Sunday, December 15, 2013

Guns, gun control, gun violence, etc. and drug legalization

There was a very smart commentary by Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearms Owners Association (IFOA), in USAToday (Dec. 12, 2013) about the largely pointless debate about "guns" after the Newtown, CT.

Among Feldman's conclusions: "It's time we remove incentives encouraging criminals to use, rather than avoid, guns."

In a Dec. 15 email to the Executive Directors of Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, NORML, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on Dec. 15, Feldman elaborated:

"It's time we remove incentives encouraging criminals to use, rather than avoid, guns" The incentives I refer to are of course that guns are the main only option when dealing in black market goods - no call to 911 if stolen, no use of the courts for product distribution or supply dislocation - only the ability to use force, and that force is mainly from the barrel of a gun.
Let me be blunt: The organized firearm community has a vested interest in this [drug legalization] movement even if many of the established organizations don't!  IFOA supports [drug] legalization because it makes sense and lowers harm.
A key point of Feldman's was confirmed -- without any acknowledgement of the significance of the data -- in The Washington Post, (Dec. 14, 2013). Twenty-four percent of all the children under 10 deliberately shot and killed with a firearm in 2012 was  killed due to "random violence, drive-by shootings, and neighborhood gun battles." That sounds like killings associated with the drug trade!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Edward H. Jurith, Drug Policy Leader and Attorney, 1951-2013

Edward H. Jurith, a key figure in American drug policy making since the early 1980s, died peacefully at home in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Ed has been my friend since 1981.

Ed served at very senior levels in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House for almost 20 years, including serving as Acting Director for almost all of 2001 at the start of the Bush Administration and during 9-11. Ed had been Director of Legislative Affairs, General Counsel and finally Senior General Counsel at ONDCP, beginning in the Clinton Administration. At the beginning of the Obama Administration he was again Acting Director until Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed on May 7, 2009.

Ed also represented the United States for many years in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee.

Ed was a very distinguished lawyer. For over twenty years he was a leading member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and at the time of his death was chair of its successor entity, the Task Force on Substance Use Disorders of the Health Law Section. He was also a very popular adjunct professor of law at the Washington College of Law at American University.

 Ed was a son of Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn in 1969, American University cum laude in 1973, and Brooklyn Law School in 1976. He practiced criminal law in Brooklyn and was involved in politics. He worked with U.S. Rep. Leo Zeferetti (D-NY), from Brooklyn, who in 1981 became the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).  That year, Mr. Zeferetti brought Ed back to Washington to be Counsel to the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).

The Select Committee on Narcotics was responsible for investigating and reporting on the entire range of drug abuse issues. At that time, I joined the staff of the House Subcommittee on Crime, chaired by U.S. Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), responsible for overseeing federal drug enforcement programs and processing amendments to the Controlled Substances Act in addition to money laundering, organized crime, gun control, pornography and other issues. Mr. Hughes was also a member of the Select Committee on Narcotics and I staffed his participation on the Select Committee. Thus I attended many hearings that Ed organized.

From the start there was a friendly professional tension between us. The Narcotics Committee had a very focused agenda and a fair deal of staff and budget, and some very senior and powerful members, including, after 1983, Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), a very senior member of the New York Delegation, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. But it had no power to report legislation. It could hold hearings and press conferences and issue reports and press releases -- but the Select Committee could not write any bills. The Crime Subcommittee had a very broad agenda: we had a smaller staff and drugs was just one of many important issues that we had to address. But we could write and move legislation to amend the drug laws or to modify DEA's powers. That was genuine power.

In 1983, the Select Committee on Narcotics organized a study mission to Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Jamaica to oversee U.S. anti-narcotics activities in those countries, to learn about those countries narcotics problems and anti-narcotics activities, and to meet with the top political, law enforcement and judicial officials of those countries to convey U.S. concerns about narcotics. Mr. Hughes and our Ranking Republican Member, Harold Sawyer (R-Michigan), arranged to accompany the SCNAC, and they were able to bring our subcommittee chief counsel, our Republican associate counsel, and me, an assistant counsel, as well. Since the trip was a Select Committee show, I did not have to work as hard as Ed and his colleagues, but those intense experiences strengthened our bond.

