By Nora Callahan
In our first issue we published an article entitled, Supporting State Initiatives, written by Dr. John Beresford. The embodiment of that message bears repeating. Drug war escalation is relentless on the federal scale - that is the climate of our Congress. In spite of calls from judges, lawyers, economists, physicians, mayors and a myriad of other public officials, that it is time to take another look at what we are really accomplishing in waging this so-called War On Drugs - our federal leaders remain intent on more of the same. And now we have war that not only is waged on American soil, but reaches far into what is fast becoming every nation on earth.
Given the money spent and efforts entire, all we have assuredly accomplished is destruction. Why does our federal congress insist on what amounts to more of the same? That answer is simple. They do not listen to the will of the people until that voice becomes united, loud and demanding. Our country has faced similar situations before.
The Drug War has brought an alliance of executive, judicial and legislative branches. In normal times these distinct branches of government were our best protection against tyranny. Our founding fathers knew this. Comes the War on Drugs and rational government and constitutional protections have seemingly flown the coop. What we can do, the people of this country ask?
The answer lies within that question. The people of this country are the fourth branch of government. State by state we have the ability to change the laws that see nonviolent people sentenced to decades upon decades of imprisonment. State by state we can take the DEA out of what should be a physician's role. State by state we can make reform: in forfeiture laws, sentencing schemes and implement harm reduction strategies that will truly address the drug problem in America. State by state we can change the laws and the federal government will have no choice but to listen to the will of the people.
Mayor Kurt Schmoke is reforming drug policy in the city of Baltimore. Arizona's citizens put another initiative on their 1998 ballot. Washington State made a gallant attempt at reforming a broad based drug reform initiative. Oregon has made gains by asserting their power as the fourth branch of government.
Start where you live. Find out what reform efforts are taking place in your community and state. Support them. "But I have no particular talent," some may say. It takes no talent to stuff an envelope, write a check, deliver flyers or talk to your neighbor. It takes only a few moments of your time to see a petition signed. If you aren't registered to vote - start there and go the next step and show up at the polls on Election Day.
Next November will prove a historical year at the ballot box. Ending the destructive status quo depends on us. There is well over 30 years of history behind the drug war and that fact alone should make this admonition ring loud and clear. "But I'm a convicted drug felon and have no vote," you may say. You can work petitions, distribute flyers, man phones and volunteer for candidates that support drug policy reform - even if you can't vote. "But I'm an inmate - what can I do?" Write 275 word editorials and send them to newspapers and magazines - they will publish your pleas for reform, even with a prisoner ID# attached. Educate your family - find out what reform efforts are taking place in the states where they live. Send them contact information. Send the same information to our office and we will publish it.
Remember this - we can work for reform or accept the consequences of complacency. If you believe the costs of the drug war are too high, the collateral destruction too vast, and more of the same is a price you are not willing to pay - then let your legislators (both state and federal) know this, then get involved in reform.
The following list of reform measures is not exhaustive, there are far more efforts on-going than are reported here.
Colorado - Medical Marijuana Initiative
A medical marijuana initiative is filed for 1998. It seeks to amend the state's constitution to allow anyone holding a state-issued identification card to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Patients would also be able to cultivate marijuana for medical use with a physician's recommendation. Cultivation limits are set at six plants, with no more than three plants producing usable marijuana at any one time.
A state health agency would keep a confidential registry of patients who possess valid doctor's recommendations. Those who obtain marijuana for medical use would be prohibited from using it in public places, selling or distributing the drug, or "endangering the health and well-being" of other people by its use.
For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of The NORML Foundation o 1001 CONNECTICUT AVENUE NW, SUITE 710 o WASHINGTON, D.C. 20036 o T 202-483-8751 or Fax 202-483-0057 o E-MAIL NORMLFNDTN@AOL.COM or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.
Colorado Governor favors drug sentencing reform
In November Governor Roy Romer declared that Colorado can no longer afford exponential increases in prison spending and should consider reducing sentences for non-violent crimes, including drug and traffic offenses.
That idea has been quietly uttered in the statehouse hallways by a number of legislators and drug treatment experts ever since new sentencing laws were passed in 1985 and began producing huge increases in spending for construction and staffing of prisons to house non-violent offenders.
Addressing a session of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee as he presented his proposed 1998-1999 budget, the governor used the ever-increasing bottom line for prison construction and operation to make his point.
