For the NYPD's stats to add up, they'd have to have stopped every young, black man living in the city once--and then some. Both marijuana arrests and street stops are soaring under Bloomberg’s administration, but the data shows that rise in aggressive policing is only apparent in certain communities. Demonstrators stressed that pot arrests and stop-and-frisk have come to epitomize a city-wide problem requiring urgent redress.
In 2011 alone, more than 50,000 New Yorkers -- 87 percent of whom are black or Latino -- were arrested for petty marijuana possession. Though often considered a trivial arrest, a pot conviction can have serious consequences.
No kidding. But Mayor Bloomberg defends the policy, and its horrible consequences, by claiming it's all about getting guns off the street:
The number of guns that we've been finding has continued to go down, which says the program at this scale is doing a great job....The whole idea here, John, is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns. It's like a stop we have for driving while intoxicated. It would be great if everybody said, "Oh my goodness, I might get stopped so I'm not gonna drink and drive." That's great. That's what we want. That would be wonderful. And the fact that we're getting fewer guns says the program is working. And the program will really have succeeded when we don't get any guns.
Yet, as Jacob Sullum points out, searching people without evidence for the sole purpose of deterring crime is completely and utterly unconstitutional. Think about the actual words Bloomberg uses here: "The whole idea here…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns." If you're not actually even trying to catch people with guns, what on earth is the legal justification for stopping these guys in the first place? It's illegal to stop someone on suspicion of carrying a firearm unless you have a reason to believe that they're carrying a firearm, and just to clear up any confusion, being black doesn't count as evidence that somebody's got a gun.
Moreover, if this is really all about protecting the public from gun violence, I'd like to know why it's necessary to arrest people who were unarmed but happened to have a little bit of marijuana in their pocket when police stopped them to look for guns. Concealed possession of small amounts of marijuana isn't supposed to be a crime in New York anyway, but particularly in the context of a public safety policy solely aimed at taking weapons off the streets, why are marijuana users being arrested at all? It looks horrible in the press and badly exacerbates the appearance (heck, let's just call it the reality) of racial bias underlying this whole hideous process.
The bottom line is that if this program isn't all about stopping, searching, and arresting young black men for marijuana on a massive scale, then the procedures should be changed to produce some outcome other than a bunch of blatantly racist drug arrests. If anyone in NYPD needs advice on how not to racially profile people and arrest them for petty offenses, I have a few ideas, most of which revolve around the following theme: stop doing it.
The instant I write something suggesting that Romney wouldn't be any worse than Obama on medical marijuana, along comes Romney flipping out on a reporter for merely asking about it. The fun starts at 2:10:
So…Mitt Romney totally hates marijuana, but also doesn’t think it's important enough to be worth talking about. It's a horribly tone-deaf and idiotic thing to say in Colorado, where marijuana policy is a major issue and a legalization initiative is hitting the ballot the same day Romney is asking Coloradans for their votes. Language like that is also just perfect for alienating the Ron Paul crowd, whose support he desperately needs if he's going to get anywhere in the general election.
But just when you thought Romney was completely clueless on this, watch the end of the interview (at about 4:50) and you'll see him saying marijuana is a state issue that's irrelevant to his presidential campaign. Seriously? You wait until the interview is over to say something interesting about this?
A lot of people in Colorado and elsewhere would be very excited to think that Mitt Romney would leave marijuana policy up to the states. To even suggest such a thing is a very clever hedge that might work to earn some sympathy from libertarian-leaning republicans. But if you're gonna take that path, don't precede it by saying pot is a horrible gateway drug and insulting everyone by insisting the issue isn't even significant enough to discuss.
It really shouldn’t even be necessary to explain to a prominent politician that people ask questions because they care about the subject. It's just impossibly rude and stupid to mock anything any reasonable person asks you, especially when it has to do with a policy as deeply unpopular and controversial as the government's ongoing war on medical marijuana. If marijuana is important enough to arrest people for possessing, then it's important enough to discuss. And if it's important enough to discuss, then no politician who can't or won't discuss it intelligently is fit to hold public office.
It should soon become clear to Mitt Romney that he can't visit states like Colorado without taking questions about marijuana, and when that happens, he'd be very wise to tell us a lot less about how marijuana is a "gateway drug," and a lot more about how it's a state issue.
Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger
(This article was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)
1. He's trying to look tough because he believes – rightly or wrongly – that he could be vulnerable to being labeled "soft on crime" during the election.
2. He doesn't think the "marijuana vote" is strong enough to have a meaningful impact on him politically.
3. The medical marijuana industry got too big too fast, forcing the federal government to intervene.
Do we have our answer here somewhere? I wouldn't immediately dismiss any of this, although if the Obama Administration actually believes they're scoring political points with this madness, they are out of their minds. In any case, these ideas effectively sum up most of the speculation I've heard recently from serious observers.
