Friday, April 30, 2004
Cracking Down on Canadian Tourists Who Look Like They Might Be Marijuana Smokers
OK, Vice Squad comes late to this story, which was mentioned by Last One Speaks a couple days ago. But having just read the account in this week's Drug War Chronicle, I can't resist passing along an excerpt:
"Dehler and Gudz were sitting eating a bagel in Cooper Square Park in Manhattan's Lower East Side when they were set upon by undercover narcs who claimed they were smoking marijuana. They were not, said Dehler and Gudz, only having lunch before a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, when two scruffy looking men in civilian clothes rushed them, yelling something about smoking marijuana. Thinking they were being mugged, Gudz screamed for help. According to Dehler, the undercover cops punched him in the face and threw him to the ground. Although no marijuana was found, both Gudz and Dehler were arrested and jailed at the 9th Precinct for nearly 24 hours.
"I got brought in front of this big bull sergeant who looks at me and says, 'Do you like to fight with cops up in Canada?' I said, 'I don't know what's going on. I'm willing to apologize to the arresting officer,'" Dehler told the Ottawa Citizen. "He interrupts me and says: 'If that was me arresting you, you would be in the hospital right now.' He said, 'Take him in the back and strip search him and give him the whole nine yards.'"
The NYPD strip-searched Dehler and Gudz and repeatedly blocked their efforts to contact friends, family, or attorneys, Dehler said, but a good Samaritan who witnessed the encounter contacted the Canadian consulate. Gudz was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing justice, while Dehler was charged with attempted assault, resisting arrest, harassment and disorderly conduct. All the charges have since been dropped, but the couple is out $5,000 in legal expenses and has, for good reason, developed a jaundiced view of the Big Apple and the United States."
Walter Olson at Overlawyered has the latest developments.
Apologies for the light blogging recently, and for what might be a rather confused looking blog in the next few days. With help from primo research assistant Ryan Monarch, I am trying to make a few changes to the look of Vice Squad. All change is for the worse, of course.
Labels: smoking ban
What's Worse? Drunk Driving or Soliciting an Adult Prostitute?
The Millian in me tends to believe that the one that involves the greater potential harm to others might be the more serious infraction. But it certainly is far from clear that the school districts of our nation agree, at least when it comes to the behavior of their employees. Last week, a Philadelphia-area middle-school principal accused of soliciting resigned prior to a hearing (registration required) that likely would have resulted in his dismissal. (Earlier Vice Squad mention of this story is here.) A Connecticut high school languages teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave following his soliciting arrest. But today's Washington Post reports (registration required) that "The Alexandria [Virginia] School Board gave its support last night to Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry, voting 7 to 1 to stand behind her a week after she was charged with drunken driving... The board placed several conditions on her continued employment -- including shortening her contract by a year, to end in June 2005, and requiring her to enroll in an alcohol counseling program. But her contract, worth $168,000 a year, can be renewed."
(Thanks to primo research assistant Ryan Monarch for the pointer to the Post article.)
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Asset Forfeiture Extends Beyond Drugs and Prostitution
Yes, gambling offenses can also make big winners out of police departments, as a recent bust in Lee County, Florida, demonstrates: "Millions of dollars worth of money and property was confiscated during the bust of a gambling operation that was under investigation for over 17 months. Part of that money seized will go back to local law enforcement to help fight crime."
There's more: "Police say this multi-million dollar bust could mean a big pay off for taxpayers. By law, agencies get to keep a percentage of seized money and assets....
Several federal agencies including the FBI, IRS and Secret Service will also get a cut of the seized money."
No word in the linked article on the legal basis for the asset seizure in this case. As the federales are involved, presumably this Florida seizure falls under one of the categories listed on the Department of Justice website. For background and some of the horrors of asset forfeiture (particularly of the civil, in rem variety), see this website maintained by Forfeiture Endangers American Rights.
Latest Prostitution Arrests
Regular Vice Squad readers will recall that I object to the criminalization of adult prostitution. But given that we have a prohibitory regime, some enforcement aimed at least some types of prostitution is probably required. Streetwalking, in particular, should be controlled, although toleration of streetwalking within designated zones doesn't sound like a bad policy to me. At any rate, what we get is occasional sting operations that often catch up otherwise upstanding citizens. Here are some of the latest successes in the war against prostitution:
(1) Eleven women were charged with soliciting following a sting operation in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Monday night.
(2) Five men were arrested on suspicion of solicitation for prostitution during a reverse sting operation in Lodi, California, on Tuesday afternoon. The police sergeant who organized the operation noted, seemingly wistfully, that many more men appeared to be interested, but did not actually go far enough in soliciting to merit an arrest.
(3) In Gwinnett County, Georgia, police raided a massage parlor in February and arrested two women for prostitution. They also seized credit card receipts. An investigation of the receipts led to the resignation of one of their own officers (registration required), who reportedly had visited the parlor on unofficial business in January. Last year, another Gwinnett officer was arrested "and charged with felony counts of bribery after allegedly alerting massage parlors of upcoming prostitution raids."
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
We Can All Feel Safer Today
Whew! Yet another highly dangerous college student has been locked up behind bars on felony charges for selling approximately $1,800 worth of drugs over the past 6 months to undercover cops. The 18-year-old NYU student has been charged with multiple counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance, and possession with intent to sell, according to Newsday.
It's fantastic that this young woman has had her life ruined for supplying a substance to individuals for which there is a clearly a demand. Kudos to NYC's finest for getting this dangerous woman off the street.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Selling Beer at a Loss
Norway is not a member of the European Union, so Norway has not been party to the many alterations of alcohol policies throughout other European countries that have been inspired by EU regulations and expansion. Further, Norway continues to tax alcohol at higher rates than any other European country. Nonetheless, a price war has broken out among licensed beer sellers in Norway, cutting the price of a bottle of beer by more than one-half. In fact, the going price is lower than the tax, meaning that the retailers are actually losing money (indeed, quite a bit of money, more than 100% of the wholesale price) on each bottle of beer that they sell.
The government is rescuing the sellers from their own competitive propensities, however, by declaring that such low prices are a violation of the alcohol laws. To protect their licenses to sell beer, then, retailers have to raise prices. When this became clear on Friday, a rush to buy the cheap beer while it lasted ensued, of course.
"Louisiana May Ban Low-Slung Pants"
Why? Well, according to the linked article, because the bill's sponsor "was tired of catching glimpses of boxer shorts and G-strings over the lowered belt lines of young adults." Hmmm, sounds like he is spending quite a bit of time looking into this pressing matter.
OK, I promised no more New Orleans-inspired posts, but, well, er, I am addicted to New Orleans-inspired posts. And as my health insurance refuses to pay for treatment....
Reducing Harms of Teen Streetwalking Through Decriminalisation?
Adult prostitution per se is legal in Canada, though streetwalking is not legal. (And of course, the sexual exploitation of children and youths under 18 is prohibited.) A youth-issues advisory body to the Quebec government has issued a call, however, for the decriminalisation of streetwalking as a method of improving the living conditions for young adult prostitutes. The current criminalisation of streetwalking pushes that activity into areas with less police presence, saddles young prostitutes with criminal records, and also promotes a bad relationship (or worse) between prostitutes and the police. The report, by the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse, is available here, in pdf format and en francais.
My own state of Illinois is taking a different tack-- the state house and senate are considering sealing the criminal records of those "convicted of some less-serious felonies such as drug possession and prostitution..." How did these activities ever become felonies?
It is Possible to Lose Your Liquor License in New Orleans
OK, just one more New Orleans-inspired post. Here's what it takes to have your liquor license revoked:
"The bar's owner... was arrested for second degree murder in January after shooting a man who was selling beer outside of the bar. [The owner] was arrested and charged with second degree murder. His case is still pending.
A year earlier, there was another shooting at the bar. Police have logged five other instances of drug or weapons violations at the bar over the last year."
Paying for a Party By Being in a Porn Movie.....
...Tyler Cohen at Marginal Revolution has the details -- it seems that a month-long party upon the completion of high school is traditional in Norway.
