John Chase; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida
Recent Drug War news items from Florida
Editorial: Formula For Failure; from Herald-Tribune (FL), 4/2/09
John is a lifelong Republican, civil libertarian, and a mechanical engineer by education at Rice University. He spent 3 years on a Navy destroyer from 1957-60. Retired after 32 years with a major aerospace company, he has been married 45 years, with 3 children and 8 grandchildren.
After years of discomfort with our anti-drug policies, Chase finally came off the sidelines in early 1998 to try to make a difference. Since neither he nor any of his family had been affected by illegal drugs or the drug war, he started essentially from zero and studied it for over two years before becoming convinced that the drug war is simply a rerun of our 'noble experiment' with alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, only twenty times worse. He believes the record is clear that current enforcement of drug prohibition causes far more societal damage than it prevents and must be scaled back dramatically or it will destroy the institutions on which this country was founded.
Chase's letters have been published in numerous papers in the U.S. Canada and Australia. He is active in several drug policy reform organizations and serves as Secretary of Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform and as trusted advisor and Tampa Bay Regional Leader of The November Coalition. He speaks at various civic, business, and student organizations in Florida.
How I Celebrated My 75th Birthday
Speech Delivered at University of Central Florida NORML Meeting
By John Chase, January 14, 2009, Orlando, FL
First, thanks for inviting me here today. My credentials.... I am a retired engineer, still married to the grandmother of my 8 grandchildren. My interest in the drug war began just after I went online ten years ago. I remembered that in the mid 90s my brother told me Milton Friedman was calling the drug war "prohibition". I knew what that was, so I started digging, and the more I dug the less I liked it.
Just 10 years ago I connected with Nora Callahan, the founder of the November Coalition. She has me listed as one of her "advisors'. I am not an organizer, but I do write a lot of letters. I brought some November literature with me -- it's the Coalition's Razor Wire. These are past issues; the latest is online. The mission of TNC is to end the injustices of the drug war. Mostly federal cases, but sometimes State cases. More later on that.
Today is my 75th birthday. I was born exactly 40 days after National Prohibition ended, and about 3 years before the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the law that effectively outlawed marijuana. So in my first 3 years of life I could drink AND smoke legally, but I was too young to take advantage of it.
To paraphrase Will Rogers, "Prohibition is bad, but better than no liquor at all"
Until Mason Tvert's SAFER initiative (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) won in Denver, I thought it was a waste of time to debate marijuana on its merits, because in the end both sides would have concluded that marijuana is not risk-free. Better, I thought, to start with the premise that no drug is risk free, then debate whether prohibition is the best way to manage that risk.
In principle, that's what the debate should be about. But sometimes "principle" just doesn't cut it.
Problem is, the public has been conditioned to believe that illegal drugs are all more dangerous than legal drugs, that anyone who believes that liberalizing antidrug law protects kids must also believe water flows uphill.
Denver's SAFER strategy reconditions public opinion by comparing pot to alcohol. Today more people smoke, or have friends who smoke, than in the past, so they have a real-time, first-person basis for comparison.
Good that Mason Tvert keeps pressing. I see that he's been here at UCF, making people think. Changing public opinion is like making a cow move over. Anyone who has milked a cow knows that you can't make a cow move over by pushing it over. You just lean on it, and bye and bye, the cow moves over. That's Mason.
How did we get into this mess? It began when the "Enlightenment" of the 18th/19th century reached the so-called New World.... the idea that government could enact laws to improve society. Child Labor Laws, for instance, began in England in 1832, then in the U.S. In 1916.
Classical Liberals turned a blind eye to Slavery, the Jim Crow laws and the financial excesses of the Roaring 20s. Social Liberals brought us National Prohibition and Constitution-bending legislation used to prosecute today's drug war. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are to blame. The drug war has failed so badly that Citizen C, the forgotten man, is speaking up.
In 1920, the U.S. went a step further by their "noble experiment" to stamp out alcohol. 1920 was the year that women got the vote. Prohibitionists believed that National Prohibition would be assured because women knew the downside of alcohol. Women were for prohibition at first, then turned against it when they compared it to life with legal alcohol. It had been only 10 years, so they remembered.
In 1930 the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform voted their resolution against National Prohibition. It was, they wrote, "..... wrong in principle, ..... equally disastrous in consequences in the hypocrisy, the corruption, the tragic loss of life and the appalling increase of crime which have attended the abortive attempt to enforce it; in the shocking effect it has had upon the youth of the nation; in the impairment of constitutional guarantees of individual rights; in the weakening of the sense of solidarity between the citizen and the government which is the only sure basis of a country's strength."
In 1883, a Yale philosopher, William Graham Sumner, wrote an essay, entitled "The Forgotten Man." Sumner warned that well-intentioned social progressives often coerced unwitting average citizens into funding dubious social projects. He wrote: "As soon as Citizen A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which Citizen X is suffering, A talks it over with Citizen B, and A and B then propose to enact a law to remedy the evil and help Citizen X. Their law always proposes to determine . . . what A, B, and C shall do for X." But what about C? There was nothing wrong with A and B helping X. What was wrong was the law, and the indenturing of C to the cause. Citizen C was the forgotten man, the man who paid, the man who never is thought of." We call Citizen A a social liberal.
We ended National Prohibition not because we thought alcohol was good. We ended it because life got so bad that Citizen C began to speak up.
Today, Social Liberals are just called "Liberals". Classical Liberals, or what is left of them, are today's Libertarians. Today's "Conservatives" began with Nixon's "southern strategy", that began in 1968, and drew from both groups. So, today, virtually all Republicans and Democrats originated in those two groups.
Neither group had a corner on good public policy. Classical Liberals turned a blind eye to Slavery, the Jim Crow laws and the financial excesses of the Roaring 20s. Social Liberals brought us National Prohibition and Constitution-bending legislation used to prosecute today's drug war. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are to blame. The drug war has failed so badly that Citizen C, the forgotten man, is speaking up.
That brings us back to marijuana. How, exactly, DID we get in this fix? It started in the House of Representatives very late on the afternoon of June 10th 1937... The year "Reefer Madness" was released.
Let me quote part of the transcript....... This exchange was among four of our honorable politicians:
Mr. DOUGHTON [Robert L. Doughton (D-NC), Chairman of Ways and Means]. "I ask unanimous consent for the present consideration of the bill [H.R. 6906] to impose an occupational excise tax upon certain dealers in marihuana, to impose a transfer tax upon certain dealings in marihuana, and to safeguard the revenue therefrom by registry and recording."
The Clerk read the title of the bill.
Mr. SNELL. [Rep. Bertrand H. Snell(R-NY)]. "Mr. Speaker, reserving the right to object, and notwithstanding the fact that my friend, Reed, is in favor of it, is this a matter we should bring up at this late hour of the afternoon? I do not know anything about the bill. It may be all right and it may be that everyone is for it, but as a general principle, I am against bringing up any important legislation, and I suppose this is important, since it comes from the Ways and Means Committee, at this late hour of the day."
Mr. RAYBURN [Sam Rayburn(D-TX), later to become Speaker himself]. "Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, I may say that the gentleman from North Carolina has stated to me that this bill has a unanimous report from the committee and that there is no controversy about it."
Mr. SNELL. "What is the bill?"
Mr. RAYBURN. "It has something to do with something that is called marihuana. I believe it is a narcotic of some kind."
Mr. VINSON. [Fred M. Vinson (D-KY), later a Supreme Court Justice] "Marihuana is the same as hashish."
Mr. SNELL. "Mr. Speaker, I am not going to object but I think it is wrong to consider legislation of this character at this time of night".
Later, when the bill returned, very slightly amended, from the Senate, the only question asked was whether the AMA agreed with the bill. Mr. Vinson said not only did the AMA did not object (In fact their committee witness had dissented strenuously), he also claimed that the bill had AMA support.
