(visit last week's Week Online)
We've been informed that this coming Sunday night (10/12) at 9:00pm EST and midnight, CNN's IMPACT will air a piece on increased marijuana production and trafficking in British Columbia, including a feature on Vancouver's Marc Emery, who runs a hemp store, sells seeds and growing equipment, publishes a magazine, "Cannabis Canada", runs a website, and who is testing the Vancouver Police Department's liberal policies. He is charged with trafficking and could face life in prison, but is still in business pending the outcome of the court case.
Emery's establishment, HEMP BC, and the magazine Cannabis Canada, can be found online at http://www.hempbc.com/.
Dr. Donald Abrams of San Francisco General Hospital, whose previous medical marijuana protocols have languished for years due to DEA refusal to allow him access to government marijuana, will finally begin to explore the effects of the plant on AIDS patients. His most recent proposal was approved this week by the National Institutes of Health.
63 patients will each spend 25 days in specially-ventilated hospital rooms to determine what effects the use of smoked marijuana has on HIV positive patients currently taking protease inhibitors, the most promising of the new AIDS treatments. A second group of subjects will receive the synthetic THC pill Marinol, while a third group will receive placebos.
"Approval of this study was a long time coming," Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights told The Week Online. "Clearly federal officials got a black eye during last year's Prop. 215 campaign when their stalling of Dr. Abrams' study was exposed." Fratello added, "It's also clear that this year's debate on SB 535, a bill to create a center for medical marijuana research at the University of California, has influenced the decision to get this AIDS study going."
Even so, it was a change in the focus of the study which made its objective "acceptable" to the Drug War establishment.
Allan St. Pierre, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws (NORML) told The Week Online, "For all of the government's ranting about the need for science in the medical marijuana debate, Dr. Abrams' study is only going forward because he changed its primary objective. That objective now states that the research will be looking to document adverse reactions brought on by marijuana in patients taking protease inhibitors. Only secondarily will the study be looking for increased caloric intake among the subjects." "It's ridiculous," he added, "that with all of the doctors, scientists and patients coming forward to profess the validity of marijuana's medicinal properties, the government is still playing Drug War politics with the lives of citizens. Sad."
For background on the Abrams study, see <http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v07n3/07316abr.html>.
Several members of President Clinton's Advisory Council on AIDS are reportedly considering resigning from the thirty- member task force over the administration's ongoing intransigence over needle exchange.
Council member Robert Fogel, a Chicago lawyer and Clinton fund-raiser, told the Associated Press Wednesday that he plans to seek a vote on the resignation at the council's next meeting in December.
"Somebody up there is thinking more about politics than health," Fogel said. "If they're not going to listen to us and do the right thing, I for one, and a number of other people on the council, can't think of any more excuses or apologies to give on this subject." According to Fogel, "quite a few" members of the council would consider resigning.
Injection drug use is the fastest-growing mode of transmission of the AIDS virus, with fully one third of those currently infected having been exposed to the virus either directly through a syringe or indirectly, as the partner or child of an IV drug user.
To learn more about injection-related AIDS, including a state-by-state breakdown of its prevalence, check out http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS.
Alexander Robinson is the President of the National Task Force on AIDS Prevention, and the Administrator of Federal Affairs for Cities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief (The CAEAR Coalition). He is also a member of the President's Advisory Council on AIDS. He spoke with Adam Smith, DRCNet's associate director this week about the possibility of resignations from the President's Council over the needle exchange issue.
|AS: This week the Associated Press reports that several members of
the President's Advisory Council on AIDS were considering resigning from
their posts. What was the genesis of this potential protest?
AR: In our last meeting, in Atlanta this past July, there was a motion presented which highlighted three issues which we felt that the administration had negligently failed to act upon. The first and most prominent of these was the ban on the use of federal AIDS prevention funds for needle exchange, the second were content restrictions on AIDS prevention materials created with federal money, and the third was the continuation of outdated discriminatory policies against people who ware HIV-positive in certain government programs such as the Peace Corps.
The motion presented stated that if these issues were not addressed by a certain time, that we would tender our resignations. The motion was ultimately withdrawn, but with a verbal agreement that we would reopen discussion of such a possibility at our December meeting.
AS: What factors were considered while you were discussing the possibility of resignations?
