. "We got zero media coverage, not us, not the summit, nothing in the local press," she said. "They may have had better luck at the summit itself," Wills suggested. "We had materials at a table at the back and people picked them up, and we made educators aware that there is opposition to this. I think that may discourage them from pushing too hard for drug testing in their schools. But I think the main thing we did was make the drug czar's office aware that there is opposition."
It certainly seemed like they were listening. Nine days later in St. Louis, one of the official presenters waved around the DPA booklet, "Making Sense of Drug Testing: Why Educators Are Saying No," read its executive summary aloud and attempted to refute its arguments, according to an on-scene report from Washington University SSDP member Sam Barclay.
By the time the summit made its way to Pittsburgh last week, anti-drug testing forces had already scored a media coup with DPA drug education expert Marsha Rosenbaum facing off against drug czar John Walters in a battle of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed pieces. And waiting for the summiteers in the audience were SSDP communications and legislative directors Tom Angell and Ross Wilson.
"Our objective was to prevent the ONDCP from being able to present itself as all-knowing and authoritative on the topic of student drug testing in front of an audience of open-minded educators and school officials who are rightly concerned with preventing substance abuse among their students," said Angell. "Since summit attendees were truly concerned with keeping their students safe, our primary argument against drug testing was that it simply does not work."
Angell and Wilson came prepared with materials debunking claims of drug testing's efficacy, including the results of the largest study ever conducted on the topic. Done by researchers at Monitoring the Future, the folks who bring you the annual student drug use reports, that study looked at 722 schools and 76,000 students and found no difference in drug use between schools that test and those that don't.
"ONDCP is well aware of this study and has been attacking its methodology for some time now," Angell told DRCNet. "They have a handful of studies of their own they cite as evidence testing works, but those studies are small and have their own methodological problems. With the help of DPA, we prepared a handout that describes the shortcomings of those studies." Those handouts were made available to educators, he said.
As the reformers mingled, they found educators receptive to their message, Angell said. "Ross and I had encouraging conversations with school officials who were opposed to or skeptical of student drug testing," he reported. "At the conclusion of the summit, an official from the Department of Education asked how many folks were thinking of taking advantage of the federal grant money that's been made available for student drug testing. Only five or six people in the room raised their hands."
When Solberg was asked at the end of the day about the arguments of drug testing opponents, she told a journalist she was "concerned," Angell said. "Clearly, our efforts are meaningful when a federal drug official tells the media that she's concerned about us."
In Portland Wednesday, it was more of the same for the ONDCP School Drug Testing Summit. For Erin Hildebrandt of Parents Ending Prohibition, who attended along with three members of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, it was at times a "surreal" experience. "This was supposed to be about saving our kids through drug testing, but it was more like an entire industry coming in to market themselves to their potential customers," she told DRCNet. "It was a glaring and obvious attempt to manipulate these people through scare tactics."
And thanks in part to the efforts of activists like Burbank and Hildebrandt, it isn't working that well. Even though Solberg touted the grants program to encourage schools to participate, educators at the conference suggested serious misgivings. "This is a very significant personal rights issue, and I would hope that where the money comes from and how the money arrives would not be an issue," Ron Naso, superintendent of the North Clackamas School District, told the Oregonian in an article published Thursday.
"Our group was able to get some of its questions addressed," said MAMA's Sandee Burbank. "For instance, we were able to ask what happens if a student tests positive, where is the money for treatment? And their answer was that was up to the schools. So, they'll help with the drug testing, but then the community has to come up with the money to deal with the results. Exposing educators to those issues is very helpful from our point of view," she told DRCNet. "We think the money is much better spent by engaging with and empowering our youth, helping them to make better choices."
With active, critical participation from opponents of drug testing, the summits have begun to resemble a real discussion, despite the best efforts of ONDCP. At the least, the visible, vocal opposition has put the drug warriors on notice that their distortions and misrepresentations will not go unchallenged. "We didn't let them get away with it anywhere," said SSDP's Angell.
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.
HOST COMMITTEE: Sunil Aggarwal, Sherelyn Anderson, D'Adre Cunningham, Lisa Daugaard, Nancy Eitreim, Christie Hedman, Alison Holcomb, Charley Huffine, Councilmember Nick Licata, David Lovell, Jeff Mero, Dick Monroe, Karen Murray, KL Shannon, Azalee Turner, others TBA.
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.
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 http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Visit http://www.kcba.org/druglaw/ 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 http://www.raiseyourvoice.com and http://www.ssdp.org online.