But there's a larger point to made here: the reason we can only speculate as to the Obama Administration's motives is because they won't even admit that this crackdown is taking place, let alone explain the reasoning behind it. We shouldn't have to sit around guessing what this is about. The President, or the Attorney General, or someone with knowledge of the situation should tell us.
I'm serious. It sounds terribly naïve even to me as I write it, but there really is no logical reason why our government can’t simply tell us why they are doing these things that they've been doing. We can see them doing it. Just tell us what it's all about. Wouldn't it be easier that way?
Think about it. If state lawmakers, local law enforcement, medical marijuana providers, patients, advocates, and the media all understood what the Obama Administration's enforcement priorities and long-term goals regarding medical marijuana actually are, we could all make more informed decisions that make life a lot easier for everyone else. We've all become so accustomed to this being a big guessing game that nobody stops to point out how crazy that is.
The Obama Administration's continued insistence on discussing medical marijuana in the most brief and vague possible terms has created an enormous amount of confusion and wasted time on every side of this debate. Medical marijuana is a matter of public policy. Can we please just talk about it in public?
Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger
In a bid to snuff out the federal medical marijuana crackdown, four US congressman have introduced an amendment that would bar the Justice Department from spending money to do so. It awaits a vote any day now. Chronicle story here.
The city council in the Virginia college town of Charlottesville had adopted a resolution calling on the state to consider decriminalizing or regulating marijuana, but balked at adding lowest law enforcement priority language. Chronicle story here.
The Dutch move to bar foreigners from cannabis cafes on the southern border has been met by coffee shop closures in protest, legal action, and police who seem to have better things to do. Meanwhile, the drug tourists are simply driving deeper into the country. Chronicle story here.
Flex Your Rights has been working for many years now to educate everyone we can about the importance of refusing police searches and otherwise knowing and asserting your constitutional rights when confronted by police. Unfortunately, even if you handle a police encounter perfectly, things can still get pretty ugly. This video discusses how to handle some of the challenges you can run into after asserting your rights:
A bill that will revive and strengthen Connecticut's largely dormant racial profiling law has passed the legislature, and Gov. Malloy says he will sign it into law. Chronicle story here.
ProCon.org is a set of in-depth web sites presenting information and views from on current issues, several with relevance to drug policy. The Chronicle is currently running a series of info items from ProCon.org -- this one from drinkingage.procon.org -- and we encourage you to check it out. Chronicle story here.
Connecticut is about to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states, but in a bid to fend off the feds, its new law is one of the most tightly-drawn yet. Chronicle story here.
A bill that would label drivers impaired if they have more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter in their blood even if they are not actually impaired has passed the Colorado Senate and a House committee. Foes are still seeking to kill or amend it. Chronicle story here.
DEA agents arrested a San Diego college student in a drug bust, then forgot about him, leaving him in a holding cell for five days. Now, the California congressional delegation wants answers, and his lawyer wants the DEA to pay big bucks. Chronicle story here.
Faced with a veto threat from Gov. John Lynch (D), the New Hampshire Senate voted Wednesday to kill a marijuana decriminalization bill that had already passed the House. Chronicle story here.
Drug War Chronicle is running a series of "Did You Know?" items highlighting items from ProCon.org. This is the second installment. Chronicle story here.
Yesterday we reported that advocates had presented House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with a petition asking her to help end the federal crackdown on medical marijuana. (Click here and scroll down to the last paragraph of the California section of our Medical Marijuana Update.)
Pelosi responded, issuing a statement on "Recent Federal Actions Threatening Safe Access to Medical Marijuana":
"I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana."
Click here for the full statement on Pelosi's web site.
The other good question came from Scott Morgan, of StopTheDrugWar.org, who asked if Kerlikowske supported compulsory treatment of casual drug users, and if arresting marijuana users and forcing them into treatment was an effective policy. This time, Kerlikowske played dumb:
"Again, that’s a bit of a myth. If someone’s arrested for a small amount of marijuana, and the determination is made they have to go into treatment, treatment beds and space are a valuable commodity. I think professionals can clearly assess when someone is in need of treatment. Compulsory treatment is not something I’m as familiar with in great detail at the local level."
It's an incredible thing to say, so utterly divorced from reality and plainly absurd to anyone remotely aware of how our marijuana policies and criminal justice system operate. It's hardly a secret that when the cops catch you with pot, they bust you and haul your ass into court where you're ordered to attend classes about how you shouldn’t smoke pot.
