Archive for the 'Drug Policy' Category

VIDEO: Prop AA – Big Taxes for Legal Marijuana

Posted by on Oct 16 2013 | Drug Policy, Idiot Box (TV Show), Taxes

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Reasons to Get High… No Really

Posted by on Nov 21 2012 | Drug Policy, Economics, Polls, Popular Constitutionalism, Popular Culture, PPC, Public Opinion, Regulation, Tenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

There are some good reasons to get high on pot.

The Independence Institute held no position on Amendment 64, legalizing recreational marijuana. And I know not everyone is thrilled about Colorado becoming the Amsterdam of America. But like it or not, it is in our state constitution.

So let me throw out this idea – even if you hate pot being legal, there are some great victories for limited government hidden inside this issue.

First, we finally have a state-rights issue that the Left can, must and will understand and fight to preserve.

Marijuana is still very illegal by federal law, but now it’s protected by our state constitution. I am no legal expert on the U.S. Constitution, but I don’t see anything in it that gives the Feds power over Colorado on this one. But what the hell do I know? I didn’t see anything in it that could let the Feds tax us for not buying health insurance.

Pardon me for stealing this phrase, but, this is a great teachable moment. This is a massive opportunity for those of us who fear the growing central authority in D.C. Some portion of the Left will now agree with us. We need to embrace this challenge and take a lead in educating Coloradans about the Tenth Amendment before the Left tries to pervert it somehow.

In order for those who support pot to keep in legal in Colorado, they MUST embrace the Founders’ ideal of Federalism. And I believe we need to help them understand the power of this simple ideal, and why it applies to a whole lot more than weed.

But if you hate Amendment 64 and wish it smothered out of existence, the only way that can happen now is if you embrace what the Left embraces: federal power trumping the expressed wishes of a sovereign state. Perhaps, like health insurance, the Feds can tax us for not purchasing dope, but they’ll have to pervert the Constitution (again) to override the vote in Colorado.

Here’s the second little prize in Amendment 64. Legalized pot MIGHT force some on the Left to face their hypocrisies, like their confusion on property rights and freedom of association.

In Colorado, it is illegal for an owner of a private establishment to allow tobacco smoking in their bar or restaurant. No one here is free to enjoy a cigar and a steak, or a cigarette and a cup of coffee, in the same place and time. Smokers cannot freely associate with other smokers, enjoying their legal product, in private establishments. Smokers are treated like lepers. My elitist hometown of Boulder is about ready to make smoking outdoors on the Pearl Street Mall illegal. Now that about 65% of Boulder voted for pot, will pot smokers and their business owners be treated like their tobacco-smoking brethren?

Tobacco is taxed at an exorbitant rate, regulated to the point of making it a controlled substance. State cigarette tax windfalls are spent on childhood reading programs and building sidewalks. Will the state heap wild sin taxes on pot and spend that money in ways that have nothing to do it?

I am looking forward to owners and customers of pot businesses opening their eyes (if they can pry their baked eyes open) to how abusive regulation destroys what they are trying to build.

We have a problem getting our message of limited government outside of our own echo chamber. If you doubt that, I’ll remind you of the last election. Well, here’s an uncomfortable opportunity to try something different.

Let’s channel our best Voltaire: I disagree with your decision to legalize pot, but I’ll defend to the death your state’s right to do it.

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The Great Marijuana Debate On Devil’s Advocate

Posted by on Oct 18 2012 | Drug Policy, Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC, War on Drugs

Put fresh water in your favorite bong, stock up on Cheetos and get ready to rumble this Friday night as host Jon Caldara moderates a debate between conservatives over Colorado Amendment 64, the marijuana legalization amendment, on the Independence Institute’s public affairs tv show, Devil’s Advocate.

In the pro-64 corner is former Colorado Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tom “The Tank” Tancredo. In the anti-64 corner, Weld County District Attorney and former U.S. Senate Candidate Ken “Cowboy Boots” Buck.

Don’t miss this one. That’s this Friday at 8:30PM on Colorado Television 12.

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Independence Institute Writers In The News

Posted by on Jun 25 2012 | Corporate Welfare, criminal justice, Criminal Law, Drug Policy, energy, Health Care, overcriminalization, PPC

Plea bargains, corporate welfare, twinkie taxes and fracking are all topics of recently published works by Independence Institute writers.