Seventy-one House Democrats voted with a near-solid Republican majority to approve an "anti-gang" bill that includes many new and increased mandatory minimum sentences, including increased penalties for some drug offenses. H.R. 1279, "The Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005," introduced by Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) in the midst of a manufactured hysteria linking gangs to concerns over illegal immigration and fears of terrorism, is now headed to the Senate.
Among the bill's numerous harsh provisions are sections that redefine gangs as three or more people who commit at least two crimes defined as "gang crimes," and define "gang crimes" as any violent crime, attempt to intimidate witnesses, firearms violations, or drug distribution or trafficking.
Most Orwellian, however, is a section that defines nonviolent drug trafficking offenses as violent crimes. Previously "crimes of violence" only included felonies that involved in a substantial risk of force. Under this bill, however, a violent crime is redefined as "any other offense that is an offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used against the person or property of another, or is an offense punishable under subparagraphs (A), (B), or (C) of section 401(b)(1) of the Controlled Substances Act." In other words, drug trafficking offenses.
According to an analysis by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the bill also:
Or maybe even if you don't.
This week, we revisit some corrupt cops we've covered in the past as new developments unfold.
In Boston, fallout from the arrest and trial of former state narcotics officer Timothy White is now threatening to envelop other state narcotics officers, the Boston Herald reported. White is accused of stealing 27 pounds of cocaine and other drugs while assigned to the Narcotics Inspection Unit in 2002 and 2003. In testimony during his trial, the unit's former commander, Lt. Michael Kelly, said that he has been interviewed by state police investigators looking into the case, and the Herald reported that several other sources confirmed an internal affairs investigation of the unit is underway. The investigation will determine whether evidence handling and reporting procedures at the unit was so lax as to merit criminal charges for others, or whether it was merely sloppiness and incompetence. "It's going to be ugly," one source told the Herald. "They're waiting until White's trial is over," he said.
In Honolulu, police officer Harold Cabbab pled guilty May 5 to a one-count indictment charging him with possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Cabbab, a former local star athlete, was nabbed in a sting operation in December after conspiring with an acquaintance for more than a month to steal a shipment of drugs in hopes of making $100,000 each. Cabbab and his buddy, both wearing shirts emblazoned HPD, broke into a storage locker and stole what they believed to be 20 pounds of meth and eight pounds of cocaine. But unfortunately for Cabbab, his buddy was actually a snitch working for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Cabbab faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence, but prosecutors said he would be eligible for the "safety valve" for first offenders if he cooperated fully in the case.
In Dallas, a special prosecutor released a long-awaited report on the Dallas "sheetrock" scandal Monday. In that scandal, Dallas Police narcotics officers working with crooked informants arrested dozens of people, mostly Mexican immigrants, on drug trafficking charges although the alleged drugs turned out to be gypsum, the stuff used to make sheetrock and pool cue chalk. Dallas district attorneys prosecuted them and Dallas judges sent them to prison in an assembly line fashion showing that justice really is blind. Former Dallas police officer Mark Delapaz has been sentenced to five years in prison for lying in the case, and three other police officers and six paid informants have also been indicted.
Monday's report by special prosecutor Jack Zimmerman accused prosecutors of cozying up to police, but said he found no evidence they intentionally prosecuted cases they knew were bad. He did find cases of "inexcusable neglect," such as a case where prosecutor Vanita Budhrani White received a lab report saying a drug seizure did not contain real drugs, but filed the report without reading it, then told defense attorneys the drugs in the case were real. Also, Zimmerman found, prosecutors developed an "us versus them" attitude toward defendants and defense attorneys. "Many prosecutors came to view all defendants accused of drug offenses as being guilty," Zimmermann said at a Monday news conference. "The prosecutors were skeptical of any claim of innocence or police wrongdoing." But Zimmerman also had choice words for some public defenders, whom he accused of inadequately representing their clients and even failing to file motions for dismissal when prosecutors had suggested they do so.
The Connecticut House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would eliminate sentencing disparities between powder cocaine and crack cocaine offenses. On a vote of 92-52, the House endorsed HB 6635, which would eliminate the disparity in the amount of crack versus powder cocaine that would trigger a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.
The bill, which had 19 cosponsors in the House, was pushed primarily by legislators representing inner city districts where crack is more prevalent than powder cocaine. Under current law, someone selling a half-gram of crack is subject to the mandatory minimum, while someone must sell an ounce of powder cocaine to garner the same penalty. Unlike legislation moving in some other states, such as South Carolina, or what is sometimes discussed as a "fix" for federal sentencing disparities, the Connecticut bill does not lower the amount of powder cocaine needed to trigger the mandatory minimums, but instead raises the amount of crack that triggers the five-year sentence to one ounce, the same amount as powder cocaine.
