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The Speakeasy Blog

Asset Forfeiture in Drug Cases is Hurting Investment in the Inner Cities

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One of our readers sent in the following observations about asset forfeiture and its impact on investing (and consequently economic development) in neighborhoods that are perceived to have illegal drug problems. (Forfeiture is not solely limited to drug cases, but drugs are the mainstay.)
I am in the real estate investment business. Increasingly I find investors staying away from investing in rental properties and neighborhoods perceived to have illegal drug problems. Investors more frequently state police can too easily forfeit their real estate because of one tenant's illegal activity at a rental property, e.g., selling drugs, even when it is unknown to the owner. Consequently investors' fears of forfeiture are depressing property values in certain neighborhoods and cities, driving downward the property tax base needed for tax revenues to support the infrastructure of the community. Consider: As governments more and more force landlords to act as attorney generals policing the lives of their tenants, and hold landlords accountable to police for not stopping their tenants from committing unknown or foreseen illegal acts, more investors say, "who needs this!" Constant police raids in certain neighborhoods may actually result in a financial net loss to a community where investors retreat, causing assessed property values and property taxes to decline. There is little incentive for investors to spend money upgrading rental property in neighborhoods where drug problems exist if the police are targeting rental property for asset forfeiture.
I think that pretty much speaks for itself. But it would be a shame to stop there. So, a few links:
  • click here to read how the Fulton County (Atlanta, GA) DA's office spent forfeiture funds on banquets and balloons and a superman costume;
  • click here to read about the Austin, Texas police department's criminal inquiry into possible misuse of forfeiture funds; and
  • click here for a recent report over what is basically an act of theft via forfeiture committed by New Mexico police. (Make them stop, Gov. Richardson!)
Read our asset forfeiture reporting on an ongoing basis here, or subscribe to it by RSS here. And of course, check out the organization Forfeiture Endangers American Rights (FEAR).
United States

Obama is So Bad on Drug Policy, He Got Endorsed By Prison Guards

I guess the title says it all. Barack Obama is far and away the worst democratic contender when it comes to drug policy and criminal justice reform. It is unsurprising, therefore, that people who make a living off our grotesquely bloated criminal justice system are supporting his candidacy. Via Talkleft:
…one of the largest municipal jail unions in the country said Monday it would endorse Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for president. The endorsement would be Obama's first from a union.

Obama said, "It's an honor to have the endorsement of these men and women who put themselves at risk every day to serve on the front lines of our nation's criminal justice system." [CBS News]
Ah, the ever-expanding front lines of our criminal justice system. Obama just keeps saying things like this. It remains perplexing to watch the so-called "change" candidate gaze with reverence upon our massive drug war and criminal justice system. Obama's support from incarceration specialists is richly deserved to be sure.

Update: At the risk of further emboldening the hysterical Obama fans in the comment section, it's only fair to add that Barack Obama has spoken in favor of needle exchange. Hillary Clinton, who's otherwise sounded good on drug policy (for a front-runner, anyway) wants to see more proof that it works, which, at this point, is like demanding proof that the sun will rise tomorrow. So Obama understands that issue, at least.

(This blog post was published by'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.)
United States

A Marijuana User Gets Arrested Every 38 Seconds in America

Marijuana arrests have once again reached an all-time high, NORML reports:
Washington, DC: Police arrested a record 829,625 persons for marijuana violations in 2006, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual Uniform Crime Report, released today. This is the largest total number of annual arrests for pot ever recorded by the FBI. Marijuana arrests now comprise nearly 44 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in America.

Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 89 percent some 738,915 Americans were charged with possession only.
Possession of marijuana has got to be one of the stupidest, most trivial things you could ever get arrested for, and yet it happens with remarkable and increasing frequency. I reject, but at least understand the notion that marijuana should not be openly sold in convenience stores. But it amazes me that anyone still thinks we should be handcuffing people, hauling them to the station, ruining careers, collecting fines, administering drugs tests, and otherwise tormenting and humiliating people for having marijuana.

I honestly feel badly for people whose view of the world is so twisted that they can’t think of something better to do with our police and our tax dollars than this. At the same time, I'm convinced that most Americans don’t support a marijuana war of this magnitude.

