Send comments, tips,
and suggestions to:
Join us on Pete's couch.
couch, the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
May 2004



The “first” American “Stoned Age”

David Gross sent me a note that I thought I’d share with you:

A lot of people don’t know that cannabis had a real rennaissance in the United States before the sixties… the 1860s, I mean.

To American marijuana enthusiasts, Fitz Hugh Ludlow (1836-1870) is our pioneer. He was the first to explore the […]

America in the Great Stoned Age

Via Hit and Run, Nick Gillespie in the Washington Post reviews a new book by Martin Torgoff: Can’t Find My Way Home: America in the Great Stoned Age, 1945-2000

Each year, police make more than 700,000 marijuana-related arrests in the United States. Some 80 percent of public school districts still teach the Drug Abuse […]

Montel on The O’Reilly Factor tonight to discuss marijuana

Unresolved Problems Segment Montel Williams on medical marijuana Bill speaks to talk show host Montel Williams about medical marijuana and how that usage could lead the way for the drug being fully legalized.

I can’t watch it, so someone let me know how it went (or point me to transcripts).

Thanks to Scott for […]

Sunday reading

A recap of some interesting articles from today and earlier this week — “bullet” A nice little piece on Valerie Corral in today’s Los Angeles Daily News: Tiny Pot Protagonist Beat Ashcroft In Court

SANTA CRUZ, Calif.  — What do you do when you sue U.S.  Attorney General John Ashcroft and win? Fifty-one-year-old Valerie Corral, […]

Ultimate Frisbee Harshed

Via Grassroots Buzz comes this horrible news from Drug War Chronicles.

First, the drug testers came for the chess players, and we did nothing. Now the inexorable, totalitarian logic of drug prohibition has invaded the laid-back domain of competitive Frisbee, or, in this world leery of copyright infringement, flying discs. The sport’s governing body, the […]

What if they just say “yes?”

One of the many problems with abstinence-only education is that it is all or nothing. It is sending an amateur across a tight-rope without a net, under the philosophy that if you give them a net it might encourage them to fall off. The drawback? If they fall without a net, they might die.
Many overdose deaths could be prevented if people knew more – proper dosages, dangers of mixing drugs and alcohol, drug reactions – and were not afraid to get help. But abstinence education specifically rejects this information, thereby condemning to death some children who fall off the rope. Drug warriors who push for abstinence-only are saying “We would rather have some children die than tell them the truth.” (They will say that they are preventing deaths by keeping kids from using drugs, but studies show that kids will experiment anyway.)
Marsha Rosenbaum is probably the best OpEd columnist out there writing about kids and drugs (here are some past columns), and she knows her stuff well — she directs the Safety First drug education project of the Drug Policy Alliance in San Francisco.
Her most recent piece is a response to the death of a 14-year-old Belmont, CA girl who had taken ecstasy (among other things) with her friends, titled “Fallback Strategy for Teens Who Say Yes to Drugs.”

… Especially disturbing is that, in the opinion of San Mateo County coroner Robert Foucrault, Irma Perez’s life could have been saved with professional intervention.

According to the paramedic’s report, Perez had taken an excessive dose – three “Valentine ecstasy” pills – and possibly alcohol and/or other drugs as well. While her two friends suffered no ill effects, Perez had an extremely rare reaction. She experienced what emergency physician Dr. Karl Sporer calls “serotonin syndrome”: rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, high fever and agitation.

Because adverse reactions are so rare with ecstasy, what caused Perez’s idiosyncratic response? Did the pills contain adulterants? Did Perez have a pre-existing condition that made her especially vulnerable, such as a cardiac arrhythmia? Was she dehydrated or did she drink too much water, causing dramatic drops in sodium levels? We don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but it is hoped the coroner will issue his report soon and make it public.

As a drug educator, I agree with Belmont-Redwood Shores Superintendent John McIntosh that in this “teachable moment” we must provide information to both parents and teenagers. At this critical juncture we need to be very careful about what we say so we can win back the confidence of young people. After more than two decades of exaggerations about drugs in general, and a recent scandal leading to the retraction of “brain damage” claims about ecstasy, adults have lost a great deal of credibility with teens.…

Missing from our educational efforts is a fallback strategy of harm reduction for those teens who, like Perez and her friends, say “yes” despite our efforts.

In addition to providing sound information about alcohol and other drugs, young people should learn to recognize signs of distress and know that they can and must get help. This was not what happened in Perez’s case. For five hours her friends tried on their own to help, using makeshift methods, such as giving her a bath. Perez finally lapsed into the coma from which she never recovered. …

Many in law enforcement, such as Commander Trisha Sanchez of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force, agree that the message we send our teens should be clear. The use of alcohol and other drugs is a poor choice, but if you do experiment and there is a problem, you will not be punished by calling for help.

“You will not be punished by calling for help.” That should be the number one message taught in drug education programs, followed by sound information about alcohol and other drugs. Remember, if all you tell thim is “just say no,” then you’re sending them out there without a net when they say “yes.”

