2000: A Year in the Life of Marijuana Prohibition

As an activist/writer reporting on the drug war, I have had several dozen articles published since 1997 on the subject of U.S. drug policy, with an emphasis on marijuana prohibition.



"One of the problems that the marijuana reform movement consistently faces is that everyone wants to talk about what marijuana does, but no one ever wants to look at what marijuana prohibition does. Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could." -Richard Cowan, former head of NORML, now editor of www.marijuananews.com

Estimated U.S. deaths in year 2000 attributed to: tobacco: 430,000; alcohol: 125,000; prescription drugs: 100,000; doctors' errors: 100,000; suicide: 30,000; murder: 18,000; aspirin: 2,000; marijuana: 0 Number of Americans arrested since 1970 on marijuana-related charges: over 13 million.

January 18, 2000 -- Atlanta, GA (AP) -- Louis E. Covar Jr., 51, a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident on July 4, 1967, who says he uses marijuana to relieve the pain from muscle spasms in his neck, is sentenced to seven years in prison after being accused of selling marijuana out of his home. Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet sent Covar to prison after investigators found marijuana in his home. "We feel strongly he was selling out of his house," Richmond County DA Danny Craig said. Covar denied the charges, insisting the small amount was for his personal medicinal use. According to the Department of Corrections, the special care Covar will need will cost $258.33 a day- or more than $660,000 if he serves his full seven years. A typical prisoner costs taxpayers $47.63 per day.

February 9 -- Arizona -- Deborah Lynn Quinn, 39, born with no arms or legs, is sentenced to one year in an Arizona prison for marijuana possession, violating probation on a previous drug offense- attempted sale of 4 grams of marijuana to a police informant for $20. Quinn will require around the clock care for feeding, bathing, and hygiene.

Terry L. Stewart, Arizona Corrections Director, expressed his frustration: "I simply cannot understand how a judge can sentence a disabled woman to prison who presents absolutely no escape risk, no physical danger to the public, and who will be an extremely difficult and expensive person to care for ($345/day), without exploring any alternative sentence measures such as intensive probation."

February 15 -- The United States' prison and jail population surpasses two million people. Prisons are one of the fastest-growing expenses of government, costing about $100,000 to build a single prison cell and about $24,000 per year for each prisoner. 1.3 million US inmates are currently serving time for "non-violent offenses." One-quarter of the world's prisoners are now incarcerated in the "land of the free."

February 23 -- The Hawaii Medical Association comes out formally against the pending state medical marijuana initiative. Heidi Singh, director of legislative and government affairs for the Hawaii Medical Association, said more studies should be done on medical marijuana, and that "physicians cannot in good faith recommend a drug therapy without clinical evidence to back it up."

February 28 -- Madrid, Spain (UPI) The chemical in marijuana that produces a "high" shows promise as a weapon against deadly brain tumors, say Spanish researchers in early research. In the study on rats a research team from Complutense University and Autonoma University in Madrid found that one of marijuana's active ingredients, THC, killed tumor cells in advanced cases of glioma, a quick-killing cancer for which there is currently no effective treatment. Spanish scientists found that THC pumped into the tumors cleared the cancer in more than a third of the test rats. The drug also prolonged the life of another third by up to 40 days but was ineffective in the rest. The cancer did not come back in any of the survivors. Researchers are not sure why, but Guzman's team says THC caused a buildup of a fat molecule called ceramide, which provoked a death spiral in the cancer cells.

March 13 -- Britain -- (AP) Marijuana-like compounds ease tremors in mice with a condition similar to Multiple Sclerosis, researchers say in a study published in the British journal Nature, that appears to corroborate patients who say pot helps them deal with the disease. "This lends credence to the anecdotal reports that some people with MS have said that cannabis can help control these distressing symptoms," said Lorna Layward, one of the study's authors. Layward heads the research arm of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

March 13 -- Mondovi, WI -- Jacki Rickert is 49, wheelchair-bound, and weighs 90 pounds. "Though I've seen her as low as 76," her daughter, Tammy, who lives in Middleton, said Tuesday. Jacki Rickert suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and reflexive sympathetic dystrophy, bone and muscle illnesses that keep her in constant pain and often unable to eat. She smokes marijuana to ease her pain and allow her to eat. Rickert was the last patient to miss being accepted into the federal government's Investigative New Drug program that presently distributes a tin of 300 pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes to eight legally-protected American citizens each month.

