Vice Squad
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
 
Vicewire, 8/31/2004


1) A new study shows that 52% of European smokers who suffer from a serious heart attack, surgery, or other major heart illnesses are still smoking a year later. The American Heart Association says the numbers are similar in the United States. This is in spite of large-scale anti-tobacco advertising and doctor's advice.

2) A ski resort in Rumford, Maine has completely banned tobacco products. "What we're trying to focus on is creating healthier communities in the state," said the president of the Maine Winter Sports Center. Smoking is already banned in Maine bars and restaurants.

3) Following the merger of Harrah's and Caesar's Entertainment Incs., four casinos are being sold by the new company, in order to avoid antitrust legislation. The Wall Street Journal cited the deal as worth about $1.26 billion.

4) Here's a story about police in England adopting the French scheme of offering designated drivers free entry to nightclubs.

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Swedish Teenager Shoplifts a Lottery Ticket....


...and he wins. Or rather, he loses. Or maybe he wins. At any rate, the scratch off card had the winning three clover symbols, guaranteeing a payoff of at least $150,000 to be doled out over the next ten years, with the further possibility of a much higher payoff. Surveillance tapes gave the shoplifter away, however, and the store manager went to the boy's home and collected the winning ticket. Looks like the manager won't have a valid claim to the loot either, despite his hopes, as the ticket is not really a winner unless it was first sold. The only way the boy might come out a winner, sort of, is that it is not yet known whether charges will be filed.

In other lottery news, today's Chicago Tribune had a front page story (registration required) about a fellow who twenty years ago won the then-biggest North American lottery jackpot to date, $40 million. (He -- or rather his father -- purchased his winning ticket fair and square.) The article's theme is what regular folks he and his family are. (His wife agreed to marry him just before he hit the jackpot.) Sure, strangers dun him for donations, he won't let his picture appear in the paper, his brother, a co-winner along with the dad, wouldn't be interviewed for the story, and he retired at age 29, but he's jes' folks like the rest of us. What do you mean, you detect a hint of envy in Vice Squad's voice?

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The Berkeley Vote to "Decriminalize" Prostitution


Measure Q is on the ballot in Berkeley:
If the initiative is approved by a simple majority Nov. 2, it would direct the City Council to lobby in favor of repealing state law that makes prostitution a crime. The Berkeley City Council in July went on record against the measure.

If passed, the measure would redirect city tax dollars to social services to help prostitutes, and direct police to make arrests of prostitutes and their customers the "lowest priority."
The quote comes from this article in the Tri-Valley Herald. Yesterday there was a conference of speakers opposed to the measure, with supporters demonstrating outside. Neither the supporters nor the opponents think that prostitutes should be arrested, however. Sort of makes you wonder who does support arresting prostitutes. Surely someone does, given the frequency with which arrests occur.

Berkeley faces a real problem here, in that a de facto decriminalization in one city, a city surrounded by areas of criminalized prostitution, very likely will lead to prostitution tourism. And as that tourism in turn will likely have public nuisances attached to it, Berkeley residents who favor prostitution legality or broader decriminalization might nevertheless find themselves opposing Measure Q. Isolated neighborhoods or communities surrounded by a sea of prohibition might do better with regulated, legal brothel prostitution or a more structured (and zoned) decriminalization a' la the Netherlands. These alternatives can reduce the public nuisance while still eliminating the risk of jail for at least some prostitutes.

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Monday, August 30, 2004
 
Proposed Nuclear Waste Dump and Gambling


What do they have in common? Well, two things, actually: (1) Nevada has them, and (2) Ralph Nader is against them. Speaking in a Las Vegas library, Nader said, "No presidential candidate should visit Las Vegas without condemning organized gambling," according to this Associated Press story. John Edwards and Dick Cheney responded with sighs of relief.

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Another Newish Way to Consume Alcohol


Maybe not all that newish. In case you already find the alcohol inhaler to be passe', you could try the commercial version of that old homemade standby, jello shots. Wet Willy's Edible Cocktails have been available for a year now in California through Impact Distribution of San Francisco. The Edible Cocktails are wine-based gelatin snacks, containing 12 percent alcohol. Impact previously distributed Zipper shots, which are a similar product based on hard liquor (and presumably containing higher alcohol levels). Anti-alcohol-abuse groups are concerned that the snacks might appeal to children, while the wine-based snacks are available in more venues then were those based on hard liquors. The Ventura County Star (registration required) has the story.

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Sunday, August 29, 2004
 
Vicewire, 829/2004


1) 19 workers for the British government have been fired for viewing pornography at work, and another 200 have been sternly reprimanded. London paper The Sun reported the charges and brought to the reader's attention that one scurrilous employee viewed over 103,000 "hardcore" images.

2) A student was taken out of school for wearing a shirt that said "Hempstead, NY". Unfortunately for our poor law enforcement officers, it was the name of his former town in, yes, New York, rather than an attempt to gratify the use of weed.

3) Here's a story about searching for a drug to cure cocaine and other drug addictions that may already have some other use.

4) In a real surprise, apparently the head of the Haitian national police was involved in drug smuggling.

5) Drunken driving deaths declined in 2003 by 3 percent, the first decline since 1999.

6) And finally, China has launched a national campaign against drugs in the entertainment sector.

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Thanks But No Thanks


The Chicago Tribune has a confusing story today about arresting prostitutes, many of them transgendered, in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. The Trib seems to want to make us believe that these arrests are almost a favor to the alleged prostitutes, because they are given a card with information about available social services. But if that is the point, why bother with the arrests? Can't you just hand out the cards to passers-by? And what they really need, following the arrests, are legal services. This is almost a classic "I am from the government and I am here to help" story. The article also reports the relief of the police officer when the early morning rains didn't keep away the arrestees.

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A Judicious Approach to the War on Drugs


The cover story on today's New York Times Book Review is a searching critique by Judge (and University of Chicago colleague) Richard Posner on the 9/11 Commission Report. The version of the Report read by Judge Posner consists of two sections, some 338 pages of narrative followed by 90 pages of recommendations. The Judge paused in his own reading between the sections, and asked himself what recommendations he would make on the basis of the information contained in the narrative. He came up with seven recommendations, the sixth of which is:
(6) The thousands of federal agents assigned to the ''war on drugs,'' a war that is not only unwinnable but probably not worth winning, should be reassigned to the war on international terrorism.
He goes on to note that though there is some activity, "powerful political forces limit progress on (6)."

Meanwhile, Libby at Last One Speaks reports pretty regularly on the excessive police and military resources that go into finding marijuana plants. Today she looks at a North Carolina bust that involved the National Guard.

Incidentally, Judge Posner today ends a week-long stint as a guest blogger (alas, on some other blog); here's his most recent post. And while I only highlighted the part of his article touching on the war on drugs, his entire "dissent" from the 9/11 Commission Report makes for thought-provoking reading.

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Saturday, August 28, 2004
 
Missouri Bans Billboard Ads for Disfavored Businesses


The disfavored stores are those "whose sexually oriented materials comprise 10 percent or more of their display space..." according to this AP story. The ban applies to billboards within one mile of a highway. The ban is being challenged, of course.

Vice Squad recently reviewed, as it were, some basics of US constitutional law with respect to the regulation of commercial speech. Now I am no lawyer, but it looks to me as if this law doesn't stand much of a chance of being upheld. (The article, though, claims that a similar law in New Jersey survived a challenge in state court. I assume that the current Missouri challenge is in federal court.) As described in the linked AP article, the ban is actually independent of the content of the ad -- it is the nature of the business, not the text or images on the billboard, that triggers the ban. The regulation could prevent a convenience store that sells a lot of condoms from advertising its cheap gas prices on billboards. Doesn't this ban shut down a lot of speech that has nothing to do with exposing children to sex?

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Alaska Personal Use Pot Wins One in Court


Last One Speaks brings our attention to a court case in Alaska concerning a fellow who was charged with growing pot in his home. It turns out that having a little bit (less than 4 ounces) of pot in your home is not going to get you in trouble with Alaska state authorities, although you could still find yourself in a mess of trouble with the feds. (As always, I am not a lawyer and I am wrong much of the time, so do not rely upon any of the "information" presented on Vice Squad.) The Alaska Court of Appeals ruled that the search warrant that led to the arrest of the alleged gardener was invalid. To obtain a search warrant, the court said, the police must have reason to believe that there is more than 4 ounces of pot in the home, or that it is being used in connection with a crime. The Alaskan Attorney General reacted to the ruling by calling for more of that 'federal meddling in state and local affairs,' the recently-cited main problem with alcohol Prohibition.

