Category Archives: War On Drugs

They Said One Thing, They Did Another

Photo via Sully

Gwen Florio in the Missoulian:

Federal raids hit medical marijuana shops from Columbia Falls to Billings on Monday, spreading “a horrible mixture of fear and rage” through a community already roiled by high-profile attempts to regulate it.

“The reckless and cruel disregard for the patients that count on these shops is going to cause a lot of heartache,” said John Masterson of Missoula, who heads Montana NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which live-blogged information about the raids throughout the day Monday.

Advocates for medical marijuana noted that federal agents executed their search warrants even as a Montana Senate panel collected testimony on a bill to repeal the state’s 2004 voter initiative legalizing medicinal use of marijuana. (See related story.)

“It sure feels like a blatant, obvious, calculated, bullying interference by the federal government in Montana decision-making,” said Tom Daubert, a leading medical marijuana advocate, who was in the committee hearing Monday morning when he heard about the raids.

Andrew Sullivan:

A reader flags the troubling news, adding, “The Feds have not stopped cracking down on medical marijuana even though Obama said they would.”

Jacob Sullum at Reason:

Wait. Didn’t Barack Obama repeatedly promise to call off the DEA’s medical marijuana raids when he was running for president, and didn’t his attorney general instruct federal prosecutors to leave patients and providers alone as long as they are complying with state law? Sort of. Under a policy change announced by the Justice Department in October 2009, U.S. attorneys were told that, “as a general matter,” they “should not focus federal resources” on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” In practice, this policy means the feds reserve the right to interpret state law and decide whether patients and providers are following it, as illustrated by continued raids in California, Colorado, and Michigan.

Montana, like California and Michigan, allows “caregivers” as well as patients to grow marijuana. Montana’s Medical Marijuana Act (PDF) defines a caregiver as an individual “who has agreed to undertake responsibility for managing the well-being of a person with respect to the medical use of marijuana.” A patient with a doctor’s recommendation may grow up to six plants and possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana for his own consumption, or he can designate a caregiver, who may grow up to six plants on his behalf. Are patients or caregivers allowed to form “cooperatives,” as they do in California, and grow marijuana together? According to the state Department of Public Health & Human Services, which keeps track of registered patients and their caregivers, “the law is silent on this issue.” And although the law specifies that “a qualifying patient may have only one caregiver at any one time,” it does not seem to address the question of whether a caregiver may grow marijuana for more than one patient.

The upshot is that the DEA can always argue that any individual or group of people with more than six plants (or more than one ounce of usable marijuana) in one place is not “in clear and unambiguous compliance” with Montana law. That would be the case even if state courts explicitly approved grow operations and dispensaries operated by patients or caregivers. Federal raids have continued in California even though the state attorney general (now the governor) said dispensaries are permitted.

Jeralyn at Talk Left:

Medical marijuana has been legal in Montana since 2004. Efforts are underway in the legislature to repeal it.

On Monday in the state Legislature, a committee deadlocked on a bill that would repeal the state’s medical marijuana law.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-6 on House Speaker Mike Milburn’s House Bill 161, which would repeal the law passed by voters in 2004. Unless the deadlock is broken, the bill is dead.

Among the federal agencies involved in the raids:

[The]Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It sure sounds like the raids were timed to coincide with the consideration of the repeal bill. These raids occurred all over the state, including: Belgrade, Big Sky, Billings, Bozeman, Columbia Falls, Dillon, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Miles City, Missoula, Olney and Whitefish.

Montana patients are not staying silent:

[T]he patient community has quickly responded by planning coordinated vigils at various city halls across the state at 5pm on Wednesday. Tomorrow’s vigils are being organized by Americans for Safe Access and sponsored by Patients and Families United and Montana Medical Growers Association, which are both statewide medical marijuana groups.

Americans for Safe Access is distributing this Raid Emergency Response Plan for businesses who fear being raided.

Jason Sullem at Reason has more on Montana’s medical marijuana muddle. The problem is that Obama and AG Eric Holder’s positions are vague and arbitrarily enforced, as evident from the October, 2009 memo.

The Obama Administration is not committed to allowing medical marijuana in states with laws that allow it. As I wrote here,

[T]he Holder statements and Ogden Memo are not enough protection. Short of legalization, Congress at least needs to pass a law disallowing prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers who are in compliance with state law — or at a minimum, a law that expressly allows patients, caregivers and providers to raise compliance with state law as an affirmative defense to a federal prosecution.

Congressman Jared Polis is seeking decriminalization at the federal level. He’s even appearing at industry events. I have doubts it will happen at the federal level while Obama is President. The next best thing is protection from federal prosecution. (More on Polis’ efforts here.)

Caitlin Dickson at The Atlantic:

The raids raise questions about the legitimacy of state marijuana laws in the face of a federal government that considers any production and sale of the substance to be illegal. They also highlight two particular areas where the difference between federal and state marijuana laws collide.

Drug trafficking: Possession was not the issue in Monday’s Montana raids nor Tuesday’s in California. Rather, agents targeted marijuana providers. These raids have elicited outrage from those who recall President Obama’s promise that the Justice Department would be more “hands off” with regard to prosecuting marijuana users and distributors in states that have legalized the medical use of pot. Just last month, AOL News’ Jacob Sullum analyzed the instructions U.S. attorney’s received in November to apply said lenience only to “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws.” He notes that states like California may allow patients or their “caregivers” to grow their pot collectively and sell it to other patients at dispensaries, but to U.S. attorneys or the DEA, dispensaries themselves “are completely illegal” regardless of the state’s law, “because they exchange pot for money.”
Tax evasion: The raided growers and dispensaries is Montana and California are all being charged with tax evasion. In states that have legalized medical marijuana use, medical marijuana dispensaries should be considered legal businesses. But, according to the I.R.S., “no deductable credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business…consists of trafficking in controlled substances…which is prohibited by Federal Law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.” That would, of course, pose quite a problem for filing taxes.