Sheriff Bill Masters

I’ve mentioned Bill Masters before. He’s author of Drug War Addiction: Notes from the Front Lines of America’s #1 Policy Disaster. Now, he has a new book out: “The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War. (which is available as a premium, by the way, for donating to Stop The Drug Walter […]

Contrarianism gains converts

My recent post If I were Contrarian-King of the United States is the feature article in this week’s Drug Sense Weekly newsletter (always a great re-cap of the week). I’ve gotten some great contrarian additions in the comments of that post. If you have more, add them there. I’ll collect them all for an archived […]

Vermont trips, falls flat on face, and legalizes medical marijuana… somewhat.

Via NORML, TalkLeft, Vice Squad, and Hit and Run, (OK, so I’m a little slow today)… Vermont will officially become the 9th state (or perhaps the 10th, as TalkLeft includes Arizona) to legalize medical marijuana, which is great, although Vice Squad finds not that much to cheer about in the final butchered version of the […]

Prison Abuse

I haven’t talked much about this subject — it’s pretty damned depressing — but there’s no doubt that the prison abuse story is a critical one. And one important part of this story must be told — that prison abuses happen right here at home.
And as outraged as we properly are about prison abuse in Iraq, we must also be outraged that millions of non-violent drug offenders are sent to prison under unjust laws, there to be “reformed” through the methods of abuse and rape.
But I can’t say it as well as others can, so read on…
Look Higher, Deeper than Prison Guards (by John Ed Pearce, Lexington Herald-Leader):

The public echoes what Bush repeatedly prates: that this incident does not reflect the goodness of Americans, that we are not that kind of people, that we would never permit it on our own. The untidy truth is that we do.

For the past decade, we have been building prisons as fast as we could afford and pouring into them a flood of Americans, many of whom are treated as brutally as any Iraqi.

Thanks to a hysterical fear of crime (the rate of which has, incidentally, been falling for years) and the self-righteous fervor in Congress and state legislatures for longer sentences for more crimes, more than 2 million Americans are now imprisoned, not counting those in small jails.

Our per-capita incarceration rate is now higher than that of any nominally civilized nation. And more than a quarter million of those incarcerated are guilty of violating nothing more than our cruel, illogical and ineffective drug laws.

The brutalities and indecencies heaped upon these marginal miscreants — by overworked, ill-trained and often sadistic guards, or by fellow prisoners who frequently rule prison life — defy description.

Their cost in money, lives and standards of decency are enormous. Yet the general public pays a fraction of the attention to these conditions that they give to the bloody mess in Iraq. We will benefit as a nation and a people if our revulsion at the horrors in Iraqi prisons spur us to notice the beam in our own eye.

[emphasis added]
“bullet” An ugly prison record: Given the Way It Treats Its Own Inmates, America Shouldn’t Be Shocked at the Abuse of Iraqis (by Christopher Reed in the Toronto Star):

… A prisoner dumped in scalding water so his skin peeled off like old varnish; prisoners left naked outside in rainy and bitter weather for days; multiple beatings and rapes; several unexplained deaths.

In Corcoran prison, California, guards held their own Roman gladiator games with prisoners pitted against each other in fights to the near death. A disliked and defenceless prisoner was placed in the same cell as the biggest and baddest sex criminal — known as the Booty Bandit – — to be duly raped to the amusement of the prisoner’s supposed guardians.

Pelican Bay is such a fearful place, with prisoners kept under perpetual scrutiny while unable to see any other human being, a psychiatrist told a court that many were going insane.

A federal judge finally ordered reforms, as did another over Corcoran, but there is little evidence that either have become proper places even to house the worst.

Similar reports surface across America. Texas is especially bad.

Significantly, private, for-profit prisons have some of the worst records.…

Amnesty International reported in 1999 that male guards in several U.S. states routinely raped female prisoners.

“bullet” Abuse also in US Prisons, Experts Say by Fox Butterfield, The New York Times

Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women’s pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia’s Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl on their knees, also a form of humiliation.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.

“bullet” Marijuana possession leads to rape.. in prison. From SPR.

The teen was arrested in Broward County in May on charges of delivering marijuana, a felony. He had 30 grams – or about an ounce – of marijuana in his possession at the time of the arrest.

The teen19-year-old spent the first night of his sentence in a 7-by-8-foot cell with Randolph Jackson, 35, who has been in jail since July 2002 awaiting trial on a sexual battery charge.

In the early morning hours of June 7, Jackson allegedly held a ballpoint pen to the teen’s throat and raped him. Jail staff did not know about the incident until later in the day, when the 19-year-old’s family members, alarmed by comments he made during a telephone conversation, called to report it, jail officials said.

“bullet” The Sentencing Project has a study (pdf) showing that 1 in 11 US prisoners is now serving a life sentence.

While the lifer population overwhelmingly consists of persons convicted of a violent offense, 4%, or about 5,000 lifers, have been convicted of a drug offense. In the federal system alone, approximately 2,000 life sentences are for drug offenses, representing about 39% of all life terms.

“bullet” More reading and viewing:

Prisoner Abuse: References and Resources for the Media from the November Coalition
Civil and Human Rights from Drug War Facts
I got a nice note from Loretta Nall of the U.S. Marijuana Party today and she’s doing a series of pieces at POT-TV (with video) dealing with prison and enforcement abuse here in the states. Not light entertainment or for weak stomachs.
Don’t forget the always invaluable Media Awareness Project has a Focus Alert on Prisoner Abuse and the Drug War – and what you can do.
You can also buy a nifty shirt with this on it at my shop: