Thursday, December 31, 2009

Help me with the numbers, please...

By now, many readers of this blog are familiar with the Cato Institute study on the growing use of SWAT teams around the country and, specifically, their increased use in the drug war. These readers are also familiar with the casualties created by this increased use. These numbers include police, suspects and innocent bystanders.

I am curious, though. Is anyone keeping track of the numbers of police, suspects or innocent bystanders maimed or killed in high-speed pursuits stemming from drug investigations?

This question presumes that people are injured in such pursuits. A logical assumption, but one that still needs validation.

A quick Google search under "high speed pursuit" and "drugs" or "narcotics" shows, however, that the numbers may be considerable:

http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/11/woodlawn-chicago-police-crash-fatality-death-king-drive-st-lawrence.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/11/20/2425135.htm

http://www.norwalkreflector.com/articles/2009/11/19/front/iq_865923.txt

These numbers should be compiled just as accurately as any other casualty in the drug war. The victims arose from a similar set of circumstances - bad public policy and aggressive police tactics.

If I missed an organization that, in fact, does compile stats on victims of high speed chases arising out of the drug war, my apologies. If none exists, then it is time to create one.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A. Robert Kaufman, R.I.P.

Bob Kaufman, a perennial candidate for office and a civil rights activist, died last week at the age of 78.

While I personally didn't agree with most of his politics, I appreciated the fact that he became a staunch advocate against the war on drugs.

After he was brutally attacked by a drug addict who needed money for his next fix, Kaufman still kept perspective on it all. Jay Hancock of the Baltimore Sun blogged:
But his motives were pure, and he never wavered. The cliche has it that a liberal is just a latent conservative who's never been mugged. But after Bob got hit in the head with a brick by a would-be robber, not only was he as lefty as ever; he used the occassion to decry the war on drugs:

The attacker "was so desperate for a fix that he resorted to doing this," Kaufman told the Sun at the guy's sentencing. "Both he and I are victims of the drug trade. If he had been able to go to a clinic and get what he needed, we both wouldn't be here. Now he has to go to prison. ... I wish him the best of luck while he is there."

I never really met Kaufman. I once saw him sitting in my office waiting for my boss, who was handling the above mentioned case. I was busy and he looked annoyed. We may have exchanged brief pleasantries. I regret that I never really got the chance to talk with him.

Akmal Shaikh, R.I.P.

Akmal Shaikh was hardly an international drug kingpin. He was a 53 year old troubled and delusional man who was likely tricked into smuggling heroin into China. He was arrested, given a 30 minute trial, and sentenced to death.

Despite pleas from the United Kingdom and the European Union he was executed yesterday. (The United States government failed to object. In fact, the DEA is quite happy with the work that China is doing.)

Regardless of what one thinks of the drug war, Shaikh didn't deserve to be executed. It is a shame that there was no outrage expressed by public officials in the United States.
He was just a troubled man who got caught up in the vicious worldwide war on drugs.
He even had (delusional) hopes of being a pop star. Below is his music video:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Washington among states considering legalizing marijuana, dozens of states weigh other reforms -- latimes.com

Below is a report from the AP on attempts to legalize marijuana in various States. There are many good reasons to legalize marijuana and all other drugs. One of those reasons is the amount of money spent on prohibition . State and local governments are unable to balance their budgets, so why should they spend money fighting victimless crimes?

Another consideration is public safety. Prison space is finite. So are probation officers. For every non-violent drug offender that you send to prison, you are making it easier for a violent offender to get out earlier. Also, for every second a probation agent has to spend supervising a drug offender, she is not supervising a rapist, child molester, or murderer.

Now for the article:

Washington among states considering legalizing marijuana, dozens of states weigh other reforms -- latimes.com: "OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington is one of four states where measures to legalize and regulate marijuana have been introduced, and about two dozen other states are considering bills ranging from medical marijuana to decriminalizing possession of small amounts of the herb.

'In terms of state legislatures, this is far and away the most active year that we've ever seen,' said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which supports reforming marijuana laws."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Drug War Debate on the Right

LEAP does NOT take sides in political disputes and has members and supporters from many different political perspectives. However, we should take note of debates that are taking place.

A conservative blogger recently wrote an essay on drug legalization in which she argued that marijuana should remain illegal because:
Marijuana . . . has always been counter-cultural in the West. Every toke symbolizes a thumb in the eye of Western values. So it follows that in order to maintain our culture, we need to criminalize this drug.
Of course this sort of ignores the fact that America's first president was a pony-tail wearing pot-growing revolutionary. It also ignores the fact that marijuana and all other drugs were perfectly legal in the west up until the 20th century. But whatever.

