The Speakeasy Blog
We Want Pardons: Petition to Save Bush's Legacy by Persuading Him to Pardon Thousands of Nonviolent Drug Offenders
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It's horrible because it's true:
SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean laboratory that produced the world's first cloned dogs is looking to get into the business of cloning canines, first by cloning drug-sniffing dogs, a lab official said on Tuesday.
The laboratory at Seoul National University, implicated in a scandal for fabricating data in embryonic stem cell studies, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korea Customs Service to clone drug-sniffing dogs, said Kim Min-kyu, the researcher who heads the cloning project for the team. [Reuters]
You've gotta hand it to these guys. What better way to overcome the ethical dilemmas facing the cloning industry than by getting involved in the drug war, where ethics are all but unheard of.
There's something brilliantly Orwellian about armies of drug-sniffing dog clones chasing hippies and snarling at school children. It's just a matter of time until they build robots to do that, and when that happens I just don't know what I'm gonna do. The big-time crooks will have their own robots to commit crimes for them, so our prisons will be filled with poor suckers who couldn’t afford a Stash-Bot 6000 to take the rap.
For the time being, it's worth noting that cloning in the drug war is nothing new. Anonymous sources have informed me that the new ONDCP documentary Stoners in the Mist is actually cloned from the original Reefer Madness, and drug war mouthpiece Mark Souder is actually cloned from red-scare fear-monger Joseph McCarthy.
Of course, since marijuana remains detectable for weeks after use, it is just wrong to presume that a positive result indicates impairment at the time of the accident. Still, many companies continue to fire injured employees for marijuana, rather than compensating them for on-the-job injuries that had nothing at all to do with their off-the-job marijuana consumption. It is a morally-reprehensible and scientifically-fraudulent practice, but one which serves the financial interests of its practitioners and thus continues.
Finally, for the first time that I know of, this sickening practice has been challenged successfully in court:
The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a worker whose hand was crushed by machinery at his workplace was not to blame for the accident despite his admitted marijuana use off the job.So often in drug policy reform, we must celebrate victories of common sense that could be taken for granted if anti-drug hysteria had not permeated every aspect of our lives. How absurd is it that McIntosh even had to prove his lack of impairment? After all, it is perfectly clear and undeniable that a positive test for marijuana doesn’t prove impairment at all. There was never any evidence of impairment at any point throughout all of this, yet it had to be decided by the state's highest court.
The state law establishing the drug-free workplace program presumes that any injuries to an employee found to have been using drugs or alcohol were caused by the drug use. But the court noted that the law also allows employees to enter evidence to rebut that presumption.
The co-worker and the shop foreman both testified that McIntosh didn't appear to be impaired by marijuana use before the accident.
McIntosh, who had worked at Interstate for five years, contended the injury was caused by the actions of an inexperienced employee. [Forbes]
While the Tennessee Supreme Court has certainly made the right decision here, one shudders to think how many marijuana users have been thrown to the dogs under identical circumstances. The premise that marijuana ruins lives – almost universally false though it is – somehow becomes a justification for profiteers seeking to validate the most despicable treatment of people who've used marijuana.
These events serve to remind us that prohibition is more than police, prisons and politics. It an idea – corrupt to its core – which infects everything, entering our schools and workplaces to spread false prejudice and obscure even the most obvious truths.
"I believe the effort to try and make marijuana available for medical uses is really a way to legalize it. There's no reason for it," the former New York mayor said during a town hall-style meeting at New Hampshire Technical Institute.I've already written about the potent irony of Giuliani's opposition to medical marijuana, but if he won’t shut up about this, neither will I. If Rudy Giuliani won't stop talking trash about medical marijuana, and endorsing pharmaceutical alternatives, I won’t stop bringing up the fact that he worked as a hired consultant for OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma.
He also said there are better alternatives.
"You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana," he said. [AP]
Giuliani has less than no credibility on this issue because he worked for a company that is in direct competition with medical marijuana. It's really that simple. His claims that medical marijuana is part of a broader legalization conspiracy are also ironic considering that Giuliani played a key role in keeping OxyContin legal after it was linked with widespread abuse. Giuliani personally met with former DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson and persuaded him to leave Purdue alone. Meanwhile, abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly OxyContin, has become the fastest growing drug problem among America's youth.
