After Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana via ballot initiative this month, the Department of Justice warned about the potential “constitutional showdown” between the states and federal enforcement authorities. The easiest way to avert such a showdown would be for the DEA to use its discretionary authority under the Controlled Substances Act to simply reschedule pot. They’re not going to do that.
In the face of such a conflict you’d think, drug war politics aside, that the GOP would stand on the side of state rights and fewer regulations. They might show their limited government bona fides, and their sincerity in reaching out to young libertarian-leaning voters, and maybe even advance some sort of bill to ameliorate the constitutional problem. Congresswoman Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, has beat them to the punch with a bill watering down the language of the CSA.
Jacob Sullum writes:
[T]he bill so far has only two Republican co-sponsors: Ron Paul of Texas (naturally) and Mike Coffman of Colorado. It seems like Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who backed a more ambitious Paul-sponsored bill aimed at repealing federal marijuana prohibition, should not be shy about adding his name to this list as well. How about Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who “supports federalism on all legislation not specifically authorized in the Constitution”? Any others? Now is put-up-or-shut-up time for avowed federalists in the House. It is certainly strange, if not embarrassing, to see that Democrats are more enthusiastic about a bill with “states’ rights” in the title than Republicans are. Behold the power of pot.
The merits of legalization aside–which are considerable, even from a conservative standpoint–eventual change is beginning to seem inevitable. Majorities now favor it, and two states have just taken the plunge. From a purely cynical standpoint, it behooves the GOP to get ahead of the curve on this, or other issues for which there’s a strong conservative case, such as copyright reform. Can you imagine the outrage among the liberal base of the Democratic Party if Harry Reid were the one to block these bills? If a bill respecting federalism for drug laws passed the House but died in the Senate because of the Democratic Party’s fondness for the policemen’s union? It seems they’d prefer to let the Democrats carry the banner of federalism.
Government, being “the only thing we all belong to,” is a peculiar institution with unique responsibilites. It’s like a club, you see, but you don’t get to choose to join, and the club president happens to have the power to kill or imprison you without a trial. But membership has its benefits, and having protected us from the tyrannies of communism and fascism, some now expect protection from the tyranny of biology itself. And that goes for murderers, too:
In a first-of-its-kind ruling, a federal judge in Boston has ordered Massachusetts authorities to provide a taxpayer-funded sex-change operation for a transgender prisoner. Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf said he based his ruling on the recommendations of doctors at the commonwealth’s Department of Correction who prescribed sex-reassignment surgery as “the only form of adequate medical care” for Michelle Kosilek.
Kosilek, who used to go by “Robert,” is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1990 murder of his wife. Judge Wolf, describing his 126-page order as “unprecedented,” said that denying Kosilek the surgery was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (WSJ)
Several news stories don’t mention the circumstances of his wife’s death, but the National Law Journal has a brief line:
Kosilek murdered his wife, Cheryl McCaul, in 1990 after she expressed anger upon finding Kosilek wearing her clothes. The two met in a drug rehabilitation facility, where McCaul was a volunteer. According to the ruling, she told Kosilek that “a good woman” could cure his transexualism.
The court’s ruling is, of course, just the sort of compassionate governance Sandra Fluke would support, breaking down the persistent barriers of heteronormativity and gender bias which bear consideration, presumably, even for convicted criminals. On that, isn’t Fluke right? The cost alone of these surgeries shouldn’t be grounds to deny them, inmates get (admittedly often poor) cancer treatment and costly care for plenty of other ailments, why not cover gender dysphoria too? If you concede that prisoners should be cared for and treated humanely, it’s hard to argue they shouldn’t receive the surgery, especially if a prisoner who doesn’t receive it is likely to be found hanging from his or her shoelaces.
Fluke, the activist and Georgetown Law student who has become the poster child for state-subsidized birth control–not reproductive rights writ large, she remains conspicuously silent about whether or not women have the right to purchase contraceptives over the counter–will speak tonight at the Democratic National Convention. She argued for taxpayer-funded sex changes as recently as 2011, as Charles C. Johnson reminds us:
Fluke and co-editor Karen Hu advocated remaking U.S. law to remove what they called a “gender bias” at the root of denying coverage for “transgender medical needs,” describing it as “a prime example of direct discrimination.”
