The Speakeasy Blog

The Latest Imprisonment Numbers Are Out; No Surprises

The Bureau of Justice Statistics will tomorrow officially release its latest annual report on the number of prisoners in America. It's pretty much the same old story, one I'm sick of writing every year, and it has a title like this: "Number of Prisoners in America At All-Time High (Again)" According to a BJS press release today (which apparently will not appear on their web site until tomorrow):
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?
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Justices Stevens, Souter, & Ginsburg: Drug Policy Reform Sympathizers?

As noted by Pete Guither in his excellent 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' coverage, this passage from Justice Stevens in his dissenting opinion is quite remarkable:
…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.

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Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Today's Ruling Does Not Affect Political Speech

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.

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Supreme Court Betrays Free Speech...

... and thereby betrays the country. Bad (inexcusable) ruling in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case.
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Newark's leaders are starting to talk sense -- maybe big time.

Early this year we criticized Newark, New Jersey's new mayor, Cory Booker, and the city's police director, Garry McCarthy, for a law enforcement-focused response to the city's drug trade problem, the formation of a new narcotics task force. I actually say "we criticized" in the literal sense, as we appear to have three pieces on the topic -- a Chronicle article by Phil, a blog post by Scott, and an editorial by myself -- all published on the same day:
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:
  1. Is the narcotics task force he talked about in January operating, and if so, what exactly is it doing?
  2. 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.?
  3. 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.
Check out the article, there's lot's more good stuff there. When you're done, send the Star-Ledger a letter to the editor. Congratulations to Mr. Moran for authoring such an important and insightful report.
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Do Firefighters Get Stoned When a Stashhouse Burns Down?

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This is curious…
EDINBURG, Texas (AP) -- Firefighters who spent half an hour fighting a blaze in which 2,000 pounds of marijuana went up in smoke breathed so much of it that they would have failed a drug test, a fire chief said.


Snider said Thursday the firefighters were exposed to so much marijuana smoke that they would not be able to pass a drug test, despite wearing air packs to prevent them from inhaling toxic or hazardous fumes. [CNN]

Fascinating. But how do they know there were 2,000 pounds in there if it all burned up? "Sniff, sniff. Hmmm, must be about 2,000 pounds in here!" Whatever.

They're all just saying that so they can get blazed all weekend. I know what they're up to.

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"End Racial Profiling Act" coming to Congress soon...

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I chatted briefly with the ACLU's Jesselyn McCurdy Thursday night at the Crime Policy Summit hosted by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). Coincidentally she had an article on the Huffington Post blog that night, "Racial Profiling: ''Wrong in America,''" in which she reports that Sen. Feingold (D-WI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) are preparing to introduce an important bill:
In the coming weeks, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Representative John Conyers (D-MI) are expected to introduce the End Racial Profiling Act of 2007 (ERPA), which will prohibit federal law enforcement agencies from engaging in racial profiling and encourage states to adopt the same type of ban on the practice. The legislation will also permit victims of racial profiling to take legal action and requires states to establish procedures for victims to file complaints against police officers who racially profile. In addition, the bill provides data collection demonstration and best practice incentive grants to state and local law enforcement agencies.
With Conyers chairing the House Judiciary Committee now, after the Democratic takeover, I'd say it has a real chance. I spoke with Conyers there too, by the way; after 40+ years in Congress he obviously is not a young man anymore, but he's not tired of it at all and is thrilled to be in a position to get some things done. Other members of Congress attending parts of the Summit Thursday included Bobby Scott (there for most of it), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Melvin Watt (D-NC) and Keith Ellison (D-MN). Sadly I couldn't make it to the Friday portion, had to edit the Chronicle. Anyway, there's today's brief report from Washington...
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Plane Crash, Missing Person Search Hinder Pot Crop

