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Law Enforcement: Drug Court Program Needs Serious Reforms, Defense Attorneys Say

Drug courts have spread all across the country since the first one was instituted in Miami 20 years ago by then local prosecutor Janet Reno, but now, the nation's largest group of criminal defense attorneys says they have become an obstacle to cost-effective drug treatment and a burden on the criminal justice system. In a report released Tuesday, America's Problem-Solving Courts: The Criminal Costs of Treatment and the Case for Reform, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) argued that drug addiction should be considered a public health problem, outside the criminal justice arena.

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drug court
More than 2,100 drug courts are now in operation in the US, the group noted, but they have had no noticeable impact on drug use rates or arrests. Furthermore, the courts, which empower judges and prosecutors at the expense of defendants and their attorneys, too often limit treatment to "easy" offenders while forcing "hard cases" into the jails or prisons.

Minorities, immigrants, and poor people are often underrepresented in drug court programs, leaving them to rot behind bars at taxpayer expense. Drug courts also mean that access to drug treatment comes at the cost of a guilty plea, the group said.

"Today's drug courts have been operating for over 20 years yet have not stymied the rise in both drug abuse or exponentially increasing prison costs to taxpayers," said NACDL president Cynthia Orr. "It is time for both an extensive review of these courts and for the average American to ask themselves: Is our national drug policy working, and perhaps it is a public health concern rather than a criminal justice one?"

In the report, NACDL recommended the following reforms:

  • Treating substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one;
  • Opening admission criteria to all those who need, want and request treatment;
  • Enforcing greater transparency in admission practices and relying on expert assessments, not merely the judgment of prosecutors;
  • Prohibiting the requirement of guilty pleas as the price of admission;
  • Urging greater involvement of the defense bar to create programs that preserve the rights of the accused;
  • Considering the ethical obligations of defense lawyers to their client even if they choose court-directed treatment; and
  • Opening a serious national discussion on decriminalizing low-level drug use.

Southeast Asia: New Indonesian Drug Law Draws Human Rights Criticisms

After four years of debate, Indonesia's parliament passed a new drug law Monday. It was immediately criticized by reformers on numerous counts.

The new law maintains the death penalty for some drug offenses, criminalizes drug addiction, and makes it a crime for parents to fail to report their addicted children to authorities. The law also transfers responsibility for fighting drug trafficking from the government to civil society.

"The drugs law will save our children and young generation. It will be essential in the fight against drug trafficking," said Minister for Law and Human Rights Andi Mattalatta after the bill was passed. "Currently, drug dealing is not only conducted by individuals but by drugs syndicates that operate neatly," he said.

But the Indonesian Coalition for Drug Policy Reform (ICDPR) begged to differ. "This law classifies drug addicts as criminals and therefore subjects them to criminal charges, while doctors have said that drug addiction is a curable disease," Asmin Francisca, the group's coordinator told reporters outside parliament's plenary session hall. "The law should have recognized that a proper solution to drug addiction is to empower drug addicts, not to punish them as criminals."

Asmin warned that the article in the law transferring responsibility for fighting trafficking from the government to civil society could lead to vigilante justice. "The article, however, does not clearly elaborate on what kind of civil participation is needed to fight the war against drug trafficking," she said. "Without clear regulations, the law is open to many forms of exploitation by civil groups, including acts of vigilantism."

Asmin also condemned the retention of the death penalty for some drug offenses.
"Death penalties are not in line with the purpose of modern criminal charges that aim to rehabilitate a person rather than punish them for their actions," she said. "Basically, I believe this law is not in line with the basic principles of human rights."

According to the Indonesian National Narcotics Agency's extremely precise figures, there are 27,000 drug users in the country, including 12,689 aged 30 or older, 6,790 between 25 and 29, 5,720 between 20 and 24, 1,747 between 16 and 19, and 109 users under the age of 16.

Southeast Asia: Indonesian Parliament Enacts New Drug Law; Reformers Criticize it on Human Rights Grounds

After four years of debate, Indonesia’s parliament passed a new drug law Monday. It was immediately criticized by reformers on numerous counts. The new law maintains the death penalty for some drug offenses, criminalizes drug addiction, and makes it a crime for parents to fail to report their addicted children to authorities. The law also transfers responsibility for fighting drug trafficking from the government to civil society. "The drugs law will save our children and young generation. It will be essential in the fight against drug trafficking,” said Minister for Law and Human Rights Andi Mattalatta after the bill was passed. “Currently, drug dealing is not only conducted by individuals but by drugs syndicates that operate neatly," But the Indonesian Coalition for Drug Policy Reform (ICDPR) begged to differ. “This law classifies drug addicts as criminals and therefore subjects them to criminal charges, while doctors have said that drug addiction is a curable disease,” Asmin Francisca, the group’s coordinator told reporters outside parliament’s plenary session hall. “The law should have recognized that a proper solution to drug addiction is to empower drug addicts, not to punish them as criminals.” Asmin warned that the article in the law transferring responsibility for fighting trafficking from the government to civil society could lead to vigilante justice. “The article, however, does not clearly elaborate on what kind of civil participation is needed to fight the war against drug trafficking,” she said. “Without clear regulations, the law is open to many forms of exploitation by civil groups, including acts of vigilantism.” Asmin also condemned the retention of the death penalty for some drug offenses. “Death penalties are not in line with the purpose of modern criminal charges that aim to rehabilitate a person rather than punish them for their actions,” she said. “Basically, I believe this law is not in line with the basic principles of human rights.” According to the Indonesian National Narcotics Agency’s extremely precise figures, there are 27,000 drug users in the country, including 12,689 aged 30 or older, 6,790 between 25 and 29, 5,720 between 20 and 24, 1,747 between 16 and 19, and 109 users under the age of 16.
Location: 
Jakarta
Indonesia

