(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #396 -- 7/22/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
Watch out, Mark Souder. While the self-described Christian conservative congressman from northeastern Indiana is the reigning champion of congressional drug warriors, this year he is getting some stiff competition from House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). While Sensenbrenner has long been a fan of anti-drug legislation and ever-harsher prison sentences, in past years he has shown a willingness to occasionally come down on the side of civil liberties instead of more policing.
Sensenbrenner has not always been Draco on the Hill, although his conservative bent has been consistent throughout his career. A year after finishing law school at the University of Wisconsin in 1968, the young heir to the Kimberly-Clark Kotex fortune won election to the state legislature with family money paving the way, and in 1978 began his career as a US congressman. He got off to a quick start, voting to block passage of a bill that would have helped judges around the country reform bail procedures, then joining the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. In the late 1980s, amidst the congressional frenzy to pass ever more stringent drug bills, he served on the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. He has sponsored his own death penalty bill, and in 1994 he said that Jocelyn Elders had "forfeited her right to be surgeon general of the United States" after her remarks about legalization of drugs and condoms.
That seems to have changed in the last few years. "It's goofy, from 2000 to 2003 he was helpful in stripping drug war bills of their worst provisions and in fighting Ashcroft on surveillance of political dissent," said long-time Wisconsin activist and gadfly Ben Masel. "I don't get what flipped him."
And with this year's introduction of the "Safe Access to Drug Treatment and Child Protection Act (HR 1528), even some of Sensenbrenner's colleagues are wondering if he has flipped out. That bill, stalled for the moment, would make it a federal crime punishable by a two-year mandatory minimum sentence to fail to report certain drug crimes to the authorities. If people are using drugs in a home with children, you must snitch. If you know someone who has ever been in treatment and is seeking drugs, you must snitch. Even if they are members of your own family. But wait, there's more.
The bill also creates harsh new penalties for a variety of nonviolent drug offenses, including a mandatory minimum five years for anyone who passes a joint to someone who has ever been in drug treatment, five years for someone who has been in treatment who asks a friend to find them drugs, and ten years for mothers who have been in treatment who commit certain drug offenses at home -- even if their kids aren't there.
An April hearing on the bill in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security was rushed to a vote by Chair Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) after even Justice Department witnesses expressed reservations about it, said Criminal Justice Policy Foundation president Eric Sterling, who attended that highly unusual session.
"Astonishingly, in the middle of the hearing, Chairman Coble interrupted the witnesses and asked for a vote to report the bill to the full committee," Sterling told DRCNet. While Coburn was momentarily deflected by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), who suggested the move was premature, 20 minutes later he again interrupted the proceedings to demand a vote. This time he got his way, even though two Republicans, Lungren and Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert voted present instead of voting for the bill. Then, surrealistically, the subcommittee resumed hearing witnesses even though it had already made its decision.
"In more than 25 years observing Congress, I have never seen nor heard of an instance in which a subcommittee interrupted a hearing on a bill, reporting it to full committee, before the subcommittee had completed hearing the testimony on the bill," said Sterling. "Sensenbrenner is willing to abandon the rules of the House of Representatives and common sense to move a bill that is only about portraying politicians as getting tough when law enforcement witnesses can't point to any instances in which the current law is insufficient to protect the public safety."
"Sensenbrenner has been busy this year, and there seems to be a change in the way he views things these days," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I don't know whether that's because of 911 or he's got new staffers or what, but he just doesn't seem to care about civil liberties the way he used to. He got the national ID card passed, he backed down on tackling some of the reforms necessary in the Patriot Act, he shepherded that gang bill through the House, he authored the snitch bill, and he's been going after judges. That, I think, is the real driving force behind his actions -- he just really hates judges and judicial discretion."
Which brings us to Sensenbrenner's latest fit of pique, reported here last week, where the House Judiciary Committee chairman attempted to intimidate a federal appeals court into altering a drug case sentence he felt was not sufficiently harsh. In that case, the trial judge had sentenced the defendant to a term below the mandatory minimum, and while federal prosecutors could probably have gotten the sentenced increased with an appeal, they did not.
Sensenbrenner lit out after the appeals court that ruled on the case. They were wrong, Sensenbrenner wrote in a letter to the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and needed to "promptly remedy" the error. But as the appeals court pointed out, it was Sensenbrenner who was wrong, and as countless commentators have pointed out, it was Sensenbrenner who committed an improper act by attempting to influence a pending court case.
"It is perfectly appropriate for the Congress to concern itself with instances of miscarriage of justice," said Sterling, citing cases where the Justice Department failed to act aggressively against corporate crime. "But when the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sends a letter to a court trying to get it to change the outcome of a case, it violates the procedures the courts are to follow and is done with either an intent to improperly intimidate the court or with reckless disregard of its tendency to intimidate the court," said Sterling, who served as counsel to that committee from 1979 to 1989.
