10 March 2008

Count me in.

"If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will—to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun's manifesto against the death penalty—no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens."

The writers of The Wire (Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon, William F. Zorzi, Jr.)

36 comments:

htfernandes said...

There is a 2007 Brazilian movie, huge success down here (and at Berlin), that give the opposite view: there is no such thing as harmless drug offenses. It's all part of the same chain: a mid-class young adult buying 100 bucks of marijuana (or a poor, desperate bastard selling it) is in fact financing the bullet that will blow someone's head (in the neighbourhood or in the far side of the world). Personnal experience: have been twice at gunpoint (one ordinary car robbery, one so-called "flash-kidnaping"), and the bad guys were dealers looking for money for drugs, that they would buy and then sell to rich consumers. The movie is Bus-174-Padilha's "Elit Squad" (opens on May in the US, if I'm not mistaken). Somenthing in the line of "Lord of War" and "Blood Diamond", but wider, worst.

md'a said...

Personnal experience: have been twice at gunpoint (one ordinary car robbery, one so-called "flash-kidnaping"), and the bad guys were dealers looking for money for drugs, that they would buy and then sell to rich consumers.

Have you been robbed at gunpoint by thugs looking for money for alcohol, which they would buy and then sell to rich consumers?

htfernandes said...

Maybe legalising is the way, but I'm not sure. It seems that European experiences on this matter weren't completelly successful. On the other hand, alcohol (legal drug) abuse is responsible for a lot of murders for banal reasons and serious car crashes. One of the most successful government measures to reduce crimes in Brazil was obligating pubs and similars to close after 11pm in violent cities. Not that I'm anxious to be kept from my daily beer, but I guess you see my point. It's not an easy matter, specially if you live in a country where drug-related conflicts and deaths happen every single day, and where authorits fail to avoid and punish harsh consequences of legal drug abuse.

Victor said...

Sorry, Mike, but that Wire-writers pledge is posturing for the sake of public approval, and anyone who assigns his name to it is acting from moral vanity.

Stipulating that the pledge is right on the underlying public issue of drug laws, a public pledge of jury nullification serves as a near-absolute guarantee (potential prosecutor ignorance is the only reason I don't say "absolute") that the signer will be struck for cause from the jury pool in any such case. A public declaration of this sort is actually a *prevention* of one's ability to "do good" on this matter. Meaning that making that statement is the purest form of meaningless gesture for the sake of the gesture. The uncharitable call it preening.

There's a movie I saw yesterday about the importance of appearances. I think you rather liked it, but apparently haven't quite absorbed its critique of "authenticity" and "public truth."

Victor said...

As for the underlying issue:

(1) Like with all vice laws, the list of drugs that are illegal in any given society reflect its cultural experiences, what is normal for it, and what it objectively has the means to handle. So analogies to alcohol will not wash. (And it cuts both ways; a society where alcohol is not culturally embedded probably should outlaw it, and I have no problem with coca growing or certain uses being legal in Bolivia or Peru.)

(2) Breaking the law is an evil in itself, quite apart of the moral justice of the underlying law. So anyone who breaks the law for the sake of a private pleasure (i.e., not some great principle of public justice; stoners are not Rosa Parks and let's not pretend they are).

(3) The reason why you want to outlaw some things is to scoop up bigger fish in "lesser-included offenses." So even if drug use or drug possession -- considered as a pure, isolated asocial act (and there is no such thing, see next point) -- is victimless, it is sufficiently tied in fact to things that are not victimless that they're useful to have because of potential proof issues in given cases. For example, if you can't prove Salvatore shot Luigi in the restaurant because of omerta, fingerprints on a gun don't need to talk, so you can get Salvatore on a gun-possession rap (or unlicensed possession or possession while under sanction or possession within a mile of a church, etc.), even though that's a victimless crime too.

(4) The very way that people argue for drug legalization presupposes a thought process and an understanding of the world that is descriptively false, morally destructive and socially atomizing -- the isolated act as a rationalistic discreet entity by an autonomous acontextual person, with no consideration given to human character or the effects on social air. If said "isolated act" does not have a sensible effect on a particular other particular acontextual person, then it is "victimless" and thus "nobody's business."

