Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Cross cultural etymology

Want to know what your name would look like in Japanese? Check here. I thought mine looked pretty cool.

LEAP of faith

I was pleasantly surprised to find an email from Mike Smithson, speakers bureau coordinator for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. I'm sad to find out that they finally have a speaker in Northampton just as I'm leaving town for good but I'm glad to see the Smithies have finally discovered drug policy reform. They just started an active chapter of SSDP there this year. Hope they can spread that energy through the 5 college system. It's ridiculous really with something like a million students within a 15 sq. mile radius, that we don't have a stronger voice here for the cause.

That aside, if LEAP comes to your town it's well worth attending the event. These guys do more for reform in a day than I could hope to do in a year. Current dates on the calendar include,

Jan. 24th-May 1st, 2005 - Former police captain Peter Christ in the Scranton, Lancaster and Philadelphia triangle.

Jan. 31st to Feb. 12th, 2005 - Judge Eleanor Schockett tours central and southern Ohio.

Feb. 15th-17th, 2005 - Judge Jim Gray at Smith College in Northampton, MA, then Brown University in Providence, RI and then Wesleyan in Middletown, CT.

March 12th-17th, 2005 - Judge Gray in NYC.

Check the site for details.

Corrupt cop of the week

It's like I always say, you can't stop people from using drugs, not even the cops. Stephen Donnelly, a former Middlesex deputy sheriff who was also the Winthrop assistant harbormaster was jailed yesterday for allegedly running a cocaine business from his Winthrop apartment. Contrary to the usual press when law enforcement makes a haul of this size, although they admit he was a large volume dealer, they're not calling him a kingpin but but rather "a person who got involved with using drugs himself and dealing as well."

State police undercover officers began buying $100 packages from Donnelly in June, according to court documents. Police executed a search warrant at Donnelly's apartment at 91 Veterans Road and arrested him Friday. Among items seized were a crack pipe, numerous guns, a hypodermic syringe, various prescription pills and collection of sadomasochistic pornography and paraphernalia.

I wonder what they would be calling him if he was a poor black man.

War on Some Drugs doesn't solve crime - It causes it

Thanks to Sherri Secor for sending this link to The Independent Institute's remarks on Rolling Back Drug War Crime. The article points out the nexus between the War on Some Drugs and crime statistics, framing it within the context of Prohibition I.

Before Congress passed the National Prohibition Act in 1919, homicide rates in America were relatively low. In the 1910s, about 5 in 100,000 Americans fell victim to murder. At the height of Prohibition, the murder rate climbed nearly 60%. But after the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition sixteen years later, the rate steadily declined back to pre-Prohibition levels. The War on Drugs, from the 1960s to the present, brought the homicide rate back up to about 10 per 100,000?almost twice the rate before Prohibition and the Drug War.

Citing economist Jeffrey Miron's book, Drug War Crimes- The Consequences of Prohibition, the author goes on to explore the direct effects of the current criminalization of some drugs and public safety. His conclusion is hard to refute.

America?s War on Drugs has spawned massive corruption, violent crime, and the destruction of constitutional liberties. Half a million Americans are locked up for nonviolent drug crimes, often under federal mandatory minimums that often put them behind bars for longer prison terms than rapists and armed robbers. This is a major cause of the overcrowded prisons in the United States, which now has the highest per capita prison population in the world.

America?s Drug War has become an expensive subsidy for violent crime; very few political reforms would do more to reduce violent crime in America than ending it, once and for all.

Saving money and lives. So what's not to like?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Busting out of the blue bubble

I knew this would happen when I finally hung up curtains in the front windows after having lived in two of these fishbowl apartments on Randolph Place for 10 of the last 14 years. Lovely downtown Noho has finally outgrown me and the rumors are true - I'm leaving the Happy Valley and heading into "red state" territory. My family needs me and it's time to take my meme south.

It's been a big week. After 18 years with the same four partners, it's kind of like telling your family you're leaving home and you won't be coming back. It's never easy to leave your loved ones behind. We're a small law firm that made some big case law and the emotional ties aside, it's also hard to leave with cases pending. I started there when we were defending Abbie Hoffman in the CIA on Trial and it's been a long road of equally important First Amendment issues and more in the intervening years. But I'll save the sappy reminiscences for another day.

In the meantime, posting is likely to be somewhat irregular as I deal with tying up my loose ends here and make arrangements at the other end. Wish me luck.

Sub shops available for cool operators

This is cute. Forget about Subway, here's the place to get your grinders. There's a budding franchise out there called Cheba Hut - Toasted Subs, and they do mean toasted. Although they don't sell anything that actually contains the plant, except the hemp brownies that actually are topped with non-psychoactive hemp seed, the sandwiches and the shop all have a cannabis theme.

Two-foot-long papier-mâché joints rest above one of the restaurant's doors and TV set. The menu offers Thai Stick, White Widow and Northern Lights — sandwiches and salads, not strands of marijuana. Next to the cash register sits a 4-inch-high figurine of a man smoking a joint and a basket filled with "hemp brownies" and Rice Krispies bars.

Josh Lee, 23 years old and his mom Kim opened up the first franchised operation in Louisville, Kentucky of the business started by Scott Jennings in Arizona. Word has it the sandwiches are fabulous but will it fly in the south?

Even Josh wonders sometimes whether a marijuana-themed sandwich shop in what he calls "the outskirts of the Bible Belt" will work. "We try not to have it (the marijuana theme) overwhelming, so the average person who doesn't believe what we believe can come in and eat," he said.

Still, some customers, such as 20-year-old Mathieu Milton, say they come in because of, not despite, the theme. But like Clayton Sasse, 21, they plan to become regulars. Jennings, at least, has no doubt that Cheba Hut will work in Louisville.

"It's a hip, little city down there."

Jennings is not looking to get too big but is willing to entertain the idea of more franchises, "If it is a cool fit."

SCOTUS hearing on the docket

The Washington Times, not exactly known for its liberal views, posts a remarkably impartial piece on the Raich v. Ashcroft case which is due to be heard by the Supreme Court next week. Although they trot out the tired and false refrain that medical marijuana is just a front for those of us who want to legalize the plant altogether, they end the article with a great quote addressing the Bush administration's declared war on MMJ users.

"There is simply no constituency in this country for arresting and jailing people with cancer, AIDS, [multiple sclerosis] or other illnesses who find relief from medical marijuana," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "So, whatever the Supreme Court does, the Bush administration is on the losing side of history."


Saturday, November 20, 2004


I was half a block away yet didn't see it live myself, but thanks to Chris at the Space Crime Continuum for capturing the truck fire on film. More shots at the link.

Bush to visit Colombia

This kind of sloppy reporting drives me crazy. The AP reports that Bush will be in Colombia on Monday to assess the damage, er I mean "success" of the 3.3 billion US tax dollars we have poured into the country under Plan Colombia. The AP hacks gets this much right. Plan Colombia, has failed to keep cocaine off U.S. streets. However he (she?) goes on to say the country has become more stable with our 'help'.

The in-fighting among the paramilitary and military forces continues unabated, there's daily murders and kidnappings with thousands of indigenous displaced, homes and health ruined by relentless herbicide bombing and land rendered unfit for anything but the new supercoca plant. This is more stable? This remark is even more choice.

In the two years since [Uribe] came to power, crime rates have dropped, kidnappings are down and government forces have driven the rebels deeper into the jungle, drawing widespread support among Colombians and lavish praise from the White House.

The lavish praise is true but I guess Housego missed the 60,000 Colombians who marched for days in protest of the current policies. You want the real story about what's happening on the ground in Bogota and beyond, check out Colombia Week instead.

MMJ gaining ground

Seems those "red states" may not pick presidents very well but at least they have their heads on straight when it comes to drug policy. According to a Scripps Howard Texas poll question commissioned by Texans for Medical Marijuana, 75% of Texans favor the legalization of medical marijuana.

"I'm surprised support is that high," said Dr. Richard Evans, president of the Texas Cancer Center and medical adviser to Texans for Medical Marijuana. "That should help when we next testify before the Legislature."

Bills that would have legalized the medical use of marijuana have been introduced in the last four sessions of the Texas Legislature but have never passed. Evans said he expects legislation again will be introduced in 2005.

Sounds good to me.

Intoxication- It's only natural

The New Scientist publishes a piece on the Intoxication Instinct, (permanently archived at the Media Awareness Project) that analyzes the research and debunks the myths around why human beings seek to alter their consciousness. The authors take a long an interesting look at how the pleasure principle has driven sentient beings, including the animal kingdom, to ingest plants for their intoxicating effects since the beginning of time. They examine why we do drugs.

The answer is straightforward. We seek intoxication for a simple reason that we are almost too scared to admit - we like it. Intoxication can be fun, sociable, memorable, therapeutic, even mind-expanding. Saying as much in the present climate is not easy, but an increasing number of researchers now argue that unless we're prepared to look beyond the "drug problem" and acknowledge the positive aspects of intoxication, we are only seeing half the story - like researching sex while pretending it isn't fun.

...Ronald Siegel, a psychopharmacologist at the University of California, Los Angeles believes there is a strong biological drive to seek intoxication. "It's the fourth drive," he says. "After hunger, thirst and sex, there is intoxication." Whether we are seeking pleasure, stimulation, pain relief or escape, at the root of this drive, he says, is the motivation to feel "different from normal" - what has sometimes been called "a holiday from reality". Some people reach this state through travel, books, art, roller coasters, sport, religion, exploration, love, social contact or power. Others use intoxicants. "It's the same motivation," says Siegel. "We wouldn't live if we didn't seek to feel different."

They go on to point out the obvious limitations in current research on the subject.

Yet the mainstream debate on drugs, alcohol and tobacco seems unable to acknowledge that there is anything positive at all to say about intoxication. Instead it is locked into a sterile argument between prohibitionists and those who want to reduce the harmful effects by, for example, making heroin available on prescription. Both groups start from the belief that psychoactive substances are inherently harmful but disagree on what to do about it.

And they point out an alternative approach.

Some activists, however, are starting to argue for an entirely different attitude to intoxication. One prominent critic of the debate is Richard Glen Boire, director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics in Davis, California. He believes that intoxication is not just a part of human nature, it is a basic human right. "Why should it be illegal to alter your style of thinking?" he says. "As long as you don't do any harm to anyone else, what you do in your own mind is as private as what you do in your own bedroom." Boire advocates changes to the law that would allow people to experiment with psychoactive substances at home or in designated public places. "It's the right of people to explore the full range of consciousness, and our duty as a society to accommodate that," he says.

"According to the latest drug data from the United Nations ( World Drug Report 2004 ), about 185 million people worldwide have used an illicit substance in the past 12 months. That's around 1 in 20 of the adult population." Many more than that admit to taking an illegal substance at least once in their lifetime. If that doesn't suggest an inherent human desire to get "high", I don't know what does.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Simple logic in Memphis

Tennesee State Senator Steve Cohen says he'll make legalizing medical marijuana one of his priorities this upcoming legislative session. Unfortunately not everyone in Tennesee is on board with this sensible approach.

Dr. Johnetta Blakely of the West Clinic, says THC, the drug in marijuana does have medicinal purposes. It relieves nausea in cancer and AIDS patients and it does increase their appetite. It's the other things found in marijuana that concern her. "It has so many other things in it that can be potentially harmful. It has additives. It has the smoke. It can have pesticides or whatever. You don't know where it's come from. You don't know exactly what's in it," says Dr. Blakely.

But isn't that really another argument for legalization? You don't have have a medical degree to figure out that if it was legal and grown commercially under regulation, we would know where it came from and what was in it and the additives and pesticide problem could be eliminated.

Back door draft?

Here's one judge who thinks he's figured out the problem of overcrowding our jails with drug offenders. 24 year old Brian Barr of Salinas county in California was convicted of possession of marijuana. Now there was a gun involved since Barr shot a would-be robber in his home. The police contend that Barr was a dealer and the robbers were there to steal his cannabis and his money but it appears they didn't prove it at trial. Furthermore, Monterey County Judge Robert Moody said that the shooting was justified. Nonetheless Moody, in sentencing Barr, gave him the 'choice' between enlisting in the military or going to jail. (One wonders if Ashcroft added that to the sentencing guidelines while we weren't looking).

Hell of a choice. Rot in jail for years or accept a virtual death sentence. And they call this justice?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

New sentencing guidelines look like the same sorry mess

I don't know quite what to make of this. The Sentencing Commission, a federal panel that sets guidelines for federal judges who sentence about 63,000 people each year is working on new guidelines for sentencing federal criminals in anticipation that the Supreme Court will strike down a 17-year-old system that has been challenged as unconstitutional.

The DOJ has weighed in with an endorsement for an alternative that sounds worse. Minimum sentences would not change. However, judges would have flexibility to give longer sentences, up to the maximum defined by Congress.

Hard to see how they think that will make things better.

Eyewitness account on Plan Colombia

Loretta Nall has an excellent essay posted at Lew Rockwell based on her recent fact-finding tour as a Witness for Peace delegate in Colombia. She describes the picturesque surroundings of the jungle beautifully. Her description of US conduct in the country is not so pretty.

Plan Colombia, like the brutal tactics of the police in Alabama, involves aerial drug raids. In Putumayo, however, whenever a drug warrior pilot "thinks" he sees an offending plant, he pushes a button, effortlessly raining chemical hell onto families, homes, food crops, schoolhouses, livestock, water, and land. The mainstream media doesn’t report, however, that many times these pilots miss their intended targets. Plan Colombia destroys the livelihood of people whose only crime is poverty..

She discovers the real US interest in the area.

... the ugly metal pipeline snaking across the jungle, pumping oil, marring the scenery, and polluting the environment. The pipeline is the target of frequent guerrilla attacks. It is so frequently attacked, in fact, that more oil has been spilled in Colombia than in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

She goes on to describe the devastation of the countryside by herbicide warfare.

"In March and May of 2004, the schools were fumigated."

"We had a school garden program where the children ate what they grew. It was very important because many of these children have had their food crops sprayed and their families cannot afford to feed them properly. The school garden was their only source of a balanced diet; for many, it was the day’s only meal. It was destroyed by the fumigation."

And the highlights of a Q & A session with a US official are most illuminating.
Here's what our government thinks of this atrocity being perpetrated with our tax dollars.

Another member of the delegation asked, "What are the farmers who have given up growing coca supposed to do when the U.S. sprays their alternative development crops and refuses to reimburse them for the damage and loss? Where are they supposed to go? What were they supposed to eat?"

The Official responded, "Plan Colombia is a science and we do not make mistakes. The farmers who say they were wrongly fumigated are liars. These people have bigger extended families than anyone in the U.S. can imagine. When something happens to one of them, they can always go and live with Uncle Fred."

Disgusting. Maybe someone should bomb his home with herbicides, rendering it unfit to live in and see how he likes losing everything and moving in with his Uncle Fred.

Loretta sums it well.

What does it say about America’s true moral values that we allow – and indeed pay for – this to occur?

How can we claim that we are saving lives from Colombian cocaine when more people are killed in Colombia every year trying to keep cocaine out of the U.S. than die in the U.S. from Colombian cocaine?

Good question.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

An answer to Afghanistan's heroin problem

Here's the most sensible solution I've seen on how to overcome the reliance of the Afghani people on poppy cultivation to make their living. The organization, Spirit Aid, has developed a plan to replace Afghan opium - 75% of the global supply - with industrial hemp. They make some great points in its favor.

Hemp is a fast growing, legal cash crop that presents a host of immediate benefits to Afghan society, including a potentially lucrative source of foreign exchange earnings. Hemp can be used to produce heating and cooking fuel, thereby ending the need for people to cut down and burn their remaining forests during severe winters. Using hemp in this way would also help prepare areas of land for future tree planting projects.

At the moment many Afghan children are malnourished. Hemp produces a fruit boasting the nutritional qualities of soya, oily fish and wheat combined. Hemp can produce quantities of wood equivalent to four times that of trees over a similar period of time. This biomass can be used in the production of clean, renewable energy, biodegradable plastics and building composites.

And this could be true for the whole planet.

Industrial hemp is perhaps the only economically and environmentally viable alternative to opium cultivation in Afghanistan. It presents an opportunity to satisfy the immediate fuel, fibre and monetary requirements of two million farming households struggling to survive in one of the most dangerous countries on earth. Hemp cultivation also presents a unique opportunity for environmental improvement in Afghanistan.

But here's the money quote.