By 1984, I was often sharing with other staff and others my view that the war on drugs was a mistake and that some form of legalization of drugs would better fight crime and protect public health than prohibition. After my deep involvement in the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 -- along with Ed and his colleagues on the Narcotics Select Committee, as well as the House leadership, I carried out a strategy to leave the Judiciary Committee and work full time to end drug prohibition.

By 1987, Ed had been promoted to Staff Director of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. After I left Capitol Hill, Ed and I became friendly sparring partners on a number of occasions when the fundamentals of drug policy were being challenged.

In 1990 or '91, the American Bar Association established a Special Committee on the Drug Crisis, and Ed and I both were able to participate.

A few years later, the Special Committee was formalized as the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse. Ed, then the General Counsel of the White House "drug czar," was warmly welcomed. I was appointed by the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities -- the powerful organizational home the ABA's "liberals" -- to be their liaison to the standing committee. The Standing Committee strongly embraced an ABA-Join Together study that identified the crippling problem of continued stigmatization of persons in recovery, and Ed and I worked together on ABA policy to address that. Ed took the lead in encouraging the ABA House of Delegates to endorse Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP), but the proposed policy was defeated on privacy grounds. Today PDMPs are widely respected tools to identify doctors who are irresponsibly prescribing prescription narcotics or persons who are using multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain large quantities of opiates and diverting them away from legitimate pain patients.

At the ABA Standing Committee, after a few years, most lawyers would move on to another project in the ABA, but Ed and I stayed on. When the Raich v. Ashcroft medical marijuana case headed for the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ed and I began to collaborate on what became a series of continuing legal education programs on the subject held at three ABA annual meetings over the years. Prominent members of the ABA, including judges, served on the Standing Committee, but rarely with the experience in drug policy matters that Ed and I had. Often some matter of drug policy would provoke a mini-debate between us. A number of times I was told by one or another member how educational, stimulating and respectful they found our impromptu debates.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Ed spoke to a forum that I moderated, hosted by the Drugs and the Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, on proposed legislation to regulate medical marijuana in New York State. As always he was generous with his time, completely prepared, powerfully cogent in making his points, and unfailingly polite and gracious before an audience largely composed of those opposed to his position.

Ed Jurith was an extremely intelligent and diligent lawyer deeply dedicated to making the world around him better. He built an enormous network of friends who treasured his relaxed and open sense of humor, and his loyalty. We all knew him as a man who told the truth and honored his commitments. We learned how he adored his wife and boys, and treasured his joy as a father and husband.

In early August when I learned that ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske was being promoted to Customs Commissioner, I hastily wrote a blog and threw out some prominent names as appropriate successors, such as former Baltimore City and Howard County Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), or U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). But as I reflected on who, in the real world, would really be the most effective successor, I realized it would be Ed Jurith. Ed knew every aspect of the job, he had the long experience of working closely with Congress, with all of the involved federal and international agencies, and with all the private and state agencies in the field regarding prevention, treatment and enforcement. Ed also had profoundly good judgement. He knew what could work, and what wouldn't and had the courage and drive to fight for what was needed. His vision of the work was not driven by ideology, by partisan advantage seeking, or by personal ambition. He deeply wanted to free individuals, families and communities of the pain of substance use disorders. He was not interested in preserving organizational budgets or fiefdoms, but in justice and mercy. I knew that open support from a "drug legalizer" like me was not the most strategic approach, and so I worked behind the scenes to put Ed's candidacy for ONDCP Director before the President, the Vice President and other key players. If Ed's treatment for cancer had not failed to restore him, I think we could have found the perfect ONDCP Director to work with Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to re-balance our drug policy in a world with the parity for treatment  and expanded coverage of the Affordable Care Act, with legal marijuana in Washington, Colorado, and other states, and medical marijuana being demanded by legislatures and voters across the nation. His death is a real loss to the nation and the world, as well as his family and friends.

I shall my conclude this tribute to Ed Jurith with a much longer version of a story I briefly told his family and friends after his funeral mass Friday.

