DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network


The Week Online with DRCNet, Issue #11

(visit last week's week online)


Table of Contents

  1. Organization News: Membership/fundraising drive underway... AND: David Borden to address military and other drug war topics at UVA Charlottesville next week.
  2. Medical Marijuana: Plaintiffs in Conant v. McCaffrey, the class-action suit by California doctors to establish the right to recommend marijuana, win another stage... ALSO: Editor of Medical Tribune calls for med mj availability.
  3. Needle Exchange: House passes amendment that would strip Shalala of the power to lift the ban on using Federal AIDS funding for needle exchange.
  4. War on the Border: Against the Pentagon's wishes, the House votes to add provision for 10,000 troops on U.S.-Mexican border to defense bill.
  5. War in the Capital: In our nation's capital, nearly 50% of black males between 18-35 are under criminal justice supervision.
  6. Focus on Michigan: A questionable reform of Michigan's "Lifer Law"... Also, Detroit gets federal designation... AND, A Drug Free Michigan?
  7. Free Kemba Smith: Youth lead the way in the campaign against mandatory minimum sentencing.
  8. International: Colombia faces terror threat and a guerrilla war it can't win.
  9. Quote of the Week: Monkey business from the new issue of the Drug Policy Letter.
  10. Link of the Week: A national organization fighting for acceptance of the most successful addiction treatment in use and for dignity for its patients.

1. Organization News


Earlier this week, we announced our membership/fundraising drive, asking for donations, especially from readers who have never given to us before. (See http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/9-9-1.html in our rapid response archive.) Response has been good, but we need many more new contributors to meet our stated goal of 800 paying members by the end of the year. Our e-mail subscribers number almost 3,000. The current number of paying members is about 600, plus whoever has sent checks that we haven't received yet.

As part of "Campaign '97", we are also aiming to raise $10,000 from member donations between the months of July and December. So far, $1,100 has come in. Based on our members' past generosity and current outreach plans, we are optimistic of achieving this goal -- but we need your help to do it.

Remember, even a $10 virtual membership counts towards the 800 member figure. (Virtual membership is e-mail only.) And $25 will get you The Activist Guide newsletter in print. Your contribution will help us not only monetarily, but also to impress our funders and potential funders with how much our readers value our work.

Credit card donations or pledges can be made on our secure web donation form at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html, or phoned in to DRCNet's office at (202) 362-0030, or checks can be sent directly to: DRCNet, 4455 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20008. Thank you for your support!

P.S. We are also preparing a mass mailing (post, not e- mail) to prospective supporters early next month. If you know people who might be sympathetic and interested in hearing from us, please send us their names and address -- e-mail to [email protected] or fax to (202) 362-0032.


DRCNet Executive Director David Borden will present to an audience at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 7:30pm, in Minor Hall Auditorium. The topic to be addressed is "Stealing the Peace Dividend: 'Friendly Fire' in the War on Drugs". Borden will address the Esequiel Hernandez shooting and draw parallels between border militarization and trends in domestic drug enforcement; also discussed will be the War on Drugs as a successor to the Cold War.

The event is being sponsored by Students for Individual Liberty, with UVA NORML co-sponsoring. For info, call (804) 982-5016 (Liberty Coalition voicemail), or Professor James Willard Lark, faculty advisor, at (804) 982-2100.

2. Feds Lose Again in Medical Marijuana Lawsuit

On September 9, Federal Court Judge Fern Smith issued an order awarding interim attorney's fees to the plaintiffs in a class-action suit stemming from the government's response to Proposition 215 in California. Conant v. McCaffrey, a First Amendment case, was brought by doctors in response to threats made by government officials at a December 30, 1996 press conference that the DEA would revoke the prescription license and Medicare participation of any doctor who recommends marijuana to a patient.

On April 30 of this year, after attempts to bring the parties to a settlement had failed, Judge Smith granted Plaintiffs' motion for preliminary injunction against any such actions by the government. In this week's order, Judge Smith made very clear her disdain not only for the government's position, but for the presentation of its case. The order was such a stinging rebuke of the government's position in this case that DRCNet feels compelled to quote liberally from its text in order to give our readers a sense of its content and tone.

