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Escalation of Drug War in Italy: Appeal for Action

[Courtesy of EURODRUG] Dear friends, In the past days, there has been an escalation of repression by Italian police and justice authorities against cannabis growers and members of the anti-prohibitionist movement. Several people have been arrested for minor plantations, and one of them, Mr. Aldo Bianzino of Umbria, has died in prison under circumstances that could suggest he was tortured to death. These operations take place on the bases of the Law Fini-Giovanardi, which has been adopted by the previous Berlusconi government. The current centre-left coalition had promised to modify it, but has not done so yet. We have written an open letter to Italian authorities calling for an end to this escalation and a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Bianzino's death. This letter can be signed and sent from http://www.encod.org/info/LETTER-TO-ITALIAN-AUTHORITIES.html In Italian from http://www.encod.org/info/ALDO-BIANZINO-LETTERA-ALLE.html Please join this action and ask others to do so as well.... Best wishes, Joep
Location: 
Italy

Law Enforcement: With Violent Crime on the Rise, New Orleans Police Are Arresting Thousands of Drug Offenders, Traffic Violators

A watchdog group has criticized the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) for wasting man-hours and resources by arresting thousands of traffic violators, drug users, and other low-level offenders even as the city faces a wave of violent crime. NOPD brass are defending their focus.

In a report released early this month, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a private watchdog group, found that police made some 29,000 arrests during the first half of 2007, but more than half of them were for traffic offenses or failure to pay municipal fines or traffic tickets. Only 2% of arrests were for violent crimes. That percentage stayed roughly the same even as violent crime rose by 17% between the first and second quarters of the year.

The commission noted that of the 15,000 arrests for traffic violations or unpaid fines, only 6,000 were for offenses that required the offender be arrested. The remaining 9,000 petty arrests could and should have been handled by citations, freeing up officers to deal with more serious offenses, the commission recommended.

Meanwhile, figures from the New Orleans Parish District Attorneys Office compiled by the commission show that drug cases accounted for 62% of all felony convictions in the second quarter, up from 55% in the first quarter. This as the number of convictions for violent felonies declined by 17% in the second quarter.

Such policies are just wrong-headed, the commission said. "Although we do not advocate that the NOPD disregard their obligation to enforce traffic and municipal laws, the MCC respectfully recommends that the NOPD focus upon violent and repeat offenders rather than perpetuating their high-volume arrest practices," the commission said in its report, which was presented this week to committees in the state legislature.

But New Orleans Police Superintendant Warren Riley defended his department, warning that if it stopped arresting minor offenders, the city would descend into anarchy. "It is a recipe for chaos. It is not a recipe for reducing crime," Riley told members of the House Judiciary and Senate Judiciary committees at the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Orleans Parish DA Eddie Jordan, whose office is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases, also rejected the report's conclusions. Arrests of minor offenders were often justified because of their lengthy criminal records, he said. And, ignoring the role of prohibition in creating violence in drug markets, he defended drug arrests by saying drug trafficking was often linked to violence.

Feature: Marijuana, Drug Arrests Hit All-Time High -- Again

The number of people arrested for marijuana offenses in the US last year was a record 829,625, according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report. The figure marks the fourth consecutive year and 11th time in the last 15 years that marijuana arrests hit an all-time high. More than five million people have been arrested for marijuana since 2000 alone.

Overall, some 1,889,810 people were arrested on drug charges last year -- another all-time high. More than eight out of ten of all drug arrests were for possession alone, and 89% of all marijuana arrests for possession.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-drug-arrest.jpg
The continuing increases in drug arrests came as violent crime increased 1.9%, the second straight year of increases after a decade of declining violent crime rates. Property crime declined by 1.9%, mirroring the 10-year declining trend.

The total number of marijuana arrests in the US for 2006 far exceeded the total number of arrests in the US for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. The number of total drug arrests was greater than that for any other offense.

No law enforcement organizations contacted by the Chronicle responded to requests for comment on the link (or lack of) between continuing high levels of drug arrests and violent crime, but representatives of groups that would like to see fewer drug arrests were quick to respond to the numbers.

"These numbers are sadly not too surprising because we put a lot of money into arresting drug users," said Doug McVay, policy analyst for Common Sense for Drug Policy. "That's what we're paying police to do. Law enforcement has to produce body counts to justify increased funding, and the way to do it is with drug users. There's an endless supply."

"These numbers refute the common myth that police will look the other way when it comes to personal marijuana possession," said Scott Morgan of Flex Your Rights, a group that instructs citizens on how to effectively exert their right to be free of unwarranted searches and seizures. "Liberal attitudes about pot have created a false sense of security for many, but the truth is that you can get in big trouble for it. In any police encounter, the best strategy is to refuse searches and not answer incriminating questions," he advised.

