The Week Online with DRCNet
ISSUE #36, 4/3/98
Table of Contents
Our heartfelt thanks to the many of you who responded to our March 31 call for members. When we put out the bulletin Tuesday afternoon, we were still 22 paying members short of our 1st quarter of 750. By the end of the day, we had topped 780, and many more have come in since then. Your donations provided much need cash, and most importantly, helped us reached our goal. Now we can go to our funders and show them that our members support us and that we are on the right track. Their major support will help us build the rapid response team from its nearly 5,000 subscribers now, to 50,000, and from 50,000 to 100,000. Those of you who stepped up to the plate this week should be proud. You are part of the solution; together we will help lead the world out of the darkness of Prohibition and the War on Drugs.
Our second quarter goal, however, is much more ambitious: we are trying to reach 1,300 paying members by July 1. That means we need nearly 40 new people to send in dues each week, nearly 6 per day. This ambitious goal is necessary, in order to secure DRCNet's long-term financial stability, so that we can advance to the next level. Some of these new members will come in naturally, as the rapid response team continues to grow. And some of them may come from prospect mailings and events. You can help by getting more people to subscribe to this list -- just tell them to go to http://www.stopthedrugwar.org and enter their name, e-mail address and state or country. If you are involved with drug policy or other relevant events, or come into contact with people on a regular basis, you can bring DRCNet e-mail signup sheets with you and send them back to us with new subscribers. (Please write if you are interested in helping in this way.) We also have brochures that we will gladly send to anyone who will distribute them.
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At noon on April 20, people from Oklahoma and across the country will hold a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Oklahoma City to protest the 93 year sentence being served by medical marijuana patient Will Foster. Foster, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, was sentenced on February 27, 1997 to 70 years for cultivation, 20 years for cultivation in the presence of a minor (his children, who had no idea that their father was growing his medicine in a bomb shelter, under lock and key underneath the house), two years for intent to distribute (which is assumed for possession of more than 10 grams in Oklahoma) and an additional year for failure to have a tax stamp.
The Fosters' home was stormed by state, county and local agents acting on an anonymous tip. Foster, who is 39 years old, ran his own software business from the house and had no prior record. His sentences are set to run consecutively.
We urge all of our subscribers in the Oklahoma City region to attend this event and to urge your friends and family in the area to attend. Featured speakers will include Meg Foster (Will's wife) and DRCNet associate director Adam Smith. The rally is being sponsored by Oklahoma NORML. If you'd like more information, or to make a contribution, you can call them at (405) 366-8058.
April 1 was an important date in the debate over the ban on the use of federal anti-AIDS funds for syringe exchange. It was on that date that a congressional moratorium forbidding such funding expired, at which time the decision on whether or not to lift the ban was left entirely in the hands of Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. With April 1 come and gone, and no such action taken by the Secretary, the Associated Press reported that the Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS has drafted a resolution calling on the President "to direct the Secretary... to immediately certify the efficacy of needle exchange programs in preventing HIV infection while not encouraging drug use... and, if she fails to expeditiously take such action, to ask for her immediate resignation."
Two weeks ago, the Presidential Advisory Council on AIDS issued a unanimously approved double-barreled resolution, expressing "no confidence" in the Clinton Administration for their handling of the syringe-exchange issue, and strongly urging Secretary Shalala to make the official determination that syringe exchange reduces HIV transmissions without fueling increased drug use. Such a determination is a prerequisite to the lifting of the ban.
The Week Online has learned that in a private discussion at the time of the resolution, members of the council made it known that they would not abide by more delay, and that even stronger action would be taken within 2-3 weeks if the secretary failed to act. Last week, however, the politics of the decision became even murkier as a letter from Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey to AIDS Policy Director Sandra Thurman indicating McCaffrey's opposition to syringe exchange was leaked to members of Congress and the press. While the decision is not McCaffrey's to make, the retired four-star general's opinion and support carry much weight as Republicans gear up for a Drug War legislative blitz later this month in an attempt to paint the Clinton Administration as "soft" on drugs.
The draft resolution, to be voted on by the Council on April 9, cites a "pattern of inaction, misrepresentation, disingenuous communication, inconsistent messages, and broken promises" which "has seriously eroded the secretary's and the administration's credibility on all AIDS prevention and related public health matters."
The Week Online spoke with Robert Fogel, a member of the Council and an outspoken critic of the administration's failure to lift the ban. "There was a conference call with members of the Process Committee earlier this week" said Fogel. "We had already been told that HHS was nearing the end of its review process, and so we felt that it was time, past time in fact, to make it clear that a determination has to be made on this issue."
