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Join us on Pete's couch., the longest running single-issue blog devoted to drug policy, is published by the Prohibition Isn't Free Foundation
October 2016
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The Humans Rights Watch and ACLU report

A powerful report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union: Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union call on all states and the federal government to decriminalize the use and possession for personal use of all drugs and to focus instead on prevention and harm reduction. Until decriminalization has been achieved, we urge officials to take strong measures to minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of existing laws and policies. The costs of the status quo, as this report shows, are too great to bear.

The report takes a close look at individual cases in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York with some damning stories and statistics.

We interviewed over 100 people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York who were prosecuted for small quantities of drugs—in some cases, fractions of a gram—that were clearly for personal use. Particularly in Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors did more than simply pursue these cases—they often selected the highest charges available and went after people as hard as they could. […]

In 2009 (the most recent year for which national data is available), more than 99 percent of people convicted of drug possession in the 75 largest US counties pled guilty. Our interviews and data analysis suggest that in many cases, high bail—particularly for low-income defendants—and the threat of long sentences render the right to a jury trial effectively meaningless. […]

At year-end 2014, over 25,000 people were serving sentences in local jails and another 48,000 were serving sentences in state prisons for drug possession nationwide. The number admitted to jails and prisons at some point over the course of the year was significantly higher. As with arrests, there were sharp racial disparities. In 2002 (the most recent year for which national jail data is available), Black people were over 10 times more likely than white people to be in jail for drug possession. In 2014, Black people were nearly six times more likely than white people to be in prison for drug possession. […]

Our analysis of data from Florida, Texas, and New York, presented here for the first time, shows that the majority of people convicted of drug possession in these states are sentenced to some form of incarceration. Because each dataset is different, they show us different things. For example, our data suggests that in Florida, 75 percent of people convicted of felony drug possession between 2010 and 2015 had little to no prior criminal history. Yet 84 percent of people convicted of these charges were sentenced to prison or jail. In New York State, between 2010 and 2015, the majority of people convicted of drug possession were sentenced to some period of incarceration. At year-end 2015, one of sixteen people in custody in New York State was incarcerated for drug possession. Of those, 50 percent were Black and 28 percent Latino. In Texas, between 2012 and 2016, approximately one of eleven people in prison had drug possession as their most serious offense; two of every three people serving time for drug charges were there for drug possession; and 116 people had received life sentences for drug possession, at least seven of which were for an amount weighing between one and four grams.

So much for the constant harping by drug war apologists that people aren’t going to prison for mere drug possession.

Even for those not sentenced to jail or prison, a conviction for drug possession can be devastating, due to onerous probation conditions, massive criminal justice debt, and a wide range of restrictions flowing from the conviction (known in the literature as “collateral consequences”). […]

The sheer magnitude of drug possession arrests means that they are a defining feature of the way certain communities experience police in the United States. For many people, drug laws shape their interactions with and views of the police and contribute to a breakdown of trust and a lack of security. This was particularly true for Black and Latino people we interviewed. […]

While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use, the criminal law is not the solution. Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice. Rates of drug use fluctuate, but they have not declined significantly since the “war on drugs” was declared more than four decades ago. The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish. It punishes an activity that does not directly harm others.

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Driving in circles

This just keeps coming up so many times with a lot of propagandizing and very little evidence of a problem.

A proposition to legalize pot raises DUI concerns: ‘We are going to start losing folks in astronomical numbers’ in the LA Times.

“In the state of California we are going to start losing folks in astronomical numbers before we finally realize maybe we didn’t look at it thoroughly enough,” [Doug Villars, president of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen] said.

Really? Based on what facts?

Fortunately, the article does point out some of the actual points we’ve been raising for years:

“The use of marijuana is already there,” [Stephen Downing] said. “If they are driving under the influence of marijuana, they are already doing it. My question is, why is this an issue now?” [..]

Marijuana activists point out that just because THC is in the system of a motorist involved in a fatal crash, there is no proof that it caused impairment that led to the accident.

