DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network


The Week Online with DRCNet, Issue #20

TO OUR READERS: Thanks in part to your support, DRCNet has been able to deliver you The Week Online for almost five months -- breaking only for one week, while both Dave and Adam were attending the 11th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform in New Orleans. Judging from the feedback, the Week Online might be considered our most successful program so far. We will be taking a second break next week, first to concentrate on some pressing business, particularly fundraising, and then for the Thanksgiving holiday. But make sure to check your e-mail anyway, as we will instead be distributing a transcript of some absolutely fascinating and disturbing testimony recently given before Congress.

DRCNet's prospects for funding next year are extremely bright -- we will definitely be here, and may even expand! But as happens so often in the non-profit world, we are facing some hard times as we wrap up this year, and need to ask for your help. Our transition and move to our own quarters, the need for which was unanticipated until a few months ago, cost several thousand dollars; and a combination of other unanticipated expenses and revenue shortfalls has left with a substantial deficit -- and more immediately, has left us broke. Both Dave and Adam have deferred their latest paycheck, and we don't know when we'll get the next one. We are hoping some of our major funders will help us out again, but we don't know with certainty if or when this will happen. In short, we need your help as much as we ever have, maybe more.

We also have the need to increase our total number of paying members, in order to demonstrate to our funders that we are serious about building membership and strengthening our long-term funding base. Our year-end goal was 800 paying members, but we are still only at 530. If you value the work we are doing, but have never contributed financially, now would be an excellent time to start. (Don't worry, we're not going to throw you off the list if you can't donate -- but please donate if you can!)

If you are already a member, please consider doing one or both of two things: 1) renew or increase your contribution; and 2) recruit one or more of your friends to join, or buy them a gift subscription, to simultaneously help with both our fundraising need and our membership need. (They don't need to be on the Internet, though e-mail members get more information, more often than our offline readers.) If you've already given what you intend to this year, we thank you for your support and are glad to have you with us.

Please note that contributions to DRCNet are not tax- deductible -- we incorporated as a 501(c)(4) rather than a 501(c)(3), in order to be unrestricted in our legislative lobbying activities. We have formed a 501(c)(3) corporation, the DRCNet Foundation, but are still waiting for verification from the IRS of its tax status and are not yet accepting donations to it. (If tax-deductibility is important for you, or would mean you could contribute substantially more, please contact us, and we will discuss the available arrangements for making tax-deductible contributions. But note that non-deductible contributions are especially valuable for us, as they can be used for lobbying and will be available for our use right away.)

Donations can be sent by mail to: DRCNet, 2000 P Street, NW, Suite 615, Washington, DC 20036. Or make it easy on yourself and use our secure credit card transaction form -- protected with SSL and PGP encryption -- on our web site at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html -- or call us at (202) 293-8340 or fax your credit card info to (202) 293-8344. (Consider making a monthly pledge.)

Thank you in advance for your support -- the war against the war on drugs is going well, but it needs to be able to pay its bills, like any other movement!

David Borden, Executive Director
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director

Table of Contents

  1. Texas Okays More Prison Construction: In a state where prison capacity has tripled since 1992, and where prisons are expected to once again be full by April, 4,120 new beds will be added.
  2. NIH Panel Urges Loosening of Restrictions on Methadone: A study released this week by the National Institutes of Health echoes the recent call by Barry McCaffrey to make methadone more easily available.
  3. Study Shows that Early Onset of Drug Use Makes Addiction Harder to Break: People who start to use drugs at very early ages have the hardest time breaking future addictions.
  4. Brazilian Rock Band Incarcerated for Improper Lyrics: Members of the band "Planet Hemp" face 3 to 15 years behind bars because its lyrics "support" marijuana use, according to Brazilian officials.
  5. Canadian Mounties Target Medical Marijuana: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have set out to break up a medical marijuana network, close on the heels of a poll showing 83 percent public approval of medical marijuana.
  6. Six-Year-Old Suspended from School for Sharing Lemon Drops: Authorities call in ambulance and fire department.
  7. BBC Taking Online Poll/Comments on Marijuana Legalization: We'll tell you how to participate.
  8. Public Forum in Minneapolis: Public forum in Minnesota on Drug Policy Reform legislation in Connecticut.
  9. Editorial: Giving thanks in a time of (Drug) War.

