(visit last week's week online)
Here at DRCNet we are dedicated to providing timely, important information about drug policy and reform to the broadest possible audience. Much of this information comes from our ever-growing network of subscribers. In other words, we are all dependent on each other to insure that "the word goes forth."
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Remember, the ongoing prosecution of the War on Drugs relies heavily upon misinformation and the silencing of dissent. DRCNet hopes to provide, through the miracle of electronic communication, an antidote.
This past Wednesday, DRCNet issued an action alert asking our supporters to send letters to the editor to newspapers in New Jersey, and for New Jersey residents to contact their state legislators, in support of Thomas Scozarre and Diana McCague of the Chai project Needle Exchange Program in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who were found guilty last Monday of violating New Jersey's controversial law banning needle exchange. New Jersey is third in the nation in drug-related AIDS transmission.
If you missed the bulletin, please take a moment to read it at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/8-13-1.html. If you've not yet acted, we urge you to take a few minutes now to demand an end to the outlawing of compassion and public health.
The August 7th issue of the venerable New England Journal of Medicine features an article by Dr. George Annas, Professor in the schools of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University, titled "Reefer Madness – The federal Response to California's Medical-Marijuana Law." In it, Dr. Annas calls for the government to allow patients access to medical marijuana now, while funding clinical trials of marijuana's effectiveness.
Annas writes, "Unlike quack remedies such as Laetril, marijuana is not claimed to be a treatment in itself; instead it is used to help patients withstand the effect of accepted treatment[s]...."
According to Dave Fratello, spokesman for Americans for Medical Rights, "These days federal officials are trying to deflect pressure to give patients access to marijuana by pointing to the need for more clinical research. Their position is: studies first, access later. Dr. Annas says that isn't good enough."
[Note: Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, during a press conference shortly after the passage of California's Proposition 215, called medical marijuana "Cheech and Chong medicine."]
The 1/30 NEJM editorial on medicinal marijuana can be found at http://www.nejm.org/public/1997/0336/0005/0366/1.htm. THE WEEK ONLINE will let you know as soon as Dr. Annas' article is available on the web.
Last April, DRCNet distributed a bulletin encouraging supporters of drug policy reform to support the efforts of Hemp Nation proprietor Chris Clay in bringing a constitutional challenge to Canada's drug laws. (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/4-10-1.html) The eagerly-awaited decision was handed down on Thursday, August 14 by the Ontario Court, General Division. While Judge McCart seemed to doubt the wisdom of marijuana prohibition, he ruled that it was not a violation of the Canadian Constitution, the reason being that while recreational use of marijuana is not particularly harmful, to be unconstitutional it would have to be proven totally harmless.
Witnesses for the Defendants (Chris Clay and Jordan Prentice) included internationally recognized experts on marijuana Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School and Dr. John P. Morgan of the City University of New York Medical School (and co-author of the newly released book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, featured in section five). The decision included a brief history of marijuana prohibition in Canada, as well as an overview of the state of marijuana law internationally.
The decision noted that most of the western world, apart from North America, was moving toward less punitive policies and stated, "The national governments of Canada and the United States appear to be somewhat out of step with the rest of the western world."
The crux of the 27-page decision, however, was Judge McCart's unwillingness to tread on what he believes is legislative ground. He wrote, "All of the so-called decriminalization initiatives in the Netherlands, etc. were legislative initiatives, not court imposed. The changes requested by the applicants regarding simple possession and small-scale cultivation would constitute a completely different approach to the question and would in my view amount to an unwarranted intrusion into the legislative domain."
In closing, the judge noted the recent move by the Canadian Parliament toward more lenient sanctions for possession and added, "[p]erhaps, some day, they may adopt some of the measures which exist, for example, in Australia and which I do not believe would meet with much objection from an informed public."
The next stage is for the challenge to go to the Ontario Court of Appeals. For further information, visit the Hemp Nation web site at http://www.hempnation.com, or keep watching The Week Online.
New British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for the creation of a Drug Czar's office to coordinate national drug policy. In response, The British Medical Journal's August 9 issue features an editorial which says, in part, "The 'war' rhetoric is particularly dangerous. It is therefore disappointing that the new post draws its 'czar' title from the United States – a strange role model to select considering its vastly greater prevalence of drug misuse."
Written by John Strang, Director of the National Addiction Centre in London, the editorial states that, thus far, "In the U.K., pragma has trumped dogma" on the drug issue. The editorial also warns that "Crime dominated posturing would lead to a damaging dissociation between the public appeal of the policy and actual evidence of effectiveness." THE WEEK ONLINE will let you know as soon as this important editorial becomes available on the web.
Reuters reports that President Clinton met with top U.S. law enforcement and drug policy officials to discuss ways to deal with crime in the hemisphere. An unnamed official said that the way to control crime is to "provide training and technical assistance and agree on basic frameworks to attack criminals, including extradition."
Just as the issues surrounding marijuana have started to heat up in the press and elsewhere, a book has been released which may fundamentally change the nature of the debate, for the better.
In Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, Zimmer and Morgan have compiled 20 of the most prevalent myths about marijuana and have traced, step by step, their basis in science and research. Many of these myths will be familiar to readers. Many, despite questionable or even nonexistent evidence, have been presented as fact by the US government for many years.
In the book, the authors look to the science behind "the gateway theory," the medicinal efficacy of marijuana, marijuana's effects upon reproductive capacity, current vs. past potency levels, marijuana and memory, marijuana and addiction, the Dutch policy on cannabis, and much more. Each chapter tackles a separate myth, and each is meticulously referenced and objectively analyzed.
Louis Lasagna, M.D., author of the 1982 National Academy of Sciences report on marijuana, says of the book, "This, the first comprehensive review of marijuana toxicity to appear in more than a decade, is accurate, timely and impressive. Most importantly, it is clearly written and accessible for those interested individuals who do not have scientific or technical training."
Given the political climate and the brewing debate over the status of America's most widely used illegal substance, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts may well become the basis for an informed debate on the future of marijuana policy in the United States and around the world.
You can order Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts for $12.95 from BookWorld at (800) 444-2524. It would be even better, though, to ask your local bookstore to order it.
According To the US Department of Justice, the years 1991-1995 saw the construction of 213 new federal and state prisons, increasing capacity by approximately 41%. Unfortunately, the inmate population during those years grew by 43%.
To learn more about the explosion of the US prison population, check out the Sentencing Project's web site at http://www.sproject.com.
Year after year, study after study has proven that needle exchange saves lives. Yet states are forbidden from spending any of their federal AIDS funding on needle exchange programs. On Wednesday, September 17, the National Coalition to Save Lives Now (of which DRCNet is part) will be holding a demonstration, beginning at noon, in front of the offices of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The purpose of the demonstration is to pressure the administration to lift the murderous and arbitrary ban on the use of federal AIDS funds for needle exchange programs.
Regardless of your feelings on the use of federal funds for local programs in general, DRCNet believes that to prohibit, for purely political reasons, the use of existing funds for a prevention method which has been proven to save lives, is tantamount to murder. It has been estimated that lifting the ban would prevent over 20,000 new cases of HIV/AIDS over the next year.
Your participation is urged, your help is needed. For further information, contact Chris Lanier at (212) 213-6376, fax to (212) 213-6582, e-mail email@example.com, or visit http://www.safeworks.org/savelivesnow/ on the web.
Thanks to the heroic efforts of DRCNet intern Kayoko Terasawa, the complete set of Activist Guide back issues is now online. Check them out at the DRCNet Publications menu page, http://www.drcnet.org/pubs. Please let us know if you find any typos, bad links, etc. You can e-mail the information to DRCNet or directly to Kayoko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DRCNet volunteer Peter Webster continues to add more and more links to the Drug Policy in the Media page at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/media/MAG_ART.HTM. E-mail any suggestions for additions to email@example.com.
(From time to time, DRCNet passes along the employment opportunities that come to our attention. The following is not a joke. In fact it is, word for word, the release of the British Government in its search for a "Drug Czar". Please see our synopsis of the British Medical Journal editorial regarding this search under International News. Like the BMJ, DRCNet would certainly like someone who shares our perspective to apply for the job. Any takers?)
UK ANTI-DRUGS CO-ORDINATOR (Also known as "Drug Czar")
"A high profile role in the battle against drugs"
The government wishes to appoint a senior figure to coordinate its strategy against drugs in the UK. You will report directly to the President of the Council and the Cabinet Ministerial Sub-Committee on Drug Misuse, and will have direct access to the Prime Minister as necessary.
This is a challenging, high profile role operating within a sensitive and important area of public concern, which will involve working closely with government departments, agencies from the statutory, voluntary and commercial sectors, local action groups, the media and other key opinion formers. Key functions will include renewing existing government strategy and making recommendations for its development, so as to assure coherence at a national and international level and explaining government action to the widest possible audience through the media and other channels. The work will entail travel within the UK and occasionally overseas.
We are looking for an exceptional individual with proven leadership skills and substantial experience of coordinating policies and operations within the drugs field or comparable area of public policy. Strong powers of influence and the ability to communicate with and mobilise people from all sectors of the community will be essential. A key factor in your success will be getting added value from resources not under your direct control.
The post will be based in Whitehall, and is a three year fixed term, full-time appointment as a special expert adviser. Salary to be negotiated dependent on the qualifications of the successful candidate.
For further details and an application form (to be returned by 5 September, 1997), please telephone Recruitment and Assessment Services (01256) 468561 (24 hours) or Fax (01256) 383786/383787. Please quote reference #3402.
This week we have a double entry from the other side of the world: Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform is an Australian organization of parents and others who have lost loved ones to drug abuse, or have seen friends or family members with drug problems suffer needless additional harm and degradation because of prohibition. Drug Aid is a site created by FFDLR activist Patricia Assheton and her late son Guy Wayne Tremain, "dedicated to promoting understanding and providing practical help NOW, while your sons, daughters, sisters and brothers still live." Visit FFDLR and Drug Aid at http://www.wps.com.au/druglawreform/ and http://www.wps.com.au/drugaid/.
"Honesty is likely to make a greater and more lasting impression on our children than political posturing and hysteria."
- George Annas, professor at Boston University's Schools of Medicine and Public Health, in his editorial on Medical Marijuana in the August 7 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
To those of us who care about the many issues surrounding Prohibition, the release this week of the book, "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan, is a hopeful sign. Perhaps it will be a jumping-off point from which we as a society can at last begin to debate whether the truth has any place in our discussions about drugs and drug policy.
There are times, it seems, when the sole justification for the drug policy of a nation is to avoid "sending the wrong message to our children." In fact, our leaders are zealous, even evangelical, in their constant, mindless repetition of the phrase. But what messages, really, are we sending?
To answer that question we must first admit to ourselves two harsh realities. First, there are very few teenagers in this country who do not currently have access to illegal drugs. And second, teenagers are not stupid. If you know a teenager, ask him or her whether the drug war is working. Most likely, they will tell you exactly what you already know, that they can (and sometimes do) procure illegal substances, often from merchants who are no older than they.
In spite of this, we as a society have elected to attempt to frighten young people away from drugs by constructing absolute worst-case scenarios, even implausible and patently absurd hyperbole, about the risks and effects of drugs and their use. And because we know that our children are more likely to be confronted with the most widely used substances, we have saved our biggest lies for marijuana.
What we fail to realize is that it is marijuana's very ubiquitousness which pokes holes in our overblown prevention efforts. And that once punctured, our credibility is deflated with regard not only to the relatively benign marijuana plant, but also to heroin, inhalants and cocaine.
Dr. Joel Brown, in his study of California's principal drug education curriculum (In Their Own Voices: Students and Educators Evaluate California School-Based Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco, Education [DATE] Programs, online at http://www.lindesmith.org/tlcbrow.html), found that young people are turned off by what they see as hypocrisy and dishonesty in drug education. According to Brown, "When you tell a 10 year-old that all substance use is abuse, he will most likely believe you. But when that child reaches adolescence, his experience will tell him that he's been lied to. Especially where no effort has been made to distinguish the relative risks of different drugs."
Teenagers can understand that medicine is not recreation, they know that the police cannot enforce the drug laws, they see that marijuana doesn't usually lead to heroin addiction, and they know that authority figures will say anything at all, true or not, to frighten them about drugs.
We can all agree that children ought not be ingesting substances for their psychoactive effects. But what messages are we sending by refusing to allow truth to interfere with our prevention efforts? Plenty of messages, to be sure. But the one that we're not sending is that we're willing to take our kids seriously, to acknowledge their experiences and to respect their intellect, that we're willing to look them in the eye and say, "here are the facts, and here are our concerns, and this is why we want you to wait until you're older before you start to make these decisions." Because in the final analysis, lies are not education. And our children, like it or not, are smart enough to know the difference.
Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet
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