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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
September 2015
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Drug offense sentencing requires major overhaul nationally

While we are making great strides in reforming drug policy, there are still horrific abuses happening in the drug war.

President Obama, Commute Sharanda Jones’ Sentence

Sharanda Jones is currently serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole at Carswell Federal Prison in Texas. Life without the possibility of parole is the second-harshest sentence our justice system can mete out, short only of the death penalty, and that not by much. What, you might ask yourself, did Sharanda Jones do to merit this sentence?

She was convicted of a single, non-violent drug offense involving crack cocaine. This conviction stemmed from her first ever arrest, and she was not even caught with crack in her possession.

If the above two paragraphs do not shock you, then you haven’t spent enough time in the criminal justice system to know how often violent crimes – including intentional homicides – are not punished with life sentences, much less life without parole. It is actually difficult, in many state court systems in particular, to get sentenced to LWP, even for repeat violent offender.

The fact that Sharanda Jones received this sentence for what amounts to being a drug mule is indicative of the unthinking and senseless drug sentencing policy that infected this country for far too long and which has resulted in a gradually worsening over-incarceration problem in the United States, which costs American taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

It’s not enough to legalize marijuana. We must end this drug war.

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Asset Forfeiture push-back

It feels like there’s a growing concern around the country regarding the travesty of use of civil asset forfeiture to steal from citizens. We’re starting to see more states push back in their laws, and this has to be because a lot of people (including us) have educated the public about just how unjust this practice has become.

Here’s an editorial from Casper, Wyoming:

“Guilty until proven innocent” isn’t how the United States is supposed to work, but that’s the basis of Wyoming’s asset forfeiture law.

Currently, members of law enforcement can seize any property even when the owner hasn’t been convicted of anything. Simple suspicion is enough. If police think money, vehicles or guns are related to the drug trade, for example, they can confiscate those items. Then, owners must go to court and mount a defense to regain possession.

That’s backward. Suspicion of illegal activity simply doesn’t set the bar high enough. Of course, we have no problem with the state seizing the assets of someone convicted of a serious crime. But the conviction must come first. We must ensure our residents are granted due process – a fair trial – before the government takes anything.

That’s why we’re glad to see Wyoming lawmakers weighing two draft proposals. One would require a felony conviction, and the other would require “clear and convincing evidence” of illegal activity. The current situation is so wrongheaded that either would be an improvement, but we – along with anyone else who respects the rights and values on which our country was founded – would like to see the threshold raised to require a conviction.

Personally, I would add that the seized assets must not be used to enrich the agency or agencies involved in the seizing.

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Open Thread

Sorry for the lack of posts recently – have been busy dealing with start of school and retirement planning (this is my last semester).

bullet image Here’s a ridiculous piece for your amusement. It’s a week old, but I couldn’t resist…

Marijuana harm ignored in push for legalization: Thomas Elias

All this ignores the sometimes fatal effects of pot use reported in a new study from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Examining all deaths of Arizona children under age 18, the department concluded 128 fatalities in 2014 resulted from substance abuse. Marijuana was the most prevalent substance associated with child deaths, linked to 62, far more than alcohol or methamphetamine. This, when just 7.5 percent of Arizonans use marijuana regularly, compared with 52 percent who use alcohol. So there’s little doubt pot is a more serious problem for youngsters who use it than beer or liquor.

Translate the Arizona numbers to California, six times as large but with no similar tracking of teenage deaths, and the likelihood is that more than 300 youthful fatalities here were tied to pot use last year.

Says Sheila Polk, county attorney for Yavapai County, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix, “Legalizing an addictive drug that is linked to … increased psychosis and suicidal ideas, lowered IQ, memory loss, impaired learning and academic failure means more damaged lives and lost opportunities for our youth. It’s unconscionable to experiment this way.”

Wrote Republican William Bennett, the nation’s first drug czar and a former secretary of education, “Overseeing or encouraging more marijuana use is just about the last thing a government trying to elevate (living conditions) would do. At stake is the safety of our youth.”

bullet image And here’s a bit of good news, that really shouldn’t be controversial…

Oregon Court rules Marijuana smoke not “offensive”

Jared William Lang, 34, was acquitted after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the odor of cannabis coming from his apartment was not “physically offensive” and a search warrant should never have been served at his home.