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, frequent Independence Institute guest author Ari Armstrong examines the consequences to the right of a jury trial from having over 97 percent of Colorado’s criminal convictions be from plea bargains.  Writes Ari:

Colorado criminal statistics for the years 2006 through 2011 show that Colorado prosecutors rely on plea bargains to reach convictions an overwhelming 97.6 percent of the time, according to documents obtained by the Independence Institute through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

According to those documents, only 4,241 felony convictions resulted from a jury trial, or 2.4 percent of the total of 175,015 felony convictions. A total of 6,101 felony cases went to trial, so the conviction rate at trial was 70 percent.

Read the whole thing here.

In the Denver Post, senior fellow Fred Holden and research director Dave Kopel explain that Gaylord style corporate welfare violates the Colorado Constitution.  Fred and Dave ask:

By what authority can the state government take tax money out of your pocket and give it away to a private corporation? The answer is that corporate welfare schemes, such as so-called “public-private partnerships,” flagrantly violate the Colorado Constitution.

Check it out here.

Also in the Denver Post, Health Care Policy Center Director Linda Gorman makes the case that giving government more power to tax and control “bad” food (think twinkie tax) is offensive to liberty.  As Linda notes:

Obesity can impose costs on others, and the obvious solution is to allow people who provide services to charge the obese more when they are more costly to serve.

Full piece is here.

In the current Denver Business Journal, research associate Donovan Schafer reminds us to keep the relative risk of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) chemicals, Benzyne in particular, in perspective, finding that:

While Benzyne and other air pollutants shouldn’t be ignored when discussing oil and gas development. it’s important for the public to recognize the estimates and limits set by the EPA represent very small-though perhaps not insignificant-risks, and that these risks are comparable to those associated with automobile emissions, urban living and industrial activities in general.

The piece is behind the DBJ’s subscription wall, but can be read on the Independence Institute energy blog here.


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Please Stand Up for Colorado!

Posted by on May 15 2012 | Drug Policy, federalism, PPC, Tenth Amendment

As an organization married to principles, not politics or politicians, we at the Independence Institute have it easy. We stand unequivocally for the ideals presented in the Declaration of Independence – the document that inspired our name. Part of my job as head of the Institute is to lead the fight for free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. Part of that last principle about limiting government is adhering to the 10th Amendment  – even when inconvenient! What I mean is that even when a state does something stupid like RomneyCare, we should respect that state’s right to conduct a failing experiment for all to see. After all, the federal government has specific, enumerated powers and for everything else, it’s up to the states. Likewise, when states like ours and California legalize pot for medical use, we need to respect the experiment. Now I’m not saying that we can’t criticize a state’s experiment or that states don’t have bad ideas. Lord knows I’ve criticized Romney and his socialized medicine experiment ad nauseam. What it does mean is that we must fight on behalf of the state against federal overreach. We must take a stand for limited and enumerated powers at the federal level. Otherwise, the feds just have a blank check.

We conservatives make the case day in and day out that the feds are constantly overstepping their bounds. One way in which they do that is precisely this case – trampling on states that exercise their 10th amendment rights. In most cases we fight back in unison. But in cases where we don’t like the state law or don’t agree with the policy, many on our side fail to speak up on behalf of the state. Take for instance medical marijuana. Like it or not, our state can and has made medical pot legal. Whether you agree with that or not only makes a difference in your criticism of our STATE law. It should have no bearing on whether you stand up for Colorado against the feds.

Take a look at this: Our Colorado delegation voted recently on whether to continue funding the federal government’s war against the legal medical pot industries in states like ours. A principled defender of the 10th Amendment would vote against funding federal encroachment on state affairs. Unfortunately, our Colorado Republican delegation all voted FOR funding the federal war (Colorado dems voted against). Medical pot advocates have rightly pointed out the Republican hypocrisy regarding their “love” for the 10th Amendment as simply “selective.” I could not agree more. It is selective.

It’s very simple folks: the 10th Amendment applies universally – even for state laws you don’t like. Go ahead and criticize state laws if they are bad. But please stand up for our state when the feds decide that their prerogative reigns supreme over our state law when we have jurisdiction. The states created the federal government, not the other way around.