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Marijuana growing must be ubiquitous these days. Not only are there the daily grow busts that any dedicated drug war news scanner notices, but this week, we have a couple of incidents where the pot growers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time: In Baton Rouge, an unfortunate 53-year-old woman got busted for growing pot after a small plane crashed in her back yard. Cops and emergency personnel arriving at the scene found the pilot uninjured, but they also found 14 potted pot plants, so the woman and her roommate are going to jail. Meanwhile, the search for the missing pregnant Ohio woman (if you watch cable news this story is unavoidable) had a dramatic moment yesterday when a cadaver dog started alerting near a patch of ground where the soil had been disturbed. No, it was the body of the missing woman, it was...you guessed it, some poor guy's little pot patch in the woods. Man, talk about bad luck! But these stories also make one wonder just where else this stuff is growing. Apparently everywhere.
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Teens Who Use Drugs Are Less Likely to Get in Fights

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Pete Guither at DrugWarRant points out another amusing irony contained in ONDCP's new report Teens, Drugs, and Violence. The report emphasizes the connection between teen drug use and violence with this statistic:
Nearly one in six teens (17%) who got into serious fights at school or work in the past year report using drugs;
Always skeptical, Pete used his research skills to put these numbers in perspective:
…if you look at the 2007 Monitoring the Future report, you see that the percentages of any teens who used drugs in the past year are: 8th grade (14.8%), 10th grade (28.7%), and 12th grade (36.5%). So to say that 17% of teens who got into serious fights report using drugs is not a particularly alarming thing. (In fact, it appears by these numbers that teens who use drugs are actually less likely to get into serious fights.)

It might be necessary to explain that Monitoring the Future is government data, frequently cited by ONDCP when it suits their agenda. Of course, we wouldn't go around issuing reports about how drug users are less violent than everybody else (even though that seems likely to be true). The point here is that ONDCP's insinuations about the relationship between drug use and youth violence reflect the precise opposite of what the data actually show. And this predictably proves to be the case virtually every time a report such as this is issued by that office.

One need only examine the sprawling media coverage they've generated this week to see why ONDCP has every incentive to continue issuing meaningless announcements like this as often as possible. Some news outlets did include a reform viewpoint, but that's insufficient since the headline does most of the damage and since the report's intellectual value is null to begin with.

A media that is dutifully skeptical of self-serving claims by government officials would quickly discover the treasure trove of nonsense and incoherence contained in every such announcement from ONDCP. Unfortunately, we don't have one of those. Therefore, journalists, I beg you, if you receive a press release that begins, "John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy, today released a new Special Report showing that..." please understand that there are almost certainly several potent ironies and contradictions contained therein, which deserve to be noted in your reporting. If necessary, I will point them out to you with or without being credited.

Otherwise, understand that if you publish a story merely passing along claims made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the likelihood that you've authored something inaccurate, incorrect, and/or incomplete will be extraordinarily high.

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Breaking: Rhode Island Medical Marijuana Law Now Permanent

I've just been informed that the Rhode Island House has passed medical marijuana again, this time making the law permanent.

RI Gov. Donald Carcieri has twice vetoed this bill, and now looks doubly foolish. Not only has he attempted to stand between deserving patients and their medicine, but he has failed dramatically and repeatedly.

This great victory is testament to the wisdom and compassion of the Rhode Island House and Senate, as well as the hard work of countless patients, activists, and organizations who fought and won this unnecessarily drawn-out battle.

The political future of medical marijuana remains bright as ever before.

Update: Jon Perri at DARE Generation Diary credits the major players.

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Giuliani's Cocaine Connection

