Saturday, November 26, 2005

Calculating conviction

The Volokh Conspiracy blog brings to our attention an interesting New York Times article about drug-free school zones. You know, the area within a certain proximity of a school, where the penalties for drug possession and selling are dramatically increased.

In New York, as in many cities, anything within 1,000 feet of a school is considered part of the "no-go" zone. But what, exactly, does 1,000 feet mean?

NYPD alleges that James Robbins was within the drug-free school zone when he sold drugs to an undercover officer in March of 2002.
Law enforcement officials calculated the straight-line distance using the Pythagorean theorem (a2 + b2 = c2) measuring the distance up Eighth Avenue (764 feet) as one side of a right triangle, and the distance to the church along 43rd Street (490 feet) as another, to find that the length of the hypotenuse was - 907.63 feet.
But Robbins's lawyers see it differently.
On foot, Mr. Robbins's lawyers argued, the school is more than 1,000 feet away from the site of the arrest, because the shortest route is blocked by buildings. But as the crow flies, the authorities said, it is less than 1,000 feet away.


Lawyers for Mr. Robbins argued that the distance should be measured as a person would walk it because "crows do not sell drugs."
Unfortunately for Robbins, the New York State Court of Appeals sided with the cops, 7-0. He's now serving a 6-to-12 year sentence.

Regardless of how the boundaries of drug-free school zones are determined, their efficacy at curtailing drug use and dealing is seriously questionable. According to one study of the school zone law in Massachusetts, the "statute fails to push drug dealing away from schools."

Another problem with the zones, according to Washington Monthly, is that they can virtually encompass entire cities.
A Congressional Research Service study of such areas in the District of Columbia, requested by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1995, estimated that at least 60 percent of the city fell into a drug-free zone. In New Haven, Conn., the only extensive space that's not part of one is the Yale golf course. In urban areas, drug-free zones often take up more space than they leave.
It seems like drug-free school zone statutes are little more than tools of the prison industrial complex. All they do is pack prisons with smalltime drug offenders and boost corrections budgets, while doing nothing to actually keep young people safe from the dangers of drug abuse.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mom & Pop Drug War Profiteering

Jeff and Scarlett Bellingham, of Rogue Crew Investigations, are giving thanks today. Their Thanksgiving Eve raid on two Manitoba high schools turned up small bags of crystal meth and marijuana, ensuring that their mom and pop company stays in operation and their paychecks keep rolling in.

Jeff Bellingham retired from the police force about two years ago, and so did his drug-sniffing dog, Billy. Not satisfied with his pension, and with Billy most likely getting restless, Bellingham decided that he would go back into the business of drug war profiteering.

More and more high schools are selling out to private companies who make their livings off of exploiting us - our nation's youth. Many drug testing companies straight up lie about the effectiveness of drug testing, and other companies have been jumping on the drug-sniffing dog bandwagon, even though the accuracy of the dogs is often spotty.

All good entrepreneurs know that customers must be psychologically conditioned to think that they need a product before they buy it. And with billions of tax-payer dollars being funneled into the drug war, it is no surprise that private companies would exaggerate both the drug problem in schools and the efficacy of their solution. Everybody wants a piece of the drug war pie.

And it seems that Jeff and Scarlett have done such a great job of scaring the town of Manitoba, that parents have even begun to hire the company to search their own homes for drugs! But one year ago, when the Manitoba schools first decided to hire Rogue Crew to conduct drug searches instead of police, many school officials were concerned about the move, and one member of the Board of Trustees even outwardly opposed it.
"I am surprised this has taken place," Keith Thomas, risk manager for the Manitoba Association of School Trustees, said in an interview.

"It does beg the question whether the schools are handling this right if they do this without police. This is a criminal event."

MAST's Thomas has said in the past that schools should not use drug-detection dogs to root out narcotics.

"The best advice we've given principals, if you have strong suspicions about someone, you have the right to call in the Mounties or the city police," Thomas said. "I warn them, these are very treacherous waters.