Drug War Chronicle Book Review Essay: "Righteous Dopefiend" and "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang"

Drug War Chronicle Review Essay: "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang," by Samuel Logan (2009, Hyperion Press, 245 pp., $24.99 HB) and "Righteous Dopefiend," by Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg (2009, University of California Press, 392 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

These two books have little in common except that they focus on two deviant subcultures of interest to people curious about various facets of drug policy: Central American immigrant gang-bangers in the former and, less obviously, middle-aged, homeless San Francisco heroin addicts in the latter. Neither group has much to do with the other, except that perhaps some of the gang members could have peddled some of the heroin that went into those addicts' arms. What makes both groups -- and both books -- of interest to the Chronicle is that neither group would exist as presently constituted absent the regime of drug prohibition.

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"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is described as journalist Samuel Logan's effort to peek behind the curtain of one of America's largest street gangs, but with the exception of a few passages scattered through its pages, the book concentrates almost exclusively on the fate of Brenda Paz, a Honduran teenager who got caught up in the gang in Dallas and was quickly brought into local inner circles because she was the girlfriend of a local leader. When Paz's gang-leader boyfriend killed another Dallas area teenager in Paz's presence to steal his car, Paz fled to northern Virginia to avoid prosecution. There, she hooked up with another murderous local Mara leader, got arrested, and turned informant.

Thanks to Paz's extensive interviews with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials, police got their best insights yet into the group's murky inner workings, its origins, and its breadth. Unfortunately, Logan devotes little attention to such things, preferring instead to craft a police procedural, which, while a page-turner in its own right, leaves this reader at least hungry for more solid information.

While Logan asserts that the Mara Salvatrucha is into extortion, dope dealing, and human smuggling, he doesn't really demonstrate it, nor does he demonstrate that the Mara is indeed "America's most violent gang." Logan shows us localized incidents of thuggery, some of them truly mindless and savage, but doesn't describe how the gang actually works, nor compare it in size and scope to other criminal gangs. Nor is there much material about Mara's presence in Central America -- it is particularly strong in El Salvador and Honduras -- a strange omission given Logan's acknowledgement of the gang's origin among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s.

"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha" is an entrancing read in its own right, it does open some windows on the much feared organization -- although not nearly enough -- and it makes the reader develop an interest in Brenda Paz and her trip from innocent if troubled teenager to hardened gang-banger to the federal witness protection program. And that's sort of a shame, given how she ends up. I'll say no more; I don't want to spoil it for you.

Logan left me wishing that anthropologists Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg had written "This is for the Mara Salvatrucha," but that is a bit unfair. The urban ethnographers were able to spend a decade with the subjects of "Righteous Dopefiend," and those subjects, while constantly engaged in petty criminality, were not hardened, violent tough guys. Instead, they were middle-aged long-term heroin addicts, most definitely nowhere near as scary as a face-tattooed Mara killer. Still, whether it was differences in approach -- journalistic vs. anthropological -- or access to subjects -- limited and fraught with danger vs. long-term and fraught with being asked for spare change -- "Righteous Dopefiend" left me much more fulfilled.

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Bourgois and Schonberg came to be on intimate terms with a group of homeless heroin addicts camped in obscure spaces under freeway exchanges in San Francisco. Some were black, some white, a few Hispanic, a few were women. Good anthropologists that they are, there is plenty of theory mainly of interest to grad students, but it is nicely mixed in with real world observation, field notes, striking photographs (and the theory of the photographic gaze), and numerous transcripts of interviews with the aging junkies. (Before some reader jumps up to object to the term, let me just say I prefer the self-selecting "junkie" to the therapeutically-imposed and disempowering "addict.")

The junkie/addict distinction has a parallel in one of the distinctions Bourgois and Schonberg discovered among their homeless chronic heroin users. The white guys were much more likely to be alienated from their families than the black ones. The white guys sometimes didn't even know where their parents lived anymore, but the black guys would go home for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and other important occasions. They were more likely to be accepted as errant but still loved family members, while their white counterparts were more likely to be shunned. The junkies' own self-images reflected these contrasting familial responses, with the white ones adopting a hang-dog "outcast" persona compared to the black guys' graying Superfly "outlaw" persona.

The world of the "Righteous Dopefiend" isn't pretty. There are ugly abcesses and necrotizing fasciitis, there is the violence among the users and directed at them, they live in filth and squalor (although some try harder than others to rise above it), they are constantly driven by the need for the next fix and the fear of getting dopesick if they can't come up with the money to buy it.

But, like any of the rest of us, they are capable of acts of kindness and generosity. In the group Bourgois and Schonberg hung with, there was always at least a heroin-soaked bit of cotton for the person going without. There was romance, too, and a friendship and intimacy among "running partners" probably as genuine as any best friendship among non-homeless non-junkies.

By the way, that kindness and generosity often means sharing needles and cooking equipment. If three of you are going in on a $20 bag of Mexican tar, there is going to be some bodily fluid-swapping going on. Bourgois and Schonberg devote some attention to harm reduction practices, and amid all the talk about knowledge/power relations, one gets the general message that some harm reductionists need to do a better job of listening to their clients. Encouraging them moralistically to not share needles or cooking equipment when their circumstances make it inevitable that they will may not be the best approach, they suggest. Still, despite the critique, it is clear the author and the junkies appreciate the efforts at public health and harm reduction interventions. They are certainly preferable to interventions by police or Caltrans, which result in arrest or the trashing of the homeless camps and the loss of all possessions, and certainly more well-intentioned than the city's public hospitals, which insist that the junkies be literally on death's door before they admit them or the doctors who operate on abscesses without anesthetics and needlessly remove large chunks of flesh, leaving gaping wounds before pushing them back out onto the streets.

