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A Possession Arrest Every 25 Seconds: The Cruel Folly of the War on Drugs [FEATURE]

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Nearly a half century after Richard Nixon inaugurated the modern war on drugs, to criticize it as a failure as so common as to be banal. Yet even as marijuana prohibition falls in some states, the drug war rolls on, an assembly line of criminalization and incarceration, dealing devastating blows to the lives of its victims that linger far beyond the jail or prison cell.

More than 1.25 million arrests for simple drug possession last year. (Creative Commons)
And most of its victims are not capos or kingpins, but simple drug users. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), drug possession is the single offense for which the largest number of arrests are made in the US, totaling more than 1.25 million last year, and accounting for more than three-fourths of all drug arrests.

Based on analysis of national and state-level data, as well as more than 360 interviews with drug offenders, family members, past and present government officials, and activists conducted mostly in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and New York, the 196-page report, "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States," finds that enforcement of drug possession laws causes extensive and unjustifiable harm to individuals and communities across the country.

The long-term consequences can separate families; exclude people from job opportunities, welfare assistance, public housing, and voting; and expose them to discrimination and stigma for a lifetime. While more people are arrested for simple drug possession in the US than for any other crime, mainstream discussions of criminal justice reform rarely question whether drug use should be criminalized at all.

"Every 25 seconds someone is funneled into the criminal justice system, accused of nothing more than possessing drugs for personal use," said Tess Borden, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the ACLU and the report's author. "These wide-scale arrests have destroyed countless lives while doing nothing to help people who struggle with dependence."

Among those interviewed was for the study was Corey, who is doing 17 years in Louisiana for possessing a half ounce of marijuana. His four-year-old daughter, who has never seen him outside prison, thinks she's visiting him at work.

The harmful consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond prison walls (
Another is "Neal," whose name was changed to protect his privacy. Also in Louisiana, he's doing five years for possessing 0.2 grams of crack cocaine. He has a rare autoimmune disorder and said he cried the day he pleaded guilty because he knew he might not survive his sentence.

Then there's Nicole, held for months in the Harris County Jail in Houston and separated from her three young children until she pleaded guilty to a felony -- her first. The conviction meant she would lose her student financial aid, the food stamps she relied on to feed her kids, and the job opportunities she would need to survive. All for an empty baggie containing a tiny bit of heroin residue.

"While families, friends, and neighbors understandably want government to take action to prevent the potential harm caused by drug use, criminalization is not the answer," Borden said. "Locking people up for using drugs causes tremendous harm, while doing nothing to help those who need and want treatment."

The report also emphasized the now all-too-familiar racial disparities in drug law enforcement, noting that while blacks use drugs at similar or lower rates than whites, they're more than two-and-a-half times more likely to arrested for drug possession and more than four time more likely to be arrested for pot possession. It's even worse in some localities, such as Manhattan, where blacks are 11 times as likely to be busted for drug possession as whites. That amounts to "racial discrimination under international human rights law," the two groups said.

Aside from the vicious cruelty of imprisoning people for years or decades merely for possessing a substance, that drug conviction -- and drug possession, even of tiny amounts, is a felony in 42 states -- also haunts their futures. Drug convicts face the loss of access to social welfare benefits, the stigma of criminality, the disruption of family life, the financial burden of paying fines and fees, and the burden of trying to find work with a felony record. And that harms society at large as well as the criminalized drug users.

And despite tens of millions of drug arrests over the past few decades, with all their collateral damage, the war on drugs doesn't achieve its avowed goal: reducing drug use. There has to be a better way, and Human Rights Watch and the ACLU have something to say about that.

report launch at National Press Club, Washington, DC, 10/12/16
"State legislatures and the US Congress should decriminalize personal use and possession of all drugs. Federal and state governments should invest resources in programs to decrease the risks associated with drug use and provide and support voluntary treatment options for people struggling with drug dependence, along with other approaches," the two groups recommended.

"Until full decriminalization is achieved, officials at all levels of government should minimize and mitigate the harmful consequences of current laws and practices," they added, providing detailed recommendations to state legislatures, police, prosecutors, and other state and local government entities, as well as the federal government.

"Criminalizing personal drug use is a colossal waste of lives and resources," Borden said. "If governments are serious about addressing problematic drug use, they need to end the current revolving door of drug possession arrests, and focus on effective health strategies instead."

Chronicle AM: Pittsburgh Decriminalizes, College Drug Testing News, ODs Hit Record High, More (12/21/15)

Pittsburgh decriminalizes, Detroit restricts dispensaries, the Univ. of Alabama is forcing all frat members to be drug tested, fatal drug overdoses hit a record high last year, and more.

Rastaman has reason to smile after Jamaica grants festival a "marijuana exemption." (
Marijuana Policy

Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Signature Count Certified. The initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has been certified as handing in enough signatures to force the legislature to consider it this spring. If the legislature rejects it or fails to act by May 3, the campaign must then come up with another 10,000 signatures to put the issue directly to the voters in November.

