Author Archives: Eapen Thampy

Cartels and Coffins: The Deadly Impact of Ginny Chadwick’s Prohibition Politics

I’ve taken a fair amount of flack for my call to recall Columbia (MO) First Ward City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick, including from dinosaur prohibitionist Don Stamper, who labeled me and my associates “an embarrassment to community leadership”. Yet neither Ginny Chadwick nor Don Stamper, nor anyone remaining in the (small) coalition of people who still stand behind Chadwick’s leadership ventured a single response to my core argument in favor of making the marijuana cultivation laws less punitive: that making it easier for Columbians to engage in small-scale home cultivation of marijuana will decrease the total number of interactions between marijuana users and marijuana dealers in black-market transactions, leading to modest decreases in black market violence and fewer bodies on the street for Chief Burton’s officers to find.

While my particular angst with Chadwick’s leadership is rooted in her flip-flop on marijuana policy, the same fundamental economic logic applies to Chadwick’s other major policy initiative: her proposal to ban cigarette and e-cigarette sales to people under 21 years of age (and additionally to ban the use of e-cigarettes in indoor spaces). This policy, while restricting access, does nothing to decrease demand, and therein lies its fatal flaw: Some black or gray market vendor, likely acting outside of any legal or regulatory process, will inevitably emerge to meet the demand for tobacco products in Columbia from the 18 to 21 year old demographics. This inevitability brings with it two distinct externalities: first, the very real prospect that black market tobacco vendors will seek to maximize profits by selling product to minors (the market of 18 to 21 year old consumers is not as large as the market of 12 to 21 year old consumers) and the substantial likelihood that black market profits will drive black market violence, as dealers seek to maximize and protect their turf.

Instead of regulated, licensed vendors selling regulated products to adults, black market dealers will capture that market, selling product to anyone who has the cash. And these dealers won’t just carry tobacco products: to maximize profits, they’ll also transact illegal pharmaceuticals and other hard drugs. In other words, Chadwick’s policy of tobacco and marijuana prohibition will act as an open invitation to violent foreign cartels like Sinaloa, who are very sophisticated about finding and developing new markets. In Ginny Chadwick’s Columbia, tobacco prohibition is the gateway to this future.

We’ve walked down this road of failure for a long time. Alcohol prohibition gave rise to immensely powerful cartel gangs, at least until 1933, when Americans realized the utter failure of that policy. And 40+ years of the War on Drugs has created essentially the same horrors as foreign cartels ravage Central and South America and violate American borders. America now leads the world in incarceration of our citizens and we pump tens of billions of dollars every year into narcotics enforcement with nothing positive to show from a public policy standpoint.

In recalling Ginny Chadwick, we have an opportunity to move in a more sensible direction. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more violence and more economically-driven challenges to our social and governmental structures. We don’t have to resign ourselves to more bodies on the street. Our law enforcement has much better things to do than arrest people for marijuana cultivation or tobacco use. The First Ward, which has seen the brunt of racially divisive politicking, needs leadership that respects citizens as citizens and does not attempt to subsume our American rights under the morass of failed prohibition.

It’s time to recall Ginny Chadwick (and demonstrate to prohibitionist dinosaurs like Don Stamper that he’s on the wrong side of history).

Back in the Day, both of Missouri’s US Senators Endorsed American Industrial Hemp

A July 30, 1841 note in “The Papers of Henry Clay” notes that on that day Clay:

“Participates in debate on a House bill appropriating $789310 to maintain a home squadron in the US Navy consisting of 2 frigates, 2 sloops, 2 small vessels, and 2 armed steamers. Speaks to Thomas H. Benton’s amendment to supply the vessels, in part, and as an experiment, with canvass and cordage manufactured from American water-rotted hemp so as to fully test such hemp; and to Sen. Lewis F. Linn’s (Dem., Mo.) suggestion that Benton’s amendment “specify Missouri hemp” since the “hemp of that State brought twenty dollars more per ton than the Kentucky hemp, and …if water rotted…was superior, and greatly superior to any other hemp, either domestic or foreign.”

(Thomas Benton at the time was serving as Missouri’s other Democratic US Senator).

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The Perverse Incentive Structure of Missouri’s Conviction-based Drug Testing Compensation Law RsMO 195.003

Missouri law mandates that individuals convicted of a violation of Missouri’s Controlled Substances Act are required to pay the costs of the crime lab test. In practice this implies that the only stable source of funding for a crime lab are test results that help a prosecutor obtain a conviction. As RsMO 195.003 states:

In any case where there is a violation of this chapter, a judge may, upon a finding of guilt*, order a defendant to pay for costs for testing of the substance or substances at a private laboratory.

Further, RsMO 488.029 establishes that part of these costs is a $150 surcharge that is only garnered by the crime lab in case of a conviction:

There shall be assessed and collected a surcharge of one hundred fifty dollars in all criminal cases for any violation of chapter 195 in which a crime laboratory makes analysis of a controlled substance, but no such surcharge shall be assessed when the costs are waived or are to be paid by the state or when a criminal proceeding or the defendant has been dismissed by the court. The moneys collected by clerks of the courts pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be collected and disbursed as provided by sections 488.010* to 488.020. All such moneys shall be payable to the director of revenue, who shall deposit all amounts collected pursuant to this section to the credit of the state forensic laboratory account to be administered by the department of public safety pursuant to section 650.105.

Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks discuss the incentive structures of forensic scientists in a 2012 paper:

Whitman and Koppl point out that “the very choice to submit a suspect’s sample to the lab makes the lab more inclined (than it would be otherwise) to announce a match, indicating that the suspect is guilty.”  The forensic scientist must evaluate ambiguous evidence, but give, generally, a binary judgment that the evidence does or does not match.  (The explain why the probabilities given in DNA testimony are not usually an exception to this binary nature of forensic-science testimony.)  In this situation, even the most “rational” scientist must choose what to say.  The choice will usually be influenced by scientific analysis done in the crime lab. But if the evidence is ambiguous, as it often is, then two other factors matter even for perfectly “rational” forensic scientists.  The scientist is more likely to inculpate the defendant 1) the higher the forensic scientist’s “prior” probability of guilt, which is the probability before the forensic evidence is examined, and 2) the weaker is the scientist’s desire is to avoid convicting the innocent relative to his or her desire to convict the guilty.

Indeed, these biases when compounded by a financial incentive to assist in conviction imply that no Missouri drug defendant has a fair chance at an unbiased evidentiary process involving a crime lab. It’s time for the Missouri Legislature to protect the rights of citizens to a fair trial by reforming this system by ending the conviction-based revenue collection of crime labs.

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It’s Time To Demilitarize Missouri’s War on Drugs and Repeal RSMO 41.475

Under Missouri law (RsMO 45.475):

1. The governor is hereby authorized to request volunteers of the organized militia to assist federal law enforcement authorities within or outside the state, or to assist federal, state or local law enforcement authorities within this state, and order such volunteers to duty for the purpose of providing assistance in drug interdiction and counter-drug activities and operation and maintenance of equipment and facilities for such purposes pursuant to plans adopted and funding assistance received under the provisions of 32 U.S.C. 112.

2. The governor may delegate the authority conferred by this section to the adjutant general, but the governor shall retain sole authority to approve any and all plans submitted to the Secretary of Defense under 32 U.S.C. 112. The adjutant general shall ensure that all directives and policies of the Department of Defense and National Guard Bureau are followed. Personnel assisting in such activities shall obey and execute the instructions of the civil authorities charged by law with responsibility for law enforcement.

Under this law, the Missouri National Guard participates in domestic counterdrug law enforcement (Page 22, Missouri National Guard Annual Report 2013):

The Counterdrug Task Force leverages its unique assets on four fronts: providing analytical support to law enforcement to reduce the supply of illicit drugs; providing prevention professionals to communities to aid in reducing the demand for illicit drugs; providing aviation support to law enforcement to find illicit drugs in the state; and providing prevention train- ing, outreach services and treatment resources to Missouri National Guard members.

Highlights for FY-13 include:

• The Task Force has 30 personnel in nine communities. In fiscal year 2013, The Missouri Counterdrug Task Force scored 98.7 percent on its Counterdrug Program Evaluation, which led the nation.

• Criminal analysts supported 17 county, state and federal law enforce- ment agencies. The team’s goal has been to provide dedicated, concise and accurate analytical assistance in cases with a drug nexus.

• The counterdrug criminal analysts develop intelligence products that ensure timely prosecution of a large number of suspects that the law enforcement agencies may not otherwise have the manpower to pursue. This has directly contributed to 1,866 arrests and the seizure of $23,973,155.16 worth of drugs, weapons, vehicles and property.

The Missouri Civil Operations program focuses its efforts on community coalitions and strengthening communities against drugs. In fiscal year 2013, four civil operators worked with more than 50 coalitions throughout Missouri. This support included assistance with strategic planning and targeting the community’s efforts in their fight against illicit substances.

• The curriculum for how to train all civil operators nationally was rede- signed in fiscal year 2013, and multiple members from Missouri were instrumental in this redesign.

• Counterdrug aviation flew more than 250 flight hours in 2013 to assist law enforcement in numerous missions. Those efforts resulted in $1.5 mil- lion in seizures of drugs, currency, and property and 39 felony arrests for distribution of a controlled substance. Beginning in FY-14, Counterdrug Aviation will transition to the new LUH-72.

