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DEA Seeks Ebonics Translators to Decipher Black Peoples' Phone Conversations

Ever since NAACP endorsed marijuana legalization in California, there's been a raging debate over whether the drug war targets black communities. Looks like the DEA just settled it.

ATLANTA  — Federal agents are seeking to hire Ebonics translators to help interpret wiretapped conversations involving targets of undercover drug investigations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently sent memos asking companies that provide translation services to help it find nine translators in the Southeast who are fluent in Ebonics, Special Agent Michael Sanders said Monday. [AP]

But don't get the wrong idea. This has nothing to do with the drug war being racist. They just need expert testimony to help win drug cases:

"You can maybe get a general idea of what they're saying, but you have to understand that this has to hold up in court," he said. "You need someone to say, 'I know what they mean when they say 'ballin' or 'pinching pennies.'"

Wait, is that drug slang? As dumb as all of this sounds, I'm beginning to envision a very real risk of the DEA bringing some jackass into court to randomly redefine words and incriminate people who could've been talking about anything. If they start asking for search warrants on the grounds that 'pinching pennies' means laundering money, that's a total nightmare and it's exactly the kind of crap we should probably expect from this.

Texas Now Prosecuting TWO Medical Marijuana Patients [FEATURE]

Asthmatic medical marijuana patient Chris Diaz sits in jail in Brownwood, Texas, facing up to life in prison for a half ounce of marijuana and three grams of hash. Quadraplegic medical marijuana patient Chris Cain may be joining Diaz behind bars in Beaumont, Texas, after he goes to trial next week. When it comes to medical marijuana, Texas isn't California (or even Rhode Island), and don't you forget it, boy!

seat of injustice
Chris Diaz is learning that the hard way. He was supposedly pulled over for an expired license tag (his defenders say the tag was not expired) while en route from Amarillo to Austin, and according to the DPS trooper's report, would not produce a drivers' license or proof of insurance. He was then arrested for failure to identify, and during a subsequent search, police found a small amount of hashish on his person. A search of the vehicle then turned up additional hash and marijuana in a pill bottle from a California medical marijuana provider. Now, Diaz is facing up to life in prison after being indicted by a Brown County grand jury. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, a first-degree felony in the Lone Star State.

Under Texas law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, while possession of hashish is either a state jail felony punishable by up to two years for less than a gram, or a second-class felony punishable by up to 20 years if less than four grams, although probation is also possible.

But because police allegedly read a text message on Diaz's seized cell phone advising a friend that he had some great hash and asking if he wanted any, he was instead indicted on the trafficking charge, punishable by up to life in prison. He remains behind bars -- without his medicine -- on a $40,000 cash bond.

Diaz was diagnosed with asthma just before he turned three, his mother, Rhonda Martin said. "He was on medications ever since. He used a nebulizer, all kinds of inhalers, Albuteral, Advair. He stopped taking them when he was 14 because he didn't like the effects," she recalled. "He said the steroids made him feel agitated and wouldn't take those chemical medications anymore."

While the family was aware of medical marijuana, it was only when Diaz fell ill during a family vacation in California and was hospitalized in intensive care that they first learned about medical marijuana for the treatment of asthma. "We were put in touch with a doctor there, and he recommended it. It was his recommendation Chris was carrying," said Martin.

Neither Brown County prosecutors nor Diaz's court-appointed public defender had responded to Chronicle requests for comment by press time.

Diaz and some of his strongest supporters, including his mother, consider themselves "sovereign citizens," and have a web site, I Am Sovereign, in which they argue their case and attempt to win support for Diaz. But that set of beliefs, which precludes carrying government-issued identification, is also complicating things for Diaz. "Failure to identify" was the first charge he faced, and he was searched and the cannabis was found subsequent to being charged with that. Similarly, the authorities' lack of any records or ID for Diaz played a role in the setting of the high bail.

He's not having an easy time of it in jail, said Martin. "He is not receiving any medical attention. He eats only organic food, but he's not getting that. He was assaulted last Sunday by a jailer when he asked for medication. The jailer got in his face and started screaming and pushing him. Chris didn't react. He is a peaceful man."

"The reality is that this kid is in jail for having medical marijuana and is looking at life in prison," said Stephen Betzen, director of the Texas Coalition for Compassionate Care, which is lobbying for a medical marijuana bill next year in the state legislature. "You've got to be kidding me. You don't give drug addicts life in prison, so why would you do that to a patient with a legitimate recommendation from another state?"

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Chris Cain
Betzen also had real issues with Diaz being stopped in the first place. "The fact of the matter is that Chris was driving home to Austin with legal plates," he said. "The cops lied and said they were expired. Not only did they lie to pull him over, they took a kid with no record and charged him with a life sentence offense for three grams of hash. The people who are perpetrating this need to be brought to justice and their victims need to be released from jail," said Betzen. "You can't just pull people over because they're brown or from California and begin to search them. There's a whole amendment about that."

"I'm surprised somebody is facing a life sentence for basically half an ounce," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana support group Americans for Safe Access. "But in states that don't have medical marijuana laws, authorities are free to arrest and prosecute regardless of whether it is being used medicinally."

Meanwhile, over in Hardin County in East Texas, Chris Cain, 39, will be rolling his wheelchair to court next week, where the quadriplegic faces a jail sentence for possessing less than two ounces of medical marijuana. Cain, who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, has been an outspoken medical marijuana advocate for a decade.

He was arrested in 2005 when the Hardin County Sheriff's Office raided his home with the assistance of two helicopters, seized three joints, and threw him in jail. He wound up on probation, but could not use his medicine.

"Within six weeks, the spasticity was so bad he was developing bed sores," said Betzen, so he started using again. "The cops would come by every two weeks to see if he was healthy enough to go to jail."

Now, he faces trial again for possession. "They actually want to put him in jail," exclaimed Betzen. "The sheriff there really has a vendetta against him."

