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July 2016
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Democratic Party Platform

While you may not notice much difference in quality of drug policy viewpoints between individual politicians on both sides of the aisle, the contrast between the Republican Party Platform and the Democratic Party Platform is pretty stark.

The full Democratic Party Platform is available to read online.

Let’s start with the most outstanding passage, given here completely:

Reforming our Criminal Justice System

Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. Something is profoundly wrong when almost a quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States, even though our country has less than five percent of the world’s population. We will reform mandatory minimum sentences and close private prisons and detention centers. Research and evidence, rather than slogans and sound bites, must guide criminal justice policies.

We will rebuild the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Across the country, there are police officers inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, deploying creative and effective strategies, and demonstrating that it is possible to prevent crime without relying on unnecessary force. They deserve our respect and support, and we should learn from those examples and build on what works.

We will work with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force. We will encourage better police-community relations, require the use of body cameras, and stop the use of weapons of war that have no place in our communities. We will end racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive. We should report national data on policing strategies and provide greater transparency and accountability. We will require the Department of Justice to investigate all questionable or suspicious police-involved shootings, and we will support states and localities who help make those investigations and prosecutions more transparent, including through reforming the grand jury process. We will assist states in providing a system of public defense that is adequately resourced and which meets American Bar Association standards.

And we will reform the civil asset forfeiture system to protect people and remove perverse incentives for law enforcement to “police for a profit.”

Instead of investing in more jails and incarceration, we need to invest more in jobs and education, and end the school-to-prison pipeline. We will remove barriers to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter society by “banning the box,” expanding reentry programs, and restoring voting rights. We think the next President should take executive action to ban the box for federal employers and contractors, so applicants have an opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications before being asked about their criminal records.

The “war on drugs” has led to the imprisonment of millions of Americans, disproportionately people of color, without reducing drug use. Whenever possible, Democrats will prioritize prevention and treatment over incarceration when tackling addiction and substance use disorder. We will build on effective models of drug courts, veterans’ courts, and other diversionary programs that seek to give nonviolent offenders opportunities for rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration.

Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1″ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.

We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America. The application of the death penalty is arbitrary and unjust. The cost to taxpayers far exceeds those of life imprisonment. It does not deter crime. And, exonerations show a dangerous lack of reliability for what is an irreversible punishment.

We have been inspired by the movements for criminal justice that directly address the discriminatory treatment of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system.

For politicians, that’s pretty outstanding. Sure, I might quibble a bit with the reliance on drug courts and forced treatment, but overall, this is really excellent.

When you get to the section on combating drug and alcohol addiction, at least the Democratic Party Platform has a plan of sorts, as opposed to the Republican Platform.

Combating Drug and Alcohol Addiction

We must confront the epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction, specifically the opioid crisis and other drugs plaguing our communities, by vastly expanding access to prevention and treatment, supporting recovery, helping community organizations, and promoting better practices by prescribers. The Democratic Party is committed to assisting the estimated 20 million people struggling with addiction in this country to find and sustain healthy lives by encouraging full recovery and integration into society and working to remove common barriers to gainful employment, housing, and education. We will continue to fight to expand access to care for addiction services, and ensure that insurance coverage is equal to that for any other health conditions. We think it is time for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor, and state regulatory agencies to fully implement the protections of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act of 2008—which means that American medical insurers, including the federal government, will need to disclose how they make their medical management decisions.

We should also do more to educate our youth, as well as their families, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends, to intervene early to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. We should help state and local leaders establish evidence-based, age-appropriate, and locally-tailored prevention programs. These programs include school-based drug education programs that have been shown to have meaningful effects on risky behavior; community-based peer mentorship and leadership programs; and after-school activities that deter drug use and encourage life skills.

It’s not a particularly good plan. The focus on pushing and funding treatment without doing something to improve the kind of treatment we offer in this country is likely to cause more damage than good. At least there is a nod to “evidence-based” programs in the prevention section, something that hasn’t really been part of what we do federally.

When it comes to international efforts, the platform goes on at length to discuss all sorts of things, but tellingly, has very little emphasis on pursuing an exported drug war – about the only mention is this brief throw-away bit in the section on the Americas:

We will bolster democratic institutions, promote economic opportunity and prosperity, and tackle the rise of drugs, transnational crime, and corruption.

Of course, a platform doesn’t necessarily translate into policy or actual action, but it is something that can be pointed to to attempt to influence lawmakers.

And this one definitely could be worse.

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Terrorists have poisoned the water supply… with THC?

