The Speakeasy Blog

Silly Scott

Scott was being silly last Friday night when he published his "D.C. Needle Exchange Ban Lifted: Let's Do Heroin!" blog post. In fact, Scott was being silly in multiple ways. First, the DC needle exchange ban is only a ban on the District using its own tax dollars to fund the program. The PreventionWorks needle exchange program has been operating now for almost nine years, legally, and before that its predecessor program at the Whitman-Walker AIDS Clinic operated the exchange. It has been making do with private funding. Lifting of this ban means that PreventionWorks will be able to expand its operations, and that more needle exchange programs will be able to open, all of them together reaching more of the people who need the help. But it's not a matter of whether Scott personally could have gotten clean needles. Second, the PreventionWorks office is only a 15 minute walk from our office, so if Scott had really wanted to use heroin all this time, he wouldn't even have had to travel far to get clean needles. (It's a pretty walk, too, and there's a nice coffee shop in the neighborhood.) Third, as I pointed out in my editorial this week, the risk created by infected used syringes, while a major one, is by no means the only risk. So long as heroin itself continues to be illegal, the user will continue to be "at risk of overdose from fluctuating purity or poisoning from adulteration," and the addict will continue to suffer "severe financial debilitation from the high street prices created by prohibition," some of them "driven to extreme measures to afford drugs that would cost pennies to produce in a legal market." I know for a fact that Scott understands this as well as I do, and I published that editorial less than 24 hours before Scott wrote his blog post, so it must have been fresh in his mind. (Fourth, Scott was simply being sarcastic, in case anyone didn't realize it. He and I both scoff at the idea that more needle exchange will lead to increased drug use -- and we have the evidence to back us up.) So, I'm afraid that Scott and I will be holding out for legalization before we start shooting smack. I recommend that you wait too. (I'm being sarcastic too -- we also reject the idea that legalization will lead to large numbers of people using intense drugs like heroin who don't already use them now -- I certainly have no interest in it.)
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Joe Biden Does Something Good On Drug Policy

I've taken swings at Joe Biden a couple times in The Speakeasy, so I'm very pleased to see this:
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.)

 

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President Bush's Commutation Total Just Increased by 50%!

Bush pardons turkeys and political allies but lets
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.)
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Washington, DC
United States

D.C. Needle Exchange Ban Lifted: Let's Do Heroin!

From The Washington Post:
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.

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United States

Marijuana Policy Reformers Don't "Hide Behind AIDS and Cancer Patients"

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In an otherwise great piece putting ONDCP's pot potency panic in perspective, Clara Jeffery at Mother Jones throws a brick at drug policy reformers:
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.

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Is it Ok to Out Prohibitionist Politicians for Past Pot Use? Yes.

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When Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman regurgitated ONDCP anti-pot propaganda, he got more than he bargained for. It all began with this statement from the senator:
"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.

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Christiania is in trouble again (video)

The marijuana friendly, Danish counter-culture enclave of Christiania is in trouble, according to an article in the UK newspaper The Independent, "On the barricades: Trouble in a hippie paradise." The intro to the article, authored by Cahal Milmo, reads:
[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)?
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Christiania
Denmark

Let's Celebrate UN Anti-Drug Day...By Killing People

Yesterday was the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Most countries that actually observe the day (mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia), generally celebrate it by burning piles of drugs and holding propagandistic anti-drug events. But China really knows how to put on an anti-drug day show. Every year, it executes drug offenders on anti-drug day. This year was little different, as this headline indicates: China Approves Death Penalty for Seven Drug Traffickers:
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.
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DEA Official: Marijuana Will Kill You

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.


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ONDCP Still Fuming About New Mexico's Medical Marijuana Law

The following post from ONDCP's blog illustrates how trivial their objections really are:
Bad things happen when drug-legalization groups send mixed messages about marijuana to the American public. Check out this story out of New Mexico:
"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]
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).

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.

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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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United States

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.

Location: 
United States

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.

Location: 
United States

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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SC
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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United States

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?
Location: 
United States

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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United States

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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China

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