While Texas certainly needs to enter the 21st Century when it comes to medical marijuana, the problem is larger than the Lone Star State, said Hermes. "It's critical that we develop a federal medical marijuana law so that people are not treated differently in Texas than in California, and patients who need this medicine in Texas should be allowed to use it with fear of arrest and prosecution. Americans for Safe Access is committed not only to encouraging states to pass medical marijuana laws irrespective of federal policy, but also to push the federal government to develop a policy that will treat patients equitably no matter where in the US they live."

TX
United States

Obama Signs Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reform Bill

President Obama Tuesday signed into law a bill, S. 1789, which significantly reduces, but does not eliminate, the infamous disparity in sentencing of federal crack and powder cocaine offenders. The signing was open to news photographers, but not other media. Obama took no questions and made no remarks.

Under quarter-century old federal laws drafted in the midst of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, people convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack cocaine faced a mandatory minimum five-year federal prison sentence, while it took 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalties. The law subjected tens of thousands of African-Americans to long prison sentences for crack offenses, while whites busted for crack mainly got sent to state court for comparatively lenient sentences.

Under the new law, that 100:1 disparity is reduced to 18:1. That means instead of five grams of crack garnering the same sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine, it will now take 28 grams of crack to earn the five-year mandatory minimum. That goes up to 10 years if the amount in question is more than 280 grams of crack.

While the new law removes the mandatory minimum sentence for simply possessing five grams of crack and while it will likely reduce sentences by about two years for federal crack offenders, it is not retroactive. That means thousands of people doing harsh sentences under the old law will continue to serve them, at least for now. However, the US Sentencing Commission could take up the retroactivity question for those people, now that Congress has change the threshold for mandatory minimums.

Drug War Chronicle did a feature article on the bill last week. For more detail and analysis, read it here.

Washington, DC
United States

Congress Acts to Reduce Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity (FEATURE)

The US House of Representatives Wednesday approved a bill, SB 1789, that addresses one of the most glaring injustices of the American drug war: the 100:1 disparity in sentencing between federal crack cocaine and federal powder cocaine offenders. The bill does not eliminate the disparity, but dramatically reduces it.

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Hill briefing by Crack the Disparity, spring 2009
A companion measure passed the Senate in March. The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama's signature, which is expected shortly. The White House supported the bill.

Under federal drug laws enacted during the height of the crack hysteria of the mid-1980s, a person caught with five grams of crack cocaine faced the same mandatory minimum five-year sentence as someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine. And though blacks constitute only about 30% of all crack users, they accounted for more than 80% of all federal crack cocaine prosecutions.

The bill approved by Congress reduces that 100:1 ratio to 18:1. It also removes the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of five grams or less of crack, marking the first time Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum since Richard Nixon was president, although not the first time a law involving mandatory minimums has been scaled back. To the dismay of advocates, the bill is not retroactive.

Under the bill, it will take 28 grams of crack to garner a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence and 280 grams to trigger a 10-year prison sentence. It will still take 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the five-year mandatory minimum. Estimates are that, once enacted, the law could affect about 3,000 cases a year, reducing sentences by an average of two years. The shorter sentences should save about $42 million in prison costs over five years.

Criminal Justice Policy Foundation head Eric Sterling has been working to reform the law for nearly two decades -- since just a few years after he helped write it as House Judiciary Committee counsel at the time. The change didn't come nearly fast enough, he said. "I'm very personally relieved," Sterling said. "My role in these tragic injustices has pained me for decades. You realize that probably hundreds of thousands of men and women went to prison for unjustly long sentences that I helped write. It's not something I've ever forgotten."

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/scales.jpg
scales of justice tilt slightly closer to sanity
He didn't think it was going to happen. "I have become so cynical," he said. "I really doubted the leadership was going to bring it to the floor, and I doubted that the Republicans were going to support it. Even though it had passed the Senate, I didn't think the House Republicans were going to go along. But I was pleasantly surprised that people like Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Dan Lundgren (R-CA) spoke in favor of it, and that the House majority leader went to the floor to speak in favor of it. My cynicism was completely unwarranted here, so I'm very relieved and satisfied."

"Members of both parties deserve enormous credit for moving beyond the politics of fear and simply doing the right thing," said Julie Stewart, founder and president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "For those of us who have been pushing for reform for nearly 20 years, today's vote is phenomenal. To see members of Congress come together on such a historically partisan issue like this during an election year is heartening. The 100:1 disparity was an ugly stain on the criminal justice system," Stewart continued. "Nobody will mourn its passing -- least of all, the thousands of individuals and families FAMM has worked with over the past 20 years that have been directly impacted. I am hopeful that the forces of reason and compassion that carried the day today will prevail again soon to apply the new law retroactively to help those already in prison for crack cocaine offenses," Stewart concluded.

"This is a historic day, with House Republicans and Democrats in agreement that US drug laws are too harsh and must be reformed," said Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "The tide is clearly turning against the failed war on drugs. I'm overjoyed that thousands of people, mostly African American, will no longer be unjustly subjected to the harsh sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s," Tyler said. "The compromise is not perfect and more needs to be done, but this is a huge step forward in reforming our country's overly harsh and wasteful drug laws."

"Well, I guess there's 80% less racism, but there's still a big problem, though," said Nora Callahan, director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group that concentrates on federal drug war prisoners. "This is a fix on the back end, but as the US Sentencing Commission noted, sentencing really begins when the police start investigating. That whole drug war system of cops and snitches and prosecutors is still in place."

"Substantively, this is not a major policy change," agreed Sterling, "But symbolically, it's very important. I wouldn't have thought this would have made it to the House floor, and I wouldn't have thought this would pass by two-thirds on a recorded vote."

"This is progress, but it's not retroactive, so all the people who worked so hard to pass this bill don't get any reward," said Callahan. "When you leave out the principle of extending justice to all, it's really tough. How do you tell people sorry, we left you out of it?"