Advocates of "drug policy reform" or drug legalization (and journalists, civic association and academic programmers) often have a hard time finding prominent, qualified representatives of the prohibition-based national drug strategy to debate in public forums. What legalizers criticize as their opponents' strategy of trying to win the argument by ignoring its legitimacy, or an unwillingness to risk the embarrassment of defending the indefensible, is partly a legitimate unwillingness to face what is often a highly partisan audience willing to indulge itself with mocking laughter and snarky outbursts.

Ed Jurith was unafraid of critical audiences and faced them often, always with grace and good humor. I witnessed both the rudeness of the pro-legalization audiences in mocking the government's spokesman, and Ed's self-composed presentation.

On March 17-18, 2000, three very prominent New York City institutions arranged a two-day conference on the questions, "Is Our Drug Policy Effective? Are there Alternatives?" The distinguished sponsors were the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (now known as the New York City Bar Association), the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Academy of Sciences. The proceedings were to be transcribed and were published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal (Vol. XXVII, No. 1, October 2000, pp. 3 - 361). Forty-two distinguished experts across a wide range of fields were invited to speak. Most of the well known drug legalizers or critics of the status-quo policy were on the program: former Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, MD, Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD,  U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet (SDNY), Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon, David Boaz of the Cato Institute, et al.

Ed was invited and knew that it would be a hostile audience, but he was willing to come. In fact he was the only representative of the federal government. His remarks were greeted by jeers and laughter. Near the end of his remarks he said, "I was surprised that when I showed those slides earlier there was laughter concerning youth misbehavior and marijuana use.You may not believe the data, but I do not believe anyone thinks that it is healthy for young people to abuse drugs. This is the cynicism we need to get beyond." (p. 46).

Mayor Schmoke made the next speech, and I followed him. At the beginning of my remarks I said,
"I want to commend my old friend and colleague, Ed Jurith, for his thoughtful presentation a few minutes ago and for his willingness to come and speak to what he anticipated was going to be a critical audience, not a warmly receptive audience. I do not see you, Ed, in the audience, but Ed has always been a man whom I could talk to in a very civil and informed manner about drug policy, even though we have disagreed. Ed is an honorable and bright public servant who is genuinely committed to the public interest in these matters." (pp.53-54).

Ed, thank you for being my rival, ally and partner, and always my friend.

Ed's family would welcome gifts in Ed's memory to be made to his high school alma mater, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, NY.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the Silk Road the infrastructure of a Libertarian future?

Forbes has a fascinating interview with The Dread Pirate Roberts, the assumed name of the purported CEO of the Silk Road, a website for the anonymous sale of prohibited drugs and other contraband. Anonymity is the key, and the site relies upon the digital currency Bitcoin. The Dread Pirate Roberts argues that he is motivated by his libertarian philosophy to advance personal and economic freedom, and the opportunity to make what is probably millions of dollars.

The Pirate thinks he is going to change the world in favor of freedom. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is demanding that the government take down the Silk Road. As this anonymous commerce grows, it may become the alternative justification the NSA/DEA/CIA/FBI/IRS needs to justify to an angry public their massive invasions of privacy.

Take ten minutes and read this and think about the future, and the lessons of the past.

Kudos to Andy Greenberg of the Forbes staff.

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I Owed Drug Czar Kerlikowske an Apology

My post in early August about the promotion of "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske from ONDCP director to Customs Commissioner was both erroneous and impolite. Mr. Kerlikowske undertook a number of important public health measures that embraced "harm reduction" that I did not know about. Yet I unfairly criticized his tenure at ONDCP because of my ire at what I thought were uninformed comments about drug legalization and marijuana, and what I thought was posturing in describing federal drug policy as "balanced."  I spell this out at Huffington Post. I owed Mr. Kerlikowske and the readers of Huffington Post, and this blog, an apology. I mailed an apology to Mr. Kerlikowske to his office. I apologize to you for not checking the facts before I published.

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Drug Czar Kerlikowske leaving ONDCP

Corrections below.
On August 2, President Obama nominated Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, to be the Customs Commissioner.

Kerlikowske has been an unimaginative drug czar, often invisible. Having come from Seattle, Washington where he had been police chief, he was shrouded with hope that he would have enlightened views about harm reduction and marijuana use and enforcement. Those hopes were soon dashed. His office has accomplished little and his public statements have been uninspiring. He demonstrated no ability to influence the federal bureaucracy, and left ONDCP irrelevant in national drug policy efforts. ONDCP's role in forums of the United Nations, such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has been to stifle adoption of harm reduction, a singularly backward approach. His departure is good news for drug policy but bad news for the Department of Homeland Security and people who care about Customs enforcement.

Once again, Obama has an opportunity to reshape drug policy. Perhaps he could nominate U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), a leader in drug policy and criminal justice policy reform in Congress; Peter Beilenson, M.D. (CEO of Evergreen Health Co-Op; former Howard County, MD health commissioner, and former health commissioner under Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke); or U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) who also served for six years on the Colorado State Board of Education, including serving as Chairman. These men would bring a long missing sophisticated vision of drug policy to the White House.

At the Spring 2012 Meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Resolution 55/7 endorsing the use of Naloxone as a technique to prevent opiate overdose deaths was adopted with amazing speed.  The U.S. appeared to have dropped its long-standing opposition to harm reduction measures and explicit overdose prevention strategies. The U.S. emissaries were representatives of Kerlikowske's ONDCP.

In November 2012,  by video, Kerlikowske addressed the conference of the Harm Reduction Coalition in Portland, OR, and asked to work together.

In the past year, there has been important evidence of constructive policy change in ONDCP. I apologize for misrepresenting Kerlikowske's record.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Perpetrator of egregious racial disparities in law enforcement touted for Obama's cabinet

There is a prima facie case that the New York City Police Department has systematically denied rights protected by the U.S. Constitution to tens of thousands of individuals that it has arrested over the past decade for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. I asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the prima facie case of criminal and civil violations of these rights by the NYPD and its leadership two years ago.

This program is NOT the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD to look for illegal firearms by stopping suspects in high crime neighborhoods; this a completely different program of violating constitutional rights.

With the resignation of Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Commissioner of the NYPD, Raymond Kelly, is being touted as a potential nominee to be her successor. His nomination by President Obama would be an outrage.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Marijuana and the free exercise of religion: The prosecution of Roger Christie

Marijuana, as a mild psychedelic drug, can lead to changes in perception that many people find are spiritually profound. For decades, people around the world have used marijuana as a sacrament. These practices have been organized in some cases as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church or the Israel Zion Coptic Church, and its adherents are often colloquially called the Rastafari (Some Rastafari consider the terms "Rastafarian" and "Rastafarianism" to be offensive.)

The New York Times on July 19, 2013 writes about the prosecution of Roger Christie, the founder of The Hawai'i Cannabis (THC) Ministry, in federal court in Hawai'i on charges of marijuana trafficking. Christie has been in federal custody for over three years having been denied bail repeatedly.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Do we have more religious liberty or less than the residents of the American colonies three hundred years ago? 

In the late 17th century, New Jersey was two provinces, East New Jersey along the west side of the Hudson River and the ocean coast south of New York, and West New Jersey along the east side of the Delaware River and along the Delaware Bay. Much of West New Jersey was settled by Quakers. In 1664, the Concessions and Agreements of West New Jersey, one of the earliest written constitutions in the world, provided a very broad protection for religious liberty.

[Sixth] Item. That no person qualified as aforesaid within the said province at any time shall be anyways molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any difference in opinion or practice in matter of religious concernments, who do not actually disturb the civil peace of the said province; but that all and every such person and persons may, from time to time and at all times, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their judgments and consciences in matters of religion throughout the said province, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others; any law, statute, or clause contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm of England to the contrary thereof in anywise notwithstanding.
 Later in 1676, a Charter and Fundamental Laws of West Jersey provided:


That no men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters, therefore it is consented, agreed and ordained, that no person or persons whatsoever within the said Province, at any time or times hereafter, shall be any ways upon any presence whatsoever, called in question, or in the least punished or hurt, either in person, estate, or priviledge, for the sake of his opinion, judgment, faith or worship towards God in matters of religion. But that all and every such person, and persons may from time to time, and at all times, freely and fully have, and enjoy his and their judgments, and the exercises of their consciences in matters of religious worship throughout all the said Province.
This liberty was affirmed again in 1681 in a document quaintly titled, "Province of West New-Jersey, in America, The 25th of the Ninth Month Called November. 1681," entered into by, "the Governor and Proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of West New Jersey, by mutual consent and agreement, for the prevention of innovasion and oppression, either upon us or our posterity, and for the preservation of the peace and tranquility of the same; and that all may be encourage to go on cheerfully in their several places: We do make and constitute these our agreements to be as fundamentals to us and our posterity:

X. That liberty of conscience in matters of faith and worship towards God, shall be granted to all people within the Province aforesaid; who shall live peaceably and quietly therein; and that none of the free people of the said Province, shall be rendered uncapable of office in respect of their faith and worship.
Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn.

In 1701, William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, signed a Charter of Privileges that provided great religious liberty to the inhabitants.
That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.
 The Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast in the 1750s in order to celebrate that Charter of Liberties!

It is inconceivable that Roger Christie or the members of his ministry would have been prosecuted for their use of marijuana in Pennsylvania or West New Jersey in those times. It is outrageous that he and has co-defendants are being prosecuted for using marijuana for religious and spiritual purposes today.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Race and Criminal Justice: the case du jour

Over the years, I have often been asked to comment on the conduct and outcome of popular criminal trials such as the O.J. Simpson and Trayvon Martin trials. I am a former criminal defense lawyer. One thing I know is that if you have not been in the courtroom for the entire trial, it is b.s. to express an opinion about the trial -- the correctness of the verdict or the conduct of the judge or the attorneys. A second hand report does not tell you how a witness actually comes across, or the impact of a particular ruling or argument.

If I wanted to retain my professional integrity I had to resist the attraction of the studio and the pleasure of puffing up my ego -- a T.V. camera and make-up did not qualify me to be an expert commentator on a trial I was not inside of.

It is also b.s. to extrapolate from any verdict a conclusion about American society or the American justice system.  I think Andrew Cohen from the Brennan Center on Justice does a very good job noting the limits of what a criminal trial is about in the context of the Trayvon Martin -- George Zimmerman trial.

It is data, not single high-profile criminal trials that tell us about how the justice system works, and how it is anything but colorblind.  Obviously relevant to the Martin - Zimmerman case, a very interesting study of the racial disparity in how courts in the nation find that fatal shootings are justified or not is discussed by John Roman at the Urban Institute here. He writes,

Black Americans are far less likely to be adjudicated as justified in using deadly force in a firearm-related death. The difference between rates of justifiable rulings in cases with a white shooter and a black victim and cases with a black shooter and a white victim are astonishing.
In fact, they dwarf every other racial disparity in an already racially unbalanced criminal justice system. The differences are so great that any notion that justice in America is color-blind is at risk.

Regarding the Trayvon Martin - George Zimmerman case, I think I can comment about the widespread commentary on this tragic case:

I am struck by how large a number of commentators on the Internet are convinced that their hypothesis about how the shooting took place is the truth. People are inclined to interpret bits of evidence to draw broad and certain conclusions. See this thread on The Crime Report, for example.

There is a great deal of white racism being expressed in the drawing of conclusions about the reasonableness of George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin, the reasonableness of his suspicions, the suspicious character of Martin's presence in the neighborhood, Martin's background etc. The verdict of acquittal is being interpreted as a validation of such opinions.

A lot of white commentary is blind to the horror of Zimmerman's shooting of the 17-year old Trayvon Martin, and how how horrid is widespread acceptance by whites that a young black male walking down the street at night intrinsically merits suspicion. The proposition, "If there have been crimes and the suspects in those crimes were black, then any young black male is a suspect," is, to many whites, a reasonable one; even if to whites the alternate proposition, if it involved crimes with white suspects, and a young white male, would be absurd.

