Saturday, July 31, 2004
Pot Smoking Parents
Here's a thoughtful little essay out of Australia about parents in their 40s and 50s who still like to smoke a little pot--but who do not want their kids to emulate them, or to know. One interesting point: "Drugs education in primary school, effective at least temporarily in turning children into anti-drug zealots, compounds parents' guilt."
Vice Verdicts From Federal Appellate Courts
(1) Vibrators Verboten in Vinemont: Yes, I have been moved to alliteration. An Alabama state law banning the sale of sex toys was upheld in a ruling last week by a three judge panel of the 11th Circuit. (The panel split, 2-1, in favor of upholding the wise piece of legislation.) The absolutely necessary law will not be enforced until appeals have run their course, it seems. The next step is for the plaintiffs, morally-challenged merchants and customers, to ask for a rehearing before the whole panoply of 11th Circuit judges. The state's Assistant Attorney General noted one compassionate feature of the law, which provides an exemption for those who need the diabolical devices for medical reasons. (Vinemont is a town in Alabama, incidentally.)
(2) Pennsylvania College Newspapers Can Get Paid for Alcohol Ads:
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a Pennsylvania law banning paid advertisements for alcohol in college newspapers is unconstitutional.The law attempted to avoid First Amendment problems by not prohibiting the newspapers from running alcohol ads; they just couldn't be paid for it. The three-judge panel was unimpressed with the trickery.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 1996 law, which was intended to combat underage drinking, placed an unfair financial burden on student-run publications and hindered their right to free speech while doing little to achieve its goal.
Thanks to Howard Bashman at How Appealing for both of the pointers.
And While We are On the Prostitution Theme...
...another two year, yes, two year, investigation into prostitution associated with strip clubs, from the Tampa area. ("Over the two years, undercover detectives spent night after night in the clubs, and they found that sex was happening in private rooms, according to court records.") You might think that such a painstaking investigation would surely lead to tons of convictions, no? Well, they hit a familiar snag: police officers in one case and sheriff's deputies in another case got a little busy with the strippers before the arrests were made.
This Weekend's Comparative Prostitution News
(1) Everett, Washington: "19 Busted in Prostitution Sting" (2) Odessa, Texas: "67 surrender so far in prostitution case" (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, registration required.) (3) Auckland, New Zealand: "NZ issues guide for prostitutes." A sample from the linked article:
THE New Zealand government, having taken the step of legalising prostitution, has now issued a guide for sex workers. The 100-page Occupational Safety and Health guide to safe sex practices has been launched on a government website with the caution: "Warning: this document contains sexually explicit material". The recommendations - which the New Zealand Herald said today will also be distributed to brothels and sex workers - include detailed advice on safe sex practices such as the storage and handling of sex toys and disinfecting equipment.This safety and health guide follows the earlier government guide concerning how to open a brothel.
Friday, July 30, 2004
Absinthe in the Netherlands
The new bans (one actual, one intended) on the alcohol vaporizer caused Vice Squad to rhapsodize about the frequency with which vice-related bans are adopted. But vice laws swing both ways, and sometimes bans come to an end. In March, we noted that Switzerland was intending to end its 96-year old ban on the opaline alcohol beverage absinthe. Last week, Peaktalk passed along the story of how an Amsterdam Court ruling overturned the Dutch ban on absinthe, which dates "only" to 1909.
The court's rationale is that European Union regulations on absinthe have superseded the Dutch ban. And while I am glad to see the ban end, I do not like the fact that it is intra-EU free trade considerations that are paving the way for this liberalization, as well as making high-alcohol-taxes in Sweden and Finland untenable. Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity, and I am concerned that tying its regulation to standard liberal approaches to free trade (or free speech) threatens both the legality of alcohol and our commitments to free trade or free speech more generally. But that is a discussion for another time.
For now, just want to mention that I recently read The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History, by Phil Baker. It was a fun read, covering primarily fin de siecle Paris and London, with characters like Ernest Dowson, Oscar Wilde, and Paul Verlaine. The book opens (page 3) by explaining how the Swiss absinthe ban was motivated by the horrific 1905 murders of a pregnant woman and her two young daughters by her husband. The murderer was a "thoroughgoing alcoholic," who had an extraordinary amount to drink both the day before and day of the murders. His two absinthes were literally a drop in the bucket of his imbibing, but a petition to ban absinthe was drawn up in the wake of the murders, and eventually succeeded -- and it lasted for nearly 100 years.
