Arrests

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Attorney for City of Newburgh, Other Man Face Marijuana Charges

Location: 
Newburgh, NY
United States
Publication/Source: 
Poughkeepsie Journal
URL: 
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061005/NEWS05/61004013/1009

Blasphemy: College Reporter Quotes Us in Defense of the HEA Drug Provision

Ordinarily a lame anti-drug editorial in a college paper would escape our attention. Not this time. Nicki Croly of The State Hornet in Sacramento uses statistics from our website in defense of the HEA drug provision:

Some people would argue that this law makes it even harder for minorities to get a college education. This argument is invalid because according to www.stopthedrugwar.com, there are no statistics indicating that African-Americans use drugs at a higher rate.

Croly’s interpretation of this statistic is just plain wrong. It’s true that drug use among African-Americans is equal on average to that of Whites. But arrests, convictions, and punishments such as the denial of financial aid for college are imposed upon people of color at alarmingly disproportionate rates.

Furthermore, I highly doubt that our site mentions drug use rates among African-American without also noting the disparity with regards to arrests, convictions, and sentencing. For example, here’s a statement from our HEA talking points page:

Minorities are disproportionately affected by the HEA drug provision. While African Americans make up 13% of the population and 13% of drug users, they account for 55% of all drug convictions. The disparate racial impact of drug law enforcement will inevitably spread into the realm of higher education via this law. Accordingly, minority groups have far higher percentages of their members who are ineligible for federal
financial aid than whites. Currently, more African American men are in prison than in college.

So yes, the HEA drug provision absolutely hurts minorities more than anyone else. But that’s just one of a whole host of problems created by this counterproductive law. Here’s ten more:

  1. College education is proven to reduce drug use. Therefore, forcing students out of college obviously and undeniably increases drug use overall.
  2. The HEA drug provision only affects good students. If you’re getting bad grades you can’t get aid anyway.
  3. Students arrested for drugs get punished in court. It’s not like they’re getting away with anything.
  4. Many students misunderstand the rules and give up on college even though they’re actually eligible. Their lives are changed forever.
  5. Taking away opportunities from students sends a message that we don't want them to succeed in life. All students must be encouraged, not pushed down.
  6. Regaining eligibility by completing rehab is often impossible because it’s more expensive than school. Nor does getting busted for drugs necessarily mean that you need rehab.
  7. Most HEA victims were busted for small time marijuana possession. Casual marijuana use has nothing to do with success in college. Trust me.
  8. The HEA drug provision fails to address the most significant drug problem on college campuses: alcohol.
  9. The HEA drug provision only targets low-income students. These are the very people the HEA is supposed to help.
  10. Judges already have the authority to revoke financial aid. If a judge meets the student in court and doesn’t want to revoke aid, we should respect that decision.

The HEA drug provision causes drug abuse by driving students away from school and towards drugs. If you support the HEA drug provision, you support drug abuse.
Location: 
United States

No Kidding: DEA Says MJ Legalization Initiative Could Result in MJ Legalization

Reformers may have jumped the gun in condemning DEA’s opposition to Colorado's marijuana legalization initiative. If they're gonna keep saying stuff like this, I say we hear ‘em out.

From CBS 4 in Denver:

"There aren't enough federal resources on the entire planet to handle ounce size marijuana possession," Jeffrey Sweetin, a DEA agent said. "Your viewers should understand if this passes, we're really legitimately legalizing an ounce of marijuana. They're not going to be prosecuted."

That’s the point, silly. If the citizens of Colorado decide to stop arresting each other for marijuana, you’re not supposed to show up and ruin everything. Thank goodness there aren’t enough federal resources to do it, but that’s beside the point.

His observation is helpful though, because it illustrates the impracticality of enforcing federal laws that conflict with state-level reforms. It’s an argument for our side, and I can’t imagine why he’s using it.

Give ‘em enough rope…

Location: 
United States

Feature: Drug Arrests Hit Another Record High, More than 786,000 Marijuana Arrests Alone in 2005

The FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report Monday, and it showed that despite nearly two decades of drug reform efforts, the drug war continues unabated, at least when measured by arrests. According to the report, overall drug arrests hit a record 1.8 million last year, accounting for 13.1% of all arrests in the country. Marijuana arrests totaled 786,545, another all-time high.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bristoldrugbust.jpg
drug bust in Bristol, Virginia
More people were arrested for drug offenses last year than for any other offense. Some 1.6 million people were arrested for property crimes, 200,000 fewer than were arrested on drug charges. The number of people arrested on drug charges was more than three times greater than the 603,500 people arrested for violent crimes.