Ed Morrissey:

It’s possible in these two raids that there were other crimes suspected of the operators than just the sale of pot. Until the courts unseal the records, we won’t know the answer to that, as apparently no one in the DoJ wants to talk about it at the moment. If not, though, one can certainly argue that the statements of Obama and Holder about leaving state-licensed vendors alone amount to a moral case of entrapment, if not a legal case.

What is the actual Obama administration policy on licensed marijuana vendors in states like California? Shouldn’t they make that clear so that the operators of these clinics have a chance to adapt to a clear legal environment?

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“Here I Am. Tell Me I Didn’t Do The Things That I Did.”

Sharyl Attkisson at CBS News:

Federal agent John Dodson says what he was asked to do was beyond belief.

He was intentionally letting guns go to Mexico?

“Yes ma’am,” Dodson told CBS News. “The agency was.”

An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms senior agent assigned to the Phoenix office in 2010, Dodson’s job is to stop gun trafficking across the border. Instead, he says he was ordered to sit by and watch it happen.

Investigators call the tactic letting guns “walk.” In this case, walking into the hands of criminals who would use them in Mexico and the United States.

Dodson’s bosses say that never happened. Now, he’s risking his job to go public.

“I’m boots on the ground in Phoenix, telling you we’ve been doing it every day since I’ve been here,” he said. “Here I am. Tell me I didn’t do the things that I did. Tell me you didn’t order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn’t happen. Now you have a name on it. You have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now, tell me it didn’t happen.”

Agent Dodson and other sources say the gun walking strategy was approved all the way up to the Justice Department. The idea was to see where the guns ended up, build a big case and take down a cartel. And it was all kept secret from Mexico.

ATF named the case “Fast and Furious.”

[…]

On Dec. 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down. Dodson got the bad news from a colleague.

According to Dodson, “They said, ‘Did you hear about the border patrol agent?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And they said ‘Well it was one of the Fast and Furious guns.’ There’s not really much you can say after that.”

Two assault rifles ATF had let go nearly a year before were found at Terry’s murder.

Dodson said, “I felt guilty. I mean it’s crushing. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Sen. Grassley began investigating after his office spoke to Dodson and a dozen other ATF sources — all telling the same story.

Mark Krikorian at The Corner:

When Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered by drug smugglers in Arizona last December, Tom Tancredo revealed that Terry’s BORTAC unit (the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team) were armed with bean-bag rounds in their weapons:

Here’s the part Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Border Patrol management are trying to hide: Border Patrol Agent Terry and the BORTAC team were under standing orders to always use (“non-lethal”) bean-bag rounds first before using live ammunition. When the smugglers heard the first rounds, they returned fire with real bullets, and Agent Terry was killed in that exchange. Real bullets outperform bean bags every time.

At the time, the government denied such “bizarre Internet-fueled rumors”:

“There was no order given to CBP law enforcement personnel – now or in the past – that dictates the use of less-than-lethal devices before using deadly force,” stated CBP’s Southwest Border Field Branch Office of Public Affairs.

Oops:

Records show agents fired beanbags in fatal border gunfight
Brady McCombs Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:00 am

Border Patrol agents shot beanbags at a group of suspected bandits before the men returned fire during a confrontation in a remote canyon, killing agent Brian Terry with a single gunshot, records show.

And an illegal immigrant wounded in the gunbattle who is now the only person in custody linked to the slaying contends he never fired a shot, according to FBI search warrant requests filed in the U.S. District Court in Tucson.

The documents provide the most detailed version yet of what happened in the deadly gunbattle Dec. 14 in Peck Canyon, northwest of Nogales.

The documents say the group of illegal border entrants refused commands to drop their weapons after agents confronted them at about 11:15 p.m. Two agents fired beanbags at the migrants, who responded with gunfire. Two agents returned fire, one with a long gun and one with a pistol, but Terry was mortally wounded in the gunfight.

Border Patrol officials declined to answer questions about protocol for use of force, citing the ongoing investigation.

Bryan Preston at PJ Tatler:

It seems highly unlikely that officers would choose to load beanbags instead of live rounds. That’s not the kind of thing field agents come up with. It’s a policy that’s so stupid it had to come from Washington.

And even worse than Washington’s policy stupidity: No one will be held to account for the killing of BP agent Brian Terry

The Jawa Report

Brian Doherty at Reason:

Presented as an interesting case study in the way law enforcement actually thinks–not to say that it is an essential task of U.S. law enforcement to “keep guns out of Mexico.” Our real culpability in Mexican gun violence lies, of course, in our drug prohibition, as see Jacob Sullum from earlier today.

Patterico at Patterico’s Pontifications:

How were they tracing the guns across the border? Was this murder also the result of guns that the Obama administration deliberately allowed into Mexico?

Keep a close eye on this one.

Regardless of whether that is the case, it is clear that this was a stupid idea in any event. Who knows how much violence has increased due to the new availability of thousands of assault rifles and other powerful weapons?

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

But, don’t worry.
Barack Obama says the border is as safe today as it’s ever been.

