DRUG WAR BRIEFS: Clinton Apologizes

This week, Nevadans are one step closer to voting on legalized marijuana in their state; Bill Clinton admits he was wrong to maintain a federal ban on needle-exchange; Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon considers decriminalizing marijuana; and a Canadian newspaper considers the impact of US pressure on Canada's marijuana laws.
July 10- San Jose Mercury News reports: Nevada residents will vote in November on a proposal to ease the state's once-harsh marijuana laws and allow adults to possess up to three ounces of the drug.

Susan Bilyeu, deputy secretary of state for elections, said 74,740 signatures turned in by Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement in support of an initiative petition were valid.

Billy Rogers of Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement said his group was confident of success despite the close margins in the two rural counties.

"The success of our petition drive provides solid evidence that most Nevadans think it's a waste of their tax dollars to arrest people for small amounts of marijuana," Rogers added.

Until last year, Nevada had the strictest marijuana law in the nation. Puffing on a single marijuana cigarette was a felony, punishable by a prison term of a year or more.

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

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

July 13- The Winnipeg Sun reports: Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is considering relaxing Canada's marijuana laws to make possession punishable by a fine instead of a prison sentence, The Canadian Press has learned.

But Cauchon's plans do not include making the drug legal, said highly placed sources in the Justice Department.

While fines would be imposed for possession of marijuana, trafficking would continue to draw harsher punishments, the sources said.

The report comes the same week that Britain announced it will virtually decriminalize cannabis to give police more time to fight the use of hard drugs.

July 13- Canada's Globe and Mail reports: In the debate over Canada's marijuana laws, the United States looms large, the consequence of an open border with the most rabid drug warrior in the world.

Politicians can discuss the bad science of marijuana laws, and the poor cost-benefit ratio of busting people for simple pot possession. But they always manage to come back to our overbearing neighbours and how huffy they'd get if Canada even followed Britain's decision this week to make warnings the standard penalty for getting caught with a joint. It works, some observers suggest, as a convenient excuse for doing nothing. The question is: What would the ensuing temper tantrum cost us?

Not all that much, suggests Ethan Nadelmann, executive director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a U.S. organization which favours decriminalization of drugs. He argues that trade with Canada is too important and a relatively minor move like decriminalization will generate little bluster from the White House.

"Not that some people in the United States won't yell," he said. "But there's going to be a lot of people who don't want to see the drug war screw about with multi-billion-dollar business interests."

Send tips to Kevin Nelson at [email protected].
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