Making the law retroactive will be the next battle, but it won't be the only one. "In concrete terms, the next step will be to try to get retroactivity," said Sterling. "The other side of it is to push the president to start commuting sentences."

Washington, DC
United States

Anti-Prohibitionist Candidates Challenge New York Status Quo (FEATURE)

An unlikely pair of anti-prohibitionist insurgents are running statewide campaigns in New York designed to challenge the political status quo. Randy Credico, a comedian turned activist turned senatorial candidate, is challenging incumbent Charles Schumer for the Democratic Party senatorial nomination, while hedge fund manager turned madam turned convict Kristin Davis is running for governor on the Anti-Prohibition party ticket.

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Randy Credico
Credico is familiar to the activist community as a relentless organizer against the Rockefeller drug laws from his post at the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, while Davis's notoriety comes from her prosecution and four-month imprisonment as a "Manhattan Madam" who procured prostitutes for deposed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Both are proving adept at milking the media for all it's worth in a bid to bring their anti-prohibitionist messages to the public eye.

By all accounts, neither has a chance of winning outright. In the latest Siena Poll of New York politics, Credico was pulling 11% against Schumer, up from 9% last fall, but still hardly a close race. Davis has not figured in any polls, but is running as a third party candidate in a year when Democrat Andrew Cuomo appears to be a shoo-in in November.

Still, both are committed to doing all they can to bolster their campaigns and get the spotlight focused on their issues. Last week, the Credico campaign handed in signatures in a bid to qualify for the Democratic primary, while the Davis campaign is in the midst of a signature drive of its own.

"I'm exhausted, I just spent 38 days on the petitioning drive," said Credico on the way back from Albany after handing in signatures. "I'm sick. I have some bronchial problem. If Paterson signs the medical marijuana bill, I might be able to get some relief. We have enough signatures to get on the ballot. Now we have to wait to see if Schumer challenges us," Credico said.

That may be unnecessary, given that the state Democratic Party chair Jay Jacobs told the New York Daily News Sunday that Credico and his allies had not turned in enough signatures to make the party ballot. But whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico will be in the race. He is also on the ticket for both the Libertarian Party and Davis's Anti-Prohibitionist Party.

"Randy submitted 7,000 signatures himself, and one running mate submitted 6,500, and the third guy was supposed to submit 9,000, but only handed in 500," said Roger Stone, a Republican political operative who is friends with Credico and is advising Davis. "The next morning, the Democratic state committee was peddling the story that Randy had fallen short. I think the third guy was working with Chuck Schumer in a Nixon-style dirty tricks operation. Why does Chuck Schumer fear competition? Why deny people a vote?"

Stone might know a thing or two about political tricksters. He has a long history of political shenanigans, most notably a role in the infamous "Brooks Brothers riots" in Florida in the disputed 2000 presidential election, where mobs of angry Republicans rushed election offices as officials scrutinized chads. He denies any involvement in that.

"I'm a libertarian Republican, not a religious right or Moral Majority Republican," Stone said. "I'm pro-freedom, I favor gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, casino gambling, and prostitution. The only way to get the pimps and drugs out of it is to regulate it. It's a $10 billion industry -- let's legalize it and run out the mob, the pimps, the guys who exploit women, let's empower women."

He is also critical of New York's drug laws. "The Rockefeller laws were racist," Stone said bluntly. "If you were a rich white kid, you could get a break. I think there's a difference between cocaine and marijuana, and I'm not for the legalization of heroin, but until someone can convince me marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol, I say legalize it. It's a harmless herb that grows from the earth, and the idea it's a gateway drug is horseshit. New York has millions of marijuana users and they didn't all turn into heroin addicts."

Whatever Stone's motives, he is pushing both anti-prohibitionist campaigns and played a key role in getting Davis into the governor's race. "I met Roger Stone on a Sirius radio show, and afterward, I approached him about lobbying for the legalization of prostitution," said Davis, whose blonde bombshell looks belie a keen intellect. "That was right after a woman who had worked for me was killed by the Craig's List killer in Boston. I feel very strongly she would still be alive if prostitution were legal. If one of his earlier victims had felt comfortable calling the police, he might have been caught before he killed," she said.

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Kristin Davis
"My platform is pro-freedom," said Davis, adding that some of her issues are getting more play than others. "We've sort of moved into being most vocal on marijuana and gay marriage," she said. "These are the two issues that resonate most with people. New York is broke, deeply in debt, so we're looking at marijuana not so much as a social issue, but as an economic one."

Davis acknowledged that actually winning the governorship was unlikely, to say the least, but said her campaign was more about getting the issues addressed and getting enough votes to get the Anti-Prohibitionist Party official status in New York. "People say you can't expect to win, but that depends on your definition of winning," she said. "Andrew Cuomo has approval ratings over 60% and $23 million in campaign funds, but voting for me sends a clear message to the career politicians that these issues need to be heard. If we can get 50,000 votes for the party, then we're officially recognized and can lobby for our issues. Every single vote matters. Every vote for me shows the career politicians that New Yorkers care about these issues, that they want legal marijuana."

The anti-prohibitionist tag team has been doing some joint appearances, Davis said. "Randy is on my Anti-Prohibitionist Party petition as the Senate nominee. We just did an event over the weekend. It was a signature drive kickoff slash birthday party for me," she said. "There were maybe 300 people there."

Davis's notoriety has both helped and hindered her campaign, the former madam said. "It's a double-edged sword. Compared to sex, people by and large are not so interested in politics," she explained. "Sex gets people interested, and I'm an interesting character, but on the other hand, the mainstream media has been skeptical. The Post and New York One have not covered the campaign at all. I hope that once we're on the ballot, and they see this isn't a hoax, they'll start taking us a little more seriously."

"She's been able to use the celebrity that came out of her brush with Eliot Spitzer to her advantage to continue to point out the inequities of the criminal justice system," Stone said. "She went to prison, and he went back to his town house."