I believe the right politician, at the right time, could make tremendous headway by simply coming out and saying it: "In America, we have better things to do than arrest each other for trivial reasons. We're sending the wrong message to our kids when we threaten to arrest them. Let's help people who need it and leave everyone else alone." If anyone wants to use this, please, be my guest. Hillary? Fred? Hello?
United States

Drug Taxes Out of Control Violating Due Process

Last week I posted some discussion of the Drug Tax phenomenon, along with a scan of a notice one of our readers received following his being charged with an alleged marijuana offense. Last night I got an email from Matt Potter, president of North Carolina State University's Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter and a member of the Student Senate, with some very revealing information recounted from his freshman year in a Law and Justice course. Matt wrote:
My freshman year of college I had a professor for Law and Justice who was the interim director of the NC Illegal Substances Tax division, and he loved going off on tangents talking about his job... [H]e told me several things [about drug taxes], such as that the burden of proof in a drug tax hearing is actually on the defendant. In addition to hearsay being enough to find people responsible for the tax, the person can actually be acquitted of the crime (or not charged at all) and still be found responsible for paying the tax. It is also a retrospective tax. He explained this by saying: If your grandmother smoked an ounce in the 60s and we found out about it, we could collect the tax from her on that ounce.
Well there it is, as Matt put it, right "from the horse's (ass') mouth." I think the evidence is more than clear -- drug taxes are an outrage. As I commented last week, "take this drug tax and..."
Raleigh, NC
United States

Two People I Know Were Sentenced to Prison Last Week

The Paey Pardon, as Scott blogged about here and here, was a nice piece of news, of the kind that doesn't come around too often. The last such pleasant surprise I had came in late 2000, when Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines were pardoned by then-President Clinton. I immediately left a message for my friend Rob Stewart, who had played a major role in bringing the Gaines case to prominence by writing it in the old Drug Policy Letter (Drug Policy Foundation, predecessor to Drug Policy Alliance), which led to coverage of her case by Frontline. Rob told me later he had two messages on his voicemail -- one from me and one from Dorothy Gaines. These moments are rewards for all the rest of it. Unfortunately, not many political leaders seem to be of the moral caliber of Gov. Crist, and there are many more victims of the drug laws who remain unpardoned. Two of them, whom I happen to know, were sentenced to prison a week ago. One of them was Bryan Epis, the first person prosecuted by the feds for medical marijuana. He received the same 10-year sentence. The other was William Mangino, a pain physician in Pennsylvania, sentenced to 8 1/2 - 20 years. Bryan was allowed to remain free pending appeal. See our upcoming Chronicle newsbrief for some detail. Bryan actually told me a few days before the court date that he anticipated getting another 10 years, but being allowed to stay free pending appeal, and he was right. He says he has a good chance on appeal, and it sounds like it -- the prosecution really acted unethically in his case, and the judge, who is by no means biased toward defendants, commented that there are issues the appellate court may want to look at. Dr. Mangino predicted a harsh sentence, and that he would not be allowed to stay free pending appeal. Unfortunately, he was right too. Christine Heberle's blog post on the War on Doctors/Pain Crisis blog lays out the glaring absence of any crime. Accountability for injustices committed under the guise of law may be too much to hope for. But at least we should have justice now. I simply don't feel that letting people like Richard Paey and Bryan Epis and Bill Mangino live their lives unmolested by the government is asking for too much.
United States

Richard Paey's Torturers Must be Held Accountable

As we celebrate Richard Paey's freedom today, it is important to remember that his tragic fate was no accident. Many people worked very hard at tax-payers' expense to put this innocent and miserable man behind bars. They deserve recognition today as well.

Certainly, these events vividly depict the insanity of a war on drugs that targets seriously ill people for trying to treat their own pain:
State prosecutors concede there's no evidence Paey ever sold or gave his medication away. Nevertheless, under draconian drug-war statutes, these prosecutors could pursue distribution charges against him based solely on the amount of medication he possessed (the unauthorized possession of as few as 60 tablets of some pain medications can qualify a person as a "drug trafficker"). [National Review]
Yet, as Radley Balko revealed at National Review, the persecution of Richard Paey involved so much more than the reckless enforcement of short-sighted laws. This was a prolonged and deliberate campaign on the part of malicious prosecutors and vengeful prison officials.

*Prosecutors blamed Paey's harsh sentence on Paey himself, claiming that he should have accepted a plea bargain. As Balko explains, they essentially retaliated against him for asserting his factual innocence and insisting on his right to a jury trial.

*Prison officials transferred Paey further away from his family after he gave a New York Times interview that was critical of the State of Florida.

*Prison medical staff threatened to withhold Paey's medication, also in apparent retaliation for his interview with the New York Times. Since he could die without it, this was the functional equivalent of a death threat and caused him great distress.

