(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #422 -- 2/10/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
The subject of the panel-that-wasn't-to-be was methamphetamine, addiction and the "meth epidemic." My role was to question the validity of calling it an epidemic -- I don't think the numbers remotely justify that term, for a variety of reasons we've written about in this newsletter in recent months. (The articles were what got us the gig.) And I was to question the policies, point out the failure of the drug war and make the case for ending prohibition.
It was a surreal experience. Though one of the other panelists had a policy orientation, a former prosecutor (also bumped), the others were celebrities of different levels in recovery from addiction or with family members who had suffered from addiction: Jody Sweetin, a childhood actress who starred in the series "Full House," rescued from meth addiction through an intervention by her former cast-mates including the Olsen twins -- her breaking interview that day on Good Morning America was what lengthened that section of the cable show and bumped the panel discussion. Duane Chapman (AKA "Dog the Bounty Hunter"), whose son Taggart is serving hard time for robbery committed to finance a meth habit he had, and Dog's fiance Beth. Sara Hejny, a Minnesota beauty queen who got hooked on meth and who was the subject of an episode of A&E's reality program "Intervention."
The celebrities seemed to know each other -- I could see and hear them conversing via the satellite feed while I waited to go on. I felt rather incongruous in the midst of that particular group. Though I don't think they could see me over the feed. Then again, I'm not sure they couldn't see me. Again, sort of surreal.
There's a risk when calling into question the extent of a drug problem that one can be misperceived as making light of the perils of drugs and addiction. That's not the case with me, however, and in fact I found all of the stories very moving. One of the reasons I am in this is that I believe our current system worsens the harms of addiction by making it much more likely to lead to crime, disease or death. In addition to facts and stats and analogies to prohibition of alcohol, I was prepared to make that point. Our side has people who've dealt with addictions too. We have parents who've lost children to addictions -- but who realize that prohibition made it more likely that their kids would not make it through.
I was ready to point out that Sara and Taggart probably would not have resorted to crime to feed their addiction if meth had been legal and affordable rather than prohibited with its price driven up as a result. I was going to note that under the laws in place in our nation, people like Sara and Jody could instead have been sent to prison with long sentences. And I was going to argue that exaggerating the impact a drug is having, even a drug like meth that has real downsides, has not led us to good things like treatment, but instead to a set of inhumane drug war policies that are hurting the very people we claim to want to help. And so forth.
I give the show credit for trying to include me in their discussion. Perhaps at some point that will happen. But there's a lesson here. Even for a show where the people wanted to include our viewpoint (which is by no means every show), the pressures and necessities of the genre forced them to instead go with the simple and the celebrity as it turned out. And though as I've said I found all the stories legitimately moving, without our side too it's an incomplete picture -- because without our side of it those truths tend to lead to misconceptions and mistakes. But it's hard to compete with celebritydom, even when the right people want to do the right thing.
So much for the fast lane, at least for that week -- maybe another week!
With tax cuts and the war on terror competing for dollars, even the drug war is not exempt from the budget-cutter's ax. The Bush administration's 2007 budget proposal, released Monday, cuts drug war spending along with just about everything other than military. At the same time, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) unveiled its 2006 national drug strategy, with twin emphases on the dangers of marijuana and the need to more tightly monitor patients using prescription drugs.
Despite intense criticism of the National Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the source of widely criticized ads linking marijuana with terrorism, teen pregnancy, running over small children, and sticking one's fist in one's mouth, the 2007 budget calls for an increase of 20% to $120 million next. Similarly, the Drug Free Communities Act escapes the budget axe, as does the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program, both of which see funding levels unchanged.
But programs in line for cuts include treatment, prevention and law enforcement programs. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) is to be cut by $12.3 million from this year's $193 million, while the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) would see $24 million shaved from its 2006 funding level of $390 million. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) would see insignificant decreases.
State grants and national programs for treatment and prevention would be zeroed out, saving more than half a billion dollars.
On the law enforcement side, the Bush administration once again calls for eliminating the Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) program, cutting completely the $416 million that funded it this year. While Congress has repeatedly refused to kill the program, it has voted compromise cuts in it the last three years. The administration also proposed massive cuts in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, a Clinton era legacy. The 2007 Bush budget would slash COPS funding by 78%, or some $376 million. Also again on the list for cuts is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, originally intended to guard the borders, but which has evolved into a massive pork-barrel with HIDTAs popping up in such drug war free-fire zones as rural South Dakota and Missouri.
"A lot of this is just smoke and mirrors," said Doug McVay, research director for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "Yes, it is true the president has offered to cut some funding, but just as it years past, the cuts will probably not make it through the budget process," he told DRCNet. "This is a stunt pioneered by Reagan: Hand up a budget that is just garbage, dead on arrival, though no one will say that out loud. Then leave it to Congress to make the tough decisions -- and it won't."
"We really see more of the same, with no fundamental shift in their policy," said David Williams, vice-president for policy for Citizens Against Government Waste, a taxpayer group that last year called for deep cuts in some drug war programs. "We're concerned that especially with the media campaign they will continue to spend millions of dollars on a program that does not get to the heart of the drug problem. They're going after marijuana users, and while people shouldn't be using any illegal drugs, this campaign has not been shown to be effective."
It's not just that the program hasn't been shown to work, Williams told DRCNet. "We asked ONDCP how much those ads are costing, and their response was that the media outlets will not release the cost per spot, so neither will they. We're concerned that our tax dollars are being spent without any accountability."
"The administration is basically just going with the status quo," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We're seeing essentially level funding for drug treatment and some modest increases for DEA and the FBI, but nothing substantial. Bush continues to try to cut some of the law enforcement programs he has aimed in the past, such as the Justice Assistance Grants, and to cut the Safe and Drug Free Schools program. This is not so different from last year," Piper told DRCNet.
