Monday, May 29, 2006

Pittsburgh doctor's "drugs for sex" prescription fraud case analyzed in Pittsburgh City Paper

The case of Bernard Rottschaefer, M.D. is discussed in the latest Pittsburgh City Paper. His case was profiled by John Tierney in the New York Times last January. The doctor has lost his appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 27, in 3-0 opinion. The appeal was brought by the heroic Eli Stutsman of Oregon. But on its face, the Court's opinion is convincing. The valiant Pain Relief Network has the briefs for Rottschaefer, whom they call a "healer & hero," and the government on its website.

The case is salacious. The government said that Dr. Rottschaefer traded sex for drugs for five women. While the case was pending, one of the women, Jennifer Riggle, sent hundreds of pages of letters to her also imprisoned boy friend saying that she was lying about the sex, and urging her boyfriend to burn the letters. After she broke up with the boyfriend, the letters were obtained by Rottschaefer's attorney. Four other women also testified that they had sex with the doctor in exchange for drugs.

The third circuit says that even if there were no sex involved, the prescribing was for "no legitimate medical reason."

Rottschaefer has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse his conviction.


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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Deadly Heroin Mixture with Fentanyl -- New York Times gets the story

Fentanyl overdose deaths were noticed in Detroit beginning last September -- totaling about 100 deaths, but it didn't become a "crisis" until recently when two dozen deaths were counted in a recent week, the New York Times publishes an Associated Press story. 20 deaths in Philadelphia, and 30 deaths in Chicago from September to March, and another 23 "suspected" since then.

I wrote about this on May 10, picking up on Donna Leinwand's USA Today story on May 4.

The Times says, officials say if you overdose you should go to an emergency room.

Why does this response sound utterly inadequate and indifferent?
Because it is. Would editorialists at the nation's leading newspapers observe these deaths and make any suggestions to the nation's public health authorities, or lawmakers?

We remain confused -- is this a criminal justice problem or a public health problem?

Let's imagine for a moment that corporate CEOs, ordinary "housewives," school children, football players, truck drivers -- any group that is not defined primarily by their illegality -- were being poisoned in the same numbers by some adulterant in their environment. What kind of response would there be? Politicians would propose moving heaven and hell to "fix" the problem.

And what could fix this problem? Licensing the lawful distributors of heroin, making sure that those who range from heroin "addicts" to casual experimenters with heroin can get the best heroin that can be made.

Douglas Husak in Legalize This! argues that it is unjust to punish a person in order to dissuade them from using a drug for recreational purposes (i.e. non-medical). If he is correct, and I think he is, then for a society and a government to insist upon a policy that it knows exposes a person to an increased risk of death, when a vast structure of regulation and inspection is in place that could save them, borders on the immoral (recognizing the drug user must bear some responsibility for the decisions he or she makes).

What should the drug legalization community or the harm reduction community do in the way of moral witness and protest of the societal indifference that is leading to these deaths?

Is there a racial disparity among those who are dying?


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West Virginia experiencing drug epidemic, says Pittsburgh Post Gazette

On May 21, 2006, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette had a long story on the wave of illegal drug trafficking now plaguing West Virginia.

West Virginia is fighting a desperate drug war on every front.

Crack dealers are flooding the state from all sides, especially from Columbus and Detroit, where many people trace their roots to Appalachia, but also from Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington and other cities.

Homegrown cocaine rings have killed federal informants. Methamphetamine labs dot the backwoods. An epidemic of prescription pill abuse rages in the impoverished southern coalfields, where a podiatrist was recently accused of doling out prescriptions for cash.



My LTE responding to the story was published today:

Sentencing law has led to the wasting of DEA resources

Why might the drug problem -- especially crack cocaine -- be exploding in West Virginia ("Desperate Drug War Fought All Over W.Va.," May 21)?

One reason is that the federal government has been wasting its resources. Congress sent the wrong signal in 1986 when it created mandatory minimum sentence triggers of 5, 50, 500 and 5,000 grams of crack and cocaine. I helped write that law as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, and we goofed, big time.

In global or national terms, these are very small quantities. 5,000 grams -- 12 pounds -- fits in a briefcase or lunch box. Even worth $100,000, in drug dealing terms, this is not much. Due to those laws, too often the Drug Enforcement Administration focuses on local drug rings that local police can investigate.

The DEA does not focus on the international drug traffickers who send cargo containers of cocaine to the United States. The DEA will give you anecdotes of its high-level cases, but more than two-thirds of federal crack cases have involved an average of 52 grams of cocaine, a candy bar's weight. Only 7 percent of federal cocaine cases involve high-level traffickers. As a result the price of cocaine has gone down and the purity at retail has increased.

Congress needs to direct the DEA and the Justice Department to do their jobs -- fighting the highest-level traffickers.

Of course, it feels good to help every "Barney Fife" sheriff's office, and West Virginia is a poor state. But if the DEA had been doing its job, then why, 20 years after President Reagan declared war on drugs, after spending almost a half trillion dollars and quadrupling the number of federal drug prisoners, is West Virginia now being flooded with drugs?

ERIC E. STERLING
President
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Silver Spring, Md

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

SUNY New Paltz Student Leader arrested for possesion of sleeping bag

Justin Holmes, the newly elected President of the Student Association at the State University of New York at New Paltz, was arrested in the office of the student association, in the early morning, while sleeping on a sleeping bag, alleged to be university property. The university wiki has a number of the related stories.