Victor said...

Forgot to complete thought:

(2) ... So anyone who breaks the law for the sake of a private pleasure ... is doing harm by bringing the law into disrepute and/or claiming he is above the law.

md'a said...

Victor: This issue is way too big for a freakin' comment box, especially given that each of us pretty much thinks the other is deluded on most matters of public import, due respect notwithstanding. I'll just say that over its five years on HBO, "The Wire" made what I found to be an extremely persuasive case (especially in its third season, with the 'Hamsterdam' arc) that the criminalization of drugs does much more harm than good.

As for the jury-nullification thing: Sure, saying so publicly pretty much guarantees that no such case will be presented to you. But it also disseminates the meme (as we see on this very blog), thereby hopefully depleting the number of potential jurors a prosecutor would find remotely acceptable. Very idealistic, to be sure—the odds of depleting it in any significant way is close to nil—but idealism is fine by me on occasion. You can call it posturing if you like.

Victor said...

For the record:

"Completely misguided" =/= "deluded" (in my book anyway).

Theo said...

Like md'a says, this is too big for a comments box, but briefly, to each of Victor's 4 points in turn:

(1.) What if drugs (esp. pot) *are* becoming culturally embedded, though? This is the culture of "Weeds", Harold & Kumar, etc. At what point do we decide that drug laws don't in fact reflect social norms?

(2.) You can't use the Rule of Law to prop up a bad law imho. It's precisely *because* breaking the law is an evil in itself that the law must take care to be fair and not outdated.

(3.) This mostly applies when you have criminal types involved in the drug trade. As e.g. when the drug trade is illegal. Hence, legalise.

(4.) This is the main argument, i.e. that drug abuse is never truly victimless. That really *is* too big for a comments box, but a strictly-regulated legal drug trade could arguably control these side-effects on innocent others better than a totally unregulated illegal one.

All that said, I'm not convinced drugs should be legalised. There's enough shit out there already.

Theo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Theo said...

Sorry, I misunderstood (3.). What I should've said is that, even if you're right about drug laws being a useful crime-fighting tool in certain cases, that's no argument for using them against people whose name is neither Salvatore nor Luigi, and whose only crime is small-time drug possession.

But also yeah, the link between drugs and criminals is an *effect* of drugs being illegal, not a justification for it.

Why is there no Edit Post function on these things?

htfernandes said...

I wish everybody understood portuguese, so I would not hurt you with bad english... There's an issue not addressed yet: drug legalisation in consumer markets would only work along with legalisation in producer markets, or violence will only change places, and in fact grow in producer countries, once the demand tends to raise. I guess Bush the son would not bother with this particular effect, but also think (and hope) most of the americans don't have the same mindset and values.

Victor said...

Theo:

On (1) ... it isn't really the case than any particular "we" go on to "decide that drug laws don't in fact reflect social norms." In a democratic polity, social norms are facts that become asserted (imperfectly, sure). It isn't really about anyone making a moral or factual decision. If marijuana use were culturally well-embedded, it would in fact be (or quickly become) legal. I would classify marijuana use as a subcultural phenomenon, not a culturally-embedded practice. And it's certainly not even an arguable point about opium or coca, at least for our societies (and the moral argument per se and the crime-from-illegality argument apply just as well to legalizing all three).

On (2), I think the Rule of Law IS morally decisive in matters of minor, dispensable pleasures. People who break the law for them are showing they are slaves to their passions and value their pleasures above the civitas -- and they deserve all they get. The Athenians removed political privileges from prostitutes on the grounds only someone corrupted in the soul would submit to degradation for money, and such a person was a potential traitor, among other things. Greeks were smart, philosophizing while my people were swinging from trees, etc.

On (3), drug laws have two values against non-capos or small-time drug possessors (a) "put the fear of God" in them* and (b) relatedly, make them serve as bait for those higher up in the tree.

On (4), you can't have it both ways, particularly for a demand-driven pleasure product. The more strictly one regulates a product, the greater the margins and incentives for an illegal trade, and you're back where you started. (Black-market trade for alcohol and tobacco still exist despite the regulated-legal status of those drugs.)