People arrested for drug dealing, manufacture, or cultivation accounted for only 18% of all drug arrests, meaning nearly 1.5 million people were subjected to the tender mercies of the criminal justice system merely because they possessed the wrong substance. When it comes to marijuana arrests, only 12% were for sale or cultivation, meaning some 696,000 people were busted for pot possession.

Marijuana arrests made up 42.6% of all drug arrests, suggesting that if the weed were legal, the drug war would shrink by roughly half. Heroin and cocaine accounted for another 30.2% of drug arrests, while synthetic and "other dangerous non-narcotic drugs" accounted for 27.2%

Marijuana arrests have more than doubled since 1993, when they sat at 380,000. By the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001, the number was 723,000. The figure declined to 697,000 in 2002, but has increased each year since then.

"These numbers belie the myth that police do not target and arrest minor marijuana offenders," said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre, who noted that at current rates, a marijuana smoker is arrested every 40 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 argued.

"One marijuana arrest every 40 seconds," sighed Tom Angell, communications director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "I think the numbers show that most people arrested for marijuana possession are young people, and presumably many of them are students. The more young people arrested for marijuana offenses, the more get convicted and lose their financial aid," he told Drug War Chronicle. "The consequences of a drug arrest don't end with handcuffs and jail cells; it's important to remember that when these numbers come out every year. Even if people aren't being sent to jail for long periods, they still suffer a great deal by losing access to public benefits and having criminal records that will haunt them for the rest of their lives."

"This is an interesting puzzle," said Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We hear all the time that police aren't making marijuana a priority, and yet the numbers keep going up. One might begin to think that some of these law enforcement people making these claims may not be telling the truth," he told the Chronicle.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/fbichart.gif
drug arrest percentages, 1994-2003 (source: FBI)
The massive marijuana arrest figures somehow come in under the radar, Mirken said. "When I talk to reporters about these numbers, they are shocked. A lot of people don't seem to know that for three years running now, we've arrested more than three-quarters of a million people for marijuana, almost 90% of them for possession. I wish I could say it was a shock that the number has gone up again, but it just keeps increasing."

"Arresting hundreds of thousands of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly needlessly destroys the lives of otherwise law abiding citizens," St. Pierre said, adding that over 8 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges in the past decade. During this same time, arrests for cocaine and heroin have declined sharply, implying that increased enforcement of marijuana laws is being achieved at the expense of enforcing laws against the possession and trafficking of more dangerous drugs.

"Enforcing marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers between $10 billion and $12 billion annually and has led to the arrest of nearly 18 million Americans," St. Pierre concluded. "Nevertheless, some 94 million Americans acknowledge having used marijuana during their lives. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals for their use of a substance that poses no greater -- and arguably far fewer -- health risks than alcohol or tobacco. A better and more sensible solution would be to tax and regulate cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco."

"These sorts of numbers show the challenges the drug reform movement continues to face," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, we're doing a good job of keeping people out of jail. Most people arrested on drug charges, at least for possession, probably get probation, and that's important," he told the Chronicle. "That said, the challenge for us is to deconstruct the institutions that support this. While most arrests are at the state and local level, the funding that the federal government provides to law enforcement is all tied to arrests, so state and local police forces have a very strong incentive to keep arresting drug offenders."

Pot-Growing Busts Continue To Climb (California)

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Napa Valley Register
URL: 
http://www.napavalleyregister.com/articles/2006/09/19/news/local/iq_3606607.txt

Europe: London Police More Likely to Arrest Blacks Than Whites for Marijuana Possession

A report from Scotland Yard, headquarters for London's Metropolitan Police, on race and marijuana arrests is leading to charges of racism. The report found that people from an African or Caribbean background made up 40% of all marijuana arrests in London, despite making up only 12% of the population. To make matters worse, once someone was stopped by police for violating the marijuana laws, he was more likely to be arrested if he was black.