"Righteous Dopefiend" is most excellent. Even the theorizing is intelligible to the interested layperson (and will doubtless be grist for many a graduate seminar), and the theorizing is the basis for a well-informed critique of the social forces that create and impact the lives of their subjects. I feel like I got to know these people and gained some insight to how they live and think, and I deepened my understanding of why they live the way they do. What more can you ask of anthropology?

A Deadly Addiction You Never Saw Coming

BBC News reports on the death of a Chinese teen who was beaten to death in a rehab center for internet addicts. Apparently, addiction to the internet is a major concern in China:

China is increasingly taking action against what it sees as a pandemic of web addiction.

Some estimates suggest up to 10% of the country's 100 million teenage web users could be addicted, and a growing number of rehabilitation services exist.

However, there is little consensus on how to treat the addiction. In July, China's Ministry of Health formally banned the use of electroshock therapy as a treatment option.

Well, that's good. Yeah, giving shock treatment to 10 million youth who spend too much time online definitely sounds kind of insane. Really, the whole idea of widespread internet addiction sounds pretty ridiculous and I'm inclined to assume it has more to do with a cultural paranoia about computers than an actual epidemic of compulsive web surfers.

But as crazy as all this sounds, it's really not all that different from the way our government deals with marijuana users.

Europe: British Prisons Install Methadone Vending Machines

In a bid to promote opiate maintenance therapy behind bars, the British government has begun installing methadone vending machines in the country's prisons. Justice Minister Phil Hope told parliament last week that 57 vending machines have been installed so far.

The machines allow prisoners to receive an individualized dose of methadone by giving a fingerprint or an iris scan. The machines are paid for by the Department of Health and will cost about $6.5 million dollars, about 10% of the department's prison drug treatment budget. The target is to have the machines in half of Britain's 140 prisons.

According to the latest available prison population statistics, in 2007, nearly 6,400 of Britain's 81,000 prisoners were there on drug charges, with slightly more than half of them charged with simple drug possession or possession with intent to distribute. The official statistics provide no breakdown of which drugs were involved.

"Methadone dispensers are a safe and secure method for providing a prescribed treatment," said a health department spokesman. "They can only be accessed by the person who has been clinically assessed as needing methadone and that person is recognized by a biometric marker, such as their iris."

Providing methadone to addicted prisoners allows them to manage their habits without resorting to illicit heroin supplies within the prisons. But the opposition Conservatives were quick to try to score political points, claiming that the Labor government would rather "manage offenders' addiction" than end it.

"The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on methadone vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence based treatments," said Dominic Grieve, the Conservative shadow justice secretary. "Getting prisoners clean of drugs is one of the keys to getting them to go straight. We need to get prisoners off all drug addiction -- not substitute one dependency for another. The government's approach of trying to 'manage' addiction is an admission of failure."

The Conservatives are hammering away at Labor any way they can as they prepare for national elections sometime in the coming months. Attacking enlightened approaches to inmate drug addiction is just another arrow in their "tough on crime" quiver.

Feature: UN Drug Czar Attacks Legalizers -- Legalizers Say "It's About Time"

As the world marks the end of the first century of drug prohibition -- the first international anti-drug convention was signed in Shanghai in 1909 -- the global anti-drug bureaucracy finds itself on the defensive. Faced with a rising chorus of critics, the bureaucracy fought back this week as the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC) issued its World Drugs Report 2009. That the UNODC finally feels compelled to confront -- instead of ignore -- its critics is a sign of progress.

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HCLU demonstration at March '09 UN drug summit, Vienna
In addition to its usual quantifying of marginal changes in drug production and consumption levels and exhortations to try harder to fight the drug menace, this year's report was remarkable for its preface, penned by UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa, and, in a reversal of tone if not policy, some approving mention of Portugal's eight-year-old experiment with decriminalization.

On decriminalization in Portugal the report noted that:

Portugal is an example of a country that recently decided not to put drug users in jail. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, Portugal's "decriminalization" of drug usage in 2001 falls within the Convention parameters: drug possession is still prohibited, but the sanctions fall under the administrative law, not the criminal law. Those in possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use are issued with a summons rather than arrested. The drugs are confiscated and the suspect must appear before a commission. The suspect's drug consumption patterns are reviewed, and users may be fined, diverted to treatment, or subjected to probation. Cases of drug trafficking continue to be prosecuted, and the number of drug trafficking offenses detected in Portugal is close to the European average.

These conditions keep drugs out of the hands of those who would avoid them under a system of full prohibition, while encouraging treatment, rather than incarceration, for users. Among those who would not welcome a summons from a police officer are tourists, and, as a result, Portugal’s policy has reportedly not led to an increase in drug tourism. It also appears that a number of drug-related problems have decreased.

The report then goes on to say that "while incarceration will continue to be the main response to detected traffickers, it should only be applied in exceptional cases to users." Combined with Costa's "people who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution," in the preface, it suggests that the UNODC would not oppose decriminalization, but the report doesn't say that. Instead, it advocates for drug courts and drug treatment.

When it comes to legalization, in the preface, Costa acknowledged his anti-prohibitionist critics and attempted to confront their arguments. His comments are worth quoting at length:

"...Of late, there has been a limited but growing chorus among politicians, the press, and even in public opinion saying: drug control is not working. The broadcasting volume is still rising and the message spreading. Much of this public debate is characterized by sweeping generalizations and simplistic solutions. Yet, the very heart of the discussion underlines the need to evaluate the effectiveness of the current approach. Having studied the issue on the basis of our data, UNODC has concluded that, while changes are needed, they should be in favor of different means to protect society against drugs, rather than by pursuing the different goal of abandoning such protection.
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Several arguments have been put forward in favor of repealing drug controls, based on (i) economic, (ii) health, and (iii) security grounds, and a combination thereof.

