Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Thursday. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats.
Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.
The 126-page report, “An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,” details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.
Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.
Thursday, December 5 marks the 80th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which ended the prohibition of alcohol in 1933. The amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, passed in 1920, after more than a decade of increased crime, dangerously unregulated products, and a failure to reduce consumption convinced the American public prohibition was an ineffective and destructive way to attack the problems associated with substance use.
Alas, it was a lesson quickly forgotten. Decades later America repeated the mistake with the prohibition of drugs -- heir to all of the same problems as alcohol prohibition and then some.
As former prosecutor and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board member James Gierach says, "Al Capone and other gangsters thrived when government outlawed what people wanted. When booze went legit with the 21st Amendment, mobsters had to wait only 40 years before government did it again with drugs. Same problem, same solution: legalize, license, regulate and tax."
Two comparisons with the current War On Drugs are particularly worthy of note.
First, the prohibition of alcohol was actually closer to what reformists today call “decriminalization” – the removal of criminal penalties for use and possession while sales, distribution and manufacture remain prosecutable offenses.
By Steve Elliott
The Denver City Council, busily making rules around marijuana use ever since Colorado voters decided to legalize cannabis with the Amendment 64 vote last year, will next week decide whether to limit the number of pot plants that can grown at home.
The ordinance would allow up to six marijuana plants per adult for recreational use to be grown in a home, but set a maximum of 12 plants per dwelling unit, reports Jeremy Mayer at The Denver Post.
Some cannabis advocates say the plan would disproportionately affect veterans and medical marijuana patients, but Councilwoman Jeanne Robb, who sponsors the ordinance, claimed it comes from "safety concerns."
"The police are very worried about the homegrows and the problems they could cause, fires, pesticide use, the mold, structural damage, children who might be living in these areas and THC on surface areas," Robb claimed. "They really want to be able to go in and have law enforcement ability to do our zoning."
Robb's supposed concerns, which echo the talking points of an anti-pot group called Smart Colorado, "seem pretty weak," according to Jacob Sullum at Forbes.
By Steve Elliott
Former President Bill Clinton in a TV interview on Tuesday said he "never denied" smoking marijuana.
"I didn't say I was holier than thou; I said I tried," Clinton told Fusion TV's Jorge Ramos. "I never denied that I used marijuana."
Ramos had asked if Clinton were running now if he would answer questions about his cannabis use differently, reports Eliana Dockterman at Time. The former President claimed his original answer, which he gave during his 1992 campaign, had been twisted by the media.
Clinton's infamous claim was that he "didn't inhale" when he tried pot during his Rhodes scholar years.
"When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn't like it," he said in 1992. "I didn't inhale, and I didn't try it again."
"I told the truth," Clinton says now. "I thought it was funny. And the only journalist who was there said I told the truth."
"The drug issue should be decided by people in each country, based on what they think is right," Clinton said when Ramos asked him about marijuana legalization. "We have a process in America for doing it that's being revisited state by state.
"And Latin America is free to do the same thing," Clinton said. "It's obvious that attitudes are changing and opening up."
(Photo of President Clinton and Jorge Ramos: Fusion TV)
By Steve Elliott
Police in Jackson, Michigan say they'll follow a new law approved by city voters last month which legalizes the possession of marijuana on private property.
The ordinance, passed 2,242 to 1,434 by voters in November, removes all criminal penalties for cannabis possession by adults 21 and older in the city, reports Will Forgrave at Mlive.com.
The city police department has advised its officers to follow the new law, said Jackson Police Chief Matthew Heins.
"First and foremost, it was my objective to enforce what voters voted on," Chief Heins said. "We struggled with some details in the law, but it's the law."
One of the points in the law debated by Heins and others, is exactly what constitutes "private property."
"Target is private property, for example," Heins said. "But we don't think it was the public's intention to allow a 21-year-old to possess marijuana at your local Target." Hey Chief, maybe you should worry less about interpreting intentions, and just enforce the law as written? Just a novel idea.
The ordinance changed Jackson's code to read, "None of the provisions of this division shall apply to the use, possession or transfer or less than 1 ounce of marijuana on private property by a person who has attained the age of 21 years."
Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka said his office will continue busting pot smokers, just as they always have.
By Steve Elliott
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Tuesday told reporters he is "not open" to expanding the state's medical marijuana law, claiming that such efforts are just a back door to legalizing cannabis for everyone.
"See, this is what happens," Gov. Christie said, reports Susan K. Livio at The Star-Ledger. "Every time you sign one expansion, then the advocates will come back and ask for another one," Christie said from his statehouse office Tuesday afternoon.
"Here's what the advocates want: They want legalization of marijuana in New Jersey," Gov. Christie said. "It will not happen on my watch, ever. I am done expanding the medical marijuana program under any circumstances. So we're done."
