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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
May 2017
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New head of the DEA?


It’s satire, of course, but I couldn’t resist.

In an official statement, Trump said that El Chapo’s “tremendous success in the private sector” showed that he has what it takes to “shake things up” at the D.E.A.

Trump’s appointment of the former drug lord surprised many in Washington, in no small part because acrimony between the two allegedly prompted El Chapo, in 2015, to put a hundred-million-dollar bounty on Trump’s head.

But, appearing on CNN, the Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway said that the selection of El Chapo should surprise no one. “Mr. Trump always said that he would surround himself with the best people,” she said.

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Jeff Sessions, Attorney General?

Oh, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

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Open Thread

Retirement continues to be a very busy time for me. Spent the past week in Chicago getting my newest Living Canvas show ready to open tomorrow.


[Trans]formation uses the unique Living Canvas technique (projections on bodies) to tell the stories, poetry and songs of transgender and other non-binary individuals. It’s a pretty stunning world premiere and there really is nothing like it. Running November 17 to December 17 at The Vault at Collaboraction Studios in the Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave in Chicago. More info.

Early indications in the hugely chaotic transition period for the upcoming President Trump seem to indicate that there are likely to be a lot of hawks in the new administration. In general, that bodes poorly for any kind of reduction or reform of the international drug war, and increases the need to continue to establish the ascendency of the states in drug policy, along with convincing small-government Republicans in Congress to act as a brake against potential overreach by a Trump Justice Department.

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Ongoing Election Results (updated)

Here’s a news site from New Orleans that is doing live tracking of the various marijuana-related votes.

Track marijuana referendum results: 9 states vote on legalizing pot


Recreational marijuana: California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada won! Arizona lost.
Medical marijuana initiatives: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota won.

That’s a pretty incredible record.

Now we just have to hold the political leaders’ feet to the fire and make them follow the people’s wishes.

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I voted early, as I’m heading up to Chicago to do a show. But it was a pretty dull affair, as I live in Central Illinois and there’s not much to vote for, other than making a symbolic statement.

However, in some parts of the country, your vote matters. And not just the race everyone’s talking about, but judges, and council members, and initiatives. So do your research.

Some really big marijuana initiatives this year – this could be a huge year for moving forward with legalization. Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada will vote on legalization, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota have medical marijuana votes.

The LA Times has generally been quite anti-marijuana over the years, and yet they endorse marijuana legalization on the ballot in California.

Meanwhile, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has spent millions this year opposing legalization. Here’s Christopher Ingraham’s article following the money.

So, with nine states involved in this voting cycle, what do you think the score will be?

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Quote of the day

“Marijuana Arrests are the engine driving the War on Drugs”

Quote from: Watch Pusha T’s PSA Supporting Cali Marijuana Bill

Well said. It’s one of the reasons that drug policy reformers have focused so much on marijuana. It is not only the most popular illicit drug, but it is also the reason that most drug warriors have budgets for their war. Without the volume of arrests for marijuana, they would have much harder time justifying the budgets for drug task forces, and the loss of the huge amounts of cash involved the illegal marijuana market would cripple the asset forfeiture business.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t or shouldn’t focus on the other aspects of the drug war (and we must continue to actively oppose the drug war even after marijuana is legalized), but from a practical standpoint, opposing marijuana prohibition has been a critical part of any comprehensive drug policy reform movement.

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People are ‘less concerned’ about drug problems, and that can be a good thing

Americans Less Concerned About Drugs Than Ever: Poll

Sixty-five percent of Americans say that drug problems in the U.S. are “extremely” or “very serious,” according to a Gallup poll released Friday.

That’s the lowest level of concern the firm has found since it first asked the question 16 years ago, and it comes at a time when the county is experiencing what many experts have described as an “epidemic” of opioid overdose deaths.


Gallup attributes the drop in concern about drug problems nationally to younger adults, “who have never known a time when drugs were among the most prominent issues on the national landscape,” such as during the Reagan administration’s “Just Say No” campaign. “They have also come of age at a time when Americans, particularly those in their age cohort, support legalizing marijuana.”

I would say it also has something to do with the work of drug policy reformers, who have actively and constantly countered both the stereotypes and the propaganda of drug warriors.

And there’s the reason that this lowering of concern, which I would also consider an increase in actual knowledge, is so good. It means that politicians and those who feed off the drug war trough now have a tougher time using “drug fear” to get what they want.

It used to be that all they had to do was say the word “drugs” and the Supreme Court, Congress, and the American people would bend over and relinquish rights, justice, and common sense. Perhaps that era has passed.

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We must always watch out for the worst

Regardless of the advances we make in drug policy reform, there will always be those who have not only not learned from our tragic failures, but who are determined to bring them back with a vengeance.

The overdose crisis is bringing back one of the worst policies of the ‘war on drugs’

Last month, Republican Rep. Tom Reed of New York introduced legislation that harked back to what critics call one of the worst relics of the “war on drugs.”

The legislation would allow federal prosecutors to charge a drug dealer with life in prison or the death penalty when they can connect the dealer to an overdose death caused by heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller with 50 times the strength of pure heroin.

