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Chronicle Book Review: This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, by Anthony Papa

After decades of the war on drugs and other "tough on crime" policies, America seems finally to have begun to come to its senses. The imprisonment rate has leveled off, and we're no longer seeing year after year after year of ever-increasing numbers of people behind bars in the land of the free.

We've seen that change at the federal level, with the Fair Sentencing Act, softening of the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses, and Justice Department instructions to prosecutors to avoid hitting bit players with mandatory minimum sentences. We've seen that at the state level, with sentencing reforms in dozens of states leading to an actual reduction in the number of state prisoners. And we've even seen it at the local level -- the nation's system of city and county jails -- through things like marijuana decriminalization and reforms in bail practices.

That's all well and good, but we're still the world's leading jailer, in both absolute and per capita term, with more than two million people locked up (China only has 1.5 million). Tens of thousands of them are non-violent drug offenders sentenced under draconian laws enacted before the fever broke -- confined not for years, but for decades -- and writing less brutal sentencing laws now isn't much help to them.

In his waning days in office, President Obama struck a bold blow for justice and made modern presidential history by granting clemency to more than 1,700 federal drug prisoners. Let's be crystal clear here: These were not pardons granted to people who had finished their sentences and long ago returned to society and now wanted their records wiped clean. Obama's commutations meant that people currently spending their lives behind prison walls walked free -- years or decades before they otherwise would have. Hundreds, mostly third time drug offenders serving life sentences, would have died in prison.

But the president can only grant pardons or commutations to people in the federal system, and the vast majority of American's prisoners are in state prisons. Each state governor holds a pardon power similar to the federal chief executive's, but it is used sparingly, some might even say stingily, and has certainly never been wielded in a mass fashion to achieve a social justice end like Obama did at the federal level.

That's a crying shame -- and a potential focus of reform organizing -- because a governor's signature can liberate a human being who not only deserves a chance to breathe the air of freedom, but who may actually make our world a better place by being in and of it instead of being locked away from it -- and us.

Ask Tony Papa. He was a young New York City family man with his own business who, short on cash, took an offer to make a few hundred bucks by delivering some cocaine back in the 1980s, when New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws were still in full effect. It was a sting, and Papa got popped. Like thousands of others, the luckless he quickly entered the state's drug war gulag, sentenced to 15 years to life.

In an earlier work, 15 to Life, Papa told the story of his bust, his seeming eternity behind bars, his slammer-honed artistic talent, and how an anguished self-portrait that seemed to encapsulate the horror and madness of crushing drug prohibition resulted in some high-placed interest, followed by media attention, a public campaign on his behalf, and his release after 12 years when he was granted clemency by then-Gov. George Pataki. It is a remarkable tale of punishment, perseverance, and redemption.

And now, he's back with the rest of the story. In This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency, the personable Papa tells the tale of his life after rebirth -- and makes achingly clear how the trauma of years-long incarceration lingers in the psyche of the freed. There is a clear public policy moral buried in these pages, too: Getting out of prison is only the first step, reentry into society is hard, society itself seems to make it even harder, a virtual obstacle course for people taking the baby steps of freedom, but if we as a society are smart, we will make the effort, for our own collective sake as well as out of a humanitarian impulse.

Compared to most newly freed prisoners, Papa had it good. The campaign for his release had made him connections, he could find work, he could revive his familial ties, yet still he struggled, and understandably so. When you've spent a dozen years being told what to do, freedom isn't easy.

Papa had his demons, and part of the way he fought them was by resolving not to forget the prisoners he left behind. Within a year of his release, inspired by the courageous years-long struggle of the Argentine Mothers of the Disappeared, those survivors of the thousands taken and killed by the military dictatorship of the 1970s, he and comic/political gadfly Randy Credico formed the New York Mothers of the Disappeared along with family members of the thousands imprisoned under the Rockefeller laws.

Papa, Credico, and the Mothers played a critical role in early efforts to overturn the Rockefeller drug laws, and his tales of feckless politicians, preening celebrity intervenors, and back room double-dealing are the inside dirt on the glacial process of bringing some sanity to the state's drug laws. It ain't pretty, but reform did happen -- eventually -- and Papa got his social justice payback. If that isn't redemption-worthy, I don’t know what is.

