(formerly The Week Online with DRCNet)
Issue #409 -- 10/28/05
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
Phillip S. Smith, Editor
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Table of Contents
More than half a million people were behind bars for drug offenses in the United States at the end of last year, according to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In a report released Sunday, Prisoners in 2004, the Justice Department number-crunchers found that people sentenced for drug crimes accounted for 21% of state prisoners and 55% of all federal prisoners.
Drug war prisoners make up only about one-fourth of an all-time high 2,268,000 people behind bars in the US, up 1.9% from 2003. But while the imprisonment juggernaut continues to roll along, there are faint signs that its growth is slowing. Last year's 1.9% increase in prison and jail population was lower than the year before (2.0%) and lower than the 3.2% average annual growth rate for the past decade.
Of the nearly 2.2 million people behind bars last year, 50.5% were serving time for violent crime. That means that more than 1.1 million people were imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, mainly property and drug crimes.
The still rising prison population comes after a decade of declines in violent and property crime. According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports, violent crime declined 2.2% last year and has dropped a whopping 32% since 1995. Property crime rates have also declined, although not so dramatically, dropping 23% since 1985.
Even as violent and property crime rates have declined, drug arrests have continued to climb, reaching more than 1.7 million last year. The consequences of those arrests show up in the ever-increasing drug war prisoner numbers.
With an incarceration rate of 724 per 100,000 inhabitants, the United States is the unchallenged world leader in both raw numbers and imprisonment per capita. With a global prison population estimated at nine million, the US accounts for about one-quarter of all prisoners on the planet. In terms of raw numbers, only China, with almost four times the population of the US, comes close with about 1.5 million prisoners. Our closer competitors in incarceration rates are Russia (638 per 100,000) and Belarus (554), according to the British government's World Prison Population report.
"The nation does not have to lock more people up to have safer communities," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a sentencing reform research and advocacy group. "Rather than lead the world with the highest incarceration rate, we should follow the states and regions that are reducing prison populations, reducing crime, and investing in communities."
"The overall numbers are sort of discouraging," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the sentencing reform group The Sentencing Project. "Crime has gone down for 10 years now, but prison numbers are still going up. This is in large part due to the impact of harsher sentencing policies, like three-strikes laws and cutbacks in parole. In recent years, we have not seen a dramatic change in the number of people going to prison; it's just that people are being held longer in prison," he told DRCNet. "It is not clear that this harsh sentencing provides a lot of additional benefits in terms of public safety, and it is expensive both in terms of dollars and in its impact on people's lives."
The numbers for drug offenders were equally discouraging. "We have almost half a million people behind bars for drug offenses," Mauer pointed out. "We had a record number of drug arrests last year. In recent years, we've seen hundreds of drug courts open up, but that doesn't appear to be significantly cutting into the growth of drug prisoners."
Especially notable this year was the continuing increase in women prisoners. Their numbers increased 4% to nearly 105,000, continuing the steady rise in their numbers over the past decade. In 1995, 68,000 women were behind bars. A larger percentage of women state prisoners, 31% are doing time for drug crimes than are men (21%).
"The increase in women prisoners is very much related to drug issues, even more so than men," said Mauer. "Women are more likely to be locked up for a drug offense."
Black and Hispanic prisoners are also more likely to be doing drug war time. More than a quarter of black and Hispanic prisoners are serving drug sentences, compared to less than 15% of white prisoners.
The federal prisoner population increased by 4.2% last year, with fully half of that increase driven by new drug prisoners. The number of people doing federal time for drug offenses has exploded in the last decade, increased from 53,000 in 1995 to 2003's 87,000. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is now the largest prison system in the land, with 180,000 inmates, followed by Texas (168,000), California (167,000), and Florida (86,000). The federal system is now at 40% over capacity, BJS reported.