Crucially the international community has a moral obligation to prevent a Colombian-style "war on drugs" from taking hold in Afghanistan because if this happens we can be certain the violence, and supply of opium, will never end.

It's a good point. The last thing we need is a Plan Colombia style operation that will not only fail to reduce the supply but would poison a whole new tract of Earth with herbicides.

More common sense from the bench

Yet another jurist speaks out against mandatory minimums. Judge Paul G. Cassell of the United States District Court in Salt Lake City reluctantly imposed a 55 year sentence on a 25 year old defendant who sold a few small bags of marijuana to an undercover agent. The sentence was enhanced because the defendant was carrying a gun during two of the transactions, although he was not accused of using it. The DA claims mere possession of the weapon proves he was prepared to use it to kill other human beings. I guess it didn't occur to him that perhaps the guy would carry it for simple self-defense. The black market is a dangerous place after all.

The judge gets it though. He encouraged the defendant to appeal noting that earlier in the session he had sentenced a man to only 22 years for aggravated second-degree murder for beating an elderly woman to death with a log. The judge also urged Congress to set aside the law that made the sentence mandatory.

During a court hearing in September, Judge Cassell posed a question to the opposing legal teams in the case: "Is there a rational basis," he asked, "for giving Mr. Angelos more time than the hijacker, the murderer, the rapist?"

Of course none of this would even be an issue if they simply legalized the plant and took it out of the black market altogether.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Gods must be Drunk as Stuntmen

Crazy stuff going on in the Valley today. I arrived at work to find they cut down two trees in front of my office. Then they found a dead guy in his car in the parking lot behind Eastside Grill, the decrepit truck that's been hanging the Christmas lights on the remaining trees burst into flames and burned to a cinder and there was a gang murder in Greenfield. Geeez, between the crime and the chi-chi stores springing up all over the place, I barely recognize this town anymore.

It felt like old times on Sunday afternoon though. I went to the show at the Academy of Music and it was gorgeous. I met up with the girls, after having had a family dinner with them the night before, and we got there late enough to sit in the balcony, which I had never managed to do before in all these 14 years. It was so good to spend time with them and I was sad to say goodbye. However, as I predicted, there were more unexpected encounters in store.

On the way home, I ran into my dear friend and former best next door neighbor in the world, Jamie with his partner Carol, who often host the band at the Roadhouse, and of course we all ended up at the celebration at Hugos - one time local dive now turned into destination of the young and hip. We stopped at my place on the way down. When we got there we found my new neighbor, who now lives in Jamie's old apartment, Natasha, was locked out. We brought her inside. Good thing she's from Manhattan because I think otherwise we would have scared her. It was a boisterous reunion and I believe I detected a politely suppressed wave of relief when her housemate came to rescue her.

We went on to Hugos. My association with the Stuntmen goes a back aways. We ushered out the end of the Baystate Hotel era together, a long story better told at another time. Suffice it to say I love them like my own kids and I was proud to see how natural they looked in that big house. Somehow, (I suspect it was the early hour and the staid crowd) I managed to give every one of them a hug and got them to sign the program, along with Tall Girl, Rob Skelton, a fine musician in his own right, who was stagehanding and Gerry, my former co-bartender at the Baystate. They wrote some sweet stuff in it and I'm glad to have my own personal record of the event to take with me down the road.

I haven't been to Hugo's for well over a year. The most charming moment of the evening was when I discovered they still had the castle pinball machine. It was pretty tired and had developed some serious quirks but I played a couple of games with someone's kid who was probably about seven. He beat me the first time. We were really close both games and I had to play my best to win the second game. We both had fun.

It took a while to escape through the crowd after that but it was great to see so many too long absent friends, however briefly. It felt like closing a circle while marking the beginning of a new era. I left feeling good.

Judge criticizes school-zone sentencing

More common sense from the bench in Massachusetts. Chief justice Judge Robert A. Mulligan said yesterday that "90 percent of the people who receive the mandatory sentences for possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of the school are minorities." As the good judge notes, "there are few areas in any Massachusetts cities that are not within 1,000 feet of a school." It's simple logic. Those who live in the inner cities are largely minorities.

"The purpose behind school zones is to keep drugs away from schools and that's a legitimate purpose," Mulligan said. "But school doesn't have to be in session, it can be at night, it can be during the summer. So it doesn't really achieve its goals."

The cumulative effect, Mulligan said, is that "it really increases skepticism in the fairness of the system."

The DA of course denies that the law is racist and claims drug dealers are equally punished. He doesn't explain of course how that happens to result in the large majority of drug offenders in jail being black men.

Action Alert

Drug Policy Alliance issues a new alert on pending legislation that would allow our government to track our medical histories and medications.

It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. In early October, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation (H.R. 3015) to fund databases to track what prescription drugs Americans are taking. This information would then be shared among states, as well as with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies -- all without your knowledge or consent. If this law is enacted, the government will have all it needs to snoop into your personal medical records.

Take action with DPA's easy to use prewritten fax. All you have to do is sign your name and with one click, DPA will send a message to your legislators telling them to defeat this invasion of your privacy.

Furthermore, this will also help protect the rights of chronic pain patients who are clearly being targeted by the bill. The DEA already has pain management doctors running scared with prosecutions for medically appropriate pain management plans for their patients. The government will use the information allowed to be collected under this bill to further harass these physicians.

Don't wait. Take action now and stop H.R. 3015 in its tracks.

Monday, November 15, 2004

From under the covers

Well as if aching bones and fading eyesight is not enough, it now appears I've developed an acute sensitivity to staph germs in my old age and endured yet another bout of mild food poisoning that kept me in bed today. Fortunately I felt fine yesterday and made it to the Drunk Stuntmen/Young at Heart gig. As predicted it was fabulous and reunions followed. I'll have more to say on that tomorrow when I expect to feel better.

Also on the bright side, I received a nice note from YaHooka saying they listed me in their links section. It took a while to find but it was nice of them to do it and I think it's kind of cool to be listed in the Articles and Editorials section. Thanks Lunaria.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Court upholds hallucinogenic tea for religious rites

In a victory for religious freedom, a preliminary injunction has been continued by the courts to allow a Brazilian based church to continue to use a concoction of Amazonian herbs in their religious ceremonies.

The U.S. attorney general, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other government agencies are trying to stop the Brazil-based O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal from using hoasca tea, which is brewed from plants found only in the Amazon River Basin.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower federal court's ruling granting the church a preliminary injunction, blocking the government from stopping the use of the tea while the church sues the government. The lower court said the use of the tea is likely protected by freedom of religion laws.

The government then asked the full court to consider the appeal, arguing that permitting the tea violates a 1971 treaty on psychotropic drugs. A majority of the court agreed the preliminary injunction should be upheld but some judges objected.

Sometimes the system works.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Blog roll

I know I should be updating my blogroll. I need to move a lot of stuff around and I'm way remiss in adding additional links to some really fine blogs, but instead I started reading them. So here's some highlights.

The song in her head is Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie Annuals prefers medical marijuana to pharmaceutical poisons.

The Calico Cat looks at junk science and teen age sex. It's not so different from junk science and teen age drug use.

Will Baude at Crescat Sentenia notices marijuana coming up in the Supreme Court.

Power and Control points out that marijuana is more popular in Montana than George Bush.

And Sister Geoff has the story on importing Afghani drug dealers into the US court system. Jeesh.

Sunday Fun

For our local readers, the musical event of the season will be Sunday afternoon at the Academy of Music. The Jack Daniels chugging, roots rocking wild boys Drunk Stuntmen and the aptly named Young at Heart Chorus will be staging a joint production, "Back to Back". The posters are fabulous and the show should be too. I understand Young at Heart actually covers some of the young Stuntmen's songs.

It's an early show at 2:00pm but it's sure to be a rocking gig even at that hour. Not to mention it looks likely to become old home week in the audience. Everyone I know and haven't seen in ages is going.

The bloggerhood

This may be a first, he called us highly respected. Baylen also posts an amusing story on the seating arrangements at a recent American Public Health Association conference in DC.

Decrimwatch has the latest on NJ Weedman, Ed Forchion and looks at cops who pretend to be students while students pretend to be dealers.

Grits for Breakfast notes Dallas cops should not have got off with just a lame apology for perpetrating the 'sheetrock arrests' scandal.

