DRCNet

British Prisons Install Methadone Vending Machines

In a bid to promote opiate maintenance therapy behind bars, the British government has begun installing methadone vending machines in the country's prisons. Justice Minister Phil Hope told parliament last week that 57 vending machines have been installed so far.

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How a White Powder from the Bolivian Andes Became a Global Phenomenon

Reviewed: "Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug," by Paul Gootenberg (2008, University of North Carolina Press, 442 pp, $24.95 PB)

Regardless of what you may think about cocaine -- party favor or demon drug -- one thing is clear: Cocaine is big business. These days, the illicit cocaine industry generates dozens of billions of dollars in profits annually and, in addition to the millions of peasant families earning a living growing coca, employs hundreds of thousands of people in its Andean homeland and across Latin America, and hundreds of thousands more in trafficking and distribution networks across the globe.

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Obama Administration Tells Congress to End Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity

In a break with the Bush administration, Justice Department officials called Wednesday for the first time for Congress to pass legislation that would undo the vast disparities in sentences for those convicted of crack and powder cocaine possession offenses. For years, drug reformers, civil rights groups, and even the US Sentencing Commission have called for the disparities to be undone, saying they have had a racially disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities.

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Mexican Drug War Violence Is Going off the Charts

President-elect Barack Obama met Monday with Mexican President Felipe Calderón to discuss bilateral issues of major importance for the two countries. In addition to NAFTA and immigration policy, Mexico's ongoing plague of prohibition-related violence was high on the agenda.

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A Few Brave Local Politicians in Texas Rebuked for Just Trying to Talk About Drug Reform

Ed. Note: The following is part of a recent blog entry giving the latest details on a fascinating local vs. federal battle over the question of whether or not we should have an open debate on the drug war, followed by a full article giving the full background to the story. Both pieces are from StoptheDrugWar.org

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Getting the Pointlessness

Amidst the continuing furor of anti-drug polemics and hysterics, it's easy to make the casual observer forget one of the basic realities of this issue: Most people who use drugs are okay. For most of the people who use drugs, it's OK that they are using drugs. We may legitimately worry about those who truly have problems with their drug use, and the people they may affect; we legitimately worry about the consequences of the illicit trade in drugs -- which is to say, the consequences of prohibition. And we would like to see the drug trade made less accessible to children.

But when one faces facts straight on, they say a simple thing: Most people who use drugs are okay. If results are what count, in most cases it's okay that people are using drugs. Not in all cases, to be sure. But in most cases.

Certain types of civil disobedience can illustrate the pointlessness of criminalization of drug use in a vivid enough way to be both noticed and understood. Members of the European Parliament Marco Cappato of Italy and Chris Davies of Great Britain accomplished this three years ago when they presented themselves to police in the London suburb of Manchester with minute quantities of marijuana attached to the back of a couple of postage stamps, getting arrested in the process. Cappato and Davies weren't even using the marijuana, it wasn't even enough to be used, they clearly were not menacing society in any way, they are highly respectable citizens. Yet it was enough to get them sent to jail in handcuffs. That is an effective demonstration of the pointlessness of criminalization.

Drug reformers in the formerly Communist nation of Hungary are doing something similar right now. Roughly 30 of them have turned themselves in as drug users to Budapest and other city police headquarters since the beginning of April. Among them was a famous novelist who is also grandmother -- clearly not a threat to society. Police are being forced to arrest these people and make the law look ridiculous in the process. It is fueling discussion, not only about casual use of marijuana but also how society deals with the truly problematic drug users. It is raising the issue of the unlucky ones who get caught and might not get a lenient sentence. It may well help to change the country's drug laws.

The criminalization of responsible drug users is only one of the many pointless aspects of drug prohibition. Criminalization of the trade in drugs itself is also pointless, though for more complex reasons that involve economics, public health and many other factors. But criminalization of users is pointless on its face. People may miss that obvious point a lot of the time. But they are capable of grasping it, without a lot of effort, if it is pointed out in a clear and compelling manner.

I believe they can understand the rest of it too. As New Mexico's former governor, Gary Johnson, has put it, support for the drug war is a mile wide but an inch deep. Our drug policies are so far off-base, with such serious consequences, it isn't that hard to get a lot of people, perhaps most, to understand at a minimum that some things are wrong. Prohibition is pointless, but our efforts to end it need not be.

A Moral Fog

Last week witnessed the conclusion of a sad chapter in an ongoing saga; the sentencing of Dr. William Hurwitz, a well-known physician specializing in pain management, to 25 years in prison and a $2 million fine for purported drug dealing involvement.

Supporters of Dr. Hurwitz say that his decision to treat pain aggressively with opioids (narcotics), in the way he did, derived from an ethical principle applied to its logical conclusion. Physicians are obligated by their medical oath to properly treat pain, which in general means relieving to the best feasible extent. To deny a patient adequate pain treatment is "tantamount to torture," in Hurwitz' own words. If you treat pain, then some of the people seeking opioid prescriptions from you inevitably will turn out to be drug diverters or abusers. But it is unethical to punish actual pain patients -- to torture them by denying them medicine -- just because such people are out there. So Hurwitz chose to err on the side of prescribing for pain rather than not doing so. Because his ethics, and his interpretation of them, required him to do so, drug warriors notwithstanding.

I agree with those ethics. It may be that reasonable people can believe that some degree of non-treatment of real patients should be risked in order to "balance" that priority with the priority of diversion control. I don't agree with that -- partly because denial of pain treatment really is torture, in my opinion -- and partly because I understand that the economics of the drug trade and prohibition renders diversion control ineffective regardless. If we can get to a point where a debate on the issue is taking place at that level, I'm not going to call anyone unreasonable who is rationally and sincerely trying to sort it out. But I agree with Hurwitz on this point.

I also believe that Dr. Hurwitz is in fact innocent. No actual evidence was ever presented that he knew that any of his patients were diverting or abusing drugs. And as one of the few people in the world holding both a medical degree and a law degree, Hurwitz would have been readily able to earn millions of dollars per year; a financial motive for the crimes of which he was accused simply did not exist. But whether my faith in Dr. Hurwitz is on target or not, even that may ultimately only have secondary importance.

There are two primary issues at stake. One is that it should have been doctors who decided whether Hurwitz had acted properly, but was not. Russell Portenoy, one of the world's top pain specialists, moved the issued forward this week by saying as much to the Los Angeles Times.

The other is the sheer lack of ethics displayed by prosecutors, by their witnesses, and sadly even by the judge himself, Leonard Wexler. I have it on good authority that the prosecutor arguing for a life sentence yesterday lied repeatedly during his performance. The judge invoked a tape he claims he saw, but which was never entered into evidence, to justify harsh treatment of Hurwitz. For a variety of reasons this is not very plausible. But even if it turns out to be true, it would still conflict with the spirit (albeit not the letter, perhaps) of the Supreme Court's recent pronouncements on these issues.

A witness for the prosecution, an addict in recovery, told of how he squandered his whole inheritance on drugs, conjuring the image of hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions down the drain. He didn't mention, nor did anyone, that it was a mere $20,000, a lot to him perhaps but not a lot. Prosecutors leveraged their power to prosecute that individual and others, in order to get them to testify against Hurwitz in exchange for leniency -- a practice that courts have called bribery, though the Supreme Court ultimately did not uphold that. But the unreliability of testimony made under such duress is clear, and it is unethical to use it or allow it.

Most seriously, the prosecution's medical witness gave testimony that six of the leading experts on pain treatment characterized as "misleading" and even "absurd" in a letter they sent to the judge. But that letter was never shown to the jurors. How dare Judge Wexler withhold exculpatory information of fundamental importance to the case from the jurors? It may be that sharing the letter with the jurors would have been unusual and something that courts don't like to do. But given who that letter came from and the nature of its content, I can conceive of no moral justification for withholding such information from jurors regardless of usual procedures. There must have been some appropriate way for Judge Wexler to get them that information, and that's what he ethically had to do, but did not do.

The Hurwitz case is high profile. But such violations of decency occur all the time, in the countless more ordinary cases being thrust through the system every day. The courts have hence become institutions not to be respected, but rather feared and condemned. It is not good enough for the courts to do the right thing, to protect us from dangerous criminals and enact legitimate justice, but to do so only some of the time. The courts must make all reasonable efforts to maintain and enforce the highest moral and ethical standards at all times. But they lack the will, and perhaps the desire, to do so.

The courts are in a moral fog, unable to discern right and wrong in their own actions, while sitting in judgment on others. It is time not only to oppose and criticize injustice, but to stand against it. Ethics requires that of us too.

Dear Judge Wexler

The Honorable Judge Leonard D. Wexler
United States District Court
Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division
401 Courthouse Square
Alexandria, VA 22314

Re: United States v. William Eliot Hurwitz, 03-CR-467-ALL (LDW)

Dear Judge Wexler:

I am writing to express concern about comments made by Ralph Craft, foreman of the Hurwitz case jury, which appeared in the Dec. 21, 2004 edition of the The Washington Post. Mr. Craft's remarks indicate the jurors fundamentally misconstrued both the legal and medical issues involved in the case. I have observed the pain issue and worked with pain patients, physicians and their advocates for 10 years and am well versed in the issue.

Mr. Craft told the Post that, "legitimate doctors out there don't prescribe anywhere close to what Hurwitz did."

However, the dosage which, according to the Post, "astounded" Craft, 1,600 5mg oxycodone pills, adds up to 8 grams daily, of a medication equivalent in its potency to morphine. According to Dr. Russell Portenoy, Chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center, "[i]n clinical practice, the range of opioid doses required by patients is enormous" and "[d]oses equivalent to more than 35g morphine per day have been reported in highly tolerant patients. ..."

The 35 grams Dr. Portenoy, one of the world's leading pain specialists, finds appropriate in some cases, is more than four times the dosage Mr. Craft and presumably other jurors believed was impossibly large -- a serious misconception that appears to have played a major role in the convictions.

Mr. Craft also told the Post that Dr. Hurwitz "wasn't running a criminal enterprise." However, the charges of which he and other jurors voted to convict Dr. Hurwitz are clearly intended to apply to persons involved in major criminal enterprises. That Mr. Craft and perhaps other jurors could understand that Dr. Hurwitz did not run a criminal enterprise and yet convict him for running a criminal enterprise, suggests they were either unable, unwilling, or inadequately prepared to properly interpret the charges on which they were deciding.

Given the multiple, fundamental errors made by jurors, I believe your legal and moral obligation is to reverse the convictions and release Dr. Hurwitz immediately. Short of that, I urge you at least to use the discretion afforded by the recent Booker/Fanfan Supreme Court ruling to sentence reasonably, and sentence Dr. Hurwitz to time served when he appears before you this week. Since the jurors themselves did not believe Dr. Hurwitz ran a criminal enterprise, it would be unreasonable to hand down a sentence Congress intended for leaders of criminal enterprises.

Thank you for taking my points into consideration. I will be attending the April 14 sentencing hearing in support of Dr. Hurwitz, pain patients, and all enlightened physicians who wish to treat them. I believe this is a matter of the utmost moral gravity and that history will watch and remember the actions you take that day.

Shilling For Steroids

It was the talk of the airwaves today: Congress held hearings on steroid use in professional baseball, with sports stars like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa subpoenaed to be there. Is steroid use wrong? Can baseball police itself? Are congressmen seeking the public good or just grandstanding? Should the issue lie within Congress' purview at all? Numerous participants in the public debate have opined on the issue, and it will no doubt continue to be talked about for months or more likely years to come.

The most emotion-laden argument heard is that of the superstar athlete as role model for the nation's youth. One of the witnesses at the hearing was a grieving father whose son committed suicide, it is believed, as a result of withdrawal from anabolic steroid use. If kids get the idea that steroids can make them excel at sports, maybe even make the major leagues, more kids will use them and more such tragedies will be the result, is the idea. There may or may not be a lot of truth to the notion – it is notably difficult to sort fact from fiction on matters involving drugs and especially drugs and kids. But let's assume for the sake of argument that there is at least some truth to it. There probably is at least a little.

All the more reason Congress was wrong to do what it did this week. If there were any young people in America who didn't know that steroids can enhance one's athleticism, they almost certainly know it now. Along with thinking about the policy and social issues, some young people are now thinking, more than they were before, about whether or not to take steroids. It is an inevitable chain of events whenever politicians or the media draw attention to a drug. Though I do not know whether steroid use will increase as a result of the hearings, I would not be surprised by that. Whereas I would be surprised if the hearings directly or indirectly caused steroid use to drop. That's just not the way these things tend to work out.

Anyone interested in this issue should read "How To Launch a Nationwide Drug Menace", chapter 44 of the 1972 classic, The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs. The chapter traces the evolution of glue sniffing from an obscure habit in 1959 to a major national phenomenon by the early 1960s. Anyone hurt or concerned by the harms wrought by drugs on some of their users ought to be disheartened by that story's similarities to today's steroid brouhaha. Will publicity from Congress' unintended advertising of steroid use serve to drive use up?

Time will tell, but if history is any guide, the answer is probably yes. And I for one was not interested in yet another demonstration of what not to do. Unfortunately, history likes to repeat itself. One more nationwide drug menace in the making.

Proof and Prejudice

Years after candidate George Bush's non-answers to questions about his possible drug past fueled controversy and a sense that he indeed had such a past, proof for some of it at least has at last emerged. Taped excerpts from a conversation, released by the author of a new book, reveal the future president essentially admitting to past marijuana use and explaining why he would never acknowledge it in public.

On one level, the educated reaction to this news is something along the lines of, "So what?" Tens of millions of Americans have used marijuana during their lives. It wasn't a big deal for most of them. Even the more dangerous drugs aren't a problem for most of their users – that's not the strongest argument for legalization of them, but it's true. All the more so for marijuana. Bill Clinton used marijuana. Al Gore used marijuana. It did not and should not have disqualified them from the nation's top job. Nor does it disqualify George Bush.

On other levels, however, the information is troubling, for two reasons. One is that candidate Bush criticized his opponent, Al Gore, not for having used marijuana but for having admitted to it. "I want to lead," he explained on the tapes, and "I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." He couldn't criticize Gore for having used drugs because he had also used drugs. So instead he criticized him for being open and truthful.

There is a level on which one could legitimately hold that it is counterproductive for kids to be keenly focused on the drug use of famous role models; this is an area on which reasonable people can hold varying points of view. But the way to accomplish that would be through legalization and treating private drug use as not a big deal. And that is not what George Bush has advocated.

Which leads us to the second reason, one of hard policy. As governor, Mr. Bush escalated sentences for some drug offenses, putting other people in prison for longer time periods for things that he himself had done or supported. As president, under his authority the federal government has targeted medical marijuana cooperatives, escalated the war on pain doctors, campaigned against drug policy reform initiatives or legislation, promoted drug testing and vastly overreaching drugged-driving laws, gone to court against any reform to drug policy that it could no matter how modest.

So if marijuana use in the distant past is not relevant to judging the president, hypocrisy on the drug issue is very relevant. And if not being open or candid about one's own youth is not exactly the same as lying to children, it verges on that. Not to suggest that his predecessor and failed opponents have stellar records on the issue by any means; they most certainly don't. But they're not president right now.

So if it is unimportant that George Bush used marijuana, it is kind of sad that he opposes honesty about it. And it is very sad that he continues to support cruel and repressive drug policies – policies which could have ruined his life if they had been in place back then, but realistically only in theory.

I am glad, therefore, that now there is proof of George Bush's drug use. If only by providing one more bit of rhetorical ammunition, it will make it slightly harder for the drug warriors to continue to escalate their pogrom against the American people.

Baseball on Drugs

For nearly two and a half years, a relentless drumbeat of allegations, confession and innuendo has sullied Major League Baseball's self-image and provided endless fodder for pundits inside the game and out. The current drama began in May 2002, when Ken Caminiti, a standout third baseman who retired in 2001, described for Sports Illustrated his own use as well as the rampant and routine use of steroids and amphetamines by big leaguers. The second act began unfolding in September 2003, when investigators raided Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or BALCO, a northern California firm that specialized in legal nutritional supplements and, according to the feds, illegal substances that BALCO had provided to elite athletes in track and field, football and baseball.

Two months later, Major League Baseball announced that between 5 percent and 7 percent of its players had tested positive for steroids during the previous spring, an outcome that meant the league would move toward its first full-scale testing in the spring of 2004. Meanwhile, the pressure only increased. In his State of the Union speech in January 2004, President Bush urged the sports establishment to remedy the drug situation. The following month, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a 42-count indictment against four men in the BALCO case, including founder Victor Conte. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) threatened congressional action to "clean up baseball" if the game didn't act.

