Saturday, January 31, 2004
John Geluardi of the Contra Costa Times reports that a sex workers' rights group (Sex Workers Outreach Project) is mobilizing to put a ballot measure before Berkeley, California voters to decriminalize prostitution. If adopted the measure wouldn't change state prostitution laws, but local enforcement would become a low priority. In addition the city would be required to encourage the state legislature to repeal existing prostitution laws.
Kansas and Sodomy
While sex with underage children isn't exactly vice--sodomy is--and as this report is linked to sodomy...The AP reports that in one of the first non-marriage cases to interpret the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas ruling (which found sodomy statutes unconstitutional), a Kansas court of appeals ruled that the state can punish illegal sex with children more harshly when it involves homosexual acts. The case involves an 18 year old man convicted of sodomy (and sentenced to more than 17 years) for having sex with a 14 year old boy. Had the 14 year old been a girl, "Romeo and Juliet" laws could have kicked in and the 18 year old could have faced at most 1 year and a few months.
At issue in the case is not whether individuals have a right to engage in sodomy with children--but whether the state should be able to distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual acts--an issue that Justice O'Connor speaks to in her concurrence in Lawrence.
Marijuana and College Students
This story from Bloomsburg, PA would be sort of funny, but for the possible consequences for this kid. A Bloomsburg University student was arrested for underage drinking and having a small amount of pot on him. The kid was wasted - he was busted in a dorm bathroom where he had passed out after vomiting, but he was o.k. thank goodness.
The part of the story that's funny is that the student told cops they would find alcohol in his system because he had been standing next to someone who had been drinking that night.
The part of the story that's not funny, and that's not discussed in the article, is that if this kid is convicted for possession of marijuana, and receives federal financial aid, his aid could be cancelled.
Here's a link to the Higher Education Act of 1998, which enacted this absurd law.
Friday, January 30, 2004
Here's the Problem with Medical Marijuana Statutes
I think people should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. I also think they should be allowed to legally use it regardless of their health status. Medical marijuana statutes are a good step forward in our drug policy, and they certainly help those who can most benefit from marijuana's medicinal qualities.
However, this story from West Hawaii Today highlights a big problem with the statutes. Three people were arrested and detained for 8 hours for growing pot about a year ago, but were never charged with a crime. They are now suing the officers involved. All three are licensed by the state to use and possess marijuana for medical purposes, and they were all living together at the time of their arrests. Two of them have leukemia, one has muscular dystrophy.
The thing that is problematic is that the statute allows for each licensed person to possess three mature plants and four immature plants at a time. The cops seized 20 plants total and said that 11 of them were mature. The cops also said that the plants should have been identified with the patients' names so the cops could make sure each person really only had the allowable number of plants!
I don't understand how these cops can sleep at night - does it make them feel like they are doing their duty to harass very sick people who are obviously trying to comply with the law? Unless marijuana is legalized outright, it seems like we're going to have police officers who don't agree with medical marijuana statutes splitting hairs and arresting sick people for very minor infractions.
Drug Bust in Chicago
A couple of things struck me about a story in the Sun-Times today regarding a recent drug bust in Chicago. Chicago police recently broke up what they say was a $7,000 a day heroin operation. The operation was called "The Hole" and was headquartered in the Harrison police district, one of the absolute worst neighborhoods in Chicago.
Two things I found interesting: 1) These stories always have to point out that inner-city drug rings cater to suburban customers. I haven't been able to find any studies out there to corroborate whether or not the customers of urban drug dealers are mostly suburbanites, but it's a claim that I find somewhat hard to believe. I can't imagine why anyone would voluntarily go into one of these neighborhoods when it's simply not that difficult for the purchaser of the drug to find a dealer much closer to home. People don't want to talk about the fact that it's not hard to get cocaine or heroin in affluent neighborhoods from local dealers. You don't have to skulk around the gritty underbelly of a major city to find the stuff.
I think police are instructed by politicians to scare suburban voters into believing that the only way drugs are getting into their communities is through these evil inner cities, and thus they will vote to continue this war on urban America.
2) One of the officers involved in the bust stated said that disrupting the operation reduces violence that claims innocent lives. He said, "If you can take away that crime, take away that opportunity, you're going to reduce violence on the street''. If you can take away that crime. Disrupting the heroin trade is just that - a disruption. It's often minor, and never permanent. Taking away the crime, however is a much more permanent solution, and would greatly reduce the violence that plagues these neighborhoods. How do you take away the crime? Stop making this practice a criminal one.
Madam's List Revealed
The AP reported a story that a Maryland appeals court ruled that, under the Maryland Public Information Act, the city of Frederick must allow the public to review a "black book" obtained in a raid of a call-girl operation. The "black book" lists the costumers of a prostitution service. Some critics argue that the city didn't want to make the book public because some of the customers included prominent citizens and public officials.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
A Real Drug War Victory (For a Change)
This story once again comes from my home state of Iowa. A guy was busted with 227 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a rental car while driving through the state. The Iowa Court of Appeals today determined that the marijuana could not be used as evidence. What was the probable cause for making the stop in the first place you might ask?
Well, according to the arresting officer, the defendant's car was only traveling 62 mph in contrast with the “75-(mph)-plus” rate of the other I-80 traffic (the speed limit in Iowa is 65 by the way). The officer also noticed that the defendant looked straight ahead, did not look at the officer, and had both hands on the wheel. I'm going to call up my high school Drivers' Ed teacher to let him know now that in Iowa, at least according to the State Patrol, the proper way to drive is to go at least 10 miles over the speed limit, always be looking to your left or right (never straight ahead), and no matter what, for god's sake, drive with your knees!
The case was remanded to the County Court, but the Scott County Attorney General complained, "They sent me back a case without evidence. Unless we retry him within 90 days, he’s definitely going to be free.” Yeah, that pesky 4th Amendment's always getting in the way isn't it?
Fight The Man, Art
Art Garfunkel, who was charged with possession of marijuana on January 17th has decided to fight the charges. Garfunkel, who is 62 years old, and clearly a major threat to society, was charged when his limousine was pulled over for speeding. Cops smelled the pot, and charged Garfunkel with possession.
Garfunkel is facing a $100 fine.
A Quick Note On Handguns
This isn't quite vice-related, and I get a little worked up on this issue, so I'll try to keep this short.
For those of us who live in Chicago, we are all aware of a Wilmette man who recently shot a burglar in his home. He was not charged for the shooting, because the prosecutors ruled it was in self-defense. However, he was charged with violating the city's ban on handguns.
In what can only be described as a baffling piece of legislation, Representative John Bradley of Marion, Illinois has proposed a bill that would override local statutes banning handguns where the handgun was used in self-defense. I'm sure the city officials of Wilmette were well aware of the slim possibility that a handgun might be used for self-defense inside their city walls, and concluded that this possibility was outweighed by what they believe to be a serious danger in allowing members of their community to own deadly weapons.
The costs and benefits of allowing handgun ownership vary considerably between urban and rural communities. (Wilmette is about a 20 minute drive north of Chicago.) Why is a down-state representative even getting involved in this matter? Don't communities, and their local elected officials have the right to say what kind of weapons are or are not allowed on the streets where their children play?
The handgun ban has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that this guy used the gun in self-defense. The fact that he used it in self-defense prevented prosecutors from charging him with aggravated battery or attempted murder. The point of a handgun ban is to reduce the number of handguns in a community. By allowing a self-defense loophole for handgun ownership, the entire objective of the handgun ban is thwarted.
The Wilmette man keeps saying over and over again that he is a law abiding citizen (and Bradley seems to agree), despite the fact that his gun was unlicensed and unregistered at the time of the shooting. As Chris Boyster of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence stated, ''He was not a law-abiding citizen. He had a handgun, there was a handgun ban, he broke the law.''
What about the otherwise law-abiding citizen that occasionally uses a bit of marijuana at home, or decides to consume some cocaine a couple of times a year? These citizens aren't walking around with loaded weapons, but I doubt that Representative Bradley would consider them "law-abiding", nor would he likely fight for their right to engage in non-violent activities within their homes.
Ex-Chicago Cop Sentenced for Selling Drugs
The Chicago Sun Times reports today that an ex-Chicago Police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday for selling some cocaine that he and two other officers found in a compartment of an impounded car. These cops also used some of the stolen drugs to plant on an innocent man.
The District Court judge who imposed the sentence was clearly disappointed with the officer stating, "You have dishonored your career, your name, acting solely out of greed,'' The Judge continued stating that the officer's actions were "even more harmful to the majority of police officers'' who do their jobs honestly.
I personally am more disappointed in the fact that we have a system that encourages police officers to engage in this kind of corruption. You don't see cops stealing tobacco, coffee, or alcohol, or planting these items on our fellow citizens in order to arrest them. One of the many horrible effects of this country's seriously misguided drug policy is that it creates extra opportunities for corruption of law enforcement officials.
