For Dee Dee Zoretic of Lakewood, Ohio, drug policy reform isn't about statistics and rhetoric. It's about whether or not she can use her right arm so she can tie her son's shoelaces.
A server at Olive Garden, Zoretic fell at work, hurting her right arm, in 1999. The swelling, numbness and pain stumped the emergency room staff and her orthopedist until he did a bone scan.
"This is one of those doctors who never look up at your face," she says. "They stare at the clipboard; you're a number. After he got the results of the bone scan and decided on his diagnosis, he walked into the room, went down on one knee, grabbed my left hand and got huge tears in his eyes and he said, 'I'm about to give you the most difficult diagnosis I've ever given in my life.' I thought, 'Oh, God, treat me like a number.' He told me I had reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)."
Described by her orthopedist as "the most painful of all chronic pain syndromes, acquainted with the level of pain experienced with a traumatic amputation," RSD is incurable and terminal.
Patients experience debilitating pain and frequently suffer severe depression.
"It felt like my arm was being crushed into a powder," Zoretic says. "The pain was unbearable. I couldn't do anything but die."
The only drugs that would "even touch the pain" are opiate-based pharmaceuticals. Zoretic says she couldn't find a single doctor willing to prescribe them. Doctors told her they feared the repercussions they'd face from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which frequently scrutinizes physicians prescribing powerful pain medications.
Unable to sleep, Zoretic spent night after night searching the Internet for information. What she read wasn't encouraging. Accounts written by people with RSD told of unbearable pain. During one of those long nights she received an e-mail that gave her reason to hope.
"My husband ran across an article in The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper, about the Institute of Medicine report on medical marijuana," Zoretic says. "There was a short interview with a man in the study and he had RSD for eight years, and he said, 'It's the best damn thing they've ever given me. I wish I'd had it eight years ago.' "
The daughter of a police officer, Zoretic was reluctant to try marijuana. She worried about addiction and using an illegal substance. But the pain, loss of function in her right arm and inability to care for her son finally won out and she decided to try marijuana.
It worked. In addition to reducing her pain, Zoretic regained the use of her right arm.
"I didn't think (marijuana) would help at all after I read how safe it is — aspirin is more dangerous," she says. "Psychological addiction (is) the only kind of addiction. It was a relatively benign drug. So I began using marijuana because I had nothing else. ... I slowly regained use of my arm, and I was able to lift up to 5 pounds."
The gangsters' franchise
Zoretic became outspoken. She is now the director of patient advocacy for Ohio Patient Network (OPN), a nonprofit coalition of patients, caregivers, activists and medical professionals who support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. She counsels patients and provides legislators, medical professionals and attorneys with information about the benefits of medical marijuana.
In a shaky voice, Zoretic recounts her experiences with a woman dying of brain cancer. She took the woman a baked product containing marijuana.
"A few weeks later her husband tracked me down," Zoretic says. "He told me that she took that baked good and she broke it up into little pieces and about an hour before she knew her husband or one of her children was coming to see her, she ate a piece of it. Then when her kids came into her room, she told them, 'I never would have been able do this without this gift. But I have a few moments of clarity.' He said, 'Thank you for giving me the chance to say goodbye to my wife. Thank you for giving her kids the chance to say goodbye to their mother and tell her how much they loved her.'
"If someone can do that for a person, how can anyone find any wrong with that? How can anyone not allow that? I just don't understand — it defies common sense."
In February, Zoretic's advocacy exacted a cruel price. She and her husband, Joe Zoretic, were arrested for growing and smoking marijuana. Allegedly responding to a call reporting domestic violence — which the couple says was untrue — police entered their home, claiming they smelled marijuana, and found several live plants, dried cannabis, paraphernalia and growing equipment.
Originally charged with five felony counts, including cultivation of marijuana, drug trafficking, possession of drugs, endangering children and possessing criminal tools, Zoretic was subjected to mandatory urine tests during the eight months she was free on bond. Unable to use her medicine — marijuana — because of the urine tests, she experienced a significant decline in her health and was forced to use a wheelchair.
The arrest of a terminally ill woman for using marijuana might be a relatively rare occurrence. But the war on drugs has led to other legal aberrations, with new laws designed to convict anyone remotely related to the drug trade.