The report looked at all 24,916 marijuana possession offences in the city between January and April of this year. It came as part of a broader study of marijuana policing since the weed was downgraded to a Class C drug in 2004. Since then, police have retained the power to arrest people for simple possession, but also have the option of issuing them a formal caution or giving them an informal "street warning."

They appear to be wielding that discretionary power in a discriminatory way. While 18.5% of blacks were arrested, only 14% of whites were. The numbers flipped when it came to those given a caution, with 19.3% of whites receiving them, compared to 14.2% of blacks.

Scotland Yard refused to blame racism in the ranks -- a sensitive topic in the Metropolitan Police in recent years -- and said "no remedial action is planned" pending further research. "We are undertaking further research of these figures in order to understand what the reason for the over-representation is," a police spokeswoman said. "It is not possible to reach a conclusion without this further work being conducted. The decision to arrest and charge will vary on a case by case basis and is often dependent on a complex variety of factors."

But George Rhoden, chairman of the Yard's Black Police Association, wasn't buying it. "It has got to be about racism. These figures show that racism plays a significant part in the way police deal with people of color," he told The Guardian. He said the police had been aware of the problem of disproportionality for many years. "So why are we still at this stage?"

Rhoden's criticism was joined by that of Dr. Richard Stone, who chaired an earlier commission looking at racism within the Metropolitan Police. Stone had "great sympathy" with Rhoden, he told The Guardian. "Where there is a disproportion of any kind you try to exclude any other possible reasons but none justify the continuing disproportion. You have to think the color of the suspect's skin is a significant factor. But the word racism has dropped off the agenda," he said.

Scotland Yard may not want to say the word, but the numbers speak for themselves.

Free Willie!

After a 50 year investigation, Operation Follow Willie Nelson’s Tour Bus has finally produced results:

Willie Nelson and some friends were cited yesterday for illegal music downloading marijuana and mushroom possession.



THE ULTIMATE IRONY: Nelson and others weren't arrested because the St. Martin Parish (Louisiana) jail was already filled to capacity. If convicted, Nelson and four others could each face up to 6 months in jail, however, they are more likely to receive probation and/or fines.
Location: 
United States

Man Is Jailed in Alleged Online Sale of Marijuana (Craig's list)

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/technology/la-me-briefs15.3sep15,1,6903159.story?coll=la-headlines-technology

Feature: Living on Katrina Time -- Lost in Louisiana's Gumbo Gulag

New Orleans resident Pearl Bland was arrested and jailed on drug paraphernalia charges in August 2005, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. She pleaded guilty on August 11, and her judge ordered her released the next day for placement in a drug rehabilitation program. Recognizing Bland was indigent, he waived the fines and fees. But Bland was not released the next day. The Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) instead held her because she owed $398 in fines and fees from an earlier arrest. She had one more court hearing in August and a September 20 status hearing was set where in all probability the fines and fees would have been waived.

Pearl Bland never got her September hearing. Instead, once Katrina hit, she joined thousands of prisoners stuck in purgatory. After suffering beatings from her fellow inmates in the OPP as deputies shrugged their shoulders, Bland was evacuated, first to the maximum security state prison at Angola and eventually to a jail in Avoyelles Parish. In June, she desperately contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which in turn contacted attorneys with the Tulane University Criminal Law Clinic, who managed to win her release on June 28. Bland wasn’t there for her release hearing, just as she hadn’t been present at four previous hearings in the preceding weeks, because her jailers couldn’t be bothered to deliver her to court.

"Pearl Bland spent 10 months in prisons around the state because of $398 in fines and fees that her judge would most likely have waived if she had ever gotten to court," said Tom Javits, an attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project. "But because of the storm and the the response to it, she didn’t get her day in court for months, and then only because she sought out help," he told the Drug War Chronicle.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/aclureport.jpg
ACLU report
It would be bad enough if Pearl Bland were a fluke, but sadly, her case is typical of what happened to people unfortunate enough to be behind bars when Katrina hit or to be arrested in the storm's aftermath. As the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Louisiana documented in their early August report, "Abandoned and Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Katrina," thousands of New Orleanians in custody when the storm hit were left on their own as guards fled the rising waters. Since then, those prisoners have been scattered to the winds, left without counsel, abused by guards, and left to rot by a justice system that is seemingly content to forget all about them. And with post-Katrina reconstruction bearing a very heavy law enforcement imprint, they have been joined by thousands more, many of them imprisoned for trivial crimes like spitting on the sidewalk, public drunkenness and simple drug possession.