To me, many lines of the commentary such as this help explain why the criminal justice system routinely and regularly reveals racial discrimination through disparate treatment and disparate outcomes that work to the detriment of people of color and to the benefit of whites pervasively -- many whites simply do not see their prejudices.

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One year ago, Obama said he was going to look at Clarence Aaron's petition for commutation of sentence

One year ago, President Obama, responding to front page stories in The Washington Post by Dafna Linzer, said he would review the petition for commutation of sentence from Clarence Aaron. This was the petition that President George W. Bush's White House counsel was interested in granting, except that the Pardon Attorney misrepresented what was told to him by the federal judge and the U.S. Attorney.

The Pardon Attorney was subsequently condemned by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, but still has the job!

So far, crickets! In the Obama Administration the wheels of justice grind slooooowly.

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Global reduction in crime: The Economist magazine

The cover story in the latest issue of The Economist magazine reports on the global trend of dramatically reduced crime in the developed world.

Aging populations is one factor. Significantly improved policing, relying upon the analysis of data, and the proliferation of security cameras and devices have dramatically increased the likelihood that offenders will be caught. The best tool for deterring crime is to create the belief among potential offenders that they are likely to be caught quickly. A lot of the theoretical and practical application of this work has been explored by David Kennedy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in his books, Deterrence and Crime Prevention, and Don't Shoot, and Mark A.R. Kleiman, a very prominent scholar of drug policy, in his book, When Brute Force Fails.

What is least important in the decrease in crime are the increases in prison population, especially those increases due to massive long sentences adopted in the 1980s by the U.S. Congress and many state legislatures.

In the case of Congress, these sentences -- often mandatory minimums -- were enacted in 1986 after it created the U.S. Sentencing Commission, but before the Commission could develop the politics-free sentences that was a primary reason for the commission's creation. Congress had no evidence that long sentences might be effective -- they filled the need for sounding tough in partisan political fights over crime which was a high stakes conflict between Republicans and Democrats in key election years.

Now, at last there is bipartisan legislation that has a chance to help judges escape the mandatory minimums, the Justice Safety Valve Act, S. 619, introduced by Senators Rand Paul (R-TN) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

There are other hopeful developments elsewhere, too. In the House of Representatives, a bipartisan task force of the Judiciary Committee is now exploring the problems of over-criminalization and over-punishment. And in a recent letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the U.S. Justice Department finally concedes that sentencing reform is warranted.

Of course many states started pulling back from the orgy of imprisonment. In New York, the prison population has been cut by one-quarter since 1990 and crime has fallen to the levels of the 1950s and 1960s!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Partnership for a Drug Free America surrenders war on drugs

Thanks to Tom Angell at Marijuana Majority, we know about a news release from the Partnership for a Drug Free America (now the Partnership at concedes that marijuana will be legalized and sets forth some of the minimum regulations that its says parents want.

Here is the survey released today.

It is clear that they understand the distinction between use and abuse, at last!

It seems that they did not have the money to do a really good survey -- the margins of error are large 4.9 percent and for Washington and Colorado, 6.9 percent.

Half of parents have used marijuana.

32 percent of mothers and 37 percent of fathers support legalization of marijuana for social use by adults.

Parents don't want uncontrolled legalization.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Will Verizon stop sending my communication info to NSA on July 19?

The NSA global spying scandal broke a month ago.
Today I read the four page SECRET order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) (published by The Guardian newspaper in Britain) signed by Judge Rodger Vinson on April 25, 2013 directing Verizon to turn over to the NSA,

on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration
of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, 
an electronic copy of the following tangible things: 
all call detail records or "telephony metadata" 
created by Verizon for communications 
(i) between the United States and abroad; or 
(ii) wholly within the United States, 
including local telephone calls.
The order expires on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:00 p.m, ET.  
My home, office, Internet, GPS and cell phone service are all provided by Verizon. The "metadata" is highly revealing!

This is one of the most chilling things I have ever read -- a current official document that authorizes my government to spy on ME right now. It authorizes spying on me, my family, and everybody that I communicate with that is taking place RIGHT NOW!