While some criminologists have argued that crime has gone down precisely because so many people are in prison, not everyone is buying that argument. "Imprisoning large numbers of people has some effect on crime, but there is a point of diminishing returns," argued the Sentencing Project's Mauer. "Initial research shows that maybe a quarter of the decline in violent crime is due to incarceration, but that means three-quarters isn't. The rest has something to do with a relatively healthy economy in the 1990s, the reduction in crime and violence associated with the maturing of the crack cocaine epidemic in the early 1990s, and the efforts by police in some cities to reduce the flow of guns."
Violent and property crime is down, but discretionary drug arrests continue to go through the roof. "If police are looking to increase arrests," said Mauer, "drug arrests are easy. Low-level drug possession cases are plentiful if you want to make and prosecute them. That doesn't mean it's necessarily a great idea."
At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed on Vancouver's famous "pot block." On downtown's West Hasting Street, the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) office and bookstore is still open, and next door, the Amsterdam Café continues to operate as a smoking room for customers who bring their own buds. Cannabis Culture magazine and Pot-TV continue to operate out of the BCMP building, but the Marc Emery seed company -- the money machine that subsidized those efforts -- is no longer in business, and Emery himself, along with two employees, now faces the threat of life in prison in the United States for his seed sales.
The seed business was a very good business for Emery. He says he made millions of dollars with his pioneering venture, and the last time the Canadian government hassled him over it some seven years ago, he walked away with a paltry fine. Since then, the Canadian government has turned a blind eye to his seed sales -- and those of perhaps another hundred Canada-based companies in the same business -- and has been happy to rake in more than $500,000 in tax receipts on his pot seed income.
But the American attitude has not been anywhere near as relaxed, and Emery's high-profile status as Canada's leading advocate of marijuana legalization -- he proudly wears the moniker "The Prince of Pot" -- has made him a huge target for US drug warriors. With Canada having signed mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties with the US, the Canadian government had little choice but to honor those US warrants if it wanted to avoid a serious breach with its powerful neighbor to the south.
Now, as the legal wrangling unfolds -- and it could take up to two years for the matter to be decided -- Emery works and waits. There is plenty to do. "I've had to stabilize all my existing businesses to survive without the seed money," he told DRCNet. "The seed sales were our only real source of income, and now enterprises like Cannabis Culture magazine and Pot-TV have to survive without the seed revenues. We've had to cut back. We're doing Cannabis Culture with a smaller staff, and now I'm editor and publisher and I'm even doing the shipping. But keeping Cannabis Culture and Pot-TV alive is the first priority."
Keeping his ship afloat takes up most of his time these days, Emery said. "Besides meeting with lawyers and running these businesses, I give out two or three interviews a day, and that's pretty much my life," he said.
Emery is by no means cowed at the prospect of a possible life sentence, and if US drug warriors hoped to scare him into silence, their efforts have had a perverse effect. "I face the longest prison sentence a Canadian will ever see, and that should intimidate me, but it doesn't -- instead I feel flattered that I'm such a threat to the US government that they have targeted me for this persecution. In a way, it's a blessing. It gives me the opportunity to talk to lots of audiences; I'm in lots of magazines and newspapers; 60 Minutes is going to do a story on me. This is generating momentum," Emery said.
And that's what it's all about, he said. "We are enjoying a rarified moment when our movement is united and there is a lot of worldwide focus on the role of the DEA. People are becoming aware that the DEA, the Nazi policemen of the world, are extraditing people every day. Of course, it is the people in the US who are most frightened of them because they've had years of experience with the DEA. But now, the way this has all blown up, if I am extradited this will create huge political problems."
Most of all for the Canadian government. In fact, deciding whether to extradite Emery and his employees is going to be a huge headache for Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and that decision will be largely a political one rather than a legal one. Cotler will be caught between competing imperatives. On the one hand, he seeks to maintain smooth relations with Washington. On the other hand, he will have to weigh loud and growing concerns about sovereignty, fair treatment, and a neighbor to the south many Canadians see as a bully.
Fairness is also an issue when it comes to treaty obligations, and for Emery, the US has been found wanting. "The US doesn't obey the treaties it signs, but it insists we comply," he said. "When the drug czar came to Vancouver in November 2002, he threatened and shrieked at our mayor and city council that if they liberalized the marijuana laws or opened the safe injection site, the Americans would shut down the borders. And it's not just the drug czar. We always get American officials coming up here and trying to intimidate Canadian politicians."
