Friday, February 27, 2009

CBS News legal consultant on marijuana taxes

Over at the CBS News website, Andrew Cohen, one of their legal consultants, is writing about the strong economic case for legalizing and taxing marijuana. Of course he has to say that he is not endorsing the idea, lest he be accused of being Cheech and Chong. Not surprisingly, broadcasters have one of the keenest senses of what words are really too dirty to say.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama, use your pardon power like Lincoln

Margaret Colgate Love and John Stanish have an important message for Obama in the National Law Journal.

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Obama budget -- $6 billion for federal prison

The budget released today provides for $6 billion for the Federal prisons. There are 202,777 persons in the custody of the Bureau today. 98,296 (52.5%) are there for drug offenses, as of the last calculation on Jan. 24, 2009.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Police and the rule of law -- what is the norm? what is the exception?

Interested in the Constitution, the rule of law, criminal justice, community oriented policing? Radley Balko has a short, must read post.

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Mexico's prohibition violence spreads north

The New York Times reported an Arizona legislative hearing on violence there linked to Mexico's drug prohibition wars.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marijuana Legalization? What the public is saying...

The website that describes itself as "politics done right," is reporting that nationwide between 40 and 44 percent of the American people support marijuana legalization according to three recent polls -- Rasmussen Reports, CBS News, and Zogby.

That is before any extensive discussion about the cost saving, revenue raising benefits, and before discussion about the details of a regime of control.

And DrugWarRant has a great discussion of the implications of this, and the new bill introduced by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

LEAP New Hampshire members featured in Union Leader

The famously conservative New Hampshire Union Leader ran a long story (1400 words) on Feb. 22, 2009, on three members of LEAP in the state. It is a very balanced representation of their views, and those of the law enforcement establishment in the state about the dangers of marijuana and their fears regarding its use.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Violence in Mexico -- another view

Ted Galen Carpenter at Cato wrote an excellent paper on Feb. 2, 2009, on the drug violence in Mexico. He addresses the spread of the violence into the United States, and the principal strategies being discussed on Capitol Hill to address what is, most immediately, the greatest national security threat to the U.S.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Legislative Scatology

Scatology is “interest in or treatment of obscene matters especially in literature.”

Even before George Carlin died last year, many writers noted the growing presence and acceptance of “dirty” words in American life and letters. The use of dirty words in broadcasts is an issue facing the Federal Communications Commission.

As Mel Watkins wrote in his obituary of Carlin in the International Herald Tribune, of Carlin's use and defense of the “controversial” language, “The material seems innocuous by today's standards.”

When Vice President Dick Cheney said to U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), “Fuck yourself,” in the Senate Chamber in June 2004, the infamous four letter word was printed in many newspapers, such as The Washington Post. (The use of language and how we talk about issues is one of the questions of that is addressed by essayist Stephen Miller in his book, Conversation: A history of a declining art (Yale, 2006).

But Carlin was most concerned about the essential cultural need for truth telling, as Carlin’s New York Times obituary pointed out. Some of his funniest bits illustrated how language is misused to prevent the truth from being expressed.

Are there words, not among the “Carlin Seven,” that remain unutterable? What words are so outrageous that even euphemisms for the words are used with peril? In January 2009, the El Paso City Council got hit with the intergovernmental equivalent of “I wanna cut your nuts out
when it called for “an honest, open national debate about ending the prohibition on narcotics.”

The unmentioned, unmentionable words? “Drug legalization.” On Jan. 6, the nine members of the El Paso, Texas City Council unanimously expressed solidarity with their sister city of Ciudad Juarez, where about 1600 persons were slaughtered by drug cartels last year. In most respects, it is a typically conventional resolution chock a block with “whereas, whereas, whereas” and “now therefore be it resolved.” It called “strongly” for more effective law enforcement efforts to stop the flow of weapons, chemicals used to make illegal drugs, and laundered money. It endorsed funding the major Federal, state and local law enforcement and anti-drug agencies. But, and this is the part where you need to cover your eyes, it urged the U.S. government to have “an honest, open national debate about ending the prohibition on narcotics.” (Council Minutes, p. 10-11).