Major league baseball owners and players huddled and announced on Jan. 13 the new ground rules for drug testing. At press time the agreement had not been finalized, but a spokesman for Major League Baseball said he expected to have final wording by March 1. On the day of the announcement, players union head Donald Fehr said he would be "very surprised if over time this doesn't take care of the problem virtually completely." Asked last week to assess his sport's drive against steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told reporters, "As a sport, we have done everything that we could at this point ... we've done what we needed to do."

Selig's and Fehr's eagerness to put baseball's drug issues behind them is understandable, but few people expect steroids to vanish from baseball quickly. The new rules do mean more frequent testing and slightly harsher penalties. Rather than one test per year as before, players are now subject to one unannounced test per season and may have to take additional random tests in or out of season. For a first positive, a player will be suspended for 10 days without pay and named publicly. Before, a first violation put a player into treatment and not into the headlines. Now a second violation brings a 30-day vacation without pay, compared with 15 days off and up to a $10,000 fine. A third violation means a 60-day suspension versus 25 days under the old rules. A fourth offense will result in a one-year suspension, as compared to 50 days or a $50,000 fine under the old rules.

By baseball standards this is dramatic progress, but the sport still lags others by a certain standard of "toughness." The National Football League tests athletes year-round; a first violation means a four-game suspension, or 25 percent of the regular season, which would be 40 games for a baseball player. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which runs college sports, has year-round testing in football and track and field as well as testing at its post-season championships. Student athletes who fail a test can lose a year of their collegiate eligibility. But the gold standard in testing is the Olympics, which conducts anytime, anyplace check-ins, with first-time violators facing a two-year ban.

While opinions on the impact of baseball's new program vary widely, there's no mistaking the strategy. Drug testing is the heart and soul of baseball's new rules, old rules and just about its whole approach to patterns of drug use in the sport that have shifted over decades. Like presidents and drug czars, Selig's record on the drug question has not dimmed his confidence in the sport's ability to eradicate drugs or in the tools they're using. He has been a staunch advocate of testing as the key and "zero tolerance" as his mantra.

"I've been saying for some time that my goal for this industry is zero tolerance for steroids," Selig told the Chicago Tribune in announcing the mid-January agreement. "This agreement ... is an important step toward achieving that goal." In Selig's ideal world he would bring the minor leagues' policy up to the majors: four random tests per year, a 15-game suspension for a first positive. But in the major leagues Selig and the owners tangle with a powerful and confident union whose leadership, unity and negotiating leverage have pummeled the owners for decades.

Baseball's January announcement that it had addressed its "drug problem" evoked a lot of derision. Many people skewered the penalties, which some believe confirm yet again baseball's love-hate relationship with performance enhancement. "Every major league owner would like to see steroids removed from every team except his own," is how one former big league manager expressed it to the Village Voice. "You know that everybody knew what was going on, but as long as the turnstiles kept clicking, they didn't care," a veteran baseball man told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Tuesday, the New York Daily News published the comments of an FBI agent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "I alerted Major League Baseball back in the time when we had a case [about 10 years ago] that (former player Jose) Canseco was a heavy user and that they should be aware of it," Special Agent Greg Stejskal told the Daily News. "I spoke to the people in their security office."

Baseball officials denied Stejskal's story, which came to light as Canseco, a once-feared slugger, resurfaced as the author of the best-selling expose, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big.

Also under heavy fire has been baseball's omission of amphetamines, which, according to published reports going back to the early '70s, have been about as hard to score in baseball as a Snickers bar. Tony Gwynn played for 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres and was one of the modern era's greatest hitters and most respected players. In 2003 he told The New York Times, "People might think there is a steroid problem in baseball, but it's nowhere near the other problem; the other, it's a rampant problem. Guys feel like steroids are cheating and greenies (amphetamines in pill form) aren't."

According to the Baltimore Sun, Gwynn estimated that half of the game's position players (non-pitchers) routinely use amphetamines. If a player chooses not to pop a greenie for a game, his teammates say he is "playing naked."

Another reason for the skepticism about baseball's new program is the shortcomings of testing. Dr. Gary Wadler teaches medicine at New York University and is widely recognized as a knowledgeable observer of performance enhancement. Wadler told The New York Times that Selig's confidence that baseball can banish steroids is "absolutely a pipe dream. The best you can ever hope for is to decrease the incidence, hopefully in a meaningful way."

Wadler pointed out some tough technical issues as well. "How is baseball going to do this and who will pay for it?" he asked the Miami Herald. "You're talking about physiology, chemistry, pharmacology, laboratory science, adjudication, appeals mechanisms, transparency. And it's only going to get more complex."

In December 2004, Victor Conte, the man at the center of the BALCO case, told ABC News that passing drug tests "is like taking candy from a baby." Dr. Charles Yesalis of Penn State has studied and written about steroids for more than 20 years. "Drug testing," he said to the Sporting News, "catches only stupid, foolish and careless people."

The steroids-in-baseball uproar is touching a deep nerve in America's collective psyche. It throws together national passions for baseball, altered states and winning with cultural beliefs about competition, fairness and the purpose of sports. Steroids-in-baseball is a passion play full of intriguing characters, complex plots, cultural weight, and fresh twists and turns, all unfolding against a backdrop of huge money and celebrity.

For the drug policy reform movement, steroids-in-baseball is noteworthy for its growing usefulness to politicians who want to shape perceptions and define issues. In addition, there are clear signs that performance-enhancing substances are the hot new front in the "war on drugs." Over the years, baseball's approach to performance enhancement has mirrored that war in its broad strokes. Baseball demonizes users and substances; shapes policy based on political calculations and not on effectiveness in achieving a worthwhile goal; keeps the substances and users underground and beyond the reach of science and medicine; and assumes that ever-harsher penalties will deter extremely competitive people from gaining an edge in an ultra-high-stakes game. With spring training, a great secular American ritual, beginning this week, baseball is still a long way from home.

Travesty of Justice

Not a day goes by in the drug war without something happening that shouldn't. This week an innocent and heroic doctor was convicted in a court, by a jury that wasn't afforded information they should have had, of charges that should never have been brought, under laws that shouldn't exist. Soon he will be given a prison sentence that any right-thinking person should regard as obscene.

He is William Hurwitz, the most prominent advocate, and at one time practitioner of, aggressive treatment for severe chronic pain for patients who suffer from it. I have written about Dr. Hurwitz since 1996, the year the Board of Medicine of Virginia yanked his license, to his patients' detriment, and I have met him on multiple occasions, including the day he received an award from the American Society for Action on Pain for the risks he took.

One of those patients was David Covillion, a former police officer who became disabled from a fight with a suspect. Covillion, like most of Hurwitz's patients, was not able to find another doctor willing to treat him. His pain was so great that he saw no way out but to end his life. He recorded a dramatic videotape the day before, explaining his decision, a tape that was played on 60 Minutes when it reported on the case.

The media, unfortunately, has not been clear in its more recent reporting on this history. Hurwitz, in fact, was essentially exonerated by the medical board, which restored his license, though not before much damage was done. He was able to return to practicing medicine and treating pain – until two years ago, when, knowing that the federal investigation was coming, he closed his practice. He wanted to give his patients a chance – whatever little they had of one – to find other doctors willing to treat them. Two and a half months after Hurwitz announced his decision, the feds raided his office and home.

It is a simple concept – one would think – that patients should get what they need for pain. But the drugs patients need for pain are also among the drugs that drug police make a living hunting down. The enforcement bureaus devoted to that nexus – anti-diversion bureaus – must draw blood to justify their existence and expand. The convictions they have now obtained against Dr. Hurwitz – which will put him in prison for life if the situation goes un-remedied – are bad news for pain patients. As one advocate told the media on getting the news, doctors are going to "run for the hills" whenever they meet a pain patient from now on. Who can blame them? Life in prison is a steep cost to risk for any cause, even the cause of obeying one's physician's oath.

It is that oath that Hurwitz was following. Frank Fisher, another pain doctor who had (relatively) better luck, has described Dr. Hurwitz as the most ethical of the pain doctors – the most ethical because he would always treat a pain patient for the pain, absent proof of the patient's misconduct. This included the patients other doctors most feared to treat – the patients with addictions, the poor, those with an unsavory look – those for whom the risk to the doctor of being fooled and ending up facing a prosecution is the greatest.

But as Dr. Hurwitz told the jury when he took the stand, to deny a patient pain treatment is tantamount to torture. If he had proof that patients were diverting the drugs, he would cut them off. But without proof, he was obligated to treat the pain they seemed to have, because to do otherwise would violate medical ethics. Dr. Hurwitz was unwilling to torture his patients by denying them medicine, even though that was what was needed to protect himself from the drug police.

This is the basic issue of the case, the issue that Hurwitz and his lawyers tried to convey to the jury, but there is more to it. Other issues are the misuse of the law by federal prosecutors, the lack of clarity in the law, the sheer length of the federal mandatory minimum sentences, and the willingness of the judge to aid and abet the prosecutors in their successful endeavor to obscure the issue for the jurors. Judge Wexler made a series of bad decisions that will probably constitute the basis for the appeal.

Wexler would not instruct the jury clearly, in response to their query, that it is legal to prescribe opiates to people with addictions to them, so long as the prescriptions are for pain control. Wexler did not communicate the "good faith" standard, that doctors who prescribe in good faith are innocent, even if the faith they showed some of their patients turns out to be misplaced. Both of these are errors of law which biased the jury's deliberations toward conviction.

Wexler also disallowed the defense from presenting a document published recently by DEA and pain treatment experts to the jury, because the DEA had withdrawn the document by that time. Would it not have been more in the spirit of truth – the "whole truth," as the witness oath goes – to show the jury the document, as well as the DEA's letter explaining their withdrawal of it, as well as the response by DEA's former physician partners which outlined how distorted and dishonest DEA's reasons really were, as well as the evidence that is suggestive that DEA withdrew the document to improve their chances of convicting Hurwitz himself? And there were other errors on Wexler's part.

I don't know whether Judge Wexler was biased or whether he meant well and was merely manipulated into his bad decisions by smart prosecutors. I also don't know whether prosecutors McNulty or Lytle or Rossi meant well but are merely misguided – truthfully I consider their motives deeply suspect, but that is only a speculation. Regardless, they are all participants in, and perpetrators of, a profoundly destructive attack on the rights and lives of pain patients everywhere. Some of the people reading this editorial are patients who may regard their hopes for relief from pain as having been dealt a blow yesterday in the courthouse. All of us could be in that situation one day and become the victims of McNulty and Lytle and Rossi and Wexler.

But they are also perpetrators of a travesty of justice against an individual – a lynching, in effect – of an innocent doctor whose only crime is that he would not torture his patients by denying them the medicine they needed. And that is not what the law is meant to achieve.

In 2004 we do not need or want martyrs, but we seem to have them. I am sure Dr. Hurwitz does not want to spend years in prison awaiting his appeal, nor spend the remainder of his life there if the appeal fails and no other relief is obtained. But if that is what happens, the reason may at least be some small source of comfort and large source of pride: He would not torture.

A Tragedy in the Capital

The District of Columbia saw a tragedy last week. Jonathan Magbie, a 27-year-old quadriplegic medical marijuana patient, died while under the care of the D.C. court and jail. Magbie had been arrested for marijuana possession, and Judge Judith Retchin sentenced him to 10 days in jail, despite recommendations from officials against it. Her reason? There was a loaded gun in the car with him.

But Magbie didn't use the gun on anyone. And now I've learned it wasn't even his.

Things went haywire immediately after Magbie entered custody. He wound up getting sent back and forth between the jail and the hospital. His mother was not allowed to bring him his ventilator in jail, for two days. By the time the jail finally agreed to it, it was too late.

I don't believe that any of the officials involved in this debacle wanted what happened to happen. Some combination of incompetence and/or overloading of the system and/or poorly crafted regulations or procedures all combined to end Jonathan Magbie's life. But that doesn't mean there's no one to blame.

Surely Judge Retchin shares the blame. According to the Washington Post article, she is known for harsh sentences. In a nation with two million prisoners, whose incarceration rate has been criticized by prominent human rights organizations, such an impulse is part of the problem. The attitude that drove her to send a helpless, wheelchair-bound young man, who had hurt no one, to jail, is a barbaric one that our society desperately needs to leave behind. And knowing how dangerous the jails can be, even for the healthy and strong, it was especially reckless. If she didn't understand that, it is to her discredit.

Others are to blame too. Why did the hospital send Magbie back to the jail and refuse to take him back? Where did the miscommunications take place in the court and jail? The more basic truth, though, is that gulags breed carelessness and error.

It is too late to save Jonathan Magbie – the decision-makers who needed to do that didn't try hard enough. But this sad episode must not be allowed to go gently into the night. Magbie and his family deserve a full accounting, and a reflection on the sad state of criminal justice in this country is long overdue. Let it start here.

The Politics of Pain

The fledgling effort to get Congress to do something about the creeping crisis in pain management in the United States took another small step forward Sept. 17, when the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and more than 60 endorsing groups brought a briefing on pain issues to Capitol Hill. While according to the National Institutes of Health, more than 48 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, the actions of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are only exacerbating the problem, a panel of experts and activists told a crowd of staffers, lobbyists, doctors and patients.

Although there has been a rising public clamor over DEA overzealousness in pursuing its goal of preventing "drug diversion," most particularly around the prosecution of physicians engaged in opioid pain treatment therapies, Congress has yet to take much interest. In July, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) made the first attempt in Congress to deal with the issue by seeking to amend the Justice Department appropriations bill to bar the DEA from prosecuting doctors for prescribing legal drugs, but that amendment was ruled out of order the same day.

The same two representatives hosted the briefing, "The Politics of Pain and Painkillers: Drug Policy and Patient Access to Effective Pain Treatments," featuring presentations by doctors, pain treatment advocates and media critics. California physician Dr. Frank Fisher told a rapt audience his story of persecution at the hands of state authorities.

The head of a pain clinic, Fisher was arrested and charged with murder in the deaths of three people. After years of prosecution, all the charges melted away, but despite Fisher's eventual exoneration, the damage has been severe. Fisher remains unable to practice medicine as he fights a final battle with the state medical board, and his patients have been scattered to the wind in an all-too-often fruitless search for adequate pain treatment.

"Frank Fisher's presentation was very powerful," said the Rev. Ronald Myers, an Arkansas-based physician and founder of the American Pain Institute, who also addressed the briefing. "He has lost so much – his practice, his livelihood – because of an overzealous prosecution. It is really immoral that law enforcement went after that man," Myers said.

"But Frank Fisher was blessed because he had good legal representation. We've got other doctors who haven't fared so well. Down in Florida, Dr. Freddy Williams in serving a life sentence now. Hear what I said: Jailed for life! We've got a real struggle ahead," he said.

A key element of that struggle is getting Congress to pay attention to the problem, said Siobhan Reynolds, founder and president of the Pain Relief Network, an advocacy group for pain patients. "We want House and Senate judiciary committee and health committee hearings," she said. "We cannot begin to address this problem until we understand the scope of and the enormity of the impact on the sickest people in our society," she said. "We will not make progress until Congress really begins to grapple with this."

Part of that process is grappling with misconceptions and media distortions, as panelists Ronald Libby and Maia Szalavitz did on the Hill that afternoon. Libby, a political scientist from the University of North Florida, explained to the attentive audience how a poorly and sensationally reported series of articles about in the Orlando Sentinel painting Oxycontin abuse as a serious public health menace helped pave the way for February congressional hearings on "the national epidemic of Oxycontin addiction." The series seriously overstated the number of Oxycontin-related overdose deaths, Libby said, a charge which the newspaper has accepted, publishing a retraction of its reporting and firing the reporter this year.

Libby also drew an analogy to the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act, which early 20th century law enforcement used to arrest and prosecute thousands of doctors for the then-common practice of prescribing opiates for maintenance purposes to addicts. The law did not explicitly ban maintenance prescribing, but enforcement agencies claimed that such prescriptions went outside the realm of accepted medical practice and therefore violated the Act. Today's prosecutors are out of control in a similar fashion, reshaping the practice of medicine according to an agenda not determined by doctors or informed by medical realities, through prosecutions of physicians accompanied by draconian prison terms or the threat thereof.

(The late Rufus King detailed this history in a 1953 Yale Law Journal article, "The Narcotics Bureau and the Harrison Act: Jailing the Healers and the Sick," an article which he considered the most important he ever wrote. King found, among other things, that the US Supreme Court had upheld the right of addicts to be prescribed opiates by doctors for maintenance in its Linder ruling, but enforcers simply ignored the ruling and continued the prosecutions.)