This post is a little more sympathetic than the title might seem to suggest. One of the big news stories today was the indictment of Rudy Giuliani's now-former South Carolina campaign chairman Thomas Ravenel, the state's now-suspended Treasurer, on federal cocaine distribution charges. Drug policy academic Mark Kleiman points out that Ravenel does not appear to have been a drug dealer:
The other guy indicted in the case seems to be the dealer. Ravenel seems to have been one of his customers, who bought cocaine in quantity to share with friends. Under federal law, there's no crime of selling drugs; the crime is "distribution," which includes giving the stuff away.
(Talking Points Memo, linking to Kleiman, observes that Ravenel would have been buying for "what was probably going to be a pretty big bash".) Ravenel should be considered innocent until proven guilty, of course, and Kleiman points out what I think is a pretty good reason why:
The most likely scenario here: The state cops nailed the dealer (he was already in custody on state charges when the indictment was handed up yesterday), and the dealer gave them a prominent customer in order to buy himself some consideration at sentencing time.
As a legalizer, I have to have some sympathy for anyone caught up in the drug war's headlights. Still, Ravenel was a political official at the highest levels in a state that has some real "tough on drugs" policies in place. Unless he was actively involved in working for serious drug policy reform -- and I'm not aware that he was -- and assuming the accusations made against him are accurate, there's a hypocrisy angle here. Furthermore, the candidate he was involved in trying to elect as president, Rudy Giuliani, is a drug warrior who increased arrests in New York when he was mayor, who tried to shut down methadone maintenance in the city, and who opposes needle exchange and medical marijuana. It's especially hypocritical for a drug user to chair a state campaign for a drug warrior trying to be president, who would presumably continue to be a drug warrior if elected president. Then again, maybe Ravenel intended to quietly lobby Giuliani to shift his views/policies on drugs. I tend to doubt it, but I don't know the guy so I can't say for sure. As for Giuliani, did he have no idea about his friend's (alleged) drug proclivities, or no one who could inform him about them? I've heard from a knowledgeable source that when Giuliani was the US Attorney in New York, the safest place to sell drugs was in front of City Hall. Bottom line: If you're a top-level state official, it's probably not a good idea to organize all-out (all night?) cocaine fests. But if you are in the habit of organizing cocaine fests, speak out against the war on drugs too, so at least people won't think you're a hypocrite if you get caught. Actually, speak out against the drug war in any case. (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.)
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United States

Marijuana Doesn't Cause Gang Membership, But the Drug War Does

ONDCP's effort to link marijuana with violence and gang membership is ironic for another important reason I failed to address in my previous post.

If there is one thing that overwhelmingly creates and sustains gang activity in the U.S. and around the world, it is the massive black market created by drug prohibition. Indeed, so long as recreational drugs are available exclusively from criminals, these organizations will continue to be empowered and sustained.

Interestingly, the study from which ONDCP draws its misleading link between early marijuana use and gang membership notes that it isn't just the use of marijuana, but also the availability of marijuana that indicates a heightened risk of gang activity.

In other words, the neighborhoods which are overrun with black market drug activity inevitably become recruitment camps for young people to become involved in the drug trade. Drug prohibition facilitates youth access to marijuana and other drugs by creating an economy in which they are welcome participants.

The idea that marijuana's pharmacological effects cause violence is patently absurd, but the revelation that many young people in America are sucked into a cycle of violence, drug use, and other crime should come as no surprise to any of us.

ONDCP has often pointed out that young people who reach adulthood without experimenting with drugs are less likely to develop problems with drug abuse. Yet nothing could better facilitate youth access and participation in the drug market than the anarchic system our communities must endure at their continued peril and which ONDCP so vigorously defends.

More than anything else, ONDCP's new report paints a vivid picture of how drug prohibition has failed us at every level, up to and including the corruption of the precious young lives this fraudulent war supposedly protects. If you don't believe me, just pull up a chair, wave your Drug War Flag, and gaze in horror as your worst fears about youth, drugs, and violence are reborn again and again before your eyes.

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Pete Gets Off the Couch and Joins a Gang

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The closest thing to schizophrenia ever caused by marijuana is occurring at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which can't decide whether pot leads to laziness or gang violence.

First, ONDCP announced that marijuana causes extreme lethargy, via the ironic "Pete's Couch" ad in which marijuana is called the "safest thing in the world" because it keeps you from ever leaving home.

Now, ONDCP wants everyone to know that marijuana is linked to violence and gang membership, via a self-produced study, which cherry-picks and manipulates various statistics in an effort to portray marijuana users as violent criminals.

So which is it? Are some marijuana users driven to violence while others are incapacitated by laziness? In reality, gang members and lazy people both enjoy marijuana, as do a great number of people who are neither lethargic nor dangerous. People like pot, and there are countless subgroups of users whose lifestyle can be falsely attributed to marijuana if one is willing to ignore the scientific method.

