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If you are a DRCNet subscriber residing in the U.K., DRCNet would like you to consider applying to become a foreign correspondent for The Week Online. Correspondents will be asked to file a maximum of one short story per week (generally 2-3 paragraphs) on a current drug policy-related news item. DRCNet will help you to choose a story and get in touch with experts for quotes and reaction. These are non-paid positions, but your work will be seen by thousands of people each week (great for students aspiring to be journalists, or those who hope to work in the movement)! Drug policy is exploding as a social and political issue in the U.K., but you'd never know it to look at America's mainstream media. DRCNet needs you, and your knowledge of your national media and political picture, so that we can better serve our growing audience of reformers.
If you are interested in becoming a foreign correspondent, please contact DRCNet associate director Adam Smith ([email protected]). A writing sample would be helpful.
A study of drug offenders serving long, mandatory sentences in Massachusetts found that nearly 83% were African American or Latino and that 2/3 had never been convicted of a violent crime. William Brownsberger, a state assistant attorney general, led the study which was conducted at Harvard Medical School. According to Mr. Brownsberger, "Mandatory sentencing laws are wasting prison resources on non-violent, low-level offenders and reducing resources available to lock up violent offenders."
The study, "Profile of Anti-Drug Law Enforcement in Urban Poverty Areas in Massachusetts," comes on the heels of anther study, conducted by the Rand Corporation, which found that mandatory minimum sentences were less cost-effective than traditional sentences. The Harvard study shows that the rate of admission to state correctional facilities for Latinos was 81 times that of whites. The African American rate is 39 times the white rate.
"Incarceration rates among blacks and Hispanics are damagingly high," said Brownsberger. "This study underscores how mandatory minimum sentencing for drug- related offenses is cheapening the deterrent effect of punishment. Overuse of incarceration can worsen the crime situation." The study notes that state drug sentences were often harsher than those for crimes such as manslaughter and armed robbery.
NOTE: We were very pleased at the great response from our subscribers to our November 20 alert, "Take action against mandatory minimums." For those of you who haven't yet done so, there's still time to contact your legislators and have your voice heard. Tell them about the Harvard study! Archived at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/11-20-1.html.
If you want to learn more about mandatory minimum sentencing, and what can be done to reform the law, please contact Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Their phone number is (202) 822-6700. You can also find them on the web at http://www.famm.org -- tell them DRCNet sent you.
A study conducted by the Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper shows that while blacks and whites charged with drug offenses stand an equal chance of being convicted in Alabama, blacks were more likely to be incarcerated, and for longer periods. In fact, black convicts are nearly twice as likely to receive jail time and nearly two and one half times as likely to receive prison terms of one year or more.
"Highlights" of the study include: Sixty-four percent of blacks convicted of cocaine possession received prison time, compared to 48% of whites; And 35% of blacks convicted of marijuana possession were incarcerated as opposed to 31% of whites. The study also notes that of Alabama's 96 district judges, only six were black, and of 131 circuit judges, only five were black.
You can send email letters to the editor of the Post-Herald at [email protected] (preferably praising them for doing the study and exposing the inherent racism of the drug war).
Pino Arlacchi, the United Nations' new "drug czar," has put forth a controversial proposal which would give economic support to the Taleban, Afghanistan's de-facto ruling party. Arlacchi says that the Taleban, who are strict Muslim fundamentalists, "want to (eliminate opium cultivation) anyway." On December 2, the Clinton administration decided to back the plan.
Human rights groups have been up in arms ever since the Taleban assumed power following a long period of internecine struggle, due in large part to their treatment of women and their well-known support of terrorist groups. Taleban rule strictly prohibits the provision of medical care to women, as well as prohibiting their education. Taleban justice involves public and often summary beatings, amputations and executions.
(See this week's editorial for comment.)
New Hampshire State Representative Timothy Robertson is sponsoring two bills, one allowing for the medical use of marijuana and the other, the cultivation of industrial hemp as a cash crop. The 65 year-old Democrat is hopeful that both bills will pass. Last year, Robertson introduced legislation which would have reduced penalties for possession of personal-use quantities of marijuana to a misdemeanor. That bill was defeated. "It's a subject we ought to be discussing in this country" said Robertson.