The economic argument for drug legalization says: legalize drugs, and generate tax income. This argument is gaining favor, as national administrations seek new sources of revenue during the current economic crisis. This legalize and tax argument is unethical and uneconomical. It proposes a perverse tax, generation upon generation, on marginalized cohorts (lost to addiction) to stimulate economic recovery. Are the partisans of this cause also in favor of legalizing and taxing other seemingly intractable crimes like human trafficking? Modern day slaves (and there are millions of them) would surely generate good tax revenue to rescue failed banks. The economic argument is also based on poor fiscal logic: any reduction in the cost of drug control (due to lower law enforcement expenditure) will be offset by much higher expenditure on public health (due to the surge of drug consumption). The moral of the story: don't make wicked transactions legal just because they are hard to control.

Others have argued that, following legalization, a health threat (in the form of a drug epidemic) could be avoided by state regulation of the drug market. Again, this is naive and myopic. First, the tighter the controls (on anything), the bigger and the faster a parallel (criminal) market will emerge -- thus invalidating the concept. Second, only a few (rich) countries could afford such elaborate controls. What about the rest (the majority) of humanity? Why unleash a drug epidemic in the developing world for the sake of libertarian arguments made by a pro-drug lobby that has the luxury of access to drug treatment? Drugs are not harmful because they are controlled -- they are controlled because they are harmful; and they do harm whether the addict is rich and beautiful, or poor and marginalized.

The most serious issue concerns organized crime. All market activity controlled by the authority generates parallel, illegal transactions, as stated above. Inevitably, drug controls have generated a criminal market of macro-economic dimensions that uses violence and corruption to mediate between demand and supply. Legalize drugs, and organized crime will lose its most profitable line of activity, critics therefore say. Not so fast. UNODC is well aware of the threats posed by international drug mafias. Our estimates of the value of the drug market (in 2005) were groundbreaking. The Office was also first to ring the alarm bell on the threat of drug trafficking to countries in West and East Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and the Balkans. In doing so we have highlighted the security menace posed by organized crime, a matter now periodically addressed by the UN Security Council. Having started this drugs/crime debate, and having pondered it extensively, we have concluded that these drug-related, organized crime arguments are valid. They must be addressed. I urge governments to recalibrate the policy mix, without delay, in the direction of more controls on crime, without fewer controls on drugs. In other words, while the crime argument is right, the conclusions reached by its proponents are flawed. Why? Because we are not counting beans here: we are counting lives. Economic policy is the art of counting beans (money) and handling trade-offs: inflation vs. employment, consumption vs. savings, internal vs. external balances. Lives are different. If we start trading them off, we end up violating somebody's human rights. There cannot be exchanges, no quid-pro-quos, when health and security are at stake: modern society must, and can, protect both these assets with unmitigated determination. I appeal to the heroic partisans of the human rights cause worldwide, to help UNODC promote the right to health of drug addicts: they must be assisted and reintegrated into society. Addiction is a health condition and those affected by it should not be imprisoned, shot-at or, as suggested by the proponent of this argument, traded off in order to reduce the security threat posed by international mafias. Of course, the latter must be addressed, and below is our advice.

First, law enforcement should shift its focus from drug users to drug traffickers. Drug addiction is a health condition: people who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution. Attention must be devoted to heavy drug users. They consume the most drugs, cause the greatest harm to themselves and society -- and generate the most income to drug mafias. Drug courts and medical assistance are more likely to build healthier and safer societies than incarceration. I appeal to Member States to pursue the goal of universal access to drug treatment as a commitment to save lives and reduce drug demand: the fall of supply, and associated crime revenues, will follow. Let's progress towards this goal in the years ahead,and then assess its beneficial impact on the next occasion Member States will meet to review the effectiveness of drug policy (2015).

Second, we must put an end to the tragedy of cities out of control. Drug deals, like other crimes, take place mostly in urban settings controlled by criminal groups. This problem will worsen in the mega-cities of the future, if governance does not keep pace with urbanization. Yet, arresting individuals and seizing drugs for their personal use is like pulling weeds -- it needs to be done again the next day. The problem can only be solved by addressing the problem of slums and dereliction in our cities, through renewal of infrastructures and investment in people -- especially by assisting the youth, who are vulnerable to drugs and crime, with education, jobs and sport. Ghettos do not create junkies and the jobless: it is often the other way around. And in the process mafias thrive.

Third, and this is the most important point, governments must make use, individually and collectively, of the international agreements against uncivil society. This means to ratify and apply the UN Conventions against Organized Crime (TOC) and against Corruption (CAC), and related protocols against the trafficking of people, arms and migrants. There is much more our countries can do to face the brutal force of organized crime: the context within which mafias operate must also be addressed...

To conclude, transnational organized crime will never be stopped by drug legalization. Mafias coffers are equally nourished by the trafficking of arms, people and their organs, by counterfeiting and smuggling, racketeering and loan-sharking, kidnapping and piracy, and by violence against the environment (illegal logging, dumping of toxic waste, etc). The drug/crime trade-off argument, debated above, is no other than the pursuit of the old drug legalization agenda, persistently advocated by the pro-drug-lobby (Note that the partisans of this argument would not extend it to guns whose control -- they say -- should actually be enforced and extended: namely, no to guns, yes to drugs).