Monday, April 26, 2004
New Orleans Vice
Alas, I have little first-hand experience to report upon, despite having spent the last few days in the Big Easy. I will note that the caffeine/gambling connection seems to be growing, as there is now a Starbucks inside the twice-bankrupt Harrah's casino. (Yes, casinos can go bankrupt -- even multiple times.) Perhaps in an attempt to avoid further bankruptcies, the casino is on the verge of opening a new 516-seat theater that will offer Las Vegas-style entertainment. Oh, and earlier this month it started knocking down some 19th century buildings to build a 26-story hotel, though a couple of the 19th century facades will be maintained, and one old building will be incorporated into the hotel design. In case those two previous bankruptcies have you worried, well, I wouldn't be too concerned. Harrah's New Orleans managed to win $27.6 million from its customers in March -- and, I am sad to report, $4.50 from me in April. I even turned down the free drink offer -- though if a Starbucks' coffee was one of the alternatives I might have reconsidered.
Or maybe I lost more. People wildly underestimate their gambling losses. A report prepared for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission a few years back indicated that survey respondents underestimated lottery losses by two-thirds or three-quarters, while the responses by casino players indicated a net win -- all the casinos should go bankrupt! Similar results have been found in asking participants in zero-sum situations like a regular Friday night poker game: people either purposely mislead researchers, or mislead themselves, about the true state of their gambling balance.
I am sticking with my "lost $4.50" claim, nevertheless.
Saturday, April 24, 2004
Probable Cause - Anyone?
More annoying drug war news from my home state of Iowa. Two people were arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute along interstate 80 in Iowa on Friday, reports the Perry Chief.
The car was pulled over for minor traffic violations, and was searched pursuant to a police officer noticing "criminal indicators". What these indicators were is not known. Hank, the Wonder Narc Dog, alerted on the car, and the marijuana was found. What gets me is that no one even questions the propriety of searching this car. What are the criminal indicators? Further, drug sniffing dogs are horribly unreliable, and their "testimony" has begun to be excluded in some states. The Fourth Amendment seems almost non-existent in traffic stop cases anymore.
A Sort Of Victory in the War on Drugs
A nice man, by all accounts, was duped into carrying some cocaine into the United States from Trinidad. New York Newsday reports that he was acquitted on all charges Friday.
The final outcome was the right one, but why was this guy even brought to trial? The cocaine was hidden in a can of butter that the man declared to customs, he was surprised when customs officials found cocaine hidden in the butter, and this guy had a squeaky clean record. The Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office which tried the man has a 90% conviction rate. Is that why they went ahead with the case? After the trial ended, assistant U.S. attorney Paige Peterson was overheard saying to the defendant, "I think you are a very nice man and wish you the best."
I wish the man all the best too, but he still has a felony arrest on his record, and this entire incident has disrupted his life and the lives of his family members for months. At least the jury was able to exercise some common sense when law enforcement officials were not.
Friday, April 23, 2004
We're All A Lot Safer Today
Thank goodness, Chicago's NBC affiliate reported that 1800 pounds of marijuana was seized yesterday on the city's south side. No weapons were found, yet the cops are certain that a yet-to-be-named gang is involved somehow.
Additionally, John Ashcroft is busy neglecting his duties as chief terrorism investigator, and has instead opted to stomp on states' rights and punish sick people by asking the United State Supreme Court to reverse a federal appellate court ruling which protects medical marijuana patients and caregivers from prosecution by the federal government. The 9th Circuit has ruled that "cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and not for exchange or distribution is not properly characterized as commercial or economic activity". In other words, the feds can't do anything about it. It would seem to me that one could take out the "medicinal purposes" part of that holding, and still have a pretty compelling reason for excluding the federal government from involvement in state drug policy.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Out of Town and Out of It
Light or non-existent blogging for me in the next couple of days, I am sorry to report. I am slated to leave town for a few days, but to be honest, I also am a bit under the weather. I already feel better for getting that off my chest, though. Thanks.
Vice Squad Knows Not How Far Its Influence Extends
Why just yesterday Vice Squad suggested to Texas Governor Rick Perry that instead of taxing strip clubs to pay for education, he should ban them, based simply on the general notion that prohibiting other people's vices is always good policy. Today, primo research assistant Ryan Monarch brings us word that Texas's state comptroller, Carole Keeton Strayhorn (like the governor, a Republican) is thinking along the same lines:
"On Wednesday, she [Strayhorn] attacked Perry for the strip club proposal and called for banning alcohol sales at such places to force them out of business.
'Today, this state says you can't drink and drive and you cannot walk into a convenience store with an alcoholic drink in your hand. Certainly we can say you can't get drunk while watching people take off their clothes in public to pay for education,' Strayhorn said." So while the tie to education has earned her opposition, it is unclear from the CNN.com report from which the quote is taken exactly what sort of strip club tax earmarking would pass muster with the comptroller. Maybe we could use the funds to pay for methadone clinics?
Taking the LEAP Message to New Zealand
"A visiting former Scotland Yard drugs boss is calling for all drugs, from marijuana and methamphetamines to cocaine and opiates, to be legalised." The quote comes from this report that was kindly brought to our attention by a friend of Vice Squad. The ex-officer is visiting New Zealand and Australia with a group from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Smoking Bans in the Heart of Tobacco Country
The last holdout among federal government buildings in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (and indeed, in all North Carolina metropolitan areas) caved in at the start of this week and banned smoking in public areas. And today we learn from a friend of Vice Squad that Lexington, Kentucky's smoking ban, which includes bars and restaurants, has passed muster with the state Supreme Court. What? They allow bars in Kentucky? Aren't they unhealthy?
Labels: smoking ban
Online Gambling Ads
Overlawyered brings to our attention this Jacob Sullum column at Reason Online on the Justice Department's campaign against those who host advertisements for online gambling. Two weeks ago, Vice Squad noted that Google and Yahoo were discontinuing web gambling ads. Sullum suggests that it is likely that Google and Yahoo made this decision under the perceived threat of legal action; further, "These companies have surrendered their First Amendment rights without a fight, allowing the government to silence speech it doesn't like by floating a legal theory that almost certainly would fail if it were tested in court. Their capitulation illustrates the chilling effect of vague laws in the hands of ambitious prosecutors."
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Philip Morris and its Partner, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Lose a Skirmish
Many states continue to look for ways to protect their tobacco settlement awards by raising the costs of small, non-settling tobacco manufacturers. The governor of Virginia had proposed legislation to slow down the return of escrow payments made by the small sellers, but the Virginia House Speaker was able to prevent the proposal from coming up for a vote, according to this article in dailypress.com (Hampton Roads, Virginia). But with big money at stake for the Virginia/Philip Morris team, one suspects that the House Speaker's maneuvering will not be the last move in this game. (Here and here are the most recent related Vice Squad posts.)
Private Regulation of Vice
Some people are afraid that drug legalization will undermine the extremely negative attitudes that many individuals have towards the currently illicit drugs. But the social disapproval of a vice can survive legalization. Alcohol is actively disapproved of by large numbers of Americans, just to take one obvious example.
Prostitution provides a second example. Back in November Vice Squad reported on Heidi Fleiss and a legal brothel in Melbourne, Australia, with which Ms. Fleiss is affiliated. Now the brothel, The Daily Planet, appears to be up for sale, according to this article in the New Zealand Herald. Why are the current owners looking to sell?: "...while sex may sell, it scares off the investors and bankers Australia's first listed brothel property owner says it needs to spur its growth plans....'While the Daily Planet brand was a great launch platform for us, we've had a lot of resistance from shareholders and advisers because of the perception that we're in the prostitution business,' chief executive Andrew Harris said."
It isn't as if the bankers and stockholders are afraid of all forms of commercial sex, however -- those "growth plans" consist of an intention to expand their strip club operations. "Harris said brokers, investors and lawyers did not have the same compunction about strip bars as with owning a brothel."
Harry Levine on Harm Reduction
Yesterday I promised a few more nuggets from Harry Levine's "The Secret of Worldwide Drug Prohibition," a 2002 article in The Independent Review. Harm reduction is the term applied to policies that generally don't aim at eliminating drug use, but rather, try to limit the harms that are imposed by drug use. Standard heroin harm-reduction strategies include methadone maintenance and needle exchanges. But most harm reduction strategies are designed to work within the currently existing drug prohibition regime. Levine notes the symmetry:
"Harm-reduction advocates' stance toward drug prohibition is exactly the same as their stance toward drug use. Harm reduction seeks to reduce the harmful effects of drug use without requiring users to be drug free. It also seeks to reduce the harmful effects of drug prohibition without requiring governments to be prohibition free."