A year after Katrina, thousands of prisoners have never seen an attorney, never been arraigned, never appeared before a judge. Scandalously, no one has a firm count -- or if they do, they're not telling. "Nobody knows the numbers," said law professor Pamela Metzger, who heads the Tulane Law School Criminal Law Clinic and whose students have been going into Louisiana jails and prisons in search of the Katrina prisoners. "When we ask the district attorney's office to assist us with this, just so people can get lawyers, they say it's not their job. Just since June, my students have been able to track down and get released about 95 people," said Metzger. "But we just have no one of knowing how many are in jail."

When the Chronicle asked ACLU of Louisiana executive director Joe Cook the same question, he had a similar answer. "I don't know what the number is. Ask the district attorney," he said.

The New Orleans district attorney's office did not return repeated calls seeking information on the number of people arrested before or after Katrina who have yet to see a lawyer or have a court hearing. Similarly, and perhaps indicative of the state of affairs at the public defenders office, no one there even answered the phone despite repeated calls. (That's not quite true. On one occasion, a woman answered, but she said she was an accountant and no one else was in the office.)

Published estimates of the number of New Orleans prisoners denied their basic rights to counsel and speedy trial have ranged between 3,000 and 6,000.

Part of the problem is the nearly total collapse of the indigent defender system in the city. It was in terrible shape before the storm hit, and collapsed along with the rest of the criminal justice system in the storm's wake. But while authorities were quick to get law enforcement up and running, it took until June for the criminal courts to begin to operate, and the public defenders' office, which depends on revenue from fines to finance its operations, was running on fumes. Now, nearly three-quarters of the public defenders have simply left even though they are needed to represent about 85% of all criminal defendants in the city.

The situation aroused the attention of the US Department of Justice, which in a report released in April concluded that: "People wait in jail with no charges, and trials cannot take place; even defendants who wish to plead guilty must have counsel for a judge to accept the plea. Without indigent defense lawyers, New Orleans today lacks a true adversarial process, the process to ensure that even the poorest arrested person will get a fair deal, that the government cannot simply lock suspects [up] and forget about them... For the vast majority of arrested individuals," the study found, "justice is simply unavailable."

The situation is also beginning to grate on the nerves of New Orleans judges. In May, Chief Judge of the Criminal District Court Calvin Johnson issued an order requiring everyone charged with traffic or municipal offenses to be cited instead of jailed. The city has "a limited number of jail spaces, and we can’t fill them with people charged with minor offenses such as disturbing the peace, trespassing or spitting on the sidewalk... I’m not exaggerating: There were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk," he complained.

Last week, another New Orleans criminal court judge, Arthur Hunter, made the news when he threatened to begin holding hearings this week to release some of the prisoners held for months without attorneys or court hearings. That was supposed to happen Tuesday, but it didn't. Instead, Judge Hunter postponed the hearing after prosecutors raised concerns.

While disruptions in the system were inevitable in the wake of Katrina, Tulane's Metzger laid part of the blame on the district attorney's office. "They have made some poor resourcing choices and they are hampered by a sort of knee-jerk response that everything has to be prosecuted to the fullest extent. They are not really looking to clear cases; instead they let people sit without lawyers until they're willing to plead guilty," she said. "It's a form of prosecutorial extortion."

It is not just people who were in jail when Katrina hit, but many of those arrested since who have vanished into the gumbo gulag, said Metzger. "Last week we found a man who had been jailed at the Angola maximum security prison since January. He was picked up for drug possession, his only prior was for marijuana, and he's been sitting in one of the meanest prisons in the country without even seeing a lawyer for eight months," she exclaimed. "We won an order for his release. He was supposed to get out Tuesday, but he's still in jail. We just don’t know how many more there are like him."

The district attorney's office is not only uncooperative, it is downright obstinate, Metzger complained. "We filed a right to speedy trial claim on behalf of a man named Gregory Lewis who had already served 10 months on a drug misdemeanor with a six-month maximum. The district attorney's office fought that, and their motion actually said, and I quote, 'It's not unreasonable to hold alleged drug addicts in jail longer than other people; it allows the deadly drugs to leave their system,'" she said.

