Saturday, July 29, 2006

"You should have just went in the house and minded your own business...

...instead of trying to take pictures off your picture phone,'" yelled a police officer as he threw 21 year old Neftaly Cruz against a squad car and arrested the man for taking a picture of a drug raid.
"They threatened to charge me with conspiracy, impeding an investigation, obstruction of a investigation. … They said, 'You were impeding this investigation.' (I asked,) "By doing what?' (The officer said,) 'By taking a picture of the police officers with a camera phone,'" Cruz said.


"There is no law that prevents people from taking pictures of what anybody can see on the street," said Larry Frankel of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I think it's rather scary that in this country you could actually be taken down to police headquarters for taking a picture on your cell phone of activities that are clearly visible on the street."


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The simple case for legalization...

An outstanding opinion editorial appeared in yesterday's Washington Times, written by Terry Michael (the former press secretary for the DNC and current executive director of the nonpartisan Washington Center for Politics and Journalism). The piece, written as an open letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, tears apart drug prohibition and makes a point-by-point argument for the decriminalization and legalization of drugs. I strongly suggest you read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:
Our policies result in tremendous harm creation, about which much has been written, but I'll summarize here:

Denial of liberty. Our drug war constitutes an assault on individual liberty, privacy and choice, from both the left and right. Liberals fight for a woman's right to abortion and conservatives go to the ramparts to defend gun owners, but both agree to throw into prison an adult who smokes dried, leafy vegetation. With impunity, we can drink ourselves stupid and destroy our lungs with tobacco. But using a recreational substance as old as wine will get us jailed.
Waste of treasury. When our resources should be directed at lawful attempts to keep dangerous politicized religious fanatics from entering our country, we spend tens of billions futilely trying to interdict chemicals, most of which, in moderation, are demonstrably no more harmful to the body than alcohol and tobacco.
Government-created violent black market. Alcohol did not create Al Capone. Prohibition created Al Capone, with the mayhem, official corruption and murder that accompanied the 18th Amendment. And cocaine does not create drug cartels. America's War on Drugs creates drug cartels.
Government violence against its own people. With guns blazing, law enforcement agencies not only deny life, liberty and property to those who work in the government stimulated black market; they rack up untold "collateral damage," maiming and killing innocent bystanders, in countless stings gone bad.
Promoting disrespect for the rule of law. With millions of Americans scoffing at the China-like oppressiveness of the War on Drugs, our policies undermine respect for the rule of law and our democratic policy-making institutions. As the drug warriors clog our courts and fill our jails, we disrupt the lives of the poor and the powerless, who can't afford crafty lawyers and have no political connections.
Health harm creation. Perhaps most important, our policy is creating untold health harm to millions, particularly the young. We educate them about the responsible use of two potentially very dangerous, but legal, substances, but we try our best to keep them ignorant of the real effects, and side effects, of other psychoactives. While hundreds of thousands die each year from the short- and long-term health damage of alcohol and tobacco, no one succumbs to marijuana, and remarkably few die from other illegal drugs.

None of that argues for use of psychoactives of any kind, legal or currently illegal, particularly by young people with unformed intellectual and emotional lives. But it makes a powerful case for bringing other substances out of the shadows with decriminalization and legalization, and for spending some of those wasted billions on education, harm reduction, and, when needed, addiction treatment. The obsession of drug warriors with cutting off supplies of softer drugs has pushed thousands to try the bathtub gin of Neo-Prohibitionism, crystal methamphetamine.
It sounds so simple and, well, sensible when Mr. Michael lays it out like this. So why is it so damned difficult for senators like Orrin Hatch to get it??


Who's Hurting Who?

Const. Doug Gutteridge of Chatham-Kent, Ontario made an interesting comment last Wednesday in reference as to why his police department continues to find marijuana plants being grown in his town. “Unfortunately,” the officer states, “there are those out there who want to make a fast buck at the expense of the citizens.” I sincerely hope Mr. Gutteridge is talking about his own police department and fellow colleagues, and not the green thumbs responsible for growing and selling marijuana. After all, the $1.4 million worth of plants pales in comparison to the amount of money police departments across the country receive from federal grants for drug arrests and the property taken under asset forfeiture laws. Furthermore, if the plant (and all drugs for that matter) were taken above ground and regulated by the government and administered in a safe, healthy, nonviolent, and nondangerous way/place (thus destroying the black market status of marijuana and other drugs), the possibility to make millions by their manufacture and sale would be severely reduced.
And, do we really want to get into the part about the citizens’ expense? The destruction of personal choice, freedom, and liberty, the ability to choose to ingest a substance thousands of years old disappears because of the War On Drugs, not a person growing pot. The billions of taxpayer dollars wasted every year sending non-violent offenders through the court process and into prison under these draconian, ineffective policies doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference either. And gang-like drug cartels, and the violence associated with them, is created by the black market (an obvious product of the Drug War), not the drugs themselves. Perhaps most importantly, the health of the citizens is jeopardized by the War On Drugs due to scare tactics and false propaganda circulated by the government, instead of informing the public of the real (side)effects of certain drugs.
It’s high time (pun intended) for these officials to start thinking clearly. The reason, Const. Gutteridge, you keep finding pot in your town is because there is a demand for it, there always has been and there always will be. And as long as that demand exists, people will be willing to take the risk to cash in on an enormous amount of money (one plant, they estimate, is worth $1,000). But the billions you pull in from occasionally catching one of these entrepreneurs totals so much more. And it’s not these same entrepreneurs harming society at large, it is you and the people you work for. Isn’t it obvious that your efforts have been ineffective at best (counterproductive is more accurate)?
But drug law reformers do not lose hope. They haven’t failed to change completely. Since 1965, the federal government has increased funding for the War On Drugs by more than 300 times from $65 million to $19.9 billion. I guess 40 years of failed policy and hundreds of billions of wasted dollars is not enough to draw a conclusion from?