Category: General Drug War

Morning Links

Thursday, November 15th, 2012
  • I'm overcompensating.Your drug war at work: St. Paul, Minnesota cops stomp a man’s head, then fire a flash grenade at his disabled mother curing a cocaine raid. She suffered third-degree burns. They found three grams of pot and a legal handgun. Taxpayers, not the cops, will pay the two a $400,000 settlement.
  • Man attempts to become the walking embodiment of New York Times trend stories.
  • LDS elders get swept up in a SWAT raid while at the home of two drug suspects they were counseling.
  • Last night, Reason’s Nick Gillespie debate former DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson on drug legalization. You can watch here.
  • The federal courts continue to shield even egregious prosecutorial misconduct from any real accountability. Smart lawyerly people: I haven’t read the 11th Circuit opinion yet, but given that absolute immunity is judge-made law, wouldn’t the Hyde Amendment, which is statutory law, take priority in this case?
  • Headline of the day.
  • Striking photos from the Munich subway system.
  • Naomi Klein: People who oppose corporate welfare are just shilling for corporations. Or something like that.
  • The photo is from a series of raids on backyard marijuana gardens in Santa Rosa, California. Best line from the article: “O’Leary, the sheriff’s lieutenant, said the show of force by authorities and their tactics were deliberate, selected in part because there is a heavy gang presence and lots of children in the neighborhood.” Ah, so there are children nearby. Well then let’s make the raids as volatile as possible!

Is America Getting Less Punitive?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Over at Huffington Post, I look at that question in light of recent election results.

The article is almost optimistic. Longtime readers may find that confusing. But I promise, I really did write it.

Morning Links

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
  • More evidence that the public is nearing a tipping point in the war on drugs.
  • This will surprise all of you. The Omaha police union is defending the officer who tackled a man out walking his dog, then shot the dog.
  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the fact that City Hall reporters illegally recorded journalists without their permission is “much ado about nothing.”
  • America! F*ck yeah!
  • This New York Times review of Guy Fieri’s restaurant is burning up the Internet at the moment. On the one hand, it kind of makes me want to try the place. On the other hand, I’m not putting anything called “Donkey Sauce” into my mouth.
  • Headline of the day.
  • “He’ll push to loosen marijuana penalties, legalize undocumented immigrants and pursue a less aggressive American foreign policy.” Guess who?
  • Man uses garden hose to spray fire at neighbor’s house. Police tell him to stop. He does. But when firefighters don’t arrive minutes later, he gets frustrated and starts spraying the fire again. So they Tase him.
  • Finally, via Gawker:


Monday, November 12th, 2012

It’s almost like we went to bed Tuesday night and woke up in an alternate, slightly saner universe.




Milton Friedman, the War on Drugs, and Last Tuesday Night

Friday, November 9th, 2012

In light of this week’s milestone victories for common sense in Colorado and Washington, here’s Milton Friedman—one of my personal heroes—writing an open letter to Drug Czar William Bennett in the Wall Street Journal.

In Oliver Cromwell’s eloquent words, “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken” about the course you and President Bush urge us to adopt to fight drugs. The path you propose of more police, more jails, use of the military in foreign countries, harsh penalties for drug users, and a whole panoply of repressive measures can only make a bad situation worse. The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are a scourge that is devastating our society. You are not mistaken in believing that drugs are tearing asunder our social fabric, ruining the lives of many young people, and imposing heavy costs on some of the most disadvantaged among us. You are not mistaken in believing that the majority of the public share your concerns. In short, you are not mistaken in the end you seek to achieve.

Your mistake is failing to recognize that the very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is not only demand, it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels. Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces so that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault.

Drugs are a tragedy for addicts. But criminalizing their use converts that tragedy into a disaster for society, for users and non-users alike. Our experience with the prohibition of drugs is a replay of our experience with the prohibition of alcoholic beverages.

I append excerpts from a column that I wrote in 1972 on “Prohibition and Drugs.” The major problem then was heroin from Marseilles; today, it is cocaine from Latin America. Today, also, the problem is far more serious than it was 17 years ago: more addicts, more innocent victims; more drug pushers, more law enforcement officials; more money spent to enforce prohibition, more money spent to circumvent prohibition.

Had drugs been decriminalized 17 years ago, “crack” would never have been invented (it was invented because the high cost of illegal drugs made it profitable to provide a cheaper version) and there would today be far fewer addicts. The lives of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent victims would have been saved, and not only in the U.S. The ghettos of our major cities would not be drug-and-crime-infested no-man’s lands. Fewer people would be in jails, and fewer jails would have been built.

Columbia, Bolivia and Peru would not be suffering from narco-terror, and we would not be distorting our foreign policy because of narco-terror. Hell would not, in the words with which Billy Sunday welcomed Prohibition, “be forever for rent,” but it would be a lot emptier.

Decriminalizing drugs is even more urgent now than in 1972, but we must recognize that the harm done in the interim cannot be wiped out, certainly not immediately. Postponing decriminalization will only make matters worse, and make the problem appear even more intractable.

Alcohol and tobacco cause many more deaths in users than do drugs. Decriminalization would not prevent us from treating drugs as we now treat alcohol and tobacco: prohibiting sales of drugs to minors, outlawing the advertising of drugs and similar measures. Such measures could be enforced, while outright prohibition cannot be. Moreover, if even a small fraction of the money we now spend on trying to enforce drug prohibition were devoted to treatment and rehabilitation, in an atmosphere of compassion not punishment, the reduction in drug usage and in the harm done to the users could be dramatic.

This plea comes from the bottom of my heart. Every friend of freedom, and I know you are one, must be as revolted as I am by the prospect of turning the United States into an armed camp, by the vision of jails filled with casual drug users and of an army of enforcers empowered to invade the liberty of citizens on slight evidence. A country in which shooting down unidentified planes “on suspicion” can be seriously considered as a drug-war tactic is not the kind of United States that either you or I want to hand on to future generations.

Friedman wrote that 22 years ago.

In writing my book over the last several months, I’ve been waist-deep in the drug war propaganda of the early 1970s, and then of the 1980s and 1990s: the government dissemination of flat-out lies, the ceaseless efforts by politicians (ably abetted by a media always eager to pounce on sensationalism) to degrade and dehumanize drug offenders, the relentless martial rhetoric and calls to arms. There were the insane court decisions that shredded the Fourth Amendment. I’ve decided my favorite is United States v. Montoya de Herandez, in which the Supreme Court ruled that customs agents can seize someone coming in on an international flight, hold her incommunicado, then detain her until government agents can watch her defecate in front of them. There were the deeply cynical policies pushed by politicians, like the no-knock raid, which was never asked for police officials or recommended by criminologists, but was an idea dreamed up by Nelson Rockefeller aides (then later adopted by Nixon in the 1968 campaign) as a way to appeal white fears about black crime. There was a time when it was railed against on the floor of Congress (yes, really) and in the Supreme Court (yes, really) as a constitutional abomination, as an affront to the founding principles of the Castle Doctrine and the right to be let alone. When Congress first imposed the policy on Washington, D.C., the city’s police chief refused to use it (yes, really!). Today, it’s such an ingrained part of law enforcement, you’d be hard pressed to find a narcotics cop who could imagine ever doing his job without it. And of course, there are the scores and scores of heart-wrenching stories of death and destruction wrought by all of this madness.

Anyway, all of this was fresh in my head as I watched the election results come in Tuesday night. Whether or not Obama respects the wishes of voters in Washington and Colorado is really only relevant in the short term. I’m now convinced that we are finally winning the long game. I mean Jesus, medical marijuana just barely lost in Arkansas. I guess what I’m getting at here is that spending the last several months reading and writing about just how insane things were at the height of the drug war made me particularly aware of just how magnificent Tuesday night was. The tide is turning. It isn’t often easy to find reasons for optimism when you cover these issues day in and day out. Seeing outright legalization pass in two fairly large states—there’s no other way to interpret that as a sign that we are slowly returning to sanity. This would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 or 20 or 25 years ago.