Thursday, July 29, 2004
Foreign Stripper Controversy in Canada
Now I might be misunderstanding something here, but here goes. I've read a couple of other things on the web but mainly I am distilling my frenzy from this article. Some foreign women are interested in entering Canada with the intention of working as exotic dancers. The Canadian immigration authorities are concerned about possible exploitation and trafficking of women, so they request proof that the women are experienced exotic dancers; some of this proof includes stage photos. A Toronto tabloid embellished the tale, it seems, with talk of immigration officers poring over nude photos. The Canadian government has responded with the claim that nude photos are never requested, though perhaps some are submitted -- especially by women who are applying for their Canadian visas from Moscow. Whew. I'll close with another surprising detail:
Eighty percent of the 850 exotic dancers granted visas obtained their document from the Canadian embassy in Bucharest, Romania.
Authorities have found dancers there speak English and French, Canada's two official languages, are less likely to be involved in the vice trade than other countries and return home promptly when their jobs are over.
Five Years of Detroit Casinos
Five years ago the first legal casino in Detroit opened, with two more starting up in the subsequent 17 months. (The casinos are "temporary," with the expectation being that they would be replaced by more resort-like permanent casinos. The permanent casinos are behind schedule -- they should have arrived already according to the original plan -- but still intended.) By 2001/02, Detroit collected 12% of its city revenue from the casinos, and the state picks up quite a bit of change, too. This Associated Press article from the Detroit Free Press does a nice job of summarizing some of the costs and benefits of the casinos. I was shocked by this claim about the percentage of adults in Detroit who are compulsive gamblers, though: "A 2001 survey by the Michigan Department of Community Health found that 4.5 percent of adults in the state were compulsive gamblers. In the city of Detroit, the number is 11.4 percent."
The linked article failed to mention perhaps the worst Detroit casino-related incident. In January of 2000, an off-duty police officer was losing thousands of dollars. He played a final hand of blackjack in the high-stakes area, lost the hand, pulled out his gun, and committed suicide. The next day, a firefighter threatened to kill himself in another Detroit casino. Suicide attempts are not uncommon among people with gambling problems. Earlier this month there was an apparent double suicide at a casino hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana, though gambling losses may not have been a motive in the deaths.
An addendum to the Russian victories
It has occurred to me that I forgot to mention one curious thing in my last night’s post (see right below). The headline number in Russia’s Gosnarkokontrol report on its victories in the war on drugs was the gross weight (44 tons) of seized illegal drugs. I wonder whether the work of the narkokontrollers in Russia is evaluated mostly according to this indicator. Don’t reject this conjecture as being completely ludicrous. The activities of most enterprises in the centrally planned economies, including the former Soviet one, were evaluated by similar indicators (see, for example, Grossman, G., “Notes for a Theory of the Command Economy,” Soviet Studies, 15: 101-123 or, for somewhat easier read, Miller, J., "The Big Nail and Other Stories: Product Quality Control in the Soviet Union," ACES Bulletin, 26,1:43-57, 1984, and Powell, R., "Plan Execution and the Workability of Soviet Planning," Journal of Comparative Economics, 1,1:51-76, 1977). Of course, this way to evaluate performance leads to all kinds of distortions. If you evaluate the performance of nail-making factory by the gross weight of its output, it would produce few but very heavy nails. If you evaluate the anti-drug agency’s performance by the gross weight of seized drugs, it has incentives to concentrate on discovering plantations of marijuana and counting the raw weight of the seized plants. BTW, this method of evaluating the performance of government entities is popular not because the government planners are stupid (although this possibility cannot be usually excluded either) but because evaluating the performance of non-market enterprises of all kinds is a very difficult task. Simply put, in the absence of the market-generated information, there are no good indicators to judge the performance of entities such as police departments, academic departments within a university or even an entire state university, the military (particularly in peacetime) and so on.
