Friday, September 30, 2011

Mark Kleiman's Drugs and Drug Policy

Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins, and Angela Hawken have published Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2011). This is a smart and useful book for all audiences. Drug policy reformers will find many points they will agree with and many that may challenge their beliefs and prejudices.

The authors -- all highly respected scholars -- have produced an easy-to-read, authoritative guide to the key issues regarding drug. They aren't trying to make friends, they are trying to tell the truth as evidence or logic leads them. For example, they praise public health advocates who support sterile syringe programs, but note that many advocates of harm reduction don't support tobacco-related harm reduction such as smoke-free cigarettes.

The authors seriously engage some of the taboos often ducked in policy discussions such as a 25-page chapter entitled, "What are the benefits of drug use?" There are numerous smart discussions about factors and myths that surround "drug policy." For example, what is the role of science and evidence in making policy, or the factors in cultural conflict.

The concluding recommendations are smart.

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Troublemaker by Bill Zimmerman (Doubleday 2011)

Bill Zimmerman, a principal in Zimmerman and Markman, Inc., the political consulting firm that played a critical role in the passage of California's Proposition 215 in 1996 (the Compassionate Use Act for medical marijuana), has written a fabulous memoir, Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties. (Doubleday, 2011).

Zimmerman's story of his full engagement in the 1960s and 1970s is an outstanding page-turner of a memoir. This brilliant and courageous man was repeatedly in the center of the action of that chaotic time -- working intensely and constructively for civil rights, for peace and for justice. If you want to understand the 1960s, and the kind of men and women who made it the cultural and political watershed that it is, you must indulge in the pleasure of reading this book.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

NYPD changes marijuana arrest policy!

On September 19, the NYPD issued an order forbidding officers from the practice of arresting people for the misdemeanor of public display of marijuana by ordering people to empty their pockets. New York State decriminalized marijuana possession in 1977, limiting the maximum penalty to a $100 fine. But over the past 15 years, the NYPD has tricked or coerced close to a half million people into publicly displaying marijuana, and in order to arrest them, fingerprint them, photograph them, and give them lifetime criminal records. 87 percent of those arrested have been black or Hispanic, a completely disproportionate figure.

In issuing the new order, NYPD Commissioner William Kelley noted that “questions have been raised about the processing of certain marijuana arrests.” Indeed! On June, 23 2011, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation filed a formal demand with the U.S. Department of Justice asking for a civil and criminal investigation of the NYPD leadership and top New York City officials suggesting that the marijuana arrest program is an unlawful pattern or practice of conduct designed to violate the constitutional rights of the persons being arrested, in felony violation of federal law. Here is the letter to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, a statement from Professor Harry Levine of Queens College, City University of New York, one of the courageous figures who spotted this problem, containing part of his detailed analysis of the arrest data, and the images of the certified mail receipts for the delivery of the letter to both the Assistant Attorney General and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

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More federal prisons may be on the way

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations last week approved its bill to fund Commerce, Justice and Science programs and agencies for FY 2012.

The bill, which comes from a subcommittee chaired by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), zeroes out funding for the popular Second Chance Act (which is proposed to receive $70 million in the House bill).

Shockingly, the bill added a $350 million increase to the Bureau of Prisons, a portion of which will help them kick off a multi-year prison building campaign that will result in 7 new prisons in 4 years.

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