(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #410 -- 11/4/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
After a tough and surprisingly bitter campaign, voters in Denver Tuesday approved a ballot measure legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by persons 21 or older, but city and state officials have vowed to ignore the vote and continue with business as usual in Colorado's largest city. The measure passed by a margin of 54% to 46%.
A "lowest priority" initiative on the ballot in the southwestern Colorado ski resort town of Telluride was narrowly defeated Tuesday, failing by a margin of 308 votes to 332. The organizers of that effort, Sensible Colorado, remain undaunted, however, and are now eyeing plans for a statewide effort.
"The vote in Denver is a huge step toward a more sane marijuana policy in this country," said SAFER head Mason Tvert. "We knew that people here supported the idea that an adult should not be prohibited from making a rational choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol," he told DRCNet. SAFER has made a comparison of the relative harms and dangers of alcohol and marijuana the key component in its successful campaigns.
"The results in Denver show that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue. Voters are demonstrating they understand that prohibition doesn't make a lot of sense and needs to be rethought," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is preparing for a statewide effort in Nevada next year. "When something like this happens in Seattle or Oakland, people might dismiss it as just a bunch of fringe lefties, but Denver is the heartland. This is as mainstream as it gets."
Under current Colorado law, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is treated as an infraction, with offenders subject to fines but not jail time -- up to $100, plus another $100 mandatory fee for being arrested on drug charges. And it's not as if the law is not enforced. Denver police cited more than 6,800 people for marijuana infractions since 2002. Under the newly passed city ordinance, police would no longer be able to cite people for simple possession, but Denver and state officials have vowed to ignore the ordinance and continue to cite people under state law.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers told local media Tuesday that Denver police will continue to cite marijuana offenders under the state law and he criticized the initiative for aiming at the municipal level. "I have found these efforts to be unconstructive," he said. "I understand the debate about legalization and whether our drug laws are constructive. But I wish we would have a full-out debate instead of these peripheral issues that accomplish just about nothing."
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey was also determined to ignore the vote. "It's still illegal in the city of Denver, because Denver's in Colorado," he said.
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, owner of the Wynkoop Brewery and brew pub, an opponent of the measure, also downplayed its significance, suggesting he, too, would advise police to ignore the vote. "It's a generational thing," he said of the vote. "People's attitudes toward marijuana; they're clearly changing," he said. "If that election had been 20 years ago, it would have been a very different outcome. The bottom line is, it doesn't change state law. I think it's more symbolic than anything else."
While foes of the measure are now arguing that the initiative doesn't change anything, they were singing a different tune before the election. Denver would become the Amsterdam of the Rockies, they warned. "Next thing you know, we'll have drug dealers setting up in City Park," warned city councilman Charlie Brown, who was so opposed to the measure that he took to ripping down signs touting it.
"People will flock to Denver to use marijuana," Jeffrey Sweetin, head of the Rocky Mountain Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the Associated Press last week. Inadvertently making an argument for complete legalization of the weed, Sweetin argued that people would still have to buy the drug from illicit sources and they "don't realize all that money goes to organized crime."
SAFER is now pondering how to turn the screws on public officials who refuse to heed the will of the voters. The DEA may be out of SAFER's immediate reach, but local officials are not. "They say their legitimacy comes from being elected by the people, but now they're not going to recognize this vote," said Tvert. "Why are they hiding behind state law? The fact is, this city has the right to handle marijuana cases under the municipal law, and it is a matter of prosecutorial discretion to do so," he said. "Ultimately, if our elected officials fail us, we may have to find new ones," he said.
Another possible tactic is to jam the court system with marijuana cases. "Anyone who is arrested for marijuana possession in Denver on state charges could demand a trial," he pointed out.
"This is a situation where local activists are going to have to ride herd on their local government," said the Marijuana Policy Project's Mirken. "A local ordinance isn't going to solve the problem of marijuana prohibition, but we do live -- at least in theory -- in a democratic society where the police are our servants, not our masters. When the voters of a city make clear their desires, the police and elected officials ought to listen rather than resist. But this won't happen automatically. There is a deep-seated hostility in some corners of law enforcement, and their feet are going to have to be held to the fire."
The campaign itself got pretty hostile. As noted above, Councilman Brown's opposition was so ardent he resorted to tearing down campaign signs. He also complained loudly -- along with some domestic violence activists -- about a SAFER billboard designed by Change the Climate that argued that voting for S-100 would reduce domestic violence. That billboard was modified before finally going up. Brown and others also objected to other SAFER campaign materials that said merely that S-100 would make the city safer without mentioning marijuana. "This isn't about domestic violence. This isn't about alcohol," he complained to the Rocky Mountain News last week. "This is about marijuana.
But Tvert makes no bones about the thrust of the campaign: Marijuana is safer than alcohol. "The ads were controversial, but they worked to our benefit," he said. "We got a bunch of flak for saying people smoking pot were less likely to beat their wives than people drinking alcohol, but that's just good science. We had four people shot and killed in alcohol-related incidents in Denver last weekend alone. People get it."
The campaign also went after Mayor Hickenlooper, accusing him of hypocrisy and even of being a drug dealer. "This is a mayor who owns breweries across the country and is selling a more deadly product than marijuana. Yes, we charge him with hypocrisy," said Tvert.
But now that the election is over, it could be time to mend fences. "We want to see this implemented in Denver," said Tvert.
