Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reform conference?

This is a short post as I'm sick with the flu. The Olympic flame arrived in Victoria yesterday and I spent fourteen hours outdoors helping with security. This was an "all hands on deck" event and a lot of officers were working. I already had a cold but the rain appears to have made it worse. :-(

Now, thinking about warmer places, is anyone going to the Reform conference in New Mexico? This is a huge drug policy conference that occurs once every two years. This time around it will run from November 12 - 14 in Albuquerque. LEAP is listed on the conference web site a sponsor / co-host, along with the Harm Reduction Coalition, MAPS, DPA, MPP, SSDP, ACLU, the Libra Foundation, the Open Society Institute and the Berkeley Patients Group. I know there will be quite a few LEAP speakers at the event, so this is a good chance to meet people from LEAP as well as other orgnaizations.

I won't be there myself, but I am hoping to work with some of the attendees to get lots of stories and photos onto this blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LEAP speaker in NH legal battle

For those who don't know, Bradley Jardis is one of the few serving police officers in the world who is also a public member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Jardis - a ten year veteran patrol officer - has been working in law enforcement since high school. Right now he is embroiled in a nasty legal fight allegedly related to workplace harassment after a February 2009 appearance on the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Although Bradley had been a member of the LEAP Speakers Bureau for some time, this was the first newspaper article that identified him as a member of the Epping Police Department:
"When he's working, Epping Police Officer Bradley Jardis is just like any other cop. He's patrolling the streets to catch people with drugs because that's what he's supposed to do. But when he's off the clock, this 28-year-old officer is speaking publicly about why he believes existing drug policies have failed and why it's time for lawmakers to legalize drugs. It's an unusual position to take for a police officer charged with enforcing laws, but Jardis insists that prohibiting drugs leaves the dealers in control, creating a dangerous black market that breeds crime and gives kids easy access."
Following the article, it appears that a series of events took place which culminated in Bradley receiving a six day unpaid suspension. He has appealed this suspension and demanded a public hearing on the issue before the Epping Board of Selectmen. We're not sure of all the details yet, but "Assawyer" on the freekeene.com web site wrote:
"Brad received the suspension for how he interacted with his sergeant in which he stated he wouldn't follow an illegal order forbidding him to speak to the media after Brad was removed from a case by the sergeant; and for sending an e-mail to his fellow union members in the department describing malfeasance involving their union president and the Lieutenant who was in charge of investigating/disciplining Brad on the illegal order issue."
As previously explained in Part Two of a three part series on the LEAP blog about police officers and free speech, New Hampshire has strong free speech legislation designed to protect public employees. One hopes this will ultimately shield Jardis from disciplinary action by his employer.

You can get more background information and follow further developments on this multi-page freekeene.com thread, where Bradley himself writes:
"I have a huge support network. I am a very lucky person and I am thankful for how fortunate I am. I believe in the truth and honesty and I believe this to be a matter of public concern. I think as a law enforcement officer I am in the best vantage point to speak publicly on what I identify as something that makes our communities far less safe... IE: drug prohibition. The public should know how an employee who tries to make logical arguments about changing public policy is treated."
You can also watch this five minute video by NH web journalist Dave Ridley (FYI there are short ads at the beginning and end of the segment):



On the plus side, it looks like Jardis may someday generate new case law that will protect free speech for all police officers in New Hampshire. The downside is that this is probably going to be a long, messy, expensive and painful process for him. Bradley has great legal representation but it is important for the broader drug policy reform community to show its support as well. These events continue a trend started with the firing of Sgt. Jonathan Wender in 2005 from the Mountlake Terrace police department in Washington state. Wender - a public member of LEAP at the time - sued and eventually won a settlement of $812,500.

One has to wonder: how many serving officers have been deterred from joining LEAP over concerns about similar problems occurring within their own organizations?

Update: The Union Leader just published their story. It provides more details about the events that led to the suspension.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Help LEAP legalize marijuana

Have you read about Judge James Gray's incredible testimony in favour of legalizing and regulating marijuana in California? Do you want to support Law Enforcement Against Prohibition? If you're visiting the blog for the first time, here are five ways you can help us out:

1) Click the "Follow" button on the right hand side of this blog to follow us using Google Friend Connect (gmail account required). This helps others to discover the blog and increases our traffic.

2) Send someone an email and tell them about the LEAP blog. Your friends and colleagues will be amazed to find out that even cops, judges and prosecutors support an end to the War on Drugs.

3) Say hello to us in the comments section. We are a friendly bunch. :-)

4) Join LEAP by signing up to our ad-free mailing list. You will get updates about once a month, and we don't share your address with anyone. You don't have to work in law enforcement - anyone can join LEAP!

5) Join our Facebook group - 6879 fans and growing.

VIDEO: Judge Gray Testifies for Marijuana Legalization

Here's the clip of Judge James Gray's testimony in favor of legalizing marijuana, from today's hearing at the California Assembly:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

LEAP's Judge Jim Gray Tells NYT We Are Winning

The New York Times has a major story in Wednesday's paper about the increasing momentum of the legalization movement, particularly with respect to marijuana in California.

LEAP speaker Judge Jim Gray, who is testifying at Wednesday's California Assembly hearing on a marijuana legalization bill, is quoted in the Times piece:
“All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we’ve been running into the wind for years,” said James P. Gray, a retired judge in Orange County who has been outspoken in support of legalization. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”
Please make sure to Digg this story so even more people see the article and learn that the legalization team is the winning team. Get on board!

Press Release: LEAP Testifies for Marijuana Legalization in Calif.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 27, 2009
CONTACT: Tom Angell - (202) 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

CALIF. SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE TO TESTIFY FOR LEGALIZING MARIJUANA

Legalization Bill Gets Historic Hearing in California Assembly on Wednesday

SACRAMENTO, CA -- A conservative California Superior Court judge from Orange County will tell legislators on Wednesday that it is time to legalize and tax marijuana after what he saw during his 26 years of sending drug offenders to jail from the bench.

"Based upon my observations, our laws of marijuana prohibition are literally putting our children in harm’s way," said Judge James P. Gray, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international group of cops, judges and prosecutors who no longer believe in the drug laws they once swore to enforce. "Ask teenagers, and they will tell you the same thing that they tell me: it is easier for them to get marijuana today than it is alcohol. Why? Because today the illicit sellers of marijuana don’t ask for I.D."

