(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #387 -- 5/20/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 5/20/05
Not so fast. Some experts believe the coca is more potent now due to improved agricultural techniques by the drug trafficking organizations, and economic evidence here in the US backs them up. The drug warriors' own theory says that the strategy is to reduce the supply of drugs in order to increase their price and decrease their availability. I happen to think that's too much of a simplification to be very useful if what we are really interested in is reducing the harm connected with drug abuse and not just use irrespective of whether it constitutes abuse. A price increase and availability decrease can actually cause more harm, by driving addicts to more desperate measures and increasing the enrichment of criminal organizations.
But that's their theory, and unfortunately for them prices have instead gone down while availability has stayed the same or increased. According to a RAND Corporation report commissioned by Walters and released last February, the price of a pure gram of powder cocaine fell from $161 in 2000 to $107 in 2003, while the price of a pure gram of crack cocaine fell from $219 to $190 -- the opposite of what supply reduction is supposed to achieve. Also in February, the Trends and Development report of the National Drug Intelligence Center found that "key indicators of domestic cocaine availability show stable or slightly increased cocaine availability in drug markets throughout the country" -- also inconsistent with a shrinking supply. Not signs of success according to the drug warriors' own key measure.
Data from the INCSR (International Narcotics Control Strategy Report) between 1990 and 2000 paint a revealing picture. (Pardon my poor graphical skills -- if anyone wants to help us make a better chart please send an e-mail.) The decade of the Bush-Clinton Andean drug war saw a dramatic decrease in coca growing in Peru and Bolivia but an equally dramatic increase in Colombia. The total estimated number of hectares cultivated (100 hectares = 1 square kilometer) changed a little but not very much -- it went up slightly, then went down slightly in total -- basically it stayed the same. Whatever small change took place was a fraction of the amount that shifted from country to country -- a pretty dramatic illustration of suppression in one area causing growing to balloon up in others as global supply follows global demand.
So dramatic, so powerful, I think, as to project any hopes of current or future supply reduction successes as extremely unlikely. The economic forces are just too powerful. Too many people are willing to pay too much money for cocaine to control its use in that way. The government will always fail to stymie the drug supply, because it just isn't possible to control it.
So the claims of success are pretty weak, and that's not just dishonest of John Walters, it's immoral. From eradication in the Andes to no-knock warrants in the inner cities, from needle-driven HIV to mandatory minimum sentences, too many people are being harmed by reckless drug war policies, partly because bureaucrats have enabled their continuation by obfuscating the truth to rationalize the unjustifiable.
These are not small lies, but large and noxious ones. The drug czar should stop fudging numbers and start letting people live their lives.
As the annual congressional appropriations battle over funding for the US war on drugs in Colombia begins anew, the Bush administration is claiming "success" in its efforts even as its five-year plan to wipe out the Colombian drug trade, leftist guerrillas, and rightist paramilitaries enters its sixth year with coca production levels where they were when Plan Colombia started in 1999. Three billion dollars and thousands of Colombian lives later, the Bush administration is now seeking another $700 million for the Andean drug war, and a small group of Republican legislators acting at the behest of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is asking for an additional $150 million to be used for increased herbicidal spraying of Colombian coca fields.
Still, Plan Colombia and its successor, the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, have been a "historic success," said Walters during his May 11 appearance before the House Committee on International Relations chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL). US policies in the region have "measurably improved the security, health and economic well-being of the people most affected by the narcotics threat."
Overall cocaine production in the Andes had dropped 29% since 2001, Walters said. "We are heading in the right direction and we are winning." In fact, things are going so well, said Walters, that US policy in Colombia is staying on track. "The basic goals remain the same: eliminating narcoterrorism, promoting respect for human rights, creating economic alternatives and opportunities, respecting rule of law, and achieving peace," he said.
To achieve those laudable goals, said Walters, the massive program of spraying herbicides on peasants' fields must be increased "to the maximum." In this regard, Walters is marching in lock-step with President Uribe, who, despite intense opposition to the spraying within Colombia, has asked for additional funds above and beyond the $700 million budgeted in the Andean Initiative to intensify the aerial eradication campaign.
"If at first you don't succeed, escalate," said Sanho Tree, drug policy analyst for the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, who has made eight trips to Colombia in recent years. "It's a debacle. You have US soldiers running amok smuggling drugs, others trafficking weapons to the paramilitaries, and despite the increase in spraying there's an increase in coca cultivation this year, too."
That's right. While Walters can claim that overall Andean production is declining, six years of US-funded eradication efforts in Colombia have managed to decrease the number of hectares under cultivation from 122,000 in 1999 to 114,000 last year. Despite last year's all-time record number of hectares sprayed, last year's coca plantings were up slightly from the previous year. And some analysts claim that reductions in hectarage have been offset by increases in plant potency.
"In terms of drug production in Colombia, we saw a 7% drop from 1999 to the end of 2004," said Lisa Haugaard, executive director of the Latin America Working Group, a Washington-based coalition of progressive organizations that is coordinating opposition to the Andean Initiative. "Production jumped in 2000 and 2001, then declined, and now it has plateaued about where it was when Plan Colombia began. That's not a lot to shout about."
And the campaign comes with a perverse price. The more the US and Colombian governments resort to aerial eradication of coca crops with herbicides, said Tree, the higher the farm-gate price goes. "It's a wonderful price support program; it's helping coca farmers all over the region. It's like an unintended crop subsidy; we manage to idle enough acreage to keep the price for the commodity high. Stalin had better luck with his five-year plans," Tree snorted. "He changed the courses of rivers, but he didn't try to make water flow upstream."
But while Tree ridiculed the effectiveness of the eradication program, he did not want to play down the disastrous effects it is having in the countryside. "Each year, the situation becomes more dire for the campesinos," he explained. "Spraying their fields is a terrible thing to do to poor farmers in the middle of a four decade-long civil war. It is alienating them from their government and driving them into the arms of terrorist organizations."
While Walters and the Bush administration point to decreasing political violence -- the number of people killed in massacres, for instance, is down from 680 in 2002 to 259 last year -- the picture is more complicated than official statistics suggest. "There has been a reduction in killings in the past two years," Haugaard conceded, "but that is because the Colombian government is in negotiations with the paramilitaries. The violence has been reduced, but that is only temporary. There is still extreme violence going on on all sides," she said.
Also, said Tree, the paramilitaries have learned some public relations lessons. "In Colombia, a massacre is defined as three or more people killed, and the paras have learned that brings bad publicity, so instead of massacring a dozen people at once, they kill one or two people a night. It looks good because the number of massacres is down, but the same level of terror still exists for the people living in those communities."
Most disturbing, said Haugaard, is the Colombian military's reemergence as a human rights violator. "We have seen a very disturbing phenomenon in the last two years," she said. "We are seeing increased direct violations by the military. The UN High Commission on Refugees in Bogota is reporting increased sexual violence and extrajudicial executions linked to the military, and there is no progress in bringing people to justice. None. Zippo. The military has effective impunity."
"This was supposed to be the end of Plan Colombia," said Haugaard. "It was a five-year plan after which all the problems would be resolved -- drug production reduced, the war won, peace negotiated, democracy flourishing," she said, listing the objectives the plan's proponents promised it would achieve. "Clearly, this has not worked. What we are looking for is a major change, a shift in resources toward alternative development instead of aerial eradication. It's inhumane and it's effective. More broadly, we need to look at treatment and prevention in the United States as more useful and human strategy."
Nearly a decade after the passage of California's groundbreaking Proposition 215, which made medicinal marijuana use legal, the process of establishing a real-world medical marijuana distribution system continues to play out in cities and counties across the state. As activists push the envelope, expanding from caregiver grows to multi-patient co-ops and collectives to dispensaries that openly sell marijuana to anyone with the proper patient's card, localities around the state are reacting with caution, concern, and, in some cases, outright hostility.
Often prodded by activists seeking permits to open dispensaries, the localities are, in many cases, responding with moratoria on permitting clubs to open while they examine safety, health, and crime concerns. In some cases, local leaders appear to be acting in good faith and are enacting regulations to allow the clubs to open. In other cases, moratoria originally set to last 45 days have been renewed, sometimes for such lengthy periods as to suggest they have effectively become a blocking tactic.
The efforts to get a grip on the dispensaries are not limited to suburban reactionary bastions or rural redneck redoubts. Among the cities enacting moratoria recently are West Hollywood and San Francisco, although with 37 existing dispensaries untouched by the moratorium access seems fairly well-assured in the latter.
In a handful of cases, cities have reacted with outright bans on medical marijuana dispensaries. The California-based medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), late last month filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno seeking to overturn a ban voted in by its city council.
The situation is fluid, with new dispensaries opening in some places, while elsewhere new cities and counties are enacting moratoria with each passing day. According to a list maintained by California NORML, about 160 dispensaries are currently operating in the state, while ASA pegged the number of locales enacting moratoria at about 45. The group maintains a list of moratoria and bans on its web site, but, said ASA legal director Kris Hermes, "It's a little bit outdated. We can't keep up," he said.
"New moratoria are being enacted as we speak," said Hermes. "It often happens because someone approaches the city or county about establishing a facility, and that alarms the authorities, it's a signal that they need to look at what to do next. We think it is reasonable to establish guidelines, but we think it should be done quickly to limit the amount of time patients have to go without. Moratoria are just not necessary," he said, "and they are cruel and punitive toward the patients."
