(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #426 -- 3/10/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
More than 140,000 people arrested for drug possession have received treatment instead of prison or jail time, and 60,000 of them have successfully completed treatment in the five years since California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 36, advocates of the law announced during a Tuesday teleconference called to release a new report and urge continued support for Prop. 36. But despite the law's success, the end of five years of stable funding mandated by voters means new struggles to adequately fund it and a new effort by old foes to pervert its spirit.
"Prop. 36 is the rare ballot measure that actually delivered on its promise," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-LA) during the conference call organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Campaign for New Drug Policies, two groups that sponsored the initiative and have since worked to nurture it. "We need to continue this program that is clearly working. It is a popular program and it is sound public policy. We need an appropriate level of funding. Under-funding it will kill it by making it unable to work properly."
In passing Prop. 36, voters mandated the state of California spend $120 million a year to implement it during its first five years, but with the 2006-2007 budget, the funding is no longer assured and is subject to normal budgetary processes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has budgeted another $120 million for the coming fiscal year, but that will not be enough to adequately fund the program, supporters said.
"What the governor is proposing will not fully fund the need that exists," said Don Kurth, head of the California Society of Addiction Medicine. "It will make a difference, but no, it is not enough," he told DRCNet. "It's as if you had a condition that required 10 days of treatment with antibiotics, but you only funded three days worth. It'll help a little, but it's not the answer."
According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, Prop. 36 spending currently exceeds $120 million a year because the counties are using savings from previous years, when they had fewer cases, to pay for more services. In 2005, it said the state and counties spent $143 million on Proposition 36.
"The governor proposed keeping current levels, but funding needs to go to at least $140 or $150 million," said Dave Fratello, senior policy analyst for the Campaign and one of the law's authors. "The state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs is calling for $209 million to adequately fund these costs." It's worth it, Fratello maintained. "We are confident that every dollar will be recouped. The more money you put into this program, the more money the taxpayers save," he told DRCNet.
One of the most striking features of Prop. 36, and one that generated opposition from drug court judges and the law enforcement apparatus from the beginning, is its express prohibition of jailing clients for relapsing. But Schwarzenegger's proposal would allow judges to impose jail sanctions -- the preferred euphemism is "flash incarceration" -- on people in treatment who fell off the wagon. A bill proposed by Senator Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), SB 803, would do the same thing, but its "flash incarceration" could last up to 30 days.
"Flash incarceration has been the bone of contention," said David LaBahn, executive director of the California District Attorneys Association, one of the key groups seeking to add more coercion to the mix. "Folks like the Drug Policy Alliance say people change because they want to change, but practitioners say the threat of jail is the only reason people succeed in treatment. It's external factors that get people in treatment, and if no one ever puts any pressure on them, they won't change."
Not all practitioners agreed with the ones LaBahn talked to. "There is no evidence to show that flash incarceration is helpful," addiction specialist Kurth said flatly. "That is not something we typically do in the treatment world. I don't tell judges and prosecutors how to do their job, and they shouldn't be telling me how to do mine."
"Prop. 36 represents a public repudiation of the war on drugs, and the same people who fought Prop. 36, the incarceration industry and the criminal justice system, are trying to 'improve' it in a way that erases the public health approach in favor of the criminal justice approach," said Dr. Peter Banys, director of substance abuse programs at the VA Hospital in San Francisco during Tuesday's conference call.
Assemblywomen Goldberg said imposing jail sanctions would not fly. "They just don't seem to have any factual information which suggests it would make the program more effective," she said Tuesday. "We believe it puts us right back into the old way of doing things.
Opponents have sniped at Prop. 36 from various directions, most of them related to the law's lack of good old punitive features like jail sanctions. But supporters of the law argue that those objections don't stand up to scrutiny.
"One of our biggest problems with Prop. 36 is that 42% of them never show up," said LaBahn. "The completion rate they talk about is only after they've written off almost half the people referred. If you have treatment without accountability, you will have a very low completion rate," he told DRCNet. "Treatment without accountability can't be called any sort of success," he added.
"The real number of no-shows is 28%," said CNDP's Fratello, "and they happen for a couple of reasons that don't really speak to whether or not this is a good law. For some people, the bureaucratic trek from court to assessment center to treatment center is too much to handle, often because people simply don't have transportation. We can address that my making it simple, putting the assessment center and the treatment center in the same place, having probation assessment and treatment assessment at the same time, things like that. These are folks who often don't have it together -- maybe no car, no driver's license, not used to doing things on a schedule. They're not refusing treatment, they're just unable to do it the way things are now."
The second group of no-shows is trying to game the system, Fratello said. "They basically refuse treatment once they realize it will be a serious commitment." But those people pay a price. "They typically have warrants issued for their arrest, and we are hearing anecdotally that they end up with more severe sentences."
Critics also charge that Prop. 36 has undercut the state's drug court system. "These are courts handling drug offenders with other felonies or who had already failed treatment 36 times or didn't qualify for Prop. 36," said LaBahn, "but as a result of Prop. 36 what was a growing movement has pretty much been killed off."
