Wednesday, December 31, 2003
The Drug Enforcement Agency knows better than medical boards and
individual physicians about how best to treat patients with chronic
pain. They are so certain of their superior knowledge that they are
happy to use our tax money to bring criminal cases against physicians
whose treatment of pain doesn't meet DEA standards.
No doubt there are some unscrupulous physicians who knowingly over-
prescribe narcotics. But remember, it was once legal in the US to
prescribe large amounts of narcotics to addicts, and is an accepted
medical procedure in other countries today. There are medical boards
that exist to control bad doctoring -- why is the DEA even necessary
for this purpose? The result is that few promising young physicians
will choose pain relief as a specialty and all of us will risk being under-
treated for pain.
Here's a Washington Post report (registration required) on the
DEA's activities; thanks to DRCNet for the pointer.
More on Condoms and Harm Reduction
Yesterday Vice Squad mentioned some Somalis who were not
taking well to anti-AIDS harm reduction measures. Today's
Chicago Tribune has a story (registration required) about the
opposite approach being taken by the city government of Washington,
DC. The Bush administration, which emphasizes abstinence over harm
reduction, is not "actively opposing" the program. Here are three
paragraphs with some details:
"In an effort to curb the nation's highest incidence of AIDS, the D.C. Department of Health has begun installing free condom dispensers in bars... and in government buildings across the city. It's believed to be the first program of its kind in the nation.
'They're going to be as common as water fountains,' said Ivan Torres, interim director of the city government's HIV/AIDS Administration, when he introduced the program Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
In 2004, city officials hope to hand out about 550,000 male condoms, 30,000 female condoms and 45,000 dental dams (used during oral sex) to places such as the D.C. Housing Authority and the Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as to beauty salons, bars and barber shops."
This earlier Vice Squad post discussed harm reduction around teen
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Maximizing Financial Returns to Exotic Dancers
Vice Squad has returned to Chicago, heartened to find e-mail pointing
to the story in the previous post as well as a link sent in by friend of
Vice Squad Dima Masterov. The story concerns a company, Naked
Assets, Inc., that advises strippers on how to earn more money,
and on how to manage their returns:
"'Dancing is the single least important part of exotic dancing,' says
[company partner Adam] Sternberg. 'It's no different than any other sales
industry. It's all about the right communication.'" The other company
partner is a former exotic dancer.
According to the linked article, Sternberg advises his clients "to plan their
savings and investments to support a career change or retirement by
age 28." Retire at 28? That's a lot of years of bridge or Bingo...
Taking Opposition to Harm Reduction to an Extreme
Harm reduction policies look to minimize the cost of vicious behavior, as
opposed to limiting the amount of vice itself. (The goals are frequently
incompatible, in that efforts to reduce the incidence of vice often result
in more harm per incident.) Prototypical harm reduction policies aimed
at heroin addicts are methadone maintenance and free needle
exchange. In some sense, these policies "subsidize" heroin addiction,
while attempting to ameliorate harms. The onset of the AIDS pandemic
greatly strengthened the case for needle exchange, as AIDS represented
a huge new harm that could be substantially reduced through such
AIDS also greatly strengthened the case for some forms of harm
reduction with respect to sexual "vices." In particular, increasing the
availability of condoms and information about their use became more
attractive policies when AIDS raised the stakes for unprotected sex.
Friend of Vice Squad Beth Plocharczyk sends along this report that a
UN-sponsored AIDS awareness campaign (that includes information
on condoms, apparently) in Somalia is meeting with some resistance
from Islamic leaders: "The umbrella Somali Ulema Council has said it
will use Sharia (Islamic) Law, including flogging, to punish those selling
or using condoms." This Council is asking those who don't share or heed
its views about sexual relations to pay a high price -- not just the
potential flogging, but the death sentence meted out to those who do
not use a condom and subsequently contract AIDS. This would be bad
enough if they actually understood the risks, but it is even worse given
the actual state of knowledge about AIDS in Somalia: "Due to the
fighting, there has been little research into the prevalence of Aids in
Somalia but the UN Aids agency says some 70% of young Somali girls
have not heard about the disease."
Gambling Ring Busted!
In some ways, Andover, Massachusetts sounds like a lovely place to retire. There don't seem to be many major issues for the Town Manager to tackle. Maybe it was the appearance of such complacency that led to an influx of dangerous retirees to Andover. Turns out that for some time now, the afternoon bridge club at the Andover Senior Center has been conducting its operations with a weekly prize of $4! Gambling taking place, right out in the open! Fortunately, the Town Manager was wise to the caper, and shut it down, as a violation of anti-gambling laws (scroll down to the Massachusetts section on the link). Citizens of Andover can now rest easily, knowing that senior citizens cannot undermine the moral fabric of Andover through their wagering. Oh, except special permits allow for cash prizes for Bingo in senior centers! Must be the mighty Bingo lobby that somehow pried an exemption out of the legislature.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
Virginia's Cigarette Tax
New York State imposes a tax on cigarettes of $1.50 per pack; New York City imposes an additional tax of $1.50 per pack. How much tax does the state of Virginia impose? Amazingly, 2.5 cents per pack. (Maybe it is the high taxes that are amazing, but Massachusetts has a tax of $1.51, and New Jersey a tax of $1.50 per pack: the Virginia cigarette tax is the lowest among the states.)
An article in the Baltimore Sun on December 26 indicates that Virginia is likely to raise its tax this year. (Apologies for continued non-provision of links -- the situation should improve when Vice Squad returns to Chicago in the near future, if all goes well.) The governor has proposed a state tax of 25 cents per pack, with localities permitted to add up to 50 cents per pack onto that. But tobacco interests are well-represented in Virginia, to say the least -- the world's largest cigarette factory is the Philip Morris plant in Richmond -- so the governor's proposal might not become law. Facing more than $1 billion in red ink, however, the demands of the Virginia state treasury probably will make some inroads on that 2.5 cents per pack tax.
Friday, December 26, 2003
Improvements in Sobriety-Sensing Cars
The Guardian from December 23 notes the ongoing development of a device that judges the hand-eye coordination of drivers. An infrared sensor can determine where a driver is looking, and this information can be compared with simultaneous data from steering wheel movements. Alcohol consumption causes eyes to slow down, which actually decreases the time interval between eye movement and steering wheel adjustment. Potential interventions include a verbal warning to stop driving, automatic notification of the police, or the activation of speed controls. The device costs some 40,000 pounds right now. Nevertheless, these sorts of technologies have a lot to recommend them as regulatory controls, because they target the real problem -- unsafe driving -- much more closely than do many other policies. (Even equal blood alcohol levels can mean something much different at different times and across drivers.) And the device is unconcerned with the cause of the poor driving, whether it be eating a hamburger while driving or a high blood alcohol content.
Monday, December 22, 2003
Pornography in Ukraine
Today's Moscow Times notes that the President of Ukraine has signed a law to prohibit production, import, sale and demonstration of pornographic materials. (Sounds like purchase and possession remain legal, similar to the situation under alcohol prohibition in the US. What do you suppose "demonstration" of pornographic materials consists of?) "The law also prohibits the promotion of war, national and religious enmity, fascism and neo-fascism." Neo-neo-fascists are breathing more easily. Incidentally, I seem to recall that President Kuchma also recently said that he fears next year's Ukrainian elections, because they will be so corrupt. (Hey, is he promoting national enmity?)
Sacrificing for My Loyal Reader
Yes folks, Vice Squad felt required to go to Museum Erotica in Copenhagen this evening to see what could be learned about the regulation of prostitution and pornography. Two quick facts: the last legal brothel in Copenhagen (i.e., until the next one) was closed in 1901, and, there was an international meeting in Geneva in 1923 that produced a document calling for international cooperation to suppress the trade in pornography. Denmark attended the conference but the Swedes gave it a miss. I have the guidebook to the museum (tickets with a guidebook cost about 20 kroner more, but again, I sacrificed) so perhaps I will have more to say upon review.
[Update, December 26, 2003: Still on the road, so can't really give much of an update now, but did want to make one semi-correction. The guidebook referred to 1901 as the closing of the last legal brothel in Denmark, not necessarily in Copenhagen. My faulty memory could have invented the Copenhagen part. And as a bonus, let me mention that the guidebook referred to Denmark as the first country to legalize pornography (which at least accords with the old reputation.) It happened in the late 1960s, and took place first for "words," and a year or two later, for images.]
Sunday, December 21, 2003
That Second Item on Heidi Fleiss
Ms. Fleiss was in Vice Squad a while back for her promotion of an Australian brothel. She is back in the news (at least this weekend's Moscow Times, via the Associated Press) for the opening today (Monday) of her boutique on Hollywood Boulevard. The shop is named "Hollywood Madam," and it sells the sort of things you might expect. Apparently customers who allow themselves to be web-broadcast while in the dressing room receive a discount. (Vice Squad is just repeating what the story says.) The article says that several years ago, Ms. Fleiss "spent 21 months in prison for money laundering, tax evasion and attempted pandering." Attempted pandering? Would she have received a longer sentence had she succeeded in her attempt? (In other circumstances Vice Squad will continue to misspell "pandering" as "pandaring.")
Two Quick Things
Vice Squad is still in Moscow. Two quick items from the weekend edition of the English-language newspaper, the Moscow Times. First, there's a Reuters story entitled "Clueless Pot-Plant Gardener Phones Cops, Gets Nabbed." Seems that four burglars broke into a home in Sydney, attempting to steal some of the 16 marijuana plants that were being illegally grown there. From under his bed, the homeowner called police, who both nabbed the crooks and arrested the marijuana grower. As the headline suggests, the story was presented as one of those, oh, what a stupid fellow, calling the cops when he is a criminal. But Vice Squad sees only the larger tragedy, all of those of our friends and neighbors who are afraid to call the police, even when they need them, because their consumption of psychoactive goods has not received the official stamp of approval.
No time for the second item now, but it involves Heidi Fleiss, who has graced the pixels of Vice Squad before.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
Moscow Does Not Believe in Vice Policy Blogs
Vice Squad is in Moscow for a conference -- alas, not a vice policy conference. Poor internet access and conference activities have precluded blog updates. For now, can only note from Thursday's Guardian that the two main defendants in the trials in Southern China concerning the Japanese sex tourism have been give life sentences for their roles in organizing the affair. (See Vice Squad, December 14, 2003). That's the last time that they will ever pandar, I suppose.
Blogging will continue to be sporadic, I am sorry to forecast, for the next few weeks.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
A Different Sort of Fake Drug Scandal
Mark Kleiman gives a harrowing report of the use of fake
drugs by informants in order to receive larger payments
for their disinformation. As it played into everyone's
interests except for some innocent immigrants, the fake,
planted "evidence" managed to remain undetected for
quite a while.
The undermining of policing via drug prohibition has been
something of a theme on Vice Squad, and as I cannot devote
much time to it now, let me encourage you to read Prof.
Kleiman's account and the linked news story.
The officer just found not guilty of six charges related to
lying about the arrests in the case will apparently get his
job back, at least temporarily. I am an unbridled supporter
of the standard of proof -- guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
-- that must be met to send someone to jail. I'm not so
sure it is the appropriate standard for whether you should
remain a licensed law enforcer.
When I'm Away....
...the Ninth Circuit decides that the federal prohibition
of medical marijuana is probably unconstitutional. Get
the scoop (the straight dope?) from Crescat Sententia
and Drug WarRant. Contributions to keep me abroad
can be sent to...
Not the European Vice News You Were Hoping For
Vice Squad is in a better mood today, as opposed to yesterday's
all-night-flight-no-sleep bitter mood. And surely the loyal Vice
Squad reader expects an up-to-the-minute account of Copenhagen's
red light district. Alas, Vice Squad has been unable to locate it,
but the castle in Helsingor (Hamlet's Elsinore) proved less elusive.
But one advantage to being in Europe is that British papers are
readily available on a same day basis. Yesterday's Guardian had its
share of vice news. One article was headlined "Drugs study finds
children aged 11 on heroin and crack." The study looked at 9,000
drug addicts in treatment in the Merseyside and Cheshire areas
The headline is a bit misleading. "There are at least 50 children
under 16 being treated for addiction to drugs in clinics in
Merseyside and Cheshire." But heroin and cocaine use is the
reason for treatment in only one or two of the current cases
involving juveniles. Amphetamines, cannabis, and ecstasy are
the major drug problems for the addicted youths. Of course,
many heavy users and even addicts do not present at clinics
for years after becoming addicted.
Perhaps the main finding of the report is that crack cocaine
use is fairly common in Merseyside, with some half of heroin
addicts at clinics in Liverpool also addicted to crack. This is
a big change from ten years ago, when crack was very
uncommon in Britain and in Europe more generally.
Another Guardian article from yesterday concerns the
adverse environmental impacts of the rapid expansion of
cannabis cultivation in Morocco. (The article is based on a
new UN Office on Drugs and Crime report.) Pot growing is
no longer confined to those parts of Morocco where it has
been cultivated since the 15th century, it seems. And the
EU's attempt to engineer a shift from cannabis to avocado
production has met with Soviet levels of agricultural
In what should be good news to the prison sector, an
earlier UNODC report estimated that 163 million people
worldwide use cannabis.
(Attempts to link the cited articles led to a computer crash.
I will desist, so as not to wear out my welcome at this
splendid Internet cafe.)
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Vice is Elsewhere
Like so much of the blogosphere, Vice Squad will of force
move to a reduced blogging rate for the next couple of
weeks, as some comparative work is being undertaken in
Copenhagen and Moscow. For now, just a pointer to this
NY Times article (registration required) on Sunday
concerning the arrests of two NYC police detectives on
charges that they robbed a drug courier of 169,000
dollars. And there are hints that these arrests are the tip
of the iceberg. So once again, we see the fruits of our
absurd drug policy, which creates these immensely
attractive prospects for inner city youths and for the
police, and then when some of them are caught
succumbing to our manufactured temptation, we are
happy to yell "drug dealer" or "corrupt cop" at them
as we put them in prison. And for what purpose do we
run these rigged games at cops and inner city youth?
To make it a little bit harder for some of our friends
and neighbors to consume a substance that they want
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Update on Chinese Prostitution Trial
Today's Observer has the latest on the trial in southern China
stemming from the alleged Japanese businessmen's two-day
orgy in September. (Here's Vice Squad's previous post on the trial.)
The Observer article provides more information about the defendants:
"Twelve Chinese 'mamis' - female pimps - are facing up to 10 years in
prison if found guilty of organising prostitution. The women, whose trial
opened on Friday, are accused of running a two-day mass orgy involving
the men ["288 male construction company workers"] and 500 prostitutes
at a five-star hotel in Zhuhai in Guangdong province in September."
The trial ended on Saturday but the verdict was delayed. So far, none of
the Japanese workers has been indicted, though that might change.
The trial has upset vice business as usual in Zhuhai: "The orgy scandal
was followed by a police crackdown on bars and prostitution. Taiwanese
and Japanese tourists are staying away. Karaoke bars must close at
11.30pm, two and a half hours earlier than usual, and dancing till dawn
is off the tourist itinerary. Massage parlours are allowed to continue
operating, on condition they close all of their VIP rooms."
Saturday, December 13, 2003
Regulating Chicago's Adult Businesses
Friend of Vice Squad Sheng Guo brings to our attention the
cover story in Friday's RedEye, a tabloid newspaper associated
with the Chicago Tribune. The story (actually, 5 related stories)
concerns the regulation of adult businesses in Chicago. Continuing
Vice Squad's new "listing" theme, I'll note a few of the points that
I found most interesting...
1. Chicago's adult entertainment industry has downsized since the 1970s,
presumably because of more onerous regulation that frequently takes the
form of local zoning rules. There are six strip clubs in the Chicagoland area.
2. The city of Chicago's zoning rules appear to be aimed at part in
preventing adult-type establishments from clustering: no two such venues
can be closer to each other than 1000 feet; they must also keep 1000 feet
away from schools, places of worship, and residential zones. (Adult toy
stores seem to be governed by looser regulations.)
3. If alcohol is served, a strip club cannot allow full nudity, and even nipples
must be covered.
4. Table dances are the source of most of the income for the performers at
strip clubs. Lap dances are not permitted.
5. Free Speech Coalition, a California-based trade group for the adult
entertainment industry, is forming a local chapter.
Friday, December 12, 2003
New US Alcohol Consumption Data
Vice Squad's primo research assistant Ryan Monarch brings us
word of a report released today (3-page pdf version here) on
the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The report
concerns the alcohol-related habits of current drinkers; i.e. abstainers
are excluded (and in terms of the "current drinker" criterion used in
the report -- one or more drinks in the last thirty days -- nearly half
of those 12 and older are abstainers.) The survey asks about the
number of occasions in the past month that alcohol was consumed,
the number of drinks per drinking occasion, driving behavior, and
Some of the findings that stand out to me:
(1) In terms of number of drinking occasions in the past months,
males (9.9) lead females (6.7); whites (9.0) lead other racial
groups, with Asians (5.5) coming in last; and those 26 and older
lead the younger age groups.
(2) For average number of drinks per drinking occasion, however,
the younger age groups exceed the 26 and ups, while "American
Indian or Alaska Native" far exceed the other groups.
(3) Rates of driving under the influence of alcohol are much higher
for 18 to 25 year old drinkers than for their older counterparts.
These figures are apparently drawn from self-reports on a survey.
Comparisons of self-reported consumption with production and
sales figures in the past has found a very significant tendency for
self-reports to underestimate actual alcohol consumption -- by
some forty percent, even.
Prostitution Trial in China
Friend of Vice Squad Dr. Christopher Young, living in British exile,
draws our attention to the trial of 14 Chinese accused of various
prostitution-related offenses stemming from a weekend orgy
involving Japanese tourists last September. (Here's a People's
Daily article from about the time the orgy story originally broke.)
The presumptive sex tour involved some 400 Japanese tourists and
500 Chinese prostitutes; it sparked a good deal of outrage in China,
some no doubt because of the scale of the event and the fact that
the male participants were Japanese, exacerbated by the timing
falling near the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese occupation of
northeast China. (Dr. Young suspects that there would have been
plenty of outrage even if the timing would have been less historically
The defendants face up to ten years in prison, and I find it hard
to expect leniency or acquittal in this case. The wheels of Chinese
justice roll quickly -- the trial started Friday and verdicts are
The first of the linked articles above contains this interesting
characterization: "Prostitution is technically illegal in China but has
become rife in the past two decades after economic reforms brought
prosperity to the once impoverished country." Not sure about the
implied causality there -- does prosperity cause prostitution? But
my skepticism should not be taken as an endorsement of the
opposite causal claim, that prostitution brings prosperity.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
India to Curb Tobacco Ads
About 16 percent of India's adult population smokes cigarettes, though
the gender breakdown is amazingly uneven: 2.5% of the women and
29.4% of the men. (In the US, in contrast, more than 20 and less than
30 percent of both men and women (and older youths!) smoke.) The
Indian government now intends to eliminate most forms of tobacco
advertising, according to this BBC report. Sponsorship of sporting
events by tobacco companies is already verboten in India (and many
other countries): "...the new rules would ban tobacco advertisements
on television, radio and the print media."
A comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising has been called for by
the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco
Control (pdf version). "With this ban, India will be the seventh
country to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
which was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly four
years ago." The WHO's current list of parties to the convention only
lists five countries, however: Fiji, Malta, Norway, Seychelles, and
Incidentally, per capita cigarette consumption in India is much, much
lower than in the US, well below what the difference in prevalence
rates alone would lead one to suspect. Indians on average smoke
129 cigarettes per year, while Americans smoke some 2,255. Data
on international tobacco comparisons are available here (pdf format).
Vice Squad, starved for material, has looked at tobacco advertising bans
in the past.
At Least No One Was Killed
If you go to Google News and search on "prostitution" you
will find newspaper stories from all over America and the world
concerning recent prostitution busts. Not all of them are as tragic
as this one or as shameless in their attempt to generate publicity
as this one. And even in a legalized environment, public manifestations
of prostitution should be regulated. Still, many of these stings are
dangerous and tawdry and often could be rendered unnecessary
by open police presence and advice to move along.
Well, yesterday's news concerns this prostitution sting in Centennial Park
in Nashville (that's the park with the great replica of the Parthenon, in its
pre-ruin manifestation -- couldn't get the link to work, here's a cached version.)
It led to a high speed car chase up Interstate 65. Ugh.
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
British Gambling Liberalisation
For the last few years, Great Britain has been laying the groundwork
for a significant deregulation of gambling. Though opportunities to
legally gamble in Britain abound -- indeed, their National Lottery,
introduced in 1994, has been extremely popular -- the Department of
Culture, Media, and Sport notes that "The legal framework for gambling
is one of grudging toleration." Current regulations are a bit of a
hodgepodge and preclude Las Vegas-style casinos. British casinos can
only admit members, and you cannot become a member on the spot:
there's a 24-hour waiting period. Credit cards cannot be used to
gamble, and alcohol distribution and live entertainment also are
restricted in casinos. "Linking" gambling machines to provide large
prizes is barred, and bet sizes are controlled, too. Plans to take
advantage of liberalised regulations to create Vegas-type British
casinos have been in the works in the seaside resort town of
The BBC reports today on a Salvation Army-sponsored poll indicating
that public opinion is opposed to loosening gambling regulations:
the "survey said 93% of people believe there are already enough
opportunities to gamble and the law should not be relaxed."
