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May 2016
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Yep.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” – John Ehrlichman

Legalize it All by Dan Baum, Harpers Magazine

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The inevitable corruption of money when dealing with the powerless

Addicts For Sale

In the rehab capital of America, addicts are bought, sold, and stolen for their insurance policies, and many women are coerced into sex. […]

The people targeting them are variously called “marketers,” “body brokers,” and even “junkie hunters.” They know addicts better than anyone (and many used to be addicts themselves). They spot kids dragging suitcases along the road and ask them if they need a place to go. […]

In South Florida’s Delray Beach, home to hundreds of rehab facilities and halfway houses, scams abound to profit off of addicts and their insurance policies. The recent uptick in addicts adds energy to the hurricane, but the biggest driving force for the fraud is Obamacare and the 2008 Parity Act, which together give everyone access to private insurance that’s legally bound to pay for rehab. “Marketers” act like headhunters, picking up addicts when they’re down, then bringing them to rehab centers and halfway houses for a fee — usually about $500 per head.

Private Prisons Fight Back

While state and federal prison statistics show a recent decline in the number of Americans who are behind bars, there are still roughly 5 million people under correctional supervision. Many more are in rehab and mental-health hospitals, while hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are shuffled through detention centers – potentially big markets for private facilities. So the correctional industry is diversifying. “The scope of how big this is hasn’t even been anywhere near made clear,” says Caroline Isaacs, who closely tracks the private-prison industry for the American Friends Service Committee, an advocacy group that opposes corrections privatization. […]

Though the services may be evolving, the concerns remain much the same. As with many for-profit entities, the top priority is the bottom line, which is often at odds with the purpose of community corrections. Rehabilitation – whether in a prison or half-way house – is not typically in the operator’s best interest, because that means fewer clients.

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CND

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (UNODC) is now in its 59th session (through March 22). This session is partly in preparation for the major UNGASS 2016 (United Nations General Assembly Special Session) next month that will be focusing on international drug policy.

You can follow along a bit with the CND2016 by reading the various draft resolutions, etc. here.

Also, CND Blog does a great job of following (and in many cases transcribing) the activities.

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Replacing Scalia

So, President Obama announced his nominee for the Supreme Court this morning. As many have noted, it’s likely that a lot of the decision as to who was nominated was political, to shame the Republicans who refuse to even hold hearings on the nomination by nominating someone that they shouldn’t have a problem with, and then use their refusal against them in the November elections.

It’s possible, then to consider that there’s no real intention that this candidate is actually a possibility for the court. But still, I feel it’s important to look at them as if they would be. Here’s my quick reaction that I posted on Facebook:

Well, I’m disappointed with the nomination of Merrick Garland. Not really surprised that this would be the general direction the President would go, but disappointed. Garland is brilliant and certainly qualified. He is a moderate centrist with the potential for helping sway the more conservative members of the bench away from the extremes. And he’s generally left of Scalia. He has a pretty broad view of the First Amendment, which I like, but my biggest concern is in criminal justice issues.

Judge Garland spent much of his career working for the government — in the Justice Department and for prosecutors. I would really like to see someone on the Court who has more experience working for the people – someone who knows what it’s like to be a defense attorney, for example. And this has been demonstrated in his decisions on the bench where he has consistently gone against his liberal colleagues in providing deference to the government in criminal justice cases.

Garland has also regularly showed extreme deference to government agencies. According to ScotusBlog, “In a dozen close cases in which the court divided, he sided with the agency every time.” This, again, is a concern to me as I view part of the critical function of the Supreme Court to be one of the checks and balances of government, not an extension of the Executive Branch. But, of course, I’m not surprised, as President Obama has consistently pushed hard against any judicial oversight of the decisions of the Executive.

Merrick Garland will be a good jurist if he is confirmed. But at a time in our nation when we are desperately in need of critical criminal justice reform, it’s unlikely that his addition to the court will in any way help us move in that direction. And with a completely dysfunctional Congress and a reticent (and sometime hostile) Executive Branch, that would leave it entirely to the people to continue the hard slogging away at grass-roots reform.

As a side note, the President made a pretty serious gaffe for a constitutional lawyer when he said,

“Merrick Garland would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.” —@POTUS #SCOTUSnominee

Again, some speculate that this was merely tossing red meat to the law-and-order crowd, but it’s a pretty insensitive comment to make when criminal justice reform is such an important topic.

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Don’t worry. We’re just using it to fight terrorists…

I know this was already mentioned in comments, but feel it’s worth highlighting. Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes.

I’ve been writing about this since 2003 here at Drug WarRant.com — how the powers sought by the government ostensibly for going after terrorists would always ultimately be used to take away the basic rights of ordinary citizens.

This is why we must always be vigilant and not be taken in by appeals to safety by law enforcement groups seeking more access to private information.

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Open Thread

Just got back from a week in New York as tour guide for a wonderful group of students, and saw some great shows, including Smokefall, Nice Fish, Fun Home, Hamilton, and Eclipsed. Beautiful weather and we saw a lot of the city, including going all the way out to Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

Haven’t had time to catch up with drug policy developments yet.

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No surprises here

Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post: Legal marijuana is finally doing what the drug war couldn’t

The latest data from the U.S. Border Patrol shows that last year, marijuana seizures along the southwest border tumbled to their lowest level in at least a decade. Agents snagged roughly 1.5 million pounds of marijuana at the border, down from a peak of nearly 4 million pounds in 2009. […]

The data supports the many stories about the difficulties marijuana growers in Mexico face in light of increased competition from the north. As domestic marijuana production has ramped up in places such as California, Colorado and Washington, marijuana prices have fallen, especially at the bulk level. […]

And it’s not just price — Mexican growers are facing pressure on quality, too. “The quality of marijuana produced in Mexico and the Caribbean is thought to be inferior to the marijuana produced domestically in the United States or in Canada,” the DEA wrote last year in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. “Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican cartels are attempting to produce higher-quality marijuana to keep up with U.S. demand.”