Now that Florida's Governor and Cabinet have concluded that Paey did nothing wrong, it is time to examine the way he was treated throughout this great travesty. If there are sociopaths working in Florida's criminal justice system, that's something Governor Crist would want to know about. If we can afford to imprison people for decades in order to protect ourselves from drugs, surely we can also afford to evaluate public servants who wield extraordinary power in order to ensure that they aren't deeply disturbed.

Mentally healthy people do not persecute the seriously ill, even if the drug war says it's ok.
United States

Richard Paey Receives Full Pardon

The plight of Richard Paey has been shocking even by the drug war's rock bottom standards. Sentenced to 25 years in a Florida prison for possession of the pain medication he used to treat his own crippling back pain, Paey spent the last 3½ years behind bars.

Today, he is free:
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously to grant Paey a full pardon Thursday morning for his 2004 conviction on drug trafficking and possession charges.

"We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations … and I state he should be released today."

With that, Paey's wife Linda, their three children, a family friend and attorney John Flannery II hugged and cried at the podium, the entire cabinet meeting room erupting into applause at 9:40 a.m. [St. Petersburg Times]
Justice in the war on drugs is a rare spectacle, and it is just delightful to witness. We've reported endlessly on this case, as have so many others, and it is wonderful to find that these efforts have not been in vain.
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Medical Marijuana Advocate Memorialized in US House of Representatives

Joe Zoretic, a founder of the Ohio Patients Network (medical marijuana advocacy group), was memorialized in Congress this week by presidential candidate and US Representative from Ohio Dennis Kucinich. The following transcript comes from the Congressional Record (PDF here or search at Thomas for HTML):
IN REMEMBRANCE OF JOSEPH STEPHEN ZORETIC HON. DENNIS J. KUCINICH OF OHIO IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Monday, September 17, 2007 Mr. KUCINICH. Madam Speaker, I rise today to reflect on the life of a courageous and passionate man, Joseph Stephen Zoretic, who dedicated his life to fighting for sensible drug policy and to free others from suffering. Along with his devoted wife, Dee Dee, he was a founding member of the Ohio Patient Network and its lobbying component, the Ohio Patient Action Network. Joe started his life-long residency in the Cleveland area on December 25th, 1968. He became an active figure in the medical marijuana movement in the 1990s, when his wife was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and needed cannabis to relieve the pain other medications could not. Since then, Joe provided policy ideas and inspiration to the state marijuana legalization activist community, from speaking at mainstream political events to testifying for better drug policy. Even if it meant going to jail, Joe stood up for what he knew: that love and bravery can overcome injustice. Madam Speaker and colleagues, please join me in honoring and remembering an extraordinary husband, father, citizen, and activist, Joseph Stephen Zoretic, who demonstrated the power we all possess to make change in this world.
And let us also honor and remember Joe Zoretic here. We will keep fighting in your name.
Washington, DC
United States

Company That Killed Iraqi Civilians Gets Lucrative Drug War Contract

What do you do when you've been kicked out of Iraq for killing civilians and your company's reputation is in shambles? Fear not, the drug war is always hiring, and there's nothing on earth you could do to disqualify yourself from employment in the accountability-free industry of international drug prohibition.
While Blackwater's mercenaries beg for mercy for killing a baby and 19 other people in Baghdad on Sunday, they're already working on another lucrative government contract on yet another foreign adventure: the "war on drugs." [Village Voice]
Details are sketchy since the government doesn't report eagerly on the creepy deals it makes with baby-killing mercenary groups. But Village Voice says they're building giant remote-control surveillance blimps.

It remains unclear what these blimps will be used for or what other secretive drug war endeavors Blackwater will be undertaking, but this much is for sure: it will all be phenomenally expensive and it won't change a damned thing.
United States

Chris Dodd Advocates Marijuana Decriminalization

Nothing to see here. Just another presidential candidate appealing to voters by observing the absurdity of the way marijuana users are treated in America.

Dodd also pledges to protect medical marijuana and reform the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Notice how he lumps these issues together. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the democratic drug policy platform.

United States

Department of Justice Spends Millions on Munchies

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I suppose you can't go around raiding medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting legitimate pain doctors on an empty stomach:
An internal Justice audit, released Friday, showed the department spent nearly $7 million to plan, host or send employees to ten conferences over the last two years. This included paying $4 per meatball at one lavish dinner and spreading an average of $25 worth of snacks around to each participant at a movie-themed party.