"What will happen," McVay predicted, "is that we'll see some cuts in areas we don't necessarily want to see cuts, such as pilot programs in treatment and prevention, but decreases in law enforcement spending won't stand. Treatment providers are nice people, but they just don't compare with the lobbying power of groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the like. When congresspeople look out and see a sea of people wearing blue uniforms and badges, they just buckle. The Bush budget has some cuts in it, yes, but at the end of the day, I don't think we'll see real changes."
Right on cue, the IACP warned this week that the administration's drug war budget cuts would be "devastating for local law enforcement agencies." The group decried cuts for what it called "some of the most successful anticrime programs," including the JAG program and COPS programs. "The proposed $1.1 billion in cuts continues the disturbing trend by both the Bush administration and Congress of significantly slashing the funding for critical state and local law enforcement assistance programs," the IACP complained.
Other groups whose oxen have been gored are also up in arms. The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), a hybrid group that is part treatment and prevention advocate, part drug war propagandists, and which has survived for years by suckling at the federal teat, is rousing its membership. Warning that programs it supports are on the chopping block, CADCA this week warned that "this is a particularly critical year for advocacy." To avoid "draconian" and "devastating" cuts, "we will need to flood Congress with letters" to ensure programs are maintained or restored, the group said.
Piper was more sanguine than McVay about actually seeing cuts in programs like the JAG program, which funds the multi-jurisdictional drug task force that have scoured the country in recent years. "Bush has urged eliminating it outright, and Congress doesn't do that, but it has agreed to cuts in each of the last three years."
But Piper agreed with McVay that there is gamesmanship at play. "Bush gets to position himself as a fiscal conservative," Piper said, generously not mentioning the towering deficits the 2007 Bush budget would only add to, "and there is a strong case for cutting those programs. If Congress fails to cut them, he can then blame Congress."
Congress will not cut programs without prodding, said Williams. "We try to embarrass them into acting," he told DRCNet. "They won't cut this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts, so we try to show the lack of effectiveness of programs and the lack of oversight on ONDCP."
It's not just the drug czar's office that is the problem, but congressional process as well, Williams added. "Combating methamphetamine is a good thing, but if you look at the meth bill, it is just full of earmarks," or what is known in the common parlance as pork barrel spending. "It should not be left to the politicians to decide where this money is to be spent. We have an agency that is supposed to be setting priorities. If states or communities have projects they want to fund, let them do it on a competitive grant basis, not through earmarks. They're really annoying."
While the budget process will be long, boring, and brutal, drug czar John Walters hit the ground running with the 2006 National Drug Strategy, flying to Denver Wednesday to unveil his latest plan. The location was no coincidence; Denver is where voters in November decided that adult possession of marijuana should be legal. A statewide marijuana regulation initiative is in the works. That Walters would open his campaign there can only be seen as a clear indication ONDCP intends once again this year to wage war against any efforts to roll back the marijuana laws anywhere.
Walters of course denied that, saying that he chose Denver because it was a "transportation hub" for drugs and because of its meth lab problems. But groups like the Marijuana Policy Project weren't buying that, nor were they impressed with attacks on drug reform funder George Soros, repeated by Walters in Denver Wednesday.
"It is not a coincidence that John Walters took his junket to Denver, where voters dealt a stinging rebuke to the government's war on marijuana," said MPP Director of Government Relations Aaron Houston. "This document signals that the administration will continue using tax dollars to campaign against common-sense reforms, while wasting billions on failed policies. While Walters continues to rail against supposed 'well-funded drug legalizers,' our efforts are dwarfed by the government's massive prohibition bureaucracy," Houston said. "The drug czar's office spends over four times as much on advertising alone as drug policy reform groups spend on everything we do put together -- salaries, rent, the whole works."
Walters was in fine Reefer Madness form, warning that marijuana is a gateway drug that can cause mental illness, a trope increasingly heard in Britain and Australia, where the weed is apparently so strong its mere mention causes madness in politicians. "This is not your father's marijuana or your father's marijuana problem," he scolded, adding that a million teen pot smokers have become "addicts."
Mason Tvert, campaign director for Safer Alternatives for Recreational Marijuana (SAFER), the group the spearheaded the successful Denver initiative, scoffed at Walters' remarks. "Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse," Tvert told reporters. "You can get addicted to cheeseburgers, too."
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was quick to launch a counterattack against Walters' claims of a link between pot and madness. Citing its recent report, "Cannabis, Mental Health and Context: The Case For Regulation," the group issued a statement noting: "To date, there is a limited body of data noting an association albeit a minor one between early use of cannabis and increased symptoms of depression, psychotic symptoms, and/or schizophrenia based on a handful of longitudinal studies. This statement, however, is hardly an indictment of marijuana's relative safety when used in moderation by adults or an endorsement of the federal government's efforts to criminally prohibit its use for all Americans. If anything, just the opposite is true."
The 2007 budget has been released, the national drug strategy has been announced, the gauntlet has been thrown down. Let this year's games begin.
Thousands of college students with drug convictions could be receiving financial aid from their states even though federal law bars them from obtaining federal assistance, a study released this week has found. Only seven states have laws similar to the federal Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision, the law that bars federal aid, but many others fail to provide state aid to students with drug convictions even though they could do so, according to the report, "Falling Through the Cracks: Loss of State-Based Financial Aid Eligibility for Students Affected by the Federal Higher Education Act Drug Provision," published by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) and its sponsor group, DRCNet.
But even with the Souder fix, students who are ineligible for federal aid but who could receive state financial aid will not do so -- unless administrators, state financial aid agencies, or, in some cases, state legislatures take steps to make it happen. The report found that in 35 states, state law, administrative policies, or institutional whim resulted in students being unable to gain access to state funds that could help them achieve a higher education. In addition to the seven states that legislatively ban aid to drug offenders, 17 others that rely on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for aid-granting decisions effectively bar otherwise eligible students and 11 states leave the decision in the hands of individual schools.
