2002: A Year in the Life of the Drug War

"House Republicans Thursday unveiled a package of bills to combat drug abuse and vowed to make America virtually drug-free by 2002."- Reuters, May 1998

Welcome to America, 2002, Land of the Virtually Drug-Free where President George Bush insists that casual drug users are financing terrorism, while his niece is caught with crack cocaine in drug rehab. Where one person is arrested approximately every 44 seconds on a marijuana charge. Where 77% of Texas drug convictions are found to involve less than one gram of a drug.

U.S. fighter pilots in Afghanistan are given amphetamines to stay awake on bombing runs, leading some to question the drugs contribution to multiple "friendly fire" deaths.

Despite a campaign promise to allow states to "choose as they so choose" regarding medical marijuana, the Bush Administrations Justice Department and DEA stay busy throughout the year raiding compassion clubs in California, and one in Oregon.

Marijuana Prohibition, begun in the U.S. in 1937, reaches the retirement age of 65.

Internationally, Canadas Justice Minister promises marijuana will be decriminalized in the beginning of 2003, while the UNs International Narcotics Control Board condemns Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland, and Spain for joining the Netherlands in decriminalizing marijuana.

Despite U.S. government assistance in spraying vast amounts of Monsantos Round-Up pesticide over coca plantations in the Amazon rainforest, Colombian coca production increases by 25 per cent.

Meanwhile, senior U.S. officials ask Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to shield American military trainers in Colombia from prosecution by the International Criminal Court for any accusations of human rights abuses that may arise in connection with their work.

It has become evident that in order to manifest a "drug-free" utopian society, citizens must be willing to relinquish personal freedoms of privacy, association, unfettered travel, and medical autonomy.

In other words, a society cannot be both "free" and "drug-free." A choice must be made. The following stories, culled from the press in the past 12 months, present an overview of the choices made in 2002: A Year in the Life of the Drug War.

January 24- The Associated Press reports: U.S. officials continued working closely with Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos in the anti-drug fight despite an army officer's tip that he was involved with death squad killings, newly declassified documents show.

February 3- The U.S. government spends $3.5 million tax dollars on two 30-second public service ads during Super Bowl XXXVI. The ads, advancing the claim that Americans using illegal drugs are financing international terrorists, represent the largest one-time government advertising spend ever.

Drug Control office spokesman Tom Riley said the Super Bowl was the perfect event to launch the new campaign. "It's not like every dollar you spend on pot goes to Osama Bin Laden," Riley said, "but the Taliban raised $50 million a year on heroin sales."

February 12- The Associated Press reports: Federal agents raided a medical marijuana club and arrested four people Tuesday amid an ongoing tug-of-war between local and federal officials over the sale of pot for medicinal purposes.

The raid coincided with President Bush's announcement Tuesday of a stepped-up war on drugs, with a goal of cutting drug abuse by 25 percent in five years, in part through improved law enforcement.

February 27- Australias The Age reports: Some European Union countries are "undermining international law" by relaxing rules against cannabis, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said today.

INCB officials rapped Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain for decriminalising the cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal use, in the board's annual report published in Vienna today.

And it slammed the Netherlands, where cannabis is on sale for recreational use in coffee-shops, as well as draft Swiss legislation, which it sees as a move towards legalising cannabis, for breaching UN conventions.

The trend towards a more liberal attitude to cannabis and its legislation "undermines international law", INCB President Hamid Ghodse told a press conference.

"All efforts to control the world drug problem will fail unless there is universal commitment and true implementation of the provisions of the treaties," the report said.

March 8- Associated Press reports: Despite intensified eradication, coca production in Colombia increased by about 25 percent last year, the Bush administration said, contradicting Colombian government claims of a significant decline.

In releasing the figures Thursday, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy admitted that the results of the escalating effort were less than it had hoped for.

March 20- Reuters in Britain reports: Motorists who smoke a cannabis joint retain more control behind the wheel than those who drink a glass of wine, British scientists have found.

Research from Britain's Transport Research Laboratory showed drivers found it harder to maintain constant speed and road position after drinking the equivalent of a glass of wine than after smoking a spliff, the magazine New Scientist said on Wednesday.

March 26- Reuters reports: A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that public housing tenants can be evicted for any illegal drug activity by household members or guests, even if they did not know about it.

April 9- Associated Press reports: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be featured in an advertising campaign by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the group said Monday.

The $500,000 campaign will feature bus shelter signs and telephone booth posters carrying a quote from Bloomberg, when asked if he had ever smoked marijuana, declaring: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it."

Bloomberg said Monday that the city would continue making such arrests, no matter what he may have said in the past.

"I'm not thrilled they're using my name," he said. "I suppose there's that First Amendment that gets in the way of me stopping it."