Based on numerous glowing character references, the judge told the police officer that it was "clear [that]at one time you were a good man". What these cops did was most definitely wrong. One wonders though if they were simply bad men, or if, but for Prohibition they would still be productive and active members of society, their families, and the force.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
A Few More Gambling Related Items
Man, this story is a sad one. A guy from Ohio had lost everything to gambling. Displaying just a slight error in judgment, the man drove to New York to try and recoup $200,000 in losses from a company that offered him advice on sports betting. Needless to say, the caper didn't quite go as planned, and now our friend from the Buckeye state is sitting in jail on charges of kidnapping, robbery and attempted grand larceny. When the man's fiance contacted him in New York, he told her not to hire a lawyer, that he would rather rot.
I meant to comment on this story a couple of days ago from Gambling Magazine. Now, as a proud product of the Iowa Public School System (K through J.D.) and one-time patron of the dog track in my hometown of Council Bluffs, Iowa, I was interested to see the article "Gambling, Education Money Top Concerns At Forum" in Gambling Magazine, which summarized citizens' top concerns at a recent town meeting in Webster County, Iowa. It's no coincidence that a gambling magazine would cover a story about whether or not it's a good idea to bring a casino into town, followed by a story explaining how cash-strapped the state education system is.
There are myriad stories out there about communities using legalized gambling as a way to make up for state revenue shortfalls. Pennsylvania, Minnesota (registration required), and California are among the states currently looking to gambling as a way to help balance state budgets.
Although Iowa became the first state to legalize riverboat gambling in 1991, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has put a moratorium on issuing new casino licenses. The reason seems to be that the Commission is concerned that Iowa has reached a "saturation" point, and that more casinos would not result in increased revenues. The Commission recently requested a report on the economic feasibility of "one casino in every county." The report summarizes how much revenue the state could expect to see from new casinos, but does not really undertake a complete cost-benefit analysis. The report does not discuss things such as whether or not the state would have to increase funding for treatment of gambling addicts, or if these small communities could handle the influx of tourism that would be associated with the casinos.
At the Webster County town meeting, Terry Dillon, chairman of the anti-casino group Don't Gamble With Our Future Webster County (or DGWOFWC for short), asked lawmakers for a university study of the impact of gambling on his community. One of the state representatives at the meeting responded, "I don't think the state can afford a university study."
Is it too much to ask of our elected representatives that they actually engage in a well-informed analysis of the impact of a policy before making a decision about it? I don't know if more casinos in Iowa is a good or a bad thing, but neither do state legislators at this point. I don't think Mr. Dillon's request is that out of line.
Hedgehogs Legalized in Denver!
This story about hedgehog legalization comes to us from the Rocky Mountain News.
Actually the story is mostly about prostitution, but the story concludes with a paragraph noting that the City Council voted to legalize ownership of hedgehogs and some flying-squirrel-like animal.
Back to the prostitution story. The story out of Denver, and this article from San Francisco show two very different responses to prostitution by cities. While Denver is pledging to crack down on prostitution, San Francisco is open to the idea of discussing legalization of the practice. One sign of hope for the women employed in this profession: even the more "hard-lined" attitude taken by Denver officials on the matter has an undercurrent of compassion. The program Denver just approved, which includes increased enforcement, also stresses drug treatment and counseling for prostitutes. Further, women arrested for prostitution could get probation instead of jail time.
Back in San Francisco, a city official stated, "Unquestionably, there is going to be prostitution in our society." "The question is, can we do a better job in the areas of public health and public safety if it is legalized?"
That indeed is the question.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Drug War Over
In a stunning victory today leading, finally, to the end of the Drug War, U.S. Border Control seized an estimated $156,000 worth of marijuana.
Henkie, the narc dog, "alerted" on the vehicle as it was crossing the U.S./Mexican border.
The article reports that "there have been a total of 441 drug seizures in the El Paso sector with a total value of $70.4 million so far in Fiscal Year 2004 which began Oct. 1, 2003." So rest easy friends, looks like the DEA can call it a day, and the rest of us can sleep well tonight.
In a related story, Smoky Pete, a Chicago-area marijuana user was surprised to learn of the DEA's victory. As he lit a joint, and heard the news, he exhaled and said, "hmph. Well what do you know?"
Here's a link to a rather long story from CBS News on the unreliability of drug sniffing dogs. 60 Minutes did a good story on this a while back, and this article is a recap of that piece. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, the last paragraph sums up the story:
"Gaines is the first lawyer to successfully challenge the reliability of a detection dog in a federal court. But unless canine training programs improve, and a universal set of standards is put in place, he's unlikely to be the last."
The Bionic Banker
Here's one you don't see everyday. A New York Investment Banker visiting Key West reported that his weed was stolen from his hotel room, along with some other items. He explained to police that he didn't want to officially report the weed missing though, because he didn't want to tell the cops how much he had. No arrests were made because the marijuana was, of course, not there. Check out the story here and here.
Oscars and Vice?
OK Nikkie, you have the Super Bowl--but what about those of us not really into football (american) who still want to gamble? Look to the 76th Annual Academy Awards whose nominations (check out list on eonline!) were announced this morning. While I have no official statistics--it appears that betting on the Oscars is on the rise as online gambling institutions offer betting on novelty entertainment events (from everything from awards shows to who's going to win The Apprentice). Don't believe me? Check out this observation from onlinecasinonews.com--its not the best piece of journalism, but it gives you an idea.
Anyone taking bets on Lord of the Rings?
From Sodomy to Polygamy
Is Justice Scalia's fear manifesting? Are we seeing a wave of challenges to various states' criminal sex laws in the light of the Supreme Court's June 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas? The Lawrence decision ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional (see this earlier Vice Squad blog on Lawrence.) Alexandria Sage of the AP reports that a civil rights attorney is challenging Utah's ban on polygamy in federal court. The case involves three people who wanted to enter into a plural marriage but were denied a marriage license by Salt Lake County. It seems that we have only begun to see the reach of the Lawrence decision.
Smoke Shops and Cigarettes
The AP has an article reporting that a Native American tribe is appealing a federal court decision that the state of Rhode Island correctly shut down its tax-free tobacco store after a violent raid. The federal trial court ruled that the Narragansett tribe was subject to state taxes on tobacco, while the tribe maintains that RI state officials wrongly executed a search warrant on sovereign tribal lands. The violence resulted when tribal police resisted the RI state officers' advance on the tribe's land. Arguments are scheduled before the 1st Circuit some time in May.
The AP reports that the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by cigarette manufacturer R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co to challenge an award to a widow of a teacher who died of cancer. At issue was whether the Supreme Court should consider blocking a Florida law that allows lawsuits against cigarette makers over their products, because of federal regulations for the making and sale of cigarettes.
Hey Vice Squad Readers, like Nikkie, I too am new to blogging. Most of the posts that you will see from me, will be a bit on the sexy side--pornography, prostitution, sodomy, etc. So stay tuned and have fun!!!
The Super Bowl
Well, the Super Bowl is just a few days away. I love football, but as a Chiefs fan, I'm still pretty bitter about the way our season ended. And by the way, although the AFC Divisional Playoff game where we lost to Indianapolis was the...you know..."actual" end of our season; they played us well, beat us at home, and deserved to win; for me, the "emotional" end of our season was the Colt's meltdown the following week. That really threw salt in the wound, and officially ended my interest in watching the NFL for the year. Although last Sunday when forced to choose between Stars on Ice, a dog show, and Celebrity Hair Braiding - Palm Beach, for my Sunday sports fix, I decided I'll probably watch the Big Game anyway. It's a long time until next fall.
But I digress. What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Vice? Well, according to an article yesterday in the San Diego Union Tribune, gambling on the Super Bowl is America's favorite pastime. Although it's nearly impossible to judge the accuracy of the claim, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey estimates that $4 billion was wagered on Super Bowl XXXIII. However, it's estimated that approximately $3.9 billion of that came from bets made by Bill Bennett. (That's a joke.)
Bad news for Vice Squad coverage of gambling though - the article states, "Once upon a time in America, gambling was regarded as a vice. Today, it may be more of a mainstream activity than Sunday church services." Somebody should probably get on the horn to Falwell about that one.
All kidding aside, the article does a nice job of explaining how important gambling is to the popularity of the NFL, and touches on some issues associated with problem gambling. I have personally seen the increased significance of gambling on the NFL with my friends involved in fantasy football over the last three years or so. All of a sudden, they are screaming and going nuts over games that they wouldn't have even bothered to watch a few years back. It's an interesting phenomenon for some, but it can be a serious problem for others.
Gambling counselor Arnie Wexler, who made his last bet in 1968, sums up the issue nicely: "If you take the gambling away from NFL games, you basically have soccer." Not that there's anything wrong with soccer.
Monday, January 26, 2004
Although marijuana remains an illegal drug in Canada, on July 30, 2001, Canadian Narcotic Control Regulations were amended to create an exemption for certain individuals to use and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. If someone qualifies for the medical exemption, they apply for an Authorization to Possess marijuana which is effective for 30 days. Qualified persons can also apply to grow their own supply, or have someone else grow it for them. The Office of Cannabis Medical Access administers the program.
