“I’m a hardworking, tax-paying, kid-raising, church-going citizen of this country,” say author and PBS travel host Rick Steves, “and if I work hard all day long and want to go home and relax with a joint, that is my civil liberty.”
Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced a bill today that would amend the government’s Controlled Substances Act to remove all federal penalties for the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana, effectively striking down its classification as a scheduled drug.
The bill aims to allow individual states to set their own marijuana laws without the concern of being overridden on the federal level. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011 [pdf] — the first bill of its kind — resembles the repeal of the 18th Amendment in that it restricts the government’s role in controlling the substance to keeping the drug out states where it is banned.
“The legislation would limit the federal government’s role in marijuana enforcement to cross-border or inter-state smuggling, allowing people to legally grow, use or sell marijuana in states where it is legal,” according to the MPP statement.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), is the first of its kind to be proposed in Congress that would end the 73-year-old federal marijuana prohibition that began with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
Although Frank insists that this “is not a legalization bill,” it will be an excellent test for those in Congress who claim to be for a limited, smaller, federal government — one that gives more power to the states whenever possible as Paul and the “tea party” have rallied for over the last few years.
If the bill somehow makes it through both houses of Congress, it would be interesting to see if President Obama would sign it, seeing as the president’s feelings on the controversial matter have been hazy.
“We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws,” Obama said in Feb. 2008. “But I’m not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana. What I do believe is that we need to rethink how we’re operating in the drug war. Currently, we’re not doing a good job.”
During a conference call today, Frank suggested what he’d like to see states do with their new autonomy, expressing his view that “prosecuting responsible adults who make the decision that they wish to smoke marijuana interferes with their personal freedom.” He said he was “particularly struck by the hypocrisy of public officials who will themselves talk about smoking marijuana, wink at it, and then make it criminal for other people,” which results in “a very discriminatory pattern of enforcement.” (Ahem, Bloomberg.) Frank conceded the bill “has no chance of passing” anytime soon, but added, “I think we are making progress. I think the public is way ahead of the legislators on this….This is an educational process.”
The bill amends the Controlled Substances Act so that marijuana is no longer a scheduled drug and declares:
This Act [the CSA] shall not apply to marihuana, except that it shall be unlawful only to ship or transport, in any manner or by any means whatsoever, marihuana, from one State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, into any other State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or from any foreign country into any State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof, when such marihuana is intended, by any person interested therein, to be received, possessed, sold, or in any manner used, either in the original package or otherwise, in violation of any law of such State, Territory, or District of the United States, or place noncontiguous to but subject to the jurisdiction thereof.
I take from this all that the states will deal with marijuana issues on their own terms (some are with their heavily militarized approaches). The rest of the fine details I have not fully digested yet.
The White House presents:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announce new graphic warning labels for tobacco products designed to encourage people to quit and young people to not acquire this dangerous habit. June 21, 2011.
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Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said that after a year-long investigation by a Senate subcommittee, “it’s becoming increasingly clear that our efforts to rein in the narcotics trade in Latin America, especially as it relates to the government’s use of contractors, have largely failed.”
With that said, Klein poses a good question:
What alignment of political forces and events would be needed for America to seriously rethink its drug laws? Would it have to begin in the states? Is it something a law-and-order Republican needs to do?
What do you think?
Conor Freidersdorf helps us out. You either see legalizing drugs as Sean Hannity: you become complicit in drug use and abuse. Or you see the following by keeping drugs illegal:
The impoverishment of farmers in Colombia and Afghanistan, drug cartels undermining democracy in multiple South and Central American countries, tens of thousands dead in Mexico, violent drug gangs on the streets of America, millions of non-violent offenders in US prisons — these are just some of the actual consequences of the black market in narcotics, and if prohibitionists actually confronted the moral destruction caused by their policies, they wouldn’t need Gary Johnson, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, or anyone else to persuade them that by defending the status quo they do harm.
Gary Johnson’s comments on the Hannity show are helpful in this conversation.
Gary Johnson would agree. The issue is who would be behind him? Conservative Christians certainly will not be. More:
The Global Commission on Drug Policy — a 19-member panel which includes former leaders of Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, as well as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and billionaire Sir Richard Branson — has released a report saying the so-called “war on drugs” has “failed.”
The report, which was promptly rejected by the US and Mexican governments as “misguided,” asserts that current anti-drug policies have led to the expansion of organized crime, cost millions of tax dollars, and are directly responsible for thousands of deaths.
From the report:
Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.
The commission urges the decriminalization of drugs, and advises a shift to policies based on empirically proven methods. “We hope [the US] at least starts to think there are alternatives,” former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria is quoted as saying.
- A list of the 50 best cover songs ever.
- Some info behind the sped-up re-authorization of the PATRIOT act.
- A drug war-style raid on a house that had some small connection to viewing a pornographic website a year ago.
- A Macbook thief gets pwned.
- Police officers in New Mexico can take guns away from drivers who pose no threat.
- A Mexican teacher has been honoured after video footage showed her calming pupils (via singing to them) as a gun battle raged outside her school.
- Above, Major Neil Franklin, a retired Police Officer, speaks at Riverside Church in Harlem (NYC) on the impacts the war on drugs has on people of color.
- Miami police officers caught people taping them recklessly shoot up a car and took their phones and broke them on the ground.
- A slew of celebs are petitioning the United Nations to end the war on drugs.
KT provides some interesting points for those willing to discuss America’s prison system:
In the twenty-seven nations of the European Union, whose combined population exceeds ours by nearly two hundred million, the total prison population for all crimes combined is around six hundred thousand. In the US, we’ve got almost that number of people – five hundred thousand to be precise — in prison for drug related crimes alone. And many of these crimes involve no violence whatsoever.