To be clear, I don't believe OxyContin should be illegal. Patients must be allowed to choose medicines based on what works for them, whether it be OxyContin, medical marijuana, or tree bark. But the transparent hypocrisy of Giuliani's behavior is so over-the-top that it is just impossible to ignore.
(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
For years, pro-drug groups have been alleging that "nothing can be done" about the world's illegal drug problem.Nothing could more perfectly illustrate ONDCP's inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge the stated goals of the drug policy reform movement. For starters, "nothing can be done about the world's drug problem" is the precise opposite of what we believe, and is an ironic accusation to receive from people who specialize in accomplishing nothing.
We've identified many things that need to be done with regards to the world's drug problem, starting immediately. It's true that we want the government to stop doing several things it currently does, but that doesn't mean we advocate illegal drug use or want nothing done. Our message is positive: drug abuse can be handled better than this.
Moreover, the difference between advocating something and opposing the arrest of its practitioners is plainly evident in the case of religion, sexual preferences, sky diving and so on. It is utter nonsense to equate opposition to the drug war with advocacy of drug use, and ONDCP's compulsion to falsely describe our motives merely demonstrates the difficulty of actually responding to our arguments.
Ultimately, the magnitude and diversity of the drug policy reform movement overwhelms any attempt to simplify our agenda. DPA's Ethan Nadelmann said it best at the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference:
Who are we? We are people who love drugs. They say we like drugs. It's true. Especially marijuana. Marijuana has been good for us. God put it here for a reason and we need to find a way to live with it in peace. But we are also people who hate drugs. We have suffered from overdoses and addiction. But we know that drugs are here to stay, and prohibition and the criminal justice system is not the way to deal with it. And we are people who don't care about drugs. People who care about the Constitution, who care about 2.2 million Americans behind bars, who care about fundamental rights and freedoms.Indeed, opposition to the drug war emerges from a thousand perspectives, but it is for precisely this reason that ONDCP still endeavors to boil down our position into one silly soundbite: "pro-drug groups." It is one thing to create caricatures of our movement and mock us in a blog that doesn't allow comments. It would be quite another to stand up and defend this catastrophic war before each and every constituency that suffers by its hand.
So for the record, no, we are not "pro-drug." We are pro-freedom. We are pro-justice. We are pro-health, pro-equality, and pro-constitution. And we will continue to stand for these values openly and despite the certainty of being called things that we are not.
Why would a newspaper drug test its employees? In an environment characterized by firm deadlines and intense public exposure and scrutiny, how on earth are drug tests necessary to ensure competence? Really, what could be more frivolous than drug testing people whose efficiency is so easily measured?
I suspect that these companies reserve the right to drug test, but rarely do so in practice. If so, it's the threat that counts; that precisely because deadlines rule in the newspaper world, you can't have your staff getting wasted on illegal drugs. But even that makes no sense, because incompetence will always be revealed well before the urinalysis results come in.
Could it be that these newspapers are literally afraid that stoned staffers will create stoned stories? Absent tight controls, perhaps mischievous drug addicts would take over, perverting reality itself through drug-fueled, mind-altered reporting. Certainly, we don't need subliminal pro-drug messages with our breakfast cereal, and we don't want some acid-freak's hallucinations reported as news.
If journalists can't get high without fear of dismissal, maybe that explains the wealth of uninformed, uninspired drivel that passes for drug reporting in the modern press. Then again, we all know that drug testing doesn't actually prevent people from partying, especially with those powerful "hard" drugs that leave your system within 48 hours.
At the very least, this practice reveals that an anti-drug bias is literally built into the structure of major news organizations. But that should come as no surprise to anyone whose seen false government propaganda cut and pasted from press releases to the pages of prestigious papers with no regard for accuracy or opposing viewpoints.
After all, if you get too creative with a drug story, they just might pull out the pee-cup on you.
This is a week old now, but I think Hillary Clinton's comments at the recent Democratic Presidential debate are worth discussing here:
MR. [DeWayne] WICKHAM: Okay. Okay, please stay with me on this one.