FDR signed the bill on August 3rd. After that there was a 13 year lull in enforcement. To this day it is not clear why the bill was pushed so hard to become law, then barely enforced. Conspiracy buffs think they know, but no one knows for sure. I have a book whose chapter 9 called "The Marijuana Recession 1938-1951".
Some states, some communities have a tradition of liberalism... But not yet in Florida.
Each election year there is another state, or county or city or community voting to liberalize marijuana. Some vote for medical marijuana, some that marijuana enforcement will be a low priority; a few vote to decriminalize, that is to make possession like a traffic ticket. (That's the usual meaning of "decriminalize": to make adult possession of a small quantity less than a felony. This meaning is often misunderstood, sometimes interpreted to mean legalization ) . Both MI and MA voted Nov 4th for significant changes to marijuana policy.
MI's is well-written law for MMJ. It includes explicit protection for the caregiver and the doctor, missing from California's Prop215, passed in 1996. The law is now being put into regulations by the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and the MI State Police. From what I read it is being done constructively.
My only connection with MI has been reading the history of National Prohibition, that the Detroit River was a major entry route for good liquor from the UK, particularly after 1928, when the Coast Guard blockaded "Rum Row".... Florida's lower East Coast and the Jersey Shore.
At the federal level, there is support for "rescheduling" from its present Schedule A to B, where it would be legal -- at the federal level -- for doctors to prescribe it. This is essentially what the Michigan law does for Michigan.
No question that it is the compassionate thing to do, but it will not scale back the war on pot, not if the 1920s is an indicator. Medicinal alcohol was freely available throughout National Prohibition, but it didn't reduce the lawlessness and violence of the 1920s. And it won't help wind down the drug war, other than to help persuade the public that marijuana is not scary. But even if all the states, and the feds, rescheduled marijuana so it could be prescribed by doctors, the societal damage will continue. Doctors will be arrested for prescribing "too much" marijuana. I know how that works first-hand.
I was involved in the case of Richard Paey, the sick man who was finally granted a full pardon by the FL Clemency Board in September 2007. The same FL prosecutor hounded Richard through 7 years and 3 trials and finally got him. Paey was sentenced to the 25 year "mandatory minimum" required by the FL Trafficking statute. No parole possible; the only hope was Gov. Crist and the FL Clemency Board. It's a long story... Ten years, total. I'm going to take a few minutes to tell it because it is exactly what can happen with medical marijuana if it becomes the law of the land.
I picked up the story halfway through. In August 2002, I happened to read in the St Pete Times that Richard was to be sentenced to 25 years, so I drove to the West Pasco County Courthouse. I watched Paey's attorney persuade the judge to throw out the jury conviction on a technicality. That was the 2nd trial.
Paey had been in a traffic accident in 1985 in NJ that hurt his back, then back surgery that made it worse. It left him in chronic pain. His NJ doc was prescribing painkillers. Then the Paey family moved to Florida, to Hudson, in Pasco County. Richard couldn't find a doctor who'd take him on, so his NJ doc mailed him prescriptions. When the local sheriff discovered that Richard was using a lot of pills he went to NJ with a FL DEA agent and told the doc that Richard was selling the pills.... They threatened the doc with 25 years and the doc abandoned Richard to the street..... actually not literally to the street. Richard was in bed by then, with MS. (A person living with undertreated chronic pain seems to be more susceptible to such diseases as MS.)
So Richard stayed at home and Xeroxed the prescriptions his doc had been mailing, and his wife drove him around to have them filled. The local sheriff staked out the Paey house to see who Richard was selling his pills to. In almost 3 months, no one came to the house, but they'd invested so much effort to get Paey that they arrested him anyhow. A SWAT team broke in, masked, guns drawn, etc. Paey was in bed saying "call my doctor, call my doctor", but they didn't do that. His wife was on the floor in handcuffs, three young children in the home. Fortunately, Richard is a man of principle, and his wife had a good job as an optometrist. So they fought the system, for 10 years total. It meant mortgaging their house and digging into Linda's 401k.
The November Coalition's mission is to stop the injustice of the drug war. It is aimed chiefly at the feds -- the DEA -- but makes exceptions in certain State cases. The Paey case was one of those. Nora Callahan, the founder of TNC, printed over 4000 postcards featuring one of the cartoons Richard drew in Prison for people to mail to Governor Jeb Bush. Those cartoons are still on the November website. This went on for years. Opinion pieces in the SP Times, NY Times, Tampa Tribune, International Herald Tribune. Reported on 20/20, Nightline, finally on 60 Minutes. He'd still be in prison but for the national -- and international -- reporting. And for that I credit mostly the Pain Relief Network, a nonprofit started by Siobhan Reynolds, woman whose husband's doc was threatened by the DEA because he was prescribing "too much" painkiller to her husband. It made her very angry. My contribution was introducing those two women. Linda Paey and Siobhan Reynolds.
So, why did I take the time to tell that long story? Two reasons. First to emphasise the enormous amount of work -- and good luck -- it takes today in the U.S. to remedy a single, exceptionally egregious injustice. There are many 1000s almost as bad that fly beneath the radar. Second, even if marijuana is rescheduled from Sched A to Sched B, patients will run the same risk as Richard Paey. The DEA is playing doctor and causing a lot of damage. MMJ won't change that.
Massachusetts new law, their "Question 2", passed on November 4th with 65% of the vote. It removes the criminal penalty for adult possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Police departments in MA are trying to figure out how to live with it. They will still be free to go after bigger fish, of course, but big fish are more dangerous than smokers, and they know it.
At the federal level, Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a bill in April 2008 that would have removed federal criminal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana and the not-for-profit transfer of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana. That bill died in committee. Even during National Prohibition, there was no limit on how much alcohol a person could possess for personal use. But I think Barney Frank can take major credit for educating MA citizens to vote 65-35 for their Question 2 to liberalize marijuana under state law.
I am one of the few drug policy reform activists who thinks decriminalization will backfire because it will do nothing to take profit out of the illegal trade. On the contrary, it will INCREASE the profit. The law of supply and demand says that price will rise if demand increases or supply decreases. This was obvious in 1928 when the then-Drug Czar boasted that she'd driven the price of a case of good liquor in Miami from $35 to $125 by blockading Florida's lower East Coast. Bootleggers then cut their liquor with wood alcohol to meet demand. But that wasn't the worst. The added profit attracted more violent men to the trade. Al Capone's St. Valentine's Day massacre came in 1929, and the feds responded by increasing the penalties against the bootleggers. If they had arrested drinkers instead of bootleggers, demand would have decreased. But drinking was not against the law. The 1920s was a time of decriminalized alcohol, although we didn't call it that.
The only way to stop the societal damage being done by the drug war is to take out the profit, and there is only one way to do that. Legalize everything. If that's not politically possible, legalize what can be legalized..... Marijuana. Put it on the same legal plane as beer and wine. Legal marijuana would be a cash cow for tax revenue.
Coming back to Denver for a minute, the latest news -- in the Denver Post -- is that the pot fines of Federal Heights -- that's a suburb of Denver -- are being reduced because people can't pay them in these tough economic times, and many pot smokers are near the bottom of the ladder. I am waiting for Florida to INcrease the fines to fill the budget shortfall because pot smokers don't deserve any better.
Remember what Lili Tomlin said.... something like "No matter how cynical I get I just can't keep up".
My recommendation: Don't "legalize" anything. Just get the feds out. Stop seducing local politicians with federal money to "fight drugs". Let the states handle it. We did it in 1933 and it has worked for 75 yrs.
Marijuana is gaining acceptance, so start with that, then decide if it should be done for other drugs.
There is a fallback position. Don't try to stamp out ALL use. Just stamp out PROBLEM use, the way we do with alcohol. We have severe penalties for DUI offenses. If we could identify problem use before the fact, that would be best of all. The vast majority of drug use is casual use, not problem use, and casual users are no problem to society, by definition. When we read that that drug prevalence has gone down it means nothing because the decrease is virtually all in casual use. If beer were to be illegal again, I'd probably stop, but it would not help society. Problem users will get their drug, legal or not.