“Transgender persons wishing to undergo the gender reassignment process frequently face heterosexist employer health insurance policies that label [gender-reassignment] surgery as cosmetic, or medically unnecessary and therefore uncovered,” Fluke and Hu wrote for the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law. The review article was titled “Employment Discrimination Against LGBTQ Persons” and appeared in print in 2011.
By some estimates, sex change operations can cost between $15,000 and $20,000; the cost for some procedures can be as high as $50,000. Fluke and other advocates want insurers to cover all such operations. In general, assuming the costs of new coverage mandates tends to raise rates for all enrollees in a given health-care plan.
It’s that time again: the quadrennial alarm over real and imagined (if not plainly hyperbolic) dangers from national convention protesters and their dark and dangerous siblings, the “anarchists,” or “black bloc” brethren, who are always expected but never really end up coming to the party, at least not in anticipated numbers or force. The only “activity” reported at the 2008 Republican convention in St. Paul, for example, was the arrest of a man who police said was planning to lob a molotov cocktail during the festivities. The other terror charges against supposed convention anarchists, who were raided and arrested before the event, were eventually reduced to misdemeanors or dismissed entirely (a $50,000 settlement against police was awarded to three of the activists, otherwise known as the “RNC Eight,” in 2011).
Nevertheless, the organizers and the vast security apparatus assembled for next week’s Republican National Convention are already sounding the alarms over potential “extremists” amid the expected Occupiers and other protest groups, and the media is delivering it with well, the usual credulity.
“Federal authorities are urging law enforcement agencies across the country to watch out for signs that extremists might be planning to wreak havoc at the upcoming political conventions — by blocking roads, shutting down transit systems and even employing what were described as acid-filled eggs,” read a FOX News report on Wednesday. The story was based on a joint bulletin by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security obtained by CNN, which warned that anarchists from New York City might be planning to travel to the Tampa convention to disrupt the three day political confab. That followed this convenient AP report on Tuesday :
Tampa police say they have confiscated “suspicious” items from the rooftop of a downtown building located about a mile from where next week’s Republican National Convention will be held. A police statement says the items included bricks and pipes. They were found on the roof of a two-story medical office building.
Spray-painted nearby was a figure wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, similar to the main character from the film ”V for Vendetta.” The movie was adapted from a graphic novel about a masked anarchist vigilante battling British fascism in the near future. The mask has been used by the Anonymous hacker collective, as well as participants in “Occupy” protests … Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said she believes the items were put there by protesters for use during RNC demonstrations. ”It is disconcerting, but it’s not surprising,” she said. “This is normally how things proceed leading up to a large event.”
Police are also investigating whatever link the rooftop finding may have with a blurry online video in which an unidentified person in a Guy Fawkes mask (see the image above) appears to be threatening the convention. The video has drawn a range of reader responses from across the web, from those who call it a cynical attempt by police to justify their new toys (tasers, tanks, surveillance cameras, etc.) to others who cry for a hard blue line of smoke and steel when the protesters finally arrive. Like this nugget from MikeMC1970 on Breitbart.com:
Time to break out the national guard, the rubber bullets, the bean bag shot, the pepper spray, the pepper balls, and the tasers. Meet these morons with hard smiles and even harder truncheons.
The fact is, as I reported in March, the police have all those things and more, readied for both Tampa and the subsequent Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
Despite horrific shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin in recent weeks, gun-control laws aren’t likely to make a comeback. Spectacular but sporadic outbursts do not, as far as I can tell, move voters to demand limits on firearms ownership. Restrictions on Second Amendment rights were politically viable for about 20 years as a response to rising urban violence (the big cities still, for the most part, maintain their anti-gun laws) and the racial politics of the ’60s and early ’70s. Consider California’s 1967 Mulford Act, signed by Governor Reagan, which prohibited open carry and elicited an armed (but peaceful) protest in Sacramento from the Black Panthers.
Gun control was the offspring of liberal nannyism and racialized right-wing fears for law and order. The latter have had a different outlet in recent decades, with an emphasis on prisons and unleashing the unitary executive — when there’s a Republican in office, at any rate — against subversives real or imagined at home and abroad. Safety-first liberalism by itself doesn’t have the mass appeal to give gun control political currency. There are millions of gun owners, and unless millions more Americans fear they might be victims of gun violence, there won’t be any national momentum for restrictions.