This Side of Freedom is one part memoir, one part social history, one part heart-felt manifesto. Papa is an effective, engaging writer who tells his story in discrete episodes and has a knack for jumping from the personal to the political like a quivering quantum particle. You'll meet a range of colorful characters and experience the gamut of human emotion -- the highs, the lows, the ennui -- as you follow Papa's path.

His is one portrait of life in turn-of-the-21st Century America: mindless cruelty and brutality, mixed with racial injustice, but leavened with the will to resist. Read and ask yourself: How many other Tony Papas are out there, watching their lives tick away as they're locked in the cells, when they could be out here helping the rest of us make our world a better, more just and humane place?

Warning Signs: Trump and Human Rights

The following statement was distributed this morning by Human Rights Watch. One of the issues it touches on is the Philippines drug war killings and the president-elect's troubling conversation with the mass murderer president of the Philippines. (We are doing work related to the Philippines situation that will be announced in the near future. Human Rights Watch was a key partner in our global drug policy sign-on statement prepared for the 2016 UNGASS.)

(Washington, January 20, 2017) -- Donald Trump takes office today having vowed to enact policies that would threaten rights at home and abroad if actually implemented, Human Rights Watch said today. Human rights advocates, elected officials, and members of the public should press the new United States president to abandon those proposals and should call out government actions that violate rights. Congress, the courts, and the people of the United States should demand transparency and hold the administration accountable for policies and actions that threaten rights.

"This inauguration opens up a dangerous and uncertain new era for the United States," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Even if President Trump acts only on ten percent of the most problematic of his campaign proposals, it will cause a momentous setback for human rights at home and abroad. The onus is now on elected officials and the public to demand respect for rights that the President-elect seems to have put in his crosshairs."

Both during his presidential campaign and since his election, Trump has embraced policies that would harm the rights of millions of people -- from the immigrants he has vowed to deport in vast numbers, to the women whose reproductive rights he has promised to restrict through his judicial appointments. He has at times publicly embraced torture and the illegal targeted killing of civilians abroad. He said he would halt the release of men from Guantanamo Bay detention facility and "load it up with some bad dudes." Trump's pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has a long track record of hostility and disdain towards the very civil rights enforcement tools the US Justice Department is called on to deploy in defense of rights.

Trump's approach to foreign policy appears to embrace close collaboration with repressive governments on a range of issues, without regard for their troubling human rights records. During his confirmation hearing, Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, refused to acknowledge human rights violations by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines, despite extensive documentation of the violations by numerous sources, including the US government.

Greatly compounding all of these concerns, there is every reason to worry that the Trump administration will seek to minimize scrutiny of its actions. Trump and his advisers have regularly and very publicly insulted or smeared his critics. Reports indicate his team is considering restricting media access to the White House. And Trump has famously said that he would like to weaken libel laws to facilitate lawsuits against journalists.

"By trampling on the rights of millions of people in the US and abroad, Trump's proposals if enacted would weaken everybody's rights," Roth said. "Elected officials and the public should call out proposals and policies that would weaken rights, and demand a government that protects them."

Chronicle AM: DEA Brass Move to Pharma, Indonesia Top Narc Wants to Kill Users, More... (12/22/16)

Top DEA officials have left the agency for positions with opioid-producing pharmaceutical companies, Pennsylvania's roll-out of medical marijuana starts rolling, Oregon's largest city will allow pot delivery services, and more.

Dozens of DEA officials have put down the badge to pick up big bucks from Big Pharma.
Marijuana Policy

New Hampshire Legislators Will Try Again to Legalize It Next Year. After years of frustration, state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn (D-Dalton) says next year is the best chance yet for legalization. Woodburn says he is drafting a two-part bill, with the first part essentially legalizing possession, cultivation, and sales by removing all criminal penalties and the second part setting up a study committee to put together a regulatory system for an adult use market by 2019 or 2020. A new governor, John Sununu, Jr., may ease the way. Unlike his Democratic predecessor, Maggie Hassan, Sununu has shown an openness to considering reforms.

