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Bad Science: Congress Passes Measure Okaying Mycoherbicide Testing, But Limits It to US Labs

As part of last Friday's passage of the reauthorization bill for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Congress authorized the testing of mycoherbicides -- toxic, fungal plant killers -- for use against illicit drug crops in Latin America. But in what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) called a "significant reform," the legislation was modified to restrict testing to laboratories in the United States.

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fusarium-ravaged grain demonstrates the danger
The brainchild of drug warriors Reps. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Dan Burton (R-IN), the measure passed the House in July 2005. Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Biden (D-DE), it was attached to the ONDCP bill and passed last week.

As DRCNet reported earlier this year, government agencies are not jumping on the mycoherbicide bandwagon. Agencies including the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the CIA and even the DEA, have rejected the idea as dangerous for health and the environment as well as likely to meet with resistant strains of poppy and coca against which it would be ineffective.

DPA began organizing against the measure this spring, and when it got fast-tracked this month, drug reform groups including DRCNet, DPA and others raised the alarm. "This a huge victory because it means the people and environment of Latin America will be protected," a DPA bulletin noted. "We have you to thank for this reform because so many of you called Congress asking for the provision to be changed."

Addiction Treatment: Congress Allows Certified Physicians to Take On More Buprenorphine Patients

On December 8, Congress moved for the second time to increase the number of patients to whom a doctor can prescribe buprenorphine, an opiate agonist used to treat heroin dependence. Under an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, certified physicians will be able to prescribe for up to 100 patients.

When Congress passed the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 allowing for the first time medical office-based opiate addiction treatment, it limited the number of patients who could be treated in any one practice to 30. Last year, Congress changed the cap to 30 patients per physician. To qualify for the new, 100-patient prescribing limit, doctors must have been certified to prescribe buprenorphine for at least one year.

"Of the estimated six million people in the United States who are dependent on opioids, many of them have been forced to wait for the medical treatment they so desperately need simply because of a mandated 30-patient 'cap' on how many people a doctor may treat," said Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Enactment of the legislation will begin to address this inequity."

Salsitz was quoted in a press release from Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Suboxone and Subutex, the formulations of buprenorphine approved for opiate dependency treatment by the Food and Drug Administration.

"This is the best-kept secret in opioid addiction and it shouldn't be," said Timothy Lepak, president of the Connecticut-based National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. "I'm puzzled that there's any limit whatsoever."

The amendment passed as part of the bill reauthorizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the drug czar's office.

U.S. anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan to be bolstered

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Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghandrugs8dec08,0,7651998.story?coll=la-home-world

Update: The Second Chance Act Status (S.1934)

[From our friends at Open Society Institute/Open Society Policy Center] The Second Chance Act Status (S.1934) December 5, 2006 This afternoon the Senate sponsors of the Second Chance Act tried to move the bill through the Senate by unanimous consent. In recent days there has been an enormous outreach to Senator Coburn from Okalahomans ranging from state and local government officials, to law enforcement leaders, to service providers, to ordinary citizens. The hope was that all of that and some great press coverage had persuaded Senator Coburn to let the bill pass. However he placed a hold on the bill just a little while ago. Key Senate staff will continue to reach out to Senator Coburn's staff to see if there are ways to address Coburn's concern. There has been some movement from the Coburn office in recent days, but I don't know what the chances are of working something out. The push on the Second Chance Act from a large number of organizations in the reentry working group has really been substantial and sophisticated. Everyone should be proud of your good work. I'll pass on any other information I receive. Gene Guerrero Open Society Institute/Open Society Policy Center 1120 19th Street, N.W., 8th Floor Washington, D.C. 20036 202-721-5607 fax 202-530-0128
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Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Action Network Alert: Congress to Vote on Poisoning People

