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November 2014
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USA Today on Asset Forfeiture

USA Today came out with an editorial opposing civil asset forfeiture. When police play bounty hunter: Our view

Civil asset forfeiture is government at its absolute worst — intimidating helpless citizens for its own benefit. It needs to go away.

Wow. Pretty strong statement. Excellent work.

USA Today also prints an opposing view. On this issue, it was from, no surprise, someone who represents a law enforcement association: Asset forfeiture deters criminals: Opposing view by John W. Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Sheriffs and police chiefs across the country have developed asset forfeiture programs that promote fairness, protect property owners’ rights, meet legal requirements and successfully target criminal activities. Sheriffs and chiefs often stress seizing drugs over assets, as removing illegal drugs from American streets is the critical priority.

Yeah, right. You can say it, but that doesn’t actually, you know, make it… true.

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Possible election fall-out

Disturbing article from the excellent new The Marshall Project: Right and Left Unite on Drug Sentencing. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

There’s a big bi-partisan push for sentencing reform. What could go wrong is that Senator Charles Grassley will now be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Current mandatory minimum sentences play a vital role in reducing crime,” Grassley said in May, in one of several statements explaining his opposition to the bill. […]

So far, Grassley hasn’t indicated he’s changing his mind. “I’ve raised concerns about people pushing importing [sic] heroin into the country, of having their sentence reduced, I think you gotta’ be very careful what sort of a signal you’re sending,” he recently told Slate.

Grassley has repeatedly highlighted what he calls a “heroin epidemic” as a reason to preserve mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. But federal data on heroin use does not support those claims.

His press secretary says he has “not yet laid out an agenda” on criminal justice for the coming session. In a statement announcing his new position, Grassley highlighted his continued focus on strict enforcement of drug laws. “He’s a true advocate for victims of crime and is a leader in the fight to keep illegal drugs out of the hands of young people.”

We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but it’s a real concern.

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The seriously messed-up ugliness of per se laws

This has been out for a bit (and even had some discussion in comments here), but I really wanted to put it front and center, because this kind of thing really demonstrates the kinds of outrages that exist in the drug war.

Island Lake fatal crash cited as Illinois no-tolerance DUI pot law is challenged

In December 2011, Scott Shirey and his 10-year-old twins, Griffin and Nicholas, were driving to swimming practice.

Along the way, a distracted driver in an overloaded pickup truck ran a red light at Route 12 and Old McHenry Road near Lake Zurich and slammed into Shirey’s Lincoln sedan, killing Griffin and severely injuring Nicholas.

Even though another driver caused the accident, it was the Island Lake father who faced up to 14 years in prison. He was not impaired at the time, but Shirey, now 52, was charged two months later after a blood test showed traces of marijuana in his system from — according to his attorney — smoking it a month beforehand.

“Nothing can possibly illustrate this idiotic law more than the Scott Shirey case,” defense attorney Patrick O’Byrne said. “It’s incomprehensible how bad the law is. It’s a worst-case scenario, charged with the homicide of your own son for smoking pot that had nothing to do with the accident.”

Yet prosecutors, law enforcement and Attorney General Lisa Madigan unequivocally support the law.

That’s just sick.

I have been banging the drum about the dangers of the push against drugged driving for years here, and have even been cautioned upon occasion from other reformers that seeming to be “soft” on drugged driving would hurt legalization chances. I disagreed then, and disagree now. Marijuana per se laws that do not address impairment are essentially a back-door method of criminalizing internal possession of marijuana, something that is candidly acknowledged in Illinois:

“The legislature has said, ‘If you’re going to consume these illegal drugs — illegally — you can’t drive,'” said Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, noting the law clearly states drivers testing positive for any amounts of the drug are breaking the law.

Fortunately, there are some efforts to change the law in Illinois – a move supported by the state bar association.

Of course, the police organizations continue to be opposed to changes, including the ever-present rep of the Illinois Police Chiefs, Limey Nargelenas, who, as usual, spouts his lies:

“We in law enforcement don’t write the laws. We merely enforce them.”

Yeah, he says that every time he and his cohorts apply pressure on the legislature to pass and keep the laws he likes.

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Odds and Ends

bullet image SNL Mocks NYC’s New Weed Policy: You Can Have It, But You Can’t Smoke It In Public

Nicely done humor piece.

bullet image Via Maia Szalavitz, an example of the complete lack of professionalism (and facts) in so much drug science reporting. A study showed that, in a study of Emergency Department (ED) visits 2/3 of overdoses were from prescription opioids. So that site, among others, reported that “Such overdoses were a factor in more than two-thirds of ED visits nationwide that year.”

Um, no. There are other reasons that people go to Emergecy than just overdoses.

What made this particular article so worthy of inclusion as the example was this gem: “They found that not only were prescription opioids involved in 678.8 percent of overdoses…” Wow, that’s a significant percentage.

bullet image I’ve been busy with another project recently – I’m actually acting in a play this time. It’s “Viral” by Mac Rogers – a very black comedy with some very controversial subject matter, including suicide and fetish. I play Snow, a distributor of “specialized entertainment.” Opens tonight and runs through Wednesday.

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Open Thread

bullet image Ethan Nadelmann has a pretty powerful Ted talk: What has the war on drugs done to the world, which includes this apt description of our drug war exports: “international projection of a domestic psychosis.”

Personally, I’m a 7-day-a-week legalizer, but I still thought it was a very good speech.

bullet image Ethan also debates Kevin Sabet on CNN. Haven’t watched it yet. How does he do?

bullet image Froma Harrop: Beyond marijuana: Legalize all drugs

So what do we do about the rest of the war — the war on heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the other nastier stuff? The answer is legalize them, too. […]

Make drugs legal; regulate them; and tax them. The final destination for the war on drugs should be oblivion, the sooner the better.

A reminder that marijuana is only the first step.

[Thanks, Richard]

bullet image Media Leaping to Extremely Faulty Conclusions from Study on the Effects of Marijuana on the Brain

Yeah, no kidding.

bullet image Maia Szalavitz tweets the best advice to media covering any drug-related studies:

protip: if you are reporting on a study, at least read the abstract. if u can’t even do that, you shouldn’t be writing about it

bullet image Awwww…. apparently Yuri Fedotov isn’t thrilled with our marijuana legalization efforts in the states. U.S. states’ pot legalization not in line with international law: UN agency

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Shrunken Brains!

Los Angeles Times once again doing its best Daily Mail impression:

Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says

Of course, if you actually read the article, you discover that the researchers discovered several minor differences between smokers and non-smokers with absolutely no evidence that the differences were in any way detrimental and no evidence of causality.

But hey, “shrunken brains” in a headline is just so perfect when you’re more interested in sensationalism than… truth.

[Thanks, Jeff]

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Asset Forfeiture

One of the things I find that absolutely stuns people when I give talks about drug policy reform is the totally corrupt system of civil asset forfeiture in this country, that allows the seizure of assets (from cash to cars to homes) without charging the owner with a crime and with the proceeds kept by the law enforcement agency seizing the property.

We need to continue to educate people about this corrupt practice that not only makes a mockery out of our justice system, but provides a profit incentive for law enforcement to lobby in favor of continued drug war.

Here are a couple recent articles on the subject.

From October in American Thinker (thanks, Richard): Asset Forfeiture and Perverse Incentives

Several reforms are badly need to reduce the problem. First, salaries and bonuses of public servants should be disconnected from asset seizures. This measure would remove some of the brazen incentivize for prosecutors and police to engage in questionable tactics.

Second, people facing asset seizures should be given additional legal rights. Those facing forfeiture should have the right to state legal representation. Property seizure should be an option only when the owner is convicted of a crime. Law-abiding property owners shouldn’t have to look over their shoulders, in fear that opportunistic prosecutors or police departments have them in their sights.

Yesterday in the New York Times: Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize

“At the grass-roots level — cities, counties — they continue to be interested, perhaps increasingly so, in supplementing their budgets by engaging in the type of seizures that we’ve seen in Philadelphia and elsewhere,” said Lee McGrath, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has mounted a legal and public relations assault on civil forfeiture.

