(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #393 -- 7/1/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The story is not straightforward. Senator Palpatine, secretly the evil Sith lord Darth Sidious, quietly orchestrates a series of conflicts in order to draw the Republic's central government down a road of militarization while increasing and cementing his own power -- first as Chancellor, finally Emperor, the army built to defend the Republic from enemies his henchmen had organized transformed into the instrument of a dictatorship firmly under his grip. Precious democracy failed, undermined by the fear of enemies without and the corrupting machinations of unprincipled individuals within. The dark side won, at least for a time.
The dark lord's power grab in the Star Wars prequels took the form of a plot. Not being much of a conspiracy type, I don't see the evolution of the drug war in that way. I view the drug war more as resulting from a malignant confluence of ignorance, political convenience, economic interests, racial and cultural prejudices, and misguided zealotry -- along with a legitimate concern over addiction and the misuse of substances. I don't believe the drug war is a plot directed by a few key actors, though I can't prove that. My analogy lies in a different direction.
What prompted me to draw a Star Wars analogy this week was the release of the annual World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which this year included an estimate of the annual revenues of the global drug trade in 2003. UNODC placed that amount at $320 billion. "This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster," UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa said of the 12-figure industry. One of Costa's associates pointed out that the drug trade's worth is greater than the GDP of 88% of the UN's member nations.
But those $320 billion per year only lie in the criminal underground because governments have decided, nationally and at the international level, to use the criminal law to prohibit drugs. If drugs were legal, the money would instead reside in the legitimate economy. All the harm, all the pathology flowing from this huge, illicit drug economy -- and it is vast -- all the warping, corrupting effects that economy has on entire societies -- all this exists because governments created an army of enemies by prohibiting drugs and then declared war on them.
Every week we report here on further diminutions of civil rights and liberties -- of freedom -- in the name of a drug war waged against a multi-hundred billion dollar foe that can't be beaten. Dr. Costa is not a Sith lord -- I hope -- but his call to struggle against the "monster" serves to fuel that process.
Nor do I equate the travesties of the drug war even with our own world's worst atrocities -- much less with the sheer evil of blowing up an inhabited planet as transpires in the first Star Wars movie taking place decades later. But some of the things going on in the drug war in their own right are still pretty bad; those who are involved in them should consider doing some introspection and rethinking if they don't want to continue unwittingly serving the dark side as they are doing now.
Fantasy aside, a lot of lives are being ruined and a lot of people are dying because of our drug policies, and our institutions of justice and governance no longer have the shiny luster we might have once believed them to have. My vote in this democracy of ours is to cease building up enemies and armies to fight them. My vote instead is for peace.
Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri Wednesday vetoed a medical marijuana bill that had passed both houses of the legislature with overwhelming support. But in a sign of the bill's momentum, the Senate delivered a slap in the face to the governor by overriding his veto late Thursday evening. The bill's sponsors in the House have vowed to do the same, but time is running short.
While Carcieri had earlier signaled he would veto the bill, the move came one day after two representatives of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) visited the state to lobby against the measure that would have made Rhode Island the 11th state to enact a medical marijuana law.
The measure's "noble goals cannot mask its serious safety flaws," the governor said in his veto message. "Our desire as public servants to be compassionate must be balanced by our obligation to ensure public safety," he said. "The flaws inherent in this bill will place our children at an increased risk of abusing marijuana... [and] give our citizens a false sense of security against criminal prosecution."
In language straight out of Harry Anslinger's phrase book, Carcieri described marijuana as an "addictive narcotic." Worse yet, Carcieri said, "nearly anyone" would be able to grow his medicine "in nearly any private location." And the amount of marijuana that sick people could possess was "staggering," the Republican governor said.
The bill would protect patients from arrest under Rhode Island law if they have a doctor's recommendation and register with the state. Marijuana could be used to treat the symptoms of certain serious illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and cancer. Under the bill, patients could possess up to 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
"As a person living with multiple sclerosis, I'm disappointed and saddened by the governor's veto," said Rhonda O'Donnell, an MS patient who is also a registered nurse. "He should be working to protect seriously ill people, not to subject us to arrest. I hope the legislature will continue to show their humanity and compassion by overriding this veto."
It would be a shame to come so close and still be thwarted, said O'Donnell. "There has been so much momentum and support for this bill. We had grassroots support, we had broad public support, and the legislature was listening to its constituents. That's one thing the governor isn't doing," she told DRCNet. "This is disheartening."
"Gov. Carcieri would have us believe we need the Rhode Island state police to arrest cancer patients to save them from the threat of arrest by federal authorities," said Neal Levine, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC. "His constantly shifting reasoning for vetoing this legislation is downright bizarre. Fortunately, the Rhode Island General Assembly seems to have more compassion than the governor. We are hopeful the legislature will override this veto and protect some of Rhode Island's most vulnerable citizens."