The University is trying to expel Holmes. Holmes has been the President of the SUNY New Paltz chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws for many years, and has been a chapter leader in Students for Sensible Drug Policies.

SSDP held a Northeast Regional conference at SUNY New Paltz April 28-29, and its annual Rock Against Racism day long concert April 30.

The university's actions here have the strong appearance of being utterly bogus and designed to persecute Holmes for his activism.

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Carlos Gaviria: Main Challenger in Colombia's Presidential Election Sunday favors "legalising drugs"

Carlos Gaviria, the main challenger to Colombia President Alvaro Uribe's run for re-election on Sunday, has told reporters, according to Agence France Press (AFP), that he favors legalising drugs.

Gaviria says he would like to legalise drugs but it would not be possible, as it would turn the South American country into an international pariah.

"I'm in favour of legalising drugs, but I'm also aware that a government cannot do this," said Gaviria, 69, who as a judge in the 1990s had helped pass legislation legalising possession of drugs for personal use.


Gaviria is only polling about 21% compared to Uribe's 57.5%.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cincinnati drug sweeps net 1080, cost $90,000 in overtime

The police in Cincinnati have completed a six week operation using 42 police officers to sweep drug selling locations to fight crime in the notorious Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, reports the Cincinatti Enquirer. The police report that they spent about $90,000 in overtime, and arrested 1080 persons. For the 42 officers involved, that averages $2143 each over the six weeks. Lt. Col. Richard Janke "said the operation was an unqualified success," according to the Enquirer. For that kind of overtime, I should say so. But what a bargain -- each arrest only cost $83.33 each in overtime.

There is another $700,000 available in grant money and the police are going to start spending it next month, Janke said.

Do you think the police or the Enquirer will report on the fiscal impact on the prosecutor's office, the public defender's office, the courts, and the probation and parole offices to process this flood of cases?
How many of the 1080 arrestees are innocent?
How many of the 1080 arrestees are problematic drug users?
How many of them will get drug treatment, effective drug treatment that lasts longer than a three-day detox?
How much taxpayer money will all of these cheap arrests end up costing?

Many in the neighborhood are certainly happy with these arrests.
How long will the increased public order last?
Is there money for recreation for youth and young adults in the community this summer?

Compared to other programs, it is often easy to get money for police operations. The real test of police effectiveness cannot be measured in a matter of weeks. But one thing is pretty likely, if you ask the guy who just pocketed $2000 plus in overtime for the last six weeks -- and whose looking at a whole lot more in coming months -- was the project was a success, chances are he'll be pretty enthusiastic.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

"Indifference to injustice in the criminal justice system is so pervasive, and so difficult to counteract, as to seem part of society's DNA."

"Indifference to injustice in the criminal justice system is so pervasive, and so difficult to counteract, as to seem part of society's DNA, says Bob Herbert in The New York Times.

Of course, there are many people in prison who are guilty, and probably many whose conduct merits incarceration. But it is shocking, truly shocking, how frequently cops, prosecutors and judges are willing to let the engine of prosecution send obviously not guilty people to prison.

Bob Herbert's column is about a man with dementia who confesses to a horrible crime, but clearly is delusional.

Is our society delusional? Are our public policies tied to reality? Are our private practices tied to reality?

Habits are habits of mind. Yesterday and today were exquisite days to bicycle to work, but I drove my car. How can I be so lazy, so self-indulgent? I'm an American and I can afford it. Selfishness and short term convenience are part of our society's DNA, too.

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Karen Tandy profile in Houston Chronicle

The Houston Chronicle has a series, "Texans in Washington," that recently profiled DEA Administrator Karen Tandy.

It's quite the puff piece, beginning with Ms. Tandy as a concerned mother desiring to protect kids. But Christopher Largen noted in a post to the ARO list that Tandy described her mission at DEA in more lucrative terms,

"When I came through the door, I made money the No. 1 priority," she said.

The amount of money the DEA seized each year has more than quadrupled, to $1.9 billion last year, making the DEA the rare federal agency that nearly pays for itself, she joked.

Largen noted the inherent conflict of interest -- if DEA measures itself on its ability to finance itself from asset forfeitures, it has no real incentive to put drug traffickers out of business.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Did you use drugs -- in your past? If so, are you disqualified for a job of responsibility?

The famous (or infamous) LAPD -- the Los Angeles Police Department has hired as police officers six persons who admitted in their background questionnaire that they used a "hard drug, " cocaine, the Los Angeles Daily News reports. One of them used it 23 years ago. Another tried it when he was 15 years old.

Politicians and others are shocked. What does such drug use say, if anything about someone? Are they highly curious, a desirable trait in a police officer? Are they contemptuous of rules, an undesirable trait in a police officer? They do not have sound judgment -- really? They were young and impetuous?

Wisely, in my view, the LAPD hiring officials are no longer making experimental drug use a disqualifying feature for employment. Logically they are looking at the total record of the applicant.

Whether you like George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich or Al Gore, it does not appear that there use of drugs in their youth or young adulthood hurt them. More importantly, even if it did hurt them, it did not and does not qualify them for positions of responsibility.

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"Protect and Serve" -- Baltimore Style

Baltimore's Channel 11 reports about two young people from Chantilly, Virginia who got lost trying to find Interstate 95 leaving Camden Yard where they had been to a company picnic at a Baltimore Orioles baseball game.