Finally, thanks for letting me go first. It's only 10 PM. I can cut out now and drive back to Pinellas County.
Richard Paey is featured in the documentary The War On Drugs
October 2007 - Civil Liberties In Pinellas (FL)
What Is A "Snitch"? It Depends On Whom You Ask
By John Chase
Snitching is in the news lately, widely misunderstood. The traditional meaning, obvious in the 1999 PBS Frontline special "Snitch", is a person under the thumb of prosecutors who testifies against others in drug conspiracy cases, in the hope of leniency. As the drug war escalated, a "stop snitchin" movement evolved, and now "snitch" is being spun by unknown parties to say the minority community is becoming afraid to report/testify on crime in general.
The spin notched upward on April 22nd with Anderson Cooper's CBS 60 Minutes segment "Stop Snitchin". On the unspun side is Edrea Davis, author of SnitchCraft.(1) Ms. Davis also wrote "Propaganda, Pimping Or Sloppy Journalism?" about the 60 Minutes article, excerpts as follows:(2)
".... For the past few months mainstream media has hyped the "Stop Snitchin" slogan, giving it a life-and definition-of its own. A story on CBS News' 60 Minutes presented a one-dimensional view of snitching that appears to be part of an ongoing propaganda campaign designed to hold hip-hop culture accountable for the dysfunctional criminal justice system, and divert the public's attention from the real problems in America.
"In the black community it is commonly understood that a snitch is a crafty criminal who negotiates a deal for himself by telling on others. Since the days of slavery, providing information to authorities to gain favor has been viewed negatively.
"I was able to find the meaning of snitching in less than ten clicks of my mouse, so I think it's safe to assume that 60 Minutes, a national news program with a budget and research staff, is aware of the nature and definition of snitching and had no interest in being fair and accurate.
"But, according to the 60 Minutes story, witnesses and concerned citizens are now considered snitches. The report indicated that people of all ages in the black community, even children, are abiding by this so-called code-of-silence out of fear of retaliation.
"While it is true that blacks and other minorities have a history of strained relationships with the police, concerned citizens routinely complain about crack houses, slow response times and a lack of police patrols in inner-city neighborhoods. Black people also serve as witnesses and jurors.
"Since I'm from the "P-Funk" era, I went to allhiphop.com, thuglifearmy.com and eurweb.com to see what the hip-hop generation had to say. Amazingly, about 85% of the posts I read supported the classic definition of snitching. I listened to Chamillionaire's song "No Snitchin." The rapper rhymes about a criminal who "was looking at 30 but only did 10." The song goes on: "streets know the deals you made with the pen."
"A few clicks later I was on sohh.com watching an interview with rapper, actor and one of the pioneers of hip-hop, Ice-T. He said, "Snitching is not telling on somebody doing something wrong in the 'hood. It's when you and your partner are involved in a crime and get caught and you tell on your partner. That's snitching."
"A quick look at pertinent information absent from the story is further evidence that it was propaganda. For instance, 60 Minutes neglected to mention that there was honor among thieves long before hip-hop. Dishonest elected officials, corporate executives, and even the "Boys in Blue" have adhered to a don't snitch mantra over the years. .....
"How can any responsible journalist do a story on how black people relate to the police without mentioning the pandemic of police brutality and misconduct cases across the country? With the international media attention surrounding the snitch involved in the police killing of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, how can they produce a story on snitching without mentioning problems related to dishonest snitches?..."
"Stop snitchin'" begs for an explanation of how it came to be. Anyone who watched the Frontline special "Snitch" knows.(3) It began with legislation enacted just before the 1986 election when Democrats tried to out-tough Republicans, and again just before the 1988 election. The 1986 law established mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, except that the mandatories could be waived if the defendant provided "substantial assistance" to the prosecution. The prisons began to fill. But it was drug conspiracy law, added in 1988, that did the work. Drug Conspiracy law allows conviction with no evidence except the word of an informant. It's been 20 years.
After a number of high profile drug conspiracy cases were reported in the ten part series, "Win-at-all-Costs", by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in late 1998,(4) prosecutors began to focus on low level dealers and women, who both lacked the resources to resist. Drug prosecutions rely so often on "substantial assistance" that it rarely makes the news. The vast majority end in plea bargains even if the accused has resources to retain an attorney. Defendants are played off against each other, often with no interest in the truth. In cases of "diverted" pharmaceuticals, for example, patients are threatened, pressured to turn on their doctors, but it can work the other way.
Richard Paey, a Hudson pain patient sentenced to 25 years for "trafficking", told reporter [New York Times] John Tierney that prosecutors, "...said if you're willing to testify against your doctor it would go a long way to having these charges go away." According to Tierney, "Paey refused, and then found himself facing hostile testimony from the doctor, who said he had not authorized the contested prescriptions."(5)
Bernie McCabe, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney, says his prosecutors rarely go to trial with just the word of a snitch because it is hard to win, but it's different if there are multiple snitches, as in the recent Michael Vick dog fighting case. When questioned about the impact of the "Stop Snitchin" movement, he said he wasn't aware of any. Cecelia Bareda of Sheriff Jim Coats' office agreed, andemphasized the importance of a strong relationship between citizens and police.
Reporting crime and testifying both depend on that good relationship, and some legal experts believe it is jeopardized by confidential informants. According to Alexandra Natapoff, a Loyola Law School professor, speaking to the panel at a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on July 19th, "It's an historical problem in this country, it's not reducible to the problem of informing or snitching or "stop snitchin", but I would submit that the 20-year policy on the part of state, local and federal government of using confidential informants and sending criminals back into the community with some form of impunity and lenience, and turning a blind eye to their bad behavior, has increased the distrust between police and community," and it "..makes law enforcement less rigorous: police who rely heavily on informants are more likely to act on an uncorroborated tip from a suspected drug dealer. In other words, a neighborhood with many criminal informants in it is a more dangerous and insecure place to live."(6)
While many informants are simply naive drug buyers sent out after arrest to sell drugs to other naive buyers, a few excel at it. Denis DeVlaming, a local defense attorney, tells of a client whose forte while in prison was to try for a sentence reduction by getting bunked near prisoners on whom prosecutors needed information. The client was actually on Florida's witness list for a time.
DeVlaming's experience tells him that rewarded testimony is inherently unreliable. The "Stop Snitchin" movement is a reaction to the drug war's system of paid informants and naïve snitches, and it now threatens to spread to reporting/testifying on other offenses.(7) As a remedy, John Conyers' House Judicial Committee will write federal legislation to rein in the use of such rewarded testimony. It remains to be seen whether Florida will follow the federal lead.
Civil Liberties In Pinellas (CLIP) is a publication of the Pinellas County, Florida American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
October 16, 2005 - Tampa Tribune (FL)
LTE: Origins Of Profiling
By John Chase
Leonard Pitts speaks with passion but offers no remedy other than the unspoken wish that it stop. First, we must understand how racial profiling became a tool of law enforcement.
It began with Nixon's statement, as recorded in the diary of his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, in 1969 (cf. Dan Baum's book "Smoke and Mirrors"'): "You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to."' In 1971 Nixon declared his war on drugs, destined to replace and nationalize the states' Jim Crow laws trashed by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
I wish Pitts would write about that -- the immorality of a policy that puts illegal ``gold'' on the streets of the inner city to attract unskilled men to crime. The policy supports an illegal market for substances that sell for 50 times what they'd bring if legal. It has become a sort of institutionalized entrapment, a self-fulfilling prophesy that allows whites to blame blacks for American drug problems.
John Chase, Palm Harbor
The Razor Wire, Winter 2003/Spring 2004, Vol. 7 No. 2
The movement for reform grows
The 2003 Biennial conference of the Drug Policy Alliance held at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in early November included indication of the growing influence of the reform movement. Although the non-governmental organizations involved in reform are suffering budget stresses common to all non-profit organizations this year, there was a sense of optimism and hope. Real progress is being made in the U.S. and in other countries to make sensible change in some of the most destructive policies of the drug war.