Portland, Oregon, Okays Delivery Services. The city council voted Wednesday to approve "marijuana couriers" and other marijuana-related "micro-businesses" as a means of removing financial barriers for would-be entrepreneurs. Portland is the only city in the state to have approved pot delivery services.

Medical Marijuana

Arizona Prosecutor Will Appeal Ruling Telling Him Not to Obstruct Medical Marijuana Businesses. Maricopa County (Phoenix) Attorney Bill Montgomery said Wednesday he will ask the state Supreme Court to review a ruling a day earlier from the Court of Appeals that rejected his argument that federal law preempts the state's medical marijuana and approve zoning for a medical marijuana dispensary in Sun City. He said the ruling against him undermines federalism and the "fundamental principle of the rule of law."

Pennsylvania Will Issue 27 Dispensary Permits in First Phase of Program Roll-Out. The state will authorize up to 27 dispensary permits during a process that begins with applications opening in mid-January and able to be submitted between February 20 and March 20. Each dispensary is allowed two secondary locations, meaning up to 81 medical marijuana shops could open in this first phase. The state medical marijuana law allows for up to 50 dispensary permits to be issued. State officials said they expected dispensaries to be open for business by mid-2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Dozens of Top DEA Officials Leave to Go to Work for Opioid Pharmaceutical Companies. It's the revolving door at work: Dozens of DEA officials have been hired by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture or distribute opioid pain medications, most of them directly from the DEA's diversion division, which is responsible for regulating the industry. The hires come in the midst of a DEA crackdown to curb rising opioid use. "The number of employees recruited from that division points to a deliberate strategy by the pharmaceutical industry to hire people who are the biggest headaches for them," said John Carnevale, former director of planning for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, who now runs a consulting firm. "These people understand how DEA operates, the culture around diversion and DEA;s goals, and they can advise their clients how to stay within the guidelines."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Governor Doesn't Want to Drug Test Students, Just Poor People. Gov. Scott Walker (R) said that while he wants to fight opioid use, he doesn't think drug testing high school students is a high priority. "There are plenty of ideas that have come up, but this isn't one of them," he said in reference to a bill filed by Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc). He is down with forcing people on food stamps to undergo drug tests, though.

International

Indonesia Anti-Drug Chief Says Drug Dealers and Users Should Be Shot. Taking a page from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Budi Waseso, head of the National Narcotics Agency, has called for the killing of drug dealers and users. "Don't hesitate to shoot drug traffickers, drug dealers and drug users. Anyone involved in drug trafficking should be punished harshly, including traitors in the BNN [National Narcotics Agency] body. "Drug dealers have been all out in their efforts to market drugs. We have to be all out as well to fight them," said Budi, adding that the agency is already cooperating with the military to tackle drug-related crimes. "For the military, I think the word war can already be interpreted. Let's together clear these drugs for the sake of future generations," added Budi.

Chronicle AM: Mexico Senate Approves MedMJ, WI Lawmaker Wants HS Drug Testing, More... (12/14/16)

With the backing of the president, Mexico's Senate has approved medical marijuana; Kentucky's attorney general identifies the opioid epidemic as the state's biggest problem, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff out marijuana face an uncertain future after legalization, and more.

Do you want to play high school sports in Wisconsin? A GOP lawmaker wants you to have to pee in a cup first. (Wikimedia)
Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Kentucky AG Says Opioid Epidemic Should Be Legislature's Top Priority. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that the opioid epidemic -- not a failing pension program -- is the state's biggest problem and the Republican-controlled legislature should make that its top priority. "We have a very important pension problem that we have to tackle, but a pension hasn't killed anyone's father or mother or taken a child from a parent," Beshear said. "This drug epidemic is the single largest threat to the lives of our citizens and also to our economy itself."

Drug Testing

Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants to Impose Drug Testing on High School Students Statewide. Whether to drug test students is a question traditionally left to local school boards, but state Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) is drafting a bill to impose drug testing on some students statewide. He said he will introduce a bill that will require private and public schools to have policies to randomly drug test students who participate in voluntary activities, such as sports or choir or the debate club. Only a handful of Wisconsin school districts currently have such policies.

