Tag Archives: war on drugs

The Problem Isn’t Synthetic Marijuana. The Problem Is Prohibition.

A WVPD vehicle, outfitted for the D.A.R.E. pro...
A WVPD vehicle, outfitted for the D.A.R.E. program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Per CNN, New York governor Andrew Cuomo attributes 160 emergency room visits in his state, over a period of only nine days, to “synthetic marijuana” use. Alabama’s Department of Public Health claims 98 overdoses statewide in March.

The chemical stew — sold under the fiction that it’s to be used as incense or in some other innocuous way , but well-known as a substitute drug for those seeking a recreational, marijuana-like high — reportedly comes with side effects ranging from confusion and headaches to seizures and even death.

Is this latest drug scare a real problem, or just another instance of the hysterical propaganda used to justify marijuana prohibition for 80 years or so? It’s hard to tell. I’m inclined to think that it’s for real and that “spice” is some bad stuff. But either way, the real problem is prohibition itself.

Synthetic marijuana users would probably rather have the real thing. Unfortunately, it’s harder to find. Unlike “synthetic marijuana,” it isn’t sold openly in stores except in a few states. And it too comes with a major side effect: The possibility of going to jail.

In fact, that’s its ONLY major side effect. Marijuana is among the safest drugs around. It’s pretty much impossible to overdose on. It doesn’t impair judgment, motor skills or reaction times as badly as alcohol does. And while smoking it may be bad for the lungs, its users normally don’t go through two packs a day as tobacco users do.

As a public health matter, the obvious answer to the “synthetic marijuana” problem is to end the government’s war on real marijuana. And that’s been the correct answer to all supposed “marijuana problems” since marijuana prohibition came into vogue in the 1930s.

Starting with California in the 1990s, states began legalizing medical marijuana use.  So far 24 have done so. Only four states (Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon) and the District of Columbia have moved to decriminalize possession of small quantities of this relatively benign plant.

Why are things moving so slowly? If you have to ask “why,” the answer is almost always “money.”  Prohibition is a major industry.

The US government spends tens of billions of dollars per year providing “war on drugs” employment to cops and bureaucrats who might otherwise have to find real jobs. Local police departments count on drug busts (and associated property seizures) to pad their own payrolls. The American prison-industrial complex lobbies hard for laws that keep its cells filled. And assorted “non-profits” like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) rake in tens of millions of dollars annually by pitching anti-drug propaganda at a captive audience — our kids.

The war on drugs benefits the prohibition industry. But where the public’s health and freedom are concerned, its costs — people jailed, people killed, sick people denied real medicine, well people made sick by inferior recreational substitutes — far outweigh any benefits, real or imagined.

The war on drugs is a national nightmare. Time to wake up and end it.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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An American Spelling Lesson: J-U-R-Y Does Not Spell “Rubber Stamp”

This is Swampyank's copy of "The Jury&quo...
“The Jury” by John Morgan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Break out the world’s smallest violin for prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida: They’re having problems finding citizens who’ll jail other citizens for marijuana possession. In one recent case it took hours to weed out (pun intended) prospective jurors who didn’t think marijuana should be illegal.

Cindy Swirko’s  “When opinions on pot, and the law, collide” (March 22, Gainesville Sun) is a refreshingly fair-minded piece on this “problem” and on the wider phenomenon of jury nullification.

Jury nullification occurs when a jury bases its verdict not on the facts of a case, but on the jurors’ opinion that the law is defective or morally wrong. That may sound strange but it’s an important part of American legal history.

Jury nullification was a key tool of the 19th century’s anti-slavery movement. The Fugitive Slave Act imposed criminal penalties for assisting fleeing slaves. Northern juries refused to convict Underground Railroad activists.

Jury nullification also helped end alcohol prohibition as juries frequently declined to convict bootleggers. In one (perhaps apocryphal) case, the jury allegedly “drank the evidence,” then acquitted.

In a 1969 case, United States v. Moylan — the defendants stood accused of impeding the military draft — the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held, unanimously, that “if the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.”

As more and more Americans conclude that the “war on drugs” — especially marijuana — is impractical and immoral, that force is once again making itself felt.

Prosecutors hate jury nullification. It messes up their batting averages.

The measure of prosecutorial effectiveness is the conviction rate. That’s why “plea bargains” are so popular. 92% of Americans charged with crimes plead guilty in return for lesser charges or lighter sentences. Of the 8% who go to trial, 3/4 are convicted.

Yes, that’s right — of 50 Americans accused of crimes, 49 plead guilty or are convicted. But that one acquittal drives prosecutors nuts. So, with the cooperation of judges, they’ve turned jury selection into an extended interrogation with only one acceptable answer: “Yes, I will serve unquestioningly as your rubber stamp.”

The Fully Informed Jury Association (fija.org) fights this trend, working to ensure that prospective jurors know about their right to “judge the law as well as the facts,” and to explicitly codify in our laws an obligation of judges to inform them of that right.

Are your legislators sponsoring a Fully Informed Jury Act in your state? If not, maybe you should call their offices and ask why.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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A Suicide in Brooklyn

RGBStock.com Police RaidMaraschino cherry mogul Arthur Mondella put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger on February 24. He was 57. New York City’s medical examiners will no doubt rule his death a suicide. But Mondella was really the latest victim of a multi-billion dollar industry: Drug prohibition.

Why did Mondella lock himself in the bathroom at Dell’s Maraschino Cherries — a company his grandfather founded in 1948, and which annually produces more than a billion of the sweet, syrupy little treats that top America’s desserts — ask his sister to take care of his children, and kill himself?

Because police, posing as “environmental inspectors,” discovered (as they suspected) that in addition to producing cherries, Mondella was using the factory to run a marijuana business. After five hours of tearing the place apart, they found a false wall hiding 80 pounds of cannabis and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Mondella ran a second business behind the scenes. As with his cherry business, he provided a desired product to willing customers, leaving both parties better off than before the exchange. Unfortunately for him, that second business ran afoul of a set of evil laws maintained well past their “okay, that didn’t work” dates for the purpose of keeping government bureaucrats and “non-profit” executives employed.

In 2015 alone, one federal bureaucracy — the Office of National Drug Control Policy — will spend more than $25 billion taxpayer dollars hunting down and caging or killing entrepreneurs like Mondella. That’s not counting the expenditures of state and local law enforcement agencies, or the tens of millions raised and spent by “non-profit” propaganda shops like DARE and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids.

Drug prohibition is big business. Not the kind of business Arthur Mondella ran, though. It isn’t the  win-win proposition that defines legitimate enterprise.  Drug prohibition’s “products” are people jailed, people killed, property seized. Its “transactions” harm  everyone except the fat cats who run its various divisions and subsidiaries.

In 1971,  a young Vietnam veteran testifying before Congress against the war, John Kerry (now US Secretary of State), wondered “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

America’s tragic history of marijuana prohibition seems to be slowly drawing to an end as more and more states legalize it for medical and, lately, recreational use.  Unfortunately Arthur Mondella probably won’t be its last casualty.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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