Today, an article from the Edmonton Journal reports that Health Canada is now "strongly urging" those individuals permitted to use medical marijuana to consent to allow Health Canada to release their personal information to Canadian police.
Currently, individuals are not required to give this consent to receive a marijuana "license", but about 70% of registered users do so. Health Canada officials are being vague about whether or not they will begin to require individuals to sign the consent forms in order to receive a medical exemption.
The consent form allows Health Canada to confirm to police that the person is a licensed user and how much of the drug they can possess. The form also includes the start and expiration of the permit, the address of the exemptee, their date of birth and the production and storage location for the marijuana. However, according to the article, all of this information is already listed on the plastic wallet-sized cards Health Canada issues to licensed medicinal marijuana users.
Medical marijuana users are concerned that the consent forms will be misused by police to bully or harass them, or to raid their homes on the day that their licenses expire. One user made the point that the medical marijuana license is similar to a prescription for other medications, and users of other prescription medications do not have to preemptively disclose their prescription status to the police.
There are some benefits to the consent form. For example, if a neighbor complains to the police that the person next door is growing pot, the police would simply have to make a phone call to Health Canada to determine whether or not the person had a medical exemption to grow. However, with little additional cost, the police could also ascertain this information by dropping by the person's home and asking to see his or her license.
Given that the Canadian government has decided to treat marijuana as a legitimate form of medical treatment (at least for now), it doesn't make much sense to send mixed signals by requiring users of this medicine to be subjected to additional requirements to which legal users of other controlled substances are not.
Poppies in Afghanistan
An article today from the International Herald Tribune on-line talks about the issue of opium production in Afghanistan. The article states that, "Afghanistan is now the world's largest producer of opium. It accounts for about 40 percent of the Afghan economy, generating some $2 billion annually". This is equal to all of the money the Afghans have for reconstruction, according to Haneef Atmar, minister for rural reconstruction and development.
The U.S. military in the region doesn't really want to get involved in the issue, and risk alienating the countryside, until it can get on top of the security issue there. Everyone agrees that the farmers need a crop that is as lucrative as poppies, in order to encourage farmers to stop producing them. The Brits are in charge of antinarcotics programs in Afghanistan, but so far, they have yet to come up with any good ideas for curbing poppy production. In fact, at one point, the British tried buying up some of the poppy crop, but this backfired. Farmers growing non-illicit crops switched to growing opium when they heard of the buy out plan.
Afghanistan has traditionally been a poppy wholesaler, with production of heroin occurring in neighboring countries and then exported to the West. This is changing, and now about 85% of Afghan heroin stays in the region. This brings with it a growing number of addicts, and thus heroin addiction's nasty companion, AIDS. Hamid Karzai fears that disaster is near. Interestingly, Karzai notes that, "We have an excellent chance to have a legitimate economy, but we will never have stability here if the economy is criminalized".
Legalization of the drug would certainly lower domestic prices, thus making poppy production less attractive for farmers. Further, legalization of poppy production would normalize the drug and could revive the region's custom of smoking opium - a practice with very few of the horrible side effects seen with heroin injection, including addiction and AIDS. This solution violates U.N. policy on illicit drugs, but does that policy make any sense when an entire nation's economy is built upon that illicit substance?
Sunday, January 25, 2004
A Swinging Debut
Hello Vice Squad readers. I'm new at this whole blogging thing, but I hope I can do it justice during Professor Leitzel's absence. Since I'm going to be inviting my parents to read Vice Squad this week, I thought I'd start off by talking about a classic family-friendly topic - swinging. Sorry Mom and Dad.
In the January 18, 2004 issue of the New York Times Lifestyles section, I came across three Letters to the Editor from three different women. They were all appalled at a story that had appeared on the previous week's cover of the Lifestyles section about the new swinging scene in Manhattan. The letters piqued my curiosity, and so I went back and read the earlier article about swinging.
The article explains that "among a certain adventurous younger crowd in Manhattan these days, swinging...is thriving with a twist." Most of the promoters of swinging events are young women, and the participants are attractive professionals in their 20's and 30's. The women are firmly in control at the events, and one promoter states that the goal of the parties is "to help the masses feel comfortable with their sexuality."
The original article wasn't particularly titillating, but what I found interesting were the responses to it the following week. One woman from Columbus, Ohio spoke for all "early feminists", and concluded that the women in the article had "been tricked into believing they want 'the lifestyle'". She was despondent over the fact that this was not what the "early feminists" had envisioned at all when they set out to empower women. Apparently the point of "early feminism" was to ensure that women were free to make any choice that the "early feminists" deemed acceptable. How do I contact one of these early feminists to find out if I'm making appropriate decisions? Without an early feminist around to guide me, my choices about my education, my career, and about with whom I choose to have sex could all be horribly, horribly wrong. This is serious.
A second woman began her letter by letting all of the readers know that she is a "dedicated and contented monogamist." Whew, at least she's credible then. Go on, please. She writes that to her the parties "sound about as erotic as a plate of tepid mashed potatoes." I have no idea why this woman felt compelled to share this opinion with the readers of the New York Times Lifestyles section, or more importantly, why the sexiness of mashed potatoes is suddenly being called into question. Finally, a woman from Queens was really able to put this story into a geo-political context by concluding, "no wonder the religious right (all over the world) thinks the United States epitomizes decadence and immorality." I can't even begin to comment on this one.
My problem with these responses are that they are not only misguided, they are condescending, pointless, and just plain ridiculous, respectively. Anna, a woman who regularly attends these parties was interviewed for the piece. She solicited an invitation to her first swingers party, and had to write an erotic essay to gain admittance. She is smart and successful, and hardly sounded "tricked". Anna is in a committed relationship with a man that shares her interest in this lifestyle, and they attend events together. Others interviewed for the article had had similarly positive experiences, and seemed to enjoy having the ability to express themselves in this format.
I recently read an excellent book by Dan Savage called Skipping Towards Gomorrah. The book celebrates the right of Americans to pursue happiness as they see fit (as long as they are not harming others), regardless of what social conservatives think of their choices. In a particularly interesting chapter, "Lust", Savage introduces the reader to Bridget and David, a devoutly religious couple who have two young children, are happily married, live in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, and attend orgies a couple of times a month.
Bridget and David speak about the "Catch-22" that their lifestyle puts them in. They recognize that there are many negative, and they believe incorrect, stereotypes of swingers out there. They also recognize that if more people like them came out about their swinging lifestyle, they could help dispel these stereotypes, thus making it safer for others who have chosen this lifestyle to be open about it. It would help others if society could see that these people are good people, good parents, and good neighbors - they just take their sex a little differently than some. However, at this point, it's not safe for a couple like Bridget and David to be open about their lifestyle. Their friends and neighbors would likely react in much the same manner as the women who wrote to the New York Times about the swingers article.
Savage notes that there are some pursuits out there that make some Americans happy, but are considered sinful by others. This would be fine but for the fact that many social conservatives feel the need to ram their version of Happiness down everyone else's throats. Savage wonders, "While some Americans might choose to lead a less than virtuous existence, at least in William J. Bennett's estimation, what skin is it off Bennett's ass?"
I couldn't agree more. The fact that the women who wrote into the Times felt compelled to take time out of their not-too-busy days to give all the other readers a lesson in their version of morality is not only annoying, it's harmful. In Savage's book, he states that there are an estimated 1.1 million swingers in the U.S. According to the Times article, one Manhattan swingers group started with a mailing list of 100 in the year 2000, and now boasts over 100,000 members. These largely women-owned business are providing a safe outlet for the Davids and Bridgets of the world to meet other like-minded people, and have the kind of sex life they want to have. I'd like it if the finger-waggers would just pipe down.
[The Title of this post, "A Swinging Debut" was added by Jim Leitzel.]
In the initial Vice Squad post, I mentioned that I have been teaching a course entitled "Regulation of Vice" for some years now. What I failed to mention is that I have been blessed with two excellent teaching assistants during that time: Sheldon Lyke and Nikkie Eitmann. They both are graduate students at the University of Chicago, Sheldon in sociology and Nikkie in public policy. They both have law degrees. And they are both generous enough that they have agreed to undertake guest blogging stints this week at Vice Squad, while I am being shipped off to a distant conference. Many thanks to them, and please join me in welcoming Sheldon and Nikkie to Vice Squad.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Sex Toy Saleswoman Arrested
The saleswomen of Passion Parties hold Tupperware-style parties to peddle, uh, sex toys. (Warning: Not your Mom's Tupperware-style party.) Fortunately, two vigilant undercover officers in Burleson, Texas, grew wise to the caper, and nabbed the Burleson rep for Passion Parties, a 43-year old women who is married and has three kids. Selling obscene devices is illegal in Texas. The International Herald Tribune tells the tale. Recently, law professor Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy indicated that one federal trial court (in Williams v. Pryor, 220 F. Supp. 2d 1257 (N.D. Ala. 2002)) ruled that laws forbidding sales of sex toys violate the right to privacy.