Our courts are open to the public and you can just walk in and watch this happen to a dozen people in one afternoon. It's worth doing if you haven't before.
The drug czar says that addiction is a medical condition, but it's certainly the only medical condition with which you get diagnosed not by a doctor but by a judge in criminal court based solely on the fact that a cop found marijuana in your pocket one single time.
I don't think we've posted this anywhere yet, and I don't want our negligence to be the reason anyone misses what might be the coolest thing I've seen this year, so better a little late than never:
I can't help but gush, because I don't know how Kimmel could have executed this any better. Other than the (unfortunately) obligatory munchie joke, this was perfect. Pointing out that marijuana policy is something "real people care about" and vote for is the message the President needs to hear. Bonus points for making almost everyone in the room admit to having done it. Bravo.
My latest Huffington Post rant calls out the drug czar's preposterous excuses for the ban on industrial hemp cultivation. Check it out.
As the media turns up the heat on Obama's medical marijuana crackdown, one of the excuses he's giving is that they're just going after businesses that are violating state laws. In the President's own words:
The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. [Rolling Stone]
And again from someone at the Dept. of Justice
After Kimmel's speech, a Holder deputy told HuffPost that there was no coordinated war on medical marijuana, but that some individual clinics were breaking both state and federal laws. [Huffington Post]
Andrew Sullivan also gives a nod to this notion:
To be fair to Obama, he specifically said the policy was against those abusing the medical marijuana law to sell illegally. And some blame can be attached to the disorderly way in which medical marijuana laws have been enforced.
This excuse fails on about five different levels. The escalating assault on medical marijuana that's been ramped up over the past year is far from focused on forcing out bad businesses. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t be much to argue about. States could simply clarify their policies where necessary, medical marijuana providers could maintain scrupulous compliance, and only the crooks and bums in the industry would have anything to worry about, right? Wrong.
The truth is that the feds are doing the exact opposite of respecting state laws; they're trying to destroy them. Federal prosecutors have repeatedly threatened to arrest state employees for merely administering their own medical marijuana programs. They did so in a cynical effort to prevent lawmakers in multiple states from creating the sort of tight regulations that would prevent abuse and legitimize the industry.
Obviously, you can't claim to be merely upholding local laws while simultaneously threatening the very people who make and enforce them. This has been widely reported, and it even resulted in a push-back from the governors of medical marijuana states who've become frustrated with the mixed signals they've gotten from the Obama Administration. Think about how crazy it is that these states were following Obama's lead by clarifying their laws, and then the DOJ just comes along and threatens to arrest their staffers. It's an incredible mess, and it happened because Obama and Holder completely confused absolutely everyone about how this issue would be handled.
Making matters worse, multiple federal agencies have carried out a dizzying array of attacks against medical marijuana from every other conceivable angle:
- U.S. Attorneys in California recently revived the Bush era tactic of threatening to seize property from landlords who rent to medical marijuana facilities.
- After 9 years of failing to respond, the DEA recently denied a petition to reschedule marijuana, ignoring a vast body of scientific evidence proving the drug's medical efficacy.
- Federal threats have caused numerous banks to close the accounts of businesses that provide medical marijuana to qualified patients.
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms issued a surprising statement that medical marijuana patients may not purchase firearms.
- The IRS is shaking down medical marijuana providers for millions of dollars based on an obscure tax provision aimed at drug traffickers.
- A federal prosecutor even threatened to target newspapers that run ads for medical marijuana services.
- And, of course, the DEA continues to raid tax-paying businesses that are legal under state law.
For Obama to now claim that all they're doing is targeting illegally operated dispensaries is flagrantly and transparently untrue. There really is a far-reaching federal assault on medical marijuana being carried out at the national level. Obama's refusal to acknowledge or explain it is unacceptable.
Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger
Obama's recent claim that he can't do anything about the illegality of medical marijuana has drawn plenty of criticism, but this ought to take the cake.
Attorney General Eric Holder was a guest of The Huffington Post at the correspondents' dinner. Before it began, a HuffPost reporter noted to Holder that Obama's reference to "congressional law" was misleading because the executive branch could simply remove marijuana from its "schedule one" designation, thereby recognizing its medical use.
"That's right," Holder said. [Huffington Post]
Okay, can we please stop making excuses for the President? Legally, he does not have to wage war on medical marijuana. Politically, he doesn't have to do this either. Yet the war rages on and the people responsible are still denying what they're doing right before our eyes.
To those who say we shouldn't blame Obama for this outrage, I say of course we should. He has the biggest microphone in the nation and if he can't use it to tell the truth and stand up for a human rights issue as basic as this one, then he needs to hear from us. To remain silent is to reward intransigence and invite injustice.
Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger