Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No wait: Unintended, negative consequences of Canada's omnibus crime bill hit citizens, provinces

The Province newspaper in British Columbia reported that changes in reporting of old convictions resulting from C-10, the omnibus anti-crime bill pushed through Canada's Parliament this month by the current Conservative government, are having dramatic unintended consequences.

A 50-year old man on his way to meet his family at their second home near Palm Springs, CA was stopped by U.S. officials when Canadian records now reveal that he has a marijuana conviction from when he was 18-years old.

This is a classic example of the consequences of over-breadth in drafting laws. It leads to lumping together the kid who shares or sells marijuana to his friends and the organized crime figure.

Ontario expects that the law will cost it $1 billion per year. Ontario expects that its prison population will expand by 1500, and plans to build a new 1000 bed prion.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Was Cannabis an ingredient in the holy anointing oil described in Exodus?

Jane Marcus, a leader among American Jewish women, has written about the portion of the Torah that was read in services last week. She is only the most recent of many to argue that the King James Bible's translation of Exodus 30:22-33 is wrong and does not make sense. Jane cites some careful scholarship.

I have always been skeptical of many of the claims about Cannabis. The plant and its uses are surrounded in urban legend as well as charlatans. Many people want to believe anything that contradicts the official demonization of Cannabis. About 20 years ago, after I purchased several cartons of hemp paper from Paul Stanford that turned out to not have been made of hemp, I used to joke that the wings of the Wright Brothers' first airplane were made of 100% genuine Stanford hemp fiber. And, not only did George Washington grow hemp at Mt. Vernon, our one dollar bills are printed on 100% genuine Stanford hemp paper, etc. ("That's the ticket!")

Complicating this question, we know that many plants, like many fish, have a variety of names; and that a single name may be applied to a variety of plants or fish. I think it requires a high degree of scholarship to determine accurately and conclusively what plant was being named in a 3400 year old text, assuming that Moses wrote this section of Exodus.

It is also the case that when it comes to religion generally, folks -- both well-meaning and not -- make claims that challenge reason and common sense. Claims of all kind are grounded in various phrases of the Bible. This is not one of those kinds of claims. Indeed, it is quite plausible that the holy oil described in Exodus used Cannabis as an ingredient. We know that oil from hemp seed is a wonderfully versatile and nutritious oil. Extracting cannabinoids from the leaves and buds of Cannabis by including them as an ingredient in an oil would produce a medicinally and psychoactively useful material. But the plausibility of this claim does not make it true as a historical matter.

Of course, religious claims do not require historical confirmation to be religiously valid and accepted as true, and to be granted recognition by courts and society.

I hope that many religious scholars and observant Jews conclude that Cannabis was one of the four ingredients of the holy anoiting oil of Exodus, and that they resume using it in their ritual activities. I would like to see more Cannabis being grown and processed under the protection of the Free Exercise of Religion.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

NYPD -- arrest innocent people to boost arrest rates; ignore real crimes to depress crime rates

The Village Voice newspaper (of New York City) reports today on a secret internal NYPD study that verifies the claims of former Officer Adrian Schoolcraft about command direction in a Bedford-Stuyvesant precinct to make bogus arrests and ignore real crimes, previously reported in a 5-part series in The Village Voice. Schoolcraft knew this was wrong and illegal and refused to go along. He was ostracized by the department.

In October 31, 2009, top officials of the NYPD broke into Schoolcraft's apartment and forcibly took him to a hospital to fraudulently build a case that he was mentally ill.

After The Village Voice reported this story, the Commissioner ordered an internal investigation. The result of that investigation was suppressed and kept secret for almost two years.

Listen to the 41 minute story about his case on This American Life public radio program. It is a stunning indictment of command mismanagement at NYPD.

Schoolcraft and his attorney have established a website encouraging officers to report command misconduct, etc.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

The war on drugs hurts businesses and investors

Forbes.com has published my op-ed with this title.
Read it, comment there, Tweet it, post it to Facebook, blog about it, and forward it to your colleagues and friends.
Know anybody who has a retirement plan? Forward to him or her!

Let's get these ideas on the screens of business leaders, corporate managers, bankers, financiers, investment managers, lawyers, business school professors, economists, etc.

Help me get some buzz around these ideas and create some new allies!

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Should the Western Hemisphere Legalize Drugs?

In an interview given by Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina on Feb. 11, 2012, he said that he will bring up drug legalization at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, April 14-15. (Al Jazeera report on the interview). The Summit will be hosted by Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos who has also expressed criticism of prohibition drug policy.

