First Session of 106th Congress Draws to a Close

From The Drug Policy Foundation*

The first session of the 106th Congress ended unclimactically on Nov. 29, when President Clinton signed a $385 billion omnibus appropriations bill after weeks of extensions and partisan wrangling. The final measure (H.R.3194) was a collection of nine separate bills. While most of the issues that caused the gridlock between the White House and Congress were not related to drug policy, of the nine bills passed, four contained large sums to fight the drug war and three contained social riders relating to drug policy.

The bill making appropriations for the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary (H.R.3421) is a compromised version of an earlier spending bill that President Clinton vetoed. The final bill includes $317 million for "interagency crime and drug enforcement," $933 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration's operating budget, $33.5 million for the "Weed and Seed" program, and $36 million for policing initiatives to combat methamphetamine production and trafficking, and to enhance policing initiatives in drug "hot spots."

The Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (H.R.3422) is a reworked version of an earlier bill which had been vetoed over various foreign policy provisions. H.R. 3422 allots $305 million to the State Department for "international narcotics control." It also contains special rules pertaining to funding for narcotics-related assistance to Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Haiti.

The bill making appropriations for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (H.R.3424) includes $689.5 million for the operating budget of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and $2.7 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In addition, the bill contains language that bans funding for syringe exchange programs and prohibits any funds from being used to promote the legalization of any Schedule I drug - meant to apply to the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. However, the bill makes exceptions to the medical marijuana rule providing there is "significant medical evidence of a therapeutic advantage" in the use of the drug or if "federally sponsored clinical trials are being conducted to determine therapeutic advantage." This stipulation clears the way for the Dec. 1 implementation of the Department of Health and Human Services' new medicinal marijuana research guidelines.

H.R.3425 - a miscellaneous spending bill addressing mainly agricultural funding, disaster assistance, and developing nations debt relief­­contains language that would make a country ineligible for cancellation of debt if the government of the country failed to cooperate with international narcotics control policies. The bill also allots $3 million to the Office of National Drug Control Policy for its "anti-doping" program in the United States Olympic Committee.

The Department of State authorization Bill (H.R.3427) requires the State Department to report to Congress every six months on narcotics trafficking between Cuba and the United States. The District of Columbia appropriations bill (H.R.3194), to which all the other bills were attached, was the most contentious with respect to drug policy. In addition to allotting $20.5 million for universal drug testing of individuals on pretrial, probation, or parole supervision, and allotting $1 million to the Metropolitan Police Department for a program to eliminate open air drug trafficking, there were two hotly contested social policy riders pertaining to medical marijuana and syringe exchange programs.

Medical Marijuana, Syringe Exchange Restricted in DC Appropriations Bill

The final version of the District of Columbia appropriations bill was signed by President Clinton on Nov. 29 (H.R.3194). The bill allows organizations that receive federal funds to conduct syringe exchange programs only if private funds are used as well as prohibits the medicinal use of marijuana in the District despite a voter-approved 1998 ballot initiative.
The rider that restricts syringe exchange programs is less restrictive than a similar amendment added to the FY1999 DC spending bill. That provision prevented organizations that received federal funds from carrying out syringe exchange programs even if private money funded the programs.

The amendment in the bill banning medical marijuana was added in response to a 1998 ballot initiative in which DC voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) inserted an amendment into the District's FY1999 budget that blocked city officials from counting the votes. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to force a ballot count, and on Sept. 20 a judge agreed and ordered that the results be made public.

Two versions of the DC appropriations bill (H.R.2587, H.R.3064) were vetoed before a third was signed. During negotiations the drug policy riders were subjects of fierce debate. The syringe exchange language in particular held up a final agreement at several points.

Youth Violence Subcommittee Holds Field Hearing on Heroin Upsurge

On Monday, Nov. 15, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Youth Violence traveled to the New Castle County police headquarters in New Castle, Delaware to hold a hearing on the resurgence of heroin use. Only two senators on the Subcommittee were present at the hearing - Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Senator Arlen Specter (R-Penn.).

In testimony, a New Castle police officer and a paramedic offered anecdotal evidence as to the increasing prevalence of heroin arrests and overdoses in the Delaware area. William R. Nelson, Acting Special agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified that the Pennsylvania/Delaware region has been flooded with inexpensive and highly pure South American heroin, which is marketed with such street names as "Turbo," Ready to Die," and "Landrover."