The measure now goes to the state Senate. If passed there and enacted into law, it would go into effect October 1.
Rep. Michael Lawlor (D-East Haven) said the sentencing disparity is leading to prisons filled with minority offenders. Citing state corrections department statistics, Lawlor told his colleagues 72% of adult inmates and 82% of juvenile inmates are black or Hispanic. "This is apparently driven in large part by drug offenders," he said.
"Our jails are filled with young men and women. We need a solution," said Rep. Douglas McCrory (D-Hartford), one of the bill's sponsors. "People say we're being soft on crime. I don't think so," he said. "If you walk out this building and walk a mile up the street, you'll see people going to jail every single day because we're tough on crime."
Connecticut leads the nation in racial disparities in prisons, said Robert Brooks, executive director of A Better Way Foundation, which lobbies the state legislature on a variety of drug reform issues. "This is a clear message we want to reverse that," he told the Associated Press after Tuesday's vote.
A Massachusetts congressman has introduced a bill to ban Oxycontin nationwide. Although the opioid pain reliever has become a success for its manufacturer, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, with millions of prescriptions annually and sales of $1.8 billion last year, it has also proved popular with non-medicinal opioid users. Crime, addiction, and deaths linked to abuse of Oxycontin have made it a target for drug abuse-fighting politicians.
Oxyphobia is in full bloom in Massachusetts. Last week, the Chronicle reported on threats in the state legislature to ban the popular pain reliever across the Bay State. Just days after the home-state solons toyed with the notion in heated hearings with Purdue Pharma reps, Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) introduced H.R. 2195, "to provide for the withdrawal of the drug OxyContin from the commercial market."
The bill provides a number of reasons for the ban � citing its alleged addictiveness, its widespread abuse, and the fact that the DEA has specifically targeted the drug -- but for Lynch, the bottom line is that "the burdens of this drug to the public health outweigh its potential therapeutic benefits, and given that alternative pain medicines and methods are widely available, OxyContin should be banned."
The notion is not going over well with patients, medical professionals, or Purdue Pharma.
"We absolutely share a concern that the illegal use of this drug is a serious problem in the Boston area," said Oxycontin's maker in a statement. "It is not, however, a national problem. If you take it off the market because it is being abused, you're really allowing criminals to dictate health care policy."
Patients at the New England Medical Center praised the drug to a reporter from the Boston Herald, as did staff. "It has revolutionized comfort for many of my patients," said Marybeth Singer, a nurse practitioner there who works with cancer patients. "It is a very useful drug when used appropriately," she said.
The Boston Herald wasn't impressed either. In a May 7 editorial, the Herald observed that "the scourge of alcoholism has destroyed many more lives than OxyContin" and sarcastically suggested that Lynch "propose bringing back Prohibition, too."
The growing controversy over the clash between the imperatives of medicine and those of the drug war when it comes to the use of opioids for pain treatment was the topic of ABC News' Nightline program Wednesday night. With guests including Dr. Russell Portenoy of New York's Beth Israel Hospital and Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network, advocates for an enlightened approach to effective pain treatment through opioids were well-represented.
Viewers also heard from two men supporters consider martyrs of the pain relief movement, wheelchair-bound Richard Paey, and imprisoned Northern Virginia pain specialist Dr. William Hurwitz, who was convicted on drug-dealing conspiracy charges over his prescribing practices in November and was sentenced to 25 years in prison last month.
The late-night news program also featured DEA administrator Karen Tandy, who seemed somewhat on the defensive as she described concerns that doctors were being persecuted for compassionate prescribing as "a misperception." The DEA is just doing its job, she said. "DEA does not dictate the legitimate practice of medicine. We deal in enforcing the laws against criminal conduct. And these examples of cases where doctors are prosecuted, that small number of doctors, there are very extreme facts in those cases. And so I think that there is a misperception here."
But with the bulk of the program focusing of people like Paey and Hurwitz, Tandy's point was open to challenge. The program featured sympathetic reportage as well as talk, with extensive coverage of Paey's case. Florida prosecutors admitted they had no evidence Paey had ever sold his pills to others, and Paey denied it. "I think a true pain patient would never sell their medication," he said. "It's too hard to get." His case is a classic example of law enforcement interfering in medicine and treating pain patients as addicts and criminals, he said. "It's a culture that's creating fear among the patients and the doctors," he said. "It's turning patients against doctors and the doctors against the patients." Only now, in prison, ironically, is Paey receiving adequate pain treatment.
