Articles Posted in Federal War on Drugs

On June 1st, 2015 Governor Greg Abbot (R, Texas) signed the “Compassionate Use Act” Offering what he said would be “healing and hope for children who are afflicted by relentless seizures caused by epilepsy. The “Compassionate Use Act” established the first medical marijuana program in Texas. That same year Georgia and Tennessee also legalized the use of medical marijuana in some form.

iStock_000005542834XSmall-2
At the date of writing, there are currently twenty-six states with full medical marijuana programs, and thirty-eight states that allow for some use of medical marijuana. With some much activity on the state level, and victories easier to achieve on the state level, many wonder why there is a need to worry about reforming the federal government’s marijuana laws. Unfortunately, state marijuana reform is limited; and hangs precariously in the political balance.

State Marijuana Reform, a Patchwork

Today marks the 48th anniversary of the decision in Leary v. United States, and often forgotten Supreme Court case from 1969 that effectively legalized marijuana on the federal level with the declaration that the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act violated the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution.

Supreme Court
The Case[1]

The facts behind the case are interesting to say the least. On December 20th 1965 Doctor Timothy Leary; a famous professor, psychologist, and political activist, left on a road trip from New York to the state of Yucatan in Mexico with his two adult children, and two others.

dreamstime_xs_22155154The harmful practices of America’s “war on drugs” have taken a toll on the lives of countless Americans, yet only recently has a new repercussion of the drug war come to light.

The yearly cost per incarcerated prisoner in many states far exceeds the yearly expense (per pupil) of educating students in public schools. With most states overburdened by swelling prison populations and unable to devote necessary resources to education, the country will have difficulty clawing its way out of the hole created by ‘drug war’ policies.

The growing number of incarcerated persons in American prisons is due to the ‘tough on drugs’ policies of the late 20th Century.  As Kathleen Miles of The Huffington Post points out, the number of inmates in prison for non-violent, drug-related offenses represents more than half of the American prison population. This number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased rapidly over the past half century – up from 16% in 1970.

Thumbnail image for Fotolia_62904321_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgThe Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorneys have raided Cannabis dispensaries and sent people to prison, even though they complied with State laws. According to a report released by Americans for Safe Access, the DOJ has spent nearly $80 million each year — more than $200,000 per day — cracking down on medical Cannabis. The federal government continues to classify Cannabis, a plant, as presenting the greatest danger, alongside heroin and LSD, with no currently accepted medical use.

We are a union of sovereign states which delegated only certain, limited sovereignty to a central government. The U. S. Congress prohibits Cannabis through its misuse of the Commerce clause of the Constitution. The Commerce Clause, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution, declares: Congress shall have power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”

Congress’ power “to regulate” commerce does not include the authority “to prohibit”. Congress does not possess the authority to ban goods merely because they cross state lines.

Continue reading

CYMERA_20130829_142314.jpgAn investigation by Reuters revealed that a secretive unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using information gathered by Intelligence Agencies to facilitate criminal investigations of US residents. The information gathered by intelligence agencies, including the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security, are supposed to be used for national security and counter-terrorism purposes. Instead, the DEA unit is using intelligence information to go after individuals who are not connected to terrorism. This DEA unit, named the Special Operations Division (SOD) was created in 1994 to target Latin American drug cartels, but since then has warped into a domestic spying operation utilizing unconstitutional powers and procedures.

Examples of the unconstitutional procedures used by SOD include “parallel construction.” The practice of “parallel construction” was exposed by documents reviewed by Reuters. “Parallel construction” is where law enforcement officers, once they begin an investigation based on information from SOD, reconstruct the investigative trail to cover up the information’s origins, and thus deceive the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney, along with prosecutors and judges involved in the criminal case. The documents also reveal that federal agents and local police are specifically instructed to “omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony.” Experts, including Harvard law professor and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, believe that this practice violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney are not aware of how the investigation began, they cannot know how best to explore potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that may reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. Speaking to Reuters, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. criticized SOD’s powers, saying “you can’t game the system, you can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases.”

US law enforcement has imprisoned millions of people on drug-war convictions over the last 20 years. Due to their authorized yet unconstitutional deception caused by “parallel construction,” the number of those drug cases which resulted from evidence collected by spy agencies will never be known. The Reuters article, which broke this story, quotes DEA officials as saying that the DEA has utilized the “parallel construction” procedure “virtually every day since the 1990s.” The amount of phone data the DEA has collected now surpasses the amount of data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA).

iStock_000005273638XSmall.jpgIn early August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new and immediately effective Justice Department policy that will reduce severe mandatory sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not associated with drug cartels, gangs or large-scale organizations. Speaking to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder pointed out that though the U.S. is “coldly efficient in jailing criminals,” it “cannot prosecute or incarcerate its way [to becoming safer].”

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that includes policies to reduce sentences for nonviolent elderly inmates and seek alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals. “Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Holder commented before going on to specifically question excessive imprisonment associated with our nation’s War on Drugs.

Although the U.S. is home to a mere 5% of the world’s population, our nation’s prisons hold almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by over 800% while the nation’s population has only grown by roughly one-third. Officials attributed most of that increase to mandatory minimum sentences for drugs imposed in the 1980’s at the outset of the so-called “War on Drugs”. For example, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, a minimum sentence of five years without parole was imposed for possession of five grams of crack cocaine, while the same sentence was mandated for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine, leading to higher levels of more severe incarceration in poorer communities. With more than 219,000 inmates in the federal prison system, the Justice Department has confirmed that prisons are operating at 40% over capacity. Of course, with the increase in mandatory minimum sentences, incarceration costs have skyrocketed, reaching over $80 billion in 2010. With almost half of federal inmates incarcerated for drug-related crimes, it is clear that our current drug policies are only adding unnecessary strain and expense to our taxpayers and justice system. Attorney General Holder was enthusiastic that the new Justice Department policies “will ultimately save our country billions of dollars.”