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Russia’s victories in the war on drugs
Russia’s federal agency for fighting the war on drugs, Gosnarkokontrol, has just announced (this source is in Russian) that during the first year of its existence it has confiscated 44 tons of illegal drugs. The agency claims that it has been working only on really big cases and not bothering with small fry. The deputy head of the agency, Mr. Alexander Mikhailov, stated that the agency managed to stop more than 1,000 of large shipments, including 400 kilos of heroin from Afghanistan discovered in the Moscow region. It seems, however, that Mr. Mikhailov’s information about not bothering with small fry might have been somewhat misleading. (Perhaps he was getting bad intelligence.) For example, in the end of last year, Gosnarkokontrol went after the sellers of consumer items that promoted drug culture. In particular, the agency tried to impose fines on the sellers of t-shirts and cigarette lighters with pictures of cannabis on them. The rather predictable result has been that these items can still be bought but only under the table. Last April, the federal narkokontrollers tried to ban all the fiction that mentioned the ways of making or using illegal drugs. However, Russia is apparently not quite ready yet for this and the ban has not taken place. Perhaps Russia will mature for such a ban by the end of the second year of the glorious agency’s work.
While waiting for that day, the agency has managed to accomplish some other uniquely Russian (or are they?) spectacular achievements. Even prior to the end of its “major military operations” of eliminating all Afghani heroin shipments, Gosnarkokontrol has been mopping up the last remnants of enemy resistance. First, the agency tried to prosecute the veterinarians who used ketamine to anesthetize pets for surgery. In one such apparently typical case (the source is in Russian) in October 2003, a veterinarian was caught red-handed trying to administer the drug to a… cat. He was charged with unlawful transactions with drugs in large quantities. The vet, who was a victim of a sting operation, had a vial with 0.24 grams of ketamine. One of the witness accounts stated that the veterinarian was caught attempting to “supply the drug to a cat via an injection” (the Russian word used was “sbyt” which actually is closer to a “sale” than simple “supply”). At the time of the sting, the drug was prohibited for the use by veterinarians, but prior to the trial, the Ministry of Agriculture had legalized it although the appropriate accompanying regulations had not been implemented. Nonetheless, it appears that the defendant was acquitted mainly because of the legal change reported by Vice Squad earlier that increased the criminal quantities of illegal drugs, including ketamine, making the vet only civilly liable for a rather small fine. Most other “veterinarian cases” were discarded by the prosecutors by late June 2004.
However, Gosnarkokontrol soon shifted its attention (this is in Russian) to even more potentially drug abusive professions such as dentists and gynecologists. Several searches and audits revealed that the same ketamine and other drugs are sometimes used by these professionals without the appropriate licenses. For example, after a receipt for the purchase of ketamine was found during a search at the gynecological clinic “Blagovest,” the clinic’s director was charged with the sale of illegal drugs. The clinic had a license for the storage and use of these drugs valid through 2007. A new regulation required the clinic to obtain a license of a new type although the old licenses were never revoked. The clinic applied for a new license and was in the process of obtaining it, but ever-vigilant Gosnarkokontrol caught up with it before the new license has been issued. Similar cases were brought against some dentists and psychiatrists.
Even though Gosnarkokontrol may focus on large dealers (as well as veterinarians and gynecologists) it always remembers, of course, that the main goal of drug wars all over the world is to save the young people. Therefore, the agency announced (again, in Russian) that every Moscow night club would be required to obtain a special certificate stating that no drugs are sold on the premises. The certification is supposed to be conducted by a special Gosnarkokontrol commission. The certificate would then be posted at the entrance to the club. The clubs without the appropriate certificates will be subject to particularly close scrutiny of the police and could be closed. I’ll let the reader decide who the main beneficiaries of the certification requirement are going to be.
French Tobacco Sales Plummet...
...and existential philosophy threatened. OK, I made up that philosophy part. But remember when the French tobacconists went on a one-day strike last October? No one can accuse them of not understanding their own interests. From the BBC:
Heavy tobacco taxes, introduced as part of a French health drive, have triggered a 20% drop in cigarette sales in the country, official figures show.Cigar sales are up, incidentally. And even more incidentally, I have switched my official Vice Squad e-mail address from my University of Chicago to my Google mail account, as you will note by checking the sidebar. No doubt you will read all about this momentous change in tomorrow's papers.