AR: There was some concern that perhaps there were steps short of resignation which hadn't been taken. There were people within the administration whom we hadn't spoken to, including Secretary Shalala, and that we ought to make every effort to be heard so that our action, if we decided to take it, would be grounded in the belief that we had done all that we could.
There was also an argument made that although we were being frustrated on these issues, there was value in our continued participation because we still might have an impact on other policy decisions. The question was asked whether the symbolic value of resignation, even as an activist strategy, was worth giving up a seat at the table, even if at times it seemed as if we were eating alone.
AS: And how did you come down on these issues?
AR: Well, I'm the chair of the Prevention Committee, and although the idea of needle exchange was counter-intuitive to me early on, I've looked at the facts and they're indisputable. Therefore, I am truly invested, both on a personal level and by virtue of my position, in the best and most effective means of preventing the spread of this disease. It seemed incongruous to me therefore that I should remain in a position of supposed influence when no one, in fact, was listening.
AS: So, since July, the committee has set about to speak to people in the administration. Have you spoken with Secretary Shalala?
AR: As a matter of fact, we finally got our first opportunity to meet with her the day after the needle exchange protest in Washington, D.C.
AS: Really? Do you think that the protest was an impetus for that meeting?
AR: We had been attempting to get a meeting for some time, but that protest presaged a lot of activity on this issue within the administration. So, yes, in part, the protest played a role.
AS: And what was the result of that meeting?
AR: It was much the same as the responses we've been getting from the administration overall. On one hand, there's this overriding message to us that we are being ungrateful in some way. That this administration has done more on this issue than its predecessors (which wouldn't have been difficult, in any case), and has spent all of this money, and that we ought to be thankful.
On the other hand, there has been a very clear pattern of delay. Every time we've pressed on this issue we've been told to wait for this or that political concern. Whether it was to wait until after the '96 elections, or until the appropriations process is complete, or until the nominations of the new Surgeon General and assistant secretary of Health and Human Services go through. And within the AIDS issue, there has been such a history of disappointment, we're so used to being told to wait, or that we have to play the "insiders game" that there was a tendency, I think, to go along and just say "maybe you're right. Let's not do harm in our zeal to do good. Perhaps this isn't the most opportune time."
AS: And what was the motivation to press forward now?
AR: Actually, for me, it was Robert Fogel. He was new to the Council and this was his first experience with the AIDS issue. He was less conditioned, perhaps, to being put off. He had far less patience and he was adamant about the need for the administration to muster the political courage to do the right thing.
AS: And you found yourself in agreement?
AR: It seems to me that this administration has been masterful at managing the consequences of their political actions. They've avoided so many pitfalls that I just feel that if they were to get behind this issue, to do the right thing, they would survive politically. It has become relatively apparent, however, that the lives at stake here aren't important enough to them to make this type of effort. I find myself in agreement therefore, yes, that the time for more delay has come and gone, and that nothing short of action will be acceptable anymore.
AS: You come to the issue of needle exchange from the perspective of fighting the AIDS epidemic. But tell me how you see this debate in the context of our larger drug policy. Do you feel that it is drug policy, rather than AIDS policy that is driving these decisions?
AR: Clearly this is an administration that is greatly conflicted over drug policy. But so is the nation as a whole. On needle exchange, as in other areas of drug policy, the truth is counter-intuitive. If we look at the African American community, and the destruction and the misery associated with substance abuse, as well as the violence that is part of the trade (and which we insure by creating the black market,) the system of enforcement that we've put into place seems on the surface to be the right thing to do.
But the facts on needle exchange, and on drug policy as a whole, don't necessarily point to the solutions which seem obvious on the surface. A short time ago, it would have been absurd to think that the Congressional Black Caucus would have come out in favor of needle exchange. Most of those legislators were adamantly opposed to the idea from the beginning. It seemed to them that needle exchange somehow enabled or sanctioned drug use. Yet ultimately, they have come out in support. Which shows that when you present honest information to intelligent people, they can be persuaded despite their initial inclinations.
AS: Have you considered the possibility that some of the highest-level opposition to needle exchange comes from a desire to avoid questions of drug policy on any level? I mean, an entire industry has emerged out of the imprisonment of enormous numbers of young, poor, primarily African American males. The prison industry, the defense industry, the armed forces, police, all of them are benefiting from the status quo. I look at the medical marijuana debate during last year's elections. Was it really necessary to bring out three former presidents to campaign against the right of an AIDS patient to smoke pot to relieve his nausea?
