(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #397 -- 7/29/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Bryan Epis' sentencing hearing has been postponed until November 28th at 9:30am -- don't show up at the courthouse August 1st -- do write a letter to Judge Damrell if you haven't already -- click here for letter writing info and to read Bryan's interview.
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 7/29/05
Even within our own movement, clarity of logic in this particular area can be difficult to attain. I remember a conversation I had several years back on the "crack baby" issue with a strong sympathizer of drug reform, an individual who agreed with us completely on the policy side -- we need to offer appropriate help, not drive people away by threat of punishment which ends up hurting mother and child alike -- but who was still not comfortable agreeing that the evidence does not support the existence of crack babies, because of not wanting to say anything that could suggest that cocaine use during pregnancy is okay.
I don't think people should smoke crack or snort powder cocaine during pregnancy either. But that value has no bearing on the question of what are the actual effects of maternal drug use on a fetus. Those effects are what they are, and are not what they are not, independent of how anyone feels about the idea of drug use during pregnancy. The harms are there if they are there, and they are not there if they are not there, period. It's a scientific question, not a moral one.
I am not arguing that morality has no place in the equation, and there are legitimate moral questions that are related to this scientific question, to be sure. But while the scientific answers have some bearing on the answers to the moral questions, and the moral questions certainly help to drive which scientific questions we ought to be asking, morality has no bearing whatsoever on what the answers to the scientific questions ought to be. Answers to the scientific questions have to come from -- you guessed it -- the science. Otherwise they might not be true. Once we establish what we hope is a scientifically valid result, then we can move on to weigh the moral questions in light of that information. But it is vital that that order of reasoning be observed, otherwise the results won't make sense. (Sound familiar?)
It may be even more important, then, to ask what the policies should be regarding drugs that do cause harm to the fetus, alcohol, for example. Should the mother be arrested, taken to the hospital in handcuffs, then taken back still bleeding to a jail cell, the child separated from her during the important first hours and days of bonding, as has happened in South Carolina where the prosecutions of pregnant drug-using women were pioneered? The prevailing view in the medical and public health professions -- and of my old aforementioned friend -- is no, such an approach ends up driving people away from needed prenatal care and treatment that would help their children. It is a senseless approach -- an immoral approach -- regardless of one's moral view of the actions of the mother. So scientific thinking as well as medical wisdom need to be brought to bear on this level of things as well.
This is just one of the many ways in which drug warriors have failed to reason correctly. I could say that things might be better if students were taught more about logic when they went to school. But I don't think that's the problem in this case. The drug warriors are acting illogically because they choose to, because that's what they want to do. Even if it hurts children and families.
The highly irregular June letter from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) attempting to undo a judge's sentencing decision in a Chicago drug trafficking case has created a hornet's nest of controversy in the two weeks since it became public. Now that controversy has cost the letter's author, House Judiciary Committee Crime Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee counsel Jay Apperson his job. The bad news is that the episode has revealed an atmosphere on Capitol Hill where just about anyone who has or could have business before Sensenbrenner's committee is afraid to say anything about it. And Sensenbrenner's people aren't talking, either.
That opinion still holds. "That Sensenbrenner sent that letter was truly jaw-dropping," said Harvard University law professor Carol Streiker Thursday. "It was completely out of line. It violated House rules and it violated legal rules. We have an adversarial judicial process in this country, and when the legislative branch attempts to intervene not as an adversary but in an effort to control judicial decision-makers, the essential elements of fairness under our system are breached," she told DRCNet.
"In federal criminal cases, the Justice Department and the US Attorney represent the government, not the legislative branch," Streiker continued. "The idea that the legislative branch should think it has a separate interest in individual judicial proceeding undermines the whole idea of having an independent judiciary. From a legal, ethical, and constitutional standpoint, Sensenbrenner's actions were simply outrageous."
That's not what Apperson, the man who drafted the letter for Sensenbrenner, thought. When the letter was first made public, Apperson defended it as a legitimate exercise of congressional oversight. "We can't have judges violating the law," he told the Chicago Tribune on July 10.
House Judiciary committee spokesman and Sensenbrenner aide Jeff Lundgren, who also alluded to congressional oversight duties, defended the letter as well. The fact that Sensenbrenner sent the letter to the Justice Department -- one of the parties in the case -- but not to defense counsel, as required by law, was an oversight, Lundgren said at the time.
But after taking heat over the Sensenbrenner letter, Apperson's bosses apparently thought again. Last week, Apperson was suddenly gone from his counsel position. Because no one will comment, it is unclear whether he was fired outright, given the opportunity to quit, or given an offer he couldn't refuse. What is certain is that he was unceremoniously let go.
Given Apperson's career as a hard-line drug warrior, reformers will cheer his departure. Apperson first appeared on the radar as a tough Assistant US Attorney determined to go after the assets of lawyers who defended drug defendants more than a decade ago. Parlaying the prominence gained from that tactic into a job in Washington, Apperson played a key role in negotiations in the 1994 sentencing bill that created the safety valve for federal drug defendants. Again, his role was malign, as he lobbied successfully to remove a provision that would have made the safety valve retroactive. And while he escaped sanction, it was noted in media at the time that Apperson and a colleague had lobbied on taxpayer staff time to achieve that.
"He's been a real thorn in our side for a long time," said one sentencing reform advocate who asked not to be named. "He is the real engineer of the attack on the federal judiciary."