The Mayor immediately vetoed the resolution, saying it called for a debate on the legalization of narcotics:

The action of Council in amending the resolution, which was drafted by the Border Relations Committee, undermines the hard work of the Committee by adding new language which may affect the credibility of the entire resolution. It is not realistic to believe that the United States Congress will seriously consider any broad based debate on the legalization of narcotics. That position is not consistent with community standards both locally and nationally. I urge Council to reconsider supporting the original wording as recommended by the Committee.

Five members of the Texas House of Representatives immediately wrote to the El Paso City Council that the resolution’s call for “an honest, open national debate “ was “support for discussions to legalize narcotics at the federal level.” They warned if the resolution were not vetoed, “Funding [by the State of Texas] for local law enforcement efforts and other important programs to our community are likely being put in jeopardy, especially during a time when state resources are scarce.” Translation: “We’re gonna cut your nuts out!”

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes of El Paso, powerful chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also warned El Paso civic leaders that Congress would retaliate against El Paso in the “economic stimulus package in which El Paso stands to benefit” – unless the resolution were vetoed.

Is this comprehensible? A congressman tells his constituents, “If you ask for an open honest debate about the failed policy that has left 1600 bodies dumped on the other side of your metropolitan area, ‘Congress is gonna cut your nuts out!’”

Witnessing a murder epidemic by gangs who are financed by illegal drugs, the council not unreasonably suggested an “honest, open national debate” about the policy that created and empowers those gangs. Why does this sound like a string of obscenities to the ears of congressmen and Texas legislators? George Carlin would be having a field day with this story.

Notice that when serious people question the current ineffective strategy, the defenders of the status quo label this question as a call for "drug legalization." They prefer to use "drug legalization" as they would the term "Communist" or "fascist," trying to create the implication that no reasonable person would advocate such a preposterous position. This is the same tactic of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils of a half century ago. When civil rights activists tried to register black citizens to vote, they were accused being Communists, and of taking orders from the Kremlin. That was a charge J. Edgar Hoover made against Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in warning John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to keep their distance from him.

The El Paso resolution found on pp. 9-11 of the Council's minutes is more mild than the typical volume of the Congressional Record. But when the city council was threatened with economic retaliation from their congressman and their state legislature, four members of the council reversed their position and sustained the Mayor’s veto.

Twenty-one years ago, I was an eye witness to similar pressure to shut down debate on our drug policy. In the 1980s, I was counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee responsible for drug law enforcement. In the 1980s, drug abuse was generally going down, but anti-drug rhetoric was going up. The illegal drug problem became the “war on drugs.” First Lady Nancy Reagan made drug abuse prevention her signature issue to deflect criticism of Marie Antoinette-like excesses in redecorating the White House during the 1981-82 recession.

Anti-drug politics spawned anti-drug legislation in 1982 and 1984 that I helped write. In June 1986, basketball star Len Bias died snorting cocaine the night he signed with the NBA champion Boston Celtics. In July, House Speaker Tip O’Neill from Boston saw the political advantage in this tragedy. Regular order policy-making was swept away in a flood of anti-drug hysteria. A few weeks later, I generated the infamous mandatory minimums for crack cocaine on my word processor without Subcommittee hearings or careful consideration. It was just one of hundreds of anti-drug provisions enacted on a careful political calculation that disregarded scientific research and the knowledge of the drug treatment and public health communities as part of the "Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986" (P.L. 99-570).

But early 1988, the “war on drugs” consensus began to crack. Kurt Schmoke, the new Mayor of Baltimore and a former prosecutor, and Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann, questioned the effectiveness of the war on drugs approach. It looked like an “open, honest debate” on drug policy was in the wind.

With a presidential election on the line, the new House Speaker, Jim Wright of Texas, led Congress to invest enormous energy into another omnibus anti-drug bill. In September, the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control held two days of hearings on Schmoke and Nadelmann’s ideas simplistically relabeled “drug legalization.” This was the opportunity for Members of Congress to heap ridicule and invective on any critique of the status quo – “open, honest debate” indeed. Two weeks before the election, the “Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988" (P.L. 100-690) passed.

Congress made sure to bury “open, honest debate.” Among its 374 pages, three provisions of the 1988 law stand out:
First, Congress declared that it was the policy of the United States to “create a Drug-Free America by 1995.” (Sec. 5252(b)).
Second, “It is the sense of Congress that proposals to combat sale and use of illicit drugs by legalization should be rejected; and consideration should be given only to proposals to attack directly the supply of, and demand for illicit drugs...” (Sec. 6201).
Third, “The Congress finds that legalization of illegal drugs, on the Federal or State level, is an unconscionable surrender in a war in which, for the future of our country and the lives of our children, there can be no substitute for total victory.” (Sec. 5011).