Szalavitz, a journalist and fellow with the media watchdog group STATS, described an atmosphere of fear pervading pain management as leading specialists like Virginia's William Hurwitz and Cecil Knox face prosecution and possible years in prison as drug dealers for trying to treat pain with opiates. Szalavitz, too, cited media sensationalism as contributing greatly to the problem.

"We are not going away," said Kathryn Serkes of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, who emceed the briefing. "We are approaching this issue methodically. If we have to keep coming back to educate people on the Hill 40 or 50 at a time, we'll do it," she said. "This issue is really just beginning to appear on congressional staffers' radar now, since Reps. Paul and Conyers made their bid to defund the DEA war on doctors in July. We didn't really expect any concrete action at this point; it is an educational process and we're in it for the long haul," she said.

One thing the briefing did accomplish, said Serkes, was to show that concern about the crisis in pain treatment is not an issue that belongs to one political party.

"We wanted to show that this is a bipartisan effort, and with Conyers and Paul, people are starting to understand that," she argued. "Our panel was another example. We had people who are very conservative and people on the left. The people on the panel put aside political differences on other issues to work together on this."

"This is an educational effort," concurred the Pain Relief Network's Reynolds. "And we were really encouraged by the receptivity of the audience. People's mouths were hanging open as they listened. People are just thunderstruck when they're confronted with the reality of what is going on, with doctors being hunted down, with pain patients like Richard Paey sitting in prison for 25 years. People just cannot believe it."

"We are getting more attention from members of Congress, but we need to have hearings," said the Rev. Myers, who will lead the second annual pain patients march on Washington in April. "The DEA is out of control, and Congress is the only body that can rein it in. To me, the DEA is like the IRS used to be. It was abusing people, and that didn't change until there were hearings in Congress. We need hearings."

"We have US attorneys saying they want to hunt down doctors 'like the Taliban'," said Serkes, "and the Justice Department is asking Congress for almost $25 million for DEA drug diversion initiatives in the current budget. "At the same time the DEA is hunting down doctors like the Taliban, it is having trouble finding real terrorists. Our spending priorities are out of whack."

The issue will only grow, said Reynolds. "This affects millions of Americans, it effects the elderly, it affects children with cancer. This is about the denial of ethical medical treatment to Americans because of government action against physicians, but to have the whole medical system driven by fear of a small number of addicts while millions of pain patients suffer is insane."

Give Back Our Medical Marijuana

In a mass legal action on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 38 California medical marijuana patients filed simultaneous lawsuits demanding that state law enforcement entities return almost $1 million worth of pot seized by police in recent years. California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996, but recalcitrant law enforcement organizations continue to seize marijuana from patients.

In all 38 cases, the plaintiffs had their medicine seized but were never charged with a crime or had the charges dropped. But they have been unable to get police to return their property – the marijuana. Now they are going to court in an effort to get their property back, or at least its cash value, and to try to shock California police into actually upholding and obeying the law.

Under California law, persons whose property was unlawfully seized may seek its return through a court order. If the property has been lost, damaged, or destroyed, plaintiffs are entitled to receive compensation. Each case must be filed separately, as was done Tuesday across the state.

According to a report issued this week by Americans for Safe Access, the group that coordinated the mass filing, illegal seizures of medical marijuana have occurred in more than half of the state's counties. The California Highway Patrol has also illegally seized marijuana from patients, the report found. Additionally, ASA found that eight years after the passage of Proposition 215, the state's Compassionate Use Act, most California law enforcement agencies have no procedures in place to determine who is a legal medical marijuana user.

In the report, which examined only the last three months, ASA found more than 100 cases of police violating patients' rights and seizing their medicine. ASA executive director Steph Sherer blamed the problem on a "culture of resistance" within law enforcement.

"There is more support for medical marijuana in California than ever before," said Sherer in a conference call. "But when we look at the implementation of Prop. 215, it is surprising that we see such a culture of resistance to it among law enforcement."

That reluctance to uphold the law will end up costing California taxpayers millions of dollars in arrest and prosecution costs, as well as millions more in compensation for seized or damaged property, Sherer said. "Patients are standing up for their rights and demanding their property back from the state," she said. "The Compassionate Use Act is not negotiable. Upholding the law is not negotiable. In addition to the return of property, we are asking for policies and regulations for law enforcement that will not only protect the rights of patients and monitor this culture of resistance, but also save money for taxpayers across the state."

Police have had long enough to adapt to the law, said Joe Elford, a constitutional law expert and ASA staff attorney.

"When a substance such as pot has been illegal for so long," he said, "law enforcement cannot be expected to change its attitudes overnight – but it's been eight years. Because police continue to view marijuana as contraband and seize people's medicine, patients have had to stand up for their rights, they have had to go to court to try to get their medicine back. If this works," Elford continued, "we will have won a broader recognition of our rights. If it doesn't, we will see more lawsuits down the line. We don't intend to wait another eight years."

Former California police officer and current medical marijuana patient Kevin Lewis said that even though he considers himself a responsible user, he "fears" the attitude of law enforcement if he is ever found with marijuana. But those attitudes could be changed, Lewis said, and it is up to law enforcement agencies to do so.

"Officer standards and training should make clear that if the person has a medical marijuana ID card and a doctor's recommendation, he should be treated like anyone else possessing a prescription drug. Officers need to review the documents, and if they are in order, let the patients go about their business," Lewis said. "I can't even understand what level of training these officers have or what orders they have to seize property."

Lisa Swartz is one of the patients who filed suit Tuesday. During the conference call, she told of being raided at gunpoint in 1999. "They came with a narc SWAT team, pointing semi-automatic weapons at my grandkids' heads," she said before breaking into tears. "It was a terrible experience and totally changed my view of everything. I used to believe the police were there to protect and defend us. It is just so bizarre that they do this to people," said Swartz. "Even if we get our property back, this still takes a terrible toll on our families."

Swartz spent 18 months and $50,000 defending herself before authorities dropped the charges. "They never apologized and they never gave me my medicine back," she said.

The law enforcement "culture of resistance" to implementing the state's medical marijuana law is centered in the California Narcotics Officers Association, whose 7,000 members make a living enforcing the drug laws. The association, which is the largest law enforcement training organization in the state, says flatly on its web site that "marijuana is not a medicine" and that a well-financed drug legalization lobby has duped the voters of California.

That's a big problem, said California Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). "I have only recently learned that the California Narcotics Officer Association says marijuana is not medicine," Leno said. "I would suggest they need to reread the wording of Prop. 215. That is the will of the voters, and it is not being respected. Prop. 215 clearly states seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes. That is what we are trying to implement."

Like a Rock

Despite protestations from all of New York's key political actors that they are determined to reform the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws, another legislative session ended this week with the laws unchanged. Last minute negotiations over "reforms" that were only marginally acceptable to real reformers faltered after a last-minute intervention by Republican Gov. George Pataki. Legislators will have to return to Albany for a special summer session to deal with the state budget and other issues, so there is a slim chance lawmakers could cut a deal then, but it appears unlikely. And given the deal state Assembly leader Rep. Sheldon Silver (D), state Senate leader Joseph Bruno (R) and Pataki were pursuing, reformers are not spilling too many tears over its collapse.

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, in place since the early 1970s, people caught in possession of as little as four ounces or selling as little as two ounces of a controlled substance get mandatory minimum 15-to-life sentences, while other drug offenders earn similarly harsh treatment. As a result, the state's prison population has swollen, primarily with black or brown offenders. Drug prisoners now make up 38 percent of the prison system -- nearly twice the national average -- and a staggering 93 percent of them are Latinos and African-Americans. Many are housed in prisons in conservative, lily-white upstate counties where the Rockefeller drug laws serve as an effective jobs program for prison guards.

After years of mounting pressure to amend or undo the laws, Bruno and Silver appeared poised as recently as three weeks ago to approve reforms that would have reduced sentences for "A" felons, the ones doing 15-to-life (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/340/sortof.shtml). But that measure would not have helped the much more numerous "B" felons and other drug offenders, nor did it deal with other key issues for drug reformers, including the restoration of sentencing discretion to judges and making any reforms retroactive. Still, the deal was too much for Pataki, who, backed by the state's powerful prosecutors, intervened at the last moment over the weekend with deal-breaking demands to add sentencing enhancements to allow prosecutors to seek longer sentences in some cases.

"I had a meeting with Bruno last week, and he assured me we would have an agreement by Tuesday," said Michael Blain, Policy Director for Drug Policy Alliance (http://www.drugpolicy.org) and DPA's man in Real Reform 2004 (http://www.realreform2004.org), an umbrella group formed this year to carry on the years-long struggle to kill the Rockefeller laws. "But then Pataki weighed in and broke the deal by attempting to add sentencing enhancements that he knew were unacceptable to both the Assembly and the Real Reform coalition. Where's my deal? Was Bruno stringing us along?"

But Blain conceded that even had the deal succeeded, it would not have been the reform he was looking for. That was a view universally shared by reform activists. "Even if anything had passed we wouldn't have considered it reform," said Robert Gangi, head of the Correctional Association of New York (http://www.corrassoc.org), a member of the Real Reform coalition. "It was limited and cosmetic. It would have reduced prison sentences for some categories of drug offenders, but the effect would have been limited. We were not disappointed when we heard there would be no deal, because what they were proposing was no real movement on the issue. It was not real reform, and if politicians attempt to present it to the public as reform, they are misrepresenting what they are doing."

"We thought there would be a small change that we wouldn't be happy with," said Randy Credico of the William Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (http://www.kunstler.org) and the prisoner family group New York Mothers of the NY Disappeared, also members of the Real Reform coalition. "It would have been like going to Las Vegas, dropping $200,000 in the slot machine, coming up with two cherries, and calling yourself a winner. We cannot settle for a small payoff."

As reformers lick their wounds and plot their next steps, some divisions have emerged.

"We have used the wrong approach," said Blain. "We need to tell legislators they need to reform those laws not because the laws are wrong -- they don't seem to care -- but because there will be consequences for them if they don't. They cannot continue to seek Latino and African-American votes while ignoring drug law reforms that clearly affect the African-American and Latino communities. As citizens and advocates, we have to hold them accountable."

DPA and the Democratic-leaning organization MoveOn.org attempted to do just that last week. In a message sent out to more than 130,000 MoveOn subscribers, the groups placed the blame squarely on Gov. Pataki:

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Grand Old Man of American Drug Reform

Arnold Trebach is indeed a godfather of the American drug reform movement. From his post at American University in Washington, DC, in the 1970s, Trebach began exploring the impact of drug enforcement on crime policy, leading him to found the Drug Policy Foundation, progenitor to the Drug Policy Alliance. The author of groundbreaking critiques of US drug policy, such as "The Heroin Solution" (1982) and "The Great Drug War" (1987), Trebach played a central role in making drug reform an issue that could be addressed in polite circles.

But as his exploration of drug policy deepened, Trebach moved toward the embrace of legalization of drug use and the drug trade as the best solution to "the drug problem." Now a spry 76-year old in retirement, Trebach continues to monitor the drug reform milieu, whether as a board member and advisor to the International Antiprohibitionist League, a compiler of drug treatment program abuses, or, as just last month, a speaker at a cutting edge conference, the Third National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His major passion at the moment is finishing a book on drug control in the age of terror, in which he argues that today prohibition makes even less sense than before and that a rational system of legalization or re-legalization is demanded by the age in which we live and try to survive.

We thought it was time to check in with Arnold again, on the occasion of his recent birthday, and we spoke with him by phone at his suburban Washington, DC, home last week.

You've been in this game for a long time. How did you get started in drug reform and how do you think the movement is doing?

Arnold Trebach: I came out of the civil rights movement. For example, I was on the streets of Birmingham with Martin Luther King. I was there as a federal civil rights official to observe events and, truth to tell, to give aid and comfort to the revolutionaries. I made sure to call up Bull Connor and tell him I was there and that I would like to speak to him. He was unimpressed and un-cowed and called up Burke Marshall and told him that the next time he sent down a civil rights official, teach him to speak dog talk and I will let him talk to my dogs. I did not work for Burke, a wonderful man, but he told me about it later. The important point is that I marveled at the courage of the protestors, King, and Shuttleswoth and Oliver and the others. They were my heroes.

That's the tradition I came out of, civil rights not drugs and rock and roll. I often say I grew up at a time when I missed the sex and drugs revolution, damn it. I wandered into the field of drug policy by accident. I was an analyst of crime control policy and a civil rights scholar at American University, and I found my students knew more about drugs than I did. It was only when I started looking at the federal crime control budget that I got intrigued. I read that and thought, "Wait a minute, this is very strange." The alleged facts, the basis for the policy, seemed wrong, distorted or half true.

These were the grains of sand in my oyster, so to speak. I just started looking around and following my nose, and I started going to England with seminars or institutes from American University. I saw that what we said about heroin and its use as a medicine there was totally distorted. On the basis of those visits and much research, I wrote "The Heroin Solution," which title was really a play on words. What I said then was there was no solution, at least not in American terms. You can't have unconditional victory over heroin; you just have to learn to live with it. Also, if properly used, it's a wonderful drug and should be used as a medicine.

Then in the mid-1980s, I wrote "The Great Drug War." I was so appalled at what I saw in the process of gathering information for that book that when I was done I told my dean that I was not going to write another book for awhile but that I was going to start a reform organization. I sat down at the same old word processor I had used for the book and wrote out the plans for a centrist drug policy reform organization based on my experiences overseas and here. I had 50 names for it in my files and eventually came up with the Drug Policy Foundation, a real white bread name.

Rich Dennis, a truly decent and compassionate human being, was our first big funder. When he asked me what I wanted to accomplish, I told him that I hoped to make opposition to the drug laws decent and respectable. That's what I was trying to do. Back then, many drug reform conferences were places were guys got pies thrown in their faces. I wanted something more professional, more mainstream. The idea was to create a center for a movement that would pull in decent people, professionals who were proper in their actions, but very strong in their opposition, and I think I've helped that to happen. Drug reform is now in the mainstream, there is an enormous amount of support for it, there are many organizations involved and I'm very proud of that.

It seems that we have managed to win some reforms around the edges (sentencing reforms, treatment instead of jail, medical marijuana), but that we haven't made much progress in busting the prohibitionist paradigm. Is that assessment too pessimistic?

Trebach: Enormous progress has been made on many fronts and we are starting to make some small progress on -- as you say -- busting the prohibitionist paradigm. Let me back up a bit and explain what I saw back in the 80s. DPF never supported legalization, but I eventually got to a point where I did. I supported treating all drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Near the end of my time there, when we were going through battles at DPF which led to my leaving, it was not over policy, but power and prestige, who was going to run the biggest organization in drug policy reform. Obviously, I lost that battle, a power struggle. But we never had a real battle over whether we should stand for legalization; our battles were over tactics and who would control the money and who would appear on TV and who was the fairest in the land -- that kind of bullshit. It wasn't about legalization; legalization never really came to the fore as a major internal issue, even though it was discussed.

By the time I left DPF, I had published "Legalize It? Debating American Drug Policy" with Jim Inciardi. He supported prohibition with some humane adjustments and I laid out the case for legalization. What's happened since then is that the Drug Policy Alliance, the descendant of DPF, has gone on to do all kinds of great things, and at times it sounds like a legalization organization, but as we all know, it's not. Fortunately, DRCNet, Dave Borden's group, is definitely out there as a legalization proponent, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Jack Cole's group, is about legalization, too. And there is the International Antiprohibitionist League, a very good organization led by Marco Perduca and Marco Cappato, that stands for legalization and for something related that I believe is very important -- going after the United Nations treaties. I was president of the IAL for about a year, but I've stepped down because I'm tired of running organizations.

Back to your question -- some progress has been made on directly attacking prohibition but not nearly enough. The main movers in the so-called reform movement are afraid of it, I guess, figuring it is the third rail in the politics of reform.

As much good as is accomplished by the push for harm reduction and the medical marijuana issue, the movement fails in not fully embracing legalization as one of the main thrusts of drug reform. Here in Maryland, we just passed a treatment-not-jail bill -- in many respects a good advance, but it implies that large numbers of marijuana users need treatment, when most just simply like marijuana. That shouldn't be a crime. Sending people to treatment who don't have anything wrong with them is preposterous. While I'm not unhappy about such laws, they may do some good, they don't deal with the main issue. Reform organizations ought to have their eye on the ball, and the ball is ending prohibition. Achieving legality for medical marijuana is short of that goal.

