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August 2016
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Under-incarceration

A couple of months ago, Senator Tom Cotton ridiculously spewed that the U.S. has an under-incarceration problem.

Cotton, who has been an outspoken critic of the bill in Congress that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences, smacked down what he called “baseless” arguments that there are too many offenders locked up for relatively small crimes, that incarceration is too costly, or that “we should show more empathy toward those caught up in the criminal-justice system.”

“Take a look at the facts. First, the claim that too many criminals are being jailed, that there is over-incarceration, ignores an unfortunate fact: for the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and jailed,” Cotton said during a speech at The Hudson Institute, according to his prepared remarks. “Law enforcement is able to arrest or identify a likely perpetrator for only 19 percent of property crimes and 47 percent of violent crimes. If anything, we have an under-incarceration problem.”

Of course, his arguments are really stupid. The last part, regarding the low arrest rate for property crimes and violent crimes, has nothing to do with levels of incarceration, but rather more to do with priorities of policing, such as financial incentives for police to focus on drug crimes rather than property crimes, for example.

Reducing mandatory minimum sentencing has nothing to do with policing priorities, but has to do with stopping the practice of stockpiling prisons with people who are not a danger to society for unreasonably long sentences.

Earlier this week, Amy Ralston Povah, who had one of those unreasonably long sentences, published this excellent response to Senator Cotton: Senator Cotton’s under incarceration problem

It didn’t matter that I had never been in trouble with the law. It didn’t matter that I had left my manipulative husband, the one who had become involved with the drug MDMA. It didn’t matter that they had the ring leader in custody, either. In 1989, the Reagan-Bush administration resurrected Nixon’s drug war and launched a “zero tolerance” campaign to punish citizens remotely involved with or related to anyone in the drug business.

This affected wives and girlfriends like me who would not, or could not, provide “cooperating” information to prosecutors about drug dealing. As a result, I was held responsible for every criminal act my then-husband had committed. He, however, did “cooperate” by turning on everyone, including me! He was rewarded with a 3-year probation sentence, while I got a quarter of a century in prison.

Yes, my parents learned all about who goes to prison and who goes free in this country.

It is troubling to hear well-intentioned policymakers such as Senator Cotton oppose criminal justice reform based on myths about the system that are just not true. My parents did not deserve to stand in a courtroom and have their hopes and dreams shattered when their daughter was given a 24-year sentence, and neither do all the other families who are currently living this nightmare.

Having been to prison, I know there are thousands of wonderful, patriotic, and good people there. A drug conviction does not translate into being a bad person.

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Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…

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Open Thread

Sorry for the delay in posts. It turns out that being retired is a quite busy occupation! Having fun traveling and working on a number of projects.

The US Attorney General May Address Concerns With The RAVE Act

This would be really good news if we could make some progress in this area.

The current situation is that promoters are afraid of putting common sense harm reduction services at festivals and shows because it legally could be perceived that they are promoting drug use, providing a “safe” place to use drugs. This has left only the most basic harm reduction initiatives in place: Things like free water and a cool down area. The hope is that the DOJ will make it clear that you are not violating the law by providing essential services in harm reduction, like drug education provided by professionals without judgment, better-equipped medical staff, the sale and distribution of pill & powder testing kits, etc. Basically, the things that have statistically been proven to keep people safe at shows.


Substance in Marijuana Could Benefit Alzheimer’s Patients

We’ve been hearing reports for some time about the possibility of marijuana helping with Alzheimer’s. Here’s some more:

A substance found in marijuana might remove a kind of plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, researchers from the Salk Institute say that the chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and other active components of marijuana can “promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease” in neurons grown in a lab.

“Although other studies have offered evidence that cannabinoids might be neuroprotective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we believe our study is the first to demonstrate that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells,” said Salk Professor David Schubert, the senior author of the paper.

Of course, whenever we discuss this, you can handle miss the delightful irony that marijuana, which has long been unfoundedly attacked for destroying people’s minds could end up actually being the thing that could save them.


A Doctor’s Argument for Letting People Do Heroin in a Safe Place

Right now in Ithaca, officials are pursuing a Supervised Injection Facility (or SIF) to address the overdose problem. Over 60 cities in 10 countries have opened SIFs in order to give people who inject drugs a place to use that is safer and more hygienic than the restrooms, parks, or other public places that may be their only alternative.

SIFs offer sterile syringes, skin-cleansing products, and a brightly lit space; they have medical staff that can respond to an overdose and administer naloxone, which is the antidote to an opioid overdose; they also connect people—if and when they’re ready—with addiction treatment services. SIFs save lives, can prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and may be the only connection to the health care system for some people who inject drugs. New York City needs SIFs.

Last month, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released a troubling report that drug overdose deaths increased by 10 percent across the city in 2015—a 39 percent increase in the Bronx. The potentially preventable death of 886 New Yorkers is a crisis. Efforts to reduce overprescribing of pain killers had previously reduced deaths in some areas of the city, but fentanyl, an opioid analgesic that is being mixed into bags of heroin, poses a new problem. Because fentanyl is more potent than heroin, even experienced heroin users may unknowingly inject too much and die in an unintended overdose. At SIFs, overdose deaths simply do not happen.

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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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