In getting local officials to recognize their victory, Tvert and his allies -- and the voters of Denver -- have the sort of problems Sensible Colorado only wishes it had. While the party-happy resort town of Telluride may have seemed a natural for a "lowest priority" initiative, Sensible Colorado couldn't make it happen this time, losing in a squeaker by only 24 votes.
Question 200 would have directed the Telluride Town Marshal's office to make marijuana citations the lowest law enforcement priority, but according to local officials and numerous letter writers to the local newspaper, that was already pretty much the case. Some opponents also cited Sensible Colorado's outsider status in the small, remote ski destination. The group is based in Denver.
A surprise opponent of the Telluride ordinance was county Sheriff Bill Masters, who has called for ending drug prohibition. This wasn't the way to do it, he told DRCNet. "I'm all for changing the law and making it legal, but this is a dumb ordinance," he said. "I think the idea of directing the executive branch to ignore the law is a mistake. We need to change the law, not just wink at it. The way they did it in Denver makes a lot more sense. I can see why that passed."
Masters also criticized Sensible Colorado for some of its campaign tactics. "This is a small community, and these guys came in from out of town and started putting up signs saying 'Stop Crime, Vote for 200,' and everyone thought that was just ridiculous," he said. "They picked the wrong town and went about it the wrong way."
"It's the duty of citizens to make the laws and tell police what to do," retorted Sensible Colorado's Brian Vincent. "In a home rule municipality like Telluride, they have the power to set a priority system." He also challenged suggestions the initiative was an "outsider" effort. "I think this was a fairly home-grown initiative," Vincent said. "We had the support of the county coroner, we had the support of a county commissioner, we had more than 160 locals sign the petition to put this on the ballot."
But possible tactical errors aside, Sensible Colorado faced a more fundamental problem in Telluride, said Masters. In a town where only 17 marijuana citations were issued last year, most people were content with local police on the issue. "The Telluride police have a reasonable, if unwritten, policy on marijuana. Almost every one of the citations they issued were for people arrested for something else. Many people felt the local police were pretty reasonable and didn't need that direction."
Despite the defeat, Vincent was upbeat. "Look, we lost by 24 votes, that's a pretty narrow margin of defeat, and we feel pretty good about our effort. We feel good about what happened in Denver, too. That's a historic victory. It's certainly a big day for marijuana reform in Colorado."
Vincent and Sensible Colorado are aiming for more big days and historic victories. "We are looking at a statewide initiative either next year or 2008. We are going to build off this momentum. We can't be called a fringe movement anymore." It may not be a "tax and regulate" initiative, though. "People don't like the word 'tax' too much in Colorado," Vincent chuckled. "Maybe we'll talk about controlled regulation. Or come to think of it, the state's largest city just voted to remove all criminal penalties, didn't they? We're real excited about Colorado."
The US Supreme Court Tuesday heard oral arguments in a case in which the federal government seeks to bar a small religious group from using its holy sacrament, a hallucinogenic tea known as ayahuasca (hoasca). The case highlights the clash between the spiritual mandate of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), designed to insulate religious practices from federal government intrusion, and the drug war imperatives of the Controlled Substances Act. Because of its RFRA implications, it is the rare illegal drug case to have incited groups such as the Baptist Joint Commission on Religious Freedom and the National Association of Evangelicals to submit amicus briefs to the court.
A US district court judge ruled that under the RFRA, the federal government could not interfere with the UDV's ayahuasca use, and granted a preliminary injunction to that effect. That ruling was upheld last year by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and there matters would have rested had not the Bush administration been so fervent in its desire to quash any challenge to the CSA. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appealed that decision to the US Supreme Court.
If oral arguments Tuesday in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal were any indication, it does not appear that the federal government is going to fare any better before the highest court in the land. Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler, who argued the case for the government, found himself under sustained attack from the bench as he attempted to justify the government's absolutist approach. And while his attackers were many, only one of the nine justices, Anthony Kennedy, seemed sympathetic go Kneedler's argument.
The question before the court was whether the RFRA required the government to allow the use of an illicit drug for ritual purposes. No way, argued Kneedler, reprising the arguments put forth in the government's written brief. While the RFRA requires the federal government to show a "compelling interest" in prohibiting a religious practice, Kneedler argued that the mere listing of DMT, the psychoactive substance in ayahuasca, in the CSA's most restrictive schedule met the "compelling interest" requirement. "The congressional listing in and of itself is sufficient," he said, adding warnings that the sacrament could be diverted or prove harmful to users.
And in a hard-line, zero-tolerance argument indicative of the federal government's general approach to drug issues, Kneedler argued that ruling in favor of the UDV would give individual federal judges the power to grant exemptions from the CSA. To do so would "turn over to 700 district judges" the ability to undo Congress' "categorical judgment" that certain substances should be prohibited in all circumstances.
"But that's exactly what the Act [RFRA] does," retorted Justice David Souter. He wasn't the only one to challenge Kneedler on that point. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out that in enacting the RFRA Congress "did seem to indicate that the courts are supposed to examine each instance."
Justice Antonin Scalia also brushed aside Kneedler's argument that individual judges should not be able to move drugs off the CSA's most restrictive schedule. "RFRA overrides all that," Scalia said. "It says there can be an exception to all federal statutes where there is a religious objection and a court makes a finding there can be an exception."
Scalia should know. The RFRA was passed by Congress in 1993 in part to undo a 1990 Supreme Court decision allowing states to ban the tribal use of peyote. Scalia was the author of that decision. Referring back to Congress' move to enact an exemption for peyote, Scalia said: "This demonstrates you can make an exception without the sky falling."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also grilled Kneedler. Referring to the exemption for peyote use by the Native American Church, Ginsburg said the government had not shown its need for uniformity was compelling. "The two situations seem to be alike, peyote and this," Ginsburg said. "The problem of preferring one religious group over another arises once there is an exception."
Even Justice Stephen Breyer, who has proven fond of federal drug laws while on the court, worried about "a rather rough First Amendment problem" if the government allowed the Native American Church to use peyote, but barred other religious groups from using sacramental psychedelics.
And in one of his first appearances on the high court, new Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority of his colleagues in skeptical questioning of the government's case. "We don't have to make a once-and-for-all determination, do we?" he asked. An exemption for the UDV's ayahuasca use could be reexamined if it turned out the drug was being diverted "or the membership of the church expands in a way that leads you to believe it is being abused."
Roberts also needled Kneedler into arguing that Congress could prohibit the church's use of ayahuasca even if each member consumed but one drop a year. "Your approach is totally categorical," Roberts told his former colleague. "If there were one group, in one year, and it gave each member one drop, and the practice were rigorously policed, your position would be the same."
Lead attorney for the UDV Nancy Hollander also came in for some tough questions, but the former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers had a much easier time than Kneedler. At one point, she was even assisted by Justice Scalia. When under pressure to explain why ayahuasca use was not banned by the United Nations drug conventions, Scalia interjected. "Statutes trump treaties," he said, so "if RFRA can trump a statute [like the Controlled Substances Act], it can trump a treaty."
Hitting the high points of her written brief, Hollander argued vigorously that if the law allowed for the use of peyote by one religious group, it must allow for similar use of ayahuasca by another. She also attacked the government's claims of the dangers of diversion or harm to UDV members from taking the sacrament. As for the international treaties, Hollander argued that while DMT is mentioned, ayahuasca is not, and that other nations that have signed the treaty do not regard it as covered.
The court will not issue a decision in the closely-watched case until sometime this winter, but the tenor of the oral arguments should leave the UDV feeling fairly confident. But concern over the case isn't limited to exotic tea drinkers and drug reformers eager to see any crack in the wall of the Controlled Substances Act. That's because the case is ultimately not about drugs but about religious freedom and the scope of the RFRA. If the drug laws are allowed to trump religious freedom, other laws could be applied in a manner that eroded that freedom, religious groups worry.
And that's why a number of them have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule on the side of the UDV. "We don't question the government's interest in protecting against drug abuse," said K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee. "We question whether it can show a compelling interest without taking into account the particular circumstances of the religious claimant. It is not enough for the government to say it has an interest in upholding its laws," she said. "RFRA requires it show a compelling interest in applying laws to particular religious conduct."
The Christian Science Church also urged the court to support the RFRA. Even more so than the Baptists, the Christian Scientists were eager to make clear they were not supporting drug use -- even for spiritual reasons. "Although The First Church of Christ, Scientist, supports the legal arguments made in this brief, neither the church nor the theology of Christian Science supports the use of drugs or any other material substances as an aid or pathway to spirituality or a greater understanding of God."
A New Mexico working group on methamphetamine has released a set of comprehensive recommendations for dealing with the drug that explicitly recognizes the role of harm reduction as part of a broader strategy. While the recommendations do not extend to the outer reaches of harm reduction -- safe injection sites for IV drug users, drug maintenance therapies -- they bring New Mexico that much closer to the progressive "Four Pillars"-style drug policy adopted in Vancouver and about to be adopted in Toronto. Those policies seek to shift the official response to drug abuse from a disproportionate reliance on law enforcement to one that includes drug prevention, treatment, and most controversially, harm reduction.
Co-chaired by the state "drug czar" Herman Silva and Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico office head Reena Sczcepanski, the working group brought together state, local, and federal law enforcement, the state Health Department, treatment and prevention providers, harm reduction workers, and academic specialists. Its recommendations are designed to help lawmakers craft appropriate legislation next year, as well as to assist local communities across the state in assessing their own challenges and needs.
The prevention and treatment recommendations adopted by the working group are sensible, if, for the most part, unsurprising. They call on the state to "improve coordination, planning, communication and sharing of resources among agencies concerned with prevention, including local and tribal governments," "increase the number of behavioral health providers," and adopt "evidence-based treatment modalities, including alternative treatment modalities."
But hints of unconventional thinking and reframing are also apparent. While countering the cross-border drug trade is usually considered a law enforcement concern, "decreasing trafficking of methamphetamine from Mexico to the United States" is buried among the prevention recommendations.
And the law enforcement, or public safety, recommendations themselves have some non-traditional touches. While calls to control meth labs and to ensure their safe and effective clean-up are no surprise and neither is a recommendation regarding "drug-endangered children," the first recommendation for public safety is "reduce crimes committed by methamphetamine users through drug treatment." The working group called for examining programs to divert meth offenders from jail, community-based treatment, and expanded treatment behind bars as part of the public safety strategy. What it notably did not call for was more prisons or harsher sentencing.
And while New Mexico has an ongoing, state-supported needle exchange program, the working group explicitly called for more. Some 9,000 New Mexicans are currently enrolled in exchange programs, some 2,000 of them meth injectors. New Mexico should "increase access to syringe exchange and infectious disease testing services statewide," the panel recommended. It called for needle exchange to be available at every public health office in the state and for increased funding for disease testing to ensure that every site has the ability to do testing and counseling.