Sensenbrenner's effort to intimidate the federal courts comes in the context of a broader congressional offensive against the judiciary, a nearly two-decades long process manifested in numerous mandatory minimum sentencing bills removing discretion from judges, and most recently in the 2003 Feeney Amendment, which seeks to further tighten the straitjacket around federal judges by requiring the Justice Department to investigate any judge who issues sentences that depart downward from the sentencing guidelines.
Sensenbrenner's drug bill, with its mandatory minimum sentences, can be seen within that broader context as well, but it is so extreme it is running into problems. "It remains to be seen whether the snitch bill will move," said Piper. "Even among Republicans, there are real concerns about the bill, especially the sections that basically create mandatory minimum sentences for every federal offense. That section violated his promise to committee members not to get carried away about sentencing in the wake of the Supreme Court's Booker and Fan Fan decisions. On the other hand, we haven't heard any objections from any committee members about the snitch provisions," he told DRCNet.
"There is also a growing partisan tension in Congress, the Democrats and Republicans really seem to be at each other's throats, and Sensenbrenner seem to be caught up in that," Piper continued. "Our biggest fear is that he can usually move things quickly when he wants to. He got the national ID bill through despite objections from his own party, he passed the gang bill quickly, and he tried to move the snitch bill quickly, and only backed down in the face of objections from his own party."
Sensenbrenner would better serve the country by using his Judiciary Committee chairmanship to properly oversee the activities of federal branch executive agencies, said Sterling. "In numerous instances, Sensenbrenner and the Judiciary Committee are falling down on the job," he argued, pointing to several egregious examples.
"The profound misuse of federal funds in the Tulia drug task force case, and numerous similar cases, has not been examined by the committee, even though Sensenbrenner personally promised Rep. Conyers and other members of the committee he would hold hearings into the federal role in this," Sterling began. "The DEA witch hunt against physicians who are trying to conscientiously manage the pain of their most serious pain patients ought to be the subject of committee oversight hearings. The utterly inexplicable disproportionate prosecution of African Americans and Hispanics under the federal drug laws," he continued.
Some 70% of federal cocaine cases are against low-level offenders, and those offenders are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic, Sterling noted. "Looking at a single case, and ignoring the outcome of more than 10,000 federal cocaine cases a year, is preposterous!"
But so goes the Sensenbrenner drug war.
Medical marijuana supporters in at least 15 cities across the country gathered Tuesday evening to honor the memory of San Diego activist and patient Steve McWilliams, who committed suicide last week after years of struggles with his own pain and federal authorities.
McWilliams killed himself on his 51st birthday. In a suicide note that was distributed at the vigil, he alluded to problems with opioid pain medications he was forced to turn to after his 2002 arrest and protested against federal policies that he said left medical marijuana patients subject to arrest and imprisonment. "The law that was supposed to protect patients like me has been turned on its head so that no patient can feel safe ever again," McWilliams wrote. "I am an advocate and activist for a good cause -- my good health. As an activist I believe in acting when the time is right, to be an impeccable warrior. I believe that my actions -- of not being here -- can help move the discussion of medical marijuana back to what's good for the patient without the DEA telling us what medications we can use."
McWilliams lashed out at federal Judge Reuben Brooks, the man who blocked him from using medical marijuana, calling him "a wretched, evil little gnome" who practiced bad medicine from the bench, and the federal drug war machine in which Brooks is a cog. "I cannot allow the government to decide what drugs I must take. It's my life... I believe now though that I will be locked up in some kind of cell. I refuse to allow the government to control my life. That's what so much of this has been about -- my right to use a medicine that worked for me."
In San Diego, mourners signed messages in remembrance books and organizers handed out single-stemmed white roses as speaker after speaker paid tribute to the city's most dynamic medical marijuana activist. His life partner, Barbara McKenzie, urged the crowd to continue the fight despite last month's Supreme Court decision. "This was an injustice not only to him, but to thousands of patients who can't use their medicine," she said.
McWilliams had been a fixture at San Diego City Council meetings urging local officials to adopt medical marijuana guidelines, and the politicians remembered him as well. An aide to Mayor Pro Tem Toni Atkins read a statement calling McWilliams "a tenacious and relentless force to be reckoned with" and adding that "public comment at our City Council meetings will never be the same without his smiling face and cannabis leis."