"You don't do it on a whim. The parents need to be part and parcel of this, or you're going to be in trouble."
But Jeff Bellingham thinks he knows better:
"This is something trustees couldn't grasp," he said. "Schools have an obligation to provide a healthy, safe environment. I am not acting as an agent of the state. I am only doing what the school has asked me to do. Principals, teachers and students are in favour of this."
And now that Rogue Crew's drug search was successful, it's likely that support for his program will grow stronger.

The Drug War provides.

I wonder how the Brandon Police Department feels about all of this.
The drugs seized from Massey and Neelin were turned over to the Brandon Police Service drug squad early yesterday morning. Those officers are now investigating the matter, but so far no one has been charged.
I'm sure the Brandon Police Service drug squad is working overnight to find as many students as possible to fill their handcuffs and quotas. After all, there's only so much drug war money to go around, and thus far, the Bellinghams have been stealing the show.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanks, and no thanks

As many of us gather with our families for Thanksgiving dinner, let’s reflect on what we really have to be thankful for – as well as what we don’t. Perhaps this exercise is a bit played-out and cliché, but maybe it can help us put into context where we stand in this big ol’ Drug War.

I’m thankful to live in a country with a relatively high level of academic, political, and journalistic freedom. It’s unconscionable that people in some parts of the world don’t enjoy the simple freedom to compose their thoughts, broadcast them to the world, and engage in communication with their peers, whether it be because they’re stifled by an oppressive government, poverty, illiteracy, or a combination thereof.

But since we’ve got this fantastic freedom, we might as well use it to air our grievances and state what it is we’re not so thankful for.

No thanks, drug war ideologues and profiteers, for enacting policies intended to protect us from ourselves. We’re insulted that you think so little of us!

No thanks for continually wasting our hard-earned dollars to build new prisons, to spray poison on people in other countries, and to blast out misleading and offensive anti-drug advertisements.

No thanks for putting us through the DARE program and lying to us back in elementary school. We didn’t believe what you had to say then, and we sure as hell don’t believe you now.

But those of us who can, should give thanks that we haven’t felt the brunt of the Drug War as much as so many others have.

Let’s keep in our minds and our hearts those who so want to join with their families this holiday season but can’t because they’ve got to eat their dinner cold, alone, and behind bars. I know I’m thankful that I’m able to visit with my family when I need to without having a glass plate or steel bars preventing me from embracing them.

Let’s also give thanks that many of us are able to have the privilege of being able to attend institutions of higher learning and devote so much of our free time and resources to ending a war that has destroyed so many other lives. Of course, we should be proud of ourselves for making sacrifices and taking steps to help make the world a better place for everyone. But let’s not look disparagingly at those who, because of their family situation or socioeconomic status, aren’t yet in a position to be able contribute as much time or energy to this effort as we do.

Finally, and ironically, I’d like to thank the Drug War itself for introducing me to some of the kindest, hardest-working, most selfless people I’ve ever met.

It is precisely because of the destructive policies we’ve decided to battle against that I’ve met so many of my closest friends. And you are the most beautiful, caring, and passionate people I know.

Thanks, Drug War, for bringing so many dedicated people to the realization that we can, if we try hard enough, make a difference.

Is This What They Mean By Kids Playing Doctor?

The number 1, most e-mailed article from the NY Times for the past 7 days is, "Young, Assured and Playing Pharmacist to Friends"

While focusing on the experiences of a handful of individuals in their 20s and 30s, and the popular websites they peruse, the article does bring up a number of interesting points about what we, as a society, ought to do in the 21st century when young people are raised in the age of the Internet and direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals.
"Confident of their abilities and often skeptical of psychiatrists' expertise, they choose to rely on their own research and each other's experience in treating problems like depression, fatigue, anxiety or a lack of concentration. A medical degree, in their view, is useful, but not essential, and certainly not sufficient."
The article goes on to talk about how this sort of drug taking behavior is different from illicit drug use. I'm not so sure I buy it...
"The behavior, drug abuse prevention experts say, is notably different painkillers, which is also on the rise. The goal for many young adults is not to get high but to feel better - less depressed, less stressed out, more focused, better rested."
Aren't those at least some of the many reasons people take illicit drugs -- to feel better, less depressed, less stressed out? Are we really going to start making distinctions between the different types of reasons one uses drugs, based on what the drug is that they're using?
"But doctors and experts in drug abuse also say they are flummoxed about how to address the increasing casual misuse of prescription medications by young people for purposes other than getting high."
Not surprisingly, the so-called experts on drug abuse prevention don't have any ideas for how to deal with these issues. I mean, heaven forbid we actually try EDCUATION for students in high school and college and beyond about the drugs they're seeing on TV and in their medicine cabinets at home.