"The drug courts are like any bureaucracy; they become self-perpetuating," said Kurth. "The judges would naturally like to see the drug courts grow, but I don't know why judges think they're experts in addiction treatment because they don't have the expertise to make these decisions," said Kurth. "Their infatuation with jail sanctions underscores that. Addiction is a disease. Would you want to jail diabetics who go off their diet?"
There is still a vestigial role for drug courts, suggested DPA's Fratello. "The drug courts have evolved to serve a harder core population, and that's actually a positive development," he said. "There are people who don't qualify for 36 -- low-level dealers, people convicted on a non-drug offense -- and people who drop out of 36. If you screw up on 36 and the judge thinks you might still have a chance in treatment, he might put you in drug court."
Critics have also attacked Prop. 36 as having a low success rate, but according to the report, the success rate is 34% after two years, compared to 37% for drug courts and 30% for voluntary drug treatment admissions. "The numbers are pretty much the same," said Fratello.
While Prop. 36-style "treatment not jail" are certainly an improvement over imprisonment for drug use, they do not address the fundamental issue of drug prohibition, and might even make ending drug prohibition more difficult, some drug reformers argue. "This is better than sending people to jail," said DRCNet executive director David Borden, "but no one should be subject to criminal penalties merely for using a certain substance -- whether they agree to treatment or not -- and it follows from that that a legal, regulated way for people to obtain those substances needs to be found." Borden continued, "the possibility that some defendants are ending up with longer sentences than they might have otherwise should also sound a cautionary note."
This year, Prop. 36 and its supporters, including the California Medical Association, among others, will have to fend off efforts to twist it into merely another tool of the coercive apparatus while at the same time fighting to increase funding levels in what promises to be a year of bruising budget battles. But these battles are a sign of changing times brought about by Prop. 36 itself.
"Nobody is talking about going back what we had before," said Fratello. "No one is talking about repealing Prop. 36. There is talk about changing it, which I find disturbing, but we are now at a point here in California where the discussion about how to deal with drugs is all about treatment, and it wouldn't sound like that without Prop. 36."
For the past three months, a select group of inmates in the Bernalillo County's Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque have been receiving maintenance doses of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction, New Mexico officials announced at a Tuesday press conference. Some 50 inmates have participated in the program since it began in late November. The program is part of the Department of Health's comprehensive public health office inside the jail, where staff provides immunizations, STD testing and treatment, educational programs and other public health interventions.
Although controversial in some sectors, giving maintenance doses of methadone to heroin addicts is a scientifically proven and accepted means of treating heroin addiction. Hundreds of studies of methadone maintenance therapy have been conducted by researchers around the world, and they show that it leads to decreases in heroin injection, overdoses, infection rates for HIV, hepatitis B and C and sexually transmitted diseases, criminal activity, and the use of other non-opiate drugs, while allowing clients to improve their chances of securing and keeping employment and maintaining normal lives.
Despite methadone's proven efficacy, its use among prison or jail populations is almost unknown in the United States. The number of correctional institutions that allow methadone maintenance therapy in the US is in the single digits, with most concentrated in the Northeast. The Bernalillo County Jail program is the only one in the Southwest.
The program is a collaborative project between the New Mexico Department of Health, Bernalillo County, the city of Albuquerque, and CRC Health Care, the nation's largest drug treatment provider. If the two-year pilot program proves successful, it could be expanded into other jails and prisons in the state, officials said.
"We are conducting the pilot study to determine whether methadone maintenance treatment improves jail operations by reducing infractions, and improves inmates' wellbeing by reducing the need for medical care," said Dr. Sandra Lapham, director of the Behavioral Health Research Center of the Southwest, which has received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate the program. "This program, if successful, could serve as a model for the rest of the state and nation," she said.
"The Department of Health opened one of the nation's first public health clinics inside of a jail in 2004," said Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham. "We're building on the success of that program and continuing to lead the country in providing public-health interventions that will make our communities healthier and safer."
"Drug treatment, community education and employment are ways of dealing with the problem, not just the symptoms," said Bernalillo County Commissioner Tim Cummins. "That's why Bernalillo County took the lead in locating a public health facility within the Metropolitan Detention Center that represents another component in the continuum of mental health, medical and substance abuse care within this community." Under the pilot program, inmates who were enrolled in an outside methadone maintenance program when they were arrested and who are not headed for prison are given the opportunity to continue their treatment while imprisoned.
The pilot program won praise from former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who attended the news conference. "Drug treatment for the prison population provides an opportunity to reduce crime and recidivism in a prime target group -- it can make a big difference in crime," Gen. McCaffrey said. "The New Mexico methadone program will help addicts who otherwise would return to heroin, OxyContin and other opiates, as well as a life of crime. This is a national model program with huge potential."