"What they want is legalization," Christie said. "They're not getting legalization under this governor."
The idea for the bill to expand New Jersey's medical marijuana program had come from Meghan and Brian Wilson of Scotch Plains, who had already waged a successful battle to loosen restrictions which kept their 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Vivian, from getting the forms of cannabis needed to relieve her severe epilepsy. The Wilsons had hoped they could grow a high-CBD strain of marijuana that has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in children.
Massachusetts: Harborside's DeAngelo Brothers Make It To Final Round With Marijuana Dispensary ApplicationSubmitted by steveelliott on Tue, 12/03/2013 - 17:43
By Steve Elliott
Steve and Andrew DeAngelo of California's Harborside Health Center have made it to the final round of the application process to operate a medical marijuana dispensary and separate cultivation facility in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts has released a list of 100 applicants who made it to the final round of the permitting process, and Andrew DeAngelo is listed as head of Green Heart Holistic Health and Pharmaceuticals Inc., which wants to open a dispensary in Boston, reports the Marijuana Business Daily. Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside, is reportedly playing an active role in Green Heart.
Green Heart has arranged a lease for a cultivation facility at 10 Industrial Way in Amesbury, reports Mac Cerullo at the Eagle-Tribune. Another firm, Alternative Therapies Group Inc., had already applied to grow marijuana in Amesbury; neither group wants to open a dispensary in the town, saying they hope to open separate dispensaries elsewhere.
Green Heart executives recently sent a letter to members of the Amesbury City Council introducing themselves; in the letter, Steve DeAngelo and vice president Dan Houston said no marijuana would be sold in Amesbury, and that the cultivation facility would be guarded 24 hours a day and provided with the latest surveillance systems.
Uruguayan Senate to Vote Next Week on President Mujica’s Bill to Tax and Regulate Marijuana
The Uruguayan Senate next week will vote on a bill that would make their country the first in the world to legally regulate the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults since cannabis became illegal worldwide 52 years ago, under the Single Convention Narcotics Treaty of 1961. The bill was approved in the Uruguay House of Representatives in July with 50 out of 96 votes.
The Senate vote will most likely take place on Tuesday, December 10. Once approved in Senate, Uruguay will have 120 days to write the regulations before implementing the law.
The marijuana legalization proposal was put forward by President José Mujica in June 2012 as part of a comprehensive package aimed at fighting crime and public insecurity. After a year and a half of studying the issue, engaging in political debate, redrafting the bill, and the emergence of a public campaign in favor of the proposal, Uruguay’s parliament is set to approve the measure this year.
“It’s about time that we see a country bravely break with the failed prohibitionist model and try an innovative, more compassionate, and smarter approach,” said Hannah Hetzer, who is based out of Montevideo, Uruguay, as the Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. "By approving this measure, Uruguay will represent a concrete advance in line with growing opposition to the drug war in Latin America and throughout the world."
By Steve Elliott
Belgian law enforcement authorities have seized a record amount of marijuana in two cases, one involving 7 tons of cannabis hidden in a shipment of coconuts from Africa.
"This is a record seizure by customs working with the police," the Belgian government said concerning the two hauls, reports Fox News.
The first seizure, involving the coconuts, happened last week in the town of Ypres, in western Belgium, reports Agence France-Presse. Ypres is near the border with France.
That shipment, inside a cargo container, was worth about $19 million, according to police.
Later, the cops found a second shipment of marijuana, also hidden in a cargo container. This one was found at the huge port of Antwerp in Belgium, AFP reports.
(Photo: Galivant's Travels)
By Steve Elliott
An Iowa lawmaker has said he will introduce two bills in the upcoming session of the Legislature which would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) said that similar efforts have failed over the past decade, reports The Associated Press.
"I think we're a cautious state, we have some conservative views on this issue," Sen. Bolkcom said. "I think what has been missing in Iowa is the compelling stories and recently, people are courageously coming forward and are sharing stories about not getting the care they need."
Bolkcom said one of the bills he plans to introduce would reclassify cannabis as a drug with medical benefits, and the other bill would create a medical marijuana program modeled after the one currently operating in New Mexico.
According to a 2010 poll for The Des Moines Register, 64 percent of Iowans support legalizing medical marijuana, but many lawmakers have been wishy washy.
Gov. Terry Branstad does not support medical marijuana, according to spokesman Tim Albrecht.
State Rep. Clel Baudler (R-Greenfield), chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, is also a vocal opponent of medicinal cannabis. "In my opinion this movement is based on one thing and that's to legalize marijuana to get high," said former state trooper Baudler.
By Steve Elliott
A leaked United Nations document has revealed major international disagreements over the global "War On Drugs." The paper sets out the U.N.'s plans for a long-term strategy to combat illegal substances.