Dr. Ethan Nadelmann and Rev. Edwin Sanders II convened the conference Thursday morning at its opening session with speeches telling where the movement is now and where it is going. Dr. Nadelmann is a long-time drug policy reformer, currently the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance; Rev. Sanders is the Senior Servant and Founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, and long involved in alleviating the suffering of those affected by substance abuse, sexual violence and HIV/AIDS.
The conference included major sessions ranging from "Regional Reform" to "Congress, Club Drugs and the Business of Dancing", to "Marijuana", to "Those Wild and Crazy Canadians" to "Building a Movement in Communities of Color".
Among the dozens of other sessions were workshops on (1) State-Based Lobbying and Successes, including the roll-back of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in Michigan; (2) Law Enforcement Against the Drug War, the recent and very rapid growth of a cadre of former officials now telling audiences across the country how drug enforcement really works and how drug prohibition can never succeed; (3) Pain, Opiates, and Opiophobia, about the magnitude of the undertreatment of chronic pain in the U.S., how physicians are threatened with arrest for sustaining these patients on their medicine, and the terror that chronic pain patients feel when threatened with loss of meds, even prosecution for their "addiction".
Many other workshops were held on such topics as "A Lifetime of Punishment: The Consequences of a Felony Drug Conviction", "Resistance Rooted in Faith: Religion, Justice and the Drug War", "Drug Wars in the Americas: Views from the South", "Working for Reform WITHIN the Criminal Justice System", "Global Drug Prohibition: Evolution and Dissolution", "Racial Profiling", "Psychedelics", "Anti-Drug Task Forces: Focus on Texas", "Latinos and the Drug War" and "A Lifetime of Punishment: Families Torn Apart by the Drug War".
Midway through the conference came the widely reported news of the 'drug sweep' in Stratford High School in Goose Creek, SC, near Charleston (see story here). No drugs were found. As the conference was ending, Loretta Nall, one of many first time attendees, was making plans to go there to talk to the students and parents about making such police actions a thing of the past.
At the Saturday afternoon closing session, Larry Campbell, the former mayor of Vancouver, BC, emphasized that we must confront prohibitionists when they lie. He likened the assertion "needles cause drugs" to "flies cause garbage". Kemba Smith, whose sentence was commuted by President Clinton before he left office, urged people to remember those in prison. She has become politically active, even on parole, although to many people, it would be so easy to just walk away from her past.
The next conference of the Drug Policy Alliance will be its third "Breaking The Chains" conference, April 1st through 3rd 2004, in Houston, Texas, and as before, emphasizing the drug war's disproportionate impact on people of color. Visit www.drugpolicy.org for more information.
Journey for Justice: November Coalition Dinner Meeting Photo Op, Clearwater, FL; February 27, 2003
Back: John Chase, Chuck Armsbury and Nora Callahan of the November Coalition. Front: Bob and Cathy Jordan
Amarillo Globe-News (TX); Friday, July 18, 2003
Elephant remains cozy in living room
Judging from the paucity of letters commenting on the Rev. Charles Kiker's June 29 column, "Proverbial elephant threatens to trample Tulia," I'd say he is right: Nobody will acknowledge the elephant.
The drug war is much like our attempt to stamp out alcohol in the 1920s.
Consider the resolution of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform, passed unanimously at its first convention in April 1930:
". . . (W)e are convinced that National Prohibition, wrong in principle, has been equally disastrous in consequences in the hypocrisy, the corruption, the tragic loss of life and the appalling increase of crime which have attended the abortive attempt to enforce it; in the shocking effect it has had upon the youth of the nation; in the impairment of constitutional guarantees of individual rights; in the weakening of the sense of solidarity between the citizen and the government which is the only sure basis of a country's strength."
A market cannot be destroyed by making it more profitable, and that profit corrupts both sides of the fight. As in the 1920s, the arrestees are poor and powerless, sometimes not choirboys.
But why destroy the life of a man - and his family - because he is not a choirboy?
John Chase, Advisor - Palm Harbor, Fla.
The November Coalition, The national organization of the families of drug prisoners - email@example.com
The Razor Wire, Spring 2002, Vol. 6 No. 1
John Chase provokes thought at Rotary Club
John Chase gave this talk to the Rotary Club at Spring Hill, Florida, January 29, 2002
Good morning. Some of you may have heard the joke JFK told about the farmer who'd just planted his crop, how he told his neighbor, "I hope I break even this year because I really need the money." This is where we are with the drug war.
Before I get into my subject, let me tell you a little about me. I am like most of you: I've always believed that every citizen owes a debt to the society that brung 'em up. Back in the late 50s I served 3 years in the Navy - the peacetime Navy - and I have been paying taxes for almost 50 years. Never in trouble with the law. Always vote. Although registered as a Republican, according to my wife I am a civil libertarian.
My first recollection of discomfort with the drug war was in the middle 90s when my brother told me that Milton Friedman was calling it prohibition. Well, we all know about alcohol Prohibition. It caused more social damage than it prevented, and we gave up on it after 13 years. I came off the sidelines four years ago. Started from zero. Had to ask my grown son what it meant to take a hit off a joint. Now I am active in two reform organizations.
One of them is The November Coalition, the organization of the families of drug prisoners. I thought that was radical when I started into it, but I don't think it's so radical anymore. If you want to know more about it, there is a pamphlet on the table at the back of the room you can pick up.We have been trying real hard to defeat drugs since 1971. It is worldwide drug prohibition and it's not working. If it were, I wouldn't be talking to you today.
One country is making headway against drugs - by not enforcing prohibition. Switzerland marches to the beat of a different drummer. U.S. policymakers call Swiss policy a disaster. But Swiss policymakers have results. Ours have beliefs. Three of our key beliefs are:
Belief #1: Drug-crazed addicts commit crimes.
Belief #2: Soft drugs lead users to harder drugs.
Belief #3: More blacks are in prison for drugs because more blacks do drugs.
Let me take these three one at a time.
1: Drug-crazed addicts commit crimes.
We hear it frequently. We also hear that drug use has climbed 75% since 1992. Republicans hammered the Democrats with this statistic in the 2000 election. We also hear that violent crime is down sharply - down almost half since 1992, based on victimization surveys, not police reports. Does this strike you as odd? I thought drug use and violent crime went together.
Remember "Needle Park" in Zurich in the late 1980s, early 1990s. It was a term of derision we used for the area Zurich provided for drug addicts to inject in public. Needle Park was the proof for us Americans that relaxing drug laws doesn't work. We'd have put undercover agents in that park and cleaned it up.
The Swiss went the opposite direction. They tried an experiment. They provided not just a place to inject, but also sterile needles, even free heroin! It wasn't quite as crazy as it sounds. Each addict had to register with the city to get into the program. He/she had to be above a certain age, and must have tried and failed to get clean more than once. The program also required that the addict attends a number of counseling sessions and offered free treatment upon request.
The Swiss have voted for it twice in referendums, and it is now set to run through at least 2004. It's no longer an experiment. It's now called therapeutic heroin and has spread to over half of the Swiss states. I have a book here by two Swiss MDs. "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Heroin Maintenance Treatment." It's an analysis of about 300 addicts during the first year of the experiment in1995. Bottom line is that society saves money - about $30 US Dollars each day for each addict in the program.
Almost all that saving was in what they called "legal behavior." That is, they no longer had to steal to get cash to buy drugs on the illegal market. You are probably not aware that the street price of heroin is about $20,000 per ounce.
2: Soft drug use leads to harder drugs.
The Swiss think it is illegal soft drugs that lead to harder drugs, because a person selling illegal soft drugs also has connections to heroin. So they "separate the markets" the only way they can - they legalize soft drugs. Marijuana is legal, de facto, in the German speaking areas. The Swiss Parliament is now drafting legislation that would make it official throughout Switzerland. Then there will be a referendum, probably within 2 years, to let the people decide, the same way they decided for therapeutic heroin.
