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1. ONDCP 1999 DRUG STRATEGY TO BE RELEASED
On Saturday, 2/14 President Clinton will announce the release of his 1999 Drug Strategy during his weekly radio address. The plan will include a budget of $17.1 billion. The Week Online has net seen the plan in its entirety, but some details are available. The plan envisions a 50% reduction in both the availability and the use of drugs in the US over the next 10 years. In a new twist, the 1999 plan calls for agencies involved in anti-drug efforts to develop and be held to productivity goals, such as number of seizures and arrests. These goals will be re-evaluated annually, but Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey told the Washington Post that there would be no mechanism for punishing agencies which fail to reach their stated goals, but instead he was counting on the news media and congressional oversight. There is no indication that goals relating to the protection of individual rights will be included in the plan.
Rob Stewart, a spokesman for the Drug Policy Foundation, told The Week Online, "Yet another ten year plan. What's new about this? Ten year plans have the advantage of insuring that no one who is in power now will be around to answer for the inevitable failure. It's totally meaningless. It's a way of trying to make believe that there has been a fresh start, and that no one ought to question the strategy for the next several years because it's somehow new and improved. The federal government is still suffering from the illusion that national drug use trends can be controlled from Washington."
The Drug Strategy will be posted by sometime this weekend at http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov.
You can visit the Drug Policy Foundation's web site at http://www.dpf.org.
2. FEBRUARY 14TH MARKS THE 69TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE
On Feb. 14, 1929, in Chicago, six members of the Bugs Moran gang were killed by Al Capone's henchmen for hijacking a truck of bootleg beer. An innocent bystander was also gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The gory execution-style killings made the link between Prohibition and violence undeniable for most Americans. Historians regard the incident as one of the turning points in public attitudes toward Prohibition, which was repealed a few years later.
Americans who were shocked by this level of violence in 1929 could have had no idea that the prohibition which remained after repeal would lead to the level of bloodshed that the nation now endures in and around illegal drug markets. It is estimated that today, over 30% of all killings, and an even higher percentage of all violent and property crime are either directly or indirectly related to Prohibition.
(Chicagoans can attend the 2nd Annual St. Valentines Day Massacre Memorial Drug Policy Conference, at the Chicago Historical Society, 1601 N. Clark Street, 9:00am - 6:00pm. Admission is $25 regular and $10 for students (with ID), and includes a reception. Call (773) 588-8900 for more information and to verify.)
3. CANADIAN, AMERICAN OFFICIALS MEET TO DISCUSS SMUGGLING
In what could prove to be a sign of things to come, officials from western Canada and western US states met last weekend (Feb. 8-9) to discuss cross-border crime, especially drugs. The drug trade is apparently flourishing in both Washington State and British Colombia, which concerned representatives from both countries. But far from finding solutions to smuggling along the border, which stretches for more than 2,000 miles encompassing vast stretches of wilderness, mountains, and parts of the Great Lakes, officials couldn't even seem to agree on which direction the drugs are flowing.
Christine Gregoire, attorney-general for Washington State, told The Vancouver Sun "The border county prosecutor told me there is a new strain of heroin and cocaine of a magnitude we've not seen before." The Sun reports that Gregoire thinks it is coming down from Canada. But Ujjal Dosanjh, British Colombia's Attorney-General, told the Sun that he thought that the drugs were coming north from the states.
4. JUDGE MOVES DENNIS PERON'S TRIAL BACK TO OAKLAND
On Monday, (2/10) California's 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that the criminal trial of the state's most outspoken medical marijuana advocate would be held in Oakland, where it was brought, rather than san Francisco, where the majority of the alleged offenses occurred. Peron was indicted in Oakland by state attorney-general Dan Lungren, despite the fact that his Cannabis Cultivators Club operated in San Francisco, and that the raid from which the criminal charges arose took place there.
Peron's club had operated for years with the implicit consent of city authorities. The raid, which was criticized by many as politically motivated, was executed by Lungren's (state) agents in August of 1996, just a few months before proposition 215 would be voted on (and passed) by the citizens of California. Lungren was an outspoken critic of Prop 215 during the campaign. In perhaps the most bizarre twist to this ongoing bit of political and legal theater, Peron is currently running against Lungren for the Republican nomination for governor of California.
The case was originally transferred from Oakland to San Francisco by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dean Beaupre last October, who ruled that there was almost no connection between the charges against Peron and the city of Oakland (Alameda County). Beaupre also noted that there was "an appearance of improper forum-shopping" by Lungren. Upon the new ruling, moving the case back to Alameda, Peron told reporters, "I really believe we're going to win no matter where we are."