It is not just local officials properly concerned with zoning and licensing issues that are driving the move to block clubs from opening. Recalcitrant law enforcement officials have also played a role, emphasizing the alleged criminal and public safety problems associated with the dispensaries. A leader in that movement has been Mark Siemens, police chief of the small Northern California town of Rocklin, which banned dispensaries last July. Siemens told the Los Angeles times in April that he had compiled a list of complaints about the clubs and presented it to his local government before it acted. He added that he had sent copies to some 50 other cities.
But the stuff of Siemen's report is surprisingly thin. While the report warns of an "underground culture" of street criminals and "dopers," among the best he could come up with was a report that a club in Hayward sold hashish, that one in Roseville let people smoke inside the club, and that people in Upper Lake complained that "the people coming to Upper Lake for marijuana look like drug users ('dopers')." Oh, there was also a shoe store in Oakland that complained its business had decreased.
Still, similar concerns voiced by police in Fresno and four smaller towns were sufficient for those localities to pass an outright bans on dispensaries. In Fresno, the ordinance banned any medical marijuana collective providing for more than three patients. While patients and activists might grudgingly tolerate moratoria while local governments ginned up appropriate regulations, outright bans are another thing.
Thus the lawsuit against the city of Fresno filed last month on behalf of a would-be dispensary operator. "We are challenging their policy as being in violation of Senate Bill 420, in particular its language about the ability of patient co-ops and collectives to operate without law enforcement interference," said Hermes. "The permanent ban on dispensing, enacted by Fresno and a handful of other cities in California, is an unlawful barrier to medical marijuana," he said. "Without the means of growing it themselves or finding a caregiver to do it for them, dispensing collectives may be a patient's only legal option for obtaining medical marijuana."
But the ambiguities of SB 420, passed last year in an attempt to regularize medical marijuana production and distribution, will make for an interesting court case. Even under the state's medical marijuana law, localities may still be able to ban dispensaries, said California NORML's Dale Gieringer. "Senate Bill 420 last year caused a lot of confusion. It specifically encourages patient cultivation co-ops and collectives run on a nonprofit basis, but in the opinion of most attorneys I've talked to, California law does not authorize the sale of medical marijuana. Few of the clubs actually operate as true co-ops and collectives," he said. "Some cities have concluded -- with good legal justification, in my view -- that they can ban dispensaries."
Meanwhile, other locales that had enacted moratoria have now enacted regulatory ordinances. "There are more than a dozen towns and cities that have enacted ordinances that allow for and protect dispensing," said Hermes. And while medical marijuana advocates qualified some ordinances as overly restrictive and punitive, others are more akin to simple zoning measures. In Huntington Beach, for instance, the city council lifted its moratorium after setting minimal distances that must separate dispensaries from churches, parks, and schools (500 feet) and other dispensaries (750 feet).
And looming over all this is the impending US Supreme Court decision in the Raich case, due within weeks at the latest. In that closely-watched decision, the court will decide whether the federal government can apply the Controlled Substances Act to the in-state, non-commercial medical marijuana use and cultivation in states where it is legal. While both Hermes and CANORML's Gieringer argued that a negative decision in Raich would have no direct impact on California law, the political reality is that an adverse decision will make California elected officials less eager to enact ordinances in at least indirect conflict with federal law.
"A lot of places are, I think, waiting to hear the Supreme Court decision before they act," said Gieringer, placing the blame for the confusion in California squarely in Washington, DC. "Both the state government and the localities have been afraid to step in and regulate what is clearly illegal under federal law. This has left a huge legal vacuum. The mess you see now is really the result of the federal government's refusal to allow any sort of legal distribution under Proposition 215."
Good Raich decision or not, the fight over the regularization of medical marijuana distribution will continue. "We hope the issue will just naturally work itself out, and cities and counties will realize they don't have to enact moratoria to craft reasonable, sensible policies and regulations," said Hermes. "But this is a highly politicized landscape, and that is why we filed the lawsuit in Fresno. We do not want to see cities and counties opting for permanent bans as a means of resolving the issue of access to medical marijuana. That's not appropriate. In fact, those facilities should be allowed and protected and even proliferated to other states where medical marijuana is legal. We need to set a precedent for safe access and we want California to lead the way."
The case of Schapelle Corby, a 27-year-old beautician from Perth, now facing a possible death sentence after nine pounds of marijuana were found in her luggage as she arrived at the Indonesian resort of Bali for a brief vacation, is gaining global media attention, stirring passions in both countries, and threatening to damage relations between the two neighbors. Her trial ended this month, with a verdict and sentence expected May 27.
Meanwhile, last Friday in neighboring Singapore, non-white, non-Western, non-photogenic Shanmugam Murugesu, 38, was hanged for smuggling three pounds of pot into the authoritarian city-state. Despite questions of his innocence and a campaign by his sons to spare his life, his execution was marked only by a handful of international drug reform activists and terse announcements in the regional press. Which is not to trivialize Schapelle Corby's plight, only to remark on the vagaries of existence that led Murugesu to die virtually unnoticed while Corby's case has become a cause celèbre.