"In its order of April 30, the court found that there are serious questions as to the constitutionality of the government's medical marijuana policy, as to whether the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) can be interpreted in a manner that would allow the Drug Enforcement Administration to revoke physicians' licenses for merely recommending marijuana, and as to whether the Medicare statute can be interpreted to allow the DEA to revoke a physician's Medicare participation for recommending marijuana."

"The government did not present any facts to support its argument based on the 'public interest' provisions. It proffered no data to indicate, for example, that a physician's recommendation of marijuana to a bona fide patient would increase drug use in the United States."

"The court disagrees with the government's contention that it was pressing a novel but credible extension of First Amendment law. Moreover...the government failed altogether to come forward with facts to justify its position as to the First Amendment, just as it did with the CSA. By threatening to prosecute physicians for ambiguously defined conduct, the government sought either to coerce citizens into abiding by a policy that is likely unconstitutional or to force citizens to face the cost and uncertainty of suing the government to enforce physicians' and patients' First Amendment rights."

"[a]t oral argument, the government could not clarify for the court the ambiguities in its position. If the government was substantially justified, at the very least it would have been able to clarify the reaches of its own policy during the litigation.... It did not proffer any factual basis to bolster its arguments or the need for its ambiguous policy, and it has not attempted to clarify that policy with anything more than semantic distinctions at any point during this litigation."

Dan Abrahamson of The Lindesmith Center, lead attorney for the Plaintiffs, told The Week Online, "This is the third time in six months that the government has been called to task for its position with regard to physicians and medical marijuana. It is difficult to imagine a clearer indication of the merits of their position than the one communicated in this order. Yet apparently, they intend to press ahead in their attempt to establish their right to destroy the careers of qualified physicians who are using their best medical judgment in an effort to help their patients to find relief."

The full decision will be going online shortly at the Lindesmith Center web site: http://www.lindesmith.org.


Medical Tribune editor in chief Nicholas K. Zittell this week called for the availability of marijuana for medicinal uses, saying "Concerns over fears about potential habituation and the moral denigration of our nation's youth cloud over the fact that marijuana, in therapeutic doses, is less toxic than many chemotherapeutic agents."

3. Coburn Amendment Passes the House

On Thursday, September 11, an Amendment to H.R.2264 which strips the authority of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to lift the ban on the use of federal AIDS- prevention funding for needle exchange programs, passed in a floor vote. The bill, which is the House version of the FY98 appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, will now go to conference. The Senate's appropriations bill contains no such provision.

"It will get more difficult from here," said Keith Cylar, Co-Executive Director of Housing Works, Inc., the largest minority-run AIDS service agency in the country. "While they're playing politics in there, people are contracting this virus and dying. We're going to need to have a very strong showing at the demonstration in Washington on September 17 to let some people know that this is unacceptable."

For more information about the September 17 demonstration in Washington DC, call Chris Lanier at (212) 213-6376, fax to (212) 213-6582, or email to [email protected] or visit http://www.safeworks.org/savelivesnow/ on the web.

4. War on the Border

By a vote of 261-150, the House last week endorsed Rep. Jim Traficant's (D-Ohio) effort to ensure that their version of next year's defense bill will include provisions for up to 10,000 U.S. troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border. The Senate version has no similar provision.

Both the Defense Department and the Justice Department opposed the measure, which could cost up to $650 million and would leave the doors open for another tragedy like the killing of 18 year-old Esequiel Hernandez this past May. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), a former Border patrol sector chief who opposes putting American troops on the border, says, "The only rational way that we are going to combat illegal immigration, drug trafficking... is to hire additional professional bilingual agents."

5. War in the Capital

Two weeks ago, the Week Online reported that a study by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) had found that one out of every two black men between ages of 18 and 35 were under criminal justice supervision on any given day. (See http://drcnet.org/rapid/1997/8-29-1.html#injustice.)

According to Eric Lotke, the primary author of the report, of the over 39,000 arrests in the Capitol District by the Metropolitan Police in 1996, less than 3% were for serious violent crimes.

Cheryl Epps, a member of the NAACP Criminal Justice and Policy Review Task Force, and a former New York City narcotics prosecutor, told the Week Online, "These numbers represent the tragic effects of the War on Drugs in Communities of Color. 50% of young, black males in the capitol of the United States of America are caught up in the criminal justice system. It is time to take a very hard look at the paradigm in which we are dealing with our drug problem. No responsible criminal justice professional can look at these figures and deny that something is very, very wrong."

6. Focus on Michigan

Several important developments in the Wolverine State.

LIFER LAW "REFORM": Michigan's so-called "lifer law," which mandates life in prison without parole for those convicted of delivering or conspiring to deliver 650 grams or more of a schedule I or II substance, is being reassessed, to some extent. Of the 205 offenders sentenced under the law as of last November, 86% had no prior prison record. Juveniles who are tried as adults under the law are subject to 25 years without possibility of parole, rather than life.

Now State Senator William Van Regenmorter (R-Hudsonville) has introduced legislation which outlines a narrow range of conditions under which offenders would be eligible for shorter terms. The proposal would allow first-time offenders who provide information, to the satisfaction of the prosecutor, to apply for parole after 15 years. In doing so, however, it would strip judges of almost any role at all in sentencing.

Laura Sager, Director of the Michigan office of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), told The Week Online, "This law has been on the books for twenty years, filling up prison cells. There is an opportunity here for change, but the proposed legislation actually would make the situation worse. In return for a very slim chance in front of a parole board fifteen years down the road, it would require people to inform on others, putting their own safety and the safety of their families at great risk. In addition, most of the minor players who are caught up by this law have no information to trade."

But there is an alternative, says Sager. "There is a work group that has been convened by the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and we expect them to have a bill ready to be introduced in the fall which would mandate that the punishment fit the crime and which would put a measure of discretion back into the hands of judges. We expect that such a bill will have bipartisan support, and we are asking Michigan residents to contact their state legislators and urge them to oppose these measures and to wait for the recommendations of the working group."

Activists are not the only ones from whom Michigan's "lifer law" has drawn ire. John O'Hair, Wayne County prosecutor, says that the lifer law "did not accomplish its objective. We picked up a number of people who were only peripherally involved, some of them young, unsophisticated, and exploited by older, experienced criminals." Judge Terrance K. Boyle says, "I really think the whole system makes a mistake when it removes discretion... These intensively harsh penalties corrupt the system and force judges to violate their own oath."

For more information on the injustice of Michigan's "lifer law" and the current political situation, we suggest reading "A mom clings to hope of parole: Sentiment grows to amend state's drug lifer law" and "Amendment to drug lifer law would add conditions for shorter terms," 9/10/97, available at http://www.detnews.com/1997/metro/9709/10/09100050.htm and http://www.detnews.com/1997/metro/9709/10/09100051.htm on the Detroit News web site.

For more information on mandatory minimum sentences and efforts to reform them, visit the FAMM web site at http://www.famm.org.

FEDERAL FUNDS FOR DETROIT: At a press conference attended by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, Representative John Conyers announced this week that the city of Detroit has been named a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The designation will mean $1 million in federal funds for the area. The funds are designated by law to be used for "law enforcement coordination."

Denyse Jones, an AIDS education professional in Detroit, says of the federal help, "Let's put that in perspective. If the money goes into traditional Drug War strategies, it will pay for 10-year mandatory minimum sentences for three people. But, if it were to go into some form of harm reduction strategy, such as needle exchange, it could be used to distribute millions of sterile syringes to Detroit's IV drug users, preventing perhaps thousands of new cases of the AIDS virus, and saving millions of dollars in health care costs. Now you tell me, which strategy would be of more benefit to the citizens of Detroit?"

Rep. Conyers is an outspoken opponent of mandatory minimum sentencing, so hopefully they won't go that route. But it is hard to see how funds designated for "law enforcement coordination" could be used for the social programs and rehabilitation that Conyers advocates.

"NO EXCUSE" This week, Michigan Governor John Engler announced the launching of a state-wide "Partnership for a Drug-Free Michigan." According to Engler, "The Goal of the Drug-Free Michigan initiative is to help change attitudes towards drugs. Through this comprehensive media campaign and other strategies, we can do much more to prevent drug abuse among teens and children." He added, "Our message to these children must be blunt: 'No use - No excuse.'"