More than $13,000 was spent on cookies and brownies for 1,542 people who attended a four-day "Weed and Seed" conference in August 2005, according to the audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. [AP]
As galling as it is that we're footing the bill while federal narc soldiers gorge themselves and plot new ways to arrest us all, I'd rather see this money spent on munchies than machine guns. But it does suck that my tax dollars are helping subsidize a brownie-infested "Weed and Seed" conference that I didn’t even get invited to. I guess there's no reason to waste a press pass on a malicious blogger who's just gonna call the whole thing evil and whine that the brownies at the NORML conference were more memorable.

If nothing else, it's now clear that waging a callous barbaric war on their fellow citizens hasn't cost the feds their appetite.
United States

When Cops Ask For Machine Guns, You Know the Drug War Has Failed

If the drug war supposedly reduces crime and violence, how come we keep reading things like this?
Citing a dramatic increase in the availability of high-powered, semiautomatic assault rifles -- like the one used Thursday to kill a Miami-Dade County police officer -- Miami Police Chief John Timoney has for the first time authorized patrol officers to start carrying similarly lethal weapons.

A burgeoning ''arms race'' between police and heavily armed drug gangs forced him to sign the new policy earlier this week, Timoney said. [Miami Herald]
It is just amazing that there are machine gun battles breaking out in major American cities, and drug policy reform is still considered a politically suicidal fringe position. Meanwhile, the prohibitionist peanut gallery continues to pronounce with pride the glorious progress we've made towards preventing people from partying.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney nails it:
''This is really a failure of leadership at the national level. We are absolutely going in the wrong direction here,'' Timoney said. 'The whole thing is a friggin' disgrace.''
I couldn’t have put it better myself, except he's not even talking about drug policy. He's referring to gun control, which wouldn't even be necessary if we stopped the endless brutally violent war we've decided to wage against each other on our own soil.
United States

DEA Director Makes Bizarre Remark at Alberto Gonzales Farewell Ceremony

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DEA Administrator Karen Tandy babbled incoherently at a going away reception for disgraced former (boy, that feels good) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
KAREN TANDY: If you filled the stadium at FedEx Field, which happens to be the largest football stadium in the NFL, if you filled that will all of the teenagers who are no longer using drugs, you’d have to fill that stadium nine times. Empty it, and refill it. [ThinkProgress]
What on earth is that supposed to mean? In fairness, it must be excruciatingly difficult to think of nice things to say about Alberto Gonzales. But this is just weird.

I think she's trying to say that Gonzales stopped lots of teenagers from doing drugs, but I'm sure he was way too busy rationalizing torture and perjuring himself to do that. Personally, just thinking about Alberto Gonzales and his shameful legacy makes me want a drink.

Ironic Anecdotal Afterthought: I actually witnessed FedEx Field filled with teenagers once at a rock festival. It smelled like pot everywhere. Cypress Hill performed. Karen Tandy and Alberto Gonzales were nowhere to be seen, fortunately.
United States

Take this drug tax and...

click on image to enlarge in separate window This week saw some good news, when a Tennessee judge ruled that the state's "drug tax" -- a drug war revenue collection scheme in which people involved with illegal drugs are required to incriminate themselves by paying taxes, and can be billed after the fact for the tax plus penalties -- is unconstitutional. The ruling came in the case of Steven Waters of Knoxville, who was billed $55,000 in 2005 for a kilogram of cocaine that had been valued at $12,000. Scurrilously, the state intends to continue enforcing the tax as if the ruling never happened, for as long as they can get away with it. The drug tax notice posted here, from which we blotted out the personal information, was sent to us by one of our readers. The state of Iowa is prosecuting him and trying to take his family's house that they've owned since building it in 1876 -- obviously not built with drug money, as he pointed out. The tax, as you can see, is well over $100,000. Because the tax action is civil, not criminal, the level of due process he has available to him is much less -- no judge approved this notice, the revenue agency is just saying he owes them 136K and he better pay up. He hasn't even gone to trial yet, and the notice doesn't even specify the quantity or value of the marijuana. It looks like they treat drug taxes more harshly than other kinds of tax dealt with on the form, as it says "If this assessment is for drug taxes, you have 60 days to appeal, but you cannot pay the amount shown and then file a refund claim after repayment." Our friend claims his innocence, and he made the following argument in one of his emails to me:

"The pot that I am being taxed on was found in containers on my property which I couldn't see from my house. I had less than an ounce in my house. You would think if I were going to keep that much valuable pot just laying in the weeds where anyone could help themselves to it, I would have at least put no trespassing signs on my place, which I didn't."
"You should see the list of damage they did to my things," he added.