Fogel continued, "The resolution is addressed to the President, not the Secretary. After months of being dealt with in a less than forthright manner by the Secretary, we felt it was important that the President be responsible to answer to us. We're giving the President time to return to the country and to take action on this, as the Council won't vote on it until the ninth. But I have little doubt that at that time the Council will pass the resolution, probably unanimously."
At a news conference last week (3/27), democratic lawmakers and health experts teamed up to urge that the administration lift the ban. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters, "the science is in. The findings are clear. The administration has the evidence." Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) joined Pelosi at the event.
(The National Coalition to Save Lives Now has been an outspoken and provocative force in the national debate. They may have outdone themselves this week, however, with their stinging parody of Secretary Donna Shalala's recent milk ad, online at http://www.harmreduction.org/ncsln/. Print a copy out and fax it to her, with your name and address, at (202) 690-6166, and/or call her at (202) 690-7694 or (202) 690-7000. Also call President Clinton at (202) 456-1414. Urge them to deregulate federal AIDS funding and let state governments decide on needle exchange for themselves.)
Despite loud protestations from a bipartisan group of Senators, including California Democrat Diane Feinstein and Georgia republican Paul Coverdell, an attempt to overturn the Clinton Administration's recent "certification" of Mexico as a "fully-cooperative" partner in the Drug War was defeated 54-45 last week (3/25). The vote came just days after a secret DEA report was leaked to legislators detailing corruption within the Mexican military far in excess of previous estimates. The corruption is thought to be so pervasive that one unnamed U.S. official told the Washington Post last week that "it points to much of our work in Mexico being an exercise in futility."
The certification process, under which the administration makes unilateral determinations as to which countries are adequately cooperating, has come under heavy criticism in recent years by the source and transshipment countries. Those criticisms focus on the fact that it is U.S. demand which drives the international drug trade, while the countries who are most negatively impacted are judged. A decision to decertify a country requires the U.S. to withdraw certain aid and to vote against loan requests from that country in the World Bank.
In other news from Mexico, national broadcaster Radio Red reported last week (3/27) that Adrian Carrera Fuentes, former director of the Federal Judicial Police, was detained on charges of conspiring with the Arellano Felix brothers and their violent and prolific Tijuana cartel.
- Dale Gieringer, redistributed from California NORML, http://www.norml.org/canorml/
April 2, 1998: According to a press release from Californians for Compassionate Use, California Superior Court Judge David Garcia issued a preliminary ruling in the case of the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club, denying the motion of Attorney General Lungren to close the club, padlock its doors, confiscate all property, and evict all persons from the premises. He also denied the motion by defendants Dennis Peron and Beth Moore to dismiss the case outright. Instead, Garcia ruled that there are try-able issues concerning the concept of "caregiver" and ordered that a jury trial be scheduled beginning April 27th. "This vindicates our position that we are legal and that we are working within the guidelines of the Court of Appeals decision," said Peron, " We look forward to our Day in Court."
- Troy Dayton for DRCNet
Washington, DC: On Monday, March 30, Cheryl Miller, a Multiple Sclerosis patient who uses marijuana for medicinal reasons, consumed marijuana -- with the help of her husband Jim -- in the office of Congressman Jim Rogan (R-CA), protesting House Resolution 372. Both were arrested for their acts of civil disobedience.
House Resolution 372 is a non-binding resolution that is "unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use" and "urges the defeat of State initiatives which would seek to legalize marijuana for medicinal use." Congressman Rogan was targeted because he has supported favorable medical marijuana legislation in the California State Legislature and also had a cousin who used marijuana successfully to alleviate the nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, yet he voted for H. Res. 372 in committee. "Patients nationwide are angry and are beginning to target hypocritical members of Congress with direct action. Patients are ready for civil disobedience. We've only begun to turn up the heat," said Chuck Thomas, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the organizers of the event. "We can't let this awful resolution pass. I was arrested today so that some day, other patients will not have to be," said Cheryl Miller. Cheryl, age 51, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1971. She and her husband Jim live in Silverton, New Jersey. She has tried all the standard drugs to treat MS, most of which had horrific side-effects. She has even been prescribed Marinol (synthetic THC), but finds marijuana in its natural form to be the most helpful for her muscle spasticity.