Further my point wasn't entirely about externalities and side effects (though it was), but also about the effects of both drug use and drug-legalization arguments on the users'/arguers' souls (see an example above) and the effect of the fact of legalization and the civil results of their arguments having prevailed -- it'd be a declaration (actually, the latest confirmation) that personal pleasure is our social god.
----------------------
*There's an argument, I think, for restructuring the sentencing regimen precisely to deter the casual, not-otherwise-criminal user. If I were dictator, all first-time marijuana offenders, no exceptions, are put in jail, but only for a short period (say a week or 10 days). Various "diversionary" or "probationary" sentences and then years of jail are absurd -- you want to terrify them (the first doesn't do that) but not habilitate them to prison (the second does that).

STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER said...

Sorry, Mike, but that Wire-writers pledge is posturing for the sake of public approval

The pledge, as well as the show itself gives support to the idea of legalizing drugs (and changes many minds) which is of much greater import than the miniscule chance that anyone that signed would ever be on a jury in a drug trial anyway.

The way I see it, if drug abuse is a problem, instead of treating it as a crime which forces abusers underground, it should be treated as a charecter failing (like alcohol abuse) and that would enable victims to get the help they need.

Most of the drug crime comes from the fact that its distribution networks operate outside the law and drug property is protected by thugs, the most violent ones the winners. If the drug game were legalized, then people could get proper legal protection (against theft, for a store which would distribute it, etc.)

Not to mention the fact that the gov't doesn't own your body anyway, so if you want to poison it with chemicals you should have every right to.

Just as you can't drink and drive, if you legalize drugs and come up with reasonable regulations. Society as a whole would be much better off from a practical standpoint as well as a moral one.

Victor said...

The pledge, as well as the show itself gives support to the idea of legalizing drugs (and changes many minds)

Half-right. The pledge doesn't; the show itself does (I should say "may" because I've never seen it, but I'll accept on faith the words of the makers and many of its viewers). One can argue for legalizing drugs, either philosophically or through drama, but the pledge does neither of those things. All the pledge is is a statement about what one would do in a drug trial. That's it's only substantive content ("drugs should be legal" is assumed as the "why" for the action).


... which is of much greater import than the miniscule chance that anyone that signed would ever be on a jury in a drug trial anyway.

Perhaps, but since the pledge is about that minuscule chance, that's how its effects must be judged. People who champion drug legalization tend to be very fastidious about disaggregating acts and effects and externalities ... except here, curiously.


Not to mention the fact that the gov't doesn't own your body anyway, so if you want to poison it with chemicals you should have every right to.

This is exactly the thought process I object to -- radical selfishness (combined curiously with an indifference to self); the reduction of society to government; the reduction of regulation to the bourgeois concept of "ownership"; the construction of the body as a possession; and "wants" being cited as a justification for a "right."

md'a said...

I would just like to remind the people arguing with Victor that Victor recently expressed moral indignation at the sight of Bart Simpson's cartoon penis.

Victor said...

... and this is relevant to the points being discussed here ... why?

I have no difficulty with someone wants to say to anyone "we can't have a discussion because we don't agree on first premises." But that was cheap, global-anathema name-calling, Mike, and you know it.

STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER said...

This is exactly the thought process I object to -- radical selfishness (combined curiously with an indifference to self); the reduction of society to government; the reduction of regulation to the bourgeois concept of "ownership"; the construction of the body as a possession; and "wants" being cited as a justification for a "right."

huh? wtf you talking about? I seriously didn't understand any of this garbage.

i want to get high, why can the gov't stop me? because i pose a threat to other citizens? Only if I do something unreasonable like drive and use drugs or operate heavy machinery and use drugs.

If i decide to use recreational drugs in my own house I don't see why I should not be allowed to if I pose no threat to other citizens. legalize drugs and give reasonable regulations regarding its behavior to ensure the security of the public.

Victor said...

Did you not understand what I wrote, or do you think it garbage (can't be both)?

Victor said...

To be somewhat less snarky ...

When one says "i want to get high, why can the gov't stop me?" there is an unstated minor premise that wanting to do something creates a right to do it. Or to put it in apparently-unintelligible gobbledygook: this is "'wants' being cited as a justification for a 'right'."