widely-distributed Tennessee drug tax stamp image While I haven't independently verified our reader's account, I believe him, and will continue to unless I learn reasons why I shouldn't. But it almost doesn't matter, because the laws and the punishments are so unjust in any case. And there's no question, if you want to frame someone, in this case maybe even get his house, there's no easier way to do it than with drugs. As he put it, "Pretty good way to rob someone, just put some containers of hemp on his place at night where he can't see it, then take what you want." And while we don't know if that's what happened, again, it almost doesn't matter, from a policy level at least, because it couldn't be easier to do, and therefore it undoubtedly does happen. We run police corruption stories in our newsletter every week, and this week we have a piece of misspending of asset forfeiture funds too. This case involves multiple issues. It involves asset forfeiture, it involves the drug tax, it involves the always unjust prohibition laws, and it demonstrates the potential at least for framing and abuse. Back in Tennessee, it also seems to involve the arrogance of an agency that thinks it can ignore a judge's ruling with impunity, and sadly is probably right. Since the issue of the week is drug taxes (thanks to an enlightened Tennessee jurist), I will conclude this time by saying, "take this drug tax and..."

United States

Wrong Door Drug Raid Disrupts Family Dinner

Q: What's more annoying than solicitors ringing your doorbell during dinner?

A: Cops busting your door down, pointing guns at you, and then realizing they're in the wrong place.
Diana El-Bynum says both she and her husband were handcuffed and were humiliated in front of their neighbors. She says she can't believe the police could have made a mistake like this. Inspector Horne says this type of mistake doesn't happen often and accounts for a small percentage of the thousands of operations they do a year. In this case, he says surveillance officers didn't give an address of the home they were targeting. [FOX Philadelphia]
What kind of excuse is that? If you don’t have an address, don't do the raid, silly.
"They gave a physical description, house with a black storm door, in front of the residence was a pick up truck. Unfortunately there was a house 5 doors away that had a black storm door with pick up in front. The officers didn't have time to determine which house was which," said Inspector Horne.
Considering how many people die in these raids, maybe they should make time. But at least they made a half-assed apology:
Inspector Horne said "On behalf of the Philadelphia Police Department and the Narcotics Strike Force, I'm totally willing to apologize for the efforts, the mistake. The overall intent was to eradicate drugs from the neighborhood."
So because the intent was to eradicate drugs, should we be tolerant of this sort of incompetence? Is that what he's saying? Again, people get killed when police raid the wrong house, so it's actually a really big deal. I just don't know what else to say about this. They didn't even have an address this time.
United States

Rising Cocaine Prices Don't Mean We're Winning the Drug War

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After reading Donna Leinwand's cover story in USA Today, "Cocaine flow to 26 cities curbed," you'd think we've turned a major corner in the war on drugs.
Tough action by Mexico is driving down the cocaine supply in 26 U.S. cities, a recently declassified Drug Enforcement Administration analysis shows, an encouraging drop in narcotics crossing the border that law enforcement officials hope will continue.

This new Calderón government is really taking a tough stance, and it's really taking its toll on the trafficking organizations," says Tony Placido, the DEA's intelligence chief.
It just goes on like this. Cocaine is more expensive! The Drug Czar is optimistic! Mexico is kicking some serious drug trafficker ass! Amazingly, Leinwand entirely fails to explain that cocaine prices are still just a fraction of what they used to be. The real story behind cocaine prices is that they've rather consistently continued spiraling downward despite decades of drug war demolition tactics.

It is just so strange to leave this out because it actually makes the story more interesting. Wouldn't the rise in cocaine prices be more exciting if people understood how rare it is? It's like the drug war equivalent of a solar eclipse. For God's sake, don't stare directly at it or you'll fry your retinas. Such phenomena are best observed under expert supervision.

It is almost more frustrating, therefore, to read Leinwand's companion piece, which perfectly articulates how premature and overblown the Drug Czar's pronouncements truly are:
[drug policy expert Peter] Reuter says this isn't the first time the Mexicans have gotten tough on traffickers. "The Mexican government is clearly cracking down, but the government has cracked down before to no effect," Reuter says. "It's sort of early days for declaring that something important has happened."

Eventually, drug traffickers will develop new routes to get around whatever is stopping them, says Alfred Blumstein, a professor who specializes in criminology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"It's a resilient process," Blumstein says. "I would anticipate that over a period of time, like six months to a year," the drug traffickers will "be back in shape."
These revealing perspectives are relegated to bowels of a different article on page 3, while Leinwand's above-the-fold cover story reads like an ONDCP press release. This is unacceptable. With opposing viewpoints safely quarantined in an entirely separate – and less prominent – article, ONDCP can now tout their USA Today coverage without directly exposing anyone to Reuter or Blumstein's skepticism. And that's exactly what they've done.

