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March 2005



Vancouver Sun Series on Target

The Vancouver Sun this week has just run four days of amazing editorials dealing with marijuana — even more important given the furor over the recent slaying of 4 officers that was improperly and sensationally linked to marijuana. This is a well-thought-out series of editorials that explores the history of marijuana, discovers the lack of positive influence of prohibition, examines the downside of decriminalization, and ends up suggesting that Canada could lead the world in legalization efforts.
I’ve included some excerpts from each one (the last one ran today).
Part 1: Marijuana Prohibition Caught Hold for Neither Rhyme nor Reason

[1923:] … The inclusion of marijuana in the list of banned drugs came as a surprise to many parliamentarians, including member of Parliament Ernest Lapointe, who asked “What is cannabis sativa?”

Lapointe could easily have added: “Why has it been added to the list of prohibited substances?,” since, to this day, no one knows why marijuana was banned.Š Parliamentarians had no evidence that marijuana caused any physical, psychological or social harm.Š

Nevertheless, the legislation was passed without debate, which isn’t surprising since parliamentarians could hardly have engaged in debate concerning a substance about which they knew nothing.Š

While marijuana continued to be a non-problem — by the mid-20th century, little more than two dozen people had been charged with possession — Parliament, perhaps influenced by the drug hysteria in the United States which warned people that marijuana turns people into ax-murderers, instituted ever greater measures against the “demon” drug.Š…

Part 2: Rising Use of Pot Proves the Law Can’t Solve All Our Social Problems

… It’s common wisdom that behaviour is influenced by the risk of getting caught, rather than the severity of the law itself.Š Yet studies have demonstrated that the amount of money a country devotes to law enforcement, or the number of arrests it makes, has no bearing on the number of people in the country who use marijuana.Š

While we would like the law to solve all of our social problems, or perceived problems, it’s clear that it’s often unable to do so.Š Marijuana use, as with so many other behaviours, is influenced much more strongly by cultural factors and social values than by the law.Š

This suggests that our attempt to control marijuana use through the blunt instrument of the law is doomed to fail — indeed, it has already failed.Š And while failing, it has created a monster.Š

The monster has many heads and goes by many names: the Hells Angels, the Bandidos, the triads, la Casa Nostra.Š Be it bikers, Asian gangs or the traditional mafia, all have experienced a tremendous boon from the criminalization of marijuana and other drugs. …Š

Part 3: Canada’s Middle Way on the Legalities of Pot Might Be the Worst Way

Now the downright ugly aspect of Bill C-38 [decriminalization]: The bill will do nothing to weaken the enormous power crime syndicates exert over the drug trade – in fact, it will likely strengthen the hand of organized crime.Š

The bill leaves the trafficking provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as they are, thereby allowing organized crime to maintain its stranglehold on the business.Š

In addition, the bill strengthens penalties for the cultivation of marijuana.Š …

But just as outlawing drugs helped to create and sustain crime syndicates, the harshness of the law does have an effect on the degree to which organized crime controls the drug trade.Š The predictable result of the harsher penalties in the new legislation is that “mom and pop” grow-ops will be deterred, leaving crime syndicates to fill the vacuum, since no penalty is likely to deter them.Š

As such, the new legislation plays right into the hands of organized crime by giving it an even greater stranglehold on the marijuana industry. …

Part 4: Canada Could Be a World Leader in Smarter Drug Strategies

… Countries have failed to consider legalization for a number of reasons: The U.S.Š has exerted enormous pressure on the world to maintain the war on drugs, and it often ties foreign aid to a country’s commitment to prosecuting that war.Š Even countries that rely only on U.S.Š trade, not aid — such as Canada — face ferocious opposition from the U.S.Š anytime legalization, or even decriminalization, is discussed.Š If we needed any more evidence on this score, we got it in spades on Wednesday.Š U.S.Š drug czar John Walters linked the increasing number of American teenagers seeking addiction treatment with Canadian pot exports.Š …

The U.S.Š might well remain intransigent, but as the international community harnesses and distributes more and more evidence about the harm caused by the war on marijuana, some nations might feel empowered to consider marijuana legalization and regulation on a trial basis.Š Should such trials prove successful, other countries would likely follow.Š

All of this must begin, though, with a commitment from Ottawa to develop a national drug strategy, and to communicate the results of its work to the world.Š The world is not losing the war on marijuana: It’s a war we’ve already lost.Š Canada can help to unify the globe in its efforts to minimize the harms caused not only by drugs, but by drug laws.

Canadians: share these editorials with your friends, your family. Use them as a current events discussion in class. They’re a really wonderful series for getting people talking.

[Thanks to Scott for the tip. Thanks, as always to for its extraordinary resource in archiving drug policy articles.]