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“This Bud’s For You”

Mark Kleiman at Ta-Nehisi’s place:

Two items on my list of drug-policy reforms drew the most flak in comments:  the abolition of the minimum legal  drinking age and the non-commercial legalization of cannabis.

Note that the drinking-age idea was paired with a tenfold increase in alcohol taxes to about a dollar a drink, roughly doubling the retail price of alcohol. That, plus a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving for teenagers, would get you most of the benefits of the current 21-year-old MLDA (and lots of benefits the MLDA can’t provide) without making tens of millions of teenagers into scofflaws.  It’s a good general principle that a law that’s widely broken is a bad law, and 90% of American 18-year-olds have sampled alcohol, despite the laws against it.
On the cannabis front, my plea is for a “grow-your-own” policy: consumers would be allowed to cultivate pot for their own use, to give it away, or to join small consumer-owned co-ops to produce the stuff for them. No commercial sales.
“Why not?” demanded several outraged commenters. Why allow use but not sale?
Two words provide the gist of the answer:  marketing and lobbying. A legal cannabis industry, like the legal beer industry, the legal tobacco industry, the legal fast-food and junk-food industries, and the legal gambling industry, would do everything in its power to expand its sales, including taking political action to weaken whatever regulations and minimize whatever taxes were imposed.

Reihan Salam:

In Kleiman’s view, commercial sales would create a powerful marketing and lobbying machine that would encourage cannabis consumption. On paternalistic grounds, Kleiman is concerned about the public health consequences of a dramatic expansion of cannabis consumption. Given that decriminalization would already lower the effective price of cannabis, this strikes me as a legitimate concern:

To the consumer, developing a bad habit is bad news. To the marketing executive, it’s the whole point of the exercise. For any potentially addictive commodity or activity, the minority that gets stuck with a bad habit consumes the majority of the product. So the entire marketing effort is devoted to cultivating and maintaining the people whose use is a problem to them and a gold mine to the industry.Take alcohol, for example. Divide the population into deciles by annual drinking volume. The top decile starts at four drinks a day, averaged year-round. That group consumes half of all the alcohol sold. The next decile does from two to four drinks a day. Those folks sop up the next thirty percent. Casual drinkers – people who have two drinks a day or less – take up only 20% of the total volume. The booze companies cannot afford to have their customers “drink in moderation.”

Because distillers are dependent on “problem drinkers,” they deploy an effective, well-funded lobby to stymie efforts to reduce alcohol consumption and indeed to permit the emergence of potential substitutes or complements to traditional wines and spirits, hence the ban on breathable alcohol. Though cannabis consumption is less dangerous than binge drinking, the impact of full-blown legalization is unpredictable:

The rate of problem use among cannabis users is lower than the rate of problem drinking among drinkers (lifetime risk of about 10% v. lifetime risk of at least 15%) but that’s under conditions of illegality and high price. The risks of chronic heavy cannabis use aren’t as dramatic as the risks of chronic heavy drinking – the stuff doesn’t kill neurons or rot your liver, and generates less crazy behavior than beer – but that doesn’t make those risks negligible. Ask any parent whose fifteen-year-old has decided that cannabis is more fun than geometry. Of the 10% of cannabis smokers who become heavy daily smokers for a while, the median duration of the first spell of heavy use (not counting the risks of relapse) is 44 months. That’s not a small chunk to take out a lifetime, especially a young lifetime.

Kleiman is a frank paternalist, and his arguments are potentially discomfiting for those of us of a libertarian bent. But as a prudential first step, I think he’s right to prefer non-commercial legalization.

Kleiman is wrong on many fronts, but mainly he’s wrong because most people who want to smoke pot don’t want to grow it. They want to buy it. And all these people spending money to grow their own aren’t going to give it away to everyone for free, which leaves us with a demand to fill but not nearly the level of supply needed to fill it. The only thing standing between that demand and the supply shortage would be the government. Which, naturally, leads to black markets, drug dealers, confiscation of property by police departments, drug raids, shooting deaths and so forth. Not too far a cry from where we’re at now.

So we have a choice: create a legal market or a new black market.

One of these two markets will exist no matter what we do, because people are going to smoke pot one way or another. The laws we have now don’t prevent this. Allowing home growing but not commercial sales won’t either. Nothing will. This is one vice that isn’t going anywhere and doesn’t really need “America’s marketing geniuses” in order to peddle.

Kleiman thinks all the companies selling marijuana will be like the Big Tobacco companies, with a fierce lobbying arm and a huge monopoly over the market, preying mercilessly on helpless consumers. But that’s not going to happen if we just legalize marijuana and don’t set up regulations which grant these big companies de facto monopolies to begin with. Small growers, like small brewers, will do just fine. And no, we won’t have a bunch of crazed cannabis users at the mercy of Marijuana Inc. Some people will smoke too much pot, but plenty of people already do and many of them quit before their lives are ruined.

A better idea would be to simply not regulate out home growers from the market which is a legitimate concern. Setting up laws which prevent home growing will crowd out home growers and make big corporations much more powerful. Simply opening up the market to both will create a much more level playing field. I think it will actually be extremely difficult for big corporations to compete with local growers – economies of scale be damned, pot smokers enjoy the quality of their product too much – but at least that competition will exist.

Kleiman in the comments to Kain’s post:

It’s really tiresome to be criticized for view you don’t hold. Here’s what I wrote (emphasis added for the hard-of-reading):

On the cannabis front, my plea is for a “grow-your-own” policy: consumers would be allowed to cultivate pot for their own use, to give it away, or to join small consumer-owned co-ops to produce the stuff for them. No commercial sales.

