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Posted: January 18, 2020 at 10:47 am
The vaping epidemic was one of 2019's biggest health and policy stories. The really bad news is yet to come.
Over the past year, a media narrative emerged that any given American could be maimed by a Juul. Government officials also piled on.
Just this week, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams tweeted, "@CDCgov reports a total of 2,602 hospitalizations and 57 deaths associated with e-cigarettes and vaping lung injuries. A single death or hospitalization is one too many!"
Lawmakers have tripped over themselves to impose sweeping bans on flavored vapes (and in some cases, all vapes).
And that's all fed back into public opinion. A YouGov-Economist poll released last week showed 67% of US adults respondents supported banning flavored vapes. Even smokers the group whose lives could be saved by switching from tobacco cigarettes to nicotine vapes mostly support such bans, with 56% of respondents who identified as smokers giving their approval.
But there is one important aspect of this issue that has been buried: Just about everyone's understanding of the "vaping epidemic" is completely wrong.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention toned down its blanket recommendation against all vaping, instead targeting its recommendation against THC vapes. But it might not be possible to correct the resulting mass ignorance that is laying the groundwork for a new drug war.
Much like the failed war on drugs, the results of vaping prohibition will almost certainly include black markets flooded with dangerous and substandard products, the overcriminalization of at-risk groups, and, very likely, increased cigarette smoking.
Drug wars start with prohibitions, and prohibitions start with panic. Look no further than the "Reefer Madness" propaganda of the 1930s and the grand failure of alcohol prohibition which was in part the result of a moral panic over the influx of Southern and Eastern European immigrants around the turn of the 20th century.
In the case of the vaping panic, two different crises have been mistakenly conflated, with nuance completely stripped from the discussion.
The rash of lung illnesses and the 59 confirmed deaths attributed to vaping were one catalyst for the panic. What was less publicized was when the CDCfinally confirmed what the readily available data already showed: The "epidemic" of vaping-related illnesses was almost entirely confined to black-market THC cartridges containing vitamin E acetate.
But it's too late to unring the panic bell.
The Food and Drug Administration has banned nearly all flavored vapes. Some cities have banned vaping entirely. The race to pile on new prohibitions is a bipartisan effort. And while vape-panic diehards will point to the small percentage (about 10 to 15%) of patients who said they vaped nicotine products only, there's reason to suspect such self-reporting comes with a margin of error.
As Bruce Barcott noted on the cannabis-news site Leafly, THC is still federally criminalized, and it remains illegal for recreational use in most US states. That comes with a stigma, and as a result, Barcott said "shamed and embarrassed patients probably lied to their doctors."
Barcott wrote that such "socially desirable reporting" has been studied by social scientists, including Dana Hunt. In her 2015 study of adults who had tested positive for marijuana, only 84% were willing to own up to their drug use. And that was after they had been presented with the results.
The second panic catalyst was the context-free reading of the rising rates of nicotine vaping among young people.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the percentage of high-school seniors who vaped in the previous 30 days more than doubled from 11 to 25.4% between 2017 and 2019.
Developing brains and bodies becoming addicted to nicotine physiologically one of the hardest drugs to quit is a serious concern. Big Tobacco, which after trying to destroy the vaping industry is now a major investor in it, has a well-documented history of marketing to minors and lying about the effects of its product. It is not to be trusted. These concerns are valid.
However, there's a rarely reported caveat. Fewer teens are smoking cigarettes than at any time since such statistics have been recorded.
In 1976, 28.8% of high-school seniors said they were regular smokers. Even in 1996, well after everyone knew smoking was deadly and high-school health classes relentlessly drove the point home by showing teenagers photos of black lungs, 26.6% of 12th graders still smoked daily.
By 2018, just 3.6% of high-school seniors smoked, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. That is a remarkable public-health victory.
Unfortunately, all anyone is interested in is the scary out-of-context stat that teen vaping is up, which is how you get panic-stoking graphics like the one produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, adorned with the slogan "Vaping is as safe as skydiving without a parachute."
That level of science-denying fearmongering is straight out of the early days of the drug war and a threat to public health.
Media framing is crucial as well. Distressingly, too many journalists are engaged in a dangerous form of groupthink and fail to question the preconceived wisdom.
To cite an example (but not to single it out), aPBS article published this week reported the largest single-year drop in cancer deaths ever 2.2% between 2016 and 2017.
But rather than exploring whether the increase in nicotine vaping, a smoking-cessation tool, had anything to do with fewer Americans being diagnosed with cancer, the article inexplicably asks, "Could vaping e-cigarettes lead to a rebound in US lung cancer deaths?"
The author paraphrased a medical expert at the American Lung Association as saying, "It is too soon to know if e-cigarettes will cause cancer" which is another way of saying there's no scientific evidence vaping causes cancer. From there, the article launches straight into a rehash of the basic stats on the vaping illnesses and teen-vaping rates.
It's almost like the narrative writes itself. The problem is the narrative happens to be wrong, and it's already producing nasty consequences.
Prohibition leads to the opportunity for a black market. Brian Snyder/Reuters
The "legislate first, consider the evidence later (maybe)" ethos was exemplified by 2020 Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders in a recent speech.
"I think we shut down the industry if they're causing addiction and if the evidence is that people are getting sick as a result of inhaling a lot of bad stuff," Sanders said earlier this month at a town hall. His campaign quickly walked the severity of that statement back, but the sentiment remains the predominant one in US politics.
What's less discussed amid the vaping panic are stories like what's going on in Texas high schools.
The Texas Tribune last month reported some high-school students in the state were facing felony charges and expulsion as part of the sweep to tamp down on the "epidemic."
In the 2018-19 school year, nearly 20,000 Texas students faced suspension or expulsion for nicotine-vape possession. A stunning 1,600 faced felony controlled-substance charges for possessing THC vapes.
This is what the beginning of a new drug war looks like.
When substances are banned, they don't go away; they get more expensive and more dangerous. And the laws that forbid them are enforced at the barrel of a gun.
Public Health England says nicotine vaping is 95% safer than smoking, which kills about half a million Americans per year. With numbers that stark, the idea that vaping nicotine is the public-health scourge of our time suggests a classic moral panic in a distinctly American style.
The "vaping epidemic" is the wrong way to frame what's happening: It's a vaping panic. When the damage is tallied, it could very well prove to be one of the grossest cases of media malpractice and political opportunism of the modern era.
Posted: at 10:47 am
CONTROVERSIES on Dutertes drug war do not only sprout from the human rights activists protests grounded on the sanctity of life but also from the issues arising from the manner the war on drugs is carried out. A different raison detre flows not only from the theists but also from the atheists. Popular among these atheist human rights activists are the arguments bearing resemblance with the logic of Anton Chekovs The Bet and Thomas Paines Rights of Man. The former says that one cannot give back life once it is taken away while the former argues on founding a peaceful and orderly society from a fair and just way. Chekov shows us the philosophic examination between life imprisonment and capital punishment (in the case of President Dutertes war on drugs: rehabilitative justice or extrajudicial killing?) without appealing to something metaphysical like the existence of an almighty being who orders the societys repressive state apparatuses through the countrys elected president. To say that the authority decides and/or God provides is already outdated as the Progressive school of thought in history debunks the Providential. A clearer take on the Presidents war on drugs cannot be done in a personal view without dealing with the material condition where one can see the real consequences by looking beyond the comfort zone. Following Thomas Paine, a popular political revolution is permissible in a situation where the state no longer promotes and protects the natural rights of its citizenry. How can the state assure the citizens natural rights (recognized by both philosophy and the Constitution) if the founding of a peaceful and safe society is the unjust killing of its citizenry? Through the Marxist lens, it is a class war, i.e. President Dutertes war on drugs is a war against the poor (though there are rich victims they happen to be derailed in the political journey.) The self-serving power is not the source of determining the definition of natural rights.
Another controversy arises from the Machiavellians questioning the fate of Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, Peter Co and other drug personalities. The first is a confessed drug dealer. The second is identified by PDEA and the PNP. The third is a convicted drug lord. A more controversial fact is the duration of silence for three months after the dismissal of the case against these three and more than 15 others. Dramatized with the punching of the Malacaang wall, who bought the story after Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was appointed to the SSS board. A juicer controversy before General Albayalde is five police generals linked by President Duterte to the drug syndicate. What happened? The answer is a litany of controversy, e.g. Philip Salvadors sister, Usec. Martin Dios brother-in-law, the two Faeldons, Richard Tan...
A specter is haunting the Presidents war on drugs and the specter is controversies.
As to the President as an instrument of the Almighty, what else should I say? Its the 21st century! (Noe Santillan)
Chemical conflict: We might want a drugs-free world but wars and soldiers depend on them – The Independent
Posted: at 10:47 am
The war on drugshas been a multi-national priority... but we forget about drugs and war. A variety of drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and opioids are used to enhance the ability of soldiers to fight, control civilians or even take over countries.The use of drugs in warfare pre-dates Napoleons era going back to conflicts in ancient Greece when opium was the drug of choice to soothe armies following their defeat. In the 19th century, Britain went to war with China in an attempt to protect its trading interest in opium.