"The steady escalation of marijuana arrests is happening in direct defiance of public opinion," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Voters in communities all over the country, from Denver to Seattle to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Missoula County, Montana, have passed measures saying they don't want marijuana arrests to be a priority, yet marijuana arrests have set an all-time record for four years running. It appears that police are taking their cue from White House drug czar John Walters, who is obsessed with marijuana, rather than the public who pays their salaries," he said.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/dea-la-photo1.jpg
DEA post-raid publicity photo
"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds in America. "This effort is a tremendous waste of criminal justice resources that diverts law enforcement personnel away from focusing on serious and violent crime, including the war on terrorism," he said.

McVay pointed to the low criminal offense clearance rates also contained in the Uniform Crime Report. For property crimes overall, the clearance rate is only 16%, while even for murder, it was only 60%. "Those numbers are criminal," said McVay. "There's only one chance out of six that the cops will find out who broke into your home or stole your car. If the police weren't busy arresting drug users, maybe we wouldn't be seeing such low clearance rates and this increase in violent crime."

"Two other major points standout from today's record marijuana arrests," St. Pierre continued. "Overall, there has been a dramatic 188% increase in marijuana arrests in the last 15 years -- yet the public's access to pot remains largely unfettered and the self-reported use of cannabis remains largely unchanged. Second, America's Midwest is decidedly the hotbed for marijuana-related arrests with 57% of all marijuana-related arrests. The region of America with the least amount of marijuana-related arrests is the West with 30%. This latter result is arguably a testament to the passage of various state and local decriminalization efforts over the past several years."

"The bottom line is that we are wasting billions of dollars each year on a failed policy," Kampia said. "Despite record arrests, marijuana use remains higher than it was 15 years ago, when arrests were less than half the present level, and marijuana is the number one cash crop in the US. Marijuana is scientifically proven to be far safer than alcohol, and it's time to start regulating marijuana the same way we regulate wine, beer and liquor."

Why Do Police Really Oppose Marijuana Legalization? Part II

Yesterday's post failed to address the prevalence of police officers who privately oppose the drug war, but silently uphold it even though they know it's wrong. My argument is quite incomplete without addressing this important phenomenon.

LEAP director Jack Cole has told me that police constantly admit to him in confidence that they agree with LEAP's arguments. Former Seattle Police Chief and LEAP speaker Norm Stamper has also stated that several high-ranking police officials have privately commended his efforts to end the drug war.

How then do we explain the behavior of police who carry out a war they don't believe in? Are they just following orders and collecting their paychecks? Are they fearful that speaking out will compromise their status within a profession they otherwise enjoy? Do they believe the laws are here to stay, so someone has to enforce them? Are some just waiting for their pension to kick in before joining LEAP?

I'm sure all of these factors contribute here, but I suspect that many officers have a more nuanced view of drug enforcement. I once asked a highly-regarded police sergeant what he thought of a controversial teenage curfew law aimed at curbing crime in D.C. "It's a useful tool," he replied, meaning that it gave him the authority to take action against suspicious youths in the absence of other evidence. If he can't prove they're out tagging cars, he can at least stop them and send them home.

Drug laws, particularly marijuana, perform a similar function by granting police the discretion to forgive or destroy individual suspects based solely on their demeanor and the contents of their pockets. Police can ignore the smell of marijuana when dealing with a polite citizen, or fabricate it entirely when they believe someone's hiding something. A law that criminalizes vast portions of the population, justifying detentions, searches and arrests, is a "useful tool" indeed. Officers needn't believe they're winning the war on drugs to find value in the vast authority it bestows upon them.

Wielding inflated drug war powers with the best of intentions may help some officers justify their participation in something they otherwise find distasteful. Of course, none of this justifies the massive collateral damage that occurs in the process, but it might help explain how conscientious people could engage in behavior that shocks the conscience.

Location: 
United States

Just Because Criminals Use Drugs Doesn't Mean Drugs Cause Crime

ONDCP's latest blog post boldly proclaims that drugs cause crime because most people who get arrested test positive for drugs. As is their habit, ONDCP's post was created by taking a newspaper article, misunderstanding it, and then drawing exaggerated conclusions that are factually wrong:

The Drug-Crime Link: Most Adults Committing Crimes in San Diego High at Time of Arrest

A new report out of San Diego County illustrates the strong connection between using drugs and committing crime. The North County Times reports:

"While the number of adults that test positive for drugs when arrested dropped slightly in 2006 compared with the year before, narcotics use continues to show up in more than 70 percent of arrestees, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Diego Association of Governments...

The headline alone contains two wildly inaccurate claims. For starters, being arrested doesn't mean you've actually committed a crime. Duh. This may seem insignificant, since drug use rates are probably the same or higher among those convicted. Still, it's a reflection of ONDCP's mindset that arrestees are simply presumed guilty.

