Tuesday, March 31, 2009

White House press briefing on marijuana legalization

The White House press corps gets after presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs about marijuana legalization.

Gibbs is utterly unprepared to discuss the issue intelligently. He alternates between making jokes and being dogmatic. He makes a poor impression.

It is painfully clear that as far as the crisis of violence in Mexico goes (or sending 17,000 more American service personnel to Afghanistan's opium poppy fields), the Obama press team has not thought about what the Administration is doing for the nation beyond the most painfully obvious jokes and cliches.

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LEAP's Norm Stamper on Democracy Now, Mar. 30, 2009

Norm Stamper, the brilliantly articulate former Chief of Police in Seattle, was interviewed on Democracy Now on March 30 about drug legalization.

His analysis would not be new to students of this issue. But he tells how, many years ago, making his first arrest of a 19-year old for possession of marijuana, after breaking into the suspects home), he wondered about the public safety value of the arrest.

Stamper would begin a case by case review of persons in prison on drug charges to release those who would not be a danger to the community.

I very strongly recommend his book, Breaking Rank. It covers many of the important issues in policing and police management.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Vice President Biden's daughter may have been taped using cocaine

The New York Post reports that a person (and his lawyers) is peddling a video that purports to show Ashley Biden, the daughter of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, snorting cocaine at a party in her home state of Delaware.

This person is a disgusting sleazebag.

Any sensitive or compassionate person must empathize with Vice President Biden and his family. One of the most horrid experiences a father can have is for his daughter to be publicly humiliated and held up to ridicule, whether the facts are true or not. None of us would ever want a videotape of our child's indiscretions made public. Persons who seek to profit from such indiscretions are contemptible.

All of us should empathize with Ashley Biden. Whether this video accurately depicts her or not, she has been victimized. We know that about twenty million Americans use illegal drugs, and that half of all American adults have used an illegal drug at least once. She is being held up to ridicule for something that does not deserve ridicule. Even if she had snorted cocaine at a party, her privacy has been terribly invaded. (It is worth noting that there will be people who will feel completely justified in attacking Ashley Biden because she is suspected of using cocaine. There will be people who will feel justified attacking Vice President Biden for the policy positions he has taken because his daughter is rumored to have used cocaine. He is not responsible for his adult daughter's use of drugs.)

Even the President has admitted his use of illegal drugs, including cocaine, as a young man. President Clinton's brother, Roger, had a cocaine problem.

Imagine if video images of the admitted drug use by young Barack Obama had been made and been made public. The accomplishments of his career would have been inadequate to stem the damage to his ability to serve the public in high government office. It is remarkable to reflect that notwithstanding his admitted drug use, the American people overwhelmingly voted for him, implicitly affirming that his judgment and moral character were sound enough to be president.

If Ashley Biden has used cocaine, I do not consider it shameful or morally blameworthy. Cocaine's pleasurable effects are well known, as are its dangers. I, and millions of others, consider skiing to be extremely pleasurable too, yet it is often lethal to thousands, as we witnessed a few days ago with the death of actress Natasha Richardson, and the less recent death of U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono. Life is risky, period. People have a right to pursue risk and pleasure simultaneously. Indeed, sometimes they are inextricable!

Unfortunately, because cocaine has been made illegal, the inherent dangers of its use are compounded. These risks include adulteration by harmful chemicals, a growing problem right now. DEA reported last October that 30 percent of seized cocaine was adulterated with levamisole (a drug that can compromise the immune system), a 10-fold increase over the previous October.

The most common risk for a young adult like Ashley is the risk of a criminal arrest, prosecution, punishment, and loss of liberty. 1.5 million persons were charged with the crime of simple possession of a controlled substance in 2005. Every arrest for the act of using cocaine is a tragedy because that act does not warrant punishment or stigmatization.

A lesser risk for Ashley, and persons like her, is that she develops a dependence on cocaine. That would be equally tragic, but which again does not warrant punishment or stigmatization.