There was also reportage on Dr. Hurwitz, a nationally-known leader in cutting edge pain management. While Hurwitz and his supporters argued that he was a scapegoat in a larger federal crackdown on pain doctors, the DEA's Tandy downplayed the problem. "The number of doctors that have been arrested by DEA or the number of cases that DEA's participated in is less than one-hundredth of one percent of all the registered doctors," Tandy said. "It was 42 this year. It was 50, a little over 50, last year. So it's a very small number of doctors."
That didn't reassure Portenoy, who told ABC he and his colleagues are increasingly worried about the arrest and prosecution of doctors prescribing opioid pain medicines. "Physicians, in the last, year have begun to view the DEA as an adversary or have begun to feel increasingly suspicious that the DEA is so focused on prescription drug abuse that they're willing to sacrifice appropriate medical care, at least in certain circumstances, in order to reduce prescription drug abuse," Portenoy said. And the program ended with the host commenting that even valid pain prosecutions may scare doctors and cause patients to go untreated for chronic pain.
The issue of the contradiction between the needs of pain patients and the fears of drug law enforcers is now making its way out of the hospitals and courthouses of America and into the media spotlight. It's about time.
The sexual abuse of inmates in the federal prison by US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) personnel is a significant, ongoing problem that is often ignored by administrators and prosecutors, a report by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General has found. Accusations of sexual abuse by BOP personnel accounted for 12% of the office's caseload, with an average of 90 new cases a year.
Under federal law, any sexual contact between an inmate and a BOP employee is a crime, even if the prisoner consents. Unless the act involves violence or an overt threat, it is usually treated as a misdemeanor, "yet, misdemeanor penalties do not adequately punish those prison employees who commit this crime," Inspector General Glenn Fine complained.
"Sexual abuse of inmates can corrupt staff members, lead to the introduction of contraband and expose the BOP and staff to civil and criminal liability," Fine noted. "Staff sexual abuse of inmates also undermines rehabilitation efforts and increases the difficulty of inmates successfully reentering society," he said.
The BOP has "also recognized that staff sexual abuse is a significant problem," Fine reported, noting the former Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer told investigators called it the biggest problem she faced.
While the Inspector General reported reviewing 351 complaints of sex abuse from 2000 to 2004, many more went unreported, the report said. "One of the reasons for the underreporting of staff sexual abuse is that inmates fear that staff will retaliate against them if they bring forward allegations of sexual abuse. Inmates also believe that investigators will not find their allegations credible. Moreover, it is often difficult to obtain physical evidence to corroborate allegations of staff sexual abuse. In addition, as noted below, some inmates may not report sexual abuse because they receive unauthorized privileges or contraband in exchange for the sexual acts."
Fresh from organizing successful student referenda calling for the equalization of campus penalties for alcohol and marijuana offenses at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a Colorado group Wednesday announced it had taken the first step to place a measure legalizing marijuana possession in Denver on that city's November ballot. SAFER, which stands for Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation, the group which organized the campus referenda, has submitted the text of its proposed initiative to the Denver Elections Commission for approval.
The initiative would revise city ordinances to read that possession of marijuana by persons 21 or older is not a crime under municipal law. Under state law, possession of less than one ounce is a petty offense with no jail time, while possession of up to eight ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail.
"The purpose of this initiative, which will be known as the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, is clear from the language," said Mason Tvert, director of SAFER. "Alcohol is far more likely than marijuana to lead to premature death or crimes of violence. In general, marijuana is simply far less harmful -- both to the user and to society � than alcohol. Therefore, we hope that the people of Denver express the sense of the city that the use and possession of marijuana should not be considered an offense for individuals 21 years of age and older," he said.
"The initiative expresses the sense of the people of Denver that the private adult use of marijuana should not be a law enforcement priority," Tvert said. "It would also send a message to the state house that marijuana prohibition creates more harm than it prevents."
If the measure passes in November, Tvert said, SAFER plans to lobby the legislature to allow Colorado cities and counties to adopt their own marijuana policies. But first, the measure needs to be approved and qualify for the ballot. Once approved by the elections commission, organizers will have less than two months to gather 5,400 valid signatures to place the measure on the ballot.
A move to legalize marijuana is once again breaking out in the Midwest. A Michigan group, Win-the-War, has begun gathering signatures to place an amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate all penalties for the personal use, possession, or cultivation of pot on the November 2006 ballot.