While patients and advocates expressed outrage at Carcieri's veto, legislators vowed to do just that, and by Thursday evening the Senate had acted. After passing in the House last week by a margin of 52-10, the votes to override are there in the House as well, if legislators continue to stand firm and the override comes to another vote.
"Apparently the governor doesn't want to listen to the House, he doesn't want to listen to the Senate, and he doesn't want to listen to 70% of the people of Rhode Island," said Rep. Thomas Slater (D-Providence), the bill's House sponsor. "He wants to listen to the people that come in from Washington, DC, to push against this bill."
Slater was referring to two ONDCP employees, John Horton, assistant deputy director for state and local affairs, and Patrick Royal of the public affairs office, who arrived Monday and spent the next two days urging lawmakers and Carcieri's staff to oppose the bill. Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal confirmed to the Pawtucket Times that the ONDCP representatives argued that the bill would violate federal law and that the Food and Drug Administration does not consider marijuana to be a safe and effective medicine. While the ONDCP arguments apparently worked on a governor already leaning toward a veto, neither they nor the governor's veto message were changing the minds of the bill's proponents.
Those concerns have "all already been answered," said Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), the bill's Senate sponsor. "I don't think there's one thing in his veto message that would change my mind... and I'm pretty certain it won't change anybody else's mind easily," she said before Thursday override vote. She was right. Carcieri's suggestion that the legalizing medical marijuana would increase teens' access to the herb was "totally wrong," said Perry. Ten other states have similar programs, and an increase in teen marijuana use "just has not happened," she said.
Both Slater and Perry told the Pawtucket Times Wednesday they were seeking to schedule a vote to override the veto. Slater said he would ask House Speaker William Murphy to schedule a vote, while Perry walked over to Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed to request a vote as the newspaper's reporter watched.
A vote in the House to override is by no means certain, said SSDP's Angell. "We have to ensure that none of the legislators who were visited by the drug czar's people change their votes," he said. "There is also the question of timing. There are a number of issues they'll be working on before the session ends. We have to keep the pressure on the legislature."
In the last week, the Peruvian government's decade-old, US-backed policy of dealing with coca cultivation -- a practice that goes back hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the Andes -- by largely trying to wipe out the crop, has come under renewed attack from coca growers and their allies. Last week in the ancient Inca imperial capital of Cuzco, the local government defied the national government by issuing a decree, or "ordenanza," legalizing production in three area river valleys. This week, even as the national government flailed about searching for a response to the Cuzco challenge, coca growers in the Upper Huallaga, Apurimac, and Monzon river valleys have called a general strike to demand an end to forced eradication. Some 7,000 cocaleros gathered Tuesday in a show of strength in the Upper Huallaga Valley town of Tingo Maria Tuesday, according to Peruvian press accounts.
While conflict over coca eradication has been chronic, if sporadic, since large-scale repression got underway in the late 1990s, the current attacks on the government's coca policies began last week in Cuzco. On June 21, as some 2,000 coca growers in the town square watched, an Andean priest blessed coca leaves carried in on the backs of donkeys. Then, regional authorities, responding to pressure from local cocaleros, declared the plant a national treasure and announced they had issued a decree legalizing coca production for medicinal, nutritional, and traditional uses in three nearby valleys.
"I have issued this law, which we are promulgating with great satisfaction in the name of the poorest people in Cuzco, who are biting their nails and in hunger and solitude turn to their hillsides to sow their sacred plant," Cuzco regional president Carlos Cuaresma told Reuters Television.
"We passed the law because of pressure from coca growers," said Cuzco Vice President Alejandro Uscumayta. "There have been marches and roadblocks and we don't want that to continue because it hurts tourism."
As the imperial capital of the Inca empire, Cuzco is a tourist attraction in its own right. The presence of the nearby ruins of Macchu Picchu, Peru's top tourist draw, only makes the city a more attractive destination for visitors. But it wasn't just tourism that moved local authorities, according to one Peruvian coca expert.
"This is in part for reasons of electoral politics," said Hugo Cabieses, a former advisor to the Peruvian anti-drug agency DEVIDA and current advisor to the national coca growers confederation, CONPACCP, which supports the Cuzco ordinance. "Carlos Cuaresma wants to run for reelection next year, and he has only a 5% approval rating from voters. This maneuver will allow him to rise in the polls as he receives the support of coca growers in the valleys and consumers in the Cuzco highlands," Cabieses told DRCNet.
Initial reaction from the Peruvian government was quick and negative, with DEVIDA head Nils Ericsson expressing concern that the ordenanza had effectively legalized 42,000 acres of coca crops. "This is throwing wood on the fire against a backdrop of agitation by coca growers. I'm very disappointed for our anti-drugs efforts," Ericsson told Reuters. Such actions could quickly turn the country into a "narcostate," he warned.
But with Cuaresma refusing to back down and even threatening that he "would not be responsible" for the consequences if the central government tried to overturn the law, President Alejandro Toledo's weak government was forced to negotiate. Earlier this week, Cuaresma and Prime Minister Carlos Ferrero reached a face-saving agreement for both in which the government will allow legal coca cultivation in one valley -- not the three Cuaresma originally named. Still, the national government has taken a blow by acceding to the agreement, because in so doing it has yielded national authority to a regional government.
