Monday, December 29, 2008

Arizona Attorney General might consider legalizing marijuana

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said he might consider legalizing marijuana if regulations on its distribution and use can be established.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Tell the story of the reality of drugs

The Reality of Drugs

Telling the story of how drugs and trying to control them is affecting
societies all over the world.
• We want your views and to tell your stories about how drugs and trying
to control them is affecting the world around you.
• We want you to spell out the issues and get the opinions of those
• We want you to communicate the harm the current approach to drug
control is doing.

You can do this through:
• Telling your own story
• Interviewing somebody
• Documenting an issue in the world around you

You can do this with:
• Video
• Pictures
• Sound
• Text

We can help you edit and translate the material you produce.
Above all we want you to get involved and become a part of the campaign.

Anybody wishing to get involved should contact:
Rupert George
Tel: +44 20 77494044
Skype: Rupert.George

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You can help

You can urge President George W. Bush to commute the sentences of deserving federal prisoners.
He needs to hear from Americans -- in large numbers -- to know that his conscience is leading him in the right direction.
The information you need is below.

I am blogging today because Kemba Smith, whose 24-year sentence was commuted by President Clinton eight years ago, tells some of her story today in an oped in USA Today.

Additional background about Kemba: About 15 years ago, Kemba Smith was an attractive, sheltered girl, who arrived in college who was captivated by a charming young man. Falling in love with him was a mistake. He was not really a charming college student. It was the well-constructed facade of a clever and ruthless crack dealer, and manipulative abuser of women. But Kemba dropped out of college to accompany her lover. His crimes were being investigated by Federal agents, but before he could be charged, he was murdered. Kemba got charged instead, pleaded guilty, and she was sentenced in 1995 to 24 years pursuant to the mandatory minimums of 1986 and the sentencing guidelines of 1987. In 2000, President Clinton mercifully commuted her sentence.

Once again, Americans in large numbers -- you, your family, your friends, and mine -- need to encourage President Bush to follow his conscience and commute the sentences of those whose sentences are unjustly long.

Please email President Bush:
Better, call his office 202-456-1111
Even better write, via fax.

If you wrote to him about Clarence Aaron, GREAT.
Then write to him about Hamedah Hasan.

Support him in his use of this power in deserving cases.
You could sign this petition.
Suggest persons who you know who deserve his mercy.
This is part of a nationwide campaign! Visit Crack The Disparity.

Here is the letter I sent to him by fax about Clarence Aaron:
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Via Fax 202-456-2461

Re: Commutation of Sentence for Clarence Aaron

Dear Mr. President:

I urge you to commute the sentence of Clarence Aaron. He was convicted by a jury in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Alabama for his role in a crack cocaine distribution conspiracy over 15 years ago when he was a college student. Between 1970 and 1986, the maximum penalty for a trafficking violation of the Controlled Substances Act was 15 years. After the cocaine overdose of basketball star Len Bias in 1986, the maximum penalty was raised to life imprisonment. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines that were adopted in Nov. 1987, provided for life sentences for trafficking or conspiring to traffic in more than 1.5 kilograms of cocaine base – 1500 grams, a little more than 3 pounds. This is excessively long.

The facts of Mr. Aaron’s case have recently been published by at,2933,461747,00.html and,2933,463410,00.html

This is an appropriate case for you to exercise your power under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Eric E. Sterling

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Clarence Aaron, in an excellent article by Jennifer Lawinski, is profiling the unjustly long three life sentences imposed on Clarence Aaron, a college student who introduced two coke dealers, and was briefly a courier. The ring leaders of the organization he briefly worked for pleaded guilty, served their short sentences, and are now free. Clarence has been in prison more than 15 years.

His case was also profiled by Ofra Bikel in her award winning documentary, "Snitch" on PBS Frontline in January 1999, almost ten years ago!

Go to,2933,461747,00.html

Write respectfully to President Bush "Please commute the sentence of Clarence Aaron." or call 202-456-1111

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Detecting cannabis intoxicated drivers

One of the important features of an effective drug control policy is the ability to detect drivers who are actually impaired by a drug. We can confidently distribute alcohol to the universe of adults because we can punish those who misuse alcohol by driving while impaired by alcohol.

Purdue University issued a press release in August 2008 that said that Purdue personnel and a business were forming a new business (Intelimmune LLC) to detect the actual presence of THC in the body. We all know that there is a very big space between a press release about the intent to do something that involves scientific research, peer review publication, product engineering, testing and approval of the scientific instrument, successful marketing, and actual use on the street. This is still a ways out.

But we should wish them Godspeed. An accurate measure of impairment linked directly to the neurologically active quantity of THC, and other relevant cannabinoids, would be an important feature in building public acceptance of legal, responsible cannabis use.

Accurate measures of alcohol ingestion correlated to measures of impairment means that our society is comfortable allowing Americans to consume alcohol, because we are a society that travels by car. We have an objective tool to discriminate between those whose drinking has not degraded their ability to drive a car below a minimum standard, and those whose drinking has done so. Implicit in this policy is the belief that there is a fairly standard correlation between quantity detectable in the blood and the degree of impairment. (Whether there is a similar curve for cannabis ingestion and the ability to operate an automobile is something we have yet to learn.)

The key point is that our society recognizes that many people drink modestly and then drive at some point thereafter, and we can sort out those whose drinking has been too great to permit them to be driving.

Effective drug policy requires accommodating this reality for other drugs too. The self-controlled social use of cannabis and other drugs will include mobility. It would be unrealistic to think that a legal cannabis policy would require that no one could drive for, let's say, twelve hours after ingesting cannabis.

A critical element of obtaining law enforcement buy-in, insurance company buy-in, auto safety advocate buy-in -- indeed buy-in by anyone who is not a cannabis user who also uses the roads, that is everybody -- is accurate impairment testing.

Impairment testing can either be performance based or based on a measure of drug quantity that has been tied experimentally to driver performance. Direct performance testing is the highest, most logical standard, as it applies to ability to drive regardless of the cause of impairment: tiredness, use of over-the-counter cough, cold or allergy medication, other legal medication, age, disease, etc. We use the much more subjective approach of the field test by the side of the road of performance impairment: reciting the alphabet backwards, and physical tests such as touching one's nose with a finger or testing balance by walking in an unusual manner (i.e., heel to toe).