Everything we know about the cocaine economy tells us that it won’t be long before prices drop again to unprecedented new lows. That is just a fact, and I'm still not sure why anyone thinks it's worth their time to suggest otherwise.

United States

Bad Cop Caught on Camera

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While most police officers are hard working professionals, far too many are total psychos. Knowing your rights is an important first line of defense against harassment by law-enforcement, but sometimes a personal dashboard camera is the only way to expose our country's ongoing problems with police misconduct.

This video depicting Sgt. James Kuehnlein terrorizing a young motorist has erupted on the internet, shocking the nation, and providing a poignant reminder that police lunacy is alive and well in the USA.

It all started when 20-year-old Brett Darrow left his cell phone at a friend's house. They made plans to meet at a public parking lot, but upon entering the lot after dark, Darrow was confronted by Sgt. Kuehnlein. When he asked the officer what was wrong, Sgt. Kuehnlein flew into a frenzied rage, hurling threats and obscenities.
Sgt. Kuehnlein: Ever get smart mouth with a cop again, I show you what a cop does. You understand me?

Brett Darrow: Yes Sir

Sgt. Kuehnlein: Try to talk back, talk back to me again and I bet I could say you resisted arrest or something. You wanna come up with something? I come up with nine things.
There's plenty more where that came from, and Sgt. Kuehnlein is now on unpaid leave. His superiors are in full damage control mode, distancing themselves from the officer's behavior and assuring the public that this sort of thing will not be tolerated.

As an advocate for civil rights and police accountability it is upsetting to know that such gratuitous misconduct still comes easily to some officers. These events persist despite decades of social justice activism and systemic reforms aimed at increasing police professionalism. Moreover, the outrageous actions of the worst officers undermine efforts to inform the public about basic constitutional rights that really do still protect most citizens most of the time.

That said, it is certainly encouraging to see forums like YouTube and Google Video blossoming into powerful tools for exposing and combating police misconduct in the 21st century. Through these venues, unfiltered images can enter the public consciousness with remarkable efficiency. Once the video went online, it became successful on, a site that ranks stories through a democratic voting system. In sum, internet users broke this story and forced the mainstream media to pay attention. That's exciting to see.

United States

More Fun With Numbers at ONDCP

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Press releases from the Office of National Drug Control Policy are so distorted and misleading, they are better suited to make paper airplanes than inform the public.

Yet another example of their ritualistic deception campaign occurred this week with the announcement that youth drug use has reached exciting lows:

New Survey Shows Youth Drug Use at Five Year Low, 25 Percent Drop in Pot Use Among Teen Boys

Overall illicit drug use among teens ages 12-17 is at a five year low, according to the largest and most comprehensive study of drug use in the United States, released today. []

You'd be forgiven for thinking this means youth drug use has been going down recently. But alas, it has not.

Illegal drug use among U.S. teens didn't drop for the first time since 2002, according to a government report released Thursday.

Overall drug use rates had fallen steadily before last year. But last year's slowdown threatens to undermine President Bush's stated goals to cut drug abuse by 25% by 2007. [WebMD]

Kudos to WebMD for doing some actual research instead of mindlessly repeating ONDCP's predictable propaganda. If there's a story here, it is that a downward trend in youth drug use may be leveling off and that ONDCP's goals might not be achieved.

Now, to be fair, ONDCP isn't really lying here. They're merely feigning excitement about a downward trend that actually ended a year ago. Ultimately, youth drug use rises and falls for reasons so far beyond the government's control that they should be neither credited nor blamed regardless of what happens.

Jacob Sullum has more.

United States

Sacramento: Please Attend Medical Marijuana Activist Bryan Epis Federal Resentencing Hearing Friday

Bryan Epis, a former medical marijuana provider who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, and served two years before being released in the wake of the Raich medical marijuana decision, is returning to court for resentencing pending the filing of his appeal. Bryan asks that reformers in the area attend the hearing as a show of support. It is taking place at 10:00am this Friday morning (9/14) in Sacramento, California -- courtroom of Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr., 501 I Street, 15th floor, courtroom two. Click here to read our 2005 interview with Bryan, and click here to read about possible misconduct committed by the prosecution in his case. We will report in our blog Friday afternoon (or as soon as information becomes available) on what happens.
Sacramento, CA
United States

DEA Agent Admits The Drug War Funds Terrorism

Well, not exactly. But it sure is astounding to hear DEA lament the black market's role in funding terror:
Nearly half of the 42 groups considered by the United States to be terror organisations fund their activities through drug trafficking, a top US official said in Israel Sunday.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's Michael Braun told a conference on "The Global Impact of Terrorism", organised by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, that the DEA "linked 18 of the 42 officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO) to drug trafficking activities of some sorts." [Yahoo News]
If there's anything surprising about this, it is the fact that Braun wants to continue the exact policies that make it possible for violent groups to make fast money.