"This is very important," said Cabieses, "both for Cuzco and at the national level. It has already caused a huge political scandal. The government first tried to reject the ordinance, and when that failed, had to settle for modifying its content. They managed to get 'valleys' changed to a single 'valley,' which was a step back for Cuaresma, but they still look very weak," he said. "It also signifies that a new period of debate over coca, drugs, and drug policy has opened, and let us hope it will be serious and balanced. The ordinance provides an opening for those of us who argue for the necessity of creating alternative policies, revising the national law, and modifying the international treaties."
The Cuzco ordinance allowing legal cultivation in the La Convencion Valley is also reverberating among cocaleros elsewhere in Peru, said Cabieses. "Today in the Alto Huallaga and Aguaytia the cocaleros are on a general strike -- with blockades of the highways -- against the forced eradication of coca, and one of their platform points is supporting the Cuzco ordananza."
Beginning Monday, an estimated 150,000 cocaleros in the country's central valleys initiated a general strike in defense of legal coca growing. Peruvian press reports announced blockades on highways in the Upper Huallaga, and the leaders of the country's cocalero movement converged on Tingo Maria along with thousands of their followers Tuesday. Some 24 different coca grower confederations were represented at Tingo Maria, with some 250 cocalero delegations from surrounding areas heading for the city, according to the newspaper Peru.21.
Elsa Malpartida, leader of the Confederation of Coca Leaf Producers, told the newspaper the growers are demanding that the government craft a new coca law that guarantees both traditional coca-chewing and coca crops for commercial production of medicinal and nutritional products. Malpartida also signaled that the cocaleros are joining other Peruvian peasants in opposition to the free trade agreement being negotiated between the US and Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. The cocaleros would fight "to the bitter end," she said.
By Wednesday, pressure on the government rose further as cocaleros from the Apurimac River valley led by David Chavarria announced they would join the strike next Monday. Cocaleros from the Monzon River valley who had rejected the strike last week were also joining up by mid-week.
And they are in for a fight. As the cocaleros gathered in Tingo Maria, Prime Minister Ferrero announced that the Toledo government would next month introduce a bill for a new coca law. In remarks made to celebrate the UN's international anti-drug day, Ferrero said the new law would revise the amount of coca that could be legally grown and update the list of growers who are certified to sell legal coca to the Peruvian state coca monopoly, ENACO.
Coca growers were most emphatically not invited to help formulate the new law, said DEVIDA head Ericsson. They could not participate, he said, because most of them are violating the law by planting coca for illicit ends.
And hovering in the background is the United States, desperate to have something to show for the $5.4 billion it has spent since 2000 trying to wipe out coca in the Andes and cocaine use in the US. The Congressional Research Service, which came up with that figure, also noted all that spending had "no impact" on cocaine prices in the US. According to Peru.21, US Ambassador James Curtis Struble is playing the traditional role of American plenipotentiaries in Latin America, warning darkly that the Peruvian government must establish a more consistent and reliable policy centered on eradication.
In March, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a study finding that the number of people entering drug treatment for marijuana-related problems had increased dramatically during the decade from 1992 to 2002. Federal anti-drug bureaucrats campaigning to frame marijuana as a dangerous drug quickly latched on to the report as more fodder for their crusade.
"This report is a wake-up call for parents that marijuana is not a soft drug," said Tom Riley, a spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) when the March report came out. "It's a much bigger part of the addiction problem than is generally understood."
In a March 10 "open letter" to parents that ran in more than 300 newspapers nationwide, ONCDP head John Walters (the drug czar) used the SAMSHA numbers to warn that marijuana is "addictive" and that ""more teens are in treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined." (Bizarrely, he also tried to blame the dreaded "BC Bud," with its alleged high potency, for part of the increase, even though -- sorry, Canadian chauvinists -- BC Bud is no different from or more powerful than high-grade marijuana grown in the United States.)
"These numbers essentially reaffirm what we've been saying for years -- that the purported increase in marijuana treatment admissions is not due to any increased potency or even people checking themselves in voluntarily, but almost exclusively to the increase in the number of people arrested, who are then given the choice of treatment or serving time in jail," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Naturally, they take treatment."
According to the DASIS Report, they are doing so in huge numbers. Judges sent more than 160,000 marijuana offenders into drug treatment in 2002. That is a little less than one out of four of the nearly 700,000 Americans arrested on marijuana charges that year.
By contrast, only about 47,000, or 17% of people in treatment for marijuana, thought they had a problem bad enough to refer themselves. Another 10% were referred by drug abuse or health care providers and 5% by their school or employer. The final 10% were "other community referral," which in many cases probably means parents.
