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The war on drugs explained in 4 minutes:

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Old 06-29-2010, 12:15 PM pyramid is offline  
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So you going to vote for Sarah Palin Pyramid? She is pro decriminalization/legalization.

She says if people want to toke up in their own homes it's no one else's business.
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Old 06-30-2010, 12:51 AM TheMorlock is offline  
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I would never vote for her and I highly doubt she would ever make good on a campaign promise like that.
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Old 06-30-2010, 01:23 PM pyramid is offline  
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http://blog.norml.org/2010/07/06/a-c...ot-to-mention/

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Investigators and pundits alike are fond of calling for ‘more research’ into the safety and efficacy of marijuana and its active compounds. Ironically, when such calls are heeded and new research is published, nobody wants to talk about it.

For example, researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY), Upstate Medical University in Syracuse published data in the June issue of the journal Pharmacology concluding that the administration of the plant cannabinoids delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC halted cellular respiration and tumor growth in human oral cancer cells. Specifically, investigators reported that cannabinoids were a “potent inhibitor” of Tu183 human cancer cells, a notoriously difficult to treat type of oral cancer.

Of course, this is hardly the first time that pot’s compounds have been demonstrated to possess anti-cancer properties. As has been widely reported here and elsewhere, US government researchers were first aware of this finding over 35 years ago, and today there exist published scientific studies demonstrating that cannabinoids can inhibit the proliferation of a wide range of cancers — including brain cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, biliary tract cancer, and lymphoma. Nonetheless, abstract prohibitionist concerns regarding marijuana’s supposed cancer risk continue to dominate the headlines while actual scientific studies debunking these allegations tend to go unnoticed.

Similarly, preclinical data published online last week in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling reported that the administration of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) increases adult neurogenesis (the active production of new neurons) in laboratory animals. Authors speculated that cannabis’ pro-neurogenic effects may explain why the plant appears to be useful in the treatment of certain neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease or ALS.

As I wrote last week, to date there are now over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature pertaining to marijuana and its active compounds — making marijuana the most studied plant on Earth. But what’s the point in further research if nobody even bothers to pay attention to the research that’s already been done?
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Old 07-07-2010, 10:45 AM pyramid is offline  
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Experienced Marijuana Consumers Exhibit Virtually No Change In Cognitive Task Performance After Smoking, Study Says

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New York, NY: Experienced marijuana consumers exhibit nominal changes in cognitive performance after inhaling cannabis, according to clinical trial data published online this week in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior.

Investigators at Columbia University in New York and the San Francisco Brain Research Institute assessed acute marijuana-related effects on cognitive functioning in 24 volunteers who reported consuming the drug at least 24 times per week.

Researchers determined that participants' overall performance accuracy on episodic memory and working memory tasks "was not significantly altered by marijuana."

Authors concluded: "The present findings show that smoked marijuana produced minimal effects on episodic and spatial working memory of near-daily smokers. The overall response accuracy on the word recognition and working memory tasks was unaffected by marijuana, although smoked marijuana did increase the amount of time participants needed to complete these tasks.

"This pattern of effects is consistent with results previously reported by other researchers studying the acute effects of marijuana on cognitive performance of regular users. ... The finding ... stands in contrast to previous findings in occasional smokers who showed reduced accuracy on these same tasks after marijuana. ... The observation that frequent users' response accuracy is not altered after marijuana smoking to the same extent it is for infrequent users ... suggests that near-daily marijuana smokers may have developed tolerance to some marijuana-related behavioral effects."
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Old 07-10-2010, 01:22 PM pyramid is offline  
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double dose today. new RAND study too.

http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_...arijuana_plant

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If marijuana were legalized in California, prices could drop dramatically, consumption would increase (although how much is anyone's guess), and tax revenues could either wildly exceed published estimates or come in much lower, according to which sets of assumptions hold true, the RAND Drug Policy Research Center said in a report released Wednesday.

The report, Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets, assumes the cost of indoor marijuana production at no more than $300 to $400 a pound. Under legalization, the retail ounce price could drop to as low as $38 pre-tax, the researchers found.

