(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #432 -- 4/21/06
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Table of Contents
After spending nearly $5 billion to wipe out Colombia's coca crops since President Clinton initiated Plan Colombia (now known under President Bush as the Andean Initiative), the US is right back where it started. Despite record levels of aerial spraying of Colombian farmers' coca crops last year, the US government's annual survey of the crop showed that Colombia had 144,000 acres (556 square miles) of coca being cultivated, a 26% increase over the previous year. While below 2001's peak of about 160,000 hectares, the figure is higher than when Plan Colombia began and higher than any years except 2001 and 2002.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which released the figures late on Good Friday (late Friday afternoon press releases are a time-honored tactic used by government agencies seeking to minimize attention) tried to put the best possible spin on the numbers, explaining that the area surveyed by satellites had increased and that cultivation in the previous years' survey area had actually decreased by 8% from 2004. "The higher cultivation figure in this year's estimate does not necessarily mean that coca cultivation increased in the last year," ONDCP said in a statement announcing the figures, "but rather reflects an improved understanding of where coca is now growing in Colombia."
The statement does not mention that coca cultivation is migrating to new areas in Colombia precisely because US-backed eradication efforts in traditional coca growing areas are pushing farmers to seek new lands to plant their crops. Last year, a vast eradication campaign mainly consisting of aerial spraying with the herbicide glyphosate wiped out a record 170,000 hectares of farmland where coca was being grown.
"If there really was a light at the end of the tunnel, as ONDCP's spin doctors would have us believe, do you think they would wait until Friday afternoon to unveil the 'good news'?" responded the Institute for Policy Studies' Sanho Tree, who has traveled to Colombia on numerous occasions and who will be leading a delegation there in August. "When government agencies have to release bad news, they wait until late Friday when all the journalists have gone home for the weekend to issue the press release. It's called 'taking out the garbage,'" he told DRCNet. "But this wasn't just any Friday afternoon -- this was Good Friday. They were forced to go to confession, but they wanted to make sure nobody but God heard them. John Walters can pray all he wants, but not even divine intervention can reverse the law of supply and demand. Coca cultivation is increasing because our policy of fumigation functions as an unintended price support for coca. In parts of the world where there is so much poverty and available land, we will never make illicit crops disappear by making them more valuable."
"Six years and $4.7 billion after Plan Colombia began, and its utility has been absolutely zero," said Adam Isaacson, a senior policy associate at the Center for International Policy. "The US government has gotten no return on its investment and may even be behind where they started. That's because we haven't provided these farmers with any options except to move, clear land, and grow coca elsewhere," he told DRCNet.
"If you're worried about crack in America's neighborhoods, this is really bad news," Isaacson continued. "To keep going with this spectacularly failed policy is almost immoral even within the confines of the criminalization of drug use; it has done nothing to reduce supply," he said.
"These numbers are bad news for the administration," said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "They try to put them in a context where they don't look so bad, but it's amazing that no one has really spoken out or that a significant and coherent congressional bloc doesn't come to the reluctant conclusions that the anti-drug campaign is a failure and we should be looking at legalization or other non-conventional approaches," he told DRCNet.
But it is unlikely that Congress or the administration will radically change US policy any time soon. For the Washington drug warriors, Colombia's coca crop is not only a bane for US citizens because it constitutes nearly 90% of the cocaine that reaches the country, but also because some of the profits from the trade flow into the coffers of the leftist FARC guerrillas, helping it finance its decades-long insurgency against the Colombian state.
Washington declared the FARC a terrorist organization in 2002, opening the way to directly going after the long-lived guerrilla army, and it declared the rightist paramilitaries terrorist organizations the following year. But given Washington's silence in the face of Colombia's failure to extradite paramilitary commanders indicted for drug trafficking in the US, the infiltration of paramilitary elements into the Colombian government's intelligence apparatus, and the "demobilization" that allows paramilitary leaders to keep their ill-gained wealth and suffer only the most meager punishments for their crimes -- including countless massacres and other human rights violations -- it appears that in Colombia, at least, some terrorists are more equal than others.
"The final defeat for the US drug strategy in Colombia -- that is, before these figures came out -- was giving up on extradition," said Birns. "That was shocking. The US didn't even bother to protest President Uribe's plan to use non-extradition as an inducement for the paramilitaries. The Justice and Peace Law that provides for their demobilization is transparently fraudulent, and the US will not even officially recognize that extradition is no longer a weapon. Meanwhile, the former paramilitaries aren't giving up the trade," he said.