The order expires on Friday, July 19, 2013 at 5:00 p.m, ET.  

What happens then?
Is the NSA going to the FISC to get an extension of the order? Perhaps the FISC is preparing the paperwork to get such an extension right now?

Or will I, and 144,799,999 other Verizon customers in the U.S., be "free" to communicate without the NSA monitoring our calls and communications after July 19? Should I feel "free" then, or should I presume that the spying will continue, this time, again secretly.

Those who read this blog know that I frequently criticize the government, especially President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, in often strong terms. To what extent is the routine spying on ME also being tagged or flagged to pull information aside about my political activities or my personal activities?

What kinds of routine pursuits of my curiosity would trigger some kind of profile that would result in more of an investigation of me? What kinds of lawful activities that I engage in might trigger a more intense review of my private communications?

What if I had looked up on the Internet the location of a gun store or gun show? Or a medical marijuana dispensary? Or the address of a government office building? Or made reservations to travel to Colorado or Washington, or Mexico? Do my communication with people in other countries about drug policy, politics, the economy, the criminal cartels, etc. trigger special surveillance? What about my appearance in movies like the currently-showing "How To Make Money Selling Drugs"? Is the government tracking my movements as reported on the GPS of my Verizon smartphone? Are my orders over the Internet of books and other things from or movies from Netflix being tracked? Is the government tracking my viewing of articles on the Internet?

Are there Americans who already see this surveillance as perhaps the ultimate reason to disengage from the political process and the responsibilities of citizenship? Keep a low profile! "Don't fight City Hall!"

One of the key features of a totalitarian state is that the public fears the state. To challenge the state is dangerous. The defining feature in the creation of that fear is extensive surveillance of private communication and travel. That surveillance was the hallmark of Stalin's regime, Hitler's regime, the Maoist regime, and the current repressive regimes in China, Russia and other nations.

Read the secret order yourself. . . if you dare!

Another interesting feature of the order is that it provides it shall be declassified on "12 April 2038." That's 25 years from now. If this secret order had not been leaked by Edward Snowden, none of us would have known about this massive spying operation for 25 years.

What would "declassification" mean in 2038? Does it mean that 4 pages of paper would be removed from a safe in a secret government building and placed into a file folder in cardboard box somewhere in a government warehouse?

Declassification on 12 April 2038. I will be 88 years old. Would I then have the energy to protest that old invasion of my privacy? (Or would I already be in prison for being too much of a citizen, namely, an enemy of the state?)

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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Washington State Marijuana regulations -- latest

The Washington State Liquor Control Board has published almost final regulations for implementing Initiative 501 for legal marijuana in the state. They are almost 42 pages long.

There will be public hearings on the proposed rules August 6 to 8.
On August 14, the Board will adopt the final rules.
The rules will take effect on September 16.
At that point the Board will begin, for 30 days, accepting applications to be a producer (grower), a processor, or a retailer of marijuana.
Licenses will be awarded on December 1.
It is not clear when licensees will be able to start producing and distributing marijuana. 

Comments from the public can be sent to the board:
By mail:
Rules Coordinator
Liquor Control Board
P.O. Box 43080
Olympia, WA 98504-3080
By e-mail:
By fax: 360-664-9689

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Friday, June 28, 2013

New York's Mayor Bloomberg: "we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little"

New York's mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is so fiercely defending the NYPD racially discrimnatory "stop and frisk" policy, his judgment has become impaired.
Today he said, "incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little." Look at this data and consider whether this makes any sense.

Two years ago I asked for a criminal and investigation of the New York City government, including Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD leadership, by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. My request follows:

June 23, 2011

The Honorable Thomas E. Perez
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Re: Request to investigate, enjoin and prosecute violations of
42 U.S.C. 14141 and 18 U.S.C. 242
by the New York Police Department and the City of New York

Dear Mr. Perez:

            Enclosed isa ten page memo prepared by Harry G. Levine, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Queens College of the City University of New York, submitted to the New York State Senate on June 15, 2011, regarding marihuana possession arrests by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the City of New York from 1977 to 2010.