A source close to the situation, who asked not to be identified, told The Week Online, "Lungren is so pissed off about the whole Peron thing. He knows that he shot himself in the foot by busting Dennis in the first place. All the publicity, all of the patients on the news, it turned out to be the best thing that happened to the 215 campaign. Then he goes and holds a press conference to debate a cartoon character (the Doonesbury comic strip ran an entire week's worth of material supporting 215 and criticizing Lungren, who in turn called a news conference about the matter) which made him look like an embarrassment. He knows that he would have never, ever gotten a conviction in San Francisco, so he made sure the case stayed in Oakland. If you ask me, with the way Lungren's luck is running when it comes to Dennis, I wouldn't be shocked if the case ends up creating a political miracle and Peron makes him sweat in the primary. Wouldn't that be a kick in the ass."
5. PENN STATE PROFESSOR CONTINUES MARIJUANA CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE FOR FOURTH CONSECUTIVE WEEK
Julian Heicklen, the retired Penn State professor who has smoked marijuana in front of the campus gates every Thursday since January 22 to protest the injustice of marijuana prohibition, was at it again this week. A large crowd, estimated at well over 200 was on hand to witness the event, including several people who joined the professor in civil disobedience. "I want to be arrested for marijuana" Heicklen said, "but I am not exactly an advocate for it -- I represent the fight for freedom. I'd like to ask for a trial by jury and have a quick one (trial). It's immoral to prosecute a person for using a vegetable: it's our business, not the government's to decide what we put into our systems.... I want to nullify the Marijuana laws in the United States."
Heicklen was not arrested on Thursday, although several uniformed and plainclothes officers did approach the crowd and forcibly grab lit marijuana cigarettes out of the hands of some protesters, stepping them out on the ground. Other students, however, reportedly lit joints of their own in defiance of the police action. Local sources report that charges are being filed against Professor Heicklen and five others who were in attendance.
6. COOPERATION, CERTIFICATION, AND CORRUPTION: U.S., MEXICO, AND DRUG WAR RELATIONS
- Marc Brandl for DRCNet
On February 6th, the U.S. and Mexico unveiled a plan for closer cooperation in battling the drug war. The 39-page document comes amidst allegations of further drug related corruption in the highest levels of the Mexican government, and an upcoming battle in Congress over continued certification of Mexico as a drug war ally. Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey said the report was, "a conceptual outline and guide to action." In the report, the two governments plan to cooperate on three important issues: fighting organized crime involved in the drug trade, stopping corruption of government and law enforcement officials and reducing prohibition-related violence along the border.
A Washington Times article printed a day before the plan was released to the public claimed a CIA report ties former Mexican governor and newly appointed interior minister to international drug traffickers. The article states, "Francisco Labastida Ochoa has 'long-standing ties' to drug dealers since serving as governor of Sinaloa for six years." Not only is this the newest in a long line of scandals involving Mexican officials causing concern on the Mexican side, it also makes a Congressional fight over whether to re-certify Mexico as a drug war ally even more likely. According to Coletta Youngers, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in an interview with This Week Online, "Mexican certification faces a pretty tough battle in Congress. There is no read yet on [House Speaker] Gingrich's position." Last year Gingrich's support was key in getting many House republicans to vote against certification. President Clinton must decide each year which countries will be "certified" as allies in the Drug War, but Congress has authorization to overturn certification. Certification had never been a problem for Mexico until last year when several prominent politicians such as California Senator Diane Feinstein attacked Mexico's record of fighting drugs and questioned its level of motivation to win the drug war. Mexico's position as the key transit nation for international drugs entering the US puts it in the untenable position of being a held responsible for a problem that even the US has had little success in managing.
The release of the joint-strategy report and the leak of the alleged CIA report are considered the opening salvos in the political battle over certification. The report was released nine months after promised but less than two months before the re-certification decision. Youngers said, "The two events are certainly linked. It's not any coincidence the report was released when it was."
7. OLYMPIC SNOWBOARDER STILL HIGH ON NAGANO GOLD
26 year-old Canadian Ross Rebagliati came in first in the slalom snowboard competition at the Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan and was awarded the gold medal. Until, that is, a post-race drug test came back positive for marijuana. Despite Rebagliati's protestations that he must have inhaled second-hand smoke at a going away party held for him in late January (he admitted that he had smoked marijuana in the past, but not in some nine months), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) immediately stripped him of the medal.
But Rebagliati appealed his case on Wednesday (2/12) to the Court for Arbitration of Sport, which re-instated the medal in a narrow ruling which relied only on the fact that the IOC had no prior agreement in place with the International Ski Federation regarding marijuana use. Although both bodies list marijuana as a banned substance, the absence of a formal agreement, and the fact that the Ski Federation never asked the IOC to test for it, left the IOC with no authority to strip Rebagliati of his medal.
