(visit the last Week Online)
Nationally Televised Drug Policy Debate, Sun. 10/26. See http://fox.nstn.ca/~eoscapel/cfdp/cpac.html for info, or just tune in to the Canadian Parliamentary Affairs Channel from 8:00-10:00pm Eastern Time. Show will include DRCNet member Eugene Oscapella, of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.
HELP DRCNET PAY THE RENT! We've just moved into our new Dupont Circle quarters, and we need your help to keep the operation in a strong position. Donations can be sent to: DRCNet, 2000 P St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036, or wired in by credit card through our secure donations form at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html.
Some of you may have noticed (we hope that some of you noticed) that there was no Week Online last week. That's because Dave and Adam were attending the 11th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, hosted by the Drug Policy Foundation (DPF). For those of you who aren't familiar with DPF, they are the largest, most prominent Drug Policy Reform organization in the US, and their grants program helps to support a large percentage of the work that is going on in this area (including DRCNet).
The conference was an enormous success. Among the many interesting presentations and the numerous opportunities for activists, scholars and professionals to network and forge alliances, the conference also provided the formal "coming out party" for DPF's new executive director, Sher Horosko. Sher's background includes a stint as Assistant to the Commissioner of Public Health for Substance Abuse for the state of Connecticut, and prior work pushing through Connecticut's initial needle exchange/decriminalization bills when the cause was still unpopular. Attendees were virtually unanimous in their praise for her, and in their confidence that they were witnessing the ascendance of an inspirational and important leader with both interpersonal and political savvy.
Equally exciting was Arnold Trebach's closing speech at the Saturday evening Awards Banquet, in which he bid DPF goodbye but not farewell, having officially stepped down as President of the organization he founded 11 years ago. Arnold issued a call to action to rally around the pain issue, and to pool our influence and abilities to free medical marijuana patient Will Foster.
In the coming weeks, The Week Online will be bringing you the words and insights of some of the important personalities in both the US and the international drug policy reform movement. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to DPF and their dedicated staff for providing this conference as a forum for the expansion and the coalescence of the movement.
If you are interested in attending next year's DPF conference (tentatively scheduled to be held in Washington, DC), The Week Online will provide you with all the information you will need as soon as it becomes available.
You can learn more about the Drug Policy Foundation by visiting their web site at http://www.dpf.org.
The House of Representatives this week passed, by a voice vote, a bill which would reauthorize funding for, and significantly strengthen the powers of, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its director, currently retired Army General Barry McCaffrey. In return, however, the bill requires that the office report its progress to Congress bi-annually, and sets demanding goals to be met in order to assure continued funding of the office.
The new powers invested in the office would include the ability to transfer funds and responsibilities between and among the numerous agencies who are involved in the Drug War. The requirements, however, are the real story, with the bill requiring the Drug Czar to demonstrate reductions in the availability of heroin and cocaine of 80% by 2001, and a reduction in "drug related" crime of 50% by that time. In addition, the bill would require ONDCP to submit a four- year plan to congress outlining a strategy to reduce the number of U.S. citizens using drugs by half, from 6% down to 3% of the total population. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The White House was not pleased with the new requirements, calling them "unreasonable and unattainable." In a letter to House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich, McCaffrey said that such "unrealistic targets" could "hurt our efforts against drug use when the public, seeing the inevitable failure to meet these goals, becomes convinced the effort is lost." McCaffrey indicated that his office's target is to reduce the number of Americans who use an illegal drugs to 3% of the population by the year 2007.
Gingrich, for his part, seemed unimpressed with the current goals of the administration. In a letter to McCaffrey dated October 7, Gingrich wrote, "The document I received is more like a plan for surrender than a plan for victory. Winning the War on Drugs does not mean that 10 years from now we should have more than 5% of our children as young as 12 on drugs."
Despite 1996 FBI statistics showing the largest number of drug arrests in the nation's history, proponents of this bill are not satisfied that U.S. policy is anywhere near "tough" enough. "We're not only not winning the war on drugs, we don't even have a war on drugs," said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-FL, chairman of the Judiciary Committee crime panel.
For a reaction, The Week Online spoke with Eric Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C. According to Sterling, "The performance conditions in this bill are wholly unrealistic, and, in any event, subject to political manipulation of the data. But one shudders to think about the tactics which may be justified by such a mandate."
