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Politics on Drugs

Inside Track


Published October 22, 2003 at 4:00 p.m.

Everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, you find drugs, drugs and more drugs: pharmaceutical drugs, illegal drugs, wonder drugs, dangerous drugs. On two separate fronts drugs are at the center of the nation's political debate.

On Monday at City Hall in Burlap it was Congressman Bernie Sanders and Mayor Peter Clavelle promoting the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada.

At 7 p.m. Thursday night at UVM's Waterman building, it will be eloquent crusader Ethan Nadelman calling for an end to the positively useless War on Drugs -- specifically, marijuana.

Whether you get your drugs at the bar or the local pharmacy, at the supermarket or the house down the street, one thing's certain -- just about all of us use drugs in our daily lives. To relax, to lower blood pressure, cure depression, get a woody, boost energy, battle cancer or just cop a high. Drugs are such an intimate part of human life, we'd be lost without them. It's the drug policy, not the drugs themselves, that's doing most of the damage.

Sanders and Clavelle are fighting the good fight to take the greed out of prescription drugs. A few years back Ol' Bernardo led the first bus trip of seniors across the border to the discount drug market known as Canada. Mayor Moonie wants the city to get in the game by filling the needs of city workers at a Canadian pharmacy. The Bush administration, however, says it's against the law.

Ethan Nadelman worked for the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Matters in the mid 1980s. The Harvard grad studied the War on Drugs up close. By 1987 he decided the U.S. policy was absurd. Today he's the director of the Drug Policy Alliance at www.drugpolicy.org. Nadelman told Seven Days this week that when it comes to marijuana, "The only pragmatic policy is to tax, control and regulate it."

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning and you were the only person in Vermont. The other 616,592 Green Mountains citizens had been arrested in the night and were being held incommunicado.

Well, that's not unlike what happens in the United States every year. According to Nadelman, 700,000 American tokers are arrested yearly. And 87 percent are charged merely with possessing the stuff that John Prine joked creates an "illegal smile." It may be a great business-booster for defense lawyers, but it's clogged the nation's courts and jails and annually pours $20 billion down the proverbial sewer.

It's enough to drive you to drink.

Sanders said the pharmaceutical industry has the "most political clout" of any special interest. On Capitol Hill, there are "over 600 lobbyists" for the pharmaceutical industry versus 535 elected representatives of the people. Bernie accuses the industry of "lying, distorting reality and forming phony front groups to represent seniors."

The political spin from Pillville, U.S.A., is that Canadian drugs are not safe. After all, they come from a strange country that celebrates Thanksgiving in October, eh?

However, Canadian whiskey is safe. So's Canadian beer, bacon and maple syrup. But somehow prescription drugs exposed to Canadian hands become unsafe.

Meanwhile, said Ol' Bernardo, 20 percent of American senior citizens can't afford to purchase the drugs their doctors tell them they need. That, said Bernie, is the real safety issue!

Bernie's got a point.

Look, the overall goal here is to drop the price of pharmaceuticals in the Good Ol' U.S.A. to the prices the rest of the world enjoys. That doesn't sound very radical. The push for "reimportation," said Sanders, is but "a tactic" to achieve that ultimate goal.

So, too, for Mary Jane. The push for medical marijuana is clearly a tactic to achieve the ultimate goal of legalizing pot for all adults. And like prescription drugs, it's a political football.

In Howard Dean's last term as Vermont governor, the legislature played catch with medical marijuana. The Republican-controlled House led by Speaker Walter Freed happily passed medical marijuana legislation. But the Democrat-controlled senate sat on it in order to protect the political aspirations of a soon-to-be Democratic presidential candidate.

But, last year, the Democrat Senate overwhelmingly backed medical pot. The bill sits in a suddenly reluctant Republican House, whose leadership is intent on honoring the wishes of the new Republican governor who opposes it.

Heck of shell game, eh?

