Tag: drug war

More on the Siobhan Reynolds Case

Building on Ilya Shapiro’s post on the sealed grand jury proceedings against Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the Pain Relief Network, and the sealed Reason Foundation/Institute for Justice amicus brief, here is some more background on the Wichita witch hunt:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wichita, Kansas, indicted physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, a nurse, for illegal drug trafficking in December 2007. Reynolds found an eerie parallel between Schneider’s case and the prosecution that denied her husband pain medication, so she took action. Her public relations campaign on behalf of Dr. Schneider so annoyed Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway that Treadway sought a gag order to bar Reynolds’s advocacy. The presiding judge denied the gag order.

When the judge denied Treadway’s gag order, Treadway instead subpoenaed Reynolds for records related to Reynolds’s PR campaign against the prosecution of the Scheiders. Ms. Reynolds resisted the subpoena and tried to challenge it in court, but the $200 daily fine intended to ensure compliance with the subpoena has left Reynolds pretty much bankrupt.

This case represents the worst of government excesses in federal overcriminalization and overzealous prosecution. The federal government continues to treat doctors as drug dealers, as Ronald Libby points out in this Cato policy analysis. The grand jury, intended as a check on prosecutorial power, instead acts as an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of the government. My colleague Tim Lynch examined this phenomenon in his policy analysis A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by Government.

Cato Adjunct Scholar Harvey Silverglate examined the case of Dr. William Hurwitz in his book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. The DEA turned a few of Hurwitz’s patients into informants and prosecuted Hurwitz. When Hurwitz shuttered his practice, two of his patients killed themselves because they could not get prescriptions for necessary painkillers. Siobhan Reynolds’s husband, another of Hurwitz’s patients, could not get essential medication and died of a brain hemorrhage, likely brought on by the blood pressure build-up from years of untreated pain.

Ninja bureaucrats continue to treat doctors that prescribe painkillers as tactical threats on par with terrorist safehouses. When the DEA raided the office of Dr. Cecil Knox in 2002, one clinic worker “thought she and her husband, who was helping her in the office that day, would be shot. She looked on in horror as an agent put a gun to his head and ordered, ‘Get off the phone! Now!’” Radley Balko chronicles this unfortunate trend in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, and the Raidmap has a separate category for unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people (sorted at the link).

Embed the Raidmap

Cato Fellow Radley Balko highlighted the trend toward heavy-handed police practices in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Radley continues to chronicle police abuses at The Agitator and Reason. Recent examples of police excesses include the unnecessary death of seven-year old Aiyana Jones in Detroit and this raid on an innocent elderly couple in Chicago (immigrants who fled the Soviet Union because of oppression).

One of the fruits of Radley’s research was the Raidmap, a Google map application that allows you to see the scope of this epidemic of “isolated incidents.” You can also sort botched raids by category: death of an innocent, raid on an innocent suspect, death or injury of an officer, death of a nonviolent offender, unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people, and other examples of paramilitary police excess.


View Original Map and Database

Now you can embed the Raidmap on your website or blog as seen below. The code is on the Raidmap page.

Pass it on.

New Colombian President Backs Debate on Drug Legalization

Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos came out last week in support of a debate on drug legalization, endorsing the call made a few weeks ago by his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón.

Santos even said that if Californian voters passed a ballot initiative this November to legalize marijuana, he would team up with the presidents of Mexico and Peru “to work out how we are going to react and what is going to happen after this referendum.”

This seems to confirm the reports of the Mexican newspaper El Universal which claimed that Calderón’s turn around in his willingness to discuss drug legalization came after meeting with then president-elect Santos, who told him that Mexico should lead a debate on drug legalization. A week ago, Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla said she was open for a debate on legalizing marijuana [in Spanish], even though she personally was against it.

Santos’ statement came the same week that leading Latin American experts met in Rio de Janeiro for the 2nd Latin American Conference on Drug Policy that I spoke at. Among the speakers were government officials from several Latin American countries, representatives from international agencies such as the Pan-American Organization and the UN, and experts from academia and NGOs. Even though not all speakers favored drug legalization or decriminalization, most did. The experience of Portugal on the issue (thoroughly documented in a paper by Glen Greenwald published last year by Cato) was widely cited during the conference. One panelist, a Brazilian congressman from the incumbent Workers Party, said that Brazil needed to adopt the same model as Portugal.

