DRCNetDrug Reform Coordination Network


The Week Online with DRCNet, Issue #12

(visit last week's week online)


Table of Contents

  1. Climb Aboard DRCNet's Campaign '97! Many members have signed on, but we still need more of you to help.
  2. International: An entire Mexican anti-narcotics u under the Attorney General's supervision arrested on drug trafficking charges... But questions also abound as to the Mexican Military's competence to manage the Drug War... Colombia's Army launches counter- insurgency... Australia looks into over the counter availability of a powerful anti-overdose drug.
  3. War in California: Officials say that Mexican narcotics traffickers are increasingly involved in cultivating marijuana within our own borders.
  4. Oops: State and Federal agents in Massachusetts raid the wrong house and coerce owner into "allowing" a warrantless search.
  5. War on Free Assembly: Seattle's recent Hempfes marred by official "mistakes" and inappropriate police presence.
  6. Events: Mothers to march for needle exchange in Trenton, NJ... Boston Freedom Fest scheduled this weekend... Harm Reduction Conference in Denver... Mental Illness and drug abuse conference in Baltimore...
  7. Link of the Week: Join Mother's Voices in calling for an end to the government's pro-AIDS policies against needle exchange.
  8. Quote of the Week: Joseph Califano says that the problem is not enough snitches in schools... But Jerome Miller says that's an unwise strategy.
  9. Editorial: The Clinton Administration's refusal to act on needle exchange is a sad triumph of politics over government.

1. DRCNet Campaign '97 Update

Last week's bulletin had a small typo in it -- we accidentally reported that DRCNet's paying membership was nearing 600; we meant to say 500 (as compared with our e- mail subscriber list which is pushing 3000 and which gets forwarded to many more). All the more help we need to reach our year-end goal of 800 paying members and 4000 e-mail subscribers.

We've broken 500 this week, and about 15 more readers have pledged to send in donations. Also, two generous donations of $100 this week have propelled our dues total this half year to over $1400. But we still have a long way to go to reach our stated goal of $10,000 in member donations by year's end.

Your contributions help us to put more information on the web, make more contacts, and, even more, demonstrate to our potential funders that DRCNet is a vital organization whose members care about the issue. If you value our work and enjoy these bulletins, please take a few moments to visit our secure online registration/donation page at http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html. Remember, even a $10 contribution qualifies you as an e-mail member and counts toward our year-end total.

Though we have set 800 as our year end goal, imagine what we could do if _all_ of you sent in just the $10 e-mail dues. The last quarter year has seen 12 uninterrupted issues of The Week Online, an issue of The Activist Guide newsletter, top coverage in Wired News, a host of new web site sections and more -- all with just me and Adam as full-time staff, plus part-timers and volunteers. With three or four thousand people sending in dues, we could expand and _really_ start to make some waves. Even better would be to become a full member for $25 -- entitling you to the print version of The Activist Guide -- or a DRCNet Special Friend for $100 -- getting you bi-monthly updates and clippings from the home office.

It is a steep, uphill climb that we are making in the fight against the war on drugs. The movement needs your participation and financial support to be able to succeed. At stake are race relations, the right of patients to medicine, our Constitutional liberties, and the health and safety of all Americans.

David Borden
Executive Director, DRCNet

2. International

The entire 18-member staff of a special anti-narcotics unit of the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) were arrested recently when drug-sniffing dogs discovered 3 suitcases full of cocaine in their aircraft. The unit, which was returning from a fifteen-day duty tour at a remote outpost, according to the PGR, was responsible for intercepting aircraft suspected of carrying narcotics. The Washington Post reports that members of the unit had previously been trained in the use of sophisticated radar equipment by U.S. Customs officials. The incident is only the most recent in what has been described as a widespread corruption problem within Mexico's top anti-narcotics agency.

MEANWHILE: Testimony in the trial of a top Mexican General, arrested earlier this year on charges of corruption in connection with the narcotics trade, is nearing a close. The case has provoked intense debate as to whether the Mexican military ought to be trusted with a primary role in Prohibition enforcement. Mexican Senator-elect Francisco Molina Ruiz says that putting the military in such a role would be "like inviting a criminal into a casino." Other questions concern the military's deteriorating record on human rights, stemming from recent cases of torture and kidnappings, and also the constitutionality of its already- expanded role in domestic narcotics suppression. But the most damning charges stem from corruption, highlighted by the arrest this past February of Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then-Mexican Drug Czar, who had been praised by his U.S. counterpart Barry McCaffrey as a man of "great integrity."