More to the point, testing positive for drugs absolutely doesn’t mean you're high. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remain detectable in your system for up to 4 days, while PCP and marijuana can linger for up to a month. We can identify these drugs in someone's body, but we cannot prove when the drugs were ingested or whether they were intoxicated at the time of arrest.

ONDCP's whole premise that drug use makes people go crazy and break the law is just not supported at all by this data. Addicted users frequently commit crimes precisely because they're no longer high, but they'd like to be. This link can be better addressed through maintenance programs and by eliminating the black market that inflates prices and forces addicts to steal.

Marijuana users, on the other hand, are unlikely to ever pass a drug test if they use more than twice a month. How many of these arrestees are just marijuana users who smoked days or weeks before an unrelated arrest? It's the most widely used and most detectable illicit drug, so its inclusion skews the entire picture.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's a huge drug war going on, which causes drug users to be arrested at alarming rates. It's the number one thing people get arrested for. If we stopped arresting people for having drugs, the percentage of arrestees who test positive for them would decrease substantially. Literally, the government is arresting people for drugs, then claiming that you shouldn’t do drugs because they'll cause you to get yourself arrested.

Don't get me wrong, there is a drug-crime link, but it's not the one you read about at PushingBack.com. It's a product of the great war we've declared on one another, and it will go away only when we admit our terrible mistake.

Location: 
United States

Rudy Hates Pot Smokers (Especially Black and Brown Ones) More Than He Likes Effective Policing

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of criticism this week for his comments rejecting medical marijuana and suggesting that its advocates are actually stalking horses for marijuana legalization. But his antipathy for marijuana goes far beyond simply rejecting its therapeutic applications and opens a window into what a Giuliani marijuana policy might look like. During Giuliani's years in office in the 1990s and into this decade, the number of marijuana arrests shot through the roof, rising from a few hundred before Giulani took office to more than 51,000 in 2000. At that point, thanks to Giulani's "zero tolerance" or "broken windows" approach to policing, New York City accounted for nearly 10% of all marijuana arrests in the country. But it wasn't that Giulani just hated pot smokers; the results of his marijuana policy show starkly that his ire was aimed at pot smokers of a certain color--and it wasn't white. As an analysis of city pot arrests between the early 1980s and the early 2000s showed, as marijuana busts shot upward during Rudy's reign, the arrests shifted from the wealthy, central areas of the city to the cities poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods. As the authors of that study noted, "these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalize even minor criminal offenses in highly public locations - anymore." Not only did the mass marijuana arrests not appear to be related to claimed decreases in violent crime, they appeared to be related to increases in violent crime, according to another researcher, Bernard Harcourt, commenting on the report:
New York City’s psychedelic experiment with misdemeanor MPV [marijuana possession violation] arrests—along with all the associated detentions, convictions, and additional incarcerations—represents a tremendously expensive policing intervention. As Golub et al. [authors of the original research] document well, the focus on MPV has had a significant disparate impact on African-American and Hispanic residents. Our study further shows that there is no good evidence that it contributed to combating serious crime in the city. If anything, it has had the reverse effect. As a result, the NYPD policy of misdemeanor MPV arrests represents an extremely poor trade-off of scarce law enforcement resources, imposing significant opportunity costs on society in light of the growing body of empirical research that highlights policing approaches that do appear to be successful in reducing serious crime. Our findings, building on those of Golub et al., make clear that these are not trade-offs in which we should be engaging.
So, not only did Giulani's mass marijuana arrest policy target racial minorities, it also hampered effective crime-fighting in the city. Can you imagine a President Giulani sitting in the White House and ordering something similar on a nationwide basis? It would certainly be a boon for the jail, drug testing, drug treatment, and other drug war-dependent industries, but I hope we are not at a point as a nation where we say "what's good for the prison-industrial complex is good for America." I'll be writing more about Giulani, his crime-fighting career, and what a Giulani presidency might mean for America's criminal justice system next week. But I have to wonder if what America needs now is a Prosecutor in Chief. (This blog post 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.)
Location: 
United States

Marijuana: No More Automatic Arrest for Possession in Texas

As of September 1, people caught with up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in Texas will no longer automatically be arrested. Under HB 2391, a bill passed by the legislature and signed into law June 15 by Gov. Rick Perry (R), police will have the option of issuing a summons to appear for misdemeanor pot possession, as well as a number of other small-time offenses.

The measure was pushed by conservative legislators as a cost-cutting measure. "We want to get tough on crime, but we also want to get smart on crime," said state Rep. Jerry Madden (R), the bill's author. "Let's not spend a lot of taxpayers' money putting people in jail who don't need to be there," Madden told Fort Worth Star-Telegraph columnist Bud Kennedy last Saturday. "Let's give local police more discretion."