Apperson led the attack on chief Minnesota federal Judge James Rosenbaum, a conservative jurist appointed by Ronald Reagan who dared to make a speech decrying the lack of judicial discretion in sentencing. Using the House Judiciary Committee as a platform, Apperson subpoenaed Rosenbaum and threatened legal action against him. Although nothing came of the assault, Rosenbaum was forced to hire an attorney to defend himself, and federal judges across the country were put on notice to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Apperson reportedly played a key role in the Feeney Amendment, a successful 2003 effort by congressional conservatives to further rein in the federal judiciary by effectively requiring that judges report and justify every downward departure from the federal sentencing guidelines.
But now Apperson is gone, and the people who supported him aren't talking. Three Drug War Chronicle calls to committee spokesman Lundgren have yet to be returned. Sensenbrenner's office also failed to respond to repeated requests for clarification on the letter and whether Sensenbrenner still stood by it.
They're not the only ones who don't want to talk about the whole affair, and fear of getting on Sensenbrenner's bad side is one reason why. "You don't want to cross him," said another advocacy group member who demanded anonymity. "He's mean and he has a memory like an elephant."
Groups who must deal with Sensenbrenner and his committee who were contacted by DRCNet declined to go on record about the Sensenbrenner letter. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Jack King limited himself to saying, "The drug penalties are already way too harsh -- Congress doesn't need to make them any harsher."
House Judiciary Committee Democrats didn't want to say anything either. The office of Rep. John Conyers, the ranking minority member, to whom Sensenbrenner also copied the letter, responded to DRCNet inquiries with a terse "no comment," while the office of Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) failed to respond to three phone calls. The congressional watch-dog newspaper The Hill reported two weeks ago that Democratic Judiciary Committee staffers were huddling to craft a response to the letter, but nothing has happened yet.
While the Democrats are yet to act, a legal and social justice advocacy group, the Alliance for Justice, announced Wednesday it had asked the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation of Sensenbrenner over the letter. House ethics rules bar private communications with judges on legal matters, but Sensenbrenner did just that, the Alliance said. In a letter to committee head Rep. Doc Hastings and ranking member Rep. Alan Mollohan, Alliance president Nan Aron wrote, "From the facts at hand, it appears that the Chairman may have violated the ethical rules of the House of Representatives. Accordingly, I urge the committee to open an investigation to determine whether or not such rules have been violated." That's not all, said Aron. "Chairman Sensenbrenner's interference in the Rivera case raises serious questions about his respect for a fair and independent judiciary."
The US Attorneys Office in Chicago also declined comment on the letter, referring DRCNet to the Justice Department in Washington, which in turn declined comment except to say it had received the letter.
At least one Hill lobbyist wasn't afraid to speak up. While professing no inside knowledge of what actually happened to Apperson, Drug Policy Alliance director for national affairs Bill Piper said there have been a number of embarrassing gaffes coming from Sensenbrenner and his counsel lately. "There is this letter, but there was also the provision in Sensenbrenner's drug bill that essentially created mandatory minimums for every federal offense. He has since said he didn't realize how broad that provision was after even some of his fellow Republicans started backing away. That suggests to me that his staff person may have gone too far," Piper told DRCNet. "And it's the same thing with those snitch provisions in the bill. As counsel, Apperson likely oversaw the drafting of that bill. Those provisions seemed so over-the-top, so ludicrous that you have to wonder if maybe that played a role in Apperson's departure."
Jay Apperson may be gone, but the conservative campaign against the federal judiciary continues, and the Sensenbrenner letter should be seen within that context, said Harvard law professor Streiker. "You see this in a number of things, such as the Feeney Amendment, which caused outrage among federal judges who saw it as perhaps an attempt to intimidate individual judges. That raised incredible ire in the judiciary. It is also reflected in Attorney General Gonzalez' speech last month calling for more mandatory minimum sentences."
Congress and the executive branch see the judiciary as a weak link, said Streiker. "They think the judiciary is insufficiently tough on crime, but the irony is that the overwhelming majority of the federal judiciary has been appointed by Republicans."
A House committee voted July 15 against an amendment to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, a law that has denied financial aid for college to at least 160,000 applicants since going into effect in July 2000. But the bill that was "marked up" -- the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act itself, included a partial reform to the law, and two Democratic members of the committee who voted against repeal five years ago changed their votes to "yes" this time. Supporters have no returned their attention to the Senate, where prospects are thought to be better.
"There is a need for change with this law. It is unjust to too many of our nation's students, who are trying to better themselves with education," said Rep. Davis. "It punishes individuals twice for the same infraction, and it has a particularly significant impact on the minority community."
The HEA drug provision has a "pernicious and discriminatory effect," said Rep. Kucinich. "The HEA was meant to open doors, but this provision abruptly closes those doors. This provision pushes those who could most benefit from education toward a cycle of recidivism instead. The war on drugs should not turn into a war on educational opportunity."
Rep. Souder pronounced himself deeply offended by the suggestion that his provision had a discriminatory impact. "To imply that this provision somehow discriminates against minorities is a terrible slam at minorities," he said, adding accurately that there are no statistics showing African Americans use drugs more often than other social groups. But African Americans are nonetheless arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at much higher rates, and Souder presented no evidence to prove that some of this disparity is not present among Africans Americans who are attempting to enroll in schools.
Under fire from a broad-based grouping of student, education, religious, civil rights, civil liberties, and drug reform groups organized by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), the provision's sponsor, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), successfully moved to reform the measure by limiting its applicability to students who were in school and receiving financial assistance at the time they committed their offenses. During debate on the Andrews repeal amendment, Souder said he meant all along for his provision only to apply to students who are currently in school, the "fix" that the committee earlier adopted. "As an evangelical Christian who believes in repentance, I can't conceive of holding people accountable for past mistakes," he said.