The popular stimulant is available throughout the state, the working group found, and while measures aimed at restricting the availability of precursor chemicals have led to a decrease in meth labs, meth use has not decreased because of the easy availability of Mexican meth. The group also identified rising meth use rates among high school students and a rise in meth-related fatalities, with a total of 56 in the last three years.
The idea for an integrated methamphetamine strategy came about informally in discussions with the state Department of Health, DPA's Sczcepanski told DRCNet. "Everyone was working with their own sets of facts in their own fields, and we thought it was a good idea to bring everyone together to come up with some strategies to help lawmakers really address the concerns they have. The response we had seen so far -- things like putting pseudoephedrine behind the counter or making it easier to charge meth-making parents with child abuse -- was piecemeal and almost random," she said.
Those initial discussions evolved into the New Mexico Methamphetamine Strategy. "The idea was to bring together all the experts and see what we could do," Sczcepanski said. "We really just created a list of people from law enforcement, harm reduction, prevention, and treatment, and invited the drug czar to co-chair, and here we are."
"We are very concerned about the growth of meth use here in New Mexico, and with this comprehensive strategy we are trying to be as proactive as possible," said Gov. Bill Richardson's point man on drug policy, drug czar Herman Silva. "We need to come up with some prevention and some treatment for meth and we need to get our state agencies and communities working together," he told DRCNet.
And Silva can live with harm reduction programs. "With these harm reduction programs, the needle exchanges and don't forget Narcan, the bottom line is you're trying to save lives. Needle exchange has worked," Silva said, and Narcan is working to reduce overdoses. We need to continue and expand these programs."
New Mexico has proven receptive for several reasons, said Szczepanski. "We have a history of working with state agencies here. Part of that is the Gary Johnson legacy," she said, referring to the anti-prohibitionist former Republican governor. "We also held the 2001 conference here, and a lot of people became aware of the idea of drug policy reform then." It also helps that New Mexico, with a population of 1.8 million, is a relatively small state. "It's not that hard to find the right person, and we've generally been able to get meetings and get them to hear our ideas," she said.
While some officials and sectors of the media have sensationalized the "meth menace," said Sczcepanski, drug reformers must resist the temptation to "intellectualize" about the issue. "There is no evidence overall use is up nationwide, there is research that shows treatment works, it's not instantly addictive, despite what we read in the press. The reaction from those of us in the policy world is to say this isn't really an issue, but I've been working with a meth coalition in a small New Mexico town, and the impact of meth is undeniable. Much of it is related to our punitive policies, but it is having an impact."
One of the most striking things about the recommendations is the absence of more punitive measures, Sczcepanski said. "We are most excited by the recognition that instead of tougher laws we need to increase treatment capacity and look at treatment instead of incarceration. We need to find ways to divert people from prison, and if they're in prison, to ensure that treatment is available," she said. "I'm really pleased that we had no recommendations for enhancing penalties for use or trafficking."
There is political support for diverting meth users out of state jails and prisons, Silva said. "There are a lot of legislators and even the governor who prefer to have prevention and treatment instead of incarceration."
The meth working group will meet again next month in preparation for next year's 30-day legislative session. According to Sczcepanski, some of the recommendations could turn into bills that could be passed then. "We wanted to do something that will have an impact in the next five years," she said. "These recommendations are a roadmap."
by Phillip S. Smith, [email protected], 11/4/05
I read "The Great Drug War" by drug reform progenitor Arnold Trebach when it was first published in 1987. The hard cover first edition still sits in a place of honor on my drug policy bookshelves. But my first reaction upon being asked to review this edition of "The Great Drug War" was to ask myself what could possibly be relevant in a tome written in the dark ages of the last century, with the only addition to this edition being a new introduction. Surely the book could only be read for its historical significance. If only that were the case. Sadly, "The Great Drug War" remains screamingly relevant, and many of the stories Trebach tells could be ripped from today's headlines. Just substitute "meth" every time you read "crack," and you'll get my drift.
Two decades ago, in what was a heartfelt indictment of the Reagan-era war on drugs, Trebach identified and brought to vivid life all sorts of abuses derived from the effort to enforce drug prohibition and began to elaborate a strategy for escaping from drug war and achieving "drug peace." But in the intervening years, while progress has come on some fronts, "drug peace" seems even more distant and the drug warriors appear even more entrenched than during the "Just Say No" era. More than 20 million people have been arrested on drug charges in the US since Trebach put pen to paper back in the mid-1980s (when people actually put pen to paper). An observer from that period -- a time of hysteria over crack cocaine and relentless calls for more, tougher drug laws -- would be mind-boggled to see that the number of people imprisoned on drug charges has more than quadrupled since then. The drug war juggernaut continues to roll, crushing countless Americans beneath its mindless wheels and inflicting US-style prohibitionism on the rest of the world with equally nefarious results.
Which is not to say there has been no progress. A drug reform movement that barely existed in 1987 has now blossomed and matured and shows signs of being able to influence policy, at least at the margins. Trebach and his early work are a big reason for that. Trebach himself has progressed. In "The Great Drug War," Trebach took pains to note "I never said we should legalize heroin and all other drugs." In the new edition, he points out that he has since become a legalizer, in no small part because of the research he did for the original edition.