AR: I can tell you as someone who has worked within Washington that there's a lot to that argument. This administration has been very good at spin. They've played well on people's fears. Because of that, people, and this includes the African American community which has been most negatively impacted, can unwittingly become part of a system of community destruction. They are sold on, and cling to, strategies which may not, in reality, have much to do with the issues of substance abuse that they are concerned about. They accept policies which may really be about the maintenance of an industry. Even an industry which feeds off of the very destruction those people are trying to end. As I said, needle exchange is illustrative here because on its surface it's counter-intuitive, but in reality, it is effective.
AS: So you are saying that the acceptance of needle exchange is dependent upon a change in the ways that people view substance abuse as a whole?
AR: Yes. Even a change in the way that people view people who use drugs. We need to accept that not every addict considers him or herself to be self-destructive. They may want their fix, but they will take precautions for their safety and well-being. Needle exchange functions to foster those changes in perception in that once we begin to treat this illness, substance abuse, and once we begin to bring those afflicted into the system, instead of chasing them away, it becomes apparent that these are in fact human beings, and that they're worthy of compassion. I think that that whole concept is threatening to the status quo in that it tends to de-legitimize the dehumanization which has taken place and upon which some of our current policies depend.
AS: So what will happen in December? Are you, are others on the President's council still considering resignation?
AR: Still considering? Yes. I think a lot will depend upon where we are on needle exchange in December. If the administration has allowed the authority to lift the ban to be taken from them, or if they still have the authority but have declined to use it, I think that their is a very real possibility that you will see people resigning.
There is a lot of frustration on the council with the administration. So much time has been spent on the politics of this that we've failed to use the public health system to educate people. People have to be able to separate out the illness of substance addiction, and the people who use drugs, from the drug trade. The two are connected, but they aren't synonymous.
In the end, holding a "position of influence" is pretty empty if no one is listening to you. For me, my attitude is that coming to Washington three or four times per year just to make well-informed, considered recommendations which are then ignored... I don't want to be a party to that process. I have more important things to do with my time.
AS: Thanks so much for your time.
(This article appears courtesy of the NORML Foundation. You can find NORML on the web at http://www.norml.org.)
Nearly 642,000 total marijuana arrests were made by state and local law enforcement during 1996, according to the latest edition of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Report. This figure is an 80 percent increase since 1990 and pushes the total number of marijuana arrests under the Clinton administration to approximately 2.1 million. The 1996 yearly arrest total for marijuana violations is the highest ever recorded by the FBI.
Of the 642,000 arrests made for marijuana in 1996, approximately 85 percent (545,700) were for simple "possession." The remaining 15 percent (96,300 arrests) were for "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses -- even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.
According to NORML Executive Director Allan St. Pierre, "These new FBI statistics indicate that one marijuana user is arrested every 49 seconds in America." He added, "Marijuana prohibition costs American taxpayers between $7.5 and $10 billion annually in enforcement alone."
Statistics gathered from the FBI also demonstrate that ethnic minorities are over-represented among those arrested for marijuana offenses. Racial breakdowns provided by the FBI concluded that nonwhites comprise 40 percent of marijuana arrests, despite constituting only 20 percent of all marijuana users in the United States.
Since 1970 law enforcement has arrested approximately 10.8 million Americans on marijuana charges, the data indicated.
This month's issue of the Journal of the American medical Association (JAMA) reports that the delegates of the AMA have voted to adopt, as official policy, the recommendations of its Council on Scientific Affairs regarding the need for more rational drug policies and research of alternatives to the Drug War. The seven recommendations embrace Harm Reduction, and explicitly call for research into the effects of alternatives to Prohibition. The measures adopted are as follows:
Canadian Ambassador to Mexico Marc Perron has resigned his position and has returned to Ottawa following an interview with Milenio, a popular weekly news magazine, in which he remarked that corruption in Mexico was the worst he's ever seen, that the government's war on drugs is a sham and that Washington's pressure on Mexico over drugs is "a game."
Perron is a career diplomat who previously served as Canada's ambassador to Egypt and as a deputy in Africa and the Middle East.
"I think the pressure on Mexico from the United States is just a game that the American government uses for political ends," he said.