"We certainly welcome any change to reinstate financial aid to students, but this partial reform is like slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound," said Tom Angell, media director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a key player in the coalition. "This is a 10% solution to a law that is 100% flawed," he told DRCNet. "This law will continue to affect only students from low- and middle-income families and students who are doing well in school because there are already minimum grade average requirements for receiving financial aid. It will also continue to have a disproportionate effect on minorities."
Still, said Angell, supporters of repeal took heart in the progress they have made. "We are happy to see this issue finally being addressed in Congress after seven years and all those students getting the door slammed shut in their faces," Angell said. "And we are real happy we have what is essentially a solid Democratic bloc on our side. We think our chances are better once this gets to the Senate HELP Committee."
"Congress has finally taken action after years of neglect, said CHEAR spokesman Chris Mulligan, "but thousands of students will still be yanked out of school each year as long as the drug question remains on the federal student aid application."
Even the limited Souder "fix" would not have happened without the pressure for outright repeal, said Angell. "The only reason the Souder proposal was introduced is because of all the outrage stirred up by SSDP and other organizations working to change the law. It is a red herring, an effort to divert blame from himself for writing this law in the first place."
DRCNet executive director and HEA repeal campaign eminence gris David Borden had a slightly sunnier take on the "fix." "At this point, we have clearly made our case that the Souder 'fix' does not resolve the issue and we are not going to go away," he said. "I don't believe its passage will cause the repeal campaign to lose any steam. In fact, it may help by clarifying the issue. Souder won't be able to pose as the reformer anymore once his 'fix' becomes law and hundreds of groups around the country are still calling for full repeal. And by the way, why has it taken him so long to get it accomplished? Still, the Souder fix is an improvement, it is a partial victory on the path to full repeal that will help thousands of would-be students in the meantime."
It isn't just CHEAR calling for outright repeal of the provision. In January, the congressionally-created Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recommended that the drug conviction question be completely removed from the financial aid application, calling it "irrelevant" to aid eligibility. The committee also found that the drug question's mere presence on the form deters some students from applying. Under the Souder "fix," that question will remain.
Now it is back to the Senate. "We knew we couldn't win in the House this time, but it was important to lobby on it anyway -- otherwise, legislators would note they weren't hearing from people, and that could have set us back," said Borden. "But our focus for at least the last two years has been the Senate. I don't know yet if we can win there, but the signals are pretty good. We're having Republican staffers tell us this isn't even controversial anymore because so many people have contacted them about it."
While repeal supporters are taking aim at the Senate, the House repeal amendment's sponsor, Rep. Andrews, told DRCNet he would be back to fight for repeal until his colleagues get it right. "I believe in redemption," said Andrews. "Barring people who made a mistake under our drug laws from receiving an education hurts the community as well as the person who made the mistake. I will continue to press this amendment because those who voted against it should be given an opportunity to redeem themselves."
The coalition to repeal the HEA drug provision did not prevail in the House, but its efforts to do so brought welcome press attention to the issue. Both the New York Times and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorialized in favor of repeal in the days before the vote, while the St. Petersburg Times ran a sympathetic article on the effort featuring, among others DRCNet's Borden.
Some repeal supporters voiced frustration with the two committee Democrats who voted against the measure. "The real disappointment is with Democrats like Wu and Barrow, who broke ranks with their party on this issue," said CHEAR's Mulligan. "We didn't really do much outreach in Georgia, but we did work on Wu, and he still voted against us. There is no reason for either of these guys to be voting like that."
Mulligan also expressed disappointment that the repeal effort was unable to sway a single Republican. "We knew we didn't have a lot of support on that side of the aisle, but it is still disappointing that not one Republican member changed his mind. Take Delaware Congressman Michael Castle. "We had 11 Delaware state legislators call him up and urge him to support repeal, we had 20 different organizations in Delaware lobbying him on this, and he still votes no."
While Mulligan pointed to the empty half of the glass, Borden discussed the full half. "I'm not especially perturbed that this conservative committee in the House voted the way we expected them to, but I am pleased that we picked up two Democrats, Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, who didn't vote our way five years ago, but came around this time." As for the campaign's inability to bring Castle to the light, Borden said that people in Delaware had done outstanding work and that someone like Castle might act differently if his vote had been a deciding one. "It was a party line vote for the Republicans. It's not particularly appealing for a legislator to break ranks with his party and face the wrath of his leadership when his 'yes' vote would still have not have changed the outcome."
Part of the Republican intransigence in the House is because of its two-year election cycle, Mulligan suggested, while part of it is due to the make-up of the House membership. "These representatives are up for a vote every two years and they are looking over their shoulders and they don't like to talk about drugs. At the same time, on the House side, it seems like every Republican on the committee always agrees with the chair. It is rare to see them break from the chair."
The Senate holds brighter prospects, Mulligan said. "It's a little different in the Senate. They don't have to worry about reelection every two years, and some of them actually have their own opinions. We are hoping some Senate Republicans will stand up to the chair and the Senate leadership and say this is a stupid law that needs to be repealed. That we lost in the House was disappointing, but not a shocker. It reminds us that our real focus is on the Senate, and we have a lot of work to do."
The Senate Health Committee hearing on HEA reauthorization is tentatively set for September 7.
In the meantime, said SSDP's Angell, the repeal effort will stay focused on the ultimate goal. "The students want absolute repeal of the drug provision, and we won't settle for band-aids. We will be here on this issue until the law is repealed."