If politics makes strange bedfellows, anti-drug war politics makes even stranger ones. Stone is a libertarian Republican, Davis describes herself as a libertarian, but Credico comes out of a left-leaning social justice perspective. They don't agree on everything. For instance, Credico has come out in favor of allowing a mosque to be built near the former World Trade Center site, while Davis opposes it. Similarly, Credico touts an anti-war, anti-interventionist foreign policy, while Davis doesn't touch those issues.

"In the end," said Stone, "Credico and Davis become running mates and are on the same side. The drug war is one of the issues that motivates them both."

Whether he makes the Democratic ballot or not, Credico isn't going away. "We're going to start a war of attrition against Schumer," the activist/comedian turned candidate vowed. "We'll be making inroads in the black, latino, lesbian and gay communities, we'll be making inroads with people upstate concerned about their mortgages and credit cards. "I know Schumer is not happy I'm in the race," said Credico. "I'm the last person he wants challenging him. I have a show biz background, I have charisma."

But he also has street cred dating back to his days agitating against the Rockefeller drug laws. "I worked with the families of prisoners, I worked with the African-American community. That's what helped get me over the top. Women whose kids were incarcerated came out and canvassed for me. Schumer has nothing to offer them," Credico said.

Credico compares and contrasts his career with Schumer's and finds the incumbent fares badly. "I ran a civil rights organization, and he conducted himself as someone opposed to civil rights, as manifested by his support of the Patriot Act, the drug war, ID cards, the wall on the border, and other repressive measures. He's anti-civil rights, not for constitutional or civil rights for most Americans."

The Schumer campaign did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

"I'm for civil rights, human rights, a clean environment, and pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Colombia," Credico elaborated. "Schumer was going to waltz right in there without having to talk about this, and New Yorkers deserve better. Why is he an avid supporter of the drug war? Why isn't he as progressive as [Republican senators] Sessions and Hatch on the crack/powder sentencing disparity?" the long-time activist asked.

"I'm for legalization of marijuana," Credico continued. "We should be able to grow marijuana here, without taxing it. Let's not give the government any more layers of power. Prohibition has to be abolished. We have to talk about this. The drug war is a Trojan horse to incarcerate people of color for social control."

The Republicans and Democrats in New York have shown little taste for challenging drug war orthodoxy, but insurgent candidates Credico and Davis are determined to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to justifying prohibitionist policies. Let the games begin!

(This article 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.)

Feature: Race and Reefer -- the African American Vote in California's Marijuana Legalization Initiative

With the clock ticking down toward Election Day in November, both proponents and opponents of California's Control and Tax Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative, now known officially as Proposition 19, are going after the African American vote. As things currently stand, the community is highly supportive of marijuana legalization in principle, but not necessarily of the initiative itself at this time.

A Survey USA poll done in April found that support for marijuana legalization among blacks was at 67%, the highest level of any major ethnic group in the state. Whites were second at 59%, followed by Asians at 58% and Hispanics at 45%. The findings are consistent with other polls that show similar high levels of support for pot legalization in the state's black community.

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Bishop Allen and police lobbying last January against the Ammiano legalization bill, Sacramento
But demonstrating that nothing is a given in the wild word of ballot campaigns, a Field Poll released Friday morning showed Prop. 19 slipping from being slightly ahead to slightly behind (44%-48% this time), with African Americans giving it only 40%.

While African Americans constitute only 5.8% of the state's electorate, the November vote is shaping up to be extremely close, and holding onto key constituencies, even relatively small ones, could end up making the difference on Election Day.

Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson is one of those black people who are ready to free the weed. "I fully support legalization," he told the Chronicle. "The drug wars have criminalized a generation of young blacks, destabilized families, further impoverished communities, and wildly expanded the prison-industrial complex. It is costly, wasteful and ineffective. It drains precious tax dollars, public resources, and public policy initiatives from expansion and improvement of health, education, and businesses, social services and urban reconstruction. It's been well documented that for a faction of the billions spent on a racially-tinged wasteful drug war, if spent on skills training, drug counseling, prevention, job creation, and family support programs thousands of lives could be reclaimed."

Legalization backers have been working hard in recent weeks to solidify and even extend such sentiments. At the end of last month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) issued a report, Targeting Blacks for Marijuana, demonstrating that African-Americans bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement in California. The report, authored by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, examined marijuana arrests in California's 25 most populous counties and found a consistent, statewide pattern of racial disparities in who was getting arrested for pot possession.

Despite blacks using marijuana at a slightly lower rate than whites, blacks were more than three times as likely to be arrested for possession in the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma, and more than twice as likely to be arrested in Contra Costa, Fresno, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernadino, Santa Clara, and Solano counties.

In Los Angeles, blacks make up 10% of the population, but constitute 30% of pot possession busts. In San Diego, blacks are 5.6% of the population, but account for 20% of arrests. In Sacramento, blacks get busted at a rate nearly four times one would expect based on the demographics. They make up 10.4% of the population in the state capital, but account for a whopping 38% of pot possession arrests.

"The findings in this report are a chilling reminder of the day-to-day realities of marijuana prohibition and the large-scale racist enforcement at its core," said Stephen Gutwillig, DPA's California director. "Racial justice demands ending this policy disaster and replacing it with a sensible regulatory system that redirects law enforcement to matters of genuine public safety. Proposition 19 is California's exit strategy from its failed war on marijuana."

"Patrol and narcotics police face enormous pressure to meet arrest and ticket quotas. Marijuana arrests are a relatively safe and easy way to meet them, but they don't reduce serious crime," said Levine. "However, these mass arrests can impact the life chances of young African Americans, who actually consume marijuana at lower rates than young whites."

The release of the report was accompanied by a political bombshell: the endorsement of Proposition 19 by the California NAACP, announced by state chapter head Alice Huffman at a June 29 press conference. Also attending the conference were other prominent black leaders, including Aubry Stone, head of the California Black Chamber of Commerce.