The hemp bill is currently in the House's Environmental and Agriculture Committee, "It should come out of that committee with a recommendation to pass" he said. The medical marijuana bill goes next either to the Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee or the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
DRCNet urges our subscribers in New Hampshire to contact their state legislators in support of these two bills. If you don't live in New Hampshire, but have friends or family there, encourage them to contact their reps. You might also recommend that they subscribe to DRCNet. We'd like to add as many New Hampshire subscribers as possible so that we can help to turn drug policy into a major issue during the millennial presidential primaries and campaign. You can reach the New Hampshire legislature and your rep. at (603) 271-3321.
On November 27, 25 young people were arrested on the Menominee Reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin in the aftermath of an inter-gang battle in which at least 50 shots were fired. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that more than 30 members of the Gangster Disciples and the Latin Kings, armed with pistols and sawed-off shotguns were involved in the melee. No injuries were reported.
Tribal Police Chief Karen Neconish-Gardner told the Star Tribune, "Where you have a gang problem, you have a drug problem. This is not about using. This is about trafficking. It is all about criminal activity -- about drugs and crime and power." The "gangsters" arrested were all between 12 and 17 years-old.
DRCNet suggests: Send an email "letter to the editor" of the Star Tribune at [email protected], highlighting the obvious damage being done to these children by Prohibition, over and above the damage that the drugs themselves may be doing on this reservation.
The lower house of the Colombian Congress passed a bill this week which would allow for the extradition of its citizens. The bill, which passed by a margin of 144 to 15, would not be retroactive however, meaning that traffickers currently serving time in Colombia would remain out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement. This provision angered US officials who have been hoping to bring currently incarcerated Colombian kingpins (and their assets) under U.S. jurisdiction.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley told the Associated Press that it was regrettable that Colombian lawmakers failed to pass an unrestricted bill. In addition, he said, the move will influence the State Department's decision next March on whether to lift economic sanctions, currently in place due to Colombia's lack of "full cooperation" in the Drug War.
(DRCNet's position is that neither Colombian nor U.S. enforcement is effective at reducing drug or drug trade related harm, and that the U.S. should respect other nations' autonomy.)
On November 24, an group of armed men opened fire on the Mexican border guards at Nogales, Arizona ,in an effort to free a compatriot who had been stopped carrying $123,000 in cash. One agent was killed and another was wounded in the clash. Two Americans who were waiting to cross the border were also reportedly wounded.
The incident began at approximately 6:00pm when a customs agent pulled over a pickup truck coming over from the US side. The agent inquired about the contents of a large box in the back. Unsatisfied with the response of the truck's occupants, the agent asked them to open it. At that point, the driver handed the box to the truck's passenger who jumped out and attempted to run. The box proved too heavy, however and the man dropped it, causing it to break open, spilling its contents of American currency.
The two were escorted to the office, and, while the agents were counting the cash, a group of between 5 and 9 armed men appeared and opened fire at the officers. Two of the assailants were wounded and taken into custody. The truck's driver and the rest of the attackers escaped.
On November 27, in yet another example of the destructive effects of American Prohibition on Mexican society, five armed men opened fire on the car of Jesus Blancornelas, severely wounding him, and killing his bodyguard. Blancornelas was the editor of "Zeta" a Tijuana weekly which had railed against the Tijuana-based operations of the Arellano Felix brothers, a major drug-trafficking organization.
On November 24, Keith Hellawell, Britain's first "drug czar," told a group of reporters in Scotland that the debate now raging in England over the legal status of cannabis was academic. Hellawell said that the British government would not decriminalize cannabis any time in the next decade, nor would any other European government. Ironically, he also told reporters that any review of the law should be "dispassionate and objective." Hellawell admits to never having used cannabis.