It didn't come easy, though. "This has been an extremely long process," said Dr. Bruce Trigg, the Department of Health public health specialist who played a key role in keeping the idea alive. "It only took five years," he laughed. "They used to allow an outside methadone clinic to deliver doses to the jail in the 1990s, and that happened in other jails across the country, too, but the idea of providing methadone to inmates went out of favor because people thought it was not keeping people 'drug free,'" he told DRCNet.
"We talked to the previous jail director for five years because we were concerned that methadone had been removed, and he suggested that we put an entire public health clinic in the jail and methadone maintenance could be part of that," Trigg explained. "But then they built a new jail, and that put everything on hold for two years. Then we had to scramble to get money that had been set aside earlier and reallocated. Then the original treatment contractor was sold to CRC, and it took them awhile to get on board."
It wasn't just institutional obstacles, but also a culture clash between law enforcement and public health approaches, Trigg said. "Two very different cultures had to establish a relationship and a basis for trust, and that took some doing. But after we were operating in the jail for two years, they know pretty well who we are. We met with correctional officers to educate them on this before the program started, and we continue to meet with cadets during training to explain the concepts of harm reduction and methadone maintenance to them."
"It is not a natural marriage between health care and corrections," said Phil Herschman, president of CRC Health Care's opiate treatment division. "There is a lot of work that has to be done around winning acceptance of such programs in correctional facilities. There is also a sense that you should be able to 'just say no' rather than an acknowledgement that substance abuse is a disease that can be treated," he told DRCNet. "One of the most impressive things about the Albuquerque program is that it has surpassed those obstacles to become a state of the art collaboration."
"This has been a wonderful collaboration now that we are all working together," said Deborah Busemeyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health. "The jail has found it really useful to have public health people inside the facility and they accept methadone maintenance. People recognize this is a way of reducing overdose deaths," she told DRCNet.
"As a medication, methadone is superb at what it does with virtually no side effects," said Herschman. "With heroin and other opiates, addicts get an immediate high that then drops off and then they have to look for the drug again," he explained. "With methadone, a dose will last for 24 to 36 hours, and there is no peak, no high, associated with it."
Now, with the state Department of Health leading the way, the jail in Albuquerque has become a proving ground for the drug's efficacy among prisoners. At a cost of $5,000 a year, methadone maintenance may well be found to be an effective way of reducing recidivism among offenders and preventing the state from having to pay $25,000 a year to lock them up on new charges.
This is just a friendly reminder that nearly 10 years of headlines about drug policy history are listed and linked from the Drug War Chronicle Archives page -- visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/archives.shtml to check it out!
We have also now posted a topical archives page with just the marijuana news portion of the archives, itself more than a thousand articles. That one is available at http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/archives-marijuana.shtml -- if you have a marijuana-related web site we hope you put in a link to it! We could also use your help in spotting any topics or article we missed -- this is a first draft only -- we looked up articles with certain key words in the title such as "marijuana" or "cannabis" but did not do an exhaustive search beyond that.
We've got something for everybody this week: Cops as gangsters, DEA agents as thieving real estate speculators, a Texas police chief who never let any drug evidence get away, cops in Miami and Chicago planting drugs, evidence gone missing in East St. Louis, and, of course, another greedy prison guard, this time in Georgia. Let's get to it:
In Los Angeles, at least 19 people, including five police officers have been charged with belonging to a ring led by LAPD Officer Ruben Palomares that committed armed robberies disguised as drug raids. Thirteen had been previously charged in the case, but six more were indicted last week, including a former LA County Sheriff's deputy, and LAPD officer, and a Long Beach police officer, the Associated Press reported. They face multiple counts of conspiracy to possess drugs with the intent to distribute, use of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime, and deprivation of rights under color of law. Palomares allegedly supplied his gang with uniforms, radios, and badges, and the group sometimes used LAPD patrol cars to drive to drug houses they had previously targeted. Their victims were allegedly restrained, threatened, beaten, and robbed. The gang made off with at least 600 pounds of weed, TVs, jewelry, cash, and weapons. Palomares is currently serving a 15-year sentence for his role as gang leader.
In Atlanta, a federal grand jury indicted a DEA agent Monday for stealing DEA funds to buy real estate while he worked Atlanta's Hartsfield airport, WXIA TV reported. Agent Gregory Campion, 44, is charged with embezzling money as a federal officer, embezzling public funds, and money laundering. According to the indictment, on at least seven occasions Campion stole money seized during drug busts from a secure storage vault and used it to buy properties in Orlando, where he currently lives. Prosecutors are seeking to seize those properties. The DEA has suspended Campion without pay.
In Troup, Texas, the police chief and a police officer were arrested last Friday after a six-week investigation into missing drugs and other evidence, the Dallas Morning News reported. Police Chief Chester Kennedy is charged with evidence tampering and Officer Mark Turner is charged with evidence tampering and delivery of marijuana. The investigation by the Smith County Sheriff's Department and the FBI came about after the sheriff received complaints from both inside and outside the department that Troup police had not sent any drug evidence to be tested in five years. They zeroed in on four cases where people were arrested, but the drugs disappeared, including an eight-ball of methamphetamine, several plants, and a gallon bag filled with weed. Kennedy has admitted that he knew evidence had gone missing and that he had given some seized bootleg alcohol to an officer. Turner sold a small quantity of pot to an undercover agent, and police found more in his home later.