That is in part because of the cultural divide between the two neighbors, starkly illustrated by Corby's case and the light it sheds on their contrasting approaches to drugs. While Australia is no Netherlands, and officials of the state of South Australia seem poised to take a step backwards (newsbrief this issue), still the South Pacific nation sits squarely within the relatively enlightened contemporary Western approach to drug policy with its safe injection sites and comparatively lax marijuana laws in some states. Indonesia, on the other, approaches the matter in line with its neighbors in a region that has become the heart of darkness for drug policy. Southeast Asia is a hotbed of virulent prohibitionism, with a full-blown drug hysteria and death squads in the Philippines, a murderous war on drug users and dealers in Thailand, and ready resort to execution for even small-time drug trafficking offenses in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as Singapore.
The blue-eyed beautician's ordeal began when she touched down in Bali, a popular resort island only just beginning to regain popularity with Australians after the Al-Qaeda-linked hotel bombings that left 202 dead there in 2002. As she went through Indonesian customs with a group of friends, customs officers pulled nine pounds of marijuana from her baggage. At that point, despite her protestations of innocence, which she maintains to this day, she was dragged off to prison, where she remains to this day.
As the trial moved toward its conclusion late last month, televised scenes of Corby crying in anguish as she pled for her freedom and audio recordings of her screaming in despair after being led back into the cells after a hearing, as well as her repeated fainting in the courtroom and obvious nervous exhaustion, stirred sympathy and outrage in Australia, where a movement led by media figure Paul Holmes and controversial Australian Gold Coast entrepreneur Ron Bakir sought to mobilize public opinion to spare the young woman.
To a certain degree, it worked. While the government of Prime Minister John Howard is no friend of drug reform or accused drug smugglers, it has worked with Corby's defense attorneys to look into claims of drug-smuggling rings among baggage handlers and vowed to intervene diplomatically to save her life if she gets a death sentence.
Even Prime Minister Howard himself was forced to declare a public interest in her case, although he couldn't resist a warning about drug smuggling. "I am following it," he told the Australian TV program Dateline in April. "I've taken a personal interest, in the sense that I have been concerned, on the face of it, about some aspects of it. I choose my words very carefully because I have to respect the legal system of another country, and people do know, when they go to other countries, how tough their drug laws are."
The attention from Australia may have had some effect. On April 21, prosecutors announced they would not seek the death sentence for Corby but would instead recommend she be imprisoned for life. "We state that the defendant, Schapelle Corby, is legally and convincingly guilty for having committed crimes... importing narcotics," said Prosecutor Wiswantanu. "The defendant has ruined the image of Bali as a tourist destination and created the image that Bali is a haven for narcotics distribution, ruined the mentality of youngsters. The 4.2 kilograms of marijuana is a great danger for the nation and this is categorized as a transnational crime and the defendant has not confessed to her actions." But given that "the defendant is polite and has never been convicted," he would settle for life in prison instead of the hangman's noose.
While the Howard government welcomed the decision, Corby supporters lashed out at the Indonesian justice system. "They've got no case to ask for anything," said Bakir, the businessman bankrolling her defense. "The girl should be home. The girl has done nothing wrong," he said.
Neither did that decision sit well with Indonesian anti-drug activists, who demanded that Corby be executed. "We want her death," said Anak Agung Semara Adhyana, leader of the Bali chapter of Indonesia's anti-drug movement. "It is best if they give her the death sentence or life imprisonment," he said. "It is impossible for her to be set free. It would be a bad precedent for the Indonesian justice system."
At one point in the trial Adhyana and his supporters staged a placard-waving demonstration inside the courthouse demanding Corby's execution. That little bit of political theatre led to scuffles with outraged Corby family members.
The Queensland beautician claimed from the beginning she had no knowledge of the marijuana, and her attorneys attempted to introduce circumstantial evidence that she may have been the victim of a drug-smuggling ring among Australian baggage handlers who snuck contraband into the baggage of unsuspecting victims. But Indonesian prosecutors blocked all such attempts.
A prisoner in an Australian jail was prepared to testify that a convicted drug dealer was the owner of the marijuana, but the prosecutors rejected that testimony. "Looking at his background as a prisoner, the reason for him to testify before an Indonesian court is to taste freedom," the prosecutors said.
Bond University Professor of Criminology Paul Wilson testified that Corby was innocent based on interviews with her. "His opinion is not based on accurate research on the defendant and her background," prosecutors said, rejecting his testimony.
Prosecutors also rejected testimony from Corby's three traveling companions, all of whom testified that there was no marijuana in her luggage when she checked it at Brisbane Airport. Their testimony was not given "to find truth and justice," as the law requires, said the prosecutors.