Today's Chicago Tribune runs an article (registration required) from the New York Times News Service on the possibility that sin taxes will be expanded in Texas:
"Gov. Rick Perry called the Legislature into special session Tuesday to change the way public education is financed in Texas. He wants to give billions of dollars in property tax reductions to the most affluent homeowners while making up part of the revenue loss through a vast expansion of legal gambling and increased 'sin taxes'--including a $5 tax each time a patron enters a topless bar...
Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia are among the states that have shifted part of the cost of schooling from taxes on income, sales and property to levies on gambling and nude or topless dances in the past few years. Other states are considering such plans, including New York."
The comments of a dancer named Rio were included in the article:
"She characterized it as immoral because it linked 'adult entertainment' with schoolchildren and because she saw it as a tax increase on the women like herself, who she said lack political influence.
'This is the lowest thing they could do,' she said. 'The governor wants to give the owners of the biggest houses a tax break and he wants women who have to take their clothes off for money to pay for it.'"
Vice Squad has a suggestion for the Texas Governor. Instead of taxing gambling and exotic dancing, why not prohibit these activities, with long mandatory minimum sentences imposed upon violators? Then, empower special police units to engage in all sorts of shady practices involving undercover agents, paid informants, and wiretapping. Then, pass a civil asset forfeiture law so that you can seize the money and property of anyone accused of violating the new anti-vice statutes. Make sure that the police get to keep a substantial proportion of the seized assets, to ensure diligence. Unlike your reckless taxation idea, my proposal has an established record of success in regulating vices.
Vice Squad has looked at sin taxes in the past. I will invoke the name of J. S. Mill again, as I mention that I have no principled objection to special taxes on vice. Here's part of Mill's discussion of sin taxes from Chapter 5 of On Liberty: "...it must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that taxation should be indirect; that the State, therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what commodities the consumers can best spare; and a' fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of."
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
Globalizing Drug Prohibition
Thanks to the efforts of primo research assistant Ryan Monarch I managed to read "The Secret of Worldwide Drug Prohibition," an article by Harry G. Levine that appeared in The Independent Review in Fall, 2002. Levine offers many insights in the 16-page article, and I will try to share some of them in the next few days. To start, let me quote Levine's paragraph summarizing how drug prohibition became a global phenomenon in the 20th Century:
"In the twentieth century, drug prohibition spread from the United States to every country in the world, for a number of reasons. First, drug prohibition spread so successfully because of the enormous economic, political, and military power of the United States. Second, many different kinds of governments throughout the world supported drug prohibition because they found that police and military resources marshalled on behalf of drug prohibition could be used for many nondrug-related activities. Third, drug prohibition also gained substantial popular support in many countries because drug-demonization crusades and antidrug ideology were rhetorically, politically, and even financially useful to many politicians, the media, schools, the police, the military, religious institutions, and some elements of the medical profession. Fourth, the spread of drug prohibition was aided by the twentieth century's romantic or utopian ideologies about coercive state power, making the fight against 'drugs' the one topic on which politicians of all stripes could usually agree. Finally, drug prohibition gained great legitimacy throughout the world because it was seen as a UN project."
Levine later suggests that repealing or amending the chief UN antidrug convention would allow nations and eventually localities to experiment with different drug-control regimes, much as repealing the 18th Amendment in the US allowed the individual states to develop their own alcohol control regimes.
Caution in Liberalising British Gambling
Britain has been preparing a gambling bill that will greatly ease controls on some forms of wagering. A joint Lords/Commons parliamentary committee, however, has called for a somewhat less sweeping approach than that contained in the draft bill. Access to high-value gaming machines and the possibility that a gambling establishment would face no limit for the numbers of machines present were particular items of parliamentary concern.
The committee's report is available here, in either pdf or html format; a related BBC item from today is available here; finally, the most recent Vice Squad post on the proposed British gambling changes is here.
Admitted Heroin Users Reticent About Cocaine Use
When people show up at an emergency room or for other medical care, knowledge of the drugs that they use can be of vital importance for themselves and their physicians. But people are not so willing to reveal that they use socially-frowned-upon drugs, and perhaps especially illegal ones. (Yet another cost of drug prohibition: it acts as a supplement to the disincentive to reveal, even to health-care professionals, important medical information.)
Self-reports of vice activity in general tend to be quite untrustworthy. Some people might be motivated to own up to their drug use, however, if they hope to be accepted into a treatment program, for instance. It might be thought that admitted heroin users would come clean about their use of other drugs, but that seems not to be the case. Perhaps heroin users look down upon cocaine users?
A research report that appears in the May 2004 issue of the journal Addiction finds that more than one-third of admitted heroin users who tested positive (via tests of hair samples) for cocaine use did not report that use, even in a secure environment and in knowledge of the fact that their hair would be tested for cocaine. Men were particularly unforthcoming about their cocaine use.
The article offers several hypotheses to explain the findings, including the possibility that those who did not self-report cocaine use tended to be light cocaine users, so they did not think their occasional cocaine consumption worthy of mention. This hypothesis is consistent with the findings that the concentrations of detected cocaine were much smaller in those who tested positive but did not report cocaine use than for those who admitted cocaine use. Perhaps surprisingly, heavier opiate users were less likely to own up to their coke use than were lighter users of heroin.
Monday, April 19, 2004
Tobacco Company Partners Prosper
The partners, of course, are the states, which haul in all sorts of funds from cigarette sales, through excise taxes, sales taxes, and the Big Tobacco Settlement. Here's the latest good news:
"New Mexico received more than $35.6 million in the latest payment to the state under the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit against the major tobacco companies."
"Michigan to receive $271 million in tobacco settlement cash."
Relatively Neglected Costs of Smoking
The health risks of smoking have received a good deal of attention for some time now. Oddly, one of the major sources of smoking "externalities" (the health costs are primarily "internal") receives surprisingly little attention: fire. "According to the National Fire Protection Association, smoking is the number one cause of fire-related death and fires started by smoking kill nearly 1,000 civilians each year and cost victims close to $560 million in damages. On June 28, 2004, New York will be the first state to adopt fire safety standards that will require all cigarettes sold in New York State to be low ignition strength, making them less likely to cause fires if left unattended." This quote is drawn from this article, which concerns new anti-smoking ads that will focus on fire.
Another external cost that is connected with smoking that often goes unremarked upon is cigarette butt litter. (OK, this isn't at the same level of seriousness as fire.) Recently two Vice Squad members walked two blocks in Chicago, counting the visible cigarette butts on the ground, but without taking extraordinary efforts in detection. More than 100 cigarette remains were identified.
See how Vice Squad members entertain themselves?
Drug Testing Refugees
They came from Laos and fought for the US in the Vietnam war. Then, the US pulled out, and they could not safely return to Laos. So, thousands of the ethnic Hmong fled to Thailand, where, almost three decades later, they still live in a refugee camp. Now the US has offered any of them who are interested a new life, and citizenship, in America.
Well, almost any of them: "Drug users and criminals are ineligible."
So the Chicago Tribune (registration required) reports today. The article provides no more details of the drug user exclusion -- what drugs get one excluded, for instance? -- though it does mention that urine samples were taken.
An American who was instrumental in seeing to the citizenship offer is quoted in the Trib article as follows: "They fought with us, and they paid the highest price. . . . If the Hmong were good enough to fight and die for us, they have to be good enough to resettle." Unless they smoke a little weed, perhaps.
Incidentally, the Hmong refugees also practice polygamy, though the article suggests that they try to disguise it a bit as they recognize that Americans are uncomfortable with multiple wives (at least holding multiple wives simultaneously). They better not get caught masking a drug test, though!
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Florida Spring Break Alcohol Arrests
Kids these days: "Statewide, 5,220 arrests were made between March 8 and April 11 for underage drinking and alcohol sales to minors, a 57 percent increase compared with last year. Agents also confiscated 1,000 fake IDs." Surely this information will keep University of Chicago students on campus for next year's spring break.
The Finnish Alcohol Price Reduction
Tax reductions in early March have led to a major decline in alcohol prices in Finland. One effect, apparently, is more drunk driving: there has been a 20 percent increase in drunk driving arrests. A rise in drunk driving following the price reduction should be expected, alas: there is an impressive body of research documenting the inverse relationship between alcohol prices and alcohol-related harms, including drunk driving.
Vice Squad has been tracking the Finnish alcohol policy shift, most recently on April 3.
