from Drug War Chronicle, Issue #553, 9/26/08
David Borden, Executive Director
In Washington, a state where medical marijuana is legal, a judge decided that it isn't. That's technically not what happened, but for all intents and purposes it really is. Judge Anna Laurie convicted patient Robert Dalton for marijuana growing, because she didn't agree with Dalton's doctor's decision to recommend marijuana to him. Where did Judge Laurie go to medical school? How incredibly arrogant of her to play doctor. And how atrocious too -- Dalton, not a well man, could get up to six months in jail. As his attorney told the press, no patient in Washington is safe, if judges will behave that way.
In Sarasota County, Florida, a judge threw away the exclusionary rule for no good reason. A drug dog with the sheriff's office, Zuul, comes up with false positives in vehicles he sniffs half of the time. Judge Charles Roberts ruled that was good enough to justify police searching a vehicle -- but for a very special reason. Judge Roberts was swayed by the state's argument that every time they didn't find drugs, someone in the car admitted to using or possessing drugs in the recent past.
What?!?!?!?!? Along with the clear fishiness of the claim, what does past drug use, even recent, have to do with a drug dog's ability to tell whether drugs are in a car in the present? It would make more sense to argue that police were succeeding in profiling likely drug possessors, and that catching them with drugs actually in the car half of the time is a good enough percentage to justify a search. I would disagree with both those arguments -- partly because it would imply a 100% profiling success rate, which is not very likely, partly because I don't think 50% is good enough -- but it would make more sense than the argument actually used.
In effect the police and prosecutors attributed a "sixth sense" to their drug dog, beyond the sense of smell, enabling the dog to sense which cars don't have drugs in them, but whose owners have used drugs. But dogs don't have extra-sensory perception -- at least the law does not consider them to -- and a sitting judge should be able to recognize when an argument so obviously doesn't make sense.
So what is it that can cause an adult judge to play doctor, or to tacitly endorse a theory of canine "ESP"? Maybe it's that the war on drugs is spectacularly illogical in and of itself, but as judges they get immersed in it each day. To maintain a logical state of mind during drug cases would require judges to consciously acknowledge the corruption of the system they serve in, and the extent to which the law has turned them into perpetrators or at least enablers of injustice, a reality anyone might repress. And one thing gone wrong in the mind leads to another.
I'm not sure if that is really what's wrong with judges today, but something is wrong for all of this to be happening. Enough of overreaching, enough of twisted logic or no logic, enough of corrupted standards and intellectual integrity tossed to the wind. Judges need to stand up for truth and reason, and do so now, or they abdicate their status as arbiters of morality and justice. Wearing a robe to work and carrying a gavel isn't enough.
My Turn: Only prisons profit in drug warI am Ben Mitchell, the Liberty Union candidate for lieutenant governor in the state of Vermont. If I am elected and the governor leaves the state for even 10 minutes, I will pardon all nonviolent drug offenders serving time in Vermont or Kentucky prisons. I think it is stupid to pay $45,000 a year to lock up drug users when we won't spend more than $7,000 a year to educate our young people. Besides, I thought this was a free country.
I believe the current system is totally ineffective. During almost 30 years of the War on Drugs, we have seen an increase in prevalence of drug abuse and incarceration. The Bureau of Justice's own statistics tell the story. In 2001, an estimated 2.7 percent of adults in the United States had served time in prison, up from 1.8 percent in 1991 and 1.3 percent in 1974. Three out of every four convicted jail inmates were alcohol or drugs-involved at the time of their current offense. Drug offenders, up 37 percent, represented the largest source of jail population growth between 1996 and 2002. More than two-thirds of the growth in inmates held in local jails for drug law violations was due to an increase in persons charged with drug trafficking.
Knowing that 75 percent of those serving time suffer from drug and alcohol addiction should suggest that the real issue here is addiction. We are using the criminal system to deal with a medical issue. I do not see any benefit in throwing people struggling with addiction into a population that will provide little help for the core problem and in most cases drives inmates to become more violent. If we were to focus on the problem of addiction, we could provide treatment that would be much less expensive and significantly improve the outcome. With the savings, we could focus our corrections budget on protecting society from those who are truly dangerous.
Also by legalizing drugs, we could tax and regulate them, providing a significant new income stream for the state and eliminating the criminal profit. The retail drug trade in the United States is estimated at $60 billion annually. The true criminals who make the profit are often shielded from the risk, leaving the addicts to serve the time. Also, if Vermont were to legalize marijuana, we would create a huge new revenue stream for the agricultural community. I am certain that our neighbors from New York and New Hampshire would be very loyal to the Vermont organic label given the opportunity.
It is time to acknowledge that the War on Drugs has failed. It is bad policy. Although profitable for the privatized prison system -- who in some cases even exploits the inmates for slave labor -- the War on Drugs is by every measure not only unsuccessful but increasing the problem. How stupid are we?
Ben Mitchell of Putney is the Liberty Union candidate for lieutenant governor.
Both posts by way of: Drug War Rant