Recently in Drugs Category

As crime rises in may parts of the country, particularly in urban centers and states invested heavily in alternative sentencing, the call to end so called "mass incarceration" is still a high priority for the left as evidenced by this OpEd in the Sacramento Bee by Foon Rhee.  The author praises the outgoing President's embrace of sentencing reform and California's aggressive alternative sentencing policies, but he fears that that the incoming President will reverse this trend.  He suggests that on top of the tens of thousands of criminals already released early under these policies another 364,000 state and federal non-violent and drug offenders can be released without threatening public safety. 

The next day, a story buried in the same paper reported that drug overdose deaths have increased by 33% over the last five years, according to the CDC. A more thorough story on this issue was written by Michael Casey of CNS news.  A 2015 report by the Urban Institute found that 99% of drug offenders in federal prison were convicted of trafficking.  Anyone familiar with criminal trials understands that virtually all of the dealers got a plea bargain. 

In California, as a result of Proposition 47, which converted felony drug possession to a misdemeanor, drug arrests are down dramatically.  Under the state's Realignment law, most drug dealers do not go to prison anymore and users, if police even bother to arrest them, are cited and punished with a few hours in a local jail as reported in the Desert Sun. 

There has been much debate on this blog regarding whether drug dealers should be considered violent criminals.   Assessing the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed by the illegal drugs they sell, I would say yes.  Mr. Rhee and others who think like him would likely disagree, as I am sure that they would be quick to deny any connection between the mass release of federal and state drug dealers and the increase in overdose deaths. 

Is the War on Drugs a Failure?

Academia, the Left, and libertarians relentlessly tell us that the War on Drugs is a failure.

I just came across this article, which begins:

According to a recent report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), today's teens are actually better behaved than the generations which preceded them, relatively speaking.

According to the annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) fewer teens are having sex and using drugs or alcohol. In fact, today's teenagers actually have the lowest rates of ecstasy, heroin, and meth use on record.

I don't know the extent to which the criminalization of these dangerous drugs has contributed to the decrease in their use by young people, but I do know two things. First, attaching costs and risks to the use of X will reduce the use of X; and second, the law is a teacher as well as an instrument, and its lesson that drug use is bad is one we should preserve.

Katy Murphy of Bay Area News Group has this story on the latest Field Poll.  Both of the death penalty propositions are ahead by single digits in this poll, though 10% remain undecided on 66.  The marijuana and gun control initiatives appear to be headed for approval.

Once again, Field gave its respondents only the confusing ballot language on 66.  That would accurately gauge the votes of people who will vote without consulting anything else and those who have already gotten information from other sources and made up their minds.  It would not, however, reflect the votes of people who have not yet made up their minds on the "down ballot" questions and will consult external sources before doing so.  Other polls that tell people in simple terms that 66 will speed up enforcement of the death penalty show it doing far better, as I noted earlier.
A:  In a word, no.  Not close.

I want to follow up on Kent's post about the Gallup poll on sentencing, focusing specifically on drugs. My reason is that the sentencing reform proposals in Congress concentrate mainly on lowering drug sentences. This has also been the focus of the (liberal majority) Sentencing Commission in recent years. 

One of the things I often hear when I debate sentencing "reform" is that lowering sentences is the politically astute thing for Republicans to do.

That is simply false.

California Proposition Poll

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SurveyUSA has this poll on California's ballot propositions, among other things.

"Proposition 62, which would end the death penalty in CA and replace it with life in prison, trails by 15 points today and is headed for defeat." If that sounds familiar, it's nearly identical to what the same poll found about two weeks ago, noted in this post.

"Proposition 63, which outlaws large-capacity magazines and requires background checks on ammo purchases, leads by more than 2:1 and will pass." 

"Proposition 64, which would legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana, is supported 52% to 41%. Caution advised."

And Proposition 66, which would streamline the death penalty and allow us to restart executions?  They didn't poll on it.  Again.

The pollsters note:

Polling ballot measures and citizen initiatives is an inexact science. In general, having nothing to do with California specifically and having nothing to do with 2016 uniquely, opposition to a ballot measure increases as Election Day approaches. Rarely does support for a ballot measure increase over time. It is likely that opposition to Propositions 56, 62, 63 and 64 will increase once early voting begins on 10/10/16. This may alter the calculus on recreational marijuana Proposition 64, which today has the most fragile advantage of those measures tested.
Susan Pinker has this article in the WSJ with the above title, reviewing the research.

In the previous post, I noted my rare agreement with Jerry Brown that a marijuana industry with legitimacy and mass marketing would produce an increase in consumption that will diminish us as a nation.  This is why.  We are already suffering from a decline in the ambition and work ethic that made us a great nation in the first place.  The last thing we need is a chemically induced steepening of our decline.

The Trouble With Pot Legalization

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Q.  Who said this about marijuana legalization?

The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?

Accepting the Preposterous as the Premise

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SL&P has an entry introducing a paper that argues for legalizing dope.  The paper begins as follows:

Many who argue against the legalization of marijuana suggest that while its consumption may not be very harmful, marijuana indirectly causes significant social harm by acting as a "gateway drug," a drug whose consumption facilitates the use of other, more harmful, drugs.  This article presents a theory of "gateway crimes", which, perhaps counterintuitively, implies that there are social gains to decriminalizing offenses that cause minor harms, including marijuana-related offenses.

A typical gateway crime is an act which is punished lightly, but, because it is designated as a crime, being convicted for committing it leads one to be severely stigmatized.

I stopped reading there, because, having been around for a few decades, I understand (as does every other more-or-less rational person) that the notion that being convicted of smoking a joint "leads one to be severely stigmatized" is preposterous. Pot smoking, whether or not one got caught at it, was very widely accepted in my Baby Boomer generation, and is even more widely accepted now. You're more likely to be stigmatized (as a Puritanical nerd) if, by the time you're 25, you haven't smoked a joint.

The stuff that gets put for as "scholarship" in legal academia continues to amaze.

Just say no to marijuana, kids

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Now this is interesting....finally a scientifically backed article on the realities of marijuana use among adolescents.  

Pot Classification

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Alicia Caldwell reports for AP:

The Obama administration has decided marijuana will remain on the list of most-dangerous drugs, fully rebuffing growing support across the country for broad legalization, but said it will allow more research into its medical uses.

The decision to expand research into marijuana's medical potential could pave the way for the drug to be moved to a lesser category. Heroin, peyote and marijuana, among others, are considered Schedule I drugs because they have no medical application; cocaine and opiates, for example, have medical uses and, while still illegal for recreational use, are designated Schedule II drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the agency's decision came after a lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human Services Department, which said marijuana "has a high potential for abuse" and "no accepted medical use." The decision means that pot will remain illegal for any purpose under federal law, despite laws in 25 states and District of Columbia that have legalized pot for either medicinal or recreational use.
Answer:  When Barack Obama is handing out clemency to drug felons.  If they were packin' heat on the street corner, well, look, boys will be boys.  

The important thing is to shimmy down the prison population.  If the federal recidivism rate is half (49.3%, exactly), and crime across America is skyrocketing, please, get over it.  We need to "rebuild our communities"  --  with drug pushers.

Heather MacDonald lays it out in her telling piece in the National Review.

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal prisoners yesterday, part of his ongoing crusade against a criminal-justice system he regularly declares racist and draconian. The White House trumpeted the fact that this was the largest one-day grant of clemency since 1900....

Many of the commuttees possessed stolen firearms or firearms with their serial numbers obliterated. Some were in violation of National Firearms Registration, which can mean possession of a federally prohibited weapon, such as a machine gun, silencer, or sawed-off shotgun. We don't know how many guns the offenders actually had; a commuttee during a previous batch of commutations had 40. 

Nor does the Justice Department's press release disclose the actual incidence of firearm possession by these federal convicts. Gun possession can be used to increase a federal sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines without a prosecutor's actually bringing a formal charge. A gun charge can also be plea-bargained away. Many advocates of criminal-justice reform believe in maximum gun control, yet White House press releases on the president's commutations have been silent on the widespread incidence of illegal gun possession.

All fifty states utilize implied consent laws to require motorists arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence ("DUI") to submit to a chemical test to determine the amount of alcohol and/or drugs in her/her system.  The blood alcohol concentration ("BAC") results are the best evidence of intoxication level to be used in a subsequent DUI prosecution.  

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled on three consolidated cases brought by three different motorists who challenged the criminal penalty for refusing to consent to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine.  The post I wrote summarizing these three cases can be found here.  

In Minnesota and North Dakota (and 11 other states), it a separate crime to refuse to a chemical test.  California does not make refusal a separate crime, but instead it can be used as a sentencing enhancement if the motorist is convicted of a DUI.  Now that Birchfield/Bernard/Beylund hold that a warrant is required for all chemical testing of blood, the California legislature will need to modify the current law (VC 23612) to comport with the Supreme Court's ruling.  
The U.S. Supreme Court decided two cases this morning involving the reach of federal law under the Commerce Clauses of the Constitution.

Taylor v. United States, No. 14-6166, deals with one of the broadest laws for extending federal criminal jurisdiction to seemingly local cases, the Hobbs Act.  Any robbery affecting interstate commerce is within federal jurisdiction, and given the post-1937 definition of interstate commerce, that is a very broad sweep.  In today's case, any robbery of drug dealers can be a federal offense.

RJR Nabisco v. European Community, No. 15-138, involves civil suits under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  The Court puts some limits on this much-misused procedure, blocking civil RICO suits where the acts are all outside the United States.
In an age where the federal government is a gargantuan burlesque of the Framers' vision  --  of late instructing local schools about who can use which shower and bathroom, and local judges about when they may (and may not) enforce traffic fines against scofflaws  --  it's easy to see the appeal of libertarianism.

Easy, that is, until libertarians start talking:

During the [Libertarian Party Convention] presidential candidate debate, the room went wild for suggestions of abolishing the Federal Reserve, state-sponsored education, and gun control.

"I believe in a world where gay married couples can defend their marijuana fields with submachine guns, aw yeah baby!" conservative libertarian Austin Petersen said.

"Crystal meth should be as legal as tomatoes," another candidate Daryl Perry declared. 

I'm all for the right to defend your person and your home with force, including, in cases of imminent danger of grave bodily harm, guns.  But using an AK-47 to defend your pot grow, is, well......

What else is there to say here, except that those in search of a third party should check out whether those things in their sandwiches are really tomatoes. 

One of the arguments for legalizing dope is that, given the fact that people are going to use one kind of intoxicant or another, we'll be better off, and safer (on the road, for example), if they're stoned rather than plastered.  Essentially, the theory is that, to some significant extent, we'll trade alcohol consumption for dope smoking, and that the dopers will be more laid back, and take it easier, than the drunks.

Prof. Doug Berman has made this argument numerous times.

It's an empirical proposition, of course.  We can test it by looking to the states in which recreational dope is legal (under state law), and thus more readily available.  (The additional advantage, we are told, is that legalized dope will be regulated, and thus less subject to adulteration and other perils of a black market product).

Q:  So how are things working out in the largest of the legalized pot states, Colorado?  Is  alcohol consumption lower than in states where dope remains illegal?

A:  See this Denver Post article, "Colorado Stands Out for Consuming Drugs, Alcohol  -- High levels of pot consumption expected, but Colorado stands out for other inebriants, too."

Oh well.

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