The movement to restore civil liberties and resolve systemic racial injustices in the criminal justice system scored a major victory on Thursday. And no, this time we’re not talking about ending the war on drugs. Or at least not yet.
Washington became the 20th state to abolish the death penalty, with the state Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment is unconstitutional because “it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”
If you’re already seeing parallels to arguments for ending drug prohibition, you’re not alone.
Many of the same points the court made in their ruling against the death penalty ring true for the war on drugs, too. For example, the court argued that death sentences have been disproportionately carried out against black defendants, at a rate more than four times higher than it is for white defendants.
There were three main factors the justices cited as justification for abolishing capital punishment.
- “There is significant county-by-county variation in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty, and a portion of that variation is a function of the size of the black population but does not stem from differences in population density, political orientation or fiscal capacity of the county.
- Case characteristics as documented in the trial reports explain a small portion of variance in decisions to seek or impose the death penalty.
- Black defendants were four and a half times more likely to be sentenced to death than similarly situated white defendants.
“The most important consideration is whether the evidence shows that race has a meaningful impact on imposition of the death penalty,” the justices wrote in their opinion. “We make this determination by way of legal analysis, not pure science.”
“Given the evidence before this court and our judicial notice of implicit and overt racial bias against black defendants in this state, we are confident that the association between race and the death penalty is not attributed to random chance. We need not go on a fishing expedition to find evidence external to Beckett’s study as a means of validating the results. Our case law and history of racial discrimination provide ample support.”
Similarly, drug reform advocates have long maintained that prohibition is racially discriminatory given disproportionate rates of enforcement and arrests for drug-related offenses. Black Americans are nearly three times as likely to be arrested for a drug-related crime, compared to white Americans. That’s in spite of the fact that rates of consumption are roughly equal among both groups.
What’s more, a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that black men serve drug sentences that are about 13 percent longer than those applied to white men.
The Washington court said another factor that contributed to their decision concerned “contemporary standards and experience in other states.”
“We recognize local, national, and international trends that disfavor capital punishment more broadly. When the death penalty is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner, society’s standards of decency are even more offended.”
The parallel here couldn’t be more clear. If such trends demonstrate a need to review and reform an existing law, the same rationale could theoretically apply to drug prohibition. A majority of states have legalized cannabis for medical or adult-use, and national interest in changing federal marijuana laws has steadily grown in recent years. Beyond marijuana, a broader drug reform push has included calls to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.
Of course, marijuana is already legal in Washington, and no other states have yet legalized drugs, so this part of the ruling’s applicability to a potential case seeking to strike down broad drug prohibition in the state might not be quite ripe yet.
While it’s unclear whether the constitutionality of prohibition could be reasonably challenged on similar legal grounds, the similarities are striking. The justification for capital punishment was another point of interest for the justices, who noted that the system failed to achieve its “penological goals” of “retribution and deterrence.”
For all intents and purposes, drug prohibition too has failed to achieve similar goals. Decades of drug war have not appreciably deterred consumption. From 2001 to 2013, the rate of marijuana use among American adults almost doubled, for instance.
The Cato Institute analyzed the impact of the drug war in a 2017 report. It concluded that prohibitionist policies “fail on practically every margin.”
“Economic thinking illustrates that these failures are not only understandable, but entirely predictable. As a result of prohibition and the changes it induces in the market for drugs, increased disease, death, violence, and cartels are all expectable outcomes. Moreover, economics can help us link together these policies with other issues, such as race relations and police militarization.”
A last note from the Washington Supreme Court justices:
“Under article I, section 14, we hold that Washington’s death penalty is unconstitutional, as administered, because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “Given the manner in which it is imposed, the death penalty also fails to serve any legitimate penological goals.”
Now swap “death penalty” with “drug prohibition” in that last quote… Fits like a glove.
Senators Cite Marijuana Arrests Of U.S. Citizens In Border Patrol Oversight Request
Three senators requested a review of Border Patrol immigration checkpoint actions on Tuesday, citing a past report that found a significant number of searches and seizures were executed against U.S. citizens for low-level marijuana possession.
The request to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlines a number of data points concerning checkpoint enforcement that the senators say are necessary to collect in order to assess compliance with the Fourth Amendment. That includes information on rationale for checkpoint stops, data collection and protocol for searches.
“In 2017, the GAO published a report that looked at, among other things, the Border Patrol strategy of placing and utilizing immigration checkpoints generally between 25 and 100 miles from the border,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “As a result of this review, the GAO found that 40 percent of checkpoint seizures were from U.S. citizens for one ounce or less of marijuana.”
Though the letter—which was also signed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Gary Peters (D-MI)—didn’t specifically request information on marijuana seizures, it did inquire about the number of U.S. citizens apprehended and the reason for their arrests. It also asks, “How frequently does the agency analyze trends in drug seizures and apprehensions to evaluate its priorities at each checkpoint?”