David Borden, DRCNet's executive director, had this to say about Hellawell's comments: "It's quite interesting that in the midst of the very contentious debate that is now going on in England regarding the legal status of cannabis, Mr. Hellawell has chosen to downplay the possibility of change. In addition, he seems to have taken a page out of the play- book of America's 'drug czar' by ignoring some important facts in proclaiming the strength of Prohibition. The Netherlands has had de-facto decriminalization of cannabis for decades. And in many other places on the continent, most notably in parts of Germany and in Spain, cannabis possession has been largely ignored by authorities. So while the world's political climate, and the U.S. in particular, may keep these countries from formally "legalizing" cannabis, the landscape in Europe is very much one of increasing reform." (Interestingly, Dutch teens use cannabis at one of the lowest rates in Europe.)
Visit the Independent's Cannabis Decriminalization Campaign at http://www.independent.co.uk/sindypot/index.htm.
In honor of U.K. "Drug Czar" Hellawell's proclamation that the British government would not legalize cannabis at any time in the next decade, despite a growing national debate on the issue, we hearken back this week to the days of American Alcohol Prohibition..
"There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."
- Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, September 23, 1930. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933.
After an eight-year hiatus, Arnold Trebach will once again present an American University drug policy institute in Europe during the summer of 1998. Professor Trebach, who recently retired as president of The Drug Policy Foundation, founded the institute in 1974. Past seminars have drawn rave reviews from participants, some calling them "life- changing experiences." Trebach says that several of his own books were inspired or influenced by these seminars -- as were many of the ideas that went into the founding of DPF.
The institute is designed primarily for students seeking credit toward degrees, whether bachelors, masters, or Juris Doctorates, at American University. Students from other universities seeking such credit are also encouraged to attend -- as are practitioners in any relevant field who might attend on a noncredit basis. Over the years many drug policy experts, lawyers, doctors, government officials, and social workers, among others, have benefited from this intensive seminar.
The Amsterdam program -- June 7-16 -- will be coordinated by Ernst Buning, assisted by Greetje Oosting, of the Municipal Health Service of Amsterdam. Participants will stay at the Hotel Arena, which is near the Municipal Health Service, where all lectures will be presented in the mornings. During the afternoon, there will be field visits to clinics, coffee shops, and police stations, among other facilities. The cultural and entertainment sites of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities are within easy travel distance. June 17 will be a travel day to London.
The London program -- June 17-27-- will be coordinated by Professor Gerry V. Stimson, assisted by Christopher Fitch, of the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behavior, Imperial College School of Medicine. Participants will stay in Queen Elizabeth Hall, King's College. Lectures will be held at Queen Elizabeth Hall and at the research center. There will be field visits to clinics, government agencies, and other places of interest. The London theater district and many historical sites are minutes away by tube or taxi or even shanks mare.
Most evenings and weekends will be free. There will be several welcoming receptions and a farewell banquet on the evening of June 26.
Special attention will be paid to arranging for the special interests of participants in terms of making field visits and, in the case of professional participants, in meeting those with similar responsibilities in The Netherlands and the UK. Credit participants must sit for a written examination on the last full day of the seminar, June 26, 2- 5pm, the results of which will determine their grade.
For further information or to apply for admission, please contact Karen Cullinan, the Institute Coordinator, Meredith Inverso, Assistant Coordinator, or Arnold Trebach at the Department of Justice, Law and Society, School of Public Affairs, American University. Telephone (202) 885-2958 or fax (202) 885-2907. Ms. Cullinan's e-mail is [email protected]. Ms. Inverso's e-mail is [email protected]. Dr. Trebach's e-mail is [email protected].
In a move which could only have come from a true drug war zealot, Pino Arlecchi, the United Nations' new "Drug Czar" (and a former prosecutor) has cut a deal with the devil in Afghanistan. And in a move which could only have come from an American president who is married to polling data, and who has painted himself into a corner due to his inept handling of nearly every issue surrounding the drug problem, Bill Clinton has quietly decided to go along.