Mondovi police raided Rickert's home at 3:30am on March 13th, seized a small amount of marijuana, and searched her home until 10am. Rickert's daughter, Tammy, claims the police raid has left her mother a wreck. "She's tiny, frail," Tammy said. "She's not out to hurt anybody. She's trying to maintain some semblance of a quality of life. The marijuana, which the government pretty much told her she could use, helps a little. This whole thing is unbelievable."

March 16 -- New York City -- An unarmed black security guard, Patrick Dorismond, waiting for a cab with his friend Kevin Kaiser, is shot dead by undercover New York City police officers conducting a marijuana "buy-and-bust." Two plainclothes detectives approached Dorismond asking if he would sell them "some weed." Dorismond rebuffed the men, a scuffle ensued, and a third officer, Anthony Vasquez, rushed in, pulled out his revolver and fired a single bullet into Dorismond's chest. No drugs or other contraband were found on Dorismond's body. The shooting was the third time in 13 months plainclothes New York City police officers shot and killed an unarmed black man.

Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, marijuana arrests have risen from 720 in 1992, to 59,945 in the first eleven months of 2000.

April 1 -- Canada's premier national newspaper, The National Post, editorializes in favor of legalizing marijuana: "Marijuana legalization has long been the subject of academic debate. The time has come to turn conjecture into law. Canada's police, judges and prosecutors have better things to do with their time than track down those who produce and consume a substance no more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. We should begin the decriminalization of marijuana by immediately reducing the punishments that can be imposed for its possession to modest fines- and start thinking about how to regulate its use."

April 12 -- California -- The Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approves an ordinance making the city the first in the nation to legalize the production and sale of medical marijuana without a doctor's prescription, as long as it is sold at cost or given away.

April 25 -- Despite the formal opposition of the Hawaiian Catholic Church, the Hawaii State Senate passes medical marijuana legislation, joining California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Alaska, Arizona, and the District of Columbia in shielding medical marijuana patients from criminal prosecution.

May 11 -- The West Virginia Supreme Court, voting 4-1, deny a "medical necessity" defense to Donna Jean Poling, a Multiple Sclerosis patient in the terminal stages of her illness, who was arrested for growing marijuana in her home. Poling claimed that marijuana kept her symptom-free for three years preceding her 1998 arrest, after which her condition worsened dramatically.

June 9 -- Human Rights Watch releases a study finding that Illinois is the worst state for racial disparity among jailed drug offenders. Illinois' black men are 57 times more likely than white men to be sent to prison on drug charges, and blacks comprise 90 percent of all prison admissions in Illinois for drug charges -- the highest percentage in the country. Though federal studies show that white drug users outnumber black drug users 5-to-1, blacks make up about 62 percent of prisoners incarcerated on drug charges, compared with 36 percent of whites.

June 14 -- Los Angeles, CA -- Bestselling author, cancer and AIDS patient, and high profile medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams is found dead in his home. McWilliams, barred by a federal court order from using marijuana to counteract the extreme nausea caused by his AIDS drugs, was found choked to death on vomit, slumped on his bathroom floor. His federal prosecutors say they were "saddened by his death."

McWilliams bestselling books included: How to Heal Depression; Getting Over the Loss of a Love; Life 101; and, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes In a Free Society.

July 31 -- Ontario, Canada -- Ontario's top court today ruled unanimously (3-0) that Canada's law making marijuana possession a crime is unconstitutional, because it does not take into account the needs of Canadian medical marijuana patients. The judges allowed the current law to remain in effect for another 12 months, to permit Parliament to rewrite it. However, if the Canadian federal government fails to set up a medical marijuana distribution program by July 31, 2001, all marijuana laws in Canada will be struck down. The decision came in the case of Terry Parker, an epileptic who had been denied a federal medical marijuana exemption. Mr. Parker has been hospitalized over 100 times for injuries sustained during seizures.

August 16 -- Los Angeles, CA -- The American Medical Marijuana Association reports: Medical marijuana patient, grower, and author of How to Grow Medical Marijuana, Todd McCormick, confined to federal prison while appealing his case, is sent to solitary confinement. According to his mother, Ann McCormick, Todd went to the medical office and requested the synthetic form of marijuana, Marinol, produced by Unimed Pharmaceuticals, that he had been taking prior to his incarceration. One day after Todd requested the Schedule 3, easily-prescribed drug, the feds ordered he be drug tested. When the results came back positive for marijuana, Todd was placed in solitary confinement.