"There are several reasons to anticipate such a sharp decline," the report said. "First, we anticipate that workers' wages will fall because employers will not have to pay a risk premium to employees for participating in an illegal activity. Second, there will be greater ability to use labor-saving automation, especially in the manicuring stage. Third, production at the level of an entire grow house, or several houses operated together, permits economies of scale not available to grows kept small enough to avoid attracting the attention of not just federal but also local law enforcement. Fourth, assuming that growers avoid attracting federal law-enforcement attention, they will face minimal risk of arrest and forfeiture."

The authors caution that pricing estimates depend on a number of variables, including whether an excise tax is imposed, the degree to which it is collected or evaded, and the degree to which regulatory burdens impose economic costs on producers.

Current retail pot prices in California are from $250 to $400 an ounce for high grade weed, so a $38 ounce is about an 80% price reduction. Such a reduction is assumed to increase the rate of consumption, but as the authors note, "the magnitude of the consumption increase cannot be predicted because prices will fall to levels below those ever studied."

Consumption could also increase because of non-price factors, such as loss of stigma or advertising campaigns. The authors said they "could not rule out" consumption increases of 50% to 100%, which would bring consumption to levels not seen since the late 1970s, the heyday of pot smoking in America.

The state Board of Equalization estimated that legalization could generate $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues, based on the $50 an ounce tax envisioned in legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, however, does not include provisions for taxation at the state level, only at the local level, and only if those localities decide to allow taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales.

Those considerations, as well the abovementioned factors of level of taxation and tax evasion and the response of the federal government mean revenue estimates vary wildly and could be dramatically lower or higher than the board's $1.4 billion a year estimate.

"There is considerable uncertainty about the impact that legalizing marijuana in California will have on consumption and public budgets," said Beau Kilmer, the study's lead author and a policy researcher at RAND. "No government has legalized the production and distribution of marijuana for general use, so there is little evidence on which to base any predictions about how this might work in California."
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Old 07-10-2010, 01:37 PM pyramid is offline  
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Weed should be legal simply because it does less lethal/harm than current legal drugs on the market (i.e Tobacco), it cost billions anually to fight, and it would produce billions in revenue for the government.
Old 07-23-2010, 12:23 AM Dur_Baby is offline  
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Weed should be legal simply because it does less lethal/harm than current legal drugs on the market (i.e Tobacco).

Debatable to an extent. It won't kill you but it can definitely fuck up your life.
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Old 07-23-2010, 02:36 AM brfatal is offline  
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Debatable to an extent. It won't kill you but it can definitely fuck up your life.

so can pretty much anything people enjoy, if they abuse it.
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Old 07-26-2010, 12:50 PM pyramid is offline  
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http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/...wn&keytype=ref

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An alternative to the war on drugs

Stephen Rolles, senior policy analyst

1 Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Bristol BS5 0HE

Consensus is growing within the drugs field and beyond that the prohibition on production, supply, and use of certain drugs has not only failed to deliver its intended goals but has been counterproductive. Evidence is mounting that this policy has not only exacerbated many public health problems, such as adulterated drugs1 and the spread of HIV and hepatitis B and C infection among injecting drug users, but has created a much larger set of secondary harms associated with the criminal market. These now include vast networks of organised crime, endemic violence related to the drug market,2 corruption of law enforcement and governments, militarised crop eradication programmes (environmental damage, food insecurity, and human displacement), and funding for terrorism and insurgency.3 4

These conclusions have been reached by a succession of committees and reports including, in the United Kingdom alone, the Police Foundation,5 the Home Affairs Select Committee,6 The prime minister’s Strategy Unit,7 the Royal Society of Arts,8 and the UK Drug Policy Consortium.9 The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has also acknowledged the many "unintended negative consequences" of drug enforcement,10 increasingly shifting its public rhetoric away from its former aspirational goals of a "drug free world," towards "containment" of the problem at current levels.

Problems of prohibition

Despite this emerging consensus on the nature of the problem, the debate about how policy can evolve to respond to it remains driven more by populist politics and tabloid headlines than by rational analysis or public health principles.

