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Marijuana: Cincinnati City Council Votes to Extend Tough Ordinance

The Cincinnati City Council voted Tuesday to renew a tough municipal marijuana ordinance it approved last year despite charges that it had not done what supporters said it would do: reduce violent crime. Thanks to strong local opposition to the ordinance when originally passed, it included a sunset provision and would have expired Friday if the council had not acted.

Under Ohio law, possession of up to 100 grams of marijuana is no more than a ticketable offense with a maximum $100 fine. That was too lenient for the city fathers in Cincinnati, who last year passed a municipal ordinance allowing police to arrest and jail people for up to 30 days for simple pot possession. The measure would reduce crime by removing guns from the streets, allowing police to target dealers, and scaring residents of nearby Kentucky and Indiana away from coming to the city to buy drugs, supporters said at the time.

Cincinnati police testified that marijuana arrests had removed 62 guns from city streets, but opponents, led by a coalition of groups organized as Citizens for a Safer Cincinnati, argued that crime rates had increased since the ordinance was passed. They have the numbers on their side.

As Safer Cincinnati member and Hamilton County Libertarian Party head Paul Green noted in an analysis of crime figures since the ordinance was passed, the ordinance has not succeeded in any of its three goals. There were fewer arrests of out-of-staters, but their total number was small in both years, and the reduction is a measly 0.7%. And while police bragged that they had seized 62 weapons, the number of guns reported to have been used in crimes was up 27%. The number of handguns -- the weapon most commonly carried by drug dealers -- reported to have been used in crimes was up 17%.

Violent crime has also increased since the ordinance has been in place. Murders were up 16% in 2006 compared to 2005, and armed robbery was up a whopping 44%. Overall, the serious crime index showed a 4.4% increase in 2006.

But despite the ordinance's failure to achieve its stated goals, the council reapproved it. That will make the ordinance a campaign issue, Safer Cincinnati warned.

Opinion: The war on drugs' war on minorities

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-huffington24mar24,1,3333535.story?coll=la-news-comment

Sentencing: Tyrone Brown is a Free Man!

Tyrone Brown, the Dallas man sentenced to life in prison in 1990 for smoking a joint while on probation for an armed robbery in which no one was injured, walked out of prison in Huntsville Thursday after receiving a conditional pardon from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). The pardon came after ABC News' 20-20 featured his story twice, helping to create a nationwide grass roots effort to win his freedom, Save Mr. Brown.

Brown was met by relatives and journalists, according to an Associated Press report filed from Huntsville. He broke into a broad smile as he embraced his mother, Nora Brown. "I didn't believe this day was going to come," he said.

Under the terms of the pardon, Brown will have to live with his mother, find a job, go to a therapist, and report to a parole officer. If he violates any of those conditions, the pardon could be revoked.

Brown was 17 when he was convicted of armed robbery. After he tested positive for marijuana once, Judge Keith Dean re-sentenced him to life in prison. The harshness of Judge Dean's sentence for Brown, which he has never explained, stands in sharp contrast to his treatment of well-connected, white John Alexander Wood. Wood was convicted of murder, but Dean sentenced him to probation, where he repeatedly tested positive for cocaine. But instead of sending him to prison, Dean gave him permission to quit reporting to his probation officer and quit taking drug tests.

With the glare of the national spotlight on the case, Judge Dean (by now ex-Judge Dean) joined a long list of local law enforcement officials calling on the governor to free Brown. Thanks to their efforts, as well as the efforts of muckraking media outlets and an aroused populace, one drug war prisoner has gone home. That leaves about 499,999 to go.

The Sentencing Project Releases New Report: Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006

[Courtesy of the Sentencing Project] Dear Friend: The Sentencing Project has released a new study reporting growing momentum for sentencing reform designed to limit prison population growth and reduce ballooning corrections budgets in the United States. Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006 finds that at least 22 states have enacted sentencing reforms in the past three years. The report further identifies that the most popular approach for reducing prison crowding -- implemented by 13 states -- was the diversion of low-level drug offenders from prison to drug treatment programs. Additional policy changes included: -Expansion of alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. -Parole and probation reforms designed either to reduce time served in prison or to provide supervision options to reduce the number of revocations to prison. -Broader sentencing reform, such as modifying controversial mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Changing Direction? State Sentencing Reforms 2004-2006 argues that in order to build on these positive legislative developments, lawmakers must continue to enact evidence-based criminal justice policies. Recommendations of The Sentencing Project urge that policymakers: -Expand the use of drug treatment as a sentencing option. -Utilize intermediate sanctions for technical violations of parole and probation. -Repeal mandatory minimum sentences. -Reconsider sentence lengths. Follow this link to download a copy of the report, http://sentencingproject.org/Admin/Documents/publications/sentencingrefo... The Sentencing Project 514 10th St, NW Suite 1000 Washington, DC 20004
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Editorial: More discretion needed in sentencing rules for illegal drug sellers who are at lower levels