Attitudes on drug policy are changing in Latin America. The question remains: Is anyone in Washington paying attention?

President of Mexico Calls for Debate on Legalization of Drugs

For the first time ever, Mexican President Felipe Calderón said yesterday that it was “fundamental” to have a debate on the legalization of drugs. Calderon, from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), had until now been reluctant to pay heed to the growing calls in Mexico and Latin America for a hemispheric debate on drug legalization. Once they left office, two of Calderón’s predecessors—Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox—have also engaged in the debate, calling for the need to legalize drugs as a way to battle the drug violence that is crippling Mexico. Others, such as Jorge Castaneda, former foreign minister of Mexico, have also called for an end to prohibition.

In today’s edition, El Universal newspaper in Mexico City claims [in Spanish] that Calderón’s turn around had something to do with a meeting he had a few days ago with Juan Manuel Santos, president-elect of Colombia. According to the newspaper’s sources, Santos told Calderón that drug trafficking is not under control in Colombian territory and that Mexico should be the country leading a public debate on legalization or decriminalization of drugs.

As I’ve written before, there is a growing consensus within Latin America about the failure of the war on drugs and the need to implement a sensible approach to drug policy. The question remains: Is anyone in Washington paying attention?

Baptists and Pot-Growers

The L.A. Times reports that the city of Oakland has approved an ordinance paving the way for the industrial production of marijuana. There is more to this than simply a victory for liberty in the drug war.  As the story describes and Josh Blackman analyzes, the episode demonstrates “Baptists and Bootleggers”-style public choice economics in action: existing small-time growers are displeased at the competition, barriers to entry are high, the approved pot factories engaged in serious rent-seeking, and the city profits from a new stream of tax revenue.

And so, as liberty expands, government reserves the power to decide who gets to benefit most – after taking a slice for itself off the top.

Barack Obama’s War on ‘Chooming’

My Washington Examiner column this week begins with a look back at the Disco Era:

In his high school yearbook photo, President Barack Obama sports a white leisure suit and a Travolta-esque collar whose wingspan could put a bystander’s eye out. Hey, it was 1979.

Maybe that explains the rest of young Barry’s yearbook page, with its “still life” featuring a pack of rolling papers and a shout-out to the “Choom gang.” (“Chooming” is Hawaiian slang for smoking pot.)

Survey data suggest some 100 million Americans have tried pot, including political elites and drug war supporters Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. So the point here isn’t to play “gotcha” by calling the president out on some harmless fun three decades ago. It’s to ask why he isn’t doing more to change a policy that treats people engaged in such activities as criminals.

As I note in the column,

in his new National Drug Control Strategy [.pdf], Obama “firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana or any other illicit drug” and boasts of his administration’s aggressive approach to pot eradication. Watch your back, Choom Gang.

This may present Obama with a serious moral dilemma if and when California votes to legalize recreational use of marijuana this November. (More here in this podcast).

A Forceful Call For Change From El Paso

El Paso, TX is one of the safest cities in the country, but its residents are strongly identified with the human tragedy affecting their Mexican neighbors across the Rio Grande. El Paso shares a metropolitan area with Ciudad Juárez, México, arguably one of the most dangerous cities in the world, where over 4,000 people have been killed in the last couple of years.

This situation is something that the communities of El Paso and Las Cruces, NM want to change. On Monday, politicians, academics, civic and business leaders of both cities will hold an event calling for a “comprehensive revamping of the failed War on Drugs waged by the United States and other countries.” You can read the press release here.

Among other things, they

…advocate, as an important first step in drug reform, the repeal of the ineffective U.S. marijuana drug laws in favor of regulating, controlling and taxing the production, distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana by adults. The sale of marijuana in the U.S. black market contributes 50 to 70 percent of Mexico’s cartel revenues.

Last year the city council of El Paso passed a resolution calling for “an honest, open, national debate on ending the prohibition on narcotics.” Leading figures in the community have come to understand that the only way to tackle drug violence is by legalizing drugs, not by relying on conventional and unrealistic approaches, including tougher enforcement and sealing the border — alternatives that don’t resonate with a community so deeply intertwined with their Mexican neighbors.

As they meet at the White House on Monday, will President Obama and President Felipe Calderón of México hear the call for a change in drug policy coming from El Paso and Las Cruces?