Sadly, dependence can deplete one's bank account, and many cocaine dependent persons sell cocaine in order to finance their dependent use. Simply selling drugs to other willing adults also does not warrant punishment. (Of course, it is likely that most drug sellers do not pay taxes on their income selling drugs which is appropriately punishable. Many drug sellers cut the potency of the drugs they sell, and that is a fraud upon their customers which deserves punishment. Many drug sellers adulterate the drugs the sell, and that is both a fraud and creates unknowing and unconsented-to health risks for their customers, and that deserves punishment. And many serious drug sellers need to resort to the threat of violence simply in order to protect themselves, their inventory, their receipts, the employees, and their customers from the significant threat of robbery. Drug sellers can't hire legal security firms or off-duty police officers for protection.)

There is one certain consequence of the use of cocaine, however. The proceeds of the purchase of the cocaine finance criminal organizations (the infamous cartels), and their use of violence and corruption. This has the certain consequence of violence and corruption, which is a plague upon the people of Mexico, Colombia, and dozens of other nations in our hemisphere. This terrible consequence of buying cocaine is the certain result of bad public policy choices, but it can be fixed.

I commend Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for speaking the truth last week about the role of U.S. demand for drugs as a driver of the prohibition violence and corruption in Mexico, and of the general failure of American anti-drug policies. Parenthetically, none of the proposals of the various border and interdiction initiatives the Administration is announcing will do much to stop the flow of the drugs north to the U.S. or the profits south.

My heart goes out to the Biden family. If these circumstances are true, one way that America might appropriately respond is to at last recognize that use of drugs is normal behavior, like premarital sex.

Fornication is still a crime in many jurisdictions, but really, our society now considers it a private matter.

Perhaps at some point we will consider those who circulate videos of persons using drugs will be considered victimizers in the same way we think of pornographers. And we will consider the persons depicted victimized and they will have our compassion, not our blame.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Sen. Grassley -- marijuana is a gateway drug

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) often is the lone skeptic to challenge some pointless or abusive government program.

But regarding the complex issues of drugs, he wears the absolutist blinders of many who have family members who suffer with substance abuse tragedies. Reputedly a sibling has been an alcoholic for a long time, and the Senator is a teetotaler.

USA Today notes that following Attorney General Eric Holder's off-the-cuff policy-making regarding federal medical marijuana enforcement, many states are taking another look at their medical marijuana laws. But Sen. Grassley is quoted, "Marijuana is a gateway to higher drugs." This is a shibboleth ["a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usu. regarded by others as empty of real meaning" -- Merriam - Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.].

Instead of quoting a man who has spent nearly his entire adult life (the last 53 years) hustling votes starting when he was 23 years old in 1956 -- a man who calls himself "just a hog farmer from New Hartford, Iowa" -- USA Today could have consulted the scientists of the Institute of Medicine, affiliated with the National Research Council, who studied marijuana for the report, "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Scientific Base."

Those scientists found, "There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect." (p. 99).

"..the gateway theory is a social theory. The latter does not suggest that the pharmacological qualities of marijuana make it a risk factor for progression to other drug use. Instead the legal status of marijuana makes it a gateway drug." (p.99)

"However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse..." (p. 101)

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Those unspeakable words again

Is Jon Stewart censoring his own show? Why can't even a joking reference to "legalization" of cocaine and prostitution be memorialized as part of Jon Stewart's now famous interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer? Who is insisting on the censorship? CNBC? Jim Cramer? Jon Stewart? Comedy Central?

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Friday, March 20, 2009

One-third of cocaine tainted, DoJ reports; may lead to immune suppression and infection

An obscure graph in an obscure report in DEA's scientific publication, the Microgram, reports that in October 2008, thirty percent of the samples of seized cocaine were tainted with levamisole, a medication used to de-worm animals -- dogs and cats, even hogs. This is a ten-fold increase since October 2007.

The report shows that the tainting had been seen in a small fraction of samples for many years but has rapidly grown in the past year in samples seized in the United States. The State of Delaware issued an advisory about this in September 2005!