Funding Drug Research: Paying the Piper and Calling the Tune
The Media Awareness Project (MAP) offers this article on the incentives facing drug researchers. The gist of the story is that government dominated funding of research into currently illicit drugs biases the types of studies that are conducted and publicized. In the US, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the major funder of research involving illicit drugs. The MAP story takes as its point of departure the discredited NIDA-supported ecstasy study headed by Dr. George Ricaurte that helped to promote federal controls over raves: "In his now-retracted study, Dr. Ricaurte was trying to prove something -- that even one dose of ecstasy causes brain damage --which neatly fits drug-war ideology. Not surprisingly, NIDA covered the $1.3 million U.S. cost of the research. In fact, Dr. Ricaurte has been given $10 million U.S. by NIDA over his career. In exchange, NIDA consistently got what it wanted: Research that hyped the dangers of ecstasy."
A major source for the MAP article is Dutch drug researcher Peter Cohen: "In the early 1990s, the WHO asked a group of international scientists, including Cohen, to produce what it billed as 'the largest global study on cocaine use ever undertaken.' In 1995, the study was done. It concluded that most users consume cocaine occasionally, that occasional use usually does not lead to compulsive use, and that occasional use does little or no harm to users. It was a flat contradiction of the drug-war ideology, so the U.S. threatened to pull its funding if the report was released. The WHO buckled. The report was buried."
The problem that the MAP article addresses applies to social scientists working on drug policy, too, it seems to me. Imagine the incentives facing a young PhD in economics (or some other social science) interested in an academic or research career dedicated to drug policy research. It would be very hard for such a person to take a strong legalization position, when research funding is dominated by the National Science Foundation and other organizations that will not be anxious to be associated with what easily can be labeled (or mislabeled) a pro-drug stance. Such a person, sad to say, might even understandably be reluctant to start or participate in a vice policy blog that generally eschews the criminalization of adult vices!
Saturday, April 17, 2004
Adjustments to Partially Offset Unjust Drug Laws
A friend of Vice Squad brings our attention to this New York Times story (registration required) reporting on ways in which New York state's criminal justice system has attempted to ameliorate the ridiculously severe sentences legally required for many convicted drug offenders: "...over the years, the laws have been tweaked to reduce their impact, and prosecutors have increasingly been steering addicts into treatment programs instead of sending them to prison. And perhaps most important, the number of people still imprisoned under the provisions of the original tough sanctions has been falling steadily in recent years." Also, the governor has granted clemency to some drug offenders caught up in the most outrageous miscarriages of justice.
The response of the New York state legal system is a common one. There are three elements of rules: the standards imposed, the enforcement effort, and the punishments meted out to those found guilty of violating the standards. (The standards/enforcement/sanctions trichotomy follows the work of Berkeley professor Eugene Bardach -- see this previous Vice Squad post on zero tolerance for more information.) When pressure is applied in one direction to one of the elements -- here, the stiffening of sanctions in the mid-1970s -- the other elements tend to adjust in the opposite direction. According to the Times article, in this case, for instance, prosecutors have been more circumspect about bringing felony drug charges.
Still, offsetting responses generally do not render rule changes futile -- the responses only partly offset the impact of the severe sentences. So there is much to be said for eliminating from the laws of New York state the draconian penalties applied to drug offenses. A legal but tightly controlled market would be still better, I maintain, but even within a criminalization regime, the New York laws can be improved through more sensible sentences for non-violent drug crimes.
The story indirectly highlights one of the dangers of zero tolerance style policies: as these policies often simultaneously push standards, enforcement, and sanctions all in the same direction of increased severity, zero tolerance policies reduce the extent to which adjustments in other dimensions can offset a sub-par situation with respect to one of the dimensions of a rule.
Friday, April 16, 2004
Does Patronizing an Adult Prostitute Merit Arrest?
The loyal Vice Squad reader will know that I agree with John Stuart Mill in thinking that adult prostitution per se should be legal for both prostitutes and johns. Reading the news stories of the latest rounds of prostitution arrests becomes so depressing. Upstanding citizens find themselves publicly embarrassed and saddled with a criminal record, while police officers engage in "duty" that has to be a lot more pleasant than investigating residential burglaries, though doesn't seem to add as much to the public welfare.
Today's contributions to the ongoing stream of unedifying reading include an article about a Philadelphia middle-school principal who will likely lose his job for patronizing a prostitute; the story of a former police chief in New Jersey arrested for attempting to start up a prostitution business; and a report on the dedicated job performance of police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, who managed to charge nearly a dozen people with prostitution after a SIX MONTH investigation involving strip clubs.
Porn Production and HIV
Two pornography performers have tested positive for HIV. As a result, the largest producer of adult movies is suspending all filming for 60 days. Not all porn producers intend to follow suit, however. This LA Times (via Yahoo news) story provides details.
To my mind, this sad story nevertheless reflects the benefits of a legal (and regulated, though largely self-regulated) vice relative to one that is criminalized. Actors working in mainstream porn typically take regular tests for HIV. When the positive tests in today's news were revealed, mitigating actions (such as publicizing the test results and "quarantining" those who had performed with the HIV-positive actors since their last negative test) immediately began to be implemented. Alternatively, where prostitution is illegal, there typically is no system of regularized STD testing, and HIV positive prostitutes might work for many months without even knowing of their condition.
More on Caffeine
"Caffeine -- an atypical drug of dependence," by John W. Daly and Bertil B. Fredholm, appeared in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in June, 1998. I will draw upon it to develop yesterday's coffee post a bit further.
I mentioned some health benefits of caffeine. Daly and Fredholm note that "caffeine has been used therapeutically to treat narcolepsy, asthma, and apnea, and as an analgetic adjunct."
Folks typically find a little caffeine to be pleasant and stimulating, though higher doses become unpleasant. "Most individuals adjust their intake of caffeine-containing beverages so as to minimize the undesirable effects." As with other "addictive" drugs, caffeine is reinforcing, though only weakly, and physical withdrawal symptoms are common. "In humans caffeine withdrawal typically manifests itself in symptoms of headache, fatigue, apathy and drowsiness. Withdrawal symptoms generally begin slowly, maximize after 1 or 2 days and are over within a few days. In both animals and humans the withdrawal symptoms are rapidly relieved by caffeine."
The Daly and Fredholm paper also offers an encapsulation of the health risks (as understood circa 1998) of caffeine: "Health hazards are small if any and caffeine use is not associated with incapacitation. Thus, although caffeine can be argued to fulfill regulatory criteria as a dependence-producing drug, the extensive use of caffeine-containing beverages poses little apparent risk to the consumer or to society."
Thursday, April 15, 2004
Smoking as a Human Right
Usually it is the opponents of smoking who invoke "rights talk" -- in this case, the right to a smoke-free environment. But rights are such a valuable trump card that all sides of a debate are tempted to invoke them.
The Norwegian town of Levanger banned smoking by municipal employees during working hours. The ban applied whether or not the employees were actually on city property. The county in which Levanger is located was asked to assess the legality of the municipal rule: "the county declared the ban invalid because it violates the European Human Rights Convention.
It said the city can ban smoking on its property, however not, for example, if a worker was driving his or her own automobile or was on private property."
One might ask whether smoking marijuana (or taking heroin) at home is similarly protected.
Justice Served in Missouri
Oh, did I say "served'? I meant to say horribly perverted. A Farmington, Missouri man received 10 years in prison for selling about five grams of marijuana to an undercover officer, according to the Park Hills Daily Journal online.
The wise judge, Sandra Martinez, refused to grant probation to the 26-year-old defendant. I guess the defendant was on probation for something else at the time he sold the marijuana, but the article does not say what for. I'm guessing it was also drug related though because the defendant had previously undergone court-mandated treatment as a condition of the probation.
The judge did not see how the defendant could succeed on probation, and said that he was a danger to society.
What is truly amazing about this story is that it is presented with a few other police matters and court cases in the community. Just after the marijuana story, we are told that a man convicted of second-degree assault-vehicular injury, received probation. This guy was drunk, flipped his car, and severely hurt his passengers, all of whom were ejected from the car. One of the passengers broke his neck and now only has some use of his arms and hands. He was hospitalized several months and requires ongoing treatment.
Other notable punishments in the article include a sentence of two years of prison for a 29 year old woman convicted of possession of Alprazolam, while a man found guilty of unlawful use of a weapon, a woman convicted of theft, and a man found guilty of not paying child support all received probation. Apparently the only people of Farmington, MO not fit to walk the streets of their town are those who use substances that Ms. Martinez does not approve of.
