Tag: Marijuana

When the State Takes the Children

The New York Times has an article today about how city officials take children away from parents because of marijuana use.  Here is an excerpt:

Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.

The article explains that even if a child is not immediately removed a “neglect finding” can kill prospects for certain jobs involving kids, such as a daycare assistant, and will make it easier for judges to order a removal down the road.  Even though marijuana use is very common among whites, the neglect and removal cases are mostly brought against minorities.

When drug warriors are challenged about criminalizing marijuana use, they typically deflect the question by saying, “we’re not locking up nonviolent marijuana users.”  Well that’s only because our prisons are overflowing already and they can’t convince enough lawmakers to build enough prison space to escalate the war further.  Second, below the prison numbers a low scale war continues apace–tens of thousands of arrests and court appointments and, as this article shows, child removal proceedings.

New York should follow California’s approach to this issue–if the state can demonstrate actual harm to children from marijuana use, then a neglect case can be brought.  Reporters should ask Mayor Michael Bloomberg whether his past drug use makes him unfit to be a parent or grandparent or to be in an occupation affecting the well-being of kids.

Obama Backtracks on Marijuana Policy

President Obama is backing away from his campaign pledge to not interfere with the states that choose to adopt medical marijuana reforms.  Here’s an excerpt from the NORML blog on the new policy memorandum issued by the Department of Justice:

[T]he memorandum states that the recent flurry of intimidating US Attorney letters to state lawmakers are “entirely consistent” with the Obama administration’s position. In other words, the administration is now on record in support of claims made by US Attorneys in Rhode Island, Washington, and other states alleging that state employees could be targeted and federally prosecuted for simply registering and licensing medical cannabis patients or providers — a position that is even more extreme than that of the previous administration. (Notably to date, however, no state employee — or for that matter, no state sanctioned dispensary operator — has ever been prosecuted by the federal government.)

The memo goes on to state that the federal government distinguishes between individual medical cannabis patients and third party providers, indicating that it is a poor use of federal resources (rather than a poor use of judgment) to target the former, while indicating that the latter are fair game for federal prosecution.

Read the whole thing.  Well, at least Obama has ended the wars and got the United States back on a sound financial footing.

For a recent drug policy debate at Cato that went far beyond medical marijuana reform and reduced sentences for crack offenders, go here.

Report: ‘The Global War on Drugs Has Failed’

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” That is the opening sentence of a report released today by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a nineteen-member panel that includes, among others, world figures such as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. The report is also signed by the current Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, making him the only sitting head of government to openly denounce global drug prohibition.

The 20-page report says all the right things: prohibition has failed in tackling global consumption of drugs, and has instead led to the creation of black markets and criminal networks that resort to violence and corruption in order to carry out their business. This drug-related violence now threatens the institutional stability of entire nations, particularly in the developing world. Also, prohibition has caused the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use illegal drugs, making it more difficult to help people who are addicted to drugs. The report also denounces what it properly calls “drug control imperialism,” that is, how the United States has “worked strenuously over the last 50 years to ensure that all countries adopt the same rigid approach to drug policy.”

In the recommendations section, the report praises the experience of Portugal with drug decriminalization, mentioning Cato’s study on the subject. But perhaps more importantly, it states that drug legalization “is a policy option that should be explored with the same rigor as any other.” Until now, similar reports have denounced the war on drugs and perhaps called for the decriminalization of marijuana and other soft drugs, but they also have stopped short of mentioning drug legalization as a policy alternative.

This report is certainly going to receive a lot of media coverage in the upcoming days. It is, until now, the highest profile endorsement of drug policy reform that we have seen at a global level. And, by having Prime Minister Papandreou as one of the signatories, it offers the hope that other top office holders will also call for an end to the failed war on drugs.

Kentucky v. King

Awful ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this morning in a case called Kentucky v. King [pdf].  The case concerns the power to break into a person’s home without the occupant’s consent and without a warrant.  Our homes are supposed to be our castles–so the general rule is that the police must get an independent judge to approve a warrant application before the door can be forced open.  There are a few common sense exceptions to the general rule.  For example, if someone is screaming for help, the police can enter.  Also if the police are in hot pursuit, they can follow the suspect on to private property and into a home under such circumstances.  Today’s ruling expands the exceptions to situations where the police suspect that the occupants of a house may be destroying contraband such as marijuana, cocaine, or other narcotics.

In this case, the police were after a drug dealer after he fled from a controlled-buy transaction.  The dealer entered some apartment but the police were unsure of the unit number.  As the police got closer, they could smell marijuana coming from a nearby apartment.  Instead of posting an officer nearby and applying for a warrant, they decided to bang on the door, shouting “Police!”  Hearing some rustling inside, the police broke down the door so evidence could not be destroyed.  The occupants were arrested on drug charges and they later challenged the legality of the police entry and search.  (As it happens, the dealer the police were trying to capture was found in another apartment.)

The lower courts have generally frowned on what they describe as exigencies manufactured by police conduct, but the Supreme Court has now overturned those lower court precedents by a 8-1 vote.  In dissent, Justice Ginsburg asked the right question: “How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and, on hearing sounds indicative of things moving, forcibly enter and search for evidence of unlawful activity?”  And the unfortunate answer to the question is, a lot less secure.   

