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September 2004



Ruminations on Freedom and Democracy…

I want to take a moment to comment on a few recent political news items that aren’t specifically related to drug policy, but have undeniable drug policy implications.
“bullet” I Pledge Allegiance…
The House of Representative just passed a bill that says: “No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance . . . or its recitation.”
Now this is silly-season lawmaking. The House loves to pass these kinds of bills that they know the Senate will wisely squash, just so they can score political points.
But it’s bad law, and bad precedent.
In the drug reform community, we depend on every possible protection from government overreaching devised by the framers. For example, we cannot rely on the legislature. They have consistently worked against science and the will of the people when it comes to medical marijuana. So in addition to trying to change the law, we have to pursue other avenues — voter initiatives and court challenges, including the medical marijuana cases working their way to the Supreme Court regarding the federal government and the commerce clause.
Well, just suppose, due to the large campaign contributions from pharmaceuticals, Congress decided to pass a law stating:

“No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Controlled Substances Act . . . or its enforcement.”

Freedom depends on checks and balances on government power.
Regardless of your views regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, tell your Representative that you don’t appreciate them messing with traditional separation of the branches of government.
“bullet” Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism… Act
The Patriot Act is rearing its ugly head again via the newly formed Coalition for Security, Liberty and the Law (see National Review item.
The Coalition has prepared a letter about the Patriot Act, signed by a ton of important sounding people (although seeing William Bennett and Edwin Meese’s names was enough to lose any respect I might have had for the group). Their position:

we ask that no provision of the Patriot Act be allowed to expire and the temporary provisions be made permanent.

The rest of the letter has its share of distortions and outright lies.
As Hit and Run notes, the most hilarious line in the letter:

In passing the Act, Congress extensively debated the commonsense updates in the law and provided safeguards for civil liberties.

That one really had me rolling on the floor.
The Patriot Act has a few minor things in it that could be good. Overall, as a tool for fighting terrorism, it’s not that great. Most everything the country needed to fight terrorism it already had. Federal law enforcement didn’t need more tools — they just needed to focus on the problem rather than spending so much of their resources on the drug war.
There just wasn’t time before passing the Patriot Act to properly develop a set of tools specifically for fighting terrorism (heck, there wasn’t time to read it). The Patriot Act was primarily a Justice Department wish list that they already had lying around to give them more power and reduce the rights of the individual.
Already for decades, the federal government had worked tirelessly, chipping away at individual rights through the courts in the name of the drug war, always using the “compelling government interests” of “dangerous drugs” and “protecting children” but never being forced to prove that

their assertions were true
the drug war was the best way to solve the problem
the drug war even worked at all
the drug war didn’t actually increase the problem

Hence we got civil asset forfeiture, and no-knock warrants, and loosened restrictions regarding searches and evidence, and military-style attacks on our own citizens.. Remember what the 4th amendment used to look like?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Ah, those were the days. Freedom and democracy.
When Ashcroft promoted the Patriot Act, he said that we shouldn’t worry about it. It’s things we’re already allowed to do in the War on Drugs and we just want to add them to the War on Terrorism (why doesn’t that make me feel better?). Of course, if that’s true, the strange thing is that the Patriot Act has since been actually used for more drug convictions than terrorism convictions.
We must not give in to fear. We can be strong and resolute without giving up our rights. Ashcroft wants you to give them up.

It’s to fight the terrorists. Really. We won’t use the powers for inappropriate purposes. You’ll have nothing to worry about. Trust us, we’re the government.

“bullet” The Exquisite Cacophony of Freedom
Recently there’s been a lot of talk about the inappropriateness of government criticism. Some have gone so far as to equate criticism of government policies with treason or aiding the enemy. I find this troubling — in part, because I know it so well.
For decades, the drug policy reform community has operated under a virtual gag order because we’re at war — in the War on Drugs. Ordinary people have been afraid to question drug laws because they might be perceived as druggies. Even today, I have people tell me that they agree with me, but are afraid to speak up, and I’ve had readers email me from anonymous remailers because they’d lose their job if they were seen to be favoring drug policy reform. And I’ve had people tell me that I personally should be held responsible for the deaths of overdose victims, because of what I say on this blog.
It is dangerous (and should appear suspicious) whenever one group is so entrenched in their position that they don’t even want a different view to be heard, and are willing to make outrageous accusations to silence it.
During a June, 1999 Congressional Hearing, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, from upstate New York declared:

“[Legalization] cannot and ought not be any topic of serious discussion in our nation’s debate of the challenges of illicit drugs.”