Friday, January 23, 2004
Capsule Summary of European Smoking Regulation...
....from Deutsche Welle. Here's the Greece entry: "Greece: With some 44 percent of the Greeks over the age of 15 confirmed smokers, Greece is the smokiest country in the EU. 2002 laws outlawed smoking in many public areas and introduced designated areas in restaurants across the country. Billboard tobacco advertising will be banned for five months this year to coincide with the Olympics."
Tobacco Settlement and Non-Participating Companies
The settlement between 46 state attorneys general and Big Tobacco in 1998 raised the cost of manufacturing cigarettes -- for those who were part of the settlement -- while also promising boatloads of money to the states. What about tobacco companies that did not sign the settlement? Well, states enacted legislation that would raise their costs, too, so that they would not achieve a competitive advantage. The deal had a loophole, however, for small manufacturers that did not have a sales presence in more than a few states. This loophole is beginning to hurt Big Tobacco and its partners, the states, so there are efforts afoot to close it. Those efforts have already been successful in 19 states.
Details can be found in this excellent Kansas City Star story, prepared by an AP writer. The story interviews the owner of Poison, Inc., maker of cigarette brands such as Grim Reaper. Here's a sample that refers to the loophole:
"State laws enacted to enforce the settlement also required cigarette companies to pay money into escrow accounts. Those payments -- about $3.90 per carton this year -- would be used to pay any future claims made against smaller manufacturers, and would also ensure those companies couldn't undercut the Big Four on price.
Those escrow funds were to be paid back after 25 years. But the way the law was written, companies that didn't join the settlement and only do business in a few states could get back most of that money almost immediately.
As a result, Poison can sell Grim Reapers for as little as $1.49 a pack in North Carolina -- about half the price of the Big Four's premium brands."
Vice Squad mentioned the circumvention of the settlement two weeks ago. Update, January 24: Overlawyered comments on this story, too, and rightly points out that the term "loophole" is used rather creatively here.
Earmarking Gambling Revenues
When state lotteries are introduced, sometimes the revenues are earmarked for politically popular programs, such as education. There's always the possibility that such earmarking will simply divert other funds that would have gone to those programs, however. To counter this tendency, some jurisdictions set up new programs, such as Georgia's HOPE scholarships and Britain's "Good Causes". Now Richwood, Louisiana, is looking once again at allowing video poker. The funds raised by the poker terminals would not be earmarked, exactly, but they do seem to be destined to pay off Richwood's considerable debt. What is the nature of that debt?: "The town owes the city of Monroe more than $527,000 in sewer service fees. Monroe has sued the town to collect the money after years of trying to work out payment agreements."
Updating Alcohol Developments in South Dakota
For reasons that I cannot understand, Vice Squad is developing an affinity for following alcohol regulation developments in South Dakota. A January 9th post noted the possibility of legalizing alcohol on the Pine Ridge reservation, and an attempt to raise the excise tax for county use. Here are some more recent developments:
(1) The referendum on alcohol legalization on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation has been slightly postponed.
(2) The state legislature is considering a bill that would bring South Dakota practices in line with a federal, well, recommendation, but more of a mandate given the grant funds at stake. It concerns juvenile drivers who are caught with a little alcohol in their system (between .02 and .08 BAC). Here's the first line from the AP story at Aberdeen News.com: "The Legislature was asked Friday to approve a bill that would keep drivers younger than 18 from being locked up more than 48 hours when caught drunk or drugged." This sentence is misleading, however, in that a BAC of .02 would not meet the ordinary understanding of "drunk."
(3) Another AP story at Aberdeen News.com notes a proposal to allow special events (like summer festivals) that currently can procure licenses to serve beer and wine to also be licensed for mixed drinks. Are all the liquor interests behind this proposal? No, not all of them!: "...a lobbyist for the state Retail Liquor Dealers Association, said his organization opposes the bill because it would take trade away from businesses that serve liquor and pay taxes year-round. He said some stores depend on revenues from annual events and holidays to survive."
Rush Limbaugh Plea Negotiations Made Public
The on-line Chicago Tribune includes this story (registration required) from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about the prosecutors in the Rush Limbaugh drug and doctor-shopping case holding out for a guilty plea to a felony count. Limbaugh's lawyer, Roy Black, apparently was suggesting a plea bargain in which criminal charges would be put aside in exchange for further drug rehabilitation for Rush. Prosecutors would not go along, though they appear to be willing to pursue probation and not jail time in exchange for a guilty plea to a felony count of doctor shopping.
According to the linked article, Black's December letter to the Palm Beach County State Attorney proposing the rehab deal included this line: "The public is better served by treating addicts as patients rather than criminals." Hear hear. And it is better served by treating non-addicted users as law-abiding citizens than as either patients or criminals.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
Drugs and Police Corruption: Latest Variation on a Sad Theme
In today's Chicago Tribune (registration required), we learn that...
"A former Chicago police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing 220 pounds of marijuana and more than $10,000 in cash from a drug dealer while he was on the force in 2001." Now he faces, it seems, at least 18 years in prison.
Just the most recent example of how our drug prohibition presents constant integrity tests for the police, just as it tests the mettle of poor young men in inner cities. (Please forgive this latest recounting of an all-too-frequent Vice Squad theme.) When someone fails the test, we are ready to show them the jailhouse door, more fodder for our voracious prison complex. We rarely ask (certainly our politicians don't seem to ask) if these constant tests are a good idea. How many of us could say with certainty that, if we were officers, we would consistently resist the temptation to make thousands of dollars by looking the other way, or by "informally fining" a drug dealer who is not yet in prison, or by some other rather easy route -- a route that either has no direct victims or victimizes only those (drug dealers) whom we have been taught to revile. What a trap we set for our officers and for inner city poor! Surely such a set-up can be justified only by dire necessity, only if it serves the most pressing social need. But what is our purpose for designing "attractive nuisances" for cops and inner city poor? To make it a little bit more difficult for some of our friends and neighbors to consume a substance that they want to consume.
It is hard to be hopeful, but maybe there is some hope anyway. Here is the description that leads off the Drug Reform Coordination Network's web page entitled "Cops Against the Drug War": "The items posted here describe the growing disillusionment with the War on Drugs in the law enforcement community, the growing support for reform, and some of the ways in which the Drug War corrupts police forces and encourages a war mentality that is at odds with a police officer's intended role as an officer of the peace."
Update, January 23: This week's Drug War Chronicle provides the latest on Detroit's drugs and police corruption scandal.
Recent Vice News From the Blogosphere
Adopting, yea, even perfecting the lazy person's guide to vice blogging, let me pass along some pointers to vice policy activity at better blogs:
(1) Mark Kleiman notes the suspension of the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program, source of much of our information about heavy drug use in the United States. Reasons for the suspension of ADAM remain murky, but Kleiman does mention that our nation's President found time in the State of the Union address to propose more funds for high schools that would like to administer drug tests to their students. (Remember South Carolina Senator Ernest Hollings's response when a challenger for his senate seat asked Hollings if he would take a drug test? It was along the lines of: "I'll take a drug test if he takes an IQ test.")
Over at Crescat, Peter Northrup makes a less than half-hearted, second-best argument that maybe losing the data on heavy users isn't so bad: "If all drug policy officials looked at--all they could look at--were the data on casual users, maybe we'd have a drug policy that was merely bad, rather than inexcusable."
(2) At Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok joins the Free Tommy Chong forces. While at Marginal Revolution, check out Tyler Cowen's post on how smokers who cut down partially offset the reduction in cigarettes by smoking more intensely. For more on this topic, and evidence that the offset (in this case, brought on by increased excise taxes that induce a shift to higher tar and nicotine cigarettes) is more than complete for young smokers, see William N. Evans and Matthew C. Farrelly, “The Compensating Behavior of Smokers: Taxes, Tar, and Nicotine,” Rand Journal of Economics 29: 578-595, Autumn 1998.
(3) Ken Lammers at Crimlaw documents the most recent (and most outrageous?) inroad into Fourth Amendment rights, in the service of ensuring that factually-guilty defendants will not walk. Naturally, the case involves (in part) drugs.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004
Alcohol in Iraq: Non-Governmental Coercion in Vice Control
Selling liquor has become extremely dangerous in Iraq, as this AP story makes clear: "...as many as nine liquor store owners, most of them Christians, have been killed in Basra since the fall of Saddam ..."; and "Besides the murders, dozens of liquor stores owned by Christians have been torched in recent months."
When John Stuart Mill crafted his harm principle in 1859, the type of unjustified coercion that he was most concerned about was not coercion by the state, but coercion by public opinion. (Mill's own irregular but presumably chaste and longstanding relationship with a married woman (he and she eventually married after her first husband's death) perhaps contributed to his recognition that social sanctions could be severe on those who didn't follow the usual paths.) And of course, it is public opinion that often empowers the state to persecute "dissidents." Adult vice activity, precisely because it has no identifiable victims (at least in many of its manifestations), seems to be particularly susceptible to private coercion. (Let me note that coercion is different from disapproval or dissuasion -- it is one thing to disapprove of someone else's vice, and something else again to punish him or her for engaging in it or to use force to prevent him or her from so engaging.)