The Taleban, which emerged out of post-war lawlessness to assume de-facto control of approximately 90% of the territory in Afghanistan, represents the extreme end of the spectrum of the fundamentalist regimes in power around the world. On Sunday, November 23, the New York Times reported that international aid groups were wrestling with the question of abandoning their efforts in Afghanistan altogether due to the inhumanity of the ruling party. This inhumanity, while broad in its application, is highlighted by a ban on the provision of medical care to women. Those who choose to ignore the various proclamations of the Taleban can expect to face punishments ranging from beatings to amputations to death.
All of this would typically disgust, or at least elicit proclamations of disgust, from a President who claims to "feel the pain" of so many others, but not in this case. Afghanistan, you see, in addition to being under the rule of barbarians, is also a major producer of opium poppies, the plant from which heroin is made. The Taleban, it seems, claim to want to eradicate the cultivation of this plant in the areas under their control. They claim that the product of its seed offends their religious sensibilities. And so, when the Taleban was visited recently by Mr. Arlecchi, a deal was struck under which the United Nations would provide development aid over a ten year period, beginning with $25 million in 1998, in return for promises to carry forth this mission. Our President, champion of human rights and women's issues that he is, took all of a week to announce his support for the plan.
This should not come as a shock to anyone who has followed Mr. Clinton's recent abandonment of principle when it comes to drugs. Last month, Barry McCaffrey went down to Colombia and promised $150 million in military aid and equipment to the government there to help them in their fight against "narco-guerrillas" in the south -- despite the fact that the Colombian military has a well-documented habit of using "counter-narcotics" aid for the suppression of political insurgency. Or that even before receiving the equipment, officials there were quoted as saying that they would be free to use it in whatever means they chose within the southern (rebel-occupied) part of the country. Or that the Colombian military has one of the worst records on human rights in the world.
In both Colombia and Afghanistan, however, President Clinton has allowed the bogeyman of his own perceived weakness on the drug issue to chase him into the arms of tyrants. The Republicans, the reasoning goes, are set to launch an all- out attack on the Democrats for being "soft on drugs," If not in '98, then certainly during Al Gore's 2000 presidential bid. Giving aid to murderers and tyrants is obviously, in the President's calculation, a small price to pay to cover his political, non-inhaling flank.
The proposed aid to the Taleban would be earmarked for improvements in irrigation and manufacturing. Such aid will doubtless strengthen the Taleban's grip on power, even while the U.N. refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of its rule. Arlacchi justifies this by saying that the Taleban "want to (eliminate poppy cultivation) anyway" for religious purposes. Great. If they are going to do this anyway, why do we need to add to their legitimacy?
In assessing the decision to support this regime, one must also wonder whether the Taleban will in fact strive to eliminate poppy cultivation, or whether they might not simply try to eliminate the cultivation from which they are not getting a cut? Eradicating some, while illicitly profiting off of other cultivation is the rule, not the exception in the international game. The suggestion that their "religion" frowns on drugs shouldn't make one too optimistic, considering the fact that the Taleban are well- known supporters of terrorism. Or are drugs, but not murder, against their religion?
And all of this supposes that even if such cultivation were totally wiped out in Afghanistan, it would make a difference on the streets of America, or Russia, or Europe. What of Thailand? Or Myanmar? Or Colombia? Or any of the other current or potential suppliers of the raw material for a substance which Prohibition has so successfully alchemized? Will they disappear? Or maybe we ought to seed and support barbarous, fundamentalist regimes in every nation in which poppy can be grown... trusting that their religious principles win out over their greed?
If nothing else, the drug warrior moralists ought to think long and hard about one of their favorite questions: What message are we sending to our children? Perhaps it is this: "We, your parents, leaders and role models, will tolerate, even support, any level of inhumanity, and the subjugation of any number of people, in an effort to keep you from temptations which we have failed to teach you to manage or resist. There is no one so vile, no dictator so oppressive, that we will not stand with him and strengthen him, in our quest to prove our morality." When our kids grow up, let us hope that they pity rather than loathe us.
Adam J. Smith
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