Yet, it is a step that I support. I was just down at the medical marijuana conference in Charlottesville, and the science was stunning. I was amazed at how much I learned. Wow, there is a massive amount of movement forward showing many more uses of marijuana in medicine than I knew existed. The science is incontrovertible; to deny the utility of medical marijuana is obscene. But I just reread Lester Grinspoon's "Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine," and at the end Lester says that we can't get marijuana into medicine until we legalize the drug. I mentioned that to people down there, but I am not sure they all wanted to hear it. Still, I don't think we can have a healthy situation regarding drugs as medicine until we treat them as ordinary substances, and that means legalization. The whole mindset will be different then. While I support the legalization of medical marijuana, that alone is not sufficient.

But before any real progress can happen, one thing that is necessary is that law enforcement must listen to the voices of reform. I recently gave a speech at the Association of Retired Federal Narcotics Officers; it was a debate with my friend Robert Stutman; Peter Bensinger, the former head of DEA, moderated. I was proud of them that they were open enough to invite me and to treat me with respect. At one point, I said, "Look you won't agree on legalization, but you have to face the fact you, as good law enforcement officers, need to stay out of medicine. If you keep interfering with the use of narcotics or marijuana in medicine, you will be extinct like the woolly mammoth." I was wonderfully eloquent, I think, but I made zero progress. That shows the difficulty we face. It might be easier if the feelings on the other side were based on mean motives, but they are based on sincerely held beliefs.

You quite presciently warned a few years ago that the drug war was diverting valuable law enforcement resources away from real enemies. Now there are reports that Al Qaeda is benefiting from the Afghan opium trade, that the Spanish bombers financed their misdeeds by selling hash, etc. Do you see any possibility this link between prohibition and terrorism could help create a different attitude toward prohibition in the ranks of government or the voting public?

Trebach: Back in 1996, I was at a conference in Israel and I observed that the same skills used by courageous drug enforcement officers could be used in going after terrorism, and that I think we'd all be a lot safer if they were going after terrorists who might blow up a building or an airplane rather than worrying about drug dealers selling the inhabitants and passengers marijuana and cocaine. I am stunned by the extent to which those few sentences have been repeated all over the world, time and time again. I was not predicting the future, but it struck me as a father and grandfather that I could deal with drugs in my family, but I expect law enforcement to deal with bombs. Protect me from bombs, not bongs. Since then, what really shocks me is finding out the extent to which we have been incompetent in dealing with terrorism. When you listen to the 9/11 Commission testimony and read Richard Clarke's book, it is all unbelievable. Some FBI offices didn't know how to get on the Internet! If we don't have the competence and the troops to go after terrorism, it is absolutely obscene to think we are wasting one second of law enforcement time on drugs.

This may be the opening that starts people rethinking prohibition and the war on drugs. Right now, as we speak, there is a terror alert out, pictures and names of seven suspected terrorists. Has the Justice Department ordered the DEA to stop all drug investigations and go out and look for them? Should the federal government be spending one minute looking for drug dealers when there is an alert for seven terrorists who want to do us immense harm?

I have recommended many times that we dismantle the DEA. There are almost 5,000 armed federal agents, most of them good decent officers, in DEA and it seems to me that the president ought to say he is assigning them to the front lines of the war on terror. That could easily be done, and would have the support of at least half of Congress, I suspect. What I mean is that I believe that the president probably has the executive power to accomplish this without an act of Congress but Congress must be informed and brought on board. In any event, this is a time when we might want to consider abolishing the DEA or redirecting all of its agents into other work, and the same with other state and local narcotic units. That would be a real signal that we are serious about dealing with terror.

Drug profits support terrorism; that's well documented. The drug laws should be called the Human Savage Full Employment Acts because they empower some of the worst people on the face of the planet to sell the drugs because the profits are so high and to use the profits for whatever they want. They also may use the profits to buy guns and carry out terrorist enterprises. By keeping the drug laws, we allow terrorists ready sources of cash and guns. There is a connection and we ought to be rethinking what we do.

Reports from Afghanistan provide a brilliant piece of revealing theater about the absurdity of drug prohibition. Those people in Afghanistan are growing opium for one reason: because people come and pay them many, many tens of times what they can make growing anything else. The farmers are largely innocent, but as the opium goes up the line, it goes into the hands of bad people, including terrorists. All of this exists because of the framework of prohibition. This shows the horrors we have created with our well-intentioned laws. And we have to face the fact that this is only one of the many defects in these laws.

I spend more time these days looking at the broader world situation then I used to. A couple of things affect my view of the world and drug policy very much. A lot of people on the left and in the Democratic Party see what is happening today as proof of the fundamental rottenness of America. A lot of our colleagues in drug policy around the world, look at our drug policy and say this shows the Americans are rotten to the core. I react badly to that. I want to say that I view our drug policy as bad but not proof of the rottenness of America. I'm amazed with how much I like Andrew Sullivan, a gay Republican moralist conservative. Like me, he goes back and forth and agonizes about Iraq and a lot of things, but when it comes to the standard liberal Noam Chomsky-like critiques of America, Sullivan is furious and so am I. When I was in the European Parliament chairing a conference on legalization several years ago, I told them that I was a critic of American policy, but I fiercely resent the broadside attacks on my country. There I was in Belgium, where I could glory in the guts of our people, not too far away and not too long ago in Bastogone, so I said please don't talk to me about how bad America is. At the end of the day, I glory in this country and what it stands for, especially at times like these when so-called liberals and leftists the world over are on a detest-America binge.

In "The Great Drug War," you began to expose some of the abuses that have gone on in the name of drug treatment, and you have been involved in the issue in recent years as well. Are you still?

Trebach: I've worked on that issue for almost 20 years, and I'm proud to say I helped put Straight, Inc. out of business, but I've backed away now. I feel like I've done my part. Still, these problems have never been resolved. One of my concerns about treatment-not-jail laws is the simple but very disturbing fact that there is no core medical consensus on what works in treatment. If you have a broken leg, doctors may disagree on the best treatment, but there is fundamental agreement on the nature of the problem. That doesn't exist with drug treatment, the approaches are all over the map.

It is shocking to note that some high level physicians, including Robert Dupont, supported the behavior of Straight, Inc. and its descendants. They signed off on the brutality of Straight, Inc. There is still unfinished business with these abusive treatment programs, and we clearly have a long way to go to reach an understanding of the Hippocratic Oath's injunction to first do no harm as it applies to drug treatment. It is another defect of the war on drugs. Because we so irrationally fear drugs as a nation, we say that you can practically destroy children to prevent them from using drugs.

Visit StoptheDrugWar.org

Red Dirt Justice

Redneck justice in red dirt Alabama has Loretta Nall seeing red. Nall, a housewife from rural Alexandria City, was convicted Tuesday of possession of .87 of a gram of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia some 15 months after the Tallapoosa County Narcotics Task Force raided her home -- and 15 months and one week after Nall published a letter in the state's largest newspaper calling for the reform of the state's marijuana laws.

She told DRCNet she would immediately appeal the decision.

Nall, who is now president of the US Marijuana Party, began her career as a marijuana activist after her home was targeted by anti-drug helicopters in September 2002, two months before her arrest. That her arrest was at least in part politically motivated is evident in the fact that the search warrant leading to the bust cited as evidence her letter to the Birmingham News, where she wrote, "it is time to end cannabis prohibition." The only other evidence cited in the warrant was remarks Nall's five-year-old daughter was alleged to have made to either a teacher or a police officer assigned to her school and a supposed report from a "confidential informant" that unnamed persons were complaining of Nall's drug activity.

Nall's trial before Tallapoosa County District Court Judge Kim Taylor was a journey into Alice in Wonderland justice, Nall said. The search warrant was illegal and should never have been issued, she and her attorney argued, in a strong but ultimately futile effort to get the warrant thrown out and the charges dismissed. Judge Taylor, who issued the warrant in question, upheld himself, but testimony from the trial suggests that his ruling had little to do with the law.

Under the Constitution, which applies even in rural Alabama, police must present a judge with evidence they have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed in order to secure a valid search warrant. But under cross-examination by Nall's attorney, that probable cause seemingly melted into air. Officer Eric McCain, the school resource officer who claimed that Nall's daughter ratted her out, offered varying versions of what the girl said, who she said it to, and who was present. First, McCain said that five-year-old Bell Nall spontaneously told him about green plants hanging from her ceiling. Then he testified that Bell's teacher approached him with the information. He also testified that he questioned Bell outside the classroom with no other adults present. Then he testified that her teacher was there. Then he testified that he might have questioned her in the classroom.

In the affidavit McCain submitted to support the search warrant, he said nothing about green plants hanging from the ceiling. Rather, he said that Bell told him some of the leaves she had brought from home for a school project were "illegal." Under cross-examination, McCain could not recall how many times he had obtained search warrants based on the testimony of a five-year-old, although he did concede that young children have vivid imaginations and have been known to make things up.

Officer McCain also testified that he included the letter to the editor Nall had published in the Birmingham News a week earlier as part of the affidavit supporting the issuance of a search warrant. But McCain contradicted himself moments later, saying that he didn't find the letter until the raid, which left hanging the question of how he could include it in the affidavit if he wasn't aware it existed until a week later. And in yet another bizarre twist, he could not produce the letter, which was Exhibit A in the case.

As for the "confidential informant" report on Nall, under cross-examination McCain conceded that local police had received no prior complaints about Nall or her residence, where she lives with her horticulturist husband and two children. McCain then said he had received complaints from concerned citizens, but under continued questioning, admitted that he did not document the alleged complaints and that no list of such complaints existed.

Testimony showed that the search warrant was based on protected political speech (Nall's letter to the editor), a very hazy allegation about what a 5-year-old said, and an even hazier set of anonymous complaints whose existence could not even be proven. It appeared an open and shut case of a bad search warrant. But not in the court of the judge who issued it. After hearing the evidence, Judge Kim Taylor upheld the warrant, virtually ensuring Nall's conviction on the marijuana and paraphernalia charges.

That happened later in the day, after more bizarre testimony from police and strange evidentiary decisions from Judge Taylor. Police misidentified the oversize envelope in which they found the leftover roach that constituted their drug seizure, repeatedly referring to it as a FedEx envelope even as courtroom spectators could see it was a USPS envelope. Taylor allowed prosecutors to enter into evidence a police videotape of the raid that did not show marijuana being seized, but did, Nall notes, "show some lovely pictures of the inside of my toilet bowls."

Officer Josh McCallister testified that he found rolling papers in a bedroom not near to where the pot was found. McCallister conceded that rolling papers could be used to roll tobacco cigarettes. He also testified that he found scales in the kitchen, but that there was no evidence of drug residue on them, they had not been tested and yes, scales have many common uses. Nall, who makes candles, said she used them in her work.

Police did not find any evidence of a marijuana grow, nor did they find any large quantities of marijuana. But the half-smoked roach, the rolling papers and the scales were enough to convict her on the two charges. She faces a suspended 30-day jail sentence, has to go to a court referral and must pay court costs for the possession charge, but not for the paraphernalia charge.

None of that matters because the case will be overturned on appeal, Nall believes. "The judge's rulings and his conduct were deplorable," she added. "He flirted with women during the proceedings, he laid his head back and closed his eyes for minutes at a time, and he did not appear to even pay attention to anything our side said. He cared nothing for the fact that he held my very life in his hands. It didn't matter to him that the cops were obviously lying and contradicting themselves time and time again."

Some 700,000 people are arrested on marijuana charges in the United States each year. The proceedings in the Nall case lead one to wonder just how crappy are the charges in the rest of these cases. In most cases, the police evidence is never put to the test because defendants opt to plead guilty, but perhaps more should fight. While the judge's rulings in the Nall trial are not encouraging, they do have a good chance of being overturned on appeal, and if police and prosecutors are forced to actually present real cases instead of merely intimidating their victims to cop a plea, perhaps their enthusiasm for persecuting drug users will diminish.

"This kind of thing is an education for the public," Nall said. "I hired a court reporter so I could post the complete trial transcripts -- they should be on the web site in a couple of weeks -- and she asked me after the trial if she really sat there and heard them say they things they had said and if they were really pursuing me for allegedly possessing 0.87 grams of marijuana. She was appalled and said she had never witnessed anything like it in her life."

Nall's enthusiasm for taking the war to the drug warriors has certainly not diminished, and she, too, is appalled. "I am appalled at what I witnessed yesterday. I sit here now and wonder just how many innocent people are in jail because of judges like this one? How many lives have been destroyed because people did not have the resources to fight on?"

Not Just in Texas

One of the greatest but least-discussed problems in modern medicine is the under-treatment of patients living with severe, chronic pain. More than 30 million patients suffer from chronic pain, and seven million of them cannot relieve their pain without opiates (narcotics), but only 4,000 doctors in the country are willing to prescribe them, according to the National Chronic Pain Outreach Association. A New England Journal of Medicine editorial stated that 56 percent of cancer outpatients and 82 percent of AIDS outpatients were under-treated for pain, as were 50 percent of hospitalized patients with a range of conditions.

Today's massive denial of pain medication is a consequence of the social, regulatory and law enforcement climate created by the war on drugs. Doctors can suffer loss of license or even incarceration for the inevitable mistake of providing medicine to a real or pretend patient who may be misusing or diverting medication, or using it for non-sanctioned purposes. The climate has led to a situation in which most physicians are incorrectly trained in pain management and under- or non-treatment of pain is the norm. Doctors who treat pain correctly typically must exceed the usual prescribed dosages, and in so doing draw the scrutiny of state medical boards, the DEA and other agencies. Any overdose, any death of an ill or elderly patient, any billing of public health insurers (e.g. Medicare, Medicaid) to pay for opiates therapy, is a potential red flag, no matter how reasonable the prescription or how innocent the circumstances. And for the typical physician, the possible legal and financial ramifications, even if imposed only infrequently, tend to represent a greater legal and financial risk than they are willing or able to afford.

One of the most recent possible "witch-hunts" in this arena is that of Dr. Daniel Maynard, whose Dallas home, office and bank were raided by dozens of state and federal cops three weeks ago. The massive force of heavily armed anti-drug agents handcuffed 30-40 of Maynard's patients while running warrant checks on them and seized Maynard's records, and the state of Texas has frozen his ability to be reimbursed by Medicare. Maynard is of course being tried in the media for his supposed crimes, and his former patients are scrambling to find new doctors who will take their pain treatment needs seriously. I'd bet money at least one of them gets treated for handcuff bruises.

The reason for the raid? Eleven of Dr. Maynard's patients had died subsequent to receiving opiate prescriptions from him. But it is unclear what relation some of the reported causes of death would have to opiate use -- hypertensive cardiovascular disease and chronic alcoholism, for example -- and in those cases where drug overdose was a possible cause, it is unclear whether the fault or responsibility would lie with Dr. Maynard rather than the patients themselves. And this is only based on the limited information that came out in the press. The real facts, once they are presented, may tell a different story yet.

I don't know enough about Dr. Maynard's case to say with certainty whether he is being persecuted for nothing or whether his prescribing practices did have problems. My guess is the former, but only the medical evidence, interpreted correctly, with the benefit of medical experience and knowledge and free from the mind-numbing grip of opiophobia, can tell for sure. At least one of Dr. Maynard's patients has spoken out publicly in his defense.

What I don't need the evidence to be able to say, with substantial confidence, is what will happen -- or rather what is already happening -- to those of Dr. Maynard's patients who live with painful, long-term conditions, and who need narcotics in relatively strong doses to be able to manage.

Those patients will go to their new doctors, and those doctors, regardless of their professional opinions, will decide -- or rather, have already decided -- that they would be crazy to write the same kinds of prescriptions, that doing so would be equivalent to asking a District Attorney to investigate them and the medical board to suspend their right to practice, or for comparable assaults on their practices, reputations and freedom.

Those doctors will assume that some of the very seriously ill patients formerly treated by Dr. Maynard will die during the period of time for which they are those doctors' patients -- due to age or illness, in all likelihood, because they intend to be careful -- but they will assume that any such death will draw scrutiny with a greatly increased likelihood of prosecution, administrative sanctions or lawsuits, and that their colleagues as a group won't take a stand on their behalf.

I also don't need Dr. Maynard's records to determine what will happen -- or rather, has happened -- to doctors and patients in Dr. Maynard's county or state, indeed throughout all the United States. Cowboy drug enforcement isn't limited to Texas. Doctors will conclude -- long have concluded -- that prescribing narcotics beyond a certain dosage level, or to more than a certain number of patients, right as that may be, is far too risky an endeavor under the prevailing police state of medicine. Most won't write those prescriptions, and countless needless tragedies are taking place every day for the suffering people whose palliative is known and available, yet not truly available enough.

So be Dr. Maynard without fault, or have he fault, the state's approach to him is wrong and works great destructive effect against the welfare of patients everywhere. The police state of medicine is the enemy of health, not the friend. Dr. Maynard has the benefit of my doubt, at least, but the state does not.