So no, I don’t propose making everyone who wants to smoke pot grow his own garden; you could always join a co-op, or get yours from a friend who either belongs to one or grows the stuff. Given the high costs of running an illegal business, the black market just couldn’t compete with the legal co-ops.

Now, if someone wants to criticize that proposal, go ahead. But all the “anti-prohibitionists” seem to prefer pounding on a straw man.

Kain responds:

There are several things wrong with this.

First, it creates at best a gray market. You can grow it, smoke it, and join a co-op to help produce it, but you can’t sell it to whoever you want or buy it from whoever you want. This is very fuzzy. Can you think of any other product like this? I can’t, and I don’t think Americans would take to the idea very well (what, I can’t buy bread at the store, I have to make it myself? What the hell is a co-op?) or that our regulatory apparatus would be up to enforcing it (not to mention the potential for regulatory capture at the local and state level). Furthermore, this strikes me as little more than Kleiman’s own preferred version of Capitalism Lite – a sort of throwback to distributism – Chestertonian in its romanticism, but not terribly practical.

Second, no matter how you spin this, consumers of marijuana under Kleiman’s rules would also have to be producers of marijuana – if not directly, then indirectly through a co-operative. Rather than casually purchasing pot whenever they wanted, they would have to make a commitment to either A) grow the stuff, or B) become involved with a group of people growing the stuff. If anything, this works against Kleiman’s paternalist instincts. Where Kleiman seeks to protect the consumer from the big marijuana corporations, he ends up making consumers more financially vested in the product, and thus more bound to its success, use, and so forth. Probably not the best idea when you’re attempting to keep use of the product to a minimum. This would be like forcing drinkers to have a financial stake in whatever alcohol they were consuming. And a lot of people just don’t want that. They want the freedom to choose to simply buy the stuff at a store or, if there’s no co-op nearby and nobody growing, then from a dealer.

Which brings us to point number three. I don’t think co-ops would actually spell the end of the illicit marijuana trade unless the co-ops were allowed to scale up to the point where basically they were operating as commercial businesses. So either you lose the idyllic co-operative-only market or you sustain the demand for the black market.

And last, there is simply nothing in this argument that makes it necessary. The problem with pot is that it’s illegal, not anything inherent with the drug – at least no more so than alcohol (and probably a lot less). If pot becomes legal I hope we don’t regulate out home growers or local co-operatives. That would be a disaster and a travesty. Imagine doing to the wine industry what was done to the beer industry for so long. Imagine the Budweiser of bud – and that all legal marijuana was so lifeless. But preventing commercial sale of anything that has a high consumer demand is just asking for trouble, even if you provide avenues for that demand to be met. Those avenues are simply unnecessary when an open market could exist instead. If we really want to curtail marijuana usage, legalize it and then tax the hell out of it. At least people will be able to buy it and consume it safely.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

I think Kain is missing at least part of Kleiman’s point. The whole idea behind decriminalizing marijuana possession is to eliminate the “black market cycle of violence”; since people wouldn’t necessarily be dependent on dealers, dealers would have a hard time plying a lucrative trade, and paramilitary SWAT teams wouldn’t be shooting dogs and old ladies trying to get at the hidden cannabis stash of a 72 year-old with cataracts.

Second, while I’m not quite sure where I stand on the choice between legalization and criminalization, I do think that marijuana abuse is a relatively minor problem. I’d like to preserve that status quo while eliminating the draconian penalties and absurd amount of law-enforcement resources devoted to preventing people from toking. But I think Kain is being a bit to dismissive in arguing that there would be no adverse consequences from the mass marketing of marijuana. It seems entirely possible to me that commercializing the drug could create a problem where none really exists — businesses have to make a profit; someone growing their own doesn’t. A world where a smaller, less profitable illicit market that continues to exist looks a lot like our own without the outsize penalties and adverse consequences of over-enforcement. I’m not sure what a world with a fully commercialized marijuana industry that profits from turning people into potheads looks like, but it makes me nervous.

Ezra Klein

Patrick Appel at Sully’s place:

Kleiman has been beating this drum for a long time. I don’t have a problem with “grow your own” in theory but worry that prohibiting commercial cannabis will sustain the black-market. What are the other unintended consequences?

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The 80s Are Over, My Friend

Christopher Weber at Politics Daily:

Congress passed a bill Wednesday that would narrow the disparity between mandatory sentences for crack and powder cocaine possession, changing a 24-year-old law that critics said unfairly subjected blacks to longer prison terms than whites.

The measure was approved by voice vote in the House and sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law, The Associated Press reported. The bill made it through the Senate in March.

The legislation would overhaul a 1986 law that mandated a person convicted of crack cocaine possession get the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of cocaine in powder form. The bill passed Wednesday reduces that ratio to about 18-1, the AP said.

Cord Jefferson at The Root:

Twenty-four years ago, at the height of America’s crack epidemic, Congress enacted legislation that saw persons convicted of possessing crack receive prison sentences equal to persons possessing 100 times that amount in powder cocaine. This was problematic for many reasons, the most glaring being that African Americans possessing crack went to jail in droves while white defendants, who more often dabbled in expensive powder cocaine, escaped without prison bids. After the Senate passed the bill in March, Attorney General Eric Holder commented, “There is no law enforcement or sentencing rationale for the current disparity between crack and cocaine powder offenses.”

Unfortunately, today’s vote makes the ratio between crack and powder cocaine sentences 18-to-1—still not perfectly equal. But it’s a step, and a bipartisan one at that. Six Republicans co-sponsored the bill, including Lindsay Graham and Orrin Hatch.