Law Enforcement

After Pot Vote, Nevada Drug Dogs Face Uncertain Future. With legal marijuana looming in the state's near future, Nevada drug dogs trained to sniff marijuana could be out of a job. Drug dogs are trained to detect various substances and will alert on any of them, but after January 1, they could be alerting on a legal substance, and that means their usefulness to law enforcement is in question. They could be retrained (difficult and expensive) or replaced (expensive).

International

Mexico Senate Votes Overwhelmingly to Approve Medical Marijuana. The Mexican Senate voted 98-7 Tuesday to approve medical marijuana legislation. The move comes after President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier this year signaled his support. Some lawmakers said they were disappointed the bill didn't legalize marijuana outright.

Philippines President Admits Personally Killing People. Speaking Monday about his bloody war on drugs, which has left nearly 6,000 dead in six months, President Rodrigo Duterte admitted to personally killing people while mayor of Davao City, where he has long been accused of tolerating death squads. "In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can't you. And I'd go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill," he said.

Chronicle AM: Marijuana Legal in MA Thursday, Canada Moving Forward, More... (12/13/16)

There's a lot of international news today, plus Colorado pot sales pass the $1 billion mark this year, Massachusetts politicians get out of the way of legalization, and more.

Philippines President Duterte isn't satisfied with mass killing of drug suspects. He wants the death penalty, too. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Marijuana Sales Hit $1 Billion Mark This Year. The state Department of Revenue reports that marijuana sales through October exceeded the billion dollar mark, coming in at $1.09 billion. That figure could hit $1.3 billion by year's end, according to marijuana industry attorney Christian Sederberg.

Massachusetts Officials Won't Delay Marijuana Legalization. Possession of small amounts of marijuana will become legal Thursday. There had been fears of a delay after loose talk in the legislature, but legislative leaders made it clear Monday they will not seek to delay the start of the new law.

Medical Marijuana

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commissioners Sworn In. In the first meeting of a commission established to create a state medical marijuana system after voters approved a constitutional amendment last month, five commissioners were sworn in. The members of the state Medical Marijuana Commission are Dr. Ronda Henry-Tillman of Little Rock, lobbyist James Miller of Bryant, Dr. Carlos Roman of Little Rock, pharmacy executive Stephen Carroll of Benton and attorney Travis Story of Fayetteville. Henry-Tillman was unanimously elected Monday afternoon as the commission's chairman.

Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Filed. State Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) has filed the Cannabis Compassion Act of 2017 (BR 409), which would allow patients with a specified list of diseases and medical conditions access to their medicine. The bill would allow patients to possess up to three ounces and grow up to 12 plants and envisions a system of regulated cultivators and "compassion centers."

Michigan Medical Marijuana Fees Fund State's War on Drugs.Medical marijuana fees have fattened the Michigan Medical Marijuana Fund, and state law enforcement has been tapping into that fund to aggressively go after marijuana. Local sheriffs in the Detroit area have spent more than $600,000 raiding dispensaries in the past year, and there's more where that came from since the fund has raised $30 million. "I really don't think it's appropriate to fund law enforcement on the backs of medical marijuana patients," medical marijuana attorney Matt Abel told the Detroit News. "… It's really a hidden tax on patients."

International

Canada Marijuana Task Force Advises Wide-Ranging Legalization. The task force charged with shaping the country's looming marijuana legalization has recommended that pot be sold in retail stores and by mail order, that possession of 30 grams and cultivation of four plants be legalized, that the minimum age be set at 18, and that pot not be sold along with alcohol. The commission is also recommending that high-potency products be more heavily taxed to discourage their use. The Liberals are expected to file their legalization bill this coming spring.

Canada Releases New Comprehensive Drug Strategy. Health Minister Jane Philpott Monday unveiled the Canadian Drug and Substances Strategy, which will replace the existing National Anti-Drug Strategy of the Conservatives. The new strategy restores harm reduction as a core pillar of Canadian drug policy, along with prevention, treatment, and law enforcement, and insists on a "strong evidence base."

British Drug Advisers Call for Prescription Heroin, Safe Injection Sites. The official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommending allowing hard-core heroin users to get the drug via prescription and called for the opening of supervised injection facilities. Both moves come as a response to a soaring number of drug overdose deaths. "The ACMD is of the view that death is the most serious harm related to drug use," commission head Les Iversen said in a letter to the Home Secretary. "The most important recommendation in this report is that government ensures that investment in OST [opioid substitution therapy] of optimal dosage and duration is, at least, maintained," he added.

Philippines Drug War Death Toll Nearing 6,000. According to statistics released Monday by the Philippines National Police, some 5,927 deaths have been linked to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs since he took office at the beginning of July. Nearly 2,100 were killed in police operations, while more than 3,800 deaths were blamed on vigilantes or death squads.

Effort to Block Philippines Death Penalty Bill. In addition to widespread extra-judicial executions of drug suspects, President Duterte wants to reinstate the death penalty, including for drug offenses. ASEAN Parliamentarians on Human Rights is leading the campaign against the bill and wants people to contact Philippines lawmakers. Click on the link for more info.

Trump Gets Behind Philippines Drug War Mass Murderer

Donald Trump's seat-of-the-pants pre-inaugural telephone diplomacy is causing shock waves in diplomatic circles and world capitals around the globe, whether it's getting all buddy-buddy with despots like Kazakhstan's perpetual leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, throwing US China policy into turmoil by taking a call from the president of Taiwan, or insulting close allies like Great Britain by failing to reach out in a timely fashion.

Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte (Creative Commons/Wikimedia)
But the president-elect outdid himself with a Friday call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The Filipino strong man took office earlier this year with a promise to unleash mass murder on Filipino drug users and dealers, and he has lived up to that vow, leaving the streets running with the blood of the more than 5,000 killed so far, either directly by his police or, in a more shadowy fashion, by "vigilantes."

Duterte's bloody campaign has drawn scathing criticism from human rights groups, the United Nations, and the Obama administration, with Duterte responding to the latter by calling Obama a "son of a whore." But in his phone call with Duterte, Trump was singing a different tune.

Duterte said Saturday that Trump had endorsed his bloody anti-drug campaign, telling him that the Philippines was doing it "the right way" and that Trump was "quite sensitive" to "our worry about drugs."

"He wishes me well, too, in my campaign, and he said that, well, we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way," Duterte said.

In a Philippines government summary of the call between Trump and Duterte, the Filipino president said the pair had spoken only briefly, but touched on many topics, including the anti-drug campaign.

"I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump, and he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem," Duterte said. "He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there's nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country. I appreciate the response that I got from President-elect Trump, and I would like to wish him success," Duterte said. "He will be a good president for the United States of America."

The Trump team has yet to comment on the call.

Duterte, who rose to national political prominence as the death squad-supporting mayor of Davao City, is among the most brutal of the crop of right-populist political leaders and movements that have emerged around the globe this year, but delicacies like concern about human rights or the lives of drug users don't appear to be on Trump's radar. Especially when he's got more pressing concerns in the Philippines -- such as the Trump-branded residential tower going up in metropolitan Manila. Duterte has just named he Filipino businessman who is Trump's partner in the project, Jose E. B. Antonio, to be a special envoy to the US.

While Trump is seemingly brushing aside human rights concerns about the mass drug war killings raised by the Obama administration, even the administration's protests are undercut somewhat by continued US financial assistance to the Philippines National Police units that are heavily involved.

While the US has suspended weapons sales over the issue, as BuzzFeed News reported, despite US statements of concern the State Department continues to send millions of dollars in aid to the Philippines National Police. The Obama administration requested $9 million in aid for anti-drug and law enforcement programs for this year. The State Department says the funds are no longer being used for anti-drug training, but funds continue to go to the police.

The State Department also said that police units found to be involved in extrajudicial killings would not get US assistance, but BuzzFeed News found that "officers at police stations receiving support from the US have played a central role in Duterte's bloody campaign. By comparing Philippine police data with internal State Department records, it is clear that many of the stations -- especially those in the capital city of Manila -- are collectively responsible for hundreds of deaths."

The continued State Department funding of police linked to the drug war killings itself subverts the Obama administration's rhetoric of concern about Duterte's bloody crusade. But if Trump's first chat with Duterte is any indication, even rhetorical concern about human rights in the Filipino drug war is about to go out the window.

Global Commission on Drugs Calls for Decriminalization of All Drugs [FEATURE]

In a report released Monday, global leaders denounced harsh responses to drug use, such as the mass killing of drug users in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, and called for worldwide drug decriminalization.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy calls for drug decriminalization. (globalcommissionondrugs.org)
The report, Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A New Approach to Drug Decriminalization, is a product of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a high-level panel that includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Switzerland; and British philanthropist Richard Branson, among others.

Since its inception in 2011, the Commission has consistently called for drug decriminalization, but this year's report goes a step further. Unlike existing decriminalization policies around the world, where drug users still face fines or administrative penalties, the report argues that no penalties at all should attach to simple drug possession.

"Only then," the report says, "can the societal destruction caused by drug prohibition be properly mitigated."

And the report breaks more new ground by calling for alternatives to punishment for other low-level players in the drug trade, including small dealers who sell to support their habits, drug mules, and people who grow drug crops. Many of those people, the report notes, engage in such activities out of "economic marginalization… a lack of other opportunities… or coercion," yet face severe sanctions ranging from the destruction of cash crops to imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Unlike people caught with drugs for personal use, however, the Commission envisions such low-level players being subjected to civil penalties, although not criminal ones.

"After years of denouncing the dramatic effects of prohibition and the criminalization of people that do no harm but use drugs on the society as a whole, it is time to highlight the benefits of well-designed and well-implemented people centered drug polices," said former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, Chair of the Commission. "These innovative policies cannot exist as long as we do not discuss, honestly, the major policy error made in the past, which is the criminalization of personal consumption or possession of illicit psychoactive substances in national laws."

"At the global, regional or local levels, drug policies are evolving," added César Gaviria, former president of Columbia and Global Commission member. "However, in order to build solid and effective policies to mitigate the harms of the last 60 years of wrong policies, and to prepare for a better future where drugs are controlled more effectively, we need to implement the full and non-discretionary decriminalization of personal use and possession of drugs."

The new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy issues the following recommendations:

1. States must abolish the death penalty for all drug-related offenses.

2. States must end all penalties -- both criminal and civil -- for drug possession for personal use, and the cultivation of drugs for personal consumption.

3. States must implement alternatives to punishment for all low-level, nonviolent actors in the drug trade.

4. UN member states must remove the penalization of drug possession as a treaty obligation under the international drug control system.

5. States must eventually explore regulatory models for all illicit drugs and acknowledge this to be the next logical step in drug policy reform following decriminalization.

DC report launch Monday with Cesar Gaviria, Pavel Bem, Ruth Dreifuss, Michel Kazatchkine and Paul Volcker
"People who use drugs have paid a huge toll to the current drug control system; they faced alone and without any legal protection the ravages of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, as well as many non-communicable diseases," said Professor Michel Kazatchkine, former Executive Director of the Global Fund on AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. "Now we have the scientific and medical tools to provide all the services they need, but we mostly lack the political leadership to implement an enabling legal environment. This starts by the complete decriminalization of drugs."

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2010 by political leaders, cultural figures, and globally influential personalities from the financial and business sectors. The Commission currently comprises 23 members, including nine former heads of states and a former Secretary General of the United Nations. The high-level group's mission is to promote evidence-based drug policy reforms at international, national and regional levels, with an emphasis on public health, social integration and security, and with strict regard for human rights.

A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (ussupremecourt.gov)
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: Obama Commutes More Sentences, Filipinos Like Duterte's Drug War, More... (10/7/16)

The president continues granting clemency to federal drug war prisoners, Iran executes more drug prisoners, Filipinos approve of their president's dirty, deadly drug war, and more.

Thanks, Obama! (whitehouse.gov)
Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Minors Can Now Qualify for Medical Marijuana. Under changes in the state's medical marijuana system that went into effect this week, minors with certain specified conditions can now enroll in the program. Those conditions include cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, irreversible spinal cord injury with intractable spasticity, severe epilepsy, intractable seizure disorders, and terminal illness.

