DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network


The Week Online with DRCNet, issue #4

  1. Past Alerts: Oregon activists are fighting back against recriminalization.
  2. Proposition 200: The Arizona State Legislature voted to overturn the will of the people. But more than enough signatures have been collected to put the ball back in the people's court.
  3. International Blackmail: The word from down under is... BUSTED -- US State Department is exposed blackmailing Australia to resist reform.
  4. Link of the Week: Cannabis policy report makes front page news in New Zealand.
  5. Organization News: One new Advisory Board members signs up, while another bids farewell but not goodbye.
  6. Media Alert: Good discussions of medical marijuana and the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity by the New York Times.
  7. Quote of the Week: It's budget time. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of military brass begging for Drug War funds.

We have omitted the Editorial section this week because Media Alert contains substantial editorial content.

(visit last week's week online)

1. Past Alerts

In the wake of the bill, recently signed by Governor Kitzhaber, to recriminalize the possession of personal use amounts (under one ounce) of marijuana in Oregon, signatures are being gathered across the state to halt implementation of the law until a voter referendum in November, 1998. The bill provides for sentences of up to 30 days in jail, as well as a mandatory 6-month suspension of possessors' driver's licenses.

In order to forestall the bill's application, Oregonians need to collect 48,841 valid signatures by October 1, 1997. If the signatures are collected, the new law would not go into effect until it could be voted on by the entire state. Oregon was the first state in the union to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana, in 1973.

It is very important to reform efforts nationwide that this signature drive be a success. Those wishing to help (volunteers, as well as money are urgently needed), should contact Sandee Burbank, Director of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse, at [email protected]. Further information is available from Portland NORML at http://pantless.com/~pdxnorml/.

2. Proposition 200

The following report is based upon a news release from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). They are the oldest and largest organization fighting for reform of our nation's marijuana laws. You can find them on the web at http://www.natlnorml.org or e-mail them at [email protected].

Upon the passage in November of Arizona's Prop. 200, allowing for medical access to marijuana, and other drugs, at the discretion of doctors, and the elimination of jail time for most non-violent drug offenders, Arizona officials claimed, on the floor of Congress, that their constituents had been "duped". This despite the fact that the initiative passed by an overwhelming 2-1 margin. So, in an effort to remedy Arizonans' apparent inability to govern themselves, the legislature gutted the provisions of the proposition earlier this year.

But wait!! Word in from Arizona is that citizens of that state, in an effort led by a group called "The People Have Spoken," this week turned in over 200,000 signatures (more than twice the number required,) which, once verified (which will take about a month) will put the legislature's action on hold, thus allowing Prop. 200 to take effect, pending a citizen vote in November of '98.

Upon further review, it seems to DRCNet that the people who were duped were Arizona officials who believed that it was more important to toe the federal government's line on the Drug War than to listen to their own constituents. Considering the margin by which Prop. 200 passed, we fail to see the wisdom behind questioning the intellectual capacity of the majority here. Perhaps this show of affirmation, followed by success in November '98, will serve as a wake-up call to elected officials around the nation. The winds of change are blowing. Be careful how you set your sails, or you just might get swept aside.

3. International Blackmail

On Saturday, July 19, the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) published "The Real Drug War: Why the US Won't Let Australia Reform Its Drug Laws" by David Marr and Bernard Lagan. The title should have read: "HOW the US Won't Let Australia reform Its Drug Laws."

The story's focus is a secret meeting between David Pennington, who has the job of investigating drug law reform for Victoria's Premier, and Robert Gelbard, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Matters. Gelbard, who has been described by the Dallas Morning News as a "diplomatic Doberman" was "scathing" about the Swiss heroin trials, according to Pennington, and wanted to make sure that the Australian government would not go ahead with their own trials, as has been discussed.