Our society believes that there is a direct correlation between the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and impairment. We believe that this is sufficiently true in order to impose criminal liability for driving while impaired based upon the evidence of the BAC. We believe that the instruments used to measure BAC -- such as the Breathalyzer that "estimates" the BAC based upon the alcohol concentration in exhaled air -- are sufficiently accurate that we consider this evidence to be "objective" and more reliable than the visual field test of a police officer.
Currently, there is a consensus in our society and the courts that the "objective" approach to detect alcohol-induced impairment the relies upon the blood alcohol concentration standard is satisfactory. It may be that lawyers and scientists will challenge this consensus.

To the extent our society remains committed to this kind of "objective" measure, the Intelimmune concept sounds like it is taking the science in the right direction.

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Peter R. Orszag to direct OMB

The selection of Peter R. Orszag to direct the Office of Management and Budget has very interesting implications for the effective drug policy movement. Orszag has been charged with finding real budgetary savings. Orszag is committed to evidence-based policy, which is the antithesis of the damn-the-evidence, full speed crusade that has driven drug enforcement for decades.

In particular, Orszag has a specialty in health care economics. Substance abuse -- tobacco addiction, alcohol misuse, and drug misuse -- has big costs, but we know that in many respects these costs are a consequence of prohibition: the society's failure to effectively control the quality of drugs, their distribution, the appropriate and necessary education in the use of drugs, and the costs of lost productivity from criminal justice intervention and incarceration.

Recently Orszag lectured at Harvard. In his blog, he characterized the theme of his talk

Greater emphasis on the psychological and sociological influences on human health could lead to improvements in many areas of health care and medicine.

OMB plays a major role in setting policy for all federal agencies. In domestic policy especially it helps keep the various agencies in sync. This appointment looks like good news for those of looking for a smarter drug control regime.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Public health study shows addiction going down without arrests and jail; public employee unions should ask questions

Paul Armentano from NORML has noted on the prestigious Congress Blog at The Hill, one of the newspapers that specializes in covering Capitol Hill and politics, that a new CDC report shows that the prevalence of cigarette smoking has dropped below twenty percent!

Paul contrasts the dramatic decline in cigarette use since the 1960s with the increase in marijuana use, and concludes,

If federal lawmakers truly wished to address marijuana use, they would take a page from their successful campaign to reduce the use of cigarettes. This would include taxing and regulating cannabis with the drug’s sale and use restricted to specific markets and consumers.

One factor helping to reduce cigarette addiction has been increased tobacco taxes. Apropos of taxation, and the fiscal crisis facing states, counties and cities across the nation:

Before the nation's governors, mayors and county executives propose furloughing or laying off police officers, school teachers, sanitation workers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, and recreation aides who care for our family members and protect public safety, there is one question that the public employee unions should demand answered: How much revenue from marijuana taxation are they throwing away in order to sacrifice those jobs and the families of public employees?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Physician sentenced to 1500 lashes and 14 years in prison

A physician who treated members of the Saudi royal family for over 20 years has been sentenced to 1500 lashes and 14 years imprisonment for causing a Saudi princess to become addicted. He is to be whipped 70 times per week every week for roughly half a year.

Raouf Amin el-Arabi is a physician from Egypt. He originally was sentenced to 750 lashes and a 7 year sentence by the trial court, but the appellate court doubled his sentence, punishing him for exercising his right to appeal.

If this were an ordinary medical malpractice case, this extraordinary punishment would never be considered. Dr. Amin is a victim of the hysteria around drugs.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Morning-after Question: Who will be the Obama Administration's drug policy appointees?

In this morning's inbox:

I assume that you know the process by which the short lists for the new heads of ONDCP, DEA, NIDA, etc. will be formulated.
Do you know who will be compiling those lists, i.e. who has the task of planning for the formulation of drug policy in this administration?

This morning, few outside the campaign know yet the answers to these questions.

Drug policy and the drug policy chiefs are low priority. There is no urgency to fill these positions from the public or political realm.

A transition team will be appointed. There are likely to be two aspects of this.

First, there is likely to be a public transition process that may have some number of experts appointed to "study" the issue, and make recommendations. This is to give the concerned groups a focus for their concerns, and to demonstrate that no issue is being ignored. Clinton did this. Concerned groups of all kinds are completing their transition documents right now. A coalition of advocates of criminal justice reform is finishing their agenda catalogue and will post it here soon.

The second process is the real process which is likely to ignore the public process. The new White House personnel team will consult with political constituencies that are important to Obama, which will include appropriate key Members of Congress, and perhaps funders, and consider these appointments in a very large matrix that involves balancing paying back political debts, appeasing political pressure groups, finding a leadership team for the various agencies, and giving the best appearance of choosing "qualified" persons.

Selecting appointees is a higher priority than making any policy decisions. First, it is easier for the media to count up "unfilled" positions and blame the new Administration for being "slow" to fill vacancies. Second, because few policy changes are without political costs, most changes will require extensive preparation of the public. The possible exceptions might be medical marijuana and sterile syringe exchange which have large public support.

The three agencies and the agency chiefs are likely to be considered by three different teams: White House team, Justice department team, and a HHS team. For each of these teams, drug policy and drug agency heads are going to be lower profile, lower priority appointments.

For the Administration and the nation, the economic appointments and the national security appointments are going to be the top priority. Then there are a host of other issues and the agencies that deal with them that are much higher priority than drug policy.

Various groups in Washington and around the country will start trying to influence these decisions by assembling their own lists of suggested appointees and forwarding them to the press and to persons who know people close to or inside the new Administration.

I would not be looking for an announcement of a nominee to be the ONDCP director until the Spring. DEA can operate with an acting director, likely to be a career DEA manager, for a long time, as can NIDA. The decision of DEA Administrator won't come before a new Attorney General has time to orient himself or herself.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Funding necessary government programs

Here's an excellent account of how Britain taxed gin in the 18th century (replacing an experiment in prohibition) to fund the central government.

The 2008 recession is driving down government revenues in the U.S. Can we afford not to tax marijuana?

Gin, drugs and the bank crisis

Gordon Brown could look back to the 18th century for a way to pay for the banks' rescue and eradicate a modern plague

I have a cure for the financial hangover we're about to suffer. My cure will make us better, it will cost us nothing and it is based on solid, historical precedent.

In 1742, Britain was involved in the Austrian war of succession, our principle enemy being France. Our navy was very powerful but if we failed to participate in the land war on the continent, our allies threatened to make peace without us. We urgently needed money to finance a force of Hanoverian troops, to be based in Flanders. Lord Carteret, secretary of state under George II, proposed a "sinking" fund of £1.8m to pay for the troops and for various other expenses, to be borrowed at 3% per year – and he also had a suggestion as to how to pay for it.

