Former judge takes on the drug war

Federal Judge: My Drug War Sentences Were ‘Unfair and Disproportionate’

Former Federal Judge Nancy Gertner was appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton in 1994. She presided over trials for 17 years. And Sunday, she stood before a crowd at The Aspen Ideas Festival to denounce most punishments that she imposed.

Among 500 sanctions that she handed down, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,” she said. “I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty to write about those stories––to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy.”

No theory of retribution or social change could justify them, she said. And that dispiriting conclusion inspired the radical idea that she presented: a call for the U.S. to mimic its decision after World War II to look to the future and rebuild rather than trying to punish or seek retribution. As she sees it, the War on Drugs ought to end in that same spirit. “Although we were not remotely the victors of that war, we need a big idea in order to deal with those who were its victims,” she said, calling for something like a Marshall Plan.

She went on to savage the War on Drugs at greater length.

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44 Responses to Former judge takes on the drug war

  1. Servetus says:

    Mea culpas, such as the excellent one offered by former Judge Nancy Gertner, are destined to become common as the drug war grinds to a halt. I’m hoping to see such apologies someday from Robert L. DuPont, or Kevin Abraham Sabet-Sharghi, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Other good things are to be found in graceful exits from moral panics, however. Variations in the theme of public apologies can take on many forms of expression, as when Pope Francis announces today he will chew coca in Bolivia:

    BBC – 29 June 2015 — Pope Francis has requested to chew coca leaves during his forthcoming visit to Bolivia, according to Bolivian Culture Minister Marko Machicao.

    Coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, has been used in the Andes for thousands of years to combat altitude sickness and as a mild stimulant.

    Mr Machicao said the government offered the Pope coca tea and the pontiff had “specifically requested” to chew coca.

    The Vatican has not yet commented. The Pope travels to Bolivia on 8 July.

    Great events such as these are why every pope should possess a chemical technician’s diploma, as Pope Francis does. A pontiff who thinks of and treats chemicals as mere chemicals is a good thing.

    July 8 would mark the first time we know of that a pope consumed coca since Popes Leo XIII and later Pius X (d. 1914) enjoyed Vin Mariani. I’m guessing if the pope does it, it’s no longer heretical. Also, as a recognized sovereign head of state with diplomatic status, he can legally transport coca leaves back to the Vatican.

  2. strayan says:

    Abandon ship!

  3. Frank W. says:

    Come Wednesday my little northwestern state might make a handy lifeboat!

  4. Kudos to former Federal Judge Nancy Gertner. Her amends are welcome. I hope others of her character will follow. It takes courage to do what she did. It was the right thing to do.

  5. DdC says:

    Who said…

    “I think it‘s wrong when our elected leaders are lying to the American people and treating us like we’re stupid,”

    “People are fed up with politicians who say one thing and do another.”

    “Those decisions are a threat to our democracy.”

    asked whether he’s out of step with public opinion because 60 percent of Americans believe it should be recognized as legal.

    It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
    Except for Lola…

  6. Daniel Williams says:

    Just another politician speaking the truth when out of office and their voice no longer generates power. The list is long, and she’s just one more to be included.

    To mistake her action for bravery or truth speaking to power is not only wrong but delusional. She had her chance to make a difference but chose not to – until it was too late. Screw her.

    • allan says:

      once burned, twice shy?

      I respectfully disagree Daniel. The same could be said of our friends at LEAP… I was in the middle of helping bomb little brown people in Cambodia when I figured out it wasn’t what I wanted to do… consciousness is sometimes evolutionary rather than epiphany.

      • darkcycle says:

        Oops, that thumbs down was SUPPOSED to be an up, but fat fingers and a tablet intervened….sorry, Allan…

      • NorCalNative says:

        Allan, purchased a copy of your calendar recently. I have a new appreciation for Miss August. I like the form of the huge stalks which can be seen fighting for ground space. The red yarn used to tie up those big girls adds interest.

        The large purple fan leaves are really attractive to this eye. Can you say EXOTIC?

        What can I look forward to in the future?

        Tomorrow’s a big day for you Oregonians. Toke one for me will ya?

        • allan says:

          so that was you! Thanks Bud…

          not sure what’s next – hoping this year’s babies get awesomely phat! Got a late start but put them in the ground on fodder’s day.

          I’m hoping one of my kids will make it to Stoney Girl Garden’s seed give-away tomorrow for me!

      • Daniel Williams says:

        Yes, the same thing can be said of LEAP. And rightfully so. I’m not against LEAP, but it seems we’ve (too easily) succumbed to the drug war version of Stockholm Syndrome. That they expected to be welcomed with open arms for their conversion from the Dark Side was a bit over the top for me. They professed, due to their decades of arresting (mostly non-violent) drug users and ruining countless lives, to be more in the know. Sometimes “better late than never” isn’t as important as claimed.

        I met Norm Stampler back in 2007, at a Libertarian Party event held in the Miami area. He was/is a nice fellow. But LEAP went from advocating the repeal of drug prohibition: Cops Say Legalize Drugs, to the more trendy (and profitable) position of Cops Say Legalize Marijuana. To me, that was an abdication of their core principals.

        And when I suggested to Norm that LEAP focus on police departments instead of doing the Rotary Club circuit, I was told that they didn’t want to put cops on the spot. The Blue Line may be thin, but it is never fully crossed.

        • Daniel Williams says:

          Ooops…make that principles. Auto-correct is no friend of mine.

        • darkcycle says:

          Sounds to me like it was her principals that both made her step down as well as speak out against it. She found the sentences she was mandated to hand down unconscionable and didn’t want to be a part of it.
          I can’t find much to be critical of in that.

        • DdC says:

          I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…

          principals – She presided over trials for 17 years.
          step down – I left the bench in 2011 to join the Harvard faculty @ $198,400 yr., oh that’s for men, she stepped down to $187,500.
          speak out – to write about how it came to pass that I was obliged to sentence people to terms that, frankly, made no sense under any philosophy… for 17 years.

          Funny how stoners have known it all along…

          Or even one of the most overzealous judges in CA was able to grant pseudo clemency with a one day sentence. That Ed was appealing???

          A convicted marijuana grower was sentenced to one day in prison and fined $1,000 by a federal judge today, the most lenient sentence allowed under law.

          The judge, Charles R. Breyer of Federal District Court, had not allowed Mr. Rosenthal to raise medicinal marijuana as a defense, leading some jurors to later complain that they had been misled by the court. After convicting Mr. Rosenthal, several jurors requested a new trial, and when that failed, wrote to Judge Breyer urging leniency.

          At a hearing today, Judge Breyer said it was reasonable to conclude that Mr. Rosenthal had believed he was acting legally. By making that determination, the judge was able to skirt some minimum sentence requirements, which could have put Mr. Rosenthal in prison for at least five years, his lawyers said.

          We can forgive many for finally seeing the light, but we will never forget any of their actions. What she and LEAP are now doing is for society, not just stoners. Until they serve Justice for their criminal acts, legal or not, same as the Nazi’s legal acts or the US Calvary’s legal acts on Native Citizens or the slavery and well organized stigma put onto cannabis users. When the act is so sinister that any average citizen can know it is sinister. That is from teaching kids right from wrong. If stoners and kids know mandatory minimum and gag orders and forfeitures, confiscations and dog murder is wrong. Why should these judges and cops be any different because they were unquestioning Universal soldiers? Diverting attention to the good they do now is dishonest. They are finally helping society by finally condemning the war on people using certain plants. Except their previous actions still leave the prisons full of their dastardly deeds. Lets set up an exchange program for releasing non violent pot prisoners in exchange for a drug worrier actually doing harm to Americans. I’m all tingly knowing she has seen the light, and will go and sin no more. She should, seems its the least she can do. Certainly a lighter sentence than she doled out for 17 years.