That the issue still resonates despite passage of the so-called "Souder fix" was demonstrated by the national press coverage the report generated almost immediately. It was prominently featured in a USA Today story about efforts to reform the HEA drug provision and picked up in an Associated Press story that has run in newspapers across the country. The Chicago Tribune and the Chronicle of Higher Education are both planning pieces, and the report is beginning to show up in college newspapers as well.
"As we did work at the federal level, we were shocked to discover that a lot of state agencies and institutions that deal with financial aid are just flat-out confused by the drug provision," said outgoing CHEAR campaign director Chris Mulligan, the report's lead author. "Most states are following the federal lead solely out of administrative convenience, and many state agencies seemed to even be unaware that's what they were doing," he said.
"The real story, and the real travesty, is that there are students in lots of states who can get state financial aid, but aren't because of administrative laziness or ignorance," Mulligan said. "Some states or schools just put them in the reject pile if they don't qualify for federal aid because of a drug conviction. Others say they don't have the resources to analyze the data or create a separate form. The end result is a lot of people are wrongfully being denied student aid."
The report makes specific recommendations for change. Some are aimed at state legislatures, others at state executive branches and their financial aid agencies. Yet others target universities and the Department of Education, which administers the federal aid program. According to the report:
Despite partial reform in the last Congress, the issue continues to generate controversy, and activity. Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), another member of the CHEAR coalition, last week announced it would sue the Dept. of Education to get the state-by-state breakdown -- with the help of Public Citizen, a national nonprofit organization concerned with openness and accountability in government as well as consumer advocacy -- after the department refused to release that information unless the group paid a punitive fee for the privilege. The department argued bizarrely that the information would serve no public policy purpose and that SSDP, a nonprofit organization, could somehow profit financially from the group's stated goal of "ending the war on drugs."
That's not the only legal challenge to HEA drug provision. The American Civil Liberties Union Drug Law Reform Project, another coalition member, is preparing a nationwide class-action lawsuit targeting the officials responsible for denying aid to students with drug offenses. The lawsuit will challenge the law on constitutional grounds.
In the meantime, CHEAR and DRCNet, while still aiming at outright repeal of the law on Capitol Hill, are now also focusing on ameliorating the damage at the state level. "We want to change financial aid policies in the states while continuing to draw attention to the larger federal issue at the same time," said DRCNet executive director David Borden. "The first step is to get dialogue started," he added, pointing to the report already having generated such a discourse at the University of Virginia in pages of the student paper The Cavalier Daily.
As the report notes in its section detailing the laws and policies in each state, Virginia has no state law barring students with drug convictions from obtaining state aid, and policies vary from school to school. The University of Virginia does not grant state aid. But UVA's financial aid director, Yvonne Hubbard, didn't seem to have a strong reason. The university bars students from getting state aid because as a public institution, it wants to align its policies with those of the federal government, she told the Daily. "We have determined here that our institutional money will be processed in the same [manner as] our state and federal money, which is predicated on the FAFSA," Hubbard said.
"Ms. Hubbard may be under a misconception when she says the school aligns its aid policies with the federal government because it's a public institution," said Borden. There is no federal law or policy mandating that Virginia or UVA mimic the federal HEA drug provision. They are expected to use a federally-approved need analysis system, but that's a different issue and it does not require them to use the FAFSA in determining state aid and many states don't. Our research found that there are other schools in Virginia that have taken the steps needed to include people with past drug convictions in their state aid programs and that state policy allows for it."
"What we want to see is those state agencies, other institutions, and legislators come up with solutions to this problem," said CHEAR's Mulligan.
CHEAR and DRCNet are going to have to do it on a limited budget. The campaign does not currently have a targeted grant for it, and staff are being laid off. But despite some belt-tightening at DRCNet, the campaign will continue, said Mulligan. "CHEAR continues to exist, and we hope this will excite people so we can once again hire staff for the project. A lot of people think that with the HEA drug provision being scaled back, there's not a lot to do at this point, but this report shows there is plenty to do," he argued.
"We'll be looking at 10 to 15 states where we have allies or see openings to make some progress," said Borden.
There is also unfinished business on Capitol Hill, Borden said. "I think the HEA drug provision needs to be repealed outright." The Senate's Health, Education, Welfare & Pensions (HELP) Committee last year approved a further reaching reform than the one ultimately adopted by Congress, but it never received further discussion because education legislation including the Souder change to the drug provision was tacked onto the budget reconciliation bill that was steamrolled through Congress at the 11th hour late last year.
"There was no education conference committee, and there was really no budget conference committee except on paper. And the head of that paper committee, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), is the original Senate sponsor of the drug provision and is markedly less sympathetic to repeal than most HELP members are, to say the least," Borden explained. "HELP's version of reform should at least get a fair discussion."
The undaunted Borden has bigger plans, too. "Mostly this year we will be looking to expand the effort to other federal laws that single out people with drug convictions, starting with those that bar people from receiving public assistance or being able to live in public housing. It took seven years to get something to finally change on HEA; it's not too early to take on the rest."
For the last several years, the land Down Under has been witnessing a growing reaction to liberalized marijuana laws in some states and liberal attitudes toward marijuana use among the Australian public. Now, that reaction is about to be made manifest in repressive legislation in the country's most populous state, New South Wales, as the Labor government of NSW Premier Morris Iemma announced last Friday it plans to make a legal distinction between "hydro," or marijuana grown indoors using hydroponics, and "normal" outdoor marijuana. Under legislation proposed by Iemma and his parliamentary majority, hydro cultivation would be punished much more severely than growing pot plants outdoors and much more severely than it is under the current law.
