BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Marijuana Decriminalization Isn’t Stopping Arrests in DC

August 06, 2014 By: Mel Category: Drugs

An ounce of weedDCist reports that “between July 17 and July 31, 26 people have been arrested for marijuana-related crimes that don’t fall under the new decriminalization law.” Fourteen of those people were arrested for consumption. Presumably they were actually caught smoking in public. Police aren’t supposed to stop people for the smell of weed anymore. But I’m not exactly going to be shocked to find out that isn’t how things are playing out.

Of the other twelve people arrested, only one of them was arrested for having more than an ounce of weed. Eight were arrested for distribution. Presumably those eight sold to undercovers or were actually seen transacting a sale. But again, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that wasn’t the case. Three of the arrests were for intent to distribute. Meaning that three people were arrested in those couple of weeks despite having less than an ounce and nobody having witnessed them sell anything.

Too many people believe that quantity is the determining factor when police and prosecutors are deciding whether or not to go after someone for intent. But quantity is just one thing they might use to argue that you were intending to distribute. For example, one of the cases that we heard when I was on grand jury duty involved a minuscule amount of marijuana. But they were prosecuting the kid for intent because it was divided up into a few different baggies.

I’ll give you three guesses what the race of the accused was.

Just kidding. We all know who gets arrested for petty drug crimes in DC. Marijuana decriminalization was supposed to be addressing that disparity. But considering that the MPD clearly states on their website that “selling any amount of marijuana to another person” is still a crime, their reminding us that they still intend to arrest people for marijuana, and their long history of targeting – I think we can expect the bullshit to continue.

Drug War Ping Pong

July 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Criminalization, Drugs

Lately, I’ve seen several articles holding up Colombia as some kind of model for how to deal with drug war violence.   The latest one is this piece in Foreign Affairs in which Robert Bonner claims that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example.

Really people?  Colombia?

Colombia is ranked number 138 on the Global Peace Index.  That makes it the most violent country in Latin America, one notch above North Korea.  Colombia is the only Latin American country where the gap between rich and poor is increasing.  Union members in Colombia are routinely murdered with impunity.  According to Human Rights Watch:

Colombia presents the most serious human rights and humanitarian situation in the region. Battered by an internal armed conflict involving government forces, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries, the country has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Colombia should not be held up as anyone’s example.  But more importantly, I would like to point out that the problems in Mexico are, in part, the result of the drug war ramp up in Colombia.  And the massive drug trade in Colombia was, in part, the result of Mexico’s drug war ramp up in the seventies.

In 1971, Tricky Dick declared his war on drugs.  Shortly after, the U.S. put tons of pressure on Mexico to do something about the Mexican weed that was coming into the United States.  Mexico obliged and started the first eradication program.  They dumped paraquat on the marijuana crops.  Reports surfaced that paraquat tainted marijuana was being sold in the U.S.  Of course, nobody stopped smoking marijuana.  They just started growing it in the U.S. or buying it from marijuana growers in Colombia.  Marijuana production and distribution lines shifted.

Colombia is a huge country with a tumultuous political history – including years of violence and a tendency toward private armies.  In the 1960s, in response to a pact between liberals and conservatives that screwed most poor/indigenous/Afro-Colombians, armed guerrilla groups started operating in large swaths of Colombia’s territory.  The government had no ability to enforce laws in those areas.  Smugglers didn’t have to worry about government interference in their business.

Marijuana growers and guerrillas had a somewhat symbiotic relationship at first.  A little piece of the action for the guerrillas and they left each other alone.  And then cocaine got popular.  Colombians had the supply lines set up already and were conveniently situated between the Andean coca producers and the U.S. market.  The money made in cocaine was insane.  The more wealthy the cocaine dealers got, the more they became the enemy of the guerrilla groups.  Naturally, the drug cartels started their own armies – paramilitary forces.  And then the bloodbath really began.

By the 1980s, the Colombian and U.S. governments decided they were going to crack down on the drug cartels.  If your criteria for success is that the government of Colombia did not completely disintegrate, than I suppose you can say that their efforts were a “success”.  But as I pointed out above, Colombia is hardly a peaceful paradise.

More importantly, as the heat was turned up in Colombia and in the Caribbean, the drug corridor moved back to Mexico and Central America.  It’s like the most vile game of ping pong.  The violence doesn’t go away.  It just ebbs momentarily and springs back worse later, often with an even more corrupt and totalitarian government in place.

The next time you hear someone say that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example, smack em on the head for me will you?

Should Drug Users Lose Their Right to Vote?

April 06, 2009 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Politics

More than five million Americans could not vote in the last election because they were convicted of a felony. Only two states allow felons to vote. In many states, former felons are barred permanently from voting. In others, felons can get their voting rights back, but the process is so arduous that few do.

I doubt many people are losing sleep over whether Charles Manson can vote. I’m guessing many people would approve of the idea that criminals lose their rights as citizens after acting against the citizenry. But we aren’t talking about Charles Manson here. More than half of federal prisoners are in prison for drug crimes.

Let’s take a state like California. California has the nations largest prison population and an overcrowding problem so bad that federal judges have ordered the prison population decreased. While Prop 36 has caused a decrease in the percentage of prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, they still constitute more than 20% of the prison population in California.

Recent polling shows that more than 50% of California voters are in favor of marijuana legalization. A vote would be close. All those people barred from voting, the very people who lost their freedom and civil rights due to drug prohibition, could tip the scales.

Drug laws have been broken at least once by 40% of Americans. If that many people are breaking the law, there is something wrong with the law. Would we strip 40% of Americans of their voting rights? What kind of democracy is that?

Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced a House bill intended to restore voting rights to all ex felons within thirty days of being released from prison. The bill is languishing in committee right now. If your representative is on the House Committee on the Judiciary, call and tell them you want to see that bill move.

Would Legalizing Drugs Increase Drug Use?

February 20, 2009 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

One of the main arguments used by supporters of drug prohibition is that legalizing drugs would increase drug use. Is that really a logical conclusion? Is there any evidence to support it?

To those who make that argument I ask – if drug use were legal, would you start doing drugs? I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the answer is no. In which case, these people believe that, while they have the mental faculties to see that drug use has other negative consequences besides the threat of prison, a large portion of the rest of us do not. It’s a little insulting. Do we really think that someone who hits the gym every morning and drinks wheat grass is going to turn around and start shooting up heroin because it is legal?

Of course the flip side of that argument is that the illegality of drugs prevents people from using them. Let’s take marijuana. About 40% of all adults have smoked marijuana at least once in their lives. If marijuana’s illegality is keeping people from smoking it, how many people are we talking about? Do prohibition supporters think another 30% of the population would smoke pot if it were legal? If 70% of the population wants to do something, something that causes no direct physical harm to others, why is a minority being allowed to dictate what we put in our bodies?

Occasionally, supporters of drug prohibition will provide examples that they say prove that legality would increase drug use. According to the Department of Justice, “Legalization has been tried before—and failed miserably. Alaska’s experiment with Legalization in the 1970s led to the state’s teens using marijuana at more than twice the rate of other youths nationally. This led Alaska’s residents to vote to re-criminalize marijuana in 1990.”

The DOJ, however, does not back up the assertion on their website with evidence. On the other hand, in a report by the Cato Institute titled Thinking About Drug Legalization, James Ostrowski sites statistics for Alaska that show just the opposite. In fact, Alaska may have had less teen drug use that other states. And while the DOJ asserts that The Netherlands drug policy has tripled heroin addiction levels, studies show that The Netherlands has a lower rate of drug use than the United States.

I recently attended a drug policy conference. One of the speakers, Vanda Felbab-Brown, asserted that legalization would increase drug use. The example she presented was the high rates of addiction in China when opiates were legal there.

One estimate of Chinese opium smoking in 1890 (in Jonathan D. Spence’s book Chinese Roundabout) puts the rate of use at about 10% of the population, with 3 to 5% excessively smoking. According to the National Institute on Drug Policy, heroin use in the United States is only about 1.5%. But are we really comparing like things here?

In China, opium use was not just culturally acceptable, but in some cases promoted by local and colonial governments. In contrast, heroin may be one of the least socially acceptable drugs in the United States today. Growing up I knew many people who would happily snort cocaine, but would not do heroin as that was reserved for “junkies.” If we compare opium use in China to a more socially acceptable drug like marijuana, then 10% is exactly the same figure for adults who have used marijuana in the last month.

Drug prohibition in the United States is nearly 100 years old. The drug war has been actively fought since the Nixon presidency. It isn’t working. The main argument for continuing drug prohibition just doesn’t hold water.

Drug Policy Changes and the 2008 Presidential Election

June 08, 2008 By: Mel Category: Politics

Looks like it’s going to be Obama vs. McCain in the general election. One has freely admitted former drug use. The other’s wife is a recovering addict. Back when Bill Clinton was running for office, his non-inhaled pot smoke caused an uproar. This time the controversy surrounding Barack Obama is that he may not have done as many drugs as he seemed to indicate in his autobiography. Does this mean the change voters have been clamoring for may extend to drug policy?

Drug Policy and Past Presidents

I was born in 1973, just a couple years after Richard Nixon kicked off his war on drugs. I grew up in South Florida where the uber-wealthy did lines on their yachts with impunity, while crack houses in Liberty City were raided on the five o’clock news for everyone to see the dark face of the drug problem. In those years, the drug war was the political issue. Anyone who needed a bogeyman, from Hollywood to the Whitehouse, just pulled out the archetypal evil drug dealer.

Every successive president tried to outdo the last in a violent, futile hypocrisy-fest. Ronald Reagan escalated the drug war, while at the same time illegally supporting the Contras in Nicaragua (many of whom were, according to congressional testimony, known to be involved in the drug trade). Then there was his successor, George Bush, with his now debunked claim about buying crack in front of the Whitehouse. And Bill Clinton who went out of his way to prove how tough on crime (ie. not a bleeding heart liberal) he was by presiding over an administration which saw the U.S. prison population grow by leaps and bounds – in large part due to drug laws.

Obama and McCain on Foreign Drug Policy

The basic tenets of U.S. foreign policy related to drugs have been:

  • Push to ensure other countries make illegal the substances we want illegal
  • Push for harsh penalties for violating drug laws
  • Provide money, weapons, and logistical support for police and (more often) military
  • Eliminate the “source” of drugs using crop eradication

Not only have these policies been ineffectual, they have side effects. Eradication programs have killed food crops, displaced rural communities, damaged ecosystems, caused health problems, and exacerbated international conflicts. And, as drugs and democracy in Latin America so clearly shows, our support for military solutions within countries (solutions that would be illegal in our own country) have contributed to violence, human rights violations, and the weakening of civil institutions.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that either a McCain or Obama presidency would change our foreign policy regarding drugs. Neither have challenged the basic tenets of our policy. Both McCain and Obama have come out in support of the Merida Initiative (increasing counter-narcotic support to the Mexican government). They have also supported Plan Colombia.

McCain, for his part, said in a speech to The Florida Association of Broadcasters that “our security priority in this hemisphere is to ensure that terrorists, their enablers and their business partners, including narcotraffickers, have nowhere to hide.” Obama, when questioned at a foreign policy event I attended about how to handle opium growing in Afghanistan, said that we need to look at bringing in agricultural experts. While his looking at the root of the problem (the need to make a living) and not resorting to a knee-jerk military response is laudable, crop substitution programs have been tried and failed.

Obama and McCain on Domestic Drug Policy

On the domestic front, things are somewhat more hopeful. There seems to finally be some recognition that our policies have failed. The two main areas of movement are:

  • Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Decriminalization
  • Alternatives to Incarceration of Drug Offenders

McCain opposes decriminalization of marijuana. Obama has, in the past, come out in favor of marijuana decriminalization, but he recently did some very disappointing backpedaling. Both McCain and Obama have stated in the past that they would respect state’s rights and end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients. It is McCain who has backpedaled some on that issue, but Obama still says that arresting medical marijuana patients and raids are not a good use of federal resources.

Both McCain and Obama have advocated alternatives to prison for first time users. In fact, the only place you will see drug issues listed on Obama’s website is under the civil rights section. There he advocates rehabilitation through ex-offender programs (including substance abuse treatment), elimination of sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, and the expanded use of drug courts (which even the U.S. Department of Justice admits reduces recidivism).

Questions for Obama and McCain

While there appears to be some improvement on domestic policy, we still have a long way to go. Here are a few questions about drug policy I would like to see asked of the candidates in a debate:

  • Would you agree that a law is a rule we as a society agree to live by? If nearly half the population is breaking a law, wouldn’t a reasonable conclusion be that the law may not be appropriate or just? In 2005, the Department of Justice reported that 46%, or nearly half, of all adults surveyed had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. Would you send half the population to prison?
  • Senator Obama, you have in the past said that you supported marijuana decriminalization. Recently, your campaign stated that this was a misunderstanding of the term decriminalization – which means to remove criminal penalties. Are we to take it that you support criminal penalties, including jail time, for possession of small amounts of marijuana. If so, please explain why, aside from its current illegality, it is a good idea to send people to prison for marijuana possession.
  • Both of you have supported continuing Plan Colombia and ratcheting up support for similar programs in Mexico. Does this include support for eradication programs, which have been shown to have disastrous effects on food production, caused environmental destruction, had negative health effects on populations, and caused potentially explosive border disputes with neighboring countries? And does it take into consideration the fact that it was a supposedly successful eradication campaign in Mexico in the 1970s that actually pushed drug production into Colombia in the first place – the well documented balloon effect.
  • If a business has been cheated or stolen from, they generally have options as to how to address that problem. They can call the police. They can sue in civil court. They can go to the newspapers. If a drug business has a similar problem they have only one option, violence. Wouldn’t it follow, that by opening up other options, by legalizing drugs, we might be able to curb the violence plaguing places like Mexico and Colombia? Senator Obama, in a recent speech to the Cuban American National Foundation you criticized sticking to “tired blueprints on drugs and trade, on democracy and development.” Aren’t our current tactics in the drug war the most tired blueprints of them all?

Now I don’t expect the candidates to have an epiphany, but I do think there is a chance in this election that we might get some thoughtful answers for a change. Perhaps this is a public discussion we are finally ready to have.