Taking Back the Doughnut Stereotype
A Wisconsin police officer won the second annual law enforcement doughnut eating contest today, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
The winner inhaled 9 1/2 doughnuts. I guess pigging out on doughnuts is a better use of officers' time than incarcerating citizens for engaging in various vice-related activities, that, while causing no discernible harm to society, remain illegal. Next year, I'll buy the coffee.
Caffeine Variance Among Coffee Sellers
Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world, and is available in a wide variety of beverages -- notably, tea, coffee, and many sodas. We are used to a regime of "free availability" of caffeine -- even children can buy these beverages -- but there have been times and places with stricter regulations. Coffee has been banned in the past in Turkey, for instance, and was nearly banned in Britain, largely due to its connections with political activity unliked by those in power.
There are health effects from drinking coffee, it seems -- some negative, some positive -- but in moderate doses coffee consumption is not very dangerous (though perhaps people with heart ailments should steer clear of it.)
The Wall Street Journal has compared the caffeine concentration in popular coffees. The study was picked up by many TV stations; here is a quote from a Houston TV station that relayed the story: "The [Wall Street Journal] study found that house blends at Starbucks, Gloria Jean's and other gourmet-coffee chains have an average of 56 percent more caffeine than samples from 7-11, and 29 percent more than Dunkin' Donuts." I guess I am not surprised: I drink larger servings of Dunkin' Donuts coffee than I do of Starbucks.
Co-blogger Nikkie's previous post ended with "Breaking News" about Air America; here's the New York Times story (registration required) on the contract dispute.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Ridiculous Quote of the Year
We have a winner folks! As reported by Reuters today, Drug Czar and obvious lunatic, John Walters, was speaking about hydroponic pot being imported from Canada and declared, "Canada is exporting to us the crack of marijuana and it is a dangerous problem".
Since the government in this country recognizes many people know that trying out marijuana will result in minimal harm, they love using the 'ol "this is not your hippie mother's pot" line. Trotting out this oldie but falsie claim, Walters explained to a group of youths that back in the day the THC content in marijuana was very low but today it is very high (no pun intended).
Runner up for most ridiculous quote of the year was given by Czar Walters in the same speech: "[Marijuana] is extremely dangerous. It is one of the reasons why we believe ... we have seen a doubling of emergency room cases involving marijuana in the last several years from 60,000 to 120,000". First of all, the federal government counts something as a "marijuana-related episode" if the word "marijuana" appears anywhere in the medical record. Cannabis.com tells us that "if a drunk driver admits he/she also smoked some marijuana, or if anyone involved in the incident merely possessed marijuana, the government counts the emergency room admission as a "marijuana-related episode."
Secondly, where is Walters getting his information? Even by the government's own biased calculations, marijuana was mentioned in just 97,000 emergency room visits in 2002. To put that in perspective, that equals about one-tenth of one percent of all emergency room visits that year. Again, keep in mind, that minuscule figure does not imply that marijuana was responsible for one-tenth of one percent of emergency room visits, just mentioned.
In level-headed Canadian fashion, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said that regardless of how loudly Mister Walter lies, Canada plans to end the barbaric practice of locking people up for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
So keep your eyes peeled for signs of a new wave of Reefer Madness and people running amok, smacked out on crazy crack-marijuana.
Air America Radio went to court today against Multicultural Radio, and won an injunction to put them back on the air. They expect to be broadcasting in Chicago tomorrow (4/16/04).
Air America, which is one of the few voices of reason on drug policy in this country, has been unjustly pulled off the air in Chicago due to an unrelated contract dispute involving the LA Air America station. Call Multicultural Radio at: 212-966-1059 and demand that our voice be put back on the air!
(1) Alcohol controls have been significantly tightened in Aboriginal areas of Australia in recent months, as the loyal Vice Squad reader knows. In some places, the amounts of alcohol that can be stored at home are limited. But even stricter rules went into effect today in an Aboriginal region in the Australian northeast. Here's a brief excerpt from this Scotsman.com article: "Under the new restrictions, people can carry only one carton, or 24 cans, of light to mid-strength beer and two litres (4.23 pints) of wine in their cars on each journey, and are forbidden from stockpiling alcohol at home."
(2) Arizona has officially adopted a law changing the hour of its "last call for alcohol.". In a few months time, bars and restaurants will be able to serve alcohol until 2AM, with patrons allowed to continue imbibing until 2:30. The old time limits were 1AM for sales and 1:15 for consumption. Vice Squad has previously examined some of the reasoning behind the change.
(3) OK, this one is not an update, in that Vice Squad hasn't mentioned it before. More than 100 students at Ball State University were arrested at the beginning of this month during a crackdown on underage drinking. (For one raid on a fraternity house party, the town (Muncie, Indiana) mayor joined the raiding party.) Now their court dates are upon us, and many of the students are contesting the charges. One student who pleaded not guilty indicated (in the linked article) that she was afraid a conviction would prevent her from getting a job as a teacher after graduation. While Vice Squad has not mentioned the Ball State contretemps in the past, I have lamented the unreasonably high drinking age in the US, and in February noted a similar development at the University of South Dakota.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Outsourcing John Ashcroft and Michael Powell?
A friend of Vice Squad sends along this BBC report on a technological solution to that bothersome problem of smutty DVDs:
"American cinephiles will soon be able to enjoy their movies without sex, violence, swearing - indeed, without any of the interesting bits.
Wal-Mart, the country's mightiest retailer, is preparing to ship a $79 DVD player that automatically strips out potentially offensive content.
The gadget, made by French-owned RCA, aims to tap into mounting concern in the US about media standards."
And though I have adopted a lighthearted tone for this story, I am all in favor of such technological filtering devices -- as long as they remain voluntary. (Here's an earlier Vice Squad post on the generally ignored V-chip, which provides similar filtering for TV shows.)
Vice Criminalization and Crime Victimization
Co-blogger Nikkie recently shared the story of the poor misguided soul who complained to police that his female friend had taken both of their rocks of crack and not provided him with the agreed-upon reward. While little harm was done in that case, the fact that adult vices are criminalized puts vice providers and consumers, if not outside the protection of the law, at least at its fringes, and sometimes the costs are enormous. Last week brought this AP story concerning a string of killings of prostitutes who worked at truck stops in middle America: "Police reports show most of the seven women whose naked bodies were dumped near highways in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas from July 11 to Jan. 31 worked as prostitutes and were last seen at truck stops." While serial killers might not be that easy to deter, these women (those who worked as prostitutes, at least) were placed in an especially dangerous position because we have chosen to criminalize prostitution. In all likelihood, some of these deaths would not have occurred in a world in which prostitution was legal and regulated. What a huge price we pay for the criminalization of prostitution, and we willingly pay that price, it seems, even though we know that our efforts actually don't come close to eliminating (indeed, are not intended to eliminate) sex for money.
Here's an earlier (December 21) Vice Squad post concerning an Australian marijuana grower who called the police when robbers broke into his home.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Two Quick Updates, One Concerning Tobacco, the Other, Alcohol
Tennessee is looking to tax "Little Tobacco" companies by 50 cents per pack to protect the state's revenue from the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement. This is simply the latest development in a long, long cycle of activity in state houses throughout America; one recent (yet, oddly, not the most recent) related Vice Squad post is here. An excerpt from the linked article: "The cost of many standard cigarette brands has gone up as a result of the lawsuit settlement, while these off-brands can be half the price. That means that not only are the state's children being enticed to buy cigarettes, less money comes into the state's coffers as large manufacturers' profits drop, said [the bill's sponsor]."
The alcohol update concerns the tight new anti-alcohol restrictions in Aboriginal areas in Australia. First the new controls brought "Winegate," a political scandal involving a government plane that landed in the prohibition zone...with a wine bottle on board! Now an Aboriginal political leader is in trouble after a can of beer was tossed, so the accusation goes, from his car as it approached a police roadblock.
Building Support for Gambling Prohibition
The friends of legal vices tend to do more to bring them into disrepute than do their avowed foes. Today brings two gambling stories that are unlikely to play well with the median voter. The first concerns a British man who staked his entire wealth on one spin of the roulette wheel. (How do we know it was his entire wealth? Well, he signed an affidavit to that effect -- you see, it was a made-for-media event, with the spin being broadcast on Britain's Sky One.) The punter plopped down his $135,000 or so on red at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, and his choice proved fortuitous. So, he doubled his money, though taxes will take a significant bite. This AP story does not mention the taxes, and is misleadingly headlined "Man Bets Life Savings, Wins $270,600" -- his pre-tax winnings were only half of that amount. Nor is the story tempered with any discussion of why this might not be such a good idea. We look forward to the torrent of copycats, the majority of whom will not be so lucky.
[Update: Will Baude at Crescat picked up on this post -- while adding a helpful dollop of Kipling -- and has motivated me to make a clarification. My concern with this stunt is not so much with the gambler in question, but rather with the casino's willingness to go along with the publicity. I guess I am not happy about the media sponsorship either, but I have come to expect that. The casino should not have allowed the filming of this wager nor been an active participant in any way, I think; but the last paragraph of the AP story indicates that the casino essentially lent its imprimatur to this potentially perilous frolic. I believe that promotional controls that would bar such active participation by casinos might be appropriate, though I might also hope for better sense from the casino management itself.]
Incidentally, a bet on red on a typical roulette wheel in a US casino has a probability of winning of about 47.4% -- there are 18 red numbers, 18 black numbers, and a zero and a double zero. Europe dispenses with the double zero, so the probability of winning a bet on red (or on black, of course), is higher in Europe, at .486.
Gambling is much more popular in Australia than in Europe or in the US, and of course, there are many people in Australia and elsewhere who are afflicted with gambling problems. Gamblers Anonymous tries to help those who find that their gambling has become problematic. Unfortunately, visitors to the website of the Australian branch of GA have been met with pop-up advertisements for -- you guessed it -- casinos. (More fuel for my ongoing rant that advertising controls often are a useful part of the regulatory regime governing legal vices.)
If the title of this post sounds familiar, it is because just a few posts ago there was a similar headline involving alcohol.
Publicity Mushrooms Concerning DOJ Crackdown on Porn...
...and not just in the blogosphere. But to be honest, perhaps mostly in the blogosphere! Amy Lamboley at Crescat and Eugene Volokh at you know where have some of the more penetrating posts. Today's (er, Sunday's) Observer lets the British in on this latest American policy oddity. Here's an interesting (though admittedly hard to interpret) snippet from the Observer article: "A CBS News investigation into America's porn industry last November claimed that 50 per cent of guests at the Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton and Holiday Inn hotel chains purchased adult movies, contributing to 70 per cent of in-room profits."
No doubt this firestorm of interest in the porn crackdown was a direct result of this February 6th Vice Squad post, or perhaps this November 9 contribution as a Crescat guest. Or maybe not. Certainly Mark Kleiman's post last week did much to stir the blogospheric reaction.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
Those of you who were worried that the alcohol inhaler that has popped up in Britain and Australia might not make it expeditiously to the States -- well, you can rest easy. (I spent one day in Ann Arbor, and now Blogger is retaliating by rejecting my posts; hence, this short one, as a test.)
Unsavoury Prostitution Stories
Most of the prostitution stories that I read lead me to reflect upon the relative merits of legalization and regulation as compared with criminalization. But a couple of stories today are quite sad and sordid, while the problems raised by these stories do not seem to be directly "fixable" via legalization.
First, the New York Times tells (registration required) of a Nepalese caste of untouchables in which prostitution has become something of a norm:
"Caste has become destiny for many communities, defining their profession through generations. But few people have inherited so vexed a destiny as the Badis of Nepal. Their profession is prostitution, passed down from one generation to the next." The article notes one 22-year old prostitute who is supporting eleven relatives through her prostitution earnings.
A second story concerns the sentencing of an Arizona woman who prostituted her 13-year old daughter. The woman was a heavy cocaine user, apparently, and also introduced her daughter to illicit drugs. Following a guilty plea, the mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison, though she was facing up to 200 years. An excerpt from the linked article: "The 13-year-old girl still loves her mother, however, and believes the sentence is too harsh and carries guilt for her mother’s troubles, according to a presentence report." Some years ago Leon Dash wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in the Washington Post concerning a poor woman, Rosa Lee, and her family, who lived in the DC slums. The articles then served as the basis for an excellent book, Rosa Lee. Rosa was a heavy drug user, and she also prostituted her teenage daughter to help feed her drug habit. The current case sounds worse, actually, than Rosa's, but that book does give me some pause before agreeing that the 20-year term is appropriate. Compare the mother's twenty years with the slightly more than six year term given this week to a man who forced a 15-year old girl into prostitution.
Friday, April 09, 2004
Building Support for Alcohol Prohibition
A man who owns two adjoining restaurants in East Lansing, Michigan, has been working on acquiring a license to sell alcohol. He and his lawyer, according to this State News article, repeatedly assured the city council that the establishments would not become bars, but would continue to focus on fine dining. Less than a month ago, the liquor license was granted. Since then, Happy Hour Drink Specials have been advertised on a banner in the window in one of the restaurants: there's a picture accompanying the linked article (and the prices are quite reasonable, I might add.) An ad taken out in the local newspaper by one of the restaurants trumpeted tequila shots and the tag-line, "Guess Who Got Their Liquor License?!" Now some city council members are having second thoughts.
Vice Squad has long looked at the tension caused by advertising legal vice, and how unrestrained advertising generates support for vice prohibition. The failure of the liquor industry to render itself palatable to non-customers paved the way for national alcohol Prohibition in the US. This restaurant owner looks to be following on that same path on a smaller scale.
Personal Alcohol Licenses and a New Way to Measure Alcohol Consumption
When a person misbehaves under the influence of alcohol, I think it is a reasonable policy to revoke, for some period of time, that person's drinking privilege. Some people already are enjoined from using alcohol as a condition of probation or pre-trial release; the standard way of enforcing the no alcohol condition is to submit the targeted individual to random checks, or to require him or her to be at home at certain times (three times per day, typically) to take breathalyzer exams. Recently, Mark Kleiman suggested that we could broaden the alcohol licensing system, while using sellers as the first line of enforcement: just as sellers currently must check to see that an alcohol purchaser meets minimum age requirements, they could also check for a valid "drinker's license." Mark suggested that sellers form the front lines for enforcement because it would be too difficult for the state to enforce a general drinking license requirement.
But technology might be progressing to the point where it is possible to reliably track the drinking behavior of large numbers of people at relatively low cost. Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., manufactures an 8-ounce ankle bracelet that measures alcohol concentration through ethanol that passes through the skin. The bracelet measures and records alcohol consumption on an hourly basis, and once the bracelet is fitted, the tests themselves do not require any active participation on the part of the wearer. The bracelets are designed to detect and record attempts at tampering, too.
The bracelet is already in use in some court systems. While it's a better deal than jail, the bracelet is far from free: according to the linked article, in Seneca County, Ohio, "The device would cost offenders a $100 refundable deposit, a $75 installation fee and $12 a day." In-home breathalyzers are slightly less expensive, though they do not offer the same disincentive to drink, as those tests are not conducted hourly.
In Professor Kleiman's post, he lists five potential downsides to alcohol licensing. The bracelet system could be employed on a fairly large scale, however, effectively providing the same benefits of more general licensing while skirting four of the five identified problems. The one problem that the system doesn't skirt is that alcohol sellers would lose some of their best customers, but that is a problem that mankind can bear.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
Foreign Vice Developments: Moscow (gambling), India (alcohol), Malawi (prostitution)
Three unrelated but somewhat exotic stories, at least given their locales....
(1) "Moscow has been transformed over the last two years as gambling businesses have flooded the city's streets, shops and metros, enticing passersby with chances to win or lose their money....
There are now 53 casinos in Moscow, 35,000 slot machines and 2,000 igroviye zaly, or slot machine arcades in the city..." London, similar in population to Moscow (13,945,000 in the London metropolitan area, 11.2 million in Moscow), has 29 casinos, according to the linked Moscow Times article. Moscow also now sports its first Gamblers Anonymous group.
(2) The Indian state of Gujarat has prohibited alcohol since 1960. The son of one of the state ministers has had more than 750 crates of alcohol confiscated from his house, which neighbors on his father's home. The father's portfolio in the cabinet is not one you would find everywhere: he is Minister for Religious Places and Cow Protection.
(3) The lame-duck president of Malawi has been issuing a spate of decrees as elections approach. Following a long tradition of scapegoating women for sexually transmitted diseases, he recently ordered that women out at night be arrested, as a precaution against the spread of AIDS. Four law students challenged the decree, and the High Court granted an injunction that has caused the implementation of the decree to be postponed.
A Guy Walks Into a Police Station...
And tells the cops that a woman just stole his crack cocaine. Apparently the two had been driving around and decided to buy some crack. They bought two rocks, one for the guy, and one for the woman. The woman was only supposed to get hers in exchange for sexual favors. Well, the woman smoked both rocks and took off without holding up her end of the deal.