In the same hearing, Rep.Bob Barr asked whether anti-racketeering laws could be used to prosecute people conspiring to legalize drugs.
It is not only my free speech right to speak out when I disagree with government policies; it is my responsibility as a citizen in a democratic society.

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Why does Congress Hate Churches?

Drug War Chronicle reports about more bad mandatory minimum drug laws being proposed by Rep. Senselessbrenner in the House. Past history has shown that this is an easy way to score points for being “tough.” Time after time, bad laws have been passed that have served to drastically damage our society. However, this time it […]

Drug testing in schools – promoted by stupid people who profit

SSDP media director Tom Angell made a good catch. He saw a letter in the Metrowest Daily News talking favorably about drug testing in schools, did a little research, and discovered that the writer, Peter Cholakis, is President of Marketing for a drug testing product company! So Tom wrote a letter exposing Cholakis, which was […]

The Soy of the Future

At Reason online, Hemp Industry on Fire — Exploding marketplace stoked by DEA lawsuit by Valerie Vande Panne

“Our thinking is that we’re in a can’t loose position,” David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and primary funder of the HIA’s legal efforts, tells Reason. “If the government does appeal, it’s highly unlikely the […]

Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control

As reported here before, Alaskan courts are doing their part, ruling that possession of up to 4 ounces in the home is legal. Now the voters will have the chance to take it a step further. Initiative (pdf) summary:

This bill would do away with civil and criminal penalties for people 21 years or older […]

Important stuff

There’s been so much going on, it’s hard to keep up with it all, so here’s a quick round of stuff…
“bullet” Today’s Washington Post article on the increasing drug war: Russian Drug Unit Criticized Over Dubious Tactics, Priorities. This is an amazing article. Frightening. It’s also a reflection of our own DEA and ONDCP and Justice Department and Congress. Think of those while you read it. Baylen has commented on this story. (Thanks also to Alexander for the tip.) Vice Squad has been following the drug war in Russia for some time.
“bullet” Speaking of Vice Squad, slightly belated congratulations are due to Jim and the rest of the gang for their one year anniversary. They’ve been a wonderful, fun, and informative part of this corner of the blogosphere.
“bullet” Baylen points us to Paul Armentano’s article on the government’s drug war statistics. I couldn’t resist adding my own comment (based on the government’s actual statistics):

99.88% of people who have tried marijuana are currently NOT using heroin.

I guess this must be what the government means by the gateway theory.

So remember, if you want your kids to have better than a 99% chance of not being hooked on heroin, make sure they smoke pot. [just making a point]

“bullet” Radley Balko reporting on some amazing drug war stats from Eric Sterling:

In the last 20 years, the number of people who have died from overdoses of illicit drugs has doubled.
According to surveys of high school seniors, heroin and marijuana are more available to high schoolers today than they were in 1975.
In 29 years of those surveys, the number of high schools seniors answering that marijuana was “readily available” has never been lower than 85%.
The price of all illicit drugs has dropped almost every year for the last 30 years, while the purity of those drugs has gone up (oddly enough, the ONDCP admits as much in its new campaign against “crack marijuana”).
The drug trade is now worth an estimated $50 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, up from $1 billion 25 years ago.
Last year, 1.6 million people were arrested for drug crimes, more than all violent crimes combined.
Every year, we arrest about 300,000 people for drug trafficking. Yet even after taking those offenders out of the trade (at least temporarily) we’ve still increased drug war spending every year since the onset of the drug war, to the point where last year we spent about $60 billion at the local, state, and federal level. It’s hard to think of a legal industry that thrives, even grows, despite losing 300,000 of its workers every year.
In 1986, the federal prison population stood at 36,000. Today, it’s at 180,000. Twenty-five years ago, the conbined state prison population stood at 250,000. Today, it’s at 2.1 million. One-fourth of those are drug offenders.

“bullet” I’ve been meaning to link to this post by Andrew at Caffeine Dreams. Very nice fisking of farkers’ view of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients.
“bullet” I’ve been getting some nice letters from candidates who have received Drug WarRant endorsements.
Al Barger, Indiana Senate candidate writes:

Thanks for your endorsement for US Senate. Let me re-iterate that not only do I think the drug war is a bad idea, it is also flatly unconstitutional. As a candidate for federal office, there is absolutely NO authority under the US Constitution for the federal government to outlaw or regulate drugs. None.

Another note:

Thanks for the endorsement! Kevin Fleming Indiana District 4

And Jerry Kohn (Illinois Senate candidate) writes:

Pete,Thanks for the endorsement on your blog. Perhaps in years to come, we will be able to convince more and more people of the insanity of the “war on drugs”. Our children will look back on the “war on drugs” era in the same way that our generation looks on the era of alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s – as a foolish mistake not to be repeated. Thanks again.