From our friends at Drug Policy Alliance: Congress to Vote on Poisoning People This Week Earlier this year we warned you about a bill in Congress that would revive controversial research on the use of toxic, mold-like fungi called mycoherbicides to kill illicit drug crops in other countries. This provision could unleash an environmental disaster of monumental proportions. But Congressman Mark Souder and Senators Hatch and Biden are rushing it to the House and Senate floors this week. Here are three things you can do: 1) Call your two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative today or tomorrow. If you don't know who they are, simply call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and give them your address. They'll connect you directly with their offices. You can also look them up online at the Senate website and the House website. When you get a staffer on the phone, politely say something like: "My name is [your name] and I live in [your city]. I'm calling to urge [the Senator or Representative] to oppose the ONDCP Reauthorization bill if it comes to the floor this week, especially its mycoherbicide provision. Please let me know how [the Senator/Representative] votes." If they ask, the mycoherbicide section is Section 1111. The bill being brought to the floor is a combination of a House and Senate bill, so it doesn't have a bill number yet. It will be brought to the Senate floor under a unanimous consent agreement and to the House floor under suspension of the rules--both of which limit debate. 2) Phone calls are the most effective way of stopping this bill. But if you don't feel comfortable making calls or you don't have the time, we urge you to fax or e-mail your elected officials instead. Contact your two Senators through the Senate website and your one Representative through the House website. 3) Please forward this alert to everyone you know. Unless thousands of Americans contact Congress, this bill could pass by the end of this week. Sincerely, Bill Piper Drug Policy Alliance Network More Information Mycoherbicides have already been extensively studied over the last thirty years--and the results make it clear that they are not an option for controlling crops of coca or opium poppies. They attack indiscriminately, destroying fruit and vegetable crops, and sickening animals and humans as well. The toxins mycoherbicides produce contaminate soil for years, so that nothing can grow where they have been. Mycoherbicides are so destructive that governments have even stockpiled them as weapons! Incredibly, the proposal now before Congress advocates using mycoherbicides in "field studies" in countries such as Colombia and Afghanistan--something the world would certainly see as an act of biological warfare. Office of National Drug Control Policy head John Walters spoke out against further mycoherbicide research last year, but this terrible proposal is now part of the ONDCP Reauthorization Act. Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this act, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall submit to the Congress a report that includes a plan to conduct, on an expedited basis, a scientific study of the use of mycoherbicide as a means of illicit drug crop elimination by an appropriate Government scientific research entity, include a complete and thorough scientific peer review. The study shall include an evaluation of the likely human health and environmental impacts of mycoherbicides derived from fungus naturally existing in the soil. Contact the Drug Policy Alliance Network: Drug Policy Alliance Network 70 West 36th Street, 16th Floor New York, NY 10018
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Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress: What's Going to Happen?

To hear the buzz in drug reform circles, Christmas came early this year. To be precise, it arrived on Election Day, when the Democrats took back control of the Congress. There is a whole long list of drug reform-related issues that the Democratically-controlled Congress can address, and hopes are high that after a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, progress will come on at least some of them. But will the Democratic Congress really turn out to be Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on a movement long out in the cold, or will it turn out more like the Grinch, offering up tantalizing glimpses of the goodies only to snatch them away?

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US Capitol, Senate side
Drug War Chronicle is trying to find out what's likely to happen, so we talked to a number of drug reform organizations, especially those with a strong federal lobbying presence and agenda, as well as with the offices of some of the representatives who will be playing key roles on Capitol Hill in the next Congress.

The list of drug war issues where Congress could act next year is indeed lengthy:

  • Sentencing reform -- whether addressing the crack-powder cocaine disparity or mandatory minimums or both, and other reforms;
  • Medical marijuana, either through the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment barring federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal or Barney Frank's states' rights to medical marijuana bill;
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) is up for reauthorization;
  • The Higher Education Act (HEA) and its drug provision are up for reauthorization;
  • Removing drug offender restrictions from food stamp, public housing, and other social services;
  • The Washington, DC, appropriations bill, where Congress has barred the District from enacting needle exchange programs and a voter-approved medical marijuana law;
  • Plan Colombia;
  • The war in Afghanistan and US anti-opium policy;
  • The pain crisis and the war on pain doctors;
  • Prisoner reentry legislation, particularly the Second Chance Act;
  • Police raids.

