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(visit last week's Week Online)
1. COLORADO: NEEDLE EXCHANGE KILLED IN COMMITTEE -- ACTIVISTS VOW CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE IF NECESSARY
A bill which would have changed Colorado state law to allow legal syringe exchange has been killed in committee in the House on Monday (3/9). SB 99, which passed the through the Senate last week, was rejected by the House Education, Welfare and Institutions committee 7-4 in a vote which went straight party line with all 7 committee Republicans voting against. More than 50 witnesses offered more than 4 hours of testimony in what was described as a very emotional and combative hearing.
Stu Van Maveren, Larimer County District Attorney testified against the bill saying "One of the deterrents (to IV drug use) is the fear of spread of disease. If you have clean needles, that fear is gone." Those testifying in favor included Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, who told the committee that he had observed such programs elsewhere and "there is no downside here... You have the opportunity to save lives."
(Van Maveren's comment is revealing about the prohibitionist mindset. He is in effect saying that drug users should gets AIDS and die -- and that the government should facilitate this by banning syringe exchange -- in order to discourage the use of drugs. - DB)
The desire of Denver city officials to institute an exchange program was a catalyst for the inception of the bill. Several months ago, Denver's city council voted in favor of needle exchange, with the caveat that they would not institute a program until and unless the state law prohibiting them was changed. The city of Boulder has had needle exchange for ten years -- it is believed to have been the third such program in the nation at the time of its founding -- albeit the program still technically runs illegally. Boulder county officials have long allowed the program to operate.
Monday's hearing came in the wake of threats made by State GOP Chairman Steve Curtis that any House Republican who voted in favor of the "un-Republican" bill would face party-funded opposition in their next primary. Curtis was roundly criticized for those comments by some GOPers, including State Senator Dave Wattenberg, a rancher, who called Curtis a "silly son-of-a-bitch". Whether or not the threat had any bearing on the vote is impossible to determine.
In the wake of the defeat of SB 99, AIDS-prevention professionals in Denver have vowed to do whatever is necessary to make clean syringes available to IV drug users in that city. Paul Simons, Executive Director of People Engaged in Education and Reduction Strategies (PEERS) told The Week Online: "We have spoken with Bill Ritter (Denver's DA) who testified in favor of the bill, and, while he supports exchange, he has indicated that he will uphold the law as it stands. We intend, in the very near future, to sit down with the Mayor's staff to try and work out a compromise similar to what they have done in Boulder. If those talks are not fruitful, we'll have no choice but to expand syringe exchange in Denver this spring in an act of civil disobedience."
Simons continued: "We have a statute on the books in Colorado which allows for a "lesser of evils" defense. There are people in Denver -- thousands of people -- who will be at serious risk of contracting AIDS, hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases unless they have access to sterile syringes. We're confident that with all of the scientific evidence that is on our side, we would prevail in such a situation. The problem in this state is that there are a bunch of ideologues in the legislature who would be quite content to pay the bills for those dying of AIDS, whether that be for drug users, their partners, or their children, and to watch them die, rather than acknowledge that the facts don't jibe with their politics. It is horrifying, it is pathetic, and we are not going to stand for it."
Articles in Colorado's largest newspapers covering the needle exchange defeat can be read online at http://www.denverpost.com/news/leg173.htm and http://InsideDenver.com/extra/legislature/0310need2.html. Letters to the editors can be submitted to [email protected] (Denver Post) and [email protected] (Rocky Mountain News). Be sure to and include your full name, home town and daytime phone number. Listings for many other Colorado newspapers online can be found by doing a Yahoo search on "Colorado media" and following the links. Please send DRCNet copies of your letters.
Important stats on drug-related AIDS in Colorado can be found online at http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS/co_ban.html.