And, just in case you’ve forgotten why this is a bad thing (and why we need to get rid of the laws that are still on the books that charge a dealer for the death of a user) remember how these laws end up getting enforced.

To charge someone with drug-induced homicide or a similar charge, the chain of causation that led from purchase to overdose needs to be very clear. Drug dealers with more sophisticated operations don’t tend to put themselves in the types of situations that make it feasible to prove that causation, Kathie Kane-Willis, the director of Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, told The Southern Illinoisan earlier this year.

Addicts who sell to support their addiction and most often sell to friends or acquaintances do put themselves in those types of situations — like shooting up with the overdose victim.

“If our goal is to save lives, then these laws are counterproductive,” Kane-Willis told The Fix in January. “The majority of people charged under drug-induced homicide laws are drug-dependent folks who were using with a friend or loved one.”

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The Humans Rights Watch and ACLU report

A powerful report from Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union: Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union call on all states and the federal government to decriminalize the use and possession for personal use of all drugs and to focus instead on prevention and harm reduction. Until decriminalization has been achieved, we urge officials to take strong measures to minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of existing laws and policies. The costs of the status quo, as this report shows, are too great to bear.

The report takes a close look at individual cases in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York with some damning stories and statistics.

We interviewed over 100 people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York who were prosecuted for small quantities of drugs—in some cases, fractions of a gram—that were clearly for personal use. Particularly in Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors did more than simply pursue these cases—they often selected the highest charges available and went after people as hard as they could. […]

In 2009 (the most recent year for which national data is available), more than 99 percent of people convicted of drug possession in the 75 largest US counties pled guilty. Our interviews and data analysis suggest that in many cases, high bail—particularly for low-income defendants—and the threat of long sentences render the right to a jury trial effectively meaningless. […]

At year-end 2014, over 25,000 people were serving sentences in local jails and another 48,000 were serving sentences in state prisons for drug possession nationwide. The number admitted to jails and prisons at some point over the course of the year was significantly higher. As with arrests, there were sharp racial disparities. In 2002 (the most recent year for which national jail data is available), Black people were over 10 times more likely than white people to be in jail for drug possession. In 2014, Black people were nearly six times more likely than white people to be in prison for drug possession. […]

Our analysis of data from Florida, Texas, and New York, presented here for the first time, shows that the majority of people convicted of drug possession in these states are sentenced to some form of incarceration. Because each dataset is different, they show us different things. For example, our data suggests that in Florida, 75 percent of people convicted of felony drug possession between 2010 and 2015 had little to no prior criminal history. Yet 84 percent of people convicted of these charges were sentenced to prison or jail. In New York State, between 2010 and 2015, the majority of people convicted of drug possession were sentenced to some period of incarceration. At year-end 2015, one of sixteen people in custody in New York State was incarcerated for drug possession. Of those, 50 percent were Black and 28 percent Latino. In Texas, between 2012 and 2016, approximately one of eleven people in prison had drug possession as their most serious offense; two of every three people serving time for drug charges were there for drug possession; and 116 people had received life sentences for drug possession, at least seven of which were for an amount weighing between one and four grams.

So much for the constant harping by drug war apologists that people aren’t going to prison for mere drug possession.

Even for those not sentenced to jail or prison, a conviction for drug possession can be devastating, due to onerous probation conditions, massive criminal justice debt, and a wide range of restrictions flowing from the conviction (known in the literature as “collateral consequences”). […]

The sheer magnitude of drug possession arrests means that they are a defining feature of the way certain communities experience police in the United States. For many people, drug laws shape their interactions with and views of the police and contribute to a breakdown of trust and a lack of security. This was particularly true for Black and Latino people we interviewed. […]

While governments have a legitimate interest in preventing problematic drug use, the criminal law is not the solution. Criminalizing drug use simply has not worked as a matter of practice. Rates of drug use fluctuate, but they have not declined significantly since the “war on drugs” was declared more than four decades ago. The criminalization of drug use and possession is also inherently problematic because it represents a restriction on individual rights that is neither necessary nor proportionate to the goals it seeks to accomplish. It punishes an activity that does not directly harm others.

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Driving in circles

This just keeps coming up so many times with a lot of propagandizing and very little evidence of a problem.

A proposition to legalize pot raises DUI concerns: ‘We are going to start losing folks in astronomical numbers’ in the LA Times.

“In the state of California we are going to start losing folks in astronomical numbers before we finally realize maybe we didn’t look at it thoroughly enough,” [Doug Villars, president of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen] said.

Really? Based on what facts?

Fortunately, the article does point out some of the actual points we’ve been raising for years:

“The use of marijuana is already there,” [Stephen Downing] said. “If they are driving under the influence of marijuana, they are already doing it. My question is, why is this an issue now?” [..]

Marijuana activists point out that just because THC is in the system of a motorist involved in a fatal crash, there is no proof that it caused impairment that led to the accident.

One point I found fascinating is the complaint raised that they’re having a hard time getting juries to convict, because juries are unconvinced that prosecutors are proving impairment.

Sounds to me like juries are doing their job.

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