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July 2018
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Odds and Ends

A few things I’ve found interesting recently…

Canada will legalize pot, after arresting a bunch of people for pot offences first:
Why? Our ministers can’t really explain
by Neil MacDonald

Why the government cannot simply decide to invoke prosecutorial and police discretion, and cease enforcing the cannabis laws it considers unjust, was not explained. Why that would necessarily be a “free for all” also went unexplained.

And Goodale went even further. All those Canadians who were prosecuted successfully in the past for this trifling, minor, non-violent offence will continue to bear the burden of a criminal record, even though this government says such prosecutions were wrong and is moving, albeit slowly, to strike down the law.

Goodale was explicit: there will be no blanket pardon. Again, no explanation. He was too busy administering stern warnings about continued enforcement, and, of course, “strictly regulating and restricting access” once the law is finally changed.

All of this is to satisfy conservative Canadians who, even though they probably can’t explain it, continue to believe smoking pot should be a crime.

Ashley Halsey III continues to stink up the pages of the Washington Post by unhelpfully amplifying the misleading press statements of drug warriors.

Drugged driving eclipses drunken driving in tests of motorists killed in crashes

The number of drivers who tested positive for drugs after dying in a crash rose from almost 28 percent in 2005 to 43 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

Though the dates when each state passed a law vary, that period coincided with more-permissive laws covering the use of marijuana. […]

Counterbalancing that assessment of crash risk is this stark statistic: In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 48 percent after the state legalized recreational use of the drug.

Ah yes, the ever-meaningless “marijuana-related” phrase pops up again as if it actually implied causation.

[Thanks, Tom]

This delightfully confusing mash-up from Tom Angell and the Marijuana Majority April Newsletter:

More mixed signals from the Trump administration.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed a Justice Department task force to make recommendations for changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy by late July. But he also told Colorado’s governor in a meeting that the Obama-era memo that lets states implement their cannabis laws largely without federal interference is “not too far from good policy.” The Justice Department issued a memo reminding bankruptcy officials that they can’t liquidate or restructure marijuana businesses.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that marijuana is “not a factor in the drug war” but a few days later added that it is “a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.”

The Transportation Security Administration posted on its website that medical cannabis is allowed on airplanes. But after the media noticed it soon added a caveat that while its agents don’t search for marijuana, when it is found they refer the matter to law enforcement. If the local cops determine that the traveler is a legal patient, they’re then allowed to fly with their medicine.

The U.S. Postal Service refused to let an Alaska marijuana business mail its state tax payments.

And it was leaked that President Trump apparently intends to nominate Congressman Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, an ardent marijuana law reform opponent, as White House drug czar.

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Watch Rachael Leigh Cook Remake ‘Brain on Drugs’ Ad for 4/20 — via Rolling Stone

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Doesn’t make me feel safer

“Enjoy trying to sleep tonight, wondering if tonight’s the night our SWAT team blows your front door off the hinges.”

Sheriff Peyton Grinnell Lake County Sheriff’s Office Community Engagement Unit message. “Community Engagement Unit” – now there’s a euphemism.

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There’s something that makes your head explode when you read about a “retired art professor” who donated $1.36 million to oppose marijuana legalization.

That’s just so wrong. On so many levels.

Anti-pot group faces campaign finance violations from its work opposing marijuana legalization in California

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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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