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Self-Excluded Gamblers Mistakenly Sent Promotional Material


The Missouri Gaming Commission has fined Harrah's North Kansas City $25,000 for mistakenly sending marketing materials to hundreds of people who had voluntarily signed up on Missouri's list of excluded gamblers. People on the list are denied entrance to Missouri casinos, and could even face arrest for trespassing if they do visit a casino. They are also supposed to be excluded from receiving gambling promotions in the mail, but, well, mistakes were made. The Motley Fool has the story.

From the Motley Fool article I followed the link to Harrah's webpage on responsible gaming. I learned that Harrah's itself has two categories of voluntary exclusion. The self-exclusion option keeps you out of all Harrah's casinos. But there is also a self-restriction option that precludes you from receiving promotional material, or from employing credit or check cashing privileges at any Harrah's casino. The two levels sound like a great idea to me. I wonder if someday they will allow gamblers to voluntarily set loss limits at the time that they enter a casino? (Given the card tracking of betting that is now widespread, it is technically feasible to calculate losses.) I also think that slot machines should be programmed to detect potential problem gambling, and make occasional suggestions to bettors to slow down or even to implement a slowdown through technical means.

Incidentally, the president of Harrah's is a former professor at the Harvard Business School. He co-authored a fine book on, of all things, the Polish post-socialist transition.

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Friday, August 27, 2004
 
Wine Wars by Professor Zywicki


Two weeks ago I mentioned that Professor Todd Zywicki was blogging about the coming Supreme Court case concerning direct interstate shipment of wine to consumers. Last week, Mike mentioned more of Professor Zywicki's connected posts, these on the pre-Prohibition attempts to preclude alcohol production in wet states from undermining the dry laws of neighboring states.

The Wine Wars series now comprises some eleven posts, plus unnumbered posts. Here's number eleven, the most recent, which argues that a 2000 amendment to federal alcohol law was still premised on the notion that, while states could choose their own alcohol policies, they could not discriminate between in-state and out-of-state producers and distributors. There's an unexpected connection to anti-terrorism activity, too.

Professor Zywicki's Wine Wars series presents a pretty comprehensive brief for the notion that it is unconstitutional for states like Michigan and New York to forbid direct shipment of wine to households from out-of-state wineries, while permitting it for in-state wineries. It is worth reading in full. I want to make only two observations here. First, the difficulty that the Webb-Kenyon Act of 1913 was designed to address -- the undermining of state alcohol controls through legal "imports" for personal use -- is precisely the problem that troubles Northern Europe today. Second, the major problem that Zywicki identifies with national alcohol Prohibition, and a problem noted by many repeal supporters at the time, is also a major problem with current drug prohibition: "federal meddling in state and local affairs," or "federal overreaching into local police power matters," to quote from part 8 of Wine Wars. (For one aspect of the current overreaching, see Pete at Drug WarRant's discussion of the defeated Hinchey amendment.)

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Ohio Tobacco Festival


Major tobacco companies used to sponsor the event, but that had to end following the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. Nevertheless, the four-day Ohio Tobacco Festival got underway yesterday in Ripley, Ohio. There's a contest to crown this year's tobacco queen, a cornhole tournament (I have no idea), and the always popular tobacco spitting competition.

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The Descent of Man


Two animals engage in a large amount of illicit beer consumption. One is trapped. The second is given a significant monetary reward. Which is the primate? (Thanks to The Misspent Life and Overlawyered for the pointers.)

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Thursday, August 26, 2004
 
US-Based Porn Websites Face New Record-Keeping Requirement


Porn movie and magazine producers in the US are required to maintain records proving that all performers are of legal age. A new rule from the Department of Justice intends to extend that requirement to secondary porn producers, such as websites that re-publish pornographic photos. It appears as if the real rationale for the move is not to protect the underage, but to impose a burden on porn websites -- or rather, porn sites based in the US. As with other attempts by the government to regulate online porn, the existence of foreign websites calls into question the efficacy of this new rule. Wired News has the story.

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Rubin v. Coors (1995)


The loyal Vice Squad reader writes, "Jim, just as we support vicarious and collective punishments in vice policy, so too, do we revel in vicarious and collective pleasure: please slake our thirst by revealing those vice policy-related documents that constituted your early morning reading." To such blandishments even one more steadfast than I could not remain unmoved. Forthwith: A couple weeks ago I mentioned a Supreme Court case, Rubin v. Coors Brewing, that invalidated a federal rule prohibiting beer producers from advertising or labeling the alcohol content of their beer (unless state law requires the provision of alcohol content information). Today I read the case. Though it is a little hard to discern, it seems that, strictly speaking, it was only the labeling ban that was really at stake.

Rubin v. Coors looks like a standard modern commercial speech case. The guidelines of Central Hudson are applied. Central Hudson allows regulation of non-misleading commercial speech for legal goods if (1) the government has a substantial interest served by the regulation, (2) the regulation directly advances that interest, and (3) the regulation is not more extensive than is necessary to serve that interest. In Rubin v. Coors, the Supreme Court found that the government's interest in preventing "strength wars" among brewers was indeed substantial. But it was on the next prong, that of directly serving the government interest, that the alcohol content labeling ban faltered. The Court's reasoning is that the overall federal alcohol regulatory structure is incoherent. Most states had not affirmatively prohibited the advertising of alcohol content, so by the terms of the federal rule, in much of the country, strength wars were permissible in advertising, though not in labeling. Given the advertising "loophole," the labeling ban would be unlikely to prevent a strength war. This conclusion is buttressed by the fact that a beer producer could still signal strength by naming its product a "malt liquor," and by the fact that wine and spirits producers were not similarly constrained.

While I said that the Court based its reasoning on overall policy "incoherence", the Court itself used the stronger (and, to be honest, I think inappropriate) term "irrationality".

The Court also noted that even if the labeling ban were able to advance the government's interest, it would still be unconstitutional, for failing to be narrowly tailored. There are options, including the direct limitation of alcohol content, that would serve the same ends as the labeling restrictions, without having the same effect on suppressing speech.

I am troubled by the Court's reasoning, which is quite similar to that used in a later case concerning casino advertising. Policy incoherence alone has been granted Constitutional significance via the Central Hudson standard: if various policies with respect to advertising are partly inconsistent, then the one that tends to be more restrictive can't do a good job of directly advancing the government interest, because the other policies allow methods of avoiding the restriction. Therefore, so the Court argues, the restrictive policy is an unconstitutional restraint upon commercial speech. The problem with this approach is that it forces all-or-nothing-style policies. Either all channels of commercial speech are restricted to serve the compelling interest, or none can be. And of course, one all-or-nothing-style policy that is generally allowed for vice control is to ban the vice entirely -- then, the activity is illegal, and its advertising receives no First Amendment protection at all. My own view is that the policy world is quite complex, and that a web of partly inconsistent policies is not necessarily "irrational." Along these lines, let me note one specific objection to the Court's opinion. The opinion states: "If combating strength wars were the goal, we would assume that Congress would regulate disclosure of alcohol content for the strongest beverages as well as for the weakest ones." Why make this assumption? At the time of Rubin v. Coors, a voluntary policy of no hard liquor TV advertising was in place. Many (all?) states had different licensing requirements for beer and wine versus hard liquor, so in many places where beer was sold, hard liquor wasn't even available. And so on. Incoherence does not imply irrationality.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004
 
More Alcohol Control Technology


Vice Squad has sung the praises in the past of the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet that sounds like a pretty effective deterrent against drinking for those who have court-ordered restraints upon their alcohol consumption. (Enthusiasm for the bracelet seems to be spreading.) A second technological advance is a machine that can reliably detect a fake ID. The device is the main plank in a new drive against underage drinking in the US. Here's an excerpt from this press release:
America's Partners to Prevent Underage Drinking (AP), a campaign of the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness (IIAA), will introduce the newest, most effective weapon in the battle to save lives by preventing underage drinking at the U.S. Justice Department's underage drinking prevention conference entitled "Recognizing Our Collective Responsibility: Kicking Things Up a Notch" from Aug. 25-28, 2004 in San Diego.