The New Mexico Department of Health is warning the public that an unusually high incidence of agranulocytosis (a condition of a suppressed immune system) has been reported in parts of the state, Arizona, and Canada, which may be associated with use of cocaine tainted by levamisole.

The symptoms of agranulocytosis include:
• Worsening or persistent sore throat
• Persistent or recurrent fever
• Swollen glands
• Painful sores (mouth, anal)
• Skin infection, especially if associated with painful swelling
• Thrush (a white fungal coating of the mouth, tongue or throat)
• Other unusual infections.
Persons with these symptoms should seek medical care as soon as possible.

If the cocaine being seized by the DEA in the U.S. is representative of the cocaine being distributed, then it is likely that there are many more cases of agranulocytosis than are being reported. This sounds like a potential public health emergency.
On March 18, 2009, the Erie County, New York Health Department issued a warning about levamisole contamination.

Here is a March 5 report from Denver. And the chief health officer of Nunavut, the new province in the north of Canada issued a warning.

Health officials in British Columbia, Canada are investigating a number of cases of agranulocytosis in people who use cocaine. They have also identified levamisole in one of their cases. Here's a report on 10 persons in British Columbia and the official public health warning there.

At the end of November 2008, public health officials in Alberta, Canada identified seven cases.

New York's Health Department has this undated warning.
[updated March 23, 2009, 4:02 pm EDST]

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Justice Department won't go after legitimate medical marijuana dispensaries

The New York Times reported on a conversation between Attorney General Eric Holder and reporters on the Obama Administration's new policy on medical marijuana enforcement. There is no new written advice to U.S. Attorneys that has been made public.

It is completely unclear how the department is going to proceed. It is unclear how they will balance gray areas, and what criteria they will weigh in determining when to investigate, and on what circumstances to raid or to prosecute.

It is unclear what kinds of arrangement dispensaries have with suppliers may result in investigation. For example, if a dispensary has Mexican cannabis in its inventory, will that result in investigative scrutiny that would be different from the case in which the supply is grown exclusively within the state in which the dispensary is operating?

I commend the Department of Justice for reiterating and attempting to clarify the approach it will take to protect bona fide patients from federal enforcement. But the department must signal more clearly what kinds of conduct it considers deserving of prosecution. Otherwise, persons will may rely upon a mistaken interpretation of the Attorney General's comments to their life long regret. That is not the way law and rules are supposed to be issued.

The department must not set up a game of "chicken" in which those who guess correctly operate without interference, and those who make an incorrect, but reasonable guess, get hammered.

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New Mexico abolishes the Death Penalty

Governor Bill Richardson has written a very thoughtful explanation of why he decided to sign the bill to abolish the death penalty yesterday.

Perhaps I am so moved by it because his essential reason, that the criminal justice system cannot be depended upon to make this decision without flaws, is mine.

Having been a criminal defense lawyer, I have seen the inside of the criminal justice system. There are, of course, the many honest and hard working participants. But I have seen with my own eyes the incompetent or indifferent criminal defense attorneys, the manipulation or misrepresentation of evidence by police and prosecutors, perjury by government witnesses, vindictiveness by prosecutors, and judges of incomprehensible arrogance and blind unfairness.

Bravo, Bill Richardson!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

College student shot by police; his Congressman introduces a bill to fight gangs

20-year old college student Derek Copp is recovering from being shot in the chest on Aug. 11, 2009 by police as a raiding party executed a search warrant at his apartment near his campus.
His classmates are appropriately protesting. Here's their facebook link.
Copp, a student at Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, in the class of 2011, was unarmed. Copp was raided by the West Michigan Enforcement Team, a regional anti-drug unit.

Meanwhile his Representative in Congress, Vern Ehlers (R-MI), silent about the shooting according to a search of his website and The Grand Rapids Press, is cosponsoring a bill to address the problems of bullying and gangs in schools.

The Grand Rapids Press quotes the Congressman's press release (which is not yet on his official website),

"Bullying is not just harmless horseplay among kids, but a serious problem in many schools in the country," Ehlers said in a press release. "Bullying distracts from students' education and can lead to future violence if school officials and parents do not intervene.
Ehlers is a member of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Five persons have already been shot this year by police in neighboring Kent and Ottawa counties.

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AIG Bonus take away -- same flawed thinking of our punishment policies

The nation's top story is outrage that employees of bailed out insurance giant AIG got bonuses provided for in their contracts.

The mob is on the march to take them back, that is, to punish these employees.

It is assumed that the employees who received the bonuses were those responsible for the flawed decisions in the credit default swap business that led to AIG's collapse. On the basis of this assumption, and in fact not knowing who received a bonus, Congress is proposing a new law to confiscate the bonuses through the tax law. If this confiscation was in the form of a fine following a trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the bonus was received by someone who was culpable in some way for the AIG collapse, the confiscation would be patently unconstitutional as a violation of the prohibition on ex post facto laws in Article I, section 9 of the Constitution.

What is striking about this is the proposed policies are driven by an intense anger and a political imperative to either stoke or respond to that anger.
This is exactly like the political dynamic that led to irrational mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.
Few are examining the legality or the wisdom of the bonus take back. Deciding to set aside consideration of the legality, Constitutionality or wisdom of the bonus take back in favor of the quick fix of vengeance may lead many to feel good, but this will be about as smart as deciding to start smoking crack because you lost your job, and you want to feel good.

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Your opportunithy to work in your faith community now

Faith communities across the nation are being asked to sign a letter to the Obama Administration encouraging criminal justice reform.

This is not a radical letter. But this is a valuable opportunity for you to encourage the social concerns committee of your faith congregation to begin a discussion of these issues. Naturally you can use this discussion to educate your faith community about the drug policy and criminal justice issues that the letter does not address -- from ending drug prohibition as the only way that the violence can be substantially reduced or ending capital punishment.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

American Violet -- a new feature film on the drug war run amok, and an ACLU lawsuit that successfully fought it

On April 17, American Violet will be released in theaters across the country. It will be featured in the Philadelphia Film Festival on April 4 and 5.

This powerful, dramatic movie is based on the drug cases in Hearne, TX, a small town between Waco and College Station, TX, about 100 miles northeast of Austin.

The drug raids in the case were successfully challenged by the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project. The movie revolves around Regina Kelly, the lead plaintiff in the ACLU case. In 2005, the defendants settled, admitting a practice of 15 years of racially motivated drug raids in Hearne. There was a 22 minute documentary made, Hearne, Texas: Scenes from the Drug War. The video is the third one down the page.

You can click here to see the American Violet trailer. This case echoes the infamy of the better known cases of Tulia, TX.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Evo Morales: Let me chew my coca leaves

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has an op-ed in The New York Times. He notes the absurdity of the Single Convention on Narcotics of 1961 that made the chewing of coca leaves an international crime. The indigenous people of the Andes have been doing it for, oh, about 5000 years. Coca leaf is also prepared as a tea, mate de coca, which is widely used in Bolivia and Peru.

In August 1983, as counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, I accompanied a delegation of U.S. Members of Congress to Peru and Bolivia (as well as Mexico, Colombia and Jamaica). In La Paz, the Bolivian capital, we were at about 13,000 feet above sea level, and feeling the effects of altitude. To minimize those effects, coca leaf tea was provided to the members of the delegation in our hospitality suite. In our meeting with the Minister of the Interior (the head of the police) in his office, all the Members of Congress were offered mate de coca, the way a guest would be offered a cup of coffee at a meeting in the United States.

Morales' complaint is perfectly valid.

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Another small drug war failure -- money laundering

As the U.S. financial industry increased its filings of currency transaction reports with U.S. investigative agencies, drug traffickers have increasingly relied upon the export of U.S. currency in bulk. A major U.S. initiative to stop money from being shipped to Mexico is Operation Firewall. The operation reports it has seized a little over $115 million since it was started in 2005. This is a pathetically small sum.

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Bloody Mexico and drug legalization

Debra Saunders, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, reports on how the violence in Mexico is prompting discussion of legalization or decriminalization of drugs.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Kidnapped, and the rescuers are slow, slow, slow...