Across the country in Washington, DC, several dozen activists, organized by Americans for Safe Access marked McWilliams' passing with a march through the city's Federal Triangle. Carrying a symbolic coffin, the crowd stopped at landmarks like the Supreme Court, the Justice Department and congressional office buildings, observing 30 seconds of silence at each stop. "It was very somber," said DRCNet assistant director David Guard, who attended the DC vigil. "We were not trying to block streets or get arrested or anything like that; we just wanted to let people know." The coffin marchers carried bore the lettering "Ask me how the feds killed Steve McWilliams." Vigils were reportedly also held in Los Angeles, Oakland, Orange County, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Susanville in California, in Denver, Lawrenceburg, Indiana; Eugene and Portland, Oregon; Austin, Texas; and Philadelphia.
"As an activist I've given everything to the cause -- all my possessions, my time and my life," wrote McWilliams in his suicide note. "You can't give more than that." In the end, McWilliams took ultimate control over his life by ending it. In so doing, he died by the words he lived by, the last words he left us with: "No retreat. No surrender."
Formed in 1929, the original
Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) played a crucial
role in bringing about the end of alcohol Prohibition. Now, three-quarters
of a century later, a new generation of women activists have resurrected
the organization and its mission to undo the damage wrought on children,
families, and communities by the failed war on drugs. To see what
is going on with this relatively new organization, Drug War Chronicle spoke
last week with two of the group's co-founders, WONPR
president Cher Ford-McCullough and executive director Jean Marlowe.
2005, American Enterprise Institute, 131 pp., $20.00 pb.
In this latest publication from the American Enterprise Institute's Evaluative Studies series on public policy issues, health policy consultant David Boyum and University of Maryland drug policy scholar Peter Reuter examine US drug policy largely on its own terms. That means there is no talk of ending the drug war in this analysis. Instead, Boyum and Reuter examine the stated goal of US drug policy, the means chosen by policymakers to reach those goals, and the efficacy of those means in achieving those broad policy goals.
Fire-breathing drug legalizers will not be happy. For Boyum and Reuter, ending drug prohibition is not even on the radar. While that is disappointing, it is not surprising, especially given this work's charge to analyze current American drug policy. Still, there is much that is valuable for drug reformers in this book, both in gaining a firmer grasp on that squirming, monstrous, multi-limbed beast that is federal drug policy and in examining what works and what doesn't when it comes to existing policy.
It is worth noting, as Boyum and Reuter do, that federal drug policy is only half the game. While the feds spend nearly $20 billion a year on the drug war, the states spend a similar amount. Still, federal drug policy sets the pace and the tone, largely driving drug war spending in the states and localities.
Even on its own terms, Boyum and Reuter find that US drug policy largely fails to do what it is supposed to do, is enormously and wastefully expensive, and is unnecessarily cruel and inhumane. As they point out, the central and almost single-minded goal of US drug policy is to reduce the prevalence of drug use and, almost as an afterthought, the individual and social harm resulting from it. But using accepted measures of drug use, such as the Monitoring the Future and National Household surveys, they show that despite three decades of drug war, illicit drug use levels remain almost unchanged. In 1975, for example, 44% of high school seniors reported past-year drug use. While that number declined during the 1980s, it rose again in the 1990s before plateauing so far this decade to hover around 40%. Three decades of drug war, with the billions of dollars spent and the millions arrested, have achieved only marginal results.
It could have been much worse if there had been no drug war, Boyum and Reuter note. Drug use levels could have skyrocketed. But there is no evidence for that, they are careful to point out. The authors' stolid insistence on relying on solid empirical evidence, evident throughout the book, is sometimes frustrating -- it makes them extremely cautious with any policy recommendations -- but is certainly a refreshing tonic to the propaganda and certitude that typically pass for reasoned debate on drug policy.
The US government attempts to reduce drug use on three broad fronts: law enforcement, treatment, and prevention. (The missing fourth pillar, harm reduction, is addressed only briefly at the very end of the book.) Law enforcement activities can be divided into stopping the supply outside the US (crop eradication, interdiction) and domestic drug law enforcement. Boyum and Reuter find little evidence crop eradication and anti-smuggling efforts work. As they note, the black market economics of coca production in Colombia or opium production in Afghanistan mean that increased prices at the farm gate have a negligible impact on retail drug prices in the US. "These numbers cast serious doubt on the merits of crop eradication as an enforcement strategy," they conclude.
Similarly, interdiction, while imposing considerable costs on traffickers, has not been shown to have much impact on US drug prices, either, said Boyum and Reuter. "What is not clear is whether interdiction adds more than 10% or 20% to the retail price of drugs." What else is clear, the authors conclude, is that "the case for more expenditures on interdiction remains unproven."
Domestic drug law enforcement, intense as it is, has seemingly paradoxical effects, Boyum and Reuter note. Although law enforcement undoubtedly causes prices to rise, the 10-fold increase in drug enforcement intensity in the 1980s, as measured by arrests, convictions, and sentences, took place at the same time cocaine prices dropped dramatically.