But for every change for the better in drug policy for the past two decades, it seems as if there must be a change for the worse. In "The Great Drug War," Trebach exposed the abuses and brutality of teen "drug treatment" programs like Straight, Inc., whose techniques were more akin to brainwashing than therapy. Well, Straight, Inc. has been run out of business. That's the good news. And the people responsible were punished, right? Wrong. Mel Sembler, the Florida-based founder of Straight, Inc. and continuing member of the Florida drug war firm, never went to prison. Instead, he is now ambassador to Italy under the Bush administration.
In "The Great Drug War," Trebach described the low-level war between California marijuana growers and the police dedicated to wiping out their crops. That war continues. Just last week, California law enforcement authorities proudly announced they had eradicated a record-breaking million marijuana plants in the annual game of cat-and-mouse with growers. And just last month, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that marijuana arrests were at an all-time high -- again.
In "The Great Drug War," Trebach warned of the corruption and perversion of police engendered by attempting to enforce the prohibition of widely desired substances. Two decades later, the major scandals are too numerous to count, and mundane drug war corruption is so commonplace the Drug War Chronicle runs a weekly recap.
In "The Great Drug War," Trebach very presciently decried the specter of intrusive drug testing and the totalitarian impulse behind it. In a year where Congress is hauling professional athletes before it and demanding that the professional sports leagues institute tough drug testing policies -- or else -- Trebach's drug testing chapter subhead "Testing Sports Stars: Why?" seems ripped right off the front pages.
In "The Great Drug War," Trebach took some pioneering steps in de-demonizing drug users and suggested we treat drug users not as criminals but as potential nice neighbors. In that section of his book, Trebach told the story of Kenny Freeman, "the nice neighbor junkie." Freeman is no longer Trebach's neighbor, but I am happy to report that when I last saw him a year ago in his Baltimore apartment, he was alive and well -- and still a junkie. And, yes, still a nice neighbor.
Nearly two decades ago, Trebach was writing about the saddest victims of the drug war, chronic pain patients. There has been progress on this front, especially with the advance of medical marijuana in the states. But at the same time, the number of Americans suffering from chronic pain has climbed to more than 50 million while the drug czar has declared war on prescription drug abuse and "pill-pushing Dr. Feelgoods." Now, patients suffer because doctors fear the wrath of the drug warriors.
"The Great Drug War" remains invaluable reading, not just for historical perspective -- which is fascinating and depressing enough -- but for its keen analysis of the dynamics of prohibition that are still at work and, in some cases, more entrenched than they were two decades ago.
DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation invites you to a special event supporting:
THE JOHN W. PERRY FUND
featuring celebrity keynote speaker RICK OVERTON and celebrity emcee DEAN CAMERON.
Monday, November 7, 2005, 6:00-8:00pm, home of Richard Wolfe, 7171 Chelan Way, Los Angeles 90068. PLEASE RSVP to [email protected], (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, cash bar, $50 minimum requested donation (sliding scale available upon request, no one will be turned away).
Supporting speakers to include: Marisa Garcia, SSDP activist & student affected by the HEA drug provision; Pat Hurley, California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; Alberto Mendoza, Drug Policy Alliance; David Borden, DRCNet.
Host Committee: Dean Cameron, Francis Dellavecchia, Mike Gray, Kandice Hawes, Bruce Margolin, Todd McCormick, David Nott, Steve Persky, Marsha Rosenbaum, Shoshanna Scholar, Richard Wolfe
RICK OVERTON is a prominent comic/actor/writer in Hollywood. His film credits include roles in Fat Albert, Cloud Nine, Mrs. Doubtfire, Groundhog Day, Blind Fury, Beverly Hills Cop, Airplane II: The Sequel and many others. On television he had a starring role in the series Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures; Joan of Arcadia, Seinfeld, JAG, The Tonight Show, The Late Show With David Letterman and NYPD Blue are only a few of his guest TV appearances. He appears as himself in the recent movie The Aristocrats, as well as on the television specials Comic Remix and The Sunday Comics. Overton won an Emmy for his writing during the 1995-1996 season of Dennis Miller Live. His web site can be found at http://www.rickoverton.net online.
DEAN CAMERON has the dubious distinction of being known as "that guy" from "those movies" -- Summer School, Bad Dreams, Rockula, Men At Work, Ski School, Sleep With Me, Kicking and Screaming, to name a few. On television his work includes a recurring role on Mr. Sterling, guest appearances on Will & Grace, ER, Mad About You, Felicity, Any Day Now, and regular roles on Fast Times, Spencer and They Came From Outer Space. Cameron is a writer, stage actor and producer -- his two person comedy "The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam" was a sell-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and will open off-Broadway next spring. Cameron also plays bass with the band The Thornbirds. Visit http://www.deancameron.com to learn more about him.
BACKGROUND ON THE PERRY FUND:
In 1998, Congress enacted an amendment to the Higher Education Act that denies loans, grants, even work-study jobs to tens of thousands of would-be students every year who have drug convictions. All these young people, who were already punished once for their offenses, are being forced to spend more time working to pay for school, reducing their course loads, or dropping out entirely. Since that time, a campaign to overturn the law has spread to hundreds of campuses around the nation, aided by civil rights, education, religious, substance abuse recovery and drug policy reform organizations. A bill to repeal the HEA drug provision, H.R. 1184 (the RISE Act), was reintroduced on March 9 by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and has so far garnered 69 cosponsors. A resolution opposing the drug provision has been adopted by more than 115 student governments at the time of this writing (October 2005), and more than 250 national and state organizations have called for the law's repeal.
DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help students affected by the law stay in school. Though we can directly assist only a fraction of the 34,000 would-be students who've lost aid this year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.