Toward Global Drug Reform

The Global Social Forum Special Thematic Meeting on Democracy, Human Rights, Wars, and Drug Trafficking is now over, its participants have scattered to the four winds, and the search for meaningful results will now begin. According to event organizers, more than 4,700 people from some two dozens countries came to Cartagena for a week's worth of panels, workshops, roundtables and speeches on topics ranging from the micro (such as creating a space for women in village politics and the economics of small-plot coca cultivation) to the macro (such as the role of the United Nations in defending human rights and the impact of anti-drug policies on society, economy, and the environment).

As noted last week, much of the forum was informed by a harsh critique of US foreign policies, especially as they play out in Colombia. But participants also went beyond mere critique as, in panel after panel, people came together in search of solutions to the problems inflamed by the ongoing civil war cum drug war cum war on terrorism in Colombia. The backdrop was the gleaming beachfront high-rises and colonial-era fortresses of old Cartagena, but the subject matter of the forum was nuts and bolts activism, whether on how to organize youth in urban slums, how media activists could confront established news outlets with preordained agendas, or how to build authentically democratic social movements in an atmosphere of war and intimidation.

And old clashes sometimes generated new heat, most notably when Human Rights Watch director Jose Miguel Vivanco used the occasion of a panel on the UN and human rights to rip into Cuba's human rights record. Not only did Vivanco's denunciation of the recent execution of three hijackers and the imprisonment of nonviolent dissidents draw hisses and boos from some in the crowd, it also drew a stern rebuke from the Cuban ambassador to Colombia. Vivanco and the ambassador exchanged angry mutual accusations over whether Cuba allowed access to its prisoners, but much of the crowd was clearly on the side of the embattled Castro government.

The drug-related sessions of the forum were, for the most part, less controversial and less acerbic, as the critique of prohibitionism has gained increasing acceptance, even in the nominally Catholic and conservative countries of Latin America. For those with some experience with drug policy, there was little new in terms of global revelations; instead, there was a filling in of detail. A panel of Brazilian harm reductionists, to give one example, showed how prohibition and the drug trade work in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the cannabis fields of the Brazilian northeast, while Spanish Basque activist Martin Barriuso explained how drug reformers were able to make serious advances in Spain despite a regressive political atmosphere. Similarly, Dutch social scientist Peter Cohen, noting the loud calls for "peace with coca," told the audience it must also seek peace with cocaine instead of demonizing the powder.

While much, if not all, of the discussion at the forum focused on Colombia and the brutal conflict fueled by US military hardware and the illegal drug profits created by prohibition, it was the drug trafficking axis organized by the Mama Coca collective (http://www.mamacoca.org -- see the interview below with Dario Gonzalez Posso as well as last week's interviews for more) where drug reformers, peasants, organizers and academics from Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America came together in an effort to move toward reform on a global level. Some 60 or 70 people met on Wednesday, June 18 to see whether they could reach a consensus on how to move forward.

"We would like to present a proposal to form a global commission on drug policy," said Mama Coca cofounder Dario Gonzalez Posso as he introduced the plan. "We need to evaluate these anti-drug policies. After three decades of drug war, it is time to present alternatives and come up with new models. There are precedents for this sort of commission," Gonzalez Posso added, "such as the meeting on human rights and international law in Colombia that took place in Costa Rica in 2001. This commission was to present its results to the UN, and we hope to do the same," he explained.

Now is the time, Gonzalez Posso said. "We are seeing important movements taking place around coca growing in Bolivia and Peru, as well as in Colombia, where last September people began looking at the problem of proscribed cultivation from within the context of agrarian reform," he pointed out. "There are also important initiatives in other countries, such as the efforts to get governments to ask the UN to repeal or amend the anti-drug conventions."

Gonzalez Posso also outlined some general criteria for any such commission. "We need an analysis based on human rights, not only relating to the health and well-being of consumers and producers, but also the defense of the environment and the rural milieu," he said. "We need to develop informed proposals to end the criminalization of growers, the demonization of plants and the penalization of consumers. We need to make known and vindicate the medicinal value of the coca, poppy and marijuana plants," he said. "And we need to ensure that the committees that help create this commission are formed by people from all over the world who are experts in their field, whether it is drug policy or harm reduction or agriculture."

Research by such a commission would have several concrete goals, Gonzalez Posso continued. "We need to analyze traditional policies in such a way as to create a database for the UN, and we need to be able to demonstrate the diverse impacts generated by prohibition policies in the long run. We also must design a mechanism for social oversight of drug phenomenon. We are not talking about a new bureaucratic infrastructure but about creating a new movement. The commission we envision is not something to be imposed, but something that is fed and strengthened by local social forums around the world."

While a general consensus in favor of the Mama Coca commission proposal seemed to emerge, it was by no means unanimous, and the discussion that followed showed clearly the differing perspectives of those in attendance. For Ricardo Soberon, coordinator of the Peruvian Frontier Programs Project Advisory Board, it was imperative that any commission look at drug production, consumption and trafficking worldwide. "We must go beyond the national level," he said.

Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, a British drug users' advocate and editor of the London-based Users' Voice, warned that drug users must not be excluded from any such commission. "While we need to respect the diversity of this global movement, we also need to be inclusive. People who use drugs are too often excluded from participation. We must be included," she said.

Basque cannabis activist Martin Barriuso expressed enthusiasm moderated by concerns over the workability of a large project. "It will be difficult, and perhaps we should start with an annual report on people adversely affected by drug policies," Barriuso said. "Maybe we should also break it up into different parts of the world. For example, in the Basque country, we don't focus much on the environmental impact of drug prohibition, so there we might want to concentrate on other aspects. The first thing is to get the opinions of the people actually affected by these drug policies."

Francisco Thoumi, a Colombian academic and expert on the drug trade there, cautioned that the UN conventions may not be the insuperable obstacle many suppose. "I've worked with the UN on drug issues," he said, "and the current conventions can be interpreted in different ways. Coca, for example, was not prohibited by the 1961 convention; instead, Peruvian and Bolivian elites committed themselves to end coca chewing in 25 years." Still, said Thoumi, there is still a need for study of coca crops in the Andes, and there are a couple of questions any commission would need to address. "What will you do about plants not used for illicit uses, and how do you prevent leakage from the licit to the illicit sector?"

And while some academics repeated the call for more investigations, more research, not everyone agreed. The research is there already, some suggested. "Adding a document to a warehouse full of documents is not very useful," argued Peter Cohen, director of the Dutch Center for Drug Research in Amsterdam (CEDRO). "If we are going to do something, let's think about activities that will raise the profile of those groups who suffer most from prohibition. It is clear who those groups are in Latin America," Cohen argued. "But no one knows these people exist. At this point, our work is only partly intellectual -- that work has been done -- and we need to have a basically political focus. In order to save the seals in Antarctica, it was important that a French filmmaker filmed those little seals being killed to arouse public opinion. We need to do something similar now."

Still, said Marco Perduca, executive director of the International Antiprohibitionist League, given the United Nations' refusal to analyze the impact of drug prohibition, "if official organizations are not going to do this, perhaps civil society can. We need to do this at the global level, because everyone is affected by prohibition, and not just of drugs, but of sex, of information, of research." Nor should reform efforts limit themselves to the UN's anti-drug bodies, he added. "We can use the UN system to call attention to violations of economic, social and cultural rights protected by the UN Charter. The UN has a committee that deals with violations of these rights. It issues recommendations and proclamations that are sent to governments. This could be a first step, but we also have to work with deputies and parliamentarians in the various countries so we can get governments to raise these issues at the UN."

Not everyone signed on. North American Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies and Witness for Peace told the meeting he would continue to concentrate his limited resources on Colombia. And a delegation from Brazil consisting of antiprohibitionist and harm reduction groups also demurred. "We had meetings among ourselves about this," said Luiz Paulo Guanabara of Psico-Tropicus, "and the consensus we reached was 'fuck the UN.' We think our time and resources will be better spent influencing policy in Brazil, which could well lead the way to reform on a regional basis," he explained.

Others were unable to commit pending consultation with home offices. Sharda Sekaran of the US Drug Policy Alliance told DRCNet she would be reporting to her bosses and a decision on participation would come after that. Similarly, DRCNet's Phillip Smith, while eager to explain DRCNet's antiprohibitionist position to the audience, made no commitment to participate pending discussions within the organization.

At least one Colombian workers' and peasants' group had no such concerns. "We welcome this proposal," said Luis Carlos Alvaro of the Colombian National Confederation of Workers. "We have already created an agrarian mandate for reform here in Colombia, and we think that can be integrated into this proposal. Speaking as small farmers, we believe it is imperative to talk about the cultivation of illicit crops. The growing of such crops is related to the unequal distribution of land. The government wants to make us small farmers invisible. We want to be part of this proposal," Alvaro affirmed.

For Mama Coca and Gonzalez Posso, the general tenor of the conversation was enough to say, "I understand that it is a yes, we have a positive reaction to our proposal, and work toward this global commission needs to begin. It is now time to create a committee to push forward this global commission, but we don't want just another bunch of meetings. We must construct a process that creates a network of working groups, and we must start it now," he said. "We will propose some meetings; we will look for the best moments. We recognize there are other groups working on this, and we will seek to form a converging initiative."

But that process will take time, Gonzalez Posso told DRCNet. "I think it will be six months at least before we have a real framework. There is still much to decide, much to be done."

While panel after panel addressed various aspects of democracy, human rights, war, and drugs, for the purposes of drug reformers, it was the Wednesday session with Mama Coca that was the highlight of the conference. After all, for most of the people in attendance at that session, the ills of prohibition, as articulated at the forum, are old news. What is new and exciting is the prospect of forming a global movement for reform.

In that sense, for some in attendance, Cartagena was also a chance to renew friendships and expand networks established at the DRCNet-sponsored Mérida "Out from the Shadows" conference in February. Among those who attended both meetings were Peruvians Baldomero Cáceres, Hugo Cabieses and Nancy Obregón; Brazilian Luiz Paulo Guanabara; Colombian María Mercedes Moreno of Mama Coca; Dutch academic Peter Cohen; English user activist Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt; Don Wirtshafter from the Ohio Hempery; and the International Antiprohibitionist League's Marco Perduca. And while not all of them will be participating in Mama Coca's call for a global commission, the informal networks of global drug reform are growing as well.

Voodoo Pharmacology

It is a sort of obligatory obeisance before the malign power of controlled substances, those pills, powders, potions and puffables that, as one-time Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes, neatly summed up, "destroy the body, enslave the soul, and take away people's freedom to think and choose for themselves." No matter how ardent the reformer, all too often, when he stands up to call for an end to the drug war, his oration begins with some variation of "I don't condone drug use, but..."

Well, Jacob Sullum has had enough of that, thank you. With "Saying Yes," Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine, syndicated columnist, and author of "For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health," has penned a reasonable, easily readable, and well-researched response to decades of knee-jerk anti-drug sentiment -- which, in a memorable phrase, he refers to as "voodoo pharmacology." Instead, Sullum suggests, the public and the legalization movement would both be better served with a nuanced, realistic, and -- d.a.r.e. we say it? -- temperate response to drug use.

Voodoo pharmacology is that strange blend of hysteria, myth, and agenda-driven public pronouncements by self-interested parties that, unfortunately, passes for a reasoned discussion of the effects of different controlled substances these days. Voodoo pharmacology knows that alcohol is not a drug, that taking Prozac to feel better is a medical decision but taking Ecstasy to feel better is a crime, and that the first toke or the first pill is the first step on an inevitable path to chemically-induced hell. You know voodoo pharmacology. Your tax dollars support great gobs of it spewing forth from your television in those ridiculous, demented ads emanating from the Bush White House, where the drug czar plots his campaign against rape-inducing, ambition-draining, gun accident-causing marijuana.

But, as Sullum shows in several entertaining chapters, voodoo pharmacology -- the basis of our current prohibitionist drug policies -- has little to do with the reality of drug use patterns and more to do with enduring cultural fears encapsulated above by the paranoid Mr. Forbes. In passage after passage that will be uplifting to those drug users who never lost their jobs, their families, their health or their minds because they smoke pot today or snorted coke in the '80s or tripped on acid in the '60s or rolled on Ecstasy in the '90s, Sullum explores not only the unharmful but sometimes downright positive effects of drug use for many drug users.

And he finds that just as the wino drunk in the gutter does not represent most alcohol drinkers, neither does the thieving junky represent all heroin users, the twitching tweaker all amphetamine users, nor Cheech and Chong all pot smokers. Quite the opposite. "The silent majority of users," he writes, are "decent, respectable people who, despite their politically incorrect choice of intoxicants, earn a living and meet their responsibilities."

Sullum shouldn't have to tell us that. But in the face of decades of relentless demonization of drugs and drug users, it bears repeating. And repeating. And repeating. This is why campaigns to improve the image of drug users, like Mikki Norris's Pot Pride (http://www.cannabisconsumers.org) are necessary. It is pathetic that such a thing is necessary, but it is, and Sullum helps explain why.

Demonstrating an adroit touch with historical sources, Sullum shows how the evils ascribed to a particular drug at a particular time float without concrete reference to attach themselves to another drug at another time. "The cells of the brain may become poisoned. The will power may be weakened, and it may be an effort to do the routine duties of life... The memory may also be impaired... The mind of the habitual user is apt to lose its capacity for study or successful effort." John Walters describing the effects of marijuana in 2003? No, Albert Blaisdell, an earlier incarnation of the prohibitionist beast, describing the effects of tobacco cigarettes in 1904.

He also desconstructs the myths of addiction and the black propaganda about maniacal drug users that have filled the works of prohibitionists since Old Testament time. Sullum's passages on the dreaded speed freak are especially entertaining. Amphetamine use, once the province of truckers, students cramming for exams and overweight housewives, was transformed in the late 1960s into the domain of the tweaker. And in the 1990s, Sullum notes, "the speed freak returned to the public stage, angrier, meaner, crazier and better armed," as well as carrying culturally laden stereotypes about toothless hicks and trailer trash. Sullum looks at the oft-cited case of Eric Starr Smith, who in 1994 cut off his 14-year-old son's head and tossed it on an Arizona highway. Smith was allegedly on a speed bender, but he was also loaded on alcohol and had a history of bar fights, domestic violence, molestation allegation and protection orders. "Whatever else it is," Sullum writes, "the Smith case is not the story of a peaceful, law-abiding man turned into a monster by methamphetamine."

There has to be a better way than voodoo pharmacology, and Sullum has one. It will appear radical only in a society conditioned to yield its moral agency to the state, because what Sullum counsels is plain old personal responsibility and a government that respects its citizens enough to allow them to make their own choices. Moderation, or temperance, before the term was hijacked by the prohibitionists, is what Sullum advises, for both drug users and those with a hankering to restrain them. Most people use drugs responsibly, Sullum notes, and they should be left alone.

Doubtless many who read or hear about Sullum's book will assume, because he chose to focus on responsible users, that he is uninformed or insensitive to the harm caused to themselves or others by people with real drug problems. But that's not the case, and it's not Sullum's fault if they feel that way; it's an inevitable reaction from a society conditioned by a century of anti-drug demagoguery by governments and zealots reluctant to admit responsible drug use even exists, much less constitutes the norm, a conditioning Sullum hopes his book will help defuse. Sullum is a libertarian, and hence believes that people who engage in potentially risky behaviors bear responsibility for any harms they suffer as a result, and that those drug users who commit crimes against persons or property should be punished for those crimes, not for their drug use, and certainly not excused from responsibility because of it. It all seems so reasonable.

And it is. Sullum fittingly cites the great philosopher Frank Zappa, who once noted that, "A drug is neither moral nor immoral -- it's a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats its consumption as a license to act like an asshole." Now, if only drug users can somehow convince the government to not treat our consumption of some drug as a license to act like an asshole toward us.

Phil Smith is the editor of DRCnet's Week Online.

Drug Czar Propaganda Stalled in House Committee

An effort by House Republicans, led by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), to explicitly enable the Office of National Drug Control Policy to use its billion-dollar anti-drug advertising campaign to engage in partisan campaigns against political candidates or voter initiatives that favor drug legalization has run into a buzzsaw of opposition on Capitol Hill. The measure, part of the authorization bill for ONDCP spending, was supposed to have been voted on in the House Government Reform Committee Thursday, but has now been delayed at least until after the Memorial Day recess because GOP and Democratic members could not reach a compromise on the controversial language.

The authorization bill also contains language that would strip federal anti-drug funds from law enforcement in states with medical marijuana laws and transfer those funds to the DEA. That language may not survive, said reformers who are monitoring the legislation.