When it comes to drug treatment, Boyum and Reuter are more sanguine, although still skeptical. They are willing to embrace the notion that drug treatment "works" -- in reducing drug use and reducing crime -- but, as good social scientists, want more, better data. As for prevention, the authors find school drug programs unproven, particularly DARE, and media advertising campaigns difficult to evaluate.
While they complain about the lack of good, solid numbers, Boyum and Reuter do venture into the realm of policymaking and have some suggestions to make. "The bulk of the evidence points to the same conclusions: As currently implemented, American drug policies are unconvincing," they write. "They are intrusive, as illustrated by the prevalence of drug testing of student athletes; divisive, because of the disproportionate share of the burdens (both of drug abuse and of drug control) borne by minority communities; and expensive, with an approximate $35 billion annual expenditure on drug control. And yet they leave the nation with a massive drug problem, greater than any other Western nation."
We can do better in a number of areas, Boyum and Reuter suggest. On domestic drug law enforcement, they credit enforcement with driving up prices somewhat, but argue that it has reached the point of marginal returns. Street-level drug law enforcement should concentrate on what it can accomplish, such as reducing the negative side effects of illicit drug markets by breaking up the most violent and disruptive, instead of what it cannot accomplish, which is raising prices high enough to have a meaningful impact on drug use.
America could get by with half the current number of drug prisoners, Boyum and Reuter suggest. "Long sentences for minor, nonviolent drug offenders are perhaps the least defensible aspect of drug policy," they write. "Sentencing laws and guidelines should be reformed to reduce total drug incarceration and to concentrate long sentences on those who engage in violence or recruit juveniles into the drug trade."
And marijuana should be decriminalized. "Much marijuana enforcement is simply unjustifiable -- it does little to prevent problem use, but imposes great costs on non-problem users." Reuters and Boyum even suggest allowing users to grow their own, but don't make the obvious leap to simply legalizing the weed.
The pair are big on treatment. "The case for expanding treatment is strong," and not just for those who seek it. Boyum and Reuter pronounce themselves fans of forced drug treatment. "The enhanced use of enforcement as a recruiting scheme for treatment" is promising, they write. Citing research that suggests those forced into treatment do as well as those who seek it voluntarily, the pair argue that "the criminal justice system should make greater use of its authority to compel treatment for drug-involved offenders."
That is the creepiest passage in this whole work. While Boyum and Reuter argue that drug treatment should be targeted at the most problematic drug users, that is not what happens in the real world, as they acknowledge. Drug courts generally cherry-pick clients with little criminal history; not those who are doing the most harm to society. And if the numbers are any indication, judges and prosecutors across the country are sending rinky-dink pot law violators into drug treatment to keep them out of jail.
But that's not the creepy part. The creepy part is reading American social scientists blithely recommending that the government come in and force even more people to engage in a medical activity (drug treatment) in which they do not willingly participate. This perverse melding of medicine and the law in an effort to force people to think and act a certain way has too many implications for personal freedom and too many resonances of Soviet-style psychiatric care to be easily accepted. I, for one, would like to hear Boyum and Reuter expound on the ethics, and not just the efficacy, of coerced drug treatment.
Again, Boyum and Reuter are not wild-eyed radicals. They are not drug legalizers. They are mainstream academics and social scientists, and while we can critique the timidity of their positions, we should also be prepared to grasp the support they give us. The war on drugs need not be so indescribably stupid and brutal, and Boyum and Reuter make sound suggestions on how to make it smarter and more humane. Their book should be read by drug reformers of all stripes, if only to familiarize themselves with the contours of the arguments that will, if we are lucky, play out one day in Capitol Hill hearings rooms. But it is also a very useful tool for disaggregating and analyzing the beast; for making sense of a topic that sometimes seems overwhelming in scope.
The suspension of California's pilot state medical marijuana ID card program in the wake of the US Supreme Court's adverse decision in the Raich case has proven short-lived. State Health Director Sandra Shewry suspended the program on June 8, but one week later California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's office instructed her to suspend the suspension. That was last Friday; by Monday, the program was back on track.
Shewry had cited concerns that the Raich ruling, which upheld the federal government's ability to prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers even in states where it is legal, could expose patients and state employees to potential federal prosecution. That position was almost immediately challenged by medical marijuana advocates, including the Drug Policy Alliance and the American Civil Liberties Union, who threatened to sue if the program was not reinstated.
Attorney General Lockyer's legal opinion came in a letter from Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Renner to the Department of Health Services. It said that not only could state employees run the program with risk of violating federal law, they ran the risk of violating the California constitution if they failed to implement the program. "We believe the federal government cannot enforce federal criminal laws against state officials who merely implement valid state law," Renner wrote, citing among other arguments the 2002 US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Conant v. McCaffrey, which held that doctors could not be prosecuted for recommending marijuana.
As for failing to implement the law requiring the pilot ID program: "A unilateral decision not to comply with state law, on the grounds that it may be prohibited by federal criminal law, without first receiving the guidance of an appellate court, is barred by the California Constitution," Renner wrote.
A Department of Health Services spokesman told reporters Monday the program will restart right away in the three counties the pilot program was operating in when it was shut down. So far, only 123 ID cards have been issued, but the program is expected to go statewide next month, said spokesman Ken August.
"California's reinstatement of the card program puts to rest any lingering doubts about the continued validity of state medical marijuana laws," said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU. "Patients can breathe a sigh of relief today, and we are pleased with the attorney general's prompt attention and support for them."
The attorney general's legal opinion makes it "abundantly clear that public officials, including law enforcement, have an obligation to uphold state law," said Kris Hermes, legal director for Americans for Safe Access, the medical marijuana defense group that helped mobilize opposition to the program's short-lived suspension.
"This opinion has also dealt a serious blow to the federal government's war against medical marijuana patients," Hermes said in a Tuesday statement. "California follows a number of other medical marijuana states in arguing its right to determine the health and welfare of its people, regardless of any conflict with federal law. This opinion will help empower other states to adopt their own medical marijuana laws in defiance of unscientific and unreasonable federal policies."
Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, praised the Health Department's decision to resume the ID card program. "The Department of Health Services made the right decision and did so quickly. I commend the Department for its commitment to protect patients, and its decision to expand the ID program statewide. The Department's program could soon become a model for other states and even the entire nation."
But in one sobering note, Deputy Attorney General Renner agreed with Shewry's concerns that federal prosecutors could subpoena information gathered by ID card applicants. In light of that potential, ID card program applicants should be notified that the information on their forms could be used against them by the federal government, Renner wrote.
"Of course I and other patients are concerned about the possibility of being arrested by the federal government, but this concern does not outweigh the value of having a state medical marijuana card for protection from California law enforcement," said Diego Donohoe, the first patient to receive a state-issued medical marijuana card in Mendocino County. Donohoe uses marijuana to relieve the side effects of medication prescribed to treat AIDS and cancer, including intractable nausea, loss of appetite, and pain.
California joins Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska as the latest state to affirm the continued validity of its medical marijuana laws since the US Supreme Court ruling last month in Gonzales v. Raich. The Court found in Raich that the federal government retains power under the commerce clause of the US Constitution to enforce federal marijuana laws, even where it is legal under state law.
"Having the security of a statewide ID card is very good news for all patients," said Donohoe. "What I am doing is in accord with my conscience. It's nice to know California will respect that even if the federal government does not."
Last Saturday was medical marijuana day in Santa Cruz, California. Hundreds of people marched to City Hall for a rally to support the local Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and to insist that the federal government needs to butt out of California's medical marijuana law. It was the largest medical marijuana demonstration in Santa Cruz since September 2002, when supportive city council members and county supervisors authorized a medical marijuana-distributing demonstration on the steps of City Hall in support of WAMM after it was raided by the DEA.
But that order will likely be lifted in the wake of the Supreme Court's Raich decision. Valerie Corral told the San Jose Mercury-News Saturday she feared the Justice Department would now file charges against her and her husband. She also said WAMM is no longing growing its own marijuana for fear of being raided again. Instead, she said, WAMM will rely on donations of marijuana.
The crowd marched -- and wheelchair-bound patients rolled -- down Santa Cruz's main street carrying flags, banners, and at least a couple of dozen live marijuana plants, their leaves flapping in the breeze. In an indication of the rally's seriousness of purpose, one demonstrator held a sign saying "This is a Non-Smoking Event. Thank You for Not Lighting Up." According to local press accounts, no one did.
At the city hall rally, demonstrators held up posters with the pictures of 154 WAMM members who have died since the group was formed in 1993.
Local elected officials were out in support of medical marijuana again Saturday, with five of seven city council members and one county supervisor present. Supervisor Mardi Wormhout told the crowd not to give up on medical marijuana despite the recent Supreme Court ruling. The sight of terminally ill patients forced to take to the streets to fight for their right to their medicine was a cruel sight, she said. "It is an image that ought to haunt us all."
The crowd also heard from Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, which recently relocated to Santa Cruz from the East Coast. The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance last week threatened to sue California over a move by health officials to suspend a pilot state ID card program. On Saturday, Boyd was keeping up the pressure. "We are fighting back," he said. "If Gov. Schwarzenegger does not reinstitute the medical marijuana card program, we will take him to court and force him to do it," he told a cheering crowd. (The state backed down early this week. See related story this issue.)