Friedman’s was always the voice of reason on this issue. But 22 years ago it was a relatively lonely voice, particularly on the right (William Buckley was good on pot). That’s no longer the case. Yes, some of the most obstinate opposition still comes form the right, although as you’ve seen on this site,  it also comes from left-of-center paternalists and editorial boards. And most politicians of all stripes are, typically, a good 10 years behind the public on all of this. But the culture warriors are dying off. The coalition for sensible drug policy is broad, diverse, and has been gathering strength and momentum with each election.

The public is turning. Tuesday was historic. Enjoy it.

Reminder: The Media Isn’t Liberal, It’s Statist

Monday, November 5th, 2012

The Boston Globe today editorializes against medical marijuana and physician-assisted suicide today, both of which are on the ballot in Massachusetts. Why? Because neither ballot measure gives state bureaucrats sufficient control over over the lives of people who live in Massachusetts.

From the marijuana editorial:

With any other legal drug, patients would expect straight answers — they’d assume, almost unconsciously, that the FDA was protecting them. There’s no such backstop for medical marijuana. Even the wisest physicians wouldn’t have enough data to make definitive judgments . . .

Certainly, any regimen for medical marijuana that’s finally adopted should ensure that only those who demonstrably need the pain relief are getting it.

But in the end, Question 3 isn’t the right answer to a complicated policy issue. There are simply too many inherent problems in asking state officials to oversee a legalized system of growing and distributing a drug that hasn’t been subjected to the federal approval process.

Question 3’s heart is in the right place, and its architects have made a solid effort to learn from the mistakes of California and Colorado. But ultimately, the only truly safe way to legalize marijuana will be through the FDA, with doctors providing prescriptions and licensed pharmacists dispensing the medication.

In the meantime, let the patients suffer, the black markets prosper, and the raids continue. I mean, God forbid we pass a law that gives your average rube the tiniest bit more power to make his own decisions about what he puts into this own body. I mean, what if this law were responsible for someone using marijuana to get high?

And from the physician-assisted suicide editorial:

Reasonable people can disagree passionately about Question 2, but a yes vote would not serve the larger interests of the state. Rather than bring Massachusetts closer to an agreed-upon set of procedures for approaching the end of life, it would be a flashpoint and distraction — the maximum amount of moral conflict for a very modest gain . . .

Instead, Massachusetts should commit itself to a rigorous exploration of end-of-life issues, with the goal of bringing the medical community, insurers, religious groups, and state policy makers into agreement on how best to help individuals handle terminal illnesses and die on their own terms . . .

Physician-assisted suicide should be the last option on the table, to be explored in a thorough legislative process only after the state guarantees that all its patients have access to all the alternatives, including palliative care.

” . . . would not serve the larger interests of the state.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?

That last bit of emphasis is mine. Interesting what happens when you take these two editorials together. We can’t trust doctors and terminally ill patients to come to a decision about allowing a patient to peacefully, painlessly end his own life, because all of the experts, politicians, and elites haven’t yet decided what’s best for the patient. And we can’t let that same patient relieve his pain with marijuana, because the experts aren’t yet in agreement about the benefits of the drug (in part because the same bureaucratic structure refuses to allow the drug to be used for medical research), and in any case, because the proposed law doesn’t give nearly enough power to government to keep the drug away from people. (The Globe also endorses restricting access to prescription painkillers, by the way.)

The message the Globe editorial board is sending to people with chronic pain and terminal illness is pretty clear: Government power is far more important than your pain. So just fucking suffer.

New at HuffPost: SCOTUS Goes to the Dogs

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

I have a piece up at Huffington Post looking at this week’s drug dog cases heard by the Supreme Court.

Much of it will be familiar if you’ve read this site over the last year or so. But I also consider whether the lack of any real criminal defense experience among any of the current justices may affect they way they consider these kinds of cases

(Hint: I think it does. And not in a good way.)

Morning Links

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Afternoon Links

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Blogging will continue to be light over the next few weeks. I’m in the homestretch of finishing up by book manuscript.

The Statist Media

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

A couple years ago, I wrote a column arguing that the legacy media isn’t liberal so much as statist. Case in point, yesterday’s lead editorial in USA Today, which denounces the various state ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana.

It isn’t a very convincing or well-argued editorial. (They aren’t necessarily the same.) This part in particular jumped out at me:

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Those who can grow or sell pot legally under state law can be, and have been, busted by the feds. Although the Obama administration ordered a hands-off policy in 2009 for medical marijuana operations in compliance with state laws, there’s no sign that federal drug enforcers would wink at full-blown legalization.

