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Victimless Crime?

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AP reports:

MILLVALE, Pa. (AP) -- A 9-month-old boy found dead in a Pittsburgh-area apartment is believed to have starved after his mother died of an apparent overdose, leaving no one to care for him, authorities said Friday.

The woman's brother found the two dead early Friday morning when he went to check on his sister, Sara Kessler, 22, after not hearing from her for several days, Assistant Allegheny County police Superintendent James Morton said.

Morton said Kessler may have died a week or two earlier. She was found on her bed, with the son, Casey, in the living room. He said there were no signs of foul play.

A Smear Job by a Sitting Federal Judge

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Are you in favor of the system of stern federal sentencing that has helped reduce crime to levels not seen since the Baby Boomers were in grade school?

If so, you're not merely mistaken, misguided or misinformed.  You're in bed with lynching.

That is the level of "argument"  --  indeed, that is exactly the argument  --  put forth in a new article by a sitting US District Judge, Mark Bennett of Iowa.  The article, available here, is titled, "A Slow Motion Lynching? The War on Drugs, Mass Incarceration, Doing Kimbrough Justice, and a Response to Two Third Circuit Judges."

Never one to appeal to emotion or fiction, Judge Bennett starts his hatchet job on those who disagree with him with this:

The 2014 Best Picture Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave, is based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup.1 Northrup, a black freeman in New York, was kidnapped and sold into Southern slavery.2 There is an eternally haunting, prolonged, and grueling scene in the movie where Northup has a noose around his neck and strains for breath by tiptoeing on the ground to keep from being lynched.3 Other slaves on the plantation are paralyzed by fear and ignore him. Like a ballerina en pointe, Northup spends long hours in this slow motion lynching dance until he is rescued by his owner.

This article is supposed to be about modern federal sentencing, mind you.

Of course, a number of paragraphs later, Bennett inserts the obligatory if limp disclaimer, a disclaimer embarrassing for its blase' insincerity:

This Article does not suggest that incarcerating almost exclusively black men for unprecedented lengthy terms of incarceration, for crack cocaine offenses they illegally committed, is the equivalent of lynching innocent blacks. It does, however, suggest both actions have strong racial overtones; both share a lack of public outcry; both share tacit public complicity; both share governmental complicity; both share devastating effects on families, children, and neighborhoods; and both have been accomplished largely at the hands of those unknown--at least to the general public.
 



Can the AG Take Pot Off Schedule I?

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The question whether the Attorney General can, strictly on his own initiative, take pot off Schedule I of the federal schedule of controlled substances has been kicking around for some time now.

As with everything inside the Beltway, it's hard to get a straight answer.  The Washington Post at least gives it a good college try today.  The key part of its piece is here (emphasis added):

Under federal law, the attorney general can move to add, reschedule or remove drugs on his own, at the request of the health and human services secretary or in response to a public petition. But the law also requires the attorney general to gather data and scientific and medical evaluation from the HHS secretary before doing so.

Congress can pass laws to change the scheduling of drugs. Even if the attorney general does decide to move toward rescheduling, Congress can overturn his decision, experts say.

The Drug Enforcement Administration already has denied a petition to reschedule the drug, based on findings by HHS. HHS determined that marijuana has a "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States," leading the DEA to reject the petition in 2011. The petition was filed nearly a decade earlier, in 2002.

I would add four observations.  First, pot is already de facto legal, as you can find out by going to any of a zillion frat parties this weekend.  Second, the incoming AG, Loretta Lynch, has said firmly that she opposes pot legalization  --  a quite direct answer, given the entirety of her testimony.  Third, it was several years into the present Administration that the federal government refused a request to take pot off Schedule I.  Fourth, a Congress vastly more liberal than this one (2006-2010) made absolutely no move to remove pot from Schedule I.

The facts being what they are, this is not that hard to figure out, unless you're stoned.



I don't think it takes a genius to figure this one out.  Still, the sponsors of Prop. 47 nervously assure us that it's "too early" to draw the predictable (and predicted) conclusion from these breathtaking figures.  Of course, by the time they admit the conclusion everyone else can see, their line will be that we just don't have the money to "go back."

When you shrink drug enforcement, you get more property crime as well as more drug abuse.  And I don't mean just pot.  I mean meth.

Read the entire Los Angeles Times story for yourself.

la-me-g-prop47-crime.jpg

Click on the graph for a larger version.

Hat tip to Doug Berman at SL&P, who brought this piece to the attention of his readers. 

No Dice on Federal Pot Legalization

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The prospects that federal law will be changed to legalize marijuana took a huge step back yesterday when AG nominee Loretta Lynch said that she does not support legalization.  The NPR report states:

During her first day of confirmation hearings for attorney general, nominee Loretta Lynch gave answers that seemed in line with President Obama. But then she was asked about marijuana, and whether she supports legalizing it.

"Senator, I do not," Lynch told Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., when he asked whether she supports making pot legal.

And that is that, for the foreseeable future.  The betting is that Lynch will be confirmed as Attorney General, and if Obama's AG does not support federal legalization, it isn't going to happen during this administration, period.  It got nowhere in the last Congress, which was more liberal than the current one, and Ms. Lynch's position is visibly more hostile to pot than Eric Holder's has been.

Still, I should add three things.  First, this is a point in Ms. Lynch's favor as far as I'm concerned.  Second, I expect that, if Ms. Lynch becomes AG, pot enforcement will remain a relatively low priority, which it has been for years (other drugs being even more hazardous).  Third, as ever, CJLF takes no position on pot legalization. 



Marijuana Notes

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There are a couple of interesting marijuana stories in the papers.  Dan Frosch reports in the WSJ:

Before Colorado became the first state to allow marijuana for recreational purposes, supporters boasted that legalization would generate a sizable tax windfall, while opponents warned that it could have dramatic social consequences.

Slightly more than a year into the state's experiment with sanctioning pot sales to adults 21 and older, neither prediction is proving entirely true. Marijuana so far hasn't been the boon or bane that many expected, offering potential lessons to other states considering legalization.
Susan Shapiro had more personal and poignant article in the LA Times last week. 

I know the dark side. I'm ambivalent about legalizing marijuana because I was addicted for 27 years.
*                                           *                                     *
Back then Willie Nelson songs, Cheech and Chong routines and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High's" Jeff Spicoli made getting high seem kooky and harmless. My reality was closer to Walter White's self-destruction from meth on TV's "Breaking Bad" and the delusional nightmares in the film "Requiem for a Dream." Everyone believed you couldn't get addicted to pot.
Only those living on Mars don't know that Colorado has legalized recreational use of pot.  The ballot measure that brought this about was sold to the electorate with several assurances  --  that use in public would remain prohibited, as would use by minors, and that tax revenue would cascade into the state.  The strong libertarian component backing the measure told us that it had little to no interest in affirmatively promoting pot use, but was instead interested simply taking a step toward states' rights and individual freedom to decide for oneself whether the risks were worth the "benefits."

So how are things working out?

As to the assurance that there would be no public toking up, this story has a bit to say:

Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

Wow.  Tens of thousands.  Surely there was a considerable police presence to keep faith the with no-public-use ban the voters had been promised would remain. Ummmm................well.................................

The 4:20 p.m. smoke-out in the shadow of the Colorado capitol was the capstone of an Easter weekend dedicated to cannabis in states across the country. Although it is still against the law to publicly smoke marijuana in Colorado, police reported only 130 citations or arrests over the course of the two-day event, 92 for marijuana consumption.

Well that's cool.  Ninety-two pot citations with tens of thousands of smokers.  That's less than one percent who so much as get charged when they make a point of publicly getting zapped. (Not that anything is likely to happen with these charges except that they'll be quietly dismissed in the bye-and-bye).


Is there a problem with telling the voters there will be strong "safeguards," then blowing (pun intended) right past them?  Well, no, not if you're a druggie, or the PR outfit that does their campaign.



Pot Law, Up in Smoke?

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Today's Wall Street Journal has a piece about the lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against a neighboring state, Colorado, for the latter's purported legalization of recreational marijuana.  The column, by David Rivkin (a friend of mine) and Prof. Elizabeth Price Foley, starts thusly:

The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma have asked the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional Colorado's law legalizing marijuana. The lawsuit states that, "The Constitution and the federal anti-drug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed-distribution schemes throughout the country which conflict with federal laws."

Many conservatives have criticized Nebraska and Oklahoma for being "fair-weather federalists" because their claims hinge, in part, on Gonzales v. Raich, a 2005 Supreme Court decision, upholding the broad reach of Congress's power to regulate commerce.

Conservatives' ire instead should be directed at the Obama administration's decision to suspend enforcement of the federal law prohibiting marijuana--a decision so warping the rule of law that the complaining states' reliance on Raich is justified and necessary.

Kent had a post here discussing some of the procedural "inside baseball" riddles of this suit.   Doug Berman discusses the suit in entries here and here.


CJLF takes no position on the legalization of pot.  I personally would keep pot as illegal as it is now, to wit, some but not much, as every college-age kid knows (and you can be sure many demonstrated just over the weekend).

As noted in today's News Scan, the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed suit in the Supreme Court against Colorado over its marijuana law.  Here are a few random thoughts.

My first impression was that such a suit would be meritless, bordering on frivolous.  Of course a state is within its constitutional authority to not prohibit something.  After skimming quickly through the complaint, though, it is more nuanced than that.  The gist of the claim is that the Colorado law involves its government in affirmatively promoting a trafficking in marijuana that violates federal law.  I will have to study it more carefully to form an opinion on the merits of the complaint.

Procedurally, there is some inside baseball on the peculiarities of Supreme Court jurisdiction.
Remember Edward Dorsey?  He was the defendant in Dorsey v. United States, in which the Supreme Court, 5-4, walked past the federal Savings Statute, 1 USC 109, to find that the Crack Pushers Bonanza Bill Fair Sentencing Act applied retroactively for the benefit of those convicted on or after the day it was signed into law, regardless of its effective date.

What happens when we make lighter drug sentencing retroactive?  Easy  --  the druggie gets out earlier.  And what happens then? Easy again  --  he gets back in business.  Why would he do anything else when he sees that we've lost our nerve?