"Our policy in Colombia is one of the reasons why US diplomacy is now being called the sick man of Latin America," Birns continued. "If this had been a baseball player, he would have been sent back to the minor leagues. Our drug policy in Colombia is so stale and ineffective, it becomes a victory if you can maintain present levels of cultivation and distribution -- and they can't even do that! The administration can't possibly regard this as a success," he said.
Au contraire. "The obvious question is, 'Is it working?' and I think the answer is obvious, ONDCP head John Walters told the Associated Press after the release of the cultivation numbers. "When there was no spraying, cultivation was up; where spraying is occurring, cultivation is shrinking."
And the balloon effect continues, now with coca growing now radiating out from its traditional Colombian cultivation zones to the rest of the country. Along with the increased production in Peru and Bolivia, Colombia's increased cultivation means the Andean coca and cocaine industries are purring right along.
Some 500 marijuana activists and aficionados began gathering yesterday for the annual three-day conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in San Francisco. The Holiday Inn Golden Gate on Van Ness Avenue in the heart of the city was starting to look a bit looser than usual Wednesday afternoon as the proportion of men with graying ponytails and people with t-shirts emblazoned with marijuana leaves steadily increased.
It is a cannabis-friendly crowd in a cannabis-friendly city, of course, but it was down to business early on Thursday morning. NORML board member Steve Dillon opened the proceedings. "A hundred million Americans have tried marijuana," he said. "We are past the threshold." Still, he noted, marijuana arrests continue to rise, to a record 770,000 last year, so there is clearly work to be done. But Dillon remained optimistic. "Prohibition is based on fear," he said, "and our victory is certain. We are the side of experience, truth, and love."
Before getting down to nuts and bolts, NORML and the attendees took time to honor San Francisco City Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi with the Rufus King award, named after the pioneering anti-prohibitionist lawyer. Mirkarimi played a key role in crafting the city's progressive medical marijuana dispensary regulations and is a proponent of regulated marijuana.
"We are trying to mainstream the issue," he said. "Cannabis should not be criminalized. We created an infrastructure here in San Francisco so the dispensaries don't have to operate in the shadows. We had always operated with a sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, but what kind of government operates like that? We should regulate cannabis. Politicians who are not for decriminalization should not be in elected office at all," he said.
"Cannabis is at the tipping point," said Mirikami. "We know very well we have an unimpeachable case. We are committing precious resources to an illegal war abroad in Iraq and in the criminal justice system we are wasting more dollars to prosecute those of us who use marijuana. We cannot afford this retarded policy."
St. Pierre followed Mirkami's remarks by noting that the supervisor was elected on the Green Party ticket, an allusion to the failure of the two major parties to move toward significant marijuana law reform. "As for the Democrats and Republicans, a pox on both their houses as far as this issue goes," St. Pierre said.
One of the reasons the established political parties have been loath to end marijuana prohibition is the fact that half the country thinks its use is immoral, St. Pierre said, citing a Pew poll from last month. "This is a serious moral and political issue of our times. As long as half the public thinks it's immoral, reform is going to be a hard sell."
Citing NORML's own polling, St. Pierre identified three groups that oppose marijuana: Christians, parents, and Republicans. They have to be taken on, he said. "Every single indicator the government has come up with shows our current policy does not work. One out of four pot sellers are under 18. Is that what parents want? We need Parents for Pot, we need Republicans for Reefer, we need Christians for Cannabis."
The conference then turned to its main theme, "Grass Tops and Grass Roots," with a panel studded with Seattleites. There, the King County Bar Association (KCBA) Drug Policy Project led by Roger Goodman has mobilized professional organizations, politicians, and community leaders into one of the most effective "grass tops" coalitions in the country. At the same time, grassroots currents such as the people around the Seattle Hempfest and the successful "lowest law enforcement priority" initiative of 2004 have also harnessed powerful social forces. Together, Seattle's grass tops and grassroots have created a formidable force for drug law reform, and NORML brought them to town to share their lessons with the rest.
"Our strength lies in our diversity, tolerance, and ultimately, sense of community," said long-time Hempfest organizer Vivian McPeak. "The key to success is knowing what one's personal role is," said the bearded, dreadlocked, pierced, and tattooed McPeak. "I'm not the guy to be appearing on the news. I represent what many consider to be the Achilles heel of the marijuana movement -- the association with the '60s counterculture. But what is a liability in one circumstance can be an asset if used strategically in a different social setting."
Just as there is a role for the hippies, there is a role for the suits, said McPeak. "We need the grass tops. If we can be divided, we can be conquered. At the same time, we cannot jettison the counterculture, for this movement is about freedom, liberty of lifestyle, and choosing for oneself what one does in the privacy of one's home. Even as we mainstream our message, we must honor our diversity."
"It's not the message, it's the messenger," said the somberly-suited Goodman, who put together the impressive coalition of professional associations in Washington state. "We are the establishment. We're not a front for fringy, pony-tailed pot smokers. There's a lot of kabuki theater involved in this," he said. "Dress the right way, say the right thing, and you can create space and then reform happens."
"The politicians are the players," said Seattle City Council President Nick Licata. "How do you get to them? The simplest step is to go meet with them. You also develop letters of endorsement from neighborhood groups, Democratic district clubs, the League of Women Voters. You get each group to draw up a resolution supporting this, and then you can force a discussion around the issue."
The discussions -- and much, much more -- continue through Saturday. Look for more reporting from NORML here next week.
For more than 30 years, advocates of marijuana legalization have marched in cities across the country and around the world on May Day (or the first weekend in May). This year is no different, with organizers anticipating rallies in more than 200 cities on the weekend of May 6-7. From Albuquerque to Amsterdam to Auckland, from Mexico City to Missoula to Moscow, and from Vancouver to Vienna to Vladivostock, the pro-pot contingent will be hitting the streets, holding rallies, and throwing concerts for the cause.
"Of course this year's theme is Free Marc Emery!" exclaimed Dana Beal of Cures Not Wars, which serves as the clearinghouse and coordination center for the global marches. "Marc supported all our affiliates for years, giving out money like water, and now he needs our help."
While the marches around the world are naturally focused on marijuana, Beal has a broader vision. "Cures Not Wars is primarily harm reduction oriented," he said. "That's a course we've been on since 1980, when we got sick of the bickering between advocates of decriminalization and legalization. People were saying we should separate marijuana and hard drugs, and that's when we split off from everyone else. That was the beginning of our odyssey toward a full-blown harm reduction position," he said.
Beal's particular crusade is the use of ibogaine as a treatment for chemical dependency. "We can cure 70% of junkies with ibograine," said Beal, coauthor of The Ibogaine Story. "That's real harm reduction. We're not just about legalizing pot."
"The marches provide us with a platform to espouse a politics that is somewhat different from DPA or NORML," said Beal. "That's fine with us. We all serve our functions."
For nearly as long as the marchers have been marching, critics have been criticizing. A common refrain in the Unites States is that a bunch of scruffy hippies -- especially teenagers -- marching and smoking dope in public is no way to win friends and influence people. This year is no different.
In places where the politics of marijuana legalization has gone mainstream, such as Canada, where a majority say they are willing to take the leap, the time of the mass march or smoke-in may be past, said Marc-Boris St.-Maurice, who organized marches in Montreal in the past, but not anymore. "I will likely be there, but I think such tactics are no longer as useful as they were before," he told DRCNet. "It is now time to bring civility and respectability to the cause so the mainstream can feel more comfortable embracing it."
In places where the social and cultural milieu is more conservative, the marches can be counterproductive, some activists said. "Put yourself in the head of a soccer mom, born-again Christian, or small-town bourgeois parent and think of what these images of longhairs, many of them young teenagers, straggling down the sidewalk with handmade signs proclaiming things about fascists and how getting high is good," said Nicky Eyle of the New York state-based drug reform group ReconsiDer. "Look how many shots there are of people getting arrested there are. I don't see how that is a message that is going to gain support amongst that huge segment of America," he told DRCNet. "I think there are plenty of messages that will resonate far better in the heartland."
If it doesn't play in upstate New York, it certainly doesn't play in her neck of the woods either, said Denele Campbell, head of the Arkansas Alliance for Medical Marijuana. "At least here in the Bible Belt, these marches are counterproductive," she told DRCNet. "The only people willing to march are those with nothing to lose. This parade of a handful of 'undesirables' only hardens the negative public image surrounding the issue and makes it much harder for mainstream types to consider supporting reform," she told DRCNet.
But that sentiment is by no means unanimous. "The idea of a global march is very good because it keeps motivating people to know we are millions," said Joep Oomen, the Brussels-based coordinator of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD). "And cannabis is the strongest link in the drug policy reform movement since it involves the most people. If we stop marching, it means we are giving in to the status quo. Then those who continue to march become an easy target for stigmatization," he told DRCNet.
