Thousands of American veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and they’re forced to endure the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs while an effective treatment with few side effects, medical marijuana, remains illegal and inaccessible to most.
A 2012 study from the Veterans Administration estimated that as much as 20 percent of veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Among these veterans, the suicide rate is 50 percent higher than the national average and PTSD is a major contributing factor, according to a 2015 study by the National Institute of Mental Health. Nick Wing and Matt Ferner, writing in The Huffington Post, suggested VA doctors typically treat veterans with a combination of therapy and a selection of dozens of pharmaceutical drugs approved for the treatment of the often debilitating condition. Missing from that list, according to their report, is one particular treatment that’s made a difference in many lives: cannabis.
“[T]the government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical value and explicitly prohibits VA doctors from recommending marijuana,” Wing and Ferner wrote last month. The federal scheduling system is meant to classify dangerous drugs by weighing their risks versus their potential benefit to humanity. Under this system, marijuana, which studies have repeatedly demonstrated to be relatively safe and carry almost no risk of addiction, is considered more dangerous than heroin or amphetamines. (more…)
Last week, federal agents raided land belonging to two federally-recognized Native American tribes, and seized 12,000 cannabis plants from their properties. The bust came despite new federal guidelines designed to allow limited marijuana cultivation by indigenous groups in the United States.
The agents arrived at the properties at the far northern edge of California on July 8, ultimately seizing the plants and over 100 pounds of marijuana ready for use from two buildings — an event center belonging to the Alturas Rancheria and a greenhouse belonging to the Pit River tribe. Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. District Attorney in Sacramento, led the raid.
“The volume of marijuana that the XL facility alone was capable of producing … far exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere within the 34-county Eastern District,” Wagner said in a statement quoted by The Sacramento Bee on the day of the bust.
The Justice Department announced in December that it would allow Native American tribes to choose whether to legalize marijuana on their reservations, which are considered sovereign nations for many aspects of lawmaking and governance. Under the new regulations, tribes are free to maintain a ban even if the states they are in have passed medical cannabis laws or broad legalization, but the opposite is not true: Tribal efforts at legalization aren’t allowed to overturn state laws that criminalize marijuana.
In his statement, Wagner accused the Pit River Tribes and the Alturas Rancheria, a community of just five registered members, of taking their growing operations too far, and said he’d previously warned tribal leaders they were acting “in a manner that violates federal law, is not consistent with California’s Compassionate Use Act, and undermines locally enacted marijuana regulations.”
The grow operation was funded by Grand River Enterprises, a huge Canadian tobacco business which distributes its products on Native American and First Nations reservations, and the involvement of a foreign investor may be another factor that led to the bust. According to The Associated Press, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also supported the raid. (more…)
For the first time in President Barack Obama’s administration, he used the phrase “mass incarceration” in a speech and appropriately called attention to the disproportionate impact incarceration has on black and Latinos in the United States.
The president also proposed several policy solutions that could potentially diminish the level of widespread injustice millions, especially nonviolent drug users, have endured. However, Obama declined to call for an end to the “War on Drugs” and proposed solutions would leave most of this destructive and failed strategy intact.
“Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” Obama declared during remarks at the NAACP’s 106th Annual Convention in Philadelphia.
Obama highlighted statistics that were probably all too familiar to those who have read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
…The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s. We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined. And it hasn’t always been the case — this huge explosion in incarceration rates. In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America — half a million people in 1980. I was in college in 1980. Many of you were not born in 1980 — that’s okay. (Laughter.) I remember 1980 — 500,000. Today there are 2.2 million. It has quadrupled since 1980. Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone…
Those are stunning statistics the country should not ignore. It is hugely important that a US president finally talked about this issue openly.
Obama also said, “In recent years the eyes of more Americans have been opened to this truth. Partly because of cameras, partly because of tragedy, partly because the statistics cannot be ignored, we can’t close our eyes anymore. And the good news — and this is truly good news — is that good people of all political persuasions are starting to think we need to do something about this.”
There has been a lot of critical activism on the issue of mass incarceration in the past five to six years. Individuals and organizations engaged in that struggle, coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement of the past year, have forced those in power to confront policies that dehumanize and devalue black lives. As Occupy changed the framework of discussion about economic inequality, Black Lives Matter created a space for Obama to talk about a set of issues too often labeled as Black issues and ignored by white America.
“Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high,” Obama added. “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”
Obama had put out a “drug control strategy” that aimed to provide treatment for nonviolent drug users instead of simply putting them in jail. But never had he presented all the statistics showing the human and economic cost and connected how the government treats nonviolent drug users to mass incarceration.
Ahead of a planned visit to a federal prison, Obama stated, “We should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilized country. We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison. We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison. We should not be tolerating rape in prison. And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture. That’s no joke. These things are unacceptable.”
The president even highlighted his own Justice Department, noting that the Department now spends one-third of its budget on incarceration. (more…)
Paul Pozonsky is a former judge of the Courts of Common Pleas in Washington County, Pennsylvania. During his tenure as judge, he presided over criminal trials, drug court, summary appeals and juvenile treatment court. He resigned abruptly in 2012 after Washington County’s President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca suspended his drug treatment court as well as his criminal case load. He was ultimately charged with diverting cocaine evidence from cases by ordering it stored in his chambers, and then ordering the evidence destroyed- after replacing it with baking soda.
Judge Pozonsky, after initially challenging the search and seizure that occurred in his chambers, pled guilty to, among other things, diverting the cocaine evidence for his personal use. He was sentenced Monday, to 30 days in jail and two years of probation. It is ironic that a judge issuing lengthy and life-altering sentences (Pennsylvania used to have excessive guideline sentences for drug offenses) apparently did so while snorting the very cocaine evidence from the felony drug possession cases, right there in his chambers. But putting irony aside for a moment, this case is a textbook example that the War on Drugs that has been feeding America’s massive incarceration pipeline for the last several years (or more) is really a War on Some Drugs for Some People…But Not Others.
Judge Pozonsky admitted what he did, expressed remorse, and took responsibility for his crimes. “I’m not blaming anybody but myself,” he told the visiting judge from Bedford County. “There’s nobody else to blame,” he said. He self-described as a “broken man,” and he begged for mercy. Apparently, his wife has filed for a divorce, and he was most recently living with his elderly parents. He has lost his pension and his health benefits.
Judge Pozonsky may believe that he is “broken.” But he likely has no concept of what it means. A 30-day jail stay, more likely than not on work release is ludicrous in terms of the going incarceration rate for these crimes. It is not at all uncommon to see sentences of 5, 10, 20, 30 years…for crimes less serious that his. Most people who serve time for non-violent drug offenses in this country serve enough time for their lives to dissolve, one birthday and one holiday at a time, while family members on the outside marry, die, and celebrate milestones like graduations and births- and deaths. The inmates emerge, years later, with the thousand-yard stare, the career of a former life in ruins, disenfranchised and shunned, and with the stigma that will last forever- of being an ex-con who will never be employable.
The judge who imposed Judge Pozonsky’s sentence on Monday claimed that he issued the jail sentence not to “add salt in the wounds” but because Pozonsky “instead decided to use the evidence … to satisfy his drug use.” Salt in the wounds? Get real.
That said, I do not believe that lengthy incarceration is the answer for Judge Pozonsky or anyone else who has a drug problem. It’s not so much a matter of his sentence being so light. It’s a matter of everyone else’s sentences being such a horrendous and lengthy set up for a lifetime of ruin. Should he look in the mirror and say, “It’s amazing what an egregious hypocritical human being I am?” Maybe. But the bigger point is that America needs a change of heart and a deconstruction of the ‘War on Drugs.’
Uruguay’s National Drug Board released a report to the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the United Nations on shifting drug policy toward a human rights perspective.
The initiative [PDF], proposed on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, consists of 10 guidelines. One point decriminalizes drug use and ends the death penalty for it. Another point emphasizes respect for different cultures and plans to reduce drug use.
The report found the current approach violating rights of citizens, and a new way of thinking was needed:
The rights of life, liberty and personal security have been violated by [current] drug policy. Government intervention threatens fundamental rights like when prohibition produces—an unintended effect—powerful and violent illegal markets that threaten the a person’s and community’s security without the state adopting effective protection measures.
Juan Andres Roballo, head of the National Drug Board, stressed the importance of patience in regards to overall drug policy:
We are aware that we cannot obtain automatic, immediate results, but, with a firm and sustained policy, in time we are sure we will have effective results.
Uruguay, as noted by officials associated with the board, is an interesting case. The country legalized cannabis in 2013. When Uruguay passed the measure, it was viewed as a bold move as no other nation fully decided to legalize cannabis.
Roballo noted how such a policy could be helpful in pushing for such a change in drug policy:
[We need to] maintain this status on the national and international level to provide a consist outline in this discussion and the actions of the state directly affect our community and world population.
Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board, said it was important to “respect the diversity of approach” in regards to drug policy:
We need to look for paths where there is inclusive consensus, not exclusive. Why refuse to include good practices and models like reduction of harm?
A resolution deriving from the 10 guidelines is scheduled for a vote at next year’s UN General Assembly meeting.
Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.
The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.
It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.
Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.
The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.
The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.
When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.
Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:
—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.
—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.
—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)