But a reasonable liberal might argue that trigger locks and limits on the number of firearms anyone is allowed to own, even an outright “assault weapons” ban (as opposed to weapons that cannot be used for assault, presumably), ought to be up for discussion. If a little nuisance for gun enthusiasts stops even one killing, isn’t it worth it? Who needs to own more than, say, two firearms or possess high-capacity magazines?
This kind of argument for seemingly common-sense restraint of civil liberty is something one hears from every side of the political fray, depending on the issue. You can make the same case for modest restrictions on free speech — why not confine protesters to designated areas where they can freely (and futilely) exercise their First Amendment rights without risking a riot? — and for applying a bit more law-enforcement scrutiny to Muslim Americans or other feared minorities. Most members of the targeted group are clearly nonviolent and not dangerous; the trade-off is supposed to be a slight loss of liberty to a wide group in hopes of forestalling an occasional James Holmes or Nidal Hasan. Statistically, the risk to any American from owners of legal guns or from the Muslims that Pamela Geller and company demonize are minuscule. But those who buy this argument for restricting liberty claim that the consequences of minor abridgements and infringements are so small that even preventing one incident is worth it.
Hogwash. It might save lives at the margin, too, if every American riding in an automobile were required to wear a helmet, but even Michael Bloomberg isn’t contemplating that. Risk is a corollary of freedom, and while there may be irresistible political pressure to compromise liberty when there are enormous risks to the general public, it’s with good reason that there is little constituency for such things otherwise — unless, that is, dangers are magnified out proportion by ideologues and ill-premised fears are indulged by people who wish to wallow in timidity or paranoia.
The next time a liberal wants to restrict gun ownership, he should stop to think whether he would restrict the rights of minorities on such “better safe than sorry” grounds. Right-wingers agitated about Sharia likewise ought to ponder whether they would agree to restrictions on their own Second Amendment rights under the same precautionary pretext. You can consistently limit both sets of liberties, of course, but better to consistently refuse to circumscribe the rights of others to assuage your own fears.
Hold on to your tin hats and pocket Constitutions because a little remarked-upon court decision may bring the domestic drone age one flight closer to your doorstep.
Only one American has been busted so far with the aid of a predator surveillance drone since domestic law enforcement began using the weapons of war-turned-spy machines in the last few years. Thanks to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) this spring, we know there are 60 entities (including the military, various federal agencies, local police and universities) in 20 states permitted to use drones. But the case of Rodney Brossart of Lakota, North Dakota, represents the first time a drone has been unleashed by police (in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security) to help sniff a suspect out of his own property. Once police knew where he was and that he wasn’t armed, a SWAT team swooped in and grabbed Brossart and his family members. This final action and his subsequent arrest occurred after a heated cattle dispute led to “sovereignist” Brossart & family allegedly chasing police off their 3,000 acre farm with guns and engaging in a 16-hour standoff. Read more about Rodney Brossart here and here.
Sounds like the Old West range war meets Minority Report (remember, those creepy robotic spider spies?), but this weekend it became a much bigger and very real story, as Brossart’s motion for dismissal based on what he believed to be the unconstitutional use of drone surveillance by the government was rejected by the court and the charges against him upheld. According to U.S News & World Report’s Jason Koebler, who has been following Brossart’s travails:
Brossart’s lawyer argued that law enforcement’s “warrantless use of [an] unmanned military-like surveillance aircraft” and “outrageous governmental conduct” warranted dismissal of the case, according to court documents obtained by U.S. News. District Judge Joel Medd wrote that “there was no improper use of an unmanned aerial vehicle” and that the drone “appears to have had no bearing on these charges being contested here,” according to the documents.
Experts suggested that Brossart’s case was thin from the outset as the Supreme Court had already upheld the use of helicopter surveillance of private property in the 1986 case California v. Ciraolo. In that case, the highest court said the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights of Dante Carlo Ciraolo, who was growing marijuana in his backyard. The police helicopter’s warrantless “hover and stare” at his uncovered cultivation from 1,000 feet was well outside Ciraolo’s reasonable expectation of privacy. SCOTUS then reaffirmed this precedent three years later when it sided with the government in upholding a conviction against a man who was busted for growing pot in his 5-acre backyard. In Florida v. Riley, the court said it was perfectly constitutional for police to gather evidence, without warrant, by hovering 400 feet in a helicopter above the man’s property, peeking into two broken windows of his private greenhouse where the illegal weed was growing.
This does not bode well for folks hoping to draw a line in the sand against the dragonfly stealthiness of drone surveillance in America. And that’s the key. Unlike the damnable noise made by your standard helicopter, drones, which can get lower, are quiet and often undetectable. Brossart said he didn’t even know about the drone on his property until the case was presented to him in court. Drones are intrusive, and we know from experience that if the government, not to mention private corporations once they get the green light, will presume sweeping authority until the courts tell them to knock it off.
Right now, those 60 aforementioned entities have taken out some 750 authorizations from the FAA to use drone technology on U.S soil since 2006. No one knows how many of these mechanical insects are being deployed (here is a map of what we do know). But expect to see much more of their use in law enforcement surveillance operations — now that they’ve been given the blessing to use them, sans warrant.
New revelations from David Maraniss’ forthcoming book throw the President’s war on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries and his own personal behavior into stark relief. Though he remains the first chief executive to admit to smoking, inhaling, and enjoying the drug, the extent of his former habit was never really known. Until now.
Washington Post editor David Maraniss‘ forthcoming book Barack Obama: The Story at points describes the president’s marijuana hijinks during his high-school and Occidental College days. Book excerpts posted online reveal that young Barack Obama frequently smoked marijuana, and he and his “choom gang” developed clever strategies for how to better maximize the impact of the “sticky-green.”
In light of these stories, shouldn’t President Obama offer every American the right to “choom” (verb, to smoke marijuana), instead of continuing to lock up marijuana users for hitting three-foot bongs like he did?
And it just so happens that the excerpts from Maraniss’ book arrive the same week Penn Jillette delivered this scathing rebuke of Obama’s drug war hypocrisy, noting that if Johnny Law had ever caught up with the Choom Gang, he probably wouldn’t be where he is today:
Reason’s drug policy hound Mike Riggs tweets, “Obama smoked pot, gets the nuclear football. We smoked pot, and get to play football for one hour a day with supervision.”
According to a recent Rasmussen Poll, 56 percent of Americans favor an approach to marijuana policy that includes legalization, taxation, and harm reduction, rather than the drug war’s inheritance of high incarceration rates, police militarization, and the destruction of Mexican civil society.
This is the issue that will drive the most socially liberal voters to Gary Johnson this year, now that Obama has drawn a contrast with his challenger on same-sex marriage. Given the number of registered independents these days it’s futile to wonder whose camp Johnson will draw most from–talk of spoilage is a partisan guilt trip, nothing more–but the thrill is gone for many of the young, temperamentally libertarian people who voted for Obama in 2008.
The drug war is the single biggest contributor to the skyrocketing incarceration rate in the United States. Studies typically estimate the percentage of the prison population imprisoned for nonviolent drug-related offenses at 20-25 percent, much higher for women and blacks.
Update: Riggs and Nick Gillespie point out some more amusing/callous hypocrisies: a young Obama who once bogarted many a joint–he called them “interceptions”–is now Bogart-in-Chief, and the man who punishes medical marijuana users used to punish his stoner friends for wasting weed.
From his recent interview with Jann Wenner in Rolling Stone:
Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What’s up with that?
Here’s what’s up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.” As a consequence, there haven’t been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.
Though his answer was full of half-truths and evasions, give the man credit that he wasn’t laughing at the very idea of ending the drug war.
Let’s get one thing clear though, the President could end the crackdown on lawful dispensaries tomorrow if he wanted to. The status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug is entirely at the discretion of the DEA, which has repeatedly blocked medical testing of marijuana. The lie the administration is foisting on the public is that the president understands the problem and feels sympathetic, but his hands are tied by his inability to “nullify congressional law.” What he fails to mention is that his administration made the conflict between federal drug prosecutors and state dispensary operators exponentially worse by giving them false reassurance that they wouldn’t be targeted.
From a Politico story a few days ago:
According to Combs, a sizable Montana community of patients and growers felt empowered by the DOJ memo and the administration’s supportive statements to open up shop, register patients and begin paying taxes on what they thought was now a legitimate business. Then in 2011, federal forces from several agencies raided 26 dispensaries across 13 Montana cities. Other dispensaries have been raided in states like California, Washington, Michigan, and Colorado.
All told, the federal government has raided more than 100 dispensaries — with the most recent busts of a San Francisco Bay area marijuana training center. Obama has vowed more money to hunt down Latin American drug traffickers, promising an extra $200 million in a 2011 press conference with El Salvador President Mauricio Funes. He’s kept in place Bush administration anti-medical marijuana administrators in key administration positions.
The notion that dispensaries would be able to flout federal law indefinitely was always a little farfetched even if our elected leaders maintained the good sense not to bring the heavy hand of paramilitary assault teams down on legitimate businesses in no-knock raids. Which is why the administration’s betrayal of the uneasy truce laid out therein was due to the realities of tax law more than anything else. When they realized it wasn’t possible to just look the other way when businesses started distributing America’s number one cash crop (if you discount corn subsidies!) the proverbial cat was out of the bag, and there was no choice but to crack down. Still, by reneging on his promise, Obama has staked out a position on the drug war somewhere to the right of Pat Robertson and a majority of Americans.
I’m still waiting for the day the administration stops saying arresting cancer-ridden medical marijuana patients is “not the best allocation of resources” and starts simply saying it’s wrong.
“Smitty,” the Other McCain’s other blogger seems to be a bit confused about the charges against George Zimmerman:
If the Left had facts, they’d pound the facts. If they had law, they’d pound the law. Having neither, they’re setting up to pound the courts.
. . .The judge is going to apply reason, and reject this, and the Left is going to cry foul. . .
The Left will blame the courts, and try to use this as a rallying point to whip up the troops about these ‘activist’ judges who are denying ‘justice’ to Trayvon. What a despicable, evil act that will be, if it unfolds that way. I’d like to be wrong, but the patter of the last three years is nothing if not consistent in its diabolical, omnidirectional attack on all we hold dear.
The interesting question, after all this, will be George Zimmerman’s take. He’s being crucified on the false cross of the Left’s quest for power. Does he break, and blame himself, or does he realize what a sick, Satanic scam the Left is running?
So allow me to clarify for him. Zimmerman isn’t charged with “raaaaacism” and he isn’t charged with Crimes Against Obama. He’s charged with second degree murder because he shot and killed somebody. As it turns out, Bill Ayers isn’t the governor of Florida and Saul Alinsky isn’t the prosecutor—Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott appointed Angela Corey to investigate the case.
From the available evidence, the conservative movement these days is little more than a tribe and the important issue in any public dispute is who is Us and who is Them. Smitty and his fellow rightwingers seem to have decided that George Zimmerman is one of Us.
UPDATE: Smitty replies and denies seeing Zimmerman as one of “Us” but he can’t discuss the case without reference to a series of “Them.” My favorite comment compares me to my least favorite magazine editor. “I see that Stooksbury’s Rich Lowry Dress Up Kit arrived in the mail.”
America has a fetish for incarceration. The population of those this country puts behind bars is not only noticeable for its size (almost 25% of the world’s prisoners are American), but also its demographic makeup. It is not said often enough how over-represented African-Americans are in the American prison system, close to 40% of prisoners are black, while making up less than 14% of the American population. While the race disparities are worrying, another demographic is locked up far too often, juveniles. Read More…
How does the nation’s preeminent old-school conservative columnist, writing a column about the “drug legalization dilemma,” fail to so much as make a passing mention of the eighteen states whose police power is being usurped by federal drug warriors? George Will, with some familiar arguments:
So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.
Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.
Legalized marijuana could be produced for much less than a tenth of its current price as an illegal commodity. Legalization of cocaine and heroin would cut their prices, too; they would sell for a tiny percentage of their current prices. And using high excise taxes to maintain cocaine and heroin prices at current levels would produce widespread tax evasion — and an illegal market.
It’s like George Will is arguing with Ron Paul or something, the way he glosses over the distinctions between different drugs to make a blanket argument that they’re “natural” and therefore the government should protect its citizens from their harmful effects. The problem with that is according to the government’s own statistics, 60 percent of drug cartel profits come from the sale of marijuana (Will has quoted 80 percent), therefore simply allowing states to enforce their own laws would cut significantly into their ability to wreak havoc on both sides of the border. Will has made this argument himself.