"If we want to have an impact, we have to be an actor in the game, and we should have a message for politicians and the public," Oomen continued. "Showing how many people want an end to the war on drugs is important, and so is showing the benefits of legal regulation. The Million Marijuana Marches can do both, but they have to avoid becoming caricatures of our movement."
Dominic Holden is a veteran former organizer of the Seattle Hempfest, probably the world's largest annual cannabis rally. About 150,000 people a day attend the two-day event each year. He also played a key role in Seattle's pioneering "lowest law enforcement priority" marijuana law.
But if ill-organized or not well thought-out, they can damage the movement, Holden said.
"Poorly produced events fail to focus on the primary message and distract media and others to pay attention to insignificant details, such as the clothes people are wearing or issues that are only tangentially related," Holden said. "Other follies include failing to gather enough attendees or earn media coverage, which makes the movement appear weak or invisible. One of the most common mistakes made by speakers and organizers for marijuana events is focusing on friction with police, when the real opponents are lawmakers and misguided thinking."
A poorly produced or though-out event can have a variety of negative repercussions, Holden warned. "At best, volunteers feel exhausted from the work and exasperated from failing to realize their goals, often leading to the deterioration of an organization and the atrophy of the movement," he noted. "At worst, the event showcases activists who appear to be self-serving caricatures of themselves -- more focused on speaking to each other than to the world -- resulting in the issue being marginalized or creating a backlash."
The debate over the best tactics to take the movement forward will doubtless continue. In the meantime, the pot people will come out to have their day. In some places, there will be well-organized, well-attended focused events. In others, it'll be a handful of stoner kids and old hippies self-organizing in godforsaken places, their only connection to the broader drug reform movement a web site or two. This is the grass roots.
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More cops as robbers, another cop with an evidence room problem, a cop running interference for a drug gang, and an FBI Special Agent in Charge who hung out with the wrong folks and lied about it. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:
In El Paso, a former head of the El Paso FBI office was indicted April 12 on charges he covered up aspects of his relationship with a Mexican citizen linked to drug cartels. Hardrick Crawford Jr., special agent in charge of the office from July 2001 to November 2003, faces federal counts of making a false statement in electronic communication, concealing material facts from the FBI, making false statements to the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General and two counts of making false statements in public financial disclosure reports regarding gifts he allegedly received. The charges revolve around Crawford's relationship with Jose Maria Guardia, a gambling house and race track owner FBI sources said was involved in drug trafficking, bribery, and money laundering. Crawford socialized with and accepted gifts from Guardia, and Crawford's wife had a $5,000 a month salaried position with Guardia. According to the indictment, Crawford continued his relationship with Guardia even after he was warned Guardia was dirty and lied about it.
In St. Louis, a former St. Louis Metropolitan Police officer was convicted April 5 of helping a local cocaine trafficking operation avoid getting busted. Former Officer Antoine Gordon, 35, was found guilty of drug conspiracy and aiding and abetting a drug conspiracy after a jury trial. He was accused of helping a 20-member trafficking group led by Adrian Minnis avoid detection by running record checks on potential customers to ensure they were not narcs or informants. All 20 members of the Minnis crew, which dealt multi-kilo quantities of heroin and cocaine, have pled guilty. Gordon faces a maximum sentence of life in prison when he is sentenced June 30.
In Berkeley, California, a former police sergeant was charged April 14 in the disappearance of drug evidence from the police evidence room. Sgt. Cary Kent faces grand theft and possession of heroin and methamphetamine charges. The former evidence room employee allegedly used his position to take "the opportunity to tamper with, and remove, drug evidence scheduled for a 'drug burn.'" Berkeley police reported that Kent's supervisor in the Administrative Narcotics Unit had noted as early as September 2005 that he looked unhealthy and was constantly perspiring and sometimes fell asleep at his desk. Supervisors compelled Kent to get a physical examination, which he eventually did in December, but he refused to give blood, so he was placed on desk duty. Kent was placed on paid leave in January and retired shortly thereafter. Berkeley police believe at least 181 evidence bags containing drugs were tampered with.
In Lumberton, North Carolina, a former Robeson County sheriff's deputy was arrested April 13 on charges he was part of a gang that kidnapped and robbed alleged drug dealers in robberies masquerading as drug raids. Former Deputy Patrick Ferguson, 34, became the second deputy arrested in the case, along with four other men, the Associated Press reported. They are accused of using sheriff's department equipment and vehicles to kidnap and hold for ransom a Maxton man during a fake drug raid in May 2004, as well as robbing people at gunpoint in two other fake raids in Virginia Beach.