While there is optimism in drug reform circles, it is tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The Congress is a place where it is notoriously difficult to make (or unmake) a law, and while some of the new Democratic leadership has been sympathetic on certain issues, drug reform is not exactly a high-profile issue. Whether congressional Democratic decision-makers will decide to use their political resources advancing an agenda that could be attacked as "soft on drugs" or "soft on crime" remains to be seen. But according to one of the movement's most astute Hill-watchers, some "low-hanging fruit" might be within reach next year.

"Some of the easiest things to achieve in the new Congress will be the HEA ban on aid to students with drug violations, because the Democrats will have to deal with HEA reauthorization, and the ban on access to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) to public housing, because they will have to deal with welfare reform," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There is also a chance of repealing provisions in the DC appropriations bill that bar needle exchanges and medical marijuana. These are the low-hanging fruit."

For Piper, there is also a chance to see movement on a second tier of issues, including medical marijuana, sentencing reform and Latin America policy. "Can we get the votes to pass Hinchey-Rohrabacher in the House and get it to the Senate?" he asked. "There is also a good chance of completely changing how we deal with Latin America. We could see a shift in funding from military to civil society-type programs and from eradication to crop substitution," he said. "Also, there is a good chance on sentencing reform. Can the Democrats strike a deal with Sen. Sessions (R-AL) and other Republicans on the crack-powder disparity, or will they try to play politics and paint the Democrats as soft on crime? Would Bush veto it if it passed?"

Clearly, at this point, there are more questions than answers, and time will tell. But the political ground has shifted, Piper noted. "We are no longer playing defense," he argued. "Now we don't have to deal with folks like Souder and Sensenbrenner and all their stupid bills. This puts us in a really good position. For the first time in 12 years, we get to go on offense. And unlike a dozen years ago, the Democrats who will control the key committees are really, really good. This is probably the first time since the 1980s that drug policy reform has been in a position to go on the offensive."

Representatives sympathetic to drug law reform will fill key positions in the next Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who will be the incoming chair of the crucial House Judiciary Committee. Replacing HEA drug provision author and leading congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as chair of the important Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources will be either Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) or Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) -- the assignment isn't yet set -- while Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will chair the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, the key subcommittee when it comes to sentencing reform.

While it is too early to get firm commitments from committee heads on hearings next year, a spokesman for Rep. Conyers told Drug War Chronicle sentencing reform is definitely on the table. "Congressman Conyers is certainly interested in these issues, he's been quite outspoken on this, and it is something he will address, but we haven't come out with our agenda and we don't have a timeline yet," said House Judiciary Committee press officer Jonathan Godfrey. "But this will definitely be an issue for the committee," he added.

Conyers and the new Democratic Congress may not yet have established their agendas, but the drug reform movement certainly has, and sentencing reform, whether through addressing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity or through a broader assault on the federal mandatory minimum sentencing scheme, is front and center. Perhaps not surprisingly, many leading reformers said addressing the crack-powder disparity was not enough.

"There's been a lot of discussion about eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, or even removing the definition of crack from the guidelines entirely," said DRCNet executive director Dave Borden. "We of course support that, but we also hope the issue of mandatory minimums themselves, and the sentencing guidelines, are also taken up. Those are far bigger problems, affecting far more people than that one controversial but small piece of them. It may be that only small changes are possible at this time, even with our best Congressional friends in important positions. Nevertheless, the opportunity should be taken to raise the larger sentencing issues, to organize around them, build support, attract cosponsors for mandatory minimum repeal bills, all the things that go with any legislative campaign -- what better time than now?"