Location: 
PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Patriot-News (PA)
URL: 
http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/patriotnews/index.ssf?/base/opinion/1173903931290950.xml&coll=1

Australia: NSW Greens' Call to Decriminalize Drug Possession Causes Pre-Election Stir

Drug policy is becoming a major campaign issue in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales (NSW). With an ongoing, highly publicized "epidemic" of methamphetamine use under way and elections now less than 10 days away, the NSW Green Party is calling for the decriminalization of drug possession -- even the dreaded ice, as meth is commonly referred to Down Under -- and Liberal and Labor party foes are attacking them for it.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/learhiannon.jpg
Lee Rhiannon
Although Greens hold only a handful of seats in the state parliament, by throwing their support to the governing Labor Party in some key districts, they could end up holding the balance of power in the Upper House. The NSW Greens' leading Upper House candidate, Lee Rhiannon, has been the party's main spokesperson in the increasingly nasty exchanges over drug policy.

The Greens' position on the decriminalization of drug possession is not ad hoc. It reflects the party's formal platform on drug policy, adopted last October after extensive consultations with party members. The platform also calls for the stronger embrace of harm reduction measures and the decriminalization of marijuana growing for personal use.

While the Greens' drug platform is not new, Rhiannon's public reiteration of it Monday ignited a firestorm of criticism and mischaracterization. The Daily Telegraph blurted to its readers that the Greens were "effectively saying that ice junkies should be free to buy as much of the deadly substance as they want." The Daily Telegraph also described the Green position that decriminalizing drug possession was less dangerous than prohibition as "a bizarre defense."

Liberal leader Peter Debnam was also caustic, writing in his blog: "Any Member of Parliament who thinks we should decriminalize drugs, including 'Ice', should take a good hard look at themselves, do the community a favour, and resign" and "This drug is death to young people and it is undermining a whole generation."

While Debnam accused the Greens and the Labor Party of cooking up some sort of "ice deal," there was little sign of that from Labor Premier Morris Iemma. He responded to the Green drug platform by saying: "It is just an absurd, ridiculous and disgusting policy." Any MP who supported such a policy was "completely out of touch with reality," he said.

Just to make things perfectly clear, Labor Party secretary Mark Arbib added that while Labor was willing to cut an electoral deal with the Greens, it does not endorse Green drug policy. "There will be no watering down of the (Labor) party's tough drug laws or positions on other social issues," he said.

But the Greens are fighting back, against both the political attacks and the yellow journalism. "The allegation in today's Daily Telegraph that the Greens policy would allow people to buy unlimited amounts of the deadly drug 'ice' is totally false," Rhiannon said in a Tuesday statement. "The Greens policy does not support unlimited supply of any drug, least of all crystal methamphetamine. This attack on the Greens is an election scare tactic which will distract from the urgent task of protecting young people from ice. The Greens do not support drug use and our policy does not condone people using the new drug known as ice."

Rhiannon also went after Premier Iemma for both failure and hypocrisy. "The Iemma government has failed to deal with the increased use of ice," she said. "The use of crystal methamphetamine has increased during the term of the Iemma/Carr government. There are now more than 17,700 regular methamphetamine users and 14,700 dependent methamphetamine users in Sydney and the number is growing rapidly," she noted.

"The drug policies of the Labor government are failing to deal with the epidemic," Rhiannon continued. "What is needed are prevention initiatives that educate the target populations to the dangers of using the drug and effective and accessible treatment programs for dependent and addicted users."

In fact, as the Greens noted in a Wednesday press release, Labor actually quietly supports many Green harm reduction notions and treatment and diversion programs for meth users. "The Premier is quick to put the boot into the Greens for our approach to ice. But the reality is Labor has instituted innovative ice programs, based on the harm minimization principles advocated by the Greens," Rhiannon said.

Among those programs is a stimulant treatment program at two hospitals, the safe injection room at Kings Cross, and the "MERIT" program that diverts meth users into treatment instead of jail. "If we really want to make NSW ice free, these programs need to be expanded and receive a massive increase in funding," said Rhiannon. "Premier Iemma should shout these initiatives from the rooftops instead of hiding behind his tough "law and order" policies. It appears that he is more concerned about a political backlash. To successfully eradicate ice politicians must be willing to take action that may be at first unpopular. Without brave policy from government, ice will continue to wreak havoc in our society."

Perhaps Debnam, Arbib and Iemma should listen to prominent Australian physician Dr. Alex Wodak's interview last year with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Among Wodak's quotes of note: "Prohibition didn't work in America in the 1920s and it won't work now."