In Chicago, the Sun Times reports that Police Sgt. Kevin Morrison has been fired for misconduct in a 2001 drug case. When a teacher complained that she was arrested after her ex-husband had drugs planted in her car, Morrison "failed to cooperate" in the investigation, the Police Board found. Andrea Sullivan was arrested outside her school after Morrison, acting on a tip, pulled her over and found 250 Ecstasy tablets and 43 grams of cocaine. She immediately accused her ex-husband, William Sullivan, of planting the drugs. Morrison was cited for refusing to identify the informant he said gave him the tip drugs were in the car, although his cell phone records showed he had received a call from William Sullivan's brother Stuart. Prosecutors dropped the charges against Andrea Sullivan a month later and said they didn't have enough evidence to charge anyone with planting the drugs. Of the board's eight members, five voted to fire him, two said he deserved lesser punishment, and one found him not guilty on the departmental administrative charges. Bizarrely, Andrea Sullivan has remarried, and her new husband, Chicago Police Officer Michael Allegretti faces criminal charges he ordered women to expose themselves to avoid traffic tickets.
In East St. Louis, Illinois, somebody ripped-off an unknown amount of guns and drugs from the police evidence vault, and the mayor thinks it was an inside job. No one is sure yet exactly what is gone, and Police Chief James Mister said it will take until the end of the month to figure it out, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. (Former Police Chief Ronald Masters will be sentenced March 20 after being convicted of obstructing federal agents investigating a felon illegally carrying a gun as an auxiliary police officer.) Mayor Carl Officer told the Belleville News-Democrat Monday the theft was an inside job and called it "an attempt to cover up and divert some ongoing investigations into police corruption."
In Griffin, Georgia, Spalding County Deputy John Dabbs was busted March 2 on charges he was selling marijuana to inmates at the Spaulding County Jail. The night-shift guard fell prey to an undercover officer planted in a cell block, WSB TV in Atlanta reported. Dabbs went down after being caught discussing the transfer of cash for narcotics, the Spalding County Sheriff's Office told the station.
The USA Patriot Act is ostensibly designed to protect Americans from the foreign terrorist threat, but its most immediate impact will be to protect Americans from Sudafed. When Congress approved the Patriot Act this week, it also approved an anti-methamphetamine bill that Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), head of the House Judiciary Committee, attached to it in hopes of swift passage. The meth portion of the Patriot Act will impose nationwide restrictions on the sale of cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in popular home cooking meth recipes.
Starting 30 days after President Bush signs the law into effect, people seeking relief for runny noses will have to produce identification and sign a register to purchase products containing pseudoephedrine. They will also face limits on the number of pills they can buy. Purchasers will be restricted to 300 30-milligram pills in a month or 120 in a single day. There is an exception for "single use" packages. Such products must be stored out of the reach of customers.
Restrictions on access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine has been a popular response to meth cooking in the states. States such as Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Oregon have reported significant decreases in meth labs after passing such legislation. But home-cooked meth accounts for only a small fraction -- perhaps 20% -- of all methamphetamine, and the same states reporting reduced meth lab busts are also reporting increases in purer, higher quality methamphetamine, usually imported from Mexico. Perhaps the meth bill could more aptly be called the "Mexican Methamphetamine Market Share Enhancement Act."
But wait, there's more. The bill authorizes $585 million for law enforcement, training, and research on treatment, and it includes provisions that will make more offenders eligible for stiffer sentences as "kingpins." It also includes a provision that creates a new penalty of up to 20 years in prison for people who sell or cook meth in a home where a child lives -- even if the child is not present.
The Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs director, Bill Piper, told DRCNet in December the foreseeable result of the "save the children" provision will be the mass incarceration of meth-addicted parents. "Basically, if you have a kid and commit a meth offense you can get up to 20 years, and that's on top of the underlying offense," said Piper. "Most people who make meth in their homes or who are low-level sellers are meth addicts. Mothers are going to get long prison sentences and have their children put in foster care when treatment would be the appropriate response. At least it's not a mandatory minimum."
In a March 2 press release, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) sent out the alert that the number of people seeking treatment for methamphetamine abuse had increased dramatically in the 10 years between 1993 and 2003. The story-line was a natural, and the widely-subscribed Associated Press picked it up with the headline "Report: More People Seeking Meth Treatment." But neither SAMSHA nor the AP bothered to point out that much of the increase in those "seeking" treatment was driven by the criminal justice system.
In other words, a big part of the reason the number of people in treatment for meth is up is because police are arresting them and the courts are sending them away to be cured in larger numbers. We saw a similar distorting dynamic when drug czar John Walters seized on an increase in teens in treatment for marijuana abuse without noting that nearly three-quarters of them were referred by the courts or the schools.