Nevertheless, it is probably the case that in the US we tend to think of coercion as primarily a state activity. But the situation in Iraq with respect to alcohol sales (and playing music, and wearing the veil...) serves as a reminder that the situation is not always a repressive state on one side versus a more lenient public on the other. And so rules like that proposed in France, to outlaw the veil (and other religious symbols) in schools, are not prima facie affronts to liberty. If the alternative to such a law is that everyone will let a hundred flowers bloom, then the law is an affront to liberty. If the alternative to state coercion not to wear a veil is private coercion mandating the wearing of a veil by Muslim women, however, then lovers of liberty have to look more closely.
There was a gruesome mass slaying in Gary, Indiana, last Friday night. Four people (all related) were shot and killed inside a home, including a toddler not quite two years old. The murdered adults may have been involved in the drug trade, according to this article (registration required) in Monday's Chicago Tribune. Here's an excerpt: "Police found about $8,000 in cash, firearms and what appeared to be crack and powdered cocaine inside the two-story building. Investigators believe the house was a drug buying spot, and that the slayings could have stemmed from a heist gone awry."
Once again, it appears that these murders are drug-law-related, in that drug dealers attract robbers precisely because dealers (or even users) cannot easily turn to the police for protection. But in this case, I won't harp on this persistent Vice Squad theme, the huge toll that our drug laws take on our friends and neighbors. Rather, consider the subsequent paragraph in the linked Chicago Tribune article: "Police don't know why the toddler was killed, and theorize that the assailants might have been under the influence of drugs. Gary has a problem with formaldehyde-dipped marijuana joints --known as "sherm sticks"--that can cause bizarre behavior, [a police sergeant] said.
I have never heard of sherm sticks before, but I nevertheless think that it is unlikely that they "cause" bizarre behavior -- even if the people who smoke sherm sticks do behave bizarrely, and even if their behavior tends to be more bizarre when they are under the influence. It is common to attribute criminogenic properties to drugs, especially unfamiliar drugs that are used by unsavory "others." This has been the fate of many drugs over the years, including cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, PCP, methamphetamine, and on and on. But the evidence that drug consumption per se causes violent or bizarre behavior just isn't there, in general. Do you think that the assailants (there probably were multiple assailants, as casings from three guns were found) in the Gary murders would have killed these people if 20 armed police were surrounding them? If not, then the drugs were not the "cause" of the bizarre behavior. Very little crime which typically is described as drug-related is due to the psychoactive properties of the drugs working on the minds of users. (Indeed, most "drug-related crime" is really "drug-law-related.") The most-likely exception might be alcohol.
The general untenability of the claim that some psychoactive drug use causes crime is addressed at length in Chapter 6 of Jacob Sullum's Saying Yes.
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
British Call Girl Blog
Just to complete today's prostitution trifecta, Vice Squad notes
that the winner (announced a couple weeks ago) of the
Guardian's 2003 "best written" blog award is Belle de Jour,
a blog (purportedly but certainly convincingly) written by a call
girl in London. Prostitution is legal in Britain, though street-
walking is illegal. (Vice Squad previously noted that liberalisation
of prostitution laws is under consideration in Britain.)
Advertising Nevada's Brothels
Brothel prostitution is legal in some rural counties in Nevada,
though the brothels are subject to a host of state and local
regulations. Among them is a ban on advertising, and Vice
Squad supports both the brothel legality and the ad ban.
The brothels, however, are hoping to have the ad ban
rescinded, and are even willing to support a tax increase
in exchange, according to this article in the Las Vegas
Review-Journal. I think that this is short sighted of
the brothel owners, as I believe that free advertising will
threaten the continued legality of brothel prostitution in
The lobbyist for the brothels believes that the courts will
soon overturn the advertising ban in any case, and I tend to
agree with him. Nevertheless, even if the ad ban ends in
this fashion, I still believe that it will reduce public toleration
for legal prostitution.
Why are the courts likely to overturn the brothel ad ban?
Because Supreme Court decisions have been moving in
the direction of protecting advertising (as free speech) for
legal vices. Here's a brief excerpt from "Vice" Advertising
under the Supreme Court's Commercial Speech Doctrine:
The Shifting Central Hudson Analysis, by Michael
Hoefges & Milagros Rivera-Sanchez, Spring / Summer, 2000,
22 Hastings Comm. & Ent. L.J. 345*:
"...the Court has completely reversed its position on "vice"
advertising. Originally, "vice" advertising was effectively
excluded from First Amendment commercial speech
protection. The [Hoefges and Rivera-Sanchez] article argues
that after 1999, the Supreme Court has virtually eliminated
the "vice" advertising distinction and now requires equal
treatment under the First Amendment of all truthful,
non-deceptive advertising for lawful products and services."
As Vice Squad has argued before, full First Amendment
protection for commercial speech should not be assumed
to be a win for those with a libertarian bent.
Incidentally, the ad ban does not exactly pose much of a
barrier for those who are interested in learning more
about "Nevada brothels", as a web search on that phrase
will quickly confirm.
*Thanks to primo research assistant Ryan Monarch for unearthing
the Hoefges and Rivera-Sanchez article.
Social Security for Spanish Prostitutes
Yesterday's Chicago Tribune contained this short item (registration required)
concerning a regional court decision in Andalusia. The court ruled that
the owner of a club has to make social security payments for women
who work as prostitutes at the club. Apparently the club owner
contended that the women were not employees. This is not to say
that they were private contractors; rather, the organization that
represents such clubs maintains that the clubs themselves are
hotels, and that the prostitutes are merely guests. This contention
is bolstered by the fact that prostitution, according to the article,
occurs in the gray market, neither illegal nor regulated. The court
wasn't buying the "guests" line, as these particular "guests" worked
a regular schedule and received a portion of drink revenues -- rather
Monday, January 19, 2004
College Kids These Days
If you think that today's collegiate youth are more drug obsessed than they
were a few years ago, well, you're right. Or at least that is one moral that
can be taken from "Trends in Marijuana and Other Illicit Drug Use Among
College Students: Results from 4 Harvard School of Public Health College
Alcohol Study Surveys: 1993-2001," by M. Kuo, JE Lee, and H. Wechsler.
The abstract is available at the very useful College Alcohol Study
website maintained by the Harvard School of Public Health. Here's a
snippet from the abstract: "The results indicate that the percent of past
30-day, past-year, and lifetime marijuana users increased significantly
between 1993 and 2001 (from 13% to 17%, 23% to 30%, and 41% to 47%,
respectively), with most of the increase occurring between 1993 and 1997.
The past 30-day and past-year use of other illicit drugs also increased from
4% to 7% and from 11% to 14%, respectively."
Singapore Defends Itself Against Amnesty International Charges
Yesterday Vice Squad noted Amnesty International's report on executions in Singapore, the majority of which are carried out for drug-crime convictions. (Vice Squad failed to link to the actual AI report, however, an oversight that is remedied here.) Friend of Vice Squad Pak Shun Ng brings our attention to this article in Straits Times Interactive (registration required), noting that the Singapore government is defending its actions. A government spokesperson denied that the justice system in Singapore is shrouded in secrecy, and more generally, suggested that safeguards for defendants met international norms. Further, the spokesperson is quoted in the linked article pointing to the benefits of the Singaporean policy: 'Most Singaporeans know that our tough but fair system of criminal justice makes Singapore one of the safest places in the world to live and to work in.'
Singapore is not the only country that executes drug traffickers. Indeed, other Asian nations are said to be increasing their use of the death penalty. China leads the world in the absolute number of executions; from the Taipei Times: "In one particular death frenzy, Amnesty said at least 150 accused drug criminals were executed across China in June, 2002 to mark the UN' International Drugs Day."
Sunday, January 18, 2004
Recent Drug War Stuff on the Web
A couple days ago I updated the potential Venezuelan drug decriminalization story thanks to a link to this week's Drug War Chronicle. The same issue contains a few other stories that are worthy of mention:
(1) The country with the highest rate of executions (in per capita terms) is Singapore. The majority of those executed have been convicted of drug offenses. Singapore hangs people who are caught with quantities of drugs that are sufficient to generate a legal presumption that the possessors are traffickers, though the amounts that trigger that presumption are not huge. Amnesty International has issued a report critical of the workings of the Singapore justice system. (Incidentally, Saudi Arabia is second in per capita (bad terminology in this case) executions.)
(2) The chewing of coca leaves is traditional in parts of South America. Bolivia allows limited amounts of coca to be grown legally to provide a supply for this traditional practice. Now the legal coca farmers are attempting to have those "limited amounts" increased.
(3) Salvia, "a Mexican herb with weird psychedelic properties," is apparently popular at a US Air Force base in Oklahoma. The herb is not illegal in the US, it seems -- funny that the expectation is that a psychoactive plant is illegal! The Air Force base is unhappy, though, and is now threatening to punish military personnel who use salvia. The linked article from Drug War Chronicle provides the Air Force's definition of a drug: 'any intoxicating substance, other than alcohol, that is inhaled, injected, consumed or introduced into the body in any manner for purposes of altering mood or function.' You mean they let folks in the military drink?
