Portland NORML News - Saturday, March 6, 1999

More Using Jury Box For Civil Protest (The Seattle Times adds the local angle
to a rewrite of a recent Washington Post article alleging an increase in jury

Date: Sat, 6 Mar 1999 20:02:46 -0800
From: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org (MAPNews)
To: mapnews@mapinc.org
Subject: MN: US WA: More Using Jury Box For Civil Protest
Sender: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Reply-To: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Organization: Media Awareness Project http://www.mapinc.org/lists/
Newshawk: John Smith
Pubdate: Sat, 6 Mar 1999
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Contact: opinion@seatimes.com
Website: http://www.seattletimes.com/
Copyright: 1999 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Joan Biskupic, The Washington Post, & Seattle Times staff reporter
Ian Ith contributed to this report.


In courthouses across the country, an unprecedented level of juror
activism is taking hold, ignited by a movement of people who are
turning their backs on the evidence they hear at trial and instead
using the jury box as a form of civil protest. Whether they are
African Americans who believe the system is stacked against them,
libertarians who abhor the overbearing hand of government, or someone
else altogether, these jurors are choosing to ignore a judge's
instructions to punish those who break the law because they don't like
what it says or how it is being applied to a particular defendant.

The phenomenon takes all forms. In upstate New York, an
African-American man refused to join 11 other jurors in convicting
black defendants of cocaine charges, saying he was sympathetic to
their struggles as blacks to make ends meet. In rural Colorado, a
woman refused to convict in a methamphetamine case and caused such
disruption that she forced a mistrial and was herself convicted of
obstructing justice.

In these cases, the jury box turned into a venue for registering
dissent, more powerful than one vote at the polls and more effective
at producing tangible, satisfying results.

Although they still represent a relatively small proportion of the
tens of thousands of jurors who file into courtrooms every day, a
striking body of evidence suggests their numbers are increasing. Case
studies and interviews with more than 100 jurors, judges, lawyers and
academics reveal a significant pattern of juror defiance. Some go so
far as to say jury nullification - the term for jurors who outright
reject the law - represents a threat to the foundation of the American
court system if it is not confronted and dealt with.

"There is a real potential danger if this problem goes unchecked,"
said former District of Columbia judge and Deputy Attorney General
Eric Holder. "I've seen what happens when ordinary citizens sit on a
jury with someone who nullifies. You hear it in their comments. There
is a real loss of faith. And for those who are regularly a part of the
court system, there is a real cynicism that grows out of

Nullifications called rare

In the Seattle area, nullification situations such as the hung jury
Thursday in the quadruple-murder trial of David Anderson, accused of
masterminding the slaying of four members of a Bellevue family two
years ago, remain rare, prosecutors said.

"The reason they attract so much attention is because they are so
rare," the King County prosecutor's chief of staff, Dan Satterberg,
said yesterday. "Most people who come to sit on a jury take their jobs
very seriously."

Still, it poses a real threat to the system, he said.

"It invites jurors to be both fact finders and legislators and rewrite
laws or ignore laws written by the Legislature for us all to follow,"
Satterberg said. "It's not the orderly fashion of our


But, as could be expected, local defense lawyers strongly

"The jury is the ultimate safety valve when the prosecution is
pursuing a law in a way the community believes is not correct," said
Lenell Nussbaum, a past president of the Washington Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers. "They are the representatives of the
community. These are the final deciders of whether to send a person
off to be punished."

More hung juries

The most concrete sign of the trend is the sharp jump in the
percentage of trials that end in hung juries. For decades, a 5 percent
hung jury rate was considered the norm, derived from a landmark study
published 30 years ago by Harry Kalven and Hans Zeisel. In recent
years, however, that figure has doubled and quadrupled, depending on
location. Some local courts in California, for example, have reported
more than 20 percent of trials ending in hung juries.

A hung jury is one in which the 12 jurors disagree over whether to
convict or acquit. But judges, lawyers and others who study the
phenomenon suspect that more and more, differences are erupting over
not the evidence but whether the law being broken is fair.

The legal leaders' concerns are supported by a recent nationwide poll
by Decision Quest and the National Law Journal, which found that three
out of four Americans said they would act on their own beliefs of
right and wrong, regardless of instructions from a judge to follow the
letter of the law.

