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Drug War Briefs: ABA Calls for Elimination of Mandatory Minimums

This week, 11 Grateful Dead fans questioned for selling psychedelic mushrooms; Florida schools begin using aerosol spray kits to detect drug residue; marijuana use is up among US adults; the American Bar Association calls for the elimination of Mandatory Minimum sentences for minor drug offenses; and Bush's Deputy Drug Czar resigns to consider running for the Senate.
 
 
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July 5 – The (WA) Daily News reports: Undercover officers at The Dead concert at Columbia Meadows on Friday night talked to 11 people in connection with dealing drugs at the concert, the Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team reported this weekend.

Hallucinogenic mushrooms were the most common drugs involved, according to Sgt. Phillip F. Edwards, field supervisor of the Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team. The mushrooms were mixed with chocolate, wrapped in foil and sold as a bite-sized candy, he said.

Most of the alleged dealers were from outside Oregon and professed a loyal fandom for The Dead, Edwards said.

July 6 – Boca Raton News reports: Palm Beach County School District passed out the aerosol spray kits, which detect drug residue on school desks or backpacks, to six high schools last year to ensure the safety of the students and deter drug use.

The aerosol spray works by rubbing sticky paper on an object and then spraying it with a chemical to find traces of any illicit drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin or Ecstasy.

If a drug is detected then the paper will display one of several colors, depending upon the drug used, reddish-brown for marijuana, purple for heroin, and yellow for amphetamines.

High school principals and teachers were concerned with truancy problems and suspected drug use because of the scent of marijuana on some of students, according to Nat Harrington, spokesman for Palm Beach County School District.

"The motive behind the use of this program is not to arrest the teenagers, but to use the spray to deter other teens from using drugs and give the parents the information needed to counsel their teens who are using drugs," he said.

July 8 – Richmond Times-Dispatch reports: More U.S. adults, especially young minorities and baby boomers, are habitual users of marijuana.

The prevalence of marijuana abuse or dependence climbed from 1.2 percent of adults in 1991-92 to 1.5 percent in 2001-02, or an estimated 3 million adults 18 and older.

That represents an increase of 22 percent, or 800,000 people, according to data from two nationally representative surveys that each queried more than 40,000 adults.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the rate remained stable among whites but surged by about 220 percent among black men and women, to 4.5 percent of that population, and by almost 150 percent among Hispanic men, to 4.7 percent.

Among all adults ages 45 to 64, the rate increased by 355 percent, to about 0.4 percent of that population.

July 9 – Oklahoma's Tahlequah Daily Press reports: "For more than 20 years, we have gotten tougher on crime; now we need to get smarter."

So says American Bar Association President Dennis Archer.

Last week, that group recommended mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug offenders be abolished. State and federal laws requiring mandatory minimum prison terms leave little room to consider differences among crimes and criminals, a commission studying problems in the criminal justice system found.

More people are behind bars for longer terms, but it is unclear whether the country is safer as a result, the ABA said. Long prison terms should be reserved for criminals who pose the greatest danger to society and who commit the most serious crimes, the report said. States and the federal government should find alternatives to prison terms, such as drug treatment, for many less serious crimes.

"The costs of the American experiment in mass incarceration have been high," the report said.

It said states and the federal government spent $9 billion on jails and prisons in 1982 and $49 billion in 1999, an increase of more than 400 percent. The likelihood that someone living in the United States will go to prison during his or her lifetime more than tripled to 6.6 percent between 1974 and 2001, the report added.

"Personally, I think [mandatory minimum sentences] create more criminals than they correct," said Mark Runnell, who added that he has never spent time in prison, but he did get a speeding ticket once. "We take non-violent offenders, throw them in the pen with killers and rapists, and expect them to come out better citizens than they were before? That's messed up."

July 10 – The Chicago Tribune reports: Dr. Andrea Grubb Barthwell resigned Friday as a deputy director in the Office of National Drug Control Policy, clearing the way for her to speak with leading Illinois Republicans about her interest in replacing Jack Ryan as the GOP's nominee for the U.S. Senate.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson .