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Posts Tagged ‘war on drugs’

Last night, I re-watched The Untouchables, the 1987 action/crime drama about Eliot Ness and his handpicked police team who brought down Al Capone and his bootlegger gang. It’s a well-made and fast-paced movie, with good performances by Sean Connery, Kevin Costner and Robert de Niro. I had watched it in college a good 7 years back and remember liking it quite a bit.

But last night, I couldn’t get myself to enjoy it much.

To enjoy a movie like this, you have to root for the good guys, in this case the cops. But the cops are enforcing the prohibition law. It is impossible for me to forget that.

A case can be made, and indeed is made in the movie, that the cops are just doing their duty. They are not responsible for the framing of laws, good or bad. Yet we rightly condemn not just Hitler and the other top Nazis, but also those smaller agents who actually implemented the acts of incredible evil conceived or masterminded by the former. (At what point does moral culpability extend from the planners to the executors? When, despite the fact that you are just doing your sworn duty, can you no longer escape responsibility? These are interesting moral questions I have no comprehensive answers to.)

The prohibition law was not just a bad law. It was an evil law. It criminalized an acitivity that violates no one’s rights and gives a lot of people pleasure. It inevitably led to a vast underground trade in illicit liquor. The result was violence and death. When people were not dying at the hands of the cops or the liquor gangs, they were dying as a result of poisoning. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. The government ordered th poisoning of alcohol through more deadly means. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended.

I see the raids by Ness on liquor manufacturers and I see an oppressive state violating the rights of its citizens. I see the deaths in the movie and I do not blame Capone; I blame the government. The government is the aggressor here, the initiator of the cycle of violence; Capone is merely giving people what they want. I see Ness killing a bad guy and avenging the murder of his dead partner, and I do not feel satisfaction; I cringe at this instance of abuse of power. And through it all, I think of modern times, where there are about a hundred raids every day as part of the war on drugs, a foolish, evil, violent policy that accounts for more lives lost or destroyed every year than abuse of drugs can ever achieve.

And I cannot forget it all just because it is a movie. Even though Ness and his crew are portrayed as hardworking honest cops, I cannot in my heart ignore that the law they are upholding is a terrible one. I guess that’s the main difference between the person I was then and am now. I know more and I cannot shut it off as easily.

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Reason has some exclusive footage from the aborted sentencing yesterday.

Meanwhile, if you are a reader who is not entirely familiar with the timeline and details of the Charlie Lynch case, I strongly recommend this excellent Reason summary.

To read my various posts on the case, click here.

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Passing on the release by the Friends of CCL group. It is rather interesting.

On Thursday April 23 in Federal Court the Sentencing of Charles C. Lynch was again postponed until Monday June 11, 2009. The court filled with supporters from across the state and across the nation. Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Reason.tv and other news agencies watched and waited as Lynch’s defense team continued a courageous battle against his draconian Federal Prosecution. 

First Judge Wu read the recent letter from the Obama Administration saying the prosecution of Charles Lynch is consistent with the New Policy and said ‘that was that’. Wu then asked for plans for the hearing. Lynch’s Public Defenders said they had a number of testimonials and a video tape to submit to the court. The Prosecution said it had no testimonials from victims or any more information to submit to the court. 

Lynch’s attorneys began with a video tape of one of his former patients talking about Lynch’s compassion and Law Abidingness. The Judge stopped the video and told the defense to transcribe the video and submit it to the court. 

Next Lynch’s friend and former patient Owen Beck and his Father Steve Beck both gave testimonials of Lynch’s professionalism, compassion and compliance with State Law. Owen said that what is happening to Lynch is an injustice and asked the Judge for leniency.

 Next the Mayor of Morro Bay, Janice Peters boldly went before the Judge and told him how the City of Morro Bay had enacted a Medical Marijuana plan dating back to 1993, years before the California Compassionate Use Act was enacted. She continued to talk in support of Lynch stating that this is a victimless crime with one exception. The Mayor said that Lynch himself is the victim in this case, a victim of an unfair prosecution and continued to state how Lynch was handling such a terrible situation in such a respectful manner. 