Lobbyists from the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, who led the effort to defeat the propaganda measure, declared Thursday's action a victory -- of sorts. "We've headed off the evil empire for the moment," said MPP director of communications Bruce Mirken.

"This was an initial victory," said DPA director of legislative affairs Bill Piper. "That they postponed the vote was significant," he told DRCNet. "They had the bill on a fast track, but with all the noise we made, all the phone calls members got, they couldn't push it through, and now we think we will get a change in the language."

Under the propaganda provision, authored by incorrigible drug warrior Souder, the existing law that bars ONDCP from using its $195 million per year anti-drug media campaign for partisan political purposes would not apply when ONDCP is acting "to oppose an attempt to legalize the use" of any illegal drug. With open wording like that, the drug czar could legally campaign against sitting office-holders, such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who has sponsored federal medical marijuana legislation or any candidate who campaigns on reforming the drug laws.

Stealthily tucked into the voluminous ONDCP authorization bill, the language went unnoticed until spotted by reformers. Some Democratic members felt "sandbagged," said DPA's Piper. "This has upset a lot of Democrats, who suddenly realized that if it passed, the Bush White House would have $195 million to use in partisan political campaigns next year," he said. "Any party would have a blank check to run taxpayer-funded ads against their opponents -- all they have to do is claim they're fighting drug legalization."

"While there were other issues at play here," said MPP director of government affairs Steve Fox, "the sticking point was the ad campaign and whether the drug czar could use those ads for political purposes. Thanks to the efforts of MPP and DPA, as well as a nicely-timed front page story yesterday in Roll Call, there is a strong and growing awareness of this issue among the members," he told DRCNet.

Feeling the heat, Souder earlier this week agreed to seek compromise language with committee Democrats, but that effort failed as the committee adjourned without a vote. The compromise language would have barred ONDCP from "expressly" advocating for or against a candidate or ballot measure, a move that would have allowed Walters to say "Candidate Smith supports making drugs available to children," but not "Vote against Candidate Smith because he supports making drugs available to children."

That wasn't enough to calm down the Democrats. "Some members felt there wasn't even anything to compromise on, this bill was so egregious," said DPA's Piper.

The propaganda provision's genesis presumably lies in last fall's initiative campaigns. Drug czar Walters campaigned against a Nevada initiative sponsored by MPP that would have legalized the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana by adults, prompting the group to file state and federal complaints alleging that Walters violated Nevada campaign finance laws and federal anti-electioneering laws. One GOP committee staffer told Roll Call the language merely sought to protect the drug czar. "What we are simply trying to clarify is that the regular operation of the media campaign, when it gets into things that some people want to claim and construe as political, is not political," the aide said.

"Because of this ongoing legal battle between MPP and the drug czar, there is real concern among the Republicans that the drug policy reformers will win in court somewhere -- maybe even in the court of public opinion -- and their campaigns will be crippled," said Piper. "They are also concerned that their regular anti-marijuana ads could be construed as campaign ads even if they're not talking about a specific candidate or initiative."

The battle will be rejoined within a matter of weeks, and reformers are increasingly confident they can block the propaganda provision. "We have a strong chance of removing this," said Piper, "although we may end up with language explicitly saying that the anti-marijuana ads are okay, they're not campaign ads."

"We're going to keep up the pressure," said MPP's Fox. "We'll be reaching out to other groups outside the drug reform community. When you're doing this sort of lobbying, step one is creating public awareness. That has happened now, especially with everyone on the Hill reading the Roll Call article. Now we have to keep on top of this and see what sort of new language they try. If it's more bad language, we'll fight that, too."

While the authorization bill provides funds for the anti-marijuana media campaign, there is little evidence the campaign is serving its stated purpose. The presidential budget submission for the 2004 fiscal year noted that "The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has not demonstrated the results sought and does not yet have adequate performance measures and related goals." Walters himself admitted earlier this year that "this campaign isn't reducing drug use."

That's right, said DPA's Piper. "All they're really doing is stating explicitly that this campaign is not about reducing teen drug use but about advancing a political agenda. Interestingly, one provision that was stripped out of the bill was one that required local treatment and prevention contact information on the ads. Taking the two provisions together tells us they've given up on using the ads to reduce teen drug use and will turn the ads into a blatantly political operation."

Canadian Pot Laws Go to Court

Even as the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien moves toward decriminalizing the possession of cannabis, government lawyers were in court in Ottawa Tuesday defending the current laws. The hearing before the Canadian Supreme Court came in a trio of cases that have the potential of scrapping the country's decades-old marijuana laws.

The hearing was originally set for last December, but the court postponed it given indications the government was about to move on the marijuana laws. Now, however, the court has decided to wait no longer. After Tuesday's hearings, the justices will review the case and issue a ruling sometime in coming months.

It is deciding the cases of three men, two activists and one unlucky marijuana smoker, who are challenging the constitutionality of Canada's marijuana possession laws under provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights. David Malmo-Levine, who was convicted of running the East Vancouver Harm Reduction Club, a nonprofit that provided medical marijuana to patients; Christopher Clay, who was convicted of selling marijuana seeds and seedlings at his London, Ontario-based Hemp Nation in a deliberate challenge to the law; and Victor Caine, who got caught smoking a joint in his van, all argue that jail sentences and criminal records for what is essentially a victimless crime violate the Charter's guarantees to life, liberty and security.

But although the federal government is moving toward decriminalization, government lawyers aggressively defended the current laws. "Simply put, there is no free-standing right to get stoned," said government lawyer David Frankel in a written brief filed with the court. He continued in the same vein during oral arguments Tuesday. "Whether you like them or not, the marijuana laws are an example of the democratic process," Frankel told the court. "By their very nature, some people do not like the laws. But it is not a popularity contest. Polling results may be a matter that politicians want to take into consideration, but they are not a matter for the courts."

That prompted Justice Ian Binnie to challenge Frankel's defense of the law. "You seem to be saying that short of being cruel and unusual punishment, all of this lies within Parliament's domain," the judge remarked.

"At the end of the day, it is for Parliament to weigh and assess the competing interests," Frankel replied. "There is a base line here. If the legislature takes what is regarded by this court as a rational decision, that is the end of it, [and] this is clearly rational legislation."

Not so fast, responded attorneys for the three men. "We must ask whether the state has any place in the living rooms of the nation," said Andrew Lokan, a lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

A key question for the court is whether the government need demonstrate serious health risks to pot smokers or the general public in order to uphold the law. Debate over the relative risks of marijuana consumed some of the court's time, as lawyers for the two sides argued the dangers of cannabis.

Another key issue is whether the courts or parliament will ultimately decide the cannabis laws. Attorneys for the appellants told the justices they should follow the law, not political trends. "You can't simply say Parliament has the right to be wrong," said Paul Burstein, attorney for one of the trio. The court should draw a "constitutional line in the sand" beyond which parliament cannot intervene, he added.

Observers are taking no bets on how the court will rule, although many Canadian politicians would breathe a sigh of relief if a court ruling took the whole issue of marijuana law out of their hands.

Coca Farmers Claim Partial Victory

In what local observers described as a "partial victory" and "relative triumph" for Peru's insurgent cocalero (coca farmer) movement, cocalero leaders met Wednesday with President Alejandro Toledo, who took some small steps to alleviate their plight and promised more. Since April 8, cocaleros from around the country had been marching on Lima to demand that the government redress their grievances and the president meet with them personally. When thousands of cocaleros began pouring into the heart of the capital Monday, pressure began mounting on Toledo to heed the demand for a meeting, and by Wednesday, after preliminary meetings between cocalero leaders, Prime Minister Luis Solari, and Peruvian drug agency head Nils Ericsson, the long-awaited event took place.

Peru is the world's second largest coca producer after Colombia, and Peruvian coca farmers, eyeing the success of their brethren in Bolivia, have increasingly mobilized to try to block eradication of the crops, to argue for a larger government-recognized crop, to seek an uncorrupted alternative development program, and to demand the release of leaders such as Nelson Palomino. Palomino, the head of the Peruvian Confederation of Coca Growers (Confederacion Nacional de Productores Agropecuarios de las Cuencas Cocaleras del Perú, or CONCPACCP), was jailed last month in Ayacucho on the charge of "support for terrorism" after he led mass protests in that city.

Palomino remains jailed, and the much hated drug law of 1978, which mandates the eradication of coca crops, remains in effect; but the government of President Toledo has promised to take steps to better the situation of the cocaleros. That was enough for cocalero leaders to call off the mass mobilization for the time being, according to Peruvian professor and coca expert Baldomero Cáceres Santa María (http://www.cocachasqui.org). "The peasants are returning to their lands," he told DRCNet, "but [federation sub-secretary] Nancy [Rufina] Obregón [Peralta] and other leaders are remaining in Lima for further negotiations with the government."

Although at this point the victory appears more symbolic than real, the cocaleros have already achieved important advances, according to Caceres and former Peruvian drug agency advisor Hugo Cabieses. "They won, even if not completely," said Cabieses. "The poor peasants with their women and children, the combative and beautiful women who spearheaded this important movement, have won over everyone. Those who opposed them at the beginning are now allies in their struggle for dignity," he told DRCNet. "The mass media, which was skeptical at first, has taken up the cause."

And they appear to have won over President Toledo, although how far and how fast the government will move to redress cocalero demands remains to be seen. Cocalero leader Nancy Obregón, who stepped forward to replace Palomino after his arrest, brought Toledo and his advisors to tears during the Wednesday meeting, Cabieses said.

"You, Mr. President, taught us to struggle against autocracy and for dialogue when you did your own marches," said Obregón, a mother of five. "You, Mr. President, who come from the same poverty as us, sit in the presidency because of us," she told Toledo in front of a crowd of thousands of peasants at a Lima soccer field. Then in a moment rife with emotion and symbolism, Obregón, along with fellow cocalero leaders Marisela Guillen, Elsa Malpartida, Diodora Espinoza and Lucy Macedo, handed Toledo a gift of coca leaves. Standing before the assembled multitude, Toledo took the leaves from their bag, held them aloft, and said, "These leaves are sacred and you cocaleros are not drug traffickers."

"This is a partial victory, an important first step," said Cabieses. "The cocaleros have been recognized as citizens, and the Confederation of Peruvian Coca Growers has been recognized as the legitimate interlocutor of the growers before the government -- much to the fury of the bureaucrats, aristocrats and the US Embassy."

The US Embassy is not just sitting idly by, said Cáceres. "Prime Minister Solari went from his meeting with the cocalero leaders to a meeting at the embassy," he told DRCNet. While details of that meeting are not known, US policy in the Andes has been steadfast in its insistence on eradication as the central component of any regional drug strategy. But US intransigence on the issue led Bolivian President Sanchez de Lozada into a bitter struggle with cocaleros there and helped push the cocaleros to political prominence. Peruvian President Toledo undoubtedly hopes to avoid that trap, and Caceres, for one, hopes the Americans will have learned a lesson from Bolivia. "We hope the Americans will be willing to allow an Andean solution to this problem," he said.

Also on Wednesday, President Toledo signed a decree acknowledging the legitimate grievances of the cocaleros and instituting a series of minor reforms. Although cocaleros have repeatedly said they are tired of promises from the government, Toledo's agreement to meet with them, his acknowledgement of their cause, and his initial moves to address grievances have convinced them to give the government more time to act. Obregón and other leaders remain in talks in Lima, but the peasant masses, with their signs saying "We are peasants, not terrorists," "Coca is protein and medicine" and "Liberty for Nelson Palomino," are heading back to the fields -- for now. If the government's action's this week are not followed up, the cocaleros vow to return.

Ninth Circuit Court Blocks DEA Hemp Rule

Late Wednesday (4/16) the Ninth Circuit federal court granted the hemp industry's Motion to Stay the US Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA's) "Final Rule," which was issued March 21, 2003 and would have banned the sale of nutritious hemp foods containing harmless trace amounts of naturally-occurring THC under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970. This "Final Rule" is virtually identical to an "Interpretive Rule" issued on October 9, 2001 that never went into effect because of a Ninth Circuit Court Stay issued on March 7, 2002.

Both Motions to Stay were brought jointly by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and several major hemp food companies in the US and Canada. The court is currently hearing a substantive challenge to the Final Rule, and in light of today's ruling, the hemp industry is optimistic that the Court will ultimately invalidate the DEA's rule. One of the prime criteria in granting the Stay was whether the hemp industry is likely to ultimately prevail on the merits of the case.

Because trace infinitesimal THC in hemp seed is non-psychoactive and insignificant, the US Congress exempted non-viable hemp seed and oil from control under the CSA, just as Congress exempted poppy seeds from the CSA, although they contain trace opiates otherwise subject to control. The hemp industry is assuring retailers and consumers that hemp food products should continue to be stocked, sold and consumed. Joe Sandler, counsel for the HIA, stated: "The Court's order effectively prevents DEA from enforcing its 'Final Rule.' With this stay in effect, all those who sell, import, manufacture, distribute and retail edible hemp oil and seed, and oil and seed products, can continue those activities secure in the knowledge that such products remain perfectly lawful."

Hemp seed has a well-balanced protein content and the highest content of essential fatty acids (EFAs) of any oil in nature: EFAs are the "good fats" that, like vitamins, the body does not produce and requires for good health. Dr. Udo Erasmus, an internationally recognized nutritional authority on fats and oils, writes in Fats that Heal -- Fats that Kill: "Hemp seed oil may be nature's most perfectly balanced oil." Not surprisingly, shelled hemp seed and oil are increasingly used in natural food products, such as corn chips, nutrition bars, hummus, nondairy milks, breads and cereals. In the last few years, the hemp foods industry has grown from less than $1 million a year to over $5 million in retail sales.

North American hemp food companies voluntarily observe reasonable THC limits similar to those adopted by European nations as well as Canada and Australia. These limits protect consumers with a wide margin of safety from any psychoactive effects or workplace drug-testing interference. The DEA has hypocritically not targeted food manufacturers for using poppy seeds (in bagels and muffins, for example) even though they contain far higher levels of trace opiates. The recently-revived global hemp market, with retail sales of over $250 million worldwide, is a thriving commercial success. Unfortunately, because the DEA's drug war paranoia has confused non-psychoactive industrial hemp varieties of cannabis with psychoactive "marihuana" varieties, the US is the only major industrialized nation to prohibit the growing of industrial hemp.

View or download a PDF copy of the Court's order staying DEA's rule.

News release from Vote Hemp.

Funding Crunch Hits Drug Reform Movement

Disclosure: This article discusses funding sources that support DRCNet.

Lay-offs, deferred projects, canceled conferences -- these are some of the immediate consequences of a funding crisis now hitting the drug reform movement. While the funding squeeze is due in part to general economic and social factors, it also reflects shifting priorities for some major individual funders and institutional changes that have slowed the funding process. However one divvies up the responsibility, the impact is already showing up.

"There is less money available than last year," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that, along with George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI), helps decide on grants funded through the Tides Foundation Fund for Drug Policy Reform. "A number of things account for that. First, the economy is poor, and many people who contributed got hit by the stock market."

The money crunch is not limited to drug policy reform. Indeed, in its March 6 issue, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that even the nation's largest private foundations have seen their assets drop for the third straight year and that more than 100 of them are reducing or freezing their grant levels this years.

"Second," said Nadelmann, "there is growing competition for funding, not only within the movement, but between drug reform and other concerns," he told DRCNet. "Many contributors are Democrats and were focused on the elections last year, and since then they continue to focus on the composition of the federal government."

But also, added Nadelmann, OSI is reducing its share. "With OSI, there is a continuing commitment in the area of drug reform, but not at the level it was in 1999 and 2000." The move is part of a broader OSI retreat from operations in the US, he said. "OSI is going through an evolution toward a significantly reduced level of funding, and a number of US projects are basically being phased out in the next few years. Drug reform has fared well within OSI, but is not exempt from the overall reductions."

And Nadelmann pointed to one more reason for the funding slowdown. "Folks are stepping back and trying to reassess. We suffered various losses on ballot initiatives last year, and Washington is firmly in the hands of the drug warriors. There is a lot of questioning about what are the optimal strategies. Ballot initiatives loomed large for funders, and now there is some questioning of that."

That's not news to the Campaign for New Drug Policies, the organization behind California's Proposition 36 and a slew of other successful initiative campaigns in the states. CNDP has just laid off three staffers for lack of funds. "We're down to bare bones," CNDP's Dave Fratello told DRCNet. "We don't have any funding commitments or guaranteed plans for next year, but we continue to throw ideas at funders."

Part of CNDP's problem, said Fratello, is the cyclical nature of its campaigns. "When you work in election campaigns, you don't expect to stay in business and automatically get funding for new campaigns," he explained. "Our staff goes up and down, and right now we're at the low point between election cycles. We're still trying to raise money, and we remain optimistic about the future."

Dave Purchase, executive director of the North American Syringe Exchange Network, wishes he could wax as philosophical as Fratello, but he told DRCNet funding problems have already forced NASEN to cancel its annual conference -- and then some. "We had to cancel the conference because a grant we anticipated receiving never came," Purchase told DRCNet. "At first, we thought it was late, now we don't know when it will come or how much it will be. In addition to canceling the conference, we have reduced our staff time by 40%, effective February 15. Since we only have the equivalent of two full-time employees, no one has been laid off, but what this means is that no one will be in the office to answer the phone on Fridays, our responses to inquiries will be slower, and we are looking at what other programs we may have to cut."

What galls Purchase as much as the lost funding is the lack of notice. "The real problem is we are in an unpredicted immediate fiscal crisis without warning," he said. "Nobody's funding cycle is set up to send us a check in two weeks. If something isn't worked out fast, we'll have to make really drastic decisions long before the granting process can be completed."

The funding crunch has also hit the Harm Reduction Coalition, a New York-based harm reduction education and resource center, which announced two weeks ago that it could not publish its newsletter, the Harm Reduction Communication. But it's worse than that, HRC director Allan Clear told DRCNet. "It's not just the newsletter," he said. "We've all taken pay cuts. It's like standing on a table and having two legs kicked out from under you."

Clear wasn't happy with the way HRC's major funder had operated regarding the sudden loss of money. "To be told when you're already in your funding year and relied on the money to arrive at a certain time, then get a phone call saying the money has been cut and they don't know when it will come, is tough to deal with," he said. "We don't have to produce a newsletter, but we do have to pay the rent. Now I have to waste time figuring out how I can sublet the office. You know, maybe compared to active needle exchange programs, what we do is a luxury, but our money goes to interacting with people in the movement, and if you're going to be a movement for social change, you can't be getting undermined by your allies like this."

But Clear wasn't ready to let the Harm Reduction Communication die just yet, either. "I have to find the money to keep us going through the next few months," he said, "but if we can find the money to print and mail it, it will go out. In the meantime, this is a great time to be sending in submissions -- if we can put together a brilliant issue, maybe we can get someone to fund it. And we will continue to have it available on the web."

The two big institutional sources of movement funding are the Tides Foundation's Fund for Drug Policy Reform, which administers grants formerly handled by George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI) and the erstwhile Drug Policy Foundation, now part of the Drug Policy Alliance; and the Marijuana Policy Project's grants program.

The MPP grants program is dedicated to supporting "efforts that foster measurable changes in US public policy that will lead to marijuana's being regulated similarly to alcohol and to marijuana's availability for medical use," according to MPP's web site. The program, which is funded by Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis, one of the so-called "troika" of big individual drug reform funders along with George Soros and John Sperling, disbursed $950,000 last year, and is set to award $1 million this year, MPP executive director Rob Kampia told DRCNet.

The MPP grants program does fund some efforts that are broader than marijuana alone but have a significant marijuana-related component, said Kampia, citing recent grants to the Higher Education Act reform campaign (DRCNet received a grant of $39,000+ for non-student organizing in key Congressional districts) and to Flex Your Rights, an organization that teaches young people how to respond to police encounters. "If we see that there is a project that will advance our goal of ending marijuana prohibition, such as HEA reform, then we can fund it," said Kampia.

MPP holds three grantmaking rounds per year, cutting checks in March, May and September. Tides has not yet announced a 2003 schedule, however, and this is what many organizations are watching and waiting on. Tides money, and its predecessor programs at DPF and OSI, have provided crucial support for groups ranging from the Austin Harm Reduction Coalition and the Puerto Rican Alianza Positiva (Positive Alliance) to the November Coalition and the Topeka AIDS Project, and many other organizations working in drug reform, harm reduction and related areas. (See listing.)

"Tides support for DRCNet work and projects in the last 14 months exceeded a hundred thousand dollars," DRCNet executive director David Borden said, "so obviously we like the places where Tides gives their money." DRCNet received $58,000 in general support from Tides plus $30,000 to hire a campus coordinator for the Higher Education Act reform campaign during that time, and Tides also awarded $20,000 to Narco News for travel costs of Latin American participants in DRCNet's conference last month, "Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century", in the Mexican city of Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula.

"Two and a half months into 2003, 80 percent of our budget for the year is still up in the air, though not all of that is dependent on Tides. I'm not sure if I'll be able to pay my staff in two weeks, let alone two months or the rest of the year. Our key campaigns have been significantly affected by this situation," Borden continued. "Last year, we used a portion of our core funds to pay for direct lobbying and coalition work in the HEA campaign -- culminating in the pivotal May 21 press conference at the Capitol, where 10 members of Congress spoke out for full repeal of the HEA drug provision. But this year, we can't do that, because we don't have core funds. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is facing the same problem, without as large a set of financial supporters as DRCNet has to draw on, so they can't pay for it either. We're working together to find creative ways to make the things happen over the next month that urgently need to, and DPA is pitching in staff time too. But not much money plus not much money doesn't add up to sufficient resources to do the job." DRCNet and SSDP are mustering forces for a Capitol Hill press conference and Day of Action next month promoting Barney Frank's reintroduced bill, H.R. 685, to repeal the drug provision in full.

DRCNet's work has also been indirectly affected by the movement's larger financial woes. "We called every drug reform group in the country on the phone to pitch them on attending our conference," Borden said. "A few did show up, but the vast majority told us they'd love to go but were just too broke -- even if we waived the registration fee, they couldn't afford the plane tickets. That in turn meant fewer paid registrations and therefore less money with which to sponsor Latin American attendees. With 300 people there, the conference still turned out well -- in part due to Tides support -- but it could have been even bigger and better."

"Tides went through inevitable startup problems," acknowledged Nadelmann. "That happens whenever you reorganize or initiate a substantial grants program. And this program is handling grants to about a hundred organizations, along with three directed programs -- one on California's Prop. 36, one on reducing heroin overdose fatalities, and on one drug reform in Latin America. A lot of these problems should now be in the past." [Editor's Note: The three directed programs mentioned above were funded for 2002 and will not necessarily be the same ones funded for 2003.]

But more than organizational problems at Tides, said Nadelmann, the primary problem is more good groups and projects competing for less money. "There's less than last year, but hopefully as much as two years ago, and the number of competing quality programs and organizations is only increasing."

"We thought we had a much larger pot to work with," said Michelle Coffey, the senior program officer for Tides who manages the Fund for Drug Policy Reform, "but OSI, which is our major source, is only providing approximately $2 million this year, about half of what it provided last year. We continue to seek additional funding sources, but they haven't yet come forth, so now we are reevaluating the cycle," she told DRCNet. "There is an internal evaluation about how to reduce the harm to the movement, so we have not announced the 2003 schedule, and that is probably where the tension and apprehension is coming from."

But things are moving, said Coffey. "We got this information about reduced funding at the end of the year, and it's been hard to move everything forward, but we hope to have everything announced in the coming weeks. Most of the delay has been about how to move forward in a healthy, responsible manner," she said. "I understand that folks are upset because they don't know what's going on, and we are trying ways to get this information out rapidly," Coffey continued. "Our first announcement for the 2003 funding cycle will go out in the mail, but we've cut back on mailings to decrease administrative costs, and we'll usually be communicating via e-mail. We don't yet have the funding cycle confirmed, and we don't know the amount we will be able to give away yet, but we will let people know as soon as possible."

But even when the Tides Foundation for Drug Policy Reform money comes, there will be less of it. That means beating the bushes, said Nadelmann. "We've had to make a contingency program for the Tides program having half the funding it had last year, and while we are hopeful that more funds will become available, it is incumbent on organizations to do whatever they can to raise additional funds." The matter is especially serious for needle exchange programs, some of which had succeeded in raising funds from state and local governments, said Nadelmann.

Borden is worried about the future, and not just payrolls. "With the initiative strategy up in the air after a tough election season, grassroots and legislative efforts are more important than ever. If our movement doesn't start to provide consistent and adequate resources in a timely manner to the most promising efforts, there's no way we will be able to sustain the force needed to change drug laws during a time of conservative ascendancy. We may instead suffer greater and greater setbacks, unnecessarily, which in turn will decrease the interest of funders -- and politicians -- in supporting drug reform. I'm not talking about less progress made five years from now than we'd hoped; I'm predicting a major train wreck in the next 12-18 months if things don't change in a big way."

NASEN's Dave Purchase isn't waiting around for the collision. When asked if NASEN was exploring alternative funding sources, he replied: "You bet your ass. Have you got $5 you can lend us?"

Bush Treatment Initiative Draws Mixed Reviews

During his State of the Union address, President Bush announced a new drug treatment initiative, promising a $600 million dollar program to place an additional 300,000 people in treatment during the next three years. "As a government," said Bush, "we are fighting illegal drugs by cutting off supplies, and reducing demand through anti-drug education programs. Yet for those already addicted, the fight against drugs is a fight for their own lives."

Bush tied the treatment initiative to his push for faith-based initiatives as "acts of compassion that can transform America, one heart and one soul at a time." He further emphasized the faith-based aspect of his program when the only treatment provider he mentioned in was the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA. And he waxed religious again, telling Americans who are addicted to drugs that "the miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be you."

After the State of the Union Address, Bush's point man on drug policy, drug czar John Walters, provided a few details at a Washington press conference. The new initiative creates a voucher program that will complement existing alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs, said Walters, increasing treatment capacity and access to effective treatment programs. Under the plan, people assessed as needing drug treatment will receive vouchers to pay for drug treatment under programs monitored by the states. The states will be required to monitor the outcomes of treatment and seek cost-effective treatment modalities.

"This initiative offers a new and effective way for the federal government to help people get into recovery," said Walters. "We know that treatment works. But we also know that there are too many Americans who, for a variety of reasons, cannot access the treatment they need. By giving people a choice, and the direct means to help connect them with effective treatment, we will be able to more directly help drug users who have recognized their problem. This program will also help treatment providers and the overall drug treatment system by bringing increased accountability into the system."

Drug reformers and treatment experts greeted the announcement with a mixture of wariness, mistrust and hope. "We hope this means that people given vouchers can seek out not just unproven faith-based programs, but also treatment modalities that are well-studied and known to be effective," said Bill McColl, a policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Study after study has shown there are effective forms of treatment, such as cognitive behavior therapy and moderation management," he told DRCNet.

Dr. Bill Miller, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and former co-director of the school's Center for Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction, also urged the use of proven drug treatment models.

"I think the government ought to be putting its money into evidence-based treatments, not experimental ones," he told DRCNet. "Faith-based, what does that mean? What is the treatment that is being delivered?" he asked. "I haven't seen any evidence for the efficacy of treatment based on religious content, but that's not to say that a faith-based counseling center using couldn't use evidence-based treatments. We're not talking about faith healing here, and I hope the government will spend its money in a way that encourages people to use the scientific base that is available."

Mary Barr, director of Conextions, a New Jersey counseling center that combines public education, broad-based counseling and drug treatment, was skeptical about where the treatment dollars would end up. "Bush is going to say this is a drug treatment initiative, but he is going to put more money in law enforcement anyway," Barr told DRCNet. "He said he's going to create 300,000 new spaces; how is he going to do that when he's putting everyone in jail? Will these be spaces for court-ordered treatment?"

That's a good question, and there is as yet no firm answer. The Bush Justice Department sought substantial funding increases to support drug courts and their mandated drug treatment in budget proposals released last week. But the Drug Policy Alliance's McColl doesn't think drug courts will eat up all the funds. "It will be up to the states," he said. "The likelihood is that we will see substantial non-criminal justice system treatment, but a lot of grants currently go to coercive treatment. We just don't have any information on how much will go to drug courts yet."

Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy also expressed concern about what the treatment money would buy. "A word of caution is needed," Zeese told DRCNet. "The treatment push has been leaning too much toward coercion and faith-based treatment in recent years. It is important that we start to treat drug treatment as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue and not a religious issue."

If groups like DPA and CSDP expressed reservations about the initiative, organizations representing marijuana users -- the vast majority of all drug users -- are even less excited. Among drug czar Walters' other initiatives is the ongoing campaign to portray marijuana as a dangerously addictive drug and its users as drug addicts needing treatment. "In many ways, this treatment initiative is shaped to play into the drug czar's campaign theme that marijuana is addictive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Of course, that's not the case," he told DRCNet, "but with marijuana arrests at an all-time high, many will be arrested and face the option of treatment or jail. We don't believe the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers need or will benefit from drug treatment, but that helps pump up the numbers of smokers in treatment and advances Walters' false argument," he said.

"It's a double-edged sword," Armentano continued. "We don't want to see marijuana smokers going to jail. So from a pragmatic standpoint, I guess we applaud that choice. But we have to remember these people are seeking treatment not because they are in trouble with their habit, but because it's that or jail."

Mary Barr, herself a veteran of brutal "therapeutic community" treatment programs based on the Synanon model, remains wary of any sort of coerced treatment, but also reluctantly agreed that it beat jail. "I distrust mandated treatment," said Barr. "Mandated treatment leads us down a dangerous path. People are caught up in the criminal justice system and go to prison if they break the rules. I don't want to give up and say that mandatory treatment is okay, but until we have some real changes in policy, even that is better than nothing. What we really need is treatment on demand, not by court-order, and the only way to get money for that is to stopping spending it on throwing people in jail. Let's take the money out of corrections and put it in social programs."

But this is the Bush version of a social program, and there may be some good to it. "No one really knows how this will work yet," said DPA's McColl. "The devil is in the details."

Philip Smith is the editor of DRCNet's Week Online.

Campaign Bolivia

With a campaign of strikes and road blockades led by cocalero leader and national political figure Evo Morales now in their second week and with no sign of a breakthrough in talks with the government of Sanchez de Lozada, an armed rebel group has now announced its presence in the Chapare coca-producing region -- maybe. According to Bolivian press reports, a group calling itself the Army of National Dignity (Ejercito de Dignidad Nacional, or EDN) has emerged near Colomi.

The Bolivian government admitted the existence of a "small armed group," adding that according to its intelligence, the group consisted of 12 sharpshooters armed with World War II-era weapons and was "directly connected" to the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the largest political party in the insurgent coalition headed by Morales.

Morales was having none of that. "This is one more wild accusation from the government," he told La Razon (La Paz) Thursday. "They are desperate, they are frightened. About this group, I can say that perhaps the bases are getting ahead of us as they confront repression and murders by the armed forces."

The number of dead in ten days of blockades and protests had risen to 15 by Thursday, according to La Razon (other sources say 17), and with indigenous leader congressman Felipe Quispe ("El Mallku") announcing Wednesday that his people would join the protests, Bolivia appears headed for a social explosion if thegovernment cannot find a way to meet rising popular demands. The movement begun by coca growers angered by the government's US-backed eradication policies has now spread across vast sectors of Bolivian society.

The emergence of armed guerillas in the Chapare has been whispered for months, but this week a reporter for Reuters broke the story open by interviewing a man who identified himself as the leader of the armed group. Surrounded by armed, masked men, the masked leader told Reuters they had taken up arms "because they are shooting at us. We are former soldiers of the Bolivian army," said the masked man. "We have arms that our indigenous grandfathers had left us to defend our country. We are taking up arms to make the government enter into a dialogue and because we don't want the massacre of our peasant brothers to continue," he explained. "We are a social, indigenous organization. We don't have any political or party ties, nor are we cocaleros," he added.

And maybe they're not even real guerrillas, according to Bolivian journalist Jaime Iturri, who has studied Bolivian guerrilla movements. The supposed guerrilla force could be a trick by the government to justify more repression and more foreign assistance, Iturri told La Razon, noting that a foreign reporter got the scoop. "Irregular armed groups usually try to show themselves in the national context before the international," he said, "but here it is interesting that they say there are guerrillas in Bolivia in order that Army intelligence and the police get more international financing. It could be a trick," he said.

Bolivia's narcs have their own theory. According to Luis Caballero, head of the Task Force Against Drug Trafficking, the guerrillas are in the pay of drug traffickers. "We have been examining the thesis that there exist armed groups," he told La Razon, "but they are linked to the drug trade."

And while the nation worries about a dozen men with Mausers in the wilds, much more concrete social movements are stepping up the pressure on the government. In a communiqué issued Wednesday, the "Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Bolivian People" -- representing a broad coalition of labor and other social groups -- denounced that the Sanchez de Lozada government had "met the demands of the people with bullets, tanks, tear gas and helicopters, leaving 17 Bolivians dead on the national territory."