Premier Iemma and his cabinet officers proudly announced that their proposed legislation would be the most "hard-line" in the country. Under current law, it takes 1,000 marijuana plants for an indoor garden to be considered to be producing a commercial quantity, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Iemma's bill would drop that number to 200 plants. Under the bill, producers of more than five plants would face up to 10 years in prison. Penalties for growing fewer than five plants would remain unchanged.
Under the new law, houses with indoor marijuana grows would be subject to the same lessened restrictions on police searches as houses linked to designated dangerous drugs such as amphetamine and heroin. The legislation would also create new offenses aimed at people with children who have indoor grows, or as the Australian press dubs them, "hydroponic drug houses," and it doubles the penalty for theft of electricity for grows to two years in jail and an $11,000 Australian fine.
New South Wales' warning and cautioning scheme for possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana, introduced six years ago in an effort to avoid clogging courts with petty offenses, will remain intact -- for now. The widely hailed program uses warnings for a first offense and a caution on the second, with a requirement that the person cautioned contact a drug counseling service.
But that program could be toughened, with pot-smokers forced to take counseling on a first offense. According to the Daily Telegraph, Premier Iemma has called for a review of the current policy to find ways to send a stronger message about the effects of marijuana on mental health. The issue of marijuana's relationship with mental problems has grown increasingly prominent in Australia, driven by a tabloid press playing fast and loose with scientific notions of cause and effect and a federal government eager to find ammunition for its campaign to tighten the nation's marijuana laws.
The Iemma government has unleashed a full-out offensive against hydroponically-grown marijuana, replete with claims that would have made Harry Anslinger smile (or blush). Hydro is "up to seven times more potent" than normal weed, Iemma claimed at the news conference announcing the new legislation. Hydroponically-grown marijuana yields up to five times more than normal marijuana, he added.
"There is growing evidence of a link between long-term cannabis use and the incidence of severe mental health problems," said Iemma. "Regular cannabis use can exacerbate mental illnesses and associated criminal activity. Experts tell us that potent, hydroponically grown cannabis is a particular problem."
NSW minister for mental health issues Cherie Burton was also in fine form, telling reporters one joint of the hydro could bring on mental illness.
But according to US cannabis experts consulted by DRCNet, claims that marijuana causes mental illness are wildly overblown, claims that more potent marijuana is more physically or mentally more dangerous are unproven, and the claim that hydro is in any way distinct from "normal" marijuana is just plain silly.
The notion that hydroponically-grown marijuana is somehow distinct is bizarre, said State University of New York at Albany psychology professor Dr. Mitchell Earleywine, author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence." "I don't follow that logic at all," he told DRCNet. "The genetic heritage of the plant is the biggest determinant of its potency. It's the same plant whether it's grown in soil or water, under sunlight or sodium halide lamps. There is no evidence that hydro pot is different from any other marijuana."
"The main factor in determining the potency of marijuana is the genetics," said marijuana researcher and author Chris Conrad, who is recognized as an expert witness on marijuana in the California courts. "The fact that someone is growing marijuana hydroponically does not mean that marijuana is any different from marijuana grown from the same seeds or clones outdoors."
Nor does that fact that someone is growing marijuana indoors mean he is using hydroponics to do so. Marijuana can and is grown in soil indoors, making Iemma's distinction between hydro and "normal" marijuana even more confused and problematic.
Using carbon dioxide enrichment, as is sometimes -- but not necessarily -- done with hydroponic grows, can both increase the speed of the harvest and slightly increase the potency of the marijuana, but it is the addition of carbon dioxide, not the use of hydroponics that is responsible, said Conrad. And carbon dioxide may increase yields, but only fractionally, not the "up to five times" Iemma claimed.
"This proposed law is arbitrary and has no basis whatsoever in science," said a leading North American academic cannabis researcher who asked that his name be used because he is under contract with a commercial pharmaceutical house. "The idea that hydro is more dangerous is simply not supportable, nor is the notion that it will be more potent. Potency is primarily a function of genetics. Also, the idea that cannabis is so much more powerful than years ago is simply not true. There was good stuff around in 1970, just like there is now. There is no scientific basis for anything in this law," he told DRCNet.
As for the alleged danger of high-potency herb, Conrad pointed out that hashish has traditionally been popular in Australia. "With hash, you're getting 90% resin, but even smoking high-potency marijuana strains, you're only getting about 15%," he told DRCNet. "If you're using carbon dioxide, you might create 25% more resin glands than otherwise, but the resin glands only constitute about 10% of smoked marijuana, so what you're really talking about is a 2.5% increase in potency with hydroponics, not 700%, as those Australian politicians are claiming."
Neither is more potent marijuana more likely to cause physical or mental harm, Conrad said. "That's another allegation with no credible basis," he said. "The research shows that people who smoke marijuana have an innate ability to titrate [adjust the dose of] the amount they take in." Conrad also pooh-poohed claims that marijuana causes mental illness. "There have been psychotics for quite a long time before people were smoking marijuana," he said. "There is no data to suggest any societal increase in mental illness." To make such claims without evidence to support them is irresponsible at best, he said. "These politicians make an allegation and use it to whip up hysteria, but they should realize that creating mass hysteria over something like this has a much more detrimental effect on society than a few people who might have an adverse reaction to marijuana."
The resort to hydroponically-grown marijuana, or indoor marijuana growing in general, is an artifact of the war on drugs, Earleywine said. "It's all about increasing yields in a small space indoors hidden from prying eyes," he said. Neither is hydroponic production a guarantee of increased potency. "Because plants grown hydroponically are growing in a medium without nutrients, they must be fertilized, and fertilized correctly. It is easy to overfeed the plants or over-water them, and it is hard for them to get enough light. I would say with hydroponics it's easier to end up with wilted plants that eventually die than some sort of mythical superweed."