Emery might also have pointed to the current bilateral dispute over softwood lumber, where the US has lost at every level but continues to defy arbitrators. Or he could have pointed to the case of Meyer Arar, the Canadian citizen grabbed by US authorities as he changed planes in an American airport and sent to Syria to be tortured. Canadian sensitivities have also been aroused over the hostile US response to its refusal to send troops to Iraq (although Canadians are fighting in Afghanistan), by the American insistence that Canada participate in the Bush administration's controversial missile shield program, and by the US decision to extend daylight savings time to March without first talking to the Canadians who also use that system.
Sovereignty is a tender subject for Canadians, and it is a theme Emery likes to hit. "The Canadian government is surrendering a fair bit of sovereignty by even allowing this to occur," he said. "These treaties need to be reformed so people are not extradited to the States for drug offenses. They are just insane down there and have punishments that are simply unwarranted. Canada should not be cooperating with the US on these matters," he maintained.
More hearings on the extradition proceedings are set for next month, but will probably be postponed until January, Emery said. In the meantime, some Canadian citizens have taken a unique and surprising step to try to block extradition. In two British Columbia cities, Nelson and Vancouver, Canadians have filed criminal complaints against Emery alleging he is guilty of marijuana seed sales.
"It's not a case of them wanting to bring down Marc and the others, but more a case of Canadian citizens believing that if Marc and the others are going to be prosecuted, it should be in Canada, under Canadian law, before a Canadian judge, and they should not be extradited," said BCMP spokesman and member of the Emery legal team attorney Kirk Tousaw. "Both the extradition act and the mutual legal assistance treaty between the US and Canada have provisions saying you cannot be extradited if you face proceedings on the same charges at home or if you have been acquitted of those charges in your home country. The existence of pending charges based on the same conduct would appear to be a bar to extradition, but whether these efforts will ultimately affect Marc's extradition remains to be seen."
"I wasn't involved in either of these filings, but I would encourage every Canadian to try to launch one of these cases," Emery chortled. "The crown would have to run around and try to stop them all. We might even plead guilty, and if we were sentenced, that could stop the extradition." Still, Emery conceded, judges will need some evidence to substantiate the charges.
The "private prosecutions" are a long-shot; it is the federal extradition proceedings where the battle will in all likelihood play out. But that is going to cost money, and that's something Emery doesn't have a lot of anymore. Although he made millions, he also put about $4 million back in the marijuana movement, and now he's hoping the movement will help him in his hour of need. He's not getting a lot of help from the big organizations, though, he told DRCNet.
"The people who have been most responsive are just normal people, people I've never met," he said. "I know a lot of famous people, but they don't help out so much. I gave money to reform organizations in the US, but none of those organizations has given me any money whatsoever. We are surviving by lots of people sending a few dollars, and the money that people sent in after we were arrested was very important because it kept us from going bankrupt. We've received about $10,000 in donations, but we've paid our lawyers $25,000. We need a lot of money to pay for lawyers, and that's one reason we are happy to see hearings get delayed -- so we can get some time to raise money to pay them. This is perhaps the most onerous burden of being arrested like this: They take your source of income and now you have these massive legal bills to try to fight the charges."
Led by the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), hundreds of supporters of therapeutic cannabis rallied in front of federal Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, DC, and six regional HHS headquarters Wednesday to demand that the agency stop delaying its response to a petition to reschedule the plant. ASA also formally served notice to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt that it intends to file a lawsuit over his refusal to act on a related matter, an appeal by ASA of an earlier HHS ruling that refused to apply the federal Data Quality Act, which requires that actions by federal agencies be made on the basis of sound science, to the question of whether marijuana has legitimate medical uses. Under the obscure act, federal agencies are required to make decisions on the basis of sound science.