Another conservative blogger responded to the argument about marijuana and culture here.

It is great to see that these debates are taking place among conservatives and that we are winning. Many of us will disagree on other issues, but hopefully we can start to create more of a consensus against the drug war.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Do we need a War Against Obesity too?

Obesity more deadly than previously thought - Telegraph: "A study of one million father and son pairs found that being overweight may increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 82 per cent."

Perhaps we should have a war against obesity as well. We have to protect the children. We have to protect public health. Law of unintended consequences be damned.
The cases would be very easy to prove in court.

Prosecutor: "Will the defendant please rise and face the jury?"

Defendant rises.

Prosecutor: "Case closed."

Of course I am joking, but maybe I shouldn't. It might give the drug warriors an idea.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vancouver Police department on wrong side of drug policy debate

The online edition of the Georgia Straight has published a short essay I wrote about the efforts of a major Canadian police agency to influence the passage of a new drug law. Bill C-15 introduces mandatory minimum sentences for low level drug traffickers. It will likely exacerbate the unintended consequences of the black market at a time when many other nations are considering alternatives to drug prohibition. Here's the op-ed: Vancouver Police department on wrong side of drug policy debate

If you have a moment, please leave a comment on the Georgia Straight web site and also forward it to friends who may be interested.

As I've previously noted on this blog, the Vancouver Police Department is at a low point in terms of marijuana grow busts. According to the Vancouver Courier, the department processed 455 grows in 2001 but only about 50 this year. So we've seen almost an order of magnitude decrease in grow-ops under the existing laws. Even if you are a supporter of drug prohibition, I'm not sure how anyone could support harsher penalties based on the experiences of the Vancouver Police Department.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

23 year old man dies after choking on a bag of weed

FYI this video is quite graphic. It shows a young man choking to death:



Yet another drug prohibition death...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

JP Morgan Chase Bank and Drug Policy

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is starting a boycott of JP Morgan Chase over its charity giveaway contest. Registered charities were competing for votes. The charities with the most votes were supposed to receive donations from the bank. Two drug reform organizations and an anti-abortion group appeared to be in the lead, but none of them won.

The New York Times reported on this yesterday and noted:
JPMorgan Chase & Company is coming under fire for the way it conducted an online contest to award millions of dollars to 100 charities.

At least three nonprofit groups — Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All— say they believe that Chase disqualified them over concerns about associating its name with their missions.

The groups say that until Chase made changes to the contest, they appeared to be among the top 100 vote-getters.

I certainly believe that a private business can do what it wants with its money. But we should remember that almost all banks are now dependent on the government for help. JP Morgan Chase received about 25 Billion dollars from the U.S. Government. We are not dealing with a private business here, but rather with an organ of the government. We should expect that our government should be neutral and fair. We should expect our government to play by the rules that it sets down. They should not have started this contest and encouraged all charities to take part if they were going to exclude groups that they considered to be controversial. They should have been upfront about this.

I don't do any business with JP Morgan Chase. I think that people who are interested in drug reform (or who at least believe in fair play) ought to reconsider their relationship with this bank. Of course, it doesn't matter anyway. If they lose business, the government will just give them money.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Drug investigations and police pursuits

Two people are dead in North Bay, Ontario, after a police pursuit. The vehicle was stopped at a drinking and driving road block. Officers initiated a drug investigation and attempted to arrest the occupants. However, they fled in the car, causing minor injuries to one of the officers. During the ensuing pursuit the suspect vehicle drove over a spike belt, continued driving and collided with an oncoming car. Both drivers were killed.

We've mentioned these pursuits before on the LEAP blog. And we'll surely do it again.

It will be interesting to find out the amount of drugs involved, since that wasn't provided in the initial press release. As Dave Dale notes in his column, "My only hope is that the initial arrest wasn't over a relatively minor infraction. Someone please tell me two people didn't die over a joint of pot."

A separate article by the Globe and Mail misses the point entirely, as they don't even mention the drug investigation. I guess the fundamental question is: should we even be arresting people for possessing drugs?

On another topic, the Ontario Court of Appeal criticized Judge J. Elliott Allen for stating the obvious: criminal penalties do not deter drug traffickers.
Judge Allen expressed his views on Oct. 14, 2008, while sentencing Zeyu Song to a conditional sentence for producing 1,400 marijuana plants at a large-scale grow operation near Brampton, Ont.

Judge Elliott spoke at length about the fallacy of believing that harsh penalties for marijuana have any effect on its use and production.