Please join DRCNet on November 7 in Los Angeles to help make a statement while raising money to help students affected by the law stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
ABOUT JOHN PERRY
John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com and http://www.ssdp.org online.
Support for the legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high, with 36% of adults agreeing that we should free the weed, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. In the West, support for marijuana legalization is nearly a majority position, with 47% of Westerners agreeing that pot should be legal.
Gallup has periodically polled Americans on the issue since 1969, when only 12% endorsed legalization. By 1977, support peaked at 28%, then declined into the mid- and low 20s during the dark years of the Reagan era. Support for marijuana legalization did not exceed 1970s levels again until 2000, when 31% approved. Since 2000, support for legalization has continued to edge up.
Meanwhile, the number of people who want to keep marijuana illegal hovers at 60%. Opposition to legalization is declining slowly from a recent high of 73% ten years ago and an all-time high of 84% in 1969.
Support for legalization varies by age, gender, location, and political persuasion. Among young adults (18 to 29), nearly half (47%) are in favor, but that figure declines dramatically with age. Among 30-to-64-year-olds, only 35% favor legalization, and among the senior set (65 or older), the figure declines to 22%. Men tend to favor legalization more than women, with 44% of men aged 18 to 49 agreeing, compared to only 34% of women in the same age group. The numbers decline with age for both sexes.
In terms of geography, the West is the most pot-friendly part of the country, a finding Gallup suggested could be related to the prevalence of legal medical marijuana there. 47% of Westerners said legalize it, compared to 33% in the Midwest and 34% in the East. Anti-reefer sentiment is strongest in the South, where only 29% approved of legalization.
Church attendance and support for legalization are negatively correlated. The more likely you are to attend weekly church services, the less likely you are to support legalization. Only 17% of regular church-goers supported it, compared to 49% of those who never or rarely go to church.
In terms of political affiliation, Democrats are more likely to support legalization than Republicans by a substantial margin, 37% to 21%. Independents were more likely than members of either party to support legalization, with 44% in favor. By ideological position, a majority of self-described liberals (54%) supported legalization, 36% of moderates did, and only 22% of conservatives.
A slow week on the corrupt cop front, with only yet another crooked prison guard making the roster. This is as good a time as any to remind readers to let us know about any law enforcement shenanigans in their neighborhoods. We scan all we can, but we would hate to miss something, so if there is a drug-related police corruption case festering where you are, drop us a line. That said, let's get to it:
In Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Pasquotank Correctional Institution guard Angela Brown was arrested on charges of smuggling drugs into a prison, delivering drugs to an inmate, and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, the county sheriff's office announced Monday. The office said Brown was arrested as the result of a tip received nine days earlier. She is out of jail on $25,000 bond and awaits a preliminary hearing.
The US Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported Wednesday that the number of adults in jail or prison or on probation or parole was closing in on 7 million at the end of last year, another all-time record for the American incarceration juggernaut. In its annual report on probation and parole, BJS noted that one out of every 31 American adults, or 3.2% of the population, was caught in the clutch of the criminal justice system. That number has increased by 1.6 million people since 1995, the report found.
BJS reported more than 1.4 million people in prison and more than 700,000 people in jail, along with 765,000 on parole. But the largest number by far was for those on probation, numbering more than 4.15 million.
Probationers are people who were convicted of a crime, but placed under criminal justice system supervision instead of being imprisoned. Parolees are people who were convicted of a crime, served part of their sentence in prison, and have been released into the community under criminal justice system supervision for the remainder of their sentences.
Drug offenders make up a significant chunk. They account for 26% of people on probation, 38% of people on parole, and about one-quarter of all state and federal prison and jail inmates. In terms of actual numbers, that comes out to roughly 1,008,000 drug offenders on probation and 291,000 on parole. When added to the approximately 530,000 people behind bars for drug offenses last year, a total of more than 1.8 million people are living under the supervision of the state because of their use of sale of currently illicit drugs.
By all accounts, Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito is a conservative jurist. A member of the Federalist Society, Alito served in the Reagan administration Justice Department as an assistant to the Solicitor General, then became a drug-fighting US Attorney in New Jersey. Since 1990, he has sat on the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
On criminal justice issues, Alito has consistently come down on the side of police and prosecutors. Perhaps the most searing case was that of Doe v. Groody, where New Jersey police on a drug raid strip searched the wife and 10-year-old daughter of a drug suspect although the search warrant did not specify they were to be searched. The family sued police, and the 3rd Circuit Court, headed by current Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff, ruled in favor of the family. Alito dissented, arguing that police had not violated the family's rights.
Alito also dissented when the 3rd Circuit ruled state officials had violated defendants' right to a speedy trial, and when his colleagues ruled that a US District Court was authorized to reduce a convict's sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines. Again, he dissented when the 3rd Circuit held that a defendant should be granted habeas corpus because the state had not proved the defendant's intent beyond a reasonable doubt.
Neither has Alito proven to be a friend of prisoners. In one case where his colleagues struck down a ban on prisoners in long-term maximum security units from receiving newspapers or magazines, Alito dissented. The ban was within the prison's legal authority, he wrote.
On the other hand, if Alito had been sitting on the Supreme Court when it heard the Raich medical marijuana case, there might have been a more favorable outcome. In a case similarly pitting states' rights against federal power under the Commerce Clause (the doctrine used to declare federal supremacy over California's medical marijuana law), Alito again dissented, this time from a majority opinion holding that Congress has the power to ban machine guns. In his dissent, Alito emphasized "the system of constitutional federalism."