Wednesday's rallies are part of a larger effort to overcome continued federal government recalcitrance on the medical marijuana issue. Despite the studies demonstrating marijuana's efficacy in treating various conditions, HHS continues to hold to its 2001 position that marijuana has "No currently accepted medical use in treatment," and thus should remain a Schedule I drug. And the Bush administration remains firmly opposed to medical marijuana, as witnessed by its energetic and successful opposition to the medical marijuana case decided by the Supreme Court in June. In that case, the court held that federal drug laws outweighed state laws okaying the use of medical marijuana.
"Right now, there are at least 6,500 studies showing marijuana is a safe and viable medicine, safer than many drugs that are in Schedules II and III," said ASA field coordinator Rebecca Saltzman. "But as a Schedule I drug, American physicians and scientists can't even do research on it. They need to down-schedule it so our researchers can catch up with the research in other countries, and so it can be made available by prescription. Time is up. Patients are dying," Saltzman said.
In addition to rallying at HHS headquarters in Washington, protestors gathered at regional headquarters in San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Kansas City, Dallas, and Philadelphia, where they demanded regional administrators write letters to Secretary Leavitt urging him to act promptly. The demonstrations got some attention where it matters, organizers said.
"The rallies were fabulous," said ASA campaign coordinator Karen Woodson. "We had more than 150 activists in San Francisco, including a bus load that came up from Southern California. In four cities, regional directors met with activists. Here in San Francisco, HHS regional director Calise Munoz and her legislative assistant met directly with us. She had a lot of our printed materials with her, she said she heard our message and that she would communicate it to Washington. By any measure, we consider this a very successful action."
"Regional directors in Dallas, Kansas City, San Francisco, and Seattle met with activists because they had been getting so many phone calls and requests for meetings on the issue," said Saltzman. "I can confirm that in addition to San Francisco, the Dallas regional director will pass our strong message on to Secretary Leavitt. Those regional directors were getting so much pressure; their constituents are demanding answers."
And they've been waiting for years. ASA was part of an ad hoc coalition that originally filed for rescheduling back in 2001. As that request moldered somewhere in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy, ASA filed the Data Quality Act petition last October as a back-stop.
"After their earlier delays, HHS was supposed answer our Data Quality Act petition by September 26, but they didn't," explained Saltzman. "Wednesday, one month after the latest deadline, we delivered official notice of our intent to file a lawsuit forcing him to act to Secretary Leavitt. We had a bike messenger take it up to him, along with petitions bearing 20,000 signatures that request he act on our rescheduling request."
There is no timeline within which Leavitt is forced to act on the rescheduling petition, Saltzman explained. "He said he would respond to it by August, but he hasn't, and he could let it sit for years if he wanted to," she said. "That's what prompted us to file the Data Quality Act petition a year ago."
The government must act, San Francisco AIDS survivor John Shaw told the crowd there. "Michael Leavitt, your time is up. We presented the medical evidence almost four years ago to HHS, and we are still waiting for any response. People with AIDS throughout America cannot wait any longer -- we deserve an answer!"
Leavitt has so far been extremely lethargic in responding to the issue. Maybe the urgings of his regional directors coupled with the threat of legal action will finally light a fire under him. If not, ASA and the medical marijuana patients will be back.
DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation invites you to a special event supporting:
THE JOHN W. PERRY FUND
featuring celebrity keynote speaker RICK OVERTON and celebrity emcee DEAN CAMERON.
Monday, November 7, 2005, 6:00-8:00pm, home of Richard Wolfe, 7171 Chelan Way, Los Angeles. RSVP to [email protected], (202) 362-0030. Light refreshments will be served, cash bar, $50 minimum requested donation (sliding scale available upon request).
Supporting speakers to include: Marisa Garcia, SSDP activist & student affected by the HEA drug provision; Pat Hurley, California Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators; Chris Mulligan, Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform; David Borden, DRCNet.