If you think that sounds radical, consider MDMA or Ecstasy, the so-called "Hug Drug." Swiss courts are treating it like marijuana, so those users - mostly young people - are not exposed to criminals. Floridians would think the Swiss courts have lost their collective mind. We "know" that Ecstasy kills! Or does it?
Maybe it's only ILLEGAL Ecstasy that kills? The official annual reports of European Union drug use indicate one death in 6.8 million doses of Ecstasy! That death rate is not as safe as marijuana, but I think it's almost as safe as alcohol. How come Ecstasy is dangerous in the U.S. but not in the EU? The Swiss believe that repressing a popular drug causes more social damage than it prevents. We learned that lesson during alcohol prohibition in the 1920s.
3: More black drug offenders are in prison because more blacks do drugs.
This is the key to the modern drug war, declared by Richard Nixon in 1971. One of Nixon's aides, John Ehrlichman, was interviewed in 1996 by the author of the book "Smoke and Mirrors." During that interview, Ehrlichman said, "Look, we understood we couldn't make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue for the Nixon White House that we couldn't resist it."
Now Florida sends 460 black male drug offenders to prison per million black males in the population, but only 23 whites per million. That's 21 times as many blacks as whites, relative to population. The average for all states is 13 times as many. This suggests that a lot more blacks than whites use drugs. Let's look at that.
According to the official U.S. government survey for the year 2000 - released in September - 6.4% of blacks, age 12+, used an illegal drug in the past 30 days. For whites, the figure is exactly the same, 6.4% , and if we look at just the age 12-17 group, the white figure is actually higher. So if you cast your net in the white community and pull in 100 people, 6 or 7 of them will be drug users. Same in the Black community: 6 or 7 users. But if you cast your net ONLY in the Black community . . .THAT is racial profiling.
You may be thinking, "Ah, but more dealers are black! We all know that, don't we? We see it on the evening news." I don't know that's true, but it would be no surprise. Men on the bottom rung of the social ladder tend to enter these unsavory businesses. Certainly true in the 1920s when Irish and Italian immigrants got into bootlegging. It took no expensive training and it paid real well. One reason New York City Mayor LaGuardia wanted Prohibition to end was that it was tarnishing the image of Italian-Americans. That seems laughable today, but Afro-Americans aren't laughing.
It is hypocritical - almost immoral - to blame others for our drug use, but U.S. anti-drug policy depends on it. Now, a little hypocrisy would be okay with me if it got the job done. But this is useless. How many blacks do you think we'll need to lock up to get white boys to stop snorting cocaine?
At my job as an engineer we used to say that a problem well defined is 90% solved. Nixon defined the problem as drug use. But that was just a pretext to repress young people, blacks, browns and poor white people. We need to back off and try to redefine what it is we are fighting. I'd define it as the dual problem of greed and addiction. If we could get rid of those two, most of the social damage would end. The federal government has never tried this.
The only effective way to defeat greed is to destroy the illegal market, and the only way to do that is to legalize everything. Now, I'm not talking about a free market. I'm talking about state liquor stores. First the illegal drugs, then tobacco, then alcohol. Let Congress define a new type of drug for the FDA to regulate for purity and labeling. Call them recreational drugs. No advertising allowed - not for drugs, not for alcohol, not for tobacco - and a state employee selling to a minor will lose his/her license. Price these drugs for maximum revenue to the state, but not high enough to sustain an illegal market. Use a small part of that revenue to offer treatment, treatment upon request, open-ended. It's okay to fall off the wagon, and if you prefer living like a wino in the gutter, that's your choice.
If you rob or steal, you'll be prosecuted. If you hurt someone, you'll be prosecuted. If you drive under the influence you'll be prosecuted, and if you resell these drugs, you'll be prosecuted. There won't be much reselling because there won't be much profit. When was the last time you saw someone selling liquor on the street? The transition won't be easy. But at least we'd have a chance for success. Thirty years of failure is enough for me.
You don't like my idea? You want to get serious about drugs? OK. The Bush administration wants to reduce the demand for drugs; so let's do that - REALLY. Put undercover agents in the offices of corporate America, in our colleges, universities, shopping malls, public gatherings. Run 'stings' to arrest EVERY user. Then, if the arrestee agrees to snitch on someone else, he can go to treatment; otherwise he goes to prison. Then arrest the person he snitched on and offer him/her the same deal and so on and so on. Do those things for a few years, and you'll begin to like the idea of state liquor
Some people don't see that the drug war is just a rerun of the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s. Let me read you part of the resolution passed by WONPR (Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform) in 1930:
"We are convinced that National Prohibition, wrong in principle, has been equally disastrous in consequences in the hypocrisy, the corruption, the tragic loss of life and the appalling increase in crime which have attended the abortive attempt to enforce it; in the shocking effect it has had upon the youth of the nation; in the impairment of constitutional guarantees of individual rights; in the weakening of the sense of solidarity between the citizen and the government, which is the only sure basis of a country's strength."
Thanks for listening. Any questions? Any stones to throw?
The Razor Wire, May/June 2001, Vol. 5 No. 3
What UUs do
Each summer the Unitarian Universalists (UUs) select a Social Action Issue for study during the coming 24-month period. This is a feature of their annual UU Assembly. Last summer 2000 they selected "An Alternative to the War on Drugs" from the five choices presented to the delegates. This coming summer they will conduct a workshop on the subject, and during the summer of 2001 they will issue a 'statement of conscience' on that subject, assuming they can arrive at a consensus statement on the drug war.
Several of us UU drug reform activists have been speaking at UU congregations during the past nine months. My territory has been Florida, where I volunteered to speak and have been invited to several venues. It has been an educational process for both me and for my listeners. I am new to the drug reform movement and even newer to Unitarian Universalism. I have learned that UUs value and accept ALL human beings, that there is an unknowable higher being but that no particular religion - even UUs - know who that higher being is. Above all, UUs are political and social activists; so it is no surprise that they selected "An Alternative to the War on Drugs" as their issue for study. That is what I have learned from them. What have they learned from me? Well, let me tell you some of what I tell them.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE WAR ON DRUGS
Our lawmakers got us into this jam by moving too fast, and we must not repeat that mistake. If your experience is like mine, the longer you study this problem, the stronger will be your position. Some of you will discount what I am about to tell you, and so I think I am prepared for your questions.
Before we look for an alternative, it is necessary to understand what we have now, what we have achieved and what it has cost. It has failed to achieve the only thing it was promised to do - and that is to reduce the prevalence of illegal drugs among kids, and the federal government is trying to hide that failure. One cannot accept government press releases "as is". Simply put, they are dishonest.
The Federal anti-drug budget now approaches $20 billion. Add in the State anti-drug budgets and prison costs, and we are at well over $50 billion per year - to fight drugs.
The social costs are far more than that - record-breaking incarceration rates, children without parents, random gun violence, growing distrust of anyone, a corrupted US Constitution. Drug prohibitionists insist that much of the damage is caused not by the drug war, but by criminals dealing in illegal drugs. Such nonsense reminds me how the Anti-Saloon League blamed bootleggers for the death, blinding and paralysis caused by adulterated alcohol in the 1920s.
Prohibitionists tell us the drug war is needed to avoid something worse. They say we are fighting the most dangerous drugs, but that's not true. We are fighting drugs the US Justice Department SAYS are the most dangerous. They say we are fighting abuse and addiction, but that's not true either. We are fighting drug use, and there is a HUGE difference between drug use, drug abuse, and drug addiction. They say that if we legalize drugs, drug use will rise. But would abuse and addiction also rise? That question has no meaning to prohibitionists because they define use as abuse, and abuse as addiction.