Tawdry, tawdry stuff. Another prison guard smuggling dope, another cop caught tweaking, an airport security professional trying to get rich, a horny Florida deputy, and a Michigan police chief who sounds like a real decadent party animal. While some of this stuff is low-level, and in a couple of cases, appears to relate to nothing more than personal drug use by law enforcement officers, we are still calling it corrupt, morally if not financially. What else can you say about a person who uses drugs on his own time (or maybe even on the job), then turns around and arrests others for doing the same thing? With this week's philosophical considerations duly noted, let's get to it:
In Columbia Township, Michigan, the charges against former police chief Mark Hunter are piling up, according to local TV station WJLS-6. Hunter was charged last month with selling police guns for his own profit and illegally taping sexual encounters with women on his staff without their knowledge or consent. Those initial charges led to a more thorough investigation of the long-time chief, and now the Michigan State Police report they discovered heroin in his briefcase and nearly 600 pornographic images on his computer, about one-quarter of which featured children. Jackson County prosecutors have now also charged Hunter with possession of kiddie porn, possession of heroin, and using a computer in connection with a crime.
In Wakefield, Louisiana, a state penitentiary prison guard was arrested July 14 and charged with helping to smuggle marijuana into the prison, the Associated Press reported. Sgt. Vanessa Leonards Turner, 33, was charged with malfeasance and conspiring to introduce contraband into a prison. According to prison warden Burl Cain, Turner accepted $100 from an inmate and agreed to help smuggle two ounces of marijuana into the prison. Investigators found the pot inside a condom.
In Jackson, Mississippi, the former security director for Jackson-Evers International Airport is looking at a 10-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to money laundering, the Jackson Clarion Ledger reported. In his July 14 plea, Billy Tucker admitted to using $14,300 in drug profits to buy an SUV in 2000. The plea came in a case involving an $8 million drug shipment of 22 pounds of cocaine and nearly 800 pounds of marijuana into Jackson that same year. Tucker was one of nine people indicted in February 2004 on money-laundering charges related to that deal. Tucker was identified repeatedly in court documents as using drug money to buy cars, boats, and real estate.
In Lee County, Florida, sheriff's deputy Donald Woelke, 32, resigned June 28 after being accused of offering to "fix" charges in return for sex from a woman he had arrested on marijuana possession charges. According to documents released by the Lee County Sheriff's Office, a 34-year-old Cape Coral woman, Shirley Bangs, told investigators Woelke had called her cell phone to arrange a time for them to have sex after he arrested her. "Bangs also alleged Dep. Woelke told her he would 'see what he could do about her criminal charges,'" according to the documents. Woelke has admitted to calling Bangs after the arrest. Bangs claimed that after her arrest, Woelke ordered her to expose her breasts and genitals to him in the back seat of the patrol car and she complied. That's when Woelke said he would call her, she said. Bangs has admitted to lying about part of her account, the documents said, but didn't specify which part. Close readers of this feature will recall that the same Lee County Sheriff's Office also made these pages last week, when Deputy Mark Muldoon was fired after admitting to a cocaine habit.
In Madill, Oklahoma, Madill police officer Michael Stephenson, 50, was charged July 15 with felony possession of a controlled substance within 2,000 feet of a park after buying $30 worth of methamphetamine from an undercover Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics officer in a transaction videotapes by investigators. The 22-year law enforcement veteran is also charged with driving under the influence of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors, the Associated Press reported. He was jailed with bail set at $50,000.
In a retreat from the New Zealand Green Party's formal position that marijuana should be legalized, Member of Parliament (MP) Nandor Tanczos Tuesday introduced a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the herb. Under the proposal, those caught with small amounts would no longer be arrested and burdened with a criminal record, but would instead by ticketed and fined. But with every other major party quick to condemn the bill, even this half-way measure appears doomed from the get-go.
Under the bill, adults with up to an ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish would be hit with $100 New Zealand fine, currently equivalent to about $67 US. People growing up to five plants at home would face the same fine. But current penalties for possession of more than an ounce, sale of any amount, and growing more than five plants would remain in place. And in concessions to the "concerns" Tanczos alluded to above, his bill has new provisions mandating drug education for teenagers ticketed for possession and a five-fold increase in the fines for anyone caught smoking or growing within 100 meters of a school or other area used primarily by children.
"There is widespread agreement across the political divide and throughout the community about the problems of prohibition," Nandor said. "I have spoken to people all over New Zealand about their concerns and I have listened to them. Some politicians want to polarize the debate for their own political ends. The Greens are looking for consensus around points of agreement. This is mainstream stuff."
Not for the governing Labor Party it isn't. "Labor is against legalizing marijuana," said Justice Minister Phil Goff in a statement responding to the Tanczos bill. "Labor Party policy does not include support for legalizing marijuana and it does not support taking any action that might promote its use. The Labor government has not introduced, and will not introduce, legislation to legalize it."
Police often don't charge small-time offenders, anyway, said Goff. "The police already have discretion not to bring charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana and use that discretion frequently."
The Progressive Party, which takes a strong anti-drug stance and is part of Labor's governing coalition, also denounced the Tanczos bill. "All serious parties have issued a statement to reject the Greens' latest attempt to trivialize the known negative health effects of cannabis on vulnerable people in our society, especially still-developing young teenagers," said party leader Jim Anderton. "There is plenty of medical and scientific data that points to cannabis being a serious health threat, particularly for some vulnerable people. Given that body of evidence, there is no reason to downgrade sanctions against cannabis unless or until an overwhelming consensus emerges in the health and medical world that cannabis is not a health risk," he said.
The Greens would like to replace the Progressives in a governing partnership with Labor after the next election, and the decrim bill will be a subject of discussion then, said Tanczos. "This very moderate step will be on the table in any post-election negotiations between the Greens and Labor.
Tanczos was recently demoted from fourth place on the Greens' election list to seventh, and there has been speculation his forthright stand for marijuana legalization made some party members uncomfortable, the New Zealand Herald reported. The decrim bill could be part of an attempt by Tanczos and the Greens to broaden the party's appeal, even though it marks something of a retreat for the party. "It doesn't go as far as I would personally like," Tanczos admitted, "but it deals to the greatest problem, which is the criminalization of huge numbers of New Zealanders."
For the past few years, Britons
have been enjoying a loophole in Britain's drug law that allowed hallucinogenic
mushrooms such as amanita muscaria and psilocbye cubensis to be imported,
grown, sold, and used in the British Isles. According to one British
magazine, Amsterdam of London, they have been quite popular, with one major
"legal hallucinogen" outlet selling 220 pounds of magic mushrooms a week
-- enough for 10,000 highs. Some drug policy activists even suggest
the popularity of magic mushrooms has lessened the demand for other drugs,
In scheduling the trippy fungi as Class-A drugs, the British government is saying it considers them as dangerous as cocaine or heroin. "Magic mushrooms are a powerful hallucinogen and can cause real harm, especially to vulnerable people and those with mental health problems," said Home Office minister Paul Goggins. "The law has not been clear with regard to the status of fresh magic mushrooms and some have tried to exploit this apparent loophole."
The boom in magic mushrooms in Britain began when a London shop, the Psyche Deli, successfully obtained a registration number to import them, inspiring similar shops to pop up across the country like, well, mushrooms. The Psyche Deli reflected common sentiments among the drugs' fans with a message posted on its web site this week: "The only mushrooms you'll be able to get from July 18 are frozen or dried ones from your favorite Class A drugs dealer -- and the government won't get any VAT on sales. If you're lucky you might also be offered some Grade A smack or a crack cookie to go with that."
Mushroom retailers have formed their own lobbying group, the Entheogen Defense Fund, to seek changes in the law. "We would have welcomed regulation because through regulation you get control -- as with alcohol," said the group's chairman, Mike Bashall. Noting that, unlike the British government, it does not have access to huge tax revenues, the group is seeking funds for the effort.
A court in Cebu City has sentenced a local man to 15 years in prison for possessing two marijuana cigarettes, according to a report in the local newspaper the Cebu Freeman. The draconian sentence is just the latest indicator that the country remains mired in an on-going, full-blown anti-drug frenzy.
Official Philippine government statistics put the total number of drug users at 3.5 million out of a total population estimated at 85 million, an unremarkable drug use rate when compared to other countries worldwide. Still, drug-fighting politicians, a particularly shrill tabloid media, and law enforcement organizations have created an atmosphere of total war against drug use and sales -- one in which eruptions of death squad-style executions of suspected druggies take place on a regular basis. Three people were gunned down in Davao City by suspected vigilantes last month, according to local press reports.
Philippine authorities focus much of their attention on methamphetamine, known locally as "shabu," and even claim it is the most popular drug in the archipelago, with marijuana relegated to second place. But marijuana offenses are also severely punished, with persons caught with more than 500 grams (a little more than one pound) facing a possible death sentence, while possession of as little as five grams is punishable by life. Small time offenders possessing less than five grams face as little as 12 years.
In the current case, Emilion Lapay Jr. was walking down the city's Buhisan Road in September 2003 when police responding to an alarm at a video store stopped him, finding two joints. He was "suspicious looking," they said. At his arraignment, Lapay argued that police detained and searched him for no reason and maintained that police took no contraband from him.