2. PRESIDENT'S ADVISORY COMMISSION ON AIDS TO MEET NEXT WEEK -- ACTION ON NEEDLE EXCHANGE TO BE DEBATED
For four days beginning on Sunday (3/15), the President's Commission on AIDS will meet at the Madison Hotel in ashington DC. The meeting is expected to focus heavily on the continued federal ban on the use of AIDS-prevention funding for syringe exchange. Last year it was revealed that members of the commission had introduced -- and subsequently withdrawn -- a resolution threatening the resignation of commission members if no action was taken to lift the ban. At their last meeting in December, the council passed a resolution calling on Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala to formulate a plan for the lifting of the ban. That plan was to have been ready by this past January 27, the date of the President's State of the Union Address. As of this time, no such plan has been presented.
The National Coalition to Save Lives Now (NCSLN) is pressing the council to take strong action at their meeting this week. Among their demands are that the Council either pass a resolution stating that they will resign, or else publicly call for Shalala's resignation. Chris Lanier, NCSLN's national coordinator, told The week Online, "We are aware that some members of the Council are angry with us for publicly demanding that they act. But the reality is that from our perspective they should have walked two years ago. Even taking the step of calling for Secretary Shalala's resignation deflects from the main issue. That is, the Council is in essence part of the administration, and the administration, by its inaction on this issue, has allowed people to become infected with a deadly but preventable virus. Hopefully, the Council will use the opportunity of this meeting to take action which is both public and severe."
3. A CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT FOGEL, MEMBER OF THE PRESIDENT'S ADVISORY COUNCIL ON AIDS
The Week Online spoke with Robert Fogel, partner in the law firm of Hilfman and Fogel, and a member of the President's Advisory Council on AIDS, about the upcoming meeting in Washington, and the possibility that the Council will take action to put pressure on the administration to lift the ban on the use of federal AIDS dollars for syringe exchange programs.
WOL: In the wake of the Council's demand last year that Secretary Shalala make the required determination that Needle Exchange Programs (NEP's) prevent AIDS transmission without increasing drug use, and that she produce a plan for the funding of such programs -- neither of which she has done -- there seems to be some pressure for the Council to take action. What do you see as the potential outcome of this upcoming meeting in Washington?
RF: Well, all of us who are fighting to have the federal ban lifted have been frustrated. And while I understand and feel the frustrations of those who are calling for us to resign immediately, it is unlikely that that will happen at this time. At our meeting last July, Ben Schatz (Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and member of the Council) brought up the fact that on the issue of discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS in certain areas, he was being stonewalled by the administration. Now, this was an issue that the President had told us that he would address. At that point, I considered the position that we had been facing regarding the needle exchange ban, and I said, "Well, if we're going to come together and sit in Atlanta, or in Washington, and do this work and make our recommendations, just to be ignored, then I move that we resign en masse. And somebody seconded it. And that was a watershed, I think, in the Council's work. Ultimately someone else asked that we withdraw the resolution, and we did. Ultimately, the story got out and it was picked up by the AP, and it did become an issue of concern within the administration. Since that time, we have seen a lot of progress on the discrimination issues, but none, of course, on needle exchange.
Once you resolve to resign over an issue, it is truly an end-game strategy. There are steps, short of resigning ourselves, that might better be taken at this time. This is a life and death issue, and I, for one, am certainly aware of that. But there is a question of how to convey to the administration that this shouldn't be a political issue, and when and how we can best get that across. We are pretty determined, as a group, to see action taken by the administration, but there is, I think, a logical and strategic process to be followed.
WOL: And what would those intermediate steps entail?
RF: I think that it is quite possible, after meeting with the Council and speaking to administration representatives, that we would determine that it is time to call for the resignation of Secretary Shalala. It would have to be a resolution that was short and direct, to the effect that as the Secretary has failed to follow through on the stated intent of the President to do all that he can to reduce the transmission of HIV down to zero, that it is our recommendation that she step down. I'm not saying that this will necessarily happen, mind you, but proposing such a resolution is something that I'm sure will be brought up.
WOL: Do you feel that the President has played politics with this issue?