The general notion that there's not a huge groundswell of popular
support for liberalised gaming in Britain is not news. In the report
linked above (from 2002), the Department of Culture, Media, and
Sport noted that the majority of British felt that current controls
were either about right or too loose. But the report also noted
that most people admit that they do not actually know what the
current controls are! At the same time, nearly three-quarters of
British residents gamble.
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Private Response to Problem Gambling
Many states in recent years have set up self-exclusion lists
for gamblers. People who sign onto the list are then barred
from casinos in the state. The idea is to help bolster the self-
control of problem gamblers.
The world's largest casino company, Park Place casinos,
intends to go one (or two) better. They will maintain a similar
list that folks who are concerned about their gambling problem
can join. One additional feature, however, is that Park Place
itself is also willing to take the initiative, and to bar people
whom it identifies as having a gaming problem. (Usually these
people are known by casinos as "our best customers".) The
second feature of the Park Place initiative is that to back up
their policy, people who are on the list will forfeit any jackpots
that they win -- i.e. they will be barred from winning any
substantial amounts, even if they manage to slip into the
casino. Sounds like a particularly effective way to take the
lure out of gambling.
It will be interesting to see the lawsuit that will arise when
the first person is involuntarily banned, and the one that will
follow the first denial of payment of a jackpot. Last month,
Overlawyered reported on a lawsuit filed by those who felt
that Detroit-area casinos were not enforcing strictly enough
the exclusion list that the plaintiffs had voluntarily joined --
the gamblers could have been jailed for up to a year for
going to a casino after they had joined the list!
Drug War Chronicle Highlights
Drug War Chronicle, a newsletter produced at Stop the Drug War.org (now linked
on the Vice Squad sidebar) is chock-full of interesting items this week. I'll mention
four of them here:
(1) A driver was stopped on Interstate 95 in Georgia in 2001 for a traffic
violation. After being told that he would receive only a warning ticket, he
was asked to consent to a search. The motorist refused. The officer then
quickly called for a drug-sniffing dog to join the party -- a common tactic
that is employed against those few motorists who actually exercise their
right to refuse to a consent search. About twelve minutes later, the dog
arrived and "alerted" to the trunk of the motorist's car. A search ensued,
in which some marijuana and more than 10,000 ecstasy pills were found.
Now a federal appeals court has ruled that the search violated the Fourth
Amendment. The opinion (pdf version here) is based primarily on the
belief of the court that reasonable suspicion for the dog sniff did not exist
prior to the motorist's refusal to consent to a search. That is, the dog
sniff appeared to be brought on not by other reasonable suspicion, but
rather by the exercise of the Constitutional right not to consent to a
warrantless search. So this opinion, it seems, does not make dog sniffs
unconstitutional in the Eleventh district; rather, it requires that there be
reasonable suspicion prior to such a sniff, and that refusal to consent to
a search cannot itself provide the reasonable suspicion.
Vice Squad earlier wrote about a state of Illinois case that similarly mandated
reasonable suspicion for dog sniffs.
(2) Italy appears to be on the brink of a significant rollback of it drug
decriminalization by instituting administrative penalties for those
found in possession of small quantities of currently illegal drugs. This is
not the first about-face for Italian drug policy: a 1975 decriminalization
(actually, depenalization) was reversed in 1990, and then reinstated in
1993. (This is a microcosm of vice policy generally, and not just in Italy --
recurring, significant swings seemingly unrelated to new scientific
evidence. ) Vice Squad noted the potential for the Italian rollback a few
months ago, here.
(3) Argentina appears to be headed in the opposite direction,
considering a bill that would decriminalize drugs (not just pot) for
personal use. According to the Drug War Chronicle story, "If the bill is
enacted, Argentina would join Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay as Latin
American countries that have decriminalized, or in Colombia's case,
legalized drug use and possession." But the decriminalization adoption
in Argentina seems to be much less of a sure thing than the Italian
repenalization. [Furthermore, I believe that the claim that drug
possession has been legalized in Colombia is false.]
(4) Meanwhile, Bhutan is going the drug prohibitionists one better, by
banning the sale of tobacco products. Many US states banned
cigarette sales in the early part of the 20th century; for that matter,
Uzbekistan has banned billiards. The urge to prohibit other people's
vices appears to be one of the enduring, unifying themes of mankind.
Monday, December 08, 2003
More on Alcohol Advertising Lawsuit
The Chicago Tribune published this op-ed today by Robert A. Levy
of the Cato Institute. The op-ed concerns the lawsuit that was
recently filed against some segments of the alcohol beverage
industry, on the grounds that they are targeting underage
consumers in their advertising. (Vice Squad's original post on
the filing is here.) Levy is less than enamored of the lawsuit,
viewing it as the latest "legal travesty du jour" that has been
spurred by the outcome of the state suits against the tobacco
One issue is whether the plaintiffs are correct in their
contention that alcohol advertising is targeting the underage.
The industry got a boost from this September, 2003 report from
the FTC (cited in the Levy op-ed), that found improvements in
the alcohol industry's efforts to avoid targeting kids. The
Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) feels differently,
and took exception to the FTC report. CAMY's research indicates
a significant disjunction between wine advertisers on the one hand,
and beer and liquor advertisers on the other, such that wine ads
are considerably less likely to be viewed by underage drinkers
than are beer and spirits ads.