The national coalition has launched a campaign and push in Congress for legislation aimed at combating the crisis of underage drinking. The centerpiece of this campaign involves installing life-saving electronic age-verification technology in retail stores, bars, restaurants and other points of sale to prevent underage individuals from obtaining alcohol illegally by using fake identification.
Sounds like the machine won't be able to detect if you are using your older brother's license, however. I am all in favor of keeping underage people from purchasing alcohol, though I think that the US minimum drinking age of 21 is too high.

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On the Limits to Recreation in Rural Latvia


Well, one could always enjoy a drink, perhaps.

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Vicewire, 8/24/2004


Blogger trouble prevented this post from being completed on time:

1) Just for fun, here is a link to a story about the new hippie dictionary that incorporates plenty of new lingo for some standard vice engagements, (such as the tern "swacked").

2) A large ringleader in Mexican-U.S. drug trafficking has been arrested.

3) Here's another case of a naughty policeman, who allegedly agreed to supply 2 ounces of cocaine to an inmate.

4) A man rode his wheelchair 3,000 miles from Moscow to Madrid to protest illicit drug use. [Update: Link corrected -- JL]

5) And finally, a new Califronia undercover operation led to 184 drug arrests and plenty of amphetamines and marijuana.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004
 
One Vice Forfeiture Case


Sorry for being away from Vice Squad in recent days, and thanks to my co-bloggers for stepping up. I returned to Chicago today, so I hope that I can also return to that elusive regular blogging schedule. (My aspirations are lofty, no?)

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in passing a Supreme Court case involving the forfeiture of an automobile for a prostitution-related conviction. The forfeiture was not one of the "civil" kinds, taken "in rem," against the property directly -- such forfeitures do not require any sort of criminal charges being filed. Rather, this one is against the owners of the property, and is taken pursuant to a criminal conviction. Here's the story of Bennis v. Michigan (1996), adapted from the Supreme Court opinions...

John Bennis was uncharacteristically late coming home from work one night. His wife, Tina Bennis, called Missing Persons. But it soon emerged that instead of driving straight home, John had visited a prostitute and engaged in some extra-marital activity in the car -- and he managed to get arrested for his public infidelity. The state of Michigan, home of the Bennises, doesn't think too highly of prostitution, having adopted a statute that empowered the state to seize and sell the car that was the site of the assignation. So John and Tina's car was indeed seized.

It was the "Tina's" part that caused the Bennises's case to go to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1995. The car was jointly owned, that is, Tina had a half interest in the car. She hadn't done anything wrong, and yet the state of Michigan was taking away that ownership interest, without compensation. Doesn't such a taking violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, or the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, or just general fairness? The US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said that there was no constitutional problem with the uncompensated auto forfeiture, so Tina was out her half of the car. The Court didn't resolve (though it did note, actually) the fairness question.

Justice Stevens penned a dissent, joined by Justices Souter and Breyer, that looks at the historical rationale for various types of forfeitures, arguing that the Bennis case falls outside of the tradition of legitimate forfeitures. Justice Stevens directly addressed the fairness issue: "Fundamental fairness prohibits the punishment of innocent people." He would hold the forfeiture to be invalid for being in contravention of the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment -- a position reached, on slightly different reasoning, by Justice Kennedy, too.

The Bennis case does fall squarely within one longstanding US legal tradition, one that has only a couple of notable exceptions. That tradition is that in forfeiture cases involving vice crimes, the forfeitures are upheld. Perhaps soon I will note some other cases in this tradition, as well as the leading exceptions.

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Sunday, August 22, 2004
 
Vicewire, 8/22/2004


1) A man is being charged with murder after a fire that started with wires and lamps used to grow his marijuana plants killed two firefighters.

2) Governor Schwarzenegger has given his okay for thousands more slot machines to open across the state of California. 25% of the profits will go to the state government, an estimated $200 million a year.

3) And the indictment for the University of Colorado has been handed down for those accused of using prostitutes to lure potential football players.

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Saturday, August 21, 2004
 
A discussion of the Webb-Kenyon Act on Volokh Conspiracy


There is a rather detailed discussion of the substance and history of the Webb-Kenyon Act on Volokh Conspiracy here and here. The Act was passed in 1913 to permit the dry states to prohibit importation of alcohol for personal use. Prior to the Act, the states could impose prohibition on the sale of alcohol produced either within or outside the state, but could not prohibit its import for personal consumption.

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Alcohol inhaling machine is here


The Bloomington paper (registration required) printed an AP report that an alcohol inhaling machine went on display at the Trust bar in Manhattan on Friday, August 20. It’s called Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL?) vaporizer. It mixes alcohol with pressurized oxygen to get you high. According to its makers, it takes about 20 minutes to breathe in one shot. The article says that it is “giving drinkers the effect of alcohol without the drunkenness, or hangover.” Now, I understand why somebody wouldn’t want to have hangover. I can even understand the desire to drink good wine or cognac and not get drunk. But why would I want to inhale alcohol if I don’t get tipsy? More generally, what is “the effect of alcohol without the drunkenness, or hangover”, i.e., what is left? That issue aside, the machine has provoked strong negative reaction from the Democratic state Sen. Carl Kruger who is planning to introduce legislation to ban the machine, calling it a “new form of pipe smoking” and claiming that it could encourage underage drinking and drunk driving. (It’s unclear to me how somebody could engage in drunk driving if the inhaling is supposed not to result in “drunkenness.”) This is the familiar to economists story about how making a dangerous activity somewhat less dangerous creates incentives to engage in the activity more, and might even increase the total amount of danger. (See Sam Peltzman, 1975, “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation,” Journal of Political Economy, v. 83, no. 4: 677-725; see also an earlier Vice Squad post related to light cigarettes.)
[Update: Vice Squad has been tracking the diffusion of the alcohol inhaler. -- JL]

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Amphetamine bust at Moscow State


Recently, the Russian anti-drug agency has discovered (the source is in Russian) an underground amphetamine lab and a small network of dealers who distributed the stuff mostly at night clubs. That would not have been particularly newsworthy except that the drug was produced by a recent graduate with distinction of Moscow University’s Department of Chemistry. (How come they didn't seem to make the stuff there when I was a Moscow U student?) Both before and after graduation, the young scientist was working at the Department’s lab of petrochemical synthesis and apparently was making the stuff right there in the lab, using the chemicals that were officially purchased by the lab for research and educational purposes. The distribution was also done by students or recent grads of Moscow colleges. The investigators said that the high quality of the drug helped them solve the case although it took them six months to do that. According to the officials, the dealers advertised their product as “locally made by chemists with college diplomas” using modern chemical facilities and, therefore, the “purity” and “freshness” of the drug were guaranteed. (BTW, the officials confirmed that the quality was indeed top notch. I wonder whether they determined this by a little taste test or using some more sophisticated means.) As far as I know, this is a rather unconventional mechanism by which the illegal nature of the market may drive down the quality of the available product.

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China Making the Internet Safe for Children


Chinese government officials have discovered to their horror that pornographic images are available on the internet. They intend to fully cleanse the web by their National Day, October 1. Besides the requisite hundreds of arrests, measures taken so far have been to close 16,000 internet cafes and to stop issuing licenses for new cafes. Hail to the visionary leadership of the People's Republic of China! Thanks to them, China now has a glorious future...and it always will.

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Adult Male Consensual Homosexual Sodomy = Murder


That's the word out of mathematically-challenged Zanzibar, which has now adopted a penalty for such sodomy identical to the penalty for murder: 25 years in prison. Adult female consensual homosexual sex equals only 7/25'ths of murder.

I am out of town until late Tuesday, so blogging will ...I was going to say "suffer," but "slow down" is perhaps more appropriate. Apologies to the loyal Vice Squad reader.

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Friday, August 20, 2004
 
Vicewire, 8/20/2004


1) A recent study shows that teenage girls that associate with older boys are more likely to smoke, drink, and do drugs.

2) In a survey on the connections between drugs and other vice topics, findings show "teens who say at least half their friends are having sex are more likely to report having tried marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes." Only 10% said that engaging in these activities was seen as "cool".

3) The first of five major air bases to prevent drug running both ways across the Canadian border was dedicated today. Unfortunately for this effort, and perhaps aware of the impending inability to completely police the border, only 8 hours a day will be spent patrolling. The greatest asset of the base? "They don't know when we're going to be operating." Oops, bad Vicewire. Bad!

4) Another pyrrhic victory: 52 arrested and $500,000 worth of cocaine in a bust in Tampa.

