Friday, December 30, 2005

Next time you fly, leave your flour-filled condoms at home.

From the Philly Inquirer comes news of a lawsuit filed by Janet Lee, a junior comparative lit major at Bryn Mawr, who was detained for three weeks after airline security found in her luggage three condoms full of ... flour.
"I haven't let myself be angry about what happened, because it would tear me apart," Lee said. "I'm not sure I can bear to face it... . I'm amazed at how naive I was."
Under a justice system that is truly just, demonstrable innocence would guarantee exoneration from any criminal accusation. Unfortunately, as Lee points out, the view that our own justice system rises to that standard of truly just is simply "naive."

The troubling question here is, why did the police lab results repeatedly test positive for the presence of any illegal drug at all--much less three!--when none were present? As Ellen Green-Crysler, former director of the Philadelphia PD's Office of Integrity and Accountability put it:
"The whole issue will come down to the field test. Was the officer trained? Was the test contaminated?"
The issue does rest on why the results on Lee's flour came back wrong on three separate trials. Either the officer conducting the test was incompetent or the testing equipment itself was off, through contamination or miscalibration. But a prison guard why took sympathy on Lee and her plight, offered another possible reason for the errors:
A prison guard recognized her from a Bryn Mawr volunteer job at Overbrook High School and took pity on her. The guard told Lee that she believed her and that the whole thing was probably racial.
Look, it's understandable that police would initially look skeptically on Lee's explanation for the condoms full of white powder. So it's not unreasonable that they would want to run some tests. But when a substance that contains no illegal drug at all returns a false positive result on repeated trials, none of the available explanations do much to inspire confidence in the government's chances of winning its War on Drugs.

If the equipment was to blame, then how many others have been falsely accused based on tests using the same bad equipment? If the officers conducting the tests simply weren't competent to follow the proper lab procedures, again, how many others have been falsely accused? Or could the fixing of the results have been deliberate? For their part, Philadelphia PD hasn't had much at all to say on the matter. It'll be interesting to see what facts eventually come out in this most unusual case.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In praise of pot-smoking moms

From today's Denver Post (also archived at MAP), a profile of just a few of the voters who voted last month to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The feature profiles one group of legalization supporters who don't get a lot of press: parents who happen to be responsible marijuana smokers themselves. A few of the highlights from the moms who were interviewed:
"It slows me down," says a Washington Park 40-something mother of a 10-year-old daughter. "It's a nice, relaxing, low-key thing."

One Denver psychologist, the 46-year-old mother of a young child, smokes because it helps her find "that space that is so about me and not about being a parent."

"It helps you stop thinking," says a 37-year-old Crestmoor mother of two, a mildly conservative Republican who, like most of the women interviewed, smokes once or twice a week. "I either can't sleep at night because I'm restless, or I can't get in the mood with my husband because my mind is spinning.
But of course, the opposition must have their say too:
"They are sending those kids a message that it's OK to get high, and they intend to send that message," says Dr. Mary Holley, the director of Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine, in Alabama. The physician works to organize mothers against all illegal drugs. "That's an extremely destructive message." Through their habits, the moms tell their kids that "if he has a problem, he can just go out and get high."
Believe it or not, I think Dr. Holley actually got it about half right. These moms are sending a message that it's OK to get high. They're sending a message that the notion of responsible marijuana use isn't just pro-legalization propaganda; it's a reality for millions of productive citizens from all walks of life, and these moms are living proof. In fact, contrary to Holley's overblown hysteria, the message that they want to send to their kids is pretty clear:
Young brains, the moms say, can't handle marijuana. Like sex and alcohol, the decision about whether to take a toke should be reserved for people with proper seasoning: old enough to vote, finished with high school, stepping into adulthood.
Here's the thing: millions of parents, whether they currently smoke or not, have certainly smoked marijuana at some point in their past, many with some degree of regularity. Deep down, they know that the scare stories our kids get from programs like D.A.R.E. just don't match up with the reality that they've actually experienced for themselves. Still, it seems that far too few speak out against the nonsense that's crammed down the throats of our nation's youth ad nauseum by outfits like Dr. Holley's Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine and the ONDCP. Our society needs more parents like those described in the article, with the courge to be open and honest with their kids about drugs. We just don't hear nearly enough about parents who are willing to give their kids the real facts about drugs instead of just copping out and towing the government's line of propaganda. The article is fairly short with lots more great quotes from the moms who were interviewed; it's definitely a must-read.