According to FBI data, blacks were roughly 29 percent of persons arrested in this country between 1996 and 2005. Whites were 70 percent of people arrested during this period. Yet at the end of this 10-year period, whites were 40 percent of those who were inmates in this country, and blacks were approximately 38 percent. What does this data suggest to you?
SEN. CLINTON: In order to tackle this problem, we have to do all of these things.
Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I’ve supported legislation to try to tackle that.
Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.
Three, we need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. (Applause.)
We need to make sure that we do deal with the distinction between crack and powder cocaine. And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration. (Applause.) [New York Times]
Of course, if Clinton truly believes that "non-violent offenders shouldn’t be serving hard time in our prisons," she'll have to look further than diversion programs and repealing mandatory minimums. Still, it's refreshing to hear a democratic front-runner sounding rehearsed on drug policy and criminal justice reform.
Frankly, the principle that non-violent drug offenders shouldn't be doing hard time stands in stark contrast to the drug war status quo. This is a powerful idea, and while Clinton attaches it to politically-safe policy proposals at this point, she sounds ready to have a realistic discussion about the impact of the drug war on communities of color.
Between Mike Gravel's aggressive anti-drug war stance and a near consensus among the other candidates about reforming sentencing practices and prioritizing public health programs, we're seeing rational ideas about drug policy creep slowly into mainstream politics.
I know quite a few pessimistic reformers, and far more that are just impatient. Everyday more people are arrested, jailed, killed, or otherwise stripped of their humanity by this great and unnecessary civil war, and it's depressing as hell to watch these things continue. But moments like this provide a barometer for our progress – slow though it may be – and I don't understand how anyone can look at the last 10 years of drug policy reform and say we're not moving forward.
I don't think our movement needs to change. I think it needs to grow, and indeed it is growing. When Hillary Clinton says "non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons," she becomes part of this movement, whether she likes it or not.
"[W]hen you’re dealing with nonviolent drug offenders, paramilitary police actions create violence instead of defusing it."
In a press release that does not seem to be available online, the American Civil Liberties Union praises Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), historically one of the most gung-ho drug warriors in the Democratic Party, for introducing a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder. Previous proposals would have merely reduced the disparity, in some cases by making cocaine powder sentences more severe. By contrast, Biden's bill would raises the amount of crack that triggers a five-year mandatory minimum sentence to 500 grams, the same as the amount for cocaine powder. [reason]Here's Biden's statement:
The current sentencing disparity between the two forms of cocaine is based on false notions and old logic. The bottom line is that there is no scientific justification for any disparity. Crack and powder are simply two forms of the same drug, and each form produces identical effects. I will soon be introducing legislation that eliminates the sentencing disparity completely, fixing this injustice once and for all.Coming from a man whose drug war credentials include authoring the RAVE Act and creating ONDCP, this is an exciting surprise. While many consider fixing the crack/powder sentencing disparity a no-brainer, reducing federal drug sentences is certainly a bold move for Biden.
He's running for president right now, so Biden's willingness to challenge a drug war injustice suggests a shifting perception of the political implications of U.S. drug policy. As obviously flawed as the sentencing disparity is, it's not really that much more palatable than any number of other issues we're working on. If Biden can recognize this problem, there's much more he could potentially come to understand.
(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
half a million nonviolent drug offenders rot. The news just broke that President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, leaving him with a conviction and a $250,000 fine. Most of the fine is going to be paid by his allies. This might not bother me as much -- I'm generally not a big fan of prison -- were it not that Bush has been such a "pardon Scrooge" during all of his now many years in office. In fact, as of last November the total number of commutations he had done numbered a mere two, according to SF Chronicle columnist Deb Saunders. What a coincidence that of all of the two million people languishing behind bars in this country, the vice president's former aide was one of only .00015% of them -- three people -- who deserved to be spared prison time! I've been watching drug policy, and criminal justice generally, for the last 14 years, and the sheer hypocrisy in this instance even blows me away. Either George Bush proceeds now to release nonviolent offenders in droves -- thousands and thousands of them -- or calling him a hypocrite will be the understatement of the millennium. Clarence Aaron and the Garrison twins would be three good people to start with. (Update: The president cannot commute state sentences, so change the .00015% I referred to earlier to .0015% instead. On the other side of the equation, though, a much higher percentage of federal incarcerations are of nonviolent drug offenses than of state incarcerations.)
The House yesterday lifted a nine-year-old ban on using D.C. tax dollars to provide clean needles to drug addicts, handing city leaders what they consider a crucial new weapon against a severe AIDS epidemic.Well, I know what I'm doing tonight. Heroin. Because concerns about the availability of clean needles were the only thing stopping me.
Pro-AIDS activist Mark Souder is furious. He thinks this will cause a heroin epidemic or something. He's right, if you can call a bunch of heroin users that would otherwise be dead an epidemic.
Not to mention that all my friends are pawning their playstations in anticipation of getting super-wasted on uncut, AIDS-free H. I hear it's like having sex with a cloud.
As in so many things these days, one wishes for something approximating independent analysis. I don't trust the government's research on drugs; its hyperbole and scare tactics on pot in particular seemed design to defend status quos (border and prison policies) that worsen, not solve, larger societal problems at hand. Nor do I trust NORML et al, even, and perhaps especially, when, having gotten nowhere on legalization per se, they reframe the issue as a balm for the sick and dying. Allowing medical marijuana is a no-brainer in my book, but I just think it's a little unseemly when perfectly healthy pot-positive types hide behind AIDS and cancer patients.
Jeffery questions the credibility of the federal drug war establishment, then borrows their favorite talking point and slaps us with it.
Yet, the idea that marijuana policy reformers have somehow exploited patients is incoherent on its face. We have defended patients because their persecution is one of the most tragic consequences of the great war we oppose. That our efforts on behalf of patients have been particularly successful is a product of political realities, not an indictment of our strategy. We don't get to choose which of our issues gain traction.
This fight was brought to our doorstep in the form of sick people and their caretakers getting arrested. Our disgust over the persecution of medical marijuana patients is very real and our willingness to fight and win major victories on their behalf has been amply demonstrated. These patients are our friends and family, literally.
Nor are we hiding in any sense of the word. Really, what could be more obviously wrong than the suggestion that marijuana reformers are somehow concealing our agenda? It is plastered atop our websites, it is spelled out in our press releases and on our t-shirts, and it is the first thing we'll explain to anyone willing to listen.
Clara Jeffery, why is it ok for you to call medical marijuana a "no-brainer," and not us? We spoke of compassion, and we then built compassionate policies out of thin air and against massive opposition. No, we don't hide behind AIDS and cancer patients. We march with them.
Update: Paul Armentano at NORML tells me that Mother Jones turned down a remarkably similar story he submitted a month ago, only to then publish this version. This illustrates two important things:
1. While Mother Jones purports not to trust NORML, they like Paul Armentano's story ideas and echo his analysis.
2. Having received multiple submissions from Paul, Mother Jones almost certainly knows that he does not "hide behind AIDS and cancer patients," because they've seen him writing about other topics, including this one.
Ultimately, the attack against NORML is just completely without merit or provocation. Clara Jeffery owes an explanation.
"I oppose the legalization of marijuana because, as noted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, marijuana can have serious adverse health affects on individuals. The health problems that may occur from this highly addictive drug include short-term memory loss, anxiety, respiratory illness and a risk of lung cancer that far exceeds that of tobacco products. It would also make our transportation, schools and workplaces, just as examples, more dangerous." [CelebStoner.com]Unfortunately for Coleman, NORML board member Norm Kent was hip to his hypocrisy. Having partied and protested alongside Coleman in college, Kent crafted an open letter to the Senator exposing his marijuana use and fundamentally undermining Coleman's reckless characterization of the drug's risks:
Dear Mr. Coleman,
My friend Norman.
Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.
Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice...
Truly, nothing could better refute Norm Coleman's attacks against marijuana than the life of Norm Coleman. He smoked marijuana in college – like so, so, so many others – and now he is a U.S. Senator. He does not have lung cancer or schizophrenia.