5) And a man's insurance does not cover a girl who died in 1998 from overdosing on heroin he gave to her, according to a Pennsylvania court, since it was by his own careless actions. This quote from a judge is slightly disheartening: "If the explicit criminalization of use or possession or sale of drugs that have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision does not manifest convincing proof of public interest, what would?"

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Thursday, August 19, 2004
 
Lazy (er, I mean, wide-ranging) Link-Based Post


(1) Nicotine cocktails to circumvent bar smoking bans. (Hat tip: D'Alliance.)

(2) Massachusetts class-action law suit against light cigarette manufacturers, from Point of Law (via Overlawyered). Here's an earlier Vice Squad post on the similar Illinois case.

(3) On the benefits of pornography. From Joe Gandelman via University of Chicago colleague Daniel Drezner via the Volokh Conspiracy, if that makes sense.

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The Prohibition Party


In 1892, the Prohibition Party's US presidential candidate received 270,710 votes. In 2000, the Prohibition Party's presidential candidate received just 208 votes. The recent poor performance of the party has contributed to a schism, with two nominees emerging from PP "conventions" this year: the August 23 New Yorker tells the story of the old, but let's face it, decrepit, party. (The article is in the "Talk of the Town" section, so it is brief.)

It might be thought that the Prohibition Party was a major force leading up to national alcohol Prohibition in 1920, but by and large that was not the case. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union and (especially) the Anti-Saloon League (ASL) proved to be much more politically influential. Rather than promote its agenda through a third party, the ASL supported candidates from either major party who were most sympathetic to its dry stance. Will Baude has suggested a similar approach for libertarians today (see question 9 in the link).

Alcohol prohibition is not a thing of the past in the US, of course: many counties and municipalities remain dry. Chicago has a system that may be unique -- at least I haven't heard of its use elsewhere. An electoral precinct can vote itself, or a portion of itself, dry. Many have done so. Currently the electoral option is being considered in a dispute involving a loud, popular nightclub and some neighbors who moved into a newly-constructed nearby building. The club has reportedly spent more than $200,000 to muffle its noise, but with little effect. But one neighbor's comment, as reported in this Chicago Tribune article, has not done much to elicit Vice Squad's sympathy: 'Our granite counter tops are shaking.'

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Wednesday, August 18, 2004
 
Crackdown on Ads for Internet Gambling Challenged on First Amendment Grounds


The Department of Justice has been pressuring websites and broadcasters to not accept advertisements for internet gambling operations, and has even confiscated gambling ad revenue paid to the Travel Network. Now Casino City, a company that operates web portals providing information on online gambling and that receives some of its revenues from online gambling ads, is fighting back. Casino City has filed a challenge in federal court, seeking "a declaration as to its constitutional rights to engage in lawful commercial speech." (Here's the court filing, a 7-page pdf document.) This issue could also be connected to the ongoing WTO dispute about web-based gambling.

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Detroit Casinos Face Higher Taxes


On Tuesday, the governor of Michigan signed into law a bill that raises the tax on Detroit's casinos by one-third. The old tax on "net win" was 18 percent, and has now been raised to 24 percent. One of the three directly affected casinos, the Greektown, unsuccessfully tried what appeared to be a bit of political arm-twisting. Shortly before the bill was signed, the Greektown announced a slew of layoffs -- and also said that the layoffs would be revoked if the tax was not raised.

When Detroit casinos recently celebrated their 5-year anniversary, we noted that the original plan [Vice Squad permalink use!] called for the current, "temporary" casinos to be replaced by permanent, fancy structures with hotels and other amenities. That plan is well behind schedule, but to give it a boost, the tax bill also provides for still higher taxes to be applied in 2009 and beyond if the permanent casinos are not operating.

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Permalinks are Back...


...after a 24-hour hiatus, and I feel fine. Please link to individual posts with abandon. Let no post go unlinked. E-mail your friends with urls of your favorite posts. And so on.

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The Myriad Uses of Vice Crimes


In particular, their frequently "victimless" status gives them a real advantage in setting up folks who are troubling to the powers that be. Make possession of a plant a crime, and it becomes relatively easy for that troublesome person to suddenly possess the prohibited plant.

In an unrelated story, Hong Kong democracy advocate Ho Wai-to was recently arrested in mainland China for soliciting a prostitute. The wheels of justice turn quickly in some venues, and voila', Ho was found guilty and sentenced to serve six months -- despite his candidacy in legislative elections scheduled for next month. Sure, most people convicted of such a "crime" in China are only fined, but no doubt there were extenuating circumstances in this case. And certainly his wife's charges are absurd. Could anyone believe for a minute her claim, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, that "Chinese authorities brought a prostitute to Ho's hotel room in Guangdong's Dongguan region, beat him and denied him food and water until he signed a confession"?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004
 
The return of Vicewire, 8/17/2004


Vicewire has returned after an extended vacation, now 3 times a week!

1) Here's a story about the top party schools being announced this week, with rankings taking into account the amount of marijuana consumed and the amount of hard liquor and beer drunken.

2) Atlantic City casinos have been expanding their activities into "beach bars" and other activities to lure potential profits from gamblers.

3) A new study shows that rats can be addicted to cocaine, much the same way humans can be. This could be useful in analyzing addiction and discovering effective treatments.

4) Here's more on the difficult fight against opium production in Afghanistan, which is expected to reach a record high this year.

5) And a judge in Nevada has reanimated the battle to legalize up to one ounce of marijuana by declaring requirements to get on the ballot unconstiutional. A lawyer is quoted as saying there is a "decent likelihood" of qualifying the potential amendment to the Nevada constitution, though it would not take effect until at least 2006.

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Smoking Ban Cramps Lobbyists' Style


A former student writes in to bring our attention to this story from the New York Times over the weekend. It concerns the attempt by a lobbying firm to host a party including (indeed, centering upon) cigar smoking at the Carnegie Club in Manhattan during the Republican Convention. But so far, the necessary exemption from NYC's smoking ban has not been obtained -- and if the usual timeline applies, it will not be approved in time for the party. The Carnegie Club already has a history of smoking violations, it seems. Will we see civil disobedience, a' la Fibber Magees in Galway and other Irish pubs?

I tried to better Vice Squad and marred what was well. Vice Squad permalinks are not working right now, and it is probably my fault. (My technical incompetence gives the lie to the name "permalink".) I can only hope that some sort of supernatural intervention will restore the useful little critters.

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Doctor or Informant?


Remember that fellow in Pennsylvania who lost his driver's license after he told his doctor that he drank more than a six-pack of beer per day? (The doctor probably felt compelled to bring his case to the license authorities, given state law, though the doctor later refused a request to clear him to drive.) He claimed only to drink at home after work, without driving afterwards. Anyway, the patient went to court to get his license reinstated, and the judge yesterday fashioned a compromise. The man can get his license reinstated, but only if he installs in his car an ignition locking system that will prevent him from driving unless he passes an in-car breath test. The locking device will cost about $1,000 per year, apparently.

I do worry about laws that require doctors to become informants, especially when there is no clear and present danger of a crime about to be committed. Patients will be even more likely to lie about their alcohol use, and the extent of alcohol consumption can be an important piece of information in determining a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

In Minneapolis, a hospital doctor refused to take a blood sample from a suspect arrested in a fatal stabbing. Police wanted a measurement of the suspect's blood-alcohol content. The doctor did not have the suspect's informed consent. The doctor also refused to take the sample following a phone call from a judge. The doctor was arrested, and the blood sample was eventually (5 hours after the initial "presentation") taken by another physician following the arrival of a signed court order. It now looks as if the arrested doctor will not suffer any further legal or administrative sanctions for his decision, which on the surface appears to have been in compliance with hospital guidelines.

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Driving Under the Influence at Overlawyered


Ted Frank at Overlawyered posts on two fatal traffic accidents and their surprising legal aftermaths. One crash involved a positive test for marijuana (though there is no mention in the linked articles of intoxication at the time of the accident) and the second involved considerable alcohol intoxication.

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Should An Incarcerated Felon Be Allowed to Win the Lottery?