Jim at Vice Squad posts a list of interesting links.

And Drug WarRant has some interesting things to say about that 'dangerous' odor.

Unexpected visitors

I've been home sick with a little bug of some sort for the last couple of days and tend to go to bed early in any event at this point in life so it was kind of miracle I was even still up when the knock came at 12:00am last night. Ten years ago, this would not have been an unusual occurrence but nowadays it seemed unlikely to be for me. I heard a couple of girls giggling and didn't even go to the door, instead just hollering out that they probably wanted my neighbors. They persisted so I finally went to investigate and to my surprise and delight, there stood two of my dearest friends in the world, Amy and Maria, who I hadn't seen in at least 2 years.

We had a grand reunion until the wee hours of the morning. I love the kind of old friends that you can just pick up with as if no time had passed and I'm glad to report we'll have more time together as they will be around for the weekend.

Meanwhile, I woke up to a snow covered world. It's freezing but pretty and fortunately the sun is already melting the stuff off the cars. I have to go out later and I hate scraping the windshield.

Interview with Angel Raich

The LA Times has a great article on the plaintiff in Raich v. Ashcroft currently due to be heard by the US Supreme Court in the near future. Angel Raich tells the story of how she inadvertently became the 'poster girl' for the MMJ movement. The case will have far reaching implications for state's rights on medical marijuana but since Bush has declared war specifically on marijuana consumers, it hardly presents a conducive political environment for a favorable decision.

One hopes SCOTUS will show some cajones and uphold the 9th Circuit's ruling anyway.

[Permanently archived here.]

Friday, November 12, 2004

AG apparent Albert Gonzales - now what?

Does the lingering departure of John Ashcroft signal a new beginning for either sentencing reform or drug policy? I think not with Albert Gonzales as heir-apparent to the post. I haven't learned enough about the guy to decide if this is the best we can do with our 49% of the electoral muscle but like everyone else, I'm rather disturbed by his writing the now famous legal memo (that ultimately led to Abu Ghraib) for Bush, advising him that he could legally get away with torture.

To be fair, I did read one right-wing piece today that pointed out it shouldn't be a concern because it was an advisory memo, not a legal brief and even good lawyers sometimes write bad memos to please their client but I find it a pretty weak excuse. Knowing that the guy is willing to compromise his principles to accommodate his client's needs, does not comfort me.

No information on his positions of interest to reformers has emerged in the blogosphere but Grits for Breakfast has a charming ode posted for the departing John Ashcroft and a welcome rhyme for Albert Gonzales. Drug WarRant weighs in with the expected sensible and astute analysis on what we might expect and Talk Left offers many links to his detractors but expresses no firm opinion yet herself on the appointment.

So far, I'm sitting on the fence with Jeralyn until we see if this isn't some elaborate bait & switch to get someone even more ideologically aligned with Bush into the slot.

Dare Generation descends on DC

It pisses me off when people say that young people today are just self-involved consumers with no ambition. In truth, there are millions of kids out there working tirelessly to make this world a better place without receiving proper recognition. Just within the ranks of drug policy reform, the "Dare Generation" is not waiting around for us old folks to get the job done - they've picked up the banner and forged ahead to the forefront of the battle. But don't believe me, see for yourself.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is hosting its 6th Annual National Conference at the University of Maryland at College Park on November 18-20. The conference includes a lobby day on Capitol Hill on Thursday and a DARE Generation Dance Party on Saturday night.

Invited conference speakers include Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, former Maryland state legislator Don Murphy, Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and spoken-word artists Climbing PoeTree. There will also be a debate between Dr. Mark Kleiman of the University of California at Los Angeles and former Cook Country prosecutor Jim Gierach of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, regarding what a sensible drug policy looks like.

Registration (includes free dinner and dance party):
SSDP Students & Alumni - $50.
All others - $100.
Scholarships are available on a limited basis.

For details and registration, go to daregeneration.com.


They have the guns, we need the numbers

This has nothing to do with the War on Some Drugs but it is a chilling reminder of what we're up against now. This happened in America, three days ago at 8:00pm on the streets of LA.

Thanks to Indymedia, the attempted intimidation of political dissenters exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and protest, by our own military using armored tanks, has been documented. Check it out before Bush's henchmen invent a reason to seize their server.

The suppression of political speech is a serious matter that affects our cause. I refer you to No. 4 in the 14 signs of fascism. Never has it been more important to come forward and make your own political voice known.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sentencing reform makes fiscal sense

I don't like the shock program concept at all, it sounds like an excuse for abuse, but here stands a good example of how alternative approaches to sentencing save money. Corrections officials in Albany say the shorter sentences associated with this highly regimented, six-month stint for non-violent offenders have saved the state of New York at least $1 billion dollars over 14 years. And that was just for 31,200 inmates.

We currently have over 2 million, mostly non-violent inmates in this country under incarceration. Approximately 25% of federal prisoners are in on long sentences for marijuana violations. I leave it to you to figure how many billions (that could be spent on schools and municipal services)we could save if those folks were not incarcerated. One thing is clear. Our cities are strapped for cash and our states are spending more for prisons than they are for education. It's time to repeal mandatory minimum sentencing before it bankrupts us.

Ignoring the will of the electorate

I almost missed this editorial in Metrowest Daily News on the recent success of the marijuana initiatives in Mass. I'm always surprised when this paper, serving a rather conservative area of the state, comes up with such liberal views.

About 68 percent of voters in towns represented by Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, endorsed the idea of letting terminally ill patients possess or grow marijuana for medical use with a physician's permission. Moore was unconvinced, telling a Daily News reporter that "until there is some scientific evidence or the federal laws permit some kind of use of it, I don't see what we can do to implement the ballot question."

Hogwash. Moore, the Senate chairman of the joint Health Care Committee, could call a hearing at the drop of a hat and ask for the evidence. He could hear from top medical researchers and from terminally ill patients -- including some, we expect, in his own district -- who are now forced to break the law to get the only medicine that relieves their symptoms. He could find out how things have worked in the nine states that have already approved medical marijuana bills.

Metrowest also disses Jim Vallee, D-Franklin, House chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, for wimping out on the issue after 57% of his constituents approved a measure to make marijuana possession a civil violation, like a traffic ticket, instead of a criminal offense. The editorial points out, as chair he could certainly take a leadership role if he had the bullocks for it. The editorial sums it up well.

The irony here is that politicians typically steer clear of marijuana laws out of fear that voters will think them soft on drugs. Moore's and Vallee's constituents have given them permission, by wide margins, to explore a touchy area of public policy, yet still they shy away.

State legislators aren't required to take orders from their constituents, and ballot questions carefully worded by advocacy groups for maximum effect don't necessarily translate to good laws. But the districts and the state are poorly served by lawmakers who go out of their way to ignore the clearly expressed wishes of their constituents.


Read all about it

There's two new books out that merit your attention. The first is one co-authored by Axel Klein of London, who I met last year at a conference. Along with Marcus Day and Anthony Harriott, Axel has released the volume Caribbean Drugs, "with a stimulating collection of essays by regional and international experts, provides refreshing insights on moving the enormous problem of drug abuse from 'criminalisation' to the challenge of 'harm reduction'."
The book analyzes the links between "illicit drug consumption and the HIV/Aids pandemic" and "overcrowded prisons where significant percentages of inmates are young people and women convicted for using or running marijuana and cocaine."

Other contributions that would also be of much interest to policy advisers and lawmakers, as well as members of the public with a general interest, would include: Howard Gough's "drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation in Jamaica and the Caribbean"; Jennifer Hillebrand's "ethical dilemmas in drugs research"; Philip Nanton's "rethinking privatisation-the state and drugs in the Commonwealth Caribbean"; and Catherine Chestnut's focus on "practising harm reduction in a zero-tolerance society".

Meanwhile, my old pal Barry Crimmins finally released his tome, Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal. While it focuses more on general politics than the War on Some Drugs, it also provides a look inside the head of an amazing and amusing satirist. Even if you don't follow politics, Barry's biting wit is a good read. According to Publisher's Weekly:

He also combines autobioghraphical glimpses of his youth in Skaneateles, N.Y. ("an Indian word that means 'beautiful lake surrounded by fascists'"), and his life in the 1980s managing the Ding Ho, Boston's first real comedy club, with more substantial attacks on George W. Bush's government.