The blatant contradiction inherent in ONDCP's anti-pot messages is best illustrated in their blog, where they brag about Slate Magazine's praise for their new line of softer ads, then announce in the very next post that marijuana is linked to youth violence.

Maybe it just depends on your definition of the word "gang." What do you call a group of  teenagers who get together and commit crimes on Pete's couch?
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ONDCP's Emphasis on Marijuana is Incoherent on So Many Levels

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This statement from Tom Riley at ONDCP is just jaw-dropping:
"It's easy to do ads about drugs like heroin and meth, and the awful consequences that manifest," says Tom Riley, director of public affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It's harder to make ads about marijuana. 'Marijuana's gonna melt your face off' isn't really a credible thing to say to teens." [Slate]
The first problem here is that ONDCP really did make an ad quite recently in which a girl melts from smoking marijuana. You can watch it here. Nice try, Tom Riley. You should know better than to attempt an example of something your office wouldn't say about marijuana.

The second problem is that these supposedly easy-to-make ads about heroin and meth are not being made. Marijuana users have been portrayed by ONDCP as supporting terrorism, getting pregnant at a party, shooting a friend accidentally, running over a toddler, getting a fist stuck in their mouth, and on and on, but there are no ONDCP ads about heroin or meth.

Perplexing as it may be, Riley's statement perfectly captures the mindset of our marijuana-obsessed federal drug war establishment. He basically admits here that his office takes for granted the understanding that heroin and meth are harmful. It would be wasteful to tell the public what it already knows, particularly since smaller user populations make for bland statistical shifts even if you're successful. The drug war must be fed if it is to survive, and there just aren't enough heroin and meth users to sustain it.

The only downside is that some people will say you're a charlatan if kids are dying from heroin while you're busy making ads about chick-magnet space aliens that don't smoke weed.

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Response from former ONDCP official to my China/death penalty post

On Friday I posted a piece on China's use of the death penalty for drug offenses, criticizing the UN, and secondarily the US, for programs that I believe are inadvertently feeding into this. My criticism of the US related to a drug enforcement cooperation agreement with China that was put in place in 2000 by then-Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Barry McCaffrey. I got an email over the weekend from Bob Weiner, who served as ONDCP's Director of Public Affairs from 1995-2001, submitting these comments for the blog:
David, Saw your piece… The arrangement with China never was intended to mandate or magnify their death penalty -- they are choosing their own enforcement tools, which as so many human rights abuses in China are excessive. The arrangement—and I was there and organized the news conference with US (including Gen. McCaffrey) and Chinese officials—was simply to get them to agree with us in enforcing international drug laws and treaties. What we saw there, including thousands of people in treatment factories but not getting real treatment, and the unbridled flow of methamphetamine and opium, was unconscionable.
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Pot, Aliens, and ONDCP

Seth Stevenson at Slate is in love with the new ONDCP ad in which a pot-smoker's girlfriend dumps him for a non-smoking alien:
Grade: A. This is very possibly the most effective, and least offensive, anti-marijuana campaign ever created. I know that ONDCP, and the Partnership for a Drug Free America, are cautiously thrilled with it. I expect it will be the model for years to come.

I'm not going to beat Stevenson up over this. He shares my belief that these ads shouldn't be offensive, and I agree that this is obviously tame by ONDCP standards. But what on earth does it mean to say that ONDCP is "cautiously thrilled" with this?

When has ONDCP ever been less than thrilled with their advertisements? They've vigorously defended their media campaign throughout its numerous incarnations, never once finding fault, even as a growing mountain of evidence depicts their public outreach efforts as an undeniable failure. Could it be that they were more candid with Seth Stevenson than the U.S. Congress?

Stevenson's analysis is fair enough, at least insofar as this ad is concerned. But, dude, before you go gushing anymore about truth in advertising at ONDCP, you might wanna check out "Stoners in the Mist."