Because of the secrecy surrounding jury deliberations, it is
impossible to know precisely how often jurors act on those views.
Nonetheless, the evidence is becoming overwhelming that the problem is

Proponents well organized

And its proponents are becoming well organized, promoting their call
for jury activism in every state and in every form.

"What's different now," says Vanderbilt University law professor Nancy
King, who has tracked the phenomenon, "is that there's an organized,
national movement to change the power of the jury."

It's hard to tell when a juror is taking the law into his own hands.
The only people in the room deliberating are the 12 chosen to serve,
so unless one speaks up, no one knows why a jury reaches the
conclusion it does. If jurors vote not to convict because they don't
believe the nation's drug laws are fair, they may disguise their true
feelings by simply saying the evidence wasn't there or the prosecution
didn't make its case. Otherwise, they risk being ejected from the jury

Prosecutors see jurors' rejection of laws as vigilante justice, but
defense lawyers have a complicated response. Few endorse nullification
as a payback for race discrimination or other social grievances, but
they also recognize that, if a juror does hold out on conviction,
that's good for their client. "From my point of view," said New York
defense lawyer Thomas O'Hern, "there are three potential verdicts:
`guilty,' `not guilty' and `can't decide.' `Can't decide' is a win for

Seattle lawyer Nussbaum agrees.

"If the prosecutors aren't capable of convincing 12 people, then maybe
they have some problems with their case," she said. "There are times
the prosecution goes too far. The jury is the proper body to tell them
they've gone too far."

And she believes blaming the jury for prosecutors' failure is a

"When they don't succeed in what they want to do, they used to blame
judges for letting people off," she said. "Politically, it's popular
now to blame jurors. In the past 15 years, the Legislature has taken a
great deal of power away from the judges and gave it to the
prosecutors. Now the prosecutors are trying to take power away from
the jury as well."

A California case

In an Oakland, Calif., case, fellow jurors said one member was overly
sympathetic to a defendant.

James R. Metters Jr. had ordered at a fast-food restaurant, then told
the cashier to "give him all the twenties." The cashier later
testified that she thought Metters held a gun, so she gave him the

money and he fled. The cashier found the restaurant manager, who
immediately told a police sergeant who happened to be at the
drive-through window. The sergeant caught Metters, finding his coat
and $383 in cash nearby.

During his trial, his lawyer said Metters was being pursued by drug
dealers to whom he owed money and feared for his life. During
deliberations, a woman identified as "Juror No. 4" said it was wrong
to convict him, according to court records. The drug dealers
threatened to kill him and his family, she said: "Shouldn't that matter?"

Others in the room said the man should be convicted, whatever his
motivations, and complained in a note to the judge that Juror No. 4
was "unfairly sympathetic to" Metters. They said she had worked in a
drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, a fact that affected her
ability to view the facts and law objectively.

The judge agreed with the other jurors that she was not being
open-minded and dismissed her. An alternate juror was added, and the
jury then found Metters guilty.

Little reaction from judges

Few of the nation's trial judges have been willing to publicly voice
concerns for fear of giving the movement legitimacy or appearing to
tread on juror independence. But for Colorado circuit Judge Frederic
Rodgers, jury nullification is a consuming interest.

"It is a recipe for anarchy . . . (when jurors) are allowed to
substitute personal whims for the stable and established law," said
Rodgers, who has warned other judges in articles that organized
activists are "coming to a courthouse near you."

If a juror dislikes a law, Rodgers and a handful of other outspoken
judges insist, he should press for legislative change, not behave in a
random fashion that lets one criminal off scot-free but sends another
- with a different jury - to jail.


To: "CRRH mailing list" (restore@crrh.org)
Date: Mon, 08 Mar 1999 20:00:51 -0000
From: "T. Paine" (filing@mailcity.com)
From: "CRRH mailing list" (restore@crrh.org)
Subject: Re: WA: More Using Jury Box For Civil Protest

This is the best overall survey of all aspects of jury nullification that I
have seen. One fact they didn't mention is that alcohol prohibition was
already being repealed by jury nullification before federal prohibition was
repealed. This info is so powerful that the powers-that-be are afraid to even
talk about it! Pass this on far and wide! The stats in here are the first
I've seen and are really encouraging. This can work almost anywhere in the
world. The key as a juror is not to let on you are using your legal right of
jury nullification, because you can then be illegally taken off the jury.
Just say that you are not convinced by the evidence, or that the evidence is
suspect because of the police may have planted some of it, or that the
evidence chain was not guarded, or whatever. There are videotapes you can
play on public access channels on cable television that explain your legal
right to jury nullification, too. When all other means for getting
legislation that enacts the majority support for medical cannabis are blocked
and delayed, as things stand now worldwide in many cases, then we still have
jury nullification. The cure for democracy is MORE free speech, not less.
This is a perfect example. Please pass this on!

---- Original Message follows ----

On Sun, 07 Mar 1999 10:23:23 CRRH mailing list wrote:




From: "Buck" (incite@transport.com)
From: "CRRH mailing list" (restore@crrh.org)
To: (restore@crrh.org)
Subject: Re: More Using Jury Box For Civil Protest
Date: Sun, 7 Mar 1999 11:14:36 -0800

Here is another slant on hung jurys. I always hear about one juror hanging
the jury. In my case I was charged with 28 counts by the feds after spending
9 months in jail without bail the jury acquitted on 27 counts and hung 9-3
in my favor on the all encompassing Conspiracy count. The prosecutor
screamed jury nullification and held me in jail another 2 months while
deciding to retry the case. The judge and the system saw no problem with
this type of action by the prosecutor. Now after 2 years plus of trying to
bring the DEA Agent and the Prosecutor to trial under a Bivens Civil action
PRO-SE all the courts have ruled they are immune for their actions even if
they did do them. False Arrest, False imprisonment,Abuse of Power,
prosecutorial misconduct, malfeasance and misfeasance of office, they
refused to submit admissions answers which by their own law becomes admitted
as true. They do not deny they did these things they just say we are in the
position of power that says we can do it and we are immune from it. No
accountability by federal agents. I ask you is this a government by the
people of the people for the people? No it is by the government of the
government for the government. The case is now in the 9th Circuit under a
motion for rehearing enbanc. Our Legislature is not for the average citizen
and to wait for them to change what protects them from the little people
will not happen. The Jury is the Last right of veto power by the individual
to protect our freedoms. How many of the thousands of laws that congress has
made to serve their special interests do you agree with. What did Henry Hyde
say they didn't elect us to speak for them but elected us to use our own
judgement. God gave each one of us a mind to use. Use it with conscience.
Peace, Love & Freedom Buck (Totalatarinism is upon us do not crumble)


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Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp
P.O. Box 86741
Portland, OR 97286
Phone: (503) 235-4606
Fax:(503) 235-0120
Web: http://www.crrh.org/

Leman Targets Marijuana Law (The Anchorage Daily News says state senator
Loren Leman, a Republican from Anchorage, has introduced a bill to roll back
large parts of the medical marijuana initiative approved by Alaska voters in
November. "He's not hiding his motives," said David Finkelstein, treasurer of
Alaskans for Medical Rights, the group that pushed the initiative. "He'd
like to repeal it." The Alaska Constitution bars the Legislature from
repealing a citizen initiative for the first two years after it takes effect.
But lawmakers can amend initiatives.)

Date: Sun, 7 Mar 1999 16:49:50 -0800
From: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org (MAPNews)
To: mapnews@mapinc.org
Subject: MN: US AK: Leman Targets Marijuana Law
Sender: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Reply-To: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Organization: Media Awareness Project http://www.mapinc.org/lists/
Newshawk: davidfinkelstein@juno.com (by way of Dave Fratello)
Pubdate: Sat, 6 Mar 1999
Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Contact: letters@adn.com
Website: http://www.adn.com/
Copyright: 1999 The Anchorage Daily News
Author: Paul Queary


JUNEAU -- A Republican lawmaker wants to roll back large parts of the
medical marijuana initiative approved by Alaska voters last year.

The measure shields people from prosecution for growing, possessing or
using marijuana to treat a short list of ailments including AIDS,
cancer, chronic pain, nausea and muscle spasms. Nearly 60 percent of
the voters backed the measure.

Sen. Loren Leman's bill would require medical marijuana users to
register with the state. And it would allow law enforcement officers
greater access to that list. Under the initiative, registering with
the state is optional and there are tight controls on who can look at
the list.

Leman, R-Anchorage, wants many other changes to the law, including
tighter restrictions on how doctors can recommend medical pot. He
wants limits on what ailments qualify and where patients can smoke the
weed for relief.

"We don't want to be opening this up to anybody who is farming
marijuana and abusing our drug laws," Leman said Friday. Like other
opponents, Leman saw the ballot measure as a thinly veiled attempt to
legalize recreational marijuana use.

The medical marijuana law took effect on Thursday, and supporters
accused Leman of trying to gut the measure before the public has a
chance to see how it works.

"He's not hiding his motives," said David Finkelstein, treasurer of
Alaskans for Medical Rights, the group that pushed the initiative.
"He'd like to repeal it."

The Alaska Constitution bars the Legislature from repealing a
citizens' initiative for the first two years after it takes effect.
But lawmakers can amend initiatives.

"We are walking along that fine line," Leman admitted. "I'm doing it
with the cooperation of the Department of Law, the Department of
Public Safety and police departments around the state. They are all
concerned about what this could do to thwart their ability to enforce
the drug laws in the state of Alaska."

Democratic Minority Leader Johnny Ellis of Anchorage said Leman was
apparently lying in wait for the law to go into effect.

"It appears on its face to be a wholesale rollback of the citizens'
initiative," Ellis said. "The timing shocks me. He had to be working
on this piece of legislation before the initiative went into effect."

Leman's bill would require doctors to submit a signed statement
stating grounds for their conclusions that "there is no other legal
treatment that can be tolerated by the patient that is as effective in
alleviating the debilitating medical condition."

Finkelstein contends that such a requirement would make it nearly
impossible for doctors to recommend marijuana -- because many
stronger drugs such as morphine are legal and could be tolerated by
patients, even though they have dangerous side effects.

The bill also would require patients to register with the state, even
though the registry system will not be in place until June. Under the
measure passed by voters, a doctor's decision to recommend marijuana
would provide a legal defense even if the user didn't register.

Leman's proposal would also limit the qualified medical conditions
listed in the law to cancer, glaucoma and AIDS, along with nausea and
pain associated with those diseases. Gone would be the law's
authority to treat pain, nausea, seizures and muscle spasms caused by
other conditions. The Department of Health and Social Services could
add other qualified illnesses later.

Although Leman said he was cooperating with state agencies on his
rewrite of the law, officials in the Department of Law and the
Department of Health and Social Services say the proposal has a long
way to go.

"I think it's safe to say that we'll have some concerns about the way
this bill has been drafted," said Elmer Lindstrom, a special assistant
to Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue. Leman's
proposal doesn't sound much like one discussed between his department
and the Department of Law, Lindstrom added.

Drug Statistics Don't Square With 'War' (A letter to the editor of the
Worcester Telegram & Gazette, in Massachusetts, debunks a central concept
underlying the war on some drug users - that prohibited drugs are far more
dangerous than non-prohibited drugs. Actually, marijuana kills no one, and
other prohibited drugs account for less than 1 percent of all deaths from
non-medical drug use, about 14,000 annually. Reactions to prescribed
medications also kill 100,000 Americans annually.)

Date: Sat, 20 Mar 1999 17:29:41 -0800
From: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org (MAPNews)
To: mapnews@mapinc.org
Subject: MN: US MA: Drug Statistics Don't Square With 'War'
Sender: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Reply-To: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Organization: Media Awareness Project http://www.mapinc.org/lists/
Newshawk: Ed Carpenter
Pubdate: Sat, 6 Mar 1999
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 1999 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Contact: tgletter@telegram.infi.net
Website: http://www.telegram.com/index.html
Author: Ed Carpenter


With the impeachment proceedings over, and both parties anxious to get
back to work, the theme apparently is "cranking up the drug war." The
Democrats have opened the bidding with a massive 3 volume strategy,
featuring accountability.

The Republicans will insist the paltry $1.1 billion cost increase over
last year's failed program shows that the Democrats are soft on drugs.
Republicans, no doubt, have a much more expensive plan of their own.

Central to the concept of either plan is the notion that prohibited
drugs are far more dangerous than non-prohibited drugs. Actually,
prohibited drugs account for less than 1 percent of annual deaths,
about 14,000. By contrast, reactions to prescribed medications kill
100,000 Americans annually.

Alcohol, the number one most widely used mind altering substance,
plays a part in 10% of all deaths. Alcohol kills 150,000 Americans
every year.

Nicotine, more addictive than cocaine or heroin, kills over 400,000
Americans yearly. Tobacco causes more deaths than alcohol, cocaine,
heroin, homicide, suicide, car accidents, fire, and AIDS combined.

Of the illegal drugs, heroin is the big killer. Heroin will be linked
to about 4000 deaths this year, and cocaine to about 2000.

And then we have marijuana. Less addictive than coffee, and safer
than some of the foods we eat, over 600,000 Americans were arrested
last year for simply possessing it. There are no death statistics for
marijuana, as no deaths have ever been attributed to its use.

Edward Carpenter

Doubt Cast On Brain Chemical Role Of Dopamine Not So 'Feel-Good' (The Florida
Times-Union recounts Thursday's news about a report in the journal Nature
which suggests that, rather than being the key player in the pleasure
process, dopamine is only a "messenger" and just one of several components of
addiction. What chemical or process is ultimately responsible for the
pleasure is "not really clear right now," said Anthony Grace, a professor of
neuroscience and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.)

Date: Sat, 6 Mar 1999 13:09:14 -0800
From: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org (MAPNews)
To: mapnews@mapinc.org
Subject: MN: US: Doubt Cast On Brain Chemical Role Of Dopamine Not So
Sender: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Reply-To: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Organization: Media Awareness Project http://www.mapinc.org/lists/
Newshawk: General Pulaski
Pubdate: 6 Mar 1999
Source: Florida Times-Union (FL)
Copyright: The Florida Times-Union 1999
Contact: jaxstaff@jacksonville.com
Website: http://www.times-union.com/
Forum: http://cafe.jacksonville.com/cafesociety.html


Dopamine may not be the brain's "feel-good" chemical after all, a study
found, suggesting that scientists trying to unlock the secrets of drug
addiction may have been off-target for the past two decades.

The naturally produced brain chemical, rather than being the key player in
the pleasure process, is only a messenger and one of several factors,
according to the study, being published today in the journal Nature.

"It certainly says the picture is much more complicated than being just
dopamine alone, and it will lead to the search for other chemical
substances in the brain," said the study's author, chemist R. Mark Wightman
of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Dopamine, first discovered in 1957, came into prominence in the early 1960s
when scientists discovered that several anti-psychotic drugs targeted it.
In the late 1970s, researchers began looking into its role in drug
addiction and found that cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs increase
levels of dopamine in the body.

Since then, some scientists have tried to develop a medication that would
cure cocaine addiction by blocking dopamine.

The latest study is another in a series that have cast doubt on that

Researchers attached electrodes to the brains of rats, which produced
dopamine when they were shocked. The rats were then trained to shock

As the rats continued to shock themselves, however, the researchers
discovered that the amount of dopamine produced by their brains decreased
- even though they continued to seek pleasure by pressing the lever that
electrically stimulated their brains.

Dopamine appears to be related to "novelty, predictability or some other
aspect of the reward process, rather than to hedonism itself," the
researchers reported.

What chemical or process is ultimately responsible for the pleasure is "not
really clear right now," said Anthony Grace, a professor of neuroscience
and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the

Francis White, chairman of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the
Chicago Medical School, said the study adds to the growing belief that the
pleasure process has been oversimplified.

Senators Join Outcry To Halt New Bank Rules (An Associated Press article in
the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the U.S. Senate voted 88-0 Friday to ask
the government to withdraw its proposed "Know Your Customer"
anti-money-laundering rules that would invade bank customers' privacy. In the
U.S. House of Representatives, the Banking Committee on Thursday adopted an
amendment to a big financial services bill that would kill the proposed
banking rules.)

Date: Sat, 6 Mar 1999 20:02:42 -0800
From: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org (MAPNews)
To: mapnews@mapinc.org
Subject: MN: US: Senators Join Outcry To Halt New Bank Rules
Sender: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Reply-To: owner-mapnews@mapinc.org
Organization: Media Awareness Project http://www.mapinc.org/lists/
Newshawk: John Smith
Pubdate: Sat, 6 Mar 1999
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Contact: editpage@seattle-pi.com
Website: http://www.seattle-pi.com/
Copyright: 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.


WASHINGTON -- The Senate, joining a torrent of criticism from people
worried about privacy, told the government yesterday to withdraw
proposed anti-money laundering rules that would track bank customers'

By an 88-0 vote, the Senate expressed support for a measure directing
bank regulators to drop the proposed rules, called "Know Your
Customer." Senate Democrats blocked a vote on actual adoption of the
measure, sponsored by Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Wayne Allard,
R-Colo., so it lacks the force of law.

"This is such a broad-reaching regulation that it infringes on our
constitutional rights," Gramm, the chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee, said on the Senate floor. He maintained that the rules
would violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable
search and seizure.

In the House, the Banking Committee on Thursday adopted an amendment
to a big financial services bill that would kill the proposed banking

Privacy advocates, conservative groups, ordinary people and the
nation's bankers have complained that the rules would transform every
bank teller into a spy for Big Brother.

At least one federal regulator agrees with the Senate. U.S.
Comptroller of the Currency John Hawke Jr., who oversees nationally
chartered banks, told a House subcommittee hearing Thursday that the
rules should be scrapped.

"It is my judgment . . . that the proposal should be promptly
withdrawn," Hawke said.

Hawke and Donna Tanoue, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.,
said recently they were reconsidering the proposed rules, which were
denounced in a flood of angry e-mail starting in December. The FDIC
has received more than 170,000 e-mail messages and letters during the
90-day public comment period, which closes on Monday.

The other agencies involved in the matter are the Federal Reserve and
the Office of Thrift Supervision.

The regulations would require banks to verify their customers'
identities, know where their money comes from and determine their
normal pattern of transactions. Current requirements for banks to
report "suspicious" transactions to law enforcement authorities would
be expanded.

The proposal is designed to combat money-laundering techniques used by
drug traffickers and other criminals to hide illegal profits. Money
laundering is a major concern of law enforcement officials; it reached
an estimated $30 billion in this country last year.

Peddling Drugs (An editorial in New Zealand's online Newsroom by Matthew
Thomas discusses how New Zealand's politics and political system block
reform of marijuana laws.)

Date: Sun, 07 Mar 1999 18:25:12 -0800
To: "DRCTalk Reformers' Forum" (drctalk@drcnet.org)
From: David Hadorn (hadorn@dnai.com)
Subject: New Zealand editorial on drug policy
Cc: editor@mapnews.org, hempstor@ihug.co.nz
Reply-To: hadorn@dnai.com
Sender: owner-drctalk@drcnet.org

New Zealand has a website (www.newsroom.co.nz) at which the various
political parties post their press releases. The website administrators
also provide commentary on current affairs. Here's a particularly relevant
one for those interested in following drug policy events in New Zealand.

NR Soapbox: Peddling Drugs
Saturday, 6 March 1999, 7:32 pm

Peddling drugs
Matthew Thomas
Soapbox 0024, 1999-02-28

The Government is pushing drugs. Not literally, you understand -- they're
just pushing drug use as an issue in the run-up to the election. Along with
lengthened prison sentences for violent criminals, which I discussed in my
last column, the Government is planning new measures to crack down on drug
use, as part of its five-year National Drug Strategy.

According to David Carter, who has the breath-sapping title of `Associate
Minister for Food, Fibre, Biosecurity and Border Control', the Government is
soon to announce a programme `which will include health promotion, assessment
and treatment services and enforcement initiatives' against drug use [1].

Unfortunately, like the longer prison sentences, this move against drugs
seems to have been done more for political convenience than for the actual
good of society.

Back in September, NewsRoom reporter Ian Llewellyn described a process he
called `parking the buses' [2], where the Government halts (or at least
pauses) the controversial programmes which have the potential to damage its
chances during the election.

During the coalition turmoil of last year, an early election seemed
reasonably likely, so the Government slammed on the brakes for all relevant
buses in preparation for going to the polls -- in the current Government's
case, the buses included producer board reform, fire service restructuring,
privatization of roads, and closure of hospitals.

However, the Government now finds itself with one small problem: and that
problem is, perversely, that the election isn't coming any time soon. Most of
the motley crew of small parties and Independents now supporting the
Government realize that when the election comes, whenever it comes, it will
be the end of their political careers, so they'll stay in Parliament as long
as they can enjoy the perks -- they know better than to bite the hand that
feeds them.

Even doomed MPs have principles, though, and the wide ideological range of
those on the Government side means that it is extremely difficult for Jenny
Shipley to get them to agree on anything. So what to do? You've parked the
buses, and you can't get all your supporters to agree on putting any
particular one of them back in gear. You can make a virtue of necessity,
and call the Government's inaction `stability', but with nine months until
the next election (barring accidents or natural disasters), that won't hold
up to scrutiny for long. Only one solution: get out the tricycles.