BACKGROUND ON THE PERRY FUND:
In 1998, Congress enacted an amendment to the Higher Education Act that denies loans, grants, even work-study jobs to tens of thousands of would-be students every year who have drug convictions. All these young people, who were already punished once for their offenses, are being forced to spend more time working to pay for school, reducing their course loads, or dropping out entirely. Since that time, a campaign to overturn the law has spread to hundreds of campuses around the nation, aided by civil rights, education, religious, substance abuse recovery and drug policy reform organizations. A bill to repeal the HEA drug provision, H.R. 1184 (the RISE Act), was reintroduced on March 9 by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and has so far garnered 69 cosponsors. A resolution opposing the drug provision has been adopted by more than 115 student governments at the time of this writing (October 2005), and more than 250 national and state organizations have called for the law's repeal.
DRCNet (Drug Reform Coordination Network) Foundation, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and other friends of civil liberties, has created the John W. Perry Fund to help students affected by the law stay in school. Though we can directly assist only a fraction of the 34,000 would-be students who've lost aid this year alone, we hope through this program to make a powerful statement that will build opposition to the law among the public and in Congress, and to let thousands of young people around the country know about the campaign to repeal it and the movement against the drug war as a whole.
Please join DRCNet on November 7 in Los Angeles to help make a statement while raising money to help students affected by the law stay in school! If you can't make it, you can also help by making a generous contribution to the DRCNet Foundation for the John W. Perry Fund. Checks should be made payable to DRCNet Foundation, with "scholarship fund" or "John W. Perry Fund" written in the memo or accompanying letter, and sent to: DRCNet Foundation, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036. DRCNet Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and your contribution will be tax-deductible as provided by law. Please let us know if we may include your name in the list of contributors accompanying future publicity efforts.
ABOUT JOHN PERRY
John William Perry was a New York City police officer and Libertarian Party and ACLU activist who spoke out against the "war on drugs." He was also a lawyer, athlete, actor, linguist and humanitarian. On the morning of September 11, 2001, John Perry was at One Police Plaza in lower Manhattan filing retirement papers when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Without hesitation he went to help, losing his life rescuing others. We decided to dedicate this scholarship program, which addresses a drug war injustice, to his memory. John Perry's academic achievements are an inspiring example for students: He was fluent in several languages, graduated from NYU Law School and prosecuted NYPD misconduct cases for the department. His web site is http://www.johnwperry.com.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org for further information on DRCNet. Contact the Perry Fund at [email protected] or (202) 362-0030 to request a scholarship application, get involved in the HEA Campaign or with other inquiries, or visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com and http://www.ssdp.org online.
The hanging of a 25-year-old Australian citizen for drug trafficking through Singapore is imminent. The looming execution has aroused the international human rights organization Amnesty International, which has issued an urgent appeal to save his life. But it may be too late.
Nguyen Tuong Van was sentenced to death last year after being caught with 396 grams of heroin as he transited Singapore's Changri Airport while returning to Australia from Cambodia. His final presidential appeal for clemency was rejected and his execution is expected before month's end.
Australian officials had pleaded with Singaporean President Sellapan Rama Nathan to spare Van's life, to no avail. "We are very sad this has happened," said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. "We have done our best; we have done everything we can to save his life. He will be hanged as a result of this decision." Still, Downer said Australians should know better. "I'm sorry, but this is a sovereign foreign country enforcing to the full the laws plainly known and understood throughout the region," he said.
But Amnesty International is both taking Singapore to task and urging it to reconsider. "Singapore, with a population of just over four million, has the highest per capita execution rate in the world," the group noted in its appeal. "More than 420 people have been executed since 1991, the majority for drug trafficking. The Singapore government has consistently maintained that the death penalty is not a human rights issue. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for a mandatory death sentence for at least 20 different offences and contains a series of presumptions which shift the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense. Prisoners facing execution may be granted clemency by the President, but this is extremely rare."
At least three other Australians have been put to death for drug offenses in Southeast Asian: Brian Chambers, Kevin Barlow, and Michael McAuliffe. All three were hung by Malaysia, the first two in 1986, the third in 1993. Two Australians, Mai Cong Thanh and Nguyen Van Chinh, are on Vietnam's death row for smuggling heroin.
Van's death sentence is "grossly out of proportion to the crime committed," his Australian lawyers said in a statement. "The only people who will take comfort from this result will be those who exploited Van for their own purposes to profit from drug-trafficking, and who now know that with the death of our client their criminal conspiracy will go unpunished."