In Memphis, a reserve Memphis police officer was charged April 13 with robbing drug dealers of tens of thousands of dollars in cash, cocaine, and personal belongings while making arrests, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal reported. Andrew Hunt, 29, faces federal charges of violating civil rights, armed robbery, possession of a firearm in a crime of violence, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. He would use an informant to set up a drug deal, then rip off the dealer and reward the informant with some of the proceeds. He faces a mandatory minimum 55-year sentence on the gun charges and could get up to 105 years. His mother is a secretary to Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin.
In Boston, a former Malden, Massachusetts, police narcotics officer was convicted April 12 on federal cocaine trafficking charges. David Jordan, 45, was found guilty after a three-week trial of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute three kilograms of cocaine, possession with intent to distribute three kilograms of cocaine, and using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. He was also convicted of trying to tamper with witnesses and making false statements to federal agents. Jordan went down for plotting with three other men to rob a cocaine dealer during a drug deal in December 2003. Jordan showed up at the scene, identified himself as a police officer, and held a gun to the dealer's head while his cohorts grabbed the cocaine. He made $15,000 for his efforts, but now faces decades in jail.
In Worcester, Massachusetts, a former Worcester police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges of distributing GHB, the so-called date rape drug, and to possession of cocaine and Ecstasy. Brian Benedict, 34, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced July 26. His attorney told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette he has been cooperating with authorities. Another three defendants, including Worcester Police Officer Heriberto Arroyo, 36, are awaiting trial.
The Alaska House of Representatives Wednesday defeated a bill that would have recriminalized marijuana possession. Pushed aggressively by Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), the bill sought to set up a challenge to previous Alaska Supreme Court rulings that found the state constitution's privacy provisions protected the right of Alaskans to possess up to one-quarter pound in their homes.
In an effort to ensure the bill's success, Murkowski's legislative allies tied it to a methamphetamine bill, but instead the combined measure went down in flames on a 21-19 vote.
"This bill was a baldly unconstitutional effort to override the right of privacy guaranteed to all Alaskans in the state constitution," said Michael McKey, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) who had worked closely with local groups to defeat the measure. "The House has wisely refused to be railroaded into rubber-stamping a bad bill. Now the legislature must take the time needed to properly examine the scientific and constitutional issues involved."
The bill contained a number of "findings" that purported to demonstrate that the weed of today is so much stronger than the stuff of yesteryear as to compel the court to revisit its landmark 1975 decision in Ravin v. State.
"The governor tried to circumvent Alaska's constitution by getting the legislature to write scientific falsehoods into law," McKey said. "Having wisely rejected the effort to rush this bad bill through by tacking it onto an unrelated methamphetamine bill, the House should start from square one and take an honest, science-based look at the marijuana issue. If they do, they will see that it makes much more sense to set up a responsible system for regulating marijuana that's consistent with Alaska's constitution and values, rather than attempt another end-run around Alaskans' constitutional right of privacy."
Alaska remains the only state where it is legal for any adult to possess up to a quarter-pound of marijuana.
The University of Maryland is the latest school to vote to equalize the campus penalties for alcohol and marijuana. Undergraduate students there approved the measure by a margin of 65% to 35% after a campaign led by the campus chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The campaign, begun last year by Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University has also seen victories this year at the University of Texas and Florida State University. No campus has voted down a SAFER referendum.
The referenda are only symbolic; they express the will of the student body, but college administrators are not bound to act on them, and so far, none have. Early indications are Maryland will be no different. Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement told the Washington Post after the vote she didn't think the school could equalize penalties. "You've got to look at these two issues differently," she said, because marijuana can bring harder drugs, dealers and crime. "Our campus police believe very strongly that drug activity attracts people to the campus who are dangerous."
Those would, one supposes, be different people from the drunken student mobs who regularly riot after significant athletic victories. Last week, those drunk students set fires and shook buses in College Park after the university women's basketball team won the national championship.
In a statement Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the use of smoked marijuana as a medicine, saying "no sound scientific studies" supported its use. The FDA's "inter-agency advisory" directly contradicts the findings of the highly-regarded 1999 National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine's review of the subject, "Marijuana and Medicine."
FDA spokeswoman Susan Bro told the New York Times Thursday the agency issued the statement in response to inquiries from Capitol Hill. Congressional arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) two years ago filed a bill that would have forced the FDA to issue an opinion.