This use of military force and capability in the conduct of ordinary law enforcement is immensely problematic. As Radley Balko notes:

The problem with this mingling of domestic policing with military operations is that the two institutions have starkly different missions. The military’s job is to annihilate a foreign enemy. Cops are charged with keeping the peace, and with protecting the constitutional rights of American citizens and residents. It’s dangerous to conflate the two. As former Reagan administration official Lawrence Korb once put it, “Soldiers are trained to vaporize, not Mirandize.” That distinction is why the U.S. passed the Posse Comitatus Act more than 130 years ago, a law that explicitly forbids the use of military troops in domestic policing.

….

The main culprit was a 1994 law authorizing the Pentagon to donate surplus military equipment to local police departments. In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.

All of that equipment then facilitated a dramatic rise in the number and use of paramilitary police units, more commonly known as SWAT teams. Peter Kraska, a criminologist at the University of Eastern Kentucky, has been studying this trend since the early 1980s. Kraska found that by 1997, 90 percent of cities with populations of 50,000 or more had at least one SWAT team, twice as many as in the mid-1980s. The number of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 with a SWAT team increased 157 percent between 1985 and 1996.

As the number of SWAT teams multiplied, their use expanded as well. Until the 1980s, SWAT teams were used almost exclusively to defuse immediate threats to the public safety, events like hostage takings, mass shootings, escaped fugitives, or bank robberies. The proliferation of SWAT teams that began in the 1980s, along with incentives like federal anti-drug grants and asset forfeiture policies, made it lucrative to use them for drug policing. According to Kraska, by the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT deployments, by 1996 there were 30,000 and by 2001 there were 40,000. The average police department deployed its SWAT team about once a month in the early 1980s. By 1995, it was seven times a month. Kraska found that 75 to80 percent of those deployments were to serve search warrants in drug investigations.

(Radley Balko, A Decade After 9-11, Police Departments are Increasingly Militarized, Huffington Post, 12 Sept. 2011)

Moreover, recent revelations about the scope of dragnet federal surveillance under the Patriot and FISAA Acts imply that the conduct of domestic law enforcement is becoming increasingly disconnected from the rule of law as intelligence gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment is collected, sanitized, and passed along to local law enforcement authorities:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

(John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans, Reuters, 5 Aug. 2013)

And we know that federal dragnet surveillance is widespread, collecting the private communications of millions of Americans:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by theNational Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance.

(Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Askhan Soltani, “In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are“, Washington Post, 5 July 2014)

While Missouri can’t control the overreach of the federal government in the War on Drugs or the War on Terror, Missouri has no obligation to participate in the overt militarization of domestic law enforcement through the Missouri National Guard. Indeed, repealing RsMO 45.475 will undermine federal control of Missouri law enforcement, allowing Missouri’s state and local legislative bodies to more directly control the practices and priorities of Missouri law enforcement.

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Always Record the (Federal) Police, Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals edition

Steve Kalar, Federal Public Defender in the Northern District of California, has important commentary attached to two cases out of the Ninth Circuit this week. First, in United States v. Preston, 2014 WL 1876269, *6 (9th Cir. May 12, 2014):

Preston’s single most important fact? The officers “began recording their interaction with Preston within ‘one or two minutes’ of approaching him.” Id. at *2, *9. Without that recording, the Court would have never known the extent of the coercion in the case – this mentally-disabled kid would have lost a swearing match with the police in an evidentiary hearing. 

   This is a second time in only a month that the recording of a confession gave the Ninth the true facts of the case – and revealed the real abuses that go on with interrogations. See blog on Ramirez-Estrada, here . 

And second, in United States v. Ramirez-Estrada, 2014 WL 1646931 (9th Cir. Apr. 25, 2014):

This is a careful, nuanced decision that relies heavily on the precise words used during the booking process. Id. at *5. How can Judge Clifton quote this exchange verbatim? “A recording of the interview, from which we can draw precise quotations, is part of the record.”Id. at *5 & n.3. 

  Would this constitutional violation have been discovered, if the record was merely a swearing match between the agents and the defendant? 

  Unlikely.  

  Ramirez-Estrada illustrates the travesty of federal agents refusing to tape interviews – the only reason not to record is to hide violations like the Doyle problem in this case.

 

 

(Questionably Awake) STL Juvenile Court Judge David Mason Defends Marijuana Prohibition

I was very interested to see the recent remarks of St. Louis Juvenile Court Judge David Mason recently to CBS:

St. Louis Juvenile Court Presiding Judge David C. Mason says while the nation is getting soft on marijuana, he sees it as a contributing factor to crime.