In the 1740s, gin consumption in Britain had reached the proportions of a plague. Originally encouraged as a replacement for French brandy, it resulted in large sections of the poorest in the land becoming addicted. There were an estimated 10,000 gin sellers in London alone. Destitution, crime and premature death walked in that addiction's wake. Various attempts had been made to crack down. In 1736, exorbitant licensing charges had amounted to prohibition. The result was riots, and an increase in consumption to an estimated 8m gallons a year by 1743. Too many people had become dependent, either as drinkers or sellers, or both. Gin went underground.

Now Carteret proposed a revolutionary reform. He suggested a cut in retail licensing charges from £50 a year to £1, a level affordable for small-time dealers. This, together with moderate duties from distillers and allowing for costs and for a small measure of supervision, would result in sufficient revenue to pay for the Hanoverian troops, and it might also bring about a reduction in the evils associated with the gin trade. The naysayers were horrified. In the parliamentary debate that followed, they insisted that gin was evil and must be outlawed permanently. It was abhorrent to make money from it. The debate was long and heated.

Carteret won the day, and the naysayers were comprehensively proved wrong. His 1743 Gin Act was a triumphant success. It raised £90,000 within a year – more than enough to pay the interest on his "sinking" fund. Indeed, gin substantially financed British efforts in the Austrian war of succession. But equally important, gin consumption was brought within the control of the law and mortality rates began to fall, as did alcoholism and crime. Further licensing during the following years tightened the screw (but not too much), and gin gradually ceased to be a matter of public concern.

Today, as we are learning to our cost, the government is once more obliged to raise vast sums of money, this time to counter weaknesses in the banking system. And the sums are much more vast than they were in 1743. Gordon Brown's "sinking" fund to part-nationalise the banks amounts to many billions of pounds.

It is perhaps tasteless to say so, but we are fortunate that we face a social plague very similar to that of gin – the illegal drug trade. And as in the mid-18th century, we see the failure of abolitionist policies to control the menace. The total value of this trade amounts to between £2bn and £6.5bn a year – all untaxed.

Our financial hangover will be caused by the payment of interest on Brown's bank rescue package. He should take a leaf from Lord Carteret's book. He should license and tax the sale of all currently illegal recreational drugs at a level that would allow a substantial number of those involved in the trade to come in from the cold, thus incidentally reducing crime – combining this, of course, with oversight and control.

He should ignore the naysayers, just as Lord Carteret did, and for the many medical and social arguments in favour of abolition he might care to look at the website of the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit. The total benefit of such legalisation to the Exchequer is likely to be between £3.5bn and £6.3bn a year, including excise duty, VAT and income tax from the dealers and allowing for additional costs. This is more than enough to pay the interest on the bank rescue package at the sort of rates a government can command. You're a world leader, Gordon, and it's a world problem. With luck, others will follow you – again.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take the Handcuffs Off the Economic Recovery

See my post on the economic consequences of our criminal justice policies on the Huffington Post.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin tried marijuana

Is anyone surprised that a dynamic, competitive young
woman (a high school basketball star and beauty pageant entrant), who
has become a crusader against the corruption of the GOP establishment,
tried marijuana at some time? Half of all high school graduates try marijuana.
Most reasonable people are not surprised that curious young people
try marijuana -- even if they are athletes, raised in strong families
with good values.

Wouldn't it have been a tragic shame if Sarah Palin -- the 2008 Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States -- had been unlucky
enough to have been arrested, like 800,000 other young people every year?

Isn't it time to acknowledge that marijuana use in not only not
deviant, but not wrong? Doesn't the experimentation with and use of
marijuana by so many national leaders demonstrate that marijuana use
is normal and we should not be threatening an arrest, a criminal record and potential jail sentence to everybody who tries it or uses it?

If Sarah Palin had been arrested for her marijuana use, it is inconceivable that Senator John McCain would have selected her as his running mate, isn't it?

Isn't it time to acknowledge that since past marijuana use is clearly irrelevant in discounting a person's qualifications for national leadership, it is wrong to block the careers to tens of thousands of potential community leaders who have unluckily been caught with marijuana and given a criminal record? Nobody should have a criminal record for possessing marijuana.

Whether marijuana was legal or not in Alaska when Sarah Palin tried it doesn't really matter, does it?

The question is not whether she broke a law that most of us, in our hearts know is wrong. The question is, how long will we keep a law on the books that did not trip her up, but does devastate hundreds of thousands of lives for no good purpose?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

21-year old drinking age? College Presidents call for a debate

Those good folks at Choose Responsibility have enlisted 100 college presidents to call for a debate on the continuation of the 21-year old drinking age, according to Associated Press account in The Chicago Tribune. The project is called the Amethyst Initiative. There is also a good report in The Baltimore Sun.

Clinton Administration HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, now a university president, dissents. We've made some progress she says. Folks will remember her "wisdom," "political courage," and "respect for science" when she kowtowed to drug czar Barry McCaffrey on sterile syringe exchange. As head of health, she was willing to let injecting drug users acquire HIV and hepatitis rather than get into a fight with the "hero" of the Gulf War.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Expectation of privacy" -- going, going....

Congress is on a path to use colleges and universities to eliminate any expectation of privacy in using one's computer in doing one's school work, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and ultimately ending any meaningful concept of "expectation of privacy."

To prevent cheating and plagiarism, the Higher Education Act, (versions of which have passed both the House and Senate) will have students mount surveillance cameras on their computers to record them and their keystrokes as they think, research, and write.

Of course, such cameras in students' rooms will often inevitably view a student's bed or closet. Unless they are "turned off," and how can we know if they are ever really off, they would record students' most intimate behavior. This is a foreseeable and inevitable result. We are about to move from lamenting the exhibitionism of students posing before video cams to requiring it.

From the perspective of the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, circumstances in which a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy are not subject to the constitutional warrant requirement to precede a search (Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507 (1967), Justice Harlan, concurring). Once no one really thinks that they have any privacy in a place, then whether they are observed or not does not really matter for the purposes of arguing that no warrant is required.

Oh, and for all those occasions in which the video camera is simply on? Think about how much it easier it will be to conduct investigations and prosecutions for underage drinking or possession and consumption of prohibited drugs, etc. Instead of hilarious instances of "jackasses" who videotape their transgressions, many transgressions -- minor and major-- will now be unintentionally observed, transmitted and recorded.

Of course with all the intimate activity unintentionally being put on line, it will be easier to be a "peeping Tom." A significant fraction of distance learning students are high school students taking college-level courses. For child pornography purposes, a person is a child until he or she turns 18 years old (18 U.S.C. 2256(1)). This is good news for the courts (NOT). Prosecutors will have many more opportunities to bring child pornography prosecutions once this is required.

