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Africa: Proposed Draconian Drug Law in Namibia Runs Into Intense Opposition

A proposed tough new drug law in Namibia that would send any drug offender to prison for 20 years—no matter which drug nor how small the quantity—ran into a buzz saw of opposition at a public hearing in the national capital, Windhoek, this week. Rastafarians, the arts community, legal scholars, and legal aid groups alike used the first of three days of public hearings to condemn the proposed measure as unduly harsh, and many called openly for the legalization of marijuana, according to a report inThe Namibian.
Namibia coat of arms
The "Combating the Abuse of Drugs Act" sailed through the National Assembly last year, but was referred to a National Council standing committee after some members objected to the suggested sentences for convicted offenders. It calls for a 20-year sentence for a first drug offense and a 30-year sentence for a subsequent drug offense. It would also subject anyone who "imports, exports, manufactures, promotes, sells or in any other manner provides instruments or literature for illegal consumption of drugs" to a 20-year prison sentence.

But attendees at the hearing were not shy about criticizing the law or calling for the legalization of marijuana. "If lawmakers think that this law will bring the crime rate down, they know very little," argued local artist Elmotho Mosimane. "Why in 2007, while the rest of the world is moving in the opposite way, are we going this route? In Amsterdam, where it is legal, where I can smoke marijuana in a bar, the crime rate is very low. How do we know that this law was not just brought in because of someone's personal feelings and convictions?" he asked the panel.

Lawmakers should consider the large number of people in Namibia who smoke marijuana and whether it really wants to jail them for decades, said media practitioner Augetto Graig. "No study has been made to establish how many people consume marijuana ... If such a study is completed thoroughly, I'm sure you'd find that these are at all levels of society, from the lower levels all the way up to parliamentarians," he said. "Where will you house all these people? Jails are already overcrowded, and we know that our jails have a reputation for being factories that create criminals."

But it wasn't just Rastas and bohemian artists who objected to the proposed law. The punishments envisioned were disproportionate to the offenses, said attorney Kaijata Kangueehi of the Magistrate's Commission. "The sentences are just too extraordinary, in the sense that they are way too heavy," Kangueehi argued as he handed the panel a 29-page presentation. "Nowhere in the Act is it looked at the quantity a person is caught with. If you are found with an amount which fits in a match box, you're treated the same as if you were caught with two tons. You don't need Solomon's wisdom to understand the unfairness of that situation," he said.

The Namibian Legal Aid Center also raised objections to the harsh sentences in the proposed law and even raised questions about its constitutionality. Namibians would find the sentences "shocking," especially when compared to alcohol, the group argued. "The effects of alcohol on neighbors and families are documented in our newspapers every day, yet it would appear that our legislature rightly accepts that it is a personal choice should one wish to use or abuse alcohol, insofar as the rights of others are not being violated."

The Legal Aid Center recommended that proposed sentences be drastically reduced. "If it is found that minimum sentences must be entertained in respect of certain drugs, the length of sentences should be considered, a period of six months to 12 months being suggested. This would coincide with most rehabilitation treatment periods," the organization said. The Center also called for drug sentences to be served "at a facility specifically designed for such rehabilitation purposes."

The Center objected to the language about promoting "instruments or literature for illegal consumption of drugs," arguing that it could lead to people being prosecuted for selling rolling papers or water pipes, or even for promoting any literature or video related to reggae music or Rastafarianism, where marijuana smoking is part of a religious ceremony. "This provision would almost certainly offend against religious freedom and freedom of thought, consequence and belief which is protected under article 21 of the Namibian constitution," the Center said.

Namibia's new drug law is not a done deal yet. If legislators are actually listening to the people at the public hearings on the law, they will go back to the drawing board.

Op-Ed: End draconian double-standard on cocaine use

Chicago, IL
United States
Baltimore Sun

Sentencing: No Relief for Louisiana's Heroin Lifers

In a blow to prisoners sentenced under a tough 1970s drug law, the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a 2001 law cutting sentences for heroin distribution is not retroactive. That means an estimated 90 remaining "heroin lifers" sentenced under the old law will stay in prison -- and, in at least one case -- go back to prison after being released by a judge.

