Drug War Update: The Renee Boje Case and Others Forms of Insanity


Randall G. Shelden


We have approached the half-way point in the year 2005 and it is time for another one of my “drug war updates.”  Frankly, I am getting tired of writing these updates, since for the most part it is just a rehash of what I have said before.  Like “old win in new bottles.”  However, this time there is something new to report.  Well, not exactly “new” because it is the same story, different day.  On June 15 Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler ruled against Canadian refugee Renee Boje and ordered that she be sent back to the United States to stand trial for various charges stemming from a DEA raid back in July, 1997. For the full opinion see: http://americanmarijuana.org/boje/Boje.Decision.pdf

            I have written about this case previously on this web site so there is no need to reiterate the basic facts (http://www.sheldensays.com/com-six.htm).  She has been released on bail in order for the case to be appealed to a higher Canadian court.  It should be noted that she refused to turn state’s evidence against two friends who she assisted in the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes (legal under California law), Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams.  Mc Williams was suffering from aids and eventually died in 2000, largely because he was not allowed to use marijuana. McCormick was a cancer patient and used marijuana to relieve his pain.  He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.  He was released in 2003 after serving almost four years. 

            Canadian writer Peter Brady argues that the judge’s ruling could be politically motivated.  He suggests that “Cotler was surely ordered by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin not to rule in Boje's favor, because doing so would create an international incident and perhaps cause a break in diplomatic relations between the US and Canada. The two countries are already at each other's throats regarding trade, cannabis, continental military policy, and the US's illegal war in Iraq” (http://cannabisculture.com/articles/4419.html).

            In other news, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 6 that the federal government can prosecute those using marijuana for medical purposes, even though they were under doctor’s orders, supported by state law.  Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the majority opinion in the 6-3 decision, said that Congress could change the law to allow medical use of marijuana, based upon the wishes of the people.  Wishes of the people?  Well, the majority of citizens approve of using pot for medical purposes and these wishes have resulted in several states (California, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) passing laws supporting this.  In a dissent Sandra O’Connor wrote that “The states’ core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens.” Despite public opinion, Congress on June 16 voted down an amendment that would have stopped the Justice Department from prosecuting such cases.  Subsequently, and predictably, on June 23 the feds raided two San Francisco medicinal marijuana dispensaries and arrested at least 10 people.  Oh well.

            Meanwhile, the drug war continues unabated.  As of June 24, total expenditures for the drug war come to about $24.5 billion, while more than 800,000 have been arrested for drugs, 354,000 of whom on marijuana charges.  Just over 5,000 have been sentenced to prison on drug charges so far.  Currently about one-fourth of those in prison are in for drug convictions.

            The effects on illegal drug use have been negligible.  The annual drug survey, Monitoring the Future, found in its most recent survey that more than half of all high school students have tried an illegal drug prior to graduating. This survey also reported that “Marijuana appears to be available to almost all high school seniors; some 87% reported that they think it would be ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ for them to get it -- almost twice the number who reported ever having used it (46%).” Teenagers in America are also more likely to use drug than their European counterparts. Researchers at the National Institute of Drug Abuse have found that drug testing of high school students has no effect on drug use.  Likewise, the anti-drug campaign waged by the feds has had no impact on drug use among teens.  Finally, reports continue to find the popular program DARE has little or no impact on illegal drug use.

            In short, waging a “war on drug” has no effect on drug use.  Of course, as I and others have argued, reducing the drug problem was never the intended goal of this war.  The war has resulted in targeting racial minorities and the poor, with much higher rates of minority women being sent to prison on drug charges than men; with at least two million children left behind.  As many have also said, this war has nothing to do with the dangers of these drugs.  The latest figures show that 435,000 die each year from tobacco (an estimated 5 million die around the world), with another 85,000 deaths directly related to alcohol, compared to only 17,000 deaths attributed to illegal drugs, none for marijuana.  Also, a recent survey reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that between 1982 and 1998 anywhere from 32,000 to 106,000 die “because of adverse reactions to their prescribed medications.”

            Well, that’s enough for now.  I frequently post news about the drug war on the main page of my web site, so keep coming back.