I know people have already been talking about this in comments, but this is just so bizarre…

Colorado town finds THC in its water, warns residents not to drink or bathe in it

This Denver Post article may be the best so far on the subject as it shows both the hysteria…

Screening stations are being set up for worried residents, and water is being trucked in. The county’s public health department said the public should avoid the town’s water for at least the next 48 hours and report any effects to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

and the calm logic…

“It would take more product than any of us could afford to contaminate a city water supply to the extent that people would suffer any effects,” Dr. John Fox, Lincoln County’s health officer, said in a statement.

Peter Perrone, who owns Wheat Ridge cannabis testing facility Gobi Analytical, said cannabinoids such as THC or CBD “are in no way soluble in water.”

“There is zero possibility that there’s anything like THC in the Hugo water,” Perrone said.

And how do they know there’s THC in the water? 6 of 10 field tests came up positive. And we know how accurate those field tests are.

This is merely new newest form of Reefer Madness.

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Republican Party Platform – the good, the bad, the ugly

I took a look through the Republic Party Platform

A mixture of stuff that absolutely makes me cringe, along with the occasional bit of material that seemed quite sensible.

Here are a few points that may be of interest to our group:

In its discussion of the Fourth Amendment, the platform completely ignores the abuses by the criminal justice system connected to the drug war, and instead focuses on things like the Foreign Tax Compliance Act, and the use of aerial surveillance on U.S. soil.

However, in its Fifth Amendment discussion, it does include this excellent bit:

Civil asset forfeiture was originally intended as a way to cripple organized crime through the seizure of property used in a criminal enterprise. Regrettably, it has become a tool for unscrupulous law enforcement officials, acting without due process, to profit by destroying the livelihood of innocent individuals, many of whom never recover the lawful assets taken from them. When the rights of the innocent can be so easily violated, no one’s rights are safe. We call on Congress and state legislatures to enact reforms to protect law-abiding citizens against abusive asset forfeiture tactics.

In the criminal justice section, it’s nice to see this acknowledgement:

Two grave problems undermine the rule of law on the federal level: Over-criminalization and over-federalization. In the first case, Congress and federal agencies have increased the number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code from 3,000 in the early 1980s to more than 4,500 today. That does not include an estimated 300,000 regulations containing criminal penalties. No one, including the Department of Justice, can come up with accurate numbers. That recklessness is bad enough when committed by Congress, but when it comes from the unelected bureaucrats of the federal agencies, it is intolerable. The power of career civil servants and political appointees to criminalize behavior is one of the worst violations of constitutional order perpetrated by the administrative state.

To deal with this morass, we urge caution in the creation of new “crimes” and a bipartisan presidential commission to purge the Code and the body of regulations of old “crimes.” We call for mens rea elements in the definition of any new crimes to protect Americans who, in violating a law, act unknowingly or without criminal intent. We urge Congress to codify the Common Law’s Rule of Lenity, which requires courts to interpret unclear statutes in favor of a defendant.

But the section entitled “Combatting Drug Abuse” shows a complete lack of direction.

Combatting Drug Abuse

The progress made over the last three decades against drug abuse is eroding, whether for cultural reasons or for lack of national leadership. In many jurisdictions, marijuana is virtually legalized despite its illegality under federal law. At the other end of the drug spectrum, heroin use nearly doubled from 2003 to 2013, while deaths from heroin have quadrupled. All this highlights the continuing conflicts and contradictions in public attitudes and public policy toward illegal substances. Congress and a new administration should consider the long- range implications of these trends for public health and safety and prepare to deal with the problematic consequences.

The misuse of prescription painkillers — opioids — is a related problem. Heroin and opioid abuse touches our communities, our homes, and our families in ways that have grave effects on Americans in every community. With a quadrupling of both their sales and their overdose deaths, the opioid crisis is ravaging communities all over the country, often hitting rural areas harder than urban. Because over-prescription of drugs is such a large part of the problem, Republican legislation now allows Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage plans to limit patients to a single pharmacy. Congressional Republicans have also called upon the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure that no physician will be penalized for limiting opioid prescriptions. We look for expeditious agreement between the House and Senate on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which addresses the opioid epidemic from both the demand and supply sides of the problem.

That’s it. The entire section on drug policy.

Drugs are, however, mentioned again in a couple of other places (veterans and Mexico), again fairly cluelessly…

Over-prescription of opioids has become a nationwide problem hindering the treatment of veterans suffering from mental health issues. We therefore support the need to explore new and broader ranges of options, including faith- based programs, that will better serve the veteran and reduce the need to rely on drugs as the sole treatment. […]

We thank our neighbors in Mexico and Canada who have been our partners in the fight against terrorism and the war on drugs. The Mexican people deserve our assistance as they bravely resist the drug cartels that traffic in death on both sides of our border.

Not much to get excited about, that’s for sure.

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Odds and Ends

How the War on Drugs Fails Black Communities

Here’s something that all Americans should agree on: Many policies have a disproportionately negative effect on black families—and, by extension, on all of us. The most insidious of them all, however, may be the war on drugs.