Interestingly, the DASIS numbers showed that people forced into treatment by the criminal justice system were less likely to show signs of problematic drug use than those who weren't. Criminal justice system referrals were more likely to be employed (43% to 32%). On the other hand, they were less likely to have used marijuana in the last month (60% to 73%) or on a daily basis (23% to 32%), and less likely to report using other drugs (33% to 37%), or daily use of other drugs.
But pot smokers who get busted are getting treatment whether they need it or not -- and many clearly don't. "The average age of those people admitted to marijuana treatment through the criminal justice system is 23," Armentano noted. "That is right in line with the research we did on arrests, where we found that 74% of all persons arrested for possession are under age 30. These younger, first-time offenders are the people being coerced into treatment instead of jail, but they are not the kind of people we think of when we think of people who need or desire treatment."
And while last Friday's DASIS Report contained relatively high past month usage figures, according to SAMHSA's own data on drug treatment, the Treatment Episodes Data Sets in 2002, 34.6% of those who underwent treatment for marijuana "dependency" had not even used the drug in the previous month and 16.1% had used it from one to three times. "More than half the people in treatment for alleged marijuana dependency smoked three times or less in the month prior to admission," exclaimed Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Give me a flipping break!"
The increase in people getting treatment for marijuana is a more a function of increasing marijuana arrests than anything, Mirken suggested. Indeed, during the period when marijuana treatment was skyrocketing, so were arrests, with the annual number climbing from 340,000 in 1992 to almost 700,000 in 2002. "These treatment numbers are an artifact of all those arrests, which have been escalating for the last decade," he said. "The government arrests these people, forces them into treatment, and then uses those numbers as 'proof' of how dangerously addictive marijuana is. That is a truly Orwellian formulation."
"Walters wants it both ways," said NORML's Armentano. "He wants to say that not many people go to jail for marijuana, when the fact is they're not going to jail because they're being sent to treatment. And then he wants to use those numbers to falsely imply that marijuana is more dangerous and that's why all those people are in treatment. The reality is that arrests have doubled and we've seen a proportionate rise in the numbers forced into treatment."
People forced into drug treatment by the courts for getting caught with pot are taking up valuable treatment resources, said Armentano. "People who work in drug treatment are scrambling to find beds to put people in, especially for hard drug abuse, when those beds are filled by people who don't meet any clinical definition of requiring treatment, but are just looking for an alternative to jail."
While there is profit to be made treating people who are ordered there by the courts for marijuana offenses, some treatment providers would just as soon not have to deal with them. "We get our share of people forced into treatment," said Kirby Dean, cofounder and president of the Pacific Hills treatment center in San Juan Capistrano, California. "But people who are coming here to avoid jail are less likely to be interested in staying clean and sober," he told DRCNet.
"My guess is that most people in the criminal justice system regard drug treatment as more humane than incarceration, and they think they're doing people a favor," said MPP's Mirken. "In some cases, they may be. But there are occasional pot smokers taking up treatment slots that could be used by someone with a real drug problem. If would be really unfortunate if someone who really needs help isn't getting a place because someone else got caught with a joint."
Another week, another batch of crooked law enforcement personnel. A sticky-fingered evidence room guard gets his reward, a long-running Dallas scandal takes down another cop, a New York City transit cop gets in trouble for his day job, and yet another prison guard gets caught peddling goodies to the inmates. Let the drum roll of dishonor commence:
In Daytona Beach, Florida, a Volusia County Sheriff's Department civilian employee was sentenced to three years in prison June 23 for stealing more than a million dollars worth of drugs from the department's evidence room. Timothy Wallace, 48, pleaded guilty in April to charges of official misconduct and conspiracy to traffic cocaine. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that angry Wallace family members said he was forced into a plea deal and was being scapegoated. Oddly, while Wallace faced up to 30 years in prison, Assistant State Attorney Jeanne Statis asked for only three. She told the newspaper she had made that sentencing recommendation at the request of the sheriff's department. She also said Wallace could have received even less time -- for stealing a million dollars worth of police dope?
In Dallas, the fake-drug scandal where Dallas Police narcotics detectives sent dozens of men to prison based on seized drugs that turned out to be gypsum, the stuff used to make pool chalk or sheetrock, has claimed another police officer. On Tuesday, Chief David Kunkle fired Sgt. Jack Gouge, who supervised the officer at the center of the scandal, narc Mark Delapaz, who earlier this year was sentenced to five years in prison for lying to a judge to obtain a search warrant in the case. Delapaz is out on bail pending an appeal. Sgt. Gouge was also the supervisor of two other Dallas police officers fired but not prosecuted for their roles, detectives Eddie Herrera and David Larsen. Gouge was fired after a departmental investigation concluded that he failed to perform as a supervisor, meet with confidential informants, review search warrants, or follow instructions from superiors. Gouge's attorney, Bob Baskett, told the Dallas Morning News his client was overworked. For more on this complex, long-running scandal, check out the Morning News' in-depth, online report.