Do you think Congress has thought about any of this?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Privacy in dormitory hall ways?

Do college students have a reasonable expectation of privacy for Fourth Amendment purposes in the hallway of their dormitory outside their dorm room?

A panel of the Court of Appeals for the State of Washington (Division III) ruled that they do. State of Washington v. Jacob Sterling Houvenor, No. 25332-5-III, June 26, 2008.

The story was reported in the Wenatchee (WA) World on July 9.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

“We don’t want to fight addicts; we want to fight addiction. We need to manage addiction.”

“We don’t want to fight addicts; we want to fight addiction. We need to manage addiction.” The credo of the drug policy of Iran, according to The New York Times.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

More Pain Relief Needed. Use Afghanistan's Opium.

On May 8, 2008, I met in Washington with a delegation of narcotics officers and prosecutors from Afghanistan who were guests of the United States Department of State to learn about American anti-drug policy.

In a tone that I hoped was sympathetic to the teachings of Islam, and the violence and political instability that surrounds the production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan, I criticized prohibition in general and American anti-drug policy in particular.

The delegation received my comments very favorably. In Q & A, I was asked about the requirement that the enormous quantities of opium seized by Afghani law enforcement must be destroyed. Why, I was asked, can the opium not be sold to legitimate pharmaceutical companies?

I noted that there is a global crisis of insufficient pain management. (The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times reported on the human suffering that this causes in September 2007). The World Health Organization has major efforts committed to address the cancer pain crisis.

I noted that the "Western powers" in the early 20th Century, as part of their economic domination of much of the rest of the world, created international legal organizations to determine which countries could grow opium and how much.

My recollection was that only India, Australia and Turkey are allowed to grow opium for the international trade. It is outrageous, I said, that the "Saudi Arabia of opium" can't sell its opium to international pharmaceutical firms at a time when there is an enormous unmet demand for pain relief, and Afghanistan's people and government need legitimate sources of revenue to rebuild their nation and establish security.

To my knowledge, the United Kingdom has not been a pharmaceutical opium producing country.
But according to the Daily Mail on June 23, 2008, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was recently permitted to start growing opium for the medical trade.

Why should this be permitted to the British farmers and not to Afghani farmers?
This new development should be seen by Afghanistan as a precedent to change the international agreements to permit Afghanistan to supply opium to the legitimate market.

Allowing such legal cultivation would be politically and economically devastating for the Taliban and their terrorist allies, al Qaeda. It would increase the supply of pain killers available to the seriously and terminally ill in the developing world. It would help restore peace and end hunger in Afghanistan. And it would also save lives of American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal, Florida Says"

In Florida last year, there were 2,328 deaths due to "strong painkillers" like Vicodin(R) and Oxycontin(R), 743 deaths due to benzodiazepine-class drugs like Xanax(R) and Valium(R). Cocaine caused 843 deaths, methamphetamine caused 25 deaths, heroin caused 93 deaths, and marijuana zero deaths, according to the 2007 report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission reported in The New York Times ("Legal Drugs Kill Far More Than Illegal, Florida Says," p. A10, June 14, 2008). "Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons by Florida Medical Examiners, 2007 Report" is 43 pages long.

Sounds like a public health problem, but the Times' Damien Cave can only quote law enforcement officials such as Sergeant Lisa McElhaney, in the Broward County Sheriff's Office, for her insight: "The abuse has reached epidemic proportions. It's just explosive."

However we should give the Times' Damien Cave a great deal of credit for taking the initiative to put the fact that marijuana caused zero deaths in the middle of story. That fact is obtained from the medical examiners' report only by deduction. It was not stated as a finding or a conclusion.

It is worth noting that the number of cocaine deaths has grown almost continuously from 821 in 1993 to 2179 in 2007.

Deaths among older drug users; and the political misrepresentation of who is dying
It is also significant that in 2007 the number of persons found with lethal levels of cocaine in their body under age 18 was 4, ages 18 to 25 was 96, and among persons older than 35 was 582.

Consider this fact and the mantra of politicians defending unjust laws such a mandatory minimums. This is Senator Hatch on PBS Frontline's "Snitch" in 1999:

Sen. ORRIN HATCH (R), Utah: Well, we found- the reason why we went to mandatory minimums is because of these soft-on-crime judges that we have in this society, judges who just will not get tough on crime, get tough especially on pushers of drugs that are killing our youth. And so that's why the mandatory minimums, so that we set some reasonable standards within which judges have to rule, rather than allowing them to just put people out on probation who otherwise are killing our kids.

The consequence of social misclassification of the problem
In covering this report, could the reporter have asked doctors, public health specialists or health educators about the meaning of such data and what could be done about it? No.

Michael Aldrich, Ph.D., explained very cogently -- about four years ago in San Francisco -- that for the society a tragic consequence of misclassifying the "problem" of drug misuse as a criminal problem has meant that for decades we have consulted the wrong "experts," such as police sergeants. In general, our police "drug experts" are untrained, unqualified, and fundamentally ignorant about the causes of these kinds of deaths and the various means that a public health expert might suggest to address the problem.

What could we do to reduce these deaths?
I'm not a doctor or a public health expert. But I would ask such professionals, "Is it possible that we could save lives and prevent some of these deaths by educating drug users on safer drug use practices?"

Could family practitioners talk with teenagers and young adults in a way that acknowledges that they might be using "legal" drugs socially and not medically, and that non judgmentally advises them about how to minimize the dangers? Not in the current drug paradigm. Such counsel would risk prosecution and loss of medical licenses for "sending an inconsistent, don't do drugs message."

When a physician prescribes Xanax or Oxycontin to a person, might it make sense for the physician to call in all the family members aged 14 and older to talk about the risks to family members and guests having such a drug sitting in a parental medicine cabinet?

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Blind to prejudice, you can say or hear "Infested by the druggies" and not blink

The Saturday Profile in The New York Times on June 14, 2008 is of Fadela Amara, the French Secretary of State for Urban Policy in the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Amara is a strong advocate for the immigrants in France, many of them Muslim. She tells of her radicalization at age 14 when her 5-year old brother was killed by a drunk driver, and the police used racist remarks toward her parents.
In Steven Erlanger's profile, Ms. Amara is working with a street theater group, the Company of Contrarians. The founder of the company, Neusa Thomasi, 46, was born in Brazil. Ms. Thomasi says, as quoted by the Times reporter,

"Immigrants understand the problems of immigrants," . . . describing the need, echosed by Ms. Amara, "to reoccupy public spaces infested by the druggies and the criminals."
"Infested by the druggies." How is this term different from a racist slur?