Aaron Anderson is a well-known figure on the big island of Hawaii. In fact, the 60 year-old Anderson is the state's best-known advocate for the legalization of marijuana and industrial hemp. That activism, and the strongly held beliefs behind it, has landed him in trouble with the law. Aaron has officially been charged with the purchase of a 23 lb. Box of sterile hemp seed (used extensively in birdseed) at $.49 per pound from Special Commodities Inc. of Fargo, North Dakota, a legally operating company with a DEA license to sell hemp products. Neither the possession, nor the sale of sterile hemp seed is illegal in Hawaii, nor anywhere else in the U.S.
Local authorities argue that after two attempts, they were able to get some of the supposedly sterile seeds to sprout. The defense argues, however, that Aaron could not possibly have been responsible for seeds which were sold to him as "sterile" and which, in any case, never made it into his possession. In addition, the defense introduced the government's own estimates which put the commercial value of non-sterile seeds at over 1,000 times the price at which Anderson bought his seeds, making it unlikely that anyone involved had any indication that some of the seeds might not be sterile. (Special Commodities Inc., was not prosecuted.)
During the prosecution, which has dragged on for nearly 6 years, prosecutor Kay Iopa, in a stunning admission which calls into question both the state's case and her own competency and professional conduct, said (on the record) in open court, "Anyone else would not be prosecuted for hemp birdseed, only very vocal hemp activists." A separate three million dollar civil rights lawsuit has been filed by Aaron Anderson against the county and its two top prosecutors in federal court. In that action, Aaron Anderson claims that he is being prosecuted for taking advantage of his right to free speech .
The criminal trial ended this week with a hung jury, a mistrial having been declared by Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura. The jury had been deadlocked at 9-3 in favor of acquittal. The prosecution must now decide if it wants to instigate a new trial.
A national effort is underway to contact state officials as well as the media in Hawaii to express concern over this prosecution. In the event that Hawaii does in fact seek a new trial in this case, a general boycott of that state's tourism-driven economy is being discussed. Of course, THE WEEK ONLINE with DRCNet will keep you informed as the story continues to unfold.
DRCNet is urging all of our subscribers to take a moment to email (or, better yet, fax or snail mail) both Hawaiian officials' offices and media outlets to protest this blatant case of persecution and harassment and to urge that prosecutor Kay Iopa be prevailed upon to drop this Drug War inquisition. The right to free speech is "inalienable" and is not subject to the whims of government or the power of its law enforcement apparatus. Below is a list of contact information.
As always, we here at DRCNet would appreciate copies of any correspondence sent in response to this alert. But even if you don't cc us, please take a moment today to send a response to this outrage and to let them know that the world is indeed watching.
Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano
fax: (808) 586-0006
Lt. Gov. Mazie K. Hirono
fax: (808) 586-0231
Rep. Cynthia Thielen
Hawaii newspapers' email:
|Honolulu Star Bulletinfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|The Maui Newsemail@example.com
|West Hawaii Todayfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Sun Press Midweekemail@example.com|
|Molokai Advertiser Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Pacific Business Newsemail@example.com|
Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh of British Columbia said this week that current prohibitionist drug policies were incompatible with a humane and effective approach to drug addiction. As such, and assuming that he has the backing of B.C.'s mayors and police chiefs, he will soon be presenting the idea of decriminalization of personal use amounts of illegal substances to his counterparts in other provinces.
Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen and Police Chief Bruce Chambers said they are ready to look at decrim, as well as any other measure that might ease social and health problems associated with substance abuse in their city. "Obviously, we have a problem, and we have to consider all possible solutions," Owen said. "The realistic thing at this point is to deal that card on to the table and have a discussion."
This pronouncement by the Attorney General follows close on the heels of another high-level official's comments in the same vein. Earlier last week, deputy chief Ken Higgins of the Vancouver police department said decriminalizing possession of drugs like heroin or cocaine is a necessary part of the battle against HIV/AIDS among drug addicts.
In a report released this week, Access Economics, a respected private sector analysis firm in Australia, finds that citizens of that country are spending approximately $7 billion per year on illicit drugs. This figure represents 1.4% of Australia's GNP and is greater than the amount spent on tobacco products ($6.2 billion). The report indicates that Cannabis accounts for approximately 70% of the total.
"Prohibition of drugs has not prevented widespread use and has created a criminal run industry which corrupts law enforcement agencies" the report says.
It was not supposed to happen like this for this veritable institution of Americana, but it has. Miss America, the officially crowned "girl next door" has come out in favor of needle exchange. This must come as quite a disturbance to pageant officials, who thought they had dealt with this year's major controversy when they permitted contestants to wear two-piece bathing suits for the first time.
Standing on the steps of the Capitol this week, flanked by White House AIDS policy adviser Sandra Thurman and Illinois' two senators, Carol Moseley-Braun and Dick Durbin, Kate Shindle, 1997's Miss America said, "I'm not afraid to take a risk and take a stand on these issues. Let's try to keep politics out of the equation and focus simply on saving as many lives as possible."
To send an approving note on Ms. Shindle's stand on needle exchange, use the feedback page on the Miss America Pageant's web site at http://www.missamerica.org/talktous.html.
An article in the October 3rd issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education exposed the less than scientific methods of Joseph Califano and Herbert Kleber's "National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse" at Columbia University.
Referring to CASA's White Paper, "Legalization: Panacea or Pandora's Box?", Peter Reuter, a prominent drug policy researcher who is professor of public affairs at the University of Maryland at College Park, was quoted characterizing the CASA paper as "Very thin," adding "It was hard to distinguish that paper from something put out by the Drug Enforcement Administration."
(CASA introduced their White Paper in a generally ignored press conference with Joseph Califano and former Drug Czar William Bennett. Read about it in DRCNet's alert archive at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1995/9-13-1.html. Casa is online at http://www.casacolumbia.org.)
One of the key points in the prohibition debate is that prohibition creates a black market in which disagreements are settled by violence rather than rule of law, and motivates economic crimes by addicts, which sometimes involve violence, by driving up the price of drugs to extraordinary levels. The afore-mentioned CASA White Paper acknowledges these effects, but claims that most drug- related violence is pharmacological, that is, due to the effects of drugs on their users.
But CASA distorted the findings of the one study they quoted to this effect, and ignored other, more recent, more relevant studies that contradicted their rhetorical point. An analysis by Dave Fratello in the Winter '96 issue of the Drug Policy Letter details an abuse of statistics by CASA so extraordinary that persons concerned about higher education ought to be scandalized by CASA's affiliation with Columbia University. Our link of the week is "Casa's House of Cards", on the Drug Policy Foundation's web site at http://www.dpf.org/dpletter/28/html/casas.html.
With each passing week, the voices of reform grow louder. This week, it is the voice of the American Medical Association, the voices of the president's own council on AIDS, the voice of an independent analyst in Australia, the voice of the Canadian Ambassador to Mexico, and perhaps most symbolic of all, the voice of 1997's Miss America, Kate Shindle.
And yet, the powers that be seem determined to cover their ears in the hopes that the din will die down. They treat the voices like demons, urging them toward an incomprehensible doom. They have reason to fear the voices, for they portend the beginning of the end of a system which has both empowered and enriched its prosecutors for far too long.
The voices also pose a more immediate problem for the Drug Warriors. It has become clear, over the past few years, that the warriors could no longer defend their policies on the merits. Instead, it was "the legalizers" who became the target of their wrath and fear-mongering. Ad homonym attacks took the place of substantive discussion of the issues. It was one of the surest signs that the end of their War was at hand.
Last November, the people of Arizona and California voted to institute modest changes in their states' drug policies. Upon the success of these initiatives, the Warriors let loose with a torrent of invective, accusing all who had engineered these reforms of harboring dark, ulterior motives, and all who supported them as fools. Today a campaign rages in Washington State, to see if the voters there will accept essentially the same reforms as they did in Arizona.
This time it is the funders who have come under attack. George Soros, who has resisted and survived the intolerance of both the Nazis and the Communists, has been called names and worse in both the op-ed pages of the New York Times and on the floor of congress. Other funders as well have had their names impugned. But these are nearly anonymous people, and the American public might well be convinced that they have neither the nation's nor the children's best interests at heart.
But what to do now? How will the Warriors be able to convince Americans that the AMA, or the New England Journal of Medicine, or the AIDS advisory council, or the people of Switzerland, or Miss America, for goodness sake, are really interested in addicting children? How will they mock the integrity of the very pillars of the society that their War is supposed to be saving?
The truth is, they can't. So for now, the Drug Warriors will do their best to ignore them. And from time to time they will pick out one name among the masses gathering at the gates and seek to demonize an entire movement by portraying that individual as somehow unworthy of being heard. But to do so requires a lot of cotton in the ears. Because the voices that are shouting now are coming from anywhere but the fringe. More and more they are the very voices of the mainstream. And they're getting awfully loud.
Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet
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