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June 2016
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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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A milestone in the mainstream acceptance of marijuana

Tom Angell continues to be on top of new developments… Microsoft Partners With Marijuana Software Company

Microsoft plans to announce Thursday that it is partnering with KIND Financial to offer seed-to-sale software that helps state and local governments make sure cannabis businesses comply with regulations and laws.

As part of the arrangement, the software giant’s state and local government team will actively pitch the marijuana software to government entities that put out requests for proposals in accordance with legislation requiring tracking of legal cannabis commerce.

Once large industries get involved in commercial applications surrounding legal marijuana it gets pretty hard to go back to pretending marijuana is only a shunned counter-culture fringe element.

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The Times – Decriminalization a ‘first step’

The Royal Society for Public Health Vision, Voice and Practice supported by the Faculty of Public Health released a new report: Taking a New Line on Drugs

The report essentially recommends the Portugal approach:

Decriminalizing personal use and possession of all illegal drugs, and diverting those whose use is problematic into appropriate support and treatment services instead, recognising that criminalising users most often only opens up the risk of further harm to health and wellbeing.

The Times of London not only supported the report in their editorial today, but suggested it as just a beginning:

“think of decriminalisation not as an end in itself but as a first step towards legalising and regulating drugs as it already regulates alcohol and tobacco”

times

[Thanks to Transform]

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The DEA is a police and propaganda agency

New Report Blasts DEA For Spending 4 Decades Obstructing Marijuana Science

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been impeding and ignoring the science on marijuana and other drugs for more than four decades, according to a report released this week by the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy reform group, and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a marijuana research organization.

“The DEA is a police and propaganda agency,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said Wednesday. “It makes no sense for it to be in charge of federal decisions involving scientific research and medical practice.”

Here is the report: The DEA: Four Decades of Impeding And Rejecting Science

Of course, none of this is new to us, but it’s always good to keep reminding the rest of the country that the DEA is not working in the interests of the truth or the country.

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Open Thread

Heading out early tomorrow morning for New York – this annual community trip I’m hosting 95 travelers for a week of Broadway shows and walking tours. Should be fun. And busy.

I’ll stop in when I can. Keep checking the comments for the best news and discussion on drug policy.

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How about we actually use science and facts to deal with addiction?

Good article in New York Magazine by Jesse Singal: The Tragic, Pseudoscientific Practice of Forcing Addicts to ‘Hit Rock Bottom’

He’s talking about Maia Szalavitz’s new book: Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction

Or, as Szalavitz put it to the Daily Beast: “If you don’t learn that a drug helps you cope or make you feel good, you wouldn’t know what to crave. People fall in love with a substance or an activity, like gambling. Falling in love doesn’t harm your brain, but it does produce a unique type of learning that causes craving, alters choices and is really hard to forget.”

This can help explain many little-known facts about drug addiction: for example, that the vast majority of people who try even drugs like heroin will not become addicted to them; or that early-life trauma hugely increases the odds of becoming addicted to a substance. To take an oversimplified hypothetical: If someone first offers you alcohol at a time when you’re dealing with serious family issues, unresolved trauma, and other addiction risk factors, you’re more likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with the substance than if your first sip comes at a time when stuff is going okay for you. Many, many factors intermingle in complicated ways to determine whether a given individual will develop an addiction. […]

But throughout her book, Szalavitz argues, and argues compellingly, that when it comes to “hitting bottom” and so many of the other pseudoscientific approaches to fighting addiction, the actual goal — or part of it, at least — has always been to marginalize the addict, to set them apart and humiliate them. There’s a deep impulse to draw a clear, bold line between us, the healthy people, and them, the addicts. What clearer way to emphasize that divide than to cast them down into a rock-bottom pit, away from the rest of us?

[Thanks dc]

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Going after the city councils (updated)

Tom Angell reports that Kevin Sabet’s “SAM” group is targeting city councils with anti-legalization efforts.

A group dedicated to keeping marijuana illegal has launched an effort to convince city councils across the country to actively oppose measures to end cannabis prohibition that are expected to appear on at least five state ballots this November. […]

It is unclear if SAM has already begun outreach to city councils about the resolution. […]

The group is expected to announce further details about its efforts to defeat state marijuana legalization measures this week.

The city council approach almost seems a little bit like desperation to me, but I can understand why they’re doing it – city councils, particularly in states where legalization has not yet happened, are less likely to be fully informed about issues like marijuana legalization, and might be swayed by SAM’s misinformation tactics. Then they pass a resolution, it gets reported in the paper, and the misinformation gets passed on to the local voting citizens.

I guess it goes to show the importance of all of us getting involved in local politics (although personally, the idea of going to my local city council meetings falls pretty low on my list of fun things to do).

Update:

More from Tom Angell: Anti-Marijuana Group Raises $300K to Oppose Legalization Measures

A group fighting to maintain marijuana prohibition announced on Wednesday that it is hiring field organizers to campaign against legalization ballot initiatives in key states, and has so far raised more than $300,000 to support its efforts.

SAM Action, the political arm of the organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, will focus its efforts mostly in California and Nevada, it said in a press release.

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The never-ending triumph of politics over issues

I’m sure that some of you have also gotten weary of the constant political posturing and sniping (particularly if you spend any time on Facebook) involved in the Presidential election politics. This process seems to go on forever. And we still have over 5 months until the election.

And I find myself wondering “When do we get to talk about criminal justice reform?”

