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November 6, 2008 -- Sacramento News & Review (CA)


Let's Get Really High on Change. Let's End the Drug War.

By R. V. Scheide

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

How pleasant, to be alive as the old regime gasps its final breaths! No, no, no, nurse, the morphine drip won't be necessary. I'm enjoying every last painful second of it. Not that the Obama landslide marks the final end of the ancien regime. The president-elect remains deeply indebted to Wall Street aristocrats, as evidenced by his enthusiastic support for the taxpayer-funded $750 billion bailout of the very same banksters who crashed the world economy with their $500 trillion pyramid scheme. Still, to borrow Obama's primary campaign themes, we can hope his relentless move to the center this summer was simply a ruse to get elected and real progressive change is just around the corner.

There'd be no better place to start and achieve immediate results than dismantling America's disastrous drug policies and the prison industrial complex along with it. Since Nancy Reagan just said "no," California's prison population has more than doubled. Thanks in part to mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, there are currently 30,000 Californians incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, a disproportionate number of them people of color. Our prisons are operating at double their designed capacity. The response by federal and state officials, Republican and Democrat? Build more prisons. Get tougher on crime.

Proposition 5 aimed to change all that. Which is why every public official with their fingers in the prison industrial complex's pie, from the drug czar John Walters to Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, vehemently opposed it.

Forgotten amid the controversy over Prop. 8, the patently unconstitutional anti-gay marriage initiative, Prop. 5 would decriminalize marijuana use and offer more rehabilitation services to nonviolent drug offenders, substantially altering the state's approach. As SN&R reported last week, after an initial outlay of $2.5 billion, the program would pay for itself. But you'd never guess that watching Feinstein's commercial against the measure.

Feinstein must take her fashion cues from the same geniuses who dreamed up the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System. Here's Diane in her powder-blue blouse advising us to vote against Prop. 8, because all discrimination is bad. Here's Diane in her fire-engine red blazer advising us to be tough on crime and vote against Prop. 5, even though the ongoing prosecution of the drug war is inherently discriminatory.

Never mind the commercial was paid for by the prison guards union. Never mind that her husband, billionaire war profiteer Richard Blum--who along with CEO Ronald Tutor holds 75 percent of the voting stock for Perini Corporation--has made a fortune building military bases, prisons and casinos. Perhaps the latter explains why the state's American Indian tribes also sponsored the commercial.

On the home drug-war front, Sacramento took a back seat in its quest to become a world-class city in September, when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the state's medical-marijuana I.D. card system, the 41st county to do so. By remaining one of only 17 counties that have declined to adopt the system, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is not only potentially endangering the lives of patients by limiting their access to medicine, it's making the lives of local law enforcement more difficult, since they have no way of easily validating a patient's medical recommendation.

Fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed at the Sacramento Police Department. According to SPD spokesman Matt Young, "We encourage our officers to consider the 'spirit of the law' vs. the 'letter of the law,' and handle each event on an ad hoc basis."

Federally, possession of over 28.5 grams is a misdemeanor; less than that is an infraction. However, Young says, "If we stop a person with what an officer can articulate as an amount a user would have--there are no indication of sales--and they have a doctor's recommendation, whether or not they are on their way from a dispensary, we have the discretion not to cite or arrest. Our tendency would be to do nothing and send them on their way, with their marijuana, since if it is later determined that the person was entitled to the marijuana, the police department is liable for its return. If we can't return it, then we can be responsible for the monetary loss."

Pity a majority of the county board of supes can't share the same enlightened views of our local constables. Before his move to the center this summer, Obama indicated that he favors reforming our drug laws, including the decriminalization of marijuana. Let's hope change really is in the air, and we're not just all smoking dope.

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