Politically, the law was a wash. The Democrats lost the White House again, and retained control of the Congress. The law created the drug czar’s office and President George H.W. Bush appointed Dr. William Bennett to trumpet zero tolerance the drug epidemic. One result: the population of the Federal prisons exploded from 36,000 in 1986 to over 202,000 today.

Instead of a smart policy, we have had twenty years of mostly rhetoric. Not only are Congress and the White House “drug czar” more than fourteen years overdue on delivering on their ridiculous pledge of a “Drug Free America,” in many respects the problems are worse. Since the early 1990s, drug use by teenagers has increased. The death rate from the use of illegal drugs has grown. American cities remain plagued by drug related crime and disorder, even as crime rates have fallen. Now we have 30,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting a resurgent Taliban that taxes the opium farmers. In Mexico, 45,000 Mexican troops are fighting the hydra-headed drug cartels that kill generals, chief prosecutors, police chiefs, mayors, journalists and thousands of others with impunity.

Today, when people call for a debate on drug policy, they aren’t calling for better or cheaper dope for potheads and addicts, they are calling for an end to the terror in neighborhoods dominated by the violence of drug prohibition, and an end to the power of the criminal cartels. They want to save lives and end the thousands of deaths of drug users each year due to poisoned and uncontrolled drugs. They want to end market logic that targets kids, and makes it easy for teenagers to become rich drug dealers. All Americans want the same thing, a system of control that protects public safety and public health.

Economically, our commitment to criminal punishment has resulted in the conviction of one out of nine American men of a felony. That accumulation of felons means tens of millions of men can’t earn decent salaries, can’t buy cars, can’t buy homes, and can’t contribute to our economic recovery.

Three-quarters of the public know our policy is a failure. They hunger for an open honest debate to hear about potential solutions.

What is this controversy really about? Don’t all Americans want a drug control system that works, meaning one that reduces violence, crime, and disorder; better protects youth; improves public health by reducing death and disease; and that wisely uses scarce public resources?

An unreasonably cynical view is that cops and the prison industry simply want the jobs and paychecks that come from fighting such chaos; that the violence is good for their business.

But it is human nature that crusaders are invested in their cause. The anti-drug policy is a mission, not a program subject to cost-benefit analysis.

Another cynical view is that the drug cartels don’t want any changes – their profit could not be better – and their campaign contributions are oriented the same way.

To whom and why is this debate be so frightening? Not those who believe they have strong arguments. Who stands to lose the most? The drug cartels and traffickers stand to lose the most. An effective drug policy would end their profits, end their power, end their violence and end their impunity.

Through bribery and threats, the cartels own countless public officials in Mexico and Colombia. The cartels have branches operating in the United States. If the cartel leaders cannot be quoted condemning a drug policy debate, who would they put up to it?

The rationale for vetoing the City Council resolution of Rep. Reyes and the Texas legislators is that a city which questions national policy will be punished. Are there any instances in which that has happened? During the Bush presidency, city councils around the nation adopted resolutions condemning the USA PATRIOT Act ,White House policies on torture, the Iraq war, and the president himself. Almost one hundred cities and towns adopted resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush. None of them were retaliated against for their resolutions.

In 2003, the Minneapolis City Council condemned the USA PATRIOT Act, the Homeland Security Act, various Military Orders and Justice Department directives in the “war on terror,” yet the Republican Party held their convention there last summer!

The threatened retaliation against El Paso for saying the dirty words “have an ‘honest open debate’ about drug policy” was no doubt a bluff. In these hard times, it was a bluff that at least half the city council was not going to call, and the Mayor’s veto was sustained.

Who is safer as a result? The people of El Paso, the people of Ciudad Juarez, or the members of the cartels?

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Violence in Mexico . . . and the U.S.: A report from McCaffrey

Today, former drug czar Barry McCaffrey spoke at the Heritage Foundation on the crisis of violence by the drug trafficking gangs in Mexico. (You can watch it online.) His remarks were titled, "A Strategic and Operational Assessment of Drugs and Crime in Mexico."

McCaffrey remains as obtuse as he was in the 1990s when he bloviated from the Clinton ONDCP against medical marijuana.