· Brenda Prather of New York was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for handing her husband a roll of aluminum foil that he later used in a drug related crime — even though she was unaware of the crime, according to her husband's testimony.
· Leah Bundy, 21, also of New York, was in her boyfriend's apartment when it was raided. She was arrested and convicted of possession, despite the fact that she had no idea what her boyfriend was up to. She was sentenced to 15 years to life because of a presumed control over the area in which contraband was found.
· In an Oklahoma case, a woman attempted to deter her son from growing marijuana on her property. She used weed killer, destroyed seeds she found and said she'd throw him out if he continued. Yet her home was seized because she didn't alert the police or evict her son.
In other cases, courts have presumed married women had knowledge of and consent to the presence of their husbands' drugs because of the intimate nature of the marital relationship, making it virtually impossible to prove a lack of knowledge when living with a spouse.
On the surface, these cases appear to be anomalies or extreme examples, but courts and prisons are filled with people just like this because of the fanaticism of enforcing an arbitrary distinction between drugs considered legal and illegal.
The classification of all drugs in this country was created with the passage of the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, in which politicians set drug classifications without input from medical experts, according to Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Silver Spring, Md. Congress could easily change the law but politicians are worried about appearing soft on crime, he says.
"There's nothing socially harmful or morally wrong if I use the painkiller (prescribed) for my wife for my own pain," Sterling says.
However, by doing just that, he would fall into the category of a prescription drug abuser, a criminal.
The least heavily penalized recreational drug is marijuana, but the penalties risked by users vary widely from state to state. In Ohio, possession of less than 100 grams — call it 100 joints — is a minor misdemeanor that brings only a $100 fine. Across the river in Kentucky, any amount less than 8 ounces — call it a single joint — can get you sent to prison for a year. The same is true in Indiana: a year in prison for 30 grams or less.
But contortions in the law are only one result of the war on drugs. Many experts blame modern urban crime not on drugs but on the war against drugs.
"In the same way that alcohol prohibition saw one of the most lawless periods in our country's history, we've had the same kind of lawlessness associated with drug prohibition," says Paul Green, chair of the Hamilton County Libertarian Party. "Politicians who say they're tough on crime but support drug prohibition are being inconsistent. Whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, they're actually in favor of policies which cause more crime."
Green points to the parallel between the violent crime and arrest rates during alcohol prohibition and drug prohibition.
"Alcohol was around in America in 1919, and there was no violence associated with its sale or distribution or manufacture," he says. "As soon as prohibition went into effect in 1920, you saw this incredible surge in violence. We saw the invention of drive-by shootings. Then at the end of 1933, prohibition ends. The alcohol is still there in 1934, but the violence is gone. It's pretty conclusive that it's not the alcohol that's causing the violence — it's the prohibition."
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters sees the impact of prohibition on violent crime in the Queen City.
"Most of the drug related violence that occurs, I would think it's well in excess of 90 percent," he says. "It's not because the person is under the influence. It is about the trade — who's selling to who, who ripped who off."
Deters knows the black market results in crime.
"The reason Cincinnati's murder rate is spiking is because you're dealing with modern-day prohibition," he says. "Like the mob knocking people off left and right — it's not because they're high on crack doing it, it's because they're proving who's the baddest guy on the block and who's going to make the money."
Drug prohibition has failed, just as alcohol prohibition failed, because people want the substances, according to Bruce Mirkin, director of communication for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. (www.mpp.org).
"You can't repeal the laws of supply and demand," he says. "A market that large will be supplied somehow. The question: Is it supplied by regulated merchants over whom society has some control or gangsters and criminals? We've given the gangsters an exclusive franchise. What's interesting is that (the government) reported last year approximately 3.5 million marijuana plants were eradicated and yet (there are) no reports anywhere in the country of marijuana becoming less available."
An estimated 108 million Americans age 12 and older have used an illicit drug at least once and 35 million used an illicit drug in the previous year (2002) according to Drug War Facts, a compilation of domestic and international research.
Cops have seen the practical reality of these statistics firsthand. Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) (www.leap.cc), is a former detective lieutenant in New Jersey and served 12 of his 26 years as an undercover narcotics officer. He believes the war against illegal drug use is failing.
"I realized long ago that, when uniformed officers arrested a robber or rapist, they took someone off the streets that made our communities safer for everyone," Cole says. "But when I arrested a drug dealer, I simply created a job opening for someone in a long line of people more than willing to take that individual's place. I would suggest to you that whole armies of police cannot stop drug trafficking when the profits are this immense. We cannot arrest our way out of our drug problem."