Emphasis mine. The bold passage is of course utter crap. It is factually, provably untrue.  The fact that the USA Today editorial board reiterates the lie tells us two things. First, they’re simply taking the Obama administration at its word, despite abundant evidence that not only has the administration not taken a “hands-off” approach, but it has been more aggressive at shutting down pot dispensaries than President Bush. (Up to four times worse.)

That means they’re either unaware of said abundant evidence, or they are aware of it and have chosen to ignore it. In either case, what does that say about how much credibility we ought to put into what the USA Today editorial board thinks about marijuana?

Saturday Morning Links: Millennials, Drugs, and Defecation

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

The More Things Change . . .

Friday, October 19th, 2012

In this week’s issue of Huffington, they’ve published an updated version of my March article on Terrance Huff, drug dog searches, and asset forfeiture.

If you aren’t familiar, Huffington is the tablet magazine spinoff of Huffington Post, focusing on long-form journalism. If you have a tablet computer, I’d encourage you to check it out. One of the main complaints I hear about the Huffington Post site is its clutter and busyness. The magazine is very clean. No ads, no extras.

Anyway, while researching my book I recently came across the passage below from The New York Times Magazine. It has almost on-the-nose relevance to the issues at play in Huff’s case.

See if you can guess when it was published. Answer in the comments.


 . . . a number of judges [have begun] questioning police testimony that relie[s] on such legal passwords as “in plain sight” and “furtive gesture.”

“The difficulty arises,” New York Criminal Court Judge Irving Younger wrote last year, “when one stands back from the particular case and looks at a series of cases. It then becomes apparent that policemen are committing perjury at least in some of them, and perhaps in nearly all of them . . . Spend a few hours in the New York City Criminal Court nowadays, and you will hear case after case in which a policeman testifies that the defendant dropped the narcotics on the ground, whereupon the policeman arrested him. Usually the very language of the testimony is identical from one case to another. This is known among defense lawyers and prosecutors as “dropsey” testimony. The judge has no reason to disbelieve it in any particular case, and of course the judge must decide each case on its own evidence, without regard to the testimony in other cases. Surely, though, not in every case was the defendant unlucky enough to drop his narcotics at the feed of the policeman. It follows that in in at least some of these cases the police are lying.”

In California, where many drug arrests are made during highway patrols, Judge Stanley Mosk of the State Supreme Court recently questioned the police reliance on furtive gestures in justifying arrests.

“The furtive gesture,” Mosk wrote, “has on occasion been little short of subterfuge in order to conduct a search on the basis of mere suspicion or intuition.” In so doing, he said, policy imply guilty significance to gestures that are no more illegal than reaching for one’s driver’s license or turning off a car radio.

Everything You Need To Know About the War on Drugs

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Here’s the source. (Via Mike Riggs.)

MORE: Over at Hit & Run, Riggs has a correction and explanation for the $1.5 trillion figure.

Late Morning Links

Friday, October 12th, 2012


Monday, October 8th, 2012

This St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist appears to be upset that some people are criticizing his local law enforcement professionals for possibly profiling, making illegal traffic stops, and performing illegal searches—all in an effort to seize property from low level drug offenders.

You’d think a journalist would see a possible story here—an opportunity to do some reporting. Maybe he could actually look into Terrance Huff’s allegations instead of mocking them. Maybe he could use his column to see if these sorts of stops have happened to other people. Maybe, you know, at least pretend that he’s holding his local public officials accountable. Maybe he could investigate why a cop with a history like Michael Reichert’s is still on the police force. Maybe look into how these drug dogs are actually used, and whether their “alerts” should really be enough to justify a police officer rummaging through personal belongings.

Maybe that’s asking too much of Pat Gauen. But if he takes his job as a journalist seriously, you’d think he’d do some reporting. Instead, he wrote a column about something he saw on TV, then gave his local public officials a forum to slag a guy whose rights may have been violated.

And here I thought it was we Internet journalists who just sit in our basements opining about stuff, while the newspaper generation goes out and does all the real reporting.