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Wrong Home: Police Force 77-Year Old Woman to Ground and Handcuff Her

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Why couldn't police tell the difference between house number 74 and house number 82 before they burst into a home with guns drawn? And why did they feel the need to handcuff an elderly woman and force her to the ground? Wrong home, for no good reason, no meth there. Via the Agitator...
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chicagovigil.com responds to chicagovigil.org

The DEA is at it again, as Drug WarRant blogger Peter Guither puts it, and is holding another "vigil for lost promise" for people who have died from drugs, this one in Chicago (chicagovigil.org). The problem isn't so much what the DEA says -- some people do die from drugs -- but what they don't say. Hence Guither's vigil for lost promise for people who have died from the drug war (chicagovigil.com redirecting to it). It's too simplistic to blame it all on drugs. Even when it looks like drugs (e.g. it's not someone who was imprisoned under a law or shot by a SWAT team, someone actually died from some kind of drug use), it's often the combination of drugs with the drug laws that created the most deadly mix. Guess who has the top link in Google when searching on "vigil for lost promise," at least right now when I'm posting this?
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Imprisonment is becoming unaffordable...

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Via the Sentencing Law and Policy blog: The high cost of imprisonment has created openings for sentencing reform. An article on Stateline.org explores recent moves in Texas and Kansas to find alternatives to building more prisons. It's easy in this issue a lot of the time to feel like things are hopeless, and certainly the pace of change is frustratingly slow. But it's a different debate now, on drugs and on crime in general, than was taking place 13 or so years ago when I first got involved in this. I can't remember the last time I heard a politician talk about how prisoners are being "coddled" and shouldn't have access to exercise rooms -- routine stuff back then -- and while menaces to society like US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still want more mandatory minimums, it has become noticeably harder for them to get them passed -- Pat Leahy isn't the only reason Gonzales' horrible idea isn't likely to go anywhere. Attitudes are changing, policy will follow suit, but we have to keep working at it to make it happen...
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Interview with Hearne, Texas, drug war victim Regina Kelly

Radley Balko has posted a Flash-video interview he recorded with drug war victim Regina Kelly, one of the 27 black residents of Hearne, Texas, who were arrested in a Tulia-like incident involving an "informant" of the most scurrilous variety. Kelly, like most of the victims, was later exonerated. Balko and Kelly were both speakers at an ACLU conference in Seattle last weekend.

Seattle is a beautiful city -- with great drug reformers -- as I commented two weekends ago while the NORML Legal Seminar was convening in Aspen, "wish I were there..."

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North Dakota Farmers File Lawsuit Against DEA Over Hemp Ban

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This afternoon, I particpated in a tele-news conference held in Bismarck, North Dakota, to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit by two North Dakota farmers (including a Republican state representative!) against the DEA for its refusal to issue permits allowing them to grow hemp. North Dakota has passed state legislation permitting hemp growing under strict regulations, and its hemp-friendly Agriculture Commissioner, Roger Johnson, has promulgated the necessary guidelines. Johnson issued state permits to the two farmers months ago and sought DEA approval, but DEA did nothing. Now, the farmers are suing. This case could be a big one, once and for all getting the DEA out of the way of commercial hemp farming. I'll be writing about this in a feature article this week, but in the meantime, you can check out VoteHemp's North Dakota information page here for more detailed info on the case. Too bad somebody has to sue the DEA to get it to uphold the Controlled Substance Act, which specifically exempts hemp from the marijuana prohibition.
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United States

Good Supreme Court Ruling on Traffic Stops

The Supreme Court actually issued a good ruling on traffic stops today, and it was unanimous. In BRENDLIN v. CALIFORNIA, Bruce Brendlin, who was convicted of drug possession after a car in which he was a passenger was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy in Yuba County, California, appealed his conviction based on the fact that the traffic stop was later conceded by the state to be illegal. The state argued that because Brendlin was not the driver of the car, he was not the subject of the illegal stop, and so did not have the right to have the evidence suppressed because of the stop's illegality. In the unanimous opinion written by David Souter, the Court found:
Brendlin was seized because no reasonable person in his position when the car was stopped would have believed himself free to "terminate the encounter" between the police and himself. Bostick, supra, at 436. Any reasonable passenger would have understood the officers to be exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission.
Sad that the California Supreme Court bought the argument, though. Read more about the case here.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Advanced Drug Testing: Creepy Science, Creepy Scientists