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The drug war hard at work

bullet image Drug War Enables Police Roadside Sexual Assault

The mere suspicion of marijuana was enough to provoke a thorough search of the woman’s car and, when nothing was found, Ms. Corley was subjected to a horrific and humiliating roadside body cavity search, while being held down by two police officers. As Corley described, “They sexually assaulted, raped me and molested me.” […]

As Radley Balko reported in the Washington Post, there have been a number of these cases. So many that the Texas legislature was shamed into passing a law that’s supposed to prohibit such searches without a warrant. However, that law doesn’t take effect until next month. Balko writes, “That the state would need such a law in the first place speaks volumes.”

bullet image Shooting of Unarmed 19-Year-Old Highlights the Drug War’s Depravity

Last Friday the Seneca, South Carolina, police department identified Lt. Mark Tiller as the officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Zachary Hammond in a Hardee’s parking lot on July 26. Hammond, who was unarmed, was on his first date with 23-year-old Toni Morton, who was eating an ice cream cone in the front passenger seat of his car at the moment of the shooting. Morton was later charged with possessing 10 grams of marijuana. According to The New York Times, police had targeted her as part of “a sting operation.” The Washington Post says “undercover agents set up the drug buy.” […]

Hammond and Morton were minding their own business when Tiller initiated the use of force because of a pending transaction involving a third of an ounce of marijuana, a drug that is legal for medical or recreational use in 23 states. Furthermore, it was the police who arranged the transaction to begin with, in an attempt to catch Morton doing something that shouldn’t be treated as a crime because it violates no one’s rights. That’s what a drug sting is: a trumped-up version of a fake crime.

Whether or not the shooting is deemed to be legally justified, it is outrageous that a young man is dead for such a stupid reason.

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Keeping us safe from hackberry bushes

Another in the lost list of incidents of law enforcement not knowing (or apparently caring) what marijuana actually is… and doing so with extreme prejudice.

The Ridiculous Warrant Application Behind a Fruitless Marijuana Raid. A Texas cop was sure those hippies were growing pot on their farm

I would say the raid was fruitless, except that the code enforcement officers did uproot and cart away a bunch of hackberry bushes.

Why were the cops so sure that the Garden of Eden was a front for drug trafficking? Because it was a bunch of fucking hippies growing stuff, so of course they were growing marijuana. As detailed in a federal lawsuit filed last month by Eaker and four other victims of the SWAT raid, the justification for this armed invasion was not much stronger than that.

You know, sometimes I hear police (or apologists for current methods of policing) say that the kinds of judicial reform that many of us seek will tie the hands of police officers and make it harder for them to do their jobs.

What job? When you see things like this – and we do way too often – it doesn’t look like a job. A “job” presents the image of training, procedures, skills, intent to further an appropriate goal, and so forth. This looks more like your dog sniffing around the floor putting everything in its mouth that its nose touches in the hopes that it might be a scrap of food that fell off the table.

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What about the children?

So, one of the big pieces of recent news was this:

Teen Marijuana Use Not Linked to Later Depression, Lung Cancer, Other Health Problems, Research Finds

Chronic marijuana use by teenage boys does not appear to be linked to later physical or mental health issues such as depression, psychotic symptoms or asthma, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Rutgers University tracked 408 males from adolescence into their mid-30s for the study, which was published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors®.

“What we found was a little surprising,” said lead researcher Jordan Bechtold, PhD, a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “There were no differences in any of the mental or physical health outcomes that we measured regardless of the amount or frequency of marijuana used during adolescence.”

This, of course, is the best kind of research, as it actually tracked young people over the course of many years, and controlled for other factors such as cigarette smoking, health insurance, etc. (Note: in this particular study, only boys were tracked.)

For years, now, the federal government, led by science-impaired NIDA, plus all the prohibitionists, have claimed that we can’t consider legalizing marijuana for adults because it will inevitably mean more use by teens, leading to all sorts of damage.