Pittsburgh City Council Approves Decriminalization. The council voted 7-2 today to approve a decriminalization ordinance. The bill makes possession of 30 grams or less a ticketable offense, with a fine of $100. The measure was intended to "help break the damning life-long consequences of unemployment, lack of education, and being caught in a revolving criminal justice system," said bill sponsor Public Safety Chair David Lavelle.

Medical Marijuana

Detroit City Council Approves Restrictive Dispensary Ordinance. The council voted 6-1 last Thursday to approve a new zoning ordinance that will likely force the closure of many of the city's 150 or so dispensaries. The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks, liquor stores, other places considered drug-free zones, or another dispensary.

Public Health

CDC: Drug Overdoses Hit New High Last Year. The Centers for Disease Control reported last Friday that more than 47,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2014, with 60% of them involving heroin or prescription opiates. Heroin overdose deaths were up 26%, prescription opiate deaths were up 9%, and synthetic opiate deaths (mainly fentanyl) nearly doubled over 2013.

Drug Testing

University of Alabama Subjects All Frat Members to Mandatory Drug Tests. Every fraternity member at the school was required to pass a drug test at the beginning of the academic year, and now, fraternity members are being randomly selected each week for more drug tests. If students test positive, they get several warnings before they are expelled from the fraternity and a university anti-drug program intervenes to "help students get back on track before the school doles out harsher penalties. The drug testing program has been criticized by fraternity members and others as invading the privacy of students, but no one has yet challenged it in court.

ACLU to Appeal Federal Court Ruling Allowing Drug Testing of All Students at Missouri Tech College. The ACLU of Missouri said it will appeal an 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the suspicionless drug testing of all students at the State Technical College of Missouri. The ACLU is seeking a rehearing of the case before the same three-judge appeals court panel that ruled in the school's favor or by the entire bench in the 8th Circuit. The ACLU had filed suit in 2011 to challenge the policy and won at the district court level, but the appeals court last year reversed the lower court decision. The federal courts have held that, with a handful of exceptions, mandatory suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches and seizures. The ACLU said the appeals court decision is "poorly crafted and departs from the 8th Circuit and Supreme Court precedent."


"Marijuana Exemption" Granted for Jamaica Rasta Festival. The Rebel Salute 2016 festival, to be held next month in St. Ann, has been granted a "marijuana exemption" personally delivered by Justice Minister Mark Golding. "Persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith," explained a Justice Ministry factsheet. "Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event." This is the second time such an exemption has been granted.

Chronicle AM: Naloxone News in NC & NYC, DC Pot Social Club Fight, CO Pot Tourism, More (12/10/15)

Legal weed is drawing tourists to Colorado, DC activists fight for pot clubs, a federal appeals court rules that all students at a technical college can be subjected to drug testing, there's naloxone news from New York City and North Carolina, and more.

NCHRC reports 1,500 overdoses prevented with Naloxone in 2 1/2 years.
Marijuana Policy

Legal Marijuana is Boosting Colorado Tourism. Pot businesses have long claimed as much, and now they have some solid evidence. A Colorado Tourism Office study released Wednesday shows that the state's marijuana laws influenced nearly half (49%) of decisions to vacation in the state. Some 22% of survey respondents said marijuana was "extremely influential" in their decision to visit Colorado. Twenty percent said it was "very much influential" and nearly 7% said it was "somewhat influential."

DC Activists Fight Back Against Bill That Would Ban Pot Clubs. The city council is today hearing a bill that would make permanent a ban on businesses allowing patrons to smoke marijuana on premises, but that's not sitting well with the people who got weed legalized in the District. "It's unnecessary. The current law prohibits any venue from selling marijuana or promising marijuana in exchange for admission. But what they're doing with this bill is banning any kind of use of use outside the home. There's a big problem with that, because there are lots of people who have nowhere to use their cannabis," said Adam Eidinger, the man behind the District's successful 2014 legalization initiative. Eidinger is warning that if the council passes the bill, he could push more ballot initiatives, including one allowing marijuana to be treated like tobacco and one that would impose term limits on council members.

Illinois Lawmaker Files Decriminalization Bill. Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) announced today that she is filing House Bill 4357, which would make possession of up to 10 grams a civil offense punishable only by a fine. A similar bill passed earlier this year only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who proposed amendments to it at the time of his veto. The new bill addresses those amendments.

Michigan Legalization Campaign to Extend Signature Gathering. MI Legalize is extending its signature gathering campaign and turning to paid circulators to qualify for next year's general election ballot. Under state law, petitioners have 180 days to gather signatures, but that is a clock that runs backward from the time signatures are actually turned in. The campaign's original turn-in date was December 21, but it will now go longer. That means early gathered signatures may not be counted. For example, if the campaign turned in signatures on January 21 instead of December 21, the first 30 days' worth of signatures would not be counted, but more recent signatures would.

Medical Marijuana

Georgia Medical Marijuana Commission Rejects Growing It In-State. The Commission on Medical Cannabis voted 9-5 against allowing medical marijuana to be grown in the state, but the main proponent of expanding the program, Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) said he was still optimistic he can get in-state cultivation approved. "I think we can still make a compelling argument to the governor," Peake said. "I think we can address the fears of law enforcement. I think we can address the issue of potential demand. I'm absolutely certain we can provide legislation that both maximizes the benefit for our citizens and minimizes the risk to public health in our state."