"The Department of Corrections budget continues to grow at an accelerated pace as the state opens new facilities to handle the state's crowing inmate population," Romer told the committee. "The corrections request includes a $45 million of new general fund money for a 16 percent increase," compared to the previous year. "Wow. That's an expenditure line we're going to have to change."
"We need to look at non-violent traffic and drug-related crimes and re-examine the sentencing patterns there."
Romer said lawmakers and the executive branch need to unite in considering parole, community corrections and other options to incarceration for non-violent offenders.
The money saved from building and operating prisons could be spent "preventing problems in the first place," said Romer, referring to proposals for a 3 percent increase in school spending statewide and a $25 million request for new childrens' initiatives in his budget.
After the meeting, Romer admitted he was taking a politically unpopular stance. That's why, he said, it is so important for lawmakers to join him in working on the issue.
"We've got to see where we're spending our money and see whether or not we've got (drug offenders) on the right kind of program. That's why that (Denver) Drug Court is so good." The Denver Drug Court gives many offenders the chance to have their records wiped clean if they stay in treatment and out of trouble.
The Governor is meeting opposition with state legislators, if you live in Colorado, give your Governor a call and ask him what you can do to help. Gov. Romer's office: 1-800-283-7215
Treatment or Prison? Connecticut making sense
By R.J. Riley POW # 59047-065
Allowing that; nothing short of the repeal of the Harrison Act of 1914 should be acknowledged as "progress" in this nation's failure as to Substance Use Policy; Connecticut has made its way into the tunnel, at least, in search of the light.
Through Public Act No. 97-248 concerning: "Substance Abuse, Education and Treatment Programs and establishing a Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council."
The Commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services "may" establish a (one) pilot research program for Methadone or other Opiate substitute in any area that allows physicians who are licensed in the state to proscribe the therapy.
This must be done no later than 1/1/98, so all you progressives out east, let's get on our officials!
"No pilot research programs can be established in towns that do not have an already existing Methadone or Opiate substitution program without approval of the Legislative body of such a town." So that means advancements MUST be made in your areas, and in doing so: lives can be saved by not allowing addicts to use contaminated substances; allowing them to withdraw from addiction and thusly lowering local crime rates. You fill in the rest of the blanks.
In the same bill is a Detox/Treatment Program to be established for pre-trial and prison inmates that does not stop at only Methadone maintenance treatment programs. That's "OUT OF JAILS" and back to the local communities folks! The Commissioner of Mental Health must make his reports for these pilot programs by (no later than) 2/1/98, to the General Assembly. GET BUSY!
Also established is an "Alcohol and Drug Policy Council." This is within the Office of Policy and Management. The board will consist of Commissioners of: Children and Families, Higher Education, Mental Health, Corrections, Addiction Services, Public Health, Public Safety, and the Insurance Commissioner. The Commissioner of Mental Health and Addictions Services shall be Chairman. The first meeting shall be scheduled no later than October 1, 1997. Now I mention this because it states that among its review will be; "Criminal Justice Sanctions." Can actual reform be far off if The People heed the call of your officials begging for your help? Have I said lets get involved out there yet?
It's all up to us! Treatment instead of JAIL.
For more information call or write: Connecticut Law Revision Commission o State Capitol o Room 509A o Hartford, CT 06106-1591 o (860) 240-0220
Maine has filed a Medical Marijuana Initiative for 1998. For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup of The NORML Foundation o 1001 CONNECTICUT AVENUE NW, SUITE 710 o WASHINGTON, D.C. 20036 o T 202-483-8751 or Fax 202-483-0057 o E-MAIL NORMLFNDTN@AOL.COM or Dave Fratello of Americans for Medical Rights @ (310) 394-2952.
Among drug offenders sentenced to long, mandatory terms in Massachusetts state prisons, nearly half have no record of violent crime, according to a study of the state's prison population.
Drug-policy experts say the study, released the latter part of November will add valuable facts to the growing debate around the United States over the efficacy of tough minimum sentences for drug crimes.
The study of 1,175 inmates in the Massachusetts prison system also found that 82.9 percent of the drug offenders were black or Hispanic, though they make up just over 9 percent of the state's population.
When researchers looked closely at the criminal records of a sample of 151 inmates, they found that nearly half had never been charged with a violent crime in Massachusetts, only one-third had ever been convicted of a violent crime and only one in 12 had been convicted of a serious violent crime like assault with intent to kill.
The Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, a panel of judges, prosecutors and other criminal-justice experts, has recommended that judges be allowed to depart from mandatory sentences when a defendant does not have a serious criminal record. The state Legislature is expected to take up its plan next year and it is expected to be hotly debated. If you live in Massachusetts - contact the Sentencing Commission and ask how you can help them. Massachusetts State Sentencing Commission o Saltonsall Office Building o 100 Cambridge Street, Room 95 o Boston, MA 02202
Governor John Engler has told state lawmakers that five new prisons are urgently needed and to relieve overcrowding, inmates will be transferred to out of state facilities. Michigan's corrections budget has grown seven-fold since 1980. The money required to expand their prison industrial complex has been funneled from education. State representative Lynne Martinez (Democrat, Lansing) said that the state should look at alternative sentences for the 16,800 nonviolent inmates.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums has a Michigan office. Laura Sager is the Michigan state coordinator who can be contacted at: 517-482-4982.
Over 66,000 valid signatures were counted by Oregon state election officials, easily surpassing the 48,000 necessary to get a referendum halting the recriminalization of marijuana on the ballot for 1998. The referendum is a response to House Bill 3643, passed earlier this year which would have reversed a 25 year-old state policy of non-criminal sanctions (fines) for the possession of personal use amounts (under one ounce) of marijuana.
The immediate effect of the successful petition drive will be to stall the implementation of the law until Oregonians have a chance to vote on the measure on November 3, 1998.
Washington State - I-685
By Rob Killian, MD, MPH, Tacoma, WA
In November, Washington State Voters said "No" to drug policy reform. As the sponsor of I-685 I am frankly exhilarated rather than depressed. We have changed the discussion on drugs and how we treat people who use them. During the campaign, the opposition conceded the value of medical marijuana and the need for more treatment rather than incarceration.
I am exhilarated because while we did not change the world overnight, we have begun the process of change in Washington State. On election night we announced our efforts for reform of drug policy would be ongoing and that we would be back within the year with a tightly worded medical marijuana bill for the voters. Our polling showed that 68% of those who voted would have voted for medical marijuana and 46% of those who voted no on I-685 would have voted for medical marijuana alone. We will not go away until a sane drug policy prevails.
The last days of the campaign saw the opposition screaming the words "LEGALIZATION" and "HEROIN" as loud as they could. They claimed thousands of felons would be released. Steve Forbes dumped thousands of dollars into radio ads that lied about the initiative. Washington's Lt. Governor, Brad Owen, who received a $170,000 federal grant to teach Washington voters the dangers of marijuana, never once filed an expenditure, even though he campaigned full time, flew by helicopter to some of his anti-685 speeches and had a full time federal campaign advisor travel with him at most stops. Their campaign media buyer/consultant donated these services and did not declare in-kind contributions until after the election.
The message from Washington State is DO NOT DESPAIR. The public is engaged in a new discussion about drugs. Our Citizens for Drug Policy Reform has gelled into a committed group of activists dedicated to keeping the dialogue going and seeing rational changes in our drug laws.
For more information contact: Citizens For Drug Policy Reform o PO Box 2346 o Seattle, WA 98111-2346 o Or call (206) 781-6795
Washington State Legislators may introduce a Medical Marijuana Bill
In the meantime, state legislators Alex Deccio (R-Yakima) and Jeanne Kohl (D-Seattle) announced they will work to push the issue forward in the Legislature. Deccio, who chairs the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, said he will likely hold hearings on the issue, and Kohl announced that she hopes to co-sponsor legislation permitting the use of marijuana as a medicine.
"I'd like to focus only on marijuana and keep it [limited] to medical use," Kohl said. "I think we're farther ahead than we were a year ago, especially with public awareness of the issue."
Kohl previously sponsored a medical marijuana appropriation bill in 1996 that secured $130,000 to conduct a state study into the benefits of marijuana as a medicine. That proposal remains delayed indefinitely while awaiting federal approval.
I-57 - Medical Marijuana Initiative will be on the ballot in 1998. A number of DC officials have signed petitions for Initiative 57, including the chair of the DC Council Judiciary Committee, Jack Evans, and Ward Seven Council member Kevin Chavous, Human Services Committee Chair Sandy Allen (Ward 8), Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, at-large council member Arrington Dixon, Council Chairman Linda Cropp, and former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. DC's "Shadow" United States Senators Florence Pendleton and Paul Strauss and Mayor Barry. For more information contact Yes on 57 at ACT UP Washington, 409 H Street NE Washington DC 20002 (202) 547-9404.