Mason believes that pot may be fueling juvenile crime such as break-ins, robbery, and auto theft.

“And I can tell you right now, I can’t think of the last juvenile offender I had in front of me that didn’t have a marijuana-use problem,” Mason says.

Mason says that academic failure makes crime seem appealing to juveniles. He adds that 90 percent of the offenders he has seen have no father in the home.

“There’s something about the impact of effective fatherhood, which makes a huge difference in the outcomes in terms of the behavior of young people,” Mason says.

He hopes that as a nation we do not open the floodgates to something that we are really not expected. He warns for everyone to be careful as we proceed in the direction of legalizing marijuana.

“The impact on children is obvious, it’s quantifiable and I see it every day at my job,” Mason says.

What, precisely, Judge Mason actually sees at his job is debatable. In 2011 complaint to the Missouri Supreme Court, Brenda Smith alleged that:

“Judge Mason constantly sleeps thru the majority, if not all of, the trials in his court. I witnessed this on two occasions when my son was on trial. The Judge slept thru all of the arguments and did not hear any of the evidence presented. Nor did he hear testimony from any of the victims called.”

Nicholas Phillips of the Riverfront Times added:

Yet in the Missouri Bar’s 2010 Judicial Evaluations, in which lay people and hundreds of lawyers filled out surveys, Mason was the only 22nd Circuit judge of ten to receive a failing grade in one of eighteen categories (specifically, he was below the baseline in being “prepared for hearings and trials”). 

He also got low-but-passing marks in efficient docket management and — interestingly — “demonstrating an appropriate demeanor on the bench.” 

Nevertheless, the Missouri Bar recommended his retention.   

Beyond the issues with Judge Mason’s basic credibility as a trial judge, it is also worth noting that this past November the Department of Justice announced it was investigating the St. Louis Family Court:

The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation of the Family Court of St. Louis.  The investigation will focus on whether the court provides constitutionally required due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings and whether the court’s administration of juvenile justice provides equal protection to all children regardless of race.

This investigation follows a 2011 report by Pulitzer journalist Kenneth Cooper, “Trying Juveniles as Adults in the ‘Show-Me’ State“:

Despite an unusual state law requiring judges to consider racial disparity when deciding whether to try juveniles as adults, Missouri prosecutes a disproportionate number of black youth accused of serious crimes in regular courts, where they can be sentenced to prison alongside hardened criminals.

In recent years, African-American teenagers have faced trials in adult courts at a rate three to four times higher than their proportion of Missouri’s youth population. They were defendants in 57 percent of such prosecutions in 2008, the latest year statistics are available, even though they make up only 14 percent of state residents between ages 12 and 17.

In other words, the necessary context for Judge Mason’s defense of marijuana prohibition is that he is a criminally incompetent judge who perpetuates a horribly racist juvenile justice system. Does anyone not on Mason’s docket in St. Louis take this guy seriously?

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Please Support the Re-election of Missouri Representative Rory Ellinger (D-86)

While I don’t agree with St. Louis attorney Rory Ellinger on everything, I am very grateful for his open and prominent voice in the Missouri legislature on behalf of criminal justice and drug policy reform. Indeed, Ellinger should be widely commended for his work in those fields during his freshman term as a Missouri Representative, and for particularly championing marijuana legalization. It is rare for a politician to break with the party and government establishment on such issues, and Rep. Ellinger should be commended for his leadership.

If you are a supporter of sensible drug policy reform and marijuana legalization in Missouri, you should support Rep. Ellinger’s campaign as a way to demonstrate to other politicians that it’s time to end prohibition. Even a modest donation will inform the political strategists at the Missouri Republican and Democrat parties that it’s time to take marijuana and drug policy reform seriously.

http://www.ellingerforstaterep.com

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To Better (Missouri) Government, Mandate Sunshine

A Proposal to Sunshine Missouri Government

The Status Quo

Missouri’s Sunshine Law has been a great boon to citizens engaged in the basic democratic process of understanding what their government is doing. Yet, Missouri’s Sunshine Law still acts under the presumptions that information is not released without a request and that citizens must often bear a cost for the access to that information. Citizens additionally face the dilemma of not knowing with specificity the extent of government records available, impeding their ability to find the records they need. Hence, the costs of monitoring government under the Sunshine Law effectively price most citizens out of access to basic information about the conduct of government.

In other words, Missouri government entities have a legal duty to maintain and archive records of their activities, but not to provide open public access.

The solution: Publish all records online

Rather than making it costly for citizens to search for and acquire public records, the law should mandate all public records be posted to an online archive, in as close to real time as possible. Since public records are already archived by statute, this law would only need to mandate the electronic publication of archive material.

This proposal would end fundamental barriers to citizen access of government records. Citizens would no longer be in the dark about the existence of any specific government record, and would have complete information about the entire corpus of government records. Additionally, ending fee-only access to government records would remove a cost incentive for citizens to rationally ignore the political process; on some margin we can expect this proposal to energize grass-roots political education and activism.

Details

This legislation should be enacted through a ballot initiative campaign to amend the Missouri Constitution.

Please contact me at Eapen.Thampy@gmail.com if you would like to discuss the prospects for enacting some version of this proposal in the 2016 election cycle.

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Barack Obama, Edward Snowden, and What the Athenian General Pericles Told Us 2500 Years Ago

One of the great orations of classical antiquity is the “Funeral Oration” of the Athenian General Pericles, delivered at the end of the First Peloponnesian War and recorded by the historian Thucydides. Though these words are over two millenia old they remain relevant to the concerns of democracy, republic, and government today:

“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way, if a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition. The freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life. There, far from exercising a jealous surveillance over each other, we do not feel called upon to be angry with our neighbour for doing what he likes, or even to indulge in those injurious looks which cannot fail to be offensive, although they inflict no positive penalty. But all this ease in our private relations does not make us lawless as citizens. Against this fear is our chief safeguard, teaching us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly such as regard the protection of the injured, whether they are actually on the statute book, or belong to that code which, although unwritten, yet cannot be broken without acknowledged disgrace.

Further, we provide plenty of means for the mind to refresh itself from business. We celebrate games and sacrifices all the year round, and the elegance of our private establishments forms a daily source of pleasure and helps to banish the spleen; while the magnitude of our city draws the produce of the world into our harbour, so that to the Athenian the fruits of other countries are as familiar a luxury as those of his own.

If we turn to our military policy, there also we differ from our antagonists. We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality; trusting less in system and policy than to the native spirit of our citizens; while in education, where our rivals from their very cradles by a painful discipline seek after manliness, at Athens we live exactly as we please, and yet are just as ready to encounter every legitimate danger. In proof of this it may be noticed that the Lacedaemonians do not invade our country alone, but bring with them all their confederates; while we Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbour, and fighting upon a foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes. Our united force was never yet encountered by any enemy, because we have at once to attend to our marine and to dispatch our citizens by land upon a hundred different services; so that, wherever they engage with some such fraction of our strength, a success against a detachment is magnified into a victory over the nation, and a defeat into a reverse suffered at the hands of our entire people. And yet if with habits not of labour but of ease, and courage not of art but of nature, we are still willing to encounter danger, we have the double advantage of escaping the experience of hardships in anticipation and of facing them in the hour of need as fearlessly as those who are never free from them.

“Nor are these the only points in which our city is worthy of admiration. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggle against it. Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all. Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons; although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger. In generosity we are equally singular, acquiring our friends by conferring, not by receiving, favours. Yet, of course, the doer of the favour is the firmer friend of the two, in order by continued kindness to keep the recipient in his debt; while the debtor feels less keenly from the very consciousness that the return he makes will be a payment, not a free gift. And it is only the Athenians, who, fearless of consequences, confer their benefits not from calculations of expediency, but in the confidence of liberality.

In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility, as the Athenian. And that this is no mere boast thrown out for the occasion, but plain matter of fact, the power of the state acquired by these habits proves. For Athens alone of her contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation, and alone gives no occasion to her assailants to blush at the antagonist by whom they have been worsted, or to her subjects to question her title by merit to rule. Rather, the admiration of the present and succeeding ages will be ours, since we have not left our power without witness, but have shown it by mighty proofs; and far from needing a Homer for our panegyrist, or other of his craft whose verses might charm for the moment only for the impression which they gave to melt at the touch of fact, we have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us. Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer in her cause.

Indeed if I have dwelt at some length upon the character of our country, it has been to show that our stake in the struggle is not the same as theirs who have no such blessings to lose, and also that the panegyric of the men over whom I am now speaking might be by definite proofs established. That panegyric is now in a great measure complete; for the Athens that I have celebrated is only what the heroism of these and their like have made her, men whose fame, unlike that of most Hellenes, will be found to be only commensurate with their deserts. And if a test of worth be wanted, it is to be found in their closing scene, and this not only in cases in which it set the final seal upon their merit, but also in those in which it gave the first intimation of their having any. For there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country’s battles should be as a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his demerits as an individual. But none of these allowed either wealth with its prospect of future enjoyment to unnerve his spirit, or poverty with its hope of a day of freedom and riches to tempt him to shrink from danger. No, holding that vengeance upon their enemies was more to be desired than any personal blessings, and reckoning this to be the most glorious of hazards, they joyfully determined to accept the risk, to make sure of their vengeance, and to let their wishes wait; and while committing to hope the uncertainty of final success, in the business before them they thought fit to act boldly and trust in themselves. Thus choosing to die resisting, rather than to live submitting, they fled only from dishonour, but met danger face to face, and after one brief moment, while at the summit of their fortune, escaped, not from their fear, but from their glory…”

 

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Kevin Sabet’s Totalitarian Reading of JS Mill

My friend Diane Goldstein has an excellent takedown of prominent drug warrior Kevin Sabet over at LadyBud Magazine. I excerpt:

In a recent opinion piece Project Sam’s founder Kevin Sabet used John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” to posit “Civil Liberties Erode When Drug Use Widens.”

“John Stuart Mill famously wrote:

‘… over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.’ … ‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of the community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.’”

But Sabet only uses one part of the paragraph, which takes Mill’s meaning out of context.

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise.”

Sabet then writes,

“Since marijuana can cause addiction, forcing people to lose control over their own self and in the process inflict harms onto others; its use can decrease overall civil liberties. And since legalization would undoubtedly increase marijuana use in society, we might expect a reduction, not increase, in civil liberties if marijuana was legalized.”

Sabet’s logic is flawed. Mill, in writing On Liberty, focused on how  government wields power to exert their will on an individual. He followed in the tradition of political theorists who tried to define the proper role of government and its effect on personal liberties. Mill’s belief that the state can only restrict an individual’s liberty if it actually harms another is accurate, but what is missing from Sabet’s analysis is this: Sabet links marijuana use, instead of choices and actions by an individual, with why marijuana should remain in the realm of the criminal justice system.

Mill believed the mere potential for harm to others is not a valid reason for social control. The harm must be manifested into action that violates our responsibilities and obligations to society prior to government intervention. He famously used alcohol and opium prohibition as examples and defined the need for intervention only when there was a distinct breach of the law.

Diane makes an important distinction here that I want to flesh out a little further. Potential for harm can’t be a valid reason for social control because there is no limiting principle that we can sensibly apply; in other words, if we are going to say that we will use the power of government to control behavior when there is a potential for harm then there is no limit to the kinds or types of behavior that can be controlled. This is a totalitarian vision; at its logical extreme it says that there is no behavior that cannot be regulated or controlled in the face of omnipresent potential for harm.

Sabet’s world, thus, is one where individual liberty cannot exist. Indeed, this is the focal point of Sabet’s career: to justify the totalitarianism of drug prohibition.

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Quote of the Day, Christine Dixon

Christine-Marie L. Dixon: “…when human ingenuity once again renders archaic everything I know.”

“Boys in the hood”? The Racist Drug Warriors at the Columbia Police Officers Association Speak Up

Today around 12:15pm, the Columbia (Missouri) Police Officers Association posted on their facebook page:

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This got quite a bit of attention, including from Radley Balko at Huffington Post. I wanted to add some more perspective; I have mapped the 99 SWAT raids conducted by the CPD in the years 2007-2010 here:


Here is what a raid on one of those “boys in the hood” really looks like:

It needs to be said that the language and the mentality demonstrated by the officers of the Columbia, Missouri Police Officers Union are racist and utterly inappropriate for people who have sworn an oath to the US Constitution and are pledged to protect and serve the citizens of Columbia, Missouri.

Good Samaritan Proposal in Missouri Legislature Will Save Lives, Reduce Law Enforcement Burden

I was pleasantly surprised to see then St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporting today about a proposed Good Samaritan law (HB 296) that’s been filed in the Missouri legislature:

Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, in Chicago, studies addiction-related legislation. Illinois adopted its good Samaritan drug law in 2009.

“We know from research that the biggest fear for calling 911 was fear of police involvement,” she explained.

Kane-Willis said the phenomenon of “body dumping,” with overdose victims dropped off at hospital doorsteps or abandoned in trash bins, “is a reaction of fear and disregard.”

“When someone dies, we cannot get them into treatment, and we can’t prosecute them,” she said. “… (I)t’s about redirecting people to the services they need and making sure people do not continue to die.”

She said the law would provide immunity only from a drug possession charge. “If there is a perception that this is going to be going easy on drug users or sellers, it only provides limited immunity for the one person who calls 911 and the one person who is experiencing the overdose, and that is it.”

McCulloch said he generally opposes granting immunity in any case, but he is open to exploring the legislation.

Missouri’s proposal, based on the Illinois model, is sponsored by Rep. Bryan Spencer, a Republican who represents parts of St. Charles and Warren counties. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Some states, including Illinois, allow doctors to provide a prescription to addicts, or those who are close to them, for naloxone. The injectable drug, commonly known by the trademark name Narcan, can quickly reverse life-threatening effects of an opiate overdose. The prescription option is not included in the Missouri proposal.