Nationally, the current failed drug policy has a friend in the White House. George W. Bush is a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry and the War on Drugs. In Nadelman's view, "whichever Democratic candidate has the best chance of beating Bush is the best candidate for reforming drug policy."

Asked which one is best of the best, Nadelman pointed to Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. Kucinich, he said, supports medical marijuana as well as decriminalization. Unfortunately, he added, Kucinich, who is trailing in the polls, "is not a viable candidate."

What about Howard Dean of Vermont?

As everyone knows, Ho-Ho was quite the anti-drug crusader. Gov. Dean once charged that the medical marijuana movement was just a ruse perpetrated by billionaire investment guru George Soros to legalize drugs.

Funny, earlier this year Candidate Dean attended a Big Apple fundraiser in his honor hosted by Mr. Soros! And according to campaign finance reports, Mr. Soros has made two $1000 contributions to Dean for America. The acceptance of Soros' cash sharply contrasts with Dean's earlier scorn for him from atop the gubernatorial soap box.

These days Dean will talk to almost anybody. It turns out our favorite presidential hopeful has had two meetings this year with Mr. Nadelman.

Nadelman told Seven Days, "When it comes to the rhetorical side, Dean is one of the best." Ethan said Ho-Ho "slams the War on Drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing and the D.A.R.E Program." Then, there's the other side of Howard Dean, the side we in Vermont know so well. Gov. Dean fought methadone maintenance to the bitter end and blew off medical pot legislation on the grounds grass should first be tested and approved by the FDA.

A bit hypocritical, wouldn't you say, for a guitar-playing child of the '60s who did his own marijuana testing in New Haven and Aspen? But Nadelman says Dean is mellowing.

At their first sit down, Ethan said he "attacked" Ho-Ho for his past positions as Vermont's chief executive. "Making the FDA the end-all on medical marijuana," he told Dean, "was a cop out."

Nadelman said Ho-Ho dug in his heels and argued back in classic Dean style. (A typical Scorpio is he.)

At their second rendezvous, Nadelman said Dean "didn't argue back as vociferously."

You don't think Ho-Ho had been smoking something, do you?

Rivers Rising!

Former Democratic State Sen. Cheryl Rivers of Windsor County is "99 percent certain" she'll toss her bonnet into the lieutenant governor's race. She'd be the second Dem to get in, following the lead of former Sen. Jan Backus of Chittenden County.

In a Seven Days interview, Ma Rivers made it perfectly clear she's ready for battle.

Sen. Rivers was the great champion of single-payer health care while under the golden dome and often she roused the ire of Gov. Howard Dean, M.D. Rivers told Seven Days that Backus "had not been supportive of Sen. Sally Conrad and I in trying to get universal health care."

It will be Rivers' first statewide race. Jan of Arc has lost two bids for U.S. Senate: the 1994 general and the 2000 primary.

"She's had two shots," said Rivers. "It would be gracious of her if she stepped aside."

Don't bet the farm on it, Cheryl.

Backus told Seven Days the Gov-Lite race is about beating Republican incumbent Brian Dubie who is "wrong for Vermont."

As for Cheryl's suggestion she drop out, Jan replied, "I have a record of staying above negative attacks."

Man, oh, man. 2004 will be a hot one!

Ticonderoga Tire Burning

At a recent public meeting in Middlebury, some in the audience were shocked to hear that Environmental Commissioner Jeff Wennberg had learned way back in May of the planned tire burning at the International Paper plant.

Wennberg told Seven Days he didn't notify the public earlier, "because we didn't realize the prospect of a test burn was imminent until last month." Unfortunately, he said, it appears there's nothing Vermont state government can do to stop the test burn of tire fuel across the lake.

A 1997 EPA study found tire-burning relatively safe if the stack has an electrostatic precipitator that removes the fine particles that end up in human lungs. IP Ticonderoga's stack does not have such a device, said Wennberg.

