A year in the life of pot prohibition:
Welcome to 2002, when everyone wants to eradicate marijuana

by Kevin Nelson

"House Republicans Thursday unveiled a package of bills to combat drug abuse and vowed to make America virtually drug-free by 2002." - Reuters, May 1998

Welcome to 2002, Land of the Virtually Drug-Free. We are a people unanimous in our conviction to eradicate marijuana from the face of the earth. Or are we?

Despite 13 million marijuana arrests since 1970, several hundred billion dollars spent, and the development of the largest prison system in the history of the world, a record 34 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized.

The 64th year of modern Marijuana Prohibition, 2001, was characterized by a widening of the gap between the hard-line drug policies of the United States and the increasingly tolerant approach of many governments abroad. In May, the United States was voted off the United Nations Drug Control Board and Human Rights Board on the same day. Meanwhile Portugal, Switzerland and Belgium decriminalized personal possession of marijuana, and polls showed a majority favoring outright legalization in Britain and Jamaica. Forty-seven percent of Canadians polled favor marijuana legalization.

Despite a campaign promise that he would allow states to decide on the issue of medical marijuana individually, the newly-elected President George Bush reaffirmed his commitment to hardline prohibitionism through the appointments of John Ashcroft as Attorney General, and John P. Walters as Drug Czar. In their own words:

"I want to escalate the war on drugs. I want to renew it. I want to refresh it, relaunch it, if you will." - Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, February 7, 2001

"What really drives the battle against law enforcement and punishment, however, is not a commitment to treatment, but the widely held view that (1) we are imprisoning too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs, (2) drug and other criminal sentences are too long and harsh, and (3) the criminal justice system is unjustly punishing young black men. These are among the great urban myths of our time." - John P. Walters, America's Drug Czar designate, Weekly Standard, March 6, 2001

The following tidbits, culled from the press over the past 12 months, illustrate the patterns of abuse, fraudulence and violence endemic to American drug policy.

January 12 - Salon.com reports: The nephew of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft received probation after a felony conviction in state court for growing 60 marijuana plants with intent to distribute the drug in 1992- a lenient sentence, given that the charges against him often trigger much tougher federal penalties and jail time. Ashcroft was the tough-on-drugs Missouri governor at the time.

January 19 - (AP) The Belgian government agreed Friday to decriminalize the use of marijuana, following its neighbor the Netherlands in granting legal tolerance to use of the drug.

The Belgian legislation, which is expected to be approved by parliament early this year, will legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal consumption. It will not allow sale of the drug, unlike in the Netherlands, where "coffee shops" selling marijuana cigarettes are a common sight in many cities.

February 11 - President Jorge Batlle of Uruguay becomes the first head of state in Latin America to call for the decriminalization of drugs and an end to the drug war. "During the past 30 years this has grown, grown, grown and grown, every day more problems, every day more violence, every day more militarization," the 73-year-old president told a radio audience recently. "This has not gotten people off drugs. And what's more, if you remove the economic incentive of the [drug trade] it loses strength, it loses size, it loses people who participate."

February 16 - (AP) More than half of the Swiss support loosening the laws banning marijuana, according to a survey by a drug and alcohol agency. The figures, released Thursday by the private Swiss Institute for Alcohol and Drug Problems following a study in November, say that 54 percent favor a softening of penalties for smoking, possessing and selling the drug. "Cannabis consumption is becoming normal," institute director Richard Mueller said.

March 9 - William J. Allegro, 32, of Bradley Beach, New Jersey is sentenced to 50 years in prison for growing marijuana in his home. "The court imposed this sentence because the court felt obligated to do so under the law," said Judge Paul F. Chaiet, a former prosecutor. "Mandatory sentencing provisions can create difficult results. In the court's view, this is one of those times where the ultimate results are difficult to accept."

Allegro's previous criminal record was made up of several non-violent offenses including a sale of marijuana.

April 18 - (AP) Kenneth Hayes and Michael Foley are acquitted by a Sonoma County jury on charges of cultivating and possessing marijuana. The two men were arrested for growing 899 marijuana plants for the1,200 members of a San Francisco medical marijuana club called CHAMP- Cannabis Helping Alleviate Medical Problems. Hayes ran the club.

Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins said, "Our contention was that you can't be a caregiver under the definition of the statute to that many people. The jury felt otherwise."

April 20 - Christian missionary Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter Charity are killed when their small plane is shot out of the sky by a Peruvian military jet, as part of a CIA-backed program that patrols the Amazon basin for drug couriers.

April 24 - In Oklahoma, Will Foster, 42, a medical marijuana patient who in 1995 was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing 39 marijuana plants in his basement, is released on parole. Foster used the marijuana to relieve chronic pain caused by acute rheumatoid arthritis.

"My medical use of marijuana never interfered with my work, I ran a successful business," said Foster. "I was minding my own business taking care of my health and my family. What was I doing to anybody that got me 93 years?"

April 24 - The Boston Globe reports: A narrowly divided Supreme Court gave police sweeping authority Tuesday to arrest and jail those who break even minor criminal laws, such as failing to fasten a car's seat belt.

May 2 - The Louisiana Senate, voting 29-5, passes sweeping legislation to bring relief to an overflowing state prison system, ending mandatory prison time for possession of small quantities of drugs.

"We have lost control of the prison population," said Sen. Charles Jones, D-Monroe, lead author of SB239. "We are spending nearly $600 million a year on prisons." Jones said there are 35,000 inmates in Louisiana state prisons and 15,000 of them are there on drug-related charges.

May 5 - The United States is voted off the United Nations Narcotics Control Board. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States would continue its "strong support" for U.N. anti-drug programs despite its ouster from the 13-member board that monitors compliance with U.N. drug conventions on substance abuse and illegal trafficking.

Seven countries -- Iran, Brazil, India, Peru, France, Netherlands and Austria -- were elected to the board Thursday. Boucher would not speculate as to why the US lost its seat but, coupled with the loss of the human rights seat the same day, he said "there's something happening out there."

May 7 - The Spanish El Pais newspaper reports: "Only Four European Union Countries Still Prohibit Cannabis Consumption." Europe continues along a trend towards decriminalization of so-called illegal drugs. Of the 15 countries in the European Union, a total of seven do not punish personal consumption of any drug or only impose administrative fines. With regards to cannabis tolerance is near complete: only Sweden, France, Finland and Greece maintain penalties.

May 10 - President Bush nominates John P. Walters as America's new Drug "Czar."

May 17 - Canada's House of Commons passes a unanimous motion to create a committee to examine the issue of non-medical drugs in Canada. Members of all five parties say they intend to discuss legalization, or at least decriminalization, of marijuana as part of a sweeping look at the country's drug strategy.

June 4 - The California State Senate votes 22-12 to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. The offense will now carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, with no criminal record.

The measure also bars state prosecution of doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients, and allows caregivers to cultivate marijuana cooperatively for medical purposes under the auspices of the state Department of Health Services.

June 6 - The Jerusalem Post reports: A doctoral student at the Hebrew University's School of Pharmacy in Jerusalem has discovered that a substance taken from the hallucinatory drug (marijuana) can be effective as an anti-inflammatory drug for rheumatoid arthritis.

For her work with hashish as a therapeutic agent, Susanna Tchilibon -- a 32-year-old immigrant from Milan -- has been named a winner of one of this year's Kaye Prizes for Innovations and Inventions at the university.

June 16 - Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn signs Assembly Bill 453 into law, making Nevada the ninth state where patients can use marijuana for medical reasons. Nevadans with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and other illnesses may now grow as many as seven marijuana plants and be shielded from arrest by Nevada law enforcement.

June 17 - The (UK) Times reports: Braving torrential rain, thousands gathered in a park in London on Saturday to call for the legalization of marijuana. Organizers estimated that 30,000 people attended the Cannabis Freedom Festival in the Brixton area of south London. There were no reports of arrests.

June 22 - The Washington Post reports: More than half of all black men report that they have been the victims of racial profiling by police, according to a survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. Overall, nearly 4 in 10 blacks -- 37 percent -- said they had been unfairly stopped by police because they were black, including 52 percent of all black men and 25 percent of all black women.