    • jean valjean says:

      Arch drug warrior in office (triangulating with Newt Gingrich!), Bill Clinton has made the same sort of reformist noises since leaving. I’m sure Gertner’s previous views on prohibition were one of the reasons Clinton appointed her in the first place, not unlike Obama’s appointment of Loretta Lynch as A.G. Drug war money is still calling the shots and drug war victims are still having their lives destroyed by these sado-moralists.

    • It would be a grave mistake to turn away the Gupta’s and Gertner’s of our country. The concept that they all need to be punished simply entrenches them firmly into an already too bloated enemy camp.

      The destructive influence of the war on drugs has captured most of our society by lies and force, and by reason of federal influence and money. Its been going on for decades.

      The same “punish them all” thinking would surely have slowed or prevented alcohol prohibitions demise. Punish them all is the prohibs line.

      Save Nuremberg for the most deserving of the lying, instigating hierarchy. Dr Grinspoon wasn’t always on our side either.

      We can use the help in ending the war.

  7. joe minella says:

    Huge difference in the sense of urgency between “them” and “us”. I’m sure time flies when you’re on top of the heap but days under oppression crawl by. Obama has been a big disappointment so far. Drug war: Too wrong for too long.

  8. joe minella says:

    I thought I had cataloged all the myriad negative consequences of the WOD but:

    • DdC says:

      Prenatal Marijuana Exposure and Neonatal Outcomes
      Text of Jamaican Study on Prenatal effects
      Although no positive or negative neurobehavioral effects of prenatal exposure were found at 3 days of life using the Brazelton examination, there were significant differences between the exposed and nonexposed neonates at the end of the first month. Comparing the two groups, the neonates of mothers who used marijuana showed better physiological stability at 1 month and required less examiner facilitation to reach an organized state and become available for social stimulation. The results of the comparison of neonates of the heavy-marijuana-using mothers and those of the nonusing mothers were even more striking. The heavily exposed neonates were more socially responsive and were more autonomically stable at 30 days than their matched counterparts. The quality of their alertness was higher; their motor and autonomic systems were more robust; they were less irritable; they were less likely to demonstrate any imbalance of tone; they needed less examiner facilitation to become organized; they had better self-regulation; and were judged to be more rewarding for caregivers than the neonates of nonusing mothers at 1 month of age.

      Marijuana during pregnancy
      The 30-day test showed that children of ganja-using mothers were superior to children of non-ganja mothers in two ways: the children had better organization and modulation of sleeping and waking, and they were less prone to stress-related anxiety.

      Drug Worriers preferred methods of treatment…
      delusions, dementia, lack of feeling or emotion, thoughts of killing oneself, confusion, shakiness, lack of emotion, loss of memory, Behavior change similar to drunkenness, convulsions, (seizures), changes in patterns and rhythms of speech, clumsiness or unsteadiness, difficulty with coordination, shakiness and unsteady walk, feeling sad or empty, inability to sit still, difficulty with concentration, drowsiness, mood or behavior changes, very stiff (rigid) muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, feeling like you might pass out; agitation, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite…

      3 million children taking stimulant drugs for ADHD

      Especially since Cannabinoids occur naturally in breast milk
      If it were not for these cannabinoids in breast milk, newborn children would not know how to eat, nor would they necessarily have the desire to eat, which could result in severe malnourishment and even death.

      While abstinence is potentially risking Chronic endoCannabinoid Deficiency

      Pregnancy and Pot
      By “Dr Kate” – Monday, August 31 1998
      Pot can be safely used during pregnancy, and can help with several of the discomforts/problems associated therewith ? a fact little known by the medical community, and even much of the herbalist community.

      Pot while breast-feeding

  9. NorCalNative says:

    When you call a thing a “war” then it follows that war-tactics and war-thinking make sense.

    While I’m excited this judge has seen the “light-of-reform,” I think her Big Idea borrowed from WWII is about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

    She’s suggesting we avoid retribution? How do you hold elites accountable without consequences? That’s exactly how we ended up with the two-tiered American justice system Greenwald wrote about.