So far the drug legalization agenda has been opposed fiercely, and successfully, by the majority of our society. Yet, anti-crime policy must change. It is no longer sufficient to say: no to drugs. We have to state an equally vehement: no to crime. There is no alternative to improving both security and health. The termination of drug control would be an epic mistake. Equally catastrophic is the current disregard of the security threat posed by organized crime."

While Costa's preface can only be read as an attack on the anti-prohibitionist position (while essentially calling for decriminalization of drug use), it also marks an engagement with the anti-prohibitionists. And they are ready to engage right back at him.

"The UN drug czar is talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he admits global drug prohibition is destabilizing governments, increasing violence, and destroying lives," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But on the other hand he offers facile arguments dismissing the need for serious debate on alternative drug policies. The report erroneously assumes that prohibition represents the ultimate form of control when in fact it represents the abdication of control," Nadelmann added.

"The world's 'drug czar,' Antonio Maria Costa, would have you believe that the legalization movement is calling for the abolition of drug control," said Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a retired undercover narcotics detective. "Quite the contrary, we are demanding that governments replace the failed policy of prohibition with a system that actually regulates and controls drugs, including their purity and prices, as well as who produces them and who they can be sold to. You can't have effective control under prohibition, as we should have learned from our failed experiment with alcohol in the US between 1920 and 1933."

LEAP wants to keep the conversation going, and it wants citizens around the world to let the UNODC head know what they think. "We're asking people to go to http://www.DrugWarDebate.com, where they can send a message to the world 'drug czar' to educate him about the effects of policies he is supposed to be leading on," said Cole. "Now is the time for action. It's clear that prohibitionists are concerned about reformers' rapidly growing political clout when they attack us on page one of their annual report but didn't even mention us in last year's."

After ignoring anti-prohibitionist critics for years -- the legalization movement wasn't even mentioned in last year's report -- the global anti-drug bureaucracy has come out swinging. Costa has made his best case for smarter, better drug prohibition, and his arguments deserve to be addressed seriously.

But as successful nonviolent social movement leader Mohandas Gandhi famously observed: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." It appears that the anti-prohibitionist struggle is now in its penultimate stage.

Canada: Provincial Court Rules Ontario Benefits Law Discriminates Against Alcoholics, Drug Addicts

An Ontario law that bars alcoholics and drug addicts from receiving long-term disability benefits violates the provincial Human Rights Code, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled last Friday. The ruling effectively strikes down a provision of the Ontario Disability Support Program enacted by the former Conservative government in 1997 that barred people from receiving long-term benefits if their "sole impairment" was addiction.

Last week's ruling was the latest in a 10-year legal struggle by two Ontario men, Robert Tranchemontagne and Norman Werbeski, who suffer from alcoholism. The pair were denied long-term assistance under the Disability Support Program and were instead found to be eligible only for Ontario Works benefits.

Unlike the disability program, the employment program requires recipients to be involved in "employment assistance activities." Ontario Works also offers substantially smaller benefits, $536 a month, compared to $959 a month under the disability program.

The pair lost when they appealed the ruling to the provincial Social Benefits Tribunal, but in 2006, the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the tribunal to reconsider the case with an eye toward seeing if the law violated the Human Rights Code. The tribunal did so, and found that the exception for addiction disability indeed violated the code.

The Ontario government appealed that ruling, and a hearing was held in December. There, government witnesses argued that almost all addicted people could work and that lower payments could provide an incentive for recovery. But medical experts for the two men retorted that addicts are in a better position to recover if their lives are stable, with low stress, and adequate income to support themselves.

The Ontario Divisional Court justices sided unanimously with the two men. The government failed to provide a "tenable justification" for its decision to treat addicts differently from other people with disabilities, wrote Justice Denise Bellamy for the court. The Ontario law "promotes a stereotypical attitude towards addicted persons. It suggests that those who do not suffer from an additional medically recognized disorder are not genuinely disabled, or in any case are not as disabled as persons with concurrent disorders," wrote Judge Bellamy.

"The Human Rights Code does not permit us to choose between the disabilities we like and those we do not," said attorney Lesli Bisgould. The Ontario government should now "move on" and not bother to appeal any further, she told the National Post.

Ontario is pondering whether to pursue the appeal, government lawyers said.

Feature: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly -- New York Rockefeller Drug Law Reform on the Verge of Passage

A week ago today, New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and state Assembly and Senate leaders announced they had reached an agreement on reforming the state's draconian Rockefeller drug laws. The agreement marked a partial retreat from the reforms envisioned in an Assembly bill passed earlier this year, but still offers a significant improvement over the status quo.

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long road to freedom: 2001 protest of Rockefeller drug laws, Albany (courtesy indymedia.org)
The measure was to have been voted on this week as part of the state's budget bill, but that hasn't happened yet, and that's making advocates nervous. While the consensus among advocates seems to be that the bill doesn't go far enough, most want to see it passed as a step in the right direction.

The Rockefeller drug laws were enacted in 1973 and mandate extremely tough prison sentences for the sale or possession of relatively small amounts of drugs. Although allegedly aimed at "drug kingpins," tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned under them, most of them low-level nonviolent offenders. Currently, some 12,000 people are doing time for drug offenses in New York, and they constitute one-fifth of the prison population. Nearly 90% of them are black or Hispanic.

Partial reforms in 2004 and 2005 did little to halt the imprisonment juggernaut. While providing some relief for some drug offenders, those reforms resulted in even more people being sent to prison on drug charges than before.

"While much more moderate than the reform bill passed by the Assembly last month, this proposal constitutes an important step forward in developing more effective drug policies based in public health and safety," said Gabriel Sayegh, project director with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "The legislature and governor should have made the proposal even more expansive, for instance by returning discretion to judges in every drug case, not only low-level cases. We believe, though, that this bill constitutes real reform, and should be enacted."