The Levy op-ed notes in passing the absurdity of our prohibition
of alcohol sales to 20-year olds, a position with which Vice
Squad is in accord. The op-ed, however, is more enthusiastic
about free speech for commercial vice than is Vice Squad (or is
John Stuart Mill, for that matter); Vice Squad thinks that
sound vice control policies often should include advertising
controls, though not prohibition of adult vice consumption. Nor
can Vice Squad fully endorse this claim from the op-ed: "The purpose
of ads for alcoholic beverages, like ads for vehicles, is to
encourage brand shifting, not to convert non-drinkers into
Sunday, December 07, 2003
Unarmed Man Killed By Police in Prostitution Sting
No, this didn't happen in Thailand. This tragedy took place a few days
ago in Aurora, Colorado. The 20-year old male victim accompanied an
undercover police officer to a hotel room. Uniformed police were then
signaled to come arrest him. Police report that the victim "moved
aggressively." One officer then shot the victim with a Taser, while a
second officer used a firearm. Here's a brief report from Denver's
How many acts of prostitution do such stings have to deter to
make them worthwhile, given the lethal risks they pose to
officers and would-be johns alike?
Thai Drug War
The stepped-up war on drugs in Thailand may have been declared
a victory by the government, but there's still that matter of the
vast number of victims. The king of Thailand has called for an
investigation, and the police are responding. Here's the initial
part of a story in today's The Straits Times (Singapore):
"The Royal Thai Police said yesterday that it had launched an
investigation into the more than 2,500 killings that took place
in the early stages of the government's controversial 10-month
'war on drugs'.
The probe was triggered by King Bhumibol Adulyadej's annual
birthday speech broadcast live over radio, it added."
Perhaps the king's birthday speech will be of some help this
year. It was last year's speech that led to the drug crackdown
in the first place, alas.
Whether the prime minister is on board for a thorough
investigation is questionable: "At a ceremony on Thursday
during which he [the prime minister] declared the war on drugs
had been successful, he said he was not sorry to see 'enemies
of the nation' dead or jailed."
For that matter, despite the claim that the crackdown has been
a huge success, the prime minister also indicated that he was
not abandoning the intensified anti-drug efforts.
Vice Squad noted the amazing "success" of the Thai drug war
a few days ago.
Saturday, December 06, 2003
High School Drug Sweep Update
The unnecessary, heavy-handed drug sweep at a South Carolina
High School continues to reverberate, with a lawsuit, a planned
rally, and some more circling of wagons around the principal
whose astonishingly bad judgment precipitated the raid.
From an article at The State.com (Columbia, South Carolina):
"Seventeen Stratford High School students are suing the city of
Goose Creek and the Berkeley County school district in federal
court, alleging police and school officials terrorized them in a drug
raid last month."
Rev. Jesse Jackson is a South Carolina native, and he has
announced a December 16th rally to protest the sweep, according
to the linked article.
One hundred and fifty of the high school's staff members signed
a letter supporting the principal, published in the Charleston
Post and Courier (registration required). It is a mystery as to
how many signatures the letter would have garnered had one of
those drawn guns accidentally discharged and killed a student.
Earlier Vice Squad posts on this edifying incident are here and here.
Money and Law Enforcement
Police officers and prosecutors have a great deal of discretion with
respect to what sort of illegal behavior that they focus on and what
sort they give less scrutiny. What if targeting one sort of crime
provides a direct monetary benefit to the enforcement organization,
while other types of crime do not? Isn't it possible that police priorities
will be shifted towards enforcing the more lucrative crimes?
Civil asset forfeitures of various types tied to vice crimes can be big
money makers for law enforcement agencies -- even if the original
intent of the laws that establish such forfeitures is simply to deter
crime. And once the money making potential is recognized, law
enforcement priorities are likely to become affected.
The city of El Cajon, California, is targeting the vehicles of those
accused of certain vice crimes, according to this report from KFMB:
"Police will be able to seize the vehicle of a person arrested for one
of the two crimes [buying drugs or soliciting prostitution]. The owner
would have to pay a price equal to the value of the vehicle to get it
It is good to know that El Cajon will be joining the ranks of those
progressive communities that realize how antiquated is the notion
that people should be punished only after being found guilty in a
court of law.
At the extreme, incidentally, asset forfeiture can create self-financing
enforcement organizations that, freed from the need to receive
funding from legislatures, can also set an agenda with little in the
way of messy oversight from elected representatives.
Speaking of incentives to skew law enforcement, the mock bachelor
party held by police at a strip joint in Fremont, Nebraska has resulted
in mixed success: one of the two dancers charged with prostitution
beat the rap! Sounds like a follow-up operation is called for.
Vice Squad has discussed civil asset forfeiture in the past, including
here, and an earlier notice of the mock bachelor party can be found
here, though I identified the club as being in Omaha in the
earlier post. Fremont is some 35 miles from Omaha.
Friday, December 05, 2003
Internet Vice Economies of Scope: Gambling and Pot
What to do next if you are a successful pioneer in the area of
Internet gambling? Why, enter the internet cannabis business,
of course. Or at least that is what the Canadian founder of
www.casino.org intends to do, according to this article at
CNN.com. Canadian law now allows those with appropriate
medical authorization to grow their own medicinal pot or to
have it provided through some other convenient, legal means.