Lost in a South Baltimore neighborhood, they flagged down a Baltimore police officer for help, who told them 'You found your own way in here, you can find your own way out.' They flagged down another officer for help. She arrested them for "trespassing" on a public street!

Is this reaction to two lost visitors consistent with the mission of the Baltimore Police? This is the statement of the mission from the official website of the Baltimore Police:

The mission of every member of the Baltimore Police Department is the same, regardless of assignment:

Reduce violent crime through targeted proactive enforcement.

To accomplish this mission, the following goals have been put in place:
  • Reduce violence with a focus on homicides and shootings
  • Remove guns from the street
  • Reduce juvenile crime
  • Return open spaces to law-abiding citizens
  • Operate with integrity and professionalism.
* * *
It seems that the mission of "return[ing] open spaces (like the city's streets) to law-abiding citizens" depends upon the definition of "citizen." On the website the slogan, if not the mission, of the police department is "Protect and Serve the Citizens of Baltimore." Evidently, if you're from Chantilly, Virginia, you ain't no citizen of "Bal'more."

Thanks to Sherry Swiney and the Patrick Crusade for the tip.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Soon" or "Anytime Soon"

Regarding Fox's veto of the drug reform legislation, does the aphorism, "timing is everything," apply here? Could such a law have been enacted and sustained at a time of greater Fox-Bush affinity?

In March 2001, Drug War Chronicle reported that President Fox endorsed legalization, but he said that in taking such a major step, Mexico could not act alone.

Assuming that Mexico could not act alone in May 2006, when (soon? anytime soon?) might there be a constellation of nations that might together aid global navigation toward decriminalization?

Canada's conservative government has been shaky, but got a boost in polls with its current budget proposal. Could the Liberals retake power in Ottawa in the next two years? Would they and the reform oriented New Democratic Party form a coalition that would include drug reform?

The Netherlands government is as always a coalition but not uniformly conservative or liberal. How long a lease on its majority can it hold? The next election is less than a year away, April 3, 2007.

Italy has a brand new government that is much more sympathetic to reform than the Berlusconi government that it just replaced. (But its six party coalition could easily unravel.)

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has been pushing an anti-reform agenda since 1997 called "Tough on Drugs." Howard's government, elected in 1996, has been re-elected twice, most recently in November 2001, and has been coalition with the very conservative National Party.

Britain's Tony Blair's government has been a mixed blessing on drug policy. His Labor government has suffered disastrously in recent local elections. His days as Prime Minister are numbered. There is speculation that he could resign imminently, as reported in The Washington Post on May 20 in a profile on Gordon Brown, Blair's Labor Party number two. In September 2005, the man who has becoame the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, a young 39 years old, said he supports drug legalization.

So it is not inconceivable that by 2008 the Bush Administration -- by then a "lame duck" in the American political vernacular -- could be facing a number of governments with reform ideas about drug policy.

The challenge is for reformers around the globe to begin working together and working smarter.

And this hasty summary completely omits many nations, large and small, where drug policy reform might become politically urgent on one ground or another.

In Brazil, organized crime and prison gangs, just staged a week of riots in prison and in the largest city, Sao Paulo, according to The Washington Post. Such events have the potential to galvanize a nation into reform. Consider the impact of the much less bloody Valentine's Day massacre in the U.S.

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On Ted Carpenter and Mexico's aborted decriminalization law, May 2006. An attempted fulfillment of 2000 implied promise?

Ted Galen Carpenter at Cato Institute outlined the highlights of the drug prohibition in Mexico that are part of the background to the recent action of Mexico's Congress to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of now-illegal drugs for National Review Online. His critique of the Mexican initiative, vetoed by President Vicente Fox, after he initially said he would sign it, is both the standard libertarian drug war analysis, and correct -- as far as it goes:

. . . . the Mexican reformers showed no willingness to legalize the production or sale of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or other drugs to deflate the black-market premium. Indeed, they argued that the decriminalization measure would enable law-enforcement agencies to devote more personnel and resources to suppressing trafficking. The basic prohibitionist strategy would have remained intact. The vast potential profit in the drug trade would persist—and so would the corruption and violence that is tearing Mexico's society apart.

Ted however makes a prediction,
given Washington's fanaticism on the subject, the prospects for intelligent reform anytime soon are virtually nonexistent.

Later, I will reflect on the puzzle of whether "anytime soon" is longer, shorter or the same as "soon" as far as drug policy reform goes.

Ted may be right the centrality of Washington's "fanaticism" to this veto, but we must consider that at least four particulars are likely to have influenced Fox's reversal and veto:

(1) Fox's long-standing relationship with former Texas Governor George W. Bush.

(2) The intense battle over immigration and the status of the U.S.-Mexico border being waged among Republicans in Washington, and the stakes for Mexico in that battle.

(3) The fact that there is a Presidential election in Mexico on July 2, and if the candidate of Fox's party, Felipe Calderon, wins, it will be, in important respects, a political vindication of Fox's six-year presidency (the first non PRI- president, I think since the Mexican Revolution). See the analysis of the status of the candidates for presidential Jorge Castaneda in The Los Angeles Times on May 9.