The court ruled last week in the case of Wesley Dick, who had been released by a judge in July after serving years of a life sentence for selling heroin to an undercover officer. Dick got a job, began paying child support for his two children, and saved enough money to buy a pick-up truck, but now he will be returned to prison to finish serving his sentence, perhaps as early as March 20, when a hearing has been set.

The state high court also ruled against release for heroin lifer Melvin Smith, who was sentenced to life in 1977 for possession with intent to distribute heroin. Smith never made it outside the prison walls.

The rulings were hailed by prosecutors, who had opposed granting relief to the aging heroin lifers. "Our interpretation of the law has again been upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court," Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.

"The original life sentence for this crime was a strong deterrent, and I am pleased that the Louisiana Supreme Court has maintained the conviction and the penalties imposed under the law at the time of conviction," St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed said.

The law mandating a life sentence for heroin distribution was amended in 2001, when the legislature set new a new sentence of from five to 50 years for the offense, but it was unclear whether it could be applied retroactively. Dick and Smith each went to court arguing that the law should apply to them. Each won in district court, but state appellate courts split on the issue. The state Supreme Court has now settled the question.

"We find the legislature did not intend, nor did it legislate, that these offenders may seek resentencing in the courts after a sentence has become final," Justice Jeannette Knoll wrote in the 6-1 majority opinion. The court has long held that the law in effect at the time of the crime sets the penalty, Knoll wrote, adding that only the governor has the power to commute sentences.

But all is not lost for the heroin lifers. The same 2001 law that cut sentences also created the Louisiana Risk Review Panel, which can recommend eligible defendants be released from prison if it determines they are not a threat to society. Defendants seeking relief should go through that process, not the courts, the Supreme Court held.

Federal officials ask states to tighten medical marijuana law

Honolulu, HI
United States
Daily Herald (UT)

Press Release: Artist, Activist Anthony Papa Exhibits Work at Fundraiser for The Lower Eastside Girls Club

For Immediate Release: January 25, 2007 More Info: Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 Artist, Rockefeller Reform Activist Anthony Papa Exhibits Art at Fundraiser for The Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York Mr. Papa to Discuss Art as Tool for Personal and Social Change at Reception on February 15 Elected Officials, Drug War Reform Advocates, Community Leaders and Philanthropists Come Together to Support The Lower Eastside Girls Club Anthony Papa, artist, activist and communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance, will be exhibiting more than 70 pieces of artwork at The Lower Eastside Girls Club's Art+Community Gallery in a show called, “Now and Then: The Art of Anthony Papa.” The exhibit will feature his work from while he was incarcerated under the Rockefeller Drug Laws and his work since returning home in 1997. Mr. Papa literally painted his way to freedom after finding his passion for art while serving a 15 years to life sentence for a first time nonviolent drug offense. While behind bars, Mr. Papa painted a self portrait, "15 to Life," which eventually displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The injustice of Mr. Papa's case generated national and statewide media in New York and ultimately led to Governor Pataki granting Mr. Papa clemency after serving 12 years in jail. His book "15 To Life" is now on its way to becoming a feature film. "Art has the ability to inspire and transform both the individual and society," says Papa. "The Girls Club has the same impact on hundreds of girls every day." "Art has become my vehicle for expression and empowerment," Papa continued. "I hope to inspire the girls to find their passion and voice in whatever they choose to pursue." The show will continue on until March 5th and is a benefit for the art and curatorial training programs of The Lower Eastside Girls Club. The Girls Club works with economically disadvantaged girls and young women ages 8-23, many who are personally affected by the Rockefeller Drug Laws through the incarceration of family members and friends. "At the Girls Club we believe that art has the power to change reality and open doors. Tony Papa's work shows the girls that this istrue," said Lyn Pentecost, Executive Director. The event will be attended by Lower Eastside Girls Club members and their families, elected officials, drug policy reform activists and philanthropists. I've been a longtime supporter and admirer of Anthony Papa and his work," said Lawrence Goldfarb, CEO of LRG Capital Group, Baystar Capital. "I am honored to lend my time and energy to support the work of my friend, Anthony, and The Lower Eastside Girls Club." Mr. Goldfarb and LRG Capital Group will host a reception at the end of the show. The Lower Eastside Girls Club Art+Community Gallery is at 56 East 1st Street between 1st and 2nd aves. For more information, contact Adriana Pezzulli at 917-653-8542 or [email protected] The Lower Eastside Girls Club is dedicated to providing a place where girls and young women 8-23 can grow, learn, have fun, and develop confidence in themselves and their ability to make a difference in the world. By delivering strong and innovative arts, athletic, cultural, life-skills and career oriented programming, we provide girls with the vision to plan - and the tools to build - their future.
New York, NY
United States