McCaffrey warned in his Powerpoint handout that "In the next 8 years, the violent collection of criminal drug cartels could overwhelm the state and establish de facto control over broad regions of northern Mexico." (Typically, he's over the top here.) The consequence for the U.S. could be a surge of refugees from the violence. (This could be true, but it does not really present a national security crisis -- Mexican labor is a vital part of our economy.} Mexico "is not fighting dangerous criminality --- it is fighting for survival against narco-terrorism." {For survival, really?) He notes that the drug cartels have "criminal earnings in excess of $25 billion per year."

But McCaffrey's warnings, from a U.S. national security perspective, actually miss the major threat: that the cartels will order Mexican-style violence in the United States -- first against soft targets like commercial rivals, investigative journalists, and later prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officials; and they will apply their economic muscle to control candidates and public officials who need election (and re-election) campaign funds.

Alicia Caldwell's piece on Feb. 9, "Mexican drug violence spills over into the US" carried by Associated Press, reveals that this is now happening.

Jason Trahan in The Dallas Morning News has a similar story this morning, "Officials fear Mexican drug cartel violence could reach Dallas-Fort Worth."

And Sam Quinones in the Los Angeles Times yesterday had a story on Sinaloa cartel drug-related kidnappings in Phoenix.

+ + + +

McCaffrey, following his script, praised Mexico's Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora for "a strategy to break up the four major drug cartels into 50 smaller entities and take away their firepower and huge financial resources." But as we learned in Colombia, breaking up the cartels into smaller organizations does not reduce the supply nor increase public safety. Certainly an adjunct professor at the U.S. Military Academy ought to know that a goal of taking away firepower and financial resources in NOT a strategy.

During the question period McCaffrey -- who has always traded more upon his enormous charisma and political skill than his knowledge or perspicuity -- was characteristically rude and dismissive of all those who challenged any of his analysis. His only point for reducing the "huge financial resources" of the Mexican criminal organizations were generalities about drug treatment and prevention to reduce demand for drugs in the U.S.

Of course what was off the table was any consideration of the context -- the nature of drug prohibition. Those who suggested thinking about this were cut off by the moderator. Nor was the conversation helped when the second question was utterly irrelevant and silly, "what do you think of medical marijuana?" (The challengers of the existing paradigm don't always look like the sharpest knife in the drawer.) McCaffrey crudely replied that medical marijuana exists -- Marinol capsules -- and should be administered as a suppository.

McCaffrey is correct that the violence problem in Mexico is more critical than ever. But this violence is not new. In February 1985, the cartel then headed by Rafael Caro Quintero kidnapped, tortured and killed U.S. DEA Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.

A dozen years later, in February 1997, DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine testified that "There is not one single law enforcement institution in Mexico with whom DEA has an entirely trusting relationship."

And now, another dozen years later, thousands are being slaughtered in Mexico, the violence is slipping into American cities, and the grand old men of the drug policy establishment have nothing new or constructive to say about what we can do about it.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kerlikowske to be next drug czar

The Seattle newspapers (Seattle Times here) (the Post Intelligencer) are reporting that Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske (since 2000) has been asked by the Obama Administration to be the next Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy at The White House.

Before Seattle, in the Clinton Adminstration, Kerlikowske had been the deputy director of the Office of Community Oriented Police Services at the Department of Justice. Previously he had been the Police Commissioner in Buffalo, NY, and Police Chief in two Florida cities, Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce.

In Seattle, he opposed the effort to pass Initiative 75 to make marijuana possession offenses the lowest priority for enforcement in Seattle. But once it passed, it appears that he did not work to frustrate the law. (This is in marked contrast with authorities in other cities and in Massachusetts who have disregarded such laws.)

Leaders of the medical marijuana community in Seattle (which has a state law recognizing the legal status of marijuana for medical purposes) expressed pleasure that on hearing his appointment.

"Oh God bless us," said Joanna McKee, co-founder and director of Green Cross Patient Co-Op, a medical-marijuana patient-advocacy group. "What a blessing — the karma gods are smiling on the whole country, man."

McKee said Kerlikowske knows the difference between cracking down on the illegal abuse of drugs and allowing the responsible use of marijuana.

Here is some advice for him from Mark Kleiman (UCLA) and Harold Pollack (University of Chicago).

Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML blogged about the appointment on the website of the Washington, DC political newspaper, The Hill.
He’s served 36 years in law enforcement, and it would be foolish to assume that he will embrace the public’s desire to amend America’s antiquated and overly punitive pot policies with open arms. That said, NORML is cautiously optimistic that Kerlikowske may bring a progressive approach to an agency that has, almost since its inception, operated in the ‘Dark Ages.’

The day the U.S. government finally — and properly — recognizes that drug use is a public health problem and not solely a criminal justice issue will be the day that the President appoints a White House ‘Drug Czar’ who possesses a professional background in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.

But until that day arrives, perhaps the best we reformers can hope for is a cop who appreciates that pot poses less of a danger to the public than alcohol, and who recognizes that from a practical and fiscal standpoint, targeting and arresting adults who engage in the responsible use of cannabis doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. At first glance, Obama’s pick, unlike his predecessor, appears to possess both of these common sense qualities.

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Pennsylvania judges jail kids for money

Associated Press is reporting that two Pennsylvania juvenile court judges took kickbacks amounting to $2.6 million to sentence juveniles to private detention centers. They are expected to plead guilty on Thursday. While Pennsylvania juvenile court judges typically "detained" one in ten juveniles, these two judges detained one in four.

When I was a young public defender in 1977 and 1978, I faced judges who I believed were unjust because they actually presumed that the accused were guilty, they disregarded exculpatory evidence, and ruled in ways that denied the accused the opportunity to defend themselves. In juvenile court, we usually appeared before attorneys who were appointed to serve as "masters" in lieu of actual judges. Those appointments were political patronage jobs, and these attorneys were also, in my view, indifferent to the constitutional rights of the accused juveniles.

But I never would have thought, even for a moment, that they ruled as they did because they were being paid off! If you had suggested this scenario to me as a hypothetical, I would have been very skeptical that it actually happened.

The corruption which I fear is almost certainly growing in the U.S. is the intimidation of "plata o plomo" (would you like silver. . . or lead?) that the criminal gangs in Colombia and Mexico present to public officials, the police and the judiciary. Operating in hundreds of U.S. cities, it is inconceivable that the gangs leave their primary tool behind at the border. How does this operate? The typical ways: evidence gets lost, legal arguments are bungled, papers get mislaid, witnesses are erroneously not notified, or specious defense motions are granted. At the legislative level, any suggestion about discussing a change in the status quo -- which is so profitable to the criminals -- in favor of an effective system that focuses on treatment and preventing recidivism is vehemently attacked.

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Pot smokers and murder

A Feb. 2, 2009 Dallas Morning News editorial took the occasion of the publication of the photograph of Michael Phelps using a bong to think a little about marijuana.

They noted while some Americans were surprised, marijuana use -- assuming that Phelps was inhaling -- is not a statistically aberrant behavior for a 23 year old American male. Like many, they observed that the conduct seems particularly foolish in that Phelps' endorsement contracts probably are linked to the preservation of the heroic, clean cut image associated with champion athletes.

Not straining anyone's credulity, they believe that it is unlikely that anyone will try marijuana because the endorser of Sugar Frosted Flakes has been photographed with his mouth on a bong.

They then do their part to try to discourage the young adults who read their editorials from using marijuana by reporting on the greater average potency of marijuana available today compared to that of thirty years ago, and that that marijuana use can be habit forming, that its frequent use interferes with memory, and most tellingly, its use depends upon a criminal distribution system to reach the young adult consumers like Michael Phelps. Fortunately they did not have the audacity to insist that the first three health risks justify the criminal prohibition of use, and warrant the prosecution of almost 800,000 persons for possession each year. Because, of course, those health risks do not justify the prohibition.

But they brought up the case of Rodney Phelps, a minor Detroit marijuana dealer killed in prohibition related violence.

The two Phelpses lived worlds apart, but the famous one's indiscreet pleasures depend on the daily misery of the obscure one who died young and in pain. It bears repeating that the names and faces of innocent Mexicans killed by drug cartels – for whom marijuana is their biggest moneymaker – will never make it onto a Wheaties box to be seen by the privileged Americans who, like Michael Phelps, take a recreational bong hit now and again.

Yet their fates are not so easily separated. That's something pot smokers like Michael Phelps have to own, too.