    Her…..look-to-the-future….is the SAME bullshit Obama used to deflect U.S. torture investigations of the Bush administration. I’m not in “eye-for-an-eye” mode here, but neither am I a fan of “amnesty” for the most egregious of drug-war sins and transgressions.

    I think her flavor of reform is designed to save careers of the people most responsible for this mess. I’m in the mood for a little more “creative destruction” if you will.

    Unless the Marshall Plan said something about a dozen pot plants growing safely in my yard, I’m not on the same page with you judge.

    • DdC says:

      I agree with your statement NCN, although I think “war” is even a diversion. As nasty as war is, there are rules of engagement. Rules on treatment of prisoners and rules against what Bush and Cheney and all of the drug worriers ends justifying means tactics, torture.

      Not so protecting the kidlets from druggies. Anything goes. Lies are a staple to promote lies against the enemy, the heathen devil weed. Fat Pharma alternatives are torture on people. Losing a job or driving privileges or having your kids removed into foster care trailer parks. Just watching someone suffer needlessly or a kid have seizures when you know cannabis could help is beyond criminal. It is a war crime. I don’t seek vengeance but I demand justice. I demand justice on Bush Cheney despite Obama’s exemptions. I’d put corporate polluters in the same cells. But mostly I will not sit quietly by while these degenerates finally find the truth and toss tidbits of their enlightenment to ward off years of persecuting people. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to know life for a few plants is wrong. Or the physical properties of cannabis doesn’t warrant child protection racketeers more profits. There is no excuse for their actions or statements throughout the years of torturing over 20 million citizens. What is in order is no less than another Nuremberg Trial. Ignorance of humanity is no excuse.

      “So grotesque and preposterous are the principle characters in this galaxy of clowns and crooks that none but a thrice double ass could have taken them for rulers.” Officer in the Allied Control Commission.

  10. Servetus says:

    N.I.D.A. is tossing $3-million to the winds to help find a “cure” for alleged marijuana addictions. This action is being taken even though the biggest addictive threat to American teenagers is the Oreo cookie.

    • DdC says:

      As Jean-Luc would say…


      I’ve Got Their Cure, RIGHT HERE!!!

      Hmmm… 1894, and it’s 2015 and tax paid Norida
      thinks it’s still a secret.

      The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (1972)

      III. Social Impact of Marihuana Use
      * Assessment of Perceived Risks
      * Addiction Potential

      Unfortunately, fact and fancy have become irrationally mixed regarding marihuana’s physiological and psychological properties. Marihuana clearly is not in the same chemical category as heroin insofar as its physiologic and psychological effects are concerned. In a word, cannabis does not lead to physical dependence. No torturous withdrawal syndrome follows the sudden cessation of chronic, heavy use of marihuana. Although evidence indicates that heavy, long-term cannabis users may develop psychological dependence, even then the level of psychological dependence is no different from the syndrome of anxiety and restlessness seen when an American stops smoking tobacco cigarettes.

      Physical, Mental, and Moral Effects of Marijuana:
      The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report (1894)
      Tod H. Mikuriya, M.D., San Francisco, California

      In respect to his relations to society, however, even the excessive consumer of hemp drugs is ordinarily inoffensive. His excesses may indeed bring him to degraded poverty which may lead him to dishonest practices; and occasionally, but apparently very rarely indeed, excessive indulgence in hemp drugs may lead to violent crime. But for all practical purposes it may be laid down that there is little or no connection between the use of hemp drugs and crime (1:264).

      Physical Effects

      In regard to the physical effects, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs is practically attended by no evil results at all.

      Mental Effects

      In respect to the alleged mental effects of the drugs, the Commission have come to the conclusion that the moderate use of hemp drugs produces no injurious effects on the mind.

      Moral Effects

      In regard to the moral effects of the drugs, the Commission are of opinion that their moderate use produces no moral injury whatever.


      Viewing the subject generally, it may be added that the moderate use of these drugs is the rule, and that the excessive use is comparatively exceptional. The moderate use practically produces no ill effects. In all but the most exceptional cases, the injury from habitual moderate use is not appreciable.