The cost of a pack of cigarettes has surged 30% since the anti-smoking campaign began in October last year.
Finland's Alcohol Tax Cut Update
Vice Squad can't just let this one alone, it seems. Finland's alcohol tax revenues have been falling since it cut its taxes some 30 to 40 percent at the beginning of March -- while sales at the state alcohol stores are up, the increase does not offset the decreased tax revenue per sale. (Imports from Estonia are presumably way up, too.) A majority of Finns, it seems, supports the lower alcohol taxes, though a significant minority thinks that the price of alcohol is now too low. [Here's another news story on the revenue fall.]
Here's a Vice Squad post on the Finnish situation as of early June; Sweden has not cut its alcohol taxes, but its tax revenues are way down, as Vice Squad mentioned last week. So with the new EU rules regarding personal imports, it looks as if high tax countries will see their alcohol tax revenues fall whether or not they choose to lower their alcohol levies.
State Marijuana Taxes
The blogosphere has been jumping about the fact that many US states officially tax marijuana, even though it is an illegal product. Here is the webpage from Kansas, which explains:
A dealer is not required to give his/her name or address when purchasing stamps and the Department is prohibited from sharing any information relating to the purchase of drug tax stamps with law enforcement or anyone else.Two things that seem to be overlooked in the discussion of these taxes are (1) taxing illegal vices is not novel and (2) the prohibitionists better watch out, despite what Kansas claims, because this can lead to legalization. After the 21st Amendment ended national alcohol prohibition in the US, many states maintained their own prohibitions. Mississippi prohibited anything stronger than 3.2 beer, but in the 1940s passed a tax on stronger stuff. In the mid-1960s (following a high-profile alcohol raid), a judge ruled that the fact that taxes were being collected meant that alcohol was de facto legal. The state legislature followed by making the de facto legalization de jure, and in 1966, Mississippi became the last state to get rid of statewide alcohol prohibition. Along similar lines, brothels became legal in Nevada because an illegal brothel owner was fined (as I recall, $1000 per month for the previous three months that the brothel had been in business.) He didn't go out of business, but kept sending $1000 per month to the relevant (Storey county, as I recall) authorities. Eventually, the courts again said, you have been cashing the checks, so it's de facto legal. The state then passed a statute setting up the broad rules for legal brothels in those rural Nevada counties that were willing to have them.
Purchasing drug tax stamps does not make possession of drugs legal.
Pete at Drug WarRant has more. Also, a couple of months ago a federal court ruled that Wisconsin's marijuana tax law violated the double jeopardy clause of the US Constitution, so it is doubtful that any tax evasion charges brought in addition to criminal charges would stick (especially in the 7th Federal district)!
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
The War on Drugs in Bloomington, IN
On Sunday, July 25, my local paper has initiated a three-part series on the war on drugs. Perhaps this was prompted in part by the fact (described in the first installment of the series) that drug arrests in Bloomington had gone up from 200-250 per year in the second half of 1990’s to almost 400 in 2003. (Bloomington has about 70,000 population, presumably not counting out-of-town students.) While most of the arrests during all these years have been for possession, the felony drug-dealing arrests have increased much more rapidly since 2000. Most, if not all, of this increase in arrests has been apparently due to stepped up enforcement. Interestingly, much of the cost of greater police resources devoted to drug enforcement has been paid for by federal grant money and sales of property seized in drug operations.