As a general rule, I don’t think it's our business who smoked pot in college. But so long as a great and terrible war is waged against marijuana users, we cannot always afford to take the moral high ground. Kent's letter reveals Coleman as a shameless liar in far fewer words than it would take to explain that marijuana doesn’t cause cancer or idiocy.
Most importantly, Norm Coleman's public humiliation sends a message to other politicians that flagrant lies and rank hypocrisy will not be tolerated in the marijuana debate. Until our leaders finally get the message that Americans don’t want this war, cheap political posturing will continue.
If a little narcing of our own can help silence other would-be drug war demogogues, I say let 'em have it.
Update: In hindsight, the above doesn't exhibit much respect for individual privacy, which is an important value that must always be considered even when dealing with dishonest folks. As Kent's letter notes, Coleman mentioned getting high in the school newspaper and used marijuana defiantly on the roof of a school building during a protest, so he'd already sacrificed any expectation of privacy.
[Christiania] was set up in the heart of Copenhagen as an antidote to the selfish society. But Europe's most famous commune is under threat from a right-wing government determined to 'normalise' this relic of the 1970s.The Legalise Cannabis Alliance (UK) has video footage of what looks like a pretty serious police raid posted to YouTube -- there are links to more video there too. We published a Chronicle news feature in January 2004 when hash sellers on Pusherstrasse burned their own stands in protest of a looming government crackdown, and again two months later when the trouble hit. Reason's Kerry Howley provides some "fun facts" about Christiania here. Why not just leave the hippies alone, conservative Danish government (and US government)?
BEIJING, June 25 (Xinhua) -- The Supreme People's Court (SPC) on Monday announced its approval of the death penalty for seven drug traffickers, a day before the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Gao Guijun, presiding judge of the Fifth Criminal Court under the Supreme People's Court, said that since the SPC took back the power of review over the death penalty on Jan. 1, the SPC had strictly examined death penalty cases involving drug trafficking. "Our approval of the death penalty regarding drug trafficking could stand the test of history," said Gao. Ni Shouming, the SPC's spokesman, reiterated the court's resolute stance on fighting drug trafficking, saying the court would show no leniency in handing down heavy penalties to the kingpins of drug trafficking gangs and those who participate in cross-border drug crimes.No word yet on whether China actually executed any drug offenders yesterday, but stay tuned--I will be writing a feature article on this annual exercise for this week's Chronicle. In the meantime, happy UN anti-drug day, y'all.
Get ready to die, stoners. Via DrugWarRant, DEA Miami Chief Mark R. Trouville has an ominous warning for you:
"This ain't your grandfather's or your father's marijuana," Trouville said. "This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you." [The Ledger]
What can you really say about something like this? I mean he's not even saying it might kill you. He says you're gonna die.
Since marijuana's never killed anyone in history, this is a whopper of a lie even for a DEA official. Still, I'm more annoyed with the newspaper that reported it.
On and on, the discussion of marijuana in the press continues without regard for basic truths. It is only because the media can be counted on to pass along such absurd claims that our government officials continue to make them.
The Ledger accepts letters to the editor here.
Bad things happen when drug-legalization groups send mixed messages about marijuana to the American public. Check out this story out of New Mexico:This might be ONDCP's version of a "funny" post. And it is kinda funny in a sad way, although the officers' version of what the man actually said sounds a bit too perfect to me (note also that he didn't actually get in much trouble because the plants were unimpressive)."It was all a misunderstanding. Really.
"Dude, I totally thought weed was legalized in New Mexico," police say a man with 67 marijuana plants in the trunk of his car told them.
"Well, it's not," the police officer replied.
A man was busted at the Border Patrol checkpoint on U.S. Highway 70 June 12, allegedly while transporting a large number of marijuana plants in his car.
He told police he thought weed had been legalized in this state." [Alamogordo Daily News]
Regardless, nothing could be more disingenuous than ONDCP's feigned dismay over this incident. Believe me, they love it when stupid people get arrested for pot and they pray for anything to happen that could be construed as a negative consequence of protecting patient access.