Citing the report, Huffman called ending pot prohibition a civil rights issue. Marijuana prohibition has criminalized many young people and hampered the ability of African-Americans to thrive, she said.

"This is not a war on the drug lords, this is a war against young men and women of color," Huffman told the press conference. "Once a person is arrested and brought under the criminal justice system, he or she is more likely to be caught in the criminal justice system again, further wasting tax dollars."

Not every West Coast African American agrees with Huffman, and one who pointedly doesn't is Bishop Ron Allen, head of the International Faith-Based Coalition, which claims to represent some 4,100 congregations worldwide, and which has emerged as a loud locus of opposition to legalization. Allen's commanding presence and stentorian oratory have become a fixture at the state house whenever marijuana is on the agenda, and he has become a go-to guy for reporters seeking opposition viewpoints. The CA NAACP's endorsement of Prop. 19 has Allen calling for Huffman's political head.

"We would like for Alice Huffman to step down as state president immediately," Bishop Allen told the Chronicle, adding that he was depending on the national NAACP to take action. "We think Alice Huffman is advocating getting the black man high. Let's decriminalize so the black man can continue to smoke without fear of arrest is not the answer. The NAACP is supposed to advance colored people, but how can you do that when you advocate continuing to have an illicit drug in their lives?"

Allen, a self-described former seven-year crack addict, is passionate, but his arguments tend to ring of Reefer Madness and the standard anti-pot playbook. "This isn't the same marijuana. The THC is so much higher," he said.

"Marijuana is still a gateway drug," he continued. "We are seeing more teens enter treatment because of marijuana," he added, neglecting to mention that a majority of them are there because they got busted and were ordered there by a court.

"Legalize a drug, and it will be more accessible to our youth," Allen said. "We will have more drug babies, more murders, more rapes. Legalization will lead to more incarceration of the black man, not less."

And sometimes Allen goes so far as to strain credulity. Attacking Huffman for associating with DPA, he said "you can't be in cahoots with the biggest drug dealers in the nation." Moments later he repeated the outlandish claim, saying "everybody knows the Drug Policy Alliance are drug dealers."

That drew a tart response from DPA's Tommy McDonald. "As someone who's never sold drugs or done hard drugs, I take great exception to Mr. Allen's characterization of Drug Policy Alliance employees and its members. And as a black man, I am particularly disappointed that Allen is doing the bidding of people who would love nothing more than to see our prisons filled with black and Latino youth," he said. "While his conviction is admirable, Allen's irrational and uninformed (and drug war financed, I might add) Reefer Madness propaganda is transparent and predictable. I wish him no ill will, but he might want to stick to the teachings of his Bible and not 'bear false witness against thy neighbor.' I would expect a so-called man of the cloth to know better."

Allen's views may be extreme, but they do reflect those of part of the black community, said Hutchinson. "Many blacks fear legalization could lead to greater drug use, crime and violence," he observed. "Others agree that legalization would do just the opposite."

While Allen declared himself confident Prop. 19 would be defeated in the fall, his role in the eventual outcome will probably be insignificant, said veteran scene-watchers. "I think the Bishop is basically a one-man band," scoffed Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "He's got his church there in Sacramento, and I've only ever encountered him at legislative hearings. I heard him give passionate but ludicrous testimony about how pot should remain illegal because he almost ruined himself with drugs in a market where drugs were illegal."

Gieringer doubted that Bishop Allen would have much impact one way or the other. "His stuff will resonate with his crowd and some religious people, but positions are already fairly fixed. People are either for or against, and the undecided vote is small," he said. "I don't think an angry black preacher is going to have much impact on them."

Will California's black population support Prop. 19? We will find out on Election Day, but the Bishop Allen notwithstanding, support for marijuana legalization in the community is strong. Whether more of it can be won over to Prop. 19 itself, the next few months will tell the new DPA report and the endorsement by the state NAACP are a good start.

Race & Justice News: Racial Minorities Still Blocked from Juries

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Upcoming Events

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice Conference
"Reinventing NABCJ:  Addressing Challenges and Opportunities in the Criminal Justice System"
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Symposium on Crime and Justice
"The Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing Research"
Albany, NY, September 23-24, 2010


The symposium is based on the premise that new advances in sentencing research will come in part from engaging with other disciplines that focus on sentencing issues, and engaging with ongoing public policy issues like prison overcrowding and risk assessment. The main topics will be the role of race in sentencing outcomes, discretion and decision making, managing the criminal justice population, and risk assessment in the sentencing process. 

State Criminal Justice Network Conference
"Inform, Influence, Impact: Effective Criminal Justice Reform"
Washington, DC, October 7-8, 2010
This event is intended for policy makers, attorneys, criminal justice advocates, students and others interested in criminal justice reform. Issues discussed will include: media, problem-solving courts, indigent defense, juvenile justice roundtable, and coalition building. 

Contact Us

Do you have a contribution or idea for Race & Justice News? Send an email to The Sentencing Project's research analyst, Valerie Wright.

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The Sentencing Project
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June 30, 2010

Race & Justice News

"The criminal justice system is accurately symbolized by a large sculpture that sits at the foot of the United States attorney's building: four metal circles that interlock. The wheels of justice, as it were, frozen in legal and social gridlock."  -Jonathan Larsen, Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Awards winner

Feature Stories

Hispanics May be Fleeing Before Implementation of Arizona's Immigration Law

The recently enacted immigration legislation in Arizona may be causing many Hispanics to flee the state before the law goes into effect on July 29, 2010, according to a report in USA Today. The new law requires law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people who are stopped, detained or arrested and for whom there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally.  One indicator to date is that some schools are experiencing unusual drops in enrollment. One elementary school district with a 75% Hispanic population reports a 10-fold increase in the number of students pulled out of the school over the same period last year. District Superintendent Jeffrey Smith says, "They're leaving to another state where they feel more welcome," after being told by some parents that they are leaving because of the new law. 