The Dallas Morning News raises profoundly troubling moral questions that every marijuana user should confront: If the delivery of marijuana to the American user depends upon a system of violence that kills thousands in Mexico and United States, how can it be considered harmless? If I am a marijuana user, how can I look in the mirror and ignore my complicity in these crimes? For if I (and the twenty million other marijuana users) did not indulge in the luxury of using this drug, these lives would be spared.

Morally, it evades these questions by noting that the government has created this criminal system. This is the system that it has set up to meet the demand. The large scale marijuana trade has been an established fact in the U.S. for more than forty years. The violence in the trade is not new; it is intrinsic in prohibition businesses. 37 years ago the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse recommended that the use of marijuana be decriminalized. Congress and the President have been steadfastly unthoughtful about how this violence might be eliminated.

Marijuana smokers are usually curious about the marijuana they are using. What is it called? Where is it from? Most marijuana users who are not close to the cultivation and who obtain marijuana at the end of a long chain of transactions have probably thought about how it traveled from the field to their hand. But most dealers probably don't know the whole story. If they don't know, like many salesmen, they are as likely to make up a story to justify the price

The tragic reality is that figuratively, there is blood on the marijuana Americans use. The marijuana from Mexico and Colombia comes from organizations that use violence systematically. Should that reality stop us from using it? Should we make it our personal policy to only "Buy American?"


The case to stop using such marijuana on the ground that its production and distribution involves violence would be much stronger, however, if we had any confidence that the production and distribution of most of the goods we consume is free of violence and crime, including the criminal exploitation of workers. I do not have such confidence. I fear, quite reasonably, that a significant proportion of the fruits and vegetables that I eat, believing they are "good for me," are picked by farm workers who are at a minimum underpaid, who are frequently exploited or endangered by the working conditions, and some of whom die. And, further, that the men and women who attempt to organize them are subjected to violence and intimidation. Commodities such as sugar, cocoa, vegetable oil, rice, and other grains, and meat are produced by underpaid laborers, who toil in unsafe conditions, that result in loss of life. I am confident that there are coal miners whose labors keep the electricity flowing to my home and office who are exposed to dangerous conditions that result in their needless deaths. Violence against labor organizers may not be as common as violence in the drug trade, but certainly the price of all these products includes the blood of innocents.

I eat, but hundreds of thousands starve.

To give us peace regarding the knowledge of good and evil that is intrinsic in our lives as consumers, I concluded that the sin of the consumption that cannot be separated from evil is part of the original sin for which Jesus gave His life. If we were not fundamentally forgiven for our role in this system of sin, we would live in unrelieved despair. This forgiveness applies not only to what we might characterize as essentials, such as basic foods or clothing, but to everything.

If we were all as sensitive to the evil built into our commerce as the Dallas Morning News would have us be regarding marijuana, could our capitalist system function at all?

Is there a beneficial role for marijuana in our society? Certainly. Even at the most superficial level of the entertainment value of cannabis, it is a proper role in society no less justified than the role of, say, newspaper comic strips, or the much more dangerous thrills of non-productive activities like skiing, white water boating, mountaineering, spelunking and many other sports.

On moral grounds, the Dallas Morning News, recognizing the intrinsic violence of the prohibition industries, ought to consider embracing the legalization of drugs coupled with harm reduction and education measures for that is the most likely avenue to reduce the deaths committed by the criminals by driving them out of the drug trade, and it would also reduce the deaths and injuries of overdoses and HIV.

Of course regulation of the industry would be necessary -- and with legalization, it would actually be possible. As we have seen with the Peanut Corporation of America, inspection and enforcement would be necessary, and mandatory.

As one holds the newspaper in one's hand and the morning coffee in the other, one ought to have a moment of silence for the loggers who gave their lives in the dangerous forests so that trees could be harvested to produce the millions of tons of newsprint that we consume. Let us give thanks to them and to the newspapers for the critical role that newspapers play in assuring that our government is open and accountable and that our businesses can communicate with their customers.

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Sheriff Lott of S.C. on the trail of Michael Phelps

DrugWarRant has a great photograph of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

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Heroin Maintenance studied for Baltimore Foundation

Baltimore's Abell Foundation commissioned Peter Reuter, Ph.D., one of the nation's leading drug policy researchers, to consider whether heroin maintenance might help the city. The 43-page report, "Can Heroin Maintenance Help Baltimore?" answers the question in the affirmative, but is scrupulously careful to note the problems.

The Baltimore Sun story focuses almost exclusively on the narrow view of the politics surrounding the idea.

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Blue Ribbon Latin American Commission indicts war on drugs

The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy has just issued a short report that calls for reframing the drug problem. There is nothing in the report that experienced reformers would find new. But it has the virtue of simply and cogently expressing a common sense approach in general terms.

The report recognizes that our current approaches -- in Latin America, in the U.S., and in Europe -- have largely failed to prevent the widespread production and consumption of illegal drugs. The current approach has resulted in a rise in organized crime and unacceptable levels of violence and corruption.

The report notes that discussion of the subject has been surrounded by taboos, prejudices, fears and ideological positions. Advocates of particular positions are dismissed out of hand because of these taboos, and legitimate approaches are ignored out of the fear of being so dismissed. The report urges differentiation among the various substances according to their harms, and recognition of the diversity of national situations.

The report notes the limit of repressive strategies directed at drug users, but affirms the need for repressive strategies against the organized crime networks. It grounds its solution in the need to curb the demand for illicit drugs. It fails to explicitly observe that the illicit status of the drugs is more easily controlled than the demand for the drug.

The report suggests that Latin America can move from being a "problem region" to a "pioneering region" by changing the paradigm for action. It urges treating drug users differently so that their status is not that of drug buyer in the illegal market but patient cared for in the public health system. This section does not address the consumption by users who are not addicts and whose use is not a public health problem. But this point does note that the violence and corruption "can only be effectively countered if [the drug trade's] sources of income are substantially weakened."

The report urges the evaluation "from a public health standpoint" and "on the basis of the most advanced medical science" the "convenience" of decriminalizing the possession of cannabis for personal use. Very importantly, the report notes that "decriminalizing drugs as an isolated measure, disconnected from a strong investment in information and education to reduce consumption," could have the contrary effect of worsening the problems of drug addiction. Perhaps more importantly, the failure to make this connection dooms any proposal in the political arena. To talk about changing the drug laws without talking about coupling that effort to demand reduction fails to address the concerns of parents, clergy, and much of civil society. The investment in consumption reduction must never be merely implicit, if a reform proposal is to be taken seriously.

Of course, the report affirms the urgency of an unrelenting fight against organized crime.

Finally, the report urges that the strategies of repression against the cultivation of illicit drugs be reframed. It calls for strongly financed alternative development programs, but notes the legal uses of plants and their ancestral use.

The report suggests that the inauguration of the Barack Obama Administration "offers a unique opportunity to reshape a failed strategy."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Conservative paper says it's time to study legalization

The Province, a conservative newspaper in British Columbia, noting the rising violence from drug prohibition, says it is time to study legalization.

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Comic take on Phelps imbroglio

Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live has a great segment on the Michael Phelps case.

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What does USA Swimming's suspension say?

You can write to USA Swimming to protest its suspension of Michael Phelps.

This is what I wrote, modifying the form letter from SAFER.

I am writing to encourage USA Swimming to reinstate Michael Phelps and stop driving athletes to drink.

Your organization's suspension of Phelps was intended to "send a strong message." Unfortunately the message is misguided and dangerous -- athletes should only use alcohol when they relax or party.

The government's prohibition on the use of marijuana is illogical. (See Professor Douglas N. Husak's excellent short book, Legalize This!)

What is the benefit to USA Swimming when it punishes swimmers if they use marijuana? None for the swimmers, of course. The punishment hurts the swimmers in order to protect your organization's image -- in some silly way. How crass! As the public outcry has shown, you are hurting your organization's image.

Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far SAFER than alcohol, both to the user and to society.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that alcohol use is a contributing factor in more than 30,000 American deaths each year, including several hundred from overdoses. The CDC reports zero deaths in which marijuana is a contributing factor. There has never been a proven case of a marijuana overdose death.

Studies have concluded that alcohol use contributes to aggressive behavior and violent crimes -- including assaults, domestic violence, sexual assaults and date rapes -- whereas marijuana use does not.

If alcohol contributes to so many serious problems and marijuana does not, why would USA Swimming prefer its athletes use alcohol instead of marijuana? And why would it punish those who wish to make the rational, safer choice to use a less harmful substance than they'd otherwise use?

I hope you will take this information into consideration, reinstate Michael Phelps, and refrain from sending pro-alcohol, anti-marijuana messages to athletes in the future.