Also on hand were about a dozen protesters including another patient and a doctor. Michael Krawitz is a 35-year-old father and disabled veteran living in Elliston, Virginia. Fifteen years ago, he fell victim to a poorly constructed roadway and crashed his motorcycle. "I've had ten surgeries and two total artificial hips," Mike explained "I use cannabis as an adjunct to my narcotic pain medicine in treating my sometimes extreme pain. Cannabis also treats the nausea caused by my internal injuries." Dr. Dennis Petro is a neurologist who has been studying marijuana's therapeutic effects since the late 70's. Dr. Petro has published many studies showing marijuana's medical efficacy in peer-reviewed medical journals. This is the first act of civil disobedience on this issue in Congress and it garnered national media attention. Dozens of journalists were on hand to report on the event, including reporters from all three networks, CNN, Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and more. The Week Online asked Rob Kampia, Director of Government Relations for MPP, why he felt this act of civil disobedience was so successful. "We've tried reason, we've tried lawsuits, we've tried the FDA, we've tried to get co-sponsors for Barney Frank's medical marijuana bill, and we've got public opinion on our side, but Congress is just not responding. In fact, they are doing the opposite." He pointed out that civil disobedience is only helpful for causes that garner wide public support. "I strongly urge against using civil disobedience for recreational use because the public and the media aren't with us." You can find the Marijuana Policy Project on the web at http://www.mpp.org/.
(The vote on H.R. 372 has been postponed until after the current Congressional recess. Please contact your Representative in opposition to this bill -- info at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/3-18-1.html. And try and make an appointment with your Reps while they are in their home districts this month.)
- Troy Dayton for DRCNet
Students at Rochester Institute of Technology demonstrated outside of an administrative building this Friday to protest President Albert Simone's decision to deny official club recognition to the Rochester Cannabis Coalition.
Approximately 130 students gathered in one of the main quads on campus. As they marched to the administrative building their numbers grew to approximately 300 as they chanted "Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Al Simone has got to go!" Once they reached the administrative building, they set up sound equipment. RCC President Shea Gunther stood on top of a garbage can to address the crowd. "This country was founded on the principle that if you don't like the way something is done, you can work to change it. President Simone is undermining that principle by not allowing us the same rights as other clubs on this campus," said Gunther.
It also happened to be "Prospective Freshman Day" so parents and high school seniors were on hand to watch the demonstration. Unfortunately, the president was not in his office, so he was unable to speak to the demonstrators. RIT has no further comments on the situation.
"We won't give up. An important part of the Drug War is stifling discussion of alternative policies. We will continue to fight for our right to be a recognized club and I call on all who believe in encouraging honest debate of public policy to join the RCC in this fight," said Gunther.
- Barrington Daltrey for DRCNet
Last week, DRCNet reported on the death of Chad MacDonald, a minor who was murdered in the Los Angeles area after having been used by the Brea police department as an informant. In that report, we indicated MacDonald may have been acting pursuant to a court plea arrangement. Further investigation reveals that the case may not have ever made it as far as court.
According to Lloyd Charton, the attorney for Chad MacDonald's mother, MacDonald entered into an arrangement with the Brea police department to avoid filing of charges stemming from his arrest by the department. MacDonald's mother, Cindy MacDonald, signed a "release" form at the department's request.
Charton reports that the boy had been apprehended by police. Mrs. MacDonald was contacted, and she proceeded directly to the police station. However, by the time she arrived, she was told that Chad, who was in tears, had "sung like a canary" and was looking at substantial jail time if charges were filed. Mrs. MacDonald was assured he would not be in danger if she agreed to allow him to act as an informant as they proposed.
Thereafter, the department decided MacDonald should make a "buy" while wearing a wire. Mrs. MacDonald was not informed of this arrangement until after the buy had taken place.
In our story last week, we concluded the arrangement had been the result of a court plea agreement, based on the fact that Brea police department had filed a petition with the juvenile court seeking authorization to release details about the arrangement. When asked whether the petition had been filed in the action pending against MacDonald or separately, Brea police chief Lentini indicated the petition was filed in a separate action -- not mentioning that in fact, no proceeding had been brought involving MacDonald in the first place.
The unilateral action by the police department to coerce MacDonald into acting as an informant by offering not to file charges effectively prevented any involvement of the district attorney or the juvenile court in determining whether such activity would be in the best interests of the minor -- who, if successfully prosecuted, would have become a ward of the court.
According to Charton, MacDonald was arrested with 1/2 ounce of speed in January. He also had a glass pipe at the time of the arrest, but his mother, Cindy MacDonald, was not told about the pipe, nor was it suggested to her that her son had a drug problem, which may have qualified him for drug treatment rather than the prison term that his mother was hoping to avoid by signing the release. MacDonald was accused of dealing the drug, along with other persons.