The American experts weren't alone in not buying the government's scare tactics. In a statement released over the weekend, the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists accused the Iemma government of "blaming the victim rather than the services" and using hydro as a scapegoat for what it called the "catastrophic" state of mental health services in NSW.
It is prohibition that has caused the growth of the hydroponics industry, said Rhiannon, and problems associated with it should be dealt with by increased funding to mental health programs, early intervention, and further research, "not by increasing criminal penalties."
But while Rhiannon added that the Greens support medical marijuana trials in the state and campaign against the harassment of young people at public events over small bags of weed, the tabloid-driven hydro scare has even the Greens wondering. "Politicians and commentators have consistently made this distinction in our media for several years now," Rhiannon said. "As I understand it, there has not been enough research to prove that the distinction is real."
Other parties also criticized the trend toward more repressive marijuana laws. A day before Iemma unveiled his new legislation, a state away in South Australia, the Democrats were calling for a relaxation of the drug law, claiming that "a dangerous prohibitionist shift" there would "alienate and criminalize a large section of society."
South Australia Democrats leader Sandra Kanck told reporters "politicians and commentators are getting on the bandwagon saying we need to recriminalize the personal use of marijuana. "That would make around 476,000 South Australians -- 40% of the population -- retroactive criminals," she said. "We need to recognise that drugs are used, and have appropriate policies to deal with that. Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s, and it won't work now," Kanck said.
But while small parties like the Greens -- who hold three seats in the NSW parliament -- and the Democrats, are calling for reasoned responses to marijuana, the governing Labor Party and the main opposition party, the Liberals, appear to be in a contest to outdo each other on the hydro issue. NSW opposition leader Peter Debnam said he supported the government's plan to tighten cannabis laws, but took the opportunity to jab at Labor in a statement. "I will always support moves to tighten Labor's lax drug laws," he said.
The hydro bill will go before the state parliament when it returns to session soon. It is uncertain whether it can be stopped.
"Crime and punishment is the only story we can expect from this Labor government," said the Greens' Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma is addicted to law and order headlines, and the major parties in Australia are too afraid to announce progressive drug reforms, even though they operate them. NSW Police run a successful cannabis cautioning system and the Greens have called for this scheme to be widened to other drugs. Other states also run cannabis cautioning schemes that divert recreational drug users from the criminal justice system."
The Italian parliament Monday voted final approval for a new drug law that reimposes sanctions for marijuana smokers and erases the distinction between "soft" and "hard" drug users. The law could subject pot smokers to loss of their drivers' licenses and passports, as well as involuntary drug treatment. As DRCNet reported last week, the bill calls for prison sentences of six to 20 years for drug offenses, including possession, although people caught in possession of very small quantities of drugs -- the amount is yet to be determined -- would not face jail time.
Early indications are that the government will try to set thresholds so low (a fifth of a gram of heroin, half a gram of cocaine) that many drug consumers will find themselves facing harsh prison sentences. Similarly, marijuana users could find themselves labeled "drug addicts" and forced into treatment over small quantities of the weed. The bill will also allow private drug treatment clinics to certify users as "addicts," an ability previously limited to the government. And tourists caught with a single joint or Ecstasy tablet could have their passports seized.
"We are very satisfied with this law and will provide the completing tables as soon as possible in order to immediately profit from its positive effects," said Minister for Parliamentary Relations Carlo Giovanardi. "No restrictive penal sanctions for consumers, they'll only have to face administrative sanctions. Therefore all the controversy on imprisonment is absolutely unfounded. Obviously there are severe measures for drug dealers."
The argument that the law could send small-time drug possessors to prison is false, Giovanardi said. "That is an enormous lie. Joint-smokers risk that their families are alerted by the police chief. It begins with a joint but we know that there are many young people in rehabilitation centres who started with a joint and ended up consuming cocaine and heroin."
But Giovanardi is getting ahead of himself. The quantities that determine personal use levels have not been set, and small-time drug users could still face prison.
Italy's drug laws were relaxed in 1993, and this turn around was engineered by post-fascist politician Gianfranco Fini, a key lieutenant in the rightist government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. With Italy facing elections this spring, opposition politicians are vowing that undoing the new law will be one of their first acts if they win power.
Italian anti-prohibitionists weren't waiting for elections to signal their displeasure. More than 200 people gathered in front of parliament for a protest smoke-in and to urge President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi not to sign them into law. But there is no indication he will heed that request.
An Oklahoma prosecutor tries to swipe some evidence, a Milwaukee cop is in trouble for a little side cocaine trafficking, and a Tennessee detective is involved in a confused incident regarding a crashed pickup truck and some missing drug. Just another week on the corrupt cop beat. Let's get to it:
In Oklahoma City, State Attorney General Drew Edmondson announced the indictments of a former assistant district attorney on charges of drug possession and tampering with evidence and her office manager for attempted subornation of perjury for trying to help her beat the rap. Janet Bickel, 49, a former Cherokee and Muskogee county prosecutor is alleged to have grabbed a baggie of methamphetamine during a drug raid in Tahlequah in February 2005, then attempted to replace it with another baggie of meth she purchased to cover her tracks when investigators contacted her about the missing evidence. Artest Keeter, 74, administrator at the prosecutor's office is charged with attempted subornation of perjury for, among other things, concocting a bizarre theory to explain how the missing meth ended up in Bickel's purse.
"Bickel is accused of taking evidence from a crime scene," Edmondson said. "Fearing she would be caught, she then allegedly obtained more meth and tried to pass it off as the original." She also "purchased methamphetamine on numerous occasions and at various locations, including at the Muskogee and Cherokee County Courthouses when she was working as an assistant district attorney in those counties," Edmondson said.