Vice News: Iran Is About to Execute Another 100 Prisoners for Drug Offenses

Such wide-scale bloodletting has increased revulsion at the international community’s complicity. Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at the UK-based human rights organization Reprieve, called the planned mass execution at Ghezel Hessar “the one tangible return on the UN’s investment in Iranian drug raids.”

“Iran’s spree of drug-related hangings is based on unfair trials and force ‘confessions,’ and its main victims are innocent scapegoats and vulnerable people who’ve been exploited as drug mules,” Foa said in a statement.

Iran’s penchant for putting drug offenders to death hasn’t dampened the UNODC’s enthusiasm for the country’s role in the drug fight.


Also from Christopher Ingraham: Donald Trump’s drug policy is an alarming throwback to the 1980s

Trump’s promise to prevent drugs from entering the country in the first place is a throwback to the drug war policies of previous decades. This may be no accident. He recently sought drug policy advice from William J. Bennett and discussed the heroin epidemic with him.

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Website adjustments

The site had a bit of a meltdown for awhile today as several plug-ins suddenly stopped working correctly. Plug-ins are third-party additions to WordPress that allow additional functionality in the blog, and we use a number of them. Sometimes you find a good one and start using it, but the developer of it doesn’t keep updating it, and it becomes incompatible when there is a routine upgrade of the core WordPress software.

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened today. I’ve had to deactivate comment ratings (as that one had gone completely haywire), along with a couple of others that affect how I write posts (but shouldn’t affect user experience).

Please let me know if anything else stops working correctly. In the meantime, I’ll look for a replacement for the comment rating system, but it may be awhile. I’m getting ready to take students to New York for a week.

Consider this an open thread.

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Moving beyond the stoner stereotype

Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance

Via 420Intel, the Drug Policy Alliance has developed a set of stock photos that’s available for use for free.

Media outlets continue to use stereotypical “stoner” images for otherwise serious news stories about marijuana. The Drug Policy Alliance is offering an alternative: stock photos of real, everyday people who use marijuana.

These photos are open license and free to use for non-commercial editorial purposes, and we hope they will help make the jobs of editors easier and the content more relevant.

Images must be credited, and may be used for editorial purposes only. No commercial use is permitted.

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The drug war in popular fictional entertainment

The recent explosion of comic-book-sourced movies and television shows have had the luxury of creating entire classes of bad guys – meta-humans, aliens, super villains, etc., and there’s no need for writers to actually know anything about the science, economics, or sociology behind shark-men or Martians. But for ages, standard action shows have had a limited number of bad-guy options. Sure, you’ve got the specialty shows like SVU (sexual predators), but otherwise it’s bank robbers, terrorists, and… drug dealers.

For decades, drug dealers/cartels have been a go-to stereotype action bad guy for this kind of fiction. It’s a convenient mechanism with ruthless villains versus the good guys in law enforcement.

Of course, when you spend so much time studying drug policy, it’s hard to enjoy the fiction, in part because you can immediately see how ridiculous the plots and characters often are.

This week, I was watching “Scorpion,” a TV show about a dysfunctional group of geniuses who are called upon by the government to use their special skills to solve a problem, or stop a catastrophe. This episode, there was a visiting drug agent from Mexico, and this was the dialogue in the opening scene.

Federal Drug Agent Sanchez of Mexico: Three days ago a rancher found this brick of heroin attached to a drone that malfunctioned and crashed by the Arizona border. Our sources are certain it came from Central America through my country and into yours.
Paige (looking at the label on the heroin): Gold Mule? This is the heroin that’s been in the news?
Sanchez: Extremely pure, very dangerous. Kids are OD’ing on this poison all over the country.
Cabe: It’s potent stuff. Users are willing to pay top dollar for it and dealers are willing to kill for the distribution territory here in the states. It sparked gang wars in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami.
Sanchez: Innocents are getting caught in the cross-fire. (shows picture of a body) A father, walking home from work. An 8-year-old, doing her homework, bullet came in through her bedroom window, three blocks from my home.
Sylvester: (looking at picture) She was doing math!
Walter: I assume you want our help because drones are involved?
Sanchez: Correct. So far, we have been able to confiscate 85% of the shipments coming across the border.. trucks, tunnels, airplanes.
Happy: Are you telling me that all the drugs in the United States only account for 15% of the potential supply?
Sanchez: Imagine if the rest got in via drone!

There’s just so much wrong in that exchange. Both factually (85%???), and because a bunch of geniuses could easily point out how stupid the government’s approach is to problem-solving when it comes to the drug war, and would understand more about supply and demand.

The rest of the plot was pretty pathetic – the cartels sent all their drones across the border at the same place, where the geniuses knew where to be, in packs that could be tracked by radar, and, after a bunch of hair-raising chases and a medical emergency that had nothing to do with the original plot, the good guys won, bad guys were arrested and nobody died. And at the end of the episode…

Sylvester: Given the size of the shipment we stopped, and near future shipments of the same size, taking into account overdose statistics, the gang war over distribution and adjusting for a margin of error, we saved 4,287 lives. Minimum!

Of course, it’s fiction. Nobody’s looking for realism here. But man, it’s hard to keep a straight face when watching this stuff.

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