So how might we find an alternative to achieve more at less cost? Most of us - as much as three-quarters from recent Pew Research Poll - know the drug war has failed, but we do nothing because we are afraid of making another mistake. Our fundamental problem is that we cannot begin to figure out how much of the danger of an "illegal drug" is caused by the ILLEGAL component and how much is caused by the DRUG component.
We misread the danger of the drug's illegality as being caused by the drug itself, by its pharmacological properties. Our misunderstanding is like dyslexia, seeing things backwards or upside/down, and thereby blocking logical thinking. Two case histories show how the legal status of a drug affects its danger. The first one, of course, is our experience with alcohol Prohibition in the1920s. The second one is the ongoing evolution of drug control in Switzerland.
First - the 1920s:
The social damage of Prohibition required both the alcohol AND its illegality. Before Prohibition we had only the alcohol component. In 1919 we added the illegal component when voters ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. Our grandparents - my grandparents anyhow - then struggled for 13 years with the same kinds of social damage we are seeing now, but on a much smaller scale.
They finally quit trying. It was relatively easy for them because they remembered America before Prohibition - only 13 years.
US voters accepted the truth and legalized alcohol in 1933. That was 67 years ago, and no politician since then has made a single serious proposal to return its use and production into prohibited criminal conduct.
Second - the Swiss:
Switzerland goes it alone, partly because they are not in the European Union. But it's more than that. While they are sensitive to their international treaty obligations, they feel no obligation to follow other American anti-drug policies. This sets Switzerland apart from almost every other country in the world.
Remember Needle Park - in Zurich? About 10 years ago it became a magnet for hard drug users and dealers. So the Swiss replaced it - in early 1994 - with a national experiment where addicts could register and obtain free heroin. Addicts also received counseling and, if they wanted it, they could get treatment. Methadone was also a choice.
The Swiss insist that was not liberalization; instead it was an experiment, tightly controlled, closely monitored and well reported. And those reports, by the way, are on the Internet. These people are not liberal. They are very conservative. Swiss women first got the vote in 1971, if that gives you an indication. But they are very practical people; they are constructive people.
In 1997, for instance, they voted overwhelmingly not to shut down this experiment. One year later they voted overwhelmingly not to legalize drugs. Sounds moderate to me. Then in June 1999, one year later, they voted to continue this experiment for 5 more years until 2004. Officially it is no longer an experiment; it is now known as "therapeutic heroin" and it has expanded to10 of their 26 states.
Although that referendum passed with only 55% of the vote, it had broad support. I believe it had majorities in the German-speaking and the French-speaking and Italian-speaking areas. And I know it had support among diverse religious groups.
The Swiss treatment of marijuana is also practical. As my Swiss-Italian contact told me by email, "We have decided to permit the therapeutic use of heroin, and we think that cannabis consumption is going to complement alcohol consumption in our society as a recreational drug. But these are ad hoc decisions, not parts of a 'liberalization strategy'." Serious trafficking in marijuana can bring a long prison sentence in Switzerland. If this sounds like a contradiction, just remember that the Swiss take their international obligations seriously.
The Swiss are now wondering what to do about Ecstasy. Swiss courts so far are treating it like a soft drug. Floridians would think the Swiss courts have lost their collective mind. We have been reading in Florida about our rash of "Ecstasy- related" deaths this past year.
Most of those were not Ecstasy deaths; they were caused by an adulterant to the Ecstasy. (PMC. You might have read about it.) In Switzerland Ecstasy is safer because it has not been driven 'underground', handed over for production, distribution, price and profit to criminal gangs.
Serious American reformers propose what they call 'harm reduction'. You may have heard that term. I haven't heard them say so, but their proposals are tantamount to adopting current Swiss practice. For me the Drug War is no more the answer to drug abuse than National Prohibition was the answer to the saloon culture. There's not a doubt in my mind that we'd be better off now if we had never driven these drugs underground.
I can't end this talk without emphasizing the importance of race. We take comfort in the belief that our drug felons are in prison because they sold drugs, not because they are black or Hispanic. But their customers are mostly white! It is comforting to believe that if any blame is to be placed for using drugs, it can be placed on somebody else, on THEM, those different from us, you know, us white, middle-class, and hardworking people. There is something immoral about this abdication of personal responsibility. And it is not just immoral; it's useless. How many black guys do YOU think we've got to imprison to get the white guys to stop using cocaine? Then we compound this uselessness by blaming Colombia, the nation of dealers. Ah, but it's not Colombia the country. Our leaders blame the Colombian Narco-Terrorists, comforting perhaps, but misleading and prejudicial.
The Swiss experience won't help on this, but our prohibition experience will. Remember how Prohibition began. The Women's Christian Temperance Movement formed in 1874. Then at the turn of the century the US accepted a flood of immigrants from Europe. People of different language, different religion, different drinking habits ... different culture.
There was a real concern then that we might not be able to absorb those people. Then came World War I and our anti-German hysteria. As fate would have it, German-Americans owned the breweries, and the breweries owned the saloons. The Anti-Saloon League, formed in 1895, built its strength on anti-immigrant hysteria, especially anti-German hysteria. We owe the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Anti-Saloon League.
It's no surprise that our earliest bootleggers were Germans. Then came the Irish, then the Italians. Who did we arrest? Not the drinkers. We arrested the bootleggers! Does this sound familiar? Men in the lower socioeconomic class gravitate toward these unsavory businesses. It's something they can do, and it pays very well. By their conscious decision to break the law of the majority, these bootleggers - these drug dealers - further isolate themselves from the mainstream. Near the end of Prohibition one of Mayor LaGuardia's reasons for ending Prohibition was that it tarnished the image of Italians. That seems almost laughable today.
What we have today - as in the 1920s - is not a drug war. It is a culture war, and it's made violent and vicious by the prohibition of drugs the majority doesn't like. We could have done almost the same thing by driving COFFEE underground. This thing is spinning out of control as it builds a huge constituency of economic interests. It has become a drug-war industrial complex.
Ending the drug war will be difficult, probably more so than my grandparents faced when they realized that they'd have to persuade 36 of the 48 State legislatures to admit defeat in their quest for an alcohol-free America. The key to understanding it - how to cure this dyslexic-like condition -- is to logically separate the illegal component of the drug from the pharmacological component of the drug.
Back to the Top
Back to list of November Coalition Staff and Regional Volunteers
The Razor Wire, May/June 2001, Vol. 5 No. 3
Back-to-back February protests in Florida
On Friday, February 23rd, The November Coalition joined with many other reform organizations in Tallahassee for the protest of Jeb Bush's 3rd Annual Drug Summit. Actually it started Thursday afternoon with a press conference Toni Latino had arranged for these organizations. I also spent a few minutes with my representative to urge him to support liberalization.
Jodi James and one other activist were invited inside to attend the Summit. Jodi told me later that Jeb had told the gathering he'd stop every boat coming up the Miami River if that was what it took to stop drugs coming into South Florida.
When I got home I sent Gov. Bush part of Assistant U.S. Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt's 1929 book Inside Prohibition. The part I sent him was Chapter 17,"Routing Rum Row", in which she bragged how she'd stopped the flow of liquor into Miami in 1928 and driven the price of liquor up from $35/case to $125/case. This indirectly led to a rash of blindings and deaths from adulterated liquor as bootleggers met demand by mixing in wood alcohol and other solvents. It was the beginning of the end of Prohibition. I then got a reply from Florida's drug czar James McDonough explaining how "Operation Riverwalk" was needed to stop the flow of drugs entering through the Miami River. He did not explain why it will work now when it didn't work back then.
Most of us - and about 100 students from FSU and Florida A&M - marched a mile to arrive in front of the Old Capitol Building at the head of the Appalachee Parkway. It's a beautiful spot for a protest: good visibility, traffic stopping for traffic lights, horn-blowing, waving, a University town with lots of support for drug reform. There's a wide sidewalk at the Capitol - plenty of room for my two card tables each with a kiosk holding 8 posters of prisoners' names/stories/photos and some pedestrian traffic.