Partners in the effort include Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, Michigan Press Association, the Detroit Red Wings and various law-enforcement agencies.

7. Free Kemba Smith

In the last Week Online, we urged members in the Washington, DC area to attend the Free Kemba Smith rally, protesting disproportionate mandatory minimum sentencing, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. (See http://drcnet.org/rapid/1997/9-5-1.html#demos.) The event featured students from Dayton, OH who had learned about the tragic Kemba Smith story from the May, 1996 issue of Emerge magazine. Speakers from Congress included Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), and Rep. Maxine Waters (D- CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Waters denounced a policy that would take a daughter away from her parents for 24 years after they have spent just as many years doing everything they could to raise her as a good citizen.

Also presenting were Kemba Smith's parents, Gus and Odessa Smith, Catherine Powell of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Anthony Graham, Language Arts teach at Colonel White High School in Dayton, followed by three of his students, Michael Hines, a New York poet and recovered addict, and Julie Stewart, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

The most rousing presentation was that of Rev. Jamal Bryant, Youth and College Director of the NAACP. Bryant's fiery oratory was evocative of the civil rights movement in its heyday under Martin Luther King.

The rally received extensive coverage on radio, TV, and in newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, FOX News, NBC, Court TV and more.

We will provide ordering information for the "Kemba's Nightmare" report in the next issue of The Week Online.

8. War and Terror in Colombia

A group comprised of drug traffickers, known as "The Extraditables" planted a car loaded with 550 pounds of explosives outside the offices of a Bogota newspaper. The bomb was discovered by police before it could explode. The group promised a wave of terror in reaction to draft legislation which would overturn Colombia's 6 year-old ban on the extradition of its citizens.

In a letter addressed to Colombian lawmakers and sent by mail to a Caracol, Colombia radio station, the group said, "This first car bomb failed us, but others may not." Adding, "It is thanks to you that a new terrorist era has begun. We prefer a tomb in Colombia to a jail in the United States."

ALSO: Special advisors to Colombia's President Ernesto Samper admitted in a report this week that that government's guerrilla war with political insurgents has passed the point where the government could hope to win it militarily. The conflict and the security situation, they say, "are greater than the capacity of the state to control them."

Political economist Francisco Thoumi, author of the book "Political Economy and Illegal Drugs in Colombia," tells The Week Online that although the situation is quite complex, and it is impossible to determine the proportions of the various sources of their funding, it is clear that the rebels have become much stronger, financially, over the past decade and it is well established that at least part of their money comes to them through the narcotics trade.

9. Quote of the Week

This week's quote comes from an interview with Michael Sonnenreich, who was appointed to be Executive Director of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (a.k.a. the Shafer Comission) by President Nixon. After a comprehensive study, the Shafer Commission recommended the decriminalization of marijuana. President Nixon had previously stated that he would ignore the Commission's report if they came back with such a recommendation.

The full interview, conducted by Scott Ehlers of the Drug Policy Foundation, can be found in the Summer '97 edition of DPF's Drug Policy Letter, which will be released this week. Our excerpt:

If you are not already a DPF member, you can join and receive their newsletter for $25/year -- mail to DPF, 4455 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20008, or register through their web site at http://www.dpf.org.

10. Link of the Week

Last week we announced that advocates of methadone maintenance were planning a "presence" at the National Institute on Drug Abuse's upcoming conference on heroin this Sept. 29-30. (See http://drcnet.org/rapid/1997/9-5- 1.html#demos.) The National Alliance of Methadone Advocates is leading the fight for acceptance and deregulation of methadone maintenance.

"NAMA is not an organization of apologists for what passes for methadone maintenance treatment in the United States today. Most MMT programs do not even come close to practicing the treatment modality created by Drs. Dole and Nyswander three decades ago, and even the best programs are severely hampered by senseless regulation and by the presence of staff oriented towards non-medical modalities. NAMA believes that only through education can methadone maintenance treatment fulfill its promise and again become the most effective, progressive, and humane treatment for heroin and other opioid dependence."

Visit NAMA's web site at http://www.methadone.org, and be sure to follow their links to other methadone advocacy groups and publications.

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