Jacob Sullum at Reason:

Under current law, five grams of crack triggers the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder; likewise, 50 grams of crack triggers the same 10-year mandatory minimum sentence as five kilograms of powder. The bill passed today, which President Obama is expected to sign soon, will reduce those 100-to-1 ratios by 82 percent. From now on, a drug offender will need only 18 times as much powder to get the same sentence he would get for crack. That’s still crazy, but substantially less so. In addition to reducing the sentencing disparity, the bill abolishes the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack (as opposed to possession with intent to distribute), another way in which federal law treats smokable cocaine with unusual severity. Families Against Mandatory Minimums says this is “the first time that Congress has repealed a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the Nixon administration.”

Mark Kleiman:

This time, the bill had lots of conservative Republican support, but the ranking Republican on House Judiciary demonstrated why it’s taken more than 20 years to change the law by pulling out the usual demoagogic warnings about rampant drug abuse. The Fraternal Order of Police also weighed in on the wrong side.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Jeff Sessions and Rep. Bobby Scott all deserve congratulations, though I think an administrative fix – regulating the conditions under which the mandatory could be invoked by federal prosecutors so that only worthwhile cases could be brought – would have been cleaner and quicker.

This is one more indication that at least marginally sensible drug policy is now politically discusable.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

I agree entirely with Adam Serwer when he says that this passage makes the crack disparity “only one fifth as racist as it used to be.” But you know what we don’t do a lot of in this country? Reduce sentences. Check out the makeup of the world’s largest prison population and you’ll see what I mean. “Law ‘n’ Order” and “Tough on Crime” remain shibboleths used by politicians to hammer away at criminal sentencing reformists. So ANY change in a positive direction takes a ridiculous amount of work and struggle. This is a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has a backgrounder on the law change. And the Houston Chronicle spoke out in a very good editorial today. Now, the next step is to eliminate this disparity entirely, so we actually have equal justice under the law.

Steven Taylor:

Don’t get me wrong:  I would not recommend crack cocaine usage and there were (and are) still social costs of some significance associated with its usage.  The problem with the reaction in the 1980s was that, like much of our drug laws, we overreact and make rules based on fear and the drama of the moment rather than rational consideration of the problem.  We paint each new drug as practically the end of the world and react accordingly (the current drug of fear is meth-in the past it was heroin).  Again:  all of these are substances that cause substantial harm, but we tend to lack a sense of proportion in dealing with them.

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Two Ranches Near Laredo, Texas

Kimberly Dvorak at The Examiner:

In what could be deemed an act of war against the sovereign borders of the United States, Mexican drug cartels have seized control of at least two American ranches inside the U.S. territory near Laredo, Texas.

Two sources inside the Laredo Police Department confirmed the incident is unfolding and they would continue to coordinate with U.S. Border Patrol today. “We consider this an act of war,” said one police officer on the ground near the scene. There is a news blackout of this incident at this time and the sources inside Laredo PD spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Word broke late last night that Laredo police have requested help from the federal government regarding the incursion by the Los Zetas. It appears that the ranch owners have escaped without incident but their ranches remain in the hands of the blood thirsty cartels.

The Cypress Times:

Anonymous sources in law enforcement in the Laredo area tonight have passed on word that US law enforcement agencies are in the area and are weighing their options regarding the ranches. The media has been silent on this incident and some law enforcement in the area says that they are furious that the media is not reporting the whole story of the continued violence along the border. Their frustrations are understandable because keeping the truth suppressed continues to hamper law enforcement from receiving the true support they need along the border.

The ranch assaults come on the heels of attacks in Nuevo Laredo that shut the city down as a gun-battle raged in the streets. Los Zetas blocked off intersections with vehicles and used fragmentation grenades to attack Mexican law enforcement. In the end 12 were killed and 21 injured in the assaults. Citizens in the area were told to stay in their homes and bullets whizzed all around.

Michelle Malkin:

There’s a new outbreak of disorder at the southern border this weekend.

The AP reports on gun battles plaguing the region across from Laredo, Texas:

Late-night gunbattles with gangs who forced citizens from their cars and used the vehicles to block streets paralyzed a border city, sound of gunfire alarmed Texans on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.

The Nuevo Laredo city government posted messages on Facebook warning citizens to stay indoors as the battles erupted at several intersections in the city across from Laredo, Texas.

Frightened people on the U.S. side of the border called emergency dispatchers after hearing the gunfire, Laredo police spokesman Joe Baeza said Thursday. But he said there was no spillover violence.

“We were getting reports from people who live on the river’s edge that they could hear gunfire and explosions from the Mexico side,” Baeza said.

“We didn’t have any incidents on the American side. It’s hard for people to understand who don’t live here,” he added. “They’re not Vikings, they’re not going to invade us, it doesn’t work that way.”

Nuevo Laredo city officials said they could not immediately confirm witness reports that several gunmen were killed.

Despite those denials, rumors are swirling of a Zetas-led invasion into Texas ranches. Digger’s Realm, a veteran immigration blogger, has the story:

The bloodbath continues along our southern border and now word is coming in that Los Zetas, the highly trained killers formerly with the Gulf Cartel, have crossed into the United States and taken over at least two ranches in the Laredo, Texas area. I am receiving word that the owners of the ranches have evacuated without being harmed. The source is law enforcement in the area.

(Update 2 story is now 100% confirmed by second source within the Laredo Police Department)

Founder of the San Diego Minutemen Jeff Schwilk tipped me off to this story and passes along the following information on the location. The ranches are said to be “near Mines Rd. and Minerales Annex Rd about 10 miles NW of I-35″.