"While we of course favor reforming the crack-powder cocaine disparity, we need to stop thinking small," said Julie Stewart, executive director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "We need to be looking at sentencing reform as a whole. We will be asking for legislation to address the crack-powder disparity, but we will also be asking for hearings on the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing," she said. "Whether we can get that is another question, but it's time to ask for the sky."

Stewart's sentiments were echoed and amplified by Nora Callahan, executive director of The November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on winning freedom for federal drug war prisoners. "What we need is an omnibus crime bill," Callahan said. "Otherwise we'll be picking this thing apart for the next five decades. An omnibus bill would open the door to broad hearings where we could address the myriad negative effects of the drug war, from imprisoning huge numbers of people to depriving students of loans and poor people of housing and other federal benefits, and from police corruption to police violence. If we try to deal with all these problems one by one, the prison population will have doubled again by the time we get it done."

Of course, sentencing reform isn't the only drug policy issue activists will be pushing next year. Medical marijuana remains on the agenda, with the biggest push likely to be around the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the use of federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal. "We will be looking for meaningful protections for medical marijuana patients," said Aaron Houston, director of government relations at the Marijuana Policy Project. "We will judge progress by the extent to which patients can use the medicine that works best for them without fear of federal arrest or prosecution. We need meaningful reforms, not ones that sound meaningful but are not, like rescheduling," he added.

"Our legislative priorities in the past have been Hinchey-Rohrabacher, the states' rights to medical marijuana bill, and the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow for an affirmative defense in federal court," said Houston. "Of these, we expect that we should be able to pass Hinchey. Last year, we had 167 votes, and we picked up 19 new members in November who we think are supportive. And when Speaker-elect Pelosi assumes the gavel in January, it will be the first time we have a strong medical marijuana supporter at the helm of the House of Representatives."

Those numbers are encouraging, but not quite enough to win yet. It takes 218 votes to win a majority in the House if everyone votes.

And as DPA's Piper noted above, the HEA reauthorization bill next year should be a good opportunity to finally kill Souder's drug provision once and for all. "We have a tremendous opportunity here with the Democrats taking control and deciding which legislation moves forward," said Tom Angell, communications director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Rep. George Miller (D-CA) will chair the House Education Work Force Committee, and he's a cosponsor of the RISE Act. Also, one of our biggest supporters, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), is in line to chair the subcommittee that handles higher education, which is where the RISE Act sits right now."

But Andrews may not end up with the chairmanship, Angell warned. "He's a supporter of for-profit colleges, and the Democratic leadership doesn't like that, so he might not get it," he said.

"We'd like to see the HEA drug provision repealed, and we think it's possible in the new Congress," said DRCNet's Borden. "There just isn't a lot of passion from very many members of Congress for keeping the provision, even among those who have voted to do so. We'd like to see legislation to repeal similar provisions in welfare and public housing law -- we have a coalition of over 250 organizations that have signed on to repealing the HEA drug provision, and activating that network and building it to take on more issues is definitely on our agenda."

The RISE (Removing Impediments to Students' Education) Act would repeal the Higher Education Act's (HEA) drug provision, SSDP's key congressional goal. While Angell was optimistic about prospects in the next Congress, he was also looking for early indicators. "The introduction of the bill, the number of cosponsors, and the top names behind it will be a good indication of how likely we are to repeal the penalty," he said. "I'm looking for that to happen early in the session. We had 84 lobbying meetings on Capitol Hill during our annual conference last month, and we will be following up on those and working closely with the staff of the education committee."

But repealing the HEA drug provision isn't SSDP's only goal on Capitol Hill, said Angell. "We are hoping to be working with DPA and MPP to reduce or eliminate funding for the ONDCP media campaign and we will be working to reduce or eliminate funding for student drug testing grants," he explained. "Besides HEA, those are our big issues."