            In 1977, the State of New York enacted the Marihuana Reform Act of 1977. The legislature found “that arrests, criminal prosecutions, and criminal penalties are inappropriate for people who possess small quantities of marihuana for personal use. Every year, this process needlessly scars thousands of lives. . .” The legislature enacted New York State Penal Law section 221.05, which provides that such possession is a violation, carrying a maximum fine of $100 for a first offense. However, if marihuana is possessed “open to public view,” the offense is a class B misdemeanor (NY Penal Law section 221.10).

            Dr. Levine focused on the past fifteen years of arrests and found that the NYPD made 536,320 marihuana possession misdemeanor arrests between 1996 and 2010. In 2010, there were 50,383 such arrests. These many arrests (instead of the issuance of a ticket for the violation of NYS Penal Law section 221.05) are the result of the practice of police officers requesting or demanding that suspects empty their pockets. If they possess marihuana and comply with the officers’ request, the marihuana is then “open to public view” triggering the class B misdemeanor and an arrest.

            The extraordinarily large numbers of marihuana “open to public view” arrests constitute one out of seven of all arrests in New York City. These tens of thousands of arrests cannot be a mere coincidence resulting from the independent exercise of discretion by thousands of individual officers.  This department-wide program of issuing such orders, developed with the knowledge that the orders will be complied with and that compliance will trigger arrests of the thousands of targeted individuals, deprives these persons of their liberty through trickery, constitutes a violation of the subjects’ Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and the subjects’ right to due process in the administration of justice.

Dr. Levine’s very extensive analysis of the data regarding these arrests reveals that “for many years, New York City has arrested African Americans at seven times the rate of whites, and Latinos at nearly four times the rate of whites. . . For the last 15 years, 87 % of the people arrested for marijuana possession have been blacks and Latinos, who use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.” (emphasis in the original at p. 2).  The charts and tables accompanying the memo report arrest rates in New York police precincts that correspond to the racial and ethnic makeup of the precinct that demonstrate an unmistakable policy of racial discrimination in the enforcement of this law. The extraordinary disparity in the rates of arrests across the city is inexplicable except as the result of a deliberate policy that targets African American and Latinos for stops and searches.

Because they are plainly targeted because of their race and ethnicity, the African American and Latino arrestees have had their privileges or immunities of citizenship abridged and have been denied equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in violation of federal law.

The official police data analyzed by Dr. Levine makes out a prima facie case that the NYPD, its command staff, and the City of New York and its leadership charged with supervising the NYPD,

engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers or by officials or employees of any governmental agency with responsibility for the administration of juvenile justice or the incarceration of juveniles that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States,”
in violation of 42 U.S.C. 14141.

            In addition, the official data and circumstances described in Dr. Levine’s memo set forth a long-term, massive, organization-wide felonious course of conduct that is plainly designed to deprive African American and Latino residents of the City of New York of their Constitutional and legal rights under color of law, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 242.

            Dr. Levine’s careful analysis finds that these arrests target young people. Twenty-three percent of those arrested in 2010 were teenagers! These arrests target persons who have never been convicted of a crime. These arrests “scar thousands of lives” of young people by unwarrantedly creating criminal records with well-known collateral legal consequences, including denial of education, housing, and for non-citizens, deportation. That this policy of arrests is directly contrary to the purpose and intent of the New York State law regarding marihuana possession further illuminates the despicable character of this unlawful conduct by the NYPD and the City of New York.

I call upon you to direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division to:
-- open an investigation into the NYPD marihuana arrest program;
-- commence an action to enjoin the unwarranted racially discriminatory arrest and criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of African American and Latino persons annually for conduct that under New York law is a mere violation subject to a maximum fine of $100.00;
-- obtain an appropriate monetary judgment to punish and deter this egregious conduct; and
-- prosecute and appropriately punish those government officials responsible for developing, managing, supervising and approving this plainly unlawful program to violate constitutional rights.

Thank you very much for your prompt attention to this complaint.

                                                                        Sincerely yours,

                                                                        Eric E. Sterling, J.D.
                                                                        Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

cc:  Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.

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