Missouri Medical Marijuana Initiative Approved for Circulation. Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) has approved a medical marijuana initiative for signature-gathering. Read the initiative here.

Drug Testing

Federal Appeals Court Rules Missouri College Can Drug Test All Students. The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Monday that the Linn State Technical College can require all students to take drug tests. The appeals court decision overturns a federal judge's 2013 decision that the college could only drug test students in five particularly safety-sensitive programs. The school policy had been challenged by the ACLU of Missouri, which said such widespread, suspicionless drug testing violated the Fourth Amendment.

Harm Reduction

New York City Makes Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone Available Without a Prescription. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced Monday that the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) will now be available without a prescription in pharmacies in the city. "The deaths are what we all struggle to avoid… but that's just the tip of the iceberg," de Blasio said during his announcement at a YMCA. "For every death, there are literally hundreds who struggle with addiction."

North Carolina Sees 1,500 Lives Saved With Overdose Reversal Drug Naloxone. In just under 2 ½ years, more than 1,500 overdose deaths have been prevented with the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan), the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition reported today.

Law Enforcement

Rep. Steven Cohen Rips Use of Student Snitches. In the wake of a 60 Minutes report last Sunday and earlier reporting by Reason, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) ripped into the practice of using nonviolent, first-time drug offenders as confidential informants. "It's time for the Department of Justice to take a close look at how the behavior of confidential informants not only threatens to ruin young lives, but in some cases, end their lives," he said, adding that he intends to file reform legislation.


Scotland To Begin Ticketing, Not Prosecuting, People With Pot. Starting next month, Scottish police will issue warnings to people caught with marijuana rather than prosecuting them. The move is part of a broader effort to change how police deal with petty crime, freeing them up to deal with more serious offenses.

Chronicle AM: Cannabis Social Clubs An Issue, NYC Psychedelics Conference, Argentine Election, More (9/25/15)

The issue of marijuana social clubs is bubbling up in Alaska and Colorado, a second Massachusetts legalization initiative gets ready to collect signatures, Oklahomans really don't like asset forfeiture, and more.

A conference on psychedelics is coming to New York City next month.
Marijuana Policy

Federal Bill Would End Students Losing Financial Aid for Getting Caught With a Joint. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has filed HR 3561, which would protect students who get arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses from losing access to financial aid. Under the 1998 version of the Higher Education Act (HEA), students with drug convictions lost financial aid, but that law was later walked back to apply only to students in school and receiving financial aid at the time of their offense. Blumenauer's bill would exempt students caught with marijuana from that punishment.

Alaska Set to Ban Cannabis Social Clubs. The state Marijuana Control Board has accepted draft language that would ban businesses allowing on-site pot smoking. The board said such businesses are not a type that was specified in the initiative that legalized marijuana in the state. If Alaskans want marijuana social clubs, it will now be up to them to convince the legislature to create legal space for them.

Colorado Bill Will Allow Marijuana Social Clubs. Rep. Kit Loupe (R-Colorado Springs) says he has drafted a bill that would create a retail marijuana club license. Marijuana users would be allowed to consume at the club, and the clubs could also serve alcohol and food, if licensed to do so. He says he will introduce the bill when the legislature convenes in January.

Second Massachusetts Legalization Initiative Campaign Kicks Off Tomorrow. It's the 26th Annual Boston Freedom Rally this weekend, and Bay State Repeal is using the occasion to launch the signature gathering drive for its legalization initiative. Another initiative campaign, the Marijuana Policy Project-affiliated Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana, got going on signature-gathering earlier this week.

Medical Marijuana

Oregon Seeking Members for Medical Marijuana Task Force. The state Health Authority's Public Health Division said Thursday it is seeking applicants to serve on a newly created Task Force on Researching the Medical and Public Health Properties of Cannabis (the Cannabis Research Task Force). Those interested need to fill out this form by September 30.

Heroin and Prescription Opiates

Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Bill Would Mandate Screening of School Students. A wide-ranging bill to deal with heroin and opiate use being finalized by state Senate leaders would include mandatory drug screening of junior and high school students. While it is only a drug "screening," not a drug test, the provision is raising privacy and confidentiality concerns among some lawmakers. Click on the link for more discussion.


Psychedelics Conference in New York City Next Month. The annual Horizons: Perspectives on Psychedelics conference will take place in New York City on October 9-11. "In recent years, a growing community of scientists, doctors, artists, activists, seekers and scholars has orchestrated a renaissance in psychedelic thought and practice. Horizons is a unique forum that brings together the brightest minds and the boldest voices of this movement to share their research, insights and dreams for the future," according to the Drug Policy Alliance, which is a partner in the conference. Click on the links for more information.