Update 1 (Statement from Mr. Schwilk)

I can personally vouch that this info came in late last night from a reliable police source inside the Laredo PD. There is currently a standoff between the unknown size Zeta forces and U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement on two ranches on our side of the Rio Grande. The source tells us he considers this an “act of war” and that the military is needed on the border now!

Dan Riehl:

This can’t actually be happening, can it? What, do they figure the numb-nuts in the WH is so weak they can get away with a move like this? Okay, on second thought, maybe they have a point. But still. Hell, the right configuration of Texans could end this nonsense. Retired special forces, anyone?

Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee:

Twitter exploded a while ago about this story, which claims that heavily-armed Los Zetas gunmen of the Gulf Cartel have taken over ranches on the U.S. side of the border.

My curiosity got the better of me, and so I called the Laredo Police Department, and had a delightful chat with the acting watch commander, Sgt. Perez.

Sgt. Perez informed me that I was her seventh caller about this claim since she came on duty this afternoon. She stipulated two things that blows holes in the invasion claim.

  1. The location of the alleged invasion is outside of their city-limits jurisdiction, so they would not be involved, and;
  2. while they would not be involved in any law enforcement response outside of their jurisdiction, they work closely with the county sheriff’s office and would know if such an event is occurring.

She also provided me the number of the Webb County Sheriff’s Department. The deputy that answered the phone there was less amused, having also dealt with this rumor multiple times in a short amount of time. She also told me that there was no invasion and no law enforcement siege, and that deputies were continuing normal operations.

Don’t believe the hype.

Tom Maguire:

However, if I were to believe the hype, this sort of story would be the reason – just a couple of days ago Nuevo Laredo, on the Mexican side of the border, was out of control:

Several intersections in the City of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico were shut down as gun battles erupted between the Mexican military and heavily armed “hit men” from a Mexican drug cartel. The gunfire could be heard across the U.S. border in Laredo, Texas leading citizens there to call 911.

The Latin American Herald Tribune reports, ““Nine criminals, two civilians and a soldier were killed in the three clashes between elements of the National Defense Secretariat and members of organized crime, and 21 people were wounded.” That information is attributed to the Government Secretariat from Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo had posted warnings on its website hours before the gunfire was reported by Texas citizens, “We have received credible reports of widespread violence occurring now between narcotics-trafficking organizations and the Mexican army in Nuevo Laredo.”

Here is a US travel advisory from July 16 warning visitors to Mexico that, however bad the situation was, it’s gotten worse.

So – is it possible that a group of outnumbered and outgunned cartel members crossed the border figuring it would be better to be captured by the American government than shot by the Mexican federales?  That strikes me as not-impossible.

The story saying that the cartels are coming adds this detail:

There is a news blackout of this incident at this time and the sources inside Laredo PD spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A news blackout makes sense while the diplomats sort this out (and certainly Team Obama wouldn’t want this publicized while they are suing Arizona) but then again, any conspiracy theorist would know to include that.

I would say, stay tuned and stay skeptical.

James Joyner:

Reports from The Examiner and The Cypress Times that thugs from the Los Zetas drug cartel have seized two Laredo, Texas ranches are spreading through the blogosphere.  Is this the first wave of the Reconquista?

Well, Confederate Yankee’s Bob Owens called the Laredo Police Department and the Webb County Sheriff’s Department and told that no such thing was happening.

The Laredo Times could also find no information to support the claim. There’s are registration-only stories on the front page with headlines “Stores close due to cartels” and “Cartel loses chopper,” so they do seem to be reporting aggressively on the cartels.

Pat Dollard:

Kimberly is adamantly standing by her story, and gave me the name of one of her three sources inside both the Laredo Police and Webb County Sheriff’s Departments. She says two of those sources not only confirmed the story of the ranches being seized, but elaborated in great detail on what was happening. She also has other sources on the ground, non-law enforcement. She is mid-stream in developing and further reporting the whole story, and has reason reason to believe that law enforcement is in mid-operation on the ranches, and do not want that operation interrupted with publicity before they are finished.

Given the shootout that occurred on the 22nd, it would also make some sense that the ranches were simply occupied as safe havens by retreating Zeta gunman.

Kimberly has a record as a credible journalist, with established sources inside the Mexican cartels themselves.

I have no idea what quite is or isn’t going on here, but I say let’s give ol’ Kim the hours ahead to track all of this, and flesh it out, one way or the other. She’s asked for the rope, and I’m giving it to her.

As someone else likes to say:

Developing…

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Dude, It’s Prop 19, Man…

Terry Hamburg at Technorati:

On November 2, 2010, the most populous U.S. state may make possession of one ounce of marijuana legal.

Some in government, like the progressive and cash-strapped Oakland City Council, see the passage of The California Marijuana Initiative as a billion dollar tax windfall, plus a jobs creation bill. Three members of Congress from the Bay Area enthusiastically endorse it: Reps. George Miller, Barbara Lee and Pete Stark. Law enforcement is divided: some rank and file are quietly in favor while most brass officially stand shoulder to shoulder against. The California NAACP supports the proposal as a civil rights issue because blacks are disproportionately arrested for possession.

Despite state inmates being released by court orders for overcrowding, the prison industry appears to reject anything that might reduce its clientele. Major opposition and probably funding is coming from illicit pot farmers, who fear a drop in demand and prices for their harvests. According to some reports, the liquor industry is discretely funneling money to groups pushing for a “no” vote.

