DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Straight (to Hell), Inc.

May 22- The UK Herald reports: Cannabis laws across Britain could be relaxed within months after an influential report published today backed David Blunkett's plan to downgrade the drug.

In the biggest ever shake-up of the UK's drug laws, MPs approved the home secretary's plan to reclassify cannabis from class B to class C, meaning that possession would cease to be an arrestable offence.

The 100-page document, which will be seen as a watershed in Westminster's approach to drugs issues, urged ministers to plough much more cash into "woefully inadequate" treatment programmes.

Drug use was merely a "passing phase" for many young people which "rarely results in any long term harm", the report found.

[Mr. Blunkett] added that today's document contributed to the "sensible and adult" debate he called for last October.

"It is important that we get the message across to young people that whilst all drugs cause harm not all drugs are the same," he said. "Some are more dangerous than others. We have to focus our attention on the most harmful drugs."

May 23- Fox News Network reports: Samantha Monroe was 12 years old in 1981 when her parents enrolled her in the Sarasota, Fla., branch of Straight Inc., an aggressive drub rehab center for teens.

Barely a teen, Samantha also had no history of drug abuse. But she spent the next two years of her life surviving Straight. She was beaten, starved and denied toilet privileges for days on end. She describes her "humble pants," a punishment that forced her to wear the same pants for six weeks at a time. Because she was allowed just one shower a week, the pants often filled with feces, urine and menstrual blood. Often she was confined to her closet for days. She gnawed through her jaw during those "timeout" sessions, hoping she'd bleed to death.

She says that after she was raped by a male counselor, "the wonderful state of Florida paid for and forced me to have an abortion." There are hundreds of Straight stories like Samantha's. Wes Fager enrolled his son in a Springfield, Va., chapter of Straight on the advice of a high school guidance counselor. Fager didn't see his son again until three months later – after he'd escaped and developed severe mental illness.

Since then, Fager's set out to clear the air on Straight. He has accumulated stories like Samantha's and his son's on a clearinghouse Web site www.thestraights.com/. They are stories of suicides, and attempted suicides, rapes, forced abortions, molestations, physical abuse, lawsuits, court testimonies, and extensive documentation of profound psychological abuse at Straight chapters all over the country.

Yet, the Straight model of drug treatment is thriving, with the trend toward "boot camp" style rehab centers growing more and more en vogue and Straight's founders, high-powered Republican boosters Mel and Betty Sembler, wielding enormous influence over U.S. drug policy.

Mel Sembler is currently serving as President Bush's ambassador to Italy, and the Semblers serve on the boards of almost every major domestic anti-drug program. They are longtime close associates of the Bush family, and are behind efforts to defeat medicinal marijuana initiatives all over the country. Despite the horrors that have surfaced about Straight's history, they are proud and unrepentant about the program.

With more and more U.S. states turning to mandatory treatment instead of incarceration for minor drug offenses – with Mel and Betty Sembler continuing to flex political muscle in the power corridors of the drug war – the story of Straight is one worth hearing.

Amidst mounting lawsuit losses and bad publicity throughout the 1990's, the umbrella organization Straight Inc. changed its name in 1996 to the Drug Free America Foundation DFAF thrives today – receiving $400,000 in federal subsidies in 2000 and $320,000 from the Small Business Administration.

Most troubling, however, is the considerable and continuing political clout of Straight Inc.'s founders. Former President Bush once shot a television commercial for DFAF, and designated the Semblers' program as one of his "thousand points of light."

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson at kcnelson@premier1.net.

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