One point I found fascinating is the complaint raised that they’re having a hard time getting juries to convict, because juries are unconvinced that prosecutors are proving impairment.

Sounds to me like juries are doing their job.

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Changing opinions on marijuana legalization

It can take a lot, sometimes entire generations to dramatically shift the country’s views, and this is dramatic.

Pew Research Center: Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

That’s incredible, and a testament to the amazing work done by so many people, who chose not to let the government and prevailing views silence them, and instead wrote letters to the editor, or talked to the local Kiwanis club, or brought up legalization at Thanksgiving dinner, or campaigned for a medical marijuana law, or made comments on internet fora.

When you look at the breakdown, there are very few demographics left to conquer.


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SWAT search ruled unconstitutional in Minnesota

This seems big.

Hennepin County judge confronts police use of ‘military style’ tactics

That search, Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford ruled, was unconstitutional. She wrote that the “military style” tactics were a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

She was “troubled,” she wrote, “that the types of militarized actions used in this case seem to be a matter of customary business practice” for Hennepin’s drug task force squad, known as the Emergency Services Unit (ESU).

If the courts start throwing out cases because of the tactics used by police, that could be a tremendous step toward forcing reform.

“They could have said, ‘We’d like to search your house,’ ” he said. “They could have just asked.”

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It’s Drug War Rant, we don’t serve warrants

When I first started this blog (now over 13 years ago) and I was coming up with a name/URL, I hit upon — in part, because it was the same spelling as drug warrant, and might send some traffic my way as I was starting out.

One of the side-effects of that decision has been emails like this one:

Hello Pete,

I know people that’s in the state of [state name] that has been trafficking marijuana between [state name] and [state name]. I don’t know their real name but I know their facbook name. I don’t know how else to report these people. I’m very against drugs. I wanna make sure these type of people are stopped. What kind of information do you need to put a stop to these dangerous people? There’s a night club in [state name] that only open few days a week but they were to pull in a lot of money, more than what the business should be making.

I have people who write to tell me about their neighbors who smoke pot, somehow thinking there’s something I could do about it. Or that I’d want to.

I’m not sure how their thinking works. How do they have the brain cells to come up with the phrase “drug warrant,” and look it up on Google, and yet not be able to actually view this site and figure out what’s going on here?

However, just in case you’re reading this and want to inform on your friends and neighbors, go ahead and email me. I’ll be sure to actively give it all the attention it deserves… by moving it to my trash folder.

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10 Euros

Via Twitter, a thoughtful skit attributed to Mark Adam Harold, a City Councillor in Vinius, Lithuania:

We stand around a table. A guy from the mafia stands with us. You take out your wallet. While we are discussing legalisation of marijuana, you have to give the mafia guy ten euros. We keep going. The only way to end the discussion is to agree to legalise marijuana, then the mafia guy has to leave the room and you don’t have to give him money any more. Then, you can put your money in a box called “schools and hospitals.” Then, maybe you will understand why you should stop defending the mafia and start arguing for legalization and taxation.

It’s not so hard to understand.

And yet, we still get the moronic argument that it is up to the drug user to “stop the mafia,” such as in this piece last week by Mario Berlanga in the NY Times: Want to Make Ethical Purchases? Stop Buying Illegal Drugs

That’s why Americans must recognize that every time they buy illegal drugs they reward the cartels. […] We can shatter the misconception that recreational drug use is a victimless crime. We must put an end to the hypocrisy that allows people to make purchases based on their concerns about the environment, workers’ rights or animals — but not about killing people in Mexico.

Tom Angell responded to that piece with a letter in today’s Times:

There’s no doubt that much of the money spent in the illegal drug market goes into the pockets of very dangerous people and organizations, as Mr. Berlanga effectively argues. But trying to shame users into quitting, as the government has done in the decades-long failed war on drugs, hasn’t ever been an effective way to diminish the drug trade.

Only legalizing and regulating drugs can strip drug profits from organized crime, just as ending Prohibition took the booze market out of the hands of the gangsters who controlled the trade for part of the last century.

