A Year in the Life
of Marijuana Prohibition
"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 news items, culled from the press over
the past twelve 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 the 1,200 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
“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
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 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
June 17 - The
Times (UK) 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
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
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
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
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
“(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
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
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
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
Guardian (UK) reports: A majority of Britons believe cannabis
should be legalised and sold under license 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.,”
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,”
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
“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.”
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