Nice notes. Means a lot to me.
Interesting that I’ve only heard from Libertarians so far, and I’ve endorsed a greater number of Democrats and Republicans. Not sure if it means anything. Are they just more polite? Or perhaps they’re just grateful to get any publicity, since the media so often neglects them. Or they actually feel politically OK acknowledging a drug policy endorsement, while the Dems and Repubs aren’t as comfortable about it. Or, they’re better at Googling.

Chicago to go with fines for marijuana possession?

Vice Squad and D’Alliance has covered it, and Bill at Peoria Pundit has been wondering what my take would be of this …

Mayor Daley on Tuesday embraced a police sergeant’s scheme to raise money for the city budget by ticketing people caught with small amounts of marijuana, but opponents are already taking shots at […]

Take two aspirin and visit me in jail

A culture of cruelty has arisen in the medical establishment as patients who need medical pain management have come to be seen as agents of impending doom to those who would treat them. Physicians are prosecuted as drug dealers and patients who need opioids to survive are viewed with terrible suspicion, and subjected to every kind of humiliation and intrusion – that is, if they are lucky enough to find care at all.

This is the starting paragraph of a set of materials (532K Word Document) provided to those attending the Congressional Briefing on the Politics of Pain held this past Friday, which detailed some of the horrors that the war on drugs has visited on chronic pain.
The words above come from Siobhan Reynolds, President of Pain Relief Network, who was invited by American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, Rep. Ron Paul, and Rep. John Conyers to speak at the briefing. She concluded:

By thinking we could regulate medicines with federal criminal law and not, thereby, the practice of medicine, we have as a society made a colossal error. The Founding Fathers gave a great deal of thought to the structure of the government of the United States of America, giving only certain limited powers to the federal government, reserving all others to the sovereign states. This was done specifically to protect us from the imposition of oppressive central authority, exactly what we, the people, have suffered here in spades.

The regulation of medicine in the states is protective of medicine and therefore of patients, and needs to be respected by us all.

We are calling upon the Congress to allow the American people to tell our side of the story and to defund the United States Department of Justice in its pursuit of medical professionals who treat pain.

The Montel Show yesterday, and this briefing last Friday, together demonstrate in striking ways that the government’s war on drugs is often being used (particularly by the federal government) as an unconstitutional and immoral war on the people.
On the Montel show it was made clear that harrassment of sick people has absolutely nothing to do with whether there is sufficient evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits. The pain briefing brought out the stories of doctors following acceptable medical practices who have been stripped of everything in DEA witch hunts and patients increasingly having trouble finding doctors willing to treat them.
President George W. Bush recently talked about his concerns with the high cost of malpractice insurance by stating that “Too many OB-GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” And while I understand that there may be something important in those words (somewhere?), I would like to see a similar sense of outrage for the destruction of doctors who treat pain.
All of us face the possibility of a debilitating illness that requires proper pain management. Will your doctor, out of fear of the DEA, tell you to just deal with it and take some ibuprofen?
Radley Balko of The Agitator attended the briefing, interviewed a number of the people involved, and has reported on it in Doctors, Patients, Latest Drug War Casualties.

Fisher, a Harvard-trained physician, once specialized in the treatment of chronic pain.He served a predominantly rural and poor population in California.About 5-10 percent of his 3,000 clients were pain patients, victims of illnesses like cancer, steep falls, or car accidents.

A little more than five years ago, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer initiated a high-profile campaign against pain doctors who prescribe high doses of opioids– drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and codeine.

Lockyer made Frank Fisher his example. Lockyer and other California prosecutors likened Fisher to a crack dealer.Then, to a mass murderer.Fisher was charged with multiple counts of drug distribution, fraud, and most sensationally,15 counts of murder.The state seized his assets. His bail was set at $15 million and he faced a possible life sentence.

He was acquitted of all charges, but…

Frank Fisher is still a broken man.He spent five months in prison and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.He has yet to get his assets back from the state of California, and he still faces the possible revocation of his medical license.

Read the whole thing.

Montel medical marijuana show online

The show I mentioned, is now available in RealAudio, thanks to the wonderful DrugSense. Here’s the link: Quicktime version: Powerful. Very powerful. The Montel Show Order your own video of the show — it’s worth having to show to family and friends. Call Burrelle’s Transcripts at 800-777-8398 and ask for “Marijuana: Illegal Drug […]

A must read

Radley Balko’s powerful post reminding us of Robert Scheer’s prescient pre-911 article on the drug war, Afghanistan, and terrorism.