Legislators as well as administration officials were calling for more military support to be sent to Colombia in the wake of admissions by both President Ernesto Samper and Colombian military officials that their nation's 35 year-old civil war will not be won without substantial help. Congress this week passed, by voice vote, a resolution urging the Clinton administration to provide three sophisticated Black Hawk helicopters to the Colombian National Police.
According to the Washington Post, the Administration is considering supplying advanced communications equipment, intelligence support and additional training to the Colombian military. The Colombian government has also requested 12 Cobra attack helicopters. Other U.S. military aid, some of which has been held up as the Colombian army searches for a unit which has not been implicated in human rights atrocities, and which would therefore be eligible to receive it, includes 1,000 M-16A1 rifles and 500 M-60 machine guns.
The aid, of course, is labeled as "counter-narcotics" but virtually no one familiar with the situation believes that there is any way to keep their use separate from the counter-insurgency activities of the military. There are no units of the Colombian military dedicated solely to counter-narcotics operations. Complicating matters is the fact that the right wing paramilitaries, who operate with the unofficial backing of the military and who have been widely implicated in the massacre of thousands of civilians, are also heavily financed by the coca trade. In addition, it is well known that much of the Colombian military, as well as elements within the national Police, have been corrupted. Even President Samper is believed by the U.S. to have taken millions in contributions from traffickers.
The State Department recently opposed the transfer of the Black Hawks to Colombia's police. An unnamed State department official told the Post, "We are really not interested in getting sucked into this."
(If you missed our special report on Colombia, check it out at http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1998/3-27.html#colombia.)
The New Zealand Drug Policy Forum Trust, a group of highly respected doctors and professionals, released a report this week (3/29) urging the government to legalize, regulate and tax the sale of cannabis products in that country. The report, a draft of which was issued last year for public comment, says that in addition to massive savings in law enforcement expenditures, tax revenue on the sale of cannabis would bring in $50 million. The group is confident that the report will start the ball rolling toward a more rational discussion of cannabis policy in New Zealand.
DRCNet Advisory Board member Dr. David Hadorn, who heads the group, told The Week Online "Our recent recommendations have picked up some political support already and I expect more will be forthcoming. Realistically, the best chance for reform will come in the year 2000, after the next election. It's unlikely that the existing government will try anything so risky as cannabis law reform in the run-up to that election."
But the political impact of the report is already being felt. On April 1, the New Zealand Parliament's health select committee announced that it will be holding an inquiry into the effects of cannabis. Brian Neeson, committee chair, told New Zealand's newspaper, The Dominion, "Given the current level of public interest in the cannabis issue, the intention of the inquiry is to gain as much information as possible about the effects of cannabis on mental health." The government has indicated that no move will be made to decriminalize before the results of the inquiry are in.
The NZDPFT report states that approximately 50 percent of New Zealanders aged 15-50 have tried cannabis, and that "nothing short of a scorched-earth policy will ever rid New Zealand of cannabis." It recommends that a Tobacco, Alcohol and Cannabis Authority be established to regulate all three substances, issuing licenses for production and overseeing packaging. Regulations would include age and point-of-sale restrictions, but personal-scale production would be allowed.
(The New Zealand Drug Foundation is hosting an online copy of the NZDPFT report as well as last year's report and a discussion forum, at http://www.nzdf.org.nz/dpf.htm.)
You'll need to have your video browser plug-in set up to check this one out, but it was too good for us to pass up. Cheryl Miller and the MPP's medical marijuana protest made the Associated Press' "video of the day". Check it out at http://wire.ap.org/APpackages/video/0331videoday.html and see how exciting it is to be a part of the movement. Get involved, and you could be a part of the next event!
Each week, the situation in Colombia seems to grow worse. And each week, the call from U.S. drug warriors for increased military involvement in the region grows louder. But contrary to the oversimplified version of the situation -- calls for help in the Colombian's fight against "narco-guerrillas" -- the issues and the players involved in that conflict are quite complex. It is imperative that the magnitude of the problem, and the extent to which American policy and American money have exacerbated it, be considered and understood before we once again find ourselves involved in a no-win situation deep in a foreign jungle, fighting an enemy we cannot see and depending on allies whose allegiance we do not have.
It is the nature of the Drug War that nearly every debate and every decision is dominated not by possible outcomes or careful strategies but by political grandstanding and electoral considerations. But if such realpolitik generalship is unwise when it leads to ineffective policy, it is also morally reprehensible when it leads, as in the case of Colombia, to untold death and suffering, and to the hastening of the demise of long standing democratic institutions.
