DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 Thursday June 26, 2000

DrugSense FOCUS Alert # 176 Thursday June 26, 2000
Posted by FoM on June 29, 2000 at 15:39:52 PT
Penthouse Exposes Mindless War On Marijuana 
Source: MapInc.
The number of problems created by marijuana prohibition make it difficult to give a good overview in a single article, but writer Michael Simmons makes a nice attempt in Penthouse this month. His article (below) shows how many people are getting hurt by the war on pot, and how activists are working to stop it. Please write a letter to the magazine to thank editors for distributing this important information. 
WRITE A LETTER TODAY If not YOU who? If not NOW when?  PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER OR TELL US WHAT YOU DID ( Letter, Phone, fax etc.) Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlet if you are subscribed, or by E-mailing a copy directly to MGreer Your letter will then be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts and be motivated to follow suit This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our impact and effectiveness. CONTACT INFO Source: Penthouse (US) Contact: penthouse.editors  ARTICLE US: Reefer MindlessURL: Newshawk: Jo-D and Tom-E Pubdate: Tue, 01 Aug 2000 Source: Penthouse (US) Section: Cover story Copyright: 2000 General Media Communications, Inc. Contact: penthouse.editors Address: 11 Penn Plaza, Twelfth Floor, New York, NY 10001 Fax: (212) 702-6262 Website: Author: Michael Simmons REEFER MINDLESS [On the cover: Special Report: Reefer Mindless - It's time to end the vicious, stupid, losing war on pot] As we enter a new century, the decades-long war against marijuana continues, with pot busts doubling in the past decade, and tens of thousands of Americans behind bars for possessing, growing, or selling the nation's third favorite recreational drug. When will this official Reefer Madness end? Possibly sooner than anyone thinks. "We are locking up this country!" the boyish-looking man in a suit thundered from the podium. "Should drug use in the privacy of your own home =85 end you up in jail?" The packed crowd in a conference room at the Pyramid Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico, answered the question with an emphatic "NO!" "Does anybody want to press a button and retroactively punish the 80 million Americans who have done illegal drugs?" the man asked. "NO!" the crowd roared back again. "And did I mention that I'm one of those people? I'm one of the 80 million!" This impassioned speech, delivered last November before a group of drug-law reformers attending a panel discussion on "The Drug War: Who Is Winning?," could have been made by any one of 70 million Americans who have smoked pot, or the millions more who've tried harder stuff. But here was Gary E. Johnson, second-term Republican governor of New Mexico, denouncing the war on drugs as "a miserable failure." The 47-year-old triathlete, who now abstains from all mind-altering substances, including sugar, admitted prior to winning his first term in 1994 to using both marijuana and cocaine during his college days. After declining to run for higher office following his second and last term (which expires January 2002), Johnson began to air his maverick views. He has received enthusiastic praise from those who see the drug war as an attack by the government on its own citizens. He's also become the whipping boy for everybody from White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who claimed that school kids were referring to the governor as "Puff Daddy" Johnson ("This is goofy thinking that's harmful to New Mexico," remarked the czar -- "He ought to be ashamed of himself"), to fellow New Mexican politicos and law-enforcement officials, to a middle-school cheer leading team that refused to meet with Johnson because of his views. In a conversation after the conference, Johnson discoursed upon the "reefer madness" scare tactics prevalent in his own youth, today's ludicrous brain-on-drugs-equals-fried-eggs analogy, and the inability of rule makers to differentiate between substances as disparate as pot and heroin. "We lived the lie," he said. "Kids continue to live it, see it played out on them. Take the [Partnership for a Drug-Free America] advertisement, 'Here's your brain, here's your brain on drugs.' Well, okay, so that means marijuana. We experienced the same thing. We did marijuana. And it's not what it's been portrayed. You don't lose your mind. You don't have a propensity to do crime. It's okay. It's not a bad experience. So does that mean what the rest of the government is telling us is also a lie?" [snip] Johnson is a mind-blowing anomaly -- a politician who tells the truth, consequences be damned. And the core truth he speaks is that at the heart of the multibillion-dollar drug war and its thousands of related jobs in law enforcement and the prisons system is the nonsensical demonization of marijuana. For 63 years, since the passage of the Marihuana (sic) Tax Act of 1937, Americans have been told that pot is an addictive narcotic that causes everything from amotivational syndrome to sociopathic behavior to premature death. (The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and L.S.D., thus categorizing it as a substance with a high potential for abuse and no medicinal applications.) Yet as we enter the twenty-first century, pot is the third favorite recreational drug of choice in the United States after alcohol and tobacco. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, however, marijuana cannot be bought legally for pleasure or relaxation by Americans who run to the corner store. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, marijuana found in the possession of adults can result in criminal sanctions ranging from the equivalent of a parking ticket to, in the case of a federal statute governing the import or growing of more than 50,000 plants or pounds, the death penalty. But the truth is that, slowly and inexorably, the Berlin Wall of Prohibition is crumbling. The millions of Americans who have either tried or continue to smoke marijuana know that its negative side effects are either overstated or outright lies, and public outrage at the constitutional violations perpetrated in the name of the drug war is increasing exponentially. Medical marijuana has enjoyed majority support wherever it's been on a ballot. And farmers looking for a profitable crop, entrepreneurs looking for an environmentally and financially green product, and young people looking for a cause have transformed hemp -- the non psychoactive cousin of marijuana, with hundreds of beneficial uses -- into a $200-million-a-year industry. Still, there is a dangerous disconnect at work in America regarding marijuana. Viewers guffaw when the gang in That '70s Show paints a marijuana leaf on the town's water tower -- cultural code that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug as well as a rite of passage for youth. Reefer jokes are cracked on The Simpsons and by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, and weed is smoked to hilarious effect in such major studio movies as Dazed and Confused and The Big Lebowski. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans are arrested annually, imprisoned, and made to face forfeiture of their homes and belongings because of its use, cultivation, or sale. Furthermore, draconian mandatory minimum sentencing (the least amount of prison time to be served by law) passed by Congress and many states is grossly disproportionate to the alleged crime, as well as leaving judges no leeway to take into consideration the particulars of each case. [snip] Last November, Time magazine ran a tongue-in-cheek but factually accurate breakdown of the particular social groups that prefer certain drugs. For pot smokers, the social group was described as "everyone." According to recent studies, more than 70 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime, 11 million use it monthly, and about half of those inhale almost daily; this means that about five percent of people over the age of 12 can be loosely defined as pot smokers, and between five and six million of them are dedicated stoners. Of course these figures must be gauged against the reality that many potheads will not 'fess up to illegal behavior, even when guaranteed anonymity. With "zero tolerance" the watch-phrase of the antidrug forces and corporate policy makers, such paranoia is completely justified. If you factor in expanded police power to search and seize, payments to informants, snitching for plea bargains, aggressive conspiracy charges, and mandatory urine testing, the pot smokers' dilemma becomes abundantly clear. Their jobs and their families, not to mention their very freedom from imprisonment, are constantly at stake. As R. Keith Stroup, the 56- year-old founder and director of the Washington-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, observes, "People are in the closet; they're intimidated after 20 years of the war on drugs. They can't be honest; they might lose their jobs, or they might get drug-tested. There are all kinds of reasons why people are not necessarily honest about how they feel about marijuana smoking -- including those of us who smoke." [snip] Although domestic pot production has been rising steadily over the years, with increasing amounts being grown indoors under scrupulous conditions aimed at producing high-potency, high-priced weed, it is imported marijuana, primarily from Mexico, that remains the toker's mainstay, especially in locales where there is no pot-growing culture and high-quality strains are hard to find or afford. Debate rages over whether marijuana is stronger than it was 20 years ago. The antidrug warriors say yes, maintaining it's so much more potent that it's a different drug, thereby justifying their zero-tolerance tactics. To bolster their contention, they point to research done at the University of Mississippi, the home of the federal government's pot farm. The Potency Monitoring Project at Ole Miss has found that pot is stronger now than in the early seventies, though its average strength has been consistent since the early eighties. On the other hand, independent analyses have detected higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, pot's psychoactive cannabinoid) content in such seventies strains as Maui Wowie and Thai Stick than in most currently avail- able strains, bolstering the contention of pot advocates that today's weed presents no unique danger. Not content to attack marijuana alone, zero-tolerance zealots also target its "delivery systems." Most states have some form of anti paraphernalia