But despite prosecutors' certainty that Corby was culpable, in her final defense plea, she tearfully told the court, "I cannot admit to a crime I did not commit." She was an innocent victim of drug gangs, she added in a written statement pleading for mercy. "I say again that I have no knowledge of how the marijuana came to be inside my bag," she said. She said she had already been punished enough for doing no more than failing to lock her bags. "To judges, my life at the moment is in your hands, but I would prefer that my life was in your heart," she said.
Corby's fate now rests with the Indonesian judges. Although prosecutors recommended life in prison, the judges could still sentence her to death, to life, or some set term of years in prison if they decide she is guilty. According to wire service reports, Indonesian legal observers expect her to be found guilty and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. If that is the case, her lawyers have vowed to appeal.
In the meantime, parties unknown are phoning in death threats to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra and consulates around the country. Indonesian diplomats have received numerous anonymous threatening letters and e-mails, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Tuesday.
And the resort island itself could pay an economic price for a Corby conviction. According to a nationwide survey of travel agents conducting last week, 68% of respondents would stop promoting Bali as a destination if Corby is convicted, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. "I believe Schapelle is innocent," one Sydney travel agent told the survey. "If she is found guilty with the evidence she has presented to the judges, I certainly will not travel to Bali or recommend or sell Bali."
Fiji or Hawaii, anyone?
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.
The temptations of prohibition are writ large this week with a massive bust of cops and soldiers in Arizona, while on the East Coast, one cop is going to prison in Buffalo and two more appear headed that way in Baltimore. And out in the Rockies, having sex with a snitch is proving troublesome for one wayward law enforcement Lothario. Let's get to it:
In Tucson, 22 former and current soldiers and law enforcement personnel so far have pled guilty to conspiracy charges in an FBI sting posing as cocaine traffickers paid to let loads of the drug get through. According to the Justice Department, while many of those pleading guilty were lured into protecting drug shipments during the sting, at least nine of them had been engaged in real drug trafficking using official uniforms and vehicles to get past Border Patrol checkpoints with more than half a ton of cocaine. Those pleading guilty so far include a former Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector, a former Army sergeant, a former federal prison guard, five current and former members of the Arizona Air National Guard and the state corrections department, and a Nogales, Arizona, police officer, the Justice Department reported May 12, when it announced the pleas of 16 people. Six more have pled guilty since then, with more to come, prosecutors said.
In Baltimore, federal prosecutors announced at a May 12 press conference that they had charged two Baltimore police officers and another man with ripping off drug dealers and selling the drugs themselves. Officers William King, 35, and Antonio Murray, 34, who worked plainclothes in the department's housing authority unit, used their police powers and weapons to stop drug dealers on the streets or in their vehicles, steal their drugs and cash, then let them go without facing charges. The third man, Antonio Mosby, 39, acted as a finger-man and look out, prosecutors said. All three are charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and extortion, and carrying firearms while dealing drugs. King is also charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine with intent to distribute. All face up to life in prison.
In Buffalo, former narcotics detective Sylvestre Acosta was sentenced to 45 years in prison May 11 for stealing money from drug suspects, planting evidence, and providing false information to obtain search warrants. Acosta was one of several Buffalo Police Department detectives arrested in a 2003 corruption probe. Detective Paul Skinner was convicted of federal civil rights violations in the case along with Acosta in December. He faces a May 27 sentencing date.
In Durango, Colorado, a sheriff's deputy working with the Southwest Drug Task Force is under investigation for having sex with a female informant, the Durango Herald reported May 12. Task Force Investigator Tom Fritzell's unseemly dalliance came to light as the result of a motion filed by the informant, Leslie Parker of Durango. Parker had been busted on methamphetamine possession charges, but agreed to become a snitch if authorities would "make her case disappear." But the motion seeks dismissal of the charges on the grounds that Fritzell abused his authority and possibly committed a crime when he encountered her in a local bar, reprimanded her for being there, then asked to follow her home and had sex with her. During the encounter, the motion said, they discussed her case and engaged in "businesslike pillow talk." Nothing like a little leverage to help get laid, huh?
Veteran wild man marijuana activist Ed Forchion, better known as the New Jersey Weedman was arrested May 11 by New Jersey State Troopers as he attempted to enter the state capitol building in Trenton to deliver a press release to reporters in the building's press row. Forchion, who is running for governor as head of the Legalize Marijuana Party of South Jersey, was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Legalize Cannabis," and that was apparently too much for State Trooper Robert Rasinsky, who, according to Forchion, "took offense" at the shirt, told him he could not enter the building, then arrested him when he insisted he could.
Forchion's account of press row's accessibility was backed up by the Times of Trenton. "Although the state police say press row is not a publicly accessible area, State House-based reporters say that members of the public routinely visit the area to pitch stories," the paper reported in its story on the incident.