The criminalisation of drugs has, historically, been presented as an emergency response to an imminent threat rather than an evidence based health or social policy intervention.11 Prohibitionist rhetoric frames drugs as menacing not just to health but also to our children, national security, and the moral fabric of society itself. The prohibition model is positioned as a response to such threats,12 13 and is often misappropriated into populist political narratives such as "crackdowns" on crime, immigration, and, more recently, the war on terror.

This conceptualisation has resulted in the punitive enforcement of drug policy becoming largely immune from meaningful scrutiny.14 A curiously self justifying logic now prevails in which the harms of prohibition—such as drug related organised crime and deaths from contaminated heroin—are conflated with the harms of drug use. These policy related harms then bolster the apparent menace of drugs and justify the continuation, or intensification, of prohibition. This has helped create a high level policy environment that routinely ignores or actively suppresses critical scientific engagement and is uniquely divorced from most public health and social policy norms, such as evaluation of interventions using established indicators of health and wellbeing.

Emerging change

Despite this hostile ideological environment, two distinct policy trends have emerged in recent decades: harm reduction15 and decriminalisation of personal possession and use. Although both are nominally permitted within existing international legal frameworks, they pose serious practical and intellectual challenges to the overarching status quo. Both have been driven by pragmatic necessity: harm reduction emerging in the mid-1980s in response to the epidemic of HIV among injecting drug users, and decriminalisation in response to resource pressures on overburdened criminal justice systems (and, to a lesser extent, concerns over the rights of users). Both policies have proved their effectiveness. Harm reduction is now used in policy or practice in 93 countries,16 and several countries in mainland Europe,17 18 and central and Latin America have decriminalised all drugs, with others, including states in Australia and the United States, decriminalising cannabis.19

Decriminalisation has shown that less punitive approaches do not necessarily lead to increased use. In Portugal, for example, use among school age young people has fallen since all drugs were decriminalised in 2001.20 More broadly, an extensive World Health Organization study concluded: "Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones."21

Similarly US states that have decriminalised cannabis do not have higher levels of use than those without. More importantly, the Netherlands, where cannabis is available from licensed premises, does not have significantly different levels of use from its prohibitionist neighbours.19

New approach

Although these emerging policy trends are important, they can be seen primarily as symptomatic responses to mitigate the harms created by the prohibitionist policy environment. Neither directly tackles the public health or wider social harms created or exacerbated by the illegal production and supply of drugs.

The logic of both, however, ultimately leads us to confront the inevitable choice: non-medical drug markets can remain in the hands of unregulated criminal profiteers or they can be controlled and regulated by appropriate government authorities. There is no third option under which drugs do not exist. The choice needs to be based on an evaluation of which option will deliver the best outcomes in terms of minimising the harms, both domestic and international, associated with drug production, supply, and use. This does not preclude reducing demand as a legitimate long term policy goal, rather it accepts that policy must also deal with the reality of current high levels of demand.

A historical stumbling block in this debate has been that the eloquent and detailed critiques of the drug war have not been matched by a vision for its replacement. Unless a credible public health led model of drug market regulation is proposed, myths and misrepresentations will inevitably fill the void. So what would such a model look like?

Transform’s blueprint for regulation22 attempts to answer this question by offering different options for controls over products (dose, preparation, price, and packaging), vendors (licensing, vetting and training requirements, marketing and promotions), outlets (location, outlet density, appearance), who has access (age controls, licensed buyers, club membership schemes), and where and when drugs can be consumed. It then explores options for different drugs in different populations and suggests the regulatory models that may deliver the best outcomes (box). Lessons are drawn from successes and failings with alcohol and tobacco regulation in the UK and beyond, as well as controls over medicinal drugs and other risky products and activities that are regulated by government.


Five basic models for regulating drug availability22

-Medical prescription model or supervised venues—For highest risk drugs (injected drugs including heroin and more potent stimulants such as methamphetamine) and problematic users

-Specialist pharmacist retail model—combined with named/licensed user access and rationing of volume of sales for moderate risk drugs such as amphetamine, powder cocaine, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy)

-Licensed retailing—including tiers of regulation appropriate to product risk and local needs. Used for lower risk drugs and preparations such as lower strength stimulant based drinks

-Licensed premises for sale and consumption—similar to licensed alcohol venues and Dutch cannabis "coffee shops," potentially also for smoking opium or poppy tea

-Unlicensed sales—minimal regulation for the least risky products, such as caffeine drinks and coca tea.



Such a risk guided regulatory approach is the norm for almost all other arenas of public policy, and in this respect it is prohibition, not regulation, that can be viewed as the anomalous and radical policy option.

Moves towards legal regulation of drug markets depend on negotiating the substantial institutional and political obstacles presented by the international drug control system (the UN drug conventions). They would also need to be phased in cautiously over several years, with close evaluation and monitoring of effects and any unintended negative consequences.

Rather than a universal model, a flexible range of regulatory tools would be available with the more restrictive controls used for more risky products and less restrictive controls for lower risk products. Such differential application of regulatory controls could additionally help create a risk-availability gradient. This holds the potential to not only reduce harms associated with illicit supply and current patterns of consumption but, in the longer term, to progressively encourage use of safer products, behaviours, and environments. Understanding of such processes is emerging from "route transition" interventions aimed at encouraging injecting users to move to lower risk non-injecting modes of administration by, for example, providing foil for smoking.23 This process is the opposite of what has happened under prohibition, where a profit driven dynamic has tended to tilt the market towards ever more potent (but profitable) drugs and drug preparations, as well as encouraging riskier behaviours in high risk environments.

The oversight and enforcement of new regulations would largely fall within the remit of existing public health, regulatory, and enforcement agencies. Activities that take place outside the regulatory framework would naturally remain prohibited and subject to civil or criminal sanctions.

Regulation is no silver bullet. In the short term it can only seek to reduce the problems that stem from prohibition and the illicit trade it has created. It cannot tackle the underlying drivers of problematic drug use such as inequality and social deprivation. But by promoting a more pragmatic public health model and freeing up resources for evidence based social policy and public health based interventions it would create a more conducive environment for doing so. The costs of developing and implementing a new regulatory infrastructure would represent only a fraction of the ever increasing resources currently directed into efforts to control supply. There would also be potential for translating a proportion of existing criminal profits into legitimate tax revenue.

Different social environments will require different approaches in response to the specific challenges they face. Transform’s blueprint does not seek to provide all the answers but to move the debate beyond whether we should end the war on drugs to what the world could look like after the war on drugs. It is a debate that the medical and public health sectors have failed to engage with for far too long.

Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3360


Contributors and sources: SR is the author of After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation. The book is published by Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which actively campaigns for drug policy and law reform, and is available free online (www.tdpf.org.uk/Transform_Drugs_Blueprint.pdf).
Competing interests: The author has completed the unified competing interest form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available on request from him) and declares (1) the writing and production of SR’s book, including a contribution to his salary, were funded by the J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and the Glass House Trust; (2) no financial relationships with commercial entities that might have an interest in the submitted work; (3) no spouses, partners, or children with relationships with commercial entities that might have an interest in the submitted work; and (4) no non-financial interests that may be relevant to the submitted work.

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

References

1. Cole C, Jones L, McVeigh J, Kicman A, Qutub Syed Q, Bellis M. A guide to the adulterants, bulking agents and other contaminants found in illicit drugs. Centre for Public Health, John Moores University, 2010.
2. Werb D, Rowell G, Kerr T, Guyatt G, Montaner J, Wood E. Effect of drug law enforcement on drug-related violence: evidence from a scientific review. International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, 2010.
3. Felbab-Brown V. Shooting up: counter-insurgency and the war on drugs. Brookings Institution Press, 2009.
4. Barrett D, Lines L, Schleifer R, Elliot R, Bewley-Taylor D. Recalibrating the regime. Beckley Foundation. International Harm Reduction Association, 2008.
5. Police Foundation. Drugs and the law: report of the independent inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Police Foundation, 1999.
6. Home Affairs Select Committee. The government’s drugs policy: is it working? Stationery Office, 2002.
7. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. Strategy Unit drugs report. 2003. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/medi...ugs_report.pdf..
8. Royal Society of Arts Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy. Drugs—facing facts. RSA, 2007.
9. Reuter P, Stevens A. An analysis of UK drug policy. UK Drug Policy Commission, 2007.
10. Costa A. Making drug control "fit for purpose": Building on the UNGASS decade. UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008.
11. Barrett D. Security, development and human rights: Normative, legal and policy challenges for the international drug control system. Int J Drug Policy 2010;21:140-4.[CrossRef][Web of Science][Medline]
12. United Nations. United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. 1988. www.unodc.org/pdf/convention_1988_en.pdf.
13. Brown G. Prime minister’s questions. Hansard 2010 Mar 24. http://www.publications.parliament.u...10032434000735.
14. Committee on Data and Research for Policy on Illegal Drugs. Informing America’s policy on illegal drugs: what we don’t know keeps hurting us. National Research Council, National Academy Press, 2001.
15. International Harm Reduction Association. What is harm reduction? A position statement. 2010. www.ihra.net/Whatisharmreduction.
16. Cook C, ed. The global state of harm reduction 2010: key issues for broadening the response. http://www.ihra.net/Assets/2522/1/Gl...te2010_Web.pdf.
17. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Illicit drug use in the EU: legislative approaches. EU, 2005.
18. Blickman T, Jelsma M. Drug policy reform in practice. Transnational Institute, 2009.
19. Room R, Hall W, Reuter P, Fischer B, Lenton S. Global cannabis commission report. Beckley Foundation, 2009.
20. Hughes C, Stevens A . What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs?. Br J Criminology (forthcoming).
21. Degenhard L, Chiu W-T, Sampson N, Kessler RC, Anthony JC, Angermeyer M, et al. Toward a global view of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine use: findings from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. PLoS Med 2008;5:e141.[CrossRef][Medline]
22. Rolles S. After the war on drugs: blueprint for regulation. Transform Drug Policy Foundation, 2009. www.tdpf.org.uk/Transform_Drugs_Blueprint.pdf.
23. Bridge J. Route transition interventions: Potential public health gains from reducing or preventing injecting. Int J Drug Policy 2010;21:125-8.[CrossRef][Web of Science][Medline]
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Old 07-26-2010, 01:04 PM pyramid is offline  
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Too many laws, too many prisoners
Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little


http://www.economist.com/node/16636027

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THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, “they thought it hilarious.” One asked: “What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?”

Prosecutors described Mr Norris as the “kingpin” of an international smuggling ring. He was dumbfounded: his annual profits were never more than about $20,000. When prosecutors suggested that he should inform on other smugglers in return for a lighter sentence, he refused, insisting he knew nothing beyond hearsay.

He pleaded innocent. But an undercover federal agent had ordered some orchids from him, a few of which arrived without the correct papers. For this, he was charged with making a false statement to a government official, a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Since he had communicated with his suppliers, he was charged with conspiracy, which also carries a potential five-year term.

As his legal bills exploded, Mr Norris reluctantly changed his plea to guilty, though he still protests his innocence. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison. After some time, he was released while his appeal was heard, but then put back inside. His health suffered: he has Parkinson’s disease, which was not helped by the strain of imprisonment. For bringing some prescription sleeping pills into prison, he was put in solitary confinement for 71 days. The prison was so crowded, however, that even in solitary he had two room-mates.


A long love affair with lock and key


Justice is harsher in America than in any other rich country. Between 2.3m and 2.4m Americans are behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults. If those on parole or probation are included, one adult in 31 is under “correctional” supervision. As a proportion of its total population, America incarcerates five times more people than Britain, nine times more than Germany and 12 times more than Japan. Overcrowding is the norm. Federal prisons house 60% more inmates than they were designed for. State lock-ups are only slightly less stuffed.