UKs The Scotsman, adds: There he joined a fraternity that he once described in his autobiography Bloomberg by Bloomberg as "not much different from those in the classic John Belushi movie Animal House".

He wrote: "Though (Johns) Hopkins was a serious place, and very competitive scholastically, we did drink and party a lot together. Maybe all that enjoyable wasted time had long-term benefits after all."

April 12- The Toronto Sun reports: A recent report has Ontario's indoor marijuana industry as the third largest agricultural sector in the province, a $1-billion industry surpassed (barely) by dairy's $1.3 billion and beef cattle's $1.2 billion. Add to that the multi-millions being harvested from outdoor crops and marijuana cultivation in this province moves into No.1 spot on the hit list.

The difference, of course, is that marijuana is an illegal product and the government, in turn, cannot reap any taxes from what is being sowed.

May 30- The West Australian reports: A Norseman grandmother who confessed to using cannabis to relieve the pain of leukemia has been convicted of intending to supply the drug to her quadriplegic daughter.

Patricia Margaret Borinelli, 60, was fined $1000 yesterday after a District Court jury in Kalgoorlie found her guilty of possessing two cannabis plants with intent to supply.

Outside court, Borinelli said she had been humiliated publicly in her small community. She claimed her home had been vandalised as a result of the charges.

She had decided to grow the cannabis because she could not afford to buy the drug and did not want to become involved with dealers.

June 18- The New York Times reports: The Supreme Court ruled today that in conducting random searches for drugs or weapons on buses, the police need not advise passengers that they are free to refuse permission to be searched.

June 20- Rolling Stone magazine reports: At the end of May, the Senior Judge of England's highest court, Lord Bingham, publicly declared his country's marijuana prohibition "stupid" and said he "absolutely" supported legalization.

"There has been a revolution in the laws throughout Europe because there is a widespread recognition that drug prohibition is not working," says British Parliament member Paul Flynn. "The most dangerous way to treat marijuana is to prohibit it and leave its marketing to a dangerous criminal. There has been a stream of misinformaton from America about this."

One of the first officials to call for decriminalization was north Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom, who says, "Recent research shows that cannabis is much less harmful than nicotine, so it's impossible to defend banning cannabis and allowing tobacco-- the law becomes, in British parlance, an ass.

June 21- The Los Angeles Times reports: The city of Modesto announced Wednesday that it would pay $2.55 million to settle a suit brought by the parents of a boy killed in a drug raid two years ago.

Alberto Sepulveda, 11, was accidentally shot and killed by a member of the Modesto Police Department's SWAT team in September 2000.

June 28- The Baltimore Sun reports: The Supreme Court put public high school students on notice yesterday: Drug tests may be required for playing chess or joining the cheerleader squad. Justices ruled 5-4 that schools' interest in ridding their campuses of drugs outweighs students' right to privacy, allowing the broadest drug testing yet of young people whom authorities have no particular reason to suspect of wrongdoing.

July 7- The Scotland on Sunday reports: A Wheelchair-using multiple sclerosis sufferer is facing a year in prison following allegations she baked cannabis-laced chocolates and sent them to fellow MS patients.

Biz Ivol, 54, whose condition has left her house-bound in her Orkney home, has been charged with supplying cannabis. If found guilty, she could face up to 12 months in jail.

July 12- The Wall Street Journal reports: Former President Clinton acknowledged, "I was wrong" about one of the most controversial AIDS decisions of his presidency: his refusal to lift the ban on federal funding of needle-exchange programs.

A government panel advised him at the time that the practice, used to slow the spread of HIV among injection-drug users, was effective and didn't promote drug abuse. But Mr. Clinton sided with his drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who opposed it, Mr. Clinton said Thursday, because of "the message it would send on the drug front."

July 18- BBC News reports: The niece of US President George Bush has been jailed in connection with drug offences.

Noelle Bush, the daughter of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, broke the terms of a court-ordered drug treatment programme.

The 24-year-old was arrested in January after fraudulently trying to obtain a prescription drug to treat anxiety. She was arrested outside a pharmacy in Tallahassee. She has been jailed for 72 hours on a charge of contempt of court for failing to comply with her treatment programme.

July 19- The LA Times reports: Californians who use or grow marijuana for personal medical use are protected from prosecution in state court as long as they have doctors' approval, the California Supreme Court decided unanimously Thursday.

August 1- The Toronto Star reports: U.S. jet fighter pilots, responsible for at least 10 deadly "friendly fire" accidents in the Afghanistan war, have regularly been given amphetamines to fly longer hours.

Then when they return to base, the pilots are given sedatives by air force doctors to help them sleep, before beginning the whole cycle again on the next mission, often less than 12 hours later.