LEAP isn't interested in just ending the drug war. The organization advocates for alternative strategies. In fact, the only requirements for membership are law enforcement experience and a belief that "the U.S. war on drugs is failed policy and support (for) alternatives to that policy aimed at reducing the incidence of death, disease and addiction by ultimately ending prohibition."
Legalize pot, usage drops
Questions about the $69 billion spent on anti-drug enforcement every year in the United States give hope to Sterling, who used to write drug legislation for the federal government. He moved into the reform camp because he wants to get beyond rhetoric to a rational conversation about drugs in America.
"Nomenclature, definitions get created that distort our ability to talk about this issue in a fair way, in a non-pejorative way," he says. " 'Drug abuse' is a loaded and pejorative term. It's a values term, not a fact term. They want 'use' to be 'abuse,' and they're not the same thing."
Instead of a criminal issue, Sterling sees drug policy as a health issue.
"The great problem (with) drugs has been misclassification," he says. "By misclassifying the drug problem as a criminal problem, the experts we consult are different. We think it's appropriate to go to the police when dealing with drugs because we've defined it as a crime problem."
Green uses the case of medical marijuana to illustrate. Earlier this year Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper proposed 60-day jail terms for marijuana use.
"I want to do this skit where I'm a doctor and I have a patient in my office," he says. "I tell him, 'You've got Kepner's syndrome and there are a number of drugs I could recommend. But hold on a minute. I need to make a phone call.' I dial the phone and say, 'Hello, is Councilmember Pepper in? I'm about to write a prescription and I want to check if it's OK with you. What do you think?' To point out the absurdity of why politicians think they are qualified to make these medical decisions."
The common argument against the legalization of marijuana or any banned substance is that it sends the message that dangerous drugs are OK for everyone. That conclusion is absurd, according to Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (www.norml.org).
"They will argue that somehow passing a (medical marijuana) law sends a mixed message to children," he says. "They want to imply that, if society condones one act, then somehow the message is being sent that society condones all these other acts. The fact is that medicine in this country is regulated and that doctors prescribe literally hundreds of medicines every day that are appropriate under supervised use (but) are inappropriate for recreational use. Somehow Americans seem to understand that concept."
The larger issue is addiction. The substances aren't the cause, but merely the tools. Mary Jane Borden of Columbus is a former pharmaceutical company employee, a founding member of OPN and a fund-raising specialist for DrugSense (www.drug sense.org) and Media Awareness Project (www.mapinc.org). She agrees that medical decisions ought to be made with physicians, but she doesn't believe this will happen until the "scourge of the 21st century" receives national attention.
"We need to come to terms with drugs in our society," Borden says. "We need to come to terms with illegal drugs, legal drugs, vitamins that are advertised as drugs, with these people who promote Viagra to us via our e-mail boxes. We have a drug problem across the board in this country. Our legislators, our politicians and our government officials have their heads squarely in the sand. I'm looking at this holistically. We've got to look at the whole package."
Sterling believes legalization of all drugs will make it possible for adults and children to deal with related social and cultural issues in a more positive, constructive way.
"Kids are going to experiment with drugs," he says. "Accepting and embracing it ensures it doesn't have serious consequences. Prohibition is more than simply a legal scheme; it's a moral and cultural scheme that is counterproductive. Drinking for effect (by youth) is done in a context that is furtive, covert and illegal: 'Drink as fast as you can so you can get rid of the evidence.' It creates real barriers between parents and their kids talking about drug use and harmful forms of drug use."
The assumption that drug laws protect young people is a myth many reformers see as a convenient excuse for maintaining the status quo. Green, who regularly talks to school groups, suggests that adults ought to pay attention to what's really going on.
"Here is a group of people who are the most impressionable people on the planet, the most easily swayed by peer pressure — and yet only one in five children uses drugs," he says. "I would argue that, if 80 percent of children can resist using drugs, I don't think it'll be a problem for most adults to resist drugs if they become legal.
"Have you ever heard someone say, 'I really want to use cocaine, but I'm going to wait until it's legal'? People don't think that way. Yes, there are probably some people who are being restrained by the laws. But it's not going to be a 50 percent increase because the people who want to try drugs and use drugs are doing so. It's not like they're not available now."
Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands. Cole cites a report that 28 percent of 10th-graders there have tried marijuana, compared to 41 percent of 10th-graders in the United States. The Netherlands' drug czar, who is also the minister of health, has said he believes the country has made pot so boring that young people aren't likely to choose that as a way to act out.
The same report indicates that adults in the Netherlands aren't much into drugs either. The per capita use of marijuana and hashish in the Netherlands is one-half the per capita use in the United States. Users don't buy marijuana from criminal dealers; they get it at regulated coffee shops. The per capita use of hard drugs — heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. — is one-fourth the U.S. level. The Dutch homicide rate is only one-fourth per capita of the U.S. rate, and they accomplish all this with less than one-sixth the per capita spending in the United States for drug law enforcement.
In light of these results, considering drug use a health problem doesn't seem like such a fuzzy-headed, liberal approach. But can it work here?
'The problem is blacks'
Despite collateral damage such as Dee Dee Zoretic, the war on drugs could be considered sound public policy if it eliminated access to illegal drugs. But the current laws aren't stopping the criminals.
Richard Nixon coined the phrase "War on Drugs" during his run for the presidency in 1968. But laws restricting the use of "illegal substances" began in the late 1800s.
The stated goal was, and is, to reduce the availability and use of harmful substances that can result in criminal activity, Sterling says. It seemed a reasonable measure. The problem was there was no victim, no property damage and no injured person. The laws were based on social prejudice.
The precursor to drug prohibition came in 1875 with a San Francisco ordinance outlawing smoking opium in opium dens. It was feared that Chinese men were luring white women to their "ruin." Then federal laws followed prohibiting opium trafficking by anyone of Chinese origin. The laws did nothing to restrict the importation or use of opium.
In 1937 marijuana was outlawed, a repressive measure against Mexicans who crossed the border looking for work during the Depression. The reason given for outlawing the plant was its supposed "violent effect on the degenerate races."
In the early 1900s newspapers regularly reported stories about "Negro cocaine fields" or "cocainized niggers," spreading fears of black men on violent sexual rampages. The atrocities inflicted as a result of drugs garnered popular support for the laws — even though the incidents were never proven.
Cole, the former undercover cop, says the victimization of various populations is one of the many unintended consequences of the war on drugs.
"Political motivation has always been evident in many of the drug arrests made by police," he says. "After all, H.R. Haldemann, Richard M. Nixon's chief of staff, recorded in his 1969 diary entry that Nixon emphasized, 'You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this all while not appearing to.' "
Drug use and arrest statistics back this up. Whites constitute 72 percent of all drug users, while only 13.5 percent of users are African Americans, according to the 1998 Federal Household Survey. But blacks constitute 37 percent of those arrested for drug violations, 42 percent of those in federal prisons for drug violations and almost 60 percent of those in state prisons for drug felonies.
Conviction rates also favor whites. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics notes that, of convicted defendants, 33 percent of whites receive a prison sentence, while 51 percent of African Americans do. In New York prisons, nine in 10 of the 19,000 people serving mandatory sentences for drug offenses are black or Latino.
The 1.6 million annual drug-related arrests — that's roughly the population of New Mexico — show the laws behind them perpetuate racism. An example frequently cited is the difference between punishments for powder and crack cocaine, according to Drug War Facts.
Most cocaine in the United States is powder, favored by whites. But crack cocaine, the cheaper form of the drug, favored by blacks, is more widely publicized. That publicity resulted in Congress passing laws for crack cocaine that carry penalties 100 times more severe than powder cocaine. A person convicted of attempting to sell 5 grams of crack can be sentenced to five years in prison, but it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence.
'Set up by the government'
The threat of harsh punishment doesn't deter those who want to buy or sell drugs. It could even be argued that the excitement and lure of big money attracts people who might not have considered entering the trade.
"Over $500 billion is spent each year on illegal drugs," Cole says. "That amounts to 8 percent of the world's total international trade, about the same amount as spent in the international textile trade. In the illegal drug industry, nearly everything is profit. How much money am I talking about? Enough money to bribe a cop? Enough to buy a judge or a politician? Enough to convince legitimate bankers to wash that dirty money through their banks? It's enough money to buy a whole country."
