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July 2014
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The New York Times continues to nail it

Another great editorial: The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests

An extensive editorial about the destruction caused to our society by decades of arresting people for marijuana, including the exponential increase in enforcement and racial disparities.

And, while mentioning individuals who have ended up with horrific prison sentences for low-level crimes of marijuana, they also clearly help people understand just how offensive is that standard pathetic “nobody goes to prison for marijuana” argument that we hear from the Kevin Sabets of this world.”

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. [...]

Even so, every arrest ends up on a person’s record, whether or not it leads to prosecution and conviction. Particularly in poorer minority neighborhoods, where young men are more likely to be outside and repeatedly targeted by law enforcement, these arrests accumulate. Before long a person can have an extensive “criminal history” that consists only of marijuana misdemeanors and dismissed cases. That criminal history can then influence the severity of punishment for a future offense, however insignificant. [...]

For those on probation or parole for any offense, a failed drug test on its own can lead to prison time — which means, again, that people can be put behind bars for smoking marijuana.

Even if a person never goes to prison, the conviction itself is the tip of the iceberg. In a majority of states, marijuana convictions — including those resulting from guilty pleas — can have lifelong consequences for employment, education, immigration status and family life.

A misdemeanor conviction can lead to, among many other things, the revocation of a professional license; the suspension of a driver’s license; the inability to get insurance, a mortgage or other bank loans; the denial of access to public housing; and the loss of student financial aid.

In some states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban on voting, jury service, or eligibility for public benefits like food stamps. People can be fired from their jobs because of a marijuana arrest. Even if a judge eventually throws the case out, the arrest record is often available online for a year, free for any employer to look up.

Yes, the “nobody goes to prison for marijuana” crap is not only false, but it’s a distraction from the real issue.

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The New York Times says it

Editorial: Repeal Prohibition, Again

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

Yeah. This is pretty big.

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Social experiment?

This was a bit of a nothing article: Legalization of Marijuana: Pros and Cons – the usual stuff, attempting to create “balanced” arguments on both sides whether they were valid or not.

This was the part that got me.

The Jury’s Still Out

The legalization of marijuana will likely go down as one of the largest social experiments of the 21st century, and that’s just it – it’s an experiment.

As commenters there have already noted, legalization is not the experiment. Marijuana has been legal for most of human history. It’s prohibition that was the experiment and it failed miserably.

We’re not legalizing drugs, so much as repealing prohibition.

In a sane world, that would be the dialog, and it would be up to those who wish to continue prohibition to justify it, and prove its value.

But criminalization has been the status quo for so long, that the national discussion has failed to remember that prohibition is the social experiment — a radical, dangerous, destructive, and temporary one.

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So lonely

This article is hilarious.

The lonely lot of the anti-pot crusader in the Washington Post.

McCormick says he knew of no group fighting the initiative, heard no opposition to it in his church and got no traction for his anti-weed views on his vibrant Twitter account, @blackmanhelping, where he opines on local affairs. McCormick, a construction project manager, considered challenging the ballot initiative himself, but he ultimately realized the futility of fighting an army of marijuana advocates.

Such is the lonely lot of today’s pot opponent. Parents like McCormick, once heroes of the just-say-no 1980s, find themselves outgunned: The anti-marijuana movement has little funding or staff, little momentum and, it appears, little audience. [...]

“These guys are in a full-court press coming at you from every angle,” says DuPont, 78, who runs the small, Rockville-based Institute for Behavior and Health. He sounds exasperated. “They have a bench 1,000 people deep. . . . We’ve got Kevin Sabet.”

Hilarious. Also ridiculous in the sense that they still have the entire federal government and its agencies (though that, hopefully, will change), plus all sorts of groups who profit from the drug war (like law enforcement, etc.).

But still, it’s fun to read in a tables-turning sort of way.

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Open thread

bullet image John Oliver has a good extended piece on the prison system in America.

bullet image Also in comedy-news video, the Daily Show has a segment on asset forfeiture. Good to see that issue being tackled on the Daily Show, although personally I found the segment to be unbearably puerile in its attempts at humor.

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Living Canvas Rx

Shameless plug for the new show this year from The Living Canvas (I am the founder/artistic director).

This year’s show is Living Canvas Rx, and it focuses on drugs. Note, while the show is very definitely about drugs, it’s not about drug policy, so don’t expect it to be an extension of the legalization policy advocacy of this blog – still, the ensemble wrote an amazing show, and I think it’s going to be quite fascinating and entertaining to experience. I am producing and also designing the projections for the show, which opens August 1st at the Den Theatre in Chicago (through August 17). If you’re in the area, check it out! (Full release and details below the fold.)

Living Canvas Rx

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I’m scared of the cops, and I’m white.

Several have mentioned this in comments – it’s definitely worth watching. Bill Maher on the militarization of police.

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Manufacturing crime

You just can’t make this stuff up — the absurdities with which our criminal justice system operate.

The story is about an undercover ATF agent (Brancato) trying to arrest a man named Halgat.

Judge Says U.S. Gov. Generated ‘New Crime’ to Arrest Man With No Criminal Record

Brancato repeatedly tried to coerce Halgat into drug dealing and buying illegal guns, which Halgat refused to do.

At one point, Brancato begged Halgat for five weeks to buy cocaine because they were “familia,” but Halgat turned him down numerous times. Halgat once told Brancato, “I can’t f—— help. I can’t help.” [...]