Guillermo Garduno, a Mexican scholar who studies the military, speaking to the Dallas Morning News (DMN), expressed curiosity over why the U.S. seemed surprised at revelations of General Gutierrez' conduct. Mr. Garduno said that the general had been stationed in Guadalajara, a notorious drug hot-spot, for seven years, far longer than the two year tour which is the norm, and that his possible ties to traffickers were openly gossiped about around town. "I find it incredible that the Americans didn't know that Gutierrez might have been corrupt. What has the DEA been doing all this time?"

Rosa Ibarra, federal deputy and former Mexican presidential candidate, told the DMN, "The (military) network of corruption is gigantic."

(DRCNet says: another good reason to get the U.S. military out of drug enforcement.)

IN COLOMBIA: Just one week after the release of a report which found that the Colombian government could not win its war with rebels militarily, and which called for negotiations, and only days after Colombian President Ernesto Samper came under attack by General Bedoya, the retiring Commander in Chief of the military for being "soft" and for running a "sham" drug war, the Colombian army has launched a major counterinsurgency drive in southeast Colombia. Government officials admit that at least nine members of a nearly-extinct indigenous tribe were killed in the region in the first day of the operation.

Coletta Youngers, Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (http://www.wola.org), told The Week Online "The military has made it clear that it is not interested in a peace settlement. They know that they are losing, and they don't want to be put in the position of negotiating from a position of weakness. There is reason for hope, however, in that segments of the business community, who have long been opposed to negotiations with the rebels are beginning to look interested in non-military solutions."

AUSTRALIA: The Australian Drug Abuse Strategy Office is considering the implementation of a pilot study in the availability of Naloxone (brand name Narcan), a medication that is used to treat heroin overdoses. The agency recently completed research which found that 86% of injection drug users had witnessed friends or acquaintances overdosing, while ambulances were only called in 56% of cases. The study would mandate that specific instructions be given to Narcan purchasers by a pharmacist and would consider the possibility of re-scheduling Narcan as a Schedule III substance to allow regulated, over the counter sales.

David Purchase, Director of the Point Defiance AIDS Project in Tacoma Washington and North American Syringe Exchange Network (http://www.nasen.org), one of the pioneers of American Harm Reduction, told The Week Online, "I'd love to see a trial like that here in the U.S. Clearly, this has the potential to save lives. Just as clearly, however, we need to find out what the risks and benefits would be. The Australians seem to be doing the right thing. I'm waiting for the day when the United States takes such enlightened approaches to our own drug problems."

3. War in California

The Los Angeles Times reports that Mexican traffickers are increasingly growing marijuana in California, using illegal immigrants to tend sizable plots. The crop is either planted on public park land or else on private land, without the knowledge of the rightful owner. Such schemes eliminate costly and risky smuggling as the product is already in the U.S. when harvested.

With the price of choice sinsemilla now estimated by authorities at a minimum of $4,000 per pound wholesale, guns and violence have intruded on what was once a peaceful, if covert agribusiness. Special Agent Tommy LaNier is quoted in the story, saying, "In the past, we had hippy types growing a couple of hundred plants. They were laid back and non-confrontational. This started to change about ten years ago. Now more than 90% of the groves we uncover are tended by Mexican nationals."

Chris Conrad, cofounder of Human Rights '95, an exhibit of drug war travesties and a long-time activist for the reform of marijuana and hemp laws, told The Week Online, "Our policies, and the politicians who are behind them have made sure that marijuana, a plant which can be grown nearly anywhere, is more valuable than gold. The American people are simply going to have to decide whether they want to devalue the crop and put it in the hands of legitimate business, operating under the law, or whether they want to leave it in the hands of organized criminals, who answer to no one and whose means of doing business is a threat to everyone around them."

"The false alternative, which is being increasingly pushed by our government, is an all-out military war within our own borders. This would have disastrous effects on public safety, civil rights, and domestic corruption. It will be incredibly expensive, it will have no achievable endpoint, and, I would add, it will not put a stop to the cultivation of marijuana in California or anywhere else."