With profits as high as 17,000 percent, the dealers aren't just on the street corner. DEA agents, police officers, soldiers and border patrol agents are among the many law enforcement officials caught selling drugs, shaking down dealers and stealing drug-related evidence. Stop The Drug War provides a weekly list of these arrests on its Web site (www.stopthedrugwar.org).
A 1998 General Accounting Office (GAO) study of drug-related police corruption found that a lack of record-keeping, insufficient supervision and inadequate internal affairs investigations, on top of the "code of silence, unquestioned loyalty to other officers," are among the barriers that make it impossible to know the extent of corruption within law enforcement agencies.
But personal greed isn't the only motive for corruption, according to the GAO. Sterling learned about this firsthand when he heard a DEA agent answer a reporter's question about why he liked law enforcement so much.
"He said, 'The great thing about it is that the government gets to control the commission of the crime.' I don't think the reporter really understood what that means," Sterling says. "Normally a crime gets committed, it's reported, the police do an investigation and they do an arrest. With drug-related crime, that person is prosecuted for the crime set up by the government. (They) start with a suspect and create the circumstances for the crime so (they) can do the arrest. The incentive is to make the criminal as worthy of investigation as possible — whatever (they) can do to enhance the sum of money or amount of drugs involved is part of the process.
"The time and place is done to the government's choosing, so that the court and the jury only get to hear what it constructed for them. What they don't hear is all of the preparation to manipulate the target for the arrest."
Cole says the money offered by the federal government for making drug busts acts as an incentive too appealing for police agencies to resist.
"We had (no) idea how to fight a war on drugs," he says. "Our bosses did know one thing, though; they knew how to keep that federal cash cow. To accomplish that, they had to make the drug war appear to be an absolute necessity. So early on we were encouraged to lie about most of our statistics.
"We arrested people who were basically drug-users and charged them as drug-dealers. We exaggerated the amount of drugs we seized. We might seize 1 ounce of cocaine and 4 pounds of lactose, but somewhere between the (bust) and the police laboratory it all magically became cocaine. Who was to question our estimates? And if they did, who would they come to with their questions? Us. We could always justify it in some way."
With time, he says, they became savvier, setting up bigger busts, utilizing snitches and doing whatever was necessary to provide the ever-increasing arrests demanded to create the illusion of success.
Cops support media coverage of the war on drugs with a steady flow of information about the interdiction of huge quantities of drugs, concealing the government's failure to truly stem the flow of illegal substances.
"The press often falls for one of the government's favorite propaganda tricks, to treat the effects of prohibition as if they are the effects of drugs," Mirkin says. "For some reason, it's not treating drug policy as a contested issue. If the Environmental Protection Agency put out a report (about) their great progress in controlling pollution it would be (standing operating procedure) for the press to call the Sierra Club."
But that doesn't happen when reporters discuss large drug busts.
"There's not even a token effort to get a contrasting quote," Mirkin says.
A war on cigarettes?
Medicinal use of marijuana is only one aspect of the drug policy debate. Green believes "re-legalization" of all drugs is essential because the government isn't supposed to dictate what people can put into their bodies. But he questions if that can happen.
"America has a problem with pleasure," he says. "People have a problem with people who want to get high and feel good."
While Deters doesn't support legalizing illicit substances, even though he says the distinction between legal and illegal drugs is "absolutely arbitrary," he does acknowledge that some drug use is acceptable in our society.
"A mild narcotic like alcohol — and I'm not talking about a guy who drinks a fifth of whiskey, I'm talking about somebody who drinks a few beers with his buddies at a Bengals game or if a person smokes a joint — that's almost tolerable," he says.
Lynne Wilson, the self-proclaimed Happy Hemptress of Cincinnati, has trouble with what she calls "the pleasure police."
"Why should somebody go to jail for feeling good?" she asks. "Is there a crime against being happy? Even a little kid will spin until he gets high, to alter his consciousness. Everybody likes to have something to do to relax — and I like to smoke."
Individuals living in "mind-numbing poverty" frequently turn to drugs because they have no alternative, according to David Singleton, executive director of the Prison Reform Advocacy Center.
Singleton and other reform advocates believe tapping into common sense can change the witch-hunt mentality related to illegal drugs.
The first step most reformers suggest is re-legalization of all banned substances. No one suggests they be sold in vending machines, but that's the immediate assumption most people make.
"Those of us who question prohibition are regularly accused of endangering our young people," Mirkin says. "We're called 'pro-pot,' et cetera. There is pretty much no evidence that prohibition has done a damn thing to keep marijuana away from kids — and you can make a very strong case that it's done the opposite."
That's when common sense needs to prevail, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"When the logic (is) in conflict with the law, we change the law," he says. "We don't chuck our compassion. We don't throw away our pragmatism. In this country, what we usually do is we recognize this doesn't make sense any more and we make the change.
"Eighty years ago the edifice of law said a female, as compared to a male, didn't have enough intelligence to vote. Was the law correct? Of course not! Just in the same way you'd have a hard time looking into the eyes of an eighth-grade girl today and explaining why women couldn't do all the things that they readily do today, people in the future will look back and say, 'These people were putting away people who were sick and dying for using medicine that is effective, using upon their doctor's recommendation?' "
Why not utilize existing regulations for pharmaceutical companies and create a licensing process whereby family farmers, existing businesses and individuals could apply for a permit to grow and sell plants to manufacturing companies? Set standards and regulations for manufacturing facilities, including purity and potency standards. Then provide lower level doses for over-the-counter sale and require a prescription for stronger varieties.
It's been done before, even though most people don't realize it, Sterling says.
"Caffeine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant," he says. "It's legal to give (caffeine) to children in the various forms it's available. It comes in different levels, and we've established social control. We use it with meals or different ritual times of the day. We drink caffeinated coffee in the morning and switch to decaf in the afternoon. This is drug use that is legal."
While setting up a new distribution infrastructure, Sterling says it's essential for the government to make a concerted effort to adjust social attitudes. That also has a precedent in U.S. history — cigarette smoking.
"In 1965, 42 percent of the adult U.S. population smoked tobacco, the most deadly and addictive drug known to humans," Cole says. "Smoking tobacco kills 430,000 people in the United States every year. We tend to procrastinate a bit in the U.S., so we didn't really get angry about all the tobacco deaths until around 1990. Then we decided we were going to do something to bring down that death rate.
"But we didn't start a war on tobacco. We didn't start arresting users. We started a very strong drug-education program aimed at lowering tobacco use. It worked. By 1998 only 24 percent of the adult U.S. population smoked that most dangerous of drugs, and the percentage is dropping every year. We took the worst drug problem known to the United States and nearly cut it in half through education."
Regulation provides controls that will protect public health, Mirkin says.
"Because of public pressure from laws and government agencies, merchants who sell tobacco began a campaign called 'We Card — Under 19 No Tobacco.' Have you ever seen a drug dealer with a sign like that? Prohibition guarantees that they're entirely unregulated. That's not the way to keep the stuff away from kids."
Channeling drug war funds to social service agencies — health clinics, homeless shelters, job training, social workers — will allow them to help those who are addicted. Providing free, maintenance-dose drugs through regulated outlets will give social workers, doctors and pharmacists an opportunity to interact with users and put them in touch with the services they need.
Singleton thinks restoring hope for those who turn to the black market is the way to go.
"The War on Drugs has been an abject failure because it's only dealing with the symptoms of a very serious problem," he says. "The root problem is poverty. You can say all you want that you're going to hand out stiff sentences to people who use drugs, that you're going to do everything you can to interrupt the supply of it. It's not going to stop people from using drugs. What would be much more effective is to deal with root issues such as poverty and provide meaningful drug treatment to people help them better cope with the sense of hopelessness they feel."
"Take a portion of those $69 billion we'd save each year thanks to ending drug prohibition and redirect it to create programs that offer hope for the future and to programs that offer true education about drugs," he says.
The changes brought about by legal use of all drugs will seriously undermine the black market, as it did with the end of alcohol prohibition.
However, the current simplistic approach of "Just Say No" and "zero tolerance" that blames the victim instead of getting at root causes of addiction haven't ended drug use in this country.
Mirkin calls current policy "manifestly irrational and not working." He believes support for realistic change is underway.
"Like a lot of things, it will tend to bubble up from the state and local levels," he says.
Organizations in support of drug policy reform are growing in number and increasing awareness. The Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (www.wonpr.org), the group that spearheaded the repeal of alcohol prohibition, has recently re-formed with the mission of "bringing an end to the failed war on drugs."