(visit the last Week Online)

1. Texas Okays 4,120 New Prison Beds

Funding for two new high-security prisons and 20 new lesser- security "dorms" was approved this week by the state of Texas. Total cost for the facilities is estimated at $107 million. Texas, which has tripled its prison capacity since 1992, to a total of 145,000 beds, expects its system to be full, once again, by next April, according to the Houston Chronicle, 11/18.

Jerry Epstein, president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, told The Week Online, "Texas has increased its prison population 300% since 1992, giving Texas the highest known per capita incarceration rate in the world. None of this has made Texas any safer than numerous other states with far lower incarceration rates. The imprisonment of non-violent drug offenders has siphoned off huge amounts of taxpayer dollars that could have been spent far more productively on under-funded treatment and education programs."

You can find the Drug Policy Forum of Texas on the web at http://www.mapinc.org/DPFT/.

2. NIH Report Urges Loosening Restrictions on Methadone

A report released Wednesday by a federal scientific committee at the National Institutes of Health found that heroin addiction is a medical problem which is curable, but that the federal government acts as an impediment by maintaining unnecessary regulations on the drug methadone. The committee findings concur with a previous request, made in September, by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to reallocate the authority for prescribing and dispensing methadone to physicians rather than federal agencies.

Committee Chairman Dr. Lewis L. Judd of the University of California San Diego, quoted in the Associated Press, 11/19, concluded that "onerous" regulations imposed by both federal and state agencies deter physicians from treating heroin addicts. The prescribing and dispensing of methadone is regulated federally by the Food and Drug Administration along with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly every state has additional mandates controlling the particularities of methadone use as well. Judd argues that "If extra levels of regulation were eliminated, many more physicians and pharmacies could prescribe and dispense methadone."

Dr. Marc Shinderman, Medical Director of the Center for Addictive Problems (CAP) in Chicago told The Week Online, "while methadone maintenance is the most effective and valuable treatment for opiate addiction, current regulations and lack of public and private insurance funding prevent effective treatment from being both offered and received." Currently only 115,000 of the estimated 600,000 heroin addicts nationwide are enrolled in methadone maintenance programs, according to Judd.

The committee also found that addicts participating in methadone maintenance programs for at least a year have a good probability of stopping the abuse of heroin and other opiates. However, according to Shinderman, "approximately thirty percent of individuals now receiving methadone treatment are still abusing opiates." He attributes this to program administrators' punitive attitudes and low dosing practices fostered by their own prejudices as well as local, state and federal regulations.

Shinderman further comments that "if more doctors were actually involved with clinical treatment in more methadone maintenance clinics, patients would reap the benefits of methadone treatment. Properly implemented methadone treatment in clinics with flexible policies and appropriate services can reduce heroin abuse to five percent or less. Some patients, once stabilized in such a clinic could move on to be treated by their own physician." Shinderman added that he hopes this report will prompt the necessary reforms.

The NIH report can be found online at http://consensus.nih.gov/. Information on methadone maintenance and advocacy can be found through the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates, http://www.methadone.org.

3. Study: Early Start Makes Addiction Harder to Break

A study by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada finds that people who start using drugs at very early ages have a harder time kicking subsequent addictions. The riskiest age to begin drug use seems to be around 12 years.

DRCNet Associate Director Adam J. Smith, who spent 12 years working with children and teens at a community center in Queens, New York, comments, "The findings here are not surprising, and it's vitally important that we, as a society, reduce the number of young children using drugs. Unfortunately, after a decade or more of the DARE program, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent on enforcement and interdiction, drugs are more available than ever to our young people, and the age of onset of use is still declining. Rather than use this study as an excuse for more of the same demonstrably failed approaches, wouldn't it be refreshing if we took the opportunity to reassess a system under which we lie to kids under the guise of education and threaten them under the guise of prevention?"

4. Brazilian Rock Band Incarcerated for Improper Lyrics

A Brazilian rock & roll band called "Planet Hemp" was arrested in Sao Paulo this week on charges that their lyrics were supportive of the use of maconha (marijuana). According to Folha de Sao Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, civil authorities had been studying the group's lyrics for the past year, and came to the conclusion that their content was in violation of Narcotics law (6.368) for "supporting and associating with the use of drugs."

Band members were taken into custody following a show before 7,000 fans in Brasilia, which was recorded by authorities as evidence. The law under which band members have been charged does not allow for bail, and carries a penalty of between three and fifteen years imprisonment.

5. Royal Canadian Mounted Police to Pursue Medical Marijuana Users

Earlier this month, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper featured the story of a group of growers, patients and doctors who were cooperating to supply marijuana to terminally and seriously ill individuals who wanted and needed it. In response, the Citizen this week (11/18) reports that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have opened an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/city/971118/1374329.html).

Cpl. Louis Chiasson of the RCMP told the Ottawa Citizen, "We are certainly interested in the activities alleged in the article. It is certainly a distinct possibility we will find there are reasonable grounds to pursue charges."

In a follow-up phone call to the Ottawa division of the RCMP, a spokesman told The Week Online, "We're not specifically targeting people who are sick or dying, but it is against the law to cultivate or possess marijuana in Canada. The job of the Mounted Police is to enforce the law, and if someone has AIDS or some other illness, that's not an excuse for breaking it."

This action on the part of the RCMP comes just one week after a national poll found that 83 percent of Canadians support the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes and 51 percent support the decriminalization of marijuana in general. On 11/21 the Justice Minister was quoted in the Citizen calling for a national debate on medical marijuana (http://www.ottawacitizen.com/national/971121/1383711.html).

6. Six-Year-Old Suspended for Sharing Lemon Drops

In the latest in a national trend, a six year-old boy was suspended from school for half a day for giving a lemon drop candy to a classmate. Officials at Taylor Elementary School in Colorado Springs, CO summoned an ambulance and the fire department to respond when they found the boys in possession of the candies, which were bought by the student's mother in a local health food store, and which school officials could not identify. The suspension came despite the mother's assurances as to the identity of the candies, and despite those assurances, school officials urged the parents of both students to take the children to a local hospital for "tests".

The school district's policy treats any unfamiliar product as "drugs", according to an administrator. The suspended student's mother told the Denver Post that the school's response was one of "complete hysteria" adding "I can't believe these people are educating our kids." (http://www.denverpost.com/news/news1446.htm)

7. British Poll on Marijuana Legalization

The BBC is currently conducting an online poll, and accepting comments, on the legalization of cannabis. Interested readers can add their two cents by following the "Should cannabis be legalized?" link from http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/talking_point/default.asp.

8. Public Forum in Minneapolis

On Tuesday, November 25 a public forum will be held at the University of Minnesota's West Bank Auditorium to discuss current drug policy reform legislation in the state of Connecticut. Guests will include David Bicklen, Executive Director of the Connecticut Law Revision Commission, Mike Lawlor, a six-term member of the Connecticut House of Representatives, and a panel of local experts. For more information, contact Dr. Mark L. Willenbring at (612) 725- 2000 ext. 3967 or e-mail [email protected].

(More events are listed in our online calendar at http://www.drcnet.org/calendar.html.)

9. Editorial: Giving Thanks

As this is the last issue of The Week Online before the American holiday of Thanksgiving, we thought we'd leave our readers with a list of things for which to be thankful.

If neither you nor someone you love has had to decide between the relief of pain, the suppression of life- threatening nausea, or the loss of sight, and the prospect of risking arrest and conviction under state or federal marijuana laws, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has had the experience of armed agents of the state kicking in your door, terrorizing your home's occupants and damaging your personal property, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has contracted injection-related AIDS, or Hepatitis, because there was no legal source of clean needles for themselves or a present or past sexual partner or a parent, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has been the victim of Prohibition-related violence or crime, give thanks.

If neither your child nor another child that you love has been lured by the siren song of the black market, or by gangs, or been shot at by a law enforcement agent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (and for being the wrong color), or been saddled with a life-long criminal record for youthful experimentation, or been banished from school for possession of an aspirin, or been tried in court as an adult, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has had property taken by the state without so much as being charged with an offense, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has had to suffer the indignity of urinating in a cup, on demand, for the privilege of maintaining menial employment, give thanks.

If neither you nor someone you love has sought drug treatment and found that it was unavailable to those of modest means save through the processes of the criminal justice system, give thanks.

If you and everyone that you love can go through this list and be thankful for each and every entry, know that you are among a shrinking group of Americans who have managed to avoid some of the most common consequences of the War on Drugs. But know too, that your tax dollars, in ever- increasing amounts, are helping to make the number of citizens like you smaller each year. So give thanks. But remember too that there is work to be done. Happy Thanksgiving.

Adam J. Smith
Associate Director

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