4. Oops

According to the Associated Press, a federal drug agent publicly apologized on Thursday for a raid he conducted on the wrong home in Lee, Massachusetts. Daniel Keenan, a local building inspector, was at home with his wife, Laurie, and their three children when six state and federal agents drove up. The agents had no search warrant, but, according to Keenan, the agents told him that if he did not consent to the search, they would all be put in handcuffs, a warrant would be issued, and all of their belongings would be tossed into the middle of their rooms. The Keenans have not accepted the agent's apology and are pressing forward with their complaints. According to a family spokesperson, "The kids were terrified. Everyone's still terrified."

5. War on Free Assembly

The Seattle Hempfest, attended in its previous incarnation (1995) by over 50,000 people, became the stage for a show of farce by the city's government. Unable to ban the fest outright under the First Amendment, and just 10 weeks away from a vote on Washington's I-685, which would allow doctors to prescribe current Schedule I drugs such as marijuana and would mandate alternatives to incarceration for non-violent first-time offenders, the city resorted to juvenile and bullying tactics in a transparent attempt to curb the rights of speech and assembly for those with whom it disagrees.

Having granted a permit after months of acrimony, sprinklers "accidentally" went off the night before the gathering, causing thousands of dollars in damage to booths and electrical equipment already set up. The following morning, the Seattle Fire Department held a "drill" which blocked entrance to the park during early-morning hours, thus significantly hindering final preparations by organizers. The department claimed that it "didn't know" that the event was scheduled.

At the Hempfest itself, attendees were herded through a quarter mile-long phalanx of police and all were subject to searches upon entrance. Inside the park, gangs of police "patrolled" the area in what has been reported in the Seattle press as more "occupation" than presence. Cops also traversed the crowd on bicycle and horseback, undercover agents were used and an anti-riot vehicle was stationed at the park's entrance.

While the Hempfest was going on, across town, a man leaving the Seattle Kingdome after having attended a Mariners' game was stabbed to death in an act of random violence. (DRCNet asks: why are the police more interested in harassing marijuana reform activists than in preventing murders?)

6. Events

MOTHERS' MARCH IN NEW JERSEY: On October 21, mothers, grandmothers and foster mothers whose families have been touched by injection-related AIDS, will march on the state capitol in Trenton to protest the continued illegality of needle exchange in New Jersey.

The march will take place just two weeks before what is expected to be a very tight race for New Jersey's governorship in which Whitman is seeking re-election.

Diana McCague, director of the Chai Project, a needle exchange program and a co-sponsor of the event, told The Week Online, "It is time that New Jersey politicians be forced to face the fact that every new transmission of this virus, every statistic, every bit of the data that adds up to New Jersey having the third-highest rate of injection- related AIDS in the nation, is a human being with a mother and a grandmother and often, children of their own. It is outrageous, no, it is criminal that the governor has chosen to dehumanize and sentence to death the most vulnerable citizens of this state. Governor Whitman is costing New Jersey taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary health care expenses, and she is sacrificing the lives of thousands of people for reasons of pure political expediency."

Individuals and organizations are strongly encouraged to participate in this important event. Contact Diana McCague at the Chai Project at (732) 247-7014 or Adam J. Smith at DRCNet at (202) 362-0030. To learn more about the scourge of injection-related AIDS in your state, visit http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS.

FREEDOM RALLY IN BOSTON: On Saturday, September 20, a crowd of tens of thousands is expected to convene on the Boston Commons to take part in what has become the largest annual marijuana/hemp legalization rally in the nation. The event, sponsored by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (http://www.masscann.org), drew more than 30,000 people last year and organizers expect an even larger turnout this year.

HARM REDUCTION CONFERENCE: "Drugs and HIV in the Rocky Mountain States", a harm reduction conference, will be held on October 23 & 24 in Denver. Co-produced by the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC) and People Engaged in Education and Reduction Strategies (PEERS), the agenda for this event includes presentations by experts from around the U.S., as well as those working on the front lines in the Rocky Mountain region. This event will be held at the Adams Mark Hotel, 1550 Court Place, Denver, CO 80202. Registration fees: $35.00/one day, $50.00/two days; make a check or money order payable to Harm Reduction Coalition and mail it to PEERS, P.O. Box 2955, Denver, CO 80201-2955. For more information call HRC (212) 213-6376 or PEERS (303) 455-2472.

The 11th International Conference on Drug Policy Reform will convene in New Orleans from October 15-18. For info, contact Whitney Taylor at the Drug Policy Foundation, (202) 537-5005, or visit http://www.dpf.org. Be a part of this large annual gathering of reformers in the U.S.!