One issue that has emerged as a hot topic in recent weeks is the issue of police violence. With the killing of Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnson in a "no-knock" drug raid and the killing of New York City resident Sean Bell a few days later in a volley of more than 50 shots fired by NYPD officers, policing in America is under the spotlight. Civil rights activist and former presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton called this week for congressional hearings on the issue. Sharpton said he had already been in contact with Rep. Conyers about the possibility.

That's something DRCNet's Borden would like to see, too. "We'd like to see action taken to rein in these paramilitary police forces and not have SWAT teams breaking down people's doors in the middle of the night when there is not an emergency situation. I think there should be hearings in Congress, as well as state legislatures, with victims of bad drug raids playing a prominent role, as well as police experts, civil rights experts, and the like. We are considering launching a petition calling for all of this," he said.

And then there is the US drug war abroad. With Plan Colombia about to enter its seventh year, and the flow of cocaine unabated despite massive aerial spraying of herbicides, congressional Democrats will seek to cut back or redirect US spending to emphasize development instead of drug war. And although Congress has not yet come to grips with the serious contradictions inherent in waging war on poppies at the same time it seeks to wage a war on terror in Afghanistan, facts on the ground suggest it will be unable to continue to ignore them.

This should be a year of change in our drug policy abroad, said DRCNet's Borden. "We'd like to see the coca and opium eradication programs stopped. They are useless; all they do is move the cultivation from place to place," he noted. "In Afghanistan, it's driving people into the arms of the Taliban for protection, and that's disastrous for our national interests and potentially for global security. There are credible plans put forward, by the UN and other international bodies, and by experts in the nonprofit sector, that don't rely on eradication; let's look at those."

Borden also urged Congress to act to address the crisis in pain care in the context of the administration's war on prescription drug abuse and prosecutions of pain doctors. "Last but not least, something must be done about the pain doctor prosecutions," he said. "I believe the law in this area has been fundamentally warped. Conyers has supported important work being done in this area. Now he's in a position to kick it up a notch."

Drug reformers have a mighty busy agenda for Congress in the next two years. Congressional Democrats have said they are interested in reforms; now that they will be in power, we will see if they are as good as their word and we will have the chance to prod them to act.

Law Enforcement: Rev. Al Sharpton Calls for Congressional Hearings into Police Killings of Civilians

Standing at a rally in front of the home where Atlanta senior citizen Kathryn Johnston was shot and killed by police serving a "no-knock" drug warrant after she opened fire on the intruders, the Rev. Al Sharpton on Sunday called for congressional hearings into the police killing of civilians. The case of Johnston, who was killed November 21, along with that of Sean Bell, the New York City man gunned down by police on his wedding date a few days later, and the case of Patrick Strickland, the North Carolina man killed by police investigating the robbery of a Playstation3, have once again put the simmering issue of police violence on the front burner.

"Something stinks in this case. And something stinks to high heaven," Sharpton said. "In fact, it smells so bad, I smelled it in New York and came to Atlanta this morning." Sharpton condemned "this new sense of police recklessness, whether it is a 88-year-old mother here in Atlanta, with questionable circumstances that led to the warrant that gave them entry into her home, or whether it is over 50 bullets shot at three unarmed men in Queens," said the prominent black activist and former presidential candidate.

"There seems to be a new spirit in law enforcement that they can become the judge, jury and executioner of the law on the scene," Sharpton said. "Police apprehend suspects; they don't kill them. This cannot be tolerated in a civilized society."

While the Justice Department is conducting investigations of both the Johnston and Bell killings, Sharpton said they were only the latest in a pattern of killings and individualized inquiries were not enough. "The pattern is not under investigation," Sharpton said. "They are investigating whether there was criminal activity. The pattern of policing, which should be set by the US Congress in a federal standard, is not going to come out of either one of those investigations."

Sharpton said he had been talking with US Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the incoming head of the House Judiciary Committee about holding hearings on what he called a national pattern of police shootings. He isn't the first to ask Conyers to act on the issue. Outgoing US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) sent Conyers a letter last week asking him to hold hearings.