A generous Vice Squad reader brings our attention to this story out of the UK last week. An offender "was jailed between 1973 and 1987 for a series of sex attacks on women. He was returned to prison in 1989 for attempting to rape a 60-year-old woman in a park." But he was allowed out on work release, and one day, he bought a lottery ticket. He beat the astronomical odds, winning 7 million pounds (more than $12 million.) Now the Home Secretary wants to make sure that such a stroke of luck does not happen again to an incarcerated individual, via legislation that "would force offenders who won the lottery or other wealthy criminals to contribute to a compensation fund for victims of crime." The generous VS reader also noted that the Home Secretary spotted injustice in this particular lottery win -- presumably, then, not in the others?

Given that the National Lottery returns to winners only about 50 pence out of every pound ticket purchased, it might be thought that requiring prisoners to purchase lottery tickets would be a better route to preclude injustice.

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution recently looked at the practice in some US localities of charging prisoners for room and board.

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Monday, August 16, 2004
 
Smoke or Swim? Supra-Immediate Gratification


Friend of Vice Squad Dima Masterov sends along this notice of a man who had to make a quick decision when the car he had been driving was sinking into a pond with him in the driver's seat. Fortunately, he didn't panic: he decided to smoke some crack.

Now, one of the explanations of how choices concerning drug consumption might not be fully rational has to do with an excessive focus on present pleasure, but this case is fairly extreme even for the present-oriented.

For more on immediate gratification, see this paper (31 page pdf) by economists Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin. And speaking of immediate gratification, I am so pleased -- really, too pleased -- with the new search feature at the top of Blogger blogs! I might search Vice Squad all night long. I'll search on "the", or "and", or "snus". Oh, won't it be grand?

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Swedish Alcohol Tax Decline Makes More Headway


Sweden's state-owned monopoly seller of alcohol has seen a fall in sales of more than 13 percent this year. Meanwhile, alcohol consumption in Sweden has increased. The disconnect comes from the eased conditions within the EU with respect to importing alcohol for personal use from other, sometimes low cost, EU member countries. Now a Swedish government commission has recommended that Sweden follow the lead of Finland and Denmark, by severely cutting alcohol taxes:
Sweden should slash its traditionally high taxes on hard liquor by 40 percent to get Swedes to purchase more of their booze at home where the government can keep tabs on their drinking habits, a government commissioned report recommended on Monday.

"To break the pattern of the strong increase in travel-imports of spirits and to strengthen the Swedish alcohol policy's legitimacy, we suggest that the tax on hard liquor be lowered by 40 percent starting on January 1, 2005," head of the study Kent Haerstedt said in a statement.
Vice Squad has been tracking the Finnish and Swedish alcohol tax developments, most recently on August 9.

Apologies for the blogging hiatus. My out-of-town visitors are now gone, however, and I hope to be back to my dull everyday existence, er, I mean, my "regular blogging schedule."

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Friday, August 13, 2004
 
A Poor Host...


...on two fronts. First, I am being a poor host to my three houseguests, to whom I am about to return. But for the next few days, I will also be a poor host here at Vice Squad, because of my other (sadly neglected) hosting duties.

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Smoke in Front of Your Kids, Go to Jail


And not just in theory, according to this AP article at Fredricksburg.com:
A Caroline County [Virginia] woman was sentenced to 10 days in jail yesterday for defying a court order not to smoke around her daughter and son.

Tamara Silvius, 44, was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom by deputies, The Associated Press reported. Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Judge John H. Thomas said Silvius could post a $500 bond while she appeals his ruling.

Thomas last August barred Silvius from smoking around the children, now ages 8 and 10, as part of her shared-custody arrangement with her ex-husband. She violated the order during a trip to South Carolina for Thanksgiving when she taped plastic inside her car to keep the smoke from reaching her children.
Now maybe these kids, ages 8 and 10, have some special condition such that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) really poses a threat to them -- though no evidence on that score is provided in the article. And of course, the mom is being jailed for violating a court order, and that is what happens when you violate a court order. But should a smoking ban -- that in the end, will be enforced by these sorts of measures -- really be part of shared-custody agreements, absent some very special physical susceptibilities to ETS? Are the risks to the kids from ETS any greater than the risk they face if their dad, say, occasionally drives over the speed limit?

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Are Some Varieties of Prostitution Legal in South Dakota?


Maybe. In particular, touching that falls short of intercourse may not be forbidden by state law. A state's attorney dropped a case against a massage parlor owner following "a close reading of the statutes," according to this AP article on Aberdeen News.com. A similar "loophole" in the wording of the anti-prostitution statute occurs in the state laws of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana.

Speaking of legal prostitution, government funding for Red Thread, the Dutch union for prostitutes, looks like it might come to an end.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
 
Interstate Wine Shipments


Professor Todd Zywicki of George Mason Law School is back at the Volokh Conspiracy following a stint at the FTC. He has a series of interesting posts that concern direct interstate shipments of alcohol to individuals. The loyal Vice Squad reader will recall that there are two legal cases, to be argued before the Supreme Court next term, involving state laws (in Michigan and New York) that prohibit such interstate alcohol shipments but permit similar in-state shipments. So far, Prof. Zywicki has been laying out the issues and explaining why the plain meaning of the Prohibition-ending 21st Amendment doesn't give states carte blanche to do what they want with respect to alcohol imports.

His posts (so far) can be found (1) here; (2) here; and (3) here. Professor Bainbridge is another blogger who has written quite a bit on this topic. I first got up to speed on this issue thanks to the efforts of a pretty good student.

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The Chicago Tribune's Hemp Farm


Stephen Young, author of Maximizing Harm, tells the tale of an experimental farm run by the Chicago Tribune in the 1930s that grew hemp. His article, "The Colonel's Weed," appeared in the July 30th edition of the Chicago Reader. (The Colonel in the title refers to Robert McCormick, long-time editor and publisher of the Trib.) The idea behind the farm, the progress of which was tracked in a regular Trib column, was to promote innovation among farmers during the dark days of the Depression. Instead, the farm captured the attention of the feds, whose pressure put an end to the hemp experiment -- and for that matter, all US hemp farming -- following the 1937 passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. My synopsis doesn't do justice to the article, however, and the details are quite interesting.

Vice Squad member Mike and Libby at Last One Speaks recently have talked about the efforts at destroying wild hemp, which generally has a THC content much too low to attract smokers. The concluding sentences of "The Colonel's Weed" mention this phenomenon, and the amazing hardiness of the hemp plant:
Hemp still grows in Illinois. The Tribune reported in 1998 that $450,000 had been spent by state police the previous year to destroy roughly ten million uncultivated hemp plants, many descended from the Hemp for Victory effort in World War II. If ingested, none of those plants would have given anyone a buzz. In 2002 another 633,000 wild hemp plants were obliterated.

The numbers vary from year to year, but the battle continues. It may be possible to willfully ignore hemp's virtues, but its essential nature makes it difficult to eradicate. It is, after all, a weed. Only months after it's slashed and burned, hemp sprouts again, pushing its head to the sun.

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Alcohol Ban v. Fire Control


That was the dilemma faced by Hampton, Iowa, on Tuesday. Hampton is being pressured by its insurer to prohibit alcohol on all public property, excluding parks. Some publicity of the potential ban singled out the volunteer fire department; that didn't sit too well with the volunteers. The chief resigned, and the rest of the force apparently threatened to resign at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. The Council decided to table the proposed ban for the time being, and enter into discussions with the volunteer fire fighters.

The ban would require some change to the workings of the fire squad, according to this article from the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier: "In the past, alcohol was allowed at fire department events on four occasions each year, including a dance. And sometimes firefighters drink beer after a fire call."

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004
 
Pharmacotherapy


On July 27 Vice Squad briefly mentioned the possibility of "immunizing" children against illicit drug use. Updates included a link to a post by Mark Kleiman that questioned whether a mass immunization along these lines would ever be practical, and a link to a more chilling post from Last One Speaks. The Last One Speaks post mentioned this recent report (52 page pdf) from the Center For Cognitive Liberty and Ethics (CCLE). I have finally gotten around to reading the report (entitled "Threats to Cognitive Liberty: Pharmacotherapy and the Future of the Drug War"), and I recommend it to Vice Squad readers interested in the pharmacotherapy issue.

The first 15 or so pages of the report explain the various developments in anti-drug "vaccines" that are out there. Antabuse (or disulfiram) was an early entry that fights alcoholism, by rendering someone sick if he consumes alcohol. Nicotine gums and patches are other now-venerable pharmacotherapies, but more are on the way, possibly including some aimed at cocaine and marijuana.