Asset Forfeiture

Arizona Civil Asset Forfeiture Law Challenged in New Lawsuit. The Institute of Justice has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an elderly Washington state couple who loaned their car to their adult son so he could drive to Florida, but had their vehicle seized after the son was arrested in Arizona with a "personal use quantity" of marijuana. The state's asset forfeiture laws are unconstitutional, the lawsuit alleges. This case was filed against the sheriff of Navaho County. The ACLU of Arizona is pursuing a similar case in Pimal County.

Pardons and Commutations

Obama Commutes Sentences of 102 More Drug War Prisoners. President Obama Friday granted clemency to another 102 imprisoned federal drug offenders, bring the total so far to 774. Obama has now freed more prisoners that the previous 11 presidents combined, but advocates want him to do more. "The President is doing the right thing, but we hope to see many more commutations," said Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs. "We also need Congress to remain engaged on this issue." Congress has pending sentencing reform bills before it.

International

Iran Hangs Seven More for Drug Offenses. Even as the parliament considers ending the death penalty for drug offenses, executions continue apace. Seven prisoners were hanged in late September for drug offenses at Minab's Central Prison. Last year, drug offenders accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 970 people executed in the Islamic Republic.

Filipinos Overwhelmingly Approve of Duterte's Deadly Drug War. A national opinion poll finds that 84% of Filipinos surveyed said they were satisfied or moderately satisfied with the president's harsh anti-drug campaign, which has left more than a thousand people killed by police and twice that number killed by vigilantes. Some 94%, though, said suspects should be brought to trial alive, but despite Duterte's call for killing them, most respondents still rated his efforts as "excellent."

Chronicle AM: Seattle Call for Injection Sites, Duterte Wants More Lethal Drug War, More... (9/20/16)

A Seattle/King County heroin task force has recommended two safe injection sites be established, a California bill to let landlords ban medical marijuana smoking dies, Nevada legalization foes get organized, and more.

from the anti-legalization Protecting Nevada's Children website
Marijuana Policy

Nevada Legalization Foes Get Organized. Opponents of the Question 2 legalization initiative have organized as Protecting Nevada's Children, complete with a slick website that warns that "legalizing marijuana… like giving candy to a baby." Officials with the no campaign are also worrying about "a well-prepared workforce" if Las Vegas becomes "the Amsterdam of the West." The group refuses to divulge its funding, saying it would be revealed in mid-October, when campaign finance reports are due.

Medical Marijuana

California Bill to Let Landlords Ban Medical Marijuana Smoking Dies. Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-North Coast) has dropped his bill that would let landlords ban smoking medical marijuana after he conceded he was unable to figure out how to meet the needs of medical marijuana patients.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Heroin and Opioid Task Force Issues Report, Calls for Two Safe Injection Sites. The King County Heroin and Opiate Addiction Task Force has issued a final report calling on increased prevention and access to treatment for addicted users. Among other recommendations, the report calls for authorities to "Create a three-year pilot project that will include at least two locations where adults with substance-use disorders will have access to on-site services while safely consuming opioids or other substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers." Look for a detailed article on the task force recommendations tomorrow.

Sentencing Reform

North Dakota Legislature Squabbles Over Drug Sentences. Legislators are working off-session on a pair of criminal justice reform bills aimed at curbing a growing prison population, but some are reluctant to embrace reductions in drug sentences that experts said were necessary to actually achieve prison population cuts. There was support for reducing some sentences for drug possessors, but not for drug sellers. A proposal from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to eliminate mandatory minimums for people dealing drugs was rejected. But a proposal from the Council of State Governments to make probation the presumptive sentence for first-time, low-level felonies was accepted. The bills will be introduced at the beginning of the next session.

International

Philippines President Wants Six More Months of Drug War Because He "Cannot Kill Them All" Fast Enough. Even as the death toll from President Rodrigo Duterte's slow motion massacre of drug suspects tops 3,000, the hardline leader is saying he wants to extend his crusade another six months. "I did not realize how severe and how serious the drug menace was in this republic until I became president," Duterte said. "Even if I wanted to I cannot kill them all because the last report would be this thick," he said, referring to a new police list of people including top officials suspected of being involved in the drugs trade.

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