US officials have, in recent times, attempted to shape the debate over the war in Colombia by consistently referring to rebel forces as "narco-guerrillas". While it is certainly true that these forces, which control nearly 50% of the country, are funding their efforts largely through "taxes" levied on traffickers who are allowed to operate in those areas, they are by no means alone. Right-wing paramilitaries, unofficially allied with the Colombian military, are also steeped in the cocaine trade. These groups serve a vital purpose in the conflict by carrying out massacres of civilians and practicing death squad tactics with the tacit approval of the Colombian military, which has an interest, though rarely successfully maintained, in keeping its hands clean for the benefit of its American benefactor. The military itself is known to be up to its hips in drug corruption as well, and their record on human rights has been called "atrocious" and "the worst in the world" by human rights groups.
But all of this is bothersome nuance in the world of U.S. officials and lawmakers hoping to appear as if they are fighting the Drug War with fierce determination. The Colombian government has to be the "good guys" in order to allow us to help fight the "bad guys" responsible for Colombia's position as the largest producer and exporter of cocaine in the world. The fact is, however, that the war in Colombia has been going on for over 30 years, and started long before coca became an issue. But it is coca and its derivative cocaine, both in the value it has attained under American Prohibition, and in the money and hardware introduced into the region to eliminate it, which has fueled the escalation of hostilities and which has given both sides of the conflict the power to inflict damage -- upon each other and upon hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians -- heretofore unimagined in the Andean rain forest.
One would think (if one were inclined to think at all) that an intelligent strategy for trying to contain a decades-old civil conflict between two (actually three) sides -- none of whom having any claim to righteousness, each of whom having been corrupted by the very economy we are supposedly fighting to eliminate, and all of whom having proven murderous to the civilian population -- would be to starve the conflict of easy cash and sophisticated weaponry. One would think that at the first sign of stalemate (which is where the situation appears to be at the moment) the strategy would be to flood the country with negotiators for peace, not with more weapons of war. But the Drug War has been nothing if not a thinking-person's nightmare.
So the U.S. doubles the number of "military advisors" in Colombia (to go along with the untold numbers of DEA, CIA and other operatives already on the scene), legislators and members of the administration call for the introduction of even more sophisticated weaponry into the conflict, and the public is treated to a very tidy, but purely fantastical account of the situation, pitting the good democratic government of Colombia against the evil "narco-guerrillas" in a morality play with nothing less than the health and safety of America's children hanging in the balance.
US politics, of course, is playing a very important role in this "debate" over Colombia. The Republicans are set to introduce a drug war legislative package this spring with the intention of making the Clinton Administration's drug strategy appear weak. Newt Gingrich, his eyes fixed on the White House, has decided that Clinton is vulnerable on the drug issue, and he intends to take full advantage, leading a charge of Republican legislators in a "World War II-style victory campaign for a drug free America." Among his stated goals is an 80% reduction in the supply of drugs, laughable by any measure but truly an empty pledge without in some way taking control of the situation in Colombia. Democrats, for their part, seem split between those who will refuse to be "out-toughed" on the issue and those who have begun to embrace some modest harm reduction strategies, and who are therefore left with the international war, source and transshipment country efforts, as their "tough-on-drugs" proving-grounds.
And where will this lead? Thus far it seems to be leading straight into the jungle, down a path toward increased U.S. involvement in Colombia's civil war. Each "side" of the American political aisle seems to have painted itself into a corner with its rhetoric. One needn't look too far into America's past to see that official misrepresentation and oversimplification of an international conflict can easily lead to our involvement in a military quagmire -- although the word hardly seems adequate to convey the suffering and brutality of such a situation. We seem committed to pour gasoline onto a fire. It is a fire which will consume whatever good will is left between the U.S. and the citizens of Latin America. A fire which will justify domestic repression as we flail about to stop the flow of drugs in, and cash out of our country. A fire in which tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people will be burned. And it is a fire which is unlikely to be contained by national borders once it gets roaring.
It is not a situation from which we will find easy to walk away. Our "side" in the conflict will eventually need troops. They will be needed to go into the jungles to fight a guerrilla war. But the war, from our perspective, is against an ubiquitous cash economy, and that economy is not only serving the interests of all of the combatants, but it is also, in reality, besides the point of the conflict itself. In Washington D.C. this week, a trail is being blazed that leads deep into the Andean jungle. From the looks of it, however, there may not be a safe way out.
Adam J. Smith
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