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A German electronic newsletter about scientific innovations advises that a Russian scientist has developed a drug testing technique that will spot drug use weeks or even months after it occurred. The Russian scientist involved, Dr. Marina Myagkova won an award from the World Intellectual Property Organization, a UN organization, for her work a couple of months ago. Myagkova's long-term drug testing technique identifies drug antibodies in blood or saliva. According to her research team, her "Dianarc" technique will allow the identification of drug use by a person from two to four months ago. Myagkova and her cohorts see practical applications for the drug testing technique:
The authors assume that the ‘Dianarc’ will be useful for clinical and forensic medical practice, as well as for staff selection to enforcement and guard entities, for issue of driver’s licenses and weapon permissions.
Or to block recreational drug users from getting or keeping a job. Or to punish high school students who smoked a joint over summer vacation. Or to more assiduously punish probationers or parolees. Or, in states that have those draconian "internal possession" laws, to extend the period of potential liability for arrest of occasional drug users from days to months. I have to wonder about the mind-set of researchers busily trying to find new and improved ways to conduct internal surveillance on us. I also have to wonder about researchers who see someone taking drugs on an occasional basis only as an addict in the making. As the German newsletter noted:
Specialists of the Institute of Physiologically Active Substances, Russian Academy of Sciences, and of the Moscow Narcological Clinical Hospital #17 have developed a technique called “Dianarc” that allows to discover drug addicts at the very early stage, when they take narcotics occasionally.
There is something flawed here. I can understand that they want to intervene early, but the underlying premise is rotten. How can you discover a drug addict before he is a drug addict? A person who "takes narcotics occasionally" is, by definition, not a drug addict. And a person who "takes narcotics occasionally" actually describes the vast majority of drug users. So what the good Dr. Myagkova and her good colleagues have developed is a technique that doesn't spot addicts early, but identifies occasional drug users. If you think this innovation is going to be used to help people, I have some nice waterfront property here in South Dakota for sale. Back in the good old days, when a Dr. Frankenstein created a monstrosity, the peasants burned down his castle. Now, she gets an award from the UN.
Location: 
United States

Is another drug war bloodbath just around the corner?

Update: response from former ONDCP official who worked on the US-China agreement Death sentence is passed against a
woman who was immediately executed
with three other people on drugs charges.
(UN International Anti-Drugs Day, 6/26/03)
www.sina.com.cn via AI web site) One of the sick annual rituals in the global drug war has been China's annual round of executions of supposed drug offenders marking the occasion of the UN's "International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking," held June 26th of every year. We wrote about this last year and in most previous years. I wrote an editorial about it in 2000, which went over some of the highly troubling information Amnesty International has published about China's drug death penalties, and in which I criticized then-drug czar Barry McCaffrey for putting in place an arrangement with China for cooperation in drug enforcement between our two countries, and the UN for holding this international event year after year even though they obviously are aware that it continues to prompt such carnage. I believe that handing over criminal defendants to totalitarian regimes with limited due process rights and draconian death sentences for nonviolent offenses is immoral, and makes us complicit in the human rights abuses that those nations may commit against people we wind up sending into their clutches. But the UN's annual Day doesn't even have a law enforcement justification. We have a statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon about the upcoming Day online here. I'm posting a few examples from Amnesty that illustrate why I really feel this is an important human rights issue that we as taxpayers should not be indirectly supporting, even if that puts some obstacles in the way of global policing efforts or puts a crimp in the UN's promotion of prevention and treatment programs: The Death Penalty in China: Breaking Records, Breaking Rules, August 1997 AI report:
In a case that is illustrative of many more, a young woman, returning to Guangzhou province from her honeymoon in Kunming in January 1996, agreed to take a package for an acquaintance in return for some money. Acting as a courier in this manner is common practice in China. It was reported that during the train journey she became suspicious about the contents of the package and tried to open it. When she found she couldn’t open it she began to realize it was drugs. She then allegedly became so nervous and agitated that the ticket checker on train became suspicious and discovered the package. She was sentenced to death on 26 June 1996 by Guangxi High People’s Court.
AI 1998 Annual Report on China:
Ji Xiaowei, a Hong Kong citizen sentenced to death in southern China for alleged drug-trafficking, claimed on appeal that he had confessed under torture during police interrogation. The appeal court ignored his claim and confirmed the death sentence. He was executed on 18 July.
AI Report 2005:
Ma Weihua, a woman facing the death penalty on drugs charges, was reportedly forced to undergo an abortion in police custody in February, apparently so that she could be put to death "legally" as Chinese law prevents the execution of pregnant women. She had been detained in January in possession of 1.6kg of heroin. Her trial, which began in July, was suspended after her lawyer provided details of the forced abortion. She was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in November.
There has been some talk in China recently of making the use of the death penalty more transparent and reducing its use, and that is welcome. Reportedly there has been about a 10% drop. But China is still the world leader in this. So is anyone interested in an international campaign to get the UN to cancel International Anti-Drugs Day and to subject global law enforcement cooperation to human rights standards? China is by no means the only country executing people for drug offenses. Write me through the site or send me an email. I'd appreciate any links you have to especially important articles or web sites dealing with this topic. Lastly, we have a topical archive on the site for the Death Penalty, here and also available via RSS.
Location: 
United States