Of course the actual truth is that there is no evidence that legalization for adults results in increased use by teens, and now this study shows that the purported dangers of teen use are dramatically overstated.

The same thing happened with the Chicken Little claims of highways devastated by stoned drivers.

Of course, as some of our commenters have pointed out, this is no surprise to us.

It’s just another variant of “where are the bodies?”

Teens have been smoking pot for a very long time, and there should be hard and obvious evidence of the negative impact by now, if the danger was anywhere near what was claimed.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the amazing thing — the Daily Mail actually covered this!

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DEA chief upgraded from ‘incompetent’ to ‘almost as smart as a 5th grader’

New DEA Chief: ‘Heroin Is Clearly More Dangerous Than Marijuana’

The new Drug Enforcement Administration chief has finally made it clear: Marijuana is safer than heroin.

DEA head Chuck Rosenberg told reporters Wednesday morning at the administration’s headquarters that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana,” clarifying a less definitive statement he made last week, when he said marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. Rosenberg said cannabis is still “harmful and dangerous,” but that his original remarks should have been clearer. […]

The statement lines up with the science that has long been clear on the plant being one of the least dangerous recreationally used drugs. And while Rosenberg’s comments may initially seem benign, they represent a significant shift in the point of view of an agency that continues to classify marijuana as one of the “most dangerous” drugs, alongside heroin and LSD.

Nice to know that the head of the DEA is starting to learn the basics, even though he clearly has a long way to go.

This would be like the head of NASA finally admitting that astrology is not the same as astronomy.

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DOJ misled Congress

Tom Angell’s got a pretty good scoop:

Exclusive: Justice Department Admits Misleading Congress on Marijuana Vote

Justice Department officials misinformed members of Congress about the effects of a medical marijuana amendment being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, according to an internal memo obtained by

The amendment, which lawmakers approved in May 2014 by a vote of 219-189 despite the Obama administration’s objections, is aimed at preventing the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.

But in the days leading up to the vote, department officials distributed “informal talking points” warning House members that the measure could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well,” according to the document. [Emphasis added.]

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Violation of rights?

This is the most bizarre thing I’ve read all week.

Suspended Cops Say Video of Them Eating Marijuana Edibles During a Raid Violated Their Privacy

You may remember this – the video was widely circulated of cops who had raided a medical marijuana place, gotten all the cameras (they thought) and then spent quite some time there eating marijuana edibles and goofing around.

Among other things, their lawsuit argues that the officers thought they had disabled all of the security cameras at Sky High Holistic and therefore had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The cops complain that the dispensary never got their permission to record them as they searched the premises.

“All police personnel present had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded and the undercover officers, feeling that they were safe to do so, removed their masks,” says the complaint, which was filed in Orange County Superior Court. “Without the illegal recordings, there would have been no internal investigation of any officer.”


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like a bad penny

John Walters. He keeps showing up. I feel like I have a long-term dysfunctional relationship with this man. It’s been so many years that this blog has had to deal with him in one way or another. After he left the ONDCP, I hoped that would be it, but he keeps popping up with the same misdirection, fractured logic, and fake moral highground.

Marijuana legalization movement makes no sense by David Murray and John P. Walters.

His material is always a good lesson for analyzing the talking points of prohibitionists.

I’ll just point out one logic dodge. You can have fun with the rest.

First he tries to avoid the clear proof that marijuana is safer than alcohol by saying that it’s improper to compare them.

Or consider the argument that marijuana is “safer to use” than alcohol. That alcohol is dangerous all acknowledge, costing the health of thousands. But the proper argument is that each intoxicant presents its own unique threats. It is not productive medically to “rank” them.

Each is unique. I see.

Now just one paragraph away…

A major dimension of alcohol damage is the sheer prevalence of use, some six times greater than the prohibited marijuana, driving up the “disease burden.” Were regulated marijuana to reach the proportions of use of alcohol, the public health impact would be staggering.

What happened to “each is unique”? Now, suddenly, without any evidence whatsoever, legalization of marijuana will cause a “staggering” public health impact because it’s just like alcohol.

Go home, John. And take Davey with you.

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