The money quote is from a guy at an "under-30 mood disorder group" on the 3rd page of the article...
"You have to do research on your own because the research provided to you [by pharmaceutical companies via doctors] is not based on an objective source of what may be best."
Seven Letters to the Editor were published in response to this article, including one from Steve Pasierb, Pres. & Chief Exec., Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Never missing an opportunity to scare parents and blame teenagers, PDFA, once again takes a problem that largely belongs to adults and shifts the focus onto the younger teen set. Fortunately, there's a new line of commercials out, and I'm told, we're all "above the influence."

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can the Drug War ever die while racism lives?

We talk about it. We think about it. We invite speakers to motivate us about it. The efforts the drug policy reform movement has made to be inclusive of people of color have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. For years the elephant in the room has been the truth that-- as Erik so eloquently put it--"justice dictates that we should be linking our arms with those who bear the brunt of Drug War brutality."

I know I've spent countless hours fighting frustrations with the obstacles that can never seem to be defined or overcome. It's hard to have hope when we each battle with this in our local efforts and have to combat the racist thoughts that all white drug policy reformers have probably held at some point: Why don't those who are most victimized by the Drug War want to be just like us?

Each of us only has the potential for so much influence, but it's critical that we use it for active anti-racism. This means stepping outside and looking at ourselves as individuals- who we are and where we came from. We live in a country founded on white supremacy, and we carry this legacy whether we acknowledge it or not. We've been born into social structures created by our founding fathers to keep blacks and whites divided so that the elite few could hold on to their power. We're socialized to keep silent about race so that we don't disrupt the system. And like it or not, we're socialized to think white people make better decisions.

At the "Anti-Racist Organizing" workshop in Long Beach, each of us had to come up with at least one reform organization run by people of color. How many can you name?

White folks can't own the table we're trying to bring people to. We need to come to terms with the white privilege we bring to this movement. Do we see ourselves as we really are, or do we just think of ourselves as the movement? Who's movement is it?

I know we all fantasize about the day that every single person affected by the Drug War stands up to fight it. We celebrate small successes, but to bring this thing down to its knees, we need the masses.

This Drug War was born from racism, so how can our solution not include ending it? Let's go about this differently. Start with yourself.

A wake-up call

The Winston-Salem Journal has an interesting story on the recent murders of Appalachian State University students Stephen Harrington and Joey McClure. But the paper does readers a disservice by calling the killings "drug-related." This unfortunate choice of words obscures the true cause of the violence that led to their untimely deaths.

A more accurate way to describe the murders would be "drug prohibition-related," since the tragic loss of live
s outlined in the story has nothing to do with drugs themselves, but has everything to do with policies that make them illegal.

At least one ASU professor seems to have a clue:
Matthew Robinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at ASU, said he believes that forces beyond the control of campus authorities or even law enforcement drove the killings. Flawed public policy on fighting the drug war has created the illicit market and the systemic violence that comes from having no legal way to settle disputes, he said.
Indeed, when was the last time you heard about beer distributors killing each other over who gets to stock a specific store? The answer is never. That's because alcohol is a true "controlled substance" and disputes between legitimate distributors are handled with contracts and in the courts. Prohibiting a drug ensures that only criminals are involved with its production and distribution, completely removing it from the domain of actual control and regulation.

Lt. Johnny Reese, with the Boone Police Department, conducts periodic anti-drug trainings for students. He's holding out hope that a bit of good can come out of all the attention the students' tragic deaths are getting.

Reese said he sometimes worries that the seminars and lectures about crime go in one ear and out the other.

"People don't wake up until something like this happens," he said.

Let's hope that lawmakers start to wake up and realize that the only way to eliminate the violent collateral damage the War on Drugs inflicts upon families across the country is to end prohibition. How many more heartbreaking stories will politicians let in one ear and out the other without taking action?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Devastating epidemic sweeps schools nationwide

Four ambulances had to be rushed to Hutchinson High School in Minnesota last week after students suffered the devastating effects of... anti-meth education.