Even the racial aspects of incarceration are striking:
African Americans make up roughly twelve percent of our total population, but they make up over forty percent of the prison population. Latinos make up thirteen percent of the population, but twenty percent of prison inmates. The prison system is one of the epicenters of racial inequality in America. If current trends continue, one-third of all black males and one-sixth of all Latino males will go to prison during their lives, as opposed to one in seventeen white males.
As easy as it is to say “fix the broken system!” it is harder than many can fathom. Just spending one day in an in-school suspension room at a middle school will give you a taste of what reformers are up against. We cannot talk to these detained students, yet (healthy) attention is most likely just what they need. We cannot really help them with their work and are to encourage them to figure it out on their own (because they ruined their chance in class to be taught), yet patient help is what they do need.
This may take me off of the original topic, but it has me questioning aspects of the public school system (which I have been for a few months). The system is very much assembly-line-esque with almost a one size fits all approach. The outlier pupils – most notably those who cannot sit still due to ADHD, anxiety, etc. – are disciplined. From my first hand experience, the students I had who exhibited ADHD or anxiety symptoms had issues stemming from their parents (or lack of parental presence). Some of these students became hyper-active due to these home issues and others reticent to the point that I unfortunately might not even notice them on a day to day basis.
I hope this all can emphasize a few things. One, family (supportive, loving, present, active) really does matter. Two, support systems (teachers, tutors, clubs, teams, religious institutions, et al) are strong supplemental systems that in some cases are even the primary support for our younger generation. Third and finally, having the first and second aforementioned points as positive presences in a students life are just what they (and we all) need to move along through the ups and downs in life (whether through discipline issues at school, a lost job, or a string of incarcerations).
“The strange thing is, while the drugs screwed me up in a lot of ways, they improved me in certain others. I’ve never been good with numbers, but when I was on crack I could do math really, really well. I became a fucking whiz at calculus. But I also became kind of psychotic, unfortunately.” —Courtney Love
A reader writes:
I’ve been clicking on the links to find further info, and i dunno man it really does not look good for the police. There was a bit i found that said that the SWAT team didnt allow paramedics to assist the dying former marine for at least an hour. Regardless of whether or not a suspect is guilty, allowing him to die in such a way is just plain wrong in the first place, and also extremely detrimental to the integrity of the investigation, and it speaks loudly against their concern for human life.
Damn the story really surprised me, and i know there’s got to be some aspects to the story that we will never know for sure, but its a very unfortunate situation nonetheless.
Well, it did:
As the SWAT team forced its way into his home, [Jose] Guerena, a former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, armed himself with his AR-15 rifle and told his wife and son to hide in a closet. As the officers entered, Guerena confronted them from the far end of a long, dark hallway. The police opened fire, releasing more than 70 rounds in about 7 seconds, at least 60 of which struck Guerena. He was pronounced dead a little over an hour later.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department initially claimed (PDF) Guerena fired his weapon at the SWAT team. They now acknowledge that not only did he not fire, the safety on his gun was still activated when he was killed. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.
This is insane. Herman Cain offers no clear, original, or seemingly plausible solutions to this war. Are there any?
Conor Friedersdorf helps put things into perspective:
Let’s look at some numbers. 2,977 people were murdered on September 11, 2001. How many folks died from the Mexican Drug War in 2010?
That suggests another question. Would you rather legalize most drugs… or see the equivalent carnage of four 9/11s happen every year from fighting the black market? That isn’t a hypothetical. It’s a real choice. If you’d rather have a lot of dead Mexicans than risk an uptick in US addiction rates — isn’t that basically the calculation some people are making? — then I’ve got another question. Would you rather legalize drugs… or risk that the sort of violence seen in Mexico will spread into the United States, corrupting our police departments, and ravaging our cities? Perhaps that won’t ever happen. But if you’re confident that it won’t happen I would like to know why.
I’m still not convinced legalizing is the final answer. What would be the reprecussions of such a monumental decision? Would it be a golden bullet answer? I doubt it. Wouldn’t in time the cartels turn to gun sales or another illegal trade?
Don’t get me wrong, though. The numbers presented are crazy. I just am thinking out loud.
Radley Balko at Reason breaks this down:
From the early 1980s to the mid-2000s, University of Eastern Kentucky criminologist Peter Kraska conducted an annual survey on the use of SWAT teams in the United States. Until the late 1970s, SWAT teams were generally used in emergency situations to defuse conflicts with people who presented an immediate threat to others, such as hostage takers, bank robbers, or mass shooters. But beginning in the early 1980s, police departments across the country began using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants.
Kraska found that the number of SWAT deployments in America increased from 3,000 per year in the early 1980s to around 50,000 by the mid-2000s. That’s about 135 SWAT raids per day. The vast majority of those are for drug warrants.
Unlike the targets and crosshairs that ultimately had nothing to do with the Tucson shootings, the willingness of politicians to define drug prohibition policies in terms of war has had real consequences—namely, cops who approach drug law enforcement as if American streets were battlefields. Ronald Reagan once compared the drug war to the World War I battle of Verdun. Drug warriors have described the narco-carnage in Mexico as a positive sign. One Georgia sheriff recently likened his own anti-drug efforts to the invasion of Normandy.
One of the final scenes in the movie Traffic explains this to a T but on a more personal level.
The argument here is not to start putting police in prison for making honest mistakes under incredibly difficult circumstances. The argument is to stop creating those circumstances when it isn’t absolutely necessary. Short of that, we’re once again left with this: An innocent, unarmed man was shot dead by a cop. But the cop isn’t responsible. The victim isn’t responsible. And the policies that created the situation aren’t responsible. Which means that in a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months, I’m going to be writing all of this again.