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 The amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, passed in 1920, after more than a decade of increased crime, dangerously unregulated products, and a failure to reduce consumption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
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.
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
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
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.
Mothers Speak About the Devastation and Loss Caused by the Preventable Drug Overdose, Mass Incarceration, and Prohibition-Related Violence
Moms From California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Texas Available to Discuss Personal Experience with Drug War
This holiday season, A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing) and moms from around the country will share their stories of loss while calling for an end to the War On Drugs, which has been so disastrous for tens of millions of families. Many of the moms leading this campaign have been personally impacted by the war on drugs.
Leaders of the Moms United campaign from around the country include: Gretchen Burns Bergman (San Diego, CA), the mother of two sons who have struggled with heroin addiction and repeated incarceration; Julia Negron (Florida), a mother of a son whose son served several prison terms for drug possession; Denise Cullen (Palm Desert, CA), a social worker specializing in grief counseling, whose son died from an overdose five years ago, Joyce Rivera (New York, NY) who founded St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx and is the sister of an injection drug user who died of HIV/AIDS, Kathie Kane-Willis (Chicago), Director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy Roosevelt University, Charmie Gholson (Michigan), Director of Michigan Moms United, and Joy Strickland (Dallas, Texas), who lost her son to teen violence.
By Steve Elliott
A policeman in Buffalo, New York who recently was awarded Officer of the Month honors has been fired after he was caught growing 82 marijuana plants at his home.
James Hamilton was arraigned on Thursday on charges of operating a cannabis-growing operation at his home after a six-month investigation led to his dismissal from the Buffalo Police Department, reports Phil Fairbanks at The Buffalo News. Hamilton had been a cop for less than a year.
"Like any organization, you have bad apples," claimed Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda on Thursday.
Rookie cop Hamilton, 29, recent Officer of the Month, now faces multiple drug and weapons charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch claimed 82 marijuana plants and 4 pounds of marijuana were found in Hamilton's basement. Police also seized a 12-gauge shotgun.
Hamilton was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, who entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. "My client is innocent," said defense lawyer Matthew Borowski. "And he intends to fight these charges."
By Steve Elliott
Parents who use marijuana -- even those who use it medicinally -- face a lot of judgments, and can sometimes even lose custody of their children. Parents 4 Pot, a new group based in Northern California is fighting the stigma surrounding the subject.
The new group has a Facebook page and plans to launch a website, reports Robin Wilkey at The Huffington Post. Next on the agenda is forming a board of directors and then advocating specific legislation.
"What we aspire to do is change the way people understand and talk about cannabis in our community," said organizer Mickey Martin, the author of Medical Marijuana 101 and founder of a company which produces cannabis-infused medibles. Martin is the father of two boys.
Martin in 2007 faced federal charges related to his medibles company, Tainted Inc., eventually being sentenced to probation for "marijuana manufacturing" and distribution charges that could have gotten him a decade in prison.
"There are many parents who lose their freedom, or whose children lose their freedom, every day to these policies and laws, and as a society we sit by and watch," Martin said. "It is not OK anymore."
Holder: “We Will Never Prosecute or Incarcerate Our Way to Becoming a Safer Nation”; 1 in 100 Americans Behind Bars Inadvisable and Unsustainable, Financially and Morally
DPA's Ethan Nadelmann: Historic Significance of Holder’s Critique Cannot Be Denied
Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday offered the Obama Administration’s most forceful critique to date of U.S. mass incarceration policies, at a meeting of the hemisphere's security ministers in Medellín, Colombia. He also emphasized the Obama Administration's efforts to scale back mandatory minimum sentencing policies.
“The path we are currently on is far from sustainable,” said Holder. “As we speak, roughly one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars.
"Although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners," Holder said. "While few would dispute the fact that incarceration has a role to play in any comprehensive public safety strategy, it’s become evident that such widespread incarceration is both inadvisable and unsustainable.
"It requires that we routinely spend billions of dollars on prison construction – and tens of billions more, on an annual basis, to house those who are convicted of crimes," said the Attorney General. "It carries both human and moral costs that are too much to bear. And it results in far too many Americans serving too much time in too many prisons – and beyond the point of serving any good law enforcement reason.”
By Steve Elliott
What's being called the largest ever load of marijuana seized on Arizona's border with Mexico was found by authorities in Nogales, officials said Tuesday.
The weed was hidden in a load of squash originating in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. There were 881 bundles of marijuana totaling 20,375 pounds, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers working the Mariposa commercial facility in Nogales, reports The Associated Press.
This bust eclipses the previous record of 14,000 pounds of marijuana, seized in January of this year, authorities said on Tuesday at a news conference about the bust.
Hermosillo, Mexico-based truck driver Pedro Corona-Moreno, 32, was subjected to a "routine inspection" of his load of produce as he came into the U.S. When the squash was loaded off the trailer, a drug-detecting dog alerted to the presence of cannabis, according to a Customs and Border Protection news release.
The weed, the tractor trailer and the squash were all seized by incensed officials. Corona-Moreno was fitted with a shiny pair and handcuffs and handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security department.
(Photo: Mike Christy/Arizona Star)
By Steve Elliott
Liberia's Drug Enforcement Agency, accompanied by United Nations officials, on Friday burned nearly 300 kilograms of marijuana in the nation's capital city of Monrovia. Officials claimed the destroyed cannabis was worth $4 million.
The West African nation, founded by freed slaves from the United States back in the 19th Century, is mounting a nationwide crackdown on "drug traffickers," reports Jennifer Lazuta at Voice of America. Authorities said the weed had been smuggled into Liberia from Sierra Leone by a member of Presidente Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's motorcade staff.
An official vehicle was used by Perry Dolo, a presidential staffer, to transport the cannabis, according to government officials. He and three other men were arrested shortly after crossing the border.
The public burning was to show there there will "no tolerance for drugs," according to Liberia's Information Minister, Lewis Brown.
"You can be in the center of a convoy, but if you break the law, there will be no hiding place for you," Brown boasted. "That convoy will not hide you. We will arrest you, we will properly investigate you, and, as has been done, we will prosecute you in keeping with our laws. This crackdown will continue. It's a nationwide crackdown."
Sounds as if Liberia has learned absolutely nothing by watching the failed 75-year Drug War in the United States. Neither, apparently, has the U.N.
Saturday: “Talking Transition” Event Brings Together Treatment Providers, Drug Users, Civil Rights Activists, Academics, and Elected Officials to Map New City Drug Policy
Future Drug Policy to be Based in Equity, Health and Safety rather than Racism, Criminalization and Violence
New Yorkers on Saturday, November 16, will gather to map the future of the city’s drug policies for progressive champion Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio and a new, increasingly progressive City Council. As part of the innovative Talking Transition series, New Yorkers have a unique opportunity to envision new drug polices based in equity, health and safety, rather than drug policies rooted in racism, criminalization and violence.
Hundreds of New Yorkers -- students, cultural workers, academics, advocates, community organizers, young people, treatment providers, civil rights activists and others -- will break into small groups, to come up with solutions to a range of issues such as: racially biased marijuana arrests, lack of effective treatment, legal access to medical marijuana and overdose prevention strategies. The recommendations emerging from the Ending the New Jim Crow forum will be delivered to the new de Blasio Administration for consideration.
Ending the New Jim Crow: Mapping the Future of Drug Policy in NYC
When: Saturday, November 16, 2013
Time: 2:00 -- 3:30pm
Where: Talking Transition Tent at the corner of Canal St. and 6th Avenue, Manhattan