laws on the books, and while there are no available statistics on how many candy-store owners get raided for carrying Bambu rolling papers, the paraphernalia laws come in handy when prosecutors want to "pile on" years to a drug offender's prison sentence. Furthermore, the paraphernalia laws are often used by the local police as a pretext for an assault in what is at its core a cultural war. Says NORML's deputy director Allen St. Pierre, "It's literally town by town by town. If a shop owner has things such as NORML information, or High Times or other countercultural magazines at hand, or if there are T-shirts or other cultural affectations in the store that would lead a reasonable person to believe that marijuana was part of the culture within, then that's the standard that one would probably use to arrest somebody for selling paraphernalia. That's why most prudent paraphernalia stores strew their displays with tobacco and insist on 18' and over, as they should, and have zero discussions beyond the obvious." From sea to shining sea, and contrary to popular perception, the war against marijuana is increasing in intensity. According to available data, pot busts have accelerated in the 1990s, most notably during the phony-liberal Clinton administration. F.B.I. statistics for 1998 record 682,885 marijuana arrests, 88 percent for mere possession, belying law enforcement's conventional spin that the enforcers are mainly concerned with large-scale growth and distribution rackets. These figures are slightly lower than those of the year before, when NORML noted that the Clinton administration had already out busted the kinder, gentler George Bush by 30 percent on an average yearly basis. In fact, pot busts have more than doubled since 1990, while those for heroin and cocaine fell by more than 50 percent. In 1998, 44 percent of all drug arrests were for marijuana; one out of every 25 criminal arrests was for marijuana possession; and one in seven persons in prison for drugs had been convicted on marijuana charges. (Interestingly, the number of pot arrests has risen steadily while the estimated number of smokers has fallen off from a reported high in 1979.) Approximately 43,000 Americans are presently behind state or federal bars for marijuana, at an estimated social cost of $7.5 billion annually. More Americans get popped annually for marijuana (and many receive harsher sentences) than for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault combined. According to current federal mandatory minimum-sentencing law, you can be imprisoned for 15 to 21 months and fined $1 million for delivery or sale of a single joint, and slapped with five to 40 years and a $2 million fine for possessing more than 100 plants. Cultivating or selling more than 1,000 plants or 1,000 kilograms can earn you a life sentence in a federal penitentiary. [snip] Matters are far from laid-back for pot enthusiasts in California. Last October, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, an interagency eradication effort, announced that it had already seized 241,164 plants for the year 1999. The confiscated plants had an estimated value of $965 million, up 80 percent over the '98 tallies, and 40 percent higher than the previous record year of 1985. And while law-enforcement figures warned that the passage in 1996 of Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized medical marijuana in California, would tie their hands and create a de facto legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state, there were nearly 2,000 state pot prisoners in California is July of '99, an increase of ten percent since the proposition passed with the support of 56 percent of voters. In fact, while possession of less than an ounce is punishable by a relatively light $100 fine, the state's cops and prosecutors see red when it comes to anything greater than an ounce, especially where cultivation and/or distribution are concerned, with the possible exemption (thanks to Proposition 215, as we shall see) of some medical marijuana operations. New York State tops the United States for the greatest number of pot busts per 100,000 smokers (at 6,294 as of 1997), but regionally most take place in Mid-western states (for sales/manufacture) and the Midwest and South (for possession). Justice in some of these states is often wildly disproportionate to the alleged crime, even when compared with the national standard. Oklahoma, for example, has what are overall probably the harshest pot penalties in the United States. Possession of any amount (such as the residue of a joint) can bring up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. A second offense (a second bust for the residue of a joint) warrants two years to life and a $20,000 fine. Possession of paraphernalia (say, a single rolling paper) is punishable by a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Four years to life imprisonment is mandated for sale or delivery of under 25 pounds, and the minimum penalty increases with larger quantities. Punishments are doubled for sale to a minor or within 1,000 feet of a school. And, as in several other states, you can have your driver's license suspended as penalty even if you're not driving while nabbed. Will Foster is the most well-known victim of Oklahoma's zero-tolerance legislation. The 42-year-old Tulsa father