The district attorney's office motion referred obliquely to detoxification, which is ironic given that there is now no such facility in New Orleans. "There is not a single detox bed in the whole city," said Samantha Hope of the Hope Network, a group that is seeking private funding to open a treatment and recovery center in the heart of the city. "Most folks in OPP right now are people who couldn’t get access to treatment for an alcohol or drug problem. That's the way it's been since day one," she told the Chronicle. "Rather than criminalize people with an alcohol or drug problem, we need to find a way to give them support. Confronting our money-eating corrections system, our good ol' boy network, and racism, that is hard to do."

The Tulane students have filed some speedy trial cases, but not everyone is fortunate enough to have a Tulane law student working his case so he can file a speedy trial claim. "In order to file a motion for a speedy trial, you have to have a lawyer, and thousands still do not have counsel,' explained ACLU of Louisiana's Cook. "The indigent defense system was broken long before Katrina hit, and now it is just a disaster," he told the Chronicle.

Drug war prisoners make up a significant but unknown number of those doing "Katrina time," said Cook. "It is definitely a significant proportion of them," he said, "but many of them have not even been formally charged. In New Orleans, as in most large urban areas, it's probably safe to say that a plurality of felony arrests are drug-related."

There are solutions, but they won't come easily. "We have to have a public defender's office that is funded with secure, predictable funding," Metzger recommended. "We have to get beyond relying on fines to fund that office. If we had had public defenders, there would have been someone watching to catch the abuses," she said.

"Second, we need to have prosecutors who understand their obligations to the community," Metzger continued. "Their job is not simply to get convictions but to do justice, and what that means will vary according to the individual facts and circumstances. What post-Katrina justice requires is not what justice required before Katrina. If you were living in New Orleans in the fall of 2005 and you weren’t drunk or high, there was probably something wrong with you. Everyone was medicated or self-medicating."

Cook had his own set of recommendations for a fix. "First, we turn up the heat. I just visited the DA this morning and asked him to speed up processing," he revealed. "We want to ensure there is a coordinated emergency evacuation plan for all the prisons and jails and we've asked the Justice Department's civil rights division to look at what happened at OPP and since. Part of that will be looking at why these people didn’t get defense counsel or have their day in court."

Turning up the heat is precisely what one recently formed community group is trying to do. And it's not just the prosecutors and public defender system it is targeting. "The police department has taken a new view of who belongs in the city now, and that view doesn’t include poor black people," said Ursula Price of Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a group organizing people who were in the jail or otherwise brutalized by police. Safe Streets, Strong Communities is running two campaigns, one to strengthen the indigent defender system and one about improving conditions at the jail itself. "They tell our members 'you shouldn’t have come back, we don't want your kind here,'" she told the Chronicle. "Race is an issue, economics is an issue, and our teenage boys are bearing the brunt of it. They are harassed all the time by the police."

It is a matter of choices, said Price. "We have as many cops as before the storm, and half as many people, and we just gave the cops a raise. The city finance department deliberately spends the vast majority of its money on public safety, and then there is nothing left for social services, which are deliberately being sacrificed," she said. "But I'm encouraged because the community is starting to take note. When people found out we were spending half a million dollars a week on the National Guard without it having any impact, they started to get mobilized."

Cook had a full list of needed reforms, ranging from downsizing the jail population by stopping the practice of using it to hold state and federal prisoners, to creating adequate programming for health care and treatment within the jail, to decreasing the number of people held as pretrial detainees. "We need pretrial diversion, bail reform, and cite and release policies to hold down the jail population," he argued. "There needs to be the political will to do this. It's a crime to jail a kid when there is a choice, and there are many other choices. And we ought to be treating drug abuse as a public health issue, not a law enforcement issue."

The prospects look gloomy. "It is going to take enlightened leadership, and I see only a glimmer of hope for that," said Cook. "But we are not giving up. The state juvenile justice system is finally undergoing reforms because of pressure from families and activists, and I think it will take the same sort of effort to fix things at the adult level and here in New Orleans, at the parish level. That is already happening here with the OPP Reform Coalition, the Safe Streets people, and all that."

But there is a long, long way to go in New Orleans.

Drug Arrests Up in Vancouver

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
Publication/Source: 
Toronto Globe & Mail
URL: 
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060828.BCPOLICE28/TPStory/National

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