June 26 - China marks a U.N. international anti-drug day by holding rallies where piles of narcotics are burned, and 60 people are executed for drug offenses. Chinese authorities have executed hundreds of people since April in a crime crackdown labeled "Strike Hard" that allows for speeded up trials and broader use of the death penalty.

Thousands of people attend a rally at a stadium in Kunming, capital of southwestern Yunnan province, where 20 suspected drug traffickers are sentenced to death, then executed at a separate location, with a bullet to the back of the head.

June 27 - Newsday, in an article titled "Census: War on Drugs Hits Blacks," reports: Black men make up less than 3 percent of Connecticut's population but account for 47 percent of inmates in prisons, jails and halfway houses, 2000 census figures show.

"I don't think anyone intended it to be this way, but if you were trying to design a system to incarcerate as many African-American and Latino men as possible, I don't think you could have designed a better system," said state Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Connecticut Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

July 10 - (AP) The estate of a man who committed suicide in jail while being held on drug charges has been ordered to pay $750,000 to the Nassau County district attorney's office. The ruling, part of a settlement in a civil forfeiture case, was the first in New York state in which a prosecutor sought assets from a dead person.

July 14 - (AP) A ban on giving federal aid to college students with drug convictions could mean more than 34,000 people will be denied loans and grants in the coming school year -- more than triple those turned away in 2000-01.

July 18 - The Charleston, West Virginia Gazette reports: More than one-third of the people behind bars in the Mountain State are black, though blacks make up only about 3 percent of the general population.

July 19 - The Washington Post reports: A confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration compromised dozens of prosecutions across the United States by falsely testifying under oath and concealing his own arrest record, but the DEA continued to employ him for 16 years despite detailed knowledge of his wrongdoing, according to interviews, court records and an internal report by the agency.

By the time Justice Department officials took Andrew Chambers off the DEA payroll last year, he had earned about $1.8 million from the government, according to the report and interviews. Chambers, 44, who has never been prosecuted for his false testimony, declined to comment on the allegations and said he now travels the country as a motivational speaker.

August 3 - The Miami Herald reports: The Central Intelligence Agency paid the Peruvian intelligence organization run by fallen spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos $1 million a year for 10 years to fight drug trafficking, despite evidence that Montesinos was also in business with Colombian narcotraffickers.

August 18 - The Orange County Register reports: A Jamaican government commission recommended Thursday that marijuana be legalized for personal use by adults, a move the government likely will endorse despite opposition from the United States, which has spent millions to eradicate the crop on the Caribbean island.

"(Marijuana's) reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually enhancing substance is so strong that it must be regarded as culturally entrenched," the commission report said. The National Commission on Ganja -- as marijuana is known here -- also said Jamaica should allow the use of marijuana for religious purposes.

August 18-19 - Over 100,000 people gather in Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle, WA, for the 10th annual Hempfest, calling for legalization of industrial hemp, and marijuana for personal and medical uses. The event is the largest of its kind in the world.

"We only had one arrest during all of Hempfest," Seattle West Precinct Commander Mike Sanford said. "I think that shows the Police Department can work very well with groups that want to obey the law."

August 24 - Support for legalizing marijuana is at its highest level in at least 30 years, according to a USA TODAY/ CNN/ Gallup poll. Gannett news service reports: The poll found that 34 percent favored legalizing marijuana use while 62 percent were opposed, the most support for legalization since pollsters began asking the question in 1969.

The poll found support for legalization highest among 18- to 49-year-olds, people in the West and independent voters. Opposition was greatest among the elderly, those who attend church weekly and Republicans.

August 25 - Denver Post reports: "The best way for a kid who is caught using or selling drugs to get off is to select a congressman, senator or high-ranking official as one's parent," says U.S. District Judge John L. Kane Jr., a leading opponent of the War on Drugs.

Indeed, after the son of U.S. Rep. "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., was found flying an airplane loaded with 400 pounds of marijuana, he was freed on bail but then tested positive for cocaine three times. He wound up getting a mere 2 1/2 years in prison.