According to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, police kill between 300 and 400 people each year. After peaking at nearly 450 police killings of civilians in 1994, the number declined to just over 300 in 2000 before climbing again to about 370 last year. Only a tiny fraction of police killings are found by police to be questionable; most are found to be "justifiable homicides." In only a tiny fraction of cases are officers indicted in a killing, and then, only a tiny fraction are convicted.

Alert: CALL CONGRESS Today to Stop Dangerous Mycoherbicide Bill!

UPDATE ON VOTE RESULTS HERE Earlier this year, DRCNet reported on a push by the drug czar and drug warriors in Congress to pass a reckless bill to research the use of mycoherbicides -- toxic, fungal plant killers -- as a means of attacking illicit drug crops. Even government agencies are unenthusiastic about this one -- our article cited the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the CIA and even the DEA as agencies that have rejected the idea as dangerous for health and the environment as well as likely to meet with resistant strains of poppy and coca against which it would be ineffective. Unfortunately, some less prudent members of Congress -- Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) are attempting to pass the legislation by rushing it to the floors of the House of Representatives and the Senate as part of the Office of National Drug Control Policy reauthorization bill this week. Please call your US Representative and your two US Senators today to urge them to vote NO on this dangerous bill! You can reach them (or find out who they are) by calling the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. You can also use the House and Senate web sites at http://www.house.gov and http://www.senate.gov to look them up. Also suggest that they vote NO on reauthorizing ONDCP itself -- a useless, agency whose functioning has been highly warped by its placing ideology over facts. The ONDCP bill does not have a number yet. So, when you speak to the staffers in the offices of your Representative and your two Senators, you should ask them to oppose the ONDCP reauthorization bill, especially the mycoherbicide provision, which is part of section 1111. Thank you for taking action. Please send us a note using our contact web form at http://stopthedrugwar.org/contact to let us know that you've taken action and what you learned about how your Rep. and Senators might vote.
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What Will a Democratic Congress Mean for Drug Reform?