Souder is a fervent opponent of medical marijuana. A Souder spokesman, Martin Green, told the Times Souder believes medical marijuana is a front to get marijuana legalized.
John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), is also a medical marijuana opponent. His spokesman, Tom Riley, said the drug czar hoped the FDA position statement would put an end to "the bizarre public discussion" that has led 11 states to legalize and regulate its use.
But "bizarre" might be more aptly applied to the FDA finding, if the scientists involved with the Institute of Medicine report are right. It found marijuana "moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting" and potential for more applications.
The Times talked to Dr. John Benson, who co-chaired the IOM committee that studied medical marijuana. He said bluntly that the FDA was wrong. The federal government "loves to ignore our report," said Benson. "They would rather it never happened."
Other scientists were equally skeptical. "Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the FDA making pronouncements that seem to be driven more by ideology than by science," said Dr. Jerry Avorn, a medical professor at Harvard Medical School.
A leading British medical journal, the Lancet, has called on researchers studying the brain and conditions like depression to experiment with psychedelics. In an editorial appearing in the April 15 edition, the journal argued that "the demonization of psychedelic drugs as a social evil" has stifled research that could expand the knowledge of the brain and lead to better treatment for such conditions.
"Once considered wonder drugs for their effects on anxiety, depression, alcoholism, and other mental illnesses, [psychedelics like LSD and Ecstasy] have been effectively banished from medical practice after legal rulings banned their sale and use," the editorial noted. "Although such bans were largely put in place to quash concerns about rampant recreational drug use fueling the counter cultures of the 1960s and 1980s (LSD and MDMA, respectively), criminalization of these agents has also led to an excessively cautious approach to further research into their therapeutic benefits."
In an interview with the British newspaper the Guardian, Lancet editor Dr. Richard Horton said early researchers who used the drugs on themselves made important advances, but that progress had been stopped by the post-1960s anti-drug backlash. "Our very earliest understanding of the neurochemistry of the brain came from studying LSD-like compounds. Those same researchers were also taking those drugs, not recreationally, but as experiments on themselves. This was immensely important work."
Bans on psychedelic research based on fears of mass consumption are blocking good science, said Horton. "The whole taboo around recreational drug use can make the study of these drugs very difficult," he said. "We need to get a balance between these social taboos and what's best for patients."
The Guardian also spoke with Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a group pushing for more research on psychedelics and sponsoring two experimental studies with Ecstasy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The notion that research should be barred for fearing of encouraging recreational use of psychedelics is wrong, he said. "The idea that by contradicting the exaggerated propaganda you are somehow sending the wrong message is false," he said. "Kids know when they are being told something that is way exaggerated, but then they don't know what is the truth."
Mozambique Attorney General Joaquim Madeira last week rejected calls from parliament to destroy the marijuana fields planted by peasant farmers, Angola Press reported. Instead, he said, the peasants should be offered alternative crops.
Cannabis is a widespread cash crop for farmers in the impoverished south African nation.
"Herbal cannabis for local consumption is produced throughout the country, particularly in Tete, Manica, and Zambezia provinces," said the US State Department in its latest annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. "Limited amounts are exported to neighboring countries, particularly South Africa," the report added.
Madeira's remarks came during questioning from parliamentary deputies during his annual report to the Assembly of the Republic. The deputies were concerned about drug trafficking and wanted to know why the government wasn't taking tougher measures.
But Madeira said burning down the fields of "soruma," the local name for the weed, was no solution. Farmers needed new cash crops to replace their marijuana crops, he insisted, although he didn't specify what those may be.
Bermudan National Drug Control Minister Wayne Perinchief has called for marijuana offenses to be downgraded. The Bermuda Royal Gazette reported that Perinchief is calling for Bermuda to follow the British example and treat marijuana as a less serious drug than drugs like heroin or cocaine. Bermuda currently lumps all drug offenses together.
"We are moving now to dealing with drug use as a health issue rather than something criminal," said Perinchief. "If you are going to do that, you need to keep people out of the criminal courts. First offenders with a small amount -- possession for their own use -- could be dealt with outside the criminal court. They could be referred straight to rehabilitation."
Perinchief views marijuana smokers as "victims" of drug dealers, but they are also victimized by the criminal law, he said, citing the inability of people with even a minor drug conviction to travel to the United States. He also conceded that marijuana use is here to stay. "It's a blight that will never go away," Perinchief said. "The punitive effect of a marijuana conviction outweighs the crime. We are not saying the health issue is not still there. But we would like to deal with the treatment rather than the punishment to avoid criminalizing such a large section of the population."
Perinchief spoke to the Gazette following a meeting of the National Steering Committee on Drugs last week where moving to a British-style drug classification scheme was discussed. No word yet on if or when a decision will be made.
Last week, the Drug War Chronicle wrote about a Canadian researcher's "metanalysis" of the impact of marijuana on driving ability. There was nothing wrong with the researcher's analysis or the piece itself -- except that it was based on a six-year-old University of Toronto press release that somehow made it's way into the editor's mailbox via a Google news search and which we erroneously ran as a new story. We apologize for the error, and to make up for it, we present an article this week surveying the current state of the research on marijuana and driving.
14. Drugged Driving:
The State of the Research
With the Office of National Drug Control Policy pushing states across the country to adopt zero-tolerance Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) laws that would criminalize drivers who have any detectable amount of cannabis or its metabolites in their systems, research on the effect of cannabis on driving has been a growth industry in recent years. The emerging consensus among scientists is that cannabis use slightly impairs driving ability for a short period of time immediately after ingestion, while cannabis stays in the system for a much longer period of time, thus suggesting that zero-tolerance DUID laws will snare unimpaired drivers who smoked hours or even days before being tested.
The 2004 study, by the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research looked at the link between drug use and traffic accidents requiring hospitalization by studying actual accident victims. It found "high relative risks" of accident for people using multiple substances (including alcohol) and, somewhat surprisingly, increased but "not statistically significant" risk for users of amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates. And marijuana? "No increased risk for road trauma was found for drivers exposed to cannabis," the study concluded.
The Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, chaired by Sen. Pierre Nolin, examined a wide variety of issues related to marijuana use. In the section of the report devoted to driving under the influence of cannabis, which reviewed a number of previous studies, the committee noted that while cannabis use slightly impairs driving ability, that impairment takes an unusual form. "Cannabis makes users more cautious," the report found. But "cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving."
In the most recent overview of the research on marijuana and driving, "Developing Science-Based Per Se Limits for Driving under the Influence of Cannabis (DUIC) Findings and Recommendations by an Expert Panel," a team of researchers agreed with the Canadians that the weed "has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory" even though "cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving." Thus, unlike alcohol users, marijuana users realize they are impaired and compensate accordingly.
The study instead recommended setting a per se limit of 3.5 to 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of whole blood, an amount that "would clearly separate unimpaired drivers with residual THC concentrations from drivers who consumed cannabis within the last hour or so." But the study seems a bit conservative on the per se level. Those most likely to be impaired, the study reported, typically showed THC levels greater than 10 nanograms, at least double the recommended per se limit.
Zero-tolerance is not a workable policy, the researchers concluded. "Extended or complete abstinence, as implicitly stipulated by a zero THC limit in blood, is not a realistic option, particularly for many younger drivers, who are the primary target for DUIC control. A zero limit also interferes with the concept of using designated drivers. A driver who used cannabis more than 12 hours before an event may still present with measurable THC concentrations, and would therefore be in violation of a zero limit whether he or she abstained from use at the event or not."
Finally, the researchers warned against using DUID laws as a means of attempting to control marijuana use. "DUIC control should focus on improving traffic safety and not on achieving other societal goals. Completely eliminating the (illegal) use of cannabis through a zero-tolerance law for DUIC seems unrealistic and counterproductive."
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
April 20-22, San Francisco, CA, National NORML Conference, visit http://www.norml.org for further information.
April 21, noon-1:30pm, San Francisco, CA, forum with former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, sponsored by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. At Mission Neighborhood Health Center, 240 Shotwell Street (corner of 16th Street), second floor conference room, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 21, 7:30pm-midnight, San Francisco, CA, benefit party for "Measure Z"-style adult use marijuana initiatives in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara and elsewhere. Sponsored by California NORML and the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, at Pier 23 on the Embarcadero, admission $35, visit http://www.canorml.org for info.
April 22, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, "3rd Annual Highway 420 Rally for Regulation," visit http://www.hwy420.ca for info.
April 22, 8:00pm, Philadelphia, PA, 3rd Annual Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Medical Cannabis (Marijuana) Prohibition, sponsored by Philly NORML. Starting at Ben Franklin Parkway and 21st St., marching to the north side of City Hall for speakers and a moment of silence, followed by social gathering at the Nodding Head Brewery. Contacxt [email protected] or visit http://www.universalarts.net/candl.html for further information.
