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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
March 2018
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Renewing the drug war?

Disturbing piece in the Washington post by Sari Horwitz: How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs

This article focuses not just on Sessions, but also Stephen Cook.

Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.

“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year. […]

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.

Sessions has yet to announce specific policy changes, but Cook’s new perch speaks volumes about where the Justice Department is headed.

I would like to believe that we have accomplished enough in recent years in a bipartisan effort to increase awareness of the need for criminal justice reform and to point out the destructive aspects of the war on drugs that simply putting people like Sessions and Cook in power wouldn’t be enough to undo that work.

But it makes it clear, unfortunately, that we can’t assume progress will continue uninterrupted.

“If there was a flickering candle of hope that remained for sentencing reform, Cook’s appointment was a fire hose,” said Ring, of FAMM. “There simply aren’t enough backhoes to build all the prisons it would take to realize Steve Cook’s vision for America.”

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Opioids aren’t the problem

Opioids Aren’t the Problem and Chris Christie Isn’t the Solution – good piece by Sal Rodriguez.

The drug war is the problem, not opioids

Making clear the dangers of drug mixing, removing politicians from doctor-patient relationships, emphasizing harm reduction, supporting the expansion of medication-assisted treatment and permitting legal access to heroin and other drugs would do more to save lives than even the most soft-hearted drug prohibition.

[Thanks, darkcycle]

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Here’s a stupid idea

Let’s put Chris Christie in charge of a drug commission devoted to opioid abuse.

Washington Post (via Tom Angell):

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. […]

The office will also focus on combating opioid abuse, a regular emphasis for Trump on the campaign trail. The president later this week plans to announce an official drug commission devoted to the problem that will be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). He has been working informally on the issue for several weeks with Kushner, despite reported tension between the two.

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Lazy Journalism

Haven’t done one of these in a while. Here’s a puff piece by Frank Lewis in the Portsmouth (Ohio) Daily Times: Forfeiture – an important tool. It’s essentially a promo for the U.S. Attorney’s office.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman has announced the creation of a District forfeiture unit tasked with ensuring the District is as successful as possible at seizing ill-gotten gains. […]

Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware agrees.

“Asset forfeiture has proven to be a valuable tool in disrupting criminal enterprises’ ability to continue to operate post conviction,” Ware said. “When done properly, civil and criminal asset forfeiture can provide for the dismantling of a criminal network instead of replacing one individual with the next individual to continue to operate the enterprise. This is especially true in the case of organized drug trafficking rings.” […]

Of course, nowhere in the article does it even consider discussing who gets the money from the forfeitures, or whether, in the case of civil forfeitures, the owner of the property has to actually have committed a crime to lose their property.

Notice the quote mentions “post conviction,” and yet much forfeiture doesn’t require any conviction at all.

Of course, Benjamin Gassman and Robert Ware like the program. If I had a program where I could take assets from private individuals and use them to increase my budget, I’d be pretty thrilled with it.

A real journalist would ask them if they would still be happy with the program if forfeiture required a conviction and all proceeds went to the general fund.

I also love this bit:

For example, in fiscal year 2016, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio forfeited assets valued in excess of $9 million.

Um, no. Citizens forfeited assets, not the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Of course, any discussion of citizens who actually forfeited assets are noticeably missing from this article.

In case Frank Lewis is looking for the correct word, The U.S. Attorney’s Office seized assets.

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New York Times discovers dynamic-entry drug raids

A friend of mine sent me this link with the note: “Hey Pete, You’ve talked about this for *years*. Why is the Times only now catching on?”

It’s a very good series in the New York Times: Door-Busting Drug Raids Leave a Trail of Blood with a second article in the series: 2 Texas Drug-Raid Deaths: Murder or Self-Defense?

Definitely worth reading, and nice to see in the Times, but my friend has a good point, and I also found the absence of the name Radley Balko in the articles rather … odd.

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An ally on the Supreme Court in dismantling civil asset forfeiture

From Reason:

Clarence Thomas Condemns Civil Asset Forfeiture, Points to ‘Egregious and Well-Chronicled Abuses’

The Supreme Court offered no explanation today for its refusal to hear the case of Lisa Olivia Leonard v. Texas. But one member of the Court did speak up. In a statement respecting the denial of certiorari in the case, Justice Clarence Thomas made it clear that he believes the current state of civil asset forfeiture law is fundamentally unconstitutional.

“This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” Thomas declared.

Furthermore, he wrote, the Supreme Court’s previous rulings on the matter are starkly at odds with the Constitution, which “presumably would require the Court to align its distinct doctrine governing civil forfeiture with its doctrines governing other forms of punitive state action and property deprivation.” Those other doctrines, Thomas noted, impose significant checks on the government, such as heightened standards of proof, various procedural protections, and the right to a trial by jury. Civil asset forfeiture proceedings, by contrast, offer no such constitutional safeguards for the rights of person or property.

This is a good step. Let’s hope the right case gets to the Supreme Court so this can be properly debated at that level.

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Open Thread

I’ve been busy on other projects. Still a lot of speculation out there regarding the directions that this administration will take… talk of eliminating the ONDCP, Spicer’s comments about enforcing federal laws against states that legalize marijuana, yet seeming support for state medical laws, etc.

The key value that we have is that for years now, we have worked across party lines and found ways to make drug policy reform attractive regardless of party affiliation. We found allies in forfeiture reform and prison reform in conservative camps and allies for leaving states alone in liberal camps. This makes it harder for someone to simply step in and ignorantly try to undo our efforts – they’ll find opposition from a variety of sides.

We need to keep up the effort, particularly in finding allies in seemingly unlikely places.

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Showing true colors on asset forfeiture

A friend sent me this article, not so much about the disagreement between President Trump and a Senator, but the underlying discussion that led to it.

Texas Democrats Angered by Trump’s Remark on Destroying Senator’s Career

“Mr. President, on asset forfeiture,” Sheriff Eavenson said, in an exchange that was observed by reporters and filmed, “we’ve got a state senator in Texas that was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money, and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”

“Can you believe that?” Mr. Trump responded, then added, “Who’s the state senator?”

Sheriff Eavenson did not reply. “Do you want to give his name?” Mr. Trump said. “We’ll destroy his career.” Laughter then broke out.


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Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch

So, President Trump has announced his nominee for the bench: Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.

A lot can happen between announcement and confirmation, so obviously nothing is certain yet, but it’s worth taking a look.

There are a lot of potential problems with this nominee, but there are also some potential bright spots (all from a surface and cursory reading of his Wikipedia entry).

He tends to favor state power over federal power, which is a bonus in this particular phase of drug policy reform. Additionally, he has written against judicial activism – in particular the notion of using the courts as a way to change culture in a way to serve society best, when that should be done at the ballot box. That also seems positive considering most drug policy reform has been happening at the ballot box and in the states. Additionally, he has written against the notion of federal agencies interpreting ambiguous laws instead of the courts.

In criminal law, he understands the importance of mens rea (the idea that the defendant knows that they are breaking a law), something which has been noticeably disappearing from a lot of drug laws.

Again, it’s important to note that Supreme Court rulings that affect drug policy cannot be neatly categorized as right vs. left, but rather tend to focus on more complicated issue of state vs. federal power, individual freedom, the power of federal agencies, etc.

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Your next Attorney General?

[Via Radley Balko]

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