Excerpted from Christine Byars, “Proposed Missouri law aimed at saving lives after drug overdoses“, Stltoday.com, 05 March 2013.

Though I would like to see the issue of naxalone access addressed, HB 296 sounds like a great start.

The organization Students for Sensible Drug Policy has advocated for Good Samaritan policies and legislation for years. Here are their bullet points:

  • Good Samaritan Policies have been proven to be effective at saving lives. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that emergency calls increased after Cornell University’s Good Samaritan Policy was enacted in 2002, although alcohol abuse rates have remained relatively constant.
  • Good Samaritan Policies are not a violation of federal law. The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act explicitly states that “a disciplinary sanction may include the completion of an appropriate rehabilitation program.” Follow-up evaluations and counseling are fundamental components of any Good Samaritan Policy. The key is that these followups be nonpunitive so that they don’t serve as a deterrent to calling for help.
  • Good Samaritan Policies shouldn’t be viewed as “get out of jail free cards” or rewards for binge drinking. Rather, they provide students with the clarity they need in order to make responsible, life-saving decisions during confusing and stressful party situations. Every minute spent worrying about judicial consequences is another minute it will take for help to arrive. That minute can very literally be the difference between life and death.
  • Campus administrators are correct in wanting to send the right message. And a Good Samaritan Policy would send the message that campus officials care more about keeping students alive than punishing them. A message against the dangers of binge drinking or drug abuse should never have to come in the form of a student’s obituary.
  • More than half of the schools with Good Samaritan Policies provide coverage for situations involving all drugs, not just alcohol. This is logical, since marijuana is often involved in party situations and can serve as a deterrent to calling for help, whether or not the drug was involved in the overdose. We should also remember that the abuse of other illegal drugs and prescription medications can have dire consequences, which we should seek to mitigate by enacting all-inclusive Good Samaritan Policies.
  • The primary intention of a Good Samaritan Policy isn’t to reward those who make the decision to call for help when a friend is in trouble. Rather, the policy enables and empowers students to make that decision when they would otherwise hesitate. It is a preemptive policy that promotes responsible behavior rather than a reactive policy that rewards responsible behavior after the fact.
  • Good Samaritan Policies are only effective if they guarantee amnesty in writing (usually in the student code of conduct) and the policy is widely publicized. If a school has the unwritten practice of excusing students from punitive consequences during emergency situations, but students don’t know about it, then it is like having no such policy at all.
  • In 2008,  drug overdoses caused 36,450 deaths in the United States.  Drug overdose is now second only to motor vehicle crashes among the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths.
    Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers – United States, 1999-2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60, 1487-1492.
  • Rates of hospitalizations for alcohol overdoses, drug overdoses, and their combination all increased from 1999 to 2008 among 18- to 24-year-olds.  More specifically, hospitalization rates for alcohol overdoses alone increased 25%, reaching 29,412 cases in 2008. Hospitalization rates for drug overdoses alone increased 55% (totaling 113,907 cases in 2008) and hospitalization rates for combined alcohol and drug overdoses increased 76% (with 29,202 cases in 2008).
    White, A. M., Hingson, R. W., Pan, I., & Yi, H. (2011). Hospitalizations for Alcohol and Drug Overdoses in Young Adults Ages 18-24 in the United States, 1999-2008: Results from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72, 774–786.
  • When someone in America overdoses, a call for help occurs less than 50% of the time.
    Tobin, K. E., Davey, M. A., & Latkin, C. A. (2005). Calling Emergency Medical Services During Drug Overdose: An Examination of Individual, Social, and Setting Correlates. Addiction, 100(3), 397-404; Baca, C. T., & Grant, K. J. (2007). What Heroin Users Tell Us About Overdose.  Journal of Addictive Diseases, 26(4), 63-68; Sherman, S. G., Gann, D. S., Scott, G., et al. (2008). A Qualitative Study of Overdose Responses Among Chicago IDUs. Harm Reduction Journal, 5(1), 2; Smart, A. T. & Porucznik, C. (n. d.). Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Study. Retrieved from http://www.dsamh.utah.gov/docs/dope_u_of_uschool_20060621.pdf; Tracy, M., Piper, T. M., Ompad, D., et al. (2005). Circumstances of Witnessed Drug Overdose in New York City: Implications for Intervention. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 79, 181-190.
  • Fear of police involvement is the most common reason for not calling 911 during an overdose.  
    Seal, K. H., Downing, M., Kral, A. H., et al. (2003). Attitudes about prescribing take-home naloxone to injection drug users for the management of heroin overdose: A survey of street-recruited injectors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Journal of Urban Health, 80(2), 291-301; Tracy, M., Piper, T. M., Ompad, D., et al. (2005). Circumstances of witnessed drug overdose in New York City: Implications for intervention. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 79, 181-190; Baca, C. T., & Grant, K. J. (2007). What heroin users tell us about overdose.  Journal of Addictive Diseases, 26(4), 63-68; Sherman, S. G., Gann, D. S., Scott, G., et al. (2008). A qualitative study of overdose responses among Chicago IDUs. Harm Reduction Journal, 5(1), 2.
  • Students who are aware that a medical amnesty policy is in effect are 2.5 times more likely than students who expect to face disciplinary actions to call for help when witnessing the signs of alcohol poisoning.
     Oster-Aaland, L., Thompson, K., & Eighmy, M. (2011). The Impact of an Online Educational Video and a Medical Amnesty Policy on College Students’ Intentions to Seek Help in the Presence of Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 147-164.
  • After Cornell University implemented a Medical Amnesty Protocol, students were less likely to report fear of getting an intoxicated student in trouble as a barrier to calling for help and alcohol-related calls for assistance to emergency medical services increased.
    Lewis, D. K. & Marchell, T. C. (2006). Safety First: A Medical Amnesty Approach to Alcohol Poisoning at a U.S. University. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 329-338.
  • A survey of 355 opiate users found that once they became aware of Washington’s Good Samaritan law, 88% indicated that they were more likely to call 911 during future overdoses.  
    Banta-Green, C. J., Kuszler, P. C., Coffin, P. O., Schoeppe, J. A. (2011). Washington’s 911 Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Law – Initial Evaluation Results.  Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington. Available at http://adai.uw.edu/pubs/infobriefs/ADAI-IB-2011-05.pdf.