Tricycles, to continue Ian Llewellyn's transport metaphor, are those policy
issues which are simple and cute -- everyone can agree on them, and they're
easy to ride. Their only drawback is that they're small, and it's hard to
convince the public that you're really serious about getting from A to B if
you're using one.

We saw a number of tricycles mounted when Jenny Shipley made her latest
PASS (Prosperity And Stability Speech) at us, and the Government seems to be
getting some mileage out of them.

The most notable of these tricycles at the moment are the longer prison
sentences, and the crackdown (if you'll excuse the pun) on drugs. Riding
tricycles is a wimpy tactic, but it works -- a few weeks ago I complained
about Labour's tactic of being deliberately policy-less, but now it seems
that National is succeeding by following the same method. The latest polls
[3] show that National is making valuable ground on Labour, and at their
current rate of improvement we could be well be seeing a National-ACT
government after the next election (assuming that ACT either retains at least
one electorate MP or climbs back above the five-percent threshold).

Unfortunately, like the Government's approach to crime, their attitude to
drug use is fundamentally flawed. Or perhaps I should be more accurate, and
say that Jenny Shipley's attitude to drug use is fundamentally flawed. The
news media have created a story [4] out of the fact that Jenny Shipley and
police minister Clem Simich have different opinions on whether cannabis use
should be decriminalized. What's interesting is that for once, Clem Simich
seems to putting some thought into what he says.

`There are plenty of ways of dealing with it [cannabis use],' he suggests
[4]. `Having it as a criminal offence is one of them ... I think it can be
treated in other ways than having offenders made into criminals'.

I could suggest one alternative way. Decriminalize marijuana, but tax the
producers to the hilt -- like tobacco, levying the maximum amount that the
public will stand without a black market developing. And hey, that would fix
up that troublesome issue of whether or not to allow the potentially
lucrative hemp industry [5] to start up in New Zealand, too, because
marijuana would be legal so there would be much less incentive to secretly
grow it amongst the hemp (which is the main objection at present).

So why is Jenny Shipley not doing this? Well, according to her, `All the
evidence is that if we get loose on marijuana, we will soon be having an
argument about being loose with heroin, or loose with ecstasy, or loose with
LSD -- and I am not going to simply stand aside and let that happen.'

So where is this `all the evidence'? Well, apparently Australia's PM John
Howard told her yesterday [6] that that was the way things worked, and she
believed him -- reminiscent of the way she announced that New Zealand would
be following whatever Australia did in relation to East Timor, with her own
`where she goes, we go' speech.

I was going to go on here and carefully argue why cannabis should be
decriminalized, and treated in exactly the same way as alcohol and tobacco.
But I have come across a 1998 report by the New Zealand Drug Policy Forum
Trust, which does a much better job of putting the case than I would.

Everyone who is interested in the issue of cannabis use should read this
report -- it's at http://www.nzdf.org.nz/1998.htm. Among other things, the
report demonstrates that:

* decriminalization would reduce, not increase, the use of cannabis by young
people, because by being legal, it would no longer be seen as `cool';

* the use of cannabis, unlike other drugs, is not widely associated with
other forms of crime;

* contrary to what Jenny Shipley claims, cannabis is not a `gateway drug' --
that is, its use does not lead to the later demand for, or supply of, harder
drugs such as heroin and cocaine;

* cannabis is less harmful than tobacco or alcohol;

* and a quasi-decriminalization in Denmark (where police simply don't enforce
the law against possession or purchase of cannabis) has resulted in that
country having fewer addicts than many of its contemporaries.

But the Government seems unlikely to pay any attention to these facts. It
will continue to spew press releases on the evils of drug use, and continue
to waste police resources on the ineffectual fight against cannabis, as it
peddles its anti-drug policy tricycle around the country.

Copyright (C) 1999 Matthew Thomas (spiff@3dmail.com).


1: http://www.newsroom.co.nz/stories/PO9902/S00513.htm
2: http://www.newsroom.co.nz/stories/HL9809/S00148.htm
3: http://www.newsroom.co.nz/stories/HL9902/S00045.htm
4: http://www.press.co.nz/08/99022626.htm
5: http://www.norml.org.nz/norml/Files/Hemp/Hemp_Fact_Sheet.htm
6: http://www.newsroom.co.nz/stories/PO9902/S00490.htm



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