Twelve Months in the Life of Marijuana Prohibition
30 - February 6, 2001
by Kevin Nelson
One of the problems that the marijuana reform movement consistently faces is that everyone wants to talk about what marijuana does, but no one ever wants to look at what marijuana prohibition does. Marijuana never kicks down your door in the middle of the night. Marijuana never locks up sick and dying people, does not suppress medical research, does not peek in bedroom windows. Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could. —RICHARD COWAN, FORMER HEAD OF NORML, NOW EDITOR OF www.marijuananews.com
Estimated U.S. deaths in 2000 attributed to:
prescription drugs: 100,000
aspirin and related over-the-counter painkillers: 7600
Number of americans arrested since 1965 on marijuana-related charges: over 11 million
February 9: Arizona—Deborah Lynn Quinn, 39, born with no arms or legs, is sentenced to one year in Arizona prison for marijuana possession after violating probation on a previous drug offense—attempted sale of 4 grams of marijuana to a police informant for $20. Quinn will require around-the-clock care for feeding, bathing, and hygiene.
February 15: The United States' prison and jail population surpasses 2 million people. Prisons are one of the fastest-growing expenses of government. It costs about $100,000 to build a single prison cell and about $24,000 per year to house an individual prisoner. Some 1.3 million U.S. inmates are currently serving time for nonviolent offenses. One-quarter of the world's prisoners are now incarcerated in the "land of the free."
February 18: Atlanta—Louis E. Covar Jr., 51, a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down in a diving accident on July 4, 1967, who says he uses marijuana to relieve the pain from muscle spasms in his neck, is sentenced to seven years in prison after being accused of selling marijuana out of his home. Covar denies the charge, insisting the small amount seized (one and a quarter ounces) was for his personal medicinal use. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, the special care Covar needs will cost $258.33 a day—or more than 660,000 if he serves his full seven years. A typical prisoner costs taxpayers $47.63 per day.
February 23: The Hawaii Medical Association comes out against the pending state medical marijuana initiative. Heidi Singh, HMA's director of legislative and government affairs, says more studies should be done, and that "physicians cannot in good faith recommend a drug therapy without clinical evidence to back it up."
February 28: Madrid, Spain—The chemical in marijuana that produces a high shows promise as a weapon against deadly brain tumors, according to Spanish scientists. In a study on rats, a team from Complutense University and Autonoma University in Madrid found that one of marijuana's active ingredients, THC, eliminated tumor cells in advanced cases of glioma, a quick-killing cancer for which there is currently no effective treatment. The researchers found that pumping THC into the tumors cleared the cancer in more than a third of the test rats. The drug prolonged the life of another third by up to 40 days, but was ineffective in the rest. The cancer did not recur in any of the survivors.
March 2: Marijuana-like compounds ease tremors in mice with a condition similar to multiple sclerosis, researchers say in a study, published in the British journal Nature, that appears to corroborate patients' claims that pot helps them deal with the disease.
March 13: Mondovi, Wisconsin—Police raid the home of Jacki Rickert at 3:30 a.m. and seize a small amount of marijuana. Rickert, 49, who is wheelchair-bound and weighs 90 pounds, suffers from Ehlers-Danos syndrome and reflexive sympathetic dystrophy, bone and muscle diseases respectively. She smokes marijuana to ease her pain and strengthen her appetite. Rickert was promised but later denied entrance to the federal Investigative New Drug program, which distributes a tin of 300 pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes to eight legally protected American citizens each month.
Rickert's daughter, Tammy, claims the police raid has left her mother a wreck. "She's tiny, frail," Tammy said. "She's not out to hurt anybody. She's trying to maintain some semblance of a quality of life. The marijuana, which the government pretty much told her she could use, helps a little. This whole thing is unbelievable."
March 16: New York City—An unarmed black security guard, Patrick Dorismond, is shot dead by undercover New York City police officers conducting a marijuana "buy-and-bust." Two plainclothes detectives approach Dorismond, asking if he will sell them "some weed." Dorismond rebuffs the men, a scuffle ensues, and a third officer, Anthony Vasquez, fires a single bullet into Dorismond's chest. No drugs or other contraband is found on Dorismond's body. The shooting is the third time in 13 months plainclothes New York City police officers kill an unarmed black man.
Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, marijuana arrests have risen from 720 in 1992 to 59,945 in the first 11 months of 2000.
April 1: Canada's premier national newspaper, The National Post, editorializes in favor of an eventual legalization of marijuana: "Canada's police, judges, and prosecutors have better things to do with their time than track down those who produce and consume a substance no more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. We should begin the decriminalization of marijuana by immediately reducing the punishments that can be imposed for its possession to modest fines—and start thinking about how to regulate its use."
April 25: The Hawaii State Senate passes medical marijuana legislation, joining California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Alaska, Arizona, and the District of Columbia in shielding medical marijuana patients from criminal prosecution.
June 9: Human Rights Watch releases a study showing that Illinois has the worst racial disparity among jailed drug offenders of any state in the nation. Black men in Illinois are 57 times more likely than white men to be sent to prison on drug charges, and blacks make up 90 percent of all drug-related prison admissions. Though federal studies show that nationwide white drug users outnumber black drug users 5 to 1, blacks make up about 62 percent of prisoners incarcerated on drug charges, compared with 36 percent for whites.
June 14: Los Angeles—Bestselling author, cancer and AIDS patient, and high-profile medical marijuana activist Peter McWilliams is found dead in his home. McWilliams, barred by a federal court order from using marijuana to counteract the extreme nausea caused by his AIDS drugs, is found slumped on his bathroom floor, choked to death on vomit. His federal prosecutors say they are "saddened by his death."
McWilliams's books include How to Heal Depression; Getting Over the Loss of a Love; Life 101; and Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country.
July 31: Ontario, Canada—Ontario's top court rules unanimously (3-0) that Canada's law making marijuana possession a crime is unconstitutional, because it does not take into account the needs of medical marijuana patients. The judges allow the current law to remain in effect for another 12 months, to permit Parliament to rewrite it. However, if the Canadian government fails to set up a medical marijuana distribution program by July 31, 2001, all marijuana laws in Canada will be struck down.
August 16: Los Angeles—The American Medical Marijuana Association reports that medical marijuana patient, grower, and author of How to Grow Medical Marijuana Todd McCormick, confined to federal prison while appealing his case, has been sent to solitary confinement. Todd has severe spinal problems that have caused him "unbearable" pain, according to his mother, Ann McCormick. She says Todd went to the medical office and requested the synthetic form of marijuana, Marinol, produced by Unimed Pharmaceuticals, which he had been taking before his incarceration. One day after Todd asked for the easily prescribed drug, the feds ordered he be drug tested. When the results came back positive for marijuana, Todd was placed in solitary confinement.
August 20: Seattle—A crowd estimated at 100,000 gathers at Myrtle Edwards Park for Hempfest 2000, calling for the legalization of marijuana for personal and medical use, as well as legalization of hemp for environmentally sustainable industrial uses. The event is the largest of its kind in the world, with no arrests reported.
September 8: Santa Fe—Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader joins New Mexico's Republican governor, Gary Johnson, in criticizing the nation's war on drugs, calling for marijuana legalization and reform of what Nader calls "self-defeating and antiquated" drug laws. Rehabilitation gives a far better payoff than "criminalizing and militarizing the situation," Nader says at a news conference. "Study after study has shown that, and yet somehow it doesn't get through to federal policy."
October 16: The FBI releases its 1999 Uniform Crime Report. There was a record total of 704,812 U.S. marijuana arrests in 1999, or one every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 620,541 (88 percent) were for simple marijuana possession, and 84,271 (12 percent) were for sales or cultivation. Through 1999, there were 4,175,357 marijuana arrests under the Clinton administration, a record for any U.S. presidency.
November 7, election day: Voters across the United States pass sweeping drug law reform initiatives. In California, despite united opposition from Governor Gray Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, statewide police associations, and prison guard unions, citizens vote 61 percent to 39 percent to pass Proposition 36, diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses. Proponents claim the move will save the state $150 million annually and eliminate the need for a new state prison. Mendocino County voters approve Measure G by a 58-42 margin, decriminalizing personal use and the growing of up to 25 marijuana plants.
Nevadans vote 65 percent to 35 percent to pass Question 9, allowing qualified patients to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. In response, a self-appointed task force of state health care officials, the Nevada Medical Marijuana Initiative Work Group, moves to limit use of the drug to research studies, adding months if not years to approval time.
By a 53-47 margin, Colorado voters pass Amendment 20, allowing qualified patients to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants. Tom Strickland, U.S. attorney for Colorado, says that his office will continue to "aggressively enforce federal drug laws, including the prohibition of marijuana, regardless of the passage of this ballot initiative."
Utahans, by a margin of 69-31, pass Initiative B, denying government agencies the right to seize property from individuals before they are convicted of a crime.
Oregonians pass a similar property-seizure reform initiative, Measure 3—the Oregon Property Protection Act—by a margin of 67-33. Measure 3 diverts drug forfeiture proceeds from police treasuries into drug treatment programs.
November 27: In U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, 00-151, the Supreme Court takes on the issue of whether "medical necessity" is an acceptable defense against the federal law that makes marijuana distribution a crime. A decision is expected by June 2001.
December 6: Brussels, Belgium—Liberal prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and a coalition of Liberals, Socialists, and Greens vote to end marijuana prohibition. As of January 1, 2001, Belgium, joining Holland in embracing tolerance, will "exempt from punishment possession, consumption, and trade of up to five grams hashish or marijuana." Belgium is the seat of the European Union.
December 6: In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine released today, President Bill Clinton is asked if he thinks "people should go to jail for using or even selling small amounts of marijuana." Clinton replies, "I think that most small amounts of marijuana have been decriminalized in some places, and should be." Clinton adds, "We really need a reexamination of our entire policy on imprisonment. A lot of people are in prison because they have drug problems or alcohol problems and too many of them are getting out—particularly out of state systems—without treatment, without education, without skills, without serious efforts at job placement."
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