Possession of marijuana remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. But now, instead of using up valuable police time and jail space with marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, police will have the discretion of just ordering them to show up before a magistrate within 48 hours. If they don't show, the magistrate can issue an arrest warrant.

Other offenses for which police can now issue summonses include petty theft, graffiti, and driving without a license.

"The idea was to free up more county jail space and law officers' time for violent offenders and sex offenders," said Marc Levin of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization that lobbied for House Bill 2391. "We looked at how to save counties money. We always came back to the same answer: Take the low-level offenders out of the county jail," he told Kennedy.

Leave it to Texas to wise up about criminal justices priorities, even if just a bit. And it wasn't bleeding hearts, but bleating wallets that did it.

PM: War against drugs ineffective

Location: 
Kuala Terengganu
United States
Publication/Source: 
Malaysia Star (Malaysia)
URL: 
http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/6/24/nation/18120248&sec=nation

Giuliani's Cocaine Connection

This post is a little more sympathetic than the title might seem to suggest. One of the big news stories today was the indictment of Rudy Giuliani's now-former South Carolina campaign chairman Thomas Ravenel, the state's now-suspended Treasurer, on federal cocaine distribution charges. Drug policy academic Mark Kleiman points out that Ravenel does not appear to have been a drug dealer:
The other guy indicted in the case seems to be the dealer. Ravenel seems to have been one of his customers, who bought cocaine in quantity to share with friends. Under federal law, there's no crime of selling drugs; the crime is "distribution," which includes giving the stuff away.
(Talking Points Memo, linking to Kleiman, observes that Ravenel would have been buying for "what was probably going to be a pretty big bash".) Ravenel should be considered innocent until proven guilty, of course, and Kleiman points out what I think is a pretty good reason why:
The most likely scenario here: The state cops nailed the dealer (he was already in custody on state charges when the indictment was handed up yesterday), and the dealer gave them a prominent customer in order to buy himself some consideration at sentencing time.
As a legalizer, I have to have some sympathy for anyone caught up in the drug war's headlights. Still, Ravenel was a political official at the highest levels in a state that has some real "tough on drugs" policies in place. Unless he was actively involved in working for serious drug policy reform -- and I'm not aware that he was -- and assuming the accusations made against him are accurate, there's a hypocrisy angle here. Furthermore, the candidate he was involved in trying to elect as president, Rudy Giuliani, is a drug warrior who increased arrests in New York when he was mayor, who tried to shut down methadone maintenance in the city, and who opposes needle exchange and medical marijuana. It's especially hypocritical for a drug user to chair a state campaign for a drug warrior trying to be president, who would presumably continue to be a drug warrior if elected president. Then again, maybe Ravenel intended to quietly lobby Giuliani to shift his views/policies on drugs. I tend to doubt it, but I don't know the guy so I can't say for sure. As for Giuliani, did he have no idea about his friend's (alleged) drug proclivities, or no one who could inform him about them? I've heard from a knowledgeable source that when Giuliani was the US Attorney in New York, the safest place to sell drugs was in front of City Hall. Bottom line: If you're a top-level state official, it's probably not a good idea to organize all-out (all night?) cocaine fests. But if you are in the habit of organizing cocaine fests, speak out against the war on drugs too, so at least people won't think you're a hypocrite if you get caught. Actually, speak out against the drug war in any case. (This blog post 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.)
Location: 
SC
United States

Middle East: Dubai Customs Busts Canadian UN Afghan Drug Worker

An international advisor to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Afghanistan Poppy Elimination Program appeared in the Dubai Court of First Instance Tuesday on charges he possessed 0.6 grams of hashish and two poppy seeds. The Canadian UN worker, known only by the initials H.W., pleaded innocent.

"My client is an anti-narcotics officer who cooperates with the UNODC," said defense attorney Saeed Al Gailani. "During his one-hour transit visit from Kandahar where he was on an anti-narcotics campaign, he was caught at the airport carrying the poppy seeds, which he was taking to Canada for experiments."

As for the hash, Gailani said H.W. participated in collecting and burning massive quantities of drugs. "His trousers must have mistakenly picked up the tiny quantity of hashish," said the lawyer. "It was natural that he tested positive for hashish which appeared in his urine test because he is considered a passive smoker especially that he burns about ten tons a day," said Gailani.

A verdict is expected later this month. The Canadian isn't the only one getting popped for ridiculously small amounts of drugs. Just last week, the Chronicle reported on an an unfortunate Englishman sentenced to four years for 1/100th of a gram of hash and an Italian facing a similar fate for 7/100ths of a gram of marijuana. As we noted last week, don't take your doobies to Dubai.

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