The Week Online with DRCNet
ISSUE #39, 4/24/98
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NEWSFLASH: PBS Frontline to air "Busted: America's War on Marijuana", featuring Will Foster, arthritis patient from Oklahoma sentenced to 93 years for medical marijuana.
ALSO: We've been informed that the Politically Incorrect segment featuring Todd McCormick and Woody Harrelson, which we reported as airing last Monday, will not air until May 19. Sorry for the confusion.
This week's issue of The Week Online is an abbreviated one due to the fact that Adam was in Oklahoma for the Free Will Foster rally until early Wednesday morning, and both Adam and Dave are in Baltimore for the North American Syringe Exchange Network Conference starting on Thursday. While this past week was an eventful one on the Drug War front, we will regretfully be unable to provide our usual original coverage. Next week's issue will touch on the major happenings during the entire two-week period.
Table of Contents
(visit last week's Week Online)
1. MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROTESTERS HAVE CHARGES DROPPED
Charges were dropped this week (4/20) against Cheryl Miller and her husband Jim for their protest of March 30 during which Jim helped his wife to eat cannabis in the congressional office of California Rep. Jim Rogan. Charged with possession, the Millers could have faced up to six months in jail. The Millers, who are from Pennsylvania, chose to target Rogan for his about face on the medical marijuana issue. Rogan, who had previously supported medical marijuana in the California legislature, voted in favor of anti-med mj HR 372 in committee.
You can read about the March 30 protest at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/4-3.html#protest. You can stay up to date on the status of HR 372 by visiting the Marijuana Policy Project web site at http://www.mpp.org/la031398.html. If your web browser has a video plug-in, you can see live footage from the protest at http://wire.ap.org/APpackages/video/0331videoday.html.
2. CLINTON ADMINISTRATION DECLARES SYRINGE EXCHANGE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE -- BUT WILL NOT LIFT BAN
On Monday (4/20) Donna Shalala made the unequivocal determination that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of AIDS without increasing drug use. Nevertheless, the administration announced that it would not lift the ban against the use of federal anti-AIDS funds for the programs. The funding, which is already in the hands of state and local governments, would allow for the expansion of the programs to fight the number one cause of new cases of AIDS and HIV in America.
We will have in-depth coverage of this ongoing story in next week's issue.
YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: Two weeks ago (WOL - Issue #36) DRCNet was *the first publication in the nation* to announce that a decision by the administration was forthcoming. And unlike the major media outlets (e.g. SF Chronicle, CNN) who announced, at various times in the interim, that the ban would be lifted, we reported only that Secretary Shalala was "supportive", and that the decision would be announced "within two weeks". You can check out that exclusive report at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/4-10.html#dhhs.
(Sounds like a good reason to support DRCNet by becoming a member, doesn't it? http://www.drcnet.org/drcreg.html)
You can learn more about the impact of injection-related AIDS on your state by visiting DRCNet's site at http://www.drcnet.org/AIDS/.
3. SOROS PLEDGES ADDITIONAL $1 MILLION FOR NEEDLE EXCHANGES IN U.S.
(Reprinted with permission of The Lindesmith Center, http://www.lindesmith.org)
In light of the federal government's decision to not fund needle exchange programs, philanthropist George Soros today offered $1 million in matching funds to support needle exchange programs in the U.S. With 35% of all new HIV cases in the United States now due to drug-injection with unclean needles, Mr. Soros is challenging individuals, private foundations and local governments to help stop the spread of HIV by supporting needle exchanges. Last year, Mr. Soros provided $1 million to fund needle exchange programs in the U.S. "Over half of all AIDS cases involving children are directly related to unclean syringes," said Mr. Soros. "It has been scientifically proven, and the federal government agrees, that making sterile syringes readily available to addicts reduces the spread of HIV and does not encourage drug use. I challenge other philanthropic organizations, individuals, and local governments to join me in supporting these life-saving programs."
4. HEMISPHERIC LEADERS PLEDGE COOPERATION IN GLOBAL DRUG WAR
The leaders of 34 nations of North, Central and South America closed a hemispheric conference in Chile on Saturday (4/18) with an agreement of increased Drug War cooperation. The alliance, brought together under the auspices of the Organization of American States, will begin meeting in Washington next month. Some U.S. officials have indicated that the alliance would eventually take on the role of judging each nation's progress, a task now undertaken by the U.S. Congress as part of its certification process. Republican leaders have already indicated that they will not accept any such changes.