Rise Up

From Raise Your Voice:

Rep. Barney Frank (MA-4) and 55 other members of Congress introduced the
Removing Impediments to Students═ Education (RISE) Act, H.R. 1184. If
enacted, the bill will repeal the HEA Drug Provision, which, since taking
effect in 2000, has denied financial aid to over 160,500 students with prior
drug convictions. Over 200 organizations and 115 student governments from
across the country have called on Congress to repeal the law. With growing
concern regarding the effects of this failed policy, education advocates are
expected this year to push hard in both the House and the Senate to
reinstate aid to those who need it most.

It’s time to eliminate this offensive provision for good. Mark Souder’s going to try to save portions of it, but he should be ignored.

KCBA gets nice coverage at forum

Seattle Post Intelligencer: Drug war strategy assailed at forum:

Despite a variety of backgrounds — from attorneys to outreach workers to recovering drug users — most of those gathered yesterday at Seattle City Hall to discuss the war on drugs agreed that, as waged today, it is at best ineffective and at worst expensive and […]

A brave legislator

Via Jacob Sullum at Hit and Run, a Vermont leglislator has introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for up to an ounce for adults over 21. He thinks prohibition hasn’t worked and wants to spark a debate. Let’s hear it for Representative Winston Dowland!

King County Bar Association – one well-informed step at a time

I got a wonderful letter from Roger Goodman, Director of the Drug Policy Project of the King County Bar Association.
I was so impressed with the KCBA resolution calling upon the State of Washington to take over the regulation and dispensation of drugs currently under federal prohibition (I think it’s one of the most important documents ever created regarding drug policy reform), that I wrote with some questions about the future plans for the proposal.
Here’s part of Roger’s letter:

We plan to use the Resolution and the report underlying it as the intellectual platform for real legal reform — this isŠnot a mere academic exercise.Š Needless to say, for such a monumental change this is going to take time.Š

We’ve made progress with this approach already.Š In 2001 we published Is It Time to End the War on Drugs? (Our latest Resolution and both reports are available at ),Šwhich propelled the state legislature in 2002 to reduce prison time drastically and fund treatment for drug offenders.Š Now, obviously, we aren’t going to see the major culture shiftŠovernight in the present campaign, although we did get the Chair of theŠJudiciary Committee in the State Senate last week to introduce a bill and call a public hearing on creating a state commission to recommend concrete steps the legislature can take to move toward a regulatory framework for drug control.Š It was a great hearing, although the bill will move no further this session, which is what we expected.Š Significantly, however, the official public discussion was launched and we achieved our goal this time around.Š We basically did the courtesy of putting the legislature on notice that this is a MAJOR coming attraction.

Understanding that the legislature follows the people, so we’re focusing on our education-oriented mission, continuing numerous initiativesŠthrough our working groups (Stimulants Group, Race/Class Task Force, Prevention Working Group et al.)Šand our trained speakers’ bureau members will be spreading the messageŠto PTAs, churches, Rotaries, chambers of commerce, retirement centers, etc.

We’re getting lots of ink and air time at the moment, as our report’s recommendations are reverberating in the media, and today, Wednesday March 9,Šthe full Seattle City Council holds a special meeting on “Changing Drug Policy in Seattle,” which is being orchestrated to deliver very progressive messages – stop automatic arrest and booking, stop buy-bust operations, tell the mayor and police to focus on crimes against persons first, against property second and against drugs last, and even look at the horizon – safe consumption and prescription maintenance.

Thanks, Roger.
Smart approaches — and it appears that this group is in for the long haul of drug policy reform. If you’re in Washington State, consider offering to help them. Get someone from their speaker’s bureau invited to your Rotary club. Have your student group invite them to do a presentation on campus, or use their resolution as the basis for a class presentation or paper. Work in public relations? Offer your services to help them get the word out.
Tipping the Balance in Drug Policy Reform
We’ve had a bit of a discussion going on here regarding views as to what will be the event or point that turns things around in drug policy reform. It often seems discouraging with most of the political power structure pushing the drug war and yet I see encouraging signs every day. Some of that is in the desperation apparent in the tactics of pushers like Souder and Walters and Barthwell. The rest is in the determination and intelligence and reach of drug policy reformers.
I think it’ll be like the straw that breaks the camel’s back. You can identify the straw only after the fact, and there’s no way to jump ahead and go right to that straw. It takes all the other straws before it to be placed first.
KCBA is one of those straws. The medical marijuana movement in the states is one – a huge one. Reform efforts in Canada and the European Union are important straws that will eventually cause the U.S. to lose the cover of participating in an international effort. Organizations like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition are critical — sending police officers to talk to communities has real power — and don’t forget to follow the amazing Howard Woolridge and his horse Misty in their ride across the country.
Every one of the organizations listed here are straws. This blog is a straw. Every time one of you does a persuasive speech on the drug war in class, or writes a letter to the editor, or convinces a friend to read about the drug war, or posts a link on an online discussion board — more straw.
The camel may still be pretty mean-looking, and straw doesn’t weigh much, but I see a lot of straw out there.