“Comprehensive data on who receives additional screening at checkpoints, and the reasonable suspicion that undergirds these encounters, searches, and seizures, is fundamental to understanding if and how Border Patrol abides by constitutional limits,” the letter states.
Leahy and Murray also called for the collection of data on “the quantities of drugs detected” during canine checkpoint searches in legislation the pair reintroduced last month.
“Unless a government agent has a legitimate reason to stop and search you—a reasonable suspicion or probable cause—Americans should not be subject to questioning and detention for merely going about their daily lives,” Leahy said in a press release. “The Trump administration cannot be trusted to use its finite resources in a way that protects our civil liberties and reflects our values.”
It’s not clear if cannabis seizures for U.S. citizens remain prominent at immigration checkpoints since the 2017 report was released, but one thing that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear is that it doesn’t matter if a stop takes place in a state that’s legalized marijuana—it enforces federal law.
That applies to instances of illicit drug trafficking across the border, too. But as more states like California have legalized cannabis, border agents have seized less and less marijuana.
Congressman Tells Joe Rogan He Backs States’ Marijuana Rights But Actually Voted Against Them
Joe Rogan debated the merits of marijuana legalization on Tuesday with a Republican congressman who ultimately conceded that medical cannabis should be federally legal and states should be empowered to set their own legalization policies.
But neither Rogan nor Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) mentioned the fact that he recently voted against a House amendment to shield state marijuana laws from federal interference and has not added his name as a cosponsor of several pending medical cannabis bills.
The congressman, a former Navy SEAL, didn’t rule out the possibility of coming around to endorsing adult-use legalization but voiced several concerns about the prospect, including underage usage, the lack of technology to detect impaired driving and reduced productivity.
“I can be convinced, but I’m not there yet,” he said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I’m definitely more open to just the federal legalization of medical marijuana and all the benefits that come with that. On the recreational side, I’m happy to leave that up to the states.”
“My issue with recreational marijuana still—and this is not a strong opinion I have, this is not a hill I’m dying on by any means—but if we’re going to change it, I want to understand what the point is, what the benefits are of it recreationally,” he said. “I understand the benefits medically very well, but I want to understand the recreational benefits and I want to see how this data plays out in places like California and Colorado.”
Rogan emphasized that alcohol is federally legal despite risks to young people, but Crenshaw, an avowed scotch fan, said his “counter is simply this: the alcohol issue is out of the bag” and that we’re “never going to put that back in.”
“My point is this: there’s a normalization that occurs when you legalize something,” the congressman said. “What you’ve done though is you normalized it for teenagers. There’s a lot of people who can just live their lives extremely productively and smoke pot a lot. And there’s a lot of people who can’t and there’s a lot of people who don’t.”
“Those people are lazy bitches,” Rogan said.
“Don’t you have to drink way more scotch to get even close to the basic cognitive incoherence that you’d be with just one bite of a brownie?” Crenshaw asked.
“You would, but not me,” Rogan said. “I smoke pot all the time. I could have smoked pot before this podcast and had the exact same podcast. I could have had several hits. If I gave you several hits, you’d be obliterated.”
“On a personal level, I’m just not opposed to what you’re saying at all,” Crenshaw said. “From a policy level though I just look at things different.”
That stance is reflected in the freshman congressman’s record. Despite voicing support for medical cannabis and leaving recreational legalization up to the states, he’s declined to cosponsor any legislation on the former issue and proactively voted against an amendment to protect states that legalize marijuana for adult use from federal intervention.
(On another drug policy issue near and dear to Rogan that didn’t arise during the interview, Crenshaw also voted against an amendment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed barriers to research on the benefits like psilocybin and MDMA.)
Crenshaw said his perspective wasn’t formed out of naivety and that he tried marijuana and didn’t like it. He also argued that cannabis “does reduce productivity I think more than alcohol does.”
“As a policymaker, I have to look at the whole situations. I see people like you and you’re like you’d be fine, why not?” he said. “But I do have to take into account the entirety of the situation and ask myself, ‘well, what is the benefit to society doing this?'”
Rogan said that marijuana facilitates community bonding and makes people happier—to which Crenshaw responded “I don’t know, I think alcohol is much more of a social lubricant—it definitely makes you meaner too—but I mean as far as getting along with people and interacting with human beings.”
“I’m not dying on this hill. I have questions, and those questions are unanswered,” he said, adding that the “bottom line is that’s a state decision” to legalize recreationally.
“As far as the battles that we should fight at the federal level, we’ve got to start with the medical side. I think the science is clear there,” he said.
“Another reason I’m a Republican is because I believe in somewhat slower policymaking too. These conversations have to play out in society and we don’t always need to solve the problem right away. I think the medical conversation is the one we should be fighting for. I think the recreational side is a few steps beyond that. We’ll get to know and we’ll know more.”
Later in the podcast, Crenshaw defended the broader war on drugs and argued that “you might feel like you’re losing all the time, but you’re mitigating” drug use through prohibition enforcement.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Joe Rogan Experience.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.