Methadone patients and advocates will attend the NIDA heroin conference in Washington, DC on Sept. 29-30. See http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/9-5-1.html#demos for more info.

More events are listed in our Reformer's Calendar at http://www.drcnet.org/calendar.html.

7. Link of the Week

One of the speakers at the needle exchange protest this week, discussed in our editorial below, was Sheila Catherine Hair Fuoco, a volunteer with "Mothers' Voices" who is HIV positive, and a mother of two children, one of which was born HIV-positive. Mother's Voices, an AIDS action and awareness group can be found online at http://www.mvoices.org. Currently featured there is Mother's Voices' needle exchange report, at http://www.mvoices.org/facts/needle_ex_toc.html.

Especially useful for DRCNet members is Mother's Voices needle exchange Action forms, allowing visitors to send messages to their Senators, U.S. Representatives, President Clinton and Secretary Shalala in support needle exchange. Please visit http://www.mvoices.org/action/needle_ex.html and take just a few moments to urge our government to lift the ban on use of federal AIDS funds for needle exchange.

8. Quote of the Week

Two very different viewpoints:

"Teens must break their wall of silence about classmates who deal and use drugs and report them to school authorities."

- Joseph Califano, Director of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), in his statement accompanying the release of their survey showing that America's schools are far from "Drug Free."

"One of the greatest harms associated with the Drug War in poor communities is the development of enormous networks of snitches. This practice creates both mistrust and violence and does enormous psychological damage to a community."

- Jerome G. Miller, Author of "Search and Destroy, African American Males in the Criminal Justice System"

9. Editorial

In Washington, it is apparently easy to forget that the responsibility of government is first and foremost to govern, and only secondarily to politic. To lose sight of this seemingly obvious hierarchy can lead to great harm as the public good, indeed even the lives of innocents, may be sacrificed to "political concerns" which is itself but a euphemism for the career prospects of one or another politician.

Such is now the case with the issue of needle exchange. Federal law requires, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala has long maintained, that money which goes to the states for the purpose of AIDS prevention would only be freed for the funding of needle exchange if and when her office could determine that such programs reduced the spread of the AIDS virus without increasing the prevalence of drug use. A perspective that favors spread of AIDS -- always deadly -- over increased drug use -- a serious problem but not comparable to the AIDS epidemic -- seems a bit skewed to begin with. But Donna Shalala failed to note yet another criteria: the political concerns which in the Clinton administration apparently take precedence over the mere lives of intravenous drug users, their partners and their children.

In February, Shalala released a report confirming what everyone who had seen any of the now-voluminous research had known for some time. Needle exchange does in fact reduce the spread of the AIDS virus, and that intravenous drug use did not increase simply because people could get access to clean needles. In fact, in communities where such programs existed, drug use had not gone up at all. This came as a great relief to many who assumed that since the administration's stated criteria had been met, it was only a matter of time before the ban on the use of federal dollars to save lives would be lifted.

But Shalala's revelation did not stir such feelings within the Clinton administration, which appears to be more concerned with the viability of Al Gore's presidential bid than with creating any sort of controversy by saving lives. Thus, nearly eight months after Shalala's determination, the ban has not been lifted.

This past week, an amendment to the House appropriations bill passed which would take the matter out of the administration's hands entirely by specifically prohibiting use of federal AIDS funds for such programs. In a letter to Congress, Shalala asked that they not strip her authority on this matter, but months of inaction and the unnecessary deaths of thousands of American citizens make this request sound an awful lot like Brer Rabbit asking not to be thrown into the Briar patch. The administration is about to be taken off the hook by a Congress which has proven itself to be even less in touch with its moral responsibilities than the President.

So on we go. This week, over a thousand demonstrators from across the country are in Washington to protest a policy that Elizabeth Taylor has called "premeditated murder." But these people, health care professionals and outreach workers, AIDS activists and clergy, people with AIDS and people who have lost loved ones, don't come from Washington, DC and thus they can't understand how easy it is for politicians who are striving to stay within the Beltway to change their priorities accordingly. So, while thousands of people continue to become infected in service to Al Gore's presidential aspirations, the administration sits and quietly hopes that Congress will take this one out of their hands. But politics is not the same as governing. And while averting a moral choice can be rationalized by politicians consumed with power, that does not make their inaction any less damnable.

Adam J. Smith
Associate Director, DRCNet

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