The Sentencing Commission, in its rush to give breaks to drug dealers, has danced and pranced around their actual recidivism rate.  In fact, although the Commission understandably seems a bit reluctant to say so out loud, the drug recidivism rate is a staggering 77%.

With that in mind, I bring you today's news in the form of a press release from the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois, home of our friend, Mr. "We Know He'll Go Straight From Now On" Edward Dorsey (emphasis added):

D.C. Set to Legalize Pot...........Ooooops.

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On election day, the District of Columbia overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative that would legalize small amounts of recreational dope.  Potheads all over the city celebrated.

That was then.  As of today, Congress is set to effectively overturn the District's action.  It has the right to do so under the city's Home Rule Charter.  It is exercising that right because, apparently (and justifiably), it believes that the seat of the federal government should abide by federal law.  Imagine that.

As noted many times before, CJLF takes no position on pot legalization.  My personal view is that it should remain just as illegal as it is now, to wit, not a whole lot, but some.  Essentially no one in this city goes to jail for privately smoking a joint, and legalizing would send a message of de facto endorsement that society is better advised to withhold.

The Legalization Lobby Parodies Itself

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Those preferring to see more widespread use of pot are, naturally, for legalizing it, thus removing one of the barriers to broad consumption.

In the course of their campaign (upon which CJLF takes no position), they have claimed that pot affirmatively makes you healthier.  Indeed, it's something of a wonder drug!

Thus I guess this was bound to happen, but I still feel like I should pass it along:  "Smoking Marijuana Can Protect You From Ebola."

I swear I am not making this up.
Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland (Australia) Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research has a monograph with the above title in the journal Addiction.  Here is the abstract:

Aims:  To examine changes in the evidence on the adverse health effects of cannabis since 1993. Methods:  A comparison of the evidence in 1993 with the evidence and interpretation of the same health outcomes in 2013. Results:  Research in the past 20 years has shown that driving while cannabis-impaired approximately doubles car crash risk and that around one in 10 regular cannabis users develop dependence. Regular cannabis use in adolescence approximately doubles the risks of early school-leaving and of cognitive impairment and psychoses in adulthood. Regular cannabis use in adolescence is also associated strongly with the use of other illicit drugs. These associations persist after controlling for plausible confounding variables in longitudinal studies. This suggests that cannabis use is a contributory cause of these outcomes but some researchers still argue that these relationships are explained by shared causes or risk factors. Cannabis smoking probably increases cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged adults but its effects on respiratory function and respiratory cancer remain unclear, because most cannabis smokers have smoked or still smoke tobacco. Conclusions: The epidemiological literature in the past 20 years shows that cannabis use increases the risk of accidents and can produce dependence, and that there are consistent associations between regular cannabis use and poor psychosocial outcomes and mental health in adulthood.
In olden times, proponents of marijuana prohibition ridiculously exaggerated its harmful effects, a campaign reaching its unintentionally hilarious peak in the film Reefer Madness.  Today, proponents of legalization engage in equal and opposite propaganda, trying to convince us that marijuana is completely harmless.  I call this campaign Reverse Reefer Madness.  CJLF takes no position on the legalization issue, but we should be basing our decisions on science, not propaganda.  Hall says:

Our best estimate is that the risk of developing a psychosis doubles from approximately 7 in 1000 in nonusers [102] to 14 in 1000 among regular cannabis users.
Schizophrenia is a terrible disease.  It wrecks people's lives.  It has a profound impact on the lives of people close to them.  Doubling the risk is no trivial matter.

Hat tip to Michael Tremoglie, who has this article at Main Street.

The Zombie Defense

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Park Dietz & Associates, forensic psychology experts, have an email newsletter.  The current issue has an article on Ambien:

The "Ambien Defense" has been getting a lot of press in 2014.  Sometimes called the "Zombie Defense," it's the argument that someone charged with a crime--and the crimes have ranged from DWI to child sexual abuse to murder-- took Ambien (or generic zolpidem) beforehand and had no memory of the crime.
 •  August 19:  A Montana man was sentenced to 100 years for murdering two sisters in their early 20s.  He stabbed one victim over 130 times, including 34 times in the face, and beat, gagged, strangled, and stabbed the other.  A judge called the killings "ritualistic" and "systematic."  The man said he took Ambien before the killings and had no memory of them, but pleaded no contest to avoid a trial.
A few similar examples follow. 

Godfather Tactics By Pot Growers?

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One of the most memorable scenes in the original Godfather movie is when the Corleone family pressures a movie mogul by killing his prized horse.  Something similar may have happened for real in rural Humboldt County, California.  The dog of ecologist Mourad Gabriel was killed by red meat laced with rat poison thrown into his back yard.  Gabriel had been studying this poison and showing its detrimental effects on the environment.  Vivian Ho has this story in the SF Chron, headlined "Was scientist's dog poisoned by pot growers to silence him?"

According to Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity, "many of those most affected by Gabriel's research into brodifacoum are illegal marijuana growers who pollute public lands with their illegal farms ...."

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