Tuesday, May 25, 2010

President Obama's high school drug use: how does it effect his authority today?

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute cleverly questions President Obama's moral authority to oppose drug law reforms that would stop prosecuting people who use drugs, writing in the Washington Examiner.
But he frames this in an exaggerated way:

The president lacks the moral authority to lock people up for behavior he engaged in as a young man.
First, this cannot be the moral standard for law enforcement personnel in general. If a teenage boy engaged in shoplifting, vandalism, drunk driving, and other legal violations, that boy now an adult does not lack the moral authority to arrest or prosecute teenagers or adults for those crimes, now recognizing the wrongfulness of those acts.

Second, the President is not actually locking up anybody. The enforcement of the law is the responsibility of law enforcement officers, and we might be upset if the President announced that he was not going to enforce laws that we think make sense.

However, the key point is that using drugs is not wrongful. No person is injured. No one is endangered, other than oneself -- and the danger could be compared to skiing, sky diving, mountaineering. Using drugs is not the failure to do a duty like paying taxes. The state lacks the moral authority to punish this conduct.

This does not mean that drug use in the wrong circumstances, such as when operating a vehicle, or when one has a duty or responsibility to be sober, is not an offense. Improper drug use is a special case. Of course, our drug laws are not written to prosecute those special cases, and most prosecutions for drug possession have nothing to do with such special cases.

There is no moral authority for arresting or prosecuting a person for conduct that is not wrongful -- whether the President did those things in the past or not. Perhaps what we need to recognized is that Obama's comments about his adolescent drug use acknowledge that absence of wrongfulness. That is what is troubling now that his Administration wants to continue to support morally unjustifiable prosecutions.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Corpus Christi Police make one of the biggest pot sweeps in the city's history

Drug War Rant picked up the story of the Corpus Christi Police Department efforts to eradicate a large marijuana plantation in a city park. After 300 to 400 plants were pulled up, with an incalculable street value, the police finally figured out that the plants were . . .not marijuana. Good thing they didn't send the SWAT team in.

Can you imagine how good these officers are in determining whether genuine marijuana is in "plain view" in a traffic stop? What kind of testimony do they provide in search warrant affidavits to establish probable cause for a search?
Can you imagine how often their undercover officers are burned by purchasing catnip or oregano on the street? No wonder they need to make it a crime to sell counterfeit controlled substances when the cops can't tell the weeds from "weed."

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Marc Emery -- American political prisoner

Marc Emery is in the custody of the United States, and has entered a guilty plea in exchange for a five year prison term. At the time of his indictment in 2005, the Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said in the DEA press release that his indictment for conspiring to cultivate marijuana by shipping seeds from Canada was "a significant blow . . . to the marijuana legalization movement."

This typifies how perverted the prosecution function can be in the United States. In America, we do not indict people in order to strike blows against political movements.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Molotov Cocktails thrown at medical facility -- who cares?

Molotov cocktails were thrown at the Planned Parenthood Clinic and the Billings Women's Center in Billings, Montana on Monday, May 10. Two weeks later there were demonstrations in twelve cities around the nation. Protesters blocked the entrance to the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, DC demanding an investigation of these crimes of terror by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI.

Wait, this never happened.

What happened is two medical marijuana dispensaries were firebombed, according to The Washington Post. The targets were Big Sky Patient Care and Montana Therapeutics in Billings. On May 14, police released security video from Big Sky Patient Care.

I congratulate Americans for Safe Access for promptly condemning this act of terrorism. But I did not see a similar statement by any other national organization (and I plead guilty for being silent as well, I am ashamed to say).

This crime is a Federal felony, set forth in Title 18, United States Code, section 844(i):

Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce shall be imprisoned by not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years.
And we know that this involved interstate commerce thanks to the 6 to 3 decision of the United States Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Raich in 2005.

Medical marijuana patients and their family, friends and supporters are so used to the routine violence directed against them by the government, that when non-government criminals attack them, the political movement that supports patients is too desensitized to respond. As victims, we have internalized the role of victim and its attendant expectations.

Why is this crime different from throwing a firebomb into the SSDP office on campus, or the MPP or DPA office?

Is the firebombing to be dismissed as simply local vandalism? No, it was clearly a political act to express disapproval of the newcomer unwanted by some. This fire is akin to the burning of a cross on the lawn of the first African-American family to move into the white neighborhood by the Ku Klux Klan. No one may be physically injured, but the message of terror is unmistakable.

Political attacks by DEA and state and local law enforcement have been routine against the medical marijuana movement. California Attorney General Lungren sued Dennis Peron, the prime promoter of California's Prop. 215. The U.S. Justice Department prosecuted Ed Rosenthal, the long-time cultivation guru at High Times magazine on growing marijuana. When he grew medical marijuana for the city of Oakland, CA, the Feds prosecuted him. DEA clearly sees itself engaged in combat the political activity of the drug policy reform movement by using its enormous coercive power.

Consider that when DEA arrested Marc Emery, ostensibly for his drug crimes, it announced in its press release that it was a blow to the marijuana legalization movement.

We are very thankful that no one was injured in Billings in this incident.

But it seems to me that the community of drug policy reform activists has become so inured to political attack and law enforcement violence, that a violent criminal attack is not so noteworthy that it rouses our community to appropriately and vehemently protest.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Compare the evils

Dan Gardner, the exquisite columnist at the Ottawa Citizen, writes about the extradition of Marc Emery, the Vancouver cannabis visionary and seed entrepreneur, to the United States for a five year prison term. Why did the Canadian government -- which tolerated his flagrant downtown seed business -- do this? Just what evil are they fighting?

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Monday, May 17, 2010

ACLU of Washington Inaugurates their blog

Alison Holcomb at the ACLU of Washington has written the first contribution to their new blog focusing on the Associated Press report on the waste of $1 Trillion over 40 years on the war on drugs.

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Drug Trafficking Organization Violence in Mexico -- History and some options

Two very distinguished scholars -- Luis Astorga and David A. Shirk -- conclude in this-25 page paper from the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that legalization needs to be carefully studied because it "could yield significant dividends, at significantly lower cost than both countries [the United States and Mexico] are currently paying in the war on drugs." (p. 24).
The authors notes that with potential tax revenue, potential profit and jobs "that could be created through marijuana production and sales, the trend toward decriminalization or even partial legalization of drug consumption appears likely to continue." (p. 24).

The paper details the history of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) growth and development, and their long history of close ties via corruption to the Mexican state.

The authors see four conceivable scenarios for reducing violence among Mexican DTOs:
1. Complicity with organized crime through a pax mafioso.
2. Reducing DTO capacity through the strategy of direct confrontation to break them into smaller groups, presumably more manageable, or redirecting major drug trafficking operations outside Mexico, "perpetuating the 'balloon effect'"
3. Eliminate the black market through prevention and treatment.
4. State regulation of drug production, distribution and consumption.

The fair inference of their paper is that they believe that the fourth option holds the most promise.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Kleiman's thoughtful views on the viral SWAT video

Mark Kleiman notes that the President's anti-drug strategy fails to count the suffering of enforcement as a serious cost.

I am risking putting words in his mouth he might not say when I suggest he sees the loss of life, animal and human, and the egregious loss of liberty of those millions of persons confronted by the police, arrested, convicted, imprisoned, etc. as an immoral stain upon our society and our system of justice.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

The power of ideas to change institutions and their culture -- and their limits

Drug policy reformers, especially members of L.E.A.P., struggle to change the minds of the nation. LEAP speakers speak to business and community leaders sharing a still-radical idea of the drug problem and its solution.

David Brooks, in The New York Times, wrote May 6 of how the U.S. military has been transformed in the past five years by new ideas about counterinsurgency. The ideas arose from the men and women in the field who were experiencing failure first hand. Sound familiar?

His column provides great hope that the nation will soon see the folly of drug prohibition and the wisdom of regulation, taxation and control.

But his column also carries an important warning for drug policy reformers. In the "new and improved" U.S. Army, the reform ideas have become such a dominant new paradigm that "it is actually stifling innovation." In drug policy reform, some of our leaders -- deeply committed to their paradigms of politics, social change, or post-prohibition architecture -- may also be stifling innovation. Five years ago, when I proposed to some of our established leaders the value of recruiting and organizing business leaders to end prohibition, the idea was ignored or dismissed.

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Video of SWAT raid -- dogs killed, child terrorized, pot pipe found

Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic Monthly's blog posted this video of a Columbia, MO drug raid earlier this year.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Congress' defective criminal legislation

A report on Congress' shoddy drafting of crimes was released by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Heritage Foundation on May 5, 2010. This is a case of "strange bedfellows," by Washington standards. Many laws were enacted in the past four years that failed to properly describe the state of mind or knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct that is a key part of a justly written crime.

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