Drug WarRant points to a few excellent stories, too. First, there's this LA Times article (registration required) on industrial hemp. Here's a sample: "Among the world's major industrial democracies, only the United States still forbids hemp farming. If an American farmer were to fill a field with this drugless crop, the government would consider him a felon. For selling his harvest he would be guilty of trafficking and would face a fine of as much as $4 million and a prison sentence of 10 years to life. Provided, of course, it is his first offense."
Two other stories that Drug WarRant highlights are drawn from Left Flank Shooters. One is an update on the safe injection site for intravenous drug addicts that was opened in Vancouver in September; a second is an academic paper that looks at the relationship between drug law enforcement and crime using data from counties in New York state. (An exaggerated version of the bottom line would be, More Drug War, More Crime.)
Saturday, January 17, 2004
Testing Accused Prostitutes for STDs
Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution today links to a
2000 story out of Singapore, concerning deporting
foreign women with HIV. There is a long history
of essentially scapegoating women, particularly
foreigners and prostitutes, for the spread of
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As the
Marginal Revolution post concerns foreigners with
HIV, Vice Squad will focus on prostitutes.
The notion that sellers should face stricter regulations
than buyers in vice transactions isn't per se nutty, by any
means, in that the typical seller is involved in a
much higher volume of trades than the typical buyer.
And in vices from gambling to drugs to prostitution,
enforcement efforts are regularly focused on sellers.
(Here's an earlier Vice Squad post on this issue.)
But scapegoating is another matter entirely, and
many of the mandatory testing regulations seem
aimed more at humiliation than at public health.
Recently, a Ukrainian woman accused of prostitution
in Turkey tested positive for HIV. She was then
marched, weeping, in front of television cameras, while
the police encouraged her former customers to get
tested. Then she was deported. The police were
relying on a ruling -- it had been rescinded, but they
didn't know that -- that required public exposure for
HIV-positive foreigners arrested for prostitution.
(Apparently you can't contract HIV from a fellow
countryperson). Here's a Chicago Tribune article
(registration required) about the incident. The article
quotes one local as saying that the town is
conservative and that prostitute women are not
welcome there. Perhaps he should have checked
with the men involved in the more than 1300 sexual
encounters in which the woman was alleged to
have engaged during the previous three months.
Surely such treatment would never happen in America,
no? Well, maybe not, but an article concerning that
over-the-top prostitution sting in Maricopa County,
Arizona, in November claimed that Arizona state law
requires STD testing of those who are accused (not
convicted!) of being prostitutes. Here's the original
Vice Squad post on the Maricopa County incident,
with the article link and a quotation concerning the
presumed state law.
In the late 1860s, Britain was finding that some of
its naval ships were unfit for service because so
many of the crew were disabled by STDs. How did they
respond? They passed the Contagious Diseases Acts that
made it possible for the police to arrest and test
women who happened to be in the wrong neighborhood
or were otherwise believed to be prostitutes. Funny,
isn't it, how punishments for vice crimes have a way
of avoiding that messy due-process-of-law tradition
that requires conviction for a crime before punishment
is meted out?
Vice Squad hero John Stuart Mill, author of (among
other things) The Subjection of Women and On
Liberty, asked to testify before a Royal Commission
formed to look into the Acts. Mill was magnificent,
if years before his time. He basically took an
economic approach. He suggested that men who
frequented prostitutes understood the risks, as
did the prostitutes themselves. Like other
contracts among adults, these exchanges did not
require government intervention. The public interest
was twofold. First, some of the customers might
pass along their diseases to their unsuspecting
wives -- an externality, if you will. So rather than
scapegoat the prostitutes, Mill suggested that those
who passed on the diseases to innocent victims
should be punished. The second public issue was
the fitness of Her Majesty's seamen. Here, Mill
testified in favor of the direct approach, testing the
seamen themselves and punishing those who allowed
themselves to become unfit for duty in this manner.
For the story on Mill and the Contagious Diseases
Acts, see The Life of John Stuart Mill, by
Michael St. John Packe, New York: Macmillan, 1954.
Friday, January 16, 2004
Correction on Venezuela
Looks as if my sarcasm-drenched post yesterday on Venezuela's drug decriminalization was premature. The Drug War Chronicle explains that it is not yet time to add Venezuela's name to the list of countries that have destroyed themselves via decriminalization.
Circumventing Liquor Regulations
The front page of today's Chicago Tribune brings us an article (registration required) on a controversy in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. A popular gay bar, Big Chicks, has been discovered to be in violation of a state law dating from 1934 that prohibits taverns from being within 100 feet of schools, hospitals, and houses of worship. Apparently, the bar has been in violation of the location restriction for the past 18 years, but it was only noticed (more or less accidentally) recently. The Big Chicks case has driven an attempt this week to amend the state law so that longstanding (but presumably unknowing) violators will not lose their liquor licenses. (Similar situations in the past have led to legal changes that avoided liquor license losses.) A change in state law alone would not automatically put Big Chicks in the clear, as the city of Chicago has the same 100-foot restriction, but the city has indicated that it would mirror any changes to the state law.
A similar controversy erupted a couple years ago over the hallowed Hyde Park (Vice Squad's home) institution of "Jimmy's." An avoidance technique worthy of Portia was found to circumvent the rigor of the law.
Mayor Daley has, by-and-large, been an advocate for fairly strict alcohol control in Chicago. While Vice Squad takes issue with some of the detailed policies, the notion that alcohol is underregulated in many parts of the US is one I subscribe to. (Not everywhere, however.)
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, an all-night gay nightclub had to choose either to remain open until dawn or to have a liquor license. It chose.....
Vanity Fair and New York Smoking Update
After mentioning the current issue (February 2004) of Vanity Fair yesterday, Vice Squad felt compelled to break a longstanding tradition by actually purchasing a copy. As reported, there are two articles that touch upon the smoking ban: the "Editor's Letter" by Graydon Carter and "I Fought the Law" by contrarian Christopher Hitchens. What most caught my attention (no, not the Gwyneth picture on the cover -- though it did bring back happy memories of our times together when she was filming Proof on Vice Squad's campus--) was Carter's claim that the New York police have "been given such broadly drawn powers by the mayor that they can enter offices or small businesses in search of an offending ashtray without permission or without notice." Carter should know, as he has received three tickets for keeping an ashtray in his office. I know that I have complained about inroads into Fourth Amendment protections, but surely a mayor does not formally possess the authority to delegate such powers?! -- please tell me I am correct about this!
Policing criminalized vices (at one time, after all, referred to as victimless crimes) almost necessitates questionable police tactics, and the suspect use of informants. Carter says: "The smoking laws have turned New York into a city of stoolies and enforcers."
The Hitchens article recounts a few injustices in the enforcement of various quality-of-life rules, including the smoking ordinance. One Vietnamese restaurant owner received two citations because customers were smoking outside his restaurant. But isn't that what the smoking ban was meant to encourage, you might ask? Well, yes, but you can't smoke under an awning, either. Were they smoking under an awning? Well, yes and no. There was an awning in the vicinity, but it was not open. This restaurant owner received two citations (he beat the second rap in court) for customers smoking under a closed awning. As Hitchens puts it: "Thus, a hardworking Vietnamese was penalized for, in effect, having an awning in the first place."
Crimlaw has more on how the Fourth Amendment is dying a death of one thousand cuts.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Venezuela Decriminalizes Drugs [Well, Not Exactly -- See Correction]
According to this story in Big, Left, Outside, possession of smallish quantities of drugs will no longer serve to get users arrested in Venezuela. (Thanks to Drug WarRant for the pointer.) So Venezuela joins the ranks of those benighted lands that have chosen to destroy themselves by refusing to lock up their citizens who walk around with a little bit of some illicit substance in their pocket. Remember how those other countries that previously decriminalized drugs were almost immediately destroyed? One-time countries such as, hmmm, I can almost remember their names, um, Peru, Uruguay, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal...
Major correction, January 16, 2003: Uh, not yet!
Civil Disobedience in Bloomberg's NYC?
Friend of Vice Squad Will Pyle informs us of two articles in the latest Vanity Fair (disclaimer: Will saw the magazine at the dentist's office) attacking the New York City smoking ban. Christopher Hitchens spent some time in the Big Apple attempting to break as many minor laws as he could; smoking in bars was one expedient to which he resorted, it seems. The other article is the letter from the editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. A story in the New York Daily News provides a sample:
"Under current New York City law, it is acceptable to have a loaded handgun in your place of work," Carter fumes in his editor's letter, "but not an empty ashtray."
Obscenity Cases Around the World
Obscenity cases from all over have hit the airwaves in the last couple of days. Vice Squad primo research assistant Ryan Monarch brings our attention to a guilty verdict against a Japanese publisher of rather explicit "manga" cartoons. The verdict, to be appealed, is the first Japanese obscenity conviction of a comic book publisher. According to the linked article, 45% of the books and periodicals sold in Japan are manga.