The group won approval for its petitions from the state Board of Canvassers May 5 and immediately began efforts to gather the 320,000 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot. Organizers have until October 1 to reach that goal.
"This is about controlling and regulating marijuana to take it off the streets and out of the black market," Win-the-War's Bruce Ritchie told the board, according to a report in the Lansing State Journal. Legalizing marijuana would lower crime rates and reduce underage consumption of the weed, he added.
The proposed amendment:
High levels of violence and instability, along with porous borders, are drawing drug traffickers to Iraq, the International Narcotics Control Board said Thursday. The country, under US military occupation since April 2003, is becoming a "key route" for heroin coming from another country occupied by US troops since December 2001, Afghanistan, the agency complained, saying it was "alarmed" by the development.
The development of drug trafficking in conflict-torn regions like Iraq is a no-brainer, said INCB president Hamid Ghodse in an interview with the BBC. "Whether it is due to war or disaster, weakening of border controls and security infrastructure make countries into convenient logistic and transit points, not only for international terrorists and militants, but also for traffickers," he said.
Although Iraqi authorities and the US military have their hands full combating a full-blown, double-barreled insurgency, they shouldn't forget about the war on drugs, Ghodse said. "You cannot have peace, security, and development without attending to drug control," he said.
Responding to figures showing that injection drug use is now the leading cause of new HIV infections in Taiwan, health officials on the island said Sunday they were considering providing drug users with sterile syringes. In remarks reported by Agence France-Presse, Tsai Shu-Fen, an official with Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control, said that under the proposed harm reduction program "police may no longer follow the drug users who buy needles and injection equipment from drug stores." That measure will begin on a trial basis after further discussion among relevant government agencies, he said.
Slightly more than one thousand Taiwanese have died from AIDS since the island's first case was registered in 1986. Six thousand Taiwanese are currently infected with the HIV virus. According to the center, last year 52% of new HIV cases were related to needle-sharing. In 2002, the island had fewer than 10 drug injection-related HIV cases; now it has more than 550.
"If this trend continues without the government's active prevention measures, the number of domestic drug users infected with [HIV] could be dozens of times higher than now," said Tsai. Providing access to syringes is a "pragmatic" approach to safeguarding the public health and has been proven in countries such as Australia, Britain, and Holland, he added.
A song bemoaning the plight of marijuana growers is all the rage in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago, with a radio-friendly censored version getting heavy play on the airwaves and an uncut version with lyrics involving a rocket launcher and an anti-drug helicopter "selling like hot hops on the street... and blasting from every taxi, maxi, and PH as they speed past," the Trinidad & Tobago Express reported Sunday.
Calypso artist Marlon Asher's "Ganja Planter" was ranked the number one dance single on the May TnT Island record charts as of May 1. Asher sings of the plight of island marijuana farmers in general and, in hard-hitting, politically-pointed lyrics, criticizes the island police's "Weedeater" marijuana eradication program in particular. "Even people who have never even been up close and personal with a spliff are singing along with Asher as he chants about the frustrations a marijuana farmer endures whenever the law burns his field," the Express noted.
The song was inspired by the plight of friends, Asher told the Express. "I was never a farmer," he said, "but I love the herb. I have friends who are farmers and seeing what they have to go through when police burn their fields inspired me to create the song. People must understand that planters have mouths to feed and this is how they earn a living to do so. Putting aside the fact that herb is life and everything else about that, when you think about the work and money a man puts into his field and then see it being burnt, it's not easy," Asher said.
While he defended the growers, Asher was not averse to finding alternatives for them. "I believe the authorities should provide an alternative crop if they have a problem with the ganja. The farmers would be willing to adapt to something else once it brought in an income that made sense. It's all about supporting their families for these people. Any man who can feed his family is a comfortable man," Asher said.
And lyrics about shooting down police helicopters notwithstanding, he is not advocating violence, he said, nor is he advocating that everybody smoke pot. "Herb is not for everyone. It have people who will smoke and trip. My music is not about promoting hate and violence, it's about uplifting people. I may not be able to change the world, but I can lead people into thinking differently about life and living with each other. Also, the lyrics in the song that tell about the rocket launcher, does not mean that people should kill police. I am showing the anger that a farmer has inside when he sees his field being burnt. That anger and frustration is real," Asher said.
May 14, 1932: "We Want Beer" marches are held in cities all over America � 15,000 union workers demonstrate in Detroit alone.
May 15, 1928: Arnold Trebach, founder of the modern drug policy reform movement, is born.
May 15, 1988: Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke writes in the Washington Post: "Decriminalization would take the profit out of drugs and greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the drug-related violence that is currently plaguing our streets."
May 16, 2001: Regina McKnight is convicted in South Carolina of using crack during a pregnancy that resulted in a stillbirth. It is the first time in US history that a woman is convicted of homicide for using drugs during a pregnancy.
May 17, 2001: Canada's House of Commons passes a unanimous motion to create a committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada. Members of all five parties say they intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.
May 17, 2002: The Associated Press reports that the city of Santa Cruz, California has decided to install needle disposal boxes in a dozen public restrooms to promote safety after several city employees are pricked by used needles.
May 19, 1988: Carlos Lehder, one of the key founders of the infamous Medellin Cartel and the first to use small planes to transport cocaine, is convicted of drug smuggling and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 135 years.
The Outreach Coordinator position will be at least a half-time position, with a probability of full-time availability. Starting pay is $10/hour with advancement possible; starting date is the last week of June. Duties will include communicating with current and potential coalition partners; reaching out to potential campaign supporters; writing and/or editing advocacy materials; writing and placing letters to the editor and soliciting media coverage for the issue; lobbying and communicating with Congressional offices; and assisting the Campaign Director with both strategy development and administrative tasks.
The ideal candidate will have a BA in political science, journalism, criminal justice, or related field; one to two years experience in lobbying, outreach, organizing, journalism and/or public relations; knowledge of and/or interest in drug policy, education policy, economic justice or civil rights issues; excellent writing and editing skills; and excellent communications skills. However, candidates who don't fit all these criteria but are excellent overall will be considered. Other desirable attributes are comfort discussing controversial issues; political knowledge and understanding of the legislative process; and web site skills such as HTML and Dreamweaver.
To apply, please send a cover letter, resume and short writing sample to [email protected], or fax to (202) 293-8344. (E-mail to let us know if you've applied by fax.)
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
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 http://www.ocnorml.org for further information.
May 25, 7:00pm, Colorado Springs, CO, forum with Howard Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At Centennial Hall, 200 South Cascade, visit http://www.leap.cc or contact [email protected] for further information.
May 26-27, 9:00am-5:00pm, Brooklyn, NY, "Drug Using Communities and Hepatitis C: Practice, Research and Policy," conference of the Hepatitis C Harm Reduction Project. At the Marriott Hotel, space limited, visit http://www.harmreduction.org or contact Heliana Ramirez at [email protected] or (212) 213-6376 ext. 46 for further information.
May 27-29, San Francisco, CA, "Mind States VI: Technology & Transcendence," visit http://www.mindstates.org for 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.
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 http://www.ohiohempfest.org for further information.
June 4, Jacksonville Beach, FL, 8th Annual Hempfest. At Seawalk Pavilion, sponsored by N/E Florida Cannabis Action Network. Visit http://www.jaxhempfest.com for further information.
June 28, New York, NY, An Opiate Overdose Prevention Conference, sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Admission free, space limited, please RSVP to secure your space. At the Holiday Inn Conference Center, W. 32nd St. & Broadway, contact Paula Santiago at (212) 213-6376 ext. 155 or [email protected].
August 12-13, Washington, DC, "Over 2 Million Imprisoned � Too Many!", March on DC, sponsored by Family and Friends of People Incarcerated (FMI). Reception Friday evening, march Saturday morning from 9:00am to noon. Contact Roberta Franklin at (334) 220-4670 or firstladytms�aol.com, or visit http://www.journeyforjustice.org for further information.
August 19-20, Salt Lake City, UT, "Science and Response in 2005," First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis C. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Harm Reduction Project, visit http://www.harmredux.org/conference2005.htm after January 15 or contact Amanda Whipple at (801) 355-0234 ext. 3 for further information.
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.
August 28, 11:00am-9:00pm, Olympia, WA, Third Annual Olympia Hempfest. At Heritage Park, visit http://www.olyhempfest.com for further information.
September 25-29, Kabul, Afghanistan, "The 2005 Kabul International Symposium � Drug Policy: Challenges and Responses." Sponsored by the Senlis Council, at Kabul University, visit http://www.senliscouncil.net/modules/events/kabul/ or e-mail [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.
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 http://www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-annconf-abstract-2005-e.pdf for info.
February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit http://www.justiceaction.org.au/ICOPA/ndx_icopa.html 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 http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
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