It would be a fairly pointless conversation if the question were limited only to changing the laws in Central America. Given the trans-national nature of the drug trade -- a fact recognized in over a century of international conferences and treaties on drugs -- it is hard to imagine a single nation reaping the full benefits of legalization by itself.

Nevertheless, The Atlantic Monthly's website has a post addressing the now "out in the open question" of drug legalization, narrowly entitled, "Should Central America Legalize Drugs?" Author Ralph Espach is the director of Latin American Affairs at CNA, a non-profit public policy think tank that for much of its history worked very closely with the Navy in analyzing challenges. It is reposted at InterAmerican Security Watch.

Espach picks up on President Molina's interview.

Molina was inaugurated in January 2012, pledging to wield an "iron fist" against crime. Major Mexican drug trafficking organizations are moving drugs through Guatemala and reportedly the Sinaloa and Zetas organizations are fighting for control of the staging areas. The capacity of Guatemala and other Central American states to combat the drug trafficking organizations is several order of magnitude smaller than Mexico's capacity. The susceptibility of the small Central American states to be overwhelmed by crime is far greater than that of Mexico. And as we all know, Mexico -- one of the largest economies in the hemisphere -- has been swept by and is being staggered by a still growing wave of violence and homicide since December 2006 when Mexico's President Calderon declared war on the "cartels."

Espach says legalization advocates have three objectives: obtain tax revenue from the drug trade, reduce the value of drugs and the revenues of criminal organizations, and reduce the violence carried out by the cartels.

He notes that legalizing drugs is unlikely to generate much tax revenue for Central American nations because their capacity to collect taxes generally is so feeble. Espach thinks that tax collectors definitely would not be effective in seeking revenues from the powerful criminal cartels.

Espach makes a classic mistake -- that legalization means turning the legal drug trade over to the gangsters who now run it now. Of course, there is no particular reason why a legal, heavily regulated drug trade would be an attractive business for criminals in contrast, say, to chemical processing, plastics manufacturing, sugar production, or any other legal business. The association of crime and drugs is an artifact of the law, not an immutable feature of the chemicals. Where, as Espach notes, tax collection is inefficient across the economy and the society, it not likely to be efficient for a legal drug industry either.

I suggest, however, that a higher order goal than raising tax revenue to seek in changing drug policy is to remove the drug business from the gangsters and the gangsters from the drug business which means separating them from the money flow and removing the causes for the violence. Legalization is a necessary, if not sufficient, step to do so.

Espach also notes that the cartels would not drop their other criminal enterprises of extortion, kidnapping, organized prostitution, human trafficking, etc. if drugs were legalized. I do not know anyone who argues otherwise. But there is a big difference in customer satisfaction with the cartel business model between those who buy drugs from the cartel and those who pay ransom. The victims of extortion are not inclined to help keep that business going as the hundreds of millions of consumers of drugs have been. Without the drug customers, the cartels have many fewer friends and customers.

Espach notes that the sky-high murder rates in Central America are not exclusively caused by the drug gangs' competition and related violence. That is also completely true.

These objections all fall into the classical objection to drug legalization. "Legalization won't completely solve all problems that have been associated with drug prohibition!" "Watch out, legalization is not a magic bullet."

Certainly there are some drug legalizers who oversell the benefits of drug legalization. Yes, sometimes one can't tell whether a slogan is a tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker or serious claim, e.g "Hemp will Save the Planet." Go ahead, be cautious. Whenever I know little about an issue, I am by nature skeptical of any approach that seems to make grandiose and exaggerated claims.

But most legalizers are much more sophisticated than Espach is giving them credit for. I think most of them make much more nuanced claims about how legalization will help public safety, if they are not trying to make a six second soundbite.

Ultimately, I completely agree with Espach's conclusion about the importance of the strengthening of public security and the rule of law, and broad economic and social reform:

Ultimately, drug legalization -- like the drug war it's meant to solve -- would succeed only if public security is fixed and would fail if it isn't. That means better-trained and -equipped police, new campaign finance rules, faster and more independent courts, and even improved prisons. It means addressing not just the problems in the police and courts but the widespread poverty, malnourished children, and poor education systems. It means creating transparency in the public sector, curbing corruption, and breaking the long-standing links between organized crime and politics. Without these enormously difficult steps, neither drug legalization nor any drug war are likely to solve Central America's problems.

Espach's last sentence is correct, and it applies to Mexico and Colombia as well. But I think it is essential to add that without drug legalization, accomplishing those "enormously difficult steps" will remain "enormously difficult."

It will be interesting to see how sophisticated we can make the conversations about drug legalization as we approach the Summit of the Americas.

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