R. M. Schneiderman at Newsweek:

So far, no modern country has ever legalized marijuana production—not even the Netherlands. Yet with heavy drug-related violence plaguing the U.S.-Mexican border, some analysts and policymakers now say that America should legalize weed in order to reduce the power of Mexico’s drug cartels.

Marijuana carries the least amount of overhead cost for many of the cartels and provides some of their cash flow for buying guns and influence. Estimates vary, but analysts say pot accounts for somewhere in the range of 20 to 50 percent of the cartels’ profits. But that could soon change with competition from El Norte: California has a proposition set for the November ballot—on which voters are roughly split—that would legalize the drug’s domestic production and sale. If the measure passes, says a recent analysis by the RAND Corporation, California could become a major supplier of the drug to the rest of the U.S. That, according to George W. Grayson, a professor of government at William & Mary, “would hurt the cartels badly.” RAND estimates that it could reduce the drug’s pretax price by more than 80 percent.

David Hirschman at Big Think:

Big Think spoke with Columbia University psychology professor Carl Hart who said he wasn’t particularly impressed with the California proposals, noting that similar movements had failed in the past. While he liked the idea of raising tax revenue from pot, he said that decriminalizing just marijuana would risk not addressing similar issues with other drugs.

“I don’t like the idea of separating marijuana from other drugs,” said Hart. “There’s a movement in the country to say marijuana isn’t like cocaine, isn’t like meth, isn’t like heroin.” He said that these distinctions don’t take enough into account, and that the trouble with addiction to any of these drugs is less about their pharmacological effects, and more about the social conditions under which they are consumed.

Hart suggested the U.S. should follow the lead of Portugal, which has effectively decriminalized all drugs, allowing users to face non-criminal administrative proceedings when they are caught rather than criminal charges. “It provides less of a taxing on our criminal justice resources, and allows young people to make mistakes without having a criminal record that follows them for the rest of their lives,” said Hart.

Another Big Think interviewee, former High Times magazine editor John Buffalo Mailer, told us today that he would be surprised to see the legalization efforts go through: “Given the environmental and economic benefits of hemp, not to mention the medicinal and economic value of marijuana, it seems insane to me that we still have the draconian laws in place we do for marijuana possession anywhere in this country,” Mailer said. “That is until you take into account the several large industries who benefit from marijuana’s illegal status, namely the oil, cotton, tobacco, alcohol, and prison industries. If we were to legalize the plant, they would all take a hit.  Combined, that is a tremendous amount of lobbying power. So, I would be surprised if we see legalization any time soon.”

Mark Kleiman at The Los Angeles Times:

There’s one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can’t be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes. And that won’t happen.

True, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute people who are selling medical marijuana in compliance with California’s law. But that’s an entirely different matter. The attorney general could cite good legal and constitutional reasons for that policy, because the regulation of medical practice is a state and not a federal responsibility. And if the medical justification for most of the pot sold through dispensaries is sketchy at best? Well, that too is a state problem. The international treaties that require their signatories, including the United States, to ban the production and sale of cannabis have an exception for medical use.

Most important, the feds can afford to take a laid-back attitude toward California’s medical marijuana trade because it’s unlikely to cause much of a trafficking problem in the rest of the country. Because dispensaries’ prices are just as high as those for black-market marijuana, there’s not much temptation to buy the “medical” sort in California and resell it out of state.

By contrast, the non-medical cannabis industry that would be allowed if Proposition 19 passed would quickly fuel a national illicit market. According to a study issued by the RAND Corp.’s Drug Policy Research Center this month, if the initiative passes, the pretax retail price of high-grade sinsemilla marijuana sold legally in California is likely to drop to under $40 per ounce, compared with current illicit-market (or dispensary) prices of $300 an ounce and more. Yes, the counties would have authority to tax the product, but even at a tax rate of $50 an ounce — more than 100% of the pretax price — the legal California product would still be a screaming bargain by national standards, at less than one-third of current black-market prices.

As a result, pot dealers nationwide — and from Canada, for that matter — would flock to California to stock up. There’s no way on earth the federal government is going to tolerate that. Instead, we’d see massive federal busts of California growers and retail dealers, no matter how legal their activity was under state law.

More Kleiman at his blog:

If you’re not keeping score at home, that’s the California marijuana-legalization initiative.  My op-ed explaining why it makes no sense is now on the LA Times webpage, and will appear in Sunday’s paper.  Bottom line:  a state can’t tax and regulate a federal felony.

I may vote for the proposition anyway, just as a protest against the current laws. Too bad the California ballot initiatives don’t permit you to vote for “a pox on both your houses.”

Kevin Drum:

Me too. Besides, there’s really no telling what the feds will do until someone forces the issue. So why not force it? At the very least it has a chance to move the public opinion needle a bit. Besides, I think it would be entertaining to watch the tea partiers twist in the wind trying to figure out which is more important: (a) making sure the hippies don’t get their dope or (b) fighting the jackbooted tyranny of federal officers interfering with the sovereign Tenth Amendment right of states to police their own borders. Or something.

In any case, my guess is that Prop 19 will fail. It probably would regardless (it’s already behind 44%-48%), but Mark is right: opponents can make a pretty scary case that it would lead to California becoming the pot capital of the United States and fueling gang/mafia/DEA wars of all stripes. The ads sort of write themselves. Unfortunately, we’re probably still a few years away from having any chance of seriously discussing a sane marijuana policy. Even in California.