Theses organizations are gaining support from some powerful groups, including the National Organization of Women (NOW). During its 2005 national convention NOW approved a resolution "opposing the current drug war and calling instead for an approach to drug use, abuse and addiction that emphasizes compassion, health and human rights."
A recent Supreme Court ruling recognized the state's right to challenge federal law and included comments that states can influence Congress to change existing law. Even though the court upheld the right of the federal government to prosecute individuals for marijuana use in states that allow medicinal marijuana, the justices suggested that the schedule classifications of drugs could be changed to allow for the legality of state action.
State-level activity continues undeterred. Within days of the Supreme Court ruling, the Rhode Island legislature passed a medical marijuana act, overriding Gov. Don Carcieri's veto.
'They can't have it'
Dee Dee Zoretic vows to continue her legalization activities as long as she can. A public speaker for OPN, she regularly appears before live audiences and radio talk shows.
"Every time I've been on the radio, telling people my history with the war on drugs and my daddy being in law enforcement, my father cries," Zoretic says. "He told me he was ashamed to ever be affiliated with many groups of people that could do this to suffering people.
"He didn't know what had happened for me to regain the use of my arm and slow the progression of my disease; and he said that, if it happened to anyone else, he wouldn't believe it. But he's seen it with his own eyes and it's his own daughter and he's witnessed the help, the benefit that it brings me."
Her father's experience serves as an illustration for Zoretic's commitment.
"Someone's got to stand up. Someone's got to do something," she says. "If you read the Declaration of Independence, I'm doing exactly what the forefathers ordered. (They) told us that if the government is in a position where they're no longer providing for our safety — and this is definitely a need for my safety — then it's our job to abolish or change the government. So I'm working to change my government."
Delayed three times, her trial finally began Oct. 3. The prosecutor made more attempts to get a continuance, but Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Judge Nancy Margaret Russo refused.
"Judge Russo kind of laid into them, telling them there would be no more continuances," Zoretic says. "Our case had been going on for over six months, and there was no excuse for putting us through any more. Then the prosecution admitted that they had no evidence to support trafficking. The judge said we were on the borderline for a misdemeanor charge. That's when we found out that the person who analyzed and weighed the evidence had a family emergency and was in Missouri. They had no one to testify that what they had was even marijuana."
Soon after, the prosecution dropped all five felony charges to one first-degree misdemeanor count of drug possession. The Zoretics agreed to plead guilty, and court recessed.
"When the recess was over, the judge herself came out to retrieve us from the hall," Zoretic says. "She started to berate my lawyer for letting me walk. Judge Russo told me to stand still, she would get a chair and wheel me to my seat herself. I explained to the judge that it was better for me to walk, that if I quit using my muscles, they are subject to atrophy. I was so grateful I thanked her."
During sentencing Zoretic received a suspended jail term of six months and was placed on probation with the condition being one day in the county jail — with credit for the one day she had served after being arrested. All fees were waived, and her driver's license was suspended for six months with medical privileges.
Her husband received a sentence of a $50 fine and $50 in court costs, in addition to having his license suspended.
"The judge then stated for the record that she felt my husband had been falsely imprisoned for a positive drug test when his prescription medication was not taken into account," Zoretic says. "She ended the conversation by praising my family for our work."
In final remarks, Zoretic says Joe Jacobs, her husband's attorney, "made a statement saying that he was advising us to move to a state that allowed for medicinal use."
But the Zoretics aren't going anywhere. An unlikely advocate for drug policy reform — a thirtysomething working-class mother — Dee Dee Zoretic is determined to see change.
"The longer we let it go on, the harder it's going to be to stop," she says. "That's why I say you've got to clean up your own back yard before you complain about your neighbor's, and right now Ohio has a filthy yard. I'm not going to run from my problems. I'm going to make things right here. As far as I'm concerned, this is a country of the people, by the people, for the people. Which means this is my country and they can't have it."
Now that's she's beaten one attempt by police to bully her into compliance with drug laws, will Zoretic resume her use of medical marijuana?
"I will continue to care for my symptoms and fight my disease with the best way that I have available to me," she says.
To learn more about drug policy reform visit: Common Sense for Drug Policy at www.csdp.org, DRC Net at www.druglibrary.org, Drug Policy Alliance at www.drugpolicy.org and Students for Sensible Drug Policy at www.ssdp.org