RF: I do feel that the issue is politically charged, no doubt, but I also see this President as someone who has not been afraid to anger people who disagree with him. I have a lot of respect for him in that to me, it seems as if he has done what he feels is right for the country. Of course, he's also a political creature, so that does have some bearing on his actions. But I think that he simply needs to be told that this is the right thing to do, why it is the right thing to do, and how to make it politically palatable. Allowing federal AIDS dollars to be used to fund NEP's does not make one "soft on drugs". In the end, I have confidence that he'll do the right thing.
WOL: So then what is your assessment of why it hasn't been done to this point?
RF: There are certainly people within the administration who have taken the position that it's politically unnecessary to lift the ban... that it will be used as a political issue and that if local governments want to do this then they can find the funding to do it. There are also those who are totally opposed to the idea ideologically, regardless of the politics. The other side is that there are people in the White House, including Sandra Thurman, the national AIDS Director, who are pushing very hard for the ban to be lifted. As I said, I think it's going to be a matter of presenting the what's and why's to this President.
WOL: So is there a line in the sand that the council will draw?
RF: Certainly. I don't want to give the impression that the Council is not committed to getting the ban lifted, because we are. My sense is that this issue is very much on the President's front burner right now. We will meet in Washington this week, and if it sounds like things are coming to a head, if we're satisfied that the question is not if but only when, then I think that we'll look at that. But that doesn't mean that we're willing to wait forever. Even now there is the possibility that a decision will be made to call for the secretary's resignation this week. Look, what we want is an answer. If the President says "no" than it's no longer the secretary's fault, right? So why call for her resignation? But the President hasn't said anything, so as of now it's still the Secretary's responsibility. At this point, she could get up on a soap box and support needle exchange, and then let the White House say no if they choose. We could go from there. Right now we are simply being put off and ignored, and that is not going to be acceptable.
The Council is very serious about this issue. I think that there was a window of opportunity to get this done right after the '96 election, and that the opportunity was wasted. And if we move forward strongly this week, and come June at our next meeting nothing's been done, and we get the response that "well the congressional races are coming up -- there are political concerns," that certainly won't be acceptable. We've heard that too many times before. That kind of response will only serve to temper our willingness to accept rhetoric as fact, and I think that at that point there would be a real possibility of resignations by Council members.
WOL: So you would, ultimately, resign over this issue?
RF: You know, several people on the Council have said that they're not sure that needle exchange, or at least the federal ban, is an issue that they are willing to resign over. To them, I've said that it's not just a matter of needle exchange, it's about the development of a strategy, a cohesive plan on prevention. And at this point, at the federal level, that plan still doesn't exist. Needle exchange, we know, is an effective part of such a plan, and one which reaches a very vulnerable and very hard to get at population. So needle exchange has become a litmus test for something much larger. It comes down to creating a strategy, to heeding the advice of the experts you have brought in.
At the White House Conference on AIDS, the president stood there and pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to get HIV transmissions to zero. We all walked out of that conference extremely happy, he said he'd do whatever it took. Well, this president has been criticized in the past for taking a "one speech" approach to problems. In other words, he gives one great speech but there's no follow through. This time, there was terrific follow through. Shalala attended a bunch of regional AIDS conferences, they seemed really engaged. But now, looking back, the follow-up was just rhetorical. Sure, there's more money now, but prevention got the smallest increase. Well, if you're not going to spend on prevention, of course your costs and spending will increase for drugs and treatment. But that doesn't constitute a substantive commitment to deal with a preventable, contagious disease like AIDS.
WOL: Have you spoken, recently, to other Council members about resigning?
RF: Absolutely. I think that the most persuasive perspective that I've heard from a fellow Council member about resigning at this time is that given the choice between tendering our own resignations or calling for Shalala's resignation, why should we be the ones? I mean, we're actually doing our job. At the same time, I have heard people say that it is better to remain on the inside, almost at all costs. But to me, there comes a point where having people on the inside, complaining but not acting, gives an excuse to stick with the status quo, as if there's some process that is taking place. And in the end, I'm not willing to play that part for anybody.
(DRCNet's interview last October with AIDS Council member Alexander Robinson can be read online at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/10-11-1.html#interview.)
4. MEDICAL MARIJUANA RALLY IN SAN FRANCISCO
(bulletin from California NORML)
Rally to Stop the Federal Veto of Prop 215! Defend Safe Access to Medical Marijuana.
Tuesday March 24 -- 11 AM March from Harvey Milk Memorial Rainbow Flag Pole (Castro and Market) to Federal Building. 12 Noon Rally at Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate (at Polk)
In November 1996, Californians elected to give seriously ill patients the right to use marijuana as medicine by approving Prop. 215. Now, the federal government -- and posturing politicians -- are trying to take that right away.
On March 24th, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco will hear a federal lawsuit aimed at closing six medical marijuana cooperatives or "clubs" in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Marin and Mendocino. Most patients have had to rely on the growing network of medicinal cannabis cooperatives, some of which predate passage of Prop. 215. But this is just the latest step in the Federal war against 215. The time has come for the federal government to declare a legal truce, halt its mindless war on California's medical marijuana patients and providers, and attend to building the safe and affordable distribution system called for in Prop. 215.
The defense brief in the federal case to shut down California's medical marijuana dispensaries is posted at the California NORML web site: http://www.norml.org/canorml/.
(See our current California legislative action alert at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/3-4-2.html.)
5. CNN ONLINE POLL -- 96% FAVOR LEGALIZING MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Results of an online poll released this week (3/12) show that of 25,000 respondents, over 96% favored the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Fewer than 1,000 respondents voted no. Keith Stroup, Executive Director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws said that "Every poll that has been taken on this issue shows that a solid majority of Americans do not want sick and dying people to risk arrest for choosing to treat their symptoms or their pain with marijuana. Medical marijuana is a primary example of an issue where the people are way out in front of the politicians."
6. SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE ALERT -- CONTACT CONGRESS TODAY! HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES TO DEBATE THE MEDICAL USE OF MARIJUANA
(Excerpted with permission of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), http://www.norml.org)
March 10, 1998, Washington, DC: The House of Representatives will likely vote Tuesday, March 17, on a "Sense of the House Resolution" stating that "marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medical use." House Resolution 372 -- spearheaded by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-FL), chair of the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee -- further declares that "the United States House of Representatives is unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and urges the defeat of state initiatives which would seek to legalize marijuana [as a medicine.]". The Crime Subcommittee and full Judiciary Committee previously voted to adopt the resolution on February 24 and March 2.
Vote on the House Floor
The full House will likely take this resolution up for consideration next Tuesday, March 17. Please contact your member of Congress today and urge them to oppose House Resolution 372, and to support H.R. 1782, a bill introduced by Rep. Frank to reschedule marijuana to under federal law to allow the legal use of marijuana as a medicine. House Bill 1782 is currently pending in the House Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Health and Environment. For help in identifying the name of your member of Congress, please visit the NORML web site at http://www.norml.org/. Interested parties may send a free fax to Congress from the NORML site. To call the House of Representatives directly, please contact the Congressional switchboard operator at: (202) 224-3121 or address mail to: Rep. _______, House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515.
For more information, please contact either NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. or Paul Armentano @ (202) 483-5500.
7. BILL IN OKLAHOMA WOULD ALLOW THE GOVERNOR TO CALL OUT THE GUARD IN DRUG CASES
HB 2596 in Oklahoma would allow the governor to order the Oklahoma National Guard to assist law enforcement officers in drug matters. National guard members would have to volunteer for the duty, which could take them beyond Oklahoma's boundaries. Once assigned to duty under the bill, National Guard members would be on federally funded status and could be helping federal, state or local law enforcement agencies. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting committee assignment in the state Senate.
8. NEW DRUG TESTING BILL APPROVED IN IOWA LEGISLATURE
- Marc Brandl for DRCNet
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign legislation into law that would allow unlimited and unannounced drug testing of all employees and ease restrictions on pre-employment testing. The bill introduced by state senator Steve King (R-Kiron) passed Wednesday March 4th in a partisan vote. Opponents of the measure were organized labor and civil libertarians, who fear unlimited and unannounced drug testing is an invasion of privacy that is ripe for abuse.
Supporters say the bill, once it becomes law, will be a step forward in creating a safer workplace. They also contend existing laws will protect anyone who is legitimately being harassed by drug tests. James Aipperspach, President of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, a vocal supporter of new drug testing laws, told the Des Moines Register, "I hope this bill will encourage people to step forward and ask their employers, 'Would you help me with my problem?'"
Some language of the bill involving a reporting requirement is causing concerns for local drug reform advocates. The bill calls for the laboratory doing the drug testing for firms to report annually to state authorities on the results of the tests. Carl E. Olsen (http://www.calyx.net.~olsen) of Iowa NORML told The Week Online, "Iowa NORML is still developing its position. The reporting requirement needs to be looked at, it may be a fourth amendment violation. If it were not for that factor, we wouldn't have any grounds to oppose the bill."
Drug testing bills such as this one land in the gray area for many drug reformers who believe that while such testing may be repulsive to some, as long as the testing occurs between two private parties, they have no grounds to oppose the bill. Many then have to look at the fine print to see what role government oversight and law enforcement will have. (Most reformers would consider drug testing a poor choice, apart from the legal issues.)
Other provisions of the bill allows for employers with under fifty workers to not pay for drug rehabilitation. All businesses may require workers who test positive for drugs to enter a drug treatment program or fire them.
9. POLL: 84% OF YOUNG BRITS CLAIM A "RIGHT" TO USE DRUGS
In a call-in poll conducted by BBC Radio 1, which caters to a young listening audience, the question was asked, "should people have the right to take drugs?" responses were taken over 5 days (3/2 - 3/6), and over 20,000 people cast their votes. Before each call-in prompt aired by the station, the announcer advised, "If you think you should be allowed to do whatever you like with your mind or body providing it hurts no one else, you should vote Yes. If you believe we need to keep the current laws in place in order to protect us, vote No." In the end, 84% were in favor of the rights of individuals to dictate what does and what does not enter their bodies.
10. BRITISH HOUSE OF LORDS TO STUDY CANNABIS
Last week (3/4) Britain's House of Lords announced that the Lords Committee on Science will conduct a study on the risks involved in the use of cannabis, both medically and recreationally. Issues to be addressed will include the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis use, variance among these effects with different methods of administration, whether or not cannabis is addictive, and the extent of tolerance that develops among users.
Lord Perry, former Professor of pharmacology and founding vice-chancellor of the Open University told the Independent on Sunday "The recreational use of alcohol and tobacco are attached by risks. There is no ban on either at the moment. The question then arises, at what level of risk should people be allowed to make their own judgment about whether they're prepared to take that risk? It's a question of whether the risks that are obtained in evidence are regarded as sufficient to warrant a government ban, or whether they are risks that individuals might be expected to take for themselves -- like tobacco, like alcohol... like coffee, like tea. They're all drugs that have risks."
11. MASSIVE CANNABIS LEGALIZATION MARCH TO BE HELD IN LONDON
The raging debate over cannabis policy in the UK will take to the streets on March 28th when a crowd expected to be in the hundreds of thousands -- at least -- marches through the heart of London to protest the continued Prohibitionist policies of the British government. The Campaign to Legalize Cannabis, begun just six months ago by The Independent on Sunday newspaper, has taken the UK by storm, with prominent citizens and business leaders publicly voicing support.
This week (3/8) the Independent called its growing constituency to the streets in an editorial beginning:
"It is time to stand up and be counted. For the past six months the Independent on Sunday has led the debate on decriminalizing cannabis. Now it is time to turn words into people power. We want the thousands who have already signed our petition to join countless others who believe the Government's war against cannabis is harming our society, to join us in London."
Dr. John P. Morgan of the New York Medical School and co-author of the new book, "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" told the Independent, "This is marvelous news. I cannot conceive of a demonstration like this in America just now. I wish you success. The eyes of the western democracies are upon you."
Visit the Independent on Sunday's Cannabis Campaign web site at: http://www.independent.co.uk/sindypot/index.htm.
12. EDITORIAL: Americans, the Drug War, and the concept of rights
Should people have the right to take drugs? This was the question asked last week in a call-in poll conducted by BBC-1 radio in England, a station which caters to young people. In other words, does an individual have the right to decide what does or does not enter his or her body, or does the government have the right to institute laws which prohibit the ingestion of certain substances? Certainly, a call-in poll is something less than scientific. Despite that, with over 20,000 respondents, the results were astounding. In the end, 84% of mostly young Britons claimed that the right to determine what they did or did not ingest was their own and not the government's.
Flash back 200 years or so. Wasn't it Britain, and the British conception of the reach and the role of government which led to that little backlash called the Constitution? Interesting how times have changed. Ask your average American, young or old, if he or she has a "right" to ingest drugs, and you will likely get a blank stare. The thought would never have occurred to them. The Drug War, amidst all of its other harms, has turned the concept of rights on its head in America.
It wasn't always this way. In the early part of this century, when the temperance movement was gaining political ground, it was widely understood that the Constitution, as written, would not support an exercise of governmental power over the production or sale of alcoholic beverages. To achieve a legal Prohibition of alcohol therefore required the most drastic of legislative acts: the amendment of the Constitution. Even at that, it was never imagined that the government had the power to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, or of anything else, by its citizens, and so such consumption was never outlawed.
The Drug War does not rest on a constitutional amendment. And yet over the years, little by little, the laws which governed the production, importation and distribution of certain substances grew to include their possession and even ingestion. Until now, if you ask the average American whether or not he or she has the "right" to take drugs, they will likely think that you've taken a few too many yourself.
But is it so crazy? Is it unreasonable to think that there exists such a right? The calculus changes if one begins to look at rights as they were intended. Your rights as an American -- as a human being -- are not limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. No, the Constitution is a document which was written for the purpose of spelling out the rights, or more accurately the limits, of government. So the question is really somewhat different.
The question that needs to be asked is: "Does the government -- any government -- have the legitimate power to determine for an individual what that person may consensually ingest?" How far, exactly, does the power of government extend? Alexander Shulgin, renowned chemist, author and researcher into the nature and effects of psychedelic substances, argued that it extends only so far as the tip of his nose and no further when he said, "from the skin in, I am the sovereign. I am the customs agent, the police and the border patrol, and I will defend these borders with more passion and more fury than I will the politically-drawn borders of any nation-state."
Is that radical? Does the belief that one's own body -- and that which would be knowingly put into it -- is the province of the individual rather than the state mark one as some kind of militant anti-societalist? Does such individualism make one a danger, a renegade, a thought-criminal? Or is it possible that the government, our government, the leadership of the land of the free, has so encroached on our personal sovereignty through the medium of the Drug War as to have incrementally but significantly changed the boundaries of the acceptable perception of freedom itself? Do I have a right to do that which the state has determined is not in my best interest? To smoke tobacco? To overeat? To skydive? To handle poisonous snakes? To ingest psychotropic substances?
In the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, these were radical men. They believed in the rights of individuals and the strictly limited powers of legitimate government. Further, they knew that maintaining those rights and those limits would be a never-ending process, with government always seeking -- whether beneficently or malevolently -- to increase its reach into the lives of its citizens. But radical as they were, those men were right.
Today, 84% of the young Brits who call in to a radio station believe that they have the right to determine for themselves what they will or will not ingest. Or, rather, that the government has no legitimate power to dictate such personal decisions by the use of force. They have taken the radical view that from the skin in, they are the sovereign. And they seem ready and determined to protect their borders. 200-and-some years after a group of revolutionaries denounced the Crown and drew up a blueprint for the freedom and liberty of a nation, the progeny of the colonialists have found that their former subjects were right all along. Ask almost any British teenager and you'll apparently find that they have a very good conception of the self evident rights of individuals. But ask an American, any American, whether or not they are sovereign over themselves, and you'll likely find that in the land of the free, the citizens are subjects once again.
Adam J. Smith
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