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The Week Online with DRCNet, Issue #17

(visit the last Week Online)

We are preparing the next release of the Reformer's Calendar this week. Please submit your events listings ASAP! E-mail to [email protected].

Table of Contents

  1. Focus on Colombia: An extremely eventful two weeks... Elections, Recriminations, and oh, yes, we're sending hardware to perhaps the world's most inhumane military.
  2. UCSF Study Finds Cannabinoids are Effective Against Pain: They work differently but act similarly to opioids... with less severe side effects. Another Chance to Help Will Foster: The UCSF study confirms what Will Foster knew all along... medical marijuana relieved his Rheumatoid Arthritis... but he's still serving 93 years for cultivation! Your voice is needed!
  3. Ninth Co-sponsor Signs on to Federal Medical Marijuana Bill: Get your representatives on board!
  4. Medical Marijuana Defense Will Be Allowed in Michigan: A judge ruled this week that Peter McWilliams, author, AIDS/Cancer patient, can present his defense in court.
  5. Needle Exchange: Harris Poll finds 71% favor lifting the ban!
  6. Jailed for Vitamins: Police "error" costs man six weeks in jail.
  7. Show and Jail: 11 year-old Texas boy faces drug possession charges.
  8. Plan to Put 10,000 U.S. Troops on the Texas-Mexico Border Dies in Committee: A young man's death is not totally in vain.
  9. Survey: Drug Use Rising Among Youngest Teens: Current strategies failing to curtail use.
  10. Quote of the Week: Everybody wants to play doctor...

(Sorry, no editorial this week. Don't worry though, we're still planning to do them almost every week.)

1. A Busy Two Weeks in Colombia

The news out of Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine and, perhaps, of heroin as well, has come fast and furious over the past two weeks. The events, in more or less chronological order, went like this:

- The leadership of the ongoing revolutionary opposition to the Colombian government moved ahead with their announced "strike" in the weeks leading up to this past week's elections. Dozens of candidates of both the Liberal and Conservative parties (which are acknowledged to be in general agreement with each other on nearly all substantive issues) were assassinated, at least 300 were kidnapped, and over 2,000 candidates nationwide heeded threats and withdrew from their races.

- U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey ended a two-year freeze on high-level diplomatic interaction with Colombia with a short visit during which he met with leaders of the Colombian military and police, as well as with President Ernesto Samper himself. The Clinton administration had previously refused to meet with Samper, citing allegations that he had received over $6 million in drug-tainted contributions during his last campaign, going so far as to revoke his visa.

Despite McCaffrey's assertion that the meeting did not signal any change in U.S. policy toward Colombia, his visit nevertheless concluded with the announcement that the U.S. would provide approximately $150 million in aid, including over $50 million in equipment to the Colombian military, which, according to human rights groups, has one of the worst human rights records in the world. McCaffrey told reporters that he had been given "assurances" by the military that it would improve its behavior.

According to the New York Times, the aid which will be sent to Colombia includes UH-1H Huey helicopters, C-26 surveillance planes, ammunition for assault rifles, utility vehicles and small boats.

McCaffrey, speaking to reporters, called the rebel forces, who have de-facto control of an estimated 40% of the country, "narco-guerrillas," despite the fact that their opposition to the Colombian government has been ongoing for nearly 40 years, and even U.S. government reports have characterized their relationship to the traffickers as extortionists, charging "taxes" as a price of doing business, much as they do with legitimate ranchers and coffee growers.

McCaffrey's repeated use of the term "narco-guerrillas" is seen by observers to be highly significant. This is because its implication, that the rebels are, in effect, criminal drug traffickers rather than political insurgents, would allow the Clinton administration more political leeway in involving the U.S. in the conflict.

"Let there be no doubt," said McCaffrey, "we are not taking part in counter-guerrilla operations." But the Colombian military, which is widely believed to be losing its ability to deal with the growing insurgency, apparently feels that it will have a much freer hand in using the promised assistance than McCaffrey's proclamation would seem to indicate. After McCaffrey left a military spokesman told reporters that the equipment could be used against anyone operating in the rebel-controlled "zone" without regard to whether or not they were involved in drug trafficking.

Francisco Thoumi, author of two books on the Colombian drug trade, a recent fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, and a world-renowned expert on the situation in Colombia, told The Week Online, "Certainly, the rebels are making money from the drug trade. But this does not mean that they ARE the drug trade. To categorize them as 'narco-guerrillas' is perhaps politically expedient, but it does not explain the situation. The rebels are political in nature, although their ideology has weakened over time, as Marxism has lost credibility. All sides have their piece of the drug trade, the paramilitary groups on the right, segments of the military, and of the police, and the government. What the U.S. fails to take into account is that in order to truly deal with the situation in Colombia, it is necessary to understand the history, how they have gotten to the horrific state they are in, and one must look at the behavior of the institutions over time. It is not, in any way, a black and white issue. Everything there is gray." "But," he added, "it has been said that in politics, 'everything simple is false, and everything complex is useless.'"

- The elections were held, as scheduled, soon after McCaffrey had left. Turnout was mixed, and much stronger in the government controlled cities, especially in the north. In the south, reports indicate that turnout was dismal, with many precincts reporting no voting at all, amidst bombings, armed clashes and threats of retaliation for taking part in the election.

- Just after the election (which did not include a race for the presidency, scheduled for 1998), unnamed senior U.S. officials were quoted in Newsweek magazine saying that Washington had "solid proof" that Horacio Serpa, a key aid to President Samper, and widely thought to be the front runner to succeed him next year as President, had ties to the drug trade. In response, Samper lashed out at "foreign interference" in Colombia's political life and "trafficking in the honor of Colombians abroad." Serpa replied to the allegations by offering to resign if the U.S. could produce proof of the allegations. Former Colombian justice minister Enrique Parejo told Reuters that such allegations could easily backfire on Washington, with popular opinion rallying against "a hostile act of American imperialism," adding "This is something he will seek to capitalize on politically."

2. UCSF Study: Cannabinoids Effective in Treating Pain

A study released this week by a research team from the University of California San Francisco shows that cannabinoids such as those which naturally occur in marijuana are effective in the control of pain. The researchers, led by Howard Fields, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at UCSF, announced their findings at a press conference at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans.

The study showed that the cannabinoids produced changes within cells in a part of the brain called the rostral ventromedial medulla similar to the changes produced by opioids, including morphine. The side effects of the cannabinoids, however, are considered substantially less problematic than those produced by the opioids, which include tolerance (necessitating increased dosages to stimulate the same effects), dependence, confusion, nausea and constipation. Cannabinoids, on the other hand, tend to reduce nausea and enhance patients' mood as side effects of their pain-killing properties.

Arnold Trebach, recently retired from his post as President of the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington, DC, told The Week Online, "This research is certainly consistent with the mountains of anecdotal evidence which we've been hearing over the years from patients around the world. This explains, in scientifically unambiguous terms, the relief that has been described over and over by people with chronic, painful conditions, such as arthritis and spinal cord injury survivors, and the fact that many of them have been able to reduce or eliminate their use of powerful narcotic pain medication in favor of this natural herb."

Trebach continued, "When I look at this research, I can't help but shake my head and think about people like Will Foster down in Oklahoma. Here's a guy, thirty-eight years old, a father of three young children, with no criminal record, who found relief for his very severe Rheumatoid Arthritis in smoking marijuana. He was able, in fact, to get off of his prescription narcotics with the help of this plant. But, despite the fact that there is now scientific proof of what he had known all along, he's serving 93 years in prison for growing the stuff. Not for selling it, mind you, just for growing an herb which relieved his pain."


Many of you recall DRCNet's coverage of the Will Foster case, and, we're proud to say, many of you wrote letters to the Oklahoma media and public officials on his behalf. DRCNet is now asking that you take a few moments to write again (or for the first time), pointing out the UCSF research and protesting the injustice of sending a suffering man to prison for the rest of his natural life for relieving his pain in a scientifically sound manner. (Contact information below.) You might mention that the just- released issue of Playboy Magazine has a story about Will's plight, and that other national outlets are planning stories as well. This case is certainly a black eye for the national image of the state of Oklahoma, and even more so in light of this study. It will only take a few moments out of your day, but please remember that every moment, for Will Foster and his wife Meg, is a moment stolen from them by the ignorance and cruelty of the State of Oklahoma.