The draft, written in September and leaked to the Observer, highlights serious disagreements over the United States-led policy of drug prohibition as an approach to the problem, reports Jamie Doward at The Guardian.
A number of countries, particularly in Latin America, are now pushing for a different approach, placing more emphasis on treating drug use as a public health problem rather than the War On Drugs approach which treats it as a criminal problem.
Only the final version of such policy documents are normally seen; it is unusual for such a leak to happen before all differences between the U.N. member nations are ironed out.
The differences outlined in the paper are important; the document will eventually be a "high-level" statement on international drug policy which will be published next spring. The publication of the document will set the stage for a review by the U.N. General Assembly, which occurs only once every 10 years; this event, scheduled for 2016, will set the tone of the international body's drug policy for the next decade.
By Steve Elliott
Eighty percent of Floridians favor medical marijuana, according to the latest poll, so opponents, seeing little hope at the ballot box, have now turned to the Florida Supreme Court to stop the momentum of a proposed ballot initiative which would legalize the medicinal use of cannabis in the Sunshine State.
The state Supreme Court on December 5 will hear arguments over the language of the medical marijuana proposal, reports Lloyd Dunkelberger at the Herald Tribune. Sponsors need nearly 700,000 valid voter signatures by February in order to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and other opponents of the measure claim the ballot language is misleading and would lead to "widespread use of marijuana." Supporters say they are backing the constitutional amendment because state legislators refuse to legalize medical marijuana, and are out of touch with ordinary Floridians on the subject.
A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed Florida voters approve of letting doctors authorize patients to use medical marijuana, 82 percent to 16 percent.
The ballot language is an attempt to let Floridians decide for themselves whether to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis, as 20 other states have done, according to trial lawyer John Morgan, the chief financial backer of the measure.
By Steve Elliott
An officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has had his uniform seized by fellow Mounties after pictures circulated of him smoking medical marijuana while wearing his uniform. Cpl. Ronald Francis was quoted saying he should be able to smoke marijuana while in uniform in order to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.
RCMP officials say they'd previously told Francis he couldn't smoke cannabis while in uniform.
Francis said two officers showed up at his home at Kingsclear First Nation in New Brunswick on Thursday evening, reports CBC News.
His cousin shot video footage as the officers took Francis's regular working uniform, "anything that identified me as a member of the RCMP: my work shirts, work pants, my jackets, my gloves, my hat, my cap badget," he said.
"I worked hard for that uniform," Francis said. "I bled for that uniform. I cried for that uniform for 21 years. They ordered me to give the only thing that I've lived and identified with for 21 years."
"But they will not get back their medal for my 20 years of exemplary service with the RCMP," Francis added.
"It was very emotional for me. I spent 20 years of my life in service to this country and stood up for the members that stand up for the Canadian public and they took one of the things that was most valuable to me 'cause I earned that uniform, like any other member of that division," Francis said.
By Steve Elliott
Massachusetts voters have already approved medical marijuana, and have decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use by adults. Now activists are pushing for the full legalization of marijuana for adults, putting it on equal footing with alcohol and cigarettes.
The group Bay State Repeal said it plans to put a proposal on the 2016 general election ballot, reports Steve LeBlanc at The Associated Press. The group said it plans to first test various versions of the measure by placing non-binding referendums on next year's midterm ballot in about a dozen districts.
The non-binding questions will help gauge voter support for different versions of the binding initiative for 2016, according to Bay State Repeal.
Massachusetts voters in 2008 approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing adult possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, making it a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine.
Of course, there are the usual naysayers. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett claimed cannabis can lead young people to hard drugs and other harmful behaviors.
"I'm not saying everyone who tries marijuana becomes a heroin addict, but the medical information is irrefutable that kids who start smoking marijuana are more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults," Blodgett, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, claimed.
By Steve Elliott
A Florida couple accidentally brought home an 11-pound stash of marijuana when they returned from Louisiana, according to police.
The husband and wife carried the weed on a 900-mile trip before getting back home to Key Largo, Florida, at which point they finally found it inside two mysterious suitcases, reports Doyle Murphy at the New York Daily News. Instead of throwing a party, the easily alarmed couple called the sheriff's department.
"This could have been really bad," claimed Monroe County Sheriff Sgt. Al Ramirez. "These people were traveling all over with this stuff in their truck. If they had been pulled over with it, they could have would up in jail and their truck may have been seized." Well, Sheriff, maybe it shouldn't be against the law, eh?
It all began back in July when an unidentified package showed up at one of the couple's rental properties in Louisiana. The husband instructed a housekeeper to ship it back to UPS. The cleaning lady did return the box, but it was later shipped back to the rental again, and she put it inside, the husband told a deputy.
When the couple took a trip to check on their vacation properties in Louisiana, the box was still there. They opened it and found two locked blue suitcases inside.