Ms. Amara says,
Our tenets defend equality, condemn cultural relativism and combat archaic traditions. . .This is why I claim the heritage of the French Revolution. I'm universalist. I believe strongly in the values of the republic -- liberty, equality, fraternity -- and secularism.
I wonder, how do Ms. Amara and other self-proclaimed claimants to the values of the French republic -- liberty, equality and fraternity -- think the families of drug users hear the phrase "infested by the druggies"?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

U.S. - Mexico Anti-Drug Blah Blah

Monday, U.S. and Mexican customs officials "unveiled a cooperative effort," to fight the "escalating levels of violence that have turned parts of Mexico into war zones and spread as far as North Texas," reports the Dallas Morning News. The headline: "U.S., Mexico launch unprecedented effort to disrupt cross-border weapons smuggling." (emphasis added).

Will Customs' (ICE) efforts to stop the flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico be any more successful than the interdiction of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine from Mexico to the U.S.?

I have no confidence it will. What continues to strike me how the news media and Members of Congress remain blind to the incompetent and half-hearted nature of America's anti-drug effort. It is as though if they looked at how the money is being wasted by ICE, the DEA and the Justice Department by not doing what they are supposed to be doing, they might have to think about the logic of the effort, too.

Texas has four Federal judicial districts. Close to the border, we should expect that the federal drug investigators and prosecutors would be focused on the high-level trafficking organizations that operate along the Rio Grande.

Because of the racial disparity in the Federal government's cocaine prosecutions and the fact that so many of the crack defendants are minor participants in penny ante drug organizations, my July 2006 White Paper was successful in calling upon the Sentencing Commission to look at degree to which small scale cases dominate the federal investigations.

Thus there is interesting data that reveals the small quantities involved in Federal cocaine cases nationwide, compiled by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The average weight of crack involved in a federal crack case (examining all of the 4,262 federal crack cases brought in FY 2006) was 51 grams. This is just one gram more than the 50 grams that trigger a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. How little is 51 grams? It is the weight of a common candy bar, nothing that a major dealer would waste their time with. It is too tiny an amount to make into a Federal case when cocaine is smuggled into the country by the metric ton (1,000,000 grams), that is, too tiny an amount if your head is screwed on right!

Shockingly, nationwide, 35.1 percent of all crack cases involve less than 25 grams.

In FY 2006, the federal prosecutors in Texas were largely wasting their time (and our money):
In Western Texas, there were 127 crack cases, 61 less than 25 grams -- 48.0 percent.
In Eastern Texas, there were 94 crack cases, 44 less than 25 grams -- 46.8 percent.
In Southern Texas, there were 70 crack cases, 31 less than 25 grams -- 44.3 percent.
In Northern Texas, there were 67 crack cases, 21, less than 25 grams -- 31.1 percent.

Remember, the State of Texas knows how to investigate, prosecute and punish drug dealers. They certainly can investigate and prosecute neighborhood crack dealers. And Texas has one of the largest prison systems in the United States, indeed one of the largest prison systems in the world.

Yet in FY 2006, federal prosecutors in Northern and Eastern Texas actually brought more crack cases than powder cocaine cases. They spent more time in federal court with candy bar crack cases than with Mexican cartel leaders. And that means that more minor players fill federal prison cells than cartel leaders. What a waste of the federal effort!

Unfortunately there is no comparable data for marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine. We are unable to see whether ICE, the DEA and Justice Department are especially incompetent and wasteful fighting cocaine by focusing on local crack cases, or if this misfocus is the case with other major drugs of abuse.

Is it any wonder the violent Mexican cartels feel they can operate with impunity in Mexico, and the United States?

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Where is the crime? Where are the votes? Where are the ads?

Paul Krugman writes June 9 that Senator Obama's nomination indicates that America has changed enormously. In 1966 and 1968, fear about crime -- and "the associated fear that fair housing laws would let dangerous blacks move into white neighborhoods," says Krugman -- was a winning issue for the Republicans. Krugman adds, " I don’t think a politician today could get away with running the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad."

Krugman may be just too optimistic:
A conservative activist is attacking Obama as soft on crime, reports Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times. Floyd Brown, the creator of the Willie Horton ad of 1988, has created

On June 9, the FBI released preliminary Uniform Crime Reports for 2007 that show violent crime was down 1.4 percent overall. But murder is up in small and mid-sized cities.

Some very disturbing research in Memphis, TN suggests that the strategy to free poor Blacks from the crime and dysfunction of housing projects is spreading crime to the formerly safe neighborhoods to which they move, according to reporting by Hannah Rosin in The Atlantic Monthly for July-August.

Ted Gest at Criminal Justice Journalists reports on the June 9 FBI release.

Violent, Property Crimes Down In 2007: FBI Preliminary Totals
Reports of both violent and property crimes in the U.S. declined in 2007 from the previous year, the FBI said today. In a preliminary report, the bureau said the number of violent crimes declined by 1.4 percent from 2006, reversing two years of rising violent crime numbers. Property crimes were down 2.1 percent last year from the previous year. The largest declines were in vehicle theft, down 8.9 percent and in rape, down 4.3 percent and murder, down 2.7 percent, the Associated Press reports.

Murders were down in cities of more than 250,000, including a sharp 9.8 percent drop in cities of more than a million residents. Murders were up 3.7 percent in cities of 50,000 to 100,000, up 1.9 percent in cities of 100,000 to 250,000, and up 1.8 percent in cities under 10,000. Historically, murder trends began in the largest cities and moved over several years to smaller ones.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars

Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars is an excellent documentary about women in prison and their daughters.

Once a month the troop drives to the Hilltop Unit, a women's prison about an hour from Austin, TX, where the girls get to spend the afternoon with their mothers, assisted by the troop leaders/social workers. The Girl Scouts are equipped with camera, and one of their major projects is to interview their mothers, and record other aspects of their lives.

Troop 1500 is a real Girl Scout troop designed as "an intervention" for girls whose mothers are imprisoned in Texas for typical crimes: drug dealing, drug possession, aggravated assault, robbery. The troop has to address the intense emotions that surround prison visits. The joy and the anger.

Some mothers have been to prison several times. Over time, the parole hearings for the mothers get closer and closer, and the intense question is which moms will be released. And if released, will they be able to stay clean and out of trouble. One mother, in her interview with her daughter, notes that with her record, if she screws up, she is sure to go back to prison with a life sentence. You see her daughter's face as she says this.

The girls learn that one mother has been kicked out of the program, even though her daughter stays in it. We learned the mother is writing a book about her life. But she has asked volunteers for money to buy a typewriter and supplies. The institution examines her prison account which shows that she used the money to buy candy and they charge her with extortion. She gets two more years added to her sentence.