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VIDEO: Old Media, Sentencing Reform

Posted by on Apr 23 2012 | Drug Policy, Idiot Box (TV Show), Media, PPC

Dusty Saunders on what it was like in the old newspaper and TV media:

Senator Shawn Mitchell on Colorado drug policy and sentencing reform:

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What Old Media Looked Like, Sen. Mitchell on Sentencing Reform

Posted by on Apr 20 2012 | Drug Policy, Idiot Box (TV Show), Media, PPC

Tune in on this lovely Friday evening to your favorite public affairs TV show – Devils Advocate – on Colorado Public Television channel 12 at 8:30pm. Tonight my guests are Dusty Saunders and Sen. Shawn Mitchell. First up, Dusty takes me back in time when the news media consisted of news print and 3 TV channels. We cover Dusty’s career in newspapers and TV, and chat about his new book, “Heeeeeere’s Dusty.” Then Sen. Shawn Mitchell sits down with me in what may become his swan song Caldara interview. Sen. Mitchell is term-limited after this session so we had to bring him on one last time as “senator.” Shawn makes the case for his drug sentencing reform bill, while addressing conservative concerns over law and order, fiscal responsibility, and drug culture. That’s tonight at 8:30, replayed Monday at 1:30pm.

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Are Opponents Of Drug Law Reform Dishonest, Ignorant, Or Both?

Posted by on Apr 17 2012 | criminal justice, Criminal Law, Drug Policy, PPC

Senate Bill 163 is a modest but important next step in scaling back the worst excesses of the expensive, intrusive and counter-productive War on Drugs in Colorado. The bill would lower the penalty for simple drug possession from a Class 6 Felony to a Class 1 Misdemeanor. In other words, possessing small amounts of currently illegal drugs would still be illegal, but without the lifetime punishment a felony drug conviction carries in lost opportunity. This is a long overdue reform that has some opponents making such hysterical and blatantly false claims about SB 163 that they must be dishonest, ignorant, or maybe a little of both.

An online petition against SB 163, addressed to Governor Hickenlooper and members of both the Colorado house and senate, has been started at the change.org website with the hysterically inaccurate title: “Stop Senate Bill 12-163 which Decriminalizes hard drugs.” The petition continues its fabrications: “Senate Bill 163 will make possession of up to two ounces of hard drugs such as Cocaine, Ecstasy and Methamphetamine a misdemeanor to possess in this state.” What a pack of nonsense.

To begin, moving simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor is not even close to the same as decriminalization. A Class 1 Misdemeanor is a serious criminal offense in Colorado. One for which the penalty could actually result as much time in a jail as you might spend in a prison for a Class 6 Felony.

Moreover, two ounces of Cocaine, Ecstasy or Methamphetamine is a significant amount of drugs that might cost thousands of dollars. SB 163 addresses possession of small amounts of drugs, two to four grams (depending on type of drug), which is less than the weight of an American nickel. Possession of two ounces of illegal drugs would obviously remain a serious felony crime.

So it’s not entirely clear if those responsible for the petition are simply lying about what SB 163 does, or if they are just not bright enough to know the difference between a misdemeanor crime and decriminalization, or the difference between ounces and grams. And as of this writing they have managed to fool nearly thirty people, apparently none willing to do a little basic research on their own, into signing the petition.

Whatever the case, hopefully the lawmakers who receive the petition won’t be fooled by either ignorance or lies about SB 163.

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Jared Polis Unimpressed By Colorado’s New Top Drug Cop

Posted by on Feb 29 2012 | boulder, congress, Drug Policy, federalism, PPC, War on Drugs

The Denver Post’s crime blog, cleverly called The Rap Sheet yesterday introduced readers to the new chief of the Denver office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee is, to say the least, unimpressed with Colorado’s new head federal drug warrior. Here’s what Jared has to say on his facebook page:

There are so many things wrong with (new regional Drug Enforcement Agency Director) Agent Roach’s approach in today’s Denver Post article. I’ll call her soon to discuss my concerns. Let me know yours. In this article she manages to insult not just my hometown of Boulder but our state Capital of Denver and so many other cities in Colorado: “Right now, she is choosing a city for her husband and two children to live in where no marijuana dispensaries are allowed.”