The system has three big flaws, say criminologists. First, it puts too many people away for too long. Second, it criminalises acts that need not be criminalised. Third, it is unpredictable. Many laws, especially federal ones, are so vaguely written that people cannot easily tell whether they have broken them.

In 1970 the proportion of Americans behind bars was below one in 400, compared with today’s one in 100. Since then, the voters, alarmed at a surge in violent crime, have demanded fiercer sentences. Politicians have obliged. New laws have removed from judges much of their discretion to set a sentence that takes full account of the circumstances of the offence. Since no politician wants to be tarred as soft on crime, such laws, mandating minimum sentences, are seldom softened. On the contrary, they tend to get harder.

Some criminals belong behind bars. When a habitual rapist is locked up, the streets are safer. But the same is not necessarily true of petty drug-dealers, whose incarceration creates a vacancy for someone else to fill, argues Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University. The number of drug offenders in federal and state lock-ups has increased 13-fold since 1980. Some are scary thugs; many are not.



Michelle Collette of Hanover, Massachusetts, sold Percocet, a prescription painkiller. “I was planning to do it just once,” she says, “but the money was so easy. And I thought: it’s not heroin.” Then she became addicted to her own wares. She was unhappy with her boyfriend, she explains, but did not want to split up with him, because she did not want their child to grow up fatherless, as she had. So she popped pills to numb the misery. Before long, she was taking 20-30 a day.

When Ms Collette and her boyfriend, who also sold drugs, were arrested in a dawn raid, the police found 607 pills and $901 in cash. The boyfriend fought the charges and got 15 years in prison. In a plea bargain Ms Collette was sentenced to seven years, of which she served six.

“I don’t think this is fair,” said the judge. “I don’t think this is what our laws are meant to do. It’s going to cost upwards of $50,000 a year to have you in state prison. Had I the authority, I would send you to jail for no more than one year…and a [treatment] programme after that.” But mandatory sentencing laws gave him no choice.

Massachusetts is a liberal state, but its drug laws are anything but. It treats opium-derived painkillers such as Percocet like hard drugs, if illicitly sold. Possession of a tiny amount (14-28 grams, or ½-1 ounce) yields a minimum sentence of three years. For 200 grams, it is 15 years, more than the minimum for armed rape. And the weight of the other substances with which a dealer mixes his drugs is included in the total, so 10 grams of opiates mixed with 190 grams of flour gets you 15 years.

Ms Collette underwent drug treatment before being locked up, and is now clean. But in prison she found she was pregnant. After going through labour shackled to a hospital bed, she was allowed only 48 hours to bond with her newborn son. She was released in March, found a job in a shop, and is hoping that her son will get used to having her around.

Rigid sentencing laws shift power from judges to prosecutors, complains Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a pressure-group. Even the smallest dealer often has enough to trigger a colossal sentence. Prosecutors may charge him with selling a smaller amount if he agrees to “reel some other poor slob in”, as Ms Dougan puts it. He is told to persuade another dealer to sell him just enough drugs to trigger a 15-year sentence, and perhaps to do the deal near a school, which adds another two years.

Severe drug laws have unintended consequences. Less than half of American cancer patients receive adequate painkillers, according to the American Pain Foundation, another pressure-group. One reason is that doctors are terrified of being accused of drug-trafficking if they over-prescribe. In 2004 William Hurwitz, a doctor specialising in the control of pain, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for prescribing pills that a few patients then resold on the black market. Virginia’s board of medicine ruled that he had acted in good faith, but he still served nearly four years.

Half the states have laws that lock up habitual offenders for life. In some states this applies only to violent criminals, but in others it applies even to petty ones. Some 3,700 people who committed neither violent nor serious crimes are serving life sentences under California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law. In Alabama a petty thief called Jerald Sanders was given a life term for pinching a bicycle. Alabama’s judges are elected, as are those in 32 other states. This makes them mindful of public opinion: some appear in campaign advertisements waving guns and bragging about how tough they are.

Many Americans assume that white-collar criminals get off lightly, but many do not. Granted, they may be hard to catch and can often afford good lawyers. But federal prosecutors can file many charges for what is essentially one offence. For example, they can count each e-mail sent by a white-collar criminal in the course of his criminal activity as a separate case of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. The decades soon add up. Sentences depend partly on the size of the loss and the number of people affected, so if you work for a big, publicly traded company, you break a rule and the share-price drops, watch out.


Eternal punishment

Jim Felman, a defence lawyer in Tampa, Florida, says America is conducting “an experiment in imprisoning first-time non-violent offenders for periods of time previously reserved only for those who had killed someone”. One of Mr Felman’s clients, a fraudster called Sholam Weiss, was sentenced to 845 years. “I got it reduced to 835,” sighs Mr Felman. Faced with such penalties, he says, the incentive to co-operate, which means to say things that are helpful to the prosecution, is overwhelming. And this, he believes, “warps the truth-seeking function” of justice.

Innocent defendants may plead guilty in return for a shorter sentence to avoid the risk of a much longer one. A prosecutor can credibly threaten a middle-aged man that he will die in a cell unless he gives evidence against his boss. This is unfair, complains Harvey Silverglate, the author of “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent”. If a defence lawyer offers a witness money to testify that his client is innocent, that is bribery. But a prosecutor can legally offer something of far greater value—his freedom—to a witness who says the opposite. The potential for wrongful convictions is obvious.

Badly drafted laws create traps for the unwary. In 2006 Georgia Thompson, a civil servant in Wisconsin, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for depriving the public of “the intangible right of honest services”. Her crime was to award a contract (for travel services) to the best bidder. A firm called Adelman Travel scored the most points (on an official scale) for price and quality, so Ms Thompson picked it. She ignored a rule that required her to penalise Adelman for a slapdash presentation when bidding. For this act of common sense, she served four months. (An appeals court freed her.)

The “honest services” statute, if taken seriously, “would seemingly cover a salaried employee’s phoning in sick to go to a ball game,” fumes Antonin Scalia, a Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court ruled recently that the statute was so vague as to be unconstitutional. It did not strike it down completely, but said it should be applied only in cases involving bribery or kickbacks. The challenge was brought by Enron’s former boss, Jeff Skilling, who will not go free despite his victory, and Conrad Black, a media magnate released this week on bail pending an appeal, who may.

There are over 4,000 federal crimes, and many times that number of regulations that carry criminal penalties. When analysts at the Congressional Research Service tried to count the number of separate offences on the books, they were forced to give up, exhausted. Rules concerning corporate governance or the environment are often impossible to understand, yet breaking them can land you in prison. In many criminal cases, the common-law requirement that a defendant must have a mens rea (ie, he must or should know that he is doing wrong) has been weakened or erased.

“The founders viewed the criminal sanction as a last resort, reserved for serious offences, clearly defined, so ordinary citizens would know whether they were violating the law. Yet over the last 40 years, an unholy alliance of big-business-hating liberals and tough-on-crime conservatives has made criminalisation the first line of attack—a way to demonstrate seriousness about the social problem of the month, whether it’s corporate scandals or e-mail spam,” writes Gene Healy, a libertarian scholar. “You can serve federal time for interstate transport of water hyacinths, trafficking in unlicensed dentures, or misappropriating the likeness of Woodsy Owl.”

“You’re (probably) a federal criminal,” declares Alex Kozinski, an appeals-court judge, in a provocative essay of that title. Making a false statement to a federal official is an offence. So is lying to someone who then repeats your lie to a federal official. Failing to prevent your employees from breaking regulations you have never heard of can be a crime. A boss got six months in prison because one of his workers accidentally broke a pipe, causing oil to spill into a river. “It didn’t matter that he had no reason to learn about the [Clean Water Act’s] labyrinth of regulations, since he was merely a railroad-construction supervisor,” laments Judge Kozinski.

Such cases account for only a tiny share of the Americans behind bars, but they still matter. When so many people are technically breaking the law, it is up to prosecutors to decide whom to pursue. No doubt most prosecutors choose wisely. But members of unpopular groups may not find that reassuring. Ms Thompson, for example, was prosecuted just before an election, at a time when allegations of public corruption in Wisconsin were in the news. Some prosecutors, such as Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced ex-governor of New York, have built political careers by nailing people whom voters don’t like, such as financiers.