Next the Morro Bay City Attorney Rob Schultz was sworn in, as the prosecutor demanded he be sworn in to testify, talked how he had been directed by the City of Morro Bay City Council to draft a solution that allowed medical marijuana dispensaries.  Shultz talked about how he had researched how other Cities such as Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles had adopted local ordinances regarding dispensaries and used these ordinances as models for the Morro Bay rules and regulations. Shultz zoomed in one rule in particular that the City had provided Lynch and that rule was the age limit of 18 or older unless accompanied by a parent for patients of the dispensary. Shultz testified that this seemed to be the standard among other cities across the state and so that was the rule that was designated for Lynch’s dispensary. Shultz also continued to say that Lynch’s dispensary was in compliance with the Local Laws issued by the City of Morro Bay. The prosecutor grilled Shultz and asked about Federal Law and mentioned Lynch’s dispensary in Atascadero that had been closed due to zoning changes. Shultz said the City of Morro Bay wanted to give Lynch a chance to run a professional law abiding dispensary and felt that Lynch had done so. During Schultz’s testimony Judge Wu was busily taking notes and scratching his head. 

Joe Elford of American’s for Safe Access spoke to the court and mentioned how Lynch was in compliance with the latest California Attorney General’s guidelines one and a half years before the guidelines were even issued. Reuven Cohen pointed out to the court the California Attorney General statements in the guideline that say “no legal conflict exists merely because state law and federal law treat marijuana differently” and that Lynch has been ‘duped’. Judge Wu responded saying ‘well that’s life’ as a very audible moan of disbelief echoed through the court room. Judge Wu continued the proceedings saying that he needs ways around the mandatory minimums and pointed out some language that he thought needed some briefing from defense and prosecutors before sentencing could continue.

As it became obvious that Lynch was not going to be sentenced during the hearing members of the media began heading for the doors in time to meet deadlines for the six o’clock news as prosecutors stared forward in disbelief. Lynch supporters wearing green “Compassion” ribbons stood in unison as the judge began scheduling for the next hearing saying that would be the final hearing in this case. Lynch is now scheduled to be sentenced on June 11, 2009.

As Lynch, his attorneys and supporters exited the building a large number of members of the media waited with microphones and video cameras in front of the Court house. Lynch, his attorneys and Morro Bay City Attorney answered questions for the cameras. Shortly after the press conference Lynch and his supporters gathered at a local pub for food and libations. Lynch said he was happy to walk out of the court house today and wanted to thank his family, his attorneys and his supporters for all they have done for him. 

Charles C. Lynch Sentencing
Monday June 11, 2009 at 10am
Federal Court Building Courtroom #10
312 N. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama’s drug policy will be one of spineless dweebism. In short, he will mostly hem and haw; actual changes will occur only if he considers that it is politically safe for him to do so. Well there you go, Mr. President, there is currently enough sympathy for Lynch from the NY Times and your other friends and supporters. It really will be ok to stop this prosecution. So just do it: if not to redeem your integrity, at least to get some good press!

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In response to questions from the court about how to proceed with the Lynch case given that government policy on this issue seems to have reversed, this is what the US Department of Justice wrote in a letter sent earlier today by Marshall Jarrett, Director.

Not only does the DoJ has no intention of intervening in the Lynch case, it also thinks that the prosecution and conviction of Lynch was entirely consistent with present department policies as well as recent statements made by the attorney general.

As I have noted several times before, one of Obama’s campaign promises was that the DEA will end its medical marijuana raids, a stance that was recently reaffirmed by US attorney general Eric Holder.

So what do you call someone who says one thing and does the opposite?

This is not merely a matter of abstract policy. It is a matter of lives ruined or saved. It is a matter of deciding what happens to real people. Like Charles Lynch who ran a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay that helped relieve the pain of the sick and the dying.

In an earlier post on the topic of DEA raids I said that I would give Obama three months. If there was no sign of any real change in policy, I would call him out for what he would then have proved to be.

Lynch faces a minimum of five years in prison. If he gets the maximum sentence the law allows, he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Whatever sentence he gets will be for actions that are fully legal under California law. Whatever punishment the government hands him will be for deeds neither more nor less than what even those who believe recreational drug use is evil ought to recognise as a sincere service to those who had lost all other hope.

Sentencing in the Lynch case which was scheduled for March 23, 2009 was postponed because the judge requested information from the government regarding the new policy regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

So what do you call a man who plays with words in order to give an illusion of change? Who is Barack Obama?

The evidence currently points to the fact that at least on the issue of marijuana policy, he is a liar. Of the worst possible sort.

Now that Obama and his government has made it unambiguously clear to the court that they approve of Lynch’s prosecution, there seems to be little reason why the court should wait. There have been many postponements of the sentencing so far, but there are unlikely to be any more.

Charlie Lynch will learn his fate on April 23 in Los Angeles.

(Previous posts on Charlie Lynch here)

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So says Eric Holder.

As I wrote in this post, ending the raids was one of Obama’s campaign promises, so one would reasonably expect him to reverse Bush policy on this issue.  Politicians though, have lied on such matters before and political appointees even more so; thus I will wait to see actual change on the ground before celebrating.

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Jacob Sullum writes:

Yesterday I wondered whether and when President Obama would follow through on his oft-repeated campaign promise to stop the DEA from undermining state medical marijuana laws by harassing patients and dispensaries. Today The Washington Times reports that Obama plans to suspend the DEA’s raids once he “nominates someone to take charge of DEA, which is still run by Bush administration holdovers.” I don’t understand why Obama can’t simply tell the Bush administration holdovers to cut it out; they work for him now. But it’s encouraging that the White House is now on record with a promise to keep Obama’s promise. “The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told the Times, “and as he continues to appoint senior leadership to fill out the ranks of the federal government, he expects them to review their policies with that in mind.” It seems like Obama is dragging his feet, but it will be hard for him to wriggle out of his commitment now.

Hmm…

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It’s just another little footnote, one that nobody will remember in a week or two. C’est la vie.

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Having praised Obama yesterday, I think it is all the more important to point out that so far, there are no signs he has reversed the policy of raiding medical marijuana units in states like California (where medical marijuana is legal).

As Jacob Sullum puts it:

“I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” Obama told the Southern Oregon Mail Tribune last March. How many more raids will it take before that counts as a lie?

Obama categorically said on the campaign trail — to the Tribune as well as to other questioners — that he would end these raids (the raids themselves are possible because of  a ridiculous state-federal law incompatibility on this issue). For many libertarian leaning people, that statement of Obama’s was one of the primary reasons they supported him. 

Yes, he deserves some slack. It takes a little while to change policy, and he has been in power for just a few weeks. He has  had a lot on his plate, with the economic crisis and appointment troubles, and it is understandable if he hasn’t been able to deal with this matter yet.

So I am going to give him three months. If these raids continue beyond that, I’ll call him out for what he will then have proved to be — a liar with ruined lives on his hands.

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Here’s the link. It’s a long poignant piece that points out the folly of the drug war by focussing on the outrageous case of Cheye Calvo.

The fact that pieces like these do appear in the mainstream media (Washington Post is regarded as one of the three most important US newspapers, along with NYT and WSJ) is a hopeful sign. That, and the fact that a majority of people in the US want marijuana decriminalized according to recent polls, suggests that the tide is turning.

In contrast, while I lived in India, I do not remember seeing a single pro-legalization article in any newspaper, magazine or television channel. However, attitudes can change fast, especially in this globalized world, and if the US ever decides to go the legalization route, I predict that much of the world will follow suit within ten years.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator)

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Wow.

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

I put myself through hell. I make my body do things nature never really intended us to endure. All world-class athletes do. We do it because you love to watch us push ourselves as far as we can possibly go. Some of us get hurt. Sometimes permanently. You’re watching the Super Bowl tonight. You’re watching 300 pound men smash each while running at full speed, in full pads. You know what the average life expectancy of an NFL player is? Fifty-five. That’s about 20 years shorter than your average non-NFL player. Yet you watch. And cheer. And you jump up spill your beer when a linebacker lays out a wide receiver on a crossing route across the middle. The harder he gets hit, the louder and more enthusiastically you scream.

Yet you all get bent out of shape when Ricky Williams, or I, or Josh Howard smoke a little dope to relax. Why? Because the idiots you’ve elected to make your laws have have without a shred of evidence beat it into your head that smoking marijuana is something akin to drinking antifreeze, and done only by dirty hippies and sex offenders.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.

Here’s a crazy thought: If I can smoke a little dope and go on to win 14 Olympic gold medals, maybe pot smokers aren’t doomed to lives of couch surfing and video games, as our moronic government would have us believe. In fact, the list of successful pot smokers includes not just world class athletes like me, Howard, Williams, and others, it includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, the last three U.S. presidents, several Supreme Court justices, and luminaries and success stories from all sectors of business and the arts, sciences, and humanities.

So go ahead. Ban me from the next Olympics. Yank my endorsement deals. Stick your collective noses in the air and get all indignant on me. While you’re at it, keep arresting cancer and AIDS patients who dare to smoke the stuff because it deadens their pain, or enables them to eat. Keep sending in goon squads to kick down doors and shoot little old ladies, maim innocent toddlers, handcuff elderly post-polio patients to their beds at gunpoint, and slaughter the family pet.

Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll apologize for smoking pot when every politician who ever did drugs and then voted to uphold or strengthen the drug laws marches his ass off to the nearest federal prison to serve out the sentence he wants to impose on everyone else for committing the same crimes he committed. I’ll apologize when the sons, daughters, and nephews of powerful politicians who get caught possessing or dealing drugs in the frat house or prep school get the same treatment as the no-name, probably black kid caught on the corner or the front stoop doing the same thing.

Until then, I for one will have none of it. I smoked pot. I liked it. I’ll probably do it again. I refuse to apologize for it, because by apologizing I help perpetuate this stupid lie, this idea that what someone puts into his own body on his own time is any of the government’s damned business. Or any of yours. I’m not going to bend over and allow myself to be propaganda for this wasteful, ridiculous, immoral war.

Go ahead and tear me down if you like. But let’s see you rationalize in your next lame ONDCP commercial how the greatest motherfucking swimmer the world has ever seen . . . is also a proud pot smoker.

Yours,

Michael Phelps

For purity, for truth, for passion, for justice, for liberty; this rant has got to be one of the greatest things ever penned. Radley Balko, you rock. If I lived in your neighbourhood, I’d buy you a beer every day.

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The absurdity of the drug war is so gargantuan that a critic simply has no idea where to begin. There are a lot of things that are wrong in this world and a lot of things that are unlibertarian but very few are so wrong, so unlibertarian and so stupid. Yet, ask a common man on the street his opinion about drugs and you will hear ignorance, fear and strong support for the existing policy.

Much of this craziness is undoubtedly because most people are so used to viewing drugs as ‘evil’ that they have never even stopped to think seriously about the issue. If you are one of them, or you just want to read one article that summarises the collateral damage from the war on drugs, read this piece by Radley Balko.

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I just thought I’d share this email I received via the Friends of Charles Lynch mailing list earlier today:

Today in Federal court Charles C. Lynch’s motion for a new trial was denied. Lynch brought new evidence to court showing that he had nothing to do with his employee’s alleged street sales. Judge Wu stated that this was not sufficient evidence to acquit Lynch on all counts and so the motion was denied. Lynch’s Federal Public Defender’s then asked for more time for sentencing. Prosecutor Dave Kowal erupted with objections stating that the Defense was wasting the Court’s time. The judge agreed to move sentencing out to February 23, 2009 at 8:30am and the January 12, 2009 date is canceled. Supporters are encouraged to attend the Sentencing at 8:30am and the following Rally on Main Street at noon on February 23, 2009. The Federal Court House is located at 312 North Spring Street, Downtown Los Angeles on the Main Street side of the Federal Building. With the new sentencing date the latest to send in a letter of support to Judge Wu would be February 5, 2009.

For more information visit the http://www.Friendsofccl.com website. The http://www.Friendsofccl.com website will be updated with the new information within the next couple of days.

Thank you.
ccl

Note: If you are wondering who Charles Lynch is, check out these excellent Reason TV documentaries (in order, this, this and this) or skim through my various posts on his maddeningly unjust prosecution. If you wish to read the letter I sent to Judge Wu about three months ago, click here.

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I love Kop Busters!

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.

(Hat Tip: The Agitator)

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Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of Repeal day, the day the United States repealed one of the most foolish and disastrous laws ever conceived, prohibition.

Read this excellent article by Radley Balko where he discusses the lessons to be learnt from that era, and why modern America’s war on drugs is every bit as foolish and futile.

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At the age of 23, he introduced two men who wanted to do trade with each other.

He has been in prison since. He will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Link 1. Link 2.

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