Asset Forfeiture

Oklahoma Poll Has Overwhelming Support for Civil Asset Forfeiture Repeal. A new SoonerPoll shows strong public antipathy toward asset forfeiture and strong support for ending asset forfeiture without a criminal conviction. Some 70% said they would support "legislation that would allow law enforcement only to keep property when a criminal conviction is achieved" and 78% said they agreed that "law enforcement keeping confiscated property without a conviction denies those of their constitutional right of due process is un-American." The poll comes as the legislature ponders asset forfeiture reform.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill to Repeal Drivers' License Suspensions for Non-Driving Drug Offenses. The state is one of handful that still maintain such laws, but perhaps for not much longer. Senate Bill 2014 has passed the Senate and now heads to the House.


Argentine Presidential Candidates Ignore Experts, Call for More Drug War. The top three hopefuls in this year's presidential race -- Sergio Massa, Mauricio Macri, and Daniel Scioli -- all are calling for a tougher drug war, but Argentine scholars and experts say they are only deepening failed policies. More than a hundred scholars have signed a document, The Drug Issue in Argentina, that says maintaining, let alone deepening, existing prohibitionist policies is not the right way to go. Click on the links for more.

Tomorrow is the Anniversary of the Disappearance of Mexico's Ayotzinapa Students. A year ago Saturday, 43 students from a teachers college went missing in Iguala, Guerrero. They still haven't been found, and their disappearance has revealed links between local politicians, local law enforcement agencies, and drug gangs in a scandal that has severely tarnished the reputation of President Enrique Pena Nieto. The families are keeping the pressure on. Click on the link for more.

Chronicle AM: Holder on Pot, Big $$$ for OR Init, Cairo Student Drug Tests, More (10/21/14)

Holder talks pot, more big bucks flow to Oregon initiative, federal judge to ponder whether marijuana belongs in Schedule I, the right attacks Vanita Gupta, Canada's NDP calls for decriminalization, and more. Let's get to it:

US Attorney General Eric Holder (
Marijuana Policy

Attorney General Holder "Cautiously Optimistic" on Marijuana Legalization. In a Monday interview with CNN, Attorney General Eric Holder said he is "cautiously optimistic" about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. He said that the Justice Department was focused on eight "priority areas" when it came to legal weed, including prevention of distribution to minors, drug trafficking across state lines, and drug-related violence. "What I've told the governors of those states is that if we're not satisfied with their regulatory scheme that we reserve the right to come in and to sue them. So we'll see," Holder said.

Oregon Initiative Reports More Big Bucks Donations. The campaign committee for Measure 91 has reported receiving $800,000 in a pair of high-denomination donations. The Drug Policy Action Network, the campaign and lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, kicked in half a million bucks, while the New Approach PAC, tied to the family of the late Progressive Insurance magnate Peter Lewis, gave $300,000. Over all, Drug Policy Action Network has contributed $1.85 million and the Lewis group has given $1.25 million. The initiative campaign has spent more than $1.1 million on TV and radio ads.

Federal Judge to Consider Whether Marijuana Should Be Schedule I. A US district court judge in Sacramento will hold a hearing next Monday on whether marijuana is appropriately classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. The hearing comes in the case of United States v. Pickard, Expert witnesses, including Columbia University psychology professor Dr. Carl Hart, will testify that classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug is not consistent with accepted scientific evidence. This is the first time in recent memory that a federal judge has granted a hearing on the issue.

Decriminalization Fails By One Vote in Columbia, MO, City Council. A move to decriminalize marijuana in Columbia failed on a 4-3 vote Monday night after hours of intense debate. City staff opposed the measure, saying it would put the city in conflict with state law, and local police also opposed it, saying it would put officers in an awkward position, especially when doing joint counter-drug operations with other state or local law enforcement agencies.

Medical Marijuana

Missouri to Begin Taking Applications for Low-THC, High-CBD Medical Marijuana. People who want to grow high-CBD, low-THC marijuana for medical purposes under a new state law can begin submitting applications to the state Department of Health beginning November 3. The state will license two growers, and the window for applications is 30 days. The growers must operate as nonprofits and must produce marijuana that is less than 0.3% THC.

Law Enforcement

Conservative Attacks on DOJ Civil Rights Nominee Gupta Get Underway. Heritage Foundation resident expert Cully Stimson has penned an opinion piece that lays out one line of attack on Vanita Gupta, the ACLU attorney just named acting head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and who is nominated to permanently fill the post. "The New Civil Rights Division Head Wants to Decriminalize Possession of All Drugs," is his headline -- and the gist of his argument. Click on the link to read his piece.


Canada's NDP Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization and Study. The New Democratic Party (NDP) will this week officially call for immediate marijuana decriminalization, with monitoring of the health and social side effects. The call will come in a supplemental document published alongside a House of Commons health committee report, which is set to be issued today or tomorrow. While the NDP's stand is progressive, it is not as progressive as the position of the Liberals, who are calling for legalization.

Cairo University Begins Mandatory Drug Testing of Students. Any student who wants to reside in school housing at the University of Cairo must undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing under a new university policy. Some 4,000 students have already been tested, with 9,000 more waiting their turn. No objections to the policy have been heard.