"Keeter allegedly developed a 'static electricity theory' to help Bickel explain how she went home with the methamphetamine found during the search warrant," Edmondson said. "Evidently, Keeter believed the grand jury could be convinced that static electricity caused the meth to jump in and stick to the inside of her purse."
In Milwaukee, police officer Larry White was arrested Monday on a federal indictment for cocaine distribution. He is accused of working with his brother-in-law to transport cocaine between Milwaukee and Illinois. No further information is yet available.
In Cleveland, Tennessee, a Bradley County detective has been suspended in a so-far murky tale involving a truck crash and some missing drugs. WTVC News Channel 9 in Chattanooga reported that Detective Robin "Nick" Phillips, 35, has been suspended while the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation determines whether he is involved with the missing drugs. According to the TV report, Phillips was driving a county-owned pick-up when he veered into the ditch and slammed into trees. Phillips was assigned to drug cases, including prescription drugs and meth lab busts. With TBI officials tight-lipped, the TV station was reduced to noting that, "The rest of this story, at least publicly, revolves around some key questions. What does this crash have to do with missing drugs? Did police find them in the truck? And what kinds of drugs are in question?" The answers will have to wait until the TBI finishes its investigation, which a spokesman said "may take awhile."
San Diego County has quietly dropped its federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California's medical marijuana law, but has re-filed it in state court. The federal lawsuit was filed January 20 and sought to challenge the validity of the state law, arguing that federal drug laws preempt state medical marijuana laws. The county dropped the federal lawsuit February 1 and refiled it in state court the same day.
But San Diego County Counsel John Sansone denied that. "We believe we would have prevailed on that 'standing' issue," Sansone told the suburban newspaper. "But, for a whole lot of other issues relating to legal strategy, we think this case is best suited to the state courts."
One reason Sansone gave for going through the state court system was to avoid review by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has proven open to medical marijuana arguments. "This could still take us to the US Supreme Court," Sansone said, "and if it avoids the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, so be it," he added.
The county's lawsuit, which seeks to overturn both the 1996 referendum that legalized medical marijuana in California and the 2004 law mandating that counties implement patient registration and ID programs, is the first in the nation to seek to overturn a medical marijuana law.
In its latest version of the lawsuit, the county has gone the extra step of preemptively suing the San Diego chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. San Diego NORML had threatened to sue the county over its refusal to issue ID cards to patients, and Sansone claimed naming NORML would merely consolidate the legal cases. "That didn't make much sense to us, to fight this battle in two courts," he said. "This way everyone who is wanting to litigate this is in one place."
Whatever happens in court, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who have opposed medical marijuana from the beginning and who voted 4-0 in December to try to overturn the law rather than implement it, still faces an effort from angry voters to punish it. Local activists working with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) announced late last month they would go forward with an a term limits initiative that would effectively remove the current board at the next election.
Pediatricians should advocate for needle exchange programs to reduce the rate of HIV infection among young drug users, the American Academy of Pediatrics said February 2 in a revised policy statement on reducing HIV related to drug injection. The position is a step forward from the group's previous policy statement on the issue, crafted in 1994, that said only that needle exchanges should be "encouraged and expanded."
"Pediatricians should advocate for unencumbered access to sterile syringes and improved knowledge about decontamination of injection equipment," the policy statement now reads. "Physicians should be knowledgeable about their states' statutes regarding possession of syringes and needles and available mechanisms for procurement. These programs should be encouraged, expanded, and linked to drug treatment and other HIV-1 risk-reduction education. It is important that these programs be conducted within the context of continuing research to document effectiveness and clarify factors that seem Pediatricians should speak out in support of needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug users," the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a toughened policy statement.
The new, more aggressively pro-needle exchange policy is part of a comprehensive set of positions on dealing with HIV infection among youth. In addition to "engaging youth in care," the pediatricians also called for "frank discussion" within families about ways of avoiding drug use, including alcohol and tobacco use and for advocacy for "youth-friendly substance-abuse treatment facilities that are able to accommodate all youth, including those who are uninsured, underinsured, and undocumented."
"If we can help young people avoid a chronic illness that we have no cure for, I would hope people would embrace that idea," said the lead author, Dr. Lisa Henry-Reid of Chicago's John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.
Congress has barred the federal funding of needle exchange programs, and the Bush administration has demonstrated an intolerance for even the words "harm reduction," but the evidence that the programs work to reduce the rate of HIV infection among drug users is compelling. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the programs can reduce the spread of disease without increasing drug use.
The American Academy of Pediatrics minced few words in its assessment of the utility of needle exchange programs, based on a review of the scientific literature. "Syringe-exchange programs reduce the risk of HIV-1 acquisition from use of shared needles," the group declared flatly. "Syringe-exchange programs do not lead to an increase in injection drug use," the report's authors wrote. "The number of studies that have demonstrated benefits from needle-exchange programs, particularly those conducted within the context of comprehensive drug treatment, is now sufficient to support efforts to make such programs more widely available."
But while around 200 needle exchange programs are now operating in 36 states and the District of Columbia, they remain highly contentious. They draw opposition from social conservatives who view them as "enabling" or "aiding and abetting" illicit drug use and from NIMBY-style activists who fear they will draw or concentrate "undesirable elements" to their communities.
Last year, Florida pain patient Richard Paey was sentenced to a mandatory minimum 25-year prison sentence as a drug trafficker after authorities watched him roll his wheel chair from pharmacy to pharmacy seeking the massive amounts of narcotic pain relievers to make his life bearable. Tuesday, Paey was back in court to appeal his convictions and sentence in Tampa.