According to Forchion, Trooper Rasinsky "falsely claimed the building was not open to the public and refused to allow me to pass. When I insisted that the building was public and I had every right as a state citizen to enter this building, Trooper Rasinsky hand-cuffed me behind my back and began to choke me by placing both hands around the front of my neck. As I struggled against this attack, the struggle was joined by another unnamed trooper who ended the melee with a swift kick to my groin."
State troopers, unsurprisingly, had a different take on events. "He actually came to the front entrance, signed in and asked to be allowed to go to press row to hand out fliers," state police spokesman Sgt. Gary Lewis told the Trentonian. "Troopers told him that the public is not allowed to access the area. The officers asked him if they could call someone to come and meet him and he refused."
Forchion was arrested on charges on resisting arrest, "defiant trespass," and "improper behavior." Bail was originally set at $40,000, but was reduced to $1,000, which Forchion was able to make.
The troopers are in "cover your ass" mode, over what amounted to arresting him because they didn't like his t-shirt, Forchion said. "The marijuana leaf is the symbol of my political party, no different than the elephant or the donkey of the Republican and Democratic parties. I have a right to express my political allegiance and views. Could you imagine the press reports of this attack had it happened to a Democrat or Republican? I did nothing wrong! I was simply expressing myself while on the way to the press. I can't believe the press has failed to report this story accurately! I was attacked!"
Run-ins with the law over marijuana and free speech are nothing new to the 40-year-old Forchion. After being arrested with more than 40 pounds of pot in 1997, Forchion got seriously active, running for a number of political offices. In March 2000, he was arrested for smoking marijuana in the State Assembly chambers during a session. After serving 17 months in prison over the 1997 bust, Forchion was released on parole in 2002, but then jailed for five months by parole authorities after producing a marijuana reform TV commercial that never ran. It took a federal judge to set him free that time.
Forchion isn't going to let another hassle at the hands of the authorities stop him, but he has expressed displeasure at the lack of support from other drug reformers. "This is just another example of that fact that I'm just a nigger with a big mouth to many white authorities," he said. "Things like this don't happen to white activists. There is no white activist in the country who has been jailed simply for wearing a t-shirt with his or her political opinion on it, yet the mainstream reform groups say virtually nothing about my constant abuse at the hands of state officials. I can't believe this happened to me because I'm just another nigger to many," he said, adding that he just may move to have his name legally changed to "Just a Nigger."
Forchion certainly can't be accused of mincing words -- his campaign slogan this year is "Fuck the Law, Smoke it Anyway."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, home of drug czar John Walters, has backed away from a confrontation with home town drug reformers. This battle was set to take place not on Capitol Hill, but on a Washington softball field, where the ONDCP team, We Czar the Champions [Ed.: Ouch], was set to play a team, the One Hitters, consisting of members of various DC-based drug reform groups and sponsored by NORML, on June 8.
According to the Capitol Hill watchdog publication Roll Call, the drug czar's office removed the game from its schedule, saying it could not muster enough players. But the paper noted that the team had no problem fielding players this week. The One Hitters obligingly offered to reschedule, but the drug czar's people said they couldn't find the time. Now, the frustrated ball-players are irate.
"Obviously one of the higher-ups at ONDCP saw the schedule and nixed the game," NORML spokesman Nick Timmisch told Roll Call. "Perhaps they were spooked by the notion of BYOB -- bring your own bong!"
"We bent over backwards to accommodate them," said DRCNet's David Guard, who plays outfield for the One Hitters. "We told them we could play any hour any day, but of course they didn't want to play us."
NORML associate director and One Hitters co-captain Kris Krane called out the valor-challenged narcs. "For years, the ONDCP has been unwilling to engage drug policy reformers in a serious debate on the issues. Now they even refuse to engage us in a friendly game of baseball?"
When contacted by Roll Call, drug czar spokesman Tom Riley first claimed a player shortage, then tried some stoner humor. NORML could not have been trying for years to schedule a game, he said, because this is the first year ONDCP has fielded a team. "That just goes to show the effects of marijuana on judgment and reasoning," he joked. But it is Riley's reasoning that was impaired; NORML said that ONDCP had refused for years to engage in a serious debate, not that it had refused for years to play a ball game.
Then Riley reversed himself and decided it was a policy decision after all. "I wouldn't think we would play any team that promotes drug use," he said. "That includes teams that promote smoking meth or smoking crack."
Too bad. John Walters has always liked softballs, especially the ones tossed at him at press conferences when he makes his latest misleading pronouncements.
South Australia Premier Mike Rann announced Monday that the state will crack down on some drug offenses, with tougher penalties to go into effect later this year. Rann, whose Australian Labor Party governs the state, said the move is part of an ongoing overhaul of the state's criminal justice policies, but opposition Liberals accused the premier of grandstanding, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
"Our next wave of law reform is on the drugs front with heavier penalties and, of course, people have been criticizing me for being too tough on law and order," Rann said, then played his law-and-order trump card. "But the fact is that the latest figures on crime and offences show that there's 16,000 fewer offenses committed in South Australia in 2004 compared to 2002."