The exact drugs pilots are given and how they're taken is outlined in a 24-page document obtained by The Star, produced by the Top Gun fighter training school and the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Pensacola, Fla.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force Surgeon-General's Office in Washington confirmed pilots are given the stimulant Dexedrine, generically known as dextroamphetamine, to stay alert during combat missions in Afghanistan.

Pilots refer to Dexedrine as "go-pills." The sleeping pills they are given, called Ambien (zolpidem) and Restoril (temazepam), are referred to as "no-go pills."

It is not known whether Dexedrine was involved in the friendly fire incident in which an American fighter jet dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb that killed four Canadian soldiers early on April 18.

Medical literature indicates that amphetamines can have severe side effects. The worst is called "amphetamine psychosis." It causes hallucinations as well as paranoid delusions.

August 16- Frances International Herald-Tribune reports: Senior U.S. officials have asked (Colombian) President Alvaro Uribe to shield American military trainers in Colombia from prosecution by the International Criminal Court for any accusations of human rights abuses that may arise in connection with their work.

The request, made by Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, is part of a global campaign by the United States to prevent U.S. nationals from being tried at the international court. Arguing that future military aid hangs in the balance, U.S. diplomats have begun working here and with other allies to arrange such immunity agreements, which are allowed under the treaty setting up the court.

Under anti-terrorism legislation signed by President George W. Bush this month, U.S. military aid would be cut off from countries that have ratified the treaty, except those granted a waiver by the White House. The United States has made it clear that governments granting an immunity pledge to U.S. citizens will continue to receive aid.

August 17-18- 150,000 people fill Seattles Myrtle Edwards Park for Hempfest 11, one of the largest marijuana-reform rallies in the world.

August 25- Associated Press reports: One in every 32 adults in the United States was behind bars or on probation or parole by the end of last year, according to a government report Sunday that found a record 6.6 million people in the nation's correctional system.

August 28- The Kentucky Post reports: Kentucky's prison budget ballooned dramatically over the past two decades and grew five times faster than state higher education spending, a new study concludes. Meanwhile, there are almost as many African-American men in prison in Kentucky as there are enrolled in the state's colleges and universities, the report says.

September 4- The Toronto Star reports: Canada should legalize the use of marijuana by adults, a Senate committee recommended today.

The special committee said the current system of prohibition doesn't work and should be replaced by a regulated system, perhaps like that used for alcohol.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue," said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, the committee chair.

September 6- Valerie and Michael Corral are arrested at their home in the hills near Davenport, CA, on federal charges of intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy.

For the past ten years, the couple have directed the patient-run medical marijuana co-op, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, with the support of local police and politicians. Eighty-five percent of their patients are terminally ill. All marijuana was grown by a volunteer staff and distributed to approved patients for free.

September 18-The New York Times reports: Santa Cruz Mayor Christopher Krohn, several City Council members and two former mayors gathered in front of City Hall this afternoon to witness a medical marijuana giveaway in protest of a federal raid two weeks ago on a local cannabis collective.

It was a direct challenge to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and though the mayor did not physically handle the marijuana today, he was unsure whether he would be going to jail.

"We are not California wackos," the mayor said in an interview. "We are trailblazers. We are normal. This is not an attempt to embarrass the D.E.A. but rather a compassionate gathering in support of sick people who need their medicine."

The raid was a surprise to local officials, who said the Corrals' farm complied with the state's marijuana law and had been publicly operating for 10 years.

"It's a shock," Mayor Krohn said. "We've worked with the D.E.A. here on our heroin problem. We appreciate their assistance in those cases. But this raid was unannounced and against the will of the people."

September 19- The UK Guardian reports: Mo Mowlam, the former cabinet minister responsible for drugs policy, is calling for the international legalisation of the drugs trade as part of a more effective drive to combat terrorism.

October 8- The Chico Enterprise Record reports: Bryan James Epis, co-founder of Medical Marijuana Caregivers in Chico, was sentenced Monday to 10 years in federal prison for his part in what prosecutors called an elaborate plan to make millions by selling pot.

Epis, who says he uses marijuana for neck and back pain resulting from a 1983 near-fatal traffic crash, unsuccessfully argued during his weeks-long long trial that he had the right to dispense marijuana to seriously ill patients under Proposition 215 - California's Compassionate Use Act - approved by the voters in 1996.

"I am not a criminal," Epis said in a prepared statement Monday before his sentencing. "I am not ashamed of what I did. How can I be?" "People should not have to choose between their liberty or their health," he told the court.

Handing down the mandatory minimum sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. said Epis' case is yet filled with issues his court "cannot properly resolve."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Wong said Epis operated out of one thing: greed, using the state's medical marijuana statute as a "license" to make money. "He is no different than any other drug trafficker or any other drug manufacturer that has come before this court," Wong said in his closing statement.

"His attempt to play up the people who need medicine is sickening."