When one says "Not to mention the fact that the gov't doesn't own your body anyway," that presupposes fundamentally that the body is something one "owns," or in gobbledygook "the construction of the body as a possession."

Both these ideas are cracked, for reasons on which I could elaborate in depth, but (1) if you can't even grasp that you are arguing from them as unstated minor premises and (2) since Mike doesn't seem especially enthusiastic about a discussion on first principles, I'm not sure it's worth it.

Adam Villani said...

but Vic, you're arguing from a minor premise that it *is* the job of the government to be able to tell you what you can and can't do by yourself in your home. You're arguing from a different set of first principles here. The rights to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" aren't enshrined into law in the U.S., but they do form some of the guiding principles for our country. Why is it legal for you to relax with a tipple (in public, no less), but not for someone else take a few bong hits in his bedroom?

Your argument #1 borders on the tautological --- if it should be legal, then it would be legal already. Wha? The law is not like prices for goods, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand of the market. Someone has to actually go in and change the laws on the books.

I like to eat anchovies on my pizza. Most people find this kind of repulsive, and may even find the smell offensive. There are probably fewer anchovy-eaters in this country than there are pot-smokers. But would there be any compelling state interest in making my choice of pizza topping illegal?

Sorry, bud, but I'm failing to see why alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine are legal while marijuana can put you in prison. If we can create a legal environment to limit the effects of these vices, why not do so, and what business does the state have saying otherwise. Yes, I'm asking you to explain your minor premises here.

Adam Villani said...

To put it a different way, Vic, I've seen you argue many times that what people do consensually in the privacy of their homes *is* society's business. But does society even agree with you anymore? To a certain extent, yes; support for the decriminalization of all drugs remains quite low. But I also think that it's pretty clear that in many ways society is trending more towards disagreeing with you on that point. Griswold v. Connecticut was decided 43 years ago and it's not really a point of serious controversy anymore. "Live and let live" and "it's a free country" are cliches because that is largely how people feel about the relationship between the private sphere and the public sphere.

Anonymous said...

What does any of this have to do with Container?

STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER said...

Vic, I don't understand your arguments, they appear to be saying nothing in particular. You challenge the idea that the body can be owned? Uh,Ok then. That seems like a great justification for locking up hundreds of thousands of people for nonviolent "crimes". Great argument.

Your points are verbose and totally devoid of substance.

htfernandes said...

Drug legalisation must be an wolrdwide decision. Those "nonviolent crimes" in U.S. are the cause of very violent crimes in Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, etc, not only among dealers, but a lot of "innocents"... In other words, nonviolent stoners finance the bullets that blow around a hundred heads in Brazilian major cities every week (mine among the potential targets). When you live in countries where violence is a kind of abstraction (how many of you has ever witnessed a person being shot or killed, or knows someone who has been shot or killed?), this sort of discussion ends up being much more conceptual then it should... Before considering "ownership of body" or "moral vs law", one should think: "I smoke pot, I directly contribute to bloodshed, so I´ll smoke no more"". Period.

htfernandes said...

Or grow your own pot!

Ryan Tracy said...

Victor,
Your points are well taken, however prolix they may be, and certainly far more thoughtful than anyone is willing to concede. Part of the problem here is that most of this discussion's participants have no idea what they're talking about, no matter how many episodes of "The Wire" they've seen. When they champion the legalization of drugs, what they're really championing is the legalization of marijuana, a relatively innocuous drug with more than a few nepotistic celebrity advocates. To make claims about the "nonviolent" drug crimes that take place each and every single day in Baltimore City and in cities nationwide is to show one's ignorance of reality. I work in a methadone clinic in Baltimore City, where, for nearly three years now, I have counseled individuals addicted to heroin (and cocaine and alcohol and benzodiazepine). Perhaps the writers of "The Wire" should talk to my patients, individuals who, on more than one occasion, have been assailed by a swarm of contemptible little miscreants, or 'hoppers' as they are referred to in the drug world.