(4) The real potential that "Washington fanaticism" regarding drug decriminalization would trigger economic, trade and border security retaliation for Mexican drug decriminalization by a U.S. Congress facing its own intense electoral struggle in less than six months

Ted is right that businesses in Mexico are being hurt by the consequences of drug prohibition, but the new and real consequences they would face from border-tightening measures could be acute in the short-term, and catastrophic in the long-term, and must have been weighed by President Fox, himself a former business leader in Mexico.

It is no secret that Fox has been sympathic for decriminalization or legalization. This was known before his inauguration in December 2000 as Drug War Chronicle noted then. Phil Smith's comprehensive report for Drug War Chronicle noted that two key Fox appointees, Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and Alejandro Gertz Manero, Minister of Public Security had publicly supported decriminalization, like Holland, or more, long before their nominations.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

When can you search a . . . or a Member of Congress?

A couple of freshmen Members of Congress, Reps. Geoff Davis (R-KY) and Randy Kuhl (R-NY), have introduced a bill, H.R. 5295, the Student and Teacher Safety Act of 2006, to require local schools to deem any search "reasonable" and permissible by a full time teachers or other personnel

"on any colorable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, and school property remain free of all weapons, dangerous materials, or illegal narcotics."
Pete at Drug War Rant looked up colorable. It means "not genuine" or "seemingly true." I guess like a colorably intelligent Member of Congress? No really, there are some. Just not here.

DARE Generation Diary has a good call to action on this bill.

Rep. Geoff Davis, the prime sponsor, is in political hot water. President Bush was out campaigning for him last Friday.

* * *

Since I started working for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1979, I have been aware that Members of Congress give up most of the privacy that most Americans take for granted. When you enter politics, you give up the right to have secrets. Any fact that might provide insight into your "character" or "fitness for office" is fair game for journalists, or opponents, to publish and broadcast. Not only is the candidate or the officeholder subject to such exposure, but family members are as well. Does your spouse or do your children, siblings or parents have any foibles or scandals in their past or present? It is all legitimate grist for the "the public's right to know" mill.

How can such people have a shred of respect for the privacy of ordinary citizens? They have utterly no respect for their own privacy or that of anyone they love.

But this doesn't stop some folks with a closet full of skeletons from running for Congress.

Consider Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-NY), above, who wants to facilitate searching students.

In 2004, when he was running for Congress to fill the seat in the 29th District of New York being vacated by the esteemed conservationist Amo Houghton, according to The Almanac of American Politics, 2006, "...Kuhl's campaign was rocked in late October by the auauthorized release of his sealed divorce records, which included charges of excessive drinking and womanizing and an accusation that Kuhl had pulled out two shotguns at a dinner party and threatened to shoot his wife." (p.1236).

With this background, wouldn't this create a "colorable suspicion" to search the Honorable Mr. Kuhl anytime a police officer sees him within a half mile of a bar or gun shop?

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Drugs: The Nebraska model . . . of decriminalization

Steve Chapman's latest column at The Chicago Tribune takes off on President Vicente Fox's veto of the decriminalization law he had been supporting. Chapman notes that decriminalization is all around us -- not only the "left coast" of California and Oregon -- but Nebraska and Mississippi, and Spain, Italy and Portugal. It has not led to drug tourism anywhere, except for The Netherlands.

Decriminalization has had a bad rap in American drug policy reform circles for at least the past decade because as an end point, it leaves the drug distribution system in criminal hands with all of its vices. I have condemned decriminalization repeatedly and criticized it in my 1995 article in the Villanova Law Review (pp.403-405).

Reading Douglas Husak's Legalize This! (available used at www.amazon.com for as little as $5.98) I have come to understand decriminalization as a policy with enormous intellectual value. It is a policy proposition that puts the burden of proof on the prohibitionists. It does not purport to answer the question, "What should we do about drugs?"

The decriminaliztion analysis begins with several extremely important primary questions, "Is it just to punish a recreational drug user? What is the justification for a law that punishes a recreational drug user?"

Husak argues that criminal laws may only punish an individual for the personal offense of the individual. The conduct of the accused must merit punishment. It is unjust to punish you for what someone else may do or may have done on the ground that punishing you might deter others from doing the unwanted act.

It is unjust to punish a person because you want them to do something that is good for them.

It is insufficient to justify the punishment of someone simply because "the conduct was against the law." That is not a justification for the law itself.

It is insufficient to justify the punishment on the assertion that the conduct is "immoral." More of a standard is necessary, for we do not punish "immoral" acts such as breaking a promise, breaching a contract, or cheating on a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. (And besides, it is hard to demonstrate that recreational drug use is "immoral.") A poll as to what is immoral does not suffice for justifying a law.

And quite importantly, Husak argues that there are benefits from recreational drug use, such as the control of mood -- the opportunity to create euphoria or pleasure -- that should not be discounted.

Steve Chapman's column, "The False Threat of Liberal Drug Laws," notes that decriminalization may be more of a reflection of a society's view of the seriousness of a behavior than a green light to engage in the behavior.

He suggests, apropos of President Fox, perhaps Mexico would benefit it if were more like . . . Nebraska.

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DEA - Parents' and Family Vigil for dead from drug use

Let's never forget that some drugs can kill you. Never forget that even if you are careful and experienced, some street drugs are contaminated and will kill you. Never forget that the drugs you obtained from your doctor, or pursuant to her or his prescription, might kill you.

Let's never forget that when someone you love dies, you are hurt forever.