The "stick" that Gelbard attempted to use to force compliance with US wishes was the legal opium industry of Tasmania, which brings over $80 million per year into that state, and whose very existence rests on the whim of the International Narcotics Control Board (read: the US.) Not surprisingly, the Tasmanian government and their opium industry have been the most vehement Australian opponents of the proposed trials. It is worth noting that the aforementioned meeting took place in the office of Ron Cornish, Tasmania's Minister of Justice.

The Herald reports that during the meeting, Gelbard "belittled the Swiss trials, and all such trials, saying they were doomed to failure." DRCNet would note that the Swiss trials have been reported as an unqualified success, and further we would ask why, if the experiments are "doomed to failure" -- and thus would affirm the US position -- would the Clinton administration be taking such dramatic diplomatic steps to stop them? It is difficult, if not impossible to believe that the US government is being truthful in its assessment of the potential effectiveness of heroin maintenance, or other rational strategies. This dishonesty infects its dealings both with the foreign governments it is attempting to coerce, and with the American citizens, to whom it owes an honest, good faith assessment of our policies and a strategy reflective of that process.

The article can be found on the Sydney Morning Herald's web site at http://www.smh.com.au. Letters to the editor can be submitted via e-mail to [email protected]. Letters to your local paper regarding US attempts to bully foreign governments to ignore mounting evidence in favor of reform, should include the URL for this article, as the story apparently did not get picked up by American wire services.

4. Link of the Week

On Monday, July 21, the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust, a distinguished group of academicians and clinicians, released a discussion paper concerning the cannabis (marijuana) policy of the island nation. The paper, authored by DRCNet member Dr. David Hadorn, recommended several alternatives to Prohibition, ranging from civil fines in place of criminal sanction, to a system of regulation, under which adults could buy cannabis legally from licensed vendors.

NZDPFT's paper was front page, headline news in the Evening Post, and the story was picked up by the NZPA for distribution throughout New Zealand and possibly to Australia. Hadorn was interviewed on three national radio programs and appeared on the Nightline television program. Reportedly, the Minister of Health was hand-carried a copy of the report by a Ministry staffer working on drug policy, and there was significant interest in the report within the Parliament.

The full text of the report is available on the web site of the New Zealand Drug Foundation at http://www.nzdf.org.nz/ -- follow the Cannabis Discussion Paper link. While you're there, join the online Discussion Forum and take part in the international drug policy debate. The report is also available on the Lindesmith Center web site at http://www.lindesmith.org/dpft/.

Other members of the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust include Dr. Robin Briant, Auckland Hospital senior physician, Professor Fred Fastier, University of Otago emeritus pharmacology, and Professor Norman Sharpe, Auckland Medical School medicine department head.

5. Organization News

DRCNet is pleased to announce that the above-mentioned Dr. David Hadorn, from Aotearoa, New Zealand, has joined DRCNet's Board of Advisors. Referring to his phenomenally successful paper, David wrote, "We could not have put this paper together without the resources made available through DRCNet and those of you who participate."

Meanwhile, another member of our Board of Advisors has resigned, but for the best of reasons. Sher Horosko, formerly the head of Substance Abuse Services for the State of Connecticut, more recently a private consultant, has assumed the position of Executive Director at the Drug Policy Foundation. Because DRCNet receives much of its financial support from the DPF grants program, Sher has had to leave DRCNet's board in order to avoid any possible conflicts of interest. While we've lost a board member, we will actually be working much more closely with her as a grantee, tenant and partner organization of DPF. Thanks to Sher for her 2 1/2 years on our board. (Please let us know if you hear of any former state substance abuse officials who might be interested in joining our board.)

6. Media Alert

Right on the heels of DRCNet's editorial, flogging Big Media for its poor drug war coverage, the NY Times has gone and made us look bad by having a relatively good week. (Our editorial comment was aimed at the media in general and not at the Times specifically, though their slogan was featured. First, this past Sunday, July 20, the Times' Magazine's cover story ("Just Say Sometimes" by Michael Pollan) was an excellent piece about medical marijuana and how the issue is turning absolutist drug war rhetoric into a much more nuanced dialogue between the people and the government.