of three was given a 93-year sentence in 1997 for 60 plants (said the prosecutor; 10 plants and 50 seedlings and clones, Foster maintained). Foster has advanced rheumatoid arthritis, precisely the kind of ailment for which pot has been shown to be an effective medicine in numerous studies, including six presented to the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., in 1997. In the summer of 1998, Foster's sentence was reduced to 20 years, but Governor Frank Keating has ignored repeated pleas and declined to pardon him. In fact, Keating is pushing the Oklahoma legislature to toughen its marijuana laws. Latter-day frontier injustice is not limited to state law, however. Current federal mandatory-minimum (or "man-min") sentencing, codified by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, prevents judges from using their discretion and orders lopsided sentences disproportionate to the alleged crimes. A man-min sentence can be reduced only if the defendant cooperates with the prosecution and snitches others out in the pursuit of questionable conspiracy convictions. It's a quid pro qua deal: You give us the names of fellow travelers in order to notch our belts with more guilty verdicts, and you'll do less time or none at all. Often, far more culpable informants receive lighter sentences than the people they inform on. Throw in forfeiture laws, according to which, until recently, a drug offender -- or even anyone suspected prior to trial -- forfeits his or her assets to be divvied up among the law-enforcement agencies involved in the case, and the result is incentive for cops and prosecutors to use the Constitution as toilet paper. Consequently, the number of conspiracy prosecutions against Americans arrested for the sale or manufacture of weed has soared, wreaking havoc on thousands of lives. Take, for example, the horror visited upon the Tucker family of Georgia. [snip] In some cases, alleged marijuana transgressors face a far more deadly penalty than prison. Donald Scott, a 61-year-old wealthy Malibu rancher, was murdered in 1992 by a joint task force (comprised of members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, L.A.P.D., Park Service, D.E.A., Forest Service, California National Guard, and California Bureau of Narcotics) conducting an early-morning raid on the pretense that Scott was growing pot on his property. Responding to his wife's screams, a clueless Scott grabbed a gun and confronted the intruders. Two bullets were pumped into him. No pot was found. Ventura County District Attorney Michael D. Bradbury released a report criticizing the task force for using false information to secure a search warrant. Bradbury characterized the effort as an attempt to use forfeiture laws to slice up Scott's considerable assets between the participating agencies. "Clearly one of the primary purposes was a land grab by the Sheriff's Department," Bradbury wrote. While no law-enforcement agency or officer was ever charged with a crime, Los Angeles County and the feds tentatively agreed to pay $5 million to Scott's survivors earlier this year. More recently, Mario Paz, a 65-year-old father of six and grandfather of 14, was shot dead in his Compton, California, home last August by officers from the nearby El Monte Police Department who were engaged in an ongoing investigation. Again, it was an early-morning putsch on an uncomprehending victim. It turns out a suspected pot dealer had used Paz's address as a mail drop. And once again no marijuana was found, nor was any police officer charged with murder. In January, Q. J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran filed a suit on behalf of Paz's survivors, accusing the cities of El Monte and Compton of wrongful death and conspiracy to violate Paz's civil rights. The article has been cut here and snipped above to keep this mailing to a reasonable size. To read the rest of the article, visit: LETTER To the editor: Thank you for your article Reefer Mindless. It's heartening to see more and more people come forward to try to stop the drug war fascists. It's clearer than ever that the marijuana user isn't the bad guy in this war, that role falls to our own government. The article was probably written some time ago, so did not mention the unfortunate death of author and medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams. Peter had been arrested on marijuana charges and was forbidden to mention his illness, Aids and cancer, or the legality of medical marijuana in his state at his trial. Left with no defense he was forced to plead guilty. As a term of Peters bail he was required to submit to urine tests for marijuana, the only drug that helped him keep down his medication. His mother was told that she would lose her house if he failed the test, so Peter obeyed his masters. On June 14th Peter choked to death on his own vomit as a direct result of being forbidden to use marijuana by Federal judge George King. We've lost another good man to the will of petty dictators. Jeff Flanagan IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone number Please note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it at least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of the same letter and so that the original author receives credit for his/her work. 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