If hapless growers get the wrong idea, it's because every attempt to pass a medical marijuana law is turned into a confusing, high-profile controversy by ONDCP. It is those opposing medical marijuana laws who obscure their meaning and feverishly equate them with broader legalization. If the drug czar's office shut up about it, programs like New Mexico's could be established around the country with less and less fanfare each time.
LARGEST INCREASE IN PRISON AND JAIL INMATE POPULATIONS SINCE MIDYEAR 2000 More Than 2.24 Million Incarcerated as of June 30, 2006 WASHINGTON -- During the 12 months that ended June 30, 2006, the nation's prison and jail populations increased by 62,037 inmates (up 2.8 percent), to total 2,245,189 inmates, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. State and federal inmates accounted for 70 percent of the increase. At midyear 2006, two-thirds of the nation.s incarcerated population was in custody in a state or federal prison (1,479,179), and the other one-third was held in local jails (766,010). The number of prisoners under the legal jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities -- some of whom were held in local jails -- increased by 42,942 prisoners (2.8 percent) during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006, to reach 1,556,518 prisoners. In absolute number and percentage change, the increase in prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction was the largest since the 12 months ending on June 30, 2000. The growth in state prisoners was due largely to a rise in prison admissions, up 17.2 percent between 2000 and 2005. During the same period, releases from state prisons increased at a slower rate, up 15.5 percent. New court commitments totaled 421,426 during 2005, a 20.3 percent increase since 2000, and parole violators returned to prison totaled 232,229, up 14.1 percent. Forty-two states and the federal system reported an increase in their prison populations during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006. Idaho had the largest percentage increase (up 13.7 percent), followed by Alaska (up 9.4 percent) and Vermont (up 8.3 percent). Eight states reported declines in their prison populations, led by Missouri (down 2.9 percent), Louisiana and Maine (both down 1.8 percent). The number of federal prisoners increased by 3.6 percent to reach 191,080 prisoners. At midyear 2006 the federal system had jurisdiction over more prisoners than did any single state, including California and Texas, which had jurisdiction over 175,115 and 172,889 prisoners, respectively. The number of local jail inmates increased by 2.5 percent during the year, the smallest annual percent change since 2001. Since 2000, the number of unconvicted inmates held in local jails has been increasing. As of June 30, 2006, 62 percent of inmates held in local jails were awaiting court action on their current charge, up from 56 percent in 2000.There's more to the press release, but the above is the gist of it. This annual report does not, if I recall correctly, include a breakdown by offense, which means I have to hunt through other BJS reports to come up with a likely number of drug offenders behind bars. I've been saying "around a half million" for the past three or four years. Maybe now we'll be able to say "more than half a million." But you'll have to wait until Friday, when my story on this comes out. For those who can't wait to read the BJS report, it will be available here tomorrow morning. In the meantime, ain't it great to live in the land of the free?
…the current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our antimarijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans’ views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana,9 and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product,10 lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting—however inarticulately—that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.What a profound statement on the importance of publicly debating marijuana laws. Rarely, if ever, has a member of the Court addressed this issue with such candor. It's also noteworthy that his colleagues, Souter and Ginsburg, signed onto this. Stevens's point can't reasonably be characterized as a direct critique of marijuana laws, but he certainly endeavors to legitimize that viewpoint in the marketplace of political ideas.
Although the 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner itself lost today, this case has provided a strong indication of the Court's familiarity with the political debate over our nation's drug laws. What appears on the surface to be a victory in the anti-drug crusade has proven to be more nuanced, which may explain why ONDCP has remained silent today.
Today's Supreme Court ruling in the notorious 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' case (aka Morse v. Frederick) was a disappointment. Still, without naming names, I think some of my colleagues in the blogosphere have missed an important point in their haste to condemn the Court.
It is vitally important that students and school administrators get the right message about what this ruling does and does not say about drug related speech in school. Morse v. Frederick states that the 1st Amendment does not protect speech advocating illegal drug use. Nonetheless, a majority of Supreme Court Justices clearly agree that political speech criticizing the war on drugs should be protected.
As Pete Guither highlights, Alito's concurrence addresses the burning question of what this ruling means for students who wish to speak out about drug policy itself:
I join the opinion of the Court on the understanding that (a) it goes no further than hold that a public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use and (b) it provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as 'the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.'