Her choice of where to live in our state is absolutely her own decision (though I question her judgment, she is entitled to her decision) but to publicly state shortly after arriving in a state that living in our premier city and many of our great towns is outright unacceptable to you is nothing short of an affront to our entire state.

As for her judgment, why should it matter if there is a dispensary across town? I mean, by all means don’t get a place next to a dispensary if you dislike them so intensely, but who cares if there is one somewhere else in town? Personally as a father, I would much rather have a well-regulated dispensary as a neighbor than a seedy liquor store, but neither one would absolutely disqualify an otherwise perfect place to live with good schools and a safe neighborhood.

Then Agent Roach just gets, well, weird: “People are not taking into account what can happen to those who are growing it (marijuana). There are homes with mold and water damage in the hundreds of thousands.” Oh my. That’s just a very strange thing to say. No doubt that some idiots have flooded their basements growing marijuana. No doubt that some idiots have flooded their basements growing tomatoes. I stained my tiles in my living room last year growing narcissus. Ok. So for this we need a federal cop busting people?

I mean, if you are dumb enough to flood your basement or create hundreds of thousands of dollars of mold damage, that is entirely your own fault and federal law enforcement should NOT be in the business of preventing you from ruining your basement. The fact that an opponent of medical marijuana uses arguments like “it causes water damage to homes” shows how bankrupt that side is of facts.

I truly wish Agent Roach well. In her defense, she’s a cop not a public speaker or public relations person, but I hope she is more careful with her words in the future.

She concludes that her goal is to “focus on dismantling the “top echelon” of drug organizations.” And “to strive for the large drug trafficking organizations – not just domestically, but internationally.”

On this, I wish her well. Ironically, Colorado’s legalized and regulated marijuana industry has probably done more damage to large drug trafficking organizations than her work will ever accomplish, but I certainly wish her well in her efforts unless she starts raiding legal Colorado businesses who are abiding by our laws.

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2011 drug law reform in Colorado a mixed bag

Posted by on Dec 02 2011 | criminal justice, Criminal Law, Drug Policy, PPC, War on Drugs

In 2010, Colorado lawmakers took a meaningful step towards drug law reform by passing House Bill 1352, which nibbles at the edges of the disastrous War on Drugs by amending some of Colorado’s controlled substance statutes (see my HuffPost Denver piece on HB 1352).

And while lawmakers continued that reform momentum this year, those efforts were tempered by other bills that expanded an already intrusive and expensive drug law regime that returns questionable public safety value.

For instance, the 2011 Colorado Legislature voted overwhelmingly to create new drug felonies (and thus new drug felons) by passing Senate Bill 134 which added synthetic cannabinoids and the naturally occurring Salvia Divinorum as Schedule I illicit drugs under Colorado’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

The Legislature in 2011 also involved itself in human resource decision making by local school districts by passing House Bill 1121, which among other things bars those convicted of a drug felony from employment with a school for five years from the time of conviction. This despite a lack of any evidence that the hiring of drug felons by school districts is a problem in Colorado.

But in the same session where Colorado lawmakers expanded the scope and reach of Colorado’s drug laws, they also passed several drug law reforms.

In this ivoices.org podcast, I interview Christie Donner about these reforms, and what they are meant to accomplish. Besides being the Executive Director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Christie is also on the Drug Policy Task Force of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). The three bills were generated out of recommendations of the CCJJ and all have been signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper. The bills are:

Senate Bill 96, which excludes Class 6 felony drug possession convictions as a qualifying offense to be convicted under Colorado’s habitual offender statute.

House Bill 1064, which establishes a presumption in favor of granting parole to an inmate who is parole eligible and serving a sentence for a drug use or possession felony that was committed before August 11, 2011 (inmates must meet other criteria related to their behavior in prison and criminal history to be eligible for the presumption).

House Bill 1167, which shortens the time frame people convicted of certain drug crimes (schedule is staggered based on the seriousness of the offense) must wait before petitioning the court to seal that criminal record.

For a more thorough explanation of these reforms give a listen here.

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