Van testified that he had acted as a drug courier to raise money to pay off debts his brother, Khoa, had amassed defending himself from drug charges. Khoa was unsuccessful in that effort; he is now also a convicted heroin trafficker.
This week, a South Carolina head narc goes down over shady dealings, and an entire Kansas drug squad is tainted in a prosecutor's report. Let's get to it:
In Charleston, South Carolina, former narcotics commander James Mackey was fired October 19 amid charges he accepted gifts from an accused drug dealer and ordered an officer to lie to a judge. The Charleston Police Department fired Mackey after the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy banned him that same day from working in law enforcement. Mackey had been demoted from lieutenant to private in August based on "numerous misconduct issues," according to the Charleston Post & Courier. A Charleston Police internal report obtained by the newspaper showed that Mackey was accused of accepting gifts from a federal drug defendant and then interceding on his behalf.
Mackey is also accused of ordering a subordinate to file false statements to obtain an arrest warrant in the case of man whose car had been seized in a drug investigation, but who had not been charged. The man committed suicide, and his suicide note mentioned his car had been seized. That led to questions about the propriety of the seizure. When local police notified the Charleston narcotics unit that the man had died, Mackey hurriedly ordered his subordinate to obtain an arrest warrant for the man, despite concerns from members of his unit that it wouldn't be proper to ask a county magistrate for an arrest warrant for a man they knew to be dead. Mackey had a reputation for leading high-profile drug busts since he took over the unit in March 2004.
In Topeka, Kansas, a report filed October 20 by the Shawnee County prosecutor's office found that narcotics officers routinely falsified records and tampered with drug evidence and that Police Chief Ed Klumpp knew about the problems but still sought to see flawed cases prosecuted. District Attorney Robert Hecht told a news conference that day his office had been forced to dismiss 25 cases since 1999 because of officers' misconduct. Hecht said narcotics officers took drug evidence for personal use, gambled and drank on duty, falsified records to cover their activities, and failed to oversee drug buy money. Officer Robert Pfortmiller, who last month was sentenced to 16 months in prison, made off with about $20,000 worth to cover his gambling bills. A week later, his former partner, Bruce Voight, was charged with 61 felonies and 83 misdemeanors, including promoting obscenity, falsifying evidence, perjury, and official misconduct.
According to Hecht's report, Pfortmiller and Voight were among a group of officers who would leave work early as often as two or three times a week to gamble at a casino "on occasion being accompanied by female civilians other than their spouses." But that was the least of the drug squad's problems, according to Hecht. "This narcotics unit has a history of falsifying and/or deliberately misleading the court to secure search warrants," Hecht wrote. "It is clear that the chain of command, including the chief of police, were aware that there were serious factual flaws in these cases and that they contained false statements and allegations."
The Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank has an annual essay contest for high school juniors and seniors designed to heighten interest in economics, the dismal science. The winner gets a summer internship at the Minneapolis Fed, while runners-up win US Savings Bonds. In previous years, topics had ranged from "What role should the government play in the housing market?" to "Why are some countries rich and some countries poor?" It all seems in keeping with the image of a staid financial institution.
The accompanying text is provocative as well. "Drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and LSD are deemed by the government so dangerous to users and society that their possession, use or sale is a criminal offense," it reads. "As this picture illustrates, however, making a product illegal does not eliminate the market for it." The huge profits from drug-selling have led to violent crime, "causing some to ask whether there is a better way to address the problem," the fed notes. "Some have proposed tougher enforcement. Others have suggested moving away from a criminal law strategy toward a public health approach, and still others have proposed legalizing drugs altogether."
The contest is open to 11th and 12th graders in the Minneapolis Fed's region, which includes the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, northwestern Wisconsin, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And the Fed provides plenty of resources to potential essayists, including a review of economic principles and a primer on drug economics, replete with such topics as "externalities of drug abuse," "property rights and black markets," and "cost-benefit analysis and efficiency."