Trust me on this, Crimmins' book will leave you rolling on the floor with laughter while you're crying over the truth in his incisive deconstruction of our government's follies.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Cellucci spews the usual dreck

Well, this is irritating. That jerk, Paul Cellucci, former governor of Mass and now our Canadian ambassador trots out this alarm every six months or so, or at least every time Canada decides to take a more sane approach to cannabis policy.

He issues dire warnings about border blockades because droves of Americans will be running up to Canada to get pot if they decriminalize cannabis, and never mind that New York, California and at least eight other states have already decriminalized simple marijuana possession.

Cellucci of course is talking through his hat, as the saying goes. For one thing, it's been easier to get good herb in Canada for years now and no ensuing plague of potheads has descended on our northern neighbor and besides, the US in its current state of impending economic crisis cannot afford to screw around with the more than $1.2-billion in trade that crosses the Canada-U.S. border every day.

Oh and by the way, Bush forgives the Canadians for wishing he had tanked last week. After all, Cellucci says, Canadians are liberal and Americans are conservative. Guess he doesn't think it has anything to do with the fact that the Canadians know a madman when they see one. Little wonder he wants to keep the focus on pot rather than US foreign policy.

Supercoca - myth or reality?

Wired has a long and interesting article on the new supercoca plant that has been a matter of debate among drug policy reformers and prohibitionists alike. There's been a lot of speculation that the cocaine producers brought in a chemist who developed a new prolific and super-potent strain of coca that is also resistant to the herbicide Round-up that is being dumped by the thousands of gallons on the Amazon rain basin to eradicate the plants.

Joshua Davis went to Colombia to see for himself and makes a good case for the premise that these plants do actually exist, but are a result of simple natural selection and a particularly effective cloning program among the cocaleros. Well worth reading in full.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Empire State hears the reformers call

Nicky Eyle of ReconsiDer checks in with an update to this post about the first hearings in the country, held by a municipal government of their own accord, related to the failures of the War on Some Drugs.

The speaker's list was impressive.

Jack Cole, a retired New Jersey State Police lieutenant and undercover narcotics investigator and an international expert on drug policy.

Jeffrey Miron, a Boston University economist and author of a new book on the cost drug prohibition has had to state governments. He has served on the National Bureau of Economic Research and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Drug Use and the Workplace.

Roger Goodman, director of the King County Bar Association in Seattle and the leader of a partnership of professional and community organizations that is examining alternatives to current drug policies.

Canadian Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, of the Canadian Senate's committee on illegal drugs. Nolin recently completed a study of illegal drug markets and made recommendations to change Canadian drug policies.

I can't think of better spokespeople for reform. That the city of Syracuse would entertain their comments, on top of the David Soares upset victory in the DAs race in Albany, is very good sign for our cause - especially in New York.

British court cracks down on growers

Britain may have reclassified cannabis and taken a decrim approach on personal comsumption but the big island's top judge says there's no free ride for cannabis producers.

Judge Stanley Spence rejected arguments that the reclassification of cannabis from class B to C should reduce sentences as he jailed three men behind what is believed to be the biggest cannabis factory discovered in Britain.

Jed Murphy, the man described as one of the organisers, was jailed for seven and a half years while his two helpers Ian Rollinson and Keith Alexander were sentenced to five years and four and a half years. Police found 10,000 plants growing in an elaborate hydroponics set-up at the Belscott industrial estate in Finchampstead in April.

Rather hypocritical wouldn't you say and this illustrates the problem with decrim measures for personal use in general, they often come packaged with harsher penalties for those who actually provide the pot.

New blog on the block

Welcome Loretta Nall and the new US Marijuana Party blog to the hood. She's just getting started so there aren't many posts yet but we'll be watching to see how it develops.

More work to do

It's freezing here this morning and the leaves have almost all blown off the trees in the gale force wind of the last few days. The sun brightens the view but does little to alleviate the chill that works its way to the bone at this time of year here.

Meanwhile, since [I still can't believe I'm saying this] Bush was elected, it seems my work in Detroit not far from done. We're going to have to redouble our efforts to watchdog this administration. The good news is however, with the election over, I can focus on a wider range of subjects over there, including the War on Some Drugs.

My Libertarian co-hort (and prison industry supporter) over there, in fact gave me the perfect opening to begin a dialogue on the WOSD and prison reform. Check out my post on the subject from last night.

The good news in all of this folks is that drug policy reform survived as an issue beyond last Tuesday's debacle and judging from the amount of ink we're receiving in the major press, I think we'll keep building steam for the foreseeable future.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A sensible approach to "problem kids"

This is how the British are more civilized than Americans. Under the US law, tenants are routinely evicted from subsidized housing for misbehavior on the part of relatives and guests in their home. It makes no difference if it's a grammy who didn't know her grandchildren were taking drugs or if, as in one case recently, a woman's home health care worker entered her home when she was away and committed a drug violation there. These folks are out on the street in a few weeks.

In Britain, a similiar plan was recently proposed and firmly rejected by landlords and the public.

...the man responsible for taking eviction action against nuisance tenants in Barnsley, Paul Brannan, today said the policeman was wrong and no such action will be taken.

"We will - and we do - take action against tenants whose behaviour causes fear, alarm or distress to others," he said. "If people are using drugs in or around their home and their behaviour causes a nuisance to other residents we have a responsibility to act and we will do so.

"However, on this occasion taking action to evict their parents would not be appropriate and would not be proportional to the misbehaviour.

Now that's civilized.

Jonathan Magbie's last hours

WaPo has yet another great editorial by Colbert King on the Magbie case. King undertook further investigation on the circumstances surrounding his death and talked to a couple of inmates who witnessed Jonathan's final hours. It is not a pretty story.

"Another inmate named Jason Foster and I were cleaning the floor around 11 or 11:30 at night when we noticed Jonathan was in his cell, and he was sweating. He could barely talk," said Darryl Carter in a phone call from the Youngstown, Ohio, jail where he is now assigned.

...Carter, a convicted felon, said he made sure Magbie got some water, then went to the nurse on duty, named "Binka," and told him that Magbie needed some help. "But Binka said, 'He's okay,' and never went to see him," Carter said. A little later, Carter said, "Jonathan was making some noise with his wheelchair, banging it into the door of his cell. . . . An officer named Singly wanted to lock Jonathan's cell door, but I told her, 'Don't do that because he can't push the button if he needs help.' " The officer locked the door anyway, Carter said, and he didn't see her check on Magbie anymore.

By the next morning, Magbie was so oxygen deprived he was hallucinating and hearing voices. Hours later he was dead.

Judge Retchin claims it was an unintended consequence of the sentencing but you would have to have been deaf, dumb and blind not to have foreseen this result since she was clearly warned beforehand, even by the DA himself, that the jail did not have the facilities to care for Magbie. Nonetheless she ignored the state's sentencing recommendation, threw out the plea bargain and essentially sentenced him to death for carrying a couple of grams of marijuana on his paralyzed person.

Even more tragic than Jonathan's death is that this woman is still on the bench, able to wreak further havoc on our justice system.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Caveat Emptor

If you're in a bodega in Miami's Little Havana, be careful what you drink. Although this intercepted shipment wasn't destined for the US, an ill-timed burglary in the past put something similar on the shelves and killed at least one person there in 1990.

Quote of the day

"We cannot simply suspend or restrict civil liberties until the war on terror is over, because the war on terror is unlikely ever to be truly over. Sept. 11, 2001, already a day of immeasurable tragedy, cannot be the day liberty perished in this country."

Judge Gerald Tjoflat - Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling upholding the First and Fourth Amendment rights of protestors at the School of the Americas.

Around the bloggerhood

While I was busy blathering over in Detroit, Pete at Drug WarRant was doing the real work getting those elections guides together. Although I modestly point out that Detroit carried Kerry to a win in Michigan and perhaps I had some tiny part in that, Pete's blog made a huge impact for drug reform candidates in Illinois and beyond. He also has some sage words of advice for Aghanistan's new president, Karzai.

Baylen at D'Alliance is trying to look at the bright side of Tuesday's dismal presidential results and reminds us that at least there's still ganja soap in California.

It's my usual advice for Decrimwatch, just keep scrolling but don't miss the story on what may be the oldest decrim policy on the books in Niles, Illinois.