In Huappauge, New York, a rookie cop for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority was arrested for peddling cocaine, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office announced June 23. Officer Donald Howell, 32, was arrested a week earlier after undercover officers bought coke from him several times during a seven-month investigation into a suburban New York City cocaine ring. DA Thomas Spota told the Associated Press that drug selling was Howell's main source of income before he entered the police academy in January 2004 -- leading one to wonder just when authorities figured that out. Howell is being held on $500,000 bail. Eight other people were also arrested, including Howell's girlfriend, who was charged with "attempted conspiracy."
In Augusta, Maine, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency announced June 23 it had arrested a Maine State Prison guard for peddling heroin. Sean Greenleaf, 32, was busted after a two-month investigation into drug smuggling into the state prison at Warren. After receiving information that a prison guard was involved, an undercover agent contacted by Greenleaf agreed to deliver him 9 grams of heroin and an ounce-and-a-half of marijuana. According to the plan, Greenleaf would then smuggle the drugs into the prison, but he was instead arrested as soon as he took possession of the drugs. Greenleaf, who had worked at the prison only since February, was charged with aggravated heroin trafficking and at last report was being held pending making bail.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued its World Drug Report 2005 Wednesday. Among its most startling findings is that the global drug trade generates more than $320 billion a year in revenues, primarily from retail drug sales.
"The size of the world's illicit drug industry is thus equivalent to 0.9% of the world's Gross Domestic Product or higher than the GDP of 88% of the countries in the world," Carsten Hyttel, East African representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told a Nairobi news conference.
"This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster," said UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa in the annual report.
But Costa's "monster" constitutes 14% of global agricultural exports and represents the life blood for millions of low-income farmers around the planet. Between marijuana and hashish, the global cannabis market alone is valued at $142 billion, followed by cocaine at $71 billion, and opiates at $65 billion. As Scott Henson of the Grits for Breakfast blog noted, "That means, practically speaking, if the pipe dream of stopping the drug trade ever actually succeeded, much of the world economy from Bolivia to Afghanistan to Northern California would collapse into global depression."
The estimate on the global drug trade was a first for UNODC, according to the agency, which said it was necessary to understand its scope and breadth of influence. "Its 'companies' are not listed on the stock exchange, they are not valued by any private accounting firm, and the dynamics of the drug industry are not regularly pored over by analysts, economists, and forecasters," the report said.
According to UNODC estimates, more than two-thirds of the revenues, or $214 billion, came from retail drug sales, with North America alone tallying up around $100 billion annually to support its various drug habits. Europeans spent about $70 billion a year to get high, the report said.
In other highlights from the report:
* The number of people worldwide who used an illegal drug at least once last year was 200 million, or 5% of the adult population. Three out of four drug users, or 160 million people, were marijuana users, and that number is on the rise, UNODC reported. "All indicators -- production, seizures and consumption -- suggest that the market at the global level is expanding further. For the time being, there is no reason to believe that this expansion will stop."
* Cocaine cultivation in South American's Andes is once again on the increase, rising 2% over last year. While cocaine production remains well-below record levels recorded in the late 1990s, increases in production in Bolivia and Peru have offset decreases in Colombia, where the crop has been subject to a merciless aerial eradication campaign backed by the US. "This is a worrying loss of momentum" for Bolivia and Peru "and could eventually weaken the progress the region has made in controlling the cocaine supply."
* The world's heroin supply can almost be described in one word: Afghanistan. While UNODC optimistically wrote that "the situation looks slightly more positive for Afghanistan," the country currently supplies 87% of the world's opium, from which heroin is derived. Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, once a leading center of poppy cultivation, is now almost opium-free and should be completely so by 2007, the UNODC said.
* The global romance with amphetamine-type stimulants is wearing off. Use of methamphetamine was down, thanks in part, UNODC noted, to the vicious repression in Thailand, while Ecstasy use is decreasing in the US.
US efforts to remove harm reduction in general and needle access programs in particular from the anti-AIDS vocabulary suffered a setback this week in Geneva, where the United Nations' AIDS agency (UNAIDS) shrugged off demands from Washington that it block the use of needle exchange programs (NEPS) in countries where injection drug use is a major factor in the spread of the disease.
Controversy over the Bush administration's abstinence-focused stance erupted in March at the 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, where the US threatened to block funding unless the UN Office on Drugs and Crime removed all references to supporting NEPS despite a thick pile of studies showing that the programs are effective in reducing the spread of AIDS and do not encourage drug use.
The US wanted to do the same at the UNAIDS session, but was defeated by countries more amenable to science-based solutions to the problem of AIDS transmission. With injection drug use responsible for 80% of AIDS cases in Europe and Central Asia, the problem was too serious to be derailed by American moralizing.
The writing on the wall was evident as the meeting opened, with Gareth Thomas, Britain's international development minister telling the agency his government wants to see "efforts to intensify harm reduction strategies, including needle and syringe exchange programs. We support effective harm reduction programs, especially needle and syringe exchange and methadone substitution therapy because they have been proven to reduce HIV infection among infecting drug users and their sexual partners in many countries."