But while Alito is a conservative, he is no Scalia-style fire-breather, according to those who know him. "Nino [Scalia] is a radical conservative, willing to turn the world upside down to achieve a conservative agenda," former solicitor general Charles Fried, now a Harvard law professor, told the Associated Press. "Sam is a conservative conservative. He would never do something that when it came up you'd say, 'Whoa, where did you get that?'"
The December 4 election that could put a left-leaning coca grower leader in the Bolivian presidency will now take place December 18. For a few days this week, it appeared as if it might not take place at all, as the Bolivian Congress failed to act on a constitutional court order to redistrict congressional seats. But with front-runner Evo Morales, coca leader turned head of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, complaining of a conspiracy to thwart the election, and rising rumblings of political and social discontent, interim President Eduardo Rodriguez Tuesday night resolved the conflict by decree, setting the elections for two weeks after their original date.
"It is extremely difficult to reach an agreement that satisfies all the regions," Rodriguez said in a televised address Tuesday evening, "but Bolivian democracy is in danger if we don't hold elections."
The looming electoral crisis came to a head last Friday, when the National Electoral Court suspended the December 4 elections, saying Congress had not delivered to it a redistricting plan. By Tuesday, Morales was telling the foreign press that neoliberal politicians, entrepreneurs, and "an embassy" were trying to thwart the election because the MAS was leading in the polls.
But President Rodriguez, who had earlier threatened to step down in January whether elections were held or not, thus potentially precipitating a power vacuum, acted unilaterally Tuesday to end the crisis. Rodriguez came to the presidency in June, after massive protests forced the resignation of President Carlos Mesa in June. Mesa had succeeded Jaime Sanchez de Lozada, who himself was forced from office in bloody protests.
While the plight of Bolivian coca growers has not been a major issue in recent disturbances, it continues to fester behind the scenes. Bolivia is the world's third largest coca producer, behind Colombia and Peru, with production increasing 17% last year, according to the United Nations. Some coca production is legal in Bolivia, but under heavy pressure from the US government, successive Bolivian governments have attempted to limit legal production and wipe out excess coca. Now they may get a coca grower in the presidency for their efforts.
The Australian government of Prime Minister John Howard, egged on by the country's tabloid press, is pressuring state governments to roll back marijuana decriminalization laws adopted in the last dozen years. The Australian Capital Territory led the way by moving to fines for marijuana possession, followed by the Northern Territory in 1996. Victoria and Western Australia introduced a system of warnings for minor offenders in 1998, and the latter moved to full decriminalization last year.
But Howard's federal government has remained recalcitrant in the face of calls for reform and is now marshalling its allies in an all-out offensive designed to march the marijuana laws bravely backward into the last century. Taking advantage of a recent report linking methamphetamine use -- not marijuana -- to mental health problems and another report critical of the mental health system, as well as popular fears, stoked by the press, that marijuana is linked to madness, government officials, drug warriors, and sympathetic experts are raising the alarm.
Even though Australian statistics show the number of young pot smokers is rising relatively slowly, the nation needs to be vigilant, National Drug And Alcohol Research Center information manager Paul Dillon told the newspaper The Australian over the weekend. While teen use is not increasing much, people were using it more often, smoking stronger parts of the plant, and doing it in a riskier way, he argued. "You put those factors together and what you have got is a real time bomb in terms of what this could do to some young people," he said.
Parliamentary secretary for health Christopher Pyne, who is in charge of federal drug policy, promptly attacked loose marijuana laws in the states. "All need to toughen up their laws dramatically," he said, especially in regard to cultivation and personal use.
"It concerns me that the penalties at the state level for private use and cultivation are so lacking in seriousness," he complained. "The states should recognize their role in sending the right message."
It's not just state governments who are to blame, it's also parents, according to the Howard government. Also last weekend, Prime Minister Howard is reported to have told a meeting of friendly parliamentarians in Canberra that the older generation's permissive attitude toward marijuana was one of the main reasons for Australia's mental health problems. Those attitudes "informed the behavior of young people today, who see their parents smoking cannabis and can't see anything wrong with following their example," a Member of Parliament present at the meeting told The Australian.
Newspapers like The Australian are doing their best to incite the government. In an article titled "Psychosis Link to Soft Drug Laws," the newspaper consulted Ian Hickie, coauthor of the report on problems in the mental health system, on the marijuana madness menace. Cannabis should not be thought of as a harmless "party drug," he said. "Cannabis would be the best example of something that's assumed by parents and teenagers themselves to be not particularly harmful," Hickie said. "It's often portrayed as similar to alcohol. From a public health perspective, that looks to be wrong, and we need to look at, therefore, public and educational strategies that provide for more accurate information."
Cannabis should not be decriminalized, Hickie told the Australian. The same goes for medical marijuana, because it could send the wrong message, he added.
The Australian also pointed to the research of South Australia forensic psychologist Craig Raeside, who assessed 2000 people facing criminal charges between 2001 and 2005. He found that 75% used marijuana and that 60% of those had a mental illness. But this research has not been published or peer-reviewed, as far as DRCNet can tell.
The Australian was at it again Monday, with an article titled "Stamp Out Dope to Tackle Psychosis," which reported that "the fashionable strategy of 'harm minimization' is not working." It cited an Adelaide magistrate, Craig Thompson, who echoed the call to roll back decriminalization and advised governments to practice "coercive rehabilitation" based on abstinence for drug users.