DEA has created a website to support its vigil on June 8 to honor those who have died from the use of drugs, "A Vigil for Lost Promise: Remembering Those Who Died from Drugs." It purports to be the work of eight families that have endured the tragedy of a child dying from their drug use. The stories, of course, are sad, of young people who used inhalants, prescription drugs, heroin, street "ecstasy," and died. Almost all the parents (and a big sister) have started anti-drug organizations in response to their grief.

Warning kids about the dangers of drugs is everybody's business. Exaggerating the dangers, of course, is counterproductive. And a grieving parent might ask, what policies regarding drugs are most likely to protect naive or experienced, cautious or reckless, young drug users? Would policies that assure that drugs are manufactured and sold by criminals be the best protection for young consumers? Would policies that limit the ability of sellers and buyers to know the actual contents of what is represented to be drug A or drug B be the best protection? Or are the policies that contributed to my child's death the best the can be conceived?

Some parents of deceased drug users really understand the problem. From Grief to Action in Vancouver, BC is one such group. They lobby for harm reduction. They have excellent materials on their website, and report on their work.

Naturally, the DEA-organized event has a whiff of Orwell's "Big Brother." The Vigil will be in the courtyard of DEA headquarters in Arlington, VA. It is closed to all who do not have a ticket. Registration is required. Registration closed on May 15. You must come at least 45 minutes before the program begins to be processed to maintain security. There is a long list of the rules you must comply with, including this warning, "Please do not bring literature to distribute to other participants at the vigil," notwithstanding one's misimpression that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might apply to the federal government, federal agencies or federal property.

The website has the stories of a number of youths who died from their use or misuse of drugs. When you visit the website, DEA collects information about you for statistical and "other" purposes. Naturally DEA calls this collection of information about you "privacy." But if you want to add the story of your family tragedy for "the wall," you can do so here.

There are links to the sponsors . The link to Joyce Nalepka's Drug Fee Kids: America's Challenge doesn't work. The Drug Free America Foundation has a story on Mexico's legalization of drugs, with a great poll that had only six responses as of 12:30 pm, May 16. DEA, NIDA, CADCA, Partnership for a Drug-Free America are also sponsors.

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Corruption in DEA office in Bogota?

NarcoNews has a terrific new report, with documents, on the on-going question of corruption in DEA's Bogota office.

A number of DEA and DoJ personnel in Florida (DEA Miami Group Supervisor David Tinsley, DEA Agents Ed Fields and Thomas Kent, and DoJ Trial Attorney Thomas M. Kent) have alleged that personnel in DEA are collaborating with Colombian drug traffickers. Some of them contend that they were then retaliated against.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Cliches as protest - Global Marijuana March

The Global Marijuana March has once again come and gone. Drug War Chronicle provides an overview of this year's marches.

Drug War Chronicle, reporting on New York City, the home of the March, cites "High Times editor Steve Bloom comment[ing] in his blog, 'from thousands of supporters in the '90s to a handful on Sunday, the rally appeared to be on life support.'"

Marshall McLuhan famously said, "the medium is the message." A march in the street for marijuana law reform affirms the countercultural nature of marijuana use and its users.

Dana Beal, the march organizer insists this is politics. But as executed it is not only low-order politics, it is antique.

I believe that pot, properly used, can contribute to creativity. But these protests, at least, in the broad scope of their coverage, certainly lack freshness and originality. They are, in essence, a bad advertisment for marijuana. Perhaps the White House should simply broadcast some of the video highlights. Could it do worse?

Marijuana law reformers definitely need new tactics. Maybe we need new strategy. Do we need new leadership?

Our "politics" is jejune and utterly ineffective when it simply evokes nostalgia for the more successful, innovative and vital demonstrations and marches of the past.

MPP, NORML, DPA and SSDP might consider providing constructive outlets for the more "primitive" political energies that this march feeds on. Those organizations' successes in legislatures and at the ballot have been very impressive. I suspect that to some degree their successes are in spite of the counter-reaction these marches inspire.

Is the Seattle Hempfest model fundamentally different from the model of this global march, or simply an extremely well executed example, tailored to local conditions? At a minimum the global march needs to think about how it trains and organizes its organizers.

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How close is too close?

In California, the state parole director has been fired, the Los Angeles Times reports, because 23 sex offenders on parole have been found to have been housed near Disneyland.
Parole and Community Services Division Director Jim L'Etoile was removed from his job Wednesday

How near were they? They were within eleven miles of Disneyland, and some were as close as three miles from the park.

This is absurd. The city of Washington, DC, for example, is a square 10 miles on a side.

Imagine a circle in a large metropolitan area with a diameter of 22 miles -- a circle of 34.5 square miles. At the center of that circle is some facility that children are interested in: a zoo, a playground, an amusement park. If not within that circle or in similar circles around other sites, where could the the released ex-offenders possibly live in a metropolitan area?

Does anyone believe that you can create a cordon sanitaire 11 miles out from some place that children will go?

There may have been reasons to fire the parole director, but this can't be a reasonable one of them.

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ONDCP's counterproductive anti-marijuana advertising

The latest issue of the Journal of Addictive Behavior reports on a study of 219 18 and 19 year olds who were exposed to the White House Office of National Drug Control - organized anti-marijuana advertising and anti-tobacco PSAs. The researchers found that after watching the ONDCP sponsored ads, the young people had more favorable attitudes toward marijuana. The students who saw the anti-tobacco PSAs had stronger anti-tobacco attitudes, i.e. the PSAs accomplished their goal.