I mean, really. When do we get to have national conversations about actual issues instead of haggling over personalities?

And I get told “Well, we have to prevent X from becoming President or the world will end.” Once we accomplish that, then we can deal with actual issues.” But, of course that’s not true – then we’ll be talking about the midterms.

Meanwhile, I suppose we talk about the Presidential election…

On the stump, Bernie Sanders makes pitch for legal pot in California

“It makes sense to legalize marijuana at this particular point,” Sanders told supporters this week on a dusty softball field at a park in East Los Angeles where, like at many of his outdoor events in California, a slightly pungent pot aroma wafted through the air. “So if I were here in your state, I would vote yes on that issue.”

Also, the Libertarian Party convention is happening this weekend. And they have real potential to, well, not actually win, but have a bit of a showing.

Libertarian Party set to pick nominee at convention

The likely Democratic and Republican nominees each have historically high unfavorable numbers. Media attention for the party, both the national committee chairman and the party’s political director say, is at unprecedented levels.

So it is with an air of opportunity to break out of obscurity that Libertarians, members of the country’s most prominent third party, have gathered for their national convention in Orlando, Florida, this weekend to officially pick a candidate to pitch to angry voters.

Of course, the reason they won’t have a chance is that the Democratic and Republican parties control the process (including the debates), and additionally there will be all sorts of browbeating of people to say that if they throw their vote away on the Libertarians, then the evil R or evil D will win and it’ll be that voter’s fault. The ghost of Ralph Nader will be repeatedly invoked.

I really do wish we had the preferential voting system that they have in Australia. Then, there’s no chance of throwing away your vote.

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Odds and Ends

The Failed Promise of Legal Pot

Other than the click-bait headline, this feature article has a lot of useful stuff, including the inescapable conclusion that we’ve talked about all along. In order to pull the legs out of the black market, legalization needs to make is easier to be legal. But, of course, with the advice of entities like BOTEC, the approach has instead been to make is as difficult as possible to be legal.

“If it’s ridiculously expensive and they can get it from their homie cheaper, that’s what they’re going to do.”

Yep. If only we had people as smart as Admiral Gregory:

When repeal finally came, Washington’s then-Governor Clarence Martin asked Admiral Gregory to head the state’s new Liquor Control Board. Critically, Martin gave Gregory carte blanche to mold the new policies as he saw fit. Gregory took up the challenge—and surprised everyone.

First, instead of cracking down on bootleggers and speakeasy operators, Gregory gave them amnesty and issued licenses to anyone willing to play by the state’s rules. Second, backed by the governor and his influence in the Senate, Gregory arranged for alcohol taxes to be set as low as any in the nation, which allowed those willing to follow the law to keep a significant amount of their profits, and it made room for legal operators to compete with bootleggers’ prices. Third, Gregory punished anyone who broke the rules—even once—with an iron fist, blacklisting them from ever making or selling alcohol in the state again.

Predictably, this caused some turmoil in a legislature anxiously awaiting an infusion of cash from liquor sales, but the governor backed Gregory. Faced with a low cost of entry and legal profits, bootleggers and speakeasies around the state mostly turned legitimate. Meanwhile, the few remaining stragglers were quickly put out of business, and drinkers flocked to a competitive legal market.

That might have been the end of it, but there was one more piece to Gregory’s plan. After holding down taxes—and thus prices—for three years, Gregory abruptly raised taxes so much that they were among the highest in the nation. The price of booze went up, of course, but people kept buying legal liquor and beer. There was no alternative left. Gregory had broken the back of the black market.


Bipartisan Pack of Lawmakers Fights Legal Theft by Police with New House Bill

  • Provides legal representation for those who cannot afford it in administrative and judicial proceedings;
  • Raises the burden of proof necessary to forfeit property from a mere “preponderance of evidence”—informally understood as being “more likely than not” connected to a crime—to “clear and convincing”—the highest standard used in civil proceedings;
  • Restores the presumption of innocence by requiring the government to prove that owners knew about or consented to the criminal use of their property;
  • Establishes new timelines that better protect property owners’ due process rights;
  • Provides a hearing for defendants to contest the pretrial restraint of property needed to pay for counsel;
  • Allows the recovery of attorney’s fees if a case is settled;
  • Increases oversight and transparency by requiring an annual audit of federal civil forfeitures and creating two publically available databases; and
  • Limits forfeiture for structuring only when funds are derived from an illegal source or used to conceal illegal activity.

Despite the praise, the Institute for Justice is calling for the bill to be amended to completely eliminate the DOJ’s Equitable Sharing Program.


US House Votes to Give Medical Marijuana to Veterans

By a vote of 233-189, representatives approved an amendment preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) from spending money to enforce a current policy that prohibits its government doctors from filling out medical marijuana recommendation forms in states where the drug is legal.


It’s often depressing living in Illinois when it comes to the political climate, the state of the budget, and its marijuana laws, but there was a bright note this week.

Illinois House Passes Decriminalization Bill

On May 18, the Illinois House voted to move Illinois to ticket-based penalties for possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana. If the governor signs Senate Bill 2228, instead of making arrests, police will start issuing tickets ranging from $100 to $200 per offense. Previously, anyone caught with 10 grams or less of marijuana could have been charged with a misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of up to $1,500 and possible jail time of up to six months.


Police and Prison Guard Groups Fight Marijuana Legalization in California

Of course they do.

ROUGHLY HALF OF the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted.

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