In 2007 nearly 100,000 persons left Arizona after the state passed a law that enhanced penalties on businesses that hired people in the country illegally. David Castillo, co-founder of the Latin Association of Arizona, noted that businesses that primarily serve the Hispanic community have fallen on hard times since the law's passage because many families are opting to hold on to their cash as they anticipate leaving the state. Paul Senseman, a spokesman for Republican Governor Jan Brewer, has heard similar claims of families relocating as a result of the law.  "If that means that fewer people are breaking the law, that is absolutely an accomplishment," he said. The Justice Department has decided to file a lawsuit aimed at striking down the new law. For more coverage, read The New York Times.

Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice

Michael Belton, Deputy Director of the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, acknowledges that the current juvenile justice system treats youth of color more severely than their white counterparts.  He states, "We have two justice systems, one for whites and one for kids of color. The one for kids of color is more intrusive, harsher, and longer. The one for whites is more supportive." Recently he testified before Congress on the inequities in the juvenile justice system and the overrepresentation of minority youth at every stage of the juvenile justice system process. Nearly 100 percent of cases transferred to adult court are youth of color, and Belton asserts that such disproportionate minority contact has devastating impacts on children and communities. 

Belton also believes that there is too much hysteria surrounding gangs. He points out a recent incident in a residential program where female residents were not allowed to wear cornrows because the staff assumed it was gang related. He goes on to state that "Regular youth behavior and African-American culture is viewed by corrections and systems people as being criminal."

Belton remains optimistic that Congress will vote on the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) this fall and approve it with stronger language aimed at reducing racial disparities. Click here to read more.

Spotlight on Research

Study Shows Racial Minorities Still Blocked from Juries

A new report, "Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy" by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) of Alabama has found disturbing evidence of discriminatory practices in the jury selection process. After examining the jury selection process in eight Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee), EJI researchers discovered that many counties excluded almost 80% of African Americans eligible for jury service. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for example, a state that requires only 10 of 12 jurors to convict in many cases, the high rate of exclusion means that "there is not effective black representation on the jury because only the votes of white jurors are necessary to convict."   

Despite the Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky, which prohibited prosecutors from using discriminatory peremptory strikes based solely on race, the report contends that appellate courts have failed to consistently enforce anti-discriminatory laws. To rebut inferences of racial discrimination, prosecutors have used "race-neutral" explanations. These have included reasons as fragile as a potential juror misspelling words or not reading a particular newspaper article, living in a predominately black neighborhood or having a white spouse, being affiliated with historically black colleges or not having ever attended college, and receiving food stamps or having the same or similar last name as the defendants.  The researchers find that, "Even where courts have found that prosecutors have illegally excluded people of color from jury service, there have been no adverse consequences for state officials."  Such practices have compromised the credibility and integrity of the criminal justice system.  Furthermore, research has shown that compared to more diverse juries, all-white juries are more likely to make errors and take fewer perspectives into consideration. 

As a result of their assessment, EJI recommends changes in policy and practice to confront the continuing problem of racial biased in jury selection. These include the following:

•    Applying the ruling of Batson v. Kentucky retroactively to death row prisoners
•    Subjecting prosecutors who engage in racially biased jury selection to actions by the Justice Department as well as fines and penalties
•    Providing remedies for citizens who are illegally excluded from juries on the basis of race
•    Striving for more racial diversity within the judiciary, district attorney's office and law enforcement. 

Click here to view video coverage.

Featured Book

"I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine: Tales of Kids in Adult Lockup" by David Chura

As many media outlets portrayed teens as dangerous "superpredators" in the 1990's, the juvenile justice system became more punitive and policy makers passed laws that made it easier to prosecute youth as adults. As a result, the juvenile detention rate has increased by 35% and transfers to adult court by 208% since then. Within the juvenile justice system, there has often been a failure to provide an environment that is conducive to rehabilitation and reform. 
 
David Chura, author of "I Don't Wish Nobody to Have a Life Like Mine," had the opportunity to interact with many who were treated as adults by both the juvenile and criminal justice systems and he takes us inside their grimy and deprived world of neglect and abuse. He taught high school in a New York penitentiary for 10 years and introduces us to his incarcerated students, correctional officers, wardens, and doctors. While doing so, he demonstrates how everyone involved in the juvenile justice system constantly faces a series of never-ending disappointments. 

Chura gives us a glimpse into the world of young people, mostly youth of color, and illustrates that despite Wade having a mother with AIDS, Khalil having no family to speak of, or Anna being a tough drug dealer, the kids behind the labels were vibrant and full of humor and passion. He also introduces us to the "no-non-sense" Officer O'Shay who covertly shows the youth sensitivity despite his outward display of callousness, and Ms. Wharton, a spunky hall monitor who didn't get along with anyone except the animals she volunteered to care for at a local shelter. Through his writing, Chura demonstrates that the keepers and the kept have more in common than they realize. He imparts his greatest lesson to his readers, "…I learned during my ten years in county lockup, a lesson as deep and livid as the wounds many of my students carried away with them, as enduring of the stresses of CO's (correctional officers') shoulders, that we are all children of disappointment."  Click here for more information about the book.   

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The Sentencing Project is a national, nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

Race & Justice News: Disparities in the Media, Policing

 

Race & Justice News

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Search our Clearinghouse of over 450 books, articles, and reports on racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

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Contact Us

Do you have a contribution or idea for Race & Justice News? Send an email to The Sentencing Project's research analyst, Valerie Wright

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The Sentencing Project
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202.628.0871

April 13, 2010

Race & Justice News

Feature Story

Facilitating Productive Communications on Racial Justice

The Opportunity Agenda has released a memo entitled "Ten Lessons for Talking About Racial Equity in the Age of Obama" that outlines key principles for facilitating discussions about racial equity. While many Americans have been reluctant to acknowledge the continued existence of racial inequities, especially given the historic election of President Obama, there is substantial evidence that documents the continuing influence of racial bias and injustice. 