  11. claygooding says:

    All of this while we are still protecting 90% of the world opium supply for nearly 2 decades without one bank busted for laundering opium money,,not one trafficker busted for moving the opium and not one plant pulled.

    In the US we kick peoples doors in and kill them and their pets because someone thought they smelled a joint.

    That is not a war on drugs,,it is market control.

  12. DdC says:

    OT and another one bites the dust…

    Defining Drugged Driving by THC Levels Makes Little Sense, Heritage Foundation Concedes
    A new Heritage Foundation paper warns that state laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes “pose the risk of halting and in some instances reversing gains that society has made over the past 40 years in reducing the morbidity and mortality caused by alcohol-impaired driving.” So far there is not much evidence of that. Traffic fatalities in Colorado and Washington—where medical use has been legal since 2001 and 1999, respectively—for the most part continued to decline as they made access to marijuana easier.

  13. Incunabulum says:

    “Among 500 sanctions that she handed down, “80 percent I believe were unfair and disproportionate,”

    and yet, at no point while she was on the bench, did she do anything to oppose this.

    These people always come out against the drug war once they reach a position where that opposition not only doesn’t hurt them, but actually *helps* there new career.

    How many of these cops/judges/prosecutors have the courage to stand up to this crap while in office? But they’re at the forefront talking about how they’ve *always hated* the drug war once they’ve started their new career opposing it.

    • Frank W. says:

      I call these people Mexican presidents because they all renounce the drug war after their masters release them from The Bargain. Kind of reminds me of Obama.
      It’s a new day in Oregon! Actually it’s business as usual in Oregon, complete with ActionNewsTeam’s announcement of “drugged driving” saturation patrols for this weekend. Plus a story of a doctor who warns against your pet being assaulted by pot.

    • Frank W. says:

      I call these people Mexican presidents because they all renounce the drug war after their masters release them from The Bargain. Kind of reminds me of Obama.
      It’s a new day in Oregon! Actually it’s business as usual in Oregon, complete with ActionNewsTeam’s announcement of “drugged driving” saturation patrols for this weekend. Plus a story of a doctor who warns against your pet being assaulted by pot. I’ll celebrate today after I stop thinking about the oceans of blood and mountains of gold this country has spent and keeps spending on this Soul Eater of a drug war.

  14. Mr_Alex says:

    In New Zealand where I live, the maori population are heavily targeted by the New Zealand Police and Army when it comes to Drug Raids, they by far have the most drug convictions in New Zealand, the Drug War is Racist

  15. Frank W. says:

    It’s 12.01 in Oregon here on July 1. I swear the world just made a big OM sound. Or maybe it’s the weed.

    • Come Get Some says:

      That’s the sound of the sky falling. Better watch out for the fissures and stoned chillun drivers. And the dragons. Yep, that’s some good pot.

  16. Mr_Alex says:

    Just informing everyone that Alex Renton who was hospitalized from a seizure and went into a coma has died in Wellington Hospital in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health in New Zealand along with Wellington Hospital did delay the treatment and also the Prohibs in New Zealand played a role in it too:

    • Crut says:

      Alex, 19, has been in hospital since April 8 in “status epilepticus”, a kind of prolonged seizure.

      Alex was given his first dose of the oil on June 16, after it arrived from America.

      His sedation medication treatment was reduced and he regained consciousness and his seizures stopped in that first week.

      We can only wonder what the outcome might have been had he had access to cannabis earlier in his treatment/life. Condolences, with a hope for future patients.

      • Mr_Alex says:

        As of this morning the New Zealand Government has restarted a Disinformation campaign on Cannabis. I also heavily believe it is time for heads to roll at the New Zealand Ministry of Health and Wellington Hospital also the boy was put on 25 bottles of benzodiapines for 5 hours while he was in a coma as well

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  18. Servetus says:

    Research confirms cortisol is linked to PTSD. This comes as marijuana research shows that marijuana consumption reduces anxiety and therefore cortisol production after a traumatic experience:

    The stress hormone cortisol strengthens memories of scary experiences. However, it is effective not only while the memory is being formed for the first time, but also later when people look back at an experience while the memory reconsolidates. This has been published by cognition psychologists from the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in the journal “Neuropsychopharmacology”. They suggest that the results might explain the persistence of strong emotional memories occurring in anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

    Cortisol is the evil demon molecule is this scenario, not cannabinoids. Meanwhile, brain-trauma adverse NFL members want their marijuana and they want it now. They call it an invaluable pain killer:

    Anderson remembers the prevalent use of marijuana when he was in the game. It was used for enjoyment but also as treatment for the aches and bruises caused by professional football.