Using psychoactive drugs in the arena of war shouldnt really surprise us, given the psychological state required for a soldier to be willing and able to inflict harm on another. Some drugs facilitate the psychological state required to do this. Physical fighting requires stamina;amphetamines provide artificial energy and as a result are a popular choice of drug.
The methamphetamine pillPervitin was used by the Nazis in the Second World War to extend the time soldiers were able to fight. Pervitin had the added benefit of helping soldiers manage the stress of war. These stimulants were an essential part of the tactic known as blitzkreig,or lightning speed, aimed at overwhelming the enemy with a swift offensive that produces disorganisation in the opposing forces. The Nazi army thus managed to sweep through Poland, Holland and France without suffering major casualties.
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Posted: at 10:47 am
Securing the United States-Mexico border through a massive border wall was one of President Donald Trumps major campaign promises in 2016. This week,it was reportedU.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials have seized nearly 5,000 pounds of marijuana at the border between Nov. 1, 2018 and Oct. 31, 2019. The only problem for Trump was CBPs seizures happened at Americas Canadian border.
Ever since Canada legalized recreational cannabis nationwide, the volume of cannabis moving across the border into the United States has jumped significantly. Last year, CBP officials caught 2,214 kilograms (4, 881 pounds) in illegal marijuana. The figure represents a 75% increase from the year previous, when CBP officials seized 1,259 kilograms (2,775 pounds) in illicit cannabis. But CBP officials downplayed the significance of the statistics. Instead, they pointed the recorded individual seizures year to year: 3,917 incidents following Canadian legalization and 3,139 in the year prior to legalization.
Although the CBP recognizes an increase in marijuana seizures and incidents, seizures and incidents normally vary from year to year, CPB spokesman Kris Grogan told CBC. Instead, Grogan calls the increase in volume a small uptick more than anything else.
Experts point to possible confusion in the law for those crossing the border into states with legal marijuana like Michigan or Washington. Some may mistake that because its legal in both places, its okay to cross the border with cannabis. But because its a national border, federal rules and penalties apply.
In addition, University of Ottawa drug policy expert Eugene Oscapella said the increase in volume could be explained by a different problemCanadas black market problem. Many Canadian provinces experienced shortages, complications, or higher prices when it came to buying marijuana following legalization. Within the first six months of legalization, 79% of all cannabis sales still occurred underneath the table,according to Statistics Canada.Those black market producers who cant find buyers in Canada may be trying to move their goods elsewhere, theorized Oscpella.
Theres the possibility that if they lose the Canadian market, that theyll focus more effort on shipping itto the United States, places where it is still illegal, or to other countries for that matter,Oscapella told CBC.
But I dont know that weve been successful enough in getting people to shift to the Canadian legal market, that its really dented the profits of criminal organizations significantly here.
As far as the US-Mexico border,a Cato Institute reportfound that state marijuana legalization has stopped drug smuggling more successfully than Trumps border wall. Using government data, the report concludes that smuggling has fallen 78 percent over just a five-year period, which coincided with state-level marijuana legalization.
State-level marijuana legalization has undercut demand for illegal Mexican marijuana, which in turn has decreased the amount of drug smuggling into the United States across the southwest border,the paper reads.
TheFreshToast.com, a U.S. lifestyle site, that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.
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Posted: at 10:47 am
Sometimes a book comes along and, after it is absorbed into the culture, we cannot see ourselves again in quite the same way. Ten years ago, Michelle Alexander, a lawyer and civil-rights advocate, published The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This was less than two years into Barack Obamas first term as President, a moment when you heard a lot of euphoric talk about post-racialism and how far weve come. The New Jim Crow was hardly an immediate best-seller, but after a couple of years it took off and seemed to be at the center of discussion about criminal-justice reform and racism in America. The book considers not only the enormity and cruelty of the American prison system but also, as Alexander writes, the way the war on drugs and the justice system have been used as a system of control that shatters the lives of millions of Americansparticularly young black and Hispanic men.
As part of an hour-long examination of mass incarceration for The New Yorker Radio Hour, co-hosted this week by Kai Wright, of WNYC, I caught up with Michelle Alexander, who is now teaching at Union Theological Seminary, in New York.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
When The New Jim Crow came out, a decade ago, you said that you wrote it for the person I was ten years ago. Take me back to those times and to the work you were doing for the A.C.L.U. What were you finding out?
That would have been twenty years ago from today. It was just as I was beginning my work with the A.C.L.U. I was well aware that there was bias in our criminal-justice system, and that bias pervaded all of our political, social, and economic systems. Thats why I was a civil-rights lawyer: I was hoping to finish the work that had been begun by civil-rights leaders who came before me. I had a very romantic idea of what civil-rights lawyers had done and could do to address the challenges that we face.
My impression back then was that our criminal-justice system was infected with racial bias, much in the same way that all institutions in our society are infected to some degree or another with racial and gender bias. But what I didnt understand at that time was that a new system of racial and social control had been born again in America, a system eerily reminiscent to those that we had left behind.
In fact, I was heading to work my first day at the A.C.L.U. directing the Racial Justice Project when I happened to notice a sign posted to a telephone pole that said, in bold print, The Drug War Is the New Jim Crow. I remember pausing for a moment and scanning the text of the flyer and seeing that a small, apparently radical group was holding a meeting at a church several blocks away. They were organizing to protest racial profiling, the drug war, the three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and police brutality. The list went on and on. I remember thinking to myself, Yeah, the criminal-justice system is racist in a lot of ways, but it doesnt help to make comparisons to Jim Crow. People will just think youre crazy. And then I hopped on the bus.
So it was really as a result of myself representing victims of racial profiling and police brutality, and investigating patterns of drug-law enforcement in poor communities of color, and attempting to assist people who had been released from prison as they faced one closed door and one barrier after another to mere survival after being released from prison that I had a series of experiences that began what I have come to call my awakening.
What was that awakening like? What were you seeing in your work so that the scales were falling from your eyes?
Well, there were a number of incidents. It was partly beginning to collect data and trace patterns of policing. It was coming to see how the police were behaving in radically different ways in poor communities of color than they were in middle-class, white, or suburban communities. I mean, this wasnt a shock to me in any way, but the scale of it was astonishing: seeing rows of black men lined up against walls being frisked and handcuffed and arrested for extremely minor crimes, like loitering, or vagrancy, or possession of tiny amounts of marijuana, and then being hauled off to jail and saddled with criminal records that authorized legal discrimination against them for the rest of their lives. I mean, witnessing it and interviewing people one after another had its impact on me.
But there was one incident in particular that really kind of rocked my world. It involved a young African-American man who was about nineteen, who walked into my office one day and forever changed the way I viewed myself as a civil-rights lawyer and the system I was up against. He walked in my office carrying a stack of papers a couple of inches thick. He had taken detailed notes of his encounters with the police over about a nine-month period: every stop, every search, every time he had been frisked or someone he was riding with had been stopped, searched, or frisked. He had names of officers, in some cases badge numbers, names of witnessesjust an extraordinary amount of documentation.
At the time, I was interviewing people for a possible class-action suit against the Oakland Police Department. We had already filed a major class-action suit against the California Highway Patrol, alleging racial profiling in their drug-interdiction program, and we had launched a major campaign against racial profiling in California, and we were looking to sue other police departments, as well. And we had set up a hotline number for people to call if they had been stopped or targeted by the police on the basis of race. Within the first few minutes of us announcing this hotline number on the evening news, we received thousands of calls, and our system crashed temporarily. So I was spending my day interviewing one young black or brown man after another who had called the hotline.
This mans story was so compelling. I thought, Wow, maybe we have finally found our dream plaintiff. I start asking him more questions. Hes sharing more details and information. And then he said something that made me pause: Did you just say youre a drug felon?
We had been screening people for criminal records when they called our hotline number. We would ask them a bunch of questions about their experience with the police. We sent a form for them to fill out. And one of the questions was: Have you ever been convicted of a felony? We believed we couldnt represent anyone with a felony record because we knew that, if we did, law enforcement would be all over them, saying, Well, of course were keeping an eye on the criminals and stopping and harassing them. This isnt about race. Its about us cracking down on the criminals.
And we knew we couldnt put someone on the stand as a named plaintiff in a class action alleging racial profiling if they had a felony record, because we'd be exposing them to cross-examination about their prior criminal history and turning it into a mini-trial about a young mans criminal past rather than the police conduct.