With the CBS News program "60 Minutes" having presented a generally sympathetic portrayal of his case the previous Sunday evening, major TV networks and the local print and broadcast press were out in force as Paey supporters and critics of law enforcement interference in the management of pain spoke out at a press conference before the hearing. Among the media organizations attending were Fox News, ABC, the Associated Press, National Public Radio, the Tampa Tribune, and the St. Petersburg Times, reported Dr. Frank Fisher, one of the speakers at the press conference.
Paey, 47, a former attorney who suffered severe back injuries in a 1985 auto accident, came to the attention of state and federal drug fighters because of the large amounts of prescription narcotics he was seeking. Prosecutors claimed Paey was obtaining so many pills he must be a drug dealer, but despite tailing him for two months, provided no evidence to that effect at trial.
A transplant from New Jersey, he had his former doctor send him undated prescriptions he used to obtain the medication he needed. Despite strong evidence the doctor perjured himself -- he said he had not authorized the prescriptions when testimony in court indicated he had -- Paey was convicted of 15 counts of forging prescriptions, unlawful drug possession, and drug trafficking and sentenced to the minimum sentence of 25 years.
At Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal in Tampa Tuesday, Paey's attorney, John Flannery, told a three-judge panel the 25-year mandatory minimum sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. He also charged prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors let the New Jersey doctor testify even though they knew he was lying, Flannery said. Noting that Paey is getting relief via a morphine pump in prison, Flannery added, "It's amazing to me that the Florida prison understands what the Florida prosecutor does not," he said.
Defending the conviction was Florida Assistant Attorney General John Klawikofsky, who said evidence seized from Paey's house was tantamount to "a little prescription factory." Florida law dictates that someone in possession of a large number of pills is considered to be trafficking, Klawikofsky added.
At the pre-hearing press conference, the Pain Relief Network's Reynolds put the Paey case in the larger context of the under-treatment of chronic pain in America and the role of intrusive law enforcement in exacerbating the problem. "This attack on Richard Paey is an attack on millions of Americans," said Reynolds. "More than 55 million Americans suffer from serious pain and truly require medication to work and function. But studies reveal that the worse the pain, the harder it is to get pain medicines. People in pain are now feeding the Drug War prosecutorial machine. Richard's case," Reynolds said, "is just one example of the outrageous injustices visited upon people in pain."
There is no date set yet for a ruling on the appeal.
Al Lewis, best known for his role as "Grandpa Munster" in the 1960s sit-com "The Munsters" and commonly known as "Grandpa Al Lewis," died last Friday night in New York City at the age of 82. Lewis, who ran for governor on the Green Party ticket in 1998, was a long-time activist who campaigned against New York state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws and the death penalty, among other causes.
Lewis was fine with that. "Why would I mind?" he asked in a 1997 interview. "It pays my mortgage."
It also gave him a unique popular appeal that he used to promote social justice. With a career in activism dating back to the Sacco and Vanzetti trials, Lewis described himself as an anarchist. Lewis used his gubernatorial campaign, as well as his own Saturday-morning radio program on WBAI and numerous appearances on the Howard Stern show as bully pulpit to speak out against injustice, especially around the Rockefeller drug laws.
"He left this planet in better shape than when he arrived," said friend and fellow Rockefeller law foe Randy Credico. "Everyone thinks of him as Grandpa Munster. Forget it. This guy was politically active all of his life. He should not be pigeonholed as a vampire on a TV show," Credico said. "He was so much more profound than that."
Drug war prisoners were some of Lewis' most dedicated fans, said Elaine Bartlett, who served 16 years under the Rockefeller laws. Not only did Lewis talk the talk, he walked the walk, on innumerable picket line and in prison visits. Lewis was invaluable in reforming those laws, she told the Associated Press. "He helped put a human face on it," she said. "Who would even think that a man in his position... would come out and fight for justice?"
"To say Al will be missed is, as is often the case, a vast understatement," wrote NY Green Party member Mitchel Cohen. "Among the many issues that he took on, the fight to get rid of the onerous Rockefeller drug laws in New York (in which people have been imprisoned for 20 years and more for first offense nonviolent drug charges) was dear to his heart, and he fought the thanatocracy ceaselessly to free the hundreds of those imprisoned, their lives meaninglessly stolen from them. This crotchety, funny, whip-smart, annoying, funny, ribald, funny, generous, funny (!) and always dependable anti-racist activist was, in my opinion, one of the great people of the century, a legend walking among us. I loved him dearly, even (or especially) when we argued, and so did many, many others. A life well lived? Hell, a life in revolt! Grandpa Al Lewis -- Presenté!"
Al Lewis was born Alexander Meister in Wolcott, NY in 1923. He moved to Brooklyn as a child.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition promotional video, by the famed Mike Gray
February 10, 1998: The United Kingdom House of Lords announces an investigation into the recreational and medical use of marijuana to be conducted by the Lords Select Committee. Announcement of the inquiry follows a campaign by the UK's Independent to decriminalize marijuana, a report from the British Medical Association urging Ministers to consider allowing the medical use of cannabinoids, and a plea from Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham of Cornhill, who says marijuana decriminalization deserves "detached, objective, [and] independent consideration."
February 10, 2003: South Dakota's HB 1153 passes the state's House of Representatives. The bill revises the current penalties for marijuana distribution to include "intent to distribute."
February 11, 1982: Attorney General William French Smith grants an exemption sparing the CIA from a legal requirement to report on drug smuggling by agency assets.
February 11, 1988: The international heroin seizure record is set -- 2,816 pounds in Bangkok, Thailand.
February 11, 1999: Researchers in Boston, MA announce they found no link between marijuana use by pregnant mothers and miscarriages. The study does document a strong link between tobacco consumption and miscarriages, and also shows an increased risk of miscarriage by mothers who use cocaine.
February 11, 2001: President Jorge Battle of Uruguay becomes the first head of state in Latin America to call for drug legalization.