October 18- Oregons Register-Guard reports: Gov. Jeb Bush's daughter was sentenced to 10 days in jail and led away in handcuffs Thursday after being accused of having crack cocaine in her shoe while in drug rehab. Noelle Bush, 25, kissed her aunt Dorothy Koch as a sheriff's deputy cuffed her behind the back. Koch is the sister of President Bush and the governor, who was not in court. In a statement, the governor said he realizes his daughter must face the consequences of her actions.

October 24- The Oregonian reports: The daylight basement in Leroy Stubblefield's Sweet Home area house seems an unlikely battlefield for America's war on drugs.

Stubblefield, a 52-year-old quadriplegic, and two of his caregivers were growing 12 marijuana plants in his basement in a state-licensed operation until Sept. 23, when a federal drug agent seized them in a drug raid. No one was arrested.

It is thought to be the first time in Oregon that federal authorities have overstepped state law - which allows cultivation of marijuana for personal medicinal purposes under a $150 annual license- and raided a marijuana growing operation.

October 28- The New York Post reports: A Time/CNN poll revealed that 72 percent of Americans now feel that people arrested with small amounts of marijuana should not do any jail time, while just 19 percent favored sending pot smokers up the river.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans still want marijuana possession to be considered a criminal offense - but 34 percent now favor complete legalization.

The new poll also offered good news to activists and lawmakers who are calling for the legalization of medical marijuana: 80 percent of those surveyed said they favored dispensing pot for medicinal purposes.

October 28- The FBIs annual Uniform Crime Report is released, indicating that 723,627 Americans were arrested on marijuana-related charges in 2001, with 88.6% of the arrests for possession only.

The total number of marijuana arrests far exceeds the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

October 30- Utahs Deseret News reports: For the first time ever, a federal appeals court has ruled that the government cannot revoke the prescription drug licenses of doctors who recommend marijuana to sick patients.

November 20- Irv Rosenfeld marks his twentieth anniversary of receiving a monthly tin of 300 pre-rolled medical marijuana cigarettes from the United States government, as one of seven living patients grandfathered into a now defunct Compassionate Investigative New Drug Program.

November 30- The New York Times reports: We interrupt our coverage of the war on terrorism to check in with that other permanent conflict against a stateless enemy, the war on drugs.

The truly amazing thing is that 30 years into the modern war on drugs, the discourse is still focused disproportionately on marijuana rather than more important and excruciatingly hard problems like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.

Drug czars used to draw a distinction between casual-use drugs like marijuana and the hard drugs whose craving breeds crime and community desolation. But this is not your father's drug czar. [John] Walters insists marijuana is inseparable from heroin or cocaine.

December 2- Reuters reports: Casting doubt on a basic principle of U.S. anti-drug policies, an independent study concluded on Monday that marijuana use does not lead teenagers to experiment with hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.

The study by the private, nonprofit RAND Drug Policy Research Center countered the theory that marijuana acts as a so-called gateway drug to more harmful narcotics, a key argument against legalizing pot in the United States.

December 10- The Toronto Star reports: The [Canadian] federal government may introduce legislation early in the new year to decriminalize the use of marijuana, says Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.

"If we're talking about that question of decriminalizing marijuana, we may move ahead quickly as a government," he said today outside the House of Commons.

December 15- The Houston Chronicle reports: Texas' war on drugs punishes few major importers and dealers but imprisons thousands caught with less than a sugar packet full of cocaine or other illegal drugs.

The battle rages most fiercely in Harris County.

Of the 58,000 drug convictions won by local prosecutors over the past five years, 77 percent involved less than a gram of a drug, according to district court data analyzed by the Houston Chronicle. Harris County sent 35,000 of these small-time offenders to jail or prison.

A recent national report on incarceration patterns concluded there is "a two-tiered `war,' in which middle-income communities with resources can address their drug problems privately as a health issue, while low-income neighborhoods are essentially consigned to criminal justice mechanisms."

December 27- Kentuckys Paintsville Herald reports: At the urging of the White House and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), prosecutors from across the United States are beginning to focus on the dangers of marijuana, making prosecution of marijuana-related drug cases a priority. The NDAA cite the recent movement to legalize or decriminalize controlled substances, particularly marijuana, as the reasoning behind the new focus.

Scott Burns, Deputy Director for State and Local Affairs in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) issued a letter to all prosecutors throughout the United States, outlining the dangers of marijuana and labeling the drug as posing the greatest threat.

Estimated U.S. deaths in year 2002 attributed to tobacco: 400,000; alcohol: 110,000; prescription drugs: 100,000; suicide: 30,000; murder: 15,000; aspirin and related painkillers: 7000; marijuana: 0? (unknown)

Kevin Nelson, is the author of the weekly column Drug War Briefs.





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