In the churning, bubbling melting pot of the World Wide Web, virtually every interest is represented. Many call this effect "democratization," and say connectivity lends empowerment to all the grassroots efforts that choose to take advantage of it. Nowhere is this more true than among drug policy reform activists.
As Molly Ivins has deftly pointed out in these very pages, the "War on Drugs" may very well be characterized as an out-of-control monster-more than 17 billion dollars budgeted this year. Bill Clinton's presidency has seen millions of marijuana arrests (nearly 700,000 just in 1997), 80 percent of them for possession alone. Even as the government's own studies prove the medical utility of marijuana, no change in federal policy is planned. Some surveys indicate that as much as 73 percent of the American public favor more lenient policies. And they're saying so on the Net.
As perhaps the oldest drug policy reform organization, NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has a strong presence on the web at www.norml.org. Daily news releases, local chapter listings, fact sheets, and the ability to join online with a credit card make NORML's site rich with content and relatively easy to navigate. Far from its Cheech & Chong image of the '70s, NORML now points out that 70 million Americans have tried marijuana, the vast majority of which are ordinary tax-paying citizens. NORML's site also provides a free "Fax Congress" service, which sends a prepared message, or one that you write, to our legislators in D.C.
The media-savvy Marijuana Policy Project has a site up at www.mpp.org. While not as frequently updated as NORML's site, the MPP is particularly good at drawing stark compare-and-contrast conclusions from government data. For instance, they point out that the federal mandatory minimum prison sentence for growing 100 marijuana plants is five years, which also happens to be the average sentence for kidnapping and hostage taking. Another gem: Doctors are currently allowed to prescribe cocaine and morphine, but not marijuana. The MPP's mission is to "develop and promote policies to minimize the harm associated with marijuana."
The Drug Policy Foundation (www.dpf.org) says that while "drug abuse is bad, the Drug War is worse." The DPF provides grants to organizations involved with all harm reduction strategies, including decriminalization, needle exchange, medical marijuana, and elimination of harsh sentencing laws. They state that the current Drug War "erodes individual rights, is extremely expensive, creates a new class of criminals, subsidizes a violent black market, does not control drug use trends, and ignores the health aspects of drug use." Difficult to argue with that.
A DPF grant is partly responsible for the Drug Reform Coordination Network's (DRCNET) good-lookin' site (www.drcnet.org) and efforts. One interesting collection of reports provided here is summarized as "Cops against the Drug War." Joseph McNamara, a former chief of police in both San Jose and Kansas City and a Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University is quoted as saying, "The Drug War's a dirty war, and it's a racist war. ... [It] cannot stand the light of day." DRCNET's site also provides a link to sign up for their weekly e-mail newsletter of drug policy and reform news around the world.
Both www.cannabisnews.com and www.marijuananews.com are good sites to visit for your basic daily coverage of marijuana news. cannabisnews.com is the more attractive and easier to navigate of the two, but editor Richard Cowan (who was a former director of NORML) provides color commentary throughout marijuananews.com which makes for an entertaining and informative read. Described as a "personal newsletter on the cannabis controversies," Cowan's site boldly proclaims, "Freedom has nothing to fear from the truth."
As politicians clamor over one another to close schools and build prisons, the November Coalition (www.november.org) speaks out for the victims of the drug war. The United States has a larger percentage of its population in prison, they point out, than any country on Earth. The average sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offender is longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter. If the right-wingers have their way, you can be given the death penalty for trafficking in two ounces of marijuana. These are just a few of the facts that the November Coalition puts forth in its effort to illuminate the dreadful social costs of locking up people for recreational drug use.
Finally, in the interest of even-handed dispassionate coverage, this report would not be complete without mention of Bill Clinton's official drug policy site, www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov. Here, you'll learn that nearly 18 billion of your tax dollars will go this year towards: high-tech surveillance equipment deployed along our southern border, South American DEA cocaine industry disruption efforts, drug testing, and special drug courts to mass-process the crowds of folks unlucky enough to nabbed by the authorities.
John Masterson is director of the Montana chapter of NORML.