Senators Biden and Specter stressed that a greater share of the government's drug control budget must be devoted to demand reduction. "It is long-past due that we devote at least 50 percent of the resources into the demand side," said Specter.

Their ideas for cutting back demand included reauthorizing and strengthening the drug court program - a network of state and local special courts that offer non-violent drug offenders an alternative to prison through a combination of treatment, drug testing, punitive sanctions, and case management. To this end, both senators endorsed S.1808, a pending Specter-sponsored bill entitled, "The Drug Court Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 1999."

Biden also called on Congress to fulfill the commitment it made in 1992 under the Pharmacotherapy Development Act to provide $1 billion over ten years to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Medication Development Program, which researches new drugs that can be used to treat opioid addiction. Funds were authorized for the program by Congress in 1993 and 1995 but were never appropriated.

Witness Dr. Alan Leshner who heads the Medication Development Program was critical of the government's level of support. "In spite of all the rhetoric, we really don't have enough funding for treatment."

Other proposals for curbing heroin use were outlined by Biden in a report entitled, "Heroin: Increased Use, Deadly Consequences." In the report, Biden endorses bill S.324, the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 1999. S.324 is specifically targeted to increase the availability of an anti-heroin addiction drug known as Buprenorphine.

Biden also recommends creating incentives for private companies to develop opioid addiction medications. He suggests that pharmaceutical companies be allowed to extend their patents on their anti-addiction medications, and that the Food and Drug Administration's approval process be expedited.

DPF supports providing the promised funds to NIDA for treatment research. DPF also supports S.324. However, DPF analysts find that drug courts, while arguably preferable to jail, do not belong in the category of "demand reduction." The only policy which can properly be placed in this category is "treatment upon request." Coerced treatment linked to the criminal justice system sets addicts up for a cycle of ineffective treatment, relapse and recidivism. DPF urges you to contact your Representatives and Senators and tell them to support the funding for NIDA research, support S.324, and move from policies of coerced treatment to a policy of treatment upon request.

Senators Hatch, Leahy Introduce Third Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill

On Nov. 16, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Ut.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced S.1931, the third bill in Congress this session aimed at reforming civil asset forfeiture laws. The Hatch/Leahy bill is seen by its sponsors as striking a middle ground between House Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde's (R-Ill.) Civil Asset Reform Act (H.R.1658), which was passed by the House in June, and a thoroughly unsatisfactory Senate bill (S.1701) that was backed by the Department of Justice. While the Hatch/Leahy bill is an improvement over S. 1701, it falls far short of the much needed reforms of HR 1658.

All three measures would require the government to prove that the property targeted for seizure was involved in a crime. Whereas under current law, the burden of proof is placed on the property owner. While Hyde's bill would require "clear and convincing evidence" of involvement in a crime, both Senate measures would require only a "clear preponderance" of the evidence, a lower standard. Hyde's bill would bar seizures from an "innocent" owner, such as a spouse or child who did not know about the activities of the culpable person. Neither Senate bill includes this exemption. The Hatch-Leahy bill includes a modified version of one of the most important Hyde provisions which would allow the court to appoint an attorney for an aggrieved property owner who cannot afford one. The Hatch-Leahy bill would restrict such appointments to instances in which real property (such as a house) was involved or in which the individual is being prosecuted criminally and already has qualified for a court-appointed attorney.

Civil asset forfeiture gives law enforcement the power to seize property allegedly used in a drug crime even if the owner of the property is never charged with a crime. For the property to be returned, it is up to the owner to prove that the property is "innocent." Civil asset forfeiture warps policing and encourages corruption when police departments are able to keep what they seize. Virtually all state and federal law enforcement agencies use forfeiture extensively. The Justice Department alone took in $450 million from such seizures last year.

For years, Rep. Hyde has tried to rein in federal forfeiture power. His bill (HR1658), which would make it more difficult for the government to seize property, passed the House on June 24 by a 375-48 vote. It is supported by groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Rifle Association. However, law enforcement groups and the Department of Justice oppose Hyde's bill, saying it would hurt crime-fighting efforts. They prefer the more restrictive Senate legislation (S1701) introduced by Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). However, not only does that bill fail to address the core problems with civil asset forfeiture, it would actually expand the practice in certain cases. Hatch and Leahy see their bill as a compromise between the other two bills, but their proposal would not bring about serious reform.

Further action on the three bills has been pushed back until early next year. Hatch and Leahy have discussed plans to insert their compromise language into the Hyde bill in Committee markup.