So wed been screening out people with felony records, and this young man hadnt checked his box. Im looking at him, saying, O.K., youre a drug felon. Are you telling me youre a drug felon? And he gets very quiet and stares down at the table and then finally looks up and says, Yeah, yeah, Im a drug felon. But let me tell you what happened. Police planted drugs on me, and they beat up me and my friend. And he starts telling me this long story about how hed been framed and drugs have been planted on him. And I just start shaking my head. I said, Im sorry, I cant represent you with a felony record. And now hes trying to give me more details and explain more about that case. And I keep telling him, Im sorry, I just cant represent you. And he becomes more and more agitated and upset. And then, finally, he becomes enraged, and he says, Whats to become of me? Whats to become of me?
And he starts explaining that hed just taken the plea because he was afraid of doing the time. They told him that if he just took the plea, you just walk out with just felony probation. And he said, But whats to become of me? I cant get a job anywhere because of my felony record. Do you understand? I have to sleep in my grandmas basement at night. I cant even get into public housing with a drug felony. Its, like, how am I supposed to take care of myself? How am I supposed to take care of myself as a man? Hes, like, I cant even feed myself....Do you know I cant even get food stamps because of my drug felony? Good luck finding one young black man in my neighborhood they havent gotten to yet. Theyve gotten to us all already.
What was so provocative about the handbill that you first saw on the telephone pole, and in what became the title of your book, is that it flew in the face of what politicians said their motivation was for things like the crime bill in the mid-nineties, during the Clinton Administration. In other words, they said they were passing this legislation because crime rates were so high and drugs were out of control. What youre saying, what that handbill said, is no, in fact, this is the establishment of a means of social control of young black and brown men in particular. How conscious was that? How would you argue that it was a conscious decision to establish a successor, in a sense, to Jim Crow, and what came before Jim Crow?
There were mixed motives. One of the things that I laid out in the book was the history of the Southern strategy, the deliberate political strategy of divide and conquer, of using get tough racial appeals in order to appeal to poor and working-class whites, particularly in the South, who were fearful of and resentful of the progress that had been made by African-Americans since the civil-rights movement, who feared that they now had to compete for limited jobs in the era of deindustrialization with black folks. They were resentful of affirmative action.
Fearmongering and scapegoating was at the heart of the Southern strategy, which used racially coded and not so coded political appeals defining black and brown men in particular as the enemy, as criminals, as drug users, as superpredators, in order to appeal to poor and working-class white voters in the South and flip those blue states to red. That Southern strategy fuelled the get tough movement, helped to birth the war on drugs, and was in part about turning the clock back on racial progress to a time when white folks didnt have to compete on equal terms with black and brown folks.
But its also the case that racial stereotypes are a result of really racist media portrayals of drug users during the crack epidemic, which created conscious as well as unconscious stereotypes in law enforcement and the public at large. This helped to fuel this notion that we should get tough on them, the racially defined Others.
So the drug war was in part a politically motivated strategy, a backlash to the civil-rights movement, but it was also a reflection of conscious and unconscious biases fuelled by media portrayals of drug users. Those racial stereotypes were resonant with the same stereotypes of slaves and folks during the Jim Crow era.
A lot of people think of mass incarceration and get tough policies as the result of right-wing politics. But in what ways have liberals also played a part in this history?
I view liberals as equally guilty of birthing the system of mass incarceration as right-wing conservatives. President Bill Clinton escalated the drug war that had been originally declared by President Richard Nixon and then escalated by Ronald Reagan. Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what many of his Republican predecessors ever dreamed. And he did so in part to prove that he could be tougher on them, the black criminals, than his Republican counterparts.
I think it must also be acknowledged that there were black politicians and black communities calling for tough responses to rising crime in inner-city communities that were suffering from economic collapse. But its important to draw a distinction between black politicians and black communities that were desperate for intervention as factories closed and disappeared, and work disappeared, as William Julius Wilson described so powerfully in his book When Work Disappears. There was a period of time when hundreds of thousands of jobs vanished practically overnight in poor black communities, and they suffered depression and economic collapse. Crime rates rose and people were desperate for a meaningful, quick response.
But it would be wrong, in my view, to say that mass incarceration was supported by black communities. Black communities have organized for and demanded many large-scale interventions to address economic inequality, crime, educational inequality over the years. And it has only been in the area of crime that our nation has been willing to respond with massive investments in police, prisons, mass surveillance.
You were writing this book as Barack Obama was starting out his Presidency. Did his election make it harder for people to hear your argument at first? In fact, your book did not really take off the way it did for a little while.
Yes, thats absolutely right. Many people think that The New Jim Crow was an instant best-seller.
But it took a couple of years, right?
Yes. People didnt want to hear that we were still locked in a cycle of racial progress, backlash, retrenchment, and reformation of systems of racial and social control. It seemed much more likely that we were in an era of post-racialism, a time of color blindness, or at least on our way towards that Promised Land. I spent a couple of years on the road pretty much non-stop, speaking to small crowds and churches and groups of students and activists, really desperate to sound an alarm and to help people to see that, no, we are not free of our racial history. Our nation has, in fact, done it again. We have birthed a system of mass incarceration unlike anything the world has ever seen. Millions of people have been relegated yet again to a permanent second-class status in which they are stripped of basic civil and human rights, including the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits. It wasnt a message people were eager to hear, but I think it is much easier to see today, ten years later, that our nation is not yet free of its racial history, and that we continue to create new systems of racial and social control.
Decades ago, politicians were promising to build prison walls and new prisons. Today, politicians are promising border walls and the same politics of divide and conquer, fearmongering, and scapegoating that helped to give rise to the get tough movement, and the war on drugs is being used to fuel anger and resentment towards immigrants and mass deportation and mass detention.
While you were writing this book, your husband was working as a federal prosecutor. Did you have disagreements on the ideas that you were laying out? How did you discuss this with somebody so close to you?
My husband and I kind of came to these issues from very different perspectives. I had been working for years as a civil-rights lawyer. When we got married, he decided to become a federal prosecutor. While we both shared a commitment to racial and social justice, it was very difficult for me to accept that he was working for justice on the inside. We definitely had different disagreements over the years. But I also found him to be a very helpful reader. He has always given insightful and useful feedback on my writing and has been incredibly supportive of my work over the years, and so Im grateful for that. I think it has been helpful in many ways for me to be challenged in my thinking by someone who has seen through the eyes of law enforcement.
Theres been no shortage of books about race and mass incarceration. Why do you think it was your book that captured the public in the way that it did, and still does?
I think the book was published at the right time. Our nation was reeling from an economic crisis that was forcing former get tough true believers to take a hard look at the system of mass incarceration. Former governors who had been calling for harsh mandatory minimum sentences and had been fierce drug warriors were suddenly realizing that it was not possible to continue to expand this massive prison state without raising taxes on the predominantly white middle class. And so suddenly people were beginning to ask questions and to be open to the possibility that perhaps this race to incarcerate had been misguided.
At the same time, the uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, forced a conversation about race and our criminal-justice system that our nation had been determined to avoid for a very long time. The activism and the organizing and the passion and heartbreak that flowed from the killing of Trayvon Martin, the killing of Michael Brown, the deaths of Kalief Browder and Sandra Bland opened up a space where people began searching for answers regarding how we got to this place.
I know from your new preface to the tenth-anniversary edition that you got thousands of letters from people who wrote you about the book, many from people who were formerly incarcerated. What were they telling you?
Yeah, it has been overwhelming, over the years, to receive thousands of letters. Im embarrassed and sad to say that I havent been able to read all of them. Some people have written just thanking me for the book and for speaking a truth that they may have been trying to speak in their own communities.
Theres also a lot of people writing me from prison, begging for help. Those are the most heartbreaking letters to read because, often, not only am I not able to help them but theres no one who I can recommend who can. There is just not available legal support for people who are in prison trying to fight their charges or reduce their sentences.
In the preface you wrote for the tenth-anniversary edition, you kept coming back to this idea of Everything and nothing has changed. Whats changed, and what hasnt? Are we better off now than we were a decade ago, when your book was first published?
Well, certainly, in some ways, on the surface, it appears that everything has changed. When my book was first published, President Obama had just been elected. It seemed that we were on the right path: still had a long way to go, but were headed in the right direction. At least, that was the sentiment that was shared by many, many people. It seemed as though this dream of a multiracial, multi-ethnic, egalitarian democracy was within our reach, and there was an incredible amount of hope for positive change. And yet we were also living in a time of tremendous denial.
As I wrote, a system of mass incarceration had been born in America, a system of racial and social control that turned back much of the racial progress we thought we had made, and people were unwilling to talk about it and to face it. Criminal-justice issues werent even really on the radar of civil-rights organizations at that time, with the exception of the A.C.L.U. and some work on racial profiling that was beginning to be done by the N.A.A.C.P. and other organizations. When the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, in 2008, sent out a letter listing the most pressing issues on civil rights, criminal-justice issues didnt even make the list. And when, in 2009, the Congressional Black Caucus sent out a list of a couple dozen issues that might be of concern to black communities, criminal justice didnt make the list. This was just as the drug war was raging and the race to incarcerate was going full bore. And so there was a way in which we were asleep and in denial.
Today, that has changed. The election of President Trump has completely decimated whatever fantasies we had that we are living in a post-racial America. We now can see that systems of racial and social control are alive and well, not only due to the uprisings in Ferguson and the many, many publicized police killings of unarmed black people and the growing movements to end mass incarceration. Weve also come to see how yet another system of racial and social control has been born in this country, the system of mass deportation and mass detention. So we have this paradox in which, on the one hand, it seems that everything has changed, yet the politics of white supremacy have remained largely unchanged during the Obama years. Now we are forced to reckon with racial realities that we had long attempted to avoid, and I think we are finally beginning to see how the politics of divide and conquer, the politics of racial scapegoating and fearmongering, have been used again and again.
Some of the scholars who have been in dialogue with you about your book have taken issue with your focus on the war on drugs and nonviolent drug offenses. John Pfaff, in his book Locked In, says that only about sixteen per cent of state prisoners are serving time on drug charges, and very few of themmaybe about five or six per cent of that groupare both low level and nonviolent. And what he and the other scholars are saying is, even if you released all the people in prisons who were there for drug offenses, nonviolent drug offenses, that would not put a real dent in the prison population.
Well, thats absolutely right. It is true that roughly half of the people who are held in state prisons today have been convicted of offenses that are labelled violent, and that a small minority of people in prison today have been labelled drug offenders. But one of the main points of The New Jim Crow is that it is a profound mistake to think of the system of mass incarceration as simply a system of prisons.
There are twice as many people on probation or parole today as are locked in prisons or jails. When people think about the system of mass incarceration, they typically just think about whos in prison at any given moment. But what I hope to draw peoples attention to is that this system of mass incarceration is actually a system of mass criminalization. It is a system that criminalizes people at very young ages, often before theyre old enough to vote. It labels them criminals and felons, and then strips them of basic civil rights, the very rights supposedly won in the civil-rights movement. And this happens even if youve been sentenced only to probation.
So when people look at prison statistics and say, Oh, well, most people who are in prison are there for violent offenses, so our primary concern must be violent crime, or they think, Oh, well, this prison system is really about responding to violent crime, they get it very wrong.
About five per cent of people who are arrested every year have been convicted of violent crimes or charged with violent crimes. People who have been convicted of violent offenses typically get much, much longer sentences than people who have been convicted of nonviolent crimes like drug offenses. And, therefore, they comprise a much larger portion of the prison population. However, ninety-five per cent of those who are arrested and swept into the criminal-justice system every year have been convicted of nonviolent crimes. And the largest category of arrests are drug arrests. That was true in 2010, and its true today.
The war on drugs has been a primary vehicle for sweeping people into a criminal-justice system, branding them criminals and felons, and then relegating them to a permanent second-class status for life. That doesnt mean we should be unconcerned about violent crime or the harm that it does to communities, nor should we be unconcerned about the extremely long sentences and inhuman treatment that people often receive being caged. But what it does mean is that we have to stop thinking about the system of mass incarceration as simply a prison system.
Michelle, lets talk about the cages in general. There have been calls in recent years for prison abolition. And I wonder what you make of the prison-abolition movement. Ill ask you what Angela Davis asks in the title of her famous book from 2003, Are Prisons Obsolete?
I think prisons are absolutely obsolete. I hope that one day our nation will look back on this practice of putting human beings in literal cages, often treating them worse than we would treat a dog at the pound, sometimes locking them in solitary confinement for decades, allowing them little or no access to sunshine or human contactI hope that one day we will look back on this practice with as much shame and horror as we view the practice of slavery, or the practice of cutting off limbs and hands of thieves. I hope that we find much more humane, constructive ways of responding to the real harms of violence and of crime than subjecting people to deliberate humiliation, stigmatization, suffering, and caging.
We can do better than this. In my experience, most folks understand that caging people and then stripping them of basic civil and human rights upon their release isnt productive. In fact, its more likely to encourage criminal behavior in the future and make it more difficult for people to survive on the outside without resorting to crime. Its likely to traumatize people in ways that will be harmful to themselves, to their families, and to their communities. Most people understand that when you talk about drug abuse or drug addiction. People understand that it is much more productive for people to get drug treatment rather than be in a cage. But when it comes to violence, people have a much more difficult time imagining that there are solutions beyond inflicting violence and caging people.
But Im so encouraged by the work of restorative- and transformative-justice advocates today who are challenging us to think about ways of responding that are more humane and more effective, both for survivors as well as for those who have committed acts of violence.
What do you envision specifically as an alternative to cages, to prisons, to jails? Is there a place in the world that has a justice system that you can point to and say, We definitely should move toward something more like that?
Well, theres been a lot written in recent years about systems in Norway and Germany that are much more humane than the system of caging that we have in the United States. I would really encourage people to read Danielle Sereds book Until We Reckon, specifically about a program that she operates in New York City called Common Justice. Common Justice is a restorative-justice program that provides alternatives to incarceration for people who have been convicted of or who are facing charges for violent offenses. And whats interesting about what she has found in the program is that ninety per cent of survivors of violent crime, when given the option of participating in a restorative-justice program, or the opportunity to confront the person who has caused them harm and to devise a plan for that person to try to make up for what they have done in some way, choose to participate in a restorative-justice program rather than to pursue criminal charges and incarceration. This kind of flies in the face of the research that suggests that survivors of violent crime always want people locked up and the key thrown away. In fact, it turns out that survivors of violent crime and the people who have committed harm can come together in many cases, far more often than we imagine, and together develop fair solutions for responding to the harm thats been caused.
One of the things that is standing in the way of such reform is the fact that a huge number of prisonsseventy per cent, in factare located in rural communities and go a long way in bolstering the economies of these communities. I mean, the fact is that prisons are a big source of income for many people living around them. And you make this very clear.
The profit motive is significant. And very often people think about the profit motive simply in terms of private prisons making money off of caging human beings. However, as the book Prison Profiteers, edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, points out, there is a very large range of corporate interests that make an enormous amount of money off of our prison systemeverything from private health-care providers to Taser-gun manufacturers to companies that are now creating these electronic monitors, G.P.S. tracking systems for people when they are released from prison or jail.
E-carceration, you call it.
Yes. One of the things that worries me most today is the emergence of e-carceration, or digital prisons, as some activists refer to them. Many people are now being forced to wear electronic monitors, G.P.S. tracking devices, upon release from prisons and jails. These devices will limit peoples range of movement, confining them to their homes or to their neighborhoods, sometimes making it impossible for them to go to work or pick up their children from school. These tracking devices send off alarms to police departments if people travel out of their designated zones. In many ways, these tracking devices are creating entire neighborhoods that are under a kind of lockdown, as an electronically enforced kind of virtual concentration camp, where large percentages of the population are confined to small areas.
But what do you say to people who argue that these technological solutions are more humane than prisons and jails?
Well, certainly, most people, myself included, would rather have an electronic monitor, a G.P.S. tracking device, attached to my ankle than to be sitting in a literal cage. However, I find it very difficult to call a system of e-carceration and the emergence of digital prisons progress. Progress would be decriminalizing our communities, not subjecting them to new, high-tech forms of surveillance and control.
It is entirely possible that, in the years to come, as private corporations begin investing more and more moneybillions of dollars are now being invested in the electronic surveillance of people who have been criminalizedthat we will have entire communities and neighborhoods that are trapped in digital prisons. It will be cheaper to surveil and control millions of people electronically than through old-fashioned brick-and-mortar prisons.
So I dont think we should celebrate the rise of electronic monitoring as a step in the right direction or progress. A step in the right direction would be massive investments in education, drug treatment, health care, and job creation, in trauma support in the communities that have been devastated by the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
We all know that the safest communities are not the ones that have the most police, the most prisons, or the highest percentage of people on electronic monitors under constant surveillance and control. No, what creates safety in our communities are good schools, plentiful jobs, quality health care, and a thriving social fabric.
The racial disparities in prisons over the last decade have actually declined. Is there any reason for hope in that?
Its absolutely a positive development that racial disparities have declined to the extent that it means that we are relying less and less on criminalization and incarceration of all people, including people of color.
I worry about those who focus primarily on racial disparities in our criminal-justice system as a measure of injustice. In fact, there is some research that suggests that racial disparities have narrowed in part because more white people have been incarcerated or saddled with criminal records as a result of the opioid epidemic, or because, as some people have argued, many Latinos are being mislabelled as white in our criminal-justice system, distorting the data. But I wouldnt celebrate that kind of progress. The goal here is not to subject people of all colors to unnecessary suffering. The goal ought to be to view and treat all people of all colors with dignity, humanity, compassion, and concern.
However, there is also significant evidence indicating that racial disparities have narrowed in large part because many states, New York included, have moved away from many of the harsh drug-war policies that resulted in enormous racial disparities in incarceration and conviction rates. And that is cause for celebration.
I think, again, we have to make sure that were not simply addressing symptoms rather than underlying causes. True progress depends on us caring and demonstrating care, compassion, and concern for poor people, and people of color, and being willing to invest in their well-being and their health and their education and their thriving rather than simply in their punishment and in their control.
All the front-runner candidates for the Democratic nomination support some form or another of criminal-justice reform. Do you have a favorite among them?
No, I am not endorsing anyone at this time.
But, on this issue, is there anybody who seems particularly advanced or to your liking?
Well, I would have to say that I have found Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanderss criminal-justice platforms to be very encouraging. Theyre taking a comprehensive approach to criminal-justice reform and not simply tinkering with the machine by promising to reduce sentencing, for example. Meaningful criminal-justice reform requires taking a very holistic view and insuring that people who are released from prison have meaningful opportunities for education and access to health care and drug treatment and mental-health treatment and support, and that there is a strong commitment to taking the profit motive out of incarceration entirely. And, you know, viewing criminal-justice reform through a racial-justice lens. So I am encouraged that virtually all of the Democratic candidates have stated a willingness to embrace criminal justice-reform to some degree. But for me, personally, Im less interested in the reform of our criminal-justice system than its transformation. I think we must reimagine the meaning of justice in America, not simply reform our existing criminal-justice institutions. I think that work depends on building and organizing and the engagement of our communities. We cant simply look to our politicians to have the answers
Finally, I hope you dont mind if I ask you what seems to be a personal professional question. Your main teaching post has been at an institution that has religion and faith at its center, the Union Theological Seminary. Does that choice represent a change in your thinking on criminal justice or in your own life?
After spending many years working as a civil-rights lawyer and then as a legal, academic, and policy advocate, I became frustrated with the very narrow scope of acceptable discourse in those spaces. As I see it, the crisis of mass incarceration is not simply a legal or political problem to be solved, but its a profound spiritual and moral crisis, as well. And it requires a reckoning, individually and collectively, with our racial history, our racial present, and our racial future. Many academics and lawyers are reluctant to face or engage in this reckoning, in part because it seems so big, so overwhelming. Lawyers are accustomed to defining problems in legal terms so that they can solve them. Academics want to study problems. Legal academics want to study problems in a very narrow and often data-driven way, without really asking the deeper questions around, Who are we in relationship to one another? What does justice mean?
And I have found, much to my surprise, that, in progressive seminaries like Union Theological Seminary, there is or there seems to be much greater enthusiasm for wrestling with those deep moral questions of the meaning of justice in a nation forged through genocide and slavery, a multiracial, multiethnic nation that is struggling to overcome its racial history. What does it mean to do justice in this context, in this moment in time?
And I jokingly, although its not so much of a joke, tell people who just say to me, I want to go to law school, I say, Well, law school is a place where you learn the rules of the game and how to play it. But it isnt a place where people think deeply about justice. And I cant say thats true for every law school, but its true for too many of them. And Im just grateful that Ive had the opportunity to be affiliated with Union Theological Seminary, which has such a long history of taking questions of justice very seriously and approaching them not just from a legal or political perspective but from a deeply moral one.
Does this mean that religion and faith-based traditions have become more in the center of your thinking and research and writing and your own personal evolution?
Yes, absolutely, although I dont consider myself a religious person. Im probably more of a spiritual but not religious person. But, yeah, I think, ultimately, these questions are about: What does it mean to be in the right relationship to one another? Who belongs in a community, in a nation? How should we treat the least advantaged? What do we owe to one another? How do we repair harm? What does it mean to face irreparable harm in a constructive and responsible way?
Are these questions at the center of a next book?
Yes, they are. Im working on a book that is very different from The New Jim Crow. Its much more personal, and its about my journey going from a liberal civil-rights lawyer who was tinkering with the machine, and believed that we could somehow get to the Promised Land if we just filed the next best lawsuit, or met with the governor, or organize the right number of people for the next protest, to someone who now believes that much more revolutionary change is required, and its not simply a political revolution. A moral and spiritual revolution is also required of us now.
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LYONS, Ga. (WSAV) More than two dozen defendants face federal charges in a multi-agency operation, authorities announced Wednesday in Toombs County.
Dubbed Operation Ace in the Hole, the year and a half long investigation netted 61 counts, 20 plus firearms, and drugs with a street value in the millions.
Local, state and federal agents were involved in the operation targeting a gang-related drug trafficking ring in the Vidalia area.
Were here as both a celebration of accomplishment and as a warning that with the united effort with these and other agencies here today we will continue to take down drug traffickers and violent criminal street games to make our neighborhoods safer, said United States Attorney Bobby Christine with the Southern District of Georgia alongside law enforcement officials involved Operation Ace in the Hole.
Officials said the investigation first started as a small drug case by law enforcement in Lyons and Toombs counties, adding that neighbors were instrumental in bringing a spotlight to the crimes.
They couldnt let their children go out and play. They were scared to come out themselves, especially at night, said Toombs County Sheriff Alvie Knight. They were scared to even go out and sit on the front porch, afraid of getting shot.
Raymonia Apartments in Vidalia is just one of the places that investigators say members of the gangster disciples were using as a headquarters to push massive amounts of cocaine, marijuana, pills, and even gallons of liquid codeine across the state of Georgia.
The members of the suspected gang were allegedly involved in creating a distribution center of illegal activity which took their product not just to locals, but to other gang members as far away as Atlanta.
The team on this bust says this is just the beginning of the war on gangs in Georgia.
Take a look around at all the guys standing here. This is how you win the war on drugs and gangs, said Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman. The only way you can lose the battle is to quit fighting. You win it by fighting and thats what we will do.
Our gang is bigger than your gang, our gang is better than your gang, and our gang is tougher than your gang, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds warned.
This isnt finished yet. Thirty more suspects are expected to face state charges in connection with this operation.
Involved in the investigation are the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, the Toombs County Sheriffs Office, the Lyons Police Department, the Oconee Drug Task Force and the Liberty County Sheriffs Office.
The case is being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys E. Greg Gilluly Jr. and Joseph McCool.
The battle is won when all these agencies federal, local state work together in addition to the prosecutors office working together to prosecute on a state or federal level, said FBI Special Agent Marcus Kirkland. That is how we win the battle.
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At the age of 17, Daniel Montero began smoking and selling marijuana full-time in California. Even near-death encounters and two prison sentences for felony marijuana charges didnt dissuade him. Its not just about getting high. Its a green renaissance.
Montero is a first-generation American and survivor of the war on drugs. But after Californias recent legalization of marijuana in 2018 under the states Proposition 64, his business is now illegal. Montero is now considered a legacy operatora cannabis businessman with previous experience in the industry. He is an avid enthusiast of cannabis culture, the chair of the San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group, and a skilled community organizer in the rapidly expanding industry.
In the past year, businesses have invested millions of dollars into opening hundreds of marijuana shops in Californias modern-day equivalent of a gold rush. The media has heralded legalization as a policy win for racial justice due to its radical departure from the former tough on crime drug policies that criminalized marijuana use. However, some fear this praise risks erasing the oppressive history of the war on drugs.
Former U.S. president Richard Nixon is notorious for declaring this war on drugs. As executive, Nixon created the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, responsible for tackling drug use and smuggling; dramatically increased federal drug agencies presence in communities of color; and issued no-knock warrant policies, which give absolute authority for police officers to force entry.
President Ronald Reagan zealously upheld Nixons anti-drug legacy by increasing mandatory minimum drug sentencing. Incarceration skyrocketed during his presidency, disproportionately for black people, the majority of whom were nonviolent offenders.
Despite the lack of any scientific proof, marijuana was demonized as a highly addictive Schedule 1 Drug, more dangerous than cocaine or fentanyl. Under the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which dramatically increased prison funding and instituted a three-strikes rule: Anyone convicted of a violent crime who had two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes, was sentenced to life in prison.
Californias law enforcement followed suit. From elected officials to school administrators, those in positions of power were similarly staunch in enforcing zero-tolerance drug policies. In the 1980s, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates intentionally targeted black and brown communities in drug raids and strongly advocated for harsher penalties. In a 1990 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Gates boldly testified that casual drug users should be taken out and shot.
Between 2000 and 2010, a person was arrested for marijuana possession in the United States every 37 seconds. In total, eight million Americans have been incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes, with 88 percent of those incarcerations only related to possession. But as prisons remain overcrowded and the racialized consequences of the war on drugs become strikingly apparent, public sentiment toward marijuana use has shifted. Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use. Ten additional states, including California, followed suit in years afterwards.
Adam Bierman, CEO of MedMen, will tell you that he does not run pot shops.
The assertion at first is startling: MedMen, one of the nations leading legal marijuana dispensaries with over 36 physical stores, is an influential presence in seven out of the ten states with marijuana legalization.
Its all part of the goal. Bierman prides himself on destigmatizing marijuanahis strategy is to market to the untraditional demographics of chardonnay moms and nine-to-five dads.
The moment you walk into a MedMen store, youre greeted with the luminescent glow of glass cases perfectly positioned on sleek tables. Alluring adjectives like euphoric, uplifted, and elite denote the effects of different marijuana strains. This Apple-store-like space, satisfyingly arranged with clean-cut, colorfully labeled marijuana strains and gleaming vaporizers, seems worlds away from Californias recent history of criminalization and harsh incarceration.
Political commentator and author Solomon Jones reminded readers of the ever-present effects of Californias demonization of marijuana use in his Philadelphia Inquirer article: Legalizing marijuana is the same kind of economic bait-and-switch that America has always pulled on people of color, he argued. Blacks create an industry that has valuewhether through legal or illegal meansand white folks change the rules, change the language, and change the perception in order to bring about a change in ownership.
This economic bait-and-switch is glaringly visible in the current demographics of legal marijuana business ownership. In the most recent survey by Marijuana Business Daily, white people like Bierman own 81 percent of new marijuana businesses. In contrast, fewer than five percent of marijuana businesses in the United States were owned by black people. In a devastating irony, between 2000 and 2010, black people were 3.73 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana, despite roughly equal usage rates.
Historically, Californias three major counties of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Long Beach were home to a disproportionately high number of marijuana arrests. Today, these counties boast the highest concentrations of legal marijuana businesses.
These counties recognize their history, and their Departments of Cannabis have designated zip codesdisproportionately impacted zones based on past high rates of cannabis convictionsfor specific social services. In these zones, more than 90 percent of residents are people of color and more than 80 percent are low-income.
Rarely do these residents participate in the new, legal economy.
Many prospective business owners have a criminal record, making it difficult for them to sign even a reasonably-priced lease. Although California recently passed AB 1793 to expunge marijuana criminal records, in many other states, felons are forbidden from attaining a retail marijuana license, even if their convictions are marijuana-related.
It costs at least a quarter of a million dollars to start a marijuana business, and there are no federal bank loans available. Prospective business owners must navigate the legal jargon of multiple permits and extensive building and facility inspections, which can quickly become expensive.
To counter this inequity, the three counties have instated Cannabis Social Equity Programs with the mission to promote equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry, focused on those hit hardest by the War on Drugs. They offer public application workshops, priority applications, and fee waivers for licensing and business permits.
Los Angeles Countys Department of Cannabis assigns different benefits to individuals through a three-tiered system based on their length of residence in a disproportionately impacted zone and past record for marijuana-related crime. Tier 1equity applicants access the most benefits, including licensing fee deferrals and access to a newly established industry investment fund to assist in startup costs.
All legal cannabis businesses in San Francisco must also provide a community benefits agreement policy in which they detail employment opportunities for those affected by the drug war. For example, Barbary Coast Dispensary, which provides public employment fairs in disproportionately impacted zones, is frequently co-sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Cannabis. In addition, the Departments staff recently toured the San Quentin State Prison to discuss thoughtful drug policy with inmates.
Now that California has legalized recreational marijuana, the trajectory of the industrys influence and growth in the state is unclear. In an interview with The Politic, Angie Maina, Program Specialist of the Long Beach Department of Cannabis, described this uncertainty as the most difficult part of the [departments] job.
Social Equity LA is a non-profit organization that hosts bilingual Spanish and English workshops to provide legal and technical assistance for potential marijuana business owners. In an interview with The Politic, co-founders Adriana Gomez and Luiz Rivera detailed the challenge Maina acknowledged. Their organization has facilitated one-on-one training for applying for licenses, making sure that their boots were on the ground, [by] holding candidates hands and making sure that they were not left behind. Gomez stressed the reality that making policy does not necessarily mean people have access to it.
As other states consider legalizing marijuana, many look to Californias attempt at reconciling the history of the war on drugs with profitable, safe, and accessible marijuana businesses. As we move forward with legalization, we need to start from the bottom up, Gomez reflects. How are our communities of color being left behind? We need to make sure that in ten years we dont regret this.
Social Equity LAs mission for community investment is shared by Cage-Free Cannabis, another Los Angeles-based organization focused on social responsibility in the cannabis industry. In an interview with the The Politic, co-founder Adam Vine reflected on how incredibly nuanced the cannabis industry is and how it is easy to lose sight of the humanity at the core of this issue. Cage-Free Cannabis has launched an annual National Expungement Week when they offer legal relief, voter registration, health screenings, employment workshops, and other services in addition to their usual work helping individuals expunge their criminal records.
Vine believes that the biggest challenge behind city-sponsored cannabis social equity programs is the lack of financial support from city and state government. Cage-Free Cannabis and similar organizations are trying to fill in the gaps and provide the services that aspiring cannabis retailers need. Vine is excited for the growth of National Expungement Week: You can expect to see the week continue to grow, he explained. These people need legal relief and opportunities to enter the industry.
While the uncertainty of the legal marijuana industry can be a formidable obstacle, Maina acknowledged that it has been rewarding to regulate a brand new and emerging industry, while thinking hard on how to connect with other cities and our own community for the best and most fair practices.
You often glorify the criminal lifestyle, Daniel Montero admitted. But surviving bullets, robberies, parents being killed, families being killed. Its a lot. Its not glorifying at all. Despite the cannabis industrys ambiguous future, some positive effects of marijuana legalization are undeniably clear.
Californias legalization of marijuana has been so humanizing for Montero because hes now able to openly promote the cannabis plant he loves. But in Californias efforts to regulate the new and highly profitable marijuana industry, Montero reminds us that there is no point in building a mansion if the foundation is not correct. That foundation must exist in marijuana equity.
Marijuana equity is especially important when considering what Montero describes as marijuanas tip of the iceberg of opportunities. He notes the diverse uses of cannabis, some of which include effective pain treatment (CBD in the pharmaceutical industry) and sustainable building development (industrial hemp in the construction industry).
But the question of this equity in Californias green renaissance still remains. As the chair of the San Jose Cannabis Equity Working Group, Montero advocates for permanent funding in cannabis equity programs. He recognizes that policies fail to matter if there is no money to put it in play and will continue making sure the money generated [from the cannabis industry] is going to the right places.
Montero reminds us that building these businesses is not just about getting high, but rather about expanding opportunities for all communities. I can die happy if I can continue this work. Equity is about giving opportunity to those of us disadvantaged by the war on drugs, he declared. Its about our mothers, brothers, and sisters whove also suffered a domino effect from this war. Equity is to empower our people through cannabis.
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More than a decade after New Mexico legalized marijuana for medical use, permitting it to any adult for any reason is still proving to be a significant challenge.
This week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that legalizing recreational marijuana is one of her top legislative priorities in 2020, and on Friday, a House bill that would do so was unveiled. During a 30-day budget session, the states constitution requires the governor to release an official list of what nonbudget bills will be debated. Legalizing marijuana for recreational use is on that list.
The Legislature has the opportunity to pass the largest job-creation program in New Mexico in a decade, Lujan Grisham said in a statement about House Bill 160.
Although supporters including the governor and Democrats in the state House have been vocal in touting its expected economic boon, the jobs they say it will create, and the law enforcement and other programs it could help fund, the negative perception of pot lingers enough that the effort could go up in smoke yet again.
In an hour-and-a-half interview with The New Mexican, Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, expressed skepticism about whether the bill can clear the Senate.
It is expected to have little trouble passing the state House, where Democrats have a 46-24 majority and passed a legalization proposal last year. While Democrats also have a majority in the Senate, some more conservative Democratic senators still have concerns about how recreational cannabis would impact the state.
Even with the projected 11,000 jobs the Governors Office argues legalization will create, and more than $600 million in projected revenue by the fifth year of the program, the effort could face an uphill climb.
A large hurdle will be convincing moderate Democrats that marijuana does not pose a public health threat. Republicans who could support the measure, meanwhile, want more local control and funding for law enforcement.
Theres an economic side of this, but I think the real heart of it is the focus on the health impact and the societal impact of adding this in a state with the challenges that we have, Wirth said, referring to already high rates of drug and alcohol abuse across New Mexico. Its one more substance being added.
I dont know the votes are there within our caucus, but there are other Republican votes on the floor, Wirth said. The bill last session, I think, would have passed had it been on the Senate floor.
The Senate leader said he has heard the same concern about marijuanas impact on health from other senators on both sides of the aisle, including Papen.
Papen, the Senate president pro tem, said she is particularly concerned about the effect of marijuana on teenagers developing brains and the possibility that legalizing it for recreational use could encourage more teens to use it. Papen said she also is concerned about a lack of long-term research on the health impacts of marijuana.
Thats my biggest concern, said Papen, who added she remains undecided on how she will vote. Nobody seems to be able to come up with that.
The senator added, As more and more states get involved, we probably wont make the money that we think were [going to be] making now. It shouldnt be just the money.
More money or more problems?
Despite concerns from the Senate, Lujan Grisham is using her political clout to try to win over the skeptics.
During a 30-minute address Thursday at a $50-per-plate luncheon with the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the governor told business leaders recreational weed will be an economic game changer.
She acknowledged it will be a heavy lift in the Legislature but reminded luncheon attendees of the thousands of jobs its projected to create, hundreds of millions in projected sales, and $100 million in annual revenue for state and local governments.
More than 75,000 people in New Mexico are already registered as medical cannabis patients. The adult-use recreational market is expected to grow to six times the size of the states Medical Cannabis Program in five years. New Mexico growers are already producing more hemp and medical marijuana than they are alfalfa or green chile, the states historically biggest crops.
For big proponents like state Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring HB 160, the money is more than enough of a reason to support it. It could be used to help repair some of the damage Martinez argues was done to communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.
For far too long, cannabis has gotten the same type of treatment that other hard drugs have gotten based on bogus science and really based on very racist worldviews, Martinez said. I think New Mexico is prime not only to be a leader in legalization, but a leader in legalizing the right way, which is what our goal is with our bill.
Martinezs bill would create a cannabis training and education program that would be offered at New Mexico colleges. Martinez also argues the legislation is centered on ensuring equity for communities that have suffered most from the criminalization of marijuana and ensuring that we protect and enhance the medical program.
The lawmaker is pushing for gross receipts taxes on medical marijuana to be reduced and subsidizing medical weed with adult-use revenue. It also would create a training program to help police identify drivers who might be high, and it offers some degree of local control on the timing and location of marijuana businesses.
It does not offer local governments the option to opt out of the market as in some states, such as Colorado and Michigan.
Broadly, it would regulate from seed to sale every aspect of the marijuana market, bringing the industry out of the black market and into the sphere of regulation and taxation.
But some simply wont be swayed. They argue it still presents a danger to drivers and believe it could increase crime and addiction. I think its kind of unfortunate with all the other issues facing New Mexico ... that we get bogged down with something thats as controversial as this, said state Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia. I havent talked to a law enforcement officer or a rehab director yet that tell me, Oh dont worry about it, its not gonna have an impact, Townsend said.
But more crucial to the bills passage are senators who remain on the fence.
Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, for example, said he could support it with the right degree of local control and if there was enough funding for law enforcement that came along with the measure.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, also expressed skepticism, in large part because of the governors decision to put Pat Davis, an Albuquerque city councilor, in charge of the work group that developed the recommendations the legislation is based on.
I dont have much faith in it, Moores said. The governors decision to put a radical political operative who has spent his career attacking Republicans and moderate Democrats in charge chilled the process.
It sent the message she wants this as a political issue and isnt interested in working on a bipartisan effort, he continued. Putting him in charge sent the message to Republicans and moderate Dems in the Senate she wanted this more for a campaign issue and to raise political donations than coming up with a solution.
Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, has argued New Mexico isnt ready to legalize marijuana. Cervantes supported decriminalization and allowing it for medical use, but said past legislation that has been introduced has not ensured workplace safety.
Carlos Martinez, an Albuquerque attorney who chairs the state bars cannabis law section, said he hears mixed reactions from many different factions in the marijuana business community. But a budget session doesnt offer a lot of time in a state where marijuana still has a negative aura for many. I just dont think its gonna be able to pass in this 30-day session, he said.
Staff writer Jens Gould contributed to this report
The Pitfalls and Possibilities of the Measurement Revolution for National Security – War on the Rocks
Posted: at 10:47 am
It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture, said one former NSC official. Said another: There was no head turning movement or measurement on how things are going to be improving.
Petabytes of data were collected throughout the war in Afghanistan, yet as the recently published Afghanistan Papers highlight, they rarely informed strategy. Instead, conflicting priorities and changing benchmarks of success ruled the day. And even when leaders did settle on metrics, such as the number of Taliban attacks, their interpretation was often tailored to match a desired high-level message, rather than being based on clear-eyed, consistent arguments about what different trends meant about the underlying political process. Realizing the measurement revolutions potential to enable better security policy does not require a military led by statisticians. It requires a military led by thinkers.
Because the trifecta of big data, the Internet of Things, and machine learning creates tremendous potential for quantifying human behavior. From tracking the spread of diseases to measuring refugee integration, data that were impossible to gather even a decade ago can now be used to inform policy decisions with great precision. The paralyzing issue for todays policy leaders is how to figure out which data-driven claims are credible and which are not. Nowhere is this more true than in national security policy, where hard-to-interpret data abound and the stakes couldnt be higher.
To see the measurement revolutions promise, consider some hard security policy questions.
Do countering violent extremism programs work, and if so, where should they be targeted? Recent work leveraging social media and high-resolution data on program administration can help answer both questions. New research by Tamar Mitts geolocates roughly 35,000 Twitter users in the United States who followed one or more Islamic State propaganda accounts and parses their tweets from 2014 to 2016 to identify which tweets explicitly express pro-ISIL sentiment. She finds that those living in areas where the Department of Homeland Security held community engagement events posted less content sympathetic to ISIL and followed fewer propaganda accounts in the period after the event compared to the period before. No similar change happened in places where Homeland Security did not hold events. Of course, wed like to target effective countering violent extremism programming at communities that in fact have a significant pro-ISIL presence. Here Mitts again provides helpful evidence. A new paper uses geolocated Twitter data to show that pro-ISIL sentiment increases following anti-Muslim protests in Europe and does so more strongly in regions with more far-right voters.
How about whether decision-makers should target aid in conflict zones at microenterprises or larger firms? This is not merely a development question; getting economies growing again is widely viewed as important for long-term stability. A recent study uses three years worth of cellphone data to assess how the war affected firm-level economic activity in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the authors find that companies avoid conflict-prone areas. One major violent event in a district is associated with a 6 percent reduction in the number of firms operating in that district in the next month, and the effect persists for six months. But only firms with more than 12 employees are able to adjust in this way; there is no statistical relationship between violence in one month and the level of activity among smaller firms in the next month. In Afghanistan, at least, this evidence suggests policies to reduce the impact of conflict on the economy should target larger enterprises.
Is the American defense community building the capacity to spot such learning opportunities and ask the right questions?
The United States spends billions of dollars every year to ensure that its forces have great equipment. And there are entire training bases, such as the Joint Readiness Training Center, devoted to preparing the force to make tactical and operational decisions under pressure in sensitive circumstances. Army infantry train in the most realistic settings money can buy, practicing interacting with local civilians, coordinating supporting fires, and helping wounded comrades under fire. Air Force, Marine, and Navy fighter pilots spend hundreds of hours learning to operate highly technical systems under tremendous physical stress, including exercises such as Red Flag, which can involve hundreds of aircraft and more than 10,000 airmen, sailors, and soldiers. These kinds of exercises train structured responses, everything from the kind of immediate, nearly automatic reactions needed to handle battlefield problems to the complex managerial challenges staffs face in coordinating the actions of dozens of subordinate units based on information from hundreds of sensors and intelligence platforms, all in the face of complex logistical considerations.
Despite that prodigious investment in training to solve immediate and near-term problems, military education systems do very little to systematically train defense leaders on how to use evidence to inform longer-term decisions. The Army War College curriculum, for example, teaches necessary subjects such as Strategic Leadership and Theory of War and Strategy, but does not provide instruction on which kinds of data should inform which decisions. The professional military education system has no equivalent to the University of Washingtons Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning in a Digital World, which systematically takes students through common mistakes such as assuming correlation implies causation, failing to consider base rates, and scaling data graphics in deceptive ways. Without education on how to use data to inform the big picture, modern technology has produced what Peter Singer calls tactical generals, leaders pulled by technology to micromanage at the tactical level, leaving few thinking about how the profusion of information could be used to learn and plan at the operational or strategic level.
This is an unfortunate state of affairs, as botching a few key principles can cause even the most astute leader to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
How Evidence Goes Wrong
Consider a few concrete questions. What drives suicide bombings? Will small-scale aid packages help establish stability in counter-insurgency campaigns? Will additional funding to airport security reduce the incidence of terrorism? In each case, an intuitive and superficially sensible evidence-based approach to the question leads to the wrong conclusion.
If you want to understand what motivates suicide terrorism, at first blush it seems sensible to look for commonalities among groups that use suicide bombings. That is, after all, the kind of thing people tend to do when they think about lessons learned. One prominent study did this and concluded that suicide terrorism tends to occur in conflicts involving foreign occupation by a democracy. But just focusing on the suicide terrorists was a mistake. To figure out what distinguishes groups that turn to suicide terrorism from groups that do not, you have to compare those two types of groups to one another. And studies that do so find no association between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism.
How individuals make inferences matters because those inferences drive strategy. In the suicide bombing case, different conclusions could be drawn from different datasets. For example, from 1970 to 1982 the only terrorist group using suicide bombings was the Tamil Tigers, so one might have concluded that suicide bombings were used by groups that combined socialist ideology with Tamil nationalism. But by 1989, both Hezbollah and Amal had used the tactic in the Lebanese civil war, so one might reasonably have concluded the common factors were socialist ideology plus Tamil nationalism or Lebanese Shiite Muslim groups fighting occupation. As suicide terrorism spread, by 2003 at least seven more groups were using the tactic, including Hamas, the Kurdistan Workers Party, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaida, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and several Kashmiri rebel groups. One might then have concluded that the common factor was groups fighting directly or indirectly against occupation by a U.S.-allied country. Finally, by 2016, one would have been forced to add the Pakistani Taliban, various Chechen groups, al-Qaida in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, ISIL, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to the list. The common conditions would then have to encompass fighting a U.S.-, Saudi-, or Iranian-supported regime, as well as engaging in factional competition against other Sunni Islamist groups.
This is an example of a more general mistake. If you want to know whether two features of the world (say, occupation and suicide terrorism) are correlated (i.e., tend to occur together), you cant just look at cases where one of those features occurs. You have to compare the frequency of occupations in conflicts with and without suicide terrorism.
And failure to appreciate this point doesnt just affect academic studies; it can also undermine the efficacy of American defense institutions. For instance, think about the practice of performing a postmortem following some operational failure. It is natural to ask what rules were not followed or what warning signs were ignored during the failed mission. But if those postmortem procedures dont compel leaders to ask whether those same rules were broken or warning signs brushed aside during previous successful missions, then they allow them to make the mistake of not comparing and lead leaders to jump to the wrong conclusions.
Even when individuals do compare, things can go wrong. Think about trying to assess the efficacy of small-scale aid spending in insecure environments, a topic one of us has studied extensively. We can compare across Iraqs 104 districts and ask whether places where the United States devoted more money to small-scale aid experienced less insurgency. The answer turns out to be no. Districts with more small-scale aid projects experienced more insurgent violence, not less. But does that mean small-scale aid is counterproductive? As anyone who directed those projects will tell you, smart military leaders directed money to places where they faced bigger problems for instance, to districts where the people were more firmly opposed to the new Shiite-led government. So, the positive correlation between aid and insurgent violence doesnt necessarily reflect the counterproductive effects of aid spending. Instead, aid spending chased insurgency. A more clear-minded comparison can help untangle this question. We can account for the underlying level of insurgent support in a district by comparing changes in aid spending and changes in insurgent violence within districts, from one period to the next, instead of comparing levels across districts. Consistent with the concern that the positive correlation between spending and violence didnt reflect the true causal relationship, when you compare changes, you discover that increases in aid spending from month to month are actually associated with decreases, not increases, in violence.
Accuracy in tactical assessments only really matters, though, if those assessments are linked to the broader mission you are trying to achieve. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a rash of airline hijackings led the United States to require metal detectors at all major airports. This was the first step down the road to owning toiletries that fit only in a quart-size bag. The number of hijackings of airplanes dropped quickly, from an average of almost 20 per quarter before metal detectors were installed to fewer than 10 per quarter after. Big counter-terrorism success, right? Well, maybe.
Lets stop and think about whether weve measured the counter-terrorism mission properly. If the counter-terrorism mission is to stop hijackings, then this seems like evidence of a clear win. But what if the mission is broader not just stopping hijackings, but terrorist attacks more broadly? Then, by looking only at the effect of the policy on hijackings, we havent quite measured the mission. And, indeed, it turns out that the reduction in hijackings was almost perfectly offset by an increase in other kinds of hostage takings by terrorists, who likely decided that if the United States was going to protect airplanes, they would attack other targets instead.
We can see a similar example in the war on drugs. Successful U.S. efforts to shut down drug transshipment through the Caribbean led drug traffickers to move their operations to Central America and Mexico, with no long-term reduction in drugs flowing to the United States, but with devastating consequences for those countries.
Questions to Avoid Common Mistakes
A firmer understanding of a few key evidence-based principles would add tremendous value to the defense educational framework. Leaders, especially at the senior level, can begin by asking their team, and themselves, four questions when trying to use evidence to make better decisions:
Our ability to collect data has vastly improved in recent years. But to reap the national security benefits of this data revolution, our ability to think clearly about how to use evidence to make better decisions has to keep up. The good news is that, in our experience creating and teaching an executive education course on leading evidence-based decisions, leaders can acquire the key conceptual tools needed to navigate todays information-rich environment without devoting years to becoming technical data analysts.
Like all important skills, however, evidence-based decision-making doesnt come naturally. It takes careful training and practice. The United States should reform its defense education system to prepare leaders to understand common conceptual errors, ask the critical questions, and retain the healthy level of skepticism necessary to use evidence effectively to make better decisions. This means bringing short courses on leveraging evidence into the curriculum at many levels, from the service academies through the National Defense University. Applying some basic principles can help leaders to filter through the noise and think clearly in a data-driven age. We are at a pivotal point in history. It is vital that our leaders education keeps pace with innovation.
Ethan Bueno de Mesquita is the Sydney Stein Professor and Deputy Dean at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. He is co-creator ofLeading Evidence-Based Decisionsand the author ofPolitical Economy for Public Policy.
Liam Collins is the Executive Director of the Madison Policy Forum and the Viola Foundation. He is retired Special Forces Colonel and former Director of the Combating Terrorism Center and Modern War Institute at West Point. He is co-creator ofLeading Evidence-Based Decisions.
Kristen G. DeCaires is Program Manager for the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC) at Princeton University. Prior to ESOC, she served in various public health initiatives and research administration programs. DeCaires conducted field research and program evaluations in the U.S. and Myanmar for refugee populations, emergency response, and maternal child health projects.
Jacob N. Shapiro is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, where hedirectsthe Empirical Studies of Conflict Project.He is co-creator ofLeading Evidence Based-Decisions, author ofTheTerrorists Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations,and co-author ofSmall Wars, Big Data: The InformationRevolution inModern Conflict.
Image: U.S. Army National Guard (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Amo)
Posted: at 10:47 am
Of several survey items that SWS recently reported on the administrations drug war, the one with greatest consensus is the perception of abuses of human rights (Fourth Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: 76% of Filipinos see many human rights abuses in the administrations war on illegal drugs, 24% see few, http://www.sws.org.ph, 1/12/20). The said 76 percent (correctly rounded), consists of 33 percent calling the abuses very many (napakarami) and 42 percent calling them somewhat many (medyo marami).
Perceived drop in the usage of illegal drugs. Slightly below the 76 percent who are concerned about the volume of human rights abuses is a 74 percent who perceive that the number of users of illegal drugs has fallen since the start of the Duterte administration in 2016. Of the 74 points, only 28 say it has fallen a lot (bumaba nang malaki), while 46 say it has fallen somewhat (bumaba nang kaunti). This tells me that the peoples concession of the wars desired impact on drug usage is not as intense as their concern for human rights.
Approval of the right of VP Robredo to know the HVTs. The item with the third-highest consensus was about the right of Vice President Leni Robredo, when she was cochairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (Icad), to see the list of so-called High Value Targets in the illegal drug trade. Sixty percent say she had the right to see the list, and only 15 percent say she did not; 25 percent are neutral on this matter.
Approval of the UN move to investigate EJKs. Fifty-five percent agree with the move of the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the drug war. Only 19 percent disagree, while 24 percent are neutral. Thus, Mr. Dutertes repeated attempts to vilify the UN for interfering in our domestic affairs are not popular with the people.
Implicit failure of the war on illegal drugs. Half of all Filipinos (49 percent) agree with the proposition that the removal of political oppositionist VP Robredo from her position as Icad cochairperson was an implicit admission by the administration that its war is failing. Only 21 percent disagree with this; 30 percent are neutral.
Dutertes sincerity in appointing Robredo. Nevertheless, a strong plurality of 44 percent say that President Duterte was sincere in appointing VP Robredo to the Icad. Only 27 percent say he was insincere; 29 percent are undecided.
Satisfaction with Robredos Icad performance. When asked to rate what VP Robredo did while with Icad, 44 percent were satisfied, while 26 percent were dissatisfied, for a net satisfaction rating of +18, which is classified as Moderate. (This item, inadvertently missing from the 1/12/20 SWS report, was added on 1/15/20.)
Public opinion on the drug war is mostly unfavorable. The December 2019 SWS survey shows Filipinos as critical of the drug war, except that they concede that the usage of illegal drugs has fallen.
The presidential spokespersons claim (BusinessWorld, 1/14/20) that EJKs occur because of violent resistance by the suspects in buy-bust and police operations, endangering the lives of the law enforcers hence their resort to self-defense sanctioned by law, has few believers. Eight SWS surveys from December 2016 to September 2019 all show strong rejection of the nanlaban excuse (Third Quarter 2019 Social Weather Survey: 29% of Pinoys do not believe police claims of nanlaban, 26% believe, and 45% are undecided, http://www.sws.org.ph, 12/22/19).
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