As drug war media critic Jack Shafer of Slate.com noted in a blistering piece last Friday, SAMSHA didn't say anything in its press release about why people were in treatment for meth except to quote SAMSHA Director Charles Currie as calling meth "undeniably a uniquely destructive drug." To find out why people were in treatment, one had to go to the report the press release was based on, "Trends in Amphetamine/Methamphetamine Admissions to Treatment, 1993-2003," and read all the way down to the final two paragraphs.
There you find that only one out of four people admitted to treatment for meth in 2003 were actually "seeking" it by asking for it. By contrast, 51% of all admissions for meth came from the criminal justice system, a figure that has steadily increased along with law enforcement attention in the past decade.
According to SAMSHA, some 28,000 people were treated for meth in 1993, or 2% of all drug treatment admissions. By 2003, that number had climbed to 136,000, or 7% of all admissions. Clearly, the number of meth admissions has gone up, but that is not unexpected when the longitudinal surveys on drug use concur that meth use rose in the mid- and late-1990s before reaching a plateau early this decade.
The AP story, versions of which have appeared in more than 300 newspapers, opened like this: "WASHINGTON -- Drug treatment centers have seen a substantial rise in the number of people seeking help for methamphetamine abuse, a report released Thursday said. As trafficking in the highly addictive drug has spread across the country, the number of meth users admitted to substance abuse clinics more than quadrupled from 1993 to 2003, according to a review by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration."
But Slate's Shafer had an alternative opening, one that didn't swallow the SAMSHA press release hook, line, and sinker: "WASHINGTON -- A new government report today showed that reducing the number of methamphetamine drug arrests would sharply reduce the number of people in drug abuse treatment..."
Steve Kubby walked out of the Placer County Jail in Auburn, California, Monday after serving 40 days of a 120-day sentence. The pioneering medical marijuana activist began serving a sentence his doctor said could kill him after being deported from Canada, where he and his family had gone after he was convicted of possession of a dried psychedelic mushroom stem and a peyote button -- a last-gasp prosecution by prosecutors who had failed to bring down the brash activist with a marijuana raid on his home.
Kubby uses marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of a rare form of adrenal cancer, and his doctors feared Placer County's refusal to allow him to use marijuana -- a legal medicine in California -- could have grave effects on his health. In his first days behind bars, Kubby's health deteriorated, with rising blood pressure and blood appearing in his urine. But Kubby tried Marinol, the synthetic cannabinoid drug recognized as a drug under federal law, and it moderated his symptoms.
While Kubby and his supporters had initially been highly skeptical of the will of Placer County officials to treat his condition, he had nothing but good words for the jail and its staff when he was released. "I realized the taunting and skepticism about my condition that I experienced when I was first jailed here in 1999 was not present with any of the jail staff this time," Kubby told the Los Angeles Times. "I realized that these guys were getting heat over me, and they didn't deserve it."
Kubby told the newspaper he and his family planned to return to the South Tahoe Lake area to restart their lives, and that he intended to continue using medical marijuana. "The sooner I get the whole plant the better," Kubby said. "You can't argue with 30 years of medical success."
But while Kubby is out from behind bars, he's not quite a free man just yet. He must reappear in court March 14 to face a probation violation for failing to return from Canada for sentencing for fear he would not have access to his medicine if jailed in Placer County.
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Steven Harper has only been in office for a few weeks, but it is already sending strong signals that cannabis and cannabis-related businesses will be the subjects of unwanted government attention. Last week, the Chronicle reported on Canada's first major bust of a seed-selling concern, and one of the people we interviewed was Chris Godwin, proprietor of the Up in Smoke cannabis café in Hamilton, Ontario, on the lakeshore about 50 miles southwest of Toronto.
Godwin is a prominent marijuana activist and no stranger to the Hamilton police, who have made at least 200 visits to his shop since it opened 18 months ago. The shop sells seeds, bongs, and pipes, and allows smoking (or vaporizing) in a lounge on the premises. At least 30 Up in Smoke customers have been charged with marijuana possession as a result of those police visits.
But charging Godwin and his employee with drug trafficking offenses takes things to a whole new level. While police characterized the bust as a local operation, it comes during a week where the Conservative government has been taking pains to talk tough on drugs.
In an interview with the Ottawa Sun, new Justice Minister Vic Toewes called for mandatory minimum prison sentences for violent criminals and some drug offenders, complaining that monitoring people on probation or parole is a "very expensive proposition." A few days later, his spokesman, Mike Storeshaw, made it clear that the Conservative government would not move to decriminalize marijuana, as the Liberals had tried for the last several years. "It is a short answer and the answer is no," he responded to a question. "We have no plans to bring any bill forward."