    “When I played, 40 to 50 percent of the league used it,” Anderson said recently.

    Anderson stays in regular contact with players now, and he believes the number of NFL players who use marijuana has grown significantly since he was a Falcon.

  19. avoid Jokelahoma says:

    A marine corps veteran faces life in prison for cultivating marijuana plants while he lived in Oklahoma, plants which he relied on to treat severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Last year, police raided the home of 33-year-old Kristoffer Lewandowski, a military father of three who was honorably discharged for medical reasons after serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Kristoffer’s wife Whitney reveals her husband, fearing liver damage from consuming a massive amount of pharmaceutical drugs, was successfully transitioning to marijuana as a preferred treatment.

    “He was just using it. . . He couldn’t get any, and, of course, we’re a military family, we’re very poor, we couldn’t afford to buy it anyway,” Kristoffer’s wife, Whitney told “So he was just growing it for himself. He was on his way out of the military and just wanted to see if it would help with [his mental health issues].”

    “He was taking 13 pills a day, and it was just killing his liver,” she said. “He was having all these issues with his body and he just wanted to try something more natural to just see if he could do without that many pills a day,” Whitney said, adding the treatments were “absolutely effective.”

    Police were summoned to Lewandowski’s Geronimo residence in June 2014 after neighbors reported him suffering a PTSD episode. Amid the emotional breakdown, Whitney brought their three children to the neighbor’s house in attempts to “defuse the situation.”

    Rather than provide the former soldier immediate medical attention, police proceeded to conduct a search of Lewandowski’s home for drugs, locating six marijuana plants.

    “The kind of help he got was being tossed in jail,” Whitney expressed.

    Police charged Kristoffer with felony marijuana cultivation, possession of drug paraphernalia and domestic violence, a charge which Whitney admits to have filed against her husband at the behest of officers.

    The former felony charge carries a possible maximum fine of $25,000 and anywhere from 20 years to life in prison, according to Oklahoma statutes.

    Whitney says police at the time twisted her arm into pressing charges against her husband, threatening her with felony charges, as well as confiscation of their children by Child Protective Services.
    “They’re trying to use me as a victim and to make it look worse on his case,” Whitney insists. “My husband has absolutely never laid his hands on me ever. He is not an abusive man, ever. . . quite the opposite. He is extremely doting.”

    Later that year in October, after posting a $20,000 bail, Lewandowski decided it was time to move his family back to California, where he legally obtained a medical marijuana prescription.

    Last month on June 16, undercover police nabbed Kristoffer as he picked his children up from pre-school in a dramatic, guns-drawn arrest after he failed to appear at a court hearing.

    “To be picked up like that, we’re all blown away,” Whitney described. “Especially in a pre-school parking lot where all my kids’ friends are, their parents are. Everyone’s witnessing this, and it was horrifying.”

  20. Got Fascism? says:

    A good buddy woke up at 6AM with AR-15s in his face when he got caught up in a state police grow shop sting.
    It was an actual shop selling everything you would need for a hydroponic set up but the police owned and ran the shop. He was careless and left a huge stem in the trash and this gave them probable cause after they inspected the trash. He always lies about it on employment applications and usually gets fired when the employer finds out. All of this over a small closet with some Oregon skunk and G-13 plants. It was probably a dozen plants in a vacant closet with a big black curtain and halide light system with hydro water table. Who was harmed by this? No one. Luckily his employer was the best lawyer in town but he still had to do a year. Got fascism?

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