My two favorite things about this story from central Texas are, one, the guy did not get arrested. He decided that he could work out the dispute with the woman on his own, and secondly, one of the police officers involved reported that "I told him that if he filed charges against the woman and we found her, it was very likely that they were both going to jail. He just couldn't understand that at all."
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Tobacco Lawsuit Update #116
The loyal Vice Squad reader keeps imploring, please, please, can we hear more about the thousands of lawsuits involving tobacco companies? And as we aim to please....
The European Union has taken Philip Morris International to court, on the grounds that their distribution practices were undertaken in the knowledge that they were aiding the smuggling of untaxed cigarettes. (A similar "distribution knowingly aimed at fueling the black market" argument has been employed, as far as I know unsuccessfully to date, against the gun industry in the US; I also half-recall that Canada had a similar lawsuit against Big Tobacco but it went nowhere.) Now PMI and the EU are looking to settle. The terms of the putative settlement have PMI paying some 1 billion euros over ten years, with the funds being used to help police the black market.
Pennsylvania has settled one of the cases that it has been bringing against small tobacco manufacturers who were not abiding by the escrow rules adopted in the wake of the 1998 Multistate Tobacco Settlement. The company will pony up. Some previous Vice Squad posts on related developments are here (March 27); here (March 18); and here (involving Pennsylvania, too, on March 2).
The Massachusetts Supreme Court will hear a case (link to article in the Providence Journal; registration required) involving Philip Morris, the state having accused it of deceiving consumers into thinking that low tar and nicotine cigarettes are safer. A similar case is currently at the Illinois Supreme Court; Vice Squad noted it earlier (most recently, on March 18). The current issue to be decided in Massachusetts, however, only concerns whether the case can be brought as a class action.
(Warning: Lazy Blogger Post) Around the Blogosphere
(1) Mark Kleiman has prepared a study (24-page pdf here) on the links between illicit drugs and terrorism. He talks about it here, and includes a topic not in the report, the question of whether the terror links might suggest legalizing cocaine and regulating it a' la alcohol. Mark offers a tentative "no" to that question, but Drug WarRant begs to differ, while suggesting that a legal regime for cocaine more strict than that generally applied to alcohol in the US might be a possibility, too.
(2) Last One Speaks provides the latest on the DEA's war on pain treatment: a mandatory 25-year prison sentence facing a wheelchair-bound Florida man self-medicating with painkillers acquired through forged prescriptions. Another level of cascade: once you declare a substance to be evil when not used in the precise, officially approved manner, you become willing to put multiple sclerosis sufferers, 45-year old fathers of three, in prison for a loooong time if they ignore your strictures. And to think, there are Americans alive today who were also alive when there was no prescription system at all, not even for narcotics. What progress we have made in the span of one lifetime! (Mark Kleiman also notes the Florida story. Most recent related Vice Squad post is here. Home page of the Pain Relief Network here. I can't seem to find out what has happened to the March on Washington on behalf of pain treatment that had been planned for next week.)
(3) Reason online offers a fine article on the current federal crackdown on obscenity, with a good deal of attention paid to the prosecution of Extreme Associates. [Most recent related Vice Squad post here. Update: BuzzMachine and Mark Kleiman, and Volokh have more.]
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Missing Toaster Ruins Lives
O.k., it's not really clear that a toaster was to blame in the arrest of two people in Virginia on charges of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, however, it was a small appliance of some sort. Apparently, a woman called police to report a small kitchen appliance missing yesterday. When deputies arrived, they detected the smell of marijuana coming from the basement. They went downstairs to investigate, and found two men, some pot, paraphernalia, cash, and a gun. Both men were charged in connection with the find.
It's not clear if the men in the basement are related to the woman who reported the missing kitchen appliance, nor why she called the police when the men were downstairs smoking. The kitchen appliance has not yet been found.
Supremes to Take Drug Dog Case
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear an Illinois case involving the use of drug sniffing dogs in traffic stops, reports the Chicago Sun-Times today.
The defendant in the case was pulled over for a routine traffic stop, and the cops immediately brought over a drug dog, which "alerted" on the car. The cops found over 200 pounds of marijuana, and the defendant was arrested for trafficking. The defendant's attorney noted that,"the dogs always "alert" but most of the time no drugs are found." He continued, "In 2000, the [Illinois State Police] did 3,766 searches and had only 445 finds."
Although the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that police can use drug sniffing dogs without violating an individual's Fourth Amendment rights, those have been cases where the police had probable cause to believe the suspect was carrying drugs. In this case, the dogs were brought in on merely a routine traffic stop.
Keeping true to lawmakers' non-partisanly idiotic views on drug policy in this country, State Attorney General and Democrat, Lisa Madigan, sees no problem whatsoever with these types of searches. If the case is overturned by the Supreme Court, every time someone is pulled over for any type of moving violation, they could be subjected to the humiliation and delay of standing by the road while a menacing German Shepard tears their car apart. Yeah, there's nothing unreasonable about that.
[Update: Vice Squad looked at this dog-sniffing case when it was decided by the Illinois Supreme Court in November.]
Online Gambling Ads
Google and Yahoo announced last week that they will soon stop displaying advertisements for online gambling. The Internet gambling community is concerned that the decisions were made under pressure from the US Department of Justice. The ad bans being put in place by the mega-search engines come on the heels of a recent WTO preliminary ruling that would make it more difficult for US states or the federal government to criminalize online gambling (earlier Vice Squad post, March 28.) The linked article also contains some information about the popularity of Internet gambling:
"Market research firm Christianson Capital Advisors estimated that online wagering amounted to $5.7 billion in 2003, an increase of 42 percent over 2002, with half of those wagers coming from the United States. According to comscore Networks, nearly 25 million unique users logged onto gambling Web sites in the United States in February."
Monday, April 05, 2004
Fighting for the Right to Grow Poppies
Reuters reports today that Afghan poppy farmers will resist government efforts to destroy their poppy crops in the next several days. The poppy harvest is expected to be collected in less than a week, but the British, who are primarily responsible for drug policy in Afghanistan, will begin eradication efforts in a few days.
The farmers have protested the impending action by taking to the streets and lodging complaints with their local government officials. One farmer was quoted as saying "They will either destroy our harvests or kill us. We will not let them do this even if they send planes and tanks."
Farmers have vowed to quit growing poppies, which in turn are used to produce opium and heroin, if the government rebuilds the infrastructure needed for them to grow legitimate crops profitably. So far, the government has been unable to meet this demand.
This is a country that just asked for over $27 billion in foreign aid. Traditional, U.S.-style policies with respect to illegal drugs, foolish in this country, simply do not apply to Afghanistan. It's not like the West is going to quit using heroin if these farmers' crops are destroyed. Legalize the production and export of poppies, tax the crops, and once the country is on its feet, it can begin to subsidize production of other crops and slowly phase out poppy production.
Unlikely Vice Providers
Question: What population sub-group grows the majority of the tobacco cultivated in Maryland?
Answer: Same old troublemakers.
Snus Bans in the European Union
No, that is not a typo in the headline: "snus" is a form of smokeless tobacco (snuff), popular in Sweden and made famous in the rest of the world by this previous Vice Squad post. Snus is banned in EU countries other than Sweden, but that ban is being challenged by Swedish Match, a leading snus producer, in two cases before the European Court of Justice. Given recent efforts to smooth the intra-EU flow of alcohol intended for personal consumption, Swedish Match might have a strong case come the June ECJ hearings. Among their arguments, Swedish Match points to the potential health benefits that would accrue from a substitution of snus for cigarettes by Europe's current smokers.
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Aussie Alcohol Developments
Just wanted to pass along three quick alcohol-related stories from Australia....
(1) Inhaling alcohol. Just in case consuming alcohol in the normal manner is not dangerous enough for you, now there's the possibility of inhaling it. (Here's another short report on the inhalation device from some months ago, out of Bristol, UK.)
(2) Lockhart River, an aboriginal area of Australia, enacted strict alcohol controls six months ago. It looks as if alcohol-related harms have declined significantly under the beefed-up restrictions. Last month, the new controls led to an unlikely political scandal ("Winegate") when a government plane with a bottle of red wine on board landed at the community airport -- under the restrictions, alcohol is not allowed at the airport.
(3) Vice Cream. You can now procure non-alcoholic but vodka-flavoured ice cream in Australia. I would like to claim credit for the name "Vice Cream," but actually, it is the manufacturer's appellation for a range of similar products.
More Sensible Anti-Drug Arrests
As Vice Squad has noted before, once you declare a substance to be evil, there are essentially no limits to what steps you should take to suppress the offending material. Arrest folks who happen to possess the substance. Burst into people's homes to search for the substance. Mandate tests to generate evidence that people have used the substance, and arrest people who sell goods that can be used to confound the results of those tests. And today, Last One Speaks brings word of the latest clever law enforcement ploy, this one aimed at goods that are used in combination with an evil substance. Of course, goods whose primary use is to consume an evil substance have long been suppressed, but law enforcement is now expanding the notion of dual-use technology. The target: fake roses in glass pipes and scrubbing pads.
I wonder how the clerks arrested for selling the roses feel about the seeming immunity of Urban Outfitters? Co-blogger Nikkie uncovered their paraphernalia sales back in October, though since then, the complementary product has had its price reduced -- perhaps in response to Nikkie's complaint at the end of the October post?
Saturday, April 03, 2004
George Carlin on Obscenity
The comedian George Carlin has a place in the history of regulation of obscenity thanks to his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." A daytime radio broadcast of this monologue led to a US Supreme Court case, FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION, 438 U.S. 726 (1978), the decision in which cleared the way for FCC regulation of indecent though not necessarily obscene material in broadcasting -- a rather timely topic, of course. Carlin was interviewed in Salon recently; here's a brief excerpt:
"I have never seen any sort of study or even an informal body of opinion that thinks these words alone are somehow morally corrupting, that the words do any damage. What they do in many cases is they have a potential of embarrassing the parents because they know they don't want their kids to say them in front of the neighbors. I don't know that there's ever been any evidence shown that that father in the car who reported the "Seven Dirty Words" -- by the way, that name was what the L.A. Times called it, I never used the word "dirty," I called it "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" and I didn't like them called dirty because that was my argument: that they weren't. But anyway, they are now. So that father and that son sat there. I believe he belonged to something called Morals in Media. They didn't turn that off. They weren't appalled. They weren't shocked into turning the radio off or changing the station. He let the child listen, and he listened, and my assumption is that neither of the two were morally corrupted or injured in any way by this experience. They were actually exposed to the words and what damage did they do?"
Intra-EU Alcohol Trade Developments
At the beginning of March, Finland markedly reduced its taxes on alcohol, in recognition of Estonia's coming accession to the European Union and the EU's liberal policies regarding internal trade for personal consumption: without a tax decrease, Finland expected a surge in what is already a sizeable trade, that of alcohol imports by Finns traveling to Estonia. (Vice Squad looked at the Finnish story on February 29, March 4, and March 13.) One of the sectors adversely affected by the tax cut has been the Party Boats that roam the Baltic between Helsinki and Tallinn. These boats are allowed to sell tax-free liquor, and they were the source of many of the alcohol imports that Finns brought back from Estonia. The boats are facing a triple whammy, in that they now must compete with the lower prices in Finland, fewer Finns, presumably, will be interested in making the trip to Tallinn in the first place, and once Estonia is in the EU, they will not be allowed a tax-free shop. According to this article in the Moscow Times, "All major firms sailing the Baltic Sea have cut their liquor prices from 25 percent to 45 percent in the wake of the new tax rate, looking to keep their stretch of sea one of the busiest in the world. Over 15.7 million passengers sailed to and from Finland in 2002."
Meanwhile, the European Commission is pressuring for a more liberal interpretation of "personal use," in a way that would probably encourage increased alcohol imports from France and Belgium to the UK. From this article in The Scotsman:
"According to EU guidelines, anything up to 800 cigarettes, 400 cigarillos, 90 litres of wine (including a maximum of 60 litres of sparkling wine) and 110 litres of beer is deemed for personal use, although national authorities should consider 'individual circumstances' when carrying out checks." 110 litres! The Commission suggests abolishing the guidelines for alcohol in their entirety, but proposes maintaining the tobacco indicators for health reasons.
Friday, April 02, 2004
Dickinson County, Kansas, is so rich that it is happy to spend its resources on sex novelties and special prosecutors: "On Thursday, a grand jury in Dickinson County District Court indicted the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore for engaging in promoting obscenity for selling sex toys from its store northwest of the city along Interstate Highway 70."
John Stuart Mill was afraid that democracy would be no cure for intolerance, and Dickinson County bears out his fears:
"The grand jury was impaneled in November after an opposition group, Citizens for Strengthening Community Virtues, collected voter signatures to force a summons. Jurors reviewed items that were purchased in an investigation by the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office spent $1,332.71 from the county’s diversion fund to purchase items from the Lion’s Den, after a complaint about the store was received." The move was applauded by an anti-obscenity crusader who just happens to be running for office. The would-be office holder knows not only what is right for himself, but what is right for all the good people of Dickinson County, and indeed, the Midwest, according to the linked article: "'I know what this community is about, what the Midwest is about — if they had their druthers, they wish (adult stores) weren’t there. But now they’re beginning to understand they can shape the destiny of their community.'" Let me see if I understand this: he knows his virtuous community well, and yet, he seems very concerned about "Community Virtues!" Funny how other people's virtues are such a popular target for crusaders.
Apparently our generous office-seeker and his supporters moved to state coercion after private intimidation proved insufficient: "He also helped lead Operation Daniel, a 100-day protest in which picketers stood outside the Lion’s Den and recorded and reported license tag numbers of store patrons." Reported? To whom, I must wonder, though I doubt that I would be enthused by the answer. Oh yeah, our fearsome crusader also accompanied sheriff's officers to the store to identify potentially obscene objects. Hey, if community standards are the issue, shouldn't everyone in the community know what is obscene? Why would the officers need help? Maybe they are from some neighboring, licentious community -- er, not in the Midwest, of course.
More people lived in Dickinson County in 1900 than in 2000 -- that "diversion fund" has been doing its job! Of the nearly 20,000 current residents, no doubt some live in despair (and with crusaders such as this, who can blame them?), but at least a fraction live in Hope....
Regulating Prostitution in Liverpool
Visitors from the Netherlands and from Doncaster, England, came to Liverpool this week to discuss prostitution policy. The Dutch police shared their experiences with city districts where commercial sex is tolerated, while the British visitors were "from Doncaster's Streetreach initiative which helps sex workers who want to get out of prostitution."
Recently, Scotland has been looking into (and rejecting) prostitution tolerance zones.
Last Call to Be Postponed in Arizona?
Alcohol cannot legally be served in bars or restaurants in Arizona after 1AM. The state senate, however, has "tentatively approved" a bill that would institute a 2AM liquor shutoff.
I suppose many libertarians would have a problem with time-of-day restrictions on alcohol sales (or on sales of anything else, for that matter), but like John Stuart Mill, I have no argument against them on principle. Indeed, I probably even support such laws. But one of the arguments put forth in support of Arizona's proposed opening hour extension I have little truck with: "Liquor lobbyists, tourism advocates and lawmakers pushing the plan estimate the move would add $55 million to the economy and generate more than $3 million in sales taxes."
The additional sales tax revenues, in the first instance, are not a net gain to society at all, but a transfer from consumers of alcohol to those who benefit from the projects on which the government spends its resources. But even here, you have to ask what the individuals would otherwise (in the absence of their additional liquor purchases) have done with their money, and the tax revenues that would have been raised by those alternative uses. And basically I have no idea what "adding $55 million to the economy" would mean -- again, especially if you think of what would have happened with those "additional liquor" dollars without the hours extension.
The main potential social benefit of the hours extension goes unnoted in the article, as it typically goes unnoted in public discussions of vice. That benefit is the increased enjoyment (consumer surplus, in the econ lingo) that many people will get from being able to stay in public drinking establishments one hour later. There is reluctance with noting this as a benefit, in part because we are rightly a little more skeptical of using willingness-to-pay (the standard econ measure of benefit) as a metric of gain in the vice arena -- is a heroin addict really better off when he chooses to use heroin? The skepticism extends even to the decisions of non-addicts, as lots of people regret vice-related decisions in ways that they don't ever regret their decisions to consume,say, ketchup. Nonetheless, for many if not most people who take advantage of the extended hours, they will rationally view their new opportunity to drink later as a benefit, and it is this increased satisfaction -- not tax revenues or "adding dollars to the economy" -- that is the main potential gain from the proposed reform.