Most of the action was with the traffic at the curb. I had our TNC There is No Justice in The Drug War banner on display and handed out Razor Wires and tabloids for students to hand out to motorists. I left about 4 p.m. to drive south to spend the night with an old high school buddy at Horseshoe Beach. By then I'd given away all my tabloids and Razor Wires and intended to drive home Saturday morning.
Saturday morning I realized I could detour to Tampa and take in the Hempfest scheduled to start at noon. If only I'd kept some literature, at least some tabloids, but it didn't matter. As I pulled into the parking lot in Tampa I ran into Patti Montgomery and Brian coming with FAMM literature. So we joined forces - my TNC posters and their FAMM literature to handout. There was lots of interest there, and I got home before dark, another good weekend, with Sunday to rest these old bones.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 2001, Vol. 5 No. 1
Gainesville vigil a good day
It started at noon on a cold overcast windy day and ended just after dark. My purpose to was to obtain as many signatures for the Jubilee Justice petition as I could. I got about 250, which I will copy and mail the originals to Colville.
There was a wide range of signers - from a young criminal defense attorney who had just moved back to Gainesville, to a middle-aged woman who motioned to the posters of the prisoners, saying "My husband never made it that far; he committed suicide on August 17th". One persistent visitor to my display was a young journalism student who was given a 'spot story' assignment on Friday PM, due Monday AM, and was reporting the hempfest. She told me she'd email me a copy of what she turns in.
Lots of people stopped to talk, but most just stood to read the stories on the posters. I had built a octagonal frame of PVC pipe which sat on a card table and held sixteen 11" x 17" posters. It was centrally located with room around the table to walk around and read the stories. Some pointed and talked to their friends about particular ones. After a few minutes they would pick up a pen and sign.
Most important is that without the persistence of Kevin Aplin and Scott Bledsoe, this hempfest would not have occurred. The Gainesville City Commission had first denied the permit, then lost on appeal, probably spending $200,000 of Gainesville taxpayers' money in the process. We had the usual number of undercover agents mixing with the crowd and many, mostly tight-lipped Gainesville police on its outskirts. Nothing happened.
Seemed like many of the signers hardly had two quarters to rub together. There were quite a few students and some middle-class, middle-aged people. Not as many Afro-Americans at the hempfest as I'd have liked, but there were some.
My son and two of his friends, all from Gainesville, helped me for a while. After they left, the posters just stood and sold themselves. I hardly had to do anything except keep the paper and pens organized. In a way it was amazing, but in another way, these people - the ones who signed - understood as well as any of us that the American Drug War has done nothing to reduce drug abuse and everything to abuse citizens.
I wrapped up about an hour after dark, took a nap at my son's place and left for home at midnight, flying alone along the empty highways of a part of old Florida most tourists never see. Sunday was a good day.
The Razor Wire, Dec 2000, Vol. 4 No. 6
How leaders often begin
Editor's note: the following email language is what a lot of Internet communication actually looks like on paper. This electronic correspondence from TNC's John Chase in Florida to November l-list people (all over the country) is the organizational 'blood' of our large and growing network of local volunteers. John simply shares Teresa's dedicated commitment with
Wed, 25 Oct 2000 02:18:07 -0400
From:"John Chase" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: November Coalition http://www.november.org/
This message is from Teresa Aviles, a woman in the Bronx whose son, Isidro Aviles, died in prison, probably from lack of medical care, even though she will never know for sure. She and I have been in touch ever since I helped her with a flyer she used to announce periodic lunch-vigils at a public park in the Bronx to tell the world about her son.
Please read on . . .
Every morning I get up filled with rage and thinking of my son. I try to channel that anger towards something positive, and this morning I was thinking about something that was said in Church on Sunday about November being the month that we remember those who have passed away.
I decided that I would hold a vigil in memory of those who are casualties of the war on drugs. I will get a few of my family members together and march to the cemetery with my posters. This way I will feel that I am keeping the vigils alive and doing a little public awareness at the same time. I think it is very important to keep this going. I know we all have a tendency to stay inside during the winter months, but I think that one day a month during the winter is not too much to ask of friends and family so I am committing myself to one day a month. In December I will do the Christmas party and I will decide on something for January. If you get any ideas let me know. Also, if you or anyone you know wants to donate items suitable for a gift for a child, please let me know.
Until then, peace and love, - Teresa
The Razor Wire, Sept/Oct/Nov 2000, Vol. 4 No. 5
Florida seniors hold first vigil
My vigil was OK for a first time, but I've got a lot of work to do.
A major plus is that I connected with another serious activist. He happens to be married to one of the women in my wife's bridge group. Another new guy is the retired newspaper publisher who has started the Florida Drug Report (FDR). Three old guys. I am in the middle at 66. There is a 4th guy, younger, who is temporarily too busy trying to get a business started, and a much younger guy who had to work. So now we have five. Last year there were only two.
Our next vigils will not be at courthouse. There's not enough traffic at either of the two courthouses in this county. Our next activity will be to 'table' at some of the multitude of weekend art festivals that happen in Florida during the winter. These are more 'mainstream' than hempfests. We've all agreed our core will be the three of us. Hope springs eternal to enlist help at these things from younger folks. Then we can branch out.
We did get specific help from an employee in the courthouse who came out of the building to describe how her ex-husband - a bipolar guy - was almost arrested for a single extra-strength Tylenol. She described how she faced down the cops trying to make the arrest, and they left. She offered me a contact list of all the clerks of circuit courts in Florida and told me to send TNC literature to each of them. It isn't clear what she thinks that will accomplish. I'll ask my brother, the (retired) lawyer.
I must also enhance our very small array of POWD photo posters. I spent a few hours last week with Mike Smithson of Reconsider. He described a rotatable rack he'd made - like postcard racks in drugstores - which had POWD photos instead of postcards. This idea BTW dovetails into the postcard idea we have been discussing.
Experience is a good teacher, the best in fact. I will never give up.
The Razor Wire, May/June 2000, Vol. 4 No. 3
Use, abuse, addiction aren't the same things
From the St. Petersburg Times (FL)
In her article "Darryl Strawberry's other stats" of March 5, Susan Aschoff uses "drug use," "drug abuse" and "drug addiction" almost interchangeably. This inadvertent blurring prevents rational discussion of drug policy.
The same blurring happened in the early 20th century. The Anti-Saloon League convinced our parents and grandparents that prohibition (of alcohol use) would stamp out drunkenness (abuse) and alcoholism (addiction). No attempt was made to assess each of them according to its social damage and its probable cost of prevention.
By the time Americans realized that national prohibition had failed, it had cost us thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of blindings and paralysis and the credibility of the federal criminal justice system. This noble experiment officially ended after only 13 years, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was repealed.
We are now engaged in another experiment rooted in the same fuzzy thinking that we can stop abuse and addiction by stopping use. It has gone on with vigor but without success since 1973. Our criminal justice system has self-corrupted to an ethic where the end justifies any means, even the destruction of our basic freedoms.
It is said that a problem well defined is 90 percent solved. We can define today's drug problem only with an understanding of how the fuzzy thinking of the early 20th century preordained the failure of prohibition.
The Razor Wire, March/April 2000, Vol. 4 No. 2
More drugs in our future
Published in the Tampa Tribune Jan 22nd, 2000
Regarding Parade magazine's feature article "We can keep our kids drug free for life" (Jan. 16):
Our drug czar, Barry McCaffrey, says we don't need a war on drugs. This means we no longer need to:
- Incarcerate 500,000 nonviolent drug prisoners; - Arrest a marijuana user each 65 seconds;
- Jail sick people because they publicize their marijuana use;
- Urine-test employees as a condition of employment;
- Forfeit $400 million each year without charging the suspect;
- Stop cars and intimidate "profiled," but uncharged, drivers;
- Intimidate physicians who administer pain control drugs;
- Use snitches, who often "testi-lie" against innocent citizens;
- Terrorize innocent citizens with DEA home invasions;
- Send billions of dollars and military advisers to Colombia's civil war;
- Push "know your customer" laws onto banks, and
- Federalize our local police forces.