More than 90 physicians, scientists, researchers, and treatment specialists Monday issued an open letter to the mass media calling it to task for "alarmist and unjustified" reporting on so-called "meth babies" and "ice babies." The terms "lack scientific validity and should not be used," said the letters' signatories, a diverse group representing some of the country's foremost specialists on women, children, addiction, and drug treatment.
Organized by Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, with the help of Dr. David Lewis, professor of community health and medicine at Brown University's Alcohol and Addiction Studies Program, the letter was sent to major media outlets and regional newspapers whose reporting has tended to perpetuate the "myth" of "meth babies," as the letter describes it.
The use of terms like "meth baby" echoes the "crack baby" rhetoric of the 1980s, when wildly exaggerated press reports of the effects of cocaine on fetuses and newborns inspired draconian legislation and focused a glaring spotlight on drug-using pregnant women. The "crack baby" phenomenon has since been shown to have no basis in science or medicine, with many of the adverse affects attributed to drug use instead shown to be related to poverty and poor prenatal health care.
Part and parcel of the growing national concern about the "methamphetamine epidemic" allegedly sweeping the country, the focus on meth-using mothers and pregnant women threatens to make them scapegoats for the country's drug problems, said signatories and supporters.
"What prompted this letter was the extraordinary similarity between front-page newspaper stories about meth babies and the effects of meth and what we experienced 20 years ago with crack," said Dr. Lewis. "This was really triggered by the press. Lynn Paltrow and her group deserve most the credit. Lynn and I worked on it, among a number of other people, and what we came up with was a consensus statement from an excellent group of experienced researchers and clinicians," he told DRCNet.
"We are being proactive," said Wyndi Anderson, national education and outreach director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women. "We saw how the 'crack baby' myth evolved and the damage it did to women, children, and families and how it was used to criminalize drug use during pregnancy. We saw -- and still see -- women going to prison for suffering from the disease of addiction. We saw how misinformation spread through the medical community and the education system and the public at large. We know the formula they will use because we've seen it before, and this time we want to stop it on the front end. We need to hold the media accountable from the very beginning, so we don't end up with another 'crack baby' craze."
"There is a particular hysteria around women and kids and drugs, it's where all these hot-button issues intersect -- reproductive rights, fetal rights, race, class, drugs, domestic violence, access to health care," Anderson told DRCNet. "The pregnant drug-addicted woman is a very easy target, and the downside of this hysteria is that it makes it more difficult to actually help them. And that is really sad, because our failure comes at such a high price."
"I work in the industry and I know what happened to the 'crack babies.' It's a shame those kids were labeled like that at the very start of their lives," said Jennifer Feiock, program director of the municipal Alcohol Drug Council in Santa Monica, California, one of the letter's signers. The real problem is not meth or crack, but alcohol, she told DRCNet. "The prevalent problem we have around here is with babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome."
"I was interviewed on Voice of America a few years ago, and the host asked me at one point, 'Well, what about the crack babies,'" said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on federal drug war prisoners. "I said, 'Oh, you mean the ones with no souls? Some of them are in college now and it turns out that all babies have souls,'" she recounted to DRCNet. "How wrong headed is it to stigmatize children with such labels as meth or crack babies? That's a drug habit so-called child advocates must shake. Exaggerations that exploit children grab attention," said Callahan. "They also help usher in expensive and counterproductive new laws."
"I have a background in research and clinical work with pregnant women who were abusing drugs," said University of San Francisco General Hospital professor Dr. Nancy Haug. "When I read about some of the terms being used to describe these women and their children, I decided it was important to endorse this effort to help the media do science-based reporting. The media needs to be informing and educating the public, not stigmatizing this population," she told DRCNet.
It's not quite there yet. "Meth baby" stories are not limited to regional media, such as your local television station, the Daily Oklahoman, or the Arkansas News Bureau, but have also run in such major media outlets as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, CBS News, and CNN, among others. And while the "meth baby" media phenomenon has been gathering force for several years now, such stories began appearing more frequently early this year, as near hysteria over methamphetamine use washes up against the East Coast, having made its way across the country from the Far West where the current round of amphetamine use began taking off almost a decade ago.
In the last few months, the news-consuming public has been treated to hype-heavy material like CBS News' "Generation of Meth Babies" (April 28) and CNN's repeatedly-aired special "The Methamphetamine Epidemic in the United States" (February 3-March 10), which warned melodramatically as the camera showed a picture of an allegedly meth-exposed baby, "This is what a meth baby looks like, premature, hooked on meth and suffering the pangs of withdrawal. They don't want to eat or sleep and the simplest things cause great pain."
The phrase is showing up as an uncontroversial usage among some reporters, too. "Meth Baby Bill Survives Amendment Vote," reported the Arkansas News Bureau in March. "Meth Baby Murder Trial" ran part of a Los Angeles Times headline in September 2003.
But the term also appears in sensationalized reporting "intended to shock and appall rather than inform," the experts complained. In May, one Fox TV local news station warned that "meth babies could make the crack baby look like a walk in the nursery." But the Minneapolis Star Tribune may hold the prize for the shoddiest reporting. In a November 17, 2004, story, the newspaper reported on nurses' gossip in a piece on the horrors of meth-afflicted babies. "Babies can be born with missing and misplaced body parts," the reporter penned before citing her source, a nurse. "She heard of a meth baby born with an arm growing out of the neck and another who was missing a femur."
But media hyperbole notwithstanding, there is no such thing as a "meth baby," nor are there "meth-addicted babies" anymore than there is such a thing as a "crack baby," said the experts in the letter. "Although research on the medical and developmental effects of prenatal methamphetamine exposure is still in its early stages, our experience with almost 20 years of research on the chemically related drug, cocaine, has not identified a recognizable condition, syndrome or disorder that should be termed "crack baby" nor found the degree of harm reported in the media and then used to justify numerous punitive legislative proposals," they wrote.
Neither is there any such thing as a "meth-addicted" baby, said the letter's cosigners. "The term 'meth addicted baby' is no less defensible. Addiction is a technical term that refers to compulsive behavior that continues in spite of adverse consequences. By definition, babies cannot be 'addicted' to methamphetamines or anything else. The news media continues to ignore this fact," the letter said. Fetal physiological dependence on opiates does exist, "but no such symptoms have been found to occur following prenatal cocaine or methamphetamine exposure."
Likewise, oft-repeated claims that methamphetamine is particularly addictive or its users especially immune to drug treatment are unfounded, said the experts. "Analysis of dropout, retention in treatment and re-incarceration rates and other measures of outcome, in several recent studies indicate that methamphetamine users respond in an equivalent manner as individuals admitted for other drug abuse problems. Research also suggests the need to improve and expand treatment offered to methamphetamine users," they noted.
It is not stricter laws or harsher penalties that are needed, but comprehensive treatment programs, said the University of San Francisco's Haug. "There are a lot of successful models where they are provided with prenatal care, drug abuse treatment, parenting skills, nutrition information, couples therapy—a comprehensive approach," said Haug, who cut professional her teeth at Johns Hopkins' Center for Addiction and Pregnancy in Baltimore. "We have models that work with opioid- and cocaine-dependent women, and we can apply them to mothers who are abusing methamphetamine."
But comprehensive drug treatment for poor, drug-abusing women is not nearly as sexy as as blaring, fear-inducing headlines about "meth babies." Still, the media has been put on notice. This time around the networks and the newspapers can't claim they didn't know any better.
Norm Stamper is probably best known as the police chief who lost his job in the wake of the 2000 "Battle in Seattle" occasioned by mass anti-globalization protests designed to shut down the World Trade Organization meeting there. Stamper's Seattle police, charged with protecting the proceedings and confronted by massive demonstrations spiked with occasional bouts of property damage by young anarchist cadres, went on a rampage of their own, violently assaulting nonviolent demonstrators and -- perhaps more crassly in the eyes of Seattle residents -- indiscriminately tear-gassing the innocent denizens of the city's tony Capitol Hill district. Stamper's performance then is certainly open to criticism, and his relatively sketchy account of that event in this volume won't quiet critics, but to remember Stamper solely for that brouhaha is to do an injustice to a man whose career has been a model of progressive policing.
While a healthy skepticism toward law enforcement is desirable, some of us need the occasional reminder that not all cops are thuggish Neanderthals. Stamper helps immensely. Working his way up through the ranks from a San Diego beat cop, he describes the sick pleasure he took in roughing up miscreants, but he also describes the epiphany he had at the hands of a scathing DA. As a progressive police executive, he examines sexism and sexual harassment within police departments, but doesn't flinch from addressing issues such as whether women cops have sufficient upper body strength to do the job. His accounts of police killings and of police killed reveal a thoughtful law enforcement executive grappling with the most fundamental issues and gives pause to those who are quick to shout "murder" every time a police officer guns down a suspect.
In a breathtakingly brutal and personal opening chapter, Stamper takes on domestic violence. The chapter is written in the form of an open letter to former Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, who shot and killed his wife in the ultimate act of domestic abuse, then turned his gun on himself. Stamper harshly berates the now-departed Brame as a "coward," even as he unflinchingly describes his own beatings at the hands of his father and his own resort to physical violence at home as an adult. But unlike Brame, Stamper recognized his inner demons and dealt with them. For anyone who has been affected by domestic violence -- and even those for whom it is no more than a theoretical problem -- Stamper's chapter is a call to arms.
For Stamper, the drug war is a failure, plan and simple, and the answer is what he calls "decriminalization," but what most of us would recognize as regulated legalization. The drug war is bad for police as an institution because it breeds corruption and distorts policing priorities, Stamper writes under the chapter heading "Wage War on Crime, Not on Drugs." It is time for police executives to speak out and end this fiasco, he says. "Right now the only people actively campaigning for sanity on the drug scene are hempheads, political mavericks, and career decriminalistas," Stamper notes. "If a small collection of thoughtful, currently closeted law enforcers were to make their views known they'd have influence far beyond their numbers." Stamper, by the way, sits on the advisory board of a group of mostly retired law enforcement officers who are doing just that, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
While fewer than 20 of the book's nearly 400 pages deal directly with the war on drugs, it should be required reading for anyone interested in drug reform or the larger issue of the proper role of the police in our society. The drug war cuts across all sort of policing issues, from the often mindless resort to paramilitary SWAT team-style policing to debates over community policing, from dealing with street crimes and violence to setting limits on searches and surveillance. Stamper looks at all of this, examining cop culture and police politics with an informed, incisive eye and a gripping narrative style. Readers may not always agree with Stamper's conclusions, but they will be well-served indeed to read him and think hard about the issues he raises. They are issues of key importance to all of us.
It's mainly good, old-fashioned larceny this week, with sticky-fingered cops in Kansas, New Mexico and Texas making the news, while a Louisiana justice of the peace was trying to earn a little on the side. Let's get right to it:
In Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana, a Plaquemine Parish justice of the peace was arrested on cocaine charges last week. Trish Buras, 26, was arrested as she he accompanied her boyfriend as he allegedly sold cocaine to undercover narcotics agents in Gretna. She is charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of narcotics in the presence of a juvenile -- her six-month-old daughter, who was sitting in the car as the deal went down. According to the Plaquemine Parish Sheriff's Office, Buras and her boyfriend, LC Williams, 29, were suspected of dealing drugs and targeted for a sting. It was a small-time bust, though; the narcs gave Williams $200 to score, then arrested the pair when he returned with the coke.
In Topeka, Kansas, the case of former narcotics officer Tom Pfortmiller continues to reverberate. As noted earlier in this space, Pfortmiller was arrested in February on more than a hundred counts of misuse of public funds, theft, perjury, forgery and official misconduct for allegedly ripping off police drug-buy money. Then, in April, prosecutors announced they had to drop charges in a major methamphetamine case because Pfortmiller had stolen the evidence -- 4.5 pounds of speed. Now, Topeka's TV 13 News has reported that Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht's investigation into the Pfortmiller case has implicated more officers and that as many as two dozen more drug cases could be dismissed as a result. Some officers have been placed on leave or reassigned, said Topeka Police Chief Eddie Klumpp. Stay tuned in Topeka.
In Albuquerque, KRQE News 13 reported July 22 that the New Mexico State Police have stolen evidence problems and police officers are the prime suspects. Among the missing items are $12,000 in cash, including $1900 seized from a Mexican national when white powder was found in his car. The powder turned out not to be dope, the Mexican was released, but his money was nowhere to be found. "Through the course of the investigation and the processing the money suddenly disappeared, it was no longer there," said State Police Chief Carlos Maldonado. "As near as we can tell, based on the evidence and based on the investigations that were conducted, an employee was responsible for taking that money." That employee was named as narcotics agent Steve Montoya. Bernalillo County prosecutors declined to press charges, but Montoya has been relieved of duty and is on administrative leave.
In Beaumont, Texas, the former head of the Orange County Sheriff's Office narcotics division pleaded guilty to felony theft July 22. Former Lt. Steve Mardis was sentenced to six years probation and fined $5,000 for trying to steal that same amount out of a cash seizure during a June 13 traffic stop. Deputies observed Mardis stuffing a wad of cash in his pants at the scene. Mardis put the money back before it was officially counted, but the damage had been done. He was fired four days later.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) makes extensive use of confidential informants to provide information allowing it to make drug busts, but the agency does a poor job of judging their credibility and documenting the amount of money they are paid, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has concluded.
Inspector General Glenn Fine released a summary of the report on July 17. The complete report will only be released to the DEA and congressional overseers because it contains "sensitive law enforcement information," the summary said.
The review of DEA snitch control procedures came about after a series of scandals involving DEA informants earlier this decade. The most well-known of those was Andrew Chambers, the agency's "supersnitch," who netted at least $2.2 million for ratting out some 400 people. Problem was, he got caught repeatedly perjuring himself, but different DEA agents and US Attorneys continued to use him.
According to the report, the agency has some 4,000 active informants, who are paid -- in some cases very well -- for implicating other people in illicit drug activities. Unlike property crimes or crimes of violence, drug law violations occur between consenting individuals and in most cases no one is filing complaints, so the DEA must ferret out law violators by other methods, such as paying others to inform on them. "DEA officials state that without confidential sources, the DEA could not effectively enforce the controlled substances laws of the United States," the report noted.
But the reliance on paid snitches has its inherent dangers, said the Inspector General. "Although confidential sources can be critical to an investigation, special care must be taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use. Confidential sources can be motivated by many factors, including fear, financial gain, avoidance of punishment, competition, and revenge; therefore, the credibility of a source must be balanced against the information they provide."
The agency fails to do that, the summary said. In practice, DEA agents and supervisors routinely violated regulatory requirements of the agency itself and the Office of the Attorney General for both initial and on-going assessments of informants' credibility. Cases of informants gone bad "highlight the need for special care and guidance in dealing with confidential sources," the Inspector General concluded.
And then there's the money trail. The Inspector General hoped to find a system that accurately and completely tracked confidential informant payments. He didn't: "We also concluded that the DEA does not have an effective system that accounts for and reconciles all confidential source payments."
So, let's get this right: The DEA relies on confidential informants to make its cases. But it does not effectively weigh their credibility or keep track of how much money it gives them. Even by its own standards, the agency has once again earned a failing grade.
Republican drug warriors used a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday to renew their criticism of the Bush administration for proposed budget cuts that would affect programs that target methamphetamine. The administration's failure to put more emphasis on the fight against meth was also at issue in a hearing that saw an Office of National Drug Control Policy official get scolded by lawmakers.
Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), who has used his position as chair of the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee of the Government Reform Committee to make himself one of Congress' most prominent drug warriors, led the attack. "Stop cutting the budget for methamphetamine and back up the Congress," Souder told deputy drug czar Scott Burns. "Our frustration is building because meth is moving west to east, from rural to small cities to larger cities. When it hits it overwhelms us," Souder said.
"I'll deliver the message," Burns replied.
The administration has proposed cutting the $634 Justice Assistance Grants program, which provides federal dollars to fund multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, as well as cutting the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program from $226 million to $100 million. It would also cut funding for a Justice Department program targeting meth from $53 million to $20 million, a 60% reduction. Rep. Souder and his colleagues are using the rising national concern about methamphetamine in an effort to see those cuts restored.
But even in the face of a torrent of "methamphetamine epidemic" stories in the press and ever louder cries from politicians to wage a tougher war on meth, Burns held his ground. He would not say there was an "epidemic" of meth use, instead noting that federal statistics showed the nation's 1.5 million meth users made up only 8% of the country's 19 million drug users.