Then, on Wednesday, July 23 the Times printed an editorial supportive of the narrowing of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, "Rationality in Crack Sentencing", even going so far as to state: "The real question is whether there should be any harsher penalties at all for crack than for powdered cocaine."

While we applaud the Times' editorial response, we feel this particular disparity is only the tip of the iceberg in a much larger problem. A 1995 study by The Sentencing Project found that nearly 1 in 3 African American men between the ages of 20 and 29 were under some form of correctional supervision -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day, meaning the percentage who undergo correctional control at some time is larger. Astonishing percentages of young black men in our major cities enter prison at some time during their lives. Though data on the percentages incarcerated for drug offenses are unavailable, the Sentencing Project blamed the dramatic increase in incarceration of the last 15 years on drug policies.

An officer during the Vietnam War once explained that he had destroyed a village in order to "liberate" it. Drug warriors like James O'Gara of the "Philanthropy Roundtable" are much like this officer, wanting to "save" the inner cities by removing huge numbers of young blacks to prisons for long periods of time. As contracting of prison labor by private industry becomes widespread, many of these men, and a growing number of women, are put to work at wages that might colloquially be termed "slave labor". Meanwhile, the drug industry out on the streets replaces their lost workers with new young men and women, who can then be sent to prison, etc., etc. Result: bigger prisons, no reduction in availability of drugs.

While opinion in the black community is divided on this issue, as in the majority community, a growing number of African Americans are coming to perceive the war on drugs as a new and creative form of racist oppression. The sentencing disparity between two different forms of cocaine -- one of them associated in the popular consciousness with whites and the other with blacks -- is the system's most extreme, explicit expression of injustice. Hence, it has become a symbol and a rallying point for advocates of sentencing reform -- but is still mainly a symbol for the larger, fundamental changes that are needed.

Another point that can be used in your letters is that the violence that the O'Gara types use to justify harsher crack sentencing is caused mainly by Prohibition, not use of crack, and was precipitated in particular by the institution of the mandatory minimums themselves in 1986. Criminologist Alfred Blumstein has explained that by dramatically increasing penalties on adults, the cost of hiring an adult to deal drugs relative to hiring a kid was greatly increased. Hence, the drug-selling organizations, always conscious of their bottom line, recruited large numbers of young people into the drug trade, who of course then had to carry guns -- on the street, into the schools, wherever they went. Guns then became perceived as a necessary commodity and a status symbol, diffusing into the general youth population beyond those participating in the drug trade. While homicide rates have been dropping for several years, gun violence by youth have increased very sharply. The mandatory minimums can be blamed for precipitating an epidemic of teen gun violence.

Please pick some of these points, or others that you've thought of, and send a letter to the editor to the New York Times. You can submit it by e-mail to [email protected], mail it to New York Times, Letters to the Editor, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036-3959, or fax it to (212) 556-3622. Remember to include your mailing address and daytime phone number with your letter; and please send a copy to DRCNet at [email protected]. You can find the Times editorial archived at http://www.nytimes.com. If you haven't visited the New York Times web site before, you'll have to first register for a free account.

There are many more angles on which comment can be made on this issue and which you might want to consider for your letters. You can learn some of them from this week's hotline alert on the Families Against Mandatory Minimums, at http://www.famm.org/hotline.html. If you haven't responded to this week's legislative alert, please read it at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/7-22-1.html and take a few moments to contact your legislators and the President.

7. Quote of the Week

Rear Admiral Walter Doran, acting commander-in-chief of the U.S. Southern Command, testifying in front of Congress:

"While we have strong indications that our previous efforts are bearing tangible results, nearly 300 metric tons of cocaine enter the United States annually, and the associated effects of illegal drugs continue to wreak havoc on the entire region."

Sounds like a very tangible lack of results to us -- but maybe a good way to beg more money out of Congress for the military. (Can't let civilians get their hands on that "peace dividend" after all.)

For a more realistic perspective on the military and the war on drugs, see our Topics in Depth presentation at http://www.drcnet.org/military/.

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