It is in section 2 that the report begins to indicate the extent to which such agents could become "threats to cognitive liberty." They quote this chilling paragraph from the second section of the 2003 National Drug Control Strategy:
And yet the disease [of drug use] spreads. It spreads because the vectors of contagion are not addicts in the streets but users who do not yet show the consequences of their drug habit. Last year, some 16 million Americans used an illegal drug on at least a monthly basis, while 6.1 million Americans were in need of treatment. The rest, still in the "honeymoon" phase of their drug-using careers, are "carriers" who transmit the disease to others who see only the surface of the fraud. Treatment practitioners report that new users in particular are prone to encouraging their peers to join them in their new behavior.
The CCLE report notes that between 1907 and 1978, more than 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized by states, and argues that people within the criminal justice system, as well as those on public assistance, might be the first to see coercive application of pharmacotherapies. And schoolkids, too:
Under the totality of the circumstances, the CCLE is thus concerned that government rhetoric equating the use of illegal drugs with infectious disease, combined with the already watered-down constitutional rights of children who attend public school, may set the stage for requiring the use of various pharmacotherapy "vaccines" as a precondition to attending public school or to participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.
More on this report tomorrow, probably.

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Referenda to Repeal City Smoking Bans Make Headway in Columbus, Toledo


That's Ohio, of course:

(1) Columbus;

(2) Toledo.

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Charlotte Observer Drinking and Driving Series


On Sunday Vice Squad drew (here and here) from the first part of a three-part series in the Charlotte Observer on drinking and driving. Parts 2 and 3 are now available (free registration required). Part 2 focuses on judges and courts, and includes this account of a special alcohol treatment court for repeat drunk drivers. The judge is a recovering alcoholic himself. The lead story in today's Part 3 concerns what happens when a driver refuses to take a breath test in the Carolinas. Here's a sample:
Each month in North Carolina, an average of nearly 900 DWI suspects -- or about 18 percent of those arrested -- refuse breath or blood alcohol tests, the Observer found. In South Carolina, 32 percent of those arrested on drunken driving charges refuse the tests, according to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division.

Across North Carolina, when suspects plead not guilty after declining alcohol tests, about 57 percent who go to trial are convicted. For those who agree to be tested, the conviction rate is about 62 percent.
All three parts, which together total more than 20 individual stories, are available here.

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Police Discretion


The police have a lot of discretion over whether or not to arrest someone, and on what charges might be brought. That is true in all areas of the law, but generally more so with respect to vice offenses, as they generally don't involve a victim reporting a crime to the police.

A generous Vice Squad reader brings our attention to police intervention on the behalf of a friend [a friend of the officer, that is] who was, perhaps, driving while intoxicated. The events took place in Lafayette, Indiana. They are described in this article from the Lafayette Journal and Courier, with updates here and here. One reason it is unknown if the woman was driving while impaired is that the breathalyzer machine at the station wasn't operating, by golly. Rather than take her to another station, the shift commander for the Lafeyette police department decided to release her into the custody of the off-duty deputy chief of the West Lafayette police department. The woman is on probation from a September, 2003, drinking and driving incident, and she had three kids in the car with her. The deputy police chief is friends with the woman's husband, who is a trustee in his town of Wea Township, Indiana. The deputy police chief has been reprimanded for his intervention, though he has not been suspended nor will he receive any other disciplinary action. Sounds like a handy friend to have.

Via Crim Law (who in turn hat tips True Believer), we learn of another case of police discretion, only this time, the police officer is paying a high price. Last November, he stopped a car in Ashley, Illinois, where he was a village police officer. He found a marijuana cigarette but followed the instruction of an Illinois state trooper who was on the scene to forget about it, as the piddling arrest wasn't worth the trouble. Sounds like sensible advice. But the now-former officer faces two felony charges over the incident, one for malfeasance and a second for obstruction of justice. Why the charges? Well, according to the former officer, whose last name is Gibson, he managed to get on the wrong side of a local prosecutor. Here's an excerpt from the account at Belleville.com:
Gibson said his firing from his job as an Ashley Police officer is due to a personal campaign against him by [Washington County State's Attorney Brian] Trentman. He said it stems from a drunken driving citation Gibson issued in December to the 18-year-old grandson of a Washington County board member.

The board member, who is also a Democratic precinct committeeman, complained to Trentman. Trentman had the charge tossed on grounds that Gibson was out of his jurisdiction when he issued the ticket.

Trentman, who could not be reached, has denied pursuing a vendetta and has stated politics played no role in his decision to have the DUI dismissed.

But in January after Gibson complained about the dismissal in a newspaper story, he was charged by Trentman with a felony for allegedly making an improper traffic stop several months earlier -- stopping a motorist by using an unauthorized emergency light in his private vehicle. That was the marijuana stop on the interstate.

Gibson in January publicly accused Trentman of having the DUI dropped for political reasons and the next day he was charged for having the light in his SUV. Gibson was jailed until he posted $3,000 cash on a $30,000 bond and his SUV was seized as evidence. The vehicle has not been returned.

Trentman, a former St. Clair County public defender, was then running in the Democratic primary for county judge. He lost to Associate Judge Dennis Hatch.

In the latest charges, which Gibson said resulted from his earlier refusal to plead guilty and accept probation, he is accused of tossing the motorist's marijuana cigarette in a roadside ditch near Interstate 64.
At least this prosecutor wasn't actually elected to the bench.

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Monday, August 09, 2004
 
Sweden's Alcohol Tax Becoming More and More Likely to Fall


Following today's Swedish theme, turns out that the prime minister has now publicly supported lowering the alcohol tax. Vice Squad readers will recall that the traditionally high Swedish taxes have been rendered less tenable by the unlimited alcohol imports for personal use mandated by the European Union. Finland reduced its alcohol taxes in March, but Sweden has been a bit more steadfast. As the prime minister notes, however, for those Swedes who buy in bulk from abroad, low taxes are already a reality.

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Another U.S. Prostitution Story


The former police chief of Runnemede, New Jersey, was arrested in a brothel in another New Jersey town in January. He pleaded guilty to a count of official misconduct in June, and was sentenced -- a $15,000 fine, $3000 in restitution to Runnemede, a year of probation, and a ban on holding public office -- on Friday. The arrest ended his 31-year police career, too. He had to sit through a lecture from the judge, too, according to this article at phillyburbs.com: 'With this self-indulgent and unlawful act, you have embarrassed yourself, your family and your profession,' [the judge told the former chief]. 'You held a position of public trust which you abused with this self-indulgent act.'

In many countries of the world, this "self-indulgent" act is legal, and the defendant would still be a police chief. But New Jersey has higher standards. (Although maybe the judge doesn't trust the people of NJ to maintain those standards -- why ban the former chief from holding public office? Is it possible that the people of New Jersey would view such a man as fit for office?)

Incidentally, this story seems to be a bit more complex than a single off-duty trip to a brothel. I can't find the earlier reports on the web, but there was an informant involved, one who made fifty calls to the chief, and may have been responsible for arranging the brothel visit.

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US Snus Use


Yes, it looks like the Swedish-style smokeless (and "spitless") tobacco, snus, is developing a following in the good ol' US of A: "Swedish Match North America, a manufacturer of specialty tobacco products based in Richmond, VA., today announced that as a result of solid market performance in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it is pleased to introduce reduced harm tobacco products for cigarette smokers in both Chicago, Ill. and Minneapolis, Minn."

The "reduced harm" bit concerns the presumably better health outcomes associated with snus use compared with smoking. Based on what is currently known, substitution from smoking to snus probably would lead to much better health outcomes. Snus use is "addictive," however.

The big ongoing snus issue is whether snus will be legalized throughout the European Union. Vice Squad follows snus news, including EU developments -- as on April 5 and on January 2 -- primarily because "snus" is such a cool word.

[Update: A new, encouraging report on the relative safety of snus.]

