DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network

8/29/97

The Week Online with DRCNet, issue #9

  1. International News: U.S. reports "progress" in the international War on Drugs. ALSO: Drug Policy in the U.K. could the fog be lifting? The Economist calls for "legalisation"...Police Foundation to study drug policy. AND: 30,000 march in Germany's first-ever mass demonstration for drug law reform. FINALLY: Blood bath in Mexico as traffickers vie for supremacy.
  2. Drug War Corruption: Employees at points of entry find that crime pays better than baggage handling.
  3. Medical Marijuana: California Attorney General adds a surprising voice to calls for research.
  4. Student Drug Testing: An old and nearly forgotten phrase is uttered by a New Jersey judge... Probable cause.
  5. Media Alert: The Wall Street Journal hits the nail on the head with regard to the Drug War's destruction of Colombia's society. Reformers are urged to respond.
  6. Justice and Human Rights: Criminal justice systems out of control in the U.S. and China.
  7. Link of the Week: Shedding light on the impact of America's overused criminal justice system...
  8. Quote of the Week: Drug Czar McCaffrey has figured out one of the problems.
  9. Editorial: Needle exchange is still illegal in New Jersey... but that doesn't make it wrong.

(visit last week's Week Online)


1. International News

"PROGRESS"

The U.S. government's National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee, made up of representatives of the FBI, the CIA, the DEA, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard, among others, released its annual report last week. The report indicated that multi-national drug traffickers had suffered "severe setbacks" in 1996, with the government's biggest accomplishments being the arrests and death of key members of the Cali cartel as well as the collapse of the Shan United Army, which trafficked in heroin from the far east. Despite these developments, however, DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine admitted that "key indicators of drug production, trafficking and abuse suggest that cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana remain readily available throughout the United States."

In other words, progress against specific drug trade organizations is not equivalent to actual progress in reducing drug use or drug-related harm.

RETHINKING DRUG POLICY IN THE U.K.?

On the heels of new Prime Minister Tony Blair's calls for a U.K. "Drug Czar," The Economist, a conservative monthly, has called for the gradual legalization of drugs. According to The Economist, the recent drug-related murder of a five year-old child has led to a call in Parliament for a Royal Commission review of that nation's drug policy. Citing agreement among at least some members of the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as a growing number of church leaders and police chiefs, the Economist says that "This suggests that there now exists an opportunity to build a cross-party coalition for change strong enough to defeat the failed prohibitionism hitherto supported by most ordinary Britons."

The Police Foundation charity of London said Monday that it would undertake a thorough, two-year review of U.K. drug policy. The study is to be carried out by a group which includes lawyers, police and academics.

GROWING DISSENT IN GERMANY

Journalists estimated that upwards of 30,000 people gathered in Berlin to march in the "Hemp Parade," Germany's first-ever major drug policy reform demonstration. Germany's 16 states each have their own "tolerance level" for possession of marijuana, ranging from a couple of grams in the southern state of Bavaria to 100 grams in Schleswig-Holstein in the north.

WAR ON THE BORDER

In the wake of the death of Juarez cartel leader Amado Carillo Fuentes, and the imprisonment in Houston of Gulf Catel leader Juan Garcia Abrego, a bloody turf war has broken out in Mexico. At least 17 people have been killed in Juarez alone, as the relative quiet that came with Fuentes and Abrego's dominance of the drug trade has come to a bullet-riddled end.

Barry McCaffrey, the U.S. "Drug Czar," who is in the region on a week-long tour of the border, said that he was proud of the Mexican Government for "hounding Fuentes to his death." He said he was "encouraged" by the recent violence in Mexico, saying that it pointed to the traffickers' "vulnerability" and added, "there is no question but that we are in a period of opportunity. McCaffrey also said that he thinks that the War can be won within "ten years." (At DRCNet we *never* consider violence encouraging, and we find it extremely disturbing that our government does.)

Phil Jordan, a retired DEA agent, and former head of the El Paso Intelligence center, told the Associated Press, "The wars are going to increase until somebody emerges... In the meantime, a lot of people are going to get hurt."

Among those "getting hurt" were four Mexican doctors who were killed after being lured from two separate hospitals to tend to an alleged drug trafficker who had been wounded in Ciudad Juarez. In response to the killings, thousands of physicians staged a two-hour strike on Wednesday to protest the Mexican government's inability/unwillingness to stop the violence. "Life seems to be worth nothing here," Dr. Carlos Paredes Espinoza told the NY Times.


2. Drug War Corruption

Last month, nine employees of Delta Airlines were arrested for smuggling drugs in various hiding places on commercial flights. It has been estimated that the ring had been operating for four years and was successful in bringing thousands of pounds of Colombian cocaine into the U.S.