Have you no shame, sir?

Our Drug Czar finished up his speech in Vienna with the following:

President Bush has recently called for the United States to engage the world in a renewed campaign to realize the core principles of our nation and of the United Nations: human rights, human dignity, and human freedom. When we push back against illegal […]

Your pants are in a state of combustion

Yesterday, I noted that the Washington Post not only disagreed with our drug warriors regarding needle exchange, but caught them in some bold lies.
Turns out a couple of other major newspapers have done the same. First, the New York Times talks about the stupidity and danger of the administration’s international drug policy:

The Bush administration has contributed to suffering and death through the so-called global gag rule, which prohibits Washington from giving money to any group that performs – or even talks about – abortions.Š Organizations that provide desperately needed family planning and women’s health services have lost their financing.Š Now there are moves in Congress and inside the administration to apply a similar rule to needle exchange programs.Š That would be an even more deadly mistake.

Allowing drug users to trade used needles for clean ones gets dangerous needles off the street and minimizes needle sharing.Š A proven weapon against AIDS transmission, it has not been shown to increase drug use, and indeed may reduce drug addiction by providing a way to talk to drug users and lead them to treatment.Š It is endorsed by virtually every mainstream public health group.

Then they nail them:

In the Senate, a member of the staff of Sam Brownback, the Kansas Republican, has compiled a grossly inaccurate chart of programs financed by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that is subtitled “Immoral, Illegal ( with bilateral funds ) or Inconsistent with U.S.Š Foreign Policy.” Needle exchanges rank high. … [Representatives Mark Souder of Indiana and Tom Davis of Virginia] claim that a U.N.Š drug agency report attacks needle exchange as encouraging drug use.Š In fact, the report makes no such accusation and endorses needle exchanges.

Liar, Liar …
Then we hear from the Chicago Tribune today:

Clean-needle programs have been shown to be effective in controlling the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases by protecting intravenous drug addicts from contaminated syringes. Illinois has had needle-exchange programs since the 1980s, and in 2003 legalized the over-the-counter purchase of hypodermic needles. Buyers receive information on how to use the needles as well as where to get help if they are addicts.

And yet, resistance in Washington to such efforts has been strong. Congress prohibited the use of federal funds for such programs unless they were found effective by the Department of Health and Human Services. Former President Bill Clinton declined to lift that ban, even though his HHS secretary made such a finding. President Bush has made no move to lift the ban.

And now some in Congress want to cut off American support for international organizations that provide clean-needle exchanges. Given the reach of U.S. efforts on AIDS, for this country to stop funding organizations that provide needle exchanges would be a blow to worldwide efforts to contain the epidemic.

… and then they move in for the kill:

Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), is leading the effort to restrict U.S. funding for international groups that, an aide says, “distribute paraphernalia for the consumption of illegal drugs.” Souder would direct funds only to prevention and drug rehabilitation efforts. …

Souder cites a study of a needle-exchange program in Vancouver that, according to his spokesman, demonstrated the “HIV and hepatitis epidemics exploded in the aftermath of the introduction of needle-exchange programs, as did the drug epidemic.”

But the doctors who conducted the Vancouver study wrote, in an April letter to the director of the National Institutes of Health, that Souder’s interpretation of the data was incorrect. “For Mr. Souder to take the Vancouver data out of context, is selective and self-serving,” they wrote.

Liar, Liar, pants ablaze!
Three major newspapers. And while they didn’t use the “L” word, they sure meant it.

Family Values

What’s more harmful to a child? Seeing Mom smoke a joint? Or seeing her dragged off to prison? “bullet” Via Jacob Sullum at Hit and Run, California Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian (R-Stockton) has introduced a bill that would make it a felony to smoke pot or use other illegal intoxicants in the presence of your kids. […]

Quick! Drive That Gasoline Truck Into That Burning Building

Editorial in the Calgary Herald


Longer Jail Terms Might Help Protect Police and Citizens …

Thursday’s horrific killing of four police officers at a farm near Mayerthorpe, at the site of a marijuana grow-op, tragically highlights why such operations and drug dealers in general ought to receive a […]

Next week in New York

Note: I’ll be in New York City next week (Mar. 12-17) hosting a theatre tour. I’ll have a few open moments and would love to meet drug policy reformers for coffee. Drop me a line.