One of the articles I'm working on this week will be called "Drug Reform and the Democratic Congress: What's Really Going to Happen?" I've already talked to a number of inside the beltway drug reform types--the folks who actually work the halls of Congress--and I've got feelers out to more, as well as to the offices of several of the congressional Democrats who will be chairing key committees. There are quite a few drug policy-related issues that could come before the Congress next year. You can find my initial list of them a couple of paragraphs below. Here's how the article is likely to begin: To hear the buzz in drug reform circles, Christmas came early this year. To be precise, it arrived on election day, when the Democrats took back control of the Congress after 12 long years out in the cold. There is a whole long list of drug reform-related issues that the Democratically-controlled Congress can address, and hopes are high that after a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, progress will come on at least some of them. But will the Democratic Congress really turn out to be Santa Claus, bestowing gifts on a movement long out in the cold, or will it turn out more like the Grinch, offering up goodies only to snatch them away? The Drug War Chronicle is trying to find out what's likely to happen, so we talked to a number of drug reform organizations, especially those with a strong federal lobbying presence and agenda, as well as with the offices of some of the representatives who will be playing key roles on Capitol Hill in the next Congress. The list of drug war issues where Congress could act next year is indeed lengthy: • Sentencing reform, whether addressing the crack-powder cocaine disparity or mandatory minimums or both; • Medical marijuana, either through the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment barring federal funds to raid patients and providers in states where it is legal or Barney Frank's states' rights to medical marijuana bill; • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP—the drug czar's office) is up for reauthorization; • The Higher Education Act (HEA) and its drug provision is up for reauthorization; • Removing drug offender restrictions from food stamp, public housing, and other social services; • The Washington, DC, appropriations bill, where Congress has barred the District from enacting needle exchange programs or a voter-approved medical marijuana law. • Plan Colombia; • The war in Afghanistan and US anti-opium policy; • The pain crisis and the war on pain doctors; • Police raids. While there is optimism in drug reform circles, it is tempered by a healthy dose of realism. The Congress is a place where it is notoriously difficult to make (or unmake) a law, and while some of the new Democratic leadership has made sympathetic noises on certain issues, drug reform is not exactly a high-profile issue. Whether congressional Democratic decision-makers will decide to use their political resources advancing an agenda that could be attacked as "soft on drugs" or "soft on crime" remains to be seen. But according to one of the movement's most astute Hill-watchers, some "low-hanging fruit" might be within reach next year. "Some of the easiest things to achieve in the new Congress will be the HEA ban on aid to students with drug violations, because the Democrats will have to deal with HEA reauthorization, and the ban on access to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) to public housing, because they will have to deal with welfare reform," said Bill Piper, director of government relations *** for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There is also a chance of repealing provisions in the DC appropriations bill that bar needle exchanges and medical marijuana. These are the low-hanging fruit." For Piper, there is also a chance to see movement on a second tier of issues, including medical marijuana, sentencing reform and Latin America policy. "Can we get the votes to pass Hinchey-Rohrabacher in the House and get it to the Senate?" he asked. "There is also a good chance of completely changing how we deal with Latin America. We could see a shift in funding from military to civil society-type programs and from eradication to crop substitution," he said. "Also, there is a good chance on sentencing reform. Can the Democrats strike a deal with Sen. Sessions (R-AL) and other Republicans on the crack-powder disparity, or will they try to play politics and paint the Democrats as soft on crime? Would Bush veto it if it passed?" Clearly, at this point, there are more questions than answers, and time will tell. But the political ground has shifted, Piper noted. "We are no longer playing defense," he argued. "Now we don't have to deal with folks like Souder and Sensenbrenner and all their stupid bills. This puts us in a really good position. For the first time in 12 years, we get to go on offense. And unlike a dozen years ago, the Democrats who will control the key committees are really, really good. This is probably the first time since the 1980s that drug policy reform has been in a position to go on the offensive." There will be much more on Friday...
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Press Release: World AIDS Day: Advocates Call to Lift Federal Ban on Syringe Exchange - Take Politics Out of HIV Prevention

The Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), a national health and human rights advocacy group working to reduce drug-related harm, calls on Congress and the Administration to take action on World AIDS Day, December 1, to support syringe exchange programs as a proven, effective strategy to prevent HIV infection.

Extensive research demonstrates that syringe exchange is a highly successful, cost-effective intervention that reduces HIV transmission among injection drug users. Syringe exchange has gained the endorsement of a broad range of prestigious public health, medical and scientific experts and professional associations, and a majority of the American people support syringe exchange programs. Nearly 200 syringe exchange programs operate in the United States.

However, the US government refuses to fund syringe exchange, both domestically and internationally. Congress has maintained a ban on the use of any federal monies for syringe exchange, starving programs of vital resources and contradicting effective public health strategies. Similarly, the White House has vehemently opposed syringe exchange in the global fight against AIDS.

Over a third of AIDS cases in the United States result from shared syringes and sexual transmission of HIV from infected injection drug users to their partners. Similarly, an estimated one third of all HIV cases outside of sub-Saharan Africa stem from injection drug use.

The AIDS epidemic will continue to spread unless government leaders on all level - local, state, federal, and international - embrace and support syringe exchange. In accordance with the World AIDS Day theme of accountability, we demand accountability from Congress and Administration:

  • Strike language in appropriations bills that ban use of federal funds for syringe exchange;
  • Direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow use of HIV prevention funds for syringe exchange domestically;
  • Instruct the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to allow use of HIV prevention funds for syringe exchange internationally.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, 2015 Drug War Killings, 2016 Drug War Killings, 2017 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Pill Testing, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Kratom, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psilocybin / Magic Mushrooms, Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School