Andrew Sullivan

Stephen Bainbridge:

I disagree with fellow UCLA prof Mark Kleiman about a lot of things. We’ve crossed blogosphere swords occasionally. But I still respect his vast knowledge of drug policy, so I take his analysis of California’s pot legalization ballot proposition (number 19 for those of you following along at home) seriously

Pete Guither:

Let’s start with Mark Kleiman’s new OpEd in the Los Angeles Times:


California can’t legalize marijuana

There’s one problem with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis at the state level: It can’t be done. The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony.

Well, duh. Thanks for letting us know that marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level. There’s a newsbreak.

When California passed medical marijuana, it was illegal at the federal level as well. That didn’t stop them from actually, relatively successfully (despite the challenges of federal government intrusion), implementing a licensed medical marijuana system.

But Mark helpfully explains why that could work, while recreational marijuana wouldn’t…

True, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has announced that the Justice Department will not prosecute people who are selling medical marijuana in compliance with California’s law. But that’s an entirely different matter. The attorney general could cite good legal and constitutional reasons for that policy, because the regulation of medical practice is a state and not a federal responsibility. And if the medical justification for most of the pot sold through dispensaries is sketchy at best? Well, that too is a state problem.

This is just a bizarre statement. Maybe the Attorney General “could cite good legal and constitutional reasons for that policy,” but he didn’t — he merely said that prosecuting medical marijuana in compliance with state law was not a particularly good use of limited resources. How would that be different from prosecuting millions of recreational users?

And “because the regulation of medical practice is a state and not a federal responsibility”? More bizarreness. Yes, under today’s fatally strained Supreme Court interpretation of the Commerce Clause, medical “practice” is mostly a state function, but the drugs used in medical practice (including marijuana) are considered to be under federal control (re-read Raich). The implication that somehow medical drugs are constitutionally the domain of the states (don’t I wish), but recreational drugs are not is an even more unusual Constitutional notion (I’m imagining a bizarro-land Kleiman version of the 10th Amendment reading “The powers not delegated to the States, or to the people, are reserved to the United States”).

Note: it is interesting that I don’t recall Mark mentioning this point about the regulation of medical practice being the domain of the states when it came to discussions about federal health care.

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Pee In A Cup And The Government Pays You (Well, Not Really)

Mara Gay at Politics Daily:

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has proposed an amendment to the jobs bill today that would require Americans seeking unemployment benefits and welfare to pass a drug test.

He said the current social safety net only feeds their addiction to both illegal substances and help from the federal government.

“Too many Americans are locked into a life of a dangerous dependency not only on drugs, but the federal assistance that serves to enable their addiction,” the senator said in a statement. “Drugs are a scourge on our society — hurting children, families and communities alike.”

The amendment comes as an attempt to pass the $140 billion jobs bill failed in the Senate. The bill would extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, but its price tag has elicited objections from both Republicans and Democrats.

Hatch said his amendment would help save taxpayer money and reduce the national deficit.

“This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society, while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted,” the senator said today.

Joan McCarter at Daily Kos:

Being unemployed just isn’t denigrating enough for Orrin Hatch. You have to be punished it for, put under suspicion. That’s the Republican way. What’s next? Poor houses?

Ezra Klein:

A while back, Matt Yglesias wrote an insightful piece arguing that “ideas about freedom and small government are totally irrelevant to the actual political agenda [of the Republican Party].” I was reminded of it by the news that small-government advocate Orrin Hatch wants the state to perform mandatory drug tests on every one of the 15 million people receiving unemployment insurance or welfare benefits.

Meredith Jessup at Townhall:

I can hear the ACLU’s screams of injustice now.  Truth be told, this seems like such a basic, commonsense notion.  It’s definitely not a new idea, but props to Sen. Hatch for reintroducing it, especially at a time when the country can’t afford to waste a dime.

Annie Lowrey at Washington Independent:

Currently, about 4.4 million families receive assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. On top of that, 9.8 million people are receiving unemployment insurance in some form. Millions more get other kinds of aid. Granted, the federal government does plenty of drug testing already, but does it really want to process 15 million new urine samples? Plus pay for all the court cases the law would create? The Drug Policy Alliance notes that “a 2003 ruling by a federal appeals court that covers the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee ruled that states cannot drug test welfare recipients because it’s unconstitutional.”s.

Matt Welch at Reason:

This is, alas, nothing new. In addition to social-welfare recipients, lawmakers have identified several other sub-classes of people ripe for being forced by the state to urinate on command, including (but not limited to) student athletes, kids who dare take part in other extra-curricular activities, and even kids who do nothing all day but draw “I Heart Conor” in their Pee-Chees. (They still have those, right?)

Always missing from these flippant tramplings of our privacy rights are two classes of people: Lawmakers themselves, and recipients of corporate welfare. Wouldn’t you feel just a little safer if Patrick Kennedy got his fluids checked on regular basis? Ya think some of those juicy subsidies for film productions ever land in the hands of people who use drugs?

The moral of the story here is not new, but bears repeating: If you are at all dependent on the state, whether by choice or force, and you don’t have the good manners to be powerful, you will always stand the risk of being treated like a patient at a criminal asylum. It is as good a reason as any other to resist further encroachment of the government on our private lives.

Wonkette:

Famed Utah hazzan Senator Orrin Hatch proposed an amendment to the $140 billion jobs benefits extension bill today that would make make people seeking welfare benefits first pass a drug test. Welfare will now be a level playing field, as poor people will not be able to get away with taking steroids to make themselves super-poor. And also poor drug addicts will maybe starve and thus no longer be a problem, so that’s good.

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