Minneapolis Fed writer-analyst Joe Mahon told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the idea for the topic came from high school economics teachers. "This is something teachers at the high school level have often used to generate discussion," he said, adding that a leading college introductory economics text also contains a sidebar on the topic.
The Arkansas Supreme Court has upheld a lower court decision throwing out the evidence in a methamphetamine case because police failed to obtain a warrant before searching the house. While the ruling demonstrates the tenderness with which appeals courts treat lower court rulings on evidentiary matters, most of which are decided in favor of prosecutors, it also shows that Arkansas' highest court is unwilling to relax traditional standards for search and seizure even in meth cases.
The case began when Greenwood Police Officer Will Dawson received a tip that a woman had purchased iodine, an ingredient in home meth-cooking, at a local feed store. Dawson testified that he obtained her license plate number and subsequently determined where she lived. He went to the house, where he said he smelled a chemical odor. He then went to the front door, looked through the window, and saw three people sitting at a table along with what appeared to be meth ingredients. Dawson said he began knocking on the door and shouting "Police!" which caused the residents to begin picking up items off the table and moving around. Dawson told the lower court he had "no doubt" they were trying to destroy evidence and that he feared for the public safety. He and other officers then entered the home, seized the evidence, and arrested the residents, Phillip Nichols, his wife Trudy, and Dale Scamardo.
That wasn't good enough for Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Norman Wilkinson, who ordered the evidence suppressed after Dawson admitted he did not have probable cause to believe a crime had been committed until peering through the windows of the home. Police should have obtained a search warrant before going to the home, he ruled. Oddly enough, police did obtain a search warrant -- after they had already raided the house -- suggesting they knew they had a problematic search from the beginning.
Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court, but if it wasn't good enough for Judge Wilkinson, it wasn't good enough for the Supreme Court, the justices held in unanimous opinion authored by Justice Tom Glaze. "This court has never wavered in its long-standing rule that it is the providence of the trial court, not this court, to determine the credibility of the witnesses," Glaze wrote. The trial court "has acted within its discretion after making an evidentiary decision based on the particular facts of the case or even a mixed question of law and fact."
And police still need to get a search warrant before searching someone's home. That's good news for the rule of law, and it's good news for Scamardo and the Nichols. Their charges will soon be dropped, their attorney, H. Ray Hodnett, told the Associated Press. "The lower court found the evidence should have been suppressed and the Supreme Court agreed," Hodnett said. "Their case is over."
With nearly three million Americans displaced by this summer's hurricanes, many are looking to the federal government for assistance. But because federal law bars federal assistance for anyone ever convicted of a drug offense, thousands of families made destitute by the storms will be denied welfare, food stamps, public housing, and other federal benefits available to hurricane victims. While the exact number of families affected by the law is unknowable, the Drug Policy Alliance reports that "it could be in the tens of thousands."
Among public interest groups supporting the measure are the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American College of Mental Health Administration, Drug Policy Alliance Network, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), NAACP, NAADAC: The Association for Addiction Professionals, National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA-US), National Black Police Association, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and the National Urban League.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GA0), which last month issued a report on the impact of laws denying federal benefits to drug offenders, 32 states have laws exempting some or all drug offenders from the ban on welfare (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), while 35 had modified the ban on food stamps. Louisiana, with the majority of hurricane victims, allows drug offenders to be eligible for such programs only if a year has passed since their convictions. In Mississippi and Texas, total bans remain in place.
Report from NORML: "Rethinking the Consequences of Decriminalizing Marijuana"
October 30, 1995: President Bill Clinton signs legislation passed by Congress rejecting a US Sentencing Commission move to reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenses to bring them equal with powder cocaine.
November 1, 1968: The UK's Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence releases the Wootton Report, recommending that marijuana possession should not be a criminal offense.
November 1, 2002: Every prosecutor in the United States is sent a letter from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), urging them to make prosecution of cannabis crimes a high priority and to fight efforts to ease drug laws.