The Court's majority conclusion that Frederick's 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner constituted unprotected pro-drug speech during school was dependent on Alito and Kennedy's concurrence. In short, a majority of the Court's justices expressly reject the notion that political speech advocating drug policy reform could be restricted in the same fashion.
It is exactly this question which compelled Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the Drug Policy Alliance to file Amicus briefs with the Court, and it is clear that reformers got the straightforward answer we were looking for.
Along these lines, it's also notable that Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion responds to Alito by noting that the banner was not political speech. Thus, even the Court's majority acknowledges that today's ruling in no way constitutes a restriction on speech that merely criticizes the drug war.
None of this is to say that Morse v. Frederick is a good ruling. Indeed, the Court has rarely looked sillier than it does today. It is the height of arrogance to decide arbitrarily what 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' even means in the first place, and then base a 1st Amendment ruling that affects everyone on something so subjective and nonsensical. Morse overflows with hyperbole about the dangers of drugs to America's youth, as if a 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner could somehow exacerbate such problems. Yeah, it's a remarkably stupid ruling in that regard.
But to ignore the Court's deliberate defense of political speech is to disregard the primary concern that drew the attention of drug policy reformers to this case in the first place. Certainly there are ambiguities, and today's ruling is far from an endorsement of widespread drug policy debate on high school campuses. How students and administrators ultimately interpret the ruling will vary and more litigation will likely be needed. But it is precisely for this reason that defenders of free speech must be measured in our criticism. Nothing could be more harmful than allowing this case to be understood as restricting speech that it does not in fact restrict.
So, while gray areas abound, the logical interpretation of Morse v. Frederick is that political speech advocating drug policy reform (though not drug use itself) is protected under the 1st Amendment.
Go get 'em, students. If you need some better banner ideas, contact Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/468/newark_new_orleans_drug_war_crackdown_crime_murder (Chronicle article) http://stopthedrugwar.org/prohibition_in_the_media/2007/jan/09/irony_new... (blog post) http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/468/newark_drug_force_wont_achieve_i... (editorial)Booker did say some good things at the time:
"These men are not saints who have died, but they are our sons... Take away my tie, take away my suit, and about 10 years, and I fit that description: young black men dying in our city at rates that are unacceptable."But as I pointed out in my editorial:
If the people doing the fighting are members of our collective family, to be rescued where possible from a negative environment that has lured them into a criminal lifestyle, why is the centerpiece of the new effort a law enforcement campaign that can only end with the long-term incarceration of many of "our sons"? Youthful confusion and feelings of desperation don't magically end after 17 years and 365 days, and New Jersey's drug laws for adults are harsh, as are federal drug laws. How many of "our sons" will end up in prison for long periods of time, sent there because of this new program?An article by Tom Moran in the Newark Star-Ledger this weekend has some very interesting comments from both McCarthy and Booker. McCarthy points out the city's homicide rate -- 105 last year -- is the highest in over a decade, even though every other kind of crime has really dropped off. McCarthy is "perplexed," he told Moran. Booker's talk was pretty tough, but it was the kind of tough talk that we like here:
"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."According to Moran, Booker likened heavy jail terms and unforgiving policies toward those who have been released to an economic genocide against African American men in his city that is giving Newark's crime wave thousands of new recruits. He wants to state's mandatory minimums to go, at least in their current form -- New Jersey's drug laws are harsh -- and he says that he's ready to fight it out:
"I'm going to battle on this," the mayor says. "We're going to start doing it the gentlemanly way. And then we're going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd. "I'm talking about marches. I'm talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I'm talking about whatever it takes."Let's hope he means it -- kudos in any case for saying such things. In the meanwhile, though, I do have a few questions:
- Is the narcotics task force he talked about in January operating, and if so, what exactly is it doing?
- Is the city doing everything it can to prevent these young men from ending up in the clutches of the state's harsh sentencing regime -- through policing prioritization, prosecutorial discretion, etc.?
- What about ending prohibition? It's not just that people are angry and hopeless, it's also the money in the illegal drug trade that is getting so many people recruited into lives of crime and paying them to stay there. Only legalization can break that link.