Under the tripartite agreement, the Rockefeller reform bill would:

  • Return judicial discretion in low-level drug law cases;
  • Expand treatment and reentry services;
  • Expand drug courts;
  • Allow for approximately 1,500 people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing;
  • Increase penalties for drug "kingpins";
  • Increase penalties on adults who sell drugs to young people.

In the reforms of 2004 and 2005, people serving A-level felonies -- the most serious -- were able to apply for resentencing, but not those serving B-level felonies, who constitute the bulk of Rockefeller prisoners. While the resentencing option would now be open for some 1,500 B-level offenders, that means that more than 10,000 New York drug war prisoners would remain without recourse.

The bill would also allow judges to divert some low-level drug offenders into drug treatment or other alternatives to imprisonment, but only if they convince judges they are addicts. Given that incarceration costs three times as much as treatment, the state stands to save millions if judges exercise that sentencing discretion.

"As a former prisoner under the Rockefeller drug laws, I support this legislation because it will rescue many of the prisoners who fell through the cracks of the prior reforms," said DPA's Anthony Papa. "This proposal will give people convicted of low-level drug offenses a chance to be reunited with their families and become productive tax paying citizens like myself."

"If this becomes law, it will be a big step forward," said Caitlin Dunklee of the Correctional Association of New York and coordinator of the Drop the Rock campaign. "This is the first major reform of the Rockefeller drug laws since their enactment. It dismantles mandatory minimum sentencing in a meaningful way. It also allocates money for alternatives to incarceration and drug treatment," she said.

But the package doesn't include everything reformers sought, Dunklee conceded. "It does leave intact some harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug offenses and will lead to the incarceration of future low-level drug offenders -- about half of them will face mandatory minimums. Also, the retroactivity provisions are too limited; fewer than 1,500 of the more than 10,000 behind bars for drug offenses will be eligible to apply," she said. "We have family members asking when their loved ones are coming home, but very few are going to get out early."

"It's a lukewarm reform," said a disappointed Randy Credico of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Social Justice, long a key player in the Rockefeller repeal movement and now preparing to challenge Sen. Charles Schumer in next year's elections. "New York's criminal justice system needed a giant enema, and all the politicians did was pass gas."

"This proposal is a step forward," said Alan Rosenthal, an attorney with the Center for Community Alternatives, a New York organization that works on alternatives to imprisonment. "It is in the tradition of modest reform coming on the heels of the 2004 and 2005 reforms," he said. "It captures some of the same features, allows some resentencing as those did, but still leaves us with a pretty overbearing structure, and although a lot of attention is paid to treatment versus punishment, it still leaves an awful lot of room for punishment and a lot of people stuck in prison. From my perspective, I would give kudos to the legislators who supported this, but would certainly give fair warning to the public that there is still a lot of work to be done."

Rosenthal pointed out that while the reform would allow judges to exercise discretion, that doesn't mean they will. "Most judges come from a prosecutorial background," he noted. "It's not likely that they have an enlightened view of how counterproductive and destructive prison can be. At this point, I don't think things are going to look much different from when the DAs had the discretion. This will be a tiny spigot, and those judges are going to be trying to figure out who is worthy and who is not, who might look more dangerous because of class, skin color, or ethnicity. That sort of potential for coloring judicial decisions leaves us still needing broader reform and a broader understanding of how to deal with these issues."

Whether such partial reforms should be supported is a thorny question, said Rosenthal. "It is difficult to sit there and know that a smaller percentage than we would like are going to benefit, but it's also difficult to say we're going to hold out for everything knowing that if we do, some people are going to suffer under the yoke of imprisonment," he said. "The downside is the public impression that all that needs to be done has been done. Those still left in prison and their family members who are not getting any relief will understand there is more work to do, but the problem will be our ability to blow air into the balloon of public concern."

Sayegh defended the partial reform as the best that could be achieved. "Our job as advocates is to fight like hell to get the most we can get done. We are committed to that. After a hundred years of prohibition and drug wars, anyone who thinks we can accomplish the extraordinary and impossible in one legislative package is dreaming. We need to make the impossible possible and the possible inevitable, and that implies a process. We are here for the long haul," he vowed.

It may be a long haul. "A lot of people I talk to who are not involved in drug policy have told me they thought this was taken care of in 2004 and 2005," said Nicolas Eyle of ReconsiDer: Forum on Drug Policy, an upstate drug reform group. "It will be the same thing again with this bill, but we still have long sentences, we have a kingpin proposal that sounds like it will fit your normal street corner drug crew, so we'll end up with these retail dealers doing 15-to-life. This bill is a step in the right direction, but it's only a baby step," he said.

Likening the Rockefeller repeal movement to the antebellum Abolitionist movement, Credico said the battle against slavery did not settle for half-measures. "The criminal justice system is the new slave power," he said, "and just like the Jim Crow laws, the drug laws will continue to be used to jail, convict, imprison, and disenfranchise people on a massive level. Everyone -- judges, DAs, defense attorneys, corrections officers, court officers, probation and parole officers, upstate politicians and contractors -- depends on these drug cases to stay busy and keep the prisons filled."

The coerced treatment provisions of the reform package are misguided, Credico said. "The drug reform community wants to use the false language of it's a health issue, but these people aren't sick addicts; they're dime bag desperados, the guys retailing on the street corners. Now, they're going to have to plead guilty and convince judges they're addicts," he argued. "If they can't prove they're addicts, they can still go to jail, and they'll be doing one to nine years. This at a time when we have black youth unemployment in the city at 65%. What else are they supposed to do?"

