Pubdate: Sun, 24 Dec 2000
Source: Spokesman-Review (WA)
Copyright: 2000 Cowles Publishing Company
Contact:  P.O. Box 2160 Spokane, WA 99210
Fax:  (509) 459-5482
Bookmark: The November Coalition:


Colville Group Says Prison Not The Answer

Friday's presidential pardon of two women from the South led to 
cheers in Colville.

That's where the November Coalition, a national nonprofit group 
championing drug law reforms, is headquartered.

Founded by executive director Nora Callahan, the coalition gathered 
more than 30,000 signatures this year asking President Clinton to 
free Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines.

It was part of a wide effort -- including help from dogged lawyers -- 
to have the women pardoned.

Smith, of Richmond, Va., had been sentenced to 24 years in prison. 
Gaines, of Mobile, Ala., was serving 19 years and 7 months.

Both were convicted of being accessories to drug crimes. Clinton 
agreed to pardon them because they'd received long sentences for 
playing minor roles in drug distribution networks.

For Callahan, the pardons were yet another step in what she hopes may 
eventually result in an emotional payoff: seeing her brother become a 
free man. He is imprisoned in Texas, serving a 27-year, six-month 
cocaine conspiracy sentence, she said.

After years working to change drug-sentencing laws -- especially 
mandatory federal sentencing rules -- Callahan said it was the calls 
from mothers whose sons were in prison that prompted her to begin the 
November Coalition. The group has 7,000 members from all over the 
country, Callahan said.

"I began to get these calls. Mothers whose children were being 
sexually brutalized in prisons and county jails because of a drug 
conviction," she said.

Her active work to discredit the country's "war on drugs" has made 
her a regular on national talk radio shows and a quoted government 
adversary on drug policy in national news magazines.

"If we have doctors telling us that drugs are an addiction and 
therefore a problem ... why do we have judges, police and jailers 
dispensing the cure?" she said. "It doesn't make sense."

So she is on the front lines of the legalization movement that wants 
drugs regulated -- much like alcohol. This, she said, would be more 
just than imprisoning users.

It's a tough fight, however.

Drugs have had devastating effects on many American families and 
communities. And the country has spent billions of dollars trying to 
stem the flow of narcotics across the borders.

Of the 2 million prisoners in the United States, about 500,000 are 
serving time for drug convictions.

Few Democrats or Republicans run for office with a drug-law overhaul 
campaign plank.

In 1997, Callahan was on the losing side of a state initiative that 
would have allowed doctors in Washington to recommend their patients 
take certain illegal drugs. Acquiring the drugs would have been up to 
the patients.

An initiative legalizing medical marijuana use has since passed in 
Washington. However, the Legislature has not ordered hearings or 
passed regulations to implement the law.

Besides her brother's prison troubles, Callahan watched her father 
die a painful death in 1992. He had bladder cancer, couldn't use 
morphine, and would have tried marijuana to numb the pain if it were 

Now, from her office in Colville, Callahan takes solace in any 
decision she believes undermines the nation's drug war.

"We have children in trouble, and are we going to build them prison 
cells instead of hospital beds?" Callahan asked.
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