Back in March, we reported on a proposal by the European drug policy think tank the Senlis Council to deal with Afghanistan's opium crop, which makes up 90% of the global supply, by diverting it into the legitimate medical market. Although dismissed by some US drug fighters out of hand, the Afghan government was not so quick to naysay the idea. In fact, the Senlis Council has set up offices in Kabul and is currently engaged in discussions with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Afghan regional authorities about setting up pilot programs beginning next year.
The notion of diverting Afghanistan's bumper crop of poppies away from the black market and, ultimately, the veins of Western junkies, and into a global medicinal market where current opium supplies are so tight as to make opioid medications effectively unavailable to the Third World, is starting to get some attention. With the opium trade accounting for 60% of Afghanistan's Gross Domestic Product, trying to wipe out the crop could prove destabilizing for the government of Hamid Karzai, which, along with its Western allies is also locked in a four-year-old battle with resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. But buying the crop outright and diverting it into the medical market could be done for less than the cost of this year's $700 million US Afghan anti-drug budget. And it could take the pressure off Great Britain, which has taken a lead role in the so far futile fight to restrain production and taken flak from US government spokesman for its efforts.
The idea popped up on the op-ed pages of the New York Times two weeks ago. Under the headline "Let A Thousand Licensed Poppies Bloom," Maia Szalavitz, a senior fellow at Stats, a media watchdog group, nicely tied together the Afghan opium dilemma and what she described as "the global pain crisis," with opioid pain relievers too expensive for most of the world's population. "The United States wants Afghanistan to destroy its potentially merciful crop," wrote Szalavitz. "But why not bolster the country's stability and end both the pain and the trafficking problems by licensing Afghanistan with the International Narcotics Control Board to sell its opium legally? The Senlis Council, a European drug-policy research institution, has proposed this truly winning solution. Adopting it would improve the Afghan economy, deprive terrorists of income and keep heroin away from dealers and addicts, all while offering pain relief to the third world," she suggested. That op-ed has since been reprinted in the International Herald Tribune (Paris) and the London Daily Telegraph, as well as circulating on various internet list-serves and blogs.
On Monday, the staunchly conservative Financial Times (London) picked up on the theme with an article titled "Afghans to Consider Legalizing Opium," a quite friendly recitation of Senlis Council talking points. "The plan could help bring greater stability to Afghanistan and reduce illegal flows of opium to the rest of the world. It could also help fill developing nations' large demand for painkillers," the Financial Times reported. The [Senlis Council] calculates this demand could be for twice the amount of Afghanistan's annual opium harvest."
With each friendly article in publications as staid as the New York Times and the Financial Times, a long-shot scheme to benefit poor, ailing Third Worlders, Afghan farmers, the Afghan government, and the "war on terror," picks up more support. It is difficult to imagine that an approach as sensible as this could win the approval of the US government, but even Washington may end up balking at the alternatives.
Flex Your Rights, the group that produced the popular "BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters" video, is at again. This time, the organization takes on the New York subway system, which has introduced random, suspicionless searches of people seeking to enter the city's publicly-owned subway system in the wake of the bombings in London's public transit system. While the group is careful to make clear it takes no position on the usefulness of the searches in preventing potential attacks, it is not about to let a terror scare erode the US Constitution.
First off, people are free to refuse to be searched, the group notes, citing the police directive saying people who refuse to be searched are free to leave the subway system, and that refusing a search "shall not constitute probable cause for an arrest or reasonable suspicion for a forcible stop." If they do agree to be searched, they do not have to answer any questions, including their names or nationalities. Neither do they have to produce identification.
In the event of arrest, the group counsels, do not resist. And don't run into the subway station after refusing a search, Flex Your Rights warns. "If you refuse to be searched and run into the station, you could be shot to death!" the groups emphasizes, noting the killing of an unarmed Brazilian by London police last week. If you think you have been abused, keep quiet, keep your eyes open, and report it to the proper authorities.
The group's advice to persons seeking to assert their constitutional rights seems non-controversial. But in these super-heated times, even advising people how to exercise their rights draws abusive responses, especially in the gate-keeper-free world of the blogosphere. "WE ARE AT WAR ASS HOLE [sic]. SCREW YOU AND THE ACLU," wrote one half-wit on the Flex Your Rights blog.
"You my friend, are bigger scum then the terrorists are," opined another concerned citizen. "You live in a free country where the sky is the limit and your [sic] not happy with anything."
But the best (or rather, worst) response came in the form of a voicemail message from a self-identified "angry New Yorker," the morning after the subway guide was released. The anonymous phone caller expressed his opposition to terrorism by saying that he hoped the terrorists would successfully perpetrate terrorism by dropping a bomb on Flex Your Rights staff's homes.
Most of the e-mails were not hate mail, of course. And a lot of people have visited the site since the section was unveiled -- web site hits quintupled, according to FYR executive director Steven Silverman.
In the meanwhile, the Flex Your Rights blog has moved on to report that police are confounded by apparent "police search fetishists" who have taken to offering their bags to police officers in the subways without being asked.
The Michigan Court of Appeals has held that prosecutors hoping to convict a woman of driving under the influence of marijuana must prove she was actually intoxicated instead of relying solely on a blood test that picked up trace THC metabolites. With Michigan one of a dozen states that have newly passed drugged driving laws, the ruling could be an early indicator that state courts are going to make prosecutors actually prove impairment instead of allowing them to win convictions merely on the basis of a drug test.
The ruling came in the case of Delores Marie Derror of Traverse City, whose vehicle slid into oncoming traffic on a snowy winter highway, killing one woman and leaving two children paralyzed. Officers at the scene found a case with several joints in Derror's purse, and she admitted smoking marijuana some four hours before the accident. Derror tested negative for THC, but came back positive for carboxy THC, a by-product left over when THC is metabolized (a metabolite) that is detectable in the body long after the marijuana high is gone. Prosecutors hoped that showing, via the positive metabolite result, that Derror had smoked marijuana at some previous point would be sufficient to win a drugged driving conviction.
But the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled instead that a person must be impaired by a controlled substance to be convicted under the statute and that carboxy THC is not a controlled substance because it has no intoxicating effect. "Its presence in the blood conclusively proves that a person ingested THC at some point in time," the court's opinion noted. "However, carboxy THC itself has no pharmacological effect on the body and its level in the blood correlates poorly, if at all, to an individual's level of THC-related impairment. In fact, carboxy THC could remain in the blood long after all THC was gone, as THC quickly leaves the blood and enters the body's tissues."
In other words, if prosecutors want to convict someone of drugged driving, they must actually prove that person was impaired.
Time magazine asks "Why is the DEA Hounding This Doctor?"
Ethan Nadelmann puts the blame for medical marijuana troubles on the federal government in "Controlling Medical Pot is Not Such an Out-of-Control Idea," San Francisco Chronicle.
John Tierney criticizes the pain doctor prosecutions in "Handcuffs and Stethoscopes," New York Times.
July 29, 1997: A large number of Los Angeles sheriff's deputies swarm into the home of author and medical marijuana patient Peter McWilliams and well-known medical marijuana activist Todd McCormick, a medical marijuana user and grower who had cancer ten times as a child and suffers from chronic pain as the result of having the vertebrae in his neck fused in childhood surgery. McCormick ultimately serves a five-year sentence, while McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit in 2000 after being denied medical marijuana by a federal judge.
July 30, 2002: ABC airs John Stossels' special report "War on Drugs, A War On Ourselves."
July 31, 2000: In Canada, Ontario's top court rules unanimously (3-0) that Canada's law making marijuana possession a crime is unconstitutional because it does not take into account the needs of Canadian medical marijuana patients. The judges allow the current law to remain in effect for another 12 months, to permit Parliament to rewrite it, but says that if the Canadian federal government fails to set up a medical marijuana distribution program by July 31, 2001, all marijuana laws in Canada will be struck down.
July 31, 2003: Karen P. Tandy is confirmed by unanimous consent in the US Senate as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Tandy was serving in the Department of Justice (DOJ) as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. She previously served in DOJ as Chief of Litigation in the Asset Forfeiture Office and Deputy Chief for Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and she prosecuted drug, money laundering, and forteiture cases as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and in the Western District of Washington.
August 1, 2000: The first Shadow Convention convenes in Philadelphia, PA, with the drug war being one of the gathering's three main themes.
August 2, 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act is passed by Congress, enacting marijuana prohibition at the federal level for the first time. Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger tells the Congressmen at the hearings, "Marihuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."
August 2, 1977: In a speech to Congress, Jimmy Carter addresses the harm done by prohibition, saying, "Penalties against a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana for personal use. The National Commission on Marijuana... concluded years ago that marijuana should be decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations."
August 4, 1996: In the midst of an election season that included California's medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, state narcotics agents, at the direction of California Attorney General Dan Lungren, raid the Cannabis Buyers' Club of San Francisco.
The responsibility of the Outreach Coordinator is to increase SSDP's base by providing support to students starting chapters, as well as to students trying to grow and strengthen existing chapters. Additionally, the Outreach Coordinator must track and maintain information on all of the organization's chapters. To that end, the Outreach Coordinator will:
SSDP is a national network of students committed to an open, honest, and inclusive dialogue on alternatives to our country's current approach to drug use, abuse, and addiction. Through youth involvement in the political process, we work to reform drug laws and policies that have a negative impact on youth. Specific SSDP campaigns have included efforts to repeal the federal financial aid ban on students with drug convictions and to restrict federal funding for student drug testing. Visit http://www.ssdp.org for information on SSDP's mission and campaigns.
Salary is $30,000+, commensurate with experience. Benefits include health care. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an equal opportunity employer, located in Washington, DC near Dupont Circle (on the Red Line). SSDP has a fun yet professional work environment.
Interested applicants should e-mail a one-page cover letter and one-to-two page resume by August 19 to Scarlett Swerdlow at [email protected]. In your cover letter, please indicate (1) how you learned about SSDP's job opening, (2) why you are interested in working with SSDP in particular, and (3) whether you have any experience in drug policy. Feel free to include any additional information you deem relevant, not to exceed one page. Please do not call the SSDP office at this time. If you submit a cover letter and resume, SSDP will respond to you within seven working days with either a notice of rejection or a request for additional documentation.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
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 13, 7:00-9:00pm, Missoula, MT, fundraiser to help low-income medical marijuana patients obtain state registry cards. Sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project, featuring MPP executive director Rob Kampia. At 240 East Spruce, suggested $50 contribution (contributions of any size accepted), RSVP to Michael Sanderson at (202) 462-5747 ext. 127 or [email protected] by August 12.
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 14-17, Scottsdale, AZ, "Speaking Truth to Power: Vision, Voice & Justice," conference on racial and economic justice, sponsored by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the Project for the Future of Equal Justice. Contact Charles Wynder at
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.
October 18-19, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Escaping the Chaos: A Public Health Alternative to Black Market Drug Distribution," conference and evening multi-faith session sponsored by the "Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues on Drug Use" coalition. At the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 W. Hastings St., visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.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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