But Judge Gabriel Ingles found "more credibility in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses/arresting officers," who apparently testified that Lapay was holding the joints in plain view, he said in ruling on the case. The police, with their experience, "can easily detect whether what is being held is a stick of cigarette or marijuana by the way it appears." Since Judge Ingles found that Lapay visibly possessed the two joints, he ruled that police needed no arrest warrant, since, "[Lapay] was committing a crime in the presence of the arresting police officers."
Lapay was "guilty beyond reasonable doubt," Judge Ingles ruled, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. But in a magnanimous gesture, the judge left open the possibility he could be free in only 12 years.
An appeal filed by a Pennsylvania woman could have national repercussions on the way drug courts work, according to Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Louis Presenza. In an interview last week with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Judge Presenza warned that an adverse decision in the case would "affect programs across the commonwealth, maybe even across the country."
On June 29, Chester County Court Judge William P. Mahon, who oversees the drug court, jailed her for testing positive for methamphetamine, her third violation of drug court rules. But Fletcher's attorneys, Richard Breuer and S. Lee Ruslander II, sought and won a stay of the jail term from Superior Court, and Fletcher was released two days later. Fletcher and her attorneys made a due process claim, arguing that she did not receive advance written notice of the violation, proof of the alleged drug test results, or the chance to cross-examine witnesses.
While Fletcher's attorneys declined to talk to the Inquirer, the newspaper noted they had previously said they did not believe people relinquished all their rights just because they had entered a voluntary program.
But Judge Presenza told the newspaper the "core principles" of drug courts, especially the resort to immediate sanctions such as imprisonment, would be endangered if Fletcher prevailed. "Then, what have you won?" he asked. Offenders agree to drug court for "ulterior motives," Presenza said. "They want to stay out of jail or beat their case. They don't come in and say, 'I've got a problem; I must address it.'"
If Fletcher won her rights, worried Presenza, next thing you know everybody will be demanding them. "Word spreads quickly," Presenza said. "Every client will be appealing if they think they can avoid jail; the programs could not survive."
Drug court judges don't like their clients challenging the rules. When Fletcher showed up for her next drug court session on July 6, Judge Mahon threw her out of the program, saying she had signed up for rehabilitation, not litigation. Her attorneys filed a second appeal the next day to have her reinstated. That appeal was granted the following day, pending review.
Rights: Another Casualty of the Drug War, resolution by the National
Organization for Women, 7/3/05
Prisons Endanger the Public Safety, editorial by B. Cayenne Bird in
American Chronicle, 7/15/05
Pain, New York Times editorial about Richard Paey, by John Tierney,
APHA amicus brief by DPA attorney Dan Abrahamson and others in feds vs. Oregon case
July 23, 1985: Tulio Manuel Castro Gil, judge of the Superior Court of Bogota, Colombia, is assassinated as he climbs into a taxi, following his indictment of Pablo Escobar for the murder of Lara Bonilla.
July 24, 1967: The Beatles pay for a full page advertisement in the newspaper, reading, "The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice." The ad calls for the legalization of marijuana possession, release of all prisoners on marijuana possession charges and government research into medical uses.
July 26, 2001: The British newsmagazine The Economist devotes an entire issue to drug policy, endorsing decriminalization and harm reduction.
July 28, 2003: James Geddes, originally sentenced to 150 years for possession of a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia and for growing five marijuana plants, is released
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
July 23, 2:00pm, Traverse City, MI, "Compassionate Care" medical marijuana conference, sponsored by the Coalition for Compassionate Care. Admission $15, no one will be turned away, for further information contact Melody at (231) 885-2993 or Laura at (231) 218-0204, or e-mail [email protected].
July 25, 4:00-8:00pm, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Event to Celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of Psicotropicus. At General Justo Ave. 275, Room 316-B, Castelo, downtown Rio, contact Carla Mourao at +55 21 2240-4293 or visit http://www.psicotropicus.org for further information.
July 26, 5:30-7:30pm, San Francisco, CA, "Is San Francisco Going to Pot?," forum featuring Mayor Gavin Newsom and Drug Policy Alliance director Ethan Nadelmann. At the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California Street, contact Sue Eldredge at (415) 921-4987 or [email protected] for information and reservations.
August 10-11, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Third National Conference on Drug Policy, Auditorium, Chamber of Deputies Annex Building, Rivadavia 1853, 8:30am-6:00pm. For further information, contact Intercambios, the Civil Association for the Study of Drug-Related Problems at (011) 4954 7272, [email protected] or http://www.intercambios.org.ar online.
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 [email protected], 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.
January 13-15, 2006, Basel, Switzerland, "Problem Child and Wonder Drug: International Symposium on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann." Sponsored by the Gaia Media Foundation, visit http://www.lsd.info for further information.
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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