Among other recommendations, The Opportunity Agenda suggests leading discussions with a focus on shared values, emphasizing how taking strides to reduce racial inequities is for the common good of all, and linking racial justice solutions with efforts to expand opportunities.  Specifically, the organization asserts that focusing on unequal outcomes often reinforces stereotypes. Instead, it supports documenting the barriers to equal opportunity using evidence and facts as a more effective approach. For example, rather than discussing the income gap between blacks and whites, a more constructive strategy may be to cite a study that found that white applicants with criminal records are more likely to receive a callback from prospective employers than African Americans without a criminal record (Pager, 2003).

Click here to view the full memo.

Spotlight on Research

NYC Blacks Most Likely To Get Stopped, Questioned and Frisked by Police

Researchers at the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice have recently analyzed New York City Police Department (NYPD) data on stop and frisk trends. The findings in "Stop, Question & Frisk Policing Practices In New York City: A Primer" indicate that in 2009 African Americans and Hispanics combined were stopped at a rate that was 9 times higher than whites, with Asians being the least likely to be stopped. Blacks and Hispanics made up nearly 85% of stops in 2009 although they account for only 24% and 27% of the citywide population respectively. This supports findings such as those from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California report that finds that blacks are nearly three times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites. 

The John Jay research also shows that once stopped, 57% of blacks and 56% of Hispanics are frisked compared to 42% of whites. Similarly, only 18% of whites compared to 25% of blacks and 24% of Hispanics endure some type of physical force such as being forced to the ground, having a weapon drawn on them, or subjected to batons and/or pepper spray. Ironically, although whites were less likely to be arrested they were more likely to have contraband, a knife, or other non-firearm weapons than their African-American and Latino counterparts. Click here to access the full report.

Media Attention May Help Reduce Racial Profiling

A recent study on racial profiling finds that public scrutiny from the media contributes to reducing racial profiling practices in routine traffic stops. Researchers have assessed the impact of public attention on changing police officers' patterns when searching black and white drivers.  The results of the study indicate that racial disparities are significantly reduced when media coverage puts pronounced pressure on police organizations and when change in leadership occurs.

Warren, Patricia and Amy Farrell.  2009.  "The Environmental Context of Racial Profiling."  The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  Vol. 623.

How Many Tickets You Get May Be Determined By  More Than Just Your Driving

Findings from a study focusing on traffic citation practices by the police indicate that neighborhood characteristics may influence how many tickets a person receives if stopped.  Factors such as the neighborhood income level, percentage of the neighborhood that are ethnic minorities, and the neighborhood crime rate increase the likelihood that drivers will receive more than one citation. Specifically, an increased number of citations were likely to be given in poorer neighborhoods with higher percentages of black and Hispanic residents. Moreover, the study indicates that these practices have a spill-over effect that extends to neighboring areas.  

Ingram, Jason.  2010.  "The Effect of Neighborhood Characteristics on Traffic Citation Practices of the Police."  Police Quarterly.  Vol. 10(4): 371-393. 

Featured Book

"Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire" by Robert Perkinson


In this thought-provoking analysis, Perkinson provides a historical account tracing what he describes as Texas' various failed approaches to crime control. He helps us to understand how racism and politics, rather than crime control has been at the heart of governing prisons. Simply put, Perkinson argues that America has moved from "the age of slavery to the age of incarceration," which continues to plague our society today. The state of Texas incarcerates more people than Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands combined. Currently, there are approximately 2.4 million persons incarcerated in the U.S. and our nation spends $212 billion a year on law enforcement, courts and prisons combined. Between 1965 and 2000 the number of prisoners in the U.S. increased over 600 percent; in Texas the increase in incarcerations was twice that. However, despite its level of spending and high incarceration rate, Texans still have a crime rate that is 24% higher than the national average.

According to Perkinson, race and slavery are the forces that shaped the Texas penal system. At its inception, the Texas prison system was reserved for whites and was never intended for free blacks or slaves-their punishment was death. Nevertheless, the abolition of slavery in 1865 left a class of black people who had little more than a fragile sense of freedom and Texas politicians desperate to maintain power over their former slaves. In fact, from 1865 to 1874 Texas led the nation in railroad construction, largely accomplished with convict labor. While most states had penal expenses, Texas made over $300,000 in profits by the 1880s.    

Following the Civil Rights Movement's advances in providing equal protection under the law and desegregation came tougher drug policies, and crackdowns on crime that consciously or not, made African Americans a target. Since that period, the disparity between black and white incarceration rates has nearly doubled and remains a problem that plagues us today. Visit www.texastough.com.

The Sentencing Project will participate in a discussion about the book in New York this week. Click here to view invitation or RSVP.

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The Sentencing Project is a national, nonprofit organization engaged in research and advocacy for criminal justice reform.

Feature: Philadelphia to Not Quite Decriminalize Marijuana

People caught with 30 grams (a bit more than an ounce) or less of marijuana in Philadelphia will no longer be charged with criminal misdemeanors, but with summary offenses under a new policy that will go into effect later this month. Fines are expected to be in the $200 to $300 range.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/independencehall.jpg
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
But while pot smokers won't face criminal charges, they will still be arrested, handcuffed, searched, detained, and fingerprinted. Then, their cases will be heard by a special "quality of life" court that is already in use for things like dealing with unruly Eagles fans and public drinking.

"We're not going to stop locking people up," Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Monday. Marijuana possession remained illegal, he said. "We're going to stop people for it... Our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that's up to the DA. We can't control that. Until they legalize it, we're not going to stop."