A growing number of states are legalizing marijuana and putting sales into the hands of responsible, regulated businesses that create jobs and pay taxes. Changing laws and supply chains in this way is a much more realistic solution to the problems Mr. Berlanga points out than persuading millions of Americans to abstain from using drugs.

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Smart approaches to heroin problems talked about in mainstream media?

This Time article really gets it almost entirely right. Nice to see in a mainstream media piece.

6 Ways to Fight America’s Heroin Epidemic

Law enforcement has responded by cracking down on drug traffickers to cut off supplies of heroin and synthetics. But beyond the typical law-and-order response, some areas are taking unique approaches to battle drug addiction. Here’s a look at what cities are trying across the U.S. and beyond:

And the six things listed are:

  1. Safe-injection sites
  2. Prescribe heroin
  3. Medication-assisted treatment
  4. Naloxone for all
  5. Marijuana as medicine
  6. Don’t arrest addicts, treat them

I also liked the fact that the article referred to “heroin-related overdoses” rather than “heroin overdoses.”

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Do Not Resist

Bradley Balko has a review: ‘Do Not Resist’: A chilling look at the normalization of warrior cops

Of course, this issue is right up Radley’s alley. And it looks like a must-see.

What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing. I watched the movie weeks ago, but there are scenes that still flicker in my head. We all remember the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson. We’ve seen the photos. We saw the anger and the animus exchanged across the protest lines. What we didn’t see were the hours and hours before and after those moments. We didn’t see the MRAPs and other armored vehicles roll in, one at a time, slowly transforming an American town into a war zone. We didn’t hear the clomp of combat boots on asphalt in the quiet hours of the early morning, interrupted only by fuzzy dispatches over police radio. […]

The striking thing about the footage is, again, the utter mundanity of the raid. A family was just violently raided over an immeasurable amount of pot. A man was arrested over that pot. The money he needed for his business was taken from him. Yet there’s no shame or embarrassment from the officers. There’s no panic that the whole thing was captured on video. That’s when it hits you. They don’t think they’ve made a mistake. This is what they do.

Definitely on my list. Not sure when that’s going to be able to happen, though as the distribution is limited at this point.

Here’s the trailer.

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Home again

The end of an epic road trip that lasted close to 6 weeks. We drove an astounding 7,487 miles. Other than Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (which were just pass-through states) the states and provinces we explored included New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Québec, and Ontario. We rode two passenger ferries, two car ferries, and two funiculars. And we drove across an 8-mile-long bridge. For the most part, we avoided shops and tourists and found some incredible beauty. We camped 11 of the 38 nights (in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Nova Scotia, and Ontario) and stayed in a variety of inexpensive motels and hotels the rest of the time. We spent time on the Atlantic Ocean, the Bay of Fundy, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and more rivers, bays, waterfalls and lakes than we can count. We crossed international borders 4 times (and they let me!). We drove to the top of Mount Washington (6,288 feet) and many other mountains. We hiked on everything from easy boardwalks to challenging trails. We saw lots of wildlife and took thousands of photos. We also enjoyed the local culinary specialties as we ate pastrami and bagels in New York, whole belly clams in Rhode Island, chowder in Massachusetts, maple syrup and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in Vermont, lobsters and wild blueberries in Maine, dulse in New Brunswick, single malt whiskey in Nova Scotia, mussels, potatoes, and black currants on Prince Edward Island, poutine in Québec, peameal bacon in Ontario, and much more.
We managed to mostly avoid watching or reading the news the entire time.

Consider this another open thread until I have time to catch up and post something drug-war-related.

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Another Open Thread

Our trip has continued, taking us beyond Acadia National Park up to Mount Katahdin in Maine, and then into New Brunswick. Saint John and the Bay of Fundy, staying in a refurbished caboose at the Train Station Inn in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, and then to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Cape Breton Island. In a couple days, we’ll head to Prince Edward Island and then on to Quebec City.

With limited WiFi and avoiding international data charges, I’ve been fairly blissfully unaware of what’s going on in the world.

Keep each other informed here. I’ll be back eventually.

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