Other reviews of the ONDCP ads have also shown they are ineffective.

But ineffectiveness of our anti-drug policy doesn't matter to policy makers. Why?

If we stop doing ineffective things we will send the wrong message: we have been wrong.

Drug policy is subject to zero tolerance for admitting failure in the face of failure.

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"...it's another hammer we can put on people"


Brett Chidester,
Rest in Peace


"...[I]t's another hammer we can put on people," says Delaware State Police Captain Chip Simpson, commander of the special investigations section, praising a brand new law, "Brett's Law," that places a plant, salvia divinorum, in Schedule I of the state's Controlled Substances Act.

Don't you love how he talks? Close your eyes and visualize the use of hammers -- another hammer -- that the police "put on people." Well, not any people, of course. Drug people. Dirty drug-using scum, dopers, losers.

If this law were on the books last year, probably one of the people that Captain Simpson would have been looking to hammer was the young Brett Chidester.

Tragically, in January 2006, Brett Chidester,a 17-year old high school senior, killed himself. According to his parents and the news accounts, in his writings he said his use of Salvia made him see that life was pointless.

How should ministers, pastors, priests, rabbis, imans, and teachers respond to proposals to outlaw something so powerful that it causes one to question the point of life?

Where does the idea that life is pointless come from, anyway? Isn't it a question sometimes raised in some works of philosophy, poetry, or even song lyrics? Doesn't that feeling sometimes arise quite powerfully from an unrequited love?

Why might a bright, attractive 17-year old high school senior consider using a drug like Salvia in the first place? For self-discovery, possibly? Perhaps he wasn't well advised about how to direct his wonderful curiosity.

Indeed, to whom could Brett turn to share his faulty, but powerful lesson from his use of a powerful spiritual medicine? Who could he trust to confide that he was experimenting with a drug that if not technically illegal was certainly in the class of stigmatized, outlawed drugs?

That there was no one is the perhaps the genuine social problem his death reveals.

But if you are a politician, taking advantage of a community's grief you know that no one ever thought life might be pointless until they consumed Salva -- it had to be from the plant. Isn't it simple logic -- if we ban the plant, we're sure to save lives? No more questioning the point of life!

One must acknowledge the grief of Brett's family and friends. What a truly sad loss. But one must also acknowledge that frequently reactions -- both private and public -- to grief are unwise.

Would I have the strength, if my daughter were to die as a consequence of experimenting with drug use, to set up a system that would provide advice and counseling to young people before and after they experimented with drugs?

As the article from Delaware notes, it is easy to get Salvia, and will continue to be easy.
  • Will this law encourage honest conversation by those who use Salvia with counselors, or will it tend to discourage such conversation?
  • Will it save more lives or endanger them?
  • Will it lead to teens having a greater satisfaction with their lives and the challenges of adolescent exploration, or will it lead to more alienation and despair?
* * *

Sadly some think we can raise our children in greater safety because the Delaware State Police now have "another hammer we can put on people." I didn't think the police were running out of hammers to hit people with. Is another police and prosecutorial hammer to their lives what kids like Brett need?

Is Brett is looking down on us from Heaven pleased that a law named after him will be used to "hammer" kids like him?

Perhaps life, or its loss, is not so pointless after all. Oor perhaps this new law confirms just how pointless life -- at least life in the legislature -- can be.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

200 Million US phone numbers being analyzed by government spy agencies

USA Today reveals that since 2001, the three biggest telephone companies have turned over ALL of their records of phone calls made by their customers to the National Security Agency (NSA). The justification asserted by the government, of course, is "national security."

Qwest Communications did not go along with the request questioning the legality of the government's request.

In a paragraph deep in the USA Today story discussing Qwest's objections, it is revealed that domestic law enforcement agencies would have access to the data and the analysis of the data:

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.
Qwest asked the NSA to either get authorization from the FISA court -- the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to grant legal authority for surveillance -- or obtain a letter from the Attorney General certifying the legality of the disclosure of all this customer information. The NSA refused!

This administration has a shocking aversion to getting legal permission for its national security operations.

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New data on drug users going to the hospital - DAWN

SAMHSHA has put out its new DAWN data. I'll comment after I've looked at it.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New study finds drug treatment highly cost effective

A recent study of over 2500 persons treated for substance abuse estimated that for every dollar spent on the treatment, society received seven dollars in benefit in reduced crime and improved earnings for the person treated. This confirms a similar kind of study conducted a number of years ago. Spending on drug treatment is probably the only worthwhile spending in all of our drug policy.

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U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy

On Tuesday, May 2, representing the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse of the American Bar Association, I met with staff of U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Addiction, Treatment and Recovery. Early that day I met with the staff of the Chairman of the Caucus, U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN). They have both admitted their problems of addiction. The Caucus had invited the ABA Standing Committee to brief Members of Congress on ABA policy last fall, and we were renewing our desire to collaborate with the caucus.

On May 5, I heard about Rep. Kennedy's car crash in the wee hours near the U.S. Capitol. Two key points:
(1) politician seems to driving under the influence. Bad. No one should drive under impaired by drugs or alcohol.
(2) politician seems have received special consideration -- no Breathalyzer, escort home, not jailed. VERY Bad. Did Rep. Kennedy seek special consideration, or was it simply offered to a VIP?