After the Inquirer ran its story Monday, emphasizing that the policy change would "all but decriminalize" marijuana possession, District Attorney Seth Williams had to issue a statement of clarification:

"We are not decriminalizing marijuana -- any effort like that would be one for the legislature to undertake. The penalty available for these minimal amount offenses remains exactly the same. What we are doing is properly dealing with cases involving minimal amounts of marijuana in the most efficient and cost effective process possible. Those arrested for these offenses will still be restrained, identified and processed by police in police custody. They will still have to answer to the charges, but they will be doing so in a speedier and more efficient process. We want to use valuable court resources in the best way possible and we believe that means giving minor drug offenders the option of getting into diversionary programs, get drug education or enter drug treatment centers. Again we are NOT decriminalizing marijuana, and the penalty for these offenses remains the same."

"It will be charged as a summary offense, but you will still get arrested, booked, and fingerprinted," confirmed Tasha Jamerson, media director for the district attorney's office. "But instead of getting processed as a misdemeanor, it is processed as a summary offense, and you face only one court appearance."

"They are making a policy out of what is the common practice," said Chris Goldstein of Philadelphia NORML, which has been lobbying local officials for reforms. "People arrested for a Class A marijuana possession misdemeanor for less than 30 grams typically pleaded down to disorderly conduct, but it took a court hearing to make that happen. Prosecutors are making a pragmatic choice here; this will save them a lot of time and money."

The policy shift is the result of a collaboration between new District Attorney Seth Williams and a pair of Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges. It is part of an effort to unclog the city's overwhelmed court dockets.

Under Williams' predecessor, former DA Lynne Abraham, police arrested an average of 3,000 people a year for small-time pot possession, about 75% of them black. Last year, the arrest figure jumped to more than 4,700. That figure represents roughly 5% of the city's criminal caseload.

About another 2,000 are arrested for marijuana distribution and 2,500 more are arrested for possession of more than 30 grams. Overall, enforcing drug prohibition has resulted in about 18,000 arrests a year in Philadelphia, or nearly one-third of the entire criminal caseload.

"We have to be smart on crime," Williams told the Inquirer. "We can't declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who's smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, one of the two justices who worked with Williams on the policy shift, said summary prosecution was "appropriate" for such a small-time offense. "It's a minor crime when you're faced with major drug crimes." Removing such cases from the criminal courts, he said, "unclogs the system."

"The marijuana consumers of Philadelphia welcome this," said Goldstein. "This is a very progressive thing to do on the part of the city," Goldstein said of the new policy. "I couldn't be happier about this."

Goldstein was much less enthused by the continued arrests policy. "It is completely absurd," he said. "It's harsh. For minor marijuana possession, it's very harsh treatment."

Nor was he convinced that the policy shift would do anything to reduce racially-biased marijuana law enforcement. "If we're paying attention to pot arrests in Philadelphia, we have to note that most are black. There hasn't been a single month when more than 10 white women have been arrested for less than 30 grams. Just go to a Phillies game parking lot. They could arrest a hundred white women in an hour out there," he said.

"At the same time, about 60 black women and 350 black men are getting arrested for it each month," Goldstein continued. "This points to bias in enforcement, and it costs a lot of money. We actually treat marijuana offenders here more harshly than anywhere else in the state, and it costs money. That's why the DA and the Supreme Court can initiate this change -- they're just bringing Philadelphia in line with the rest of the state and the region."

Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey office director Roseanne Scotti, who lives in Philadelphia, had another concern about the policy shift. "My concern is that there could be an incentive to arrest more people, because it will cost the city less to process them," she said. "And the city will make money on fines. We could see net-widening, with even more people getting arrested. If that's the case, are we better off at the end of the day? This will be a time and money saver for the city, but is this really a good thing for people who use marijuana?"

Time will tell.

Marijuana: Philadelphia to Decriminalize Possession of Up to 30 Grams, But Arrests to Continue Anyway

People caught with 30 grams (a bit more than an ounce) or less of marijuana in Philadelphia will no longer be charged with criminal misdemeanors, but with civil summary offenses under a new policy that will go into effect later this month. Fines are expected to be in the $200 to $300 range. But while pot smokers won't face criminal charges, they will still be arrested, handcuffed, searched, detained, and fingerprinted. Then, their cases will be heard by a special "quality of life" court that is already in use for things like dealing with unruly Eagles fans and public drinking. "We're not going stop locking people up," Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, . Marijuana possession remained illegal, he said. "We're going to stop people for it. . . . Our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that's up to the D We can't control that. Until they legalize it, we're not going to stop." According to the Inquirer, the policy shift is the result of a collaboration between new District Attorney Seth Williams and a pair of Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges. It is part of an effort to unclog the city's overwhelmed court dockets. Under Williams' predecessor, former DA Lynn Abraham, police arrested an average of 3,000 people a year for small-time pot possession, about 75% of them black. That figure represents roughly 5% of the city's criminal caseload. About another 2,000 are arrested for marijuana distribution and 2,500 more are arrested for possession of more than 30 grams. Overall, enforcing drug prohibition has resulted in about 18,000 arrests a year in Philadelphia, or nearly one-third of the entire criminal caseload. "We have to be smart on crime," Williams told the Inquirer. "We can't declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who's smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers." Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, one of the two justices who worked with Williams on the policy shift, said decrim was "appropriate" for such a small-time offense. "It's a minor crime when you're faced with major drug crimes." Removing such cases from the criminal courts, he said, "unclogs the system." Philadelphia NORML has been quietly lobbying city officials for the change. "The marijuana consumers of Philadelphia welcome this," said chapter head Chris Goldstein. "This is a very progressive thing to do on the part of the city," Goldstein said of the new policy. "I couldn't be happier about this." Goldstein was much less enthused by the continued arrests policy. "It is completely absurd," he said. "It's harsh. For minor marijuana possession, it's very harsh treatment." In most states and localities with decriminalization laws or policies, people are merely issued a ticket after police seize their stash. Still, this is a quarter-step forward for Philadelphia.
Location: 
Philadelphia, PA
United States

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