Eric E. Sterling

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Sheriff arrests 8 in Phelps bong case

Well in the search for headlines, there is no stopping American law enforcement leaders. Eight folks have just been arrested in connection with Michael Phelps use of a bong in South Carolina last fall.

When it comes to injustice, some men with badges have an insatiable appetite!

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

DEA and National Security

The Washington Post reports on the reorganization of the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.

The NSC will bring new agencies to the table such as DEA.

Given the centrality of opium and heroin prohibition to the Afghanistan conflict and the prohibition violence in Mexico, this makes a lot of sense.

Elevating the issue can help clarify that the intrinsic ineffectuality of drug prohibition is a serious aggravation of our national security.

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State vs. Michael Phelps

A South Carolina sheriff is investigating whether to prosecute Michael Phelps for using marijuana at a party somewhere in South Carolina last fall.

Stanton Peele noted in The Wall Street Journal that thousands of young adults are arrested for marijuana every day -- but in New York City, which leads the nation in marijuana arrests -- 83 percent were black or Hispanic. In general, it would be pretty remarkable for someone like Phelps to be arrested.

Why should Michael Phelps be arrested? Smoking marijuana is against the law. Correct, but why should anyone be arrested for smoking marijuana?

A person should only be arrested because they are suspected of committing a crime.

What is a crime?
A crime is an act that interferes with rights of some one else -- hurting them in some way like an assault or taking their property -- or an act that is a failure to do a duty like paying taxes. For an official to take a bribe is the failure to provide honest services to the employer, typically the public.

It is not sufficient a reason to make something a crime because some in society -- even a majority -- do not like the behavior.

For example, would it be an appropriate exercise of the government's power to punish to make smoking tobacco cigarettes a crime?

No. It would not be moral to make smoking cigarettes a crime. Only when a person smokes cigarettes in a way that interferes with another person's ability to inhale uncontaminated air is he or she doing something that might be criminal. The typical level of interference might be a summary offense. Perhaps the conduct would be a misdemeanor if the interference were substantial in time or degree.

But it would be wrong for the state to attempt to punish a person for smoking cigarettes privately or with other persons who are smoking cigarettes.

Would it be a legitimate use of the government's power to punish to punish adults who smoke cigarettes in order to send a message to young people that they should not smoke cigarettes? No. It is wrong to punish people simply as a way to communicate a message or lesson to other people. This is known as collective punishment.

The extreme examples of collective punishment illustrate why it is wrong. During World War II, there were instances in which the German SS troops killed all the people in a village because someone in the village harbored Jewish refugees, escaped prisoners of war, or a person who had sabotaged a munitions train. This was collective punishment, and this conduct was determined to be a war crime.

When you hear someone saying that punishment is necessary to send a message to others, think of collective punishment. This is, of course, a different case from one in which someone has done something wrongful, such as raping a person, and in imposing a sentence the court says that it is imposing a long sentence as a way of sending a message to deter potential rapists.

Along these lines it is wrong for the government to punish a person said to be a role model simply because the person behaved inconsistently with our notion of what a role model should do.

We should distinguish between Olympic stars and Olympic stars with endorsement contracts. Is the fact that a person an Olympic gold medalist a ground for the state to punish the person for a minor transgression? Of course not.

If one has an endorsement contract, again, there is no role for the government. The issue is whether the company with the contract has the legal right to suspend its contractor for behaving in a manner that is disreputable and that brings the company into disrepute. What might be such conduct?
Cutting in line at the post office or the movie theater?
Leaving an ungenerously small tip for a waiter at a restaurant after a meal?
Cheating on a girl friend?
Drinking too much at a party?
Driving too fast on the highway?
Smoking marijuana?

If the company canceled the contract for such conduct, it is within their right, but does the company look small and petty?

We could ask, do role models ever go off duty? Do role models have any privacy?

This brings us to the question of whether any of us have any privacy?
Should people be entitled to privacy at all?
Do we have any kind of right to anonymity?
Can we just be unidentified as we mind our own business walking down the street, down the boardwalk, or in the mall or at the beach?

Or are we -- the moment we walk out our door -- fair game to spy upon, to examine, to comment about, to ridicule? Can anyone publish photographs of me, including my unattractive body parts that I am not most proud of?

Are we always in public, on the public stage? Are private events like a private party, now public events? Is there any longer an event at which you can let your hair down and "go wild?" Can young people any longer be young?

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