One of those "law reforms" will see drug sellers who use minors -- uniformly referred to as children -- in their business sentenced to life in prison. Another will mandate life sentences for drug dealers or manufacturers who traffic in "large quantities" of drugs. Currently, both offenses have a maximum 30-year sentence.
"The exploitation of children by drug lords and dealers is despicable and anyone who does it deserves to have the book thrown at them," Rann said. "Our proposal is aimed at protecting the most innocent in our community from immoral drug dealers who will stop at nothing to make a profit peddling misery."
But wait, there's more: "The Government is also proposing much tougher penalties for a raft of serious drug offences involving the trafficking, cultivation and manufacture of drugs," Rann added, "as well as proposals to treat offenses involving so-called precursor drugs and drug labs as serious offenses."
For people convicted of precursor offenses -- typically involving efforts to home-manufacture methamphetamine -- the jump in penalties is especially severe. Under current law, they face only a $5,000 fine, but under Rann's new law they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The opposition Liberals criticized Rann's new drug package, but less for its harsh content than for what they saw as its political gamesmanship. Shadow attorney general Robert Lawson told ABC that penalties for large-scale drug trafficking are normally the purview of federal legislation, leading him to question the new laws' real purpose. He also criticized Rann's Labor government for waiting three years after a 2002 provincial drug summit to move on drug policy. "If this really was important why didn't it come out immediately after the drug summit or immediately after the government announced it?" Lawson asked. "They've been waiting sitting on their hands on this one, simply waiting for a media opportunity to run it out again."
Even as violence once again flared in the US-backed campaign to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crop, a recently resigned former top State Department drug fighter rejected a proposal to solve the Afghan opium dilemma by diverting the crop to the legitimate global medicinal market. That proposal, made two months ago by the Senlis Council, a Paris-based European drug policy think tank, is one possible solution to the Afghan opium dilemma.
With United Nations anti-drug officials warning that Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narco-state" and the United States pumping some $780 million into the opium suppression effort there this year, Afghan opium production is not only the mainstay of the national economy but paradoxically profoundly destabilizing as its profits find their way into the pockets of nominally pro-government warlords and anti-government, Taliban-linked rebels alike. It also employs some 2.3 million Afghan farmers, according to the UN. The problem facing the government of President Hamid Karzai is that its Western-backed efforts to eradicate the opium trade stand to alienate the huge percentage of the population dependent on it for an income, perhaps even driving it into the waiting arms of the deposed but still deadly Taliban.
The eradication campaign, which has been marked by sporadic violence since it began earlier this year, saw more deaths Wednesday. According to wire service reports, three Afghans working on crop substitution, an engineer and a government soldier were gunned down in a Taliban ambush in Helmand province.
The Senlis Council proposed a solution in March, when it suggested the crop be diverted into the legal market. According to the nonpartisan think tank, based on comparisons between opioid medicine consumption rates in Europe and the underdeveloped world, there is a need for 10,000 metric tons of opium annually to meet the global demand for such medicines. In poorer nations, the Senlis Council argued, people forego the medicines because prices are so high. The entire Afghan opium crop is estimated to be 4,000 tons.
Currently, the production of opium for legitimate medical purposes is limited to a handful of countries, including Australia, India, and Turkey, and is strictly regulated by the International Narcotics Control Board. Afghanistan could benefit by joining that group, the Council suggested.
When Senlis first broached the idea, Afghan government officials reacted with cautious interest. But recently retired former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Robert Charles, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor this week, pooh-poohed the very notion. "Anything that went about legalizing an opiate in that market would send exactly the wrong message," he said. "It would suggest that there is something legitimate to growing."
Uh, pain control? Anesthesia? That's exactly the point: There is a potential legitimate market for the crop, the Senlis Council argues.
Still, with Charles' comments representative of the official US line, the idea is probably a "non-starter," Kabul-based analyst Paul Fishbein told the Monitor. Citing "outside political pressure" on the Afghan government, Fishbein called the idea "a long-term prospect" that would first require the strengthening of fledgling Afghan institutions.
Despite the slap-down from the Americans, the Senlis Council stand by its proposal and is sponsoring a September conference in Kabul to explore it further.
In a prohibition paradox, crackdowns on retail drug dealers result in lower prices and increased drug sales, said Vancouver Police Inspector Kash Heed, a former head of the department's drug squad. The findings come not from Heed's "street sense," but from a study the sometime university lecturer completed to fulfill requirements for his masters degree at Simon Fraser University.
Heed, who headed the drug squad from 2000 to 2003, became a critic of the war on drugs during that stint and won the respect of hard-nosed drug activists like Ann Livingston of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users and marijuana seed entrepreneur and activist Marc Emery, both of whom marked the end of his tenure with regret.