Philippines Drug War Out Of Control? Rodrigo Duterte Wants All Addicts, Dealers Dead As Police Kill 110 Suspects

While police have confirmed over 110 people killed, the number is likely higher with other bodies not related to police killings found in the streets with placards on them declaring that the person was involved in dealing drugs. Human rights groups have expressed concern that violence is quickly getting out of control and people are ignoring laws.


Hollywood’s ‘Infiltrator’ shines light on failed drug war

In one moment in “The Infiltrator,” Cranston’s character expresses surprise when his partner, played by John Leguizamo, says that he offered his informant $250,000 for information. Leguizamo responds, “No one said the war on drugs was going to be cheap, bro.”

Julian Zelizer, history professor and author of this piece, gets one thing glaringly wrong:

There is growing support, in the case of some drugs, to abandon a policy that revolved around locking up citizens and unintentionally fostering illegal drug markets, toward a set of regulatory and medical policies that can contain the problem.

These efforts won’t work for all kinds of drugs, given that some can be much more dangerous when used, not just to the user but those around them.

Really? How does making them illegal make them safer to the user and those around them? Even the most dangerous of drugs is safer to the world when regulated and controlled. The prime example is the government supplied heroin programs around the world that drastically reduce crime, death, and other negative side-effects.


Sen. Feinstein Will Not Be Giving Up the Drug War Anytime Soon

No surprise, there.


Congress Finally Passes Bipartisan Legislation To Address Opioid Epidemic

Baby steps.

In a rare instance of bipartisanship and compromise in Congress, the Senate on Wednesday passed legislation by a 92-2 vote that addresses the opioid epidemic. President Barack Obama, who in his State of the Union speech had ad-libbed a plea to lawmakers to do something about the crisis, will now have a bill to sign.

It’s not really a shift in our drug-war mindset, but more a focus on treatment without funding to go along with it, but I suppose that’s still progress.

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How to move from outrage to reform?

Obviously, there’s been a lot of strife in this country revolving around race and policing.

This isn’t new to those of us involved in drug policy reform for many years. The racist underpinnings of the drug war itself, along with the militarization and us-vs-them mentality of policing that has come out of the drug war, has made this inevitable.

The drug-war-victims has expanded in some ways to include our entire country.

There is now, finally, a lot of outrage and a lot of anger, but unfortunately, I’m seeing it directed at entire classes, races, or occupations of people, rather than at the root causes.

How do we focus that anger and resentment into specific causes of action such as meaningful drug policy reform and criminal justice reform?

All I’m seeing is a lot of yelling and hurt.

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Under-incarceration

A couple of months ago, Senator Tom Cotton ridiculously spewed that the U.S. has an under-incarceration problem.

Cotton, who has been an outspoken critic of the bill in Congress that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, smacked down what he called “baseless” arguments that there are too many offenders locked up for relatively small crimes, that incarceration is too costly, or that “we should show more empathy toward those caught up in the criminal-justice system.”

“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

Of course, his arguments are really stupid. The last part, regarding the low arrest rate for property crimes and violent crimes, has nothing to do with levels of incarceration, but rather more to do with priorities of policing, such as financial incentives for police to focus on drug crimes rather than property crimes, for example.

Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing has nothing to do with policing priorities, but has to do with stopping the practice of stockpiling prisons with people who are not a danger to society for unreasonably long sentences.

Earlier this week, Amy Ralston Povah, who had one of those unreasonably long sentences, published this excellent response to Senator Cotton: Senator Cotton’s under incarceration problem

It didn’t matter that I had never been in trouble with the law. It didn’t matter that I had left my manipulative husband, the one who had become involved with the drug MDMA. It didn’t matter that they had the ring leader in custody, either. In 1989, the Reagan-Bush administration resurrected Nixon’s drug war and launched a “zero tolerance” campaign to punish citizens remotely involved with or related to anyone in the drug business.

This affected wives and girlfriends like me who would not, or could not, provide “cooperating” information to prosecutors about drug dealing. As a result, I was held responsible for every criminal act my then-husband had committed. He, however, did “cooperate” by turning on everyone, including me! He was rewarded with a 3-year probation sentence, while I got a quarter of a century in prison.

Yes, my parents learned all about who goes to prison and who goes free in this country.

It is troubling to hear well-intentioned policymakers such as Senator Cotton oppose criminal justice reform based on myths about the system that are just not true. My parents did not deserve to stand in a courtroom and have their hopes and dreams shattered when their daughter was given a 24-year sentence, and neither do all the other families who are currently living this nightmare.

Having been to prison, I know there are thousands of wonderful, patriotic, and good people there. A drug conviction does not translate into being a bad person.

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Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…

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Open Thread

Sorry for the delay in posts. It turns out that being retired is a quite busy occupation! Having fun traveling and working on a number of projects.