Thoughts:
Driving while impaired by any circumstance should be strongly discouraged -- too tired, under the influence of cough and cold medicine, etc. We ought to routinely test for impairment in accidents.

Police have to stop giving special consideration to VIPs.

But police also should begin being more humane. Does the no-injury DUI driver always have to be taken into custody? No, usually not. Carry out the impairment test or the Breathalyzer test, but then take the driver home and give him or her a summons to court. Does the shame of jail help most people? Isn't the shame of having been pulled over, caught, and driven home by the police shame enough for most folks. Let the court weigh appropriate punishment after a further investigation of the record and the accused by the police and the prosecutors and the presentation of evidence at a hearing.
Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland made a definitive mockery of punishment first, trial second.

We must separate the misconduct of driving while impaired from the conduct of drug use and the condition of being addicted. Drug use, per se, does not warrant punishment. There is no legal principle or set of facts that justifies punishing people who use drugs. That is punishment is a personal feature of the justice system. You are punished for what you did, not for whether punishing you might deter someone else from doing an undesirable thing. Douglas Husak, professor of the philosophy of law at Rutgers University, in his outstanding book, Legalize This!, addresses these issues very powerfully.

The condition of being addicted is a medical condition. It is not shameful to be a diabetic or to have heart disease. It is not shameful to be addicted to drugs. It is not shameful, certainly, to have once been addicted. And it is not shameful to relapse.

The public is reacting in a variety of ways, reports the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times. Generally his constituents, who like him, are forgiving, as they should be.

I wish the congressman well.

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Contaminated heroin hurting users

If you were writing a drug law, what class of people would be the first ones you wanted the law to help? If you were rational, wouldn't that class be, "drug users?"

The number of persons dying from the use of contaminated heroin increased markedly in April according to a report by Donna Leinwand in USAToday.

If there were a similar rash of deaths and injuries among any class of Americans other than injecting drug users, wouldn't there be more of an outcry? Why don't I hear anybody utter the rhetoric (admittedly absurd), "If legalization, regulation and control of heroin would save just one life, it would be worth it?"

The contaminant involved, fentanyl, has been a common heroin substitute or boosting agent for at least twenty years. In the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act which I helped to write, mandatory minimum prison sentences were created for illegally manufacturing or distributing fentanyl. 400 grams of a mixture or substance containing fentanyl gets a mandatory ten years up to life, 40 grams gets 5 years up to 40 years. Mandatory minimums for any analogue of fentanyl, such as sufentanyl or alfentanyl, are triggered at the 100 gram and 10 gram level.

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Legal Absurdity -- robbery charge resolved as guilty pleas to copyright violation

I couldn't link to this absurdity, so here's the story from the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review.

May 1, 2006 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Man Pleads Guilty To Bogus Crime

Creative Plea Settles Robbery Case

By Thomas Clouse, Staff writer

If you went solely by his rap sheet, Jewell C. Walker could be Spokane's
most prolific bootlegger of music.

The convicted child rapist and suspected robber pleaded guilty last month to
making at least 1,000 illegal recordings of music without the owner's
consent.

But it never happened ­ not even close.

In a legally sanctioned game of courtroom make-believe, Walker avoided a
potentially hefty jail term for robbery by instead accepting responsibility
for a separate crime that never occurred.

And everyone connected to the case knew it.

"We got a little creative to try to get to the end result that we needed,"
assistant public defender Tom Krzyminski explained. "Judges aren't too
inclined to do something like this. You don't want somebody to plead guilty
to something that doesn't fit the allegations.

"But with the risk of going to trial over a robbery versus this, you make
the call."

Walker, 30, was among three men implicated in a violent July 29 robbery
outside a downtown Spokane tavern. The victim, William R. Dahlen, suffered
punches and kicks to his head as he lay on the pavement pleading with the
attackers to stop, according to witnesses. The robbers even tore off
Dahlen's shorts while helping themselves to what was left of his paycheck:
$306.

Spokane police took Walker and two other men into custody on robbery
charges.

But while authorities had several witnesses, the victim reportedly was
reluctant to cooperate, creating an obstacle for prosecutors that would lead
to one of the more bizarre plea deals ever arranged in Spokane County.

Under the initial deal, Walker and the co-defendants, 27-year-old Jade
Cardwell and 30-year-old Caleb Martinelli, agreed to plead guilty to lesser
charges of first-degree theft and to repay the victim if they could avoid
jail time.

But when Krzyminski and Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Deborah King
learned about Walker's conviction in 1993 in Kittitas County for
first-degree rape of a child, the deal threatened to unravel.

That previous conviction would have required mandatory jail time for a plea
to first-degree theft, Krzyminski said. He and King then searched for a
felony charge that wouldn't trigger jail time and found reproduction of
sound without the owner's permission.

"We are basically telling the court the alleged facts don't match the
allegations or the new charge," Krzyminski said. "There were no allegations
of sound recordings or videos. We were just being creative to get to the
point we needed to get in sentencing."

So at the deputy prosecutor's suggestion, and the judge's approval, Walker
confessed ­ in writing ­ to illegally recording music without the owner's
consent ­ a crime that everyone in the courtroom knew he didn't commit.

In legal circles, it's called an In Re Barr plea. It enabled prosecutors to
keep the deal together and secure convictions while making sure all three
defendants received similar punishment.

Walker could not be reached for comment.