April 23, noon-6:00pm, Sacramento, CA, "Cannabis at the Capitol," medical marijuana rally. Sponsored by the Compassionate Coalition, at the California State Capitol, South Steps, contact Peter Keyes at (916) 456-7933 or visit http://www.compassionatecoalition.org 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, noon-1:30pm, Olympia, WA, "How the War on Drugs Challenges Policing in Modern Society," forum with LEAP spokesperson former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper. At South Puget Sound Community College, 2100 Mottman Rd. SW, contact Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
April 27, 3:00-4:30pm, Utica, NY, " Cops Say Legalize Drugs, Come Ask a NY Police Captain Why," forum with LEAP spokesperson Peter Christ. At Mohawk Valley Community College, Payne Hall 102, free pizza. Sponsored by MVCC SSDP, contact Joshua Hopkins at (315) 768-6177 or [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] 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, 7:00-8:00pm, Fayetteville, AR, "Is America Addicted to the Drug War?", forum with LEAP spokesperson Terry Nelson. At the University of Arkansas, Science and Engineering Auditorium, 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 29, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Hear and Now: Harm Reduction in Nursing Practice," visit http://www.canadianharmreduction.com for information.
April 30, 11:00am-10:00pm, Kingston, RI, 8th Annual Hempfest, sponsored by University of Rhode Island SSDP. At the URI quad, featuring music, food, vendors and activism, admission free. Contact Rebecca Long at [email protected] 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 8, 7:00-9:00pm, West Hollywood, CA, "Crystal: The Good, the Sad, and the Ugly," first of a series of public forums on methamphetamine and harm reduction. Sponsored by AIDS Project Los Angeles, at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, 647 N. San Vicente Ave., call (213) 201-1662 for information.
May 10, 5:30-7:30pm, New York, NY, "PUMPED: A Truth-Enhancing Seminar on Steroids and the Law," discussion with Rick Collins, national legal authority on steroids. At the Drug Policy Alliance, 70 W. 36th Street, 16th Floor, limited spaces available. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/event.cfm?eventID=611 for further information or RSVP to Stefanie Jones at [email protected] or (212) 613-8047.
May 10, 6:30pm, Washington, DC, "Race to Incarcerate," book talk with The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. At Busboys & Poets, 2021 14th St. NW, Langston Room, visit http://www.busboysandpoets.com for further information.
April 30, noon-4:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Beyond Criminalization: Healthier Ways to Control Drugs," film festival sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 1, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Regulation: An Alternative to Criminalization," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 2, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Drug Regulation: Impacts on Policing and Prisons," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), contact (604) 677-2758 or [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 4, 6:00-9:30pm, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "Drug Regulation: A Saner Discussion About Crystal Methamphetamine," public dialogue sponsored by the Keeping the Door Open Coalition. At Simon Fraser University, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 West Hastings St. (Seymour St. courtyard entrance), e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.keepingthedooropen.com for information or to register.
May 8, 4:00-6:00pm, San Diego, CA, "Have Our Drug Laws Failed?", debate between LEAP speaker Judge James P. Gray and Roger Morgan. Sponsored by SDSU SSDP, at the "Backdoor," Aztec Center, San Diego State University, contact Randy Hencken at (619) 865-3000 or [email protected] or Mike Smithson at (315) 243-5844 or [email protected] for further information.
May 12-13, Sturgis, SD, 6th Annual Black Hills Hemp Hoe Down, geaturing music, workshops, hemp food, hemp beer, speeches, camping and more. At the Elk View Campground, five miles outside town, exit 37 off Interstate 90, visit http://www.hemphoedown.com or visit (605) 484-1806 or [email protected] for information.
June 2-4, Marysville, CA, music festival supporting the Dr. Stephen Banister Legal Defense Fund, California NORML and Americans for Safe Access. Tickets $60, visit http://www.camusicthatmatters.org 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.
June 12, 6:00-9:30pm, New York, NY, MPP Awards Gala. At Capitale, 130 Bowery, featuring Medeski Martin & Wood, tickets $250 if purchased by May 22 or $300, $500 VIP. Visit http://mpp.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=167524 for further information.
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, Fresno & Palo Alto, 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.
July 21, 7:00pm, Washington, DC, "Race to Incarcerate," book talk with The Sentencing Project's Marc Mauer. At Politics & Prose bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, visit http://www.politics-prose.com 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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