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Sunday, August 08, 2004
 
Central planning and the eradication of ditch weed


Earlier this month I opined about the dysfunctional incentives that would be created if the work of drug control agencies were evaluated based on the raw weight of seized drugs. That post was inspired by the Russian anti-drug agency’s claim of success based on confiscating 44 tons of drug shipments in a year. It turns out the “success indicator problem,” as this problem was called in the economics literature on central planning, may be flourishing among the “drug warriors” much closer to my home in Bloomington, IN. The Sunday issue of Bloomington’s main paper (subscription required) reports on the valiant efforts of Indiana police to use helicopters and other available means to spot and eradicate marijuana plants. According to the article, the police uprooted more than 21 million cannabis sativa plants last year. (The number actually reported in the paper was 219 million plants, but it appears to be a typo, because later in the article it is mentioned that so far this year the program has harvested more than 19 million plants, representing a more than 230% increase over last year.) However, only 31,192 of these 21 million plants were of cultivated variety. The rest apparently were wild marijuana plants or ditch weed, that have little, if any, intoxicating effect. What reminded me of my earlier post was a quote from Mr. Steve Dillon, an Indianapolis attorney and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, who said, “They are eradicating more and more plants, indicating their success. But it is ditch weed.” In a specific example, Mr. Dillon describes two of his former clients who came to Indiana from St. Louis seeking pot and were directed by somebody to a field of wild plants. They apparently didn’t know that the stuff was very low grade and stuffed a duffel bag with it. As they were leaving, they were caught. According to Mr. Dillon, “they paid a $50 fine, the cops told them to never come back and they had a 200-pound seizure of harmless wild marijuana for the books.” Just as straightforward economics would predict, if the success of the anti-drug effort is based on the weight of seized illegal drugs, the warriors’ incentive is to go after easy to find stuff that weighs a lot.

Indiana’s program, of course, represents only a relatively small part of the nationwide DEA efforts to eradicate marijuana. According to the same article, the cost of the federal program was $13.5 billion in 2002 alone. That resulted in the seizure of about 300 million plants, 98% of which grow wild and are very low grade.

Besides the old Soviet “success indicator problem,” all this effort to eradicate wild marijuana reminded me of a little story I read in a Sunday, July 22, 2004 insert to the same Bloomington paper, in the section entitled “News of the Weird” (the blurb itself was called “Crème de la weird”). It was apparently reported in China Daily in May that a Chinese businessman had spent thousands of dollars to kill (eradicate?) as many flies as he could. The obsession started 10 years ago when he became convinced that a fly ruined a big business deal for him. He and a team of volunteers he recruited claim to have killed 8 million flies. Unfortunately, unlike the businessman’s hunt for the flies, the US taxpayers are paying for the effort to eradicate wild marijuana. Even more sadly, I suspect that lots of people have been either fined or even gone to jail as a result of the DEA program simply because some ditch weed was growing on their property.

Finally, I am starting to get an impression that my hometown paper is really interested in examining the war on drugs and not necessarily in a manner favorable to the law enforcement warriors. (See my recent post based on a three part series from the paper as well as the Wednesday, August 4 issue.) Hope my impression is correct.

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Taj Mahal and Gambling


If you are like me, you are probably saying, "hey, I thought that the Taj Mahal was all about gambling." Well it turns out, that in addition to the Trump Taj in Atlantic City, there's some other Taj Mahal in Agra, India. No one goes there, it seems, primarily because there is no casino nearby. But that looks like it will change, if the tourism ministry in Uttar Pradesh has its way:
The Mulayam Singh Yadav Government [Yadav is the chief minister in Uttar Pradesh] has offered several five-star hotels to open casinos, on the lines of those in Goa so that there is enough leisure activity for visitors to the Taj.

"One of the reasons people keep away from the Taj is that there is nothing to do apart from visiting the monument in Agra," says a senior minister in the Yadav government. "To make it exciting for visitors, we had two proposals -- one was to get permission to open the Taj in the night, under full moon, and to open casinos for fun and excitement."
Maybe they could combine the two and have nighttime gambling at the Taj?

I visited Agra in January and was extremely disappointed when I found out that there was no casino. Had I known about that Taj building, I might have dropped by, however, since I was in town anyway. (OK, I am kidding -- I did visit the Taj; it greatly exceeded my expectations. I anticipated that it would be a very nice building, worth taking a look at, but I was not prepared for what I did experience: being overawed by its grandeur. Given the testimonies of countless non-gambling visitors, I guess I should have had higher expectations to begin with.)

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More on Avoiding Per Se Drunk Driving Laws


The Charlotte Observer story that served as the basis for the previous post about the workings South Carolina's per se drunk-driving law is but one of many DWI stories in today's Observer. The newspaper is conducting a three-part series on DWI. Today's edition also looks at how North Carolina's per se law works in practice, and includes separate stories on Charlotte-area counties. It seems that many people who register above .08 plead guilty. But for those who go to trial, as in South Carolina, a measured blood-alcohol content of .08 or above is far from assuring conviction. Here's a snippet from an Observer editorial (entitled "Sobering acquittals") that draws upon their DWI investigation:
The law is the law.

Unless the law is North Carolina's law saying driving with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 means you are driving while impaired.

Unless you're in one of those counties where people tried for DWI after testing over the legal alcohol limit have only a 1 in 10 chance of conviction.

Or unless, with your 0.08 or 0.09 reading, you arrive in the courtrooms of some judges whose conviction rates in such cases are shockingly below the state's average and those of most of their judicial colleagues.

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Undoing the Federal Anti-Drunk Driving Mandate


In early July, Delaware became the final US state to adopt a law that will make a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 the standard for per se drunk driving offenses. (Not all such state laws have entered into effect yet.) As with the "national" minimum drinking age of 21, the .08 standard was effectively imposed upon the states by the credible threat of federal "blackmail," the withholding of highway funds from states who didn't come along. Prior to the federal pressure, many states used .10 as the per se standard.

Today's Charlotte Observer has a fascinating article (registration required) of how South Carolina's official .08 standard is circumvented in practice -- to the point that police rarely will charge drivers under the per se statute, preferring to use an older anti-drunk driving law instead. One reason that the per se law has not been effective is that a conviction carries with it a six-month loss of driving privileges, while a refusal to take the BAC test only results in a 90-day suspension, and even that can be liberalized in practice. The per se law, as written, includes a fair number of defendant-friendly provisions, among which is the ban on using the per se law in conjunction with a drunk-driving checkpoint. Further, per se doesn't really mean per se in South Carolina, as the Observer article explains:
Unlike the laws in other states that make it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, South Carolina adds a list of other factors that a jury can consider. These include:

* Videotape evidence of the person's conduct at the arrest scene and when the DataMaster test is administered.

* Results of sobriety tests given by the arresting officer.

* "Any other evidence of the state of a person's faculties to drive which would call into question the results of a breath or bodily fluid test."

Although those same arguments can be raised in a case brought under the old DUI law, the new law says drivers can demand that the judge read them to the jury. The judge must also instruct jurors that "the totality of the evidence produced at trial may be used by the jury to determine guilt or innocence."
In the last (approximately) three and a half years, South Carolina state troopers "wrote 728 tickets charging drivers with violating the per se law, but 32,205 tickets under the old DUI law, which leaves it up to jurors to decide whether someone was too drunk to drive."

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Saturday, August 07, 2004
 
Two Blogospheric Updates


(1) In March we mentioned the attempt in Toledo, Ohio, to avoid a public smoking ban by converting a tavern into a "charity"; it didn't fly in the courts. Prof. Bainbridge has more; hat tip to the Volokh Conspiracy.

(2) Last weekend we mentioned New Zealand's state guide for prostitutes; on Thursday, Marginal Revolution had more on this story.

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Indonesian Justice


From today's Chicago Tribune (registration required):
An appeals court overturned the convictions of four Indonesian security officers implicated in 1999 violence in East Timor, a major blow to efforts to punish top brass over the bloodshed that killed as many as 1,500 people...

The verdicts mean that 16 of the 18 suspects tried in the violence have now been acquitted. The only two who have been found guilty--Guterres ["notorious militia leader Eurico Guterres," whose own ten-year jail term was cut in half] and the tiny country's ex-governor--were ethnic East Timorese civilians.
On the other hand, a man convicted of attempting to smuggle 13 kilograms of heroin into Indonesia was executed by a firing squad on Thursday. (He did not have the heroin on him -- he was implicated by two other men who were caught with the heroin.) His execution might be the start of a cascade, as there are twenty or more other prisoners placed on Indonesia's death row for drug charges. The point of anti-drug laws, of course, is humanitarian, to offer people healthier lives. Vietnam is not shirking its role in the humanitarian effort, by upholding four death sentences handed out for smuggling less than 8 kilos of heroin.

Heroin used to be sold over-the-counter in the United States and in many other parts of the world; possession of heroin in the US was not made illegal until 1924. Fortunately, we have become more enlightened since then, and have given fuller rein to our humanitarian impulses.