Like Credico, Dunklee was critical of the provision making only people who convince judges they are addicts eligible for diversion in B-level offenses. "This sets up a distinction between people addicted or not," she said, "and only people who are deemed substance dependent will be eligible for diversion. Those people who maybe don't need treatment, but could instead be helped in other ways will be facing mandatory minimum prison terms. We object strongly to that."

Addressing the increased sentences for "kingpins" and people who sell drugs to minors in the final bill, Dunklee said it was a sop to prosecutors. "Gov. Paterson wanted to avoid appearing soft on crime, so he endorsed sentencing enhancements for people the public demonizes," she said. "When the public hears about selling drugs to minors, they think about the guy in the trench coat in the school yard, not the 21-year-old selling to the 17-year-old. The judges will not be able to look at the circumstances of each case, and the young man will go to jail for a long time, but that's not what the public has in mind."

For Dunklee and Drop the Rock, the battle is not over. "We're not going out of business, we're going to keep the coalition intact," she said. "This partial reform has the potential to take the air out of the movement, but we are going to assess how to continue. Our people are committed to full repeal, and we are open to the possibility of broadening our agenda to include prison downsizing. We are going to be figuring out how to respond to the reforms and the new political climate," she said.

But, given that at this writing, the long-delayed final passage of the bill has not yet occurred and given that the Senate Democrats have a razor thin majority, this ex post facto analysis of the 2009 Rockefeller law reforms may be premature. "The bill hasn't passed yet," cautioned Sayegh. "Of course, they will pass a budget bill, but the question is what is going to be included in it. Right now, there are a number of legislators and prosecutors and rags like the Daily News putting out garbage. There is a lot of opposition to this provision, so we can't take its passage for granted. We're almost there, but we're not there yet," he said.

Feature: The Boston Ibogaine Forum -- from Shamanism to Cutting Edge Science

special to Drug War Chronicle by Doug Greene, assisted by Kevin Franciotti

On a cold and clear Presidents Day weekend, dozens of treatment professionals, underground providers, patients, researchers and entheogenic enthusiasts gathered at Boston's Northeastern University for the Boston Ibogaine Forum, the 2009 installment of the annual ibogaine conference, sponsored the Northeastern Students for Sensible Drug Policy (which is also hosting the Northeast SSDP Regional conference on April 3-5), the National AIDS Brigade, and Cures Not Wars.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/boston-ibogaine-conference.jpg
conference panel, Dana Beal at podium
Ibogaine is considered the 'active' compound in the Tabernanthe iboga plant, used for centuries as a healer, teacher, and catalyst for ceremonies by the Bwiti people indigenous to what is now the Central-west African republic of Gabon. But the versatile plant has remained virtually unknown in the West, where it has a very different history.

Researcher Howard Lotsof, PhD, addicted to heroin and methadone, discovered the anti-addictive action of ibogaine in 1962. Given a capsule of pure ibogaine HCL by a trusted friend who was familiar with chemistry, Lotsof was simply seeking a new high. He was astonished when coming out of this difficult experience 36-opiate-abstinent hours later to realize he had no physical craving for opiates, and even more remarkably, had experienced very little of the agonizing physical symptoms normally associated with opiate withdrawal.

Although other early research was undertaken in the 1960s, ibogaine's eventual acceptance as anti-addiction agent in the West was tied to Lotsof's remarkable personal story. Off opiates, Lotsof turned with enthusiasm toward ibogaine and other psychedelics, running trials in the mid-1960s before going to prison under new federal drug laws banning the psychedelics at the end of the decade. For another two decades, Lotsof and ibogaine as addiction treatment wandered in the wilderness, his research supported by groups such as Cures Not Wars.

It was only in 1989 that Lotsof made significant contacts with mainstream researchers, who undertook their own pioneering researches. In the years between then and now, thanks to the missionary efforts of Lotsof and his supporters, ibogaine has ever so slowly become of greater and greater interest to addiction researchers and others.

Valentine's Day morning found ibogaine aficionados at the movies for Facing the Habit, a 2007 film featuring heroin users who succeed -- or fail -- to kick their habit through ibogaine treatments. Next up was ibogaine's most prominent advocate, the mustachioed Cures not Wars co-founder and Yippie! Dana Beal, who brought conference attendees up to speed on the latest research on ibogaine's anti-addictive properties, including its ability to regenerate dopamine pathways in the brain through its activation of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor GDNF. This exciting research had a panel of its own later in the day featuring Roman Paskulin, founder and director of Slovenia's Open Mind Institute and Dr. Tracy Blevins.

Beal was followed by a panel of ibogaine treatment providers discussing the special safety challenges involved in treating multiple addictions to different drugs, including Drs. Anwar Jeewa and A.R. Gani, of the groundbreaking residential treatment center Minds Alive in Durban, South Africa, Dr. Bruno Rasmussin of Brazil, and long-time provider Rocky Caravelli.

Next up was one of the most interesting presentations of the conference, by Justin Kirkland, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Obiter Research on the company's efforts to develop more cost-effective methods of synthesizing 18 Methoxycorinaridine 18-MC, an ibogaine analog with fewer side effects and greater potential for treating methamphetamine and nicotine dependence. The day's events closed with McLean Hospital's Dr. Carl Anderson discussing ibogaine, dream states and fetal R.E.M.

Sunday started with another ibogaine documentary, the Dutch Rites of Passage, followed by SSDP Northeastern's Arielle Torra presenting on the subjective experiences of patients treated at Dr. Deborah Mash's Healing Transitions Institute for Addiction clinic on St. Kitts.