Drug profits are being funneled into numerous terrorist organizations and the people who failed to prevent this sort of thing are instead citing it as evidence that their work is more important than ever.

No. It is 2007. You people have had enough time to try your idea. Clearly, you were wrong about everything. Rather than experiment with news ways of describing the same wrong ideas, it is time for these brave gentlemen to step aside and open up the floor to suggestions. Mine is to de-fund terrorists and countless other jerks by ending the drug war that makes them so damned rich.
United States

DEA Agent Admits Medical Marijuana Laws Work

This piece in the Providence Journal is remarkable for several reasons. The stories of the real people who benefit from Rhode Island's medical marijuana law are simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring. This is required reading for anyone who doesn't understand why medical marijuana advocacy is so important.

One seemingly minor point caught my eye, and raises issues that need to be discussed at the national level:
Anthony Pettigrew, agent for the New England field office of the DEA, said that while marijuana possession is against federal law, "the DEA never targets the sick and dying." The agency is more interested in organized drug traffickers, Pettigrew said. "I've been here for 22 years," he said, and "realistically, I've never seen anyone go to federal jail for possessing a joint."
This is a significant and unusual concession on DEA's part. Pettigrew's argument essentially refutes the typical ONDCP strategy of intimidating patients and legislators in prospective medical marijuana states by arguing that medical users will remain vulnerable under federal law.

If DEA won't arrest patients and state police can't arrest patients, then medical marijuana laws work very well. DEA continues to raid dispensaries in California, but the totality of this activity utterly fails to undermine patient access or the spirit of the state's medical marijuana law. In fact, dispensary raids continue for the sole purpose of obscuring the otherwise obvious benefits of laws that protect patients.

It doesn't matter whether DEA's policy of not arresting patients is motivated by compassion, political sensibilities, funding constraints, or some combination thereof. The fact of the matter is that state laws are effective at protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution, which is their intended purpose. This simple fact demonstrates the importance of these laws, while also revealing how empty and fraudulent the federal government's threats against medical marijuana states truly are.
United States

Marijuana Charge From 25 Years Ago Prevents Man From Coaching Little League

There is just no limit to how stupid our society can become thanks to drug prohibition:
A Bourne, Mass., man with a decades-old marijuana-possession charge on his record was recently banned from coaching youth sports after the town started conducting criminal-background checks, the Cape Cod Times reported Sept. 4.

Gary Hapenny, 46, pled guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession in 1982 and paid a $62 fine. But the town of Bourne bars anyone with a narcotics-related offense from using town facilities, lumping people like Hapenny in with murders, rapists, kidnappers, and child molesters. [Join Together]
Maybe this is Gary Hapenny's fault for trying to live a normal life in a town run by idiots. Unsurprisingly, it appears that his marijuana use 25 years ago hasn’t affected his coaching ability today:
David Rondeau, the head coach of Hapenny's football team, said, "Gary's been coaching football with me for the last two years, and the parents and kids love him…"

That's the drug war for you: shielding children from people they love based on arbitrary criteria born from irrational prejudices. Why take the time to judge someone based on their character when you can just run their name through a database?

The lesson here is that we must always use our brains when making policy. If you try to protect children without thinking, you'll end up hurting them. Rules must bear some relationship to their intended purpose, lest they should become an obstacle to the healthy functioning of our society.

This may seem a small matter when stacked against the drug war's daily transgressions. But it serves to illustrate how drug prohibition is so much worse than the sum of its parts. It consists of a million injustices, both large and small, that destroy vital relationships and collectively rot our culture. It is hard to imagine something more mindless and insane than banning a Little League coach over a misdemeanor pot arrest from 1982, but we needn't use our imaginations here. If nothing else, the drug war can be counted upon to deliver new calamities of escalating stupidity with each passing day.

United States

The Hypocrisy of Marijuana Critics Who Take Money From Beer Companies

On one day, the Denver City Council can be found panicking over a marijuana initiative that "sends the wrong message":
City Council members each took turns bashing Citizens for a Safer Denver’s ballot initiative to make marijuana the city’s lowest law enforcement priority. The City Council unanimously agreed that the measure either sends the wrong message to the community or will be unenforceable. Voters will decide on the measure this November. [Denver Daily News]
On another, it can be found renewing a sponsorship deal with Coors Brewing Company:
A group that is calling for the Denver Police Department to make marijuana its lowest enforcement priority yesterday called for the City Council to hold a public hearing concerning a bill that would renew the city’s partnership with Coors Brewing Company.

“Once and for all, the Council needs to explain why it is necessary to punish adults for using marijuana in order to send the right message to children, yet somehow it’s no problem to have our city officially partner with an alcohol company to promote alcohol use to all who attend these events, including children,” said Mason Tvert, executive director of Citizens for a Safer Denver.

Good question, Mason. City Council President Michael Hancock, a vehement marijuana opponent, explains:

"It's not that we’re promoting the alcohol as much as we’re promoting the lesser burden on the taxpayer by receiving financial resources."

Well, that just makes so much sense. Oddly, however, Hancock's own argument becomes unintelligible to him when framed in the context of marijuana. See, Michael, it's not that we're promoting marijuana as much as we're promoting the lesser burden on everyone by not waging a brutal stupid war on each other everyday.

The rank hypocrisy of opposition to marijuana reform is seldom revealed with such brilliant transparency. The defective mental processes at work here are truly a marvel of modern psychology.

United States

Office of National Grub Control Policy

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Milo Bryant at the Colorado Springs Gazette is so impressed with what the Drug Czar has accomplished, he wants to create a similar office to stop people from being so damned fat:
The country needs somebody qualified to help whip our butts into shape. That somebody would have the power to command, influence and draw resources from various aspects of the government to help us get in better shape.

This person, with our help, would lay out a comprehensive plan to help fight childhood obesity and, on a grander scale, obesity in general.

The United States needs an obesity czar, akin to John P. Walters, the director of the Office of the National Drug Control Policy — our drug czar.
Um, the drug war attacks people. It's unscrupulous. We need the government to attack less people, not more. I'm not sure Milo Bryant really understands what ONDCP advocates. Basically, it's a two-pronged approach:

1. Arrest as many people as possible
2. Exaggerate the government's role in activities other than arresting people

I'm just not sure any of this would carry over very well into the arena of trying to make people healthy. Would store clerks be deputized to identify customers suspected of planning unhealthy meals by flagging suspicious combinations of ingredients? Would students be subject to random non-punitive "weigh-ins," including parental notification and referral to a weight-reduction counselor? Would children found in possession of unapproved foods be denied access to federally subsidized athletic programs?

Let's get real. Childhood obesity is probably caused by the drug war somehow, so if we really want to make a difference, we must attack the problem at its roots. It's time these losers started worrying more about what comes out of their mouths than what goes into ours.
United States

Drug Testing Encourages Cocaine, Heroin, and Meth Use

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Anti-drug activist Debbie Fowler became a vocal supporter of student drug testing after her son Adam died from a heroin overdose:

Just a few weeks ago, Fowler testified at a congressional hearing for the Office of National Drug Control policy.

"I speak for them ... for funding of the president funding student drug testing programs," Fowler said. "I've done quite a few things for them." [Tribune-Democrat]

Certainly, Debbie Fowler would have liked to know about her son's heroin use before it took his life. Her motivations are very easy to understand. Unfortunately, she appears not to realize that drug testing encourages the use of the most dangerous drugs.

Schools rely almost exclusively on cheap urine tests, which can only detect cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine within a couple days of ingestion. Students know they can use these drugs on a Friday evening and test clean on Monday, so a random testing program is not effective at curbing use of these drugs. Unfortunately, the effect is sometimes quite the opposite.

Marijuana, the most widely used illicit drug, remains detectable for up to a month. Thus the proliferation of random student drug testing necessarily creates awareness among young people about which drugs are "safe" if you're worried about being tested. The switch from marijuana to stronger less-detectable drugs is a very real consequence of student drug testing, which has yet to be acknowledged by drug testing proponents.

I know that this problem is real because I've seen it first hand. In high school, I witnessed classmates asking around for drugs other than marijuana, precisely because they were being tested. Alcohol was the most popular marijuana substitute, but others surfaced as well. "You'll pass your drug test," became a selling point for substances other than marijuana.

This is just the truth about drug testing and how it effects the decisions young people make. Feel free to ignore me, or dismiss my judgments as the prejudiced fulminations of a pro-drug zealot. But drug testing, for very simple scientific reasons, has become a gateway to experimentation with more dangerous, less-detectible drugs. If anyone in the drug prevention community is wondering why student drug testing programs keep being proven not to reduce youth drug use, maybe you'll start thinking about these sorts of things.

United States

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