Presumably, that's where the newly proposed Internet venture
comes in. Canada is also reviewing legislation that would
decriminalise small amounts of pot even for "recreational"
use, though whether an open supplier for that market
would be tolerated is unclear, at least to me. The Internet
entrepreneur "plans to grow the marijuana in Vancouver and
Ontario and sell it to people approved by the government
through the Web site www.amigula.com. Buyers will receive
their cannabis via courier. He intends to approach doctors
and also sell in other countries whose governments allow
the use of cannabis for medical purposes." He also has a
longer-term vision: '"If marijuana works, I am going to go
with opium next.'"
Thursday, December 04, 2003
The Rise And Unlamented Demise of One Vice Prohibition: The Mann Act*
In a tragedy of enormous proportions, the United States in the early years of the 20th Century was at the mercy of organized gangs of "white slavers," men who would buy or kidnap, sell and transport women for the purpose of coerced prostitution. No woman, married or unmarried, respectable or tawdry, was safe from the clutches of the traffickers in white slaves. Any civilized society would need to respond to such a fateful development, and the US Congress did. In 1910, the Mann Act, officially entitled the "White-slave traffic Act," became the law of the land. The Mann Act made it illegal to transport women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose..." (The state line provision was necessary because the US Constitution generally provides "police powers" to the states, not the federal government. The authority of the Mann Act therefore had to be based upon the federal jurisdiction over the regulation of interstate commerce.)
This aggressive legislative response quickly eliminated the organized groups involved in the coerced transportation of women for the purposes of prostitution. The only catch was that, well, there were no such groups to begin with. A small percentage of prostitutes in the US at the time (as now) could reasonably be described as being involuntarily pressed into the trade, but the vast majority of prostitution was willful. And slavery or kidnapping were illegal even before the Mann Act was adopted.
So the Mann Act was a solution to a largely non-existent problem. It might be thought that it would then be repealed, or be quickly forgotten, a dead letter. But that turned out to be far from the case. Even though the White-slave traffic Act was aimed at coerced commercial sex, its language was actually rather broad: "for any other immoral purpose". With so little coerced commercial sex to go after, the Mann Act became a tool used to prosecute voluntary commercial sex, and even voluntary non-commercial sex. A Supreme Court decision in 1917 upheld the use of the Mann Act to prosecute two married men who in the midst of affairs with young women, crossed from California into Nevada. Thus freed of the requirement that prostitution be involved, prosecutors turned their attention primarily to private relationships: between 1917 and 1928, the bulk (about 70 percent) of Mann Act prosecutions were non-commercial, unrelated to prostitution. So adult men (and, to a lesser extent, women) who were voluntarily engaged in non-marital sex began to go to prison. Rich married men who were having affairs or who could be tempted into one became targets for extortionists, and jilted spouses of adulterers could use the threat of the Mann Act to drive better divorce settlements. The false accusations of rape leveled against the "Scottsboro boys" in 1931 may have been motivated to avoid Mann Act prosecutions.
Fortunately the moral panic eventually gave way to more pressing concerns, and by the end of the 1920s, most non-commercial Mann Act prosecutions came to an end -- though the statute could still be trotted out to imprison suspected malfeasors who were proving hard to convict of actual crimes or to harass troublesome types who were (otherwise) fully law-abiding. For instance, Charlie Chaplin's radical politics contributed to an (unsuccessful) Mann Act prosecution against him in 1944.
It seems that no law is so bad that it doesn't have its defenders. So the Mann Act continued, despite its manifest infringement upon liberty and the injustice with which it was applied. Attempts to repeal the act, or to revise it to exclude non-commercial prosecutions, were derailed by pressure from morals and religious groups. The offensive title of "White-slave traffic Act" was excised in the late 1940s, however, even as the offensive legislation itself remained in effect.
A little judicial activism helped take some of the fangs out of the Mann Act: much precedent was sidestepped in 1960 when a federal judge dismissed one non-commercial prosecution. The justice department soon ceased almost all prosecutions of consensual, non-commercial Mann Act violations. In 1978, the Act was revised to require a commercial or criminal purpose in its section relating to minors. Finally, in 1986, further revisions decriminalized what earlier would have been Mann Act violations for situations involving private, consensual, noncommercial sex. The Republic soldiers on, despite the forbearance that prosecutors and the corrections department now must show to licentious interstate fornicators.
Of course, we couldn't possibly manage to get by without any of our current vice prohibitions.
*This post draws heavily upon a wonderful book concerning the Mann Act by David J. Langum, Crossing Over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act, University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
Drugs in Europe
Yesterday I received my copy of the 2003 Annual Report from
the European Union's drug information arm, the Lisbon-based
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. An
expanded, on-line version of the report is available here --
this is the English verison, though it is available in eleven
other languages, including Norwegian.
The report is chock-full of information on all aspects of drugs,
including usage rates, availability, crime, treatment, and so
on. I can't do justice to the report here, but I will offer a
sample that includes a comparison with the US:
"Drug use (in terms of both lifetime experience and recent use) is higher among young adults than among the population as a whole. Recent cannabis use is reported by 5-20 % of young adults (Sweden 1-2 %), with a substantial number of countries (seven) reporting rates between 10 % and 20 % (Figure 1). Recent amphetamine use is generally reported by 0.6 %, cocaine use by 0.5-4.5 % and ecstasy use by 0.5-5 % (Figure 2).