"As to Representative McCollum's statement, whether or not we are actually fighting a 'War on Drugs' depends entirely on how that is defined. It's true that we are not yet strafing our own cities, or planting land mines in front of inner-city junior high schools, and we haven't officially declared marshal law, but we have just about suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus. We are also taking prisoners of war in the hundreds of thousands per year, and they are overwhelmingly young African Americans and Latinos. We may not have a war on drugs in Orlando where Rep. McCollum's constituents live, but in most of America's inner cities, the absence of fathers bears mute testimony to a generation behind bars."
You can learn more about the work of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation by checking out their web sites at http://www.ndsn.org and http://www.cjpf.org.
With five months remaining before the U.S. Congress must once again decide whether to give approval of President Clinton's recommendations as to which nations to "certify" as allies in the War on Drugs, Mexico's status has been brought into question. In a statement released this week, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Paul Coverdell (R-GA) said, "(i)t is not at all clear that Mexico will earn certification next year."
The process of certification has been criticized throughout Latin America as arrogant, demeaning and politically, rather than objectively, determined. A nation that is not certified as a sufficiently staunch ally in the US War faces the prospect of an end to US aid and an automatic "no" vote by the US on loans from the World Bank.
The statement listed a lack of extraditions to the US, the lack of high profile arrests, widespread corruption and a continued Mexican policy against allowing U.S. anti- narcotics agents to carry arms within Mexico as the reasons for their discontent. The report concluded, "Mexican authorities must take swift and comprehensive action to produce real results. Absent these signs of progress, it will be nearly impossible to make the case that Mexico has fully cooperated with the United States by March 1."
In response to the report, Mexican President Zedillo called for the U.S. to foot some of the bill for "the mess" that U.S. policy has made of his country. Zedillo, alluding to Mexico's geographical location between the world's largest heroin and cocaine producing regions and the U.S., the world's largest consumer of these products, lamented his nation's role as a "sandwich" being squeezed from above with little or no support.
You can e-mail Senators Feinstein and Coverdell at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Over 66,000 valid signatures were counted by Oregon state election officials last week, easily surpassing the 48,000 necessary to get a referendum halting the recriminalization of marijuana on the ballot for 1998. The referendum is a response to House Bill 3643, passed earlier this year which would have reversed a 25 year-old state policy of non- criminal sanctions (fines) for the possession of personal use amounts (under one ounce) of marijuana.
The immediate effect of the successful petition drive will be to stall the implementation of the law until Oregonians have a chance to vote on the measure on November 3, 1998.
Efforts to collect signatures began almost as soon as the recrim bill was signed by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, but it wasn't until out-of-state money came into the campaign that the effort really took off. Some local officials and media personalities decried the infusion of capital from beyond Oregon's borders, but Sandee Burbank, director of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA) told The Week Online that nothing could have been more appropriate.
"Last year in California and Arizona there was Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, three former presidents, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and others brazenly politicking against state-wide initiatives. But they all seemed aghast that individuals from outside of those states would be so bold as to send money to support the local activists involved there. Very hypocritical. I am very proud of the way people pulled together. We were faced with a law which would have cost the state a ton of money to enforce, and which would have been an enormous step backwards in terms of our reliance on the blunt instrument of the criminal justice system to deal with an issue which is better handled through education and rational regulation."
An initiative which, if passed by voters, would permit the possession and use of marijuana for specific medical ailments has been filed with the Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services. The initiative was filed by Colorado residents Martin Chilcutt, a 63 year-old former psychotherapist, and Dr. Marshall Stiles III, a retired psychiatrist, representatives of the group Coloradans for Medical Rights. The Colorado initiative is thought to be the most carefully worded and tightly drawn medical marijuana initiative to be put on the ballot of any state thus far.
The language in the Colorado initiative gives a general exemption from prosecution to a very strictly defined class of patients. It covers those with AIDS, Cancer, Glaucoma and those suffering from the effects of other "debilitating medical conditions." The exemption is presumed for those in possession of one ounce or less of harvested marijuana or those who are growing up to six plants, only three of which can be mature and flowering. Above those limits, the burden falls to the patient to demonstrate that the larger amount is medically necessary.
The initiative, which will be voted on in the form of a state constitutional amendment, proposes an I.D. card system for patients. It also makes no provision for any legal source of supply.
The I.D. card system is carefully worded so as to maintain the greatest possible level of anonymity, while still giving patients an opportunity to avoid arrest if they are stopped by the police. Patients will not be required to have an ID card in order to gain the exemption, but those who do can show them to police at the scene of any potential arrest. The police will then be able to immediately verify the patient's status. As to the question of supply, a source familiar with the initiative told The Week Online "there is a problem in that anything that is put into state law regarding a legal supply of marijuana runs up against the federal Prohibition. Everyone who is involved in this issue is hopeful that initiatives such as this one will lead to a rescheduling of marijuana by the federal government which would free up states to create their own regulated systems."
On Tuesday, October 21, an estimated 350 protesters gathered in Trenton for a march on the Capitol to protest New Jersey's policy outlawing needle exchange. The mothers, some who have lost children to injection-related AIDS, some who are caring for orphaned grandchildren or foster children and some who have themselves been infected, came from across the state to make their displeasure known to Governor Whitman and to New Jersey state legislators.
New Jersey has the third-highest rate of injection-related AIDS of any state in the nation, costing New Jersey tax payers millions of dollars per year. Needle exchange has been shown in study after study to reduce the spread of AIDS without measurably increasing the incidence of drug use.
In response to the Mothers' March, New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman released a statement which said, "Illegal drug use is at the heart of the crimes that are committed in New Jersey. Providing drug addicts with the means to inject illegal drugs runs absolutely counter to everything we've done to bring crime down to a 23-year low in New Jersey." Adding that she "feels deeply for those parents who have lost children to AIDS. I feel just as deeply for children who have lost parents to AIDS because those parents were drug users."
Diana McCague, the director of New Jersey's (illegal) Chai Project needle exchange, who was recently convicted of violating state law for providing sterile syringes to addicts in New Brunswick, told The Week Online, "Governor Whitman is becoming more and more obtuse on this issue. It's obvious by her rhetoric that we're in the middle of a gubernatorial campaign since the provision of clean needles in no way increases crime, nor is the reduction in crime something she ought to be taking credit for since its happening all across the country. Unfortunately, it looks like she's going to win her race, and despite her protestations, the lives of her most vulnerable constituents are clearly not on her radar screen. Therefore, we'll just have to continue to find ways to work around her in order to reduce the spread of AIDS in New Jersey."
NOTICE: If you will be in or around New Jersey on October 28, you might consider attending a free community forum on HIV policy, drug use and needle exchange. The forum will be held on the campus of Rutgers University, from 1 to 3 p.m. and will feature Todd Summers, Deputy Director, White House Office of AIDS Policy, Diana McCague, Executive Director of the Chai Project needle exchange, Dr. Robert Heimer, Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, Mayor Martin Barnes of Patterson, Reverend Bryant Ali, of Broadway House in Newark and Joe Grace, an attorney from Philadelphia. For info, call Debra Lewis at (732) 932-1219, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One man was killed and another was wounded when gunfire was exchanged in a dorm room on the campus of Tennessee State University on Monday. According to the Associated Press, the violence erupted after the dead man tried to rip off another man who had come to sell him a $10 bag of marijuana. It is still unclear if any of those involved were current students at the school.
Ironically, the incident took place on the first day of the University's declared "Crime Free Week." TSU Student Government Vice President Myron Broome told The Week Online, "Many of the students here have worked very hard to make it to college and to get away from the violence of the drug trade. But I guess that no place in the country is immune from either drugs or violence."
Aaron Wilson, a long-time campus organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told The Week Online, "While this type of violence is rare in the marijuana market, this is just another Prohibition-related killing. The fact is that by creating these lucrative black markets, violence and crime become inevitable. Our drug policy is a gateway to murder."
In an unusual move, conservative syndicated columnist (and executive editor of National review magazine) dedicated an entire column last week to a discussion of a new book, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" by Lynn Zimmer, Ph.D. and Dr. John P. Morgan, M.D. The column urged parents, teachers and especially lawmakers to read the book in order to become more informed before attempting to set policy in this area. Also, the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine (Oct. 20) features the book in its lead editorial by editor Jann Wenner.
If you don't already own a copy of this scientifically sound and socially relevant book, why the heck not? You can order it (it's $12.95) by calling BookWorld at (800) 444-2524. Outside the US, call (941) 758-8094. The ISBN # is 0- 9641568-4-9. Or, better yet, go on down to your local bookstore and ask them to order it!
Keith Hellawell, newly appointed British "Drug Czar," was barely in office a day before he confronted the inevitable question about his reaction to the campaign, led by the Independent on Sunday newspaper, for the legalization of cannabis. To the dismay of thousands, perhaps millions of Britons, his response mirrored the unthinking hard line of American drug policy, after which his new position has been modeled. "The people who peddle these things love these campaigns, so they can go into the playground and exert their pressure on young people to get involved."
In response, The Independent published an open letter to Mr. Hellawell in this past Sunday's edition. The letter pointed out that contrary to Mr. Hellawell's statement, the decriminalization of cannabis would put a virtual end to, not encourage, the black market. The letter goes on to state that "by decriminalising cannabis the 'gateway' phenomenon, where people are led to hard drugs because the dealer who sells them cannabis also offers heroin, would end."
You can find the entire open letter, as well as an extensive account of the enormous public and media attention that The Independent's campaign has fueled in the U.K. by going to the site of The Independent on Sunday at http://www.independent.co.uk/sindy/sindy.html and clicking on "Comment" on the left-hand side of the screen.
FOR EXTRA CREDIT: Drop a note to The Independent on Sunday at email@example.com commending them for their courage and encouraging them to stick to it until the law is changed. You might also mention that you heard about their campaign in The Week Online with DRCNet, the leading anti- prohibitionist weekly in cyberspace!
IN OTHER U.K. NEWS:
Two detectives were suspended from their posts in Middlesbrough, England after it was alleged that they had given heroin to drug addicted suspects in return for confessions. The two were officers in a squad under the direction of Detective Superintendent Ray Mallon, who advocates a "zero-tolerance" policing policy under which even the most minor offenses are to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Mr. Mallon has previously pledged to resign if he was unable to reduce crime in his district by 20%.
MEANWHILE: A British army hero and former Man of the Year has been charged with attempting to transport a kilogram of cocaine out of Bolivia and back to the U.K. The suspect, Darren Waterhouse, insists that smugglers must have put the drugs in his bag surreptitiously.
(Welcome to the Drug War, Czar Hellawell! ed.)
A Reuters news story this week reported that drug czar Barry McCaffrey had given the Colombian government the green light to use U.S. counternarcotics aid to fight the country's Marxist guerrilla rebels. McCaffrey said there was an "unholy alliance" between the cocaine industry and the 15,000 rebels, whom he dubbed "narco-guerrillas". Of course, he failed to note that such an alliance, if real, is a consequence of prohibition and calls for demilitarization, not further aid to an institution that is known to be one of the worst abusers of human rights in the hemisphere.
The Washington Office on Latin America has produced numerous reports that tell the Latin American drug war story like it is. Check them out at http://www.wola.org.
(Also view some older WOLA reports on the Lindesmith Center web site at http://www.lindesmith.org -- currently down while the Center relocates, but should be back up shortly.)
This week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill which, if it were to become law, would hold the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) accountable for results in return for continued funding of that office. Significant progress, in the form of 50% reductions in the number of Americans who use drugs and in "drug-related" crime, as well as an 80% reduction in the availability of heroin and cocaine on America's streets, all in the next four years, are the benchmarks that the Republican-controlled congress has set. While the Clinton administration bemoans the requirements as "unattainable," claiming that their goal is a 50% reduction in the number of drug users over ten, rather than four years, and Republicans denigrate current efforts and call for a "real war," advocates of drug policy reform are left to contemplate what all of this means for liberty, sanity and the future of our children.
There is a fear, on the one hand, that the pursuit of such impossible goals will lead to the further trampling of civil rights, massive increases in incarceration rates, stepped-up surveillance of citizens, the recruitment of large numbers of men, women and children as informants against their neighbors, and increasing military involvement both at home and in Latin America. In short, a police state predicated on "winning" the Drug War (or at least on salvaging control over the effort for the executive branch). There is a sense, on the other hand, that this is simply a political game, designed to soften up the Democrats for a frontal assault on the issue of drugs during the 2000 campaign. In addition, there is skepticism over whether such patently ridiculous mandates can even make it out of the Senate, much less survive a near-certain presidential veto.
But there is another way to look at the situation. For far too long, it has been apparent that money, tax money, oodles and oodles of tax money, has been thrown at "the drug problem" in spite of, even because of the fact that all of the money thrown at it previously has failed to produce results. And, save the occasional GAO report, there has been nary a call for accountability to this fact. With this act, the United States Congress has finally demanded to know what, exactly, American citizens are buying in terms of results. As reformers, quite aware that the honest answer to this question begins with "not much" and ends with "except for the destruction of our cities, the erosion of our rights, and the mass incarceration of people of color," the question raised by the congress needs to be asked over and over again, and as publicly as possible.
Barry McCaffrey, the "Drug Czar" whose office would be held to the bill's requirements, admitted as much in a letter to Newt Gingrich when he wrote that such "unrealistic targets" could "hurt our efforts against drug use when the public, seeing the inevitable failure to meet these goals, becomes convinced the effort is lost." And that is exactly the point. No one, not even the Republican legislators who wrote the bill, can seriously believe that the availability of heroin and cocaine in America can be reduced by 80% under Prohibition. Students of history will note, in fact, that under alcohol prohibition the number of "speakeasies" was greater than the number of legitimate taverns which they had replaced. In other words, Prohibition, by its very nature, increases, rather than decreases the availability of a substance, and at markedly higher prices and at vastly uncertain levels of purity and safety.
The bill's other requirements also deserve examination. The first, and most ironic, is the demand for a plan to reduce "drug-related" crime by 50% over the next four years. Such a reduction is eminently achievable, to be sure, but not under the current system. In fact, under a Prohibitionist system, the only way to drastically reduce crime is to reduce, rather than step-up enforcement. As we have seen in our own cities, and as we are seeing now in Mexico, the violence of the trade increases when key groups are broken up by law enforcement, leading to turf wars and assassinations between newly empowered rivals seeking to fill the lucrative void. And to the extent that Prohibition is successful in reducing supply and thus driving up prices, more property will be stolen to finance the same levels of consumption by the hard-core users and addicts who make up 80% of the market by volume.
The final performance requirement, however, is the most revealing. That is that a plan be introduced which will reduce the number of Americans using illegal drugs from 6.1% of the population to 3% in four years. While we could quibble with their numbers, which are, at best, very rough estimates, we ought to look closely to see what this means. There are approximately 260,000,000 living Americans. 6% of that number comes to 15,600,000 criminals, er, drug users. To reduce this number by half will mean convincing or forcing around 7.8 million people to stop using drugs. And let us not forget that the vast majority of these, and the ones most likely to cease and desist, are occasional and non-problematic users of substances, overwhelmingly marijuana.
Last year, the federal government spent over $17 billion directly on the Drug War. This doesn't include the massive costs of federal courts and prisons brought about by the War, nor does it count expenditures on enforcement against related crimes, such as money laundering, which are paid for out of the general budgets of federal agencies. None of which, of course, includes any of the tens of billions of dollars spent each year at the state and local levels. That is all well and good, of course, until we factor in the consideration that even at these rapidly rising levels of expenditure, drug use, especially among kids, has been increasing rather than decreasing. A "real" Drug War, we can only presume, would mean more military involvement throughout the hemisphere, more prisons, more enforcement and a vastly higher price tag. And of course the nature of the beast is that if we were to find an effective level of engagement, we would be forced to spend this sum, or very close to it, in perpetuity, lest the pipeline be reopened and a new generation of users, er, criminals emerge. And oh, we might mention here that there is not one scintilla of credible evidence that any of this would work in the first place.
Given all of this, it seems that we reformers might do well to align ourselves with the hawks on this one. Let us call for accountability. Let us encourage them to set standards, to demand "victory" such that, as Barry McCaffrey says, "the public, seeing the inevitable failure to meet these goals, becomes convinced the effort is lost." Because those of us who have studied both the problem and the current "solutions" already know that the "effort," along with many of our civil rights, the moral authority of our laws and our government, a generation of young men of color, and billions upon billions of dollars of our tax money are already "lost."
The 1988 "Drugs Bill" mandated a "drug free America" by the year 1995. I kid you not. By law, America has been drug free for well over two years now. The absurdity of just this one instance of political delusion should have been enough to bring many people to their senses on the issue. But the sad fact is, almost no one knows that it happened. This is true in part because no one has been held to answer either for their failure, or for the patent impossibility of the mission.
So perhaps what we should do is to call our Senators and demand that they vote for strict accountability, with the precise numeric goals called for by the congress. And insist that they work, if necessary, to override the president's veto. But demand, as well, that a non-partisan commission be established both to oversee the effort and to study alternatives to the current system. And tell your Senators that once it becomes apparent that these goals will not, cannot be met in a free society (or in any other kind of society,) that you will expect them to bring those results, plus the findings of the commission, back to your state for a good old-fashioned debate about where we go from here. And that if he or she doesn't do this, tell Senator so-and-so that you will personally see to it that someone is elected who will.
Would such a law, if passed, make things worse in the short run? Perhaps. But in time, it can only serve to educate the public about the futility of these expenditures, as well as all of the non-economic costs of the current system. And in the end, by demanding accountability for results, the warriors, despite themselves, will get exactly what they have asked for.
Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet
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