WHO: Calif. Superior Court Judge James Gray, other advocates for marijuana legalization

WHAT: Hearing on AB 390, The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act

WHEN: Wednesday, October 28; 10:00 AM PST - 1:00 PM PST

WHERE: Room 126; California State Capitol; Sacramento, CA

Judge Gray retired from the bench earlier this year. Previously, he served as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and in the Navy JAG Corps as a defense attorney and judge advocate. He wrote the book "Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs."

Also testifying at Wednesday's hearing about the benefits of legalizing marijuana will be representatives of the California Board of Equalization, the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance and others.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), 15,000-member organization representing police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others from around the world who want to legalize and regulate all drugs after fighting on the front lines of the "war on drugs" and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info online at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

# # #

CSSDP in Vancouver


I'm back from the CSSDP conference. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos. (You can blame this on my impending marriage. Apparently it's bad luck to see the bride's dress before the wedding day, and my fiancee has about a million pictures of it on our camera right now.)

The conference was outstanding. This was the third annual conference by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (the previous two were in Ottawa and Montreal). Planning a local event can be challenging, but organizing three back to back national conferences is an amazing feat. CSSDP is a fast growing drug policy organization and I'm pleased to be working with them as a member of their new advisory board.

Long time volunteer Steve Finlay gave up most of his weekend to staff the LEAP table. Both Steve and myself talked to many students from across Canada and virtually everyone was LEAP friendly. I also participated in interviews for two separate television programs. One was for an English language TV show in Hong Kong, and the other was for a local production in Vancouver. Both of these projects are in the early stages of filming but I'll post more about them as they develop.

One theme reinforced at this conference was the idea that certain illegal drugs - such as Ibogaine and Ayahuasca - could treat drug addiction and heal mental trauma. Prior to this weekend I always viewed this concept with skepticism. However, after listening to Ken Tupper, Rick Doblin and Gabor Mate, I am now more open minded about the issue. Certainly one of the harms of drug prohibition is that it restricts legitimate scientific and medical research (something that appears to have occurred with both of these psychedelics).

On another topic, yesterday the LEAP blog reached 2000+ unique visitors, 3700+ visits and 6200+ pageviews. A big thank you to everyone who has contributed with comments and suggestions over the past ten weeks. I particularly appreciate our "regulars" in the comments section, including NewOldSalt, Rhayader, Lea, Kosmos, ChristiansAgainstProhibition and DaveK. (And, of course, Mr and Ms. Anonymous, who both leave a ton of comments.)

I'm seeking outreach volunteers who would like to help grow the LEAP blog. Perhaps you are interested in a specific area, such as reaching out to a particular religious faith, political party, ethnic minority, geographic region or some other demographic. Or perhaps you are interested promoting the LEAP blog through a particular social networking site, such as Facebook, Digg, Twitter or the blogosphere. This kind of outreach can be tedious at times, and you have to set goals, such as "this week I am going to reach out to five different libertarian web sites and tell them about the LEAP blog." On the plus side, it does provide an opportunity to meet new people and develop valuable contacts in an area that interests you. I will give you access to the daily blog stats so you can see the immediate results of your hard work.

If this is something that interests you, please email me. Let me know what area of outreach you would like to work on (this way I can make sure there is no overlap - we don't want to contact the same group again and again!). I have some templates and guidelines I can send you.

Finally, for reasons stated above, if you have pictures of the CSSDP conference, please email me a couple and I will post them here. :-)

P.S. With help from a Blogger "tips and tricks" web site, I finally figured out how to eliminate the borders around the pictures.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Update from Australia

Check out Norm Stamper's Huffington Post blog for an update on his Australian LEAP tour.

Did Colorado's AG Just Say What I Think He Said?

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers (R) went on CNN last week to talk about the Obama administration's new medical marijuana policy.

At one point, CNN's Rick Sanchez asked Mr. Suthers if legalizing and regulating marijuana outright would solve a lot of the problems we experience under prohibition. Here's what he said:
"If there was full regulation, if the legislature stepped in and gave clarification to these very broad provisions, I could see that happening. You know, taxation schemes, regulatory schemes, somebody actually cares about how much THC is in the brownie that you're buying."
Check out the embedded video:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

From Amsterdam: Lessons on controlling drugs

Hot off the presses, here's an article I wrote in today's Washington Post Sunday magazine. I talk about the difference in policy and police attitudes toward drugs in Amsterdam and in the U.S.:
In Amsterdam, the red-light district is the oldest and most notorious neighborhood. Two picturesque canals frame countless small pedestrian alleyways lined with legal prostitutes, bars, porn stores and coffee shops. In 2008, I visited the local police station and asked about the neighborhood's problems. I laughed when I heard that dealers of fake drugs were the biggest police issue -- but it's true. If fake-drug dealers are the worst problem in the red-light district, clearly somebody is doing something right.
and
History provides some lessons. The 21st Amendment ending Prohibition did not force anybody to drink or any city to license saloons. In 1933, after the failure to ban alcohol, the feds simply got out of the game. Today, they should do the same -- and last week the Justice Department took a very small step in the right direction.
Read all about it! The only unfortunate part is they removed the "member of LEAP" part on my bio.

George Will: Legalize Marijuana to Hurt Cartels

On today's episode of ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," a roundtable of some of the U.S.'s most prominent pundits took the opportunity to discuss the Obama administration's new medical marijuana policy, as well as the larger debate about legalizing and taxing marijuana outright.

Most notably, ultra-conservative columnist George Will says "we are probably in the process now of legalizing marijuana" and "80 percent of the revenue of the mexican cartels is marijuana. If you really want to go after the Mexican cartels...you'd legalize marijuana."

The discussion takes place in the last four minutes and 15 seconds of this clip.

Also participating in the legalization discussion are Laura Ingraham, Al Hunt, Cynthia Tucker and the Center for American Progress's John Podesta.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CSSDP conference

This weekend I will be at a conference organized by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Vancouver, British Columbia. If you're at the conference please track me down and say hello. My goal is to meet at least one person there who reads this blog. :-)

Friday, October 23, 2009

From Amsterdam: Lessons on controlling drugs

Hot off the virtual presses, here's an article I wrote appearing in this coming Sunday's Washington Post. I talk about the difference in policy and police attitudes toward drugs in Amsterdam and in the U.S.:
In Amsterdam, the red-light district is the oldest and most notorious neighborhood. Two picturesque canals frame countless small pedestrian alleyways lined with legal prostitutes, bars, porn stores and coffee shops. In 2008, I visited the local police station and asked about the neighborhood's problems. I laughed when I heard that dealers of fake drugs were the biggest police issue -- but it's true. If fake-drug dealers are the worst problem in the red-light district, clearly somebody is doing something right.
and
History provides some lessons. The 21st Amendment ending Prohibition did not force anybody to drink or any city to license saloons. In 1933, after the failure to ban alcohol, the feds simply got out of the game. Today, they should do the same -- and last week the Justice Department took a very small step in the right direction.
Read all about it!