February 12, 1961: In the first televised challenge to marijuana prohibition, Beat poet Allan Ginsberg uses an appearance on the John Crosby show to argue for the harmlessness of marijuana. By the end of the program, Crosby and guests author Norman Mailer and anthropologist Ashley Montague all joined Ginsberg in agreeing the current laws were too extreme.
February 12, 2002: The same day that President George W. Bush issues his National Drug Control Strategy, DEA agents raid the Harm Reduction Center, a medical marijuana club in San Francisco.
February 14, 1929: St. Valentine's Day Massacre symbolizes the mob violence of the Prohibition era.
February 14, 1996: Fairfax Police Chief Jim Anderson becomes one of the latest officials to speak out in favor of California's medical marijuana initiative when he says, "I believe there is adequate unbiased and scientific evidence that marijuana does have medicinal benefit."
February 14, 2004: The Daytona Beach News Journal reports that Volusia County sheriff's investigators seized bricks of marijuana during several drug busts that were, in fact, bricks they had already seized before. As it turned out, half a million dollars' worth of drugs was stolen from their evidence compound by a former evidence manager. How many times it may have happened prior wasn't known.
February 16, 1982: During a speech in Miami, Florida, George H. W. Bush promises to use sophisticated military aircraft to track the airplanes used by drug smugglers.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
February 27-March 2, Abbotsford, BC, Canada, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Norm Stamper. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
February 9-11, 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].
February 11, 7:00pm EST, Free Talk Live interview with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) executive director Jack Cole. Visit http://www.freetalklive.com/affiliates.php for a stations listing or http://www.freetalklive.com/tunein.php to listen online.
February 15, 6:00-7:00pm, Boulder, CO, 2nd Anti-Drug War Candlelight Vigil, on The Mall at the Courtyard, contact Hemptopia at (303) 449-4854 or visit http://www.hemptopia.org for further information.
February 15, 6:00-10:30pm, San Diego, CA, "Celebrating Freedom," event sponsored by San Diego ASA and San Diego NORML. At Balboa Park, President's Way & Park Blvd., visit http://www.sandiegonorml.com for further information.
February 16, 9:00am-4:45pm, Denver, CO, "Criminal Sentencing in Colorado," forum presented by the Colorado Bar Association. At 1900 Grant St., Suite 300, contact Sensible Colorado at (720) 890-4247 for further information.
February 16, 8:00pm, New Paltz, NY, "Know Your Rights" forum, screening of "Busted: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," Q&A with attorney Russell Schindler and a speaker on racial profiling. Sponsored by New Paltz NORML/SSDP, Student Union Building, Room 100, admission free, refreshments served. For further information, visit http://www.newpaltz.edu/norml/ or contact [email protected], (845) 257-2687 or (646) 246-8504.
February 23, 8:00pm, Providence, RI, " Can't Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age 1945-2002," author talk with Martin Torgoff. At Brown University, MacMillan 117, contact [email protected] for further information.
February 28, 8:00pm, Providence, RI, screening of "High: The True Tale of American Marijuana." At Brown University, List Art Center 120, contact [email protected] for further information.
March 3-5, Columbia, MO, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Midwest Regional Conference. At the University of Missouri, contact Joe Bartlett at [email protected] for further information.
March 13-26, central New Jersey, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Peter Christ. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
March 22-25, Monterey, CA, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson James Anthony. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
March 27-April 10, western Kansas, focusing on Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence & Kansas City, speaking tour by LEAP executive director Jack Cole. Contact Bill Schreier at [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
March 29, 6:00pm, New York, NY, "Drug Policy for the Union Man," forum for members of the Local 375 District Council 37, presented by LEAP, DPA, CJPF and ReconsiDer. At 125 Barkley St., two blocks north of Old World Trade Center, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
March 30, 8:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, MPP Party at the Playboy Mansion, tickets $500, visit http://mppplayboyparty.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=153214 for further information.
April 2-8, St. Louis, MO, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Howard Wooldridge. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 5-8, 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 7, Charleston Beach, SC, launch of "Journey for Justice Number Seven: Cross Country Bicycle Ride for Medical Marijuana Safe Access," by medical marijuana patient Ken Locke. Visit http://www.angelfire.com/planet/bikeride/ for further information.
April 9, noon-6:00pm, Sacramento, CA, "Cannabis at the Capitol," medical marijuana rally sponsored by the Compassionate Coalition. At the California State Capitol, west steps, visit http://www.compassionatecoalition.org or contact Peter Keyes at (916) 456-7933 for info.
April 9-12, Vancouver, BC, Canada, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Norm Stamper. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 28-30, New Paltz, NY, SSDP Northeast Regional Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact [email protected] for further information.
April 20-22, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
April 25-27, Olympia, WA, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Norm Stamper. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 30-May 4, 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.
May 6-7, worldwide, Million Marijuana march, visit http://www.globalmarijuanamarch.com for further information.
June 3, 1:00-11:00pm, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 10th Legalize! Street Rave Against the War on Drugs. Visit http://www.legalize.net or contact Jonas Daniel Meyerplein at +31(0)20-4275626 or [email protected] for info.
July 4, Washington, DC, Fourth of July Rally, sponsored by the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition. At Lafayette Park, contact (202) 887-5770 for further information.
August 19-20, Seattle, WA, Seattle Hempfest, visit http://www.hempfest.org for further information.
September 16, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, 17th Annual Boston Freedom Rally. On Boston Common, sponsored by MASS CANN/NORML, featuring bands, speakers and vendors. Visit http://www.MassCann.org for further information.
November 9-12, Oakland, CA, "Drug User Health: The Politics and the Personal," 6th National Harm Reduction Conference. Sponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, for further information visit http://www.harmreduction.org/6national/ or contact Paula Santiago at [email protected].
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