With Republican Sponsors for HB 296, Are the Political Winds Changing?

Interestingly, HB 296 is sponsored by Representatives Bryan Spencer (Republican, 63) and Mike Kelley (Republican, 126). Hopefully this session will allow their bill to advance to committee and perhaps beyond. Interested parties should contact their Missouri representative to express support for this legislation.

If you are interested in organizing further on drug policy issues in Missouri, follow Missourians for Drug Policy Reform.

Very Important Sentences (Inequality)

From the NYT:

“The social deprivation and draining of capital from these communities may well be the greatest contribution our state makes to income inequality,” Dr. Braman said. “There is no social institution I can think of that comes close to matching it.”

Thoughts on Marijuana Decriminalization in St. Louis

The recent introduction of a marijuana “decriminalization” ordinance by Alderman Shane Cohn is a move in the right direction for St. Louis. Advocates of sensible marijuana policy should support this move, but should be aware that this ordinance has several deficiencies that should be understood and addressed. Here is the relevant text of the ordinance:

SECTION ONE Unlawful Possession
It shall be unlawful for any person to possess marijuana as defined in Chapter 195.010 et. seq. of the Revised Statutes of Missouri as amended.
SECTION TWO Medical Marijuana Exception.
Patients for whom marijuana has been legally prescribed by a physician, shall not be in violation of this Ordinance for obtaining possessing or using marijuana pursuant to such prescription.
SECTION THREE Penalty Clause.
Any person violating this Ordinance shall be subject to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than ninety days, or by both fine and imprisonment.
Here are the deficiencies in this proposition:

First, the law leaves it up to the police on where they’re going to charge someone, in state court under the old law or in city court under the new law.

 Second, it still allows 90 days in jail for a first offense – this is the maximum penalty in city court.
It doesn’t take away the power of arrest – the police can still use this law to arrest and hold for 20 hours people not committing any other offense.
And finally, the “medical marijuana exception” is not very good for two reasons, first of which is the police can circumvent it by charging medical users in state court, and second of which is that it requires a “prescription,” which you can’t get anywhere. It needs to say “recommendation” and be explicit that recommendations obtained in other states will be honored.
By comparison, the 2004 marijuana decriminalization ordinance that passed by initiative in Columbia, Missouri, is much better:

With about 60 percent support, voters last November approved a measure that prohibits Columbia police officers from arresting anyone for simple marijuana possession. That means anyone found with less than an ounce and a quarter of marijuana can only be given a summons to appear in the city’s municipal court. Police officers no longer have the discretion to refer the case to the district attorney for prosecution by the state. Once in municipal court, the maximum fine that can be levied is $250, regardless of whether the defendant is a first-time offender or has been arrested multiple times.

Supporters of sensible marijuana policy in St. Louis would do well to consider the Columbia ordinance as the standard for marijuana decriminalization as they press forward.

Full disclosure: I was ticketed for possession of marijuana paraphernalia in 2008 by Columbia police and paid about $150 in fines and court costs.

Many thanks to Missouri NORML attorneys Dan Viets and Joe Welch for their discussion of this ordinance proposal with me.

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