Since October, the U.S. Customs Service says that 148 commercial cargo employees at airports and seaports have been arrested nationwide. "Internal conspiracies" as they are called, were suspected in 57% of the drug seizures from aircraft at Miami International Airport, while at the Port of Miami, 60% of seizures were thought to have had help on the inside. The employees involved include workers of nearly every employment description from baggage handlers to caterers.

Felix Jiminez, DEA Special Agent in charge for the Caribbean in San Juan told the New York Times, "A guy who's making $5 an hour suddenly is making $400,000 a year by doing this." Hardwick Crawford Jr. FBI assistant special agent adds, "nothing will turn a buck like drugs will. Honest workers are susceptible to that."

AND IN COLOMBIA:

The mayor of Cali, home of the infamous "Cali Cartel," has been arrested on corruption charges stemming from his alleged ties to that city's drug trafficking elite.


3. Medical Marijuana

Dan Lungren, California's attorney general, who was one of the most vocal opponents of Proposition 215, announced his support for a state bill authorizing $1 million for the study of the medical efficacy of marijuana. Lungren, who drew attention during the campaign by holding a news conference at state expense to argue against the pro-215 position taken by Zonker, a character in the comic strip Doonesbury, said he still thinks that Prop 215 is "a dumb law." Lungren is thought to be a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor of California.


4. Student Drug Testing

Judge Sybil R. Moses of New Jersey's Superior Court has ordered that random drug testing of student-athletes in a Bergen County school district be postponed for at least a month. Judge Moses said that the policy may violate students' right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure as the Ridgefield Park Board of Education presented no evidence of a drug problem among its athletes.

A hearing on the temporary restraining order will take place on September 29 in the Superior Court in Bergen County. David Rocoh of the New Jersey ACLU told The Week Online that he's "reasonably optimistic" that the blanket drug testing of student athletes will be found to violate the NJ constitution. "The New Jersey Supreme Court has repeatedly acted independently of the U.S. Supreme Court, especially in recognizing Fourth Amendment protections for its citizens."

You can find the ACLU web site at http://www.aclu.org.


5. Media Alert

On Thursday, 8/28, the Wall Street Journal checked in with a provocative editorial titled, "Whose Drug Problem?" The piece notes that American leaders find it very convenient to point toward outside influences, namely the Colombian government's inability to reign in its narco-criminals, for America's drug use, and, in so doing, create false operative questions such as how much more firepower we should send to the Colombian army. But, they write, "the real problem is that cocaine users in American society are doing such a good job of funding the bad guys in Colombia that a few more helicopters to help the good guys is not likely to make a difference."

The editorial goes on to outline some of the more horrendous consequences of America's Drug War on Colombian society. "The army is locked in a timeless struggle against exceedingly well-armed guerillas... equipped with the best technology money can buy.... In 1996 more than 180,000 Colombians were made refugees by the violence. Some 33,000 people were killed last year alone. In the past month scores of peasants have been murdered and at least five mayors were kidnapped. Colombian President Ernesto Samper's own party asked him to shut down congress and adopt emergency powers in order to end the violence."

The journal concludes by saying that at some point, the Colombians, tired of existing in a U.S.- mandated state of chaos, will finally tell the Americans to deal with their own drug problem.

We agree. And we are asking our membership to take a few minutes to send a letter (or email) to the Journal focusing on the arrogance and immorality of destroying one democratic society in an unachievable and politically disingenuous quest to save another from its self-destructive tendencies. We would also add that just as an unenforceable Prohibition is destabilizing source countries, so it is in America, with exploding prison populations, the erosion of civil rights, and the creation of a culture of violence, especially among the non-affluent young.

As always, we would love to get a copy of any correspondence you send. And if your letter gets published... by all means let us know!

WSJ e-mail: editors@interactive.wsj.com

or by mail:

Wall Street Journal
Letters to the Editor
200 Liberty Street
New York, NY 10281


6. Justice and Human Rights

A report released this past Monday from the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives found that half of the young black men in the District of Columbia are under criminal justice supervision -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day. The report analyzed the African American population between the ages of 15 and 35. The NCIA report also found that the odds of a given black male in the District having spent time incarcerated by the age of 35 exceeds 80 percent.

A report released Tuesday by the human rights group Amnesty International revealed that China sentenced more than 6,100 people to death and executed at least 4,367 last year in a "tough on crime" crackdown called "Strike Hard". Many of those executed had been convicted of minor offenses, such as a man in Sichuan province executed for stealing 14 cows, or two men for stealing a car which they sold for $1,200. The Amnesty report charges that agencies were "under pressure to achieve speedy results," in one case executing a man for a crime of which he had been accused of committing six days earlier, and in some cases retrying and executing offenders previously sentenced to incarceration.

Among the victims were drug offenders, mainly persons convicted of drug possession. One example was a young woman traveling from her honeymoon in Kunming to her native Guangdong, who had agreed in exchange for money to take a package for an acquaintance. The official report states that she became suspicious while riding the train, and had difficulty opening it, but in the process attracted the attention of a ticket checker, who turned her in.

We will provide information on obtaining these two reports in a later bulletin. Information for this section was obtained from the August 26 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.


7. Link of the Week

The NCIA report discussed above continues an analysis begun by another Washington think tank called The Sentencing Project. In 1990, the Sentencing Project released a report titled "Young Black Men in the Criminal Justice System: A Growing National Problem," finding that one in every four African American males between the ages of 18 and 35 was under correctional supervision on any given day. In 1995, the Sentencing Project released a follow-up report, finding that the situation had worsened and that the percentage had changed to one in three. While the reports did not tell us what number of those were drug offenders, the 1995 report did report that the bulk of the massive increase in incarceration of African Americans during the preceding 15 years had been due to drug policies.

These and other reports reveal the destructive impact of a criminal justice system running out of control. You can read summaries and order copies on the Sentencing Project's web site, our link of the week: http://www.sproject.com.


8. Quote of the Week

"We'd be crazy not to acknowledge there are billions of dollars involved in this, and that the capability to corrupt on both sides of the border is enormous. The question is not whether corruption exists, but what we can do about it."

- Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, 8/23/97, speaking during his tour of the Texas-Mexico border.

(We have some suggestions for what to do about it...)


9. Editorial

During his 1996 re-election campaign, President Clinton was addressing a group of Maryland high school students when he turned to the subject of drugs. "Drug use is illegal, and therefore it is wrong." Said the President. And the error of that statement, while seemingly innocuous, especially given the noble intention of trying to convince young people to stay away from drugs, is nonetheless an important and even a corrupt misinterpretation of the relationship between the law and morality.

Diana McCague is founder and director of the Chai Project, a needle exchange program in New Brunswick, New Jersey. At night she drives a cab so that she can afford to continue this work, which she considers a matter of life and death. Her exchange will provide over 80,000 clean syringes to IV drug users this year in an effort to slow the spread of AIDS. Of the total AIDS cases in New Jersey, approximately 50% are the direct result of shared injection equipment, while another 20% are indirectly related, having been sexually transmitted to the partners of IV drug users or to their children. Through the end of 1996, an estimated 19,100 New Jersey residents, age 13 and older, either had injection-related AIDS or had died from it.

Needle exchange programs have been found in study after study to reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus, as well as other blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis, all without any measurable increase in drug use prevalence. Their existence has been endorsed by the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. But in New Jersey, the state with the third highest rate of injection-related AIDS in the nation, they are against the law.

Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey is no fan of needle exchange. She has said that she believes that making sterile syringes available to drug users will only lead to more drug use. But feeling pressure from AIDS activists and public health proponents, she asked her own advisory committee on AIDS to study the issue last year. Their findings were consistent with all that had already been known. In addition, they said, the availability of clean needles would save New Jersey millions of dollars in health care costs.

But Governor Whitman apparently had more to worry about than the lives of thousands of her citizens and their families. Governor Whitman is thought to be a rising star in the Republican party, and needle exchange was not an issue that she wanted on her resume. So after much consideration, she decided to ignore the facts and the statistics and the families and her advisory council. And today, it is still illegal to exchange new syringes for used in Governor Whitman's New Jersey.

Diana McCague was arrested earlier this year by an undercover cop for providing him with a sterile syringe in violation of NJ Statute 2C 36-6. At her trial, Judge Brenner of the New Brunswick Municipal Court called her a "modern day Joan of Arc" and said that he would be proud to have her for a daughter. But Diana McCague had broken New Jersey law, and so he found her guilty, and sentenced her for her crime.

There are an estimated 46,000 injection drug users in New Jersey who are still HIV negative. And so, illegal or not, convicted criminal that she is, Diana McCague continues to get into her van and drive the streets of New Brunswick to provide her clients with the opportunity to live long enough to beat their addictions. And she is not "wrong".

Law does not define morality. Law is made by people. And the power of people to create law does not give them the power, nor necessarily the insight, to make moral determinations. Rosa Parks broke the law. So did Martin Luther King, and the Refuseniks in the Soviet Union, and Ghandi, and Nelson Mandella, and a bunch of guys who dressed up as Native Americans and dumped tea into the Boston Harbor. And if those kids at that high school in Maryland last year were listening very carefully to their president, they now know that the courageous acts of all of those people were "wrong" because they were illegal. Or maybe those kids would have been better off listening to Diana McCague.

Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet

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