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Friday, August 06, 2004
 
Another Former Police Officer Against the Drug War


Here's an op-ed article in the Baltimore Sun (registration required) by a former Baltimore police officer. Thanks to this week's Drug War Chronicle, again, for the pointer.

Incidentally, I recently added Radley Balko's "The Agitator" blog to our links. Radley covers lots of vice stories, and has been particularly active lately on overeating and alcohol. Radley is a libertarian and seems to favor even less government regulation of adult vice than is the Vice Squad norm.

It's off-topic and some combination of "heartrending" and "hilarious," but you might want to check out the "Pet of the Week" video that Radley links to here.

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Informants


When vice is criminalized, regulating it generally involves the use of informants. (As the vice transactions themselves are voluntary, there is typically no victim with an incentive to summon the police.) Informants aren't even popular in elementary school, so why would someone be willing to inform against a drug buyer? In many instances, because it is part of their law-enforcement job, or because they otherwise get paid, either in cash or a reduced sentence of their own, for their information. But paying informants also creates an incentive to fabricate information, or to entrap others into committing crimes. Collecting the information, even without entrapment or fabrication, can also be quite dangerous.

One drug defendant is taking the fight to informants -- and now a federal district court has ruled that he can continue to do so:
A US District Court judge has ruled that an Alabama man charged with money laundering and drug trafficking offenses can keep a web site that posted the names and photos of informants and DEA agents involved in his case. The man, Leon Carmichael, told the court that the web page, done in the style of a "WANTED" poster and which asked for information about the informants and DEA agents, was part of his defense effort.
Here's the full story, from this week's Drug War Chronicle. The defendant's lawyer says that the website has already led to people contacting him with information that might discredit the informants.

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Car Breathalyzer Still Has Some Bugs


Remember the alco-lock mentioned a few days ago, the device that won't allow a car to start until a breathalyzer test is passed? Well, a correspondent with The Guardian tried it out and, well, it didn't seem to work for him. The journalist wasn't trying to fool the system, either, but many people do; from The Guardian article:
"What's foolproof?" said Ian Marples, a director of Alcohol Countermeasure Systems, the Canadian company chosen to introduce the system in Britain and which is testing it for the department. He expects a large percentage of the 20,000 people banned each year for drink driving in Britain to try to cheat if they are ordered to have the lock fitted.

"In our experience drink drivers will try anything. Some have installed air pumps to their cars, others blow up balloons and connect them to the mouthpiece, others try to filter out the alcohol by blowing through cat litter and charcoal and some even try to fool it by blowing through 20 feet of tubing," said Mr Marples.

"The creative ingenuity of drink drivers is amazing to behold. The alco-lock is predicated on the basis that users will try to defeat it. Its greatest weakness is that it cannot identify between different people. But the computer looks for just about everything. Nothing's foolproof but it is pretty difficult to beat it."

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On Knowing Your Blood Alcohol Content


Generous Vice Squad reader Larry from California sends along this comment (and an apology to Larry for somehow getting his name wrong earlier -- now I am worried about the California part, too):

"It's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration above a certain
level, but bars and restaurants have no obligation to provide tools for
their customers to evaluate their level of intoxication before driving.

Bars could have breath testing units at tables or in restrooms, or just
copies of the BAC chart that California's DMV sends me with my car
registration every year. Testing devices could have a maximum BAC
reading to prevent customers from competing to register high readings.

Obviously this idea has potential problems, such as

* Testing devices could be hard to maintain and guard against theft or
vandalism.

* Bar drinks can contain more than one standard drink, making a chart
hard to interpret and potentially misleading.

* Alcohol takes time to be absorbed so test results in the bar might not
reflect a drinker's blood alcohol later while on the road.

* Liability issues, although legislatures could certainly deal with this.

* A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% is definitely illegal in
most states but the opposite is not true. A driver can be considered
intoxicated even with a BAC below .08%.

More generally, government does not seem to want citizens to know how
much alcohol they're drinking. Proposals to label alcohol containers
with the number of standard drinks they contain have gone nowhere, even
though alcohol consumers might find that information helpful."

Until the mid-1990s, a federal law prohibited the disclosure of alcohol content on beer advertising or labels in the US, but this law was overturned by a Supreme Court decision. Presumably there is concern that advertising alcohol content will cause an "arms race" for higher and higher alcohol levels. (My year in Britain convinced me, perhaps wrongly, that the Brits must have a law requiring alcohol content disclosure on beers -- and it did seem that the higher alcohol content beer became more popular as closing time approached.) I believe that alcohol content disclosure is handled differently by different states in the US.

A bar/restaurant in North Carolina that I used to frequent briefly had a breathalyzer available to its customers. Its main use, as far as I could tell, was to encourage contests to record the highest BAC -- so Larry's suggestion of a maximum reading sounds good to me. (Maybe even just an above/below the legal limit indicator.) My recollection is that someone who is drinking steadily will see his BAC maximize about one-half hour after he stops consuming alcohol. (Please do not rely upon this information/misinformation; for that matter, do not rely upon anything posted on Vice Squad.)

In general, I just don't have much information on the rules/effects surrounding alcohol content disclosure, or on the provision of BAC measuring devices. Happy to hear from knowledgeable parties.

Here's a webpage that discloses the alcohol, calorie, and carb content of lots of beers.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004
 
NFL Marijuana Use


Last One Speaks has an interesting post about the recent reports of marijuana use in the National Football League, and about the possibly marijuana-related retirement of star running back Ricky Williams. A sample: "... the real point is just how many of the best players in the country functioned perfectly well under the influence of the plant and also illustrates how the punishment for ingesting a natural substance was worse than the actual use of the herb."

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Eureka's Forfeiture Law


Vice Squad mentioned a couple days ago the possibility that the city of Eureka, California, would adopt an automobile forfeiture law aimed at those accused of loitering for the purpose of soliciting prostitution of for some drug-something-or-other. The City Council was supposed to decide on Tuesday. What happened? Well, the measure has been put on hold for the time being. It seems that the Eureka ordinance was modeled after one in Oakland. But the Oakland law is being challenged in the courts, so the City Attorney, according to this article from the Eureka Reporter, "said he thought it prudent that the City Council not adopt the amended ordinance until after the Oakland lawsuit is resolved."

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Illicit Drug Use, State by State


Today's SAMHSA offering is the "2002 State Estimates of Substance Use." Of the fifty US states plus the District of Columbia, where is the prevalence of past-month use of illicit substances by people 12 and older the lowest, you ask? I am pleased to report that my neighbors in the Hawkeye State of Iowa are the least likely to consume anything illicit. Or at least to report consuming anything illicit, as the estimates are based on face-to-face and computer-assisted interviews. But at any rate, the estimate for Iowa is that 6.08 percent of those 12-and-older were not entirely pure in the previous month. Utah and South Carolina are second and third in the most-likely-to-obey-the-sumptuary-laws sweepstakes.

What? You want to know in which states the prevalence of illicit substance use is highest? For shame, I will not even let the names of those wicked places pass my lips. But as there are no lips in the blogosphere, the second-runner up is....New Hampshire, with a past-month prevalence of 11.05 (just beating out neighboring Vermont.) The first runner up -- and should the winner be unable to perform her duties, the first runner-up will assume the winner's responsibilities -- is Alaska, with a prevalence of 12.15 percent. And the winner is....oh, it's quite a surprise, it's our nation's capital, Washington, DC, with an estimated prevalence of 12.43. (Now wait a minute, isn't SAMHSA located just outside of DC? You don't think that there was some home-team umpiring here, do you?)

Here's the table with the state-by-state breakdown. And folks, I hope it goes without saying that I know that many people ruin their lives, and the lives of those near them, through illicit drug use (and also through licit drug use). Please don't let my light-hearted tone in this post be taken as evidence that I make light of their tragedies.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004
 
Buprenorphine Treatment for Opioid Addicts


Methadone treatment for heroin addicts is pretty effective, as these things go. For many addicts, once-a-day methadone stabilizes them, prevents withdrawal, and allows them to maintain a more-or-less normal life. But it looks as if a drug called "buprenorphine" is even better, at least for many opioid addicts. You take it less frequently, and in the form in which it is provided in treatment, it is not easily subject to abuse. As a result, doctors can prescribe a month's supply at a time to an addict, reducing the need for clinic visits. It has only been available for treatment in the US for a short time. This fine story, in yesterday's New York Times, has more.

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