DPF strongly supports the Hyde bill (H.R.1658) and opposes the two senate bills. DPF urges you to contact your Senators and ask them to oppose S.1701, and support S.1931 only if it is improved with amendments restoring the reforms of the Hyde bill.

House Holds Hearing on Cuba's Link to Drug Trafficking

On Nov. 17, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources held a hearing on Cuba's links to drug trafficking. In spite of adamant assertions from Republican Subcommittee members that Cuba posed a serious narcotics threat to the United States, a panel of experts from the U.S. military and law enforcement could not confirm this to be the case.

The hearing was a reaction to the Administration's decision on Nov. 10 to classify Cuba as a "country of concern" with respect to drug trafficking rather than put Cuba on the "Majors List." The Majors List is a list of countries the U.S. government believes are involved in drug trafficking on a serious level. The list is used as a basis for deciding which countries will be certified by the United States as having complied with U.S. counter-narcotics objectives. Non-certification brings with it various sanctions from the U.S. government.

In testimony, Representative Dan Burton (R-In.) expressed outrage at the Administration's decision. "Clearly, the Clinton Administration has chosen to turn its back on American children in order to normalize relations with a brutal dictator who is flooding American streets and school yards with deadly drugs, all the while lining his pockets...with illicit drug money," said Burton.

Burton's evidence to substantiate this charge was largely circumstantial. It rested primarily on a Dec. 3, 1998 seizure by the Colombian National Police of 7.2 metric tons of cocaine found in containers in Cartagena, Colombia. U.S. authorities determined that the shipment was headed for Cuba.

However, in testimony given by representatives from the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Navy, none of the witnesses could claim that the intended final destination of the seized cocaine was anywhere except possibly Spain. Testimony also indicated that there was no direct evidence that Fidel Castro had any knowledge of the shipment. Witnesses said that Cuba has been expressing an increasing willingness to cooperate with the United States' anti-drug efforts, and that the numbers of drug trafficking flights through Cuban territory were down substantially from previous years.

Rand Beers, assistant secretary of State for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs testified that only nine drug-carrying flights had been tracked over Cuba through September 1999. "This is a much lower level of activity than we saw in 1998 when...27 suspected smuggling flights crossed Cuba in the same January to September time frame," said Beers. "Moreover, the 1999 estimate is a fraction of what has arrived in every other transit corridor during the same period."

William Ledwith, chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration testified that the DEA has no evidence indicating that high-ranking officials of the Cuban government were implicit in the 7.2 metric ton shipment. "While Cuba's performance in interdicting narcotics has been mixed," said Ledwith, "the Cuban government has recently strengthened agreements with several governments including...the United Nations Office of Drug Control Policy."

The testimony of Rear Admiral Edward J. Barrett, the director of the Joint Interagency Task Force East (an international task force created in 1994 to coordinate on anti-drug operations) demonstrated how the decrease in smuggling flights over Cuba does not necessarily signal an overall decrease in drug trafficking, only a shift in routes. "The drug traffickers will take the course of least resistance," said Barrett, "and that is currently Haiti."

HHS to Implement New Medical Marijuana Research Guidelines

On Dec. 1, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will implement its new medical marijuana research guidelines that were issued in May. However, the new guidelines are too cumbersome to allow research to move forward as quickly as possible.

The guidelines were a response by the Administration to growing pressure stemming from the success of various state-based medical marijuana ballot initiatives and from a report released in March by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) entitled 'Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing its Science Base.' The report affirmed marijuana's viability as a medicine and recommended, among other things, that the government offer a federal compassionate-use program to give individual patients immediate legal access to medical marijuana. However, the new guidelines do not provide for this.

Furthermore, the new guidelines place a greater burden on medical marijuana researchers than on drug companies that develop and study newly synthesized pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies are only required to have their research protocols approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and an Institutional Review Board. However, in addition to those bodies, marijuana researchers would be required to have their research protocol reviewed by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Public Health Service (PHS), and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

IOM principal investigator John Benson, M.D., when discussing the HHS guidelines in a May 24 article in USA Today, said, "it's hard to discern that these guidelines have streamlined existing procedures."

The Drug Policy Foundation urges you to contact HHS and tell them to eliminate the unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles contained in the new medical marijuana research guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Drug Policy Foundation*
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*The Drug Policy Foundation, having merged with the Lindesmith Center is now the Drug Policy Alliance