Heed's research looked at 600 street-level drug dealers arrested in police crackdowns in Vancouver over an 18-month period. He found that instead of making drugs more difficult or more expensive to buy, just the opposite occurred. "The increased enforcement efforts have actually had a paradoxical effect," he told the Canadian Broadcasting System Monday. "When you take one group of traffickers off the street, there is a void that is filled almost right away by people who are wanting to get into the business, who are new traffickers that offer their drugs for less of a price than it was prior."
While Heed told the CBC he supported Vancouver's Four Pillars approach to drug use -- prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and law enforcement -- he said the long term solution is to decriminalize drugs and shift resources to treatment. "I'm leaning towards this exploring some type of decriminalization policy and increasing the amount of treatment that would be available, and getting some intervention early on in the cycle that these criminals get involved in that leads to the proliferation of the problems on our streets."
An annual report from the German Health Ministry has found that the number of people who died from illegal drug use in Germany is at its lowest level since 1989, and the German government is crediting harm reduction measures for the decline. Some 1,385 people died from drug overdoses last year, down by about a hundred from the previous year. (By comparison, about 15,000 people die from illegal drugs each year in the US. Since Germany has roughly one-quarter the population of the US, that means that US citizens are dying of drug overdoses at a rate roughly four times that of Germans.)
The German government has backed the establishment of methadone substitution programs and safe injection sites a cornerstone of its drug policy, with a total of 25 safe injection sites across the country. "The decline shows the government is on the right track with its help for drug addicts," drug commissioner Marion Caspers-Merk said at a Wednesday press conference announcing the data.
According to the report, between 120,000 and 150,000 people in a nation of 82 million are opiate addicts. Nearly half of them -- 60,000 -- are receiving substitute treatments, primarily with methadone.
While Caspers-Merk pronounced himself pleased with hard drug policy, he expressed concern about growing marijuana use among adolescents. Among 12-to-15-year-olds, 24% reported having tried pot, a figure Caspers-Merk found "alarming."
May 20, 1991: A domestic heroin seizure record, still in effect today, is set, 1,071 pounds in Oakland, California.
May 20, 1997: Eighteen-year-old Esequiel Hernandez is shot while herding sheep near the US-Mexico border, is shot and killed by camouflaged Marines involved in a Joint Task Force-6 border drug interdiction operation, becoming the first American citizen killed on American soil by US soldiers in peacetime.
May 22, 1997: Mayor John Norquist of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, signs a measure decriminalizing first time possession of small amounts of marijuana, passed by a close margin by the city council.
May 24, 1988: A domestic hashish seizure record, still in effect today, is set, 75,066 pounds in San Francisco, California.
May 24, 1993: Juan Cardinal Posados Ocampo, archbishop of Guadalajara, is assassinated at 3:45pm in Hidalgo International Airport in Guadalajara by San Diego gang members hired by the Arellano-Felix Organization.
May 26, 1971: In tapes revealed long after his presidency ended, President Richard M. Nixon says, "You know it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists, you know, there's so many, all the greatest psychiatrists are Jewish."
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 by May 30 to [email protected], or fax to (202) 293-8344. (E-mail to let us know if you have sent a fax.)
The Development Assistant supports the Director of Development in managing DPA's development department and fundraising efforts with particular focus on event planning and the major gifts program. Click here for the full listing.
The Marijuana Policy Project currently has four full-time job openings, Executive Assistant to the Campaign Manager and Volunteer Coordinator in Las Vegas, and National Field Director and Legislative Analyst in Washington, DC. Click here for the complete listings.
The Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) is hiring a Director of Prevention Policy for work which will include harm reduction. Location is flexible, applications due by June 17. E-mail [email protected] to request the full job listing.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
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, 8:00am, Bethesda, MD, "The Business Person's Guide to the Drug Problem," presentation to the North Bethesda Rotary Club by Eric Sterling. Call (301) 589-6020 or visit http://www.cjpf.org 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 9, 6:30pm, Potomac, MD, "The Business Person's Guide to the Drug Problem," presentation to the Rotary Club of Potomac-Bethesda by Eric Sterling. Call (301) 589-6020 or visit http://www.cjpf.org for further information.
June 11, 11:00am-5:00pm, Ottawa, ON, Canada, "Truth, Hope and Compassion (THC) Rally," sponsored by Crosstown Traffic (http://www.crosstowntraffic.ca). Contact Tim Meehan at (613) 230-1937 or [email protected] or Russell Barth at (613) 761-6504 or [email protected] 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 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 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 23-25, New Paltz, NY, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Northeast Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact Jenny Loeb at [email protected] 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.
October 2, noon, Madison WI, "Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival." At the UW Campus Library Mall, visit http://www.weedstock.com 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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