Former meth addict David Parnell's presentation includes gruesome photos of the aftermath of a failed suicide attempt in which he shot himself under the chin. The touring program is apparently so powerful that it has caused students across the country to faint in droves.

"It's happened a couple times," he said, noting that about a dozen of the close to 100,000 teens he has talked to have fainted during his presentation.

"It's really graphic," he said of his PowerPoint slide show that features not only before-and-after photos of Parnell, but also pictures showing the physical ravages of meth use on other addicts. "But many of the kids have said they felt the pictures were important to see. It's graphic, but it's reality."

What kind of message is Parnell's pro-fainting presentation sending in a time when we're doing all we can to get kids to just say "no" to fainting?

Since U Been Gone

But since you been gone
I can breathe for the first time
I'm so movin' on, yeah yeah
Thanks to you, now I get what I want
Since you been gone

It's been one week since the last of the SSDPers left Long Beach, CA for their homes across the country. I've had a difficult time trying to sum up my feelings on the conference and SSDP at this stage of its growth. See, for all the time I've been involved in SSDP, since 1999 -- as a student in a chapter at UW-Madison, as a student and non-student member of the Board of Directors and now on the staff -- this is the first time I've really looked at SSDP through any sort of historical lens.

In it's 7th year, SSDP has gone from its embryonic stage, through an enormous period of growth, and settled back down to where it is now -- at key strategic point in its mission and development. This year, there were so many new faces amongst the grizzled old SSDP veterans. I can honestly say, from where I stand SSDP is in the best shape I have seen it in years.

If the students who made this their first conference continue their involvement, on campus and in their communities, both at home and at school, then I have no doubt the connections you started to make in Long Beach, will last you for the rest of your life. That’s a scary thought for some, but a comfort for others. And it doesn’t require you to stay a drug policy reformer full-time. SSDP students go on to successful careers in every field imaginable. And it’s our work in SSDP and the contacts we’ve made at conferences, in and out of SSDP, that launches our careers.

We have a lot of work to do, we always have and for the foreseeable future, we always will. The National Staff will continue to serve you, our chapters, to the best of our abilities. And we will seek to push and prod you, to stretch yourselves beyond what you thought you'd ever be able to do, because we know from past experiences, that you can do it and you will be successful.

We are charged with a mission, to educate and to serve, to involve ourselves in the political process and speak out for the unspoken for -- the youth -- who too often face the collateral consequences of this war on drugs waged primarily in our name. We give a voice to the voiceless, in our schools and throughout the country, and based on what I saw at our conference, that voice is strong and getting stronger.

So thank you to everyone who made the trip to Long Beach for SSDP’s 7th Annual Conference. Thank you for making it important enough for you to miss school, to put the rest of your life on hold, so that you can be a part of the most dynamic, influential, powerful and unique Student Drug Policy Reform Organization in America.

I look forward to seeing you all again at next year’s 8th Annual SSDP National Conference and at the regional conferences in the spring.

Keep up all your hard work!

Peace and Love,
Dan Goldman
Director of Outreach and Alumni
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Preemptive prohibition in West Virginia

Radley at the Agitator reports that West Virginia has banned grain alcohol because college students *might* get into trouble with it. The ban comes at the behest of college administrators around the state, like Carla Lapelle at Marshall University.
"It has traditionally been purchased by groups of people, often college students, who are intent on getting very drunk and who suffer serious consequences from a severe hangover to falling victim to sexual assault or even a car crash," she said.

Lapelle said she was unaware of any such incidents involving grain alcohol among students at Marshall, which already bans all alcohol on campus, but considered the move prudent.
Officials at West Virginia University also support the ban, even though they can't recall any specific incidents involving grain alcohol either.
"We applaud their efforts to try to reduce the negative consequences of the consumption of grain alcohol," said WVU spokeswoman Becky Lofstead.

But Lofstead said she, too, could recall no specific episodes blamed on grain alcohol abuse. The owner of a liquor store near WVU's main campus in Morgantown said the product was not particularly popular among students.
The full story on this new preemptive prohibition can be found here.