Just kidding! I know McCaffrey has no power to stop these abuses. Indeed, it is the failure of these abuses that leaves children of the final hope for abstinence. McCaffrey's office denies these failures as we used to deny the crazy aunt in the basement.
Examples of such drugspeak are rarely reported by the media. Last month the administration headlined the press release of the 1999 survey of U.S. eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders with "Drug Use Among Teenagers Leveling Off." Secretary Donna E. Shalala of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services even stated, "Today's report confirms that we have halted the dangerous trend of increased drug use among our young people." This is pure spin. In school we called it lying.
A quick read of the fine print of the 1999 survey shows some improvement in certain offbeat drugs, but it has nothing good to report for the serious drugs - the ones that would have been hyped had the news been favorable.
For example, among 12th-graders, current use of heroin is unchanged at 0.5 percent, near its all-time high, and cocaine has been up every single year since 1993 and is now at 2.6 percent. Even crack is up from 1998. Alcohol remains stable at an unbelievable 51 percent.
Politicians don't know what to do, and few have the guts to ask. They should challenge the "gateway theory." Does soft drug use really lead to hard drugs? History says no, that it is the prohibition of softer drugs, rather than the soft drugs themselves. We saw this gateway effect during alcohol prohibition. When Prohibition began in 1919, consumption of distilled liquor - known then as "ardent spirits" - declined at first, then rose to exceed its 1918 level by 1926 and kept rising. Beer, the soft drug of Prohibition, declined and didn't rebound to its 1918 level until after Prohibition ended. We saw it again during the Vietnam War when the Army clamped down on marijuana in 1969, and in 1971 President Richard Nixon began hearing reports of a heroin epidemic among the troops. We saw it again in 1985 when the cocaine market figured out how to convert cocaine to crack, its far more concealable, valuable and potent form.
We are seeing the gateway effect now as prohibition of marijuana drives users to alcohol and other hard drugs. Urine testing accelerates this perverse effect because marijuana can be found in the body for weeks, but alcohol and most other hard drugs dissipate in hours or days. Better the off-chance of future alcoholism or drug addiction than the very immediate risk of forfeiting property, forced drug treatment or loss of kids' college loans. I know of many parents who tell their kids that if they are going to do any drug, make it alcohol. But medical experts rank alcohol as far more lethal, addictive and intoxicating than marijuana.
This situation cries for decriminalizing soft drugs, prosecuting those who sell alcohol to minors and offering drug treatment - not waiting lists - to all who ask.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 2000, Vol. 4 No. 1
Our drug dyslexia
Tampa Tribune October 12, 1999
Regarding your editorial "Drug testing for self-sufficiency":
On the issue of random drug testing of welfare recipients, the Tribune takes a practical, constructive position to live within current drug laws. A better position would be to support random drug testing as a short-term solution but acknowledge that random testing presses the Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable searches and, therefore, needs a long-term solution.
Americans suffer from drug dyslexia. We confuse the danger of the drug with the danger of its illegality. We don't understand that most of the damage caused by an illegal drug requires both the drug and its illegality. Remove either one and the damage declines dramatically. Conversely, add illegality to a drug and the damage rises. Most of the social damage of the 1920s started when Prohibition began and stopped when Prohibition ended.
Life with alcohol since 1933 has not been Utopian but has been better than the blindings, the deaths, the turf battles, the police corruption, the Al Capones and the alcoholism of the 1920s.
Abstinence as a condition of the work was rare during Prohibition. That the Tribune can speak so casually about random drug testing to achieve abstinence - and not even question how we got to this sorry state - is a depressing reminder of the freedom we have sacrificed to our collective drug dyslexia.
The Razor Wire, March/April 1999, Vol. 3 No. 2
I did something
On November 3rd I stood at the polls for ten hours straight except for three five minute breaks, asking people to sign a petition to put medical marijuana (MMJ) on the Florida ballot in 2000. I was at my clean-cut, best military posture in immaculate but informal dress, even wearing my NAVY / RICE baseball cap. I was able to get their attention, and people listened to me. Except for the comings and goings of sign-holding supporters of various candidates, I was alone. This was at a 'twofer" precinct, the largest in the county, I believe. It was an experience I won't forget.
Pris came at noon with a sandwich and watched it for a while. Afterward she told me that it would be hard for her to approach strangers like that to ask for their support. I told her it was hard for me but that I had to do it. I managed to obtain the signatures of almost 150 individuals, about one each four minutes.
Not much middle ground on this issue. A lot, certainly the majority of those I approached brushed past, shaking their heads. The signers were mostly from families of sick people who had gotten or tried to get MMJ. Most were aware of its ability to help the stomach hold down strong drugs such as AZT or during chemotherapy. Many were aware of the benefits for those who suffer from glaucoma. (These were almost all elderly, remember.) One told me she had lost a son and had tried to get MMJ but could not find it. Many retired nurses signed. Others told me they were currently undergoing chemotherapy and comments such as, "I'm so glad you're doing this" and "Bless you" made the day okay for me.
Near the end of the day I noticed an intense-looking old guy in one of those 'lean-back' wheelchairs being pushed by his elderly wife. They had voted and he was resting about 40 feet from me. As they were leaving, they came up to me and he growled "I want to sign one of those. What does it do?" It wasn't easy to tell him it was for the year 2000 vote, because I doubted that he'd last that long, but I told him and he made no comment. They both signed and went on. His legs were in such bad shape that he couldn't even wear shoes. One leg was purple, with an abscessed big toe looking like it would soon be a candidate for amputation.
I finally quit at 5 p.m. It was getting dark and few of these retired folks were showing up. Few drive after dark, you know-retirees that is and that is what we are around here.
During the day my mind went back to the afternoon last March when a woman from the November Coalition (website of families of drug felons) phoned to ask if she could put my first letter that was published in the St. Petersburg Times on the november.org website. I said, "yes," of course, and then thought to myself, 'This is getting serious, I sure hope I'm doing the right thing'. I didn't know then the mantra of the drug warriors about the 'legalizers' being dupes of the 'carefully camouflaged, well-heeled intellectual elite" who are trying to legalize drugs on the backs of sick people. I have read volumes since then and I am more convinced than ever that - to put it kindly - the government is on the wrong track.
I know it contradicts intuition that relaxing drug constraints would help, but gradually this is beginning to be believed. First the Dutch and now the Swiss, whose upper house of parliament just voted 30 to 4 to expand their program providing heroin to addicts, and who will vote on the 29th on a broad referendum of drug reform, which may even include 'national drug stores'. Their goal is to find a practical solution to the illegal drug syndrome of (1) Open air drug markets, (2) Overdose deaths, (3) drug-induced thefts, (4) homelessness, (5) unemployability and (6) spread of disease. The Swiss march to the beat of their own drummer. The Swiss have their cadre of moralists who see drug use as a character defect which can be corrected only by coercion and punishment, but they are a minority.
Even U.S voters are beginning to see it. Of the nine issues that involved drug reform or candidates who had taken a position on it, the reformer side won in all nine.
For the U.S., most of the support for drug reform will vanish when marijuana is legal again as it was before 1940. Reformers will have a tougher job then. I'll probably still be pressing on the same drug reform issues as the ACLU - e.g. Property seizures, DEA home invasions, illegal searches, draconian sentences - you know, the stuff the Bill of Rights is made of.
It has been a good month. Mean-spirited Republicans losing all over the country. Perhaps by 2000 the Republicans will have dumped their puritanical, arrogant rectitude so we can have rational debate on issues more important than their own parochial social bullshit (forgive me).
This election proves that we do not have to put up with the Mean-spirited Republicans. All we have to do is to VOTE, and I thank you all for doing it.
I guess I'm not retired after all; just working for free.
Recent Drug War news items from Florida
Back to the Top
Back to list of November Coalition Staff and Regional Volunteers