US officials asked that all references to NEPS be dropped from the agency's governing policy statement on prevention in the context of antiretroviral drug therapy (ART). Instead they got this from the final statement issued Wednesday:
"Injecting drug users have specific prevention and treatment needs, including testing and counseling, needle and syringe programs, drug substitution therapy and ART. While the need to implement and integrate these services for this population is becoming increasingly clear in the era of ART, political commitment is still lacking in many of the countries where these services are needed most."
At least the words are now back in the official international anti-AIDS vocabulary.
The UN's 18th annual anti-drug day was, however, marked primarily by bonfires of confiscated drugs. In Afghanistan, authorities in Kabul set up a massive blaze with 13 tons of confiscated opium, nine tons of hashish, two tons of heroin, and six tons of "other narcotics," Reuters reported. The air was also filled with fragrant smoke in neighboring Pakistan, where authorities in Karachi torched another 20 tons of drugs seized in its territorial waters.
In Vietnam, things were a bit more laid back. In a nation with 170,000 drug addicts and 94,000 HIV-infected people, 70% of them linked to injecting drugs, authorities took a more positive tack. Instead of announcing arrests or burning contraband, they held a meeting entitled "Let's Live a Healthy Life," the Vietnam News Agency reported.
Across Asia, the international day against drugs spawned newspaper articles and editorials exhorting drug users to change their ways, but the task is huge. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in a report released this week, the number of drug users worldwide stands at 200 million, or 5% of the adult population. No need to worry about canceling next year's events for lack of interest yet.
US Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning congressman from East Texas, last week introduced the Industrial Hemp Farming Act (HR 3037), which would remove federal restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp, the low-THC, high-fiber cannabis cultivar popular in products from candy bars to auto body parts to sneakers. The introduction of Rep. Paul's bill marks the first time a hemp bill has been introduced at the federal level since the federal government outlawed hemp farming in the 1930s. (That ban was temporarily lifted during World War II as part of the "Hemp for Victory" program.)
Currently, some 30 other countries, including neighboring Canada, allow for hemp cultivation for industrial and nutritional purposes. Six US states have already voted to remove barriers to research on hemp production, while legislation is pending in 20 more. Support for industrial hemp also comes from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which "supports revisions to the federal rules and regulations authorizing commercial production of industrial hemp." And a leading farm organization, the National Grange, also "supports research, production, processing and marketing of industrial hemp as a viable agricultural activity."
But none of that can happen without a change in the federal law. Rep. Paul and hemp advocates tried to jumpstart that process last week at a Capitol Hill luncheon where about a hundred congressional staffers feasted on a five-course gourmet hemp meal featuring delicacies like Bahama Hempnut Crusted Wild Salmon and Fuji Fennel Hempseed Salad. Attendees were served up not only delicious food but also a healthy portion of rhetoric designed to call attention to the need for a new hemp law.
"It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, competing in the global industrial hemp market," said Rep. Paul. "Indeed the founders of our nation, some of who grew hemp, surely would find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to stand up for American farmers and cosponsor the Industrial Hemp Farming Act."
Among the guests at the luncheon were four original cosponsors, Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), George Miller (D-CA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). Also in attendance was consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who called the US ban on hemp farming "bureaucratic medievalism."
North Dakota is one of the six states that have passed legislation okaying research into hemp. North Dakota state Rep. David Monson (R-Osnabrock), the sponsor of the hemp bill there, told the luncheon the federal government was an obstacle. "Industrial hemp production is on hold in North Dakota and the entire US, due to roadblocks in Washington DC," Monson said. "We have had tremendous bipartisan support for legislation we've introduced in North Dakota."
With companies ranging from Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps to Adidas to Nutiva Hemp Foods and many more all using hemp in their products, US farmers are poised to start profiting from hemp crops as soon as they are able. "Industrial hemp has become a lucrative crop for farmers in Europe, Canada and Asia, so farmers here are asking 'Why are we being left out?'" said Alexis Baden-Mayer, Director of Government Relations for the industry group Vote Hemp. "Because there are millions of cars on the road with hemp door panels, tens of millions of dollars spent annually on hemp food and hemp body care and hemp paper is being made in the US, people are asking tough questions about why the US government won't distinguish low-THC hemp from high-THC drug varieties. I believe this federal legislation will gain momentum over the next year as we spend time educating Congress and their constituents about the need for reforms," said Baden-Mayer.
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson undoubtedly spoke for many farmers who see dollar signs around hemp. "Industrial hemp is used in a tremendous variety of products, including food products, soap, cosmetics, fertilizer, textiles, paper, paints and plastics," Johnson said. "Once the crop is legalized in this country, I believe science will find even more uses for industrial hemp, uses that will make industrial hemp a popular and profitable crop."
Sativex, a prescription marijuana extract applied via sublingual spray manufactured by British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals, went on sale last week in Canada after being approved there earlier this year. This week, a Multiple Sclerosis victim from Illinois and her doctor announced they are seeking access to the drug through the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Investigational New Drug (IND) program.
Under federal law, drugs that have been approved in another country but not yet in the US may be used under a doctor's direction if the FDA approves. Under a Compassionate Use IND, the US government has provided medical marijuana to a handful of patients for nearly 30 years, but has refused to accept any new patients into the program since 1992.
At a Wednesday press conference in Chicago, Julie Falco and her physician, Dr. Anthony Reder, backed by the medical marijuana defense organization Americans for Safe Access, unveiled the effort. "Patients in states that don't have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana need access to a safe and legal form of natural cannabis. Access to Sativex® will provide the pain relief I need without the threat of incarceration that hangs over all us all," said Falco, who said she uses marijuana to relieve the symptoms of MS.
The state of Illinois does not have a functioning medical marijuana program. A 33-year-old law allowed the state to create such a program, but it never did. This year, a group called IDEAL Reform came close to pushing a medical marijuana bill through the state legislature. But strong opposition that included a blitzkrieg visit to the statehouse by drug czar John Walters and campaigning against the bill -- and the very notion of medical marijuana -- by former deputy drug czar Andrea Barthwell helped kill the bill.
Marijuana is currently scheduled as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD, meaning it cannot be prescribed. The application to the IND is part of a larger strategy to reschedule marijuana in the US, said ASA executive director Steph Sherer in a statement Tuesday. "The introduction of Sativex® to Canadian markets vindicates what patients, doctors, and medical associations have been saying for centuries: marijuana is a safe and effective medication," said Sherer. "The bottom line is marijuana must be rescheduled so that we can have an honest conversation about the best uses of marijuana as medicine, including the introduction of Sativex® to the US market."
Falco will not be the only patient applying through the IND program for permission to use Sativex, said ASA. The group "will be assisting a number of MS patients and their doctors through this application process, while they continue in their quest to change the schedule of marijuana from its current status, in the same category as heroin, to another category that recognizes the medicinal value of marijuana."
GW Pharmaceuticals, meanwhile, has announced it will apply for FDA approval this year, a process that will take a minimum of three years. In a move that has caused shudders among drug reform activists, the British company has hired none other than the above-mentioned Andrea Barthwell to shepherd Sativex through the approval process.
The Moroccan government reported June 24 that the country's Rif Mountains region, long famous as a center for Moroccan hashish production, continues to live up to its reputation. While government officials emphasized estimates that the amount of land dedicated to cannabis cultivation had decreased slightly between 2003 and 2004, buried in the report was the fact that some 96,000 families are "dependent on cannabis cultivation" for a living.
But that is still a lot of land devoted to pot plants -- more than 465 square miles, to be precise. To put that in context, it is as if every square inch of metropolitan Denver (458 square miles), San Antonio (438), or Indianapolis (468) were devoted to lush fields of cannabis.
And it's a good thing the Berbers of the Rif have their illicit cannabis crop or they would be largely reduced to penury. According to the Moroccan government's cannabis cultivation estimates, cannabis takes up one-quarter of all cultivated land in the region and 12% of irrigated land. And as the government noted, "half of the low annual income or two-thirds of the rural population of the region" are dependent on the cannabis crop for an income.
The UNODC estimated that Rif cannabis farmers earned about $220 million, or about $2,300 per cannabis-growing family, in 2003. That compares favorably to the national annual average income of $1,320. Still, as the UNODC noted, farmers get only a small share of profits from the hash trade, whose total market value the agency estimated at $1.2 billion, with most of the profits going to smugglers and European wholesalers and retailers.
Moroccan government officials suggested that law enforcement pressure on hashish smuggling had led to the slight decline in cultivation last year, but they also acknowledged that repression will have only marginal impacts in the absence of alternative ways of earning a life for the hash farmers of the Rif.
The trend toward marijuana smokers growing their own pot in Great Britain has reached critical mass, the British newspaper the Independent reported this week. "Most of the cannabis consumed in Britain is now produced domestically," the newspaper concluded while conceding that because of the clandestine nature of marijuana grows no one really knows for sure.
The "unprecedented boom" in home grows is attributable to a number of factors, including the relaxation of marijuana's classification to the less serious Class-C category, the easy availability of seeds and equipment over the Internet, and continuing demand from an aging population of middle-class consumers who have lost connections or simply wish to avoid the street-level drug-dealing scene, the newspaper explained. And some people are just in it for the money.
According to the Independent, British police are busting at least a dozen grows every week. In London alone, the number of grow busts has risen from 230 in 2003 to 420 last year and, if bust trends this year continue, should hit 600 by year's end. In Merseyside, a similar trend was evident, with grow busts rising from 18 in 2002 to 91 last year. Some 750 people with small grows were issued cautions in 2003, the last year for which figures are available, while the number of people convicted of operating grows was nearly 1,900 that same year. British police typically issue cautions for small, personal grows and prosecute larger commercial operations, they told the Independent.