Much of the nuts-and-bolts how-to of civil forfeiture is passed on in continuing education seminars for local prosecutors and law enforcement officials, some of which have been captured on video. The Institute for Justice, which brought the videos to the attention of The Times, says they show how cynical the practice has become and how profit motives can outweigh public safety.

In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called “innocent owners” who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement and out of general fund budgets.

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I guess Kevin was right…

Marijuana Overdoses Kill 46 In Oregon During First Week Of Legalization

Only four days after Measure 91 passed, Oregon is reconsidering it’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana.

According to a report in the The Oregonion, 46 people were killed across the state since weed became legal earlier this week. Reports from MSNBC indicate there has also been 23 deaths in Alaska, and a a staggering 89 in Washington DC.

Several more marijuana victims are clinging onto life in local emergency rooms and are not expected to survive.

“It’s complete chaos here, I’ve never seen anything like it” says Dr. Steve Perkins, chief of surgery at Riverbend Hospital in Springfield. “I’ve put six college students in body bags since before noon, and more are arriving every minute. One young man came in extremely hungry and even started gnawing on his arm, until he collapsed in the emergency room.”

Well, I guess we learned our lesson the hard way.

[Just in case any random people wander by here who don’t know me, yes, I’m aware the article is satire. It’s a nice mocking of all the chicken little prohibitionists.]

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Fear of commerce

Jacob Sullum really nails it in this piece: Fear of Cannabis Commerce Didn’t, Won’t, and Shouldn’t Stop Legalization, where he takes on both Kevin Sabet and his “Big Marijuana” mantra, and Mark Kleiman’s kinder, gentler non-profit-based prohibition lite.

Sabet warns that such businesses will make money by producing and distributing marijuana, meaning they will have a financial incentive to sell as much as they can. That is all completely true, but it is scary only if you view consumers as the slaves rather than the masters of people trying to sell them stuff. Most Americans do not see the businesses that supply them with useful and enjoyable goods and services as the enemy [emphasis added]

This bolded part is one of the things that really annoys me about how we make laws, which are often predicated on the idea that we have to protect lesser beings than ourselves from the horror of having to make smart choices, since they are incapable of doing so.

It’s an extraordinarily offensive and elitist approach.

Unlike Kevin Sabet, Kleiman thinks (or at least hopes) that we can have legalization without commercialization. There is another name for this form of legalization: prohibition.

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Learning from the results

Tuesday was definitely a great day for drug policy reform. With cannabis outperforming most of the candidates, it may even start to sink in with more politicians that opposing drug policy reform is bad politics and not worth the “contributions” from prohibition interest groups.

Conventional wisdom was that reform was unlikely to be successful at a mid-term election (and that was true relatively recently). That’s because the historical population that supported reform also tended to be less politically engaged (young people, etc.) and turnout is lower at the mid-terms.

Yet it’s clear that reform has gone mainstream.

With that shift, it was interesting to see the new dynamic of the voter on marijuana ballots, and this useful page of exit polls from CNN provides some illumination.

Oregon Ballot Measure Results (click on Exit Polls)

So where were the votes for marijuana in Oregon?

Overall, men and women were roughly the same. Young people were slightly more likely to vote for the measure. Educated people were more likely to vote Yes. Urban did better than rural. Poor people were slightly more likely to vote for the measure than rich people, but the differences were minor.

So I started to look at where the numbers get radical…

  • Only 20% of those who self-identified as Republican voted Yes, compared to 77% of Democrats.
  • Only 20% of those who are enthusiastic/satisfied with GOP leadership voted Yes, and only 35% of those who are angry at the Obama Administration voted Yes (as opposed to those merely dissatisfied with Obama, who voted Yes at 51%)
  • 33% of those who attend religious services weekly voted yes, compared to 57% of those who attend occasionally and 72% of those who attend never
  • 26% of those who think that same-sex marriages should not be legal voted Yes, compared to 75% of those who think it should be legal

Now, what’s true in Oregon may not be true elsewhere, but this does remind us that there is still a strong core of social-religious conservatives who see marijuana/drugs as a key element in their culture war. These aren’t the Rand Paul Republicans, but they do make up a good portion of the Republican constituency.

In Florida, for medical marijuana, and in Alaska for legalization, many of the same factors showed up, but they were a little less extreme.

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