The second part of the series asks if the greater resources devoted to fighting the drug war have been worth it in terms of reduced crime. While it is true that violent crime reported to Bloomington Police Department has declined quite a bit (from about 150 cases per year in the late 1990’s to 69 in 2003) the role of the greater enforcement of drug laws in this trend is unclear. In fact, the article cites Peter Reuter of the RAND Corporation saying that he hadn’t heard of any scholarly finding linking increased cocaine (and presumably other drug-related) arrests to a reduction in violent crime. In fairness, the police do not claim any such proven link although they certainly hope it exists. The police do, however, suggest that the greater enforcement helps some of the drug users to reduce abuse. A narcotics detective at IU Police Department claimed that some people he had arrested thanked him later. (I wonder if they did so in person or by sending him a “Thank you” note.) Whether this is true or not, the only proponents of the “war” mentioned in either the first or the second article are the law enforcement personnel. Among the opponents, both articles cite Hal Pepinsky, a criminal justice professor at IU. One memorable quote says, “Making a war on people in order to save them doesn’t help.” Indeed, how many of the about 300 people arrested in Bloomington for drug possession in 2003 (about half of them for possession of marijuana) have felt that they had been helped by those arrests?
The final installment of the series talks about some of the costs of the war on drugs and presents the arguments of the local substance abuse treatment centers that the resources in the war on drugs are largely misdirected. It is estimated that keeping the nonviolent drug offenders in the prison system will cost the state of Indiana about $111 million. The amount spent by the state and federal government on the treatment of drug addicts is gong to be less than half of that. The article also mentions favorably the establishment of drug treatment courts that focus on treatment rather than incarceration. Since 1999 when such a court was established in Monroe County, in which Bloomington is located, the two year program for nonviolent, felony drug offenders has diverted 140 people from the system.
In general, the three installments create an impression that the drug war is not going too well (surprise, surprise!). Similarly, a brief editorial in today’s issue of the paper talks about the need for an adjustment of the “drug strategies.” The editorial calls for treating the nonviolent drug offenders “for their health issues” rather than imprisoning them and speaks against the system of mandatory penalties.
Unfortunately, neither the articles nor the editorial ask forcefully whether most of the nonviolent drug users require any attention from the state at all. For example, here is a striking description from one of the “profiles of former drug abusers” that accompany today’s article. He was first arrested for in 1992 after a raid of his home and imprisoned for five years, presumably for possession. As a result, his son “grew up without a father or mother during his teenage years.” In 2003, he was arrested again for felony drug possession. Meanwhile, the offender never had a record of any other crime or violence. And when he was out of prison he always had a job. Why was there any need to put the person in jail or even to force him to be treated for anything? I understand that sometimes ex ante punishments such as for speeding or drunk driving might be justified, but FIVE YEARS in prison just for possession without any other offenses? (Perhaps this is not quite like Bush's preventive war doctrine, but it comes pretty close and it is perpetrated on our own citizens.) Moreover, when drug-related violence is present, isn’t it often due at least in part to the policy of prohibition and not to the drugs themselves? And, of course, it would have been helpful if the article mentioned explicitly that the costs of the war on drugs in Indiana are much, much greater than the $111 million mentioned above. Still, it’s a good sign that our paper has decided at least to raise the issue about whether this war is a good policy. Let’s hope newspapers in other small Midwestern towns and elsewhere follow suit.
Ex-Officer Pleads "No Contest" to Solicitation Charge...
...but he wants his job back. In much of the world, of course, consensual adult relationships are not criminalized, and 22-year veteran police officers needn't fear arrest and public humiliation for this activity -- but not in Omaha.
Meanwhile, in Richmond, Virginia, efforts are afoot to crack down on prostitution by going after cruising:"...police would be able to charge motorists with a traffic infraction for passing by the same point in the same direction more than twice in a three-hour span between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Each infraction could carry a fine of up to $100." Sounds like pizza delivery men should avoid the targeted neighborhoods. Some muckety-muck at the Virginia ACLU seems to think that in a free country, you should be able to walk or bicycle or drive pretty much where you want without getting a ticket for retracing your steps. Sounds like anarchy to me! (Actually, one of the odd bits about this story is that an anti-cruising law is already on the books. The linked article makes it sound as if the proposed change actually liberalizes the law, by introducing the three-hour window. But as the intent of the law is clearly to crack down on cruising, I could be mis-reading the story.)
As I have noted before, I recognize that public manifestations of prostitution can legitimately be controlled. Nevertheless, I despair over the complete criminalization in most of the US that implies that adults have no legal routes to such exchanges. Many countries (Britain, Canada) seem to get along in no worse fashion with prostitution itself legal, though public solicitation may be barred.
Happy