"The pain in his neck and back has been unbearable lately," said McCormick's mother. "Todd has a spinal fusion- the top five vertebrae were fused when he was two-years-old. A tumor had completely eaten the 2nd vertebrae and the old fusion is now literally carving grooves in the base of his skull, prompting severe headaches as well. His left hip stopped growing when he was 9, a result of radiation treatments for childhood cancer. He has severe scoliosis, nerve damage in his upper back, shoulders and neck and severe muscle spasms in his lower back. He has received no medical treatment since January," said Mrs. McCormick.

August 20 -- Seattle, WA -- An estimated crowd of 100,000 people gather at Myrtle Edwards Park for Hempfest 2000, calling for the legalization of marijuana for personal and medical use, as well as legalization of hemp for environmentally-sustainable industrial uses. The event is the largest of its kind in the world, with no arrests reported.

September 9 -- Santa Fe, NM -- Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader joins New Mexico's Republican Governor Gary Johnson in criticizing the nation's war on drugs, calling for the legalization of marijuana and reform of what Nader calls "self-defeating and antiquated" drug laws. "Addiction, no matter what kind of addiction, should not be criminalized," Nader said at a news conference with Johnson in Santa Fe. "It's got to be subjected to health programs and caring programs, because they work." Rehabilitating drug addicts gives a far better payoff than "criminalizing and militarizing the situation," he said. "Study after study has shown that, and yet somehow it doesn't get through to federal policy."

October 16 -- U.S. Drug "Czar" Barry McCaffrey announces his resignation, effective January 6, 2001.

October 16 -- The FBI releases its 1999 Uniform Crime Report. There were a record total of 704,812 U.S. marijuana arrests in 1999, or one every 45 seconds. Of those arrests: 620,541 (88%) were for simple marijuana possession. 84,271 (12%) were for sales/cultivation. During the Clinton Administration, there have been 4,175,357 marijuana arrests, a record for any U.S. presidency.

November 7 -- Election Day -- Voters across the United States pass sweeping drug law reform initiatives. In California, despite united opposition from Governor Gray Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, statewide police associations and prison guard unions, citizens vote 61-39 to pass Proposition 36, diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. Proponents claim the move will save the state $150 million annually, and cancel the need for a new state prison. Mendocino County, CA, voters approve Measure G by a 58-42 margin, decriminalizing personal use and growth of up to 25 marijuana plants.

Nevadans vote 65-35 to pass Question 9 allowing qualifying patients to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. In response, a self-appointed task force of state healthcare officials, the Nevada Medical Marijuana Initiative Work Group, move to limit use of the drug to research studies, adding months if not years to approval time. Said Louis Ling, general counsel for the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy and part of the work group, "No matter what system gets passed, it's going to be a good long time before medical marijuana is available."

By a 53-47 margin, Colorado voters pass Amendment 20, allowing qualifying patients to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 6 plants. Tom Strickland, U.S. attorney for Colorado, in a statement released on the afternoon of November 7th, said that his office would continue to "aggressively enforce federal drug laws, including the prohibition of marijuana, regardless of the passage of this ballot initiative."

Utahns, by a margin of 69-31, pass Initiative B, denying government agencies the right to seize property from individuals before they are convicted of a crime. Salt Lake County District Attorney Dave Yocom responded "Obviously we're going to re-think this and decide whether or not to work to get (the initiative) repealed during the next legislative session."

Oregonians pass a similar property seizure reform initiative, Measure 3 -- the Oregon Property Protection Act -- by a margin of 66-34. Measure 3 diverts drug forfeiture proceeds from police treasuries into drug treatment programs. November 27 -- In the case "U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, 00-151," the U.S. Supreme Court takes on the issue of whether "medical necessity" is an acceptable defense to the federal law that makes marijuana distribution a crime. A decision is expected by June 2001.

December 6 -- Brussels, Belgium -- The Liberal Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the Brussels coalition of Liberals, Socialists and Greens, vote to end marijuana prohibition. As of January 1, 2001, Belgium, joining Holland in embracing tolerance, will "exempt from punishment possession, consumption and trade of up to five grams hashish or marijuana." Belgium is the host country and seat of the European Union.

December 6 -- In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine released today, President Bill Clinton was asked if he thought "people should go to jail for using or even selling small amounts of marijuana?" Clinton replied "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be." Clinton added, "We really need a reexamination of our entire policy on imprisonment. a lot of people are in prison because they have drug problems or alcohol problems and too many of them are getting out -- particularly out of state systems -- without treatment, without education, without skills, without serious efforts at job placement."

Kevin Nelson is a writer living in Bow, WA.

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