The first scheduled panel of the day addressed the controversial use of ibogaine for other indications, including hepatitis C (HCV). Former New Mexico Department of Health Harm Reduction Coordinator Phillip Fiuty and Rocky Caravelli confirmed the existence of HCV patients whose conditions have improved and even cleared the virus without interferon treatment. Caravelli also described positive effects on herpes, MS and asthma. Jason Farrell, founder and former executive director of Positive Health Project and currently CEO of Harm Reduction Consulting Services, Inc., suggested a collaborative study by clinics in South Africa, Mexico and Brazil tracking the viral loads of HIV/HCV patients for six months to a year.

Next, former High Times and drugwar.com writer and editor Preston Peet gave dramatic personal testimony on ibogaine's efficacy in managing chronic pain by drastically cutting opioid tolerance.

The liveliest panel of the conference came up next, featuring Patrick Kroupa -- a pioneer hacker and long-time activist whose multiple roles include High Priest of the Sacrament of Transition, an Eastern European based iboga religion -- Dr. Deborah Mash, Peet, and Lenny of the New York City ibogaine support group comparing ibogaine to more conventional treatments, such as 12-step cold turkey, methadone taper, buprenorphine and ultra-rapid opiate detox (UROD). UROD -- the direct injection of the opiate blocker naltrexone under benzodiazepine sedation -- was denounced by all panelists as ineffective and inhumane.

The next panel, comparing the anti-addictive effects of ibogaine to other entheogens, featured Harvard Assistant Professor of Psychiatry John H. Halpern and Jon Harrison, the principal investigator for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies ibogaine outcome study at Pangea Biomedics in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico. Halpern compared ibogaine's effectiveness to other entheogens sometimes given as treatment modalities for drug addiction, most notably peyote use in the possible treatment of alcoholism among the Native American population, and the sacramental use of ayahuasca among American members of the Santo Daime and UDV churches.

This observational case study is examining changes in substance use in 30 individuals seeking ibogaine-based addiction treatment, and is intended to gather information to evaluate whether ibogaine-assisted therapy helps opiate-dependent people stop using opiates or practice moderated use after the therapy. Twelve-month follow-up data is being collected from participants in the study to examine whether ibogaine-assisted therapy facilitates improvements in quality of life that result in decreased harms associated with chronic or mismanaged opiate use. The study has received Institutional Review Board approval from the California Institute of Integral Studies and has enrolled 11 of the 30 subjects. For many months, MAPS had no success in raising funds for the study, but received its first significant donation at the conference, and by March 2nd, had raised all the funds for the study.

Halpern, who's published some of the only research on peyote use by Native Americans, surprised the crowd by revealing that the National Institute on Drug Abuse had so constrained his research that he wasn't allowed to directly study peyote's manifest anti-addictive effects. He also had no data on receptor-mediated anti-addictive effects, ascribing it all to "psychedelic glow."

Sunday's program closed with Makky, Boston University Professor of Classical Studies Carl Ruck and Beal discussing shamanic scenes in South America vs. Africa, a possible iboga role in the ancient world, and the dangers of "The Mushroom and the Cross" approach offending fundamentalists, respectively.

Presidents Day opened with a roundup of the international ibogaine scene. Venezuelan Drs. Rosaria Dávalos and Zulema Medrano described great progress in promoting ibogaine treatments, but also obstacles due to continued deference to the US. Drs. Jeewa and Gani gave details on their residential treatment center. Australian treatment provider Jason Chamon described a smaller, informal treatment scene -- clandestine in Australia, legal in New Zealand. De Loenen finished up, appearing live via Skype to contrast the more relaxed attitudes in Spain and Portugal with a forum in Holland on arrhythmia in ibogaine patients.

The international ibogainesters were followed by a panel on ibogaine's role in harm reduction, featuring Jason Farrell, Phil Fiuty and Cures not Wars cofounder and veteran drug policy activist Doug Greene. Farrell stressed the need for ibogaine treatment providers to be careful about whom they treat to minimize risks, citing a recent case in Netherlands where a patient refused to stop alcohol use before a treatment and had a seizure and then two days of arrythmia. At the same time, he urged greater availability of ibogaine treatment, advising potential providers to get a space and cots and "just do it." Greene praised ibogaine as the most libertarian option for drug treatment, and called on the drug policy reform movement to center its efforts on marijuana and ibogaine.

The conference closed with a panel that included the National AIDS Brigade's Jon Stuen-Parker discussing his lawsuit against the federal government for inattention to crack and heroin. MAPS founder and President Rick Doblin then gave the attendees a road map to promote ibogaine to state and federal policymakers, while Dana Beal suggested a letter from members of Congress to President Obama's forthcoming DEA Administrator.

This was the first ibogaine conference to be streamed live on the Internet, with twice as many people often logged-on as were in the room. Although speakers and attendees alike were frustrated by the conference's uneven pacing and complete disregard of the announced, reaction to the content of the conference was generally positive. Jason Farrell said: "It was a very impressive conference that opened my eyes to the serious, international work that's being done on ibogaine. It's unfortunate that it didn't get the news coverage it deserved."

Long-time drug policy reform activist Valerie Vande Panne said: "It's good to see ibogaine getting the research and recognition it deserves. Clearly, it has been beneficial in a holistic, dignified, and humane way to the lives of many who considered themselves addicts ready for a life change."

Rick Doblin said: "Many of the speakers were fascinating and had lots of experience and important information to share, and the future of ibogaine is bright. The clinics are moving toward more of an above-ground, responsible medical model and are realizing the importance of aftercare programs. I'm not sure where resources would come from for clinical studies to make ibogaine legal in the US -- that may be a stretch too far for NIDA, even under Obama. While I don't see commercial drug development happening in the near term in the US, or anywhere else, there will be more prospective research at the clinics which will, over time, build support for more clinical studies."

Streaming video of the conference can be found here.

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