Mark Kleiman gives drug reformers something to chew on

Mark Kleiman is one of a relatively small number of US academics who thinks and writes about drug policy. I don't always agree with him—especially his proposals for licensing drug users, higher alcohol taxes, and "coerced abstinence"—but his work is thoughtful, and, after listening to what passes for drug policy discourse among the political class, a veritable breath of fresh air. Kleiman is at it again this week, with a lengthy article, "Dopey, Boozy, Smoky—And Stupid," in the magazine The American Interest. After noting that 35 years into the war on drugs, the country still has a massive drug problem, as well as a massive police and prison apparatus aimed at drug users and sellers, Kleiman observes that no policy is going to eradicate drug use and what is needed is "radical reform." But real reform requires a better understanding of drugs and drug use, and that is where reality confronts mythology. As Kleiman notes, "most drug use is harmless," but drug abuse is not. That's quite different from "just say no." Similarly, he goes up against another drug policy mantra, this one popular with some reformers, that "drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition." That is true for only a minority of a minority of drug users, he correctly notes. After discussing some of the basics, Kleiman gets to the fun and thought-provoking part of his article—general policy recommendations:
These facts having now been set out, five principles might reasonably guide our policy choices. First, the overarching goal of policy should be to minimize the damage done to drug users and to others from the risks of the drugs themselves (toxicity, intoxicated behavior and addiction) and from control measures and efforts to evade them. That implies a second principle: No harm, no foul. Mere use of an abusable drug does not constitute a problem demanding public intervention. “Drug users” are not the enemy, and a achieving a “drug-free society” is not only impossible but unnecessary to achieve the purposes for which the drug laws were enacted. Third, one size does not fit all: Drugs, users, markets and dealers all differ, and policies need to be as differentiated as the situations they address. Fourth, all drug control policies, including enforcement, should be subjected to cost-benefit tests: We should act only when we can do more good than harm, not merely to express our righteousness. Since lawbreakers and their families are human beings, their suffering counts, too: Arrests and prison terms are costs, not benefits, of policy. Policymakers should learn from their mistakes and abandon unsuccessful efforts, which means that organizational learning must be built into organizational design. In drug policy as in most other policy arenas, feedback is the breakfast of champions. Fifth, in discussing programmatic innovations we should focus on programs that can be scaled up sufficiently to put a substantial dent in major problems. With drug abusers numbered in the millions, programs that affect only thousands are barely worth thinking about unless they show growth potential.
Hmmm, sounds pretty reasonable. Now, here is where Kleiman gets creative. Below are his general policy recommendations. I will leave the comments for others, but there is plenty to chew on here:
A PRACTICAL AGENDA What would actual policies based on the forgoing facts and principles look like? Here is a “to do” list to get us started: Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. While prohibition clearly reduces drug abuse (otherwise there wouldn’t be several times as many abusers of alcohol as of all illicit drugs combined), and some level of enforcement is necessary to make prohibition a reality, increasing enforcement efforts against mass-marketed drugs cannot significantly raise the prices of those drugs or make them much harder to acquire. If we had only 200,000 dealers behind bars rather than 500,000, the drug markets would not be noticeably larger, and they might be less violent. Given the fiscal and human costs of incarceration, and the opportunity cost of locking up a drug dealer in a cell that might otherwise hold a burglar or a rapist, the current level of drug-related incarceration is hard to justify. We can reduce that level with arrest-minimizing enforcement strategies and by a discriminating moderation in drug sentencing. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. All drug dealers supply drugs; only some use violence, or operate flagrantly, or employ juveniles as apprentice dealers. The current system of enforcement, which bases targeting and sentencing primarily on drug volume, should be replaced with a system focused on conduct. If we target and severely sentence the nastiest dealers rather than the biggest ones, we can greatly reduce the amount of gunfire, the damage drug dealing does to the neighborhoods around it, and the attractive nuisance the drug trade offers to teenagers. As a practical matter, too, we cannot create adequate differential disincentives for the most destructive forms of dealing solely by ramping up sanctions for those who engage in them. If we’re already locking up ordinary drug dealers forever, locking up the nastier ones forever and a day won’t create much competitive disadvantage for violence-prone or juvenile-employing organizations. The base level of sanctions needs to be reduced to make differentiated sentencing effective. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. The relatively small number of offenders (no more than three million all together) who are frequent, high-dose users of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine accounts for a large proportion both of theft and of the money spent on illicit drugs. Getting a handle on their behavior is inseparable from getting a handle on street crime and the drug markets.
There is much, much more in the recommendations, from more frequent drug testing of offenders to breaking up drug markets without mass arrests to raising the tax on beer and eliminating the minimum drinking age (!) to letting pot-smokers grow their own but not completely legalizing the weed. And that's not all. Read it and come back and tell me, whaddya think?
Location: 
United States

Seeking Justice In The Drug War

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
TomPaine.com (DC)
URL: 
http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2007/03/12/seeking_justice_in_the_drug_war.php

Gov. Perry Pardons Man's Life Sentence For Pot [Tyrone Brown]

Location: 
Austin, TX
United States
Publication/Source: 
Dallas Morning News
URL: 
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/031007dnmetpardon.35307679.html

Marijuana candy makers sentenced to federal prison

Location: 
Oakland, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Tri-Valley Herald (CA)
URL: 
http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/localnews/ci_5349182

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