In another case, a daughter's caregiver has got a job in Colorado, and she is leaving her mom in prison and her friends in the troop behind.

One mother is not realistically going to see parole any time soon. She was a nurse, married with three children. She admits that she euthanized an elderly patient which she thought was a kindness at the time. She was sentenced to 50 years. She won't be eligible for parole until 25 years have passed. Yet her daughter keeps visiting her. At one point, the daughter brings a DVD with home movies of the mom as a child and speaking as her school valedictorian, and other movies of the girl and her siblings as infants and toddlers. She is not a drug user, a robber, but a healer who made a tragic mistake of compassion.

Some of the mothers talk about their lives -- drinking and using drugs at a very early age, or having children when they are very young. One mom was a crack dealer. She wonders what her life can be like after release if she is only earning a few hundred dollars a week, when that sum was her earnings for a few minutes during her criminal career. Another mom graduated from shoplifting to armed robbery to buy drugs.

The warden of the prison has reservations about the Girl Scouts. She fears that the girls will not see prison as the horror that it is. She talks about the selfish choices the mothers made.

The interviews and the prison visits are interspersed with the ordinary activities of the daughters as Girl Scouts -- going to camp, canoeing, making projects, playing, singing Girl Scout songs. These are lovely girls.

Very powerfully the movie makes clear that some of the mothers were profoundly self-centered. One mother took her young daughter along on her drug deals. One mother notes how every mother worries that others might hurt their children and observes how her crimes and her imprisonment have hurt her children far more than anyone else ever did or could.

My daughter is in Girl Scout Troop 4334. I've escorted her on her cookie sales for three winters. Last year, I helped to lead a canoe trip for the troop, teaching paddling techniques. Two days ago, on June 2, I led a hike for Troop 4334. We walked from their school into Rock Creek Park's urban forest and then along the creek. We were on our way to the troops' Flying Up ceremony in which Brownies become junior Girl Scouts at "Candy Cane City."

We stopped along the creek bank so the girls could throw rocks across the stream and into the water. At one point, I answered a question about what a sandbar was and how a sandbar is formed. We heard birds singing to mark their territory. Of course, we were on the lookout for poison ivy. The girls are just like the girls in Troop 1500, except that the girls in Troop 1500 are uniformly poor.

On Monday, our troop leader made a lovely speech marking the Flying Up, and noting how she could see one of our girls as a U.S. Senator or another girl as Member of Congress (goals you get when you live 7 miles from the Capitol).

The girls in Troop 1500 are great kids -- wise for their years, playful, compassionate. You see them brimming with potential and responding to love and nurture. And as you watch the girls and their mothers, you have to wonder, does our society have the right ideas about what to do about crime? Are the right ideas being applied in our prisons? Does our correctional system make sense for American families? Who is benefiting from our correctional system, and in what ways?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Crack cocaine injustice and failed policy

Sunday's The Washington Post Magazine (June 1, 2008) has an excellent article by Vanessa Gezari about Michael Short. Short received a rare presidential commutation of sentence in December 2007 from President Bush. His 19 year prison sentence was cut to 15 years, 8 months for his minor role in a crack cocaine organization in Washington, DC.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summoning Satan?

"Try Legal Weed," say the bottle caps on a beer from a microbrewery in Weed, CA.
The Feds want that stopped.

The Government keeps reminding us that their view of drugs has all the rationality of the fear of witches in Massachusetts Bay Colony as the Puritans were being challenged by Quakers, Jews, Unitarians, free thinkers and the like.

They are in a panic over what are essentially "magic words."

Federal anti-drug agents have more in common with a cult than public servants of a 21st century democracy.

They react as though these words are a black magic incantation summoning Satan to despoil the maidens of Seventeenth century Salem.

"Drug references" on beer bottles. Oh my God! Literally, stop the presses.

To paraphrase one of Timothy Leary's apocryphal statements, "Marijuana is so potent and dangerous, it causes delirium in those who haven't even tried it!"

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Medical Marijuana in California -- Questions

I am intellectually satisfied that marijuana has a wide range of medical values. I have been reading medical reports since 1976 when I met Robert Randall. I worked for a Congressman who co-sponsored medical marijuana legislation over 25 years ago. I followed the DEA administrative law judge's hearings in the 1980s, and read his findings of fact in 1988. In 1999 I read the report of the Institute of Medicine.

Therefore I believe marijuana should be available to patients who need it. So how do I understand what is happening in California?

Today, Joel Stein writes in the LA Times about his experience getting a physician's medical recommendation and buying marijuana at a dispensary. He implies that his medical complaint is , if not bogus, a commonplace complaint that few would consider a serious medical condition.

Bottom line, he satisfied the letter of California law to obtain marijuana which he is now essentially free to use socially, which seems contrary to the spirit of the law. He concludes,

I always wondered what would happen if marijuana were legalized for anyone over 18. It seems it already has been, and nothing happened.
I presume that doctors generally examine and treat their patients in good faith. I recognize that there are some doctors who are lazy, incompetent, dishonest or greedy, or all of the above. Is the California situation simply one that has created an opportunity for a class of unambitious physician to prosper?

Being in Washington, D.C., I think about all this playing out on the international stage. Yesterday I met with 7 top officials of Afghanistan's counter-narcotics police for a private conversation about drug policy, especially in Afghanistan. Of course, as guests of the United States I knew they had previously met with ONDCP.

In February, the White House issued the National Drug Control Strategy 2008 Annual Report . Brushing up on the government line, I saw that Afghanistan which supplies more than 90% of the heroin to Europe merits a page, and a map, on the next to last page of the report.

Thumbing through the report yesterday before my meeting, I came across the expose, "The Medical Marijuana Movement: Manipulation, Not Medicine." This White House gives medical marijuana in California priority coverage over the number one global source of heroin -- a country in which we are in a real war against the forces that attacked the Pentagon and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York; an enemy financed by the sale of ...that heroin.

Thinking about Joel Stein's column, today I went back to ONDCP expose. The White House reports on page 19 that "an analysis" of the patient records seized at "several dispensaries in San Diego" showed that half the customers were between the ages of 17 and 30. Only 2.05 percent of customers had recommendations for medical conditions such as glaucoma or cancer.

Given Joel Stein's report and others, this is not shocking.

But as one who believed that legal medical marijuana laws would primarily benefit and be taken advantage of by seriously ill people, I am confused and upset.