The Fleecing of California

[Courtesy of Larry D., a prisoner correspondent in California] The Fleecing of California The fleecing of California is being perpetrated under the guise of “Prison Reform.” Recently there was a loud cry over California’s over-crowded prisons. And, once again, our great Governor has come up with this brilliant plan to reform the prison system, or should we say, fleece the public? He wants to spend $10 billion dollars to build more prisons. Common sense tells us that if we “build-em” we’ll “fill-em.” In other words, no matter how many prisons California builds, the system will always be overcrowded because of California’s outrageous sentencing laws. California is the only state in the country that warehouses its mental patients and non-violent offenders under the “Three Strikes Law.” Both men and women are serving 25 and 50 years to life for crimes like drug possession, receiving stolen property, petty theft, and joy riding. In 2004 there was a tremendous effort to change this law so that it only applied to violent offenders. But, our governor went on TV and told the public that rapists, child molesters and murderers would be released if the measure passed. He robbed the public of an opportunity to right a wrong, because these were nonviolent offenders, and most have never killed, raped or molested anyone. They are drug abusers with petty drug related offenses. With the proper drug and alcohol treatment, the nonviolent offenders in California’s prisons could become productive tax-paying citizens instead of tax burdens. But, the truth of the matter is, California’s weakest and most vulnerable citizens are now considered to be a commodity and job security for the prison system. “Wake up California,” you are being fleeced. One local newspaper put it this way: “Building more prisons is like telling an obese person that all he needs is a bigger pair of pants." The prison system is obese, and should not be allowed to continue devouring California’s resources. Education and treatment, “not prisons,” is the best investment for California’s tax dollars.
United States

Singapore kills two African traffickers

The Irish Times

Law officers search high school for drugs

Tallmadge, OH
United States
Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

Europe: Moscow Mayor Calls for Harsh Drug Laws Including Death Penalty

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called Monday for drug dealers to be "destroyed" during a speech to law enforcement and city offficials at the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Drug Control Service, according to an account in the Moscow Times. Luzkhov suggested Russia implement drug laws like those in Singapore, where drug traffickers face execution.
"In Singapore, there is no drug addiction," he said. "Let us do the same." Luzkhov somewhat wistfully noted that "these days, a democratic government does not accept" a draconian drug policy like Singapore's, but added that Russia should "accept something close to it."

But Russia has gone in the other direction in recent years. Since 2004, when a new law decriminalized simple drug possession, official drug policy has been to go after traffickers and sellers, but not users. Apparently, the increased penalties for drug dealers and traffickers under the 2004 law is not enough for Luzkhov, and the decriminalization of drug possession sticks in the craw of Russian narcs. The Federal Drug Control Service has fought bitterly to reinstate penalties against small-time possessors, first attempting to subvert the new law's intent by defining personal use quantities at ridiculously low levels, such as 0.01 grams of heroin. Instead, the personal use quantity was set at one gram, but in a small victory for the drug warriors, that was cut back to half a gram last year.

Drug use has been on the rise in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union since its dissolution. The country registers several hundred thousand "drug addicts" each year, with the real number being likely much greater. An estimated 70,000 Russians die from drug overdoses each year, and injection drug use is involved in many of the country's hundreds of thousands of AIDS cases.

While officials like Mayor Luzkhov see only greater repression as the answer, non-governmental organizations like New Drug Policy seek to balance the hardliners by lobbying for reasonable harm reduction policies. "Using a drug is not a criminal offense," said the group's Lev Levinson in response to the mayor's remarks. "It is punishable only by a fine. The mayor, Levinson said, had cast an envious glance on Singapore's harsh policy for at least a decade.

Indonesian drug czar supports death penalty for drug traffickers

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Germany)

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