For more on the power to search, go here and here.

Book ‘Em, Danno

I hope you’ve got your NCAA bracket in by now. The NCAA estimates that 35 million Americans will do so. But keep in mind: As the Washington Post notes, you’re breaking the law:

Office pools, despite the warnings of law enforcement officials, are among the country’s most popular illegal activities. The FBI estimates that roughly $2.5 billion is gambled on the NCAA tournament, and only $80 million is bet legally through Nevada sports books. A good portion of the rest takes the form of $5 or $10 entry fees to participate in a bracket-pick NCAA tournament pool.

Is this the most popular illegal activity in America? Well, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says that 104 million Americans have used marijuana, 28.5 million in the past year.

Does it make sense to criminalize peaceful activity that tens of millions of Americans enjoy? Discuss.

Gary Johnson and Drug Policy

As governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson succeeded in eliminating New Mexico’s budget deficit, cutting the rate of growth in state government in half, and privatizing half of the state prisons. During Johnson’s term, New Mexico experienced the longest period without a tax increase in the state’s history. He vetoed 750 bills in eight years, more than all other governors combined. The Economist dubbed him “America’s boldest governor” – and that was before he took on drug prohibition. He discussed drug policy and other issues at the Cato Institute November 1, 2010 at a Cato on Campus forum.

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Prop 19, Employment at Will, and Social Peace

Writing at CNN, my colleague Jeffrey Miron puts his finger on one reason for the disappointing defeat of California’s Prop 19:

Prop 19 failed also because it overreached. One feature attempted to protect the “rights” of employees who get fired or disciplined for using marijuana, including a provision that employers could only discipline marijuana use that “actually impairs job performance.” That is a much higher bar than required by current policy.

Like so many other developments in employment law in recent years, this would have chipped away at the basic principle of employment at will, which holds that in the absence of a contract specifying otherwise, either party to an employment relation may end that relation at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.

It was no doubt inevitable that the proposition would fare poorly among self-identified conservatives and older voters. But the “users’ rights” provisions were enough to raise doubts even among liberty-minded thinkers like David Henderson, who predicted that by signaling hostility toward freedom of association, such provisions would “make the drug-legalization hill even steeper.”

Marijuana of course remains illegal under federal law, which means that its consumption would at one and the same time have been 1) protected under employment-discrimination rules, and 2) illegal and subject to prison sentences. If this paradox seems vaguely familiar, maybe it’s because not that many years ago – before the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas – there were localities where consenting homosexual conduct was simultaneously protected under one set of laws, and unlawful under another. Indeed, there were more than a few advocacy groups that worked to promote the new controls over employer decisionmaking and yet never troubled themselves to work for repeal of the still-on-the-books anti-gay prohibitions. If the goal is to achieve social peace, however, rather than wage constant culture war on each other, you’d think the “leave people alone” message would hold more appeal than the “fall in line or you’ll hear from our lawyers” message.

Jeffrey Miron surmises, no doubt rightly, that the problem of undislodgeable tenured stoners in the workplace would be more the exception than the rule. Yet it’s worth noting that the issue has already arisen in various lawsuits in which workers with a doctor’s note recommending marijuana use have contested firings. Lawyers have also eagerly cobbled together suits over related issues, as with this class action noted less than two years ago at my other website, Overlawyered:

Starbucks’s job application asked prospective baristas if they’d been convicted of a crime in the past seven years and added for “CALIFORNIA APPLICANTS ONLY”, at the end, that minor marijuana possession convictions more than two years old didn’t have to be disclosed, in accord with a state law along those lines. Entrepreneurial lawyers then tried to steam-press $26 million or so out of the coffee chain on the following theory: that the clarification was placed too far down the application after the original question; that Starbucks had therefore violated the California Labor Code; and that each and every Starbucks job applicant in California since June 2004, perhaps 135,000 persons, was owed $200 in statutory damages regardless of whether they had suffered any harm. Per John Sullivan of the Civil Justice Association of California, the lawyers also took the position that “it didn’t matter that two of the three job applicants who signed on as named plaintiffs testified in court that they read the entire application and knew they didn’t have to mention a marijuana conviction (which neither had anyway!)” The court refused to certify the class and made the following observations (courtesy CJAC blog):

* “There are better ways to filter out impermissible questions on job applications than allowing ‘lawyer bounty hunter’ lawsuits brought on behalf of tens of thousands of unaffected job applicants. Plaintiffs’ strained efforts to use the marijuana reform legislation to recover millions of dollars from Starbucks gives a bizarre new dimension to the every day expressions ‘coffee joint’ and ‘coffee pot.’”… “The civil justice system is not well-served by turning Starbucks into a Daddy Warbucks.”

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy notes that “the case against the War on Drugs and other ‘morals’ regulations is very similar to the standard conservative critique of economic regulation.” But if a much-needed rollback of morals regulation is made the excuse for an expansion of economic regulation, there may be grounds to wonder whether the goal is truly freedom at all.