But not everyone was buying what The Australian was selling. West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop and Health Minister Jim McGinty have defended decriminalization, saying it had worked well. They have also argued that there is no evidence stiffer penalties reduce use, a position backed by the National Drug Research Institute's Dr. Simon Lenton. He told the paper there was no evidence of a relationship between severity of penalties and marijuana use levels. "Studies that have been done comparing rates of use in different places don't find rates are affected by law changes," Lenton said.
Hartford drug conference footage, on the Drug Truth Network
November 4, 1998: Voters in seven states overwhelmingly approve nine medical marijuana and larger drug policy reform initiatives.
November 5, 1987: Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio breaks the story that Reagan Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg admitted to having smoked marijuana with his students "on a few occasions in the '70s" while he was a professor at Harvard. Two days later, President Reagan asks Ginsburg to withdraw his nomination.
November 5, 1996: Proposition 215 (The Compassionate Use Act) in California passes with 56% of the voting public in favor. Proposition 200 (The Drug Medicalization, Prevention, and Control Act) in Arizona passes with 65% of the vote.
November 6, 1984: The DEA and Mexican officials raid a large marijuana cultivation and processing complex in the Chihuahua desert owned by kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero. Seven thousand campesinos work at the complex, where between 5,000-10,000 tons of high-grade marijuana worth $2.5 billion is found and destroyed. Time magazine calls this "the bust of the century" and it reveals the existence of Mexico's sophisticated marijuana smuggling industry.
November 6, 1985: Upping the ante in the battle against extradition, guerillas linked to the Medellin cartel attack the Colombian Palace of Justice. At least 95 people are killed when the Colombian military attacked after a 26-hour siege, including 11 Supreme Court justices. Many court documents, including all pending requests, are destroyed by fire.
November 6, 1989: Former President Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz is quoted by the Associated Press: "We need at least to consider and examine forms of controlled legalization of drugs."
November 7, 2000: In California, citizens vote 61%-39% to pass Proposition 36, diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. In Mendocino County voters approve a measure decriminalizing personal use and growth of up to 25 marijuana plants -- the Green Party-sponsored Measure G wins 52% of the vote.
November 7, 2002: Ruling in favor of NORML Foundation and Media Access Project complaints, the Federal Communications Commission says that public service announcements broadcast under the auspices of the White House drug office advertising program must identify themselves as being part of that program. As a result of ruling, broadcasters are forced to insert taglines proclaiming "sponsored by the Office of National Drug Control Policy."
November 8, 1984: The international marijuana seizure record is set (still in effect today) -- 4,260,000 lbs in Mexico.
The Marijuana Policy Project is seeking an Executive Assistant to manage MPP's main office in Washington, DC, and to assist the executive director -- visit http://www.mpp.org/jobs/exec_asst.html for the complete job listing and instructions. The application deadline is November 11, and interviews are being conducted on a rolling basis -- interested individuals are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, as the position may be filled before the deadline.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
November 5, 10:00am-6:00pm, Ithaca, NY, "The Latest Developments in the War on Drugs," hosted by the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, discussing Supreme Court decisions on medical marijuana and sentencing guidelines and the intersection of the war on terror and the war on drugs. At Cornell Law School, Room G90, Myron Taylor Hall, contact Ellis M. Oster at [email protected] or visit http://tinyurl.com/9rskz/ 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, visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/dpa2005/ for details.
November 12, 10:00am, Los Angeles, CA, "The Drug War on Communities of Color," discussion with activist Anthony Papa, as part of the LA Urban Policy Roundtable telecast series with Earl Ofari Hutchinson. At The Lucy Florence Coffeehouse, 3351 W. 43rd St., call (323) 293-1356 or visit http://www.la36.org for info.
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.
November 15, 8:00pm, Springfield, MA, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. At Springfield College, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
November 16, noon, Springfield, MA, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture, lecture by Sheldon Norberg. At Springfield College, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
November 19-20, London, United Kingdom, "Liberty 2005: The Annual London Conference of the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International. At the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, visit http//www.libertarian.co.uk/conf05.htm for further information.
November 26, Portland, OR, Fourth Annual Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards, including an educational conference, seminars and vendor activities from 10:00am-5:00pm, and banquet with music and awards presentations from 6:30-10:00pm. Daytime events tickets $10, available at door or online via PayPal; banquet tickets $35, must be reserved three weeks in advance. Visit http://www.OrNORML.org or contact Oregon NORML at (503) 239-6110 for information or reservations.
November 29, 7:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture, lecture by Sheldon Norberg. At the University of Southern California, Taper Hall Auditorium, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
December 1-2, Seattle, WA, "Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a New Legal Framework," KCBA Drug Policy Project 2005 conference. At the Red Lion Hotel, 1415 5th Ave., registration opening 11/1. For further information visit http://www.kcba.org/druglaw/ or contact KCBA at (206) 267-7001 or [email protected].
December 1-30, San Francisco, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. Thursday, Friday & Saturday evening performances except Christmas and New Years, at Climate Theater, 285 9th St., visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
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.
January 21, 2006, 4:00pm-3:00am, Brickell, FL, "8th Annual Medical Marijuana Benefit Concert," benefit for Florida NORML hosted by Ploppy Palace Productions and Tobacco Road. At Tobacco Road, 626 South Miami Ave., admission $10, 21 years or over with ID, visit http://www.ploppypalace.com or e-mail [email protected] 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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