Former Education Secretary Richard Riley's son got just six months' house arrest for conspiring to sell cocaine and marijuana, though he had been indicted earlier on charges that can lead to life in prison.

August 26 - (AP) The number of adults behind bars, on parole or on probation reached a record 6.47 million in 2000 -- or one in 32 American adults, the government reported Sunday.

August 29 - ABC News 20/20 Downtown features a comparison of U.S. and Dutch drug policy, with an accompanying online interactive poll, asking "SHOULD MARIJUANA BE LEGALIZED?" 78 percent respond YES.

September 8 - Thirteen current and former Miami police officers were accused by U.S. authorities Friday of shooting unarmed people and then conspiring to cover it up by planting evidence. The indictment is just the latest scandal for this city's trouble-plagued police force. All of those charged were veterans assigned to SWAT teams, narcotics units or special crime-suppression teams in the late 1990s.

October 27 - The (UK) Guardian reports: A majority of Britons believe cannabis should be legalised and sold under licence in a similar way to alcohol, according to a new poll. Some 65 percent of those questioned agreed it should be legalized, and 91 percent said it should be available on prescription for sufferers of diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The poll, carried out by Mori for the News of the World, follows the Government's announcement that the law on the drug has been eased. While possession of cannabis will still be illegal, police will no longer be able to arrest those carrying it.

November 3 - The DEA raids the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, a medical marijuana distribution facility, arresting President Scott Imler. "They were as gracious as they can be when they are raping you," Imler says of the DEA agents.

The bust was a result of months of surveillance and years of investigation of the LACRC by the DEA.

City officials condemned the raid at a press conference last Friday that was attended by more than 100 center members.

November 9 - The San Jose Mercury News reports: Despite objections from former first lady Betty Ford and drug-treatment authorities, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of John Walters as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

November 19 - Former West Vancouver school superintendent Ed Carlin is furious with North Vancouver RCMP after a blunder during which the emergency response team raided a basement rental suite occupied by his son and three others in search of drugs and guns.

Red-faced cops took down the four young men at gunpoint and found Nintendo controllers in the home, but no guns or drugs.

December 7 - The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports: A Poly High School senior who played bass in the school orchestra took his life after being booked on marijuana possession charges, police said Thursday.

A police officer at Poly was notified at about 2 p.m. Wednesday that a bag of what appeared to be marijuana was visible in Andreas Wickstrom's car, parked in a campus parking lot.

"His mother was contacted and came down to pick him up. They were able to pick up the vehicle and return home about 5 p.m.," Blair said.

Minutes later, the boy's mother heard a noise, then "found her son in the bathroom, the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A shotgun kept in the home was found beside him," Blair said.

Paramedics called to the home, in the 3900 block of Elm Avenue, pronounced him dead at 5:11 p.m., Blair said.

Andreas' aunt, Diana Haye, said he was humiliated by his arrest. "All he repeated to his mother on the way home was 'they treated me like a common criminal,' " she said.

December 24 - In North Carolina, the Lexington Dispatch reports the dismissal of 65 criminal cases investigated by three county narcotics officers now charged in a federal indictment with conspiracy to distribute drugs.

According to a federal affidavit issued in the case, law enforcement officers abused their authority in one or more ways, including writing fake search warrants, planting evidence and fabricating charges, keeping drugs and money seized during arrests, attempting to extort more money from the people arrested, and intimidating suspects and potential witnesses.

2001 in Drug Statistics - Estimated U.S. deaths in year 2001 attributed to tobacco: 400,000; alcohol: 110,000; prescription drugs: 100,000; suicide: 30,000; murder: 15,000; aspirin and related painkillers: 7600; marijuana: 0? (unknown)

"The difference between a policy and a crusade is that a policy is judged by its results, while a crusade is judged by how good it makes its crusaders feel." - Thomas Sowell


Kevin Nelson, kcnelson@premier1.net is the author of the weekly column Drug War Briefs, available online at AlterNet.   A record 34 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legalized.A
© 2001 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.