UN Secretary General's statement in advance of June 26 International Anti-Drugs Day

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The following is a statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the upcoming UN International Anti-Drugs Day, as it's informally called. They say the focus is on drug treatment, and that is probably what the UN people working on this intend. But we expect the event to prompt a bloodbath as it has in every past recent year in at least one country that uses the death penalty against real or supposed drug offenders. Will some of them be mere addicts who were selling only to supply their own habits and just needed some of this treatment? Also, the UN is in continued denial over the failure of the drug war/prohibition policy. Here's the statement, via the States News Service:
*HEADLINE:* DRUG ABUSE CAN BE PREVENTED, TREATED, CONTROLLED WITH POLITICAL LEADERSHIP, SUFFICIENT RESOURCES, SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL IN INTERNATIONAL DAY MESSAGE *DATELINE:* NEW YORK *BODY:* The following information was released by the United Nations: Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message for the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, observed on 26 June: Drug abuse is a problem that can be prevented, treated and controlled. While efforts must be stepped up to reduce supply -- by helping growers of illicit crops find viable licit alternatives, and ensuring that law enforcement agencies continue their good work in seizing drugs -- the greatest challenge in global drug control is reducing demand. With less demand, there would be less need for supply, and fewer incentives for criminals to traffic drugs. Combating drug abuse is a collective effort. It requires political leadership and sufficient resources -- particularly for more and better treatment facilities. It requires the engagement of parents and teachers, as well as health care and social workers. It requires the media and criminal justice officials to play their part. All walks of life must join forces and devote special attention to the vulnerable: to those who are vulnerable to taking drugs because of their personal or family situation, and to those who are vulnerable because they take drugs. Our mission is to enable them to take control of their lives, rather than allowing their lives to be controlled by drugs. That means giving young people sound guidance, employment opportunities, and the chance to be involved in activities that help organize life and give it meaning and value. It means supporting parents' efforts to provide love and leadership. It means reaching out to marginalized groups and ensuring they receive the care they need to cope with behavioural, psychological or medical problems. It means providing reasons to hope. For those who are grappling with addiction, effective treatment is essential. Drug abuse is a disease that must be treated on the basis of evidence, not ideology. I urge Member States to devote more attention to early detection; to do more to prevent the spread of disease -- particularly HIV and hepatitis -- through drug use; to treat all forms of addiction; and to integrate drug treatment into the mainstream of public health and social services. Drug abuse brings anguish and torment to individuals and their loved ones. It eats away at the fabric of the human being, of the family, of society. It is a subject all of us must take personally. On this International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, let us ensure there is no place for drugs in our lives or our communities.
Location: 
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