And if you respond to this situation, please either send us a copy of your correspondence or just drop us a note telling us that you've done so, an e-mail would be fine. (It really does help the effort.)

Regularly updated info on the Will Foster situation is online at http://www.gnv.fdt.net/~jrdawson/willfoster.htm.

Further info on the UCSF cannabinoid study can be found at http://www.ucsf.edu/daybreak/archives/research/1027_mar.htm.

3. Time to Act! Please Help to Gain Passage of Federal Medical Marijuana Bill

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) signed onto H.R. 1782, the medicinal marijuana bill now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, on October 28, becoming the bill's 9th co-sponsor. Rep. Nadler had never previously supported medicinal marijuana legislation in Congress. The MPP sends congratulations and thanks to those of you who live in his district in New York City and wrote letters urging him to co-sponsor the bill (and DRCNet seconds the gesture).

The following members of the House have signed onto H.R. 1782: Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), John Olver (D-MA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Pete Stark (D- CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). IF YOUR REPRESENTATIVE IS NOT ON THIS LIST AND YOU HAVE NOT YET WRITTEN A LETTER ASKING HIM OR HER TO CO-SPONSOR H.R. 1782, PLEASE DO SO NOW. Sample letters are online at http://www.mpp.org/1782ltrs.html. Further background and tips for promoting medicinal marijuana legislation -- as well as links to help you find your members of Congress -- can be found online at http://www.mpp.org/projects.html.

You can write your Representative and your two Senators at:

While letters are the best, phone calls help too. You can reach your rep via the Congressional Switchboard, (202) 224- 3121.

PLEASE SEND US COPIES OF YOUR LETTERS AND ANY RESPONSES YOU RECEIVE. We will share them with groups that are lobbying on the hill for H.R. 1782. DRCNet, 2000 P. St., NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036, fax: (202) 293-8340, e-mail [email protected].

4. Court Rules AIDS Patient Can Present Medical Marijuana Defense in Michigan

(This report courtesy of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) -- http://www.norml.org)

October 30, 1997, Detroit, MI: A district court judge yesterday decided that an AIDS and cancer patient facing marijuana possession charges may present evidence that he uses the drug as part of his medical treatment. The case involves Peter McWilliams, a best-selling author and former Detroit resident who is facing criminal charges for possession of seven marijuana cigarettes.

McWilliams, who now lives in California, uses marijuana medicinally to alleviate the side effects of the AIDS wasting system and cancer chemotherapy. He was arrested December 17, 1996 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport after telling officers that he was carrying marijuana legally acquired in California. "This [ruling] is an important victory for all Michigan patients," McWilliams said. "I'm fighting so all patients can have the choice to use a safe, natural, and non-addictive therapeutic drug."

For more information, please contact either R. Keith Stroup, Esq. of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or NORML Legal Committee member Richard Lustig @ (810) 258-1600.

(Peter McWilliams publishes "The Medical Marijuana Magazine," online at http://www.marijuanamagazine.com, and has made all of his books, some of them bestsellers, available for free online at http://www.mcwilliams.com.)

5. Needle Exchange: Harris Poll Finds 71% of Americans in Favor of Lifting the Ban!

A Harris telephone poll found that 71% of respondents favored allowing states and localities, rather than the federal government, to decide whether or not to use federal AIDS funding for needle exchange programs. The poll surveyed 1,003 American adults and was commissioned by The Lindesmith Center, a New York-based drug policy think-tank. It was conducted by telephone October 15-19.

The results were consistent across party lines with 72% of Republicans, 70% of Democrats and 74% of independents agreeing that decisions should be made at the state and local level. While the poll found that only 45% were either "very familiar" or "somewhat familiar" with these programs, 58% of those claiming familiarity support their use as part of a strategy to reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

"The U.S. is virtually alone among advanced, industrialized nations in prohibiting the funding of needle exchange programs," said Ethan Nadelmann, Director of the Lindesmith Center. "Americans want crucial decisions about funding for needle exchange and other HIV prevention efforts made at the state or local level, not in Washington."

This poll coincides with the release of the Lindesmith Center's Syringe Availability, a concise and comprehensive review of data on needle exchange programs and pharmacy sale of syringes. To order copies, call (212) 548-0695 or e-mail [email protected]. You can find The Lindesmith Center on the web at http://www.lindesmith.org.

6. Police "Error" Costs Man Six Weeks in Jail for Possession of Vitamins

Malvin Marshal, taken to a North Carolina hospital due to an undisclosed illness, ended up sitting in a jail cell for the past six weeks when a police "field test" erroneously indicated that some crushed-up vitamin tablets found in his pants pocket was actually heroin. "The tablets were mushy, I had forgotten they were in my pocket and they had been through the washing machine. I told them it was vitamins, but they didn't believe me," Marshal told the Associated Press. In an explanation that can be called unsatisfactory, at best, police Lt. Melvin Cumbee told the AP, "Field test positives are not foolproof."

7. 11 Year-Old Texas Boy Faces Drug Possession Charges

The 10//28 Houston Chronicle reported that an 11 year-old Baytown, Texas boy has been charged with possession of crack cocaine after a classmate, to whom he had shown the substance, told a teacher at the Cedar Bayou Junior School. School authorities alerted police who turned the boy over to Harris County juvenile authorities.


8. Plan to Put 10,000 U.S. Troops on the Texas-Mexico Border Dies in Committee

A controversial amendment to the 1998 defense authorization bill which would have placed 10,000 American troops on the nation's southern border failed to make it out of joint committee sessions. The measure, which would have significantly blurred the line between the military and domestic law enforcement, and which twice won wide approval in the House, did not appear in the version of the appropriations bill passed by the House this week. The bill will now go to the Senate.

Opposition to the plan seemed to coalesce around the issue of Esequiel Hernandez, the 18 year-old high school student from Redford, Texas who was shot to death earlier this year by a team of camouflaged U.S. marines on a "surveillance" mission near the border earlier this year. Hernandez, who was born in Redford, was tending his family goats when he was killed.

Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy, recently returned from a town meeting in Redford where the possibility of a greater role for the military was high on the list of concerns. "The town was definitely worried about the possibility," Zeese told The Week Online. "The military had been talking about 'rules of engagement' and so forth. It was a real jolt to be listening to American citizens who were justifiably frightened by what they viewed as an impending invasion by their own military." He continued, "While I was down there, I stood on the spot where the young man was killed. From that spot, you could see the spot where he was born, the house that he spent his life in, and the place he was laid to rest. It was very powerful. The ironic thing is that he died virtually in the shadow of an old barracks... a remnant of the last time that the town was occupied by American troops during the Mexican- American war."

More info on the Esequiel Hernandez tragedy is available at http://www.mapinc.org/DPFT/hernandez/.

9. Survey: Drug Use Rising Among Youngest Teens

A survey released this week by the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) reported that 11.4% of junior high school students had used drugs in the previous month, up from 10.9% during the previous year. Among high school students, 24.6% reported use, as compared with 24.2% the year before.

While there are any number of reasons to doubt the validity of numbers of self-report drug use surveys given to young people, the trend is nonetheless troubling. There are two important issues, however, which are not addressed by any of the numerous youth drug use surveys. They are, first, in what context is drug use among young teens occurring? And second, if children as young as 11 and 12 have this type of access to drugs in a nation that is spending tens of billions of dollars per year predicated on protecting this very population, what does that say about the strategies we've employed?

10. Quote of the Week

"When was the last time your doctor told you to go home, light up some leaves and suck the smoke down your throat?"

- William Bennett, former Drug Czar, 10/29, talking about medical marijuana

(Editor's note: A 1995 poll of American oncologists found that 44% admitted having recommended smoked marijuana to at least one patient. The real question is: when was the last time a seriously ill patient went to Bill Bennett for medical advice?)

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