Chronicle AM -- March 19, 2014

Fewer people are getting arrested for marijuana possession in Washington state after legalization -- imagine that! -- Kansas legislators want to drug test teachers, a New Jersey heroin and opiates panel has recommendations, Russell Brand goes to Vienna, and more. Let's get to it:

Russell Brand speaks out for drug decriminalization at the CND in Vienna. (
Marijuana Policy

Oregon GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Says Legalize It. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Carr says he favors legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana use and would spend the proceeds on helping the homeless and others in need. Carr is one of six Republicans running in the primary to determine who takes on incumbent Democrat John Kitzhaber. He's not the front-runner; that distinction goes to state Rep. Dennis Richardson.

Massachusetts Poll Has Near Majority for Legalization.A new WBUR TV poll shows increased support for marijuana legalization, with 48% in favor and 41% opposed. A Boston Herald/Suffolk University poll showed majority support for the first time. These two polls suggest that attitudes toward legalization in the Bay State have moved in a positive direction in the past year.

Washington State ACLU Reports Big Drop in Pot Arrests. Misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests plummeted last year, the ACLU of Washington reported today. There were just 120 such arrests last year after legalization went into effect, compared to 5,531 the year before. But black people are still getting arrested for pot possession more often. They're getting popped at a rate three times that of whites, the ACLU said.

National Cannabis Industry Association to Host Marijuana Business Summit. The NCIA will hold its first national conference, the Cannabis Business Summit, June 24-25 in Denver. Click on the links for more details.

Medical Marijuana

Alabama CBD Medical Marijuana Bill Advances. A bill that would study the impact of using a marijuana derivative to treat seizures is one step closer to becoming state law. Senate Bill 174 passed the House Judiciary Committee after it was amended in the Senate last week.

Drug Testing

Kansas School Teacher Drug Testing Bill Passes Senate. A bill that requires drug testing of school employees and affirms the firing of educators convicted of DUI, drug crimes, and other offenses passed the state Senate Tuesday. Senate Bill 335 was approved after Senate Democrats successfully offered an amendment that would subject members of the House and Senate to treatment requirements and financial sanctions mirroring those in state law for the unemployed or those on cash aid. The welfare drug testing law passed last year also included elected representatives, but contained no provisions for sanctioning them or requiring they seek help. The bill now goes to the House.


Kentucky Omnibus Heroin Bill Stuck in House. A bill that would both enact harm reduction measures and crack down on heroin-selling offenses is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 5 would let drug dealers be charged with murder if the sale of Schedule I drugs results in death and increases penalties for high-volume heroin dealers. It also seeks increased Medicare funds for drug treatment, access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and a 911 Good Samaritan provision. The Senate passed the bill in January.

New Jersey Heroin Task Force Calls for Broad Reforms. A governor's task force on heroin and opiate use called for a wide array of reforms, saying it is "time to confront our demons." According to The Newark Star-Ledger, which obtained an advance copy, the panel's report calls for tighter prescription pill monitoring laws, changes in the state's insurance system to make treatment more available, and expanded use of drug treatment recovery communities.


California Bill Would Equalize Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentences. A bill filed by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City) would cut prison sentences for people convicted of selling crack to bring them in line with sentences for people convicted of selling powder cocaine. Senate Bill 1010 was introduced last month, but amended Monday. It is before the Senate Rules Committee.


In Vienna, Russell Brand Joins "Support, Don't Punish" Campaign. British actor and comedian Russell Brand spoke at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna today and publicly joined forces with the Support, Don't Punish campaign to decriminalize drug possession and end the imprisonment and punishment of people who use drugs.

Senior Mexican Anti-Drug Official Resigns. Manuel Mondragón y Kalb, Mexico's national security commissioner and one of the most senior officials in charge of the country's counternarcotics fight, has resigned "for personal reasons." The National Security Commission (CNS), which falls under the Interior Ministry, was created by President Enrique Peña Nieto in January 2013 to replace the Secretariat of Public Security. The CNS, which is in charge of the Federal Police, is behind schedule in its task to create a National Gendarmerie to bolster the country's counter-narcotics fight, which is one of Peña Nieto's campaign promises.

(This article was published by'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.)

Indiana School Kid Bitten by Drug Dog in Fake Raid

An unnamed fifth grader at an Indiana school was bitten by a police drug dog during an anti-drug Red Ribbon Awareness Week at the Clay County Courthouse last Thursday. The bite occurred after the dog's police handler handed the boy a bag of real drugs.

The Brazil elementary school student was attacked by the dog during a pretend drug raid staged as part of the week's festivities. He was bitten on the left calf and was taken to a local hospital for treatment immediately after the incident.

The fake drug raid, complete with actors, was carried out to help "educate Clay County fifth graders on drug awareness," but they got a lesson in drug war awareness instead. The police hid a small amount of drugs on the kid's person to demonstrate how drug dogs can find extremely small amounts of drugs in a scenario "under the exclusive control and supervision of members of the court and law enforcement."

Oddly enough, drug dogs are not typically used to sniff individuals, but are instead commonly used to sniff vehicles and buildings.

"It was an unfortunate accident," Police Chief Clint McQueen told the Brazil Times. "Wish it hadn't happened like that but it did. We are trying to evaluate (the incident) to make sure nothing like this happens again."

Brazil , IN
United States

Forced Drug Tests for College Students a No-No, Judge Rules

A US district court judge in Missouri ruled Friday that a technical college violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures when it ordered all students to submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests. The judge did allow the drug testing of students in a small number of programs where school officials could make a reasonable argument that public safety was at stake.

The ruling by Judge Nanette Laughrey in Jefferson City came in Barrett v. Claycomb, a case filed by Linn State Technical College students against the college and its president, Donald Claycomb, after the college announced in 2011 it would require all incoming students to undergo drug testing.

Federal courts have traditionally held that drug testing by government entities without particularized suspicion that an individual is using drugs is unconstitutional. The federal courts have upheld only limited exceptions -- for minor school students, for certain law enforcement personnel, and for public safety -- but Linn State had argued that its policy was constitutional because some of its students were training in professions with public safety implications.

But citing the school's own admission that there had never been a drug-related accident in the 50-year history of the campus and closely reading previous federal court decisions on the public safety exception, Judge Laughery found that in only three academic programs of the 28 offered by the school was there a sufficient public safety interest that would allow suspicionless drug testing.

The judge issued a permanent injunction barring Linn State from conducting suspicionless drug tests of students except in those three programs. She also ordered the school to destroy all existing urine samples from students who are not in those programs and to refund the $50 drug test cost to all those students.

The students in the case were represented by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which challenged the drug testing policy in a 2011 lawsuit.

"Like most Americans, Missourians are tired of the War on Drugs and policies that assume that everyone is guilty of illegal drug use," said ACLU of Eastern Missouri executive director Jeffrey Mittman. "The court recognized that illusory safety concerns can be used 'to mask unconstitutional purposes.'"

"Forcing students to provide urine samples violates their constitutional rights," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU-EM. "To make matters worse, students had to pay the college $50 each for the tests that violated their privacy."

Jefferson City, MO
United States

Chronicle Book Review: High Price

High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, by Dr. Carl Hart (2013, Harper/Harper Collins Publishers, 340 pp., $26.99 HB)

Dr. Carl Hart grew up black and poor in Miami in the 1970s and 1980s, learned discipline from his desire to be a professional athlete, joined the armed forces, and wandered almost by happenstance into a career in the neurosciences. Now, Hart is at the pinnacle of his field -- a respected researcher in drug effects, the first African-American to become a tenured professor in the sciences at Columbia University, and a member of the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse and Dependency. And he has some things to say.

Some of those things contradict the conventional wisdom, but Hart has the cred -- both street and academic -- to state them. Although it is the addict or problematic drug user who is too often the media's face of drug use or the subject of scientific research, he notes, the vast majority of drug users are not addicts or problematic. And yes, that even extends to the most demonized drugs, like crack. While we were told one hit could get you strung out, it turns out only a small fraction of crack consumers are addicts, he points out.

Hart also has good, practical advice -- naive drug users shouldn't take drugs the same way experienced users do, for example, or get enough sleep! -- based not only on scientific research, but also personal observation and experience. Now at the pinnacle of his profession, he also wants to restore some sanity to our drug policies.

Dr. Hart has come a long way from the mean, if sun-splashed, streets of Miami, and with High Price, he takes you along for the ride. The journey is well worth it. Part memoir, part social history, part drug science, part plea for sanity on the issues of drugs, race, and class, High Price is revelatory as well as readable, illuminating as well as incisive, as impassioned as it is important.

While Hart grew up the wrong color and in a family scrabbling to hang on to its lower middle class status, his is, above all, an American story -- a story of coming of age, overcoming adversity, and striving for success and understanding in a world seemingly stacked against him. It's also the story of the American working class, buffeted by the de-industrialization that began in the 1970s, targeted by Reagan Republicans with cuts in social programs in the 1980s, and mostly dealt with by "tough on crime" and "tough on drugs" policies that have been in place ever since. That the malignant swelling of the nation's prison population is tied to Reagan era policies ( though many of them enacted by Democratic legislators) too often goes unnoted.

But of course, Hart isn't an unhyphenated American, he's African-American, and that means he carries an additional burden, the assumption too many make of criminality based on little more than his skin color. He wasn't expected to succeed, but to become a number, like so many of his peers. And, as he notes, but for the grace of god he could have gone down that path. He recounts the teenage criminality of he and his peers, making the stark point that a single arrest could make the difference between a career as a scientist and a career as an ex-con car washer. Some of his friends, no better or worse than he, had that unfortunate first encounter with law enforcement and the criminal justice system and never recovered: Educational opportunities blocked, job opportunities lost, they were essentially assigned to the scrap heap.

For some of them, it was a drug bust. Slinging dope was and is a way of life for the marginalized poor, an income, although not a great one, and a way to achieve status and respect. But of course, it's also a ticket to the slammer, particularly if you're poor and of color, without the resources available to middle class white folks. One thing Hart makes crystal clear is just how stacked the deck is against the urban poor, and that alone makes his book worth noting.

Hart grew into young adulthood imbibing the conventional wisdom about how drugs had had such a devastating impact on his community, but he also began to start thinking critically about the mismatch between rhetoric and reality. At some point along the way, he had a Chris Rock moment.

"You know what they say, crack is destroying the ghetto," Rock once famously observed. "Yeah, like the ghetto was so nice before crack. They say that shit like everyone in the 'hood had a yacht, a mansion, and a swimming pool, and crack came by and dried it all up."

As Hart began studying psychology and eventually neuroscience, he began noticing that the effects of crack cocaine widely touted in media and political discourses didn't match the science. In fact, he observed, most of the devastating effects attributed to crack could more fairly and accurately be attributed to poverty. Crack didn't bring guns to the ghetto; they were already there. Crack didn't bring broken families to the ghetto; they were already there. It may not have helped, but it was not the root cause of the problem.

"The effect of crack, when it had one, was mainly to exacerbate the problems that I'd seen in my home and in the hood since the 1970s," he wrote. "The drug's pharmacology didn't produce excess violence."

The studies on which he embarked, moving on from observing the effects of drugs on rats to observing their effects on people, led him to a startling -- and eye-opening -- conclusion: "Much of what we are doing in terms of drug education, treatment and public policy is inconsistent with scientific data."

Hart's critique extends to the science itself. He describes famous experiments where rats or monkeys alone in a cage will repeatedly press a lever to get more drugs, up to the point of death itself. But he then explains how those doses are many times higher than those any human would use, and he makes the crucial point that obsessive drug-taking behavior is reduced when the lab animals are part of a community and when they have other options.

Based on his scientific research, as well as his own observations and historical research (and musical and lyrical inspiration from the likes of Bob Marley and Public Enemy), Hart decided he needed to speak out against the injustices of the war on drugs. He became a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance, he began speaking to groups large and small, and High Price is part of that same education project.

This is not your typical drug policy tome. It's not a paean to pot, nor is it a dry academic treatise. But it is important, not only because it provides a voice for the voiceless peers he left behind, but also because it is a science- and evidence-based clarion call for a smarter and more human approach to drugs, one that situates drugs and problematic drug use within the broader social context. And it's a damned good read, too.

Look Out, New York, It's Credico For Mayor! [FEATURE]

New York City has earned itself the sobriquet of Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World, with tens of thousands of minor pot possession arrests every year -- mostly of young men of color -- generated in good part by the city's equally infamous stop-and-frisk policing, again aimed primarily at the city's young and non-white residents. There's a man running an outsider campaign for the mayor's office there this year who wants to end all that.

Randy Credico during 2010 Senate campaign
Veteran Big Apple civil rights, social justice, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and drug reform activist Randy Credico, who also doubles as a professional comedian, is mounting an insurgent campaign for the Democratic Party mayoral nomination, and he wants to end the city's drug war and a whole lot more, and he wants to do it now.

The inventively funny, yet deadly serious, agitprop artist has an ambitious 17-point program for his first day in office, with promises that range from going after "the biggest criminals in our city" -- the Wall Street bankers -- and reforming the city's tax code to favor the poor to rolling back privatization of city schools and reforming various city agencies.

But just beneath banksters and taxes is a vow to begin reining in the NYPD by firing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (to be replaced with Frank Serpico) and "abolishing the NYPD’s unconstitutional policies of racial profiling, stop and frisk, domestic spying, entrapment, and its infamous (albeit unadmitted) 'quota system.'"

Central to that policing reform plank, Credico says, is reclassifying the smoking and carrying of marijuana as no longer an arrestable offense. He also vows to fire any officer who lies or perjures himself on the stand, and to bar the use of "no-knock" warrants and stun grenades "except in the case of legitimate terrorist attack."

And he wants to replace the city's Special Narcotics Office with a Harm Reduction Office, whose leadership he has offered to Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann. He also vows to shut down the Rikers Island prison and turn it into a treatment center and education facility with a state of the art library, and to nominate law professor Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-blindness, to run it.

That's quite a tall order for a first day in office, but Credico says he's up for it.

"I plan to stay up for 24 hours and get all that stuff done," he told the Chronicle.

Of course, first he has to win the Democratic Party nomination and then win the general election, and that's a pretty tall order, too. There is a bevy of candidates (polling data at the link as well) running for a shot at the prestigious post, and he is facing stiff establishment opposition in the primary, most notably from Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and the as yet officially undeclared city council Speaker Christine Quinn, who leads the other Democrats in early polls, but is in a close race with "undecided."

The Republican race includes a handful of announced or potential candidates led by former Metropolitan Transit Authority head Joseph Lhota (who still trails "undecided" by a large margin) and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is as yet unannounced. The Libertarians may also field a candidate this year, possibly former "Manhattan madam" and gubernatorial candidate Kristin Davis, and we can't forget the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, either.

"The GOP has a rich guy who just jumped in, and the Democrats have a six-pack of hacks, all getting money from the real estate interests and Wall Street and none of whom will talk about the issues," Credico explained. "The Democrats are all doing the Schumer act -- just talking about the middle class, not the poor, the homeless, the division between the rich and poor, not about drug policy. This city is virtually a police state right now."

Credico has a remedy for that: Elect him.

"I will get rid of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is a combination of J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Fouche, Napoleon's dreaded head of the secret police. Everyone is afraid of him. He's got the Red Squads going; they were infiltrating groups at Occupy Wall Street. Kelly is doing all these joint operations with the feds under the guise of fighting terrorism, and this city is crawling with undercover cops -- FBI, DEA, AFT, all running joint task forces with the NYPD. They've foiled 14 plots, all hatched by the NYPD. Ray Kelly has way too much power," the veteran activist said flatly.

"There is a lot of money not only in the prison industrial complex, but also the police industrial complex," Credico noted. "They have asset forfeiture and lots of new schemes, tons of undercover agents, who are really there to beat up on the black community. They infiltrate, demonize, and destroy lives, and this has to stop."

Credico has been active in the Occupy Wall Street moving, having been arrested five times by the NYPD, but before that, he was active in the city's minority communities for years, working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws with the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice (in between stints flying out to Tulia, Texas, to deal with the bogus mass arrests of black men on drug charges there), and fighting stop-and-frisk. He currently is taking time out of his days to attend hearings in the criminal trial of the NYPD officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Ramarley Graham in his own bathroom as he was flushing a bag of weed down the toilet.

"I go to every one of the court dates and sit right next to his mother," he said. "This cop invaded Ramarley's house and shot him in the head for weed, but it's not an isolated incident. No cops go to jail for killing a black person, but a spit on a cop and you can go to jail for years. This is just one cop -- and he's like the Lt. Calley of the NYPD. [Editor's Note: Calley was the sole US Army officer convicted of a crime in the Vietnam War My Lai massacre.] It's not an isolated incident; it's the policy, the same policy that killed Ramarley Graham and Sean Bell and Amador Diallou. So many people have been killed by the NYPD, and it's not just the guys on the street; it's a brutal force."

Marijuana could also be a wedge issue for him, Credico said.

"I'm a committed pot smoker, and I think it should be legal, and I'm the only candidate saying it should be legal. Of course, it's up to the state legislature to do that, but I would direct the NYPD not to enforce those laws and particularly not to arrest anyone."

Under current state law, pot possession is decriminalized, but beginning with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD had a policy of turning what should have been tickets for possession into misdemeanors by either reaching in someone's pocket and removing the baggie or intimidating the person into revealing it himself, thus elevating the offense from an infraction to the misdemeanor of "public possession." Under increasing pressure over the tactic, Commissioner Kelly last year issued an order for it to stop, and arrests have declined somewhat, but still remain at unacceptably high levels.

In 2011, there were some 50,000 marijuana possession arrests in the city, nearly 80% of them of people of color. Nearly one-quarter (12,000) were youth aged 16 to 19, and of those, 94% had no prior criminal records.

And it's not just marijuana, Credico said.

"There should be no more prosecutions for drug possession," he said. "They should be going after the real criminals, the guys on Wall Street. They don't have to go up to Harlem and Washington Heights, the real big barracudas are right down here."

The city's criminal justice system is rotten to the core, he said.

"This is like Tulia, this is like the South," he moaned. "The criminal justice system here is a black box where blacks and Latinos go in and disappear into the penal system. The cops are white, the judges are white, the prosecutors are white -- only the Bronx has a rainbow coalition of prosecutors -- the rest are white, and they're going after black people in this city."

Many of those busted ended up in Rikers Island or the Tombs, often after first spending hours or days crammed into precinct holding cells.

"Rikers Island is like Alcatraz for poor people on minor drug offenses," said Credico. "It's all Mickey Mouse; there's no Hannibal Lectors there. They need to turn it into a university for poor people. And no one is talking about the Tombs. I've been there. There are lots of junkies in there going through withdrawals, filthy toilets, people penned in like cattle. No one will talk about that, or about the hundreds of precincts with their holding cells."

Unsurprisingly, Credico doesn't think much of his establishment opposition.

"Christine Quinn is Bloomberg in drag wearing a red wig," he declared, "and de Blasio supported stop-and-frisk. He was also Hillary's hit man when she was running for the Senate, and derailed Grandpa Munster Al Lewis's campaign then."

Lhota, who has recently made noises about legalizing marijuana, "looks like a weed head," Credico snorted. "But I actually smoke it."

Now, Credico has to go through the process of qualifying as a Democratic candidate, smiting his foes within the party, and then taking on the Republican challenger in the general election. His first official campaign task will be to complete a month-long signature-gathering drive in late spring to qualify for the primary.

"I'll be on talk shows -- people all over the place are asking for interviews -- making some ads and some YouTube videos, and they'll be interesting and funny. It will be a very entertaining campaign. We have buttons coming out soon, we have the web site, there are people who will be putting ads in the Nation," he explained.

"Drug reformers are interested in my campaign, and I've got tons of volunteers from the stop-and-frisk campaigns and people from OWS," he said. "I'm getting a lot of attention right now."

Credico, of course, is a long-shot, but even if he doesn't become the next mayor of New York, to the degree that his campaign shines a light on the problems in the city's criminal justice system and forces other candidates to address them, he will be judged a success.

(This article was published by'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.)

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