5. BELGIUM DECRIMINALIZES CANNABIS
Belgium, which has long been stuck, both legally and geographically, in-between the cannabis-tolerant Dutch and the prohibitionist French, announced this week (4/21) that personal-use amounts of cannabis will now receive the "lowest priority" from the police. While insisting that possession will remain a punishable offense, the government's action effectively decriminalizes marijuana. The move is the latest sign of a mounting trend in Europe away from cannabis prohibition. Sources in Europe are estimating that "personal use amounts" will likely mean five grams or less.
6. EDITORIAL: TOBACCO THE NEWEST DRUG
(Note: The following is an exploration of issues common to the tobacco debate and illicit drug policy, and does not represent the position of the organization. DRCNet does not at this point have a position on how the currently illegal drugs would be best regulated in a post-prohibition system, nor on whether or how regulation of the currently legal drugs should be modified. We do have ascribe to the philosophy that regulations should not be so restrictive as to cause prohibition-like harms.)
Observers of drug policy are beginning to realize that their field is about to be exponentially expanded thanks to the federal government's escalating war on tobacco. That tobacco, or rather the nicotine in tobacco, is a drug, and cigarettes a "delivery system" is a fairly new concept, but it is undoubtedly true. And as surely as the effects of nicotine addiction will kill 400,000 Americans this year, we can be certain that the federal government will do everything in its power to make things worse under the predictable guise of "protecting" children.
Like all American drug policies, the federal government's plans for tobacco will give rise to numerous unintended consequences. And like all American drug policies, our elected officials are acting as if they are immune from common sense on the issue. They seem determined to ignore not only America's parallel experiences with other substances, but also the well-documented experiences of other countries in trying to address this problem.
The first step on the road toward empowering the government to prohibit tobacco will be a tax of $1.10 on every pack of cigarettes sold. This step is designed to price the killer weed out of the range of kids' allowances. This tactic, prohibitive taxes designed to discourage consumption, has been adopted before, most notably in Germany and Canada. In both nations, a lucrative black market materialized almost instantly. In Germany, forty "tobacco-related" murders were recorded in the first year of the tax. Both nations quickly abandoned the experiment.
One need not be a student of political science to predict a likely tobacco war scenario. Bootlegged cigarettes, either diverted directly from American factories or else smuggled back into the country from abroad, become a staple of the underground economy. In response, new federal agencies spring up to handle enforcement. Penalties are increased as it becomes apparent that current sentences are deterring neither street-level dealers nor the vast organized crime organizations trafficking tobacco through their existing networks. In order to offset the new costs associated with tobacco, and the loss of tax revenue due to large-scale diversion, per-pack taxes rise further, making the black market even more lucrative.
To the shock and horror of both parents and legislators, tobacco's new identity as a counter-culture status symbol leads to an explosion in teen (and pre-teen) use. It is now almost universally "cool" among the middle school set to possess and use tobacco. In response, hordes of children enter the trade, supplementing their allowances and financing their own use.
As name brand cigarettes become more expensive to smuggle, small-time operations begin to grow and produce their own cigarettes, filterless and of questionable content. Enforcement, concentrated in less affluent areas as those in the upper income brackets continue to pay the tax on legal product, disproportionately affects non-whites and immigrants. Law enforcement across the country begins to succumb to yet another easily corrupting influence, and respect for the law as a whole takes another, devastating hit. Failing to get a handle on the growing problem, congress and the president declare an all-out "War on Tobacco" pushing through legislation with an eye toward total criminal prohibition.
It is not as farfetched as it might seem. At a median income level of $25,000 per year, even $1.10 per pack will adversely impact the average smoker. That the product is addictive insures that rather than quit, many will pay the price until a cheaper (if illegal) alternative source can be found. A New York Times survey (4/22) revealed that most underage smokers, the ones who are supposed to be deterred by the increase, will continue to buy cigarettes.
American society, in the proud tradition of alcohol prohibition and the drug war, is about to embark on yet another substance-induced folly. As always, its intentions are noble. As always, its logic is fatally flawed. It is disheartening, to say the least, that the people we have elected to represent us to the Republic are either unwilling or incapable of learning from relevant history, either our own or anyone else's. Perhaps, as we begin to witness the impact of this "new" public policy, the American people will begin to make the connections, and to re-think our policies on all demonized substances. But as our leadership once again uses the failures of the policy to justify more of the same, that realization may take awhile. In the meantime, perhaps we ought to just begin by using that $1.10 per pack to start building prisons.
Adam J. Smith
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