November 2, 1951: The Boggs Act nearly quadruples penalties for all narcotics offenses and unscientifically lumps marijuana in with narcotic drugs. (Narcotics are by definition a class of drugs derived from the opium poppy plant, containing opium, or produced synthetically and to have opium-like effects. Opioid drugs relieve pain, dull the senses and induce sleep.)
November 3, 2001: DEA raids the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, a medical marijuana distribution facility, arresting its president, Scott Imler. City officials condemn the raid at a press conference attended by more than 100 center members.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is hiring a new Executive Director for the organization's Washington, DC headquarters, to start in January -- visit http://www.ssdp.org/jobs/ for information -- applications due by November 25.
The Marijuana Policy Project is hiring an Assistant Director of Communications, also in DC -- visit http://www.mpp.org/jobs/assist-dir-comm.html -- apply by November 10 to be considered.
Please submit listings of events concerning drug policy and related topics to [email protected].
November 5, 10:00am-6:00pm, Ithaca, NY, "The Latest Developments in the War on Drugs," hosted by the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, discussing Supreme Court decisions on medical marijuana and sentencing guidelines and the intersection of the war on terror and the war on drugs. At Cornell Law School, Room G90, Myron Taylor Hall, contact Ellis M. Oster at [email protected] or visit http://tinyurl.com/9rskz/ for further information.
November 9-12, Long Beach, CA, "Building a Movement for Reason, Compassion and Justice," the 2005 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Sponsored by Drug Policy Alliance, at the Westin Hotel, details to be announced. Visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/events/dpa2005/ for updates.
November 13-16, Markham, Ontario, "Issues of Substance," Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse National Conference 2005. At Hilton Suites Toronto/Markham Conference Centre & Spa, visit http://www.ccsa.ca/pdf/ccsa-annconf-abstract-2005-e.pdf for info.
November 15, 8:00pm, Springfield, MA, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. At Springfield College, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
November 16, noon, Springfield, MA, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture, lecture by Sheldon Norberg. At Springfield College, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
November 19-20, London, United Kingdom, "Liberty 2005: The Annual London Conference of the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian International. At the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, visit http//www.libertarian.co.uk/conf05.htm for further information.
November 26, Portland, OR, Fourth Annual Oregon Medical Cannabis Awards, including an educational conference, seminars and vendor activities from 10:00am-5:00pm, and banquet with music and awards presentations from 6:30-10:00pm. Daytime events tickets $10, available at door or online via PayPal; banquet tickets $35, must be reserved three weeks in advance. Visit http://www.OrNORML.org or contact Oregon NORML at (503) 239-6110 for information or reservations.
November 29, 7:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, "Dynamics of American Drug Culture, lecture by Sheldon Norberg. At the University of Southern California, Taper Hall Auditorium, visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
December 1-2, Seattle, WA, "Exit Strategy for the War on Drugs: Toward a New Legal Framework," KCBA Drug Policy Project 2005 conference. At the Red Lion Hotel, 1415 5th Ave., registration opening 11/1. For further information visit http://www.kcba.org/druglaw/ or contact KCBA at (206) 267-7001 or [email protected].
December 1-30, San Francisco, "Confessions of a Dope Dealer," solo performance by Sheldon Norberg. Thursday, Friday & Saturday evening performances except Christmas and New Years, at Climate Theater, 285 9th St., visit http://www.adopedealer.com for further information.
January 13-15, 2006, Basel, Switzerland, "Problem Child and Wonder Drug: International Symposium on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann." Sponsored by the Gaia Media Foundation, visit http://www.lsd.info for further information.
February 9-11, 2006, Tasmania, Australia, The Eleventh International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), coordinated by Justice Action. For further information visit http://www.justiceaction.org.au/ICOPA/ndx_icopa.html or contact +612-9660 9111 or [email protected].
April 5-8, 2006, Santa Barbara, CA, Fourth National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics. Sponsored by Patients Out of Time, details to be announced, visit http://www.medicalcannabis.com for updates.
April 30-May 4, 2006, Vancouver, BC, Canada, "17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm," annual conference of the International Harm Reduction Association. Visit http://www.harmreduction2006.ca for further information.
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