The communiqué called for all citizens to mobilize in defense of the country against the government, to intensify the campaign of blockades throughout the country, to hold marches and mobilizations, and to demand the resignation of Sanchez de Lozada for incompetence, unleashing repression on the population, and "high treason to the fatherland."

While the US government is busy obsessing on Iraq, things are beginning to go south for it in a big way in the heart of South America.

Note: Both Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe are confirmed speakers for next month's conference, 'Out from the Shadows: Ending Drug Prohibition in the 21st Century'.

Canada Calls For Reform

The Canadian House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended this week that Canada decriminalize the possession and cultivation of up to 30 grams of cannabis, that safe injection sites for intravenous drug users be allowed to open, and that heroin be made available by prescription. Combined with a September report from a Canadian Senate special committee that called for legalization of cannabis and recent pronouncements from Justice Minister Martin Cauchon (see following story), the House committee report provides the latest and clearest indication yet that Canada is on the verge of decriminalizing cannabis possession and cultivation -- at least on a small scale.

Although the committee found that "smoking any amount of marijuana is unhealthy, because of its high concentration of tar and benzopyrene," it also noted that "the consequences of conviction for possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use are disproportionate to the potential harm associated with that behavior." Thus the committee recommended that "the possession of cannabis continue to be illegal and that trafficking in any amount of cannabis remain a crime," but also that "the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health establish a comprehensive strategy for decriminalizing the possession and cultivationof not more than 30 grams of cannabis for personal use." The committee added that such a scheme should also include prevention and education programs emphasizing the risks of cannabis use, especially for young people, and development of a means of enforcing laws against driving while impaired by a drug.

Under current Canadian law, small-time cannabis possessors face up to six months in prison. Under a proposal studied by the committee, that would be replaced by a ticket and escalating fines, with no criminal record.

The committee report on cannabis was not without dissent. The rightist Canadian Alliance, whose British Columbia Member of Parliament Randy White sat on the committee, denounced the 30 gram limit as too high, arguing that it would facilitate drug trafficking. A five gram limit would be more appropriate, White told reporters. At the same time, New Democrat MP Libby Davies said the recommendations did not go far enough. "It's still basically leaving the possession of cannabis as illegal," Davies told the Winnipeg Free Press. "Any trafficking would still be illegal, so it's still leaving in place all the harms from prohibition."

Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy (http://www.cfdp.ca) also felt the committee didn't go far enough. "With the proposed decriminalization, it is not clear if the police will still be able to kick your door down, throw you up against the wall, arrest you, and then write you a traffic ticket," he told DRCNet. "Also, the 30 gram limit for cultivation seems unworkable, especially when the police weigh the entire plant. It's pretty hard to find a mature marijuana plant weighing less than 30 grams," he said.

"The recommendations on cannabis are better than nothing," Oscapella conceded. "It would absolve people from getting criminal records, but it may also widen the net. And it still doesn't address the fundamental issues of the role of prohibition in creating a black market, with all of its associated problems."

The House of Commons committee issued its report in two stages this week, citing fears that the recommendations on cannabis would detract attention from its recommendations on other drug issues. (The eruption of stories about decrim in the Canadian press this week certainly proved the committee right.) The committee delayed the cannabis recommendations until Thursday, while on Monday it released the sections of its report dealing with harder drugs. The committee was equally controversial on that subject. It called for the establishment of safe injection sites where intravenous drug users could shoot-up in a healthy, supervised environment. "People are using drugs," explained committee chair Paddy Torsney, MP of the ruling Liberal Party. "Let's deal with the health problem. They're somebody's brother or sister, and they're deserving of our care," she told Reuters.

Based on the principles of harm reduction, the proposal would allow drug users to bring their own drugs to a room where they can inject without fear of police persecution under the supervision of medical personnel. The committee found that such sites reduce the rates of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS and overdose deaths. The Ministry of Health has already moved to create guidelines for pilot safe injection site programs, and indications are that Vancouver will have a government-approved site in place within a few months.

If the Canadian Alliance's Randy White didn't like decrim, he was even more appalled at safe injection sites. White told Reuters (and anyone else who would listen) that the sites constituted not harm reduction, but "harm extension." The Canadian Police Association also weighed in against the sites. "Our concern is we're sliding down a slippery slope to the point where it won't be long that we'll be hearing calls for dispensing drugs in those sites as well," association spokesman David Griffin complained to Reuters.

Maybe sooner than he fears. The committee also recommended that proposed clinical trials "in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal to test the effectiveness of heroin-assisted treatment for drug-dependent individuals resistant to other forms of treatment be implemented and that these trials incorporate protocols for rigorous scientific assessment and evaluation."

With the House of Commons committee report, Canada appears that much closer to enacting substantive harm reduction programs for hard drugs and decriminalization of marijuana. Now both houses of parliament have spoken clearly and eloquently for reform of the drug laws, and the governing Liberal Party appears ready to act.

Pressure on Prisons

The budget crisis gripping the states, widely described as the worst since World War II, is beginning to force some of the more punitive states to think about massive early releases of nonviolent prisoners, including drug offenders, as a way of trying to make fiscal ends meet. Other states, including Louisiana and Washington, have already moved to cut drug sentences, while California and Arizona embraced similar reforms by popular initiative before the budget crisis began to hit home. In the last 10 days, elected officials in three lock-'em-up states -- Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Virginia -- announced plans for or warned of the need for early releases of nonviolent prisoners. In Oklahoma, law-and-order Gov. Frank Keating (R), a former FBI agent, sent a letter to the state Pardon and Parole board on Monday asking it to quickly consider more than 1,000 inmates for special commutations in order to relieve the state's burgeoning budget deficit.

While all other state agencies have had to take across the board funding cuts, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) has twice asked for -- and received -- emergency spending allocations this fiscal year. Prison spending in Oklahoma has nearly doubled in the last ten years to more than $400 million annually, largely driven by the increase in drug offenders, who now make up a full third of all prisoners in the state (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/264.html#oklahomaprisons).

In his letter to the parole board, Keating warned that revenue shortfalls could force furloughs of prison personnel by the spring unless some prisoners are set free. But, carefully covering his right flank, Keating also vowed to carefully vet the commutations. "It is essential that we not fall into the trap of some past administrations, which sought to reduce prison populations without adequate safeguards to assure that any released inmates pose minimal threats to public safety," Keating wrote.

Keating told the parole board he had asked the DOC to screen commutation candidates according to "specific and narrow criteria." Eligible prisoners must have no convictions for violent crimes, no more than one prior felony conviction, sentences no longer than five years, and not be serving delayed sentences. Also, drug sellers are not included. Combined with the fact that persons convicted of offenses involving methamphetamine, the demon drug du jour, serve sentences averaging over nine years (compared to about two years for other drug offenders) thanks to tougher sentences enacted in 1999, that means a significant number of Oklahoma drug offenders will continue to languish behind bars.

Although releasing the thousand prisoners would save the DOC about $1.5 million, the department is facing a $25 million cut in its budget next fiscal year, so much pressure remains on the department. Keating wrote in his letter that diversion programs for nonviolent offenders will come into effect soon, reducing some of that pressure.

Those prisoners who receive a commutation would be free and clear, without having to serve time on probation or parole. "A sentence commutation means they have served their time," DOC spokesman Jerry Massie told the Daily Oklahoman.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, Gov. Paul Patton (D) announced on November 21 that he would entertain the early release of some prisoners in the Bluegrass State if the state cannot afford to keep them behind bars. Some Republican legislators responded by saying they would rather release nonviolent prisoners than increase taxes, the Lexington Herald Leader reported.

Patton told the newspaper he is caught between a booming prison population and $509 million in projected budget cuts over the next two years. Without more money, early release is a real possibility, he said. "We have our prisons just as full as they can be," Patton said. "And I think they're already stressed. They're already stretched in terms of staffing."

Kentucky houses more than 11,000 prisoners in state and private prisons, with an additional 4,000 serving time in local jails, halfway houses or other locations. Kentucky's prison population has increased by 41% in the past decade, driven mainly by drug prosecutions, the Herald Leader reported. Average sentences have also increased by more than three years in the past decade. The state plans to open an $88 million, 900-bed prison in 2004, but doesn't have the money to hire the staff to run it, Patton said.

Patton said the first class of prisoners to be released would be 3,200 Class D felons held in local jails, and would emphasize nonviolent offenders. The state pays $27.51 per day to local jails to hold state prisoners, the governor's office reported on November 20.

In response, legislators seemed more worried about raising taxes than releasing felons. "I am sure that there are people incarcerated that could be managed in a community setting more efficiently," Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly (R-Springfield) told the Herald Leader. "It's probably something we ought to look at. It's very expensive to warehouse someone who's not a threat to the community."

But there is also grumbling from those whose oxen may be gored. Local jails take in an average of more than $10,000 per prisoner per year from the state. "We built these big local jails at the specific request of the state, to help them house state inmates. They told us, 'You build 'em big, we'll fill 'em,'" said Davies County jailer Harold Taylor, president of the Kentucky Jailers Association.

And in Virginia, home of the modern day cotton-field slave dressed in prison whites, the prisons are full, with no money for more. It's time for Virginia to consider alternatives to prison, state budget officials told lawmakers at a retreat last weekend. While the state is wrestling with the largest revenue decline on record, said Senate Finance Committee staff budget analyst Dan Hickman, the state's parole authorities are sending nonviolent offenders back to prison at record levels for technical violations of their parole, including many for dirty drug tests or failing to keep an appointment. The state's 1994 law banning parole for violent or repeat offenders is also adding to the crisis, Hickman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

As a result, even though the state spent $2 billion building new prisons in the 1980s and 1990s, there is no room at the inn. And there is no money for more prisons; instead, the state faces a $2 billion budget deficit this year.

Legislators need to take a long hard look at early releases for nonviolent offenders, and parole authorities need to find diversion programs for petty parole violators, Hickman said. Parolees who are able to work contribute a million dollars a year to the prison budget by paying a portion of their own incarceration costs, he said. If parolees continue to be re-incarcerated at a high rate, that means more prisons will be needed. "And right now, there are no additional funds to expand anything," Hickman said.

But even trying to save money costs money, Hickman said. More diversion programs will have to be funded, he said. "You will need additional funding for that and you will need to encourage judges to make greater use of these alternatives," Hickman said.

Anaheim Conference Reinvigorates Battered Reformers


What could have been an extended wake for a drug reform movement badly chastened by the November 5 election results instead became an occasion for reinvigoration as students and older drug reform activists gathered by the hundreds for the joint Marijuana Policy Project/Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Anaheim last weekend. The three-day event featured dozens of panels and workshops on topics ranging from activist basics to medical marijuana to conservatives in the reform movement to the methods of government propaganda and much more.

In the sometimes surreal surroundings of the Anaheim Hilton, a huge tourist complex next door to Disneyland that resembles Castle Wolfenstein in its labyrinthine layout and was filled at different points with mouse ear-wearing kiddie tourists and their bedraggled parents, soldiers in full dress uniform attending a Marine Ball, and a horde of Hindu health care workers, more than 300 students from 52 SSDP chapters and a like number of other reformers came together to examine and then bury the past before moving on to future battles.

"I think the smartest thing we ever did was to schedule this conference right after election day, said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. "I was afraid people would be moping and I would be crying and drooling in the corner after we just lost the biggest election of our lives at MPP, but instead the conference really served to pump people up," he told DRCNet. "The reform movement had just suffered its worst defeat in a decade, but people were talking about how they want to move forward in their states. After this conference, I feel better about the prospects for reform than I have in a very long time."

Panel after panel echoed Kampia's point. In the session on the campaign to repeal the Higher Education Act drug provision, DRCNet's David Borden joined Drug Policy Alliance attorney Judith Appel, North Carolina student activist Ian Mance and HEA victim Marisa Garcia, among others, to explain the progress made so far and the path to eventual victory. In the session on California's medical marijuana fight, compassion club operators Jeff Jones and Scott Imler joined patient/grower Judy Osburn and Americans for Safe Access's Steph Sherer to outline the battle and the offensive/defensive strategies to protect the state's patients and caregivers. In the session on running local initiatives, Boston attorney Michael Cutler and Seattle initiative organizer Dominic Holden, among others, discussed the nuts and bolts of that grassroots organizing tool. And that was just part of Friday afternoon.

Marijuana wasn't the only medical topic on the agenda, and medical marijuana researchers Donald Abrams and Ethan Russo weren't the only doctors in the house. At a Friday evening panel on "Physician Involvement in Drug Policy Reform," attendees heard from former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, international cannabis control expert Dr. David Hadorn, and were also introduced to Dr. Frank Fisher, the pain clinic practioner now suffering an extended case of drug war persecution in Northern California (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/258.html#frankfisher).

"The conference was amazing!" enthused Steve Silverman of Flex Your Rights (http://www.flexyourrights.org), whose transformation into Officer Friendly in his presentation on dealing with police encounters scared, amused and informed attendees. "There was so much going on, I felt like a mosquito at a nudist colony. We really owe a debt of gratitude to MPP and SSDP for giving us an opportunity to introduce the students to Officer Friendly," he told DRCNet. "We really got the word out to students and others about how to exercise your rights during a police stop. By the way," Silverman added, "there are rumors that Officer Friendly will be making an appearance at Brown University on November 19. As long as everyone cooperates with the officer, everything should go smoothly and no one should get hurt."

For Darrell Rogers, SSDP's national outreach coordinator -- the harried young man in a suit with a cell phone permanently attached to his ear -- the conference was even better than hoped for. "It exceeded all our expectations," he told DRCNet. "Seeing the students all in sync and organized so well made my day. Sometimes all you have to do is put them together in the same room and the results will be explosive," he said. "And this conference really bridged the gap between student activism and the larger movement. Students had a chance to meet leading drug reformers face to face, and they could see that there are drug reform careers after college and a lot of support for people who want to do this work."

But it wasn't only the youth and those with vested interests in the conference's success that saw it as an important event. Movement luminaries including the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation's Eric Sterling, and Common Sense for Drug Policy's Kevin Zeese all voted with their feet, and their presence allowed for healthy intermingling of the old and the new in drug reform.

"It was a brilliant idea to combine these conferences," said Sterling. "The students were equal partners across the board, and their participation was valued and validated in a way I've never seen at any other drug policy conference I've attended. The students contributed positive energy to every aspect of the conference," he told DRCNet. "We all felt a little down when we arrived because of the elections, but the conference was a tremendously energizing event. We had hoped beforehand that it would have a celebratory quality after the elections -- the results, however, precluded that -- but it ended up having an extremely powerful motivating quality for everyone who attended."

Common Sense for Drug Policy's Doug McVay seconded that notion. "Two thumbs up for the organizers," he told DRCNet. "The panels were great, the networking was awesome, people were very diligent, and there was a lot of good nuts and bolts stuff for everybody."

It wasn't all talking, listening and taking notes. Each evening, the Hilton's vast corridors saw constant traffic by itinerant bands of conference-goers traveling from room to room seeking the next party. And Saturday's luncheon featured a rousing address by movie producer Aaron Russo ("Trading Places" and "The Rose"). Russo had the audience whooping, laughing, and applauding in a speech that was one part stand-up comedy and two parts angry political discourse.

"Well, as you know, I'm here to talk about that terrible, terrible drug known as marijuana," he said, adding that many Hollywood celebrities toked up but avoided coming out for fear of losing work. "Our laws were meant to protect us," Russo said, turning grim. "But I have friends who have been abused, jailed and exploited by our government and marginalized in our society by these laws."

And he attacked California Gov. Gray Davis, who has been less than enthusiastic about supporting the state's legal medical marijuana patients, providers and caregivers in the face of the ongoing federal assault. Perhaps Davis should be subject to a recall campaign, Russo suggested, drawing loud cheers.

Later that night, students of the psychedelic experience whose appetites had been whetted by a session on "Cognitive Liberties" featuring inner freedom fighter Richard Glen Boire of the Center for Cognitive Liberties and ecstasy researcher Dr. Charles Grob, participated in a self-selecting take home assignment. The youthful psychonauts and their mentors -- one wearing tie-dyed socks -- took over a room inside one of the hotel bars for a midnight session of candlelight, meditative music, and softly-spoken incantations and recollections of psychedelic and other mind experiences. As the youth trooped by clutching pillows, headed for what appeared do be some sort of millennial-style be-in, bewildered bar patrons were no more bemused than some of the older conference attendees.

Check out pictures from the conference online at http://www.ssdp.org/SSDP_ROOT/18_SSDP_Gallery/Galleries/ssdp02/.

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