On one hand, I don't like scams and pretense. and the way this law is being "followed" looks like a scam. The scams of drug prohibition are a feature of our current drug policy that I abhor, so it troubles me that a reform I have worked for seems to have evolved into a scam.

To digress briefly, the economic premise of drug prohibition is a scam (as it drives up the price, it increases profits and attracts more suppliers). The moral basis of drug prohibition is a scam (there is no moral authority for the state to punish drug users for the act of using a drug because drug use is not wrongful -- by itself it does not hurt another nor negate a duty such as paying taxes). The scientific basis of drug prohibition is a scam (the harms from drug use are exaggerated, are not greater than numerous legal activities, and do not justify a prohibition on use). The fundamental tool of drug enforcement is a scam (create a false persona and earn the trust of someone in order to betray them by getting them to provide you with drugs that you have no interest in using for the purposes you claimed, use them only as evidence to send them to jail).

Because I see drug prohibition as a cruel scam, I think that it ought to be legal to buy and use drugs. But recognizing that drug use is risky behavior -- like skiing, mountaineering, white water rafting, sky diving, etc. -- a wide variety of harm reduction practices (which include legal controls) are appropriate. So, on one level I should be pleased with the situation that Joel Stein's observed,
I always wondered what would happen if marijuana were legalized for anyone over 18. It seems it already has been, and nothing happened.
But The White House Drug Strategy 2008 Annual Report says on p. 18 that, typical of the California medical marijuana situation, the San Diego police have
"received numerous citizen complaints regarding every dispensary operating in San Diego County. Typical complaints include:
* High levels of traffic to and from the dispensaries.
* People loitering in the parking lot of the dispensaries.
* People smoking marijuana in the parking lot of the dispensaries.
* Vandalism near the dispensaries.
* Threats made by dispensary employees to employees of other businesses."
This does not comport with Joel Stein's brief foray into the world of dispensaries.

The first four complaints are probably made by neighbors about the majority of convenience stores (except that the smoking complained of is typically juveniles smoking tobacco). No doubt aware of the perception of such problems at convenience stores, the 7-Eleven chain has an anti-crime and community relations program.

This type of neighborhood disorder is a legitimate challenge and responsibility for local government regulation.

Ironically, the DEA's wasteful interference in state medical marijuana laws has obstructed what could be effective local policing. Local police lured perhaps, by DEA money, Byrne Grant money or a share of federal asset forfeitures, or encouraged by DEA ideology, are taking the traditional enforcement approach to the dispensaries of raiding them to close them.

This has engendered a backlash. The California Assembly Committee on Public Safety recently approved AB 2743 to
make it the policy of state and local law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with the DEA or other federal law enforcement agencies in their attacks on sick and dying medical marijuana patients and their providers,
according to the Drug Policy Alliance California update.

Don't most of us want reasonable, effective, and humane oversight of the dispensaries?

There is a large experiment underway in California yet there probably is no consensus on what the experiment actually is about. Is it an experiment in medical marijuana? Or is it an experiment as Joel Stein says, in legalized marijuana for adults over 18. Certainly it will be hard to evaluate because the experiment is not being controlled or designed.

There are important questions: What is the actual role of the physicians who are issuing the recommendations? Are they facilitating the proper treatment of serious medical conditions that have been resistant to conventional medical treatment? Are they serving to block improper juvenile use of marijuana? Does their "gatekeeper" role help mitigate the abuse of marijuana?

It is time to ask the academic world to step forward to begin to seriously evaluate this experiment.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Radley Balko Interviews Ed Burns on Baltimore's "war on drugs"

Radley Balko at Reasononline has a terrific, in-depth interview with Ed Burns, a Baltimore police officer for 20 yars, and former school teacher who, famously, is one of the co-producers of The Wire. (He was also a co-author of the book, The Corner, a detailed ethnography of drug addiction in West Baltimore.) Here are some thoughts on the war on drugs, on the "stop snitchin' " movement, and on community-oriented policing.

Take just the term “war on drugs.” I mean, they’re not warring on drugs. They’re warring on drug addicts and the users and the small-time dealers. They’re warring on neighborhoods. They’re warring on people who can’t stand up to them. They’re not warring on major dealers.

You can follow it in any city, I don’t care how small it is or how big it is. If the paper is pretty avid about covering who’s getting locked up, you’ll notice that they’re not getting the big guys. They’re not getting the big stakeholders.

reason: What do you make of the "Stop Snitchin'" movement, the street campaign that discourages people from cooperating with police, which seems to have started in Baltimore?

Burns: Well, again, it’s something that’s incidental. It’s a symptom. If the police were connected, if the police were actively involved with the people in the neighborhood, the amount of information they would be getting would be so great that the whole idea of snitching wouldn’t be important. When I was a cop, having informants was a rare thing. They were looked down upon. I had sometimes as many as 50 guys working for me. I didn’t have to go out on the street. I could sit by the phone and just wait for the information to come. But you got that by being decent to people, working with them, helping them out on their little charges, stuff like that. That’s a lot of work and a lot of money comes out of your pocket to keep them happy and cooperative, but the amount of information you get back is profound.

Cops aren’t taught to do that anymore because today it’s all about numbers. You can get a number by just going up on the corner and grabbing somebody and getting a bag off of him. That’s the easy thing. If taking a guy in for drinking a beer on the street is a “1,” and catching the kingpin is a “1,” well, it takes two minutes to catch the guy with the beer can. It could take you two years to catch the kingpin. If numbers is all the department cares about, then the guy who pursues the kingpin is wasting his time.

And it is all about numbers. It’s how they talk, how they rate themselves. The fact that the murder rate in Baltimore stays constantly above the norm would be seem to be an indication that maybe they should try something different. But they’re bankrupt. They don’t have any idea what they need to do because they’re separated from the people. They’re not of the people. You’re policing as an army of occupation, not as police in the community. And that just doesn’t work.

reason: Is there any concrete policy you can think of that would lead to the more community oriented style of policing you’ve described?

Burns: You would have to change the nature of the institution. You’d have to stop making it a numbers game. Now, how do you do that with people who've been inculcated with this idea that it’s all about numbers? These guys have got computers, they've got charts, they’ve got all this kind of stuff, and it all revolves around locking people up. Clearly, that’s not the way to go. But it's how they sell themselves to politicians, and how they sell themselves to these community relation groups. This stuff is about locking people up.

The police should be focused on the most serious crimes, and in Baltimore the most serious crimes are murder, rape, and robbery. So you try to diffuse the other stuff, but you have to start putting your resources into those. Because if a person kills someone in the neighborhood, the neighborhood knows who did it. If the police don’t catch that person, and that guy’s walking around having beaten a murder, all the police credibility goes out the window.

It’s the same thing if you go up on the corner and you roust an addict while the guy sitting across from the addict has a gun. Everybody in the neighborhood knows he’s got the gun because he’s the bodyguard. And you don’t grab him. The people are thinking, well, maybe the dude is paying the police off. Why else would they grab the harmless addict but not the guy with the gun? Again, the problem is that the police are operating without information, and playing to the numbers. If I’m locking you up for petty stuff, you’re not going to be telling me shit. If I’m locking you up two and three times a month, you’re especially not going to tell me anything.

So how do you change all of this? You change the numbers game. You require police to reconnect with the people, and you start focusing everybody on the major crimes, the ones that make living very, very difficult—murder, rape, and robbery.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wire ends. Thinking about drug war violence.

One of contemporary television's most acclaimed programs, HBO's The Wire, concludes this month. The producers have rivetingly depicted the drug problem in all it ugliness and violence.

Should they have done so? According to the guidelines of some professional anti-drug and anti-violence propagandists, no. But first, the producer's of The Wire. They have lived with the ideas and drama of our urban drug phenomenon for more than six years and spell out a profound understanding of the problem. To address the problem they don't call for political organizing, they call for civil disobedience!

Writing in TIME magazine, ED BURNS, DENNIS LEHANE, GEORGE PELECANOS, RICHARD PRICE, DAVID SIMON, denounce the war on drugs as "venal."

What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has. And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we've been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.

Our leaders? There aren't any politicians — Democrat or Republican — willing to speak truth on this. Instead, politicians compete to prove themselves more draconian than thou, to embrace America's most profound and enduring policy failure.

They urge a form of civil disobedience called jury nullification.

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right," wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy — the flawed national policy of his day.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest.
Recognizing the current inability of the Congress and state legislatures to end the catastrophe of drug prohibition, they are calling for ending the war on drugs "one trial at a time."

But the defenders of the status quo want to whitewash the war on drugs completely. The Entertainment Industries Council "is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 by leaders in the entertainment industry to provide information, awareness and understanding of major health and social issues among the entertainment industries and to audiences at large."

They would not depict violence except very carefully so as not to diminish hope, etc.

In their "Substance Abuse Depiction Book" or Spotlight on Depiction of Health and Social Issues: A resource encyclopedia for the entertainment industry, in the chapter "Violence and Drugs", drug prohibition is barely acknowledged as a factor in the violence -- in one ambiguous sentence a few lines from the end.

I must acknowledge that the EIC properly recognizes the important roles of alcohol and tobacco as substance abuse problems, and the extremely large role of alcohol use and misuse in the nation's violence problem.

But let's get right to it. In the fifth sentence of EIC advice to media creators regarding marijuana, artists are advised they should,
Attempt to realistically reflect marijuana use as a potentially addictive behavior rather than a positive social activity.
Occasional lines of dialogue with people reacting negatively to marijuana use can contribute to a more accurate public perception about marijuana norms that deglamorizes such use.
With such advice circulating in Hollywood and New York, it is not surprising that the producers of The Wire stress that we need civil disobedience at the top of our national drug policy reform tool kit.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Another Drug Warrior -- Did he or didn't he?

In May 1995, Atlanta Mayor Campbell hosted an American Cities Against Drugs conference.
Here are my remarks at that time.

More recently, did he use controlled substances illegally? Did he have a substance misuse problem?

Or was he, once again, scamming the system -- this time in order to use valuable and scarce in-prison treatment resources to avoid some months of imprisonment?

The New York Times
March 5, 2008

Ex-Mayor of Atlanta Enrolled in Prison Drug Program After Denial of a Problem


ATLANTA -- The federal Bureau of Prisons allowed Bill Campbell, the former mayor of Atlanta now serving time for tax evasion, to shorten his sentence by enrolling in a drug treatment program just a few months after he told a federal judge that he had no substance abuse problems.

Mr. Campbell, originally sentenced to serve 30 months in prison and get out in February 2009, has completed the program and since December has been in a halfway house where he has a job and is eligible to go home on weekends, prison officials said. Completion of the residential treatment program allows up to a year to be deducted from an inmate’s sentence, and permits early transfer to a halfway house.

Mr. Campbell’s projected release date is in June, more than seven months short of his original sentence. About half of the reduction is because of good behavior in prison; the rest is because of his participation in the rehabilitation program.

But after Mr. Campbell’s conviction in 2006, his own lawyers argued in a sentencing memorandum that he should serve no prison time because of his clean record.

“Mr. Campbell is a well-educated man, with no health or substance abuse problems,” his lawyers wrote in the memorandum to the judge before sentencing.

He had no need of what they called the prison system’s “thinly spread” resources, they wrote. There is a waiting list for the drug treatment program.

Prison officials said inmates must offer documentation of prior substance abuse to enter the treatment program, but for privacy reasons they said they could not disclose whether Mr. Campbell submitted such proof.

The lawyers’ sentencing memorandum that cited Mr. Campbell’s sobriety, along with other court papers, was not reviewed when determining his eligibility for treatment, said Felicia Ponce, a spokeswoman for the bureau.

“We wouldn’t look at any evidence,” Ms. Ponce said. “We would look at the presentencing investigation report.”

The presentencing investigation report is written by a probation officer and is not a public document. But major discrepancies between that report and the defense sentencing memorandum are highly unusual, legal experts said.

The investigation report summarizes the defendant’s role in the crime, community ties, physical condition, substance abuse history and other details. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers review a draft of the report before it is submitted to the judge.

If there is no mention of a drug or alcohol problem in the presentencing report, inmates who want treatment must submit documentation of an abuse history from a doctor, treatment facility, psychologist or other “legitimate verifiable outside source,” Ms. Ponce said.

Mr. Campbell’s chief lawyer did not return phone calls requesting comment. The former mayor’s sentence reduction was first reported in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Mr. Campbell is no stranger to questionable documentation. At his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that many of his living expenses were paid with cash, rather than his salary.

Later they released a letter provided by the defense, purporting to have been written to Mr. Campbell by his mother before her death and claiming that she had provided the cash. The letter veered from legalese (“I, June Kay Campbell, have given my son thousands of dollars in cash gifts”) to sentiment (“It was done just between the two of us and I wanted you to have it, although you did not ever want it and always helped others”).

Gabe Pascarella, an Atlanta businessman who testified at the trial, said he was surprised to hear that Mr. Campbell, a close associate for two decades, had undergone substance abuse treatment.

“I was never, ever aware of any substance abuse problem he had with alcohol or anything else,” Mr. Pascarella said.

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