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

DEA told to respect state medical marijuana laws, but I don’t think arrests will stop

The Obama administration has told the Department of Justice and federal prosecutors to respect state medical marijuana laws. I think this is a big step in the battle to protect patients, but I don’t think it is going to stop the arrests of people who are selling medical marijuana for profit.

For years in my LEAP presentations, I’ve said that until we remove the enormous profits from marijuana, drug dealers will control where marijuana is grown, to who it’s sold, at what price, and to what age customers. If you want to control medical marijuana, you need to regulate it.

As long as marijuana is worth thousands of dollars a pound, criminals will be involved in the marijuana business.

If marijuana is going to be seen as real medicine, we need to treat it like real medicine. Family doctors and other specialists in the course of their normal treatment should be the ones prescribing medical marijuana, not doctors who have an entire practice built on prescribing marijuana.

If a doctor only prescribed Morphine to their patients, the medical board or DEA would say, that’s not practicing medicine, its drug dealing. If a pharmacy only filled Morphine prescriptions, the pharmacy board would say it wasn’t right.

Something is wrong when treatment options or medication choices made by a physician, are dictated by the patient. Patients should have a say in their treatment, but it’s the doctor that is ultimately responsible the patients treatment. On the other hand, a physician who limit treatment options or medication choices for their patient to a single drug, are not providing the best treatment for their patient.

If you want marijuana for medicinal purposes, treat it like medicine, if you want recreational marijuana, change the law, but don’t mix the two.

Update: Fixed some a minor formatting problem - DB

Obama Drug Czar Comes Out Swinging Against Legalization

Fox Business News scored an exclusive interview with Obama "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske on Thursday, in which the ONDCP director came out as strongly as ever against legalization.

The Fox hosts did a remarkable job asking Kerlikowske tough questions, making sure to remind him repeatedly that an increasing number of voters say we should legalize marijuana right now.

At one point, one of the Fox hosts asked Kerlikowske if he really wanted to be "fighting an uphill public relations battle with the voters" who increasingly support legalization. The drug czar, though, dismissed the notion that more and more people realize that prohibition isn't working, saying there's "no pressure on me" to seriously consider legalization.

Take a gander at the embedded clip:



Well, what do you think of the "drug czar's" anti-legalization arguments and how we can proactively or reactively counteract them? Let's get a discussion going in the comments.

At least Mr. Kerlikowske took the time to mention that the legalization community is "very strategic."

Why, thank you, sir.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

LEAP Member Moskos Debates Clinton Drug Czar on CNN

Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore cop and LEAP speaker (and, oh yeah, a prolific criminal justice blogger), appeared on Lou Dobbs's CNN show this evening with The Cato Institute's Tim Lynch and former Clinton administration "drug czar" Barry McCaffrey. The topic was the federal government's new medical marijuana policy, but Peter did a good job focusing the discussion on ending prohibition.

Here's the embedded video:



Way to make the case that making drugs illegal means that they are not and can not be regulated and controlled, Peter!

And, oh yeah, how come Barry McCaffrey is pretending he doesn't remember threatening to strip doctors of their medical licenses just for discussing medical marijuana with their patients?

New to blog

I’m new here, I was a speaker for LEAP for several years, and then took a break for personal reasons. I’m back now because I feel speaking out against the drug war will makeup for some of the damage I did as a narcotics investigator.

I had back surgery in the late 80’s, and now suffer chronic pain. I’ve been a patient advocate since my original pain doctor was arrested by DEA in 1996. I had to travel to Virginia to see him, but Dr. William Hurwitz is one of the best doctors I’ve ever known. He didn’t rush through the exam, and he understands what pain does to a patient’s life. I could call Dr. Hurwitz any time, day or night, and speak to Dr Hurwitz, not some answering service.

There are a lot of good pain doctors, but there are a few bad ones who knowingly continue to violate the law. If a doctor treating pain makes some paper work mistakes, send them to some training on pain treatment, and get them back to work. There are just too few doctors willing to treat pain.

I’m going to be talking about pain doctors, DEA’s war on doctors, pain treatment, and pain medicine, including medical marijuana.

Jay Fleming

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Open Case

If you like my blog, you'll love The Open Case. Not only are all my posts mirrored there, but they have other good stuff as well. It's like Cop in the Hood, but more. Check it out.

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

Hard Core in Brazil

Just a week or two after Jon Lee Anderson's excellent article in the New Yorker on drugs and favelas in Rio de Janeiro, drug gangs shoot down a police helicopter. That's hard core. I mean, I've thought about shooting down police helicopters, but luckily I lack the .30-caliber anti-aircraft gun used to bring that baby down. Three police officers were killed. All together, 21 or so died in related chaos.

I can't think of a worse combination than drugs being illegal and the government giving up to control to drug gangs in the ghettos. It's one thing to fight a war on drugs. It's another to start a war on drugs and then give up large parts of your city away to the criminal drug gangs.

There are close to 5,000 murders a year in Rio de Janeiro. That's a rate about twice as high as Baltimore and about 10 times as high as NYC.

“Rio is one of the very few cities in the world where you have whole areas controlled by armed forces that are not of the state.”


Here's Anderson's latest update. And his audio slide show. Good stuff.

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

VIDEO: Fox News Host Says Legalize Heroin

John Stossel, former ABC News host and longtime supporter of reforming failed "drug war" policies, recently jumped over to Fox News. It didn't take him very long at all to come out swinging for legalization on his new network, as he did in this Tuesday appearance on The O'Reilly Factor:

“You think making it illegal makes that go away?” asked Stossel. Then there was this exchange:

Stossel: You don't have wine cartels in france, you don't have tequlia gangs in Mexico, because it's legal. It is the illegality that causes the need for the heroin addict to maybe sell stuff to children…
O’Reilly: So you want to legalize all the drugs?
Stossel: I want to legalize all the drugs for adults, then you can police the kids…
Thanks to Mediaite for the tip.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gallup Poll Shows Record Support for Marijuana Legalization

A poll out today from Gallup shows record-high support for legalizing marijuana, at 44%.
PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup's October Crime poll finds 44% of Americans in favor of making marijuana legal and 54% opposed. U.S. public support for legalizing marijuana was fixed in the 25% range from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, but acceptance jumped to 31% in 2000 and has continued to grow throughout this decade.
Check out Gallup's own site for more information, including demographic breakdowns.

Medical marijuana question for the Obama administration

If, as the AP reports today, the White House is alerting federal officials not to interfere with legitimate medical marijuana operations that are legal under state law, how come this is still on a White House web site and this is still on the DEA's web site?

RCMP hiring policy re: drug trafficking

Many police agencies in Canada could not staff themselves if they turned down every applicant who admitted past drug use. Usually this is limited to "soft" drugs, such as marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and MDMA. Departments often have formal or informal waiting periods, such as a mandatory two or three year gap from the date of last drug use.

The 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey showed that approximately 44% of citizens have used cannabis at one time or another. With all the baby boomers about to retire, police departments have no choice but to hire a former pot head or two.

This article was posted on the CBC News web site back in March, but it is worth reading if you haven't already. It talks about a recent change to the RCMP hiring policy that allows recruiters to ""to permit consideration of mitigating factors in all cases of criminal activity, which may include drug trafficking, etc." This expands the common practise of hiring former drug users to also include former drug sellers.

Canada's Bill C-15 is before the Senate. This bill would create mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offences. And so we have an odd situation. At the very time Canada is bringing in harsher penalties for selling drugs, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has changed its policy so it can hire former drug dealers.

Now, the article emphasizes the force has no plans to hire professional drug traffickers. So the policy change is likely to enable the hiring of those who engaged in accommodation sales (for example, a young woman who once sold a couple of dime bags to her friends).

To sum up the situation: if you're a small time drug dealer with plans of becoming a Canadian police officer, there is still hope for you. Unless you get arrested and convicted, in which case you may be subject to a mandatory jail sentence.

BREAKING: White House to make medical marijuana policy official

The Associated Press is reporting that on Monday the Obama administration will officially put in to writing its non-interference policy for medical marijuana, which was initially announced by Attorney General Eric Holder in March.

A 3-page memo spelling out the policy is expected to be sent Monday to federal prosecutors in the 14 states [where medical marijuana is legal], and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The memo, the officials said, emphasizes that prosecutors have wide discretion in choosing which cases to pursue, and says it is not a good use of federal manpower to prosecute those who are without a doubt in compliance with state law.

Please Digg this news so that more people see it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brazil: police helicopter shot down - drug traffickers suspected

Tragic news from Reuters:
Suspected drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter and set fire to five buses and a school in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, killing two policemen, police and media said.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book Review: This is Your Country on Drugs

A few days ago I mentioned that if anyone wrote a review of Ryan Grim's new book, I would post it on the blog. Cory Spicer decided to step up to the plate and I am pleased to share his review below. Thanks Cory!

When Ryan Grim wrote a Slate piece in April 2004 about the disappearance of LSD from the recreational drug scene, he envisioned it as a standalone observation of an interesting but mostly trivial phenomenon. However, as reader reaction poured in, Grim realized that he had tapped into an intense interest among the American public regarding drug use, and that much more could be written about the topic. He then began collecting research and outlining what would ultimately become This is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America.

While Grim has spent time advocating for marijuana legalization as a member of Marijuana Policy Project, This is Your Country on Drugs is not centered around advocacy for a given drug policy. Rather, it is a thoroughly interesting study of the historic interplay between the enduring American desire for altered consciousness and the equally enduring efforts to suppress, direct, and control this desire.

From the explosion of narcotics-laced pharmaceuticals in the face of the 19th century alcohol temperance movement to the arrival of designer hallucinogens in the vacuum created by the aforementioned LSD drought, Grim clearly demonstrates what he calls a “balloon effect” with American drug use. When legal or societal pressures put the use of one substance in a negative light, use of other drugs will inevitably increase in a roughly proportional fashion – analogous to squeezing one end of an inflated balloon and pushing the air to the other end. Americans like to get high, according to Grim, and there is little that can be reasonably done to alter this desire or to suppress its indulgence.

Packed with anecdotes, interviews, and statistics, This is Your Country on Drugs is a highly informative read for anyone interested in American drug appetites and the real-world effects of American drug control policy. Crucially, Grim’s approach is not overly clinical, and he freely weaves personal stories and thoughts into his work. The result is an accessible and entertaining read that is also very well-researched and intellectually sound.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

PBS NewsHour Covers Marijuana Legalization

In this embedded video from Wednesday night's program, NewsHour interviews California city council members and activists who want to help improve the state's budget by legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colombian President: "Yes, We Do Believe in" Legalization

Former Colombian president Cesar Garivia said he thinks the U.S. and other countries should stop arresting so many people for drugs in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

At about six minutes into this embedded video, when Amanpour asks President Garivia about legalization and decriminalization, he says, "We do believe in that. You should not put people in jail because of the consumption of drugs...Just putting people in jail doesn't solve any problem; it only increases the problem. The U.S. has to look at its policy."



Also in the interview, President Garivia says he supports legal drug maintenance programs, like the ones operating in some European countries.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where is Bush Drug Czar John Walters?

After stepping down as President George W. Bush 's "drug czar," John P. Walters was hired as an executive vice president for the conservative Hudson Institute, a think tank. He came swinging right out of the gate, fighting back vigorously against legalization in the Wall Street Journal and other places, wherever duty called. He even debated LEAP's Terry Nelson on Al Jazeera TV:

Looking at Walters's bio on the Hudson site, though, there just aren't any signs he has been doing much of anything for the organization since April. What's Hudson paying the guy to do over there, anyway?

Perhaps, toward the end of 2008, Hudson thought it a brilliant notion to bring on Walters to spearhead prohibitionist drug policy thought leadership for the conservative apparatus.

But after witnessing the amazingly anti-prohibitionist shift that the public discourse on drug policy has taken throughout 2009, it seems that Hudson and the larger conservative establishment -- or anyone, for that matter -- just don't have all that much use for what John Walters has to say right about now.

To answer the question from above about John Walters's mysterious job description, perhaps at this point Hudson is merely paying the former "drug czar" to just keep his mouth shut for the time being.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Because Marijuana Is Illegal...

sometimes, dangerous people with guns sell marijuana to people who use it, sometimes in places where there are other people who don't want marijuana to be sold in front of them. Then, sometimes people use those guns to flex their control when they feel threatened.


TO ADD TO THE OBAMA HEAD-SCRATCHING....

I will readily admit - I am befuddled about Pres. Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize as are a large number of Americans. I always labored under the assumption that the prize was given for either past accomplishments, or for work done in advancing a goal that may not yet be accomplished. Giving the Nobel for prospective work that may be done is a new one. By the way - to the Nobel Committee: I promise I will have the Israelis and Palestinians declare eternal peace by 2012. Please make my travel arrangements for Oslo for 2010, check payable to "Jay Fisher."

Whether or not he deserves it is a debate beyond the scope of this blog. However, I want to add fuel to this fire.

One criticism Obama has received for getting the Nobel is that he is ramping up the war in Afghanistan, and not winding down the war in Iraq sufficiently fast. Let's talk about another war he has put himself into - the drug war.

Is the drug war a fair area to assess Obama for evaluating whether or not he deserves the Nobel? I argue it is. If you look at the subject of "domestic tranquility" as a standard for giving the prize, it is a fair category for consideration. Look at Lech Walesa and Solidarity for their work in promoting democracy within Poland, or Desmond Tutu and de Klerk for their efforts to end apartheid within South Africa. Both are domestic situations that had international ramifications which earned the respective parties the Peace Prize.

So, has Obama done anything about the "drug war" to change it into a "drug peace"? Sadly, I would say no. First, look at his words on raiding California medical marijuana pharmacies. Initially, he promised to end federal raids on the pharmacies - a promise that was quickly broken. One San Diego dispensary was raided as recently as September 9, 2009, with help from the federal DEA.

Second, while Obama has backed eliminating the disparities between crack and powder cocaine sentences, and there has been movement in the House on this subject, the disparities still exist. There has been no final vote on this bill in the House, and there appears to be nothing going on in the Senate on this topic. Considering how quickly Obama demanded from Congress literally trillions of dollars to support the economy and got it, the progress on the crack cocaine sentencing bill can be fairly described as "glacial" to "expectantly dead."

Third, consider all the shenanigans going on south of the border. Mexico is on the verge of a civil war fueled by drug money. Business in Colombia appears to be "business as usual." Cocaine cultivation in Peru appears to be increasing, with a slow resurgency of the Shining Path rebels and their madness. Evo Morales, a coca cultivator, is the president of Bolivia, saber rattling towards Washington and increasing international dissonance between the two countries.

Fourth is Afghanistan and sending American men and women to fight a war there and, in conjunction, fight the opium trade. Well, you can research the news on this. This exercise is becoming tiring....

We in the drug reform community are more prone to give Obama a pass on many topics because, and least in his words, he is radically different from the previous administration. However, we must remember: words are nice, but actions speak louder than words. While Obama may speak in a fashion that promises much potential, his actions fall far short. The Nobel Prize Committee should use this as a standard, and I argue should have considered this when evaluating the president for the Peace Prize. Any active participant in the drug reform movement has done more than the president to promote domestic tranquility by opposing the drug war, and would have been a better recipient of the award on that basis alone.

Preventing substance abuse through good public policy

The following essay was written by LEAP speaker Michael Gilbert. He originally posted it to a web site on substance abuse prevention and treatment operated by the federal government.

After following the discussion on the site for a few weeks, he noticed that several people had posted comments advocating tougher laws and more punitive sentences for drug crime offenses. Those who raised questions about the effectiveness of current policies and drug laws were admonished by site monitors that such comments were off-topic for a substance abuse prevention discussion board. This motivated Dr. Gilbert to write the essay below and post it on the web site.

This is Dr. Gilbert's first post on the new blog. We're lucky to have him as a member of LEAP and I look forward to more of his writing!



I am not a prevention professional but I'm deeply committed to reducing the accessibility of drugs to kids, reducing the harms associated with drugs used by those who choose to use them, and reducing the prevalence in drug use within the society.  These goals cannot be achieved with a limited, censored or restricted discussion.  The question is how to achieve these goals.

A censored discussion limited to "deterrence only", "accepted lines of thought" or the "moral model" cannot provide the robust thinking needed make long term progress toward these goals. To achieve lower drug use rates (i.e., prevention) it may be that we have to seriously look outside the box of prevention orthodoxy to consider ideas and perspectives that may have seemed heretical in the past.

My perspective on drug prevention is a bit different.  I have spent nearly 40 years working in and around the justice system as either a criminal justice practitioner, researcher, or educator.  A number of the comments have implied that "punitive approaches" will work to "deter" users.  From the empirical evidence I have seen in the last 40 years, drug use patterns are not suppressed by punitive criminal justice responses.  In fact, the evidence points in exactly the opposite direction - increased potency, greater access, reduced street prices, and greater availability.  Additionally, punitive approaches are viewed as deceitful by users and provide a rich business environment for black market drug distribution systems.  There is a lot of evidence on these issues if you want to follow-up.

Criminal justice policy responses are ineffective because they misdefine the problem and impose counterproductive  solutions.  Drug use is a deeply embedded health and education problem.  No amount of punishment can make users, as a class of people, stop using (general deterrence).

What can work to make progress toward lower drug use is health and education based prevention strategies based on an honest recognition of some basic facts:
*       Successful prevention depends mostly on caring, honest and believable communications from adults and those working in prevention.  Exaggeration of harms associated with experimental use or non-dependent use is easily discredited and dismissed by those receiving the message.
*       140-150 million people in the US (half the population) have used an illegal substance at least once in their life.
*       Between 20-25 million people are current users (within the last 30 days).
*       Roughly 3-5 million people are highly dependent users.
*       All past, current and highly dependent users could have been arrested, jailed and imprisoned had they been caught using or buying.
*       ONDCP reports that 75% of current users are employed and buy their drugs using legally earned income (not committing crimes to feed their habit).
*       Hustling (committing crimes to support a habit) is highly concentrated among the 3-5 million highly dependent users. Most crime associated with drugs are systemic crimes related to black market business transactions and conflicts NOT hustling by destabilized users.
*       Most current users are middle or upper class Whites who live in good neighborhoods rather than impoverished minorities.  Of these users, few commit crimes other than drug defined crimes of buying and using an illegal substance.
*       Millions of current users are hidden users who work, build and maintain careers, pay taxes, raise children, volunteer with community organizations and continue to use drugs (legal or illegal) without coming to the attention of police.
*       Hidden users by definition are hidden and are not included in the official data which suggests a drug-crime linkage.  If they were included in that data -- it would be clear that crime is associated with a small proportion of users, just as violence is associated with a small (but larger proportion) of alcohol users.

If we add to the user count those who have ever misused pharmaceuticals and those who use alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine it would encompass nearly the entire US population.  It is clear that our society has a love-hate relationship with drugs (see all the ads on television advising viewers to "have the talk with your doctor about ....").  There is an endemic problem with substance use within the society and most of it is concentrated among hidden users. This is the environment into which the prevention strategies are delivered.

Your efforts at prevention are important - no one wants more or wider use of drugs.  However, your efforts are dealt serious body blows everyday when public policies concentrate on criminal sanctions and ignore these realities.  Most of the resources needed for effective prevention are used in counterproductive and often destructive criminal justice responses that increase social harms associated with drugs use.  These resources could be more effectively used to fund the kind of prevention oriented health and education that you do.  Prevention strategies can be quite effective when not enmeshed with punitive justice responses.

For example, we have far fewer smokers per capita today, despite nicotine being more addictive than most illegal substances, because we dealt with the issue through health and education policy.  This is a model of effective prevention.

It is unlikely that such a dramatic reduction in tobacco use would or could have been attained if we had criminalized smokers, sellers, and manufacturers of tobacco.  The most likely outcome of that approach would have been the immediate creation of an underground black market in tobacco which made tobacco available to anyone with the right amount of money on any street corner.  It would also have driven huge profits into criminal tobacco syndicates operating black market distribution and sales of tobacco.  It have also create territorial disputes and business conflicts settled by violence.

Meaningful prevention policies and strategies are needed but they must be "real" from the perspective of the target population and evidence based.  Furthermore, they must be informed by all elements of the problem to be effective.

We should not assume that our current laws, policies or strategies actually work to facilitate prevention - my reading of the evidence is that current policies makes your job, working in prevention, much harder.  Let's not get trapped by our traditions simply because they are our traditions.  We should engage in a broader discussion about what "meaningful prevention" means and how it can be attained.  If the history and evidence reveals that current policies work against prevention we need to say so and not continue to pursue that which has not worked and is unlikely to work.

A lower drug use  society is an attainable goal but it is only attainable if deal we with the evidence and world as it really is, not as we wish it to be.

As far as I can tell everyone engaged in this discussion want to see less drug use.  Your work as prevention professionals is critical but not sufficient.  We also need wise policies that make prevention attainable.  At present the weight of the evidence suggests that our present drug control policies are counterproductive and make drug use problems far worse than they might otherwise be.  Let's keep all prevention issues on the table.

Stay dedicated to prevention but also think critically about how we got into this situation, what perpetuates it and how best to get out of it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Weekly roundup

Authorities in North Carolina seized 929 gallons of moonshine on Wednesday. That is 118 912 fluid ounces of liquor taken off our city streets. They also seized a large amount of sugar. The clandestine moonshine lab has been shut down.
President Obama won the Nobel peace prize. Let's hope he ends the drug war.
A journalist who embedded with the Colombian military says the guerilla war in that country is not winnable. He makes the statement around the five minute mark of this CNN video. The entire ten minute segment is quite interesting as it focuses on the global drug war (hat tip to CAP).
This is off-topic, but libertarians will enjoy it: a Canadian team (who are also fans of the LEAP blog) has entered a worldwide video contest organized by the Fraser Institute. The topic is, "What is the Appropriate Role of Government in the Economy?" Here is their video on YouTube.
Australian journliast Alan Howe has a column about Elvis Presley, Norm Stamper and drug policy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Police officers and freedom of speech (part three)

Thinking about joining our Speakers Bureau as a serving law enforcement officer?

It can be tricky to do. There's no manual on how to achieve the balancing act of criticizing national drug policy while off-duty, and then enforcing those same laws while on-duty. So I've put together a ten point list of steps you can take to protect your career. It's based on Jay Fisher's legal research as well as a few of my own, err, missteps.

If a serving officer wishes to publicly support drug policy reform, the best practices to avoid censure or termination would most likely include the following:

1) The officer publicly states that he or she is speaking as an individual.

2) The officer declares that he or she is not speaking at the forum as a representative of the employing agency.

3) The officer states that he or she recognizes the drug war as a matter of great public importance that deserves an honest and open debate.

4) The officer states that he or she has and will continue to execute the laws of his or her state or country fully and fairly because that is the sworn duty of a law enforcement officer.

5) Prior to making a first public appearance as a LEAP speaker, the officer should consider approaching their supervisors and senior managers. This isn't a requirement but it is an important courtesy step that can go a long way toward reducing any potential tension.

6) The officer should seek credible venues for participating in the drug reform policy debate. There are plenty of opportunities including conferences, professional journals and various media outlets. The officer should avoid venues where there are likely to be planned or spontaneous acts civil disobedience, including open drug use.

7) The officer should interact carefully with local media. In fact, it may be easier to focus on national or out-of-state media. Again, this not a legal requirement but it can be helpful to extend this courtesy to colleagues as well as the employing agency.

8) The officer should generally avoid publicly criticizing specific officers or law enforcement agencies, police unions and associations. However, umbrella associations are fair game, as well as law enforcement advocacy groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police. These organizations participate in the political process by lobbying politicians, making political donations and recommending new laws or suggesting changes to existing laws.

9) The officer should continue to enforce drug laws while on duty if that is part of his or her job description. Of course, discretion will always be part of law enforcement and each LEAP speaker needs to find their own comfort zone when it comes to discretion versus enforcement.

10) The officer should document the above efforts and keep that documentation in a private place. Just in case things really go sideways.

Is there anything I missed?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The last obstacle

It seems to me that the main factor in Portugal's original decision to decriminalize drugs rather than legalize and regulate was the fact that they were party to several international drug conventions.

Don't get me wrong. I think world cooperation is a Good Thing. But it seems to me the focus of these conventions should be on export controls rather than domestic drug policy.

Does anyone know how to amend or pull out from these agreements? I honestly don't know much about this area. Is there a Dummies Guide to Withdrawing from International Drug Conventions?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

California Gubernatorial Candidate Says Drug War an "Abject Failure"

Current San Francisco mayor and candidate for the Democratic nomination to be California's next governor Gavin Newsom held an online town hall meeting on Tuesday, taking questions from viewers via Facebook.

One question focused on the "war on drugs" and marijuana decriminalization. Mayor Newsom took the opportunity to reiterate his longstanding opposition to punitive drug policies, stating, "I really feel strongly about the drug war being an abject failure. If you can point to huge evidence that drug polices in this country have worked, I'd love to see that evidence." The mayor wrapped up by saying, "Low-level marijuana possession, with all due respect to those that will use this video to attack me, is not a top priority for my current job and role as mayor and hasn't been, nor would it be as governor."

The discussion begins at about 30 seconds in to this clip here:



We at LEAP have seen how the public is more than ready for straight-talking politicians who aren't needlessly afraid of pushing for reform. We don't doubt at all that this will be a benefit -- and do no harm whatsoever -- to Newsom's campaign. Especially since 56 percent of California voters support fully legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana sales.

Please note that LEAP, as a nonprofit organization, cannot and does not endorse political candidates. This post merely constitutes analysis on the likely effects of one candidate's statements. As an advocacy organization, we look forward to reporting similarly positive statements from any and all candidates.

IACP president responds to LEAP op-ed

Peter Moskos has a good write up about the reaction to his Washington Post opinion piece from the both the IACP president and the Drug Czar.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

LEAP down under

I was up most of the night writing an article about marijuana policy. The publisher gave me a deadline of October 5th, and for some reason I got writer's block until, you guessed it, October 5th. Anyway, more about the article later.

With the LEAP Australia tour underway, I thought it might be a good time to introduce our new Australian speaker:
John McGeary is a retired Senior Constable who believes regulation and control, through legalization, will be a better way of dealing with drug issues than drug prohibition. There are, according to John, six primary reasons why we need change and his long career of lecturing enables him to explain them clearly. He believes less harm would accrue in a regulated marketplace while extensive publicity and education on the negative effects of drugs, as is currently done with tobacco, would make drug use less attractive for disaffected young people. Of all the drugs, he sees alcohol as the most problematic.

Also, there are a bunch of Australian events scheduled over the next three weeks. You can check them out on the LEAP calendar!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mass. Decrim Has No Effect On Schools

So say some Massachusetts school officials--the same ones who say decriminalization "sends a terrible message to kids." The story by John Hilliard is here (via the Agitator).

This really is no surprise, but it's important for a few reasons. Prohibitionists seem to care more about "the message" than about actual drug use and drug harms. For too many, it's a moral issue and not a policy issue.

I like to ask those who support the war on drugs if they would support legalization if legalization and regulation decreased drug use. I'd say close to half say "no." Better, they tell me, to keep drugs illegal regardless of drug usage rates. Sometimes increased drug use and overdose deaths can be useful, some drug-warriors even say, for having people overdose in the ghetto sends a powerful “message” to others.

Hmmmmmmm. This sort of ends the debate. So it’s not about drugs. It’s about morals and the power and symbolism of the law.

Prohibition is about a conservative world view that sees drugs as evil. And evil needs to be outlawed. Prohibition is about big-government telling people what to do and how to live their lives.

Take Harry Asslinger (oops, honest typo but much too good to delete)--I mean Harry Anslinger. He was very happy, after failing to maintain alcohol Prohibition, to raise the false alarm about marijuana.


Perhaps Anslinger’s greatest accomplishment was to push marijuana from a fringe drug into the mainstream. That's what happens when you call it the evil weed and highlight the moral turpitude of minorities, immigrants, Catholics, liberals, and other city folk who, like Anslinger believed, were destroying the moral fiber of America.

Whatever. Good or bad, those cool cats sure knew how to party!

In my mind, the debate on drug decriminalization comes down to one main issue: in an era of legal and regulated drugs, would drug use increase or decrease? Of course we can't be sure because we haven't tried it. But the evidence strongly suggests the use would not go up and might go down.

System of liberalization and/or decriminalization result in no increase in drug use. Marijuana usage rates in the Netherlands (where it is publicly sold and legally consumed) are lower than in the U.S. Decriminalization in Portugal has also been a success.

How does this work? Lot's of reasons. Forbidden fruit. Distrust of authority. And consider what Diego Gambetta recently pointed out to me: there’s a lot more pressure in social situations to conform and partake in illegal activities than for comparably legal activities.

If a joint is being passed around, you’re expected, especially in young crowds, to smoke a little. This serves two functions beyond social bonding.

1) It shows you're not a cop.

2) You can’t blackmail anybody with your knowledge of illegal behavior since you're guilty too.

There’s a lot more pressure (especially for teenagers) to smoke a joint being passed around than to smoke an offered cigarette. These days cigarettes, regulated and taxed, aren’t even being offered much.

Marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts has not resulted in a bunch of school kids suddenly discovering the drug and firing up. Hell, the first time I ever saw marijuana was in school, watching a drug deal go down in the bathroom (regulated drugs aren’t sold in school bathrooms). And the best anti-drug lesson I ever got was from the guy who sat behind me in first-period German class. He would also come in late, stoned, and reeking of (tobacco) cigarettes. He never learned any German. But then neither did I.

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Police officers and freedom of speech (part two)

LEAP speaker Jay Fisher continues this multi-part series about law enforcement officers and free speech. In this part he examines five states - Georgia, New Hampshire, New York, Montana and Missouri. If you have some knowledge of the case law in other states please share your thoughts in the comments section.


GEORGIA

The Georgia Constitution, Art. I, § I, Para. V states that: “No law shall be passed to curtail or restrain the freedom of speech or of the press. Every person may speak, write, and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that liberty. “

Georgia law is particularly thin on case law to direct government employees speaking about public interest matters. The author's search revealed only two cases which remotely addressed the topic of government workers and public expressions – and one of these was from 1979! This may be caused by Georgia's strong right to work heritage and the failure of employees to challenge terminations for any reason (never mind free speech issues). However, a review of the more recent decision [Palmer v. Stewart County Sch. Dist., ___ F. Supp. 2D ___ (M.D. Ga. June 17, 2005)], indicates that Georgia courts would likely strictly follow the Garcetti and Buazard models that were explained in part one of this series.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

The State of New Hampshire has a long tradition of libertarian influence. In deference to this history, the state codified the right of public employees to speak on matters of public interest:
Notwithstanding any other rule or order to the contrary, a person employed as a public employee in any capacity shall have a full right to publicly discuss and give opinions as an individual on all matters concerning any government entity and its policies. It is the intention of this chapter to balance the rights of expression of the employee with the need of the employer to protect legitimate confidential records, communications, and proceedings. RSA 98-E:1.

The state appellate court has interpreted this rule to mean that New Hampshire provides broader protection than that afforded under the United States Constitution. Appeal of Booker, 139 N.H. 337, 653 A.2d 1084 (1995). However, the law still specifies that the public employee must be speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson on behalf of the agency itself. Id.

NEW YORK

Like New Hampshire, state history and tradition play large roles in the formation of New York’s laws governing the ability of public employees to speak on public issues. New York has a long history of employee protection and labor organization. Thus, they have codified the ability of public employees to speak on special interest issues and the wording is rather liberal. Civil Service Law 107(1) expressly prohibits a government agency from appointing, selecting or removing a person from government service based upon his or her “political opinions or affiliations.” Hamilton v Brennan, 119 NYS2d 83 (1953). However, this law is limited to members of the civil service – those employees in exempt positions or non-competitive class employment would not be covered by the law.

MONTANA

The Montana Constitution provides that: “No law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech or expression. Every person shall be free to speak or publish whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuse of that liberty.” Mont. Const., Art. II § 7. Furthermore, the state code provides that it “is an unlawful discriminatory practice for the state or any of its political subdivisions…to refuse employment to a person, to bar a person from employment, or to discriminate against a person in compensation or in a term, condition, or privilege of employment because of that person's political beliefs.” Mont. Code Anno., § 49-2-308 (1)(c). Montana courts have interpreted the law along the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Connick: “when a public employee speaks out not as a citizen upon matters of public concern, but instead as an employee upon matters of only personal interest, the courts will not review the wisdom of a personnel decision taken by a public agency. Conversely, it seems proper to hold that if the public employee does speak on a matter of public concern as a citizen, the public employee is exercising a cherished First Amendment right.” Taliaferro v. State, 235 Mont. 23, 29, 764 P.2d 860 (1988).

MISSOURI

Missouri is an interesting case example because the written code provides very broad protection, but the case law narrowly applies the language to diminish the scope of protected speech. The state constitution says that, “no law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech, no matter by what means communicated: that every person shall be free to say, write or publish, or otherwise communicate whatever he will on any subject, being responsible for all abuses of that liberty…” Mo. Const. Art. I, § 8. However, the state appellate courts allow public employees to be publicly reprimanded for speech made in government forums under the idea that such punishment does not impinge free speech rights because the employee was ultimately not deprived of any of the privileges of his office. Vorbeck v. McNeal, 560 S.W.2d 245 (Mo. Ct. App. 1977). A troubling aspect in this case is the appellate court did not address at all the potential chilling effect such punishment may have on employees who speak on public matters.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Police officers and freedom of speech (part one)

State attorney and LEAP Speaker Jay Fisher has written an essay about the rights and duties of U.S. police officers who criticize the prohibition of marijuana, cocaine and other illegal substances. Part one provides a legal overview and also examines the rights of federal government employees. Part two examines free speech law in five different states: Georgia, New Hampshire, New York, Montana and Missouri.


It should come as no surprise that American law enforcement professionals who care to speak out publicly against the drug war may hesitate to do so. Such a position runs contrary to the public positions of just about every police agency. Officers may fear retaliation and possible termination for taking such a contrary view. Thus, police should have a basic understanding of what speech will be protected in the event they want to speak on this topic publicly.

The basis for all protections of speech in the United States is the First Amendment within the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The broad protections of this Amendment have been extended to the states via Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”

However, it is now well-established law that public employees do not enjoy the same protections that a private citizen would have when trying to speak out on certain topics (such as the drug war). The reasoning for this is sound – to promote effective delivery of services, public employers must maintain efficient operations. Conduct by employees that disrupts morale or calls into question the agency’s integrity would impinge that goal.

What emerges from the competing interests of free speech protection and public employer service delivery is the proverbial “balancing test” seen in American courts: how to account for agency interests versus the individual’s rights.

Further complicating this analysis is the federal versus state government models in the United States, and the different protections afforded citizens of different states. Two obvious implications arise from these concerns. First, the United States Supreme Court may set a limit beyond which a state cannot impinge a public employee’s free speech; however, the state may afford greater protection of public employee speech than what is permissible under federal law. Second, the states afford different levels of protection to public employee speech – what may be protected in New Hampshire, for example, is not protected in Alabama.

All these competing interests create a hodge-podge of directives which guide what public employees may or may not publicly comment on. An analysis of the fifty states’ laws on this topic plus the position of the federal government would be cumbersome and beyond the scope of this analysis. However, below are some examples which show the breadth of laws which affect public employees vis-a-vis public speech on important topics.

UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT POSITION

The most recent ruling on public employee free speech relative to public interest issues was stated in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S. Ct. 1951 (2006). This case basically reaffirmed the old standards articulated in earlier decisions that the First Amendment will not insulate a public employee from discipline if he or she speaks out on an issue pursuant to his or her official duties. The Court specified that if an employee speaks not as a private citizen, then his or her speech is not protected; however, if the individual spoke as a private citizen, then the speech may be covered by the First Amendment. The Court further stated that a public employee does not speak as a private citizen on an issue of public concern when they speak pursuant to their official job duties.

Thus, the key analysis falls within the definition of “pursuant to official job duties.” While the Court did not establish any defined parameters as to speech pursuant to official job duties, it did hold that the First Amendment will offer some protection when a public employee is speaking privately about a legitimate public concern.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WORKERS

The federal government would address matters regarding employees who speak publicly about special interest matters under the Garcetti standard elicited above. However, it is important to recognize that Garcetti did not arise in a vacuum. That decision – and indeed the whole concept of a balancing test – arose from recent precedent. The two most important of these are Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968) and Connick v. Meyers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983).

While the details of these decisions are beyond the scope of this analysis, it is important to recognize what these decisions said to guide government employers when evaluating employee speech on public matters. If the employee is not speaking of matters specific to his or her agency, and is speaking in a private citizen's capacity, that language will be protected:
When a public employee’s speech is purely job-related, that speech will not be deemed a matter of public concern. Unless the employee is speaking as a concerned citizen, and not just as an employee, the speech does not fall under the protection of the First Amendment. Buazard v. Meredith, 172 F.3d 546, 548 (8th Cir. 1999).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

S.F. Police Chief Hints at Marijuana Legalization's Benefits

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon held a press conference Wednesday to tout the department's recent raids shutting down illegal marijuana grow houses in the city.

Interestingly, the first question from a reporter was about whether legalizing marijuana could prevent the devastating house fires that sometimes result from illegal grow operations.

The good chief answered by noting how when alcohol prohibition ended, lots of the associated problems like violence and crime went away.

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