Legalizing drugs is not the answer. Even drugs that are legal, e.g., Xanax, OxyContin, clonidine, phenergan, are procured and sold by enterprising ruffians to the hopeless and unhappy and poverty-stricken peoples of my city. Legalizing drugs would simply allow said peoples to self-medicate even more so than they already do. And if we don't care that people are 'poisoning' themselves, even if it's only in the privacy of their homes, the world is really in a much sadder state than I thought.

Adam Villani said...

"When they champion the legalization of drugs, what they're really championing is the legalization of marijuana"

No, I'd like to see them all decriminalized, but all regulated. Marijuana, I think, would be fine regulated roughly on the level that alcohol is, and heavier, more addictive drugs regulated as a public health problem, dispensed only through government-run dispensaries, with some sort of system in place to get addicts treatment they need.

Anonymous said...

"...dispensed only through government-run dispensaries, with some sort of system in place to get addicts treatment they need."

Okay, Mr. X, now that you've had your fix, won't you please step in here so we can begin the rehabilitation process.

Oh, and don't forget to pay the bill on your way out.

Anonymous said...

Ryan,

Perhaps you should watch The Wire before assuming that the writers of the show haven't spoken to the people you serve, or those in a similar situation.

In describing the despair and violence you see in Baltimore City, you make it quite clear that our current system for dealing with drug use is not working, unless its function is to exacerbate the misery that those drugs create. If decriminalization won't make things better, what will?

Nictate said...

Htfernandes' and Ryan Tracy's front-lines insight: invaluable.

Linking Bart Simpsons' animated junk with the phrase "global-anathema name-calling": priceless.

STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER said...

Drug legalisation must be an wolrdwide decision. Those "nonviolent crimes" in U.S. are the cause of very violent crimes in Colombia,

Yes they are, because those cartels/distribution networks operate outside the law and so they must rely on violent thugs for property protection. The reason Pfizer doesn't rely on violent criminals to protect their distrubution networks is because they operate WITHIN the law, which is exactly what would happen if recreational drugs were sold legally in the united states.

have counseled individuals addicted to heroin (and cocaine and alcohol and benzodiazepine). Perhaps the writers of "The Wire" should talk to my patients, individuals who, on more than one occasion, have been assailed by a swarm of contemptible little miscreants, or 'hoppers' as they are referred to in the drug world.


No one is pretending that drug addicts are free of problems, the question is: Is the best way to help them to treat them and their salesmen as criminals? Do we lock up someone who clearly has a problem or do we create an environment where they may be social outcasts, but the price to pay for seeking help isn't years in prison but instead days in withdrawal.

Treating someone who decides to poison their own body as a criminal is inhumane. They clearly have problems and need help not prison time.

STEPHEN THE GOLDBERGER said...

Htfernandes' and Ryan Tracy's front-lines insight: invaluable.


These same frontline insights could have easily been made during prohibition in regard to alcohol. The problem stems from the FACT that they are illegal not their harmful properties. And any problems that stem from their harmful properties can be dealt with in the same way we punish drunk drivers and abusive drunkards.

Ryan Tracy said...

anonymous, I have watched "The Wire." I try not to make a habit out of discussing things about which I know nothing. That the show is finally over is a happy riddance for me: no longer do I have to hear people nesciently gushing about the show's trueness to life. As for a solution to the drug situation, I don't have the answer. It's truly a dilemma. Whereas decriminalization makes it easier for drug-users to get their pathogenic fix, continued criminalization, owing to the resistless addictiveness of opiates, benzos, etc., leads drug-users to commit crimes, violent crimes, in order to get their fix. For what it's worth, at my program, an outpatient program with inpatient opportunities, we believe in rehabilitation. We encourage our patients to overhaul every sector of their lives, e.g., obtaining a tax-paying job, (re)amassing a positive social and familial support network.

Stephen, I obviously wouldn't work where I work if I didn't believe that these people need help. But to excuse their violent, criminal behavior simply because they have an Axis I diagnosis is retarded, in my opinion.

J said...

May I direct you to the most eloquent movie ever in the history of the world, by Darren 'Drugs R Bad' Aronofsky? Has anyone ever thought about solving the issue by continuously broadcasting Clint Mansell's score across the world because it is like a chorus of angels sure to evoke immediate penitence in the unrighteous? No. No they have not.

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