Last week, Prime Minister Harper used the occasion of the anniversary of the Mayerthorpe massacre, where four Mounties were killed in a shootout over stolen property but marijuana growing was widely blamed because the shooter had a small garden, to hammer home his party's law and order theme. "Our government is committed to ensuring the safety of Canada's communities," Harper orated. "Specifically, that means making sure that those who break the law will face the appropriate punishment, and providing law enforcement agencies with the legislative tools and financial resources they need to protect Canadians. We will do our best to ensure that tragedies similar to the one which unfolded near Mayerthorpe last year will never happen again."
Up in Smoke was open for business again Thursday, but given the chill coming from Ottawa, Godwin and all the rest of Canada's thriving cannabis trade entrepreneurs must be beginning to wonder what will come next.
The debate over heroin has turned lively in Scotland this week, thanks to Edinburgh "drug czar" Tom Wood, who has urged the Scottish Executive to consider prescribing heroin to addicts through the National Health Service (NHS). Wood, a former deputy chief constable for Lothian and Borders Police and current chairman of the Edinburgh Drugs and Alcohol Action Team, said prescription heroin should be explored as an alternative to methadone.
In remarks reported by the Scotsman, Wood said favorable findings from a Swiss prescription heroin trial suggested it could benefit addicts who continued using even after being prescribed methadone. "We should look at each case on its merits," Wood said. "In Switzerland they have used heroin itself in a controlled environment. I'm not saying I support that, but it is an option we should look at. I'm not a medic and I can't give a medical opinion, but prescribing heroin may be the best thing for some people. It seems to have worked in other parts of the world."
While emphasizing that he was not recommending prescription heroin -- only that it be considered as an option -- Wood said methadone was not enough. "Methadone has been hugely successful, but unfortunately we've become over-dependent on it," he said. "It is only meant to be the first rung on the ladder. The problem is in many cases there are no other rungs."
There is rising concern in Scotland that methadone is being overused. In the Lothians, more than 3,000 people were being prescribed methadone at the end of 2004, a 42% increase over 2002. The increase was 17% across Scotland as a whole. Scotland paid about $20 million for methadone treatment in 2004, according to official figures.
The initial response to Woods' remarks shows there is rising interest in the idea of prescription heroin -- at least among service providers. "We would welcome any discussion about the various types of treatment," said Turning Point Scotland. "We would be in favor of any treatment that would assist addicts to move on with their lives."
"Tom's idea is certainly interesting and one that I think we have to examine," said John Arthur, of Crew 2000 drugs support service. "However, if you're starting from the point that all drug prescribing to addicts and dependent users is a means to get them off drugs then you're on a hiding to nothing. Not everyone can or will come off drugs no matter what we do," he pointed out. "If, however you want to prescribe drugs to reduce the harm from using street drugs, to help people stabilize their lives, and cause less acquisitive crime, then prescribing heroin should be one tool in the armory of the state."
But not everybody was gung-ho. "If we are now talking about prescribing heroin because we've lost control of methadone, that's absolutely stupid," said Mothers Against Drugs. "If heroin is prescribed on the NHS when are people going to want to come off it? We are going to legalize drug-dealing in this country."
The Scottish Executive was noncommittal, with a spokesman saying only: "We've got no plans to introduce heroin prescriptions. However, pilot schemes are running south of the Border and we will keep an eye on them and those abroad."
The Moroccan government has won international praise for its campaign against cannabis cultivation in the country's Rif region, but the 100,000 Moroccan families who make a living supplying hashish for the insatiable European market are not so pleased. While peasants have largely limited their protests so far to grumbling, last week about 3,000 people demonstrated near the village of Boujdiane to demand the government help them replace lost incomes, Reuters reported.
The Moroccan government has said it wants to eradicate cannabis planting by 2008, and the International Narcotics Control Board reports that it managed a 10% reduction in the crop in 2004. But in the Rif, where two-thirds of the population is dependent on cannabis crops, the demands for something to replace the crop are growing.
This year, the government is concentrating on the province of Larache, where it has destroyed more than 10,000 acres of cannabis. But that is only one-third of production in the province and only about one percent of total Moroccan production. Still, the impact on farmers has been significant.
"We agreed to stop growing cannabis in exchange for a development project, but now they have given us nothing," said peasant farmer Abdelillah Bakhoyti. He told Reuters his plants were cut down in July and government inaction has let his community down.
But government officials counter that aid has been flowing into the province, to the tune of nearly $2 million last year. Farmers need to seek alternatives, said anti-poverty program manager Mohammed Yemlahi. "We try to convince farmers to tend goats and to plant fruit trees, especially olives, and create cooperative societies to produce dairy products and poultry," he said.
That isn't enough for some farmers. "If the state wants to eradicate cannabis, it must help farmers by building roads and giving them interest-free loans," said Abdel Harak. "And they should do away with prosecuting cannabis farmers."
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Monday that Afghan farmers are planting more opium poppies this year than last year, with declines in only three of the country's 30 provinces. The report was based on December and January surveys of farmers by the UNODC and the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics.
Last year, the UNODC reported that cultivation had decreased by 21% over the previous year, but actual opium production had only declined 2% because of more favorable weather conditions. Afghanistan remains by far the world's largest opium producer, accounting for nearly 90% of total annual global production.
"This year, an increase in poppy cultivation is expected," Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told a press briefing in the capital Kabul. "The survey shows an increasing trend in poppy cultivation in 13 provinces, a stable trend in 16 provinces and a decrease in three provinces," Edwards explained. "Among the 13 provinces which show an increasing trend, seven reflect a strong increase, namely Helmand, Ghor, Uruzgan, Zabul, Nangrahar, Laghman and Badakhshan," Edwards noted.
"We are concerned about these trends," Doris Buddenberg, UNODC Representative in Afghanistan said. "But they do not come as a complete surprise. It cannot be emphasized enough that counter narcotics is a long-term process, which must be based first of all on an overall development approach, and this takes a long time," Buddenberg added.
Helmand province in the southeast could be a real hotspot this year. The largely Pashtun province has the country's largest crop, accounting for 25% of national production last year, according to the UNODC. Largely out of the control of the government of President Hamid Kazai, Helmand's opium crop doubled last year, according to local anti-drug chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad.
Now, thousands of NATO troops are beginning to deploy to Helmand, with some 5,700 British troops set to be on the ground by July as part of an overall NATO deployment of 21,000 troops from 36 countries to take over security in Afghanistan's restive southern and eastern provinces. This is where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have been increasingly active in a renewed insurgency that left more than 1,500 people dead last year, including 99 US troops and 30 NATO troops. An additional 18 US and 3 NATO soldiers have been killed so far this year.
And on Wednesday, the Karzai government began an eradication campaign in Helmand, with hundreds of tractors tearing up the green shoot of new poppy plants. While the NATO contingent is not directly involved in the eradication campaign, it will be expected to provide security for the eradication teams.
"We have started in Dishu and we will work our way up from the south of Helmand to the north, destroying poppies in every district and village," said Ghulam Muhiddin, the provincial administrator.
The Afghan government hopes to eradicate 50,000 acres nationwide out of an estimated 350,000 to be planted this year, which would be a substantial increase over last year. But it may drive peasants into a hostile stance toward the NATO troops and into the arms of the Taliban, which has pledged to protect the crops. Two days earlier in eastern Nangahar province, it took dozens of Afghan police armed with AK-47s to protect eradication teams from angry farmers. The season is just beginning.
Two weeks ago, DRCNet reported that Wall Street Journal deputy editor for international affairs George Melloan had penned a strong critique of the drug war that likened it to the nation's failed attempt at prohibiting alcohol last century.
The column's appearance in the once staidly prohibitionist WSJ editorial page created a stir among the ranks of reformers, and some of them took out their pens or e-mail writers to write in. Congrats for their published letters to reformers David Padden, founder and chairman emeritus of the libertarian Heartland Institute; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's Jack Cole; and Howard Wooldridge, also of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
The booby prize goes to former Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Bob Weiner, who was published advocating the prohibitionist viewpoint. [Ed: Weiner once hung up on me -- all I wanted him to do was answer my question! - DB]
This Sunday, March 12, at 2:00GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), the BBC program "Have Your Say" will discuss the global drug trade in "Can the War on Drugs Be Won?" The segment will feature UNDCP chief Antonio Maria Costa as well as drug reformers Danny Kushlick of Transform and Jack Cole of LEAP. Visit http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=1261 to participate in the discussion before and during the show.
March 10, 1839: Lin Tse-hsü, the governor of the Chinese province of Hu-Huang, proclaims that the opium trade will no longer be tolerated in Canton, and he begins arresting known opium dealers in the local schools and naval barracks. Those found guilty of purchasing, possessing or selling opium are sentenced to public execution by strangulation. "Let no one think," Lin proclaimed, "that this is only a temporary effort on behalf of the Emperor. We will persist until the job is finished."
March 10, 1984: By tracking the illegal sale of massive amounts of ether to Colombia, the DEA and Colombian police discover Tranquilandia, a laboratory operation deep in the Colombian jungle. In the subsequent bust, law enforcement officials destroy 14 laboratory complexes, which contain 13.8 metric tons of cocaine, 7 airplanes, and 11,800 drums of chemicals, conservatively estimated at $1.2 billion. The bust confirms the consolidation of the Medellin cartel's manufacturing operation.
March 10, 2004: In a Washington Post article, "Obesity Passing Smoking as Top Avoidable Cause of Death," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, when asked about unhealthy foods, says, "I don't want to start banning things... Prohibition has never worked." [NOTE: In 2000, only 0.7% of all deaths were due to illicit drug use while poor diet and physical inactivity was responsible for 16.6% of all deaths.]
March 11, 1966: Psychedelic guru Timothy Leary receives a 30-year prison sentence in Texas for trying to cross into Mexico with a small amount of marijuana.
March 12, 1998: Canada legalizes hemp production and sets a limit of 0.3% THC content that may be present in the plants and requires that all seeds be certified for THC content.
March 12, 1998: The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and West Hollywood write letters to President Clinton asking him to keep the cannabis buyers clubs open. They tell the president: "If the centers are shut down, many of these individuals will be compelled to search back alleys and street corners for their medicine," and ask him to "implement a moratorium on enforcement of federal drug laws that interfere with the daily operation of the dispensaries."
March 14, 1937: Setting a judicial precedent important to drug policy, the US. Supreme Court rules that machine guns can be controlled by first taxing them, then using the tax act to prohibit them. One month later Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, introduces the Marijuana Tax Act to Congress.
March 16, 2000: Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed security guard, is shot and killed by undercover New York City police officers who had unsuccessfully tried to sell him marijuana in a "buy-and-bust" operation.
The Communications Assistant will assist the Communications Department with the development and execution of strategic media campaigns on a variety of issues related to drug policy reform. Position begins immediately.
Duties include: Assisting with pitching reporters to get them interested in particular stories; Assisting with writing and editing press releases; Helping coordinate press conferences, teleconferences, and other media-related events; Overseeing communications interns; Updating and maintaining extensive media database of journalists interested in drug policy reform; Creating targeted press lists based on specific media campaigns; Organizing and tracking media clips generated by or about the Drug Policy Alliance.
The Communications Assistant must be very organized, energetic and interested in both media and drug policy reform. Experience in journalism and/or PR is preferred. Though much of the job is administrative, there is tremendous opportunity to learn how to execute national and local media campaigns from start to finish.
To apply, e-mail a cover letter and resume to Melissa Milam at [email protected]. No phone calls. Salary based on experience. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org for further information about the Drug Policy Alliance.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
March 11, 3:30-5:30pm, Santa Cruz, CA, tax and regulate initiative kickoff. At Louden Nelson Center, visit http://www.taxandregulate.org 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 14, Vienna, Austria, "7th International Symposium on Global Drug Policy: Bridging Security and Development," sponsored by the Senlis Council, contact [email protected] for information or visit http://www.drug-policy.org/modules/events/vienna_2006/ for further information to register.
March 26, Kabul, Afghanistan, "Kabul International Symposium: Bridging Security and Development -- New Perspectives in Afghanistan." Sponsored by the Senlis Council, at the Intercontinental Hotel, visit http://www.senliscouncil.net or call +93 75 200 1176 for further information.
March 27-April 10, eastern 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 29-April 1, Cincinnati, OH, "Howard Wooldridge Returns to the River City" speaking tour by LEAP. 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 18, 6:00-8:00pm, Washington, DC, Americans for Safe Access cocktail reception, at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Contact Abby Bair at [email protected] for further information.
April 20-22, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
April 21, San Francisco, CA, Americans for Safe Access Fourth Birthday Reception and Bash, location TBD. Contact Abby Bair at [email protected] for further information.
April 25, 4:00-6:00pm, Washington, DC, forum with recipients of the 2006 Keith D. Cylar Activist Awards for HIV/AIDS Activism. Sponsored by Housing Works, location TBA, contact Christopher Sealey at [email protected] or visit http://www.housingworks.org/activistfund/cylarawards2006.html 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 26, 6:30pm, New York, NY, the 2006 Keith D. Cylar Activist Awards for HIV/AIDS Activism. At the Prince George Ballroom, sponsored by Housing Works, contact Christopher Sealey at [email protected] or visit http://www.housingworks.org/activistfund/cylarawards2006.html for further information.
April 27, 6:30pm, Portland, ME, "Patients, 'Potheads,' and Dying to Get High: the Challenge of Medical Marijuana," lecture by Dr. Wendy Chapkis. At the University of Southern Maine, Glickman Family Library, 7th floor special events room, admission free, call (207) 780-4757 for further information.
April 27-May 7, western Montana, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Jay Fleming, starting 7:00pm at Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell. Contact Jean Rasch at (928) 768-3082 or [email protected], or Ron Ridenour at (406) 387-5605 or [email protected] for further information or to schedule a presentation.
April 28-30, New Paltz, NY, SSDP Northeast Regional Conference. At SUNY New Paltz, contact [email protected] for further information.
April 29, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Hear and Now: Harm Reduction in Nursing Practice," visit http://www.canadianharmreduction.com for 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 5-6, Seattle, WA, "1st National Harm Reduction Therapy Conference: Bringing Us Together," visit http://www.harmreductiontherapy.com for further information.
May 6-7, worldwide, Million Marijuana march, visit http://www.globalmarijuanamarch.com for further information.
May 4-14, eastern Iowa, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson Captain Peter Christ. For information or to schedule a presentation, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] or Iowa tour coordinator Beth Wehrman at [email protected].
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.
June 8-9, Monterey, CA, speaking tour by LEAP spokesperson James Anthony. Contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
July 15-20, Chicago, IL, "Freedom, Tolerance, and Civil Society," free summer seminar for college students, sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. At Loyola University, visit http://www.i-liberty.org by April 10 for information or to apply -- apply before March 31 and receive a free book.
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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