Grits for Breakfast brings us a story on the tragic death of a rookie police officer who was killed in Dallas when her partner ran her over with the cruiser during a police chase. They were chasing a suspect for lighting up one joint. Scott also posts a moving follow-up with some sober thoughts.

Speaking of sober, Vice Squad has the word on the impending re-legalization of absinthe in Switzerland and an excellent post on police fishing expeditions based on the pretext of minor traffic stops.

Sunday Reading

DRCNet's newsletter is full as usual of good reading. From a good editorial on former pot smoker, Republican Mitch Daniels, now governor-elect of Indiana, to a story on a jury in South Carolina who acquitted an addicted defendant caught with a pound of opium, the whole thing is well worth reading. While you're there, check out their coverage on the defeat of the three strikes referendum and the happy victory in Albany where drug policy reform candidate, David Soares handily won election as the new DA.

Lastly, they announce that DrugWarMarket.com, a new website set to launch in December that will follow the economy of the drug war, is seeking web sites for affiliations and link exchanges. Contact them drugwarmarket@hotmail.com.

Meanwhile, Drug Sense Weekly offers its fine weekly assortment of breaking news. Don't miss the story on a detective who turned his son into a drug dealer and an offer of hope that the defeated "three strikes law" initiative that sought to abolish the dunderheaded policy in CA will still produce some modifications to the law so a kid who steals a piece of pizza doesn't end up in jail for life. Meanwhile, that kid and thousands like him continue to fester behind bars instead of contributing to society.

DA just wants to be fair

This story on a local bust in the Berkshires wouldn't be worth remarking about except that it serves as an illustration of just how out of control this war on some drugs has become. What we have here is 18 young people, mostly under the age of 25 who got caught up in a drug task force sting.

To put it into context, the court is in Pittsfield, an aging and ailing mill town comprised of mostly blue collar residents. The bust occurred in Great Barrington, a fancy "South County" community of white collar execs that also houses a very expensive prep school.

We're talking about young adults selling drugs to each other here. This is no major cartel and outside of about four defendants the amounts were laughably tiny in light of the ensuing indictments. The DA has charged every single one of them in Superior court under school zone violations, where conviction carries penalties of at least two years in state prison. Let's look at this alleged 'major haul' the DA cites.

Police have said that there was no organized conspiracy behind the drug sales, which generally involved $20, $40 or $50 in a number of street sales. [Translation for non-consumers: this is cost for a few grams of pot at most or enough of the other drugs for one or two doses].

Nine defendants face marijuana charges only, and about a half-dozen have no prior records.

...an 18-year-old is charged with marijuana distribution, conspiracy and a school-zone violation because he allegedly put an undercover police officer in touch with a seller. The "middleman" never handled the drugs, his lawyer said. (He is now facing a minimum two years in jail.)

..."In a number of cases, these are first-time offenders, it's their first time in the system.

DA David F. Capeless says he is not about to drop any cases. Here's where the culture war aspect comes in. Capeless goes on to say,

"I'm curious as to why it is that a bunch of young adults from Great Barrington should not have school-zone charges brought against them, and no one says the same thing about young adults in Pittsfield. Why do they not complain about that?

"What we're doing is trying to be fair by treating people the same."

In other words, he wants to be fair by treating the rich kids just as unfairly as the poor ones. [insert heavy sarcasm]What a guy.

A peaceful approach to the war on some drugs

Polly Toynbee has a brilliant piece up at the UK Guardian this week suggesting Europe come to its senses and reject the ill-advised UN conventions while forming its own approach to the war on some drugs. She points out.

"A drugs-free world - we can do it!" is the slogan of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. It is, it says daftly, "on target to reach its goals". What goals? To eradicate drug abuse and the cultivation of coca, cannabis and opium by the year 2008. Yes, in just four years.
Prohibition not only hasn't worked, it makes things ever worse.

...Under the conventions, all countries are obliged to pursue growers, dealers and users in an expensive attempt to hold back an unstoppable tide. Prohibition has bred crime on an unimaginable global scale. Bravely, most countries have to pretend that they are winning - when it is painfully obvious there are only losers.

Polly goes on to examine the absurdity of the current policies and throws in a reality check.

Meanwhile, out there in the real world far from UN or Home Office fantasy targets, Time magazine reports that the revenue from opium grown in Afghanistan this year is $30bn already; 95% of the crop is destined for Europe, and it is the source of most of the heroin arriving in Britain. But how is Hamid Karzai supposed to prevent it? Who can stop the poorest country on earth from growing the only crop that brings in wealth?

...Drugs harm individuals, but it is not drugs that cause social calamity. It is their prohibition that brings a wave of criminality and corruption, chasing profits of up to 3,000%.

But here's the money quote,

There is now a free market in the most dangerous drugs - absurdly known as "controlled drugs" when the opposite is the case. Their availability is in the hands of the worst people on any street corner on the globe. A rational, evidence-based policy would seek to kill the market, put dealers out of business and put control of these drugs into the safe hands of pharmacists.

...Most citizens only care about stopping addicts committing crimes and rescuing inner-city zones that have become battlegrounds for drug gangs and pimps running drug-addicted prostitutes. No one is suggesting selling the stuff in corner shops, but destroying the market by making it easy to register for controlled drug use is the only hope left.

Our country meanwhile, is involved in more than enough losing wars already. It's time also for our legislators to admit this war has failed and to make peace with drugs and drug consumers.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Public grow-ops

We haven't looked at the national eradication program lately. Law enforcement claims it's Mexican cartels and NORML believes it's an unintended effect of forfeiture laws as indivdual growers seek to avoid the unreasonable penalties under those statutes, but either way, our national and state forests are increasingly being used for outdoor grow-ops.

On Friday, the state will release its latest figures that show that agents seized 25% more pot plants this year than last year. And with millions of acres of public land in California and fewer agents to investigate due to budget cuts, the business is sure to grow.

The prohibition claims to have taken $1.9 billion worth of cannabis out of circulation with the destruction of less than half a million plants total. And what few agents are left really got to play cowboy on some of these busts described as to be only accessible by helicopter. They flew in a shredder and everything. I'd bet that cost about the same amount as their doubtful valuation of the crops.

As always, I remind you how silly this it is to spend our tax dollars on destroying a benign plant that could be generating tax revenue and creating jobs instead as a legal agricultural product. Let's face it here. The grows aren't increasing because the demand for cannabis is going down.

Friday, November 05, 2004

More on MMJ in Massachusetts and Michigan

We are making progress folks. Four years ago, this wouldn't have the news. This time around, Metro West Daily runs a good article analyzing the results of Tuesday's vote in the eastern half of the state. The initiatives passed with respectable margins from 60 to 68 percent and the article liberally quotes dauntless organizer Steven Epstein, spokesman for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition and Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts. This can only be good for the future.

Meanwhile in Michigan, the news is not as good. The Ann Arbor News reports that despite having been passed by three-fourths of Ann Arbor voters, City Attorney Stephen Postema said Wednesday that Ann Arbor's new medical marijuana initiative is invalid. Police Chief Dan Oates wasted no time in embracing the opinion and said in a written statement he has directed his officers to continue enforcement of all marijuana sale and possession offenses as they did before the vote.

So much for government reflecting the will of the people. However, as Scio Township Trustee Chuck Ream, who led the petition drive, points out.

"But the citizens of Ann Arbor have spoken just as clearly," he said. "And people who would like to be employed by the city should either listen to the voice of the people when they vote or they should seek employment ... in another community. If the people of Ann Arbor didn't speak clearly yesterday, then I don't know what it takes." .

I guess we have to accept these little setbacks along the way but as JRR Tolkien once said, "Little by little, we will go far."

More progress in drug reform policy

Nicky Eyle of ReconsiDer checks in this morning with a report from the City Auditor of Syracuse, NY. ReconsiDer worked closely with the auditor on this project, which encompassed the first such hearings, held by a municipal government of their own accord, in the country.

The report finds of the 28,800 arrests, over 6,300, or 21.9 % resulted from drug-related incidents. Drug-related arrests exceeded arrests for assaults, disturbances, and larcenies combined. Of these, 31.5% of the arrests were for marijuana.

It goes on to say, "When asked about their concerns related to “drugs,” citizens at neighborhood meetings universally referred to the violence and quality-of-life issues associated with drug distribution in their neighborhood. They stated that they were not concerned about individuals using drugs in private."