A little more than two years ago, Mike Hough, professor of criminal policy at King's College London, authored a report on cannabis that predicted home-grown smoke would soon account for half the market. "I think these figures suggest it is truer now than when we wrote the report," he told the Independent.
But arrests and cautions only tell part of the story. The Independent got indirect confirmation of its thesis by reviewing the expansion of the Sceptered Isle's seed and grow-store industry. "There has been a rapid rise in small-scale cultivation," Brian Biggs of Hempstead Hydroponics in Waterford told the newspaper. "Although we cannot advertise our equipment for illegal purposes, we are aware than 90% of our customers probably use it for growing cannabis, which of course we do not condone." As Monty Python's Eric Idle used to say, "Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink."
It's often a family affair, said Biggs. Many of his new customers are middle-aged people with families who would rather grow their own than risk going to the street. "We get a lot of people coming in with their kids and they tell us that it is the kids have the know-how to grow it for their parents."
While police are officially aghast at the growth of do-it-yourself marijuana production, they may be missing the larger implication, Professor Hough suggested. "If the easy availability of growing equipment makes it possible to isolate people from criminal supply networks, that has to be a good thing," he said.
Dr. Ronald Libby of the University of North Florida writes for the Cato Institute on Treating Doctors as Drug Dealers.
July 1, 1930: The Porter Act establishes the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), an agency independent of the Department of the Treasury's Prohibition Unit and consequently unaffected by the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment. Harry J. Anslinger is named acting commissioner, a position he remains in for the next thirty years.
July 1, 1973: The Drug Enforcement Administration is established by President Nixon, intended to be a "super-agency" capable of handling all aspects of the drug problem. DEA consolidates agents from the BNDD, Customs, the CIA, and ODALE, and is headed by Myles Ambrose.
July 1, 1998: DEA Chief Thomas Constantine is quoted, "[In] my era everybody smoked and everybody drank and there was no drug use."
July 1, 2001 -- Portugal introduces Europe's most liberal drug policy to date with the implementation of new laws establishing no criminal penalties for using and possessing small amounts of not only cannabis but also heavy drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.
July 4, 1997: Amado Carrillo Fuentes, according to the DEA the number one drug trafficker on the planet and chased world-wide, dies in a Mexico City clinic of post-surgery complications. He was attempting to change his face through plastic surgery by having excess fat removed.
July 4, 2001: Sir Keith Morris, Britain's former ambassador to Colombia, is quoted in The Guardian: "It must be time to start discussing how drugs could be controlled more effectively within a legal framework. Decriminalization, which is often mentioned, would be an unsatisfactory halfway house, because it would leave the trade in criminal hands, giving no help at all to the producer countries, and would not guarantee consumers a safe product or free them from the pressure of pushers. It has been difficult for me to advocate legalization because it means saying to those with whom I worked, and to the relatives of those who died, that this was an unnecessary war. But the imperative must be to try to stop the damage. Drug prohibition does not work."
The Harm Reduction Coalition is recruiting for the position of Assistant Training Coordinator for the Harm Reduction Training Institute (HRTI). HRTI is the first national training center focused exclusively on harm reduction. Its staff and consultants are skilled trainers with extensive experience in the field. The purpose of HRTI is to increase understanding of the harm reduction philosophy; build the skills necessary to implement harm reduction strategies; strengthen harm reduction leadership across a diversity of disciplines and communities; and develop an awareness of the attitudes that contribute to discrimination against drug users and other marginalized groups.
The Assistant Coordinator will be responsible for the coordination of the New York Training Calendar. Responsibilities will include: assisting in the development and scheduling of the calendar of quarterly training workshops, including communication with trainers and handling participant registrations; recruiting and orienting new trainers; coordinating all logistics related to on-site trainings, such as photocopying and audio visual needs; and working with graphic designer on production of calendar and interface with production and mailing.
Candidates must possess a Bachelor's degree. Prior knowledge of harm reduction, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) health issues, familiarity with marginalized populations, and established commitment to cultural diversity and cultural competence is essential. Salary is up to $32,000 plus benefits.
Please fax your resume and cover letter to Nilda Lino at (212) 213-6582. All interested parties should submit their resume by June 30, 2005. Please include a cover letter with your resume.
Visit http://www.harmreduction.org for further information on the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
June 30-July 30, San Francisco, CA, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. Thursday, Friday & Saturday evenings at 8:00pm, at the Climate Theater, 285 9th St. (at Folsom), visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
July 8-9, 7:00pm, New Brunswick, NJ, "Waiting to Inhale," screenings of new medical marijuana documentary, at the New Jersey International Film Festival. At Rutgers University, Scott Hall #123, 43 College Ave., visit http://www.njfilmfest.com for info.
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 12-28, New York, NY, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. At the International Fringer Festival, visit http://www.adopedealer.com 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 1-2, Madison WI, "35th Annual 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.
April 30-May 4, 2006, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm," annual conference of the International Harm Reduction Association. Visit http://www.harmreduction2006.ca for further information.
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