UVM Environmental Studies professor emeritus Jean Richardson told the audience Vermont would need three months of ambient air testing to establish a baseline to judge the effect of the IP tire burn. No such testing is underway or currently scheduled, according to Wennberg.

VPIRG spokesman Mark Floegel says Gov. Douglas needs to quickly get the health commissioner and the agriculture secretary involved. The toxic tire emissions from the IP smokestack, said Floegel, "will soon be falling on the dairy farms of Franklin and Grand Isle counties."

Not good news, eh?

Mrs. DeanWatch 2004

Our favorite Shelburne physician received the warm and fuzzy attention of distinguished Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman this week.

"A dark-haired woman, dressed in a simple skirt and sweater," writes Ellen, "she is at first and second glance the least packaged of candidates' wives. And maybe the least political."

Ah! Judy, Judy, Judy Dean!

"I'm not a fashion plate," Judy told Ellen. But she does make house calls.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, eh?

Like most Vermonters, Judy Dean leads a simple, quiet life. She's a modern American woman with a focus on career and kids. As we know, for fun, Judy hops on her two-wheeler and pedals the Burlington Bikepath (without a bike helmet, of course).

Dr. Judy is also a woman on the precipice of dramatic upheaval. If Ho-Ho's support continues to build like it has so far, the Secret Service will soon be scouting secure bikepaths in the Washington, D.C., area. Bet they'll make her wear a helmet.

P.S. On other bike item: As you'll recall, Democratic State Auditor Elizabeth Ready took a hellacious face-first spill about six weeks ago at Perkins Pier. She was en route to a Dean fundraiser, but never made it. Instead an ambulance rushed her to the emergency room. Eyewitnesses described a bloodcurdling smashup between Chainsaw Liz and the pavement. Teeth and blood everywhere.

Well, Ms. Ready's oldest, Ethan Ready, was married on Saturday in Lincoln to Katina Francis, an attorney. A lovely reception followed at Kingsland Bay State Park. Besides family, many a political heavyweight was in attendance. And we're happy to report Chainsaw Liz looked like her old, beautiful self.

One tough cookie is she.

Next Federal Judge?

Now that Gov. Jim Douglas has filled the bench on the Vermont Supreme Court, the next big opening is on the federal bench -- 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in lower Manhattan. It's the seat formerly held by the late Fred Parker. Tradition dictates a Vermonter occupy a seat on the 2nd Circuit.

Gov. Douglas indicated a while back he would personally make a recommendation to the Bush White House.

This week, Jimmy D's spokesman Jason Gibbs told Seven Days the Gov has done just that. But the name or names are confidential.

U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, as you know, is in the thick of the fight over judicial appointees. As for this one, his spokesman Luke Albee told Seven Days, "We've been working very cooperatively with both the Douglas and Bush administrations."

Cool Hand Luke sounded perfectly content with the name or names Jimmy D forwarded to Dubya.

The buzz in Vermont legal circles is focused on three possibilities: the current U.S. Attorney Peter Hall; Potter Stewart Jr. of Brattleboro, son of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice and family friend of the Bushes; and Burlington lawyer Jack Sartore of Paul Frank & Collins. It's a roll of the dice.

But Sartore and Dubya go way back. They were classmates both at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and at Yale. At their 1999 high-school reunion the Andover Class of Ô64 was buzzing over George W. Bush's prospects for the White House. A humorous write-up of the event projected administration posts for classmates of the future president. "Jack Sartore," it read, "has passed all the tests to be head lifeguard of the White House pool."

According to campaign finance reports, Mr. Sartore has so far contributed $500 to his classmate's reelection effort.

Attempts by Seven Days to reach Sartore by phone and email were unsuccessful. Probably busy swimming laps, eh? Certainly Sartore has the inside track.


In an item last week about Sen. Vince Illuzzi's critique of the Douglas administration's handling of a possible purchase of the dams on the Connecticut River, we inadvertently reported Luther "Fred" Hackett sits on the study committee. He does not. Sorry for the error.