The US Attorney General May Address Concerns With The RAVE Act

This would be really good news if we could make some progress in this area.

The current situation is that promoters are afraid of putting common sense harm reduction services at festivals and shows because it legally could be perceived that they are promoting drug use, providing a “safe” place to use drugs. This has left only the most basic harm reduction initiatives in place: Things like free water and a cool down area. The hope is that the DOJ will make it clear that you are not violating the law by providing essential services in harm reduction, like drug education provided by professionals without judgment, better-equipped medical staff, the sale and distribution of pill & powder testing kits, etc. Basically, the things that have statistically been proven to keep people safe at shows.


Substance in Marijuana Could Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients

We’ve been hearing reports for some time about the possibility of marijuana helping with Alzheimer’s. Here’s some more:

A substance found in marijuana might remove a kind of plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, researchers from the Salk Institute say that the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and other active components of marijuana can “promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease” in neurons grown in a lab.

“Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” said Salk Professor David Schubert, the senior author of the paper.

Of course, whenever we discuss this, you can handle miss the delightful irony that marijuana, which has long been unfoundedly attacked for destroying people’s minds could end up actually being the thing that could save them.


A Doctor’s Argument for Letting People Do Heroin in a Safe Place

Right now in Ithaca, officials are pursuing a Supervised Injection Facility (or SIF) to address the overdose problem. Over 60 cities in 10 countries have opened SIFs in order to give people who inject drugs a place to use that is safer and more hygienic than the restrooms, parks, or other public places that may be their only alternative.

SIFs offer sterile syringes, skin-cleansing products, and a brightly lit space; they have medical staff that can respond to an overdose and administer naloxone, which is the antidote to an opioid overdose; they also connect people—if and when they’re ready—with addiction treatment services. SIFs save lives, can prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and may be the only connection to the health care system for some people who inject drugs. New York City needs SIFs.

Last month, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a troubling report that drug overdose deaths increased by 10 percent across the city in 2015—a 39 percent increase in the Bronx. The potentially preventable death of 886 New Yorkers is a crisis. Efforts to reduce overprescribing of pain killers had previously reduced deaths in some areas of the city, but fentanyl, an opioid analgesic that is being mixed into bags of heroin, poses a new problem. Because fentanyl is more potent than heroin, even experienced heroin users may unknowingly inject too much and die in an unintended overdose. At SIFs, overdose deaths simply do not happen.

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What we can learn from gay people about the drug war

Johann Hari (author of “Chasing the Scream“) has another interesting piece out: Four Reasons Gay People Might Have Better Insight Into Addiction and the Drug War

I have always thought that those of us in the drug policy reform community could learn from the rapid revolution that happened in recent years regarding gay rights — the progress made by gays certainly helped give me more hope that such a revolution in our area was feasible once public opinion reached the right tipping point.

Johann, as a gay man who has studied and written about drug addiction and drug policy has added his perspective to the connections in a way that I think is insightful.

But here’s the weird question. I am gay, and I never thought of it as having any relevance to this subject. But somebody who read the book—somebody I like—said: “Do you think being gay gave you a different insight into this question?” She pointed out that some of the most high-profile people to champion the book—Glenn Greenwald, Elton John, Stephen Fry, Andrew Sullivan—are also gay.

At first I felt a bit indignant. Although the person who said this is definitely not a homophobe, most gay people know what it’s like to sometimes have the uncomfortable feeling of being poked into a pigeon-hole—of being told that the experience you regard as universal should in fact have flashing neon lights and a big sign saying “GAY!” above it.

And yet, when I went away and thought about it, I began to wonder if gay people might have a particular insight onto this question. All of these insights are, of course, accessible to straight people—but I suspect we might have short-cuts to them, for four reasons.

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Supreme Court in another attack on the 4th Amendment

In a 5-3 decision in Utah v. Strieff.

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that evidence found by police officers after illegal stops may be used in court if the officers conducted their searches after learning that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants. – New York Times […]

The case, Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373, arose from police surveillance of a house in South Salt Lake based on an anonymous tip of “narcotics activity” there. A police officer, Douglas Fackrell, stopped Edward Strieff after he had left the house based on what the state later conceded were insufficient grounds, making the stop unlawful.

Officer Fackrell then ran a check and discovered a warrant for a minor traffic violation. He arrested Mr. Strieff, searched him and found a baggie containing methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia. The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.

“Officer Fackrell was at most negligent,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”

The only good news – a blistering dissent by Sonia Sotomayor.

Read Sonia Sotomayor’s Atomic Bomb of a Dissent Slamming Racial Profiling and Mass Imprisonment

“This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong,” Sotomayor writes, in a dissent joined in part by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.” […]

“By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged.”

“We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

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