I particularly liked these findings myself. "A significant number of persons is arrested daily for drug-related activity. The number is so high that we can calculate that if the strategy were successful, we would soon run out of persons to arrest. ...Still, the arrests continue year after year. If the purpose of the policy is to change behavior and reduce the use of drugs, the policy is not achieving its goal. The drug activity is continuing with an ever-increasing spiral of violence."

It closes with a recommendation that the city of Syracuse study and adopt alternative methods of dealing with drug offenders. It's a very encouraging step towards sane policy and we commend ReconsiDer for their crucial role in the drafting of this historic document. The full report is available here.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Marijuana wins big at the ballot box

Well, we didn't manage to depose Bush but judging from the incoming mail the last word on this election has not been spoken yet. The statisticians are already busy analysing the Diebold districts and let's say some weird anomalies seem to be appearing in the data. We'll waiting with interest to see if anything comes of these lines of inquiry in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, MPP sends this review of the marijuana initiatives they were involved in. At least 17 out of 20 passed. Here's the rundown.

MONTANA (WIN): MPP's medical marijuana initiative passed by a 62% to 38% margin in Montana, making it the 10th state to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.

ALASKA (LOSS): The initiative to remove all penalties for marijuana use by adults aged 21 and older lost by 43% to 57% -- the largest statewide vote ever to end marijuana prohibition.

OREGON (LOSS): The initiative to strengthen Oregon's existing medical marijuana law by allowing registered patients to obtain their medicine from state-regulated dispensaries lost by a 42% to 58% margin.

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN (WIN): An MPP-funded proposal to amend the city charter to allow the medical use of marijuana without fear of arrest under local law won by 74% to 26%.

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI (TWO WINS): An MPP-funded measure to replace jail time with a maximum $250 fine for marijuana possession passed with 61% to 39% of the vote. And a second MPP-funded measure to permit medical marijuana use without fear of arrest passed by 69% to 31%.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA (WIN): An MPP-funded measure to make personal marijuana offenses the lowest priority for local law enforcement and direct the city to tax and regulate marijuana as soon as state law permits it passed by 64% to 36%.

MASSACHUSETTS (12 WINS): Voters in 12 out of 12 state legislative districts passed nonbinding public policy questions -- five advise the state legislature to pass medical marijuana legislation, six advise the legislature to pass a law to fine instead of jail marijuana users, and one advises the legislature to tax and regulate marijuana. That last one is us here in lovely downtown Noho by the way.

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA (UNDECIDED): It could be days before we know whether voters passed an initiative to regulate marijuana dispensaries in Berkeley. The vote currently stands at 50-50.

Further, MPP was instrumental in flipping the Vermont legislature's composition by targeting candidates. "After intensive campaigning by MPP staffers and volunteers, Vermont voters handed stunning defeats to three leading opponents of that state's medical marijuana law -- passed by the legislature earlier this year after a contentious, three-year battle. MPP ran an extensive grassroots campaign aimed at defeating legislators who opposed the measure and backing candidates who support it. Three of the six bad incumbents we targeted lost their seats, all three of the good incumbents we were protecting easily won re-election, and we elected one out of three of our candidates to open seats.

It may been a bad day for our country on Tuesday in terms of the presidency, but it was a good one for drug policy reform. We're making a difference folks. Time to get back to the battle.

Dirty task force tricks in Texas

Okay, it's back to business here. Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast, checks in with this piece from the Texas Observer tracing the twisted path of the Dogwood Trails Task Force busts in Palestine, Texas. As we discussed earlier here, 72 people were arrested in one tiny town.

When the arrests came two years later, residents of Palestine must have been surprised to learn that their small town apparently had more crack dealers than restaurants. On October 13, teams from the Anderson County sheriff’s office, Texas Department of Public Safety, U.S. Marshall’s Service, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) started at 7 a.m. and swept through tiny Palestine (population 17,000) to round up an astonishing 40 indicted drug dealers. More arrests followed in the coming days.

The police boasted they had cracked a major drug ring. A subsequent investigation done by the Observer calls that claim into question. They ask, "Could there really be 72 crack dealers in little Palestine? And is it only a coincidence that all 72 of them are black?"

There seemingly were at least a few dealers in town. Four of the defendants who were indicted in federal court were allegedly caught with hundreds of grams of both powdered and crack cocaine, and with stashes of guns and cash. If they were the real dealers, what was everyone else doing? Many of the defendants, a third of them with no prior records, are charged with delivering crack to a single confidential informant. None of the deliveries exceeded four grams. In some instances, it was less than a gram. That’s about the size of a Sweet-N-Low packet. Many of the suspects appear to be poor crack addicts swept up in the drug sting. Charged as dealers, they now face sentences of 20 years to life in state prison.

In a state where drug task force corruption is a way of life, this smells like Tulia all over again. The DA of course defends the indictments and claims to have cleaned up a serious drug problem in the community. Sounds more like he's doing some ethnic cleansing. Many of the defendants face 2-20 years and a few even face life sentences for dealing a few grams of crack. Now I don't condone the use of crack but don't you think that's excessive? And remember your tax dollars are paying for the incarcerations which will ultimately run into hundreds of thousands.

Read the rest of the article here and see if you think the punishment fits the "crime".

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Dark mood on a sunny day

Well folks, I'm hoping this post makes it because once again, Blogger is glitching out regularly and this is the first time I've been able to get into this screen in 24 hours. I'm sure you know by now that disaster has befallen us and somehow entirely half of America are the people that PT Barnum told us you could fool all of the time. Bush has finally been elected as president, although hardly with a mandate. Not that the world will see it that way. As a commenter from Holland said in Detroit, "It's very sad. The whole world now thinks Americans must be very stupid."

All is not lost though, several marijuana initiatives passed although sadly Alaska's was not one of them. If I can get in here again later tonight, we'll be reviewing the results. Here in Mass we also did well on marijuana policy. Northampton passed a non-binding resolution to legalize and medical marijuana initiatives passed in other districts of the state with very respectable margins. Four more years of Bush won't make our work easier but we managed to get this far while he was in office and we can still break new ground. Let's not forget that Nixon managed to get reelected as well and he didn't get his way in the end.

Meanwhile, it took so long to get in here, that I'm out of time this afternoon but now that election is finally over, I'll be back on the drug war front within the next couple of days. It's good to be home.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Get out there and Vote

I hate the time change. I don't know why they say you gain an hour of sleep because by Monday morning, as a practical matter, you're getting up an hour early. As if I don't have enough trouble waking up in the morning. So once again, I'm running late but this is the last day I'll be neglecting you in favor of Detroit. I can't wait for life to get back to some semblence of balance again. It's been a long election season.

Meanwhile, Fox's Bill O'Reilly is out there making snarky remarks about the doper vote.

From the October 28 nationally syndicated broadcast of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

CALLER: I'm calling today because I think it's fair to say that a large amount of the youth that are involved in this election now, this time around. And I just think that the majority of them are voting Kerry. Is that crazy?

O'REILLY: Yeah, I think the stoned slackers'll go for Kerry. I think he'll carry that vote. ... The stoned-slacker vote. Ummm -- but I don't know if they're gonna go. You know, look, Puff Daddy [Combs] and his crew -- they're running around, "Vote or Die!" and all that. Yeah, it's good publicity to get on TV. Are they gonna get out? Are they gonna leave the bong and stand in line for an hour? I don't know.

What do say kids? Let's get there and prove that sleazy windbag wrong.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Attention Vermont Voters

I haven't been following the state races in Vermont but I've received a couple of press releases from Hardy Machia, Libertarian Candidate for Governor that suggest a vote for him, while it won't give him the election, would be good for cannabis policy reform. He does have a strong platform.

Vermont leads the nation in terms of pot smokers per capita. Vermont has between 50,000-100,000 regular pot smokers. It is time for smokers to come together in the safety and privacy of voting booths and speak out.

- Politicians should not be deciding who can or can't use marijuana medically.

- Politicians should not be deciding if farmers can or can't grow hemp crops.

- Politicians should not be deciding if adults can or can't smoke some pot for the "pursuit of happiness." We should be free.

If elected Governor, I will:

* pardon all non-violent drug offenders in Vermont,

* champion the repeal of all marijuana laws in Vermont

* lead the US Supreme Court challenge to regain Vermonters' privacy, property, and sovereignty rights guaranteed by the Ninth and Tenth Amendment rights

By legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol or cigarettes, then Vermont can generate over $40 million in tax revenues which would be targeted to drug education and drug addiction services.

A good turnout for Machia would certainly send a message.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Drug traffickers are against marijuana legalization

I've been blogging up a storm in Detroit on the presidential election today so once again, I've neglected you here my dears but I'm convinced that deposing Bush is important to ending this war on some drugs and I figure I still have 24 hours to sway any undecided voters left in middle America.

Meanwhile, I've managed to get through a couple of dozen emails and found my friend Luiz Guanabara in Brazil is doing well and fighting the good fight for our plant. He is the middle of a huge campaign and his site has expanded considerably. You have to read Spanish to truly appreciate it (regrettably mine is still weak) but he is clearly doing well as evidenced by his poster in the graphic.

I knew he had something special from the first moment I sat down next to him on an airplane.

Oops: As Kaptinemo points out in the comment section, they actually speak Portuguese in Brazil but the translation of the banner came straight from Luiz so I know that's right.

The truth about drug testing

An excellent essay appears in of all places, the Arizona Republic today. E.J. Montini takes a look at how drug-free students really mean truth-free schools. Obviously of my generation, he notes well how we traded in our youthful idealism once we became parents ourselves.

That's funny, because the truth is what we used to be about. Or so we liked to say. It was "the man" who lied. It was "the system" that deceived. It was the "establishment." We weren't going to become a part of that. Not when we came of age. We weren't going to sugarcoat reality for our kids. We were going to be honest.

Maybe we even are more honest than our folks were but we're increasingly willing to hand over our responsibilities to the "establishment" and nowhere is that more apparent than by acquiescing to drug testing our students. It makes "the system" once again, look like the villain and frees us from having to deal with a subject that is no fun. But as E.J. points out, being a parent is not supposed to be fun and we do our children no favor by giving the schools the position of disciplinarian in our stead.

That's sort of what happened when we couldn't stop our grade-schoolers from dressing like hookers or thugs and asked the schools to institute dress codes.

It's what we're doing now when we demand that schools teach classes in ethics and morality, because coming down on our own kids about good and evil, right and wrong is like, you know, a bummer. We'd rather sue the fast food chains for making our kids fat than force them to occasionally eat a piece of fruit.

We can't even take charge of the TV remote control, asking instead for the federal government to slap big fines on broadcasters who air programs that we shouldn't allow our kids to watch in the first place.

Kids today, just as we did, have an acute bullshit meter and they know when we don't level with them. But it takes time to explain the truth and it makes for difficult conversation. They often don't want to hear it. EJ sums up the problem well.

So we ask the schools to tell them. We ask the government. We pretend to be serious when we say that it's more difficult to be a kid today than it was when we were children. Just the opposite is true. It's easier to be a kid now. It's tougher being a parent. That's why we let the TV and the computer baby-sit for us. It's why we let Mickey D's do the cooking. It's why we let schoolteachers do the parenting.

Given all that, maybe the least we can do for our kids is to be honest with them about something like in-school drug testing.

We should tell them that it's not really our way of teaching boys and girls to pass up drugs. It's our way of teaching them how to pass the buck.

State Department defends Plan Colombia

I missed this excellent Chicago Tribune editorial when it was published but it's back in the news thanks to a response by the White House and State Department spokesman, Marc Grossman who denied the plan is an ongoing failure and trotted out all the customary false or distorted statistics the prohibition profiteers have been spewing all year.

The Tribune got it right. For all the lame assertions by Grossman, Colombia's 30 year old civil war continues unabated and the only thing we have contributed is soldiers, guns and money to further escalate the fighting. In fact, Colombia Week reports in it's latest edition, since Uribe took office in 2002, FARC attacks have increased, an Organization of American States panel finds Colombia lacks clear laws for paramilitary demobilizations while at least 2.5 million Colombian children work for unjust wages in atrocious conditions and a Colombian dies from hunger an average of every two days.

Our tax dollars are being used to cause this suffering and worse. The CW further reports that sexual violence by government forces, guerrillas and paramilitaries has made women the main victims of Colombia’s war as evidenced by this chilling first person account.

It's time to hold our legislators accountable for this misdirected spending.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Nol van Schaik freed from prison

The owner of Willie Wortel's Coffeeshop and the International Hemp Museum in Haarlem, Holland is out on the street. This is cheering to me as I've been following Nol's story for a long time.

He spent four months in a French jail on a really old charge, and reportedly suffered inhumane treatment in prison for eight weeks before his lawyer could even talk to him, but justice has prevailed at last and he "is now free to travel anywhere in Europe. He recently attended the Barcelona Highlife Fair and Cup, and continues his cannabis activism."

Nice to have a little good news for a change.

Anti-Soros summit on tap

Well, I suppose it's only natural that prohibitionists would have conferences, after drug policy reformers have them too, but we call ours names like 'Out of the Shadows' and 'Reason-Compassion-Justice'. The prohibitionists call theirs 'National Anti-Drug Summit to Expose and Oppose George Soros'.

The speakers roster includes every heavy hitter on the prohibition side including the now disgraced former drug czar Andrea Barthwell. The titles of their sessions however are hilarious, straight out of the school of wishful thinking. Who would want to miss, “How school Random Drug Testing Might Have Saved My Daughter;” or my personal favorite, “The Impact of Drug Legalizers’ Messages and the Loss of Our Sons and Daughters and the 1,000 Young People Who Die EACH week."

It would be funny if they weren't so deadly serious about believing their own propaganda. I think it's clearly a sign of how far the drug policy reform has come however, when they focus so strongly on one of our greatest champions and funders, George Soros. I'm guessing they think if they get rid of the funding, they can get rid of us.

Fear and loathing in Illinois

This is an outrage. I've missed the daily rounds in the last few days and just found out Pete Guither of Drug WarRant has been slandered by Illinois Representative Jerry Weller. Weller has accused his opponent, Tari Renner of supporting drug legalization at last night's debate because of Pete's endorsement, and is also running ads and sending direct mail pieces slandering both Renner and Drug WarRant.

But even worse Pete updates the post with this.

Today, I received a check from Tari Renner, returning my donation. It was like a slap in the face. It really hurt. Because of Weller's slander, I am no longer welcome to take part in the political process.

Of course that won't stop Pete and he also issues a timely challenge:

Now that Renner has returned my donation, how about Weller returning his donations from the pharmaceutical companies?

In a followup post, Pete reports receiving strong support from the blogosphere, as well he should.

The most frightening aspect of the whole sorry affair is the transparent attempt to shut down reasonable dialogue on drug policy by casting those who offer reasonable solutions to the problems of drug abuse as 'promoters' of drug use.

It's another symptom of the larger problem with the ongoing suppression of dissent on government policy. A month ago, I found I couldn't access this blog in the Statesville County Library. The "Patriot Act filters" prevent every member of the public from listening to my reasons for ending a failed government program that does more harm than good. And not because I promote drug use, I don't either, but because I talk about drug policy. Here Pete is vilified by a candidate for public office, for doing the same.

Maybe you're thinking , so what - you don't do drugs - but how different is this from the marginalization of anti-war protests by labeling the supporters traitors? There's a growing and disturbing trend in the Bush government to silence opposition. And as I often tell people, don't feel so secure because the drug issue doesn't really affect your life. When they're done with us, they will be coming after you.

Please vote for Kerry on Tuesday and depose this regime.

Oh no, another 15 minutes of fame for Noho

Thanks to Daniel Markham for sending me this link to a NYT piece on lovely downtown Northampton. I hate to see it in a way because every time they write about us, we get another influx of 'outsiders'. I read this piece and realize just how gentrified this town has already become.

In the old days they used to call us stuff like, the new Seattle and punk rock capital of the world. Now the edgy artists are fleeing to Easthampton and beyond and the chain stores just keep proliferating on Main Street while the family businesses are moving out of downtown.

Don't get the idea that I don't welcome newcomers but the latest crowd, who drove up the real estate prices by bidding up to 40% over the asking price, now want to change everything. They complain about the characters and the night life that gave the town its cachet in the first place.

I don't know, but when the city council starts debating a noise ordinance, I start thinking it may be close to time to move on myself.