Brancato pleaded with Halgat to be his armed security during a drug transaction set up by the U.S. government, which even included using a “drug cartel” plane that was rented by the ATF.

Halgat did protect Brancato, and got paid $1,000 for being his security guard, which finally led to the arrest of Halgat and charges that could mean a 20-year prison sentence.

Judge Ferenbach said this week that the “ATF had investigated Halgat for three years, found no contraband after executing two search warrants and indicted him for a crime designed and initiated by the ATF.”

“The function of law enforcement is the prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals. Manifestly, that function does not include the manufacturing of crime,” Judge Ferenbach said.

Good for the judge.

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On addiction

The always excellent Maia Szalavitz has another good article: Most of Us Still Don’t Get It: Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

There’s a lot of misinformation pushed out there about addiction, and much of it is used to justify interventional drug policy – the whole notion that drugs enslave people against their will. And part of that is driven by “brain disease studies” showing that drug use “changes” the brain.

All experience changes the brain—it has to, in order to leave a mark on memory. If experience didn’t alter us, we couldn’t perceive, recall or react to it. So, simply changing the brain doesn’t make addiction a disease because not all changes are pathological. In order to use brain scans to prove addiction is a disease, you’d have to show changes that are only seen in addicted people, that occur in all cases of addiction and that predict relapse and recovery. No one has yet done this. [...]

Researchers long argued that the pharmacology of particular drugs is what makes them addictive—that, say, cocaine’s alterations in the dopamine system cause a worse addiction than sex or food do because the drug directly affects the way the brain handles that chemical. But since sex and food only affect these chemicals naturally—and can create compulsive behavior that’s just as hard for some people to quit—why should we see cocaine differently?

Of course, none of this is to say that addiction isn’t a medical disorder or that addicted people shouldn’t be treated with compassion. What it does show, I believe, is that addiction is a learning disorder, a condition where a system designed to motivate us to engage in activities helpful to survival and reproduction develops abnormally and goes awry. [...]

Addiction—whether to sex, drugs or rock & roll—is a disorder of learning. It’s not a disorder of hedonism or selfishness and it’s not a sign of “character defects.” This learning, of course, involves the brain—but because learning is involved, cultural, social and environmental factors are critical in shaping it. [...]

We’ve been doing the equivalent of trying to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder by banning hand sanitizer when what we really need to understand is why and how obsessions and compulsions develop in particular people.

Fascinating and useful stuff.

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Chief David Oliver of Brimfield Ohio is part of the problem

Yesterday, we discussed the idea of law enforcement visiting the holocaust museum to avoid the authoritarian mistakes of the past.

Of course, the problem is, even as the linked article admitted, it’s not so easy to see past your own blinders when you’re the person heading down that path.

Several people yesterday pointed out this piece by Brimfield, Ohio Police Chief David Oliver: Open Letter to The Police Officers Who Want to Legalize Drugs where he disparages one of the most intelligent and full-of-integrity groups of officers I know: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The legalization folks are quitters.

Of course, that’s not true at all, and if Chief Oliver had an ounce of integrity, he would do more research on LEAP and realize that they find ending the drug war only the first part of the job. As Peter Christ said (paraphrased): “Legalization is about solving our drug war problem. Then we can actually deal with our drug problem.”

Oliver also uses the tired old washed-up and completely inane analogy of legalizing murder:

Having laws against murder does not work, because people still kill other people everyday. As a matter of fact, why don’t we just legalize everything?! If everything is legal, we can do away with police, prisons and courts. The “war on crime” is obviously not working. It is evident it has failed because of the continued rapes, murders, burglaries and assaults. Prisons are overcrowded not because of the choices of the people committing the crimes, but solely because of the police officers who enforce laws which keep us safe and protect our quality of life. Blah, blah, blah.

I tire of having to explain this, as to a kindergartener, but there’s a difference between prohibition laws and laws against crimes such as murder, rape, burglary and assault. If you take a drug dealer off the street, because of the simple and immutable economic laws of supply and demand, another one will emerge to replace them. If you take a murderer or rapist off the street, there is no demand for murderers or rapists that causes them to be re-stocked. The economies of prohibition also insure criminal profits, and tough enforcement rewards those criminal enterprises that are more ruthless.

These undeniable facts demand a different kind of policy.

When you see Chief Oliver’s other postings, you get a reinforcement of his warped world view – police departments are not becoming militarized, we haven’t really tried hard enough to fight the war on drugs, and police officers are dying because of loose talk on the internet.

If you are one of liberal friends, you will hear that we will plant evidence, violate your rights and search your stuff after stopping you for no reason. We will then convict you and send you to prison by committing perjury. If you resist arrest, we will tase you and probably shoot your dog. These ideas and this vitriol all has one thing in common. It is all hogwash… every last bit of it. These sites are publishing lies.

If by lies, you mean case after case of documented proof in the courts? Sure, not all cops are doing that, and we emphasize that fact all the time, but as long as cops like Chief Oliver deny the existence of this corruption and the blue code of silence continues to protect those who are corrupt, then we have a duty as citizens to hold these public servants accountable, or we face the very real threat of walking that road from yesterday’s post.

I’m sure Chief Oliver considers himself to be a good cop. He has a number of authoritarian-cheerleading commenters for all his posts who like him. And, from reading his posts on Facebook, it seems that he genuinely cares about his community and many of the people in it. But because he fails to see the damage done to society by his approach to policing, he is a big part of the problem.

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