"The problem is that the victim had told us in no uncertain terms that he
would not be part of the prosecution," said Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor
Deborah King. "I don't always need a victim to get a conviction, but in this
case, it would have been extremely difficult."

Although it's a legally accepted method of securing convictions, it
contradicts the "truth and nothing but the truth" principle on which all
courtrooms rely.

Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark, who presided over the case and
approved the Walker plea deal, said she's unaware of any credibility
complaints over the use of In Re Barr pleas.

"I see it as a way to resolve cases," the judge said last week.

"You know the guy did something. But the prosecutor may not be able to prove
it as charged," Clark added. "I could have rejected it. But you are still
getting some accountability no matter what it's called."

While In Re Barr pleas are frequently used, judges don't keep records on how
many times criminal defendants are allowed to plead guilty to crimes they
didn't commit.

For instance, several drive-by shooting suspects have been allowed to plead
guilty to riot, even though police have no evidence that they took up
torches and sticks and marched on downtown Spokane. And many drug
distribution charges were later reduced to conspiracy to sell drugs even
though police had no evidence the suspects did so.

But in both examples, the reduced charges are at least in the same
neighborhood, legally, with the original complaint.

Jeffry Finer, who teaches legal procedure at Gonzaga Law School, said
attorneys for both sides often find themselves in situations where any
charge is better than nothing.

"If the victim was unwilling to testify, there may have been no case at
all," Finer said. "If that's the case, then a creative plea saves all of it.
It seems like it ought not to be allowed, but it is."

He compared it to another legal strategy known as an Alford plea, in which
defendants maintain their innocence but plead guilty because they
acknowledge that authorities have enough evidence to likely secure a
conviction at trial.

But in the In Re Barr plea, everybody universally agrees that the charge is
based on nothing.

"It's a necessary evil in some respects," Finer said, referring to the In Re
Barr plea. "It is a commonly used resort to try to work some fairness into
an otherwise unfair-rigid system."

Finer, who also works as a defense attorney, said he doesn't believe the
public is being misled by the In Re Barr pleas, which, he says, fall into
his category of the weekend rule.

"Everyone wants to take the weekend off. But if we make (prosecutors) do
trial after trial after trial, they are not going to have weekends off," he
said. "And pretty soon, we won't have any prosecutors."

Appeals courts have for years allowed "charge bargaining" without any
factual basis, Finer said. And sometimes they deliver what he calls "rough
justice."

If the Walker plea allowed the prosecutor "to try a more important case that
had a compelling need Š because she cleared her docket, I applaud that,"
Finer said. "But that is a very funny resolution."

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University Law Enforcement goes over the top in Colorado

I love the University of Colorado. For nine years I spoke at the annual Conference on World Affairs, held at the beginning of April. The University has an excellent faculty and passionate and intellectually engaged students. The Boulder community is intellectually and artistically engaged.

But even as many American college campuses have cultures of alcohol abuse, Colorado's is quite striking. I was speaking about drug abuse at a sociology class there a number of years ago. Responding to my question to the students seeking their observations of drug use on campus, an exchange student from Europe said she thought that her classmates at Colorado were "obsessed" with getting drunk. I asked for a show of hands, "how many of you agree with that assessment -- most students at this university are obsessed with getting drunk?" Three-quarters of the class agreed. I was taken aback.

But I remember a small party of undergraduates in a student home on a Thursday night. Students were bringing in cases, beer, wine and whiskey that looked sufficient for an enormous crowd, not a simple house party on a weeknight. One student throughout the night carried a magnum of wine in his hand the way most people might carry a glass of wine -- it was his drink.

The University of Colorado has had a number of infamous alcohol riots, and it seems almost annual dramatic deaths from alcohol use. Around the campus and community, there are university signs or logos linked with the logos of all manner of alcohol beverages.

University Police Lt. Tim McGraw of the University police says "alcohol abuse is a top priority" but that the University police must discourage blatant marijuana smoking.

With the SAFER movement, the students have voted to try to equalize the punishments for alcohol and marijuana offenses.

Farrand Field is a quadrangle in the middle of the campus surrounded by four residence halls that has been the site of political demonstrations and marijuana protests in the past. Last year the University closed the field. The campus police dispatcher told me this morning that the campus police came to the event last year make sure the event was peaceful, and did not arrest any of the estimated 2000 protestors. But the police did turn on the lawn sprinklers to disperse the crowd.

Photographs of student protesting marijuana laws by smoking marijuana defiantly were published in newspapers, and the State threatened the University with financial sanctions

The University therefore this year closed a quad, to students on April 20, the site of an annual marijuana smoke-in. Signs were posted stating that entry onto the quadrangle would be deemed criminal trespass.

Then the University sent undercover officers with cameras, and deployed surveillance cameras to photograph students who attended the smoke-in on the field in the middle of the campus. THEN the University posted the photographs on the University police website.

THEN the University police offered to pay $50.00 for the identification of each student whose photograph they took!

The University sometimes posts composite drawings of suspected rapists or video images of bicycyle thieves and other offenders to identify criminals. The state CrimeStoppers program may pay rewards for such identifications.

But this is a political protest, a constitutionally protected activity in the United States and Colorado.

The University is caving in to political pressure to suppress a political unpopular movement. As has been the case of decades, the political establishment is using law enforcement resources inappropriately for political purposes. And here, in a very clumsy way, is dramatizing the socially dangerous culture of informing that police have come to depend upon.

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