“Nobody has been deterred,” he said. “People have been going to jail for drug offences for – for a couple of generations now and the drug – the drug plague is worse than it ever was ... If something doesn't work, do I try doing it again and again to see if it does work? Isn't that the definition of insanity?”
Perhaps when Judge Allen retires from the bench he will consider becoming a speaker with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld is not on a crusade about drugs

Baltimore Crime Beat: Cops shoot bad guys with guns - Baltimore, Maryland crime news, blogs and video - baltimoresun.com: "You don't hear me crusading about drugs in America,"

Lamenting the rise in violence in Baltimore City and what he sees as light sentences for gun offenders, Baltimore Police Commissioner Fred Bealefield stated "You don't hear me crusading about drugs in America, or about a lot of other stuff. But damn it, if we're gonna make this city safe, every single person with a love or passion for this place has to be serious about bad guys with guns. If there's zero tolerance for anything, it's got to be around guns."

It was somewhat encouraging to read these remarks and I think that the Commissioner's heart is in the right place. He doesn't want judges to throw the book at people for drug offenses, but he does want them to get tougher on violent offenders.

We must consider how the war on drugs has created this situation. I have friends today who prosecute gun cases in Baltimore City. They tell me that even in cases where the police officer recovers the gun off the suspect, jurors are still reluctant to convict and often don't. Many of them either don't understand the law, don't trust the police, or just don't want to convict for a variety of other reasons. Judges realize this and often help to resolve cases short of trial. A suspended sentence is better, they think, than a not guilty verdict.

But why do jurors not trust the police or why are they otherwise unwilling to convict? Well, here are some examples of cases that I came across while in Baltimore City -

Police officers walk up to a porch where a half dozen or more people are standing and smell marijuana. They don't see who is smoking, but as they approach they see an unattended marijuana cigarette in an ashtray. They arrest everyone on the porch and take them to Central Booking, which is probably the worst place this side of hell. Months later all charges are eventually dismissed.

A man is drinking a beer while on his porch. The police approach and arrest the man. Drugs are recovered. The case is eventually dismissed. You have the right to drink beer on your porch. The arrest was illegal.

A kid is riding his bike just before the sun comes up. He doesn't have a light on his bike as required by some obscure law. He is arrested. Drugs are recovered. I charged the case. Then my supervisor (rightly) chewed me out for charging it and wasting taxpayer money on it.

I could go on and on. Police officers make easy drug arrests and clog the system. The public is sick of how they are treated by the police and the criminal justice system. No one believes that the officers making the drug arrests are concerned about the problems of drug addiction. They just need to make an unofficial quota. Rights are trampled on. Feelings are hurt. So when those same people get to be on juries they are not inclined to convict. Thus judges work out cases. Some really bad guys benefit. And Commissioner Bealefeld has a fit. I can't blame him for being frustrated. But he should understand that the drug war and the way his officers fight it deserves much of the blame.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Norm Stamper On Alternet: Legalize ALL Drugs, Not Just Marijuana

Retired Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has an excellent piece on Alternet today, noting that a new national poll shows majority support for legalizing marijuana but that most people still oppose ending prohibition of other drugs.

Norm urges reformers to think about the harms of prohibition that will remain if we legalize only marijuana. He says that although legalizing marijuana a good step in the right direction, it would not, among other things:

• Stop gangs from selling other drugs to our kids (since illegal drug dealers rarely check for ID);

• Stop drug dealers from firing on cops charged with fighting the senseless war on other illicit drugs;

• Stop the bloody cartel battles in Mexico that are rapidly expanding over the border into the U.S;

• Stop the Taliban from raking in massive profits from illegal opium cultivation in Afghanistan.

Read the whole piece and Digg it so that more people read this important information!

Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children - an argument for drug legalization

Recently on this blog an anonymous commenter wrote:
I understand your need to focus on the "seemingly impossible task" as noted by the Commissioner. Undoubtly, it fuels your agenda to promote the legalization of drugs in the fashion of "Can't beat them, why not join them". Fact is, that's the easy way out, and I'd bet you probably don't have any children to worry about.
I'm on the front lines everyday, drugs destroy people and drain our society. If my entire career results in just one kid avoiding drug addiction whether it be from prevention/education or from me locking up some scum bag distributing the poison, then I've done my job.
I shudder at the thought of a world you imagine.
Having no valid argument to make, the commenter has resorted to Helen Lovejoy's tactic "Won't somebody please think of the children"



I've wanted to respond to this for some time because it is such an intellectually dishonest argument.

The commenter first assumes that people who advocate for drug legalization must not have children. While I have no children that I know about, many drug people who have advocated for drug legalization have children. William F. Buckley, former Governor Gary Johnson, Milton Friedman, and countless others have or had children. Ron Paul, the Texas Congressman who advocates for drug legalization, has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I could go on and on. Whether or not one has children should not really have any place in this debate. It is bizarre that the anonymous writer even made this remark.

It is also worth questioning whether or not this fellow changed his views on drug laws after having children. I would be willing to bet that he held his views before having his first child. But since he is anonymous and didn't respond to my remarks I have no way of knowing.

But let us consider his argument - that we should continue prohibition for the children. We must ask how prohibition really benefits the children.

1. Marijuana usage rates among children are higher in the United States than they are in Holland, where you can smoke a joint without going to jail. This is because business owners who run coffee shops are responsible people who don't want to violate the law by serving minors. At the local tobacco shop in Annapolis the owner cards anyone who looks young. If tobacco were sold on the streets by scumbag dealers they would sell to anyone. And this is why it is easier in the United States for children to obtain marijuana than it is for them to get alcohol or tobacco. If you don't want kids to use drugs it makes more sense to legalize them and to set age limits. Responsible businessmen won't sell to children. The very few irresponsible businessmen who do can be fined out of business. [I can still remember being at the house of one of my friends from high school. His mom was cheering at the Democratic Convention where Chris Dodd was railing against tobacco companies. Meanwhile a year before he was smoking pot outside and complaining about how the local 7-11 owner wouldn't sell him cigars because he wasn't 18 yet.]

2. The forbidden fruit aspect should be considered. Because it is illegal it has a certain lure to it. The fact of the matter is that you can get high or screwed up off of damn near anything - alcohol, benadryl, glue, paint, etc. Most normal people don't do this because they have their own self-interest at heart. Many children try marijuana and other illegal drugs because they are illegal.

3. If we are concerned about all children, we should think of the impact that the drug war has on black children. In big cities every day children are caught in the cross-fire between criminal gangs that would not exist but for prohibition. And what about the children of Mexico, Central America, and South America who are killed by the drug trade? This all would be ended overnight if we legalized illegal drugs. Alcohol and tobacco producers and dealers produce no such carnage.

4. The drug war was racist in its origins and continues to be so. It was started in the early 20th century by newspaper reporters and politicians who started stories about 'cocaine-crazed negros raping white women.' It was nothing but an excuse to arrest and persecute blacks, Chinese, and Mexicans. Even today blacks make up a disproportionate amount of prison populations. You can draw two conclusions - blacks are disproportionately more likely to be criminals or there is institutional racism in the drug war. The latter is obvious. It is the unspoken truth that everyone in law enforcement knows. Think of the poor black children who are deprived of their parents because they are serving prison sentences for so-called drug crimes.

5. Not directly related to children, but think of how drug policy has destroyed our foreign policy. Almost every South and Central American country is now in the hands of anti-American leftists who openly reject American drug policy. The Taliban in Afghanistan is funded in good part by the illegal drug trade. If we could legalize the production of poppies we could end this and save lives.

6. Think about the children of law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in this vicious and pointless wars. Was it really worth it . . . to protect a small percentage of the population that was self-destructive to begin with?

7. It has been my experience that most people addicted to drugs came from broken or abusive homes. A better argument could be made for banning divorce and for more vigorous enforcement of laws against child abuse. Other people become addicted due to untreated physical pain. The DEA persecutes doctors who are aggressive in treating pain. And, of course, this leads to more business for them and for more justification for their existence.


I think the bottom line is this - before 1914 we had no national drug laws. You could buy heroin from the drug store. Back then less than 2% of the population could be considered addicted to drugs, despite all of our efforts, that number is the same, if not higher. The drug war has been a complete and total failure. It hasn't protected children. It has killed children. It has destroyed lives. And now it is time for us to think again.

Within a few years, if not sooner, marijuana will be legal. A majority of the American population wants to legalize marijuana now. And children will have less access to it. Other drugs may be put on prescription. Hopefully they will all be legal a few years after that. We will see the results, and if history, logic, and reason have anything to do with it (and they usually do) drug use, especially among children, will be lower.

So please, think of the children. Think of the children who are buying drugs on the streets from dealers. Think of the children who are killed in battles over drug turf. Think of the children in Mexico who are being murdered. Think of the children who have parents in prison. Think of the children who die in terrorist attacks. Think of the children and legalize drugs!

Monday, December 14, 2009

LEAP mentioned on CNN

Thanks to our friend Brian O'Dea, LEAP got a big mention on CNN last week. Check out the embedded video here and the transcript below:



PHILLIPS: In the 1980s, my next guest ran a narco empire that took in $100 million a year. That was one heart attack and a ten-year prison term ago. Today Brian O'Dea is legit: a film and TV producer and author of a book titled "High Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler." He joins me live from Toronto.

So, Brian, what is it that we are not doing?

BRIAN O'DEA, FORMER DRUG SMUGGLER: We're not legalizing drugs. And, therefore, we're not taking care of the problem.

Look, I wrote an op-ed a couple of years ago that I went to the Toronto Research Library, and I took headlines from the papers in 1922 and '23, and I put it together. And I removed one word and substituted another word. I took out the word "booze" or "alcohol" and substituted it with "drugs," and it read exactly like what I just heard running on CNN. It sounded like and read like it took place yesterday. It took place in 1920, 1922.

There's a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, made up of thousands of former police officers, current police officers, judges, lawyers. They say alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition, same problem, same solution.
Thanks, Brian!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Inspector Desmarais and the Vancouver Police Department

Inspector Brad Desmarais is in charge of the anti-gang and drug section for the Vancouver Police Department. He's upset that the senate committee amended Bill C-15 by increasing the number of marijuana plants required to trigger a minimum jail term. It used to be six plants, but the minimum will now be two hundred if the bill passes. He is quoted in this Vancouver Sun article:
The committee altered the controversial bill last Thursday, allowing a judge discretion when sentencing offenders convicted of growing fewer than 200 plants, something Justice Minister Rob Nicholson wanted to prevent.

Other provisions of the bill that would allow automatic sentences for a variety of drug-related convictions remained intact.

Desmarais said the creation of smaller but more numerous growing operations will be an administrative and enforcement headache for police as it already requires many hours of work to produce the evidence sufficient for a search warrant.

“This will only further deplete our already overtaxed, resource-starved department. If we have to prove someone has a 1,000 grow operation broken down into five separate units it will be a huge undertaking,” he said.
However, the VPD has witnessed a huge drop in grow op busts over the last eight years:
The number of marijuana growing operations dismantled by the Vancouver Police Department has dropped significantly in the past decade. Statistics released to the Courier show police have so far busted 47 grow-ops this year as compared to 455 for all of 2001. The drop has been steady, with 224 dismantled in 2004 and 89 in 2007.
This decrease occurred under Canada's existing laws.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Introduction to the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition blog

If you're new to LEAP, you might be wondering what is different about this blog compared to other drug policy reform sites. This blog does cover many of the same topics: medical marijuana, SWAT raids, informant problems, new legislation, etc. However, the posts on the LEAP blog are written by current & former law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and prison wardens. We are a group of criminal justice professionals who believe the War on Drugs is a tremendous failure. Having served in the trenches, we have an inside perspective on the global policy of drug prohibition and we share this unique perspective in our writing.

Our blogging team believes that the black market for illegal drugs has created many unintended consequences. For example: gang warfare over control of the drug trade, the spread of HIV from dirty needles, disrespect for police, money laundering, home invasions, property crime to get money for drugs and so on.

I tend to write about Canadian drug policy issues. William Cooke is new to the blog but he's written some great posts about Baltimore. Peter Moskos is a former Baltimore city cop, a university professor and a prolific blogger. Alison Myrden focuses on medical marijuana. Jay Fleming is a former undercover officer; his focus on the LEAP blog is pain medication. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has a fantastic Speakers Bureau and you'll see more of these folks writing on the blog in 2010.

If you're interested in learning more about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, click here. Also, please take one minute out of your day and join LEAP. Anyone can join LEAP for free, and your membership will help us become a larger and stronger organization.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Great News From Congress!

U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed on Tuesday on the final details of the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which contains at least three BIG victories for reformers:

* Washington, DC will finally be allowed to implement the medical marijuana initiative that voters overwhelmingly approved in 1998 but has been blocked by Congress each year since then.

* Funding for the White House "drug czar's" ad budget has been slashed by more than a third of its size last year. Studies have repeatedly shown that these ads actually cause teens to use more -- not fewer -- drugs.

* Washington, DC will be able to use federal funds to implement syringe exchange programs.

Here's how Congressional appropriators themselves describe the news:
Removing Special Restrictions on the District of Columbia:...Also allows the District to implement a referendum on use of marijuana for medical purposes as has been done in other states, allows use of Federal funds for needle exchange programs except in locations considered inappropriate by District authorities...

...

National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $45 million, $25 million below 2009 and the budget request, for a national ad campaign providing anti-drug messages directed at youth. Reductions were made in this program because of evaluations questioning its effectiveness. Part of the savings was redirected to other ONDCP drug-abuse-reduction programs.
Finally, some great news from Congress!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Progress in the Czech Republic

Czech govt defines rules of hallucinogenic plants growing - ČeskéNoviny.cz: "The Czech government today approved the list of hallucinogenic plants and mushrooms, including hemp, coca, mescaline cactus and magic mushrooms, and decided that people would be allowed to grow up to five pieces of such plants and keep 40 magic mushrooms at home, a CTK source said.

The cabinet was today also expected to discuss artificial drugs and a permitted amount of these drugs in people's possession.

However, it postponed the debate for two weeks, the source said."

I hadn't realized that the Czech Republic was moving in this direction. Although it is still not enough. Without full legalization and regulation, the criminal black market will still exist. There is also the issue of international drug treaties that prevent legalization.

Mandatory minimum sentences and drug offences

Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences continues to be a hot topic in the world of drug reform. (Yes, I admit it, I am a policy nerd and this stuff excites me.)

In Pennsylvania, a major new study suggests the state should alter its sentencing laws. The report found that mandatory minimums did not affect recidivism, although they did encourage plea bargaining. From the Delco Times:
A nearly 30-year debate on mandatory-minimum sentences recently got a another look with a new report from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

The report was authorized by the state Legislature in 2007 and employed an advisory committee made up of legislators, judges, district attorneys and public defenders. Commission staff also worked with faculty and students of Pennsylvania State University in conducting interviews, surveys, extensive data analysis and studies to reach its conclusions.

The nearly 500-page report made three major recommendations to the General Assembly, according to a considerably shorter summary: Allow courts to use alternative sentencing options to satisfy lower-level, drug-trafficking mandatory-minimum sentences; amend the drug trafficking statute to increase the threshold for cocaine possession; and repeal Drug-Free School Zone mandatory legislation.

In Canada we are moving backward on this issue. Bill C-15 introduces mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of drug offences. Neil Boyd, a criminology professor in British Columbia, has an essay in The Mark about the internal contradictions found within this legislation. I've taken the liberty of highlighting my favourite points in bold:
Let’s assume that mandatory minimum sentences for the distribution of illegal drugs represents good social policy, sending a message to would-be participants in the commercial trade, frightening drug dealers out of the business, especially if they use weapons, or engage in any form of intimidation.

Unfortunately, Bill C-15, the government’s proposal to amend the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, has its own internal contradictions, regardless of whether one believes in its approach. The most significant contradiction is its relatively harsh treatment of cannabis production, in contrast to its treatment of the trafficking (or possession for the purpose of trafficking) in cannabis (and heroin and cocaine). Section 5(3) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act is to be amended to provide for a minimum term of one year imprisonment for trafficking in heroin, cocaine, or cannabis, provided that the convicted person commits the offence as part of a criminal organization, uses violence in committing the offence, is carrying or threatening to use a weapon in committing the offence – or has served a term of imprisonment for a designated substance offence (typically trafficking or importing an illegal drug). Somewhat surprisingly and quite inconsistently, these same caveats are not applied to the offence of marijuana production.

Granted, the minimum term of imprisonment is six months, rather than one year, but the irony is that the distributors of more dangerous drugs are to be treated less harshly than the producers of a less dangerous one (cannabis), irrespective of the actual amounts involved. And even more oddly, the distributors of cannabis are to be treated differently from the producers of cannabis, again irrespective of the amounts in question.

Additionally, consider section 1. (1) (a) (i) (D) of Bill C-15, the proposed imposition of a mandatory term of one year in prison, if the convicted drug distributor has served a term of imprisonment for distribution of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin at any point during the previous 10 years. Think of the user-dealer with longstanding addiction and mental health problems, convicted of selling a small amount of crack cocaine to his associates and having previously served a short jail sentence for this crime. Is this the kind of person that we want to lock up for a minimum of one year? It seems quite clear that if our politicians leave this section as it is, it will fill our jails with hundreds of individuals annually who are far from commercially driven by the illicit trade – individuals who might be better served by a range of treatment modalities than by a mandated term of imprisonment.

But back to the Bill’s most glaring inconsistency – its much harsher treatment of the production of cannabis (in contrast to the distribution of cannabis, cocaine, or heroin). C-15 will impose a minimum term of imprisonment of six months on any grower of six plants or more, regardless of the issues of violence, weaponry, or the presence of criminal networks. It scarcely needs to be said that marijuana growers are not uniformly violent; studies to date indicate that the industry is far from hierarchical, and, accordingly, is replete with a variety of unrelated grow operations.

The majority of growers do not use violence, do not carry weapons and are not part of any criminal organization, as defined by the Criminal Code (unless any individuals who conspire to grow marijuana are, by definition, organized criminals). In these circumstances, Bill C-15 will have the unfortunate consequence of annually jailing thousands of Canadians who do not threaten the social fabric any more than those who produce, in a regulated framework, drugs such as tobacco and alcohol. And if morbidity is our benchmark, it might be fairly said that the producers of alcohol and tobacco are imposing much greater harms upon our communities, even when rates of use of each of these drugs are taken into account.

This is a problem. Why does the Bill, which is purported to attack the commercial aspects of the trade, and the violence within it, nonetheless target addicted user-dealers? And why does it slam marijuana producers with minimum terms, but offer up a more lenient treatment for the distributors of the same drug, irrespective of the amounts in question? I have yet to find any good answers for these questions.

Note that since Boyd's article was published, the bill has been amended by the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The number of plants now required to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence has been increased to 200. However, the provision regarding rental properties has been left intact. So Canadians who live in basement suites and one bedroom apartments will receive a minimum sentence of nine months if they grow any number of marijuana plants - even one - for the purpose of trafficking.

In spite of the amendments, Bill C-15 will still cast a wide net. For example, it will snare university students as well as working folks who can't afford their own homes but still grow marijuana for themselves and a couple of friends. I'm sure police officers across the country are looking forward to dealing with the flood of tips about these micro-grows. They are so small that regular investigative techniques (eg. checking for abnormal power consumption) turn up nothing. And there is nothing more fun than putting real police work on hold in order to deal with voice mails from a shady landlord who is looking for an excuse - any excuse - to kick out his tenants and jack up the rent.

Great bill, eh? I am not a legal genius, but if I was writing legislation to target "organized crime" this is not how I would go about it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

One year in the LEAP speakers bureau

For me, the end of November marked one year of public involvement with drug policy reform and the LEAP speakers burreau. Last year, Jody Paterson wrote a column for the Victoria Times-Colonist to announce my involvement with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. If you're interested in reading the column it is now archived on Jody's blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Memory of Marcellus Ward

Ward was killed 25 years ago. His assassination and last dying breaths were caught on tape and haunted the memory of many Baltimore police officers.

At a memorial, held where Ward was killed, Commissioner Bealefeld said that it is "not for us to judge the results of his sacrifice." And certainly a memorial to a slain officer is not the time and place for that.

But at some point we need to ask. Why are we risking our lives? What are we getting in return? If we don't ask these questions, more good men and women will die.

The block Ward give his life to protect has long since died. Like too much of Baltimore, it's vacant, boarded up, and abandoned. Here's the 1800 block of Frederick, odd side:


By risking his life to protect others, Ward died a hero. That I do not doubt or forget. But it's hard to imagine that Baltimore or Frederick Avenue would be any worse off today if Ward had simply called in sick that day. And the world would certainly be a better place if Ward and other officers killed in the drug war were still with us. I've said this before (to the consternation of some). I don't want to see any other officers killed for a war we are not and cannot win.

When I put my life on the line every night for the men and women of the Eastern, I would often think about the fallen officers pictured on the walls. Ward always stood out for some reason. (I'm not making it up that his picture hangs in the Eastern, am I?) From what I heard he was a good guy. And from his picture, he just seemed more human than most other cops pictured.

Police Commissioner Bealefeld is a good man and the best commissioner Baltimore City has seen in a long while, certainly better than the previous five commissioners (I'll only vouch for worse commissioners as far back to and including Frazier). Maybe Bealefeld even gets it when he talks about the war on drugs and the "seemingly impossible task" of winning it? Who knows. But the war isn't his to call off.

Here is Peter Hermann's take and his story in the Sun with the sad headline: "At memorial, a new vow to wage war on drugs."

[from Peter Moskos's Cop in the Hood]

Eric Sterling's comments on bill C-15

Eric Sterling is a member of the advisory board for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he is also president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. On October 28th, he testified by videoconference before the Canadian Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. It was in regards to bill C-15 which proposed a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail for as little as six marijuana plants.

The committee hearings are over now, but his testimony still raises some good points, namely:

1) The manner in which mandatory minimum sentences dilute the impact of law enforcement resources.

2) The inability of drug courts to scale to demand.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ceremony Set to Mark 25th Anniversary of Baltimore Det. Marcellus Ward's Murder | Baltimore City Paper

Ceremony Set to Mark 25th Anniversary of Baltimore Det. Marcellus Ward's Murder | Baltimore City Paper: "A quarter-century ago tomorrow, in an apartment above the Kandy Kitchen store near Union Square in West Baltimore, Baltimore Police Det. Marcellus Ward was murdered during an undercover drug deal. The deadly transaction was recorded by the wire Ward was wearing. The tragedy, which will be commemorated by law enforcers at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the scene where it happened, 1829 Frederick Ave., has had an enduring impact. Ward had many friends, and the way he died has prompted some of them—in particular, two former Baltimore City state's attorneys, Kurt Schmoke and Stuart Simms—to imbue his senseless death with meaning.

'Listening to the tape, it just—it kind of changed me a great deal,' Schmoke said of Ward's killing during a 1990 episode of the news show 20/20. By that time, Schmoke had been Baltimore's mayor for nearly two years and had established a national profile as someone who questioned the drug war. When Ward was killed, though, Schmoke was state's attorney—and a tough one, at that, having compiled 'one of the highest drug conviction rates in the country,' as 20/20's John Stossel pointed out.

But Ward's murder, Schmoke continued, 'made me think that the shooter thought more about the money than he did about Det. Ward's life. And how can we, you know, change that around? And it seems to me we can't change it as long as there's big money to be made in drugs. If we don't have a strategy that takes the profit out of drug distribution, then people will continue to value the money more than they value human life.'"

Kurt Schmoke understands the issue. And I sense that more and more people are waking up as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

City told to gird for more budget cuts -- baltimoresun.com

City told to gird for more budget cuts -- baltimoresun.com: "Baltimore must carve $130 million from its already stripped-down spending plan to account for plummeting revenue and mushrooming pension costs next year, according to projections released Tuesday afternoon.

The grim figures indicate the city, still reeling from sweeping cuts earlier this year, must dig even deeper to balance next year's budget."

Baltimore City faces a big budget problem. Many businesses have shut down. People have been moving away for years. The declining housing market has made things much worse. The proposed response from some in city government - let's tax non-profits. No one in City Hall has seriously proposed ending the war on drugs as an appropriate first step. I often spent hours as a prosecutor sitting around in court dealing with petty drug offenses. I got paid well to do work that I considered to be fairly worthless. We would often plea out drug cases for time served, often without probation. Many times distribution cases would be knocked down and charged as 'attempted distribution' so they would be treated as misdemeanors. Officers often got paid overtime to make these arrests and got overtime again to show up to court. It was the biggest waste of time, energy, and money that I have ever seen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spreading LEAP's Message in 2010

The following post was written by LEAP speaker Alison Myrden.

Well here it is December already. Where has the Year gone?

I feel I let LEAP down for not writing a blog for a while, but my health just wouldn’t cooperate until now.

So here goes…

In Canada not much has changed this past year. We are still dealing with a Conservative minority government who believe the war on drugs is more relating to the need for more law enforcement officers and correctional facilities. This only encourages the up and coming drug war prisoners to continue what they are doing illegally and it is those people who will be ensuring us that this war continues. After all we all know, it is the value of the illegal drugs that create the criminals.

In saying so, some interesting information has come to light about the need to legalize and regulate all drugs this past year. The American Medical Association called for the reclassification of cannabis across the United States in November 2009.

And more recently in the UK, Professor David Nutt spoke out about the need to re-classify ALL drugs sparking controversy when he said Ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, and criticised the Government's decision to upgrade cannabis to class B

Seems like people are finally starting to understand the absolute NEED to at LEAST reclassify drugs if not as LEAP states to “legalize and regulate ALL drugs” in order to keep them away from the streets and out of the hands of our children.

I’m seriously hoping that in 2010, the leaders of our collective countries take a more serious, scientific view of drugs. Scientists are the people who investigate these substances and analyse them for efficacy and safety… Why not give them some credit?

Here is hoping that 2010 will be your most spectacular year yet and that the interest and the investigations continue all over the world regarding this highly controversial issue of legalizing and regulating ALL drugs.

Happy Holidays to everyone and have a super New Year!

I’m baaack….

Love and a Squish,
Alison
xx

No Vacancy

Perhaps if our prisons weren't so full with drug offenders, they would have room to hold armed robber, child rapist, messianic apocalypse believer, bad neighbor, and now cop killer Maurice Clemmons.

Just a thought.
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