NOTE: For a discussion of some of the issues involved, please see this week's editorial by DRCNet associate director Adam J. Smith, at bottom.
8. ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION LEVELED AGAINST AUSTRALIAN ANTI-DRUG POLICE UNIT
On February 8, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "Four Corners" television program aired a show which alleged that members of Victoria's anti-drug squad were paid $250,000 to steal files out of investigators' offices and had accepted thousands of dollars in protection money. Neil Comrie, Police Chief Commissioner, told the Canberra Times, "There was not one new allegation raised (on the program) and all of those allegations have been addressed previously." Commissioner Comrie was referring to a 1996 finding by internal police investigators which found no wrongdoing.
9. EDITORIAL: Who's Sending the Wrong Message?
Now that Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati has had his gold medal returned to him on what was essentially a technicality, the question remains: Why is marijuana on the International Olympic Committee's list of banned substances in the first place? Steroids, amphetamines, ephedrine, these we can understand. Because although it has become nearly impossible to develop tests which will catch an athlete who is trying to gain an unfair advantage through chemistry, those who are caught cheating in this way have clearly undermined the intent of athletic competition. But marijuana?
The IOC, to this point, has not maintained that marijuana has the potential to enhance performance. That doesn't prove, of course, that it might not for some. Many highly successful athletes are well-known smokers. Robert Parrish, who cheated father time over a remarkable 18 year career in the National Basketball Association, was arrested late in his career for accepting delivery of a UPS package that turned out to contain a large quantity of marijuana. Did Parrish feel that it helped?
More recently, a New York Times article estimated that over 70% of current NBA players are regular marijuana smokers. These are among the best and most successful athletes in the world. Other athletes, in other sports, have been caught with the forbidden plant, and no doubt an even larger number of prominent athletes have eluded detection. At the least, it would be hard to argue that marijuana is significantly detrimental to athletic performance.
Growing up playing and coaching on the basketball courts of Queens, New York, I knew a number of good players, some of whom went on to play Division I ball, who swore that their game rose to another level after a few puffs. Perhaps the smoke had simply clouded their judgment, but they seemed convinced. As for snowboarding, it would be reasonable to think that the prospect of hurtling down a mountain at speeds in excess of eighty miles an hour on a piece of fiberglass could lead even a teetotaler to request a sedative of some sort.
If marijuana is, in fact, an unfair advantage, a performance enhancing substance, than the IOC needs to come out and justify its policy by stating as much. The feeling here, though, is that such a statement by the world's most visible athletic commission would outrage the world's drug warriors, particularly the zero-tolerance Americans. In the absence of such a statement, the question still remains. What justification does the IOC have in testing for it?
Their are two possible justifications, but neither is tenable. The first is that we cannot have our athletes using marijuana because it is, in some sense, immoral. The problem here is that despite the lofty goals of the Olympic Games, morals, or the lack thereof, has never been a disqualifier. Are athletes ineligible for competition if they have previously been convicted of a violent crime? What of those who have served in the army of a nation with a horrific record of human rights abuses? What if they have admitted to beating their children? Certainly these acts would be viewed by the majority of rational people as being on a lower plane of morality than the act of inhaling the smoke from some burning vegetable matter?
The second possible but equally absurd justification is that allowing an athlete who has tested positive for marijuana to leave the Games with a gold medal hanging proudly around his or her neck would send the wrong message to our children. Well, why is allowing the child-beater to wear the gold a more appropriate message? Ahh, the warriors might proclaim, but children watching the Olympics would have no idea that the athlete on the medal stand had ever done such a thing. Right. But while we can agree that kids should not be smoking pot, how many of the world's children would know today that it is possible to smoke marijuana and still be the greatest snowboarder on earth, unless the IOC took the absurd and utterly irrelevant step of testing for it?
The truth is, that unless evidence is uncovered which proves performance-enhancement, there is absolutely no justification to test athletes for marijuana. It is not relevant to the issues of competition. Some Olympic athletes live under the rule of governments which couldn't care less about their personal use. Others live under governments which spend billions of dollars to hunt users down and put them into cages. In either case, it is not the business of an international athletic committee to choose sides.
The IOC should not be in the business of enforcing the laws, or even the mores of any nation unless they are directly relevant to the fairness of the games themselves. Having attempted to do so, however, and being that the gold medal hangs today from the neck of the rightful winner of the competition, perhaps we ought to thank them for their misjudgment. The IOC's witch hunt has put another hole in the credibility of those who assail marijuana as the devil's weed. And the bounty of their hunt has given us the opportunity to ask, again and again, of the zealot drug warriors: "How can one possibly come to be the best in the world at something as difficult as snowboarding, while suffering from amotivational syndrome?"
Adam J. Smith
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