Some 30 juveniles are still in government custody who were sentenced to detention by two Pa. judges who have themselves been sentenced to 87 months in federal prison. The kids were denied counsel -- often they were never told exactly what the charges were or the evidence against them. The judges were getting $2.6 million in kickbacks from the detention center to which they were unlawfully sending kids to custody!

If these juveniles, still being held, had been kidnapped by unrobed criminals -- instead of judges intrinsic to the criminal justice system -- every effort would be made by cops and volunteers to free them immediately, right? The justice system's indifference to its own crimes is a crime!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kerlikowske's nomination announced by Vice President Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden formally announced the nomination of Gil Kerlikowske, recently the Chief of Police in Seattle, to be the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy on March 11, 2009.

Biden's remarks were a pathetic pastiche of the cliches he has been uttering about drugs since he partnered with South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond in 1981 in the leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thurmond was Chair, and Joe Biden was the ranking Democrat. Thurmond, born in 1902, was 78 when he took the Chair in 1981. Biden, born in 1942, was 39. When the two of them were on the dais of the committee it was hard to tell who was Charlie McCarthy and who was Edgar Bergen.

Direct quotations from Biden's remarks at today's announcement:
* substance abuse is "one of our nation's most pervasive problems"
* addiction "wreaks havoc"
* "correlation between crime and substance abuse was established undeniably clearly back in the '70s,"
* "Just the health and economic cost alone from drug and alcohol abuse amounts to over $350 billion a year"
* "even bigger cost in human suffering, the lives lost, the lost dreams that result from the pain and destruction that abuse brings to not only the abuser, but to the family and everyone surrounding, everyone who loves that person"
* "the chief [Kerlikowske] has been on the front lines in the battle against drugs"
* "we needed tough laws, and we have tough laws. But that wasn't enough"
* "since the beginning of last year there have been nearly 7,000 drug-related murders in Mexico. If we had said that years ago we would have looked at each other like we were crazy"

* "as drug czar the Chief will play a central role in developing and implementing a southwest border strategy -- one that improves information sharing, harnesses the power of new technologies, strengthens federal, state and local law enforcement efforts against violent criminals, and increases the interdiction of both drugs coming into the United States and weapons and cash flowing out of the United States into Mexico. It's a strategy that we need to bring in order to bring the situation under control, to protect our people, and to bring about the demise of the Mexican drug cartels." [This crap sounds like a speech I might have written for a Congressman in 1984, a quarter century ago!]

* "kids are bombarded with messages in the media that present inaccurate information and glamorize the use of drugs. It only -- that only makes the National Youth Drug-Anti Media [sic] campaign -- something that you, Chief, will now lead as part of your organization, and which I was -- believed needed to be created back in 1998 –- even more important." [This campaign has been found, repeatedly, in independent evaluation, to be worthless!]

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Human Rights Violations of Global Anti-Drug Regime

Human Rights Watch provides an outstanding overview of the human rights violations that have been intrinsic elements of the global anti-drug regime.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

KCRW's To the Point on ending the war on drugs

Santa Monica Community College's outstanding NPR affiliate, KCRW-FM, hosts Warren Olney's To the Point.
Recently he had
California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano,
the sponsor of AB 390, "the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act;"
Jack Cole, Executive Director of LEAP,
and Mr. Robert "Bobby" Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics affairs,
as well as the Yonkers, NY police Commissioner.

Mr. Charles's presentation was shocking for the brazenness of his misstatements of fact. He defrauded the producers and listeners of the show. His lightning-fast lies perfectly illustrated the old expression, "A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth can put on its pants." I tried to "put on those pants" on a number of points on the comment section of that show's website. You can hear the entire broadcast there.

By the way, Dale Gieringer wrote an excellent analysis of the economic impact of a marijuana legalization regime for California. It preceded the introduction of AB 390.

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The Economist on drug legalization

The Economist has a typically succinct overview of why drug legalization is timely now.

Forward this analysis to your public officials and simply say, "It is time for an open, honest debate about effective drug control policy, and no potential approach is off the table."

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