For comparison, in the 2001 United States national household survey on drug abuse, 36.9 % of adults (12 years and older) reported lifetime experience of cannabis, 12.3 % lifetime experience of cocaine and 3.6 % lifetime experience of ecstasy. Recent (last 12 months) cannabis use was reported by 9.3 %, cocaine use by 1.9 % and ecstasy use by 1.4 % (6). Cannabis lifetime experience and recent use are higher in the United States than in any EU country. Cocaine lifetime experience is also higher in the United States than in any EU country, and recent use is higher than in most countries, except Spain (2.6 %) and the United Kingdom (2.0 %). Ecstasy use is higher than in all EU countries except Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom."
Four EU countries (Italy, Spain, Netherlands, and Portugal) have
decriminalized drugs for adult users, i.e., they do not threaten
users with jail. (Note: Do Not Rely Upon This Information! Like
everything in this blog, it might be wrong, wrong, wrong!) This
decriminalization applies to all drugs, not just cannabis. Surely
these countries are doomed! They have adopted crazy drug
policies! Except that somehow, these countries seem to be
managing quite well, without locking up hundreds of thousands
of drug users. Hmmmm. Well, I'll just leave it at that, an
Tuesday, December 02, 2003
Thai Political Party Disbands?
Continuing Vice Squad's recent Thai theme, but in a lighter vein,
here are the opening two paragraphs of a story about a moral
litmus test that might be imposed by a Thai political party upon
its candidates for public office. Note the name of the party, much
more interesting than Republicans or Democrats:
"Thailand's ruling party has caused a storm by threatening to
ban politicians who cheat on their wives or take mistresses,
with candidates saying it should not intrude into their private
The Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party of Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra said it would later this month consider
the proposal which would also bar members who have visited
brothels from running in the next election. "
For the full story, click here.
Thai Mayhem To Be Curtailed?
People have been getting killed in droves during Thailand's recent
crackdown on the illegal drug trade. (For some chilling reading,
see the Amnesty International reports here and here. Drug WarRant
has also been keeping abreast of developments in Thailand.) The
Thai government now intends to declare victory in the war on drugs --
really! -- so maybe the horror will abate. Here's the Bangkok Post's
story on the impending "victory" -- thanks to Free Market Net for
Citizens of Oceania: Not only did the Thai government manage to
win the war on drugs, they overfulfilled the plan! The Post story
passes along the statistical highlights:
"According to the Interior Ministry, a total of 82,247 villages _ or 100% of the set target _ are now drug free.
A total of 327,224 drug addicts, 48% higher than the set target of 220,937, have undergone a rehabilitation process.
As for suspected drug producers and traders, 52,347 were arrested, slightly above the target of 51,516."
The stories from the rest of this drug war do not exactly inspire
confidence in the high quality and sound therapeutic practices
of the "rehabilitation process."
Monday, December 01, 2003
Pete Guither at the indispensable Drug WarRant has revived his guest
rant page. This story is so sad that I can't
even use my standard "Pyrrhus Watch - Victory #" heading. But I will
employ one of my usual refrains: After reading the story, keep in mind
that the point of our whole tragic drug war exercise is to make it a
little bit harder for some of our friends and neighbors to consume
a substance that they want to consume.
Harm Reduction and Teens
Rules often try to draw bright lines, even when reality is rather murky.
A driver who is proceeding safely but who is stopped by police will be
arrested (in most US states) if he or she is found to have a blood
alcohol content of .08; if the Breathalyzer test reads .07, our motorist
will be allowed to proceed on his or her merry way.
Rules for kids are particularly sensitive about adopting bright lines,
because children have less ability than adults to make responsible
discriminations among various circumstances. Both "Just say no" and
"Don't take candy from a stranger" are rules that would admit some
exceptions, but to start explaining the exceptions to kids could completely
undermine the rules. Better to stick with the understandable and
enforceable precepts, unrefined though they may be.
In other words, for young kids, "Just Say No" is probably a good rule
in lots of arenas, including when dealing with offers to use alcohol,
nicotine, and other drugs. But as kids age, things get more complicated.
Most American high schoolers try an illicit drug, and a large majority
try alcohol. That is, on average, "Just Say No" is more honour'd in the
breach than the observance by older teenagers.* Wishing that it were
otherwise will not make it so.
What to do? One organization, "Safety First," provides a plan. It
starts by recommending abstinence, but for when that advice proves
uncompelling, it recommends, not surprisingly, safety. In the words
of its website, "Putting safety first requires that we provide teens with
credible information and resources. Whether at home or in schools,
there are ways to honestly and effectively educate youth about the
risks and consequences of drug use." Their webpage on "Things
You Can Do" provides more details.
Vice Squad generally approves of harm reduction measures in vice
policy, and takes a rather jaundiced view of what might be termed
their opposite, Zero Tolerance policies. But the precise mix of tactics
that is best is very complicated, and surely varies with the vice under
consideration, the environment, and the audience. As noted above,
simple, easy-to-apply rules along the lines of "Just Say No" can be
useful for younger kids; however, as the audience grows more
sophisticated, and as "breach" becomes more common, the utility
of such hard and fast rules diminishes.
The first two paragraphs above are drawn from Chapter One of my
book, The Political Economy of Rule Evasion and Policy Reform.
*Pedantic note: I have succumbed to peer pressure and am misusing
Hamlet's phrase; in the play, the phrase "more honour'd in the breach
than the observance" means that the more honourable course of action
is to fail to observe the custom under discussion.