Middle America brings us a couple of obscenity cases. In Indianapolis, a woman was driving her boyfriend's car. (The transmission in her car is broken.) On the side of the boyfriend's car is a painting in questionable taste: it depicts two female dancers and two male customers at a strip club, with one of the strippers nude (except for high heels) and the second wearing lingerie. The woman motorist was stopped by police in front of her house. She was driving on a suspended license, though apparently she was stopped because of the painting. She was taken to jail, and now faces two obscenity-related counts in addition to the driving with a suspended license charge. The boyfriend had been driving the car since May with no trouble from the police. The woman and her boyfriend believe that the stop was undertaken in retaliation for a complaint that she recently lodged against the police.
Hamilton County, Ohio, the jurisdiction that brought you the Larry Flynt prosecution, is at it again. This week they convicted the owner of an adult video store for selling an obscene videotape to an undercover sheriff's detective. The lawyer for the defendant noted that the store was actually in the Cincinnati police district, and that Cincinnati police went by the store every day for years and paid it no mind. Not so the Hamilton County Sheriff, who clearly takes seriously his duty to protect his constituents from vile pornography -- OK, except for that they get delivered right to their homes, via cable or satellite or....
[One bonus middle America story, also thanks to Ryan Monarch. Michigan introduced a new state law on January 1 that would require magazines that are "harmful to minors" to be kept away from kids, either by being covered up or by being placed in restricted areas of bookstores. A federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law has now been filed by a group of publishers, distributors, and booksellers. Here's one story from the Associated Press, and one with a slightly different take from Family News in Focus. The comic book industry, an opponent of these types of laws in the past (and, as the Japan case shows, a likely target of enforcement,) is again taking part in the legal fracas.]
And in Brazil, an American commercial pilot made an impolite gesture when he had his picture taken, as all Americans entering Brazil must do (that is, have their pictures taken, not make an impolite gesture.) He was arrested and is charged with disobeying authority. No word if our nation's Attorney General, John Comstock Ashcroft, has responded by introducing a new federal crime of disobeying authority into the draft for an updated Patriot Act.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
Don't The Voters Always Fall for that Fake Drunk Driving Charge?
One of the mixed blessings of living in Chicago is keeping abreast of the goings-on in the near-suburban town of Cicero. Once home to Al Capone, Cicero continues to try to live up to that heritage. Today's Trib reports that the town has settled a lawsuit, only costing Cicero taxpayers some $400,000. (This figure cannot be substantiated, as the terms of the settlement are confidential.)
The lawsuit was filed by a fellow who was running for town President a few years ago. He alleged that the then-Superintendent of the Cicero police, accompanied by 5 other Cicero officers, staked him out when he hosted a Christmas party at a Chicago (not a Cicero) restaurant. They followed the candidate back to Cicero, goes the allegation, and then called an officer in Cicero with a heads-up. Less than three blocks inside the town border, the candidate was pulled over and charged with, among other things, driving under the influence. Prosecutors dropped the case two months later.
The arrested candidate thinks that the (allegedly false) arrest was concocted by his opponent, the sitting President. She won the election, but now she is sitting elsewhere, in federal custody, having been found guilty of other misdeeds that cost the town a bundle; indeed, $400,000 is a relative drop in the bucket: "The Town Board approved the settlement Tuesday night with no discussion."
Bubble in the Stripper Pole Market?
Carol Marin's column (registration required) in today's Chicago Tribune concerns, um, teenage girls and stripper poles. It's all the rage, you see, for young women to dance (and presumably strip) with the help of this prop. And not only young women, as this November article in the Washington Post makes clear -- strip dance classes are not unusual in exercise clubs these days, it seems. Here's an excerpt from the Post story:
"The television cartoon "Stripperella" features a superhero exotic dancer. Borrowing from the shock jock principle that nudity makes great radio, the Sports Junkies keep a pole in their WHFS-FM studio. In New York, a group called Cake is devoted to women's sexuality and has encouraged its members to strip for each other. And the national gym chain Crunch promotes the idea of stripping as good exercise by offering cardio striptease classes in six cities."
But really, just how common is this activity, especially among young girls? If Marin's sample is representative, it might not yet be time to proclaim the end of Western civilization (though I am not confident): "... I have yet to find a preteen or teenage girl who owns one or has tried one. Maybe it's not as huge a trend as the trend spotters think."
Prurient addendum: What do you do if you find that your stripper pole is not sufficiently long? Capitalism to the rescue!
The Supreme Court and Social Science Research
Since note #11 in Brown v. Board of Education, social science research occasionally finds its way into a Supreme Court opinion. In Lawrence v. Texas (the sodomy case), research indicating that laws aimed at specifically homosexual conduct were not of ancient origin was referenced in the opinion of the court. Vice Squad's grand-boss's work on academic freedom was cited in a dissenting opinion by Justice Stevens (note #4) in the June, 2003 library filters case. And in yesterday's roadblock opinion, the majority opinion cited a November, 2003 article in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention (see page 6 of Justice Breyer's opinion). They are up to date at the Supreme Court!
Yesterday's cited article* concerns reasons why sobriety checkpoints are not used more frequently in the US -- previous research shows that well-publicized checkpoints effectively deter drunk driving. Properly-conducted sobriety checkpoints have been held to be consistent with the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, so federal law is not a barrier. According to the article, thirteen states conduct no sobriety checkpoints, however, in most cases because they would violate state law. But many states are unenthusiastic about checkpoints, even though they (1) are legal and (2) appear to be effective at deterring drunk driving. The article seeks to find the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm. This excerpt from the concluding paragraph of the "Discussion" section summarizes the findings:
"In summary, states with and without frequent checkpoints are distinguished by motivational factors and by their approaches to using financial and manpower resources. In the frequent-use states, the motivation for checkpoints comes from a combination of support by task forces, citizen activist groups, police officials who understand the power of checkpoints as a deterrence strategy, and the public. In these states, police resources generally are used efficiently, and various sources of funding are tapped. In states with infrequent checkpoints, available funds often are not sought and too many police officers are used at checkpoints."
The article was cited in yesterday's opinion to defang the potential criticism that roadblocks might unreasonably proliferate if they were found to be constitutional.
So, social science research is cited by the Supreme Court -- but does it actually sway the Court, or is the research just thrown into opinions that are determined on other grounds? Vice Squad thinks that the direct effect of social science research on Court opinions is almost non-existent. Nevertheless, the indirect effect, particularly of a large body of research, might be important. Such a mass of research puts new ideas into the air, and justices breathe the same air as the rest of us (avoid geriatric/Court-based humor here). So, to paraphrase Lord Keynes, it may be that the nine madmen and madwomen in authority are actually distilling their frenzy from the academic scribblings of cloistered social scientists.
*"Why are sobriety checkpoints not widely adopted as an enforcement strategy in the United States?," by James C. Fell, Susan A. Ferguson, Allan F. Williams, and Michele Fields, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 35, Issue 6, Pages 825-1004 (November 2003). I couldn't get a link to work.
Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Supreme Court Upholds Unusual Roadblock
The US Supreme Court declared today (13-page decision in PDF format here) that a police checkpoint of motorists aimed at gathering information of a specific crime (committed on the same stretch of highway almost exactly one week earlier) did not violate the unreasonable search and seizure protections of the Fourth Amendment. The vote was 6-3, with Justices Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg in partial dissent.
The case arose because a motorist stopped at the checkpoint was arrested for and found guilty of drunk driving. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld a state appellate court ruling that the stop was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decision today overturns the Illinois Supreme Court ruling.
The basis for the state Supreme Court ruling was the earlier Supreme Court decision in Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000). In that case, police roadblocks designed to detect drug trafficking, in the absence of any individualized suspicion, were ruled to infringe Fourth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court today was unanimous in determining that the Edmond decision was not controlling in the Illinois case. Among other reasons, today's case was distinguished because the purpose of the Illinois roadblocks was simply to gather information about a previous crime, not to uncover crimes committed by the stopped motorists. The majority went on to determine that the Illinois checkpoint was reasonable, in that the public concern was substantial and the checkpoint considerably advanced this concern, without being overly broad, and while being only a minimal infringement upon liberty. (The Supremes seem to have more amiable encounters with police than the rest of us do.) The dissenters argued that the case should have been returned to Illinois for the state courts to determine (at least, at first) whether the roadblock was reasonable.
Vice Squad (in his days as a Crescat guest) noted the oral arguments in this case last November. The issue fell into what is becoming an old chestnut for Vice Squad, the threat to Fourth Amendment rights posed by the asymmetry of cases: almost all the relevant cases (including this one) are brought by factually-guilty criminals. A finding that the stop was unconstitutional would be tantamount to letting such a person go free. While some searches are found to be unconstitutional, it would not be surprising for justices to stretch a point (perhaps subconsciously) when faced with the alternatives of either a finding of constitutionality, or freeing a factually-guilty party.
Thanks to Will Baude at Crescat Sententia for the pointer.
Update, January 14: This post at Crimlaw makes an impassioned dissent from the Supreme Court decision.
Monday, January 12, 2004
US Tobacco Settlement Under Siege
The 1998 settlement between tobacco manufacturers and state attorneys general is under attack as being anti-competitive. Of course, the settlement is anti-competitive. It essentially imposes higher taxes on existing manufacturers. The higher prices that result potentially would have created an enhanced incentive for new producers (not subject to the settlement taxes) to enter the market and to gain market share. To prevent this foreseeable development, the settlement commits the states to impose taxes on non-settling firms that gain a significant market share.
One importer has sued in Federal court, and now its suit has an opportunity to move ahead. Overlawyered and the Volokh Conspiracy have more.
Incidentally, the hegemony of the Big Four tobacco manufacturers is already under serious post-settlement attack from competitors. Here's a paragraph from a January 5 report from a North Carolina-based news station: "In four years, the market share of the small cigarette companies has multiplied more than tenfold, from 0.5 percent of cigarettes sold in the United States in 1998 to 6.5 percent in 2002, according to the National Association of Attorneys General. The group said the numbers for 2003 will be more startling."
Canadian Tobacco Lawsuits
As they inch towards decriminalizing marijuana, our neighbors to
the north are also having a go at Big Tobacco. In Ontario, court
proceedings are underway to determine if a lawsuit, now nine
years old, can move forward as a class action. The claim is that
three tobacco companies conspired to withhold from consumers
information about the addictiveness and adverse health effects
of cigarettes. If the case achieves class-action status, the
potential liability would be enormous for Rothmans Benson &
Hedges, Imperial Tobacco Canada, and JTI MacDonald.
JTI MacDonald faces another problem over in Quebec, where the
provincial government is looking to collect up to $1 billion (Canadian)
in back taxes from the Toronto tobacco manufacturer. The government
is particularly interested in the years 1990-94, when smuggling was
widespread. (The linked article says, "During that period, it has been
estimated that as much as 60 per cent of cigarettes smoked here
[Quebec] were from black market sources," but Vice Squad has heard
other estimates of 75 per cent.) During this time, Canada had imposed
very high excise taxes on domestic cigarette manufacturing and
imports. Exported cigarettes were exempt from the tax, however,
so an apparently common ruse was to export the cigarettes and then
surreptitiously re-import them, avoiding the high duties. The black
market brought the usual social costs of gangs and violence, until
the Canadian government reduced the incentive to evade by cutting
the cigarette tax. While legal vices can usually sustain quite high taxes,
there are limits: when the taxes become sufficiently high, the sort of
outcomes usually associated with a prohibition are reproduced under
a legal regime.
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Christiania Threatened (Again)
In 1971 a land invasion took place in Copenhagen, Denmark:
hippies occupied an area in town containing buildings that
once served as military barracks. They never left, and established
their Chrisitiania as a "Free State," one that refused to pay taxes
or otherwise bend to the Danish crown or the European Union.
Over time, Christiania's relationship to Copenhagen became
regularized but far from normalized. Residents pay for water and
electricity but still remain off the tax roles. Vice Squad's interest in
Christiania lies in the fact that marijuana and hashish use and
sales are permitted, one might even say encouraged, in Christiania.
This, too, flies in the face of Danish law, of course. At one time
hard drug sales and legions of junkies descended upon Christiania,
but in the early 1980s the community adopted a "no hard drugs"
position. When Vice Squad spent 10 minutes in Christiania a few
weeks ago (at night, in the rain, and in the mud (the streets
aren't paved and there are no cars)), the only posted rule was on
a sign proclaiming, in English, "No Hard Drugs".
Christiania has a long history of battles with the state, and now
it is facing a new one. Last Sunday the hash sellers on "Pusher '
Street" burned down their own stalls, to pre-empt further police
action against them. Nevertheless, as soft drug sales and use are
still tolerated by the folks within Christiania, they may not have
seen the end of the Danish police. Drug War Chronicle has the
full story. Christiania maintains a website that includes
some historical background: "The Tale of Christiania".
Vice Squad can't help to admire the spirit of the Christiania residents,
and like John Stuart Mill, thinks that we have much to gain by
encouraging experiments in living. (But he probably would not
be pleased if squatters set up in his own quarters for an experiment
Saturday, January 10, 2004
David Courtwright's Forces of Habit
Recently Vice Squad read Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making
of the Modern World, by historian David T. Courtwright. The book deals
with how alcohol, tobacco, caffeine (tea and coffee in particular),
chocolate, opiates, cocaine, and cannabis grew into global commodities,
as well as how some other psychoactive drugs (qat, betel nuts, kava)
failed to make the transition from indigenous area to global use. Forces
of Habit is well researched and fluidly written, and Vice Squad
learned quite a bit from it.
There are all sorts of insights from Forces of Habit that I could pass
along, but I will just provide a small, near random sample. Drugs tend
to start as medicines (at least when they spread internationally), and
only later does recreational use (and correspondingly, controversy)
become widespread. This pattern holds for distilled alcohol, tobacco,
cocaine, morphine -- and sugar! Courtwright notes that
sugar has the same habituating qualities as psychoactive drugs, and he
illustrates how the spread of many drugs has been eased by their
combination with sugar. (This has been true for what Courtwright terms
the "Big Three": alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. His "Little Three" are
opium, cocaine, and cannabis.) Taxes have played a major role in spreading
the use of psychoactive substances; in particular, lowered taxes leading to
lowered prices has often led to a surge in a drug's popularity.
Coffee, tea, chocolate, and tobacco owe their popularity in part
to the fact that they cohere well with the capitalist order -- the use
of these drugs does not present any immediate threat to productivity,
unlike alcohol. Drugs are also used to make a life of dull or arduous
labor more endurable; sometimes workers (even slave laborers) have been
paid in part in drugs of one form or another, including alcohol, opium,
and cannabis. Drug consumption and military service have historically
been closely connected, and military personnel have played a role in
spreading drug habits.
Courtwright's main argument about why some drugs spread and why drug
policies have changed so substantially over the years is that these
developments largely depend on interest of the social elites.
From the mid 16th to the end of the 19th Century, the main interest
of the elites was to raise revenue by taxing drugs, and perhaps to
quiet labor by seeing to it that workers had access to drugs. (States
become addicted to drug tax revenue -- and are subject to relapse --
in a manner not dissimilar to addicts' dependence upon drugs.) The
movement from taxation to prohibition in the late 19th Century in
part occurred because industrial processes and a mechanized military
made some forms of drug use -- alcohol in particular -- too costly.
At the same time, the therapeutic value of most recreational drugs
declined, because of improved substitutes and better overall health.
The health costs of drugs also became better established.
Courtwright notes the oft-perceived mismatch between restrictiveness
of control and social costs of a drug. Alcohol brings big problems
but is widely available; peyote is relatively safe but suppressed.
Tobacco's addictiveness and health costs are both very significant.
With regard to current drug policy, Courtwright treads lightly, and
plays his cards pretty close to the vest. He certainly doesn't
endorse calls for legalization, which he associates with "a form
of reactionary libertarianism...[p. 201]" (Vice Squad, incidentally,
believes that there should be legal channels of supply for adults
to all of the currently illicit drugs, though those channels might
be hard to access and be governed by all sorts of regulations,
including quantity restrictions and possibly user licensing and advance
purchase requirements. Vice Squad is not a libertarian, but does
favor this type of drug legalization.) Courtwright also notes that
"legalization would reset the policy clock by more than a hundred
years [p. 201]", but making these drugs illegal (e.g., cannabis
in the US in 1937) reset the policy clock by centuries, so I don't
see that as much of an argument for avoiding legalization. Courtwright
identifies middle class parents as bulwarks of drug prohibition:
they fear cannabis and other drug use by their kids, and see tough
enforcement as protecting their family, with the costs borne by others
who in part they see as deserving the harsh treatment. (Vice Squad
concurs with Courtwright's characterization, and would like to take
this point up in the not-too-distant future.)
Courtwright seems much more comfortable with harm reduction measures,
and rightly notes the significant role of the AIDS pandemic in pushing
the harm reduction agenda. He also seems comfortable with the position
of drug war "owls" (i.e., neither hawks nor doves) who believe in
types of convergence such that laws governing currently illicit drugs
be liberalized while stricter controls are put on alcohol and tobacco.
(By and large, Vice Squad supports stricter alcohol controls (though
in some areas this might just mean higher taxes.))
Well, this post has already become too long. I'll close by recommending
Forces of Habit to all of those interested in the historical
development of today's drug situation. It's a very valuable contribution.
I just found a review on-line from Jonathan Caulkins, a Rand-affiliated drug
policy expert. Haven't read it yet to see if he and I are in agreement, but
the loyal Vice Squad reader can judge for him or herself here. As
Forces of Habit was published in 2001 -- Vice Squad never claimed to be
up-to-the-minute -- no doubt there are many other reviews floating