Prison deters? Not much, not the worst

Some people argue that the system works: that crime has fallen in the past two decades because the bad guys are either in prison or scared of being sent there. Caged thugs cannot break into your home. Bernie Madoff’s 150-year sentence for running a Ponzi scam should deter imitators. And indeed the crime rate continues to drop, despite the recession, as Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an advocacy group, points out. This, he says, is because habitual criminals face serious consequences. Some research supports him: after raking through decades of historical data, John Donohue of Yale Law School estimates that a 10% increase in imprisonment brings a 2% reduction in crime.

Others disagree. Using more recent data, Bert Useem of Purdue University and Anne Piehl of Rutgers University estimate that a 10% increase in the number of people behind bars would reduce crime by only 0.5%. In the states that currently lock up the most people, imprisoning more would actually increase crime, they believe. Some inmates emerge from prison as more accomplished criminals. And raising the incarceration rate means locking up people who are, on average, less dangerous than the ones already behind bars. A recent study found that, over the past 13 years, the proportion of new prisoners in Florida who had committed violent crimes fell by 28%, whereas those inside for “other” crimes shot up by 189%. These “other” crimes were non-violent ones involving neither drugs nor theft, such as driving with a suspended licence.


And now the reckoning, in dollars

Crime is a young man’s game. Muggers over 30 are rare. Ex-cons who go straight for a few years generally stay that way: a study of 88,000 criminals by Mr Blumstein found that if someone was arrested for aggravated assault at the age of 18 but then managed to stay out of trouble until the age of 22, the risk of his offending was no greater than that for the general population. Yet America’s prisons are crammed with old folk. Nearly 200,000 prisoners are over 50. Most would pose little threat if released. And since people age faster in prison than outside, their medical costs are vast. Human Rights Watch, a lobby-group, talks of “nursing homes with razor wire”.

Jail is expensive. Spending per prisoner ranges from $18,000 a year in Mississippi to about $50,000 in California, where the cost per pupil is but a seventh of that. “[W]e are well past the point of diminishing returns,” says a report by the Pew Center on the States. In Washington state, for example, each dollar invested in new prison places in 1980 averted more than nine dollars of criminal harm (using a somewhat arbitrary scale to assign a value to not being beaten up). By 2001, as the emphasis shifted from violent criminals to drug-dealers and thieves, the cost-benefit ratio reversed. Each new dollar spent on prisons averted only 37 cents’ worth of harm.

Since the recession threw their budgets into turmoil, many states have decided to imprison fewer people, largely to save money. Mississippi has reduced the proportion of their sentences that non-violent offenders are required to serve from 85% to 25%. Texas is making greater use of non-custodial penalties. New York has repealed most mandatory minimum terms for drug offences. In all, the number of prisoners in state lock-ups fell by 0.3% in 2009, the first fall since 1972. But the total number of Americans behind bars still rose slightly, because the number of federal prisoners climbed by 3.4%.

A less punitive system could work better, argues Mark Kleiman of the University of California, Los Angeles. Swift and certain penalties deter more than harsh ones. Money spent on prisons cannot be spent on more cost-effective methods of crime-prevention, such as better policing, drug treatment or probation. The pain that punishment inflicts on criminals themselves, on their families and on their communities should also be taken into account.

“Just by making effective use of things we already know how to do, we could reasonably expect to have half as much crime and half as many people behind bars ten years from now,” says Mr Kleiman. “There are a thousand excuses for failing to make that effort, but not one good reason.”
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I never met a pothead who was better off for weed, they all end up braindead. Whats the answer? Jail? Fines? There is no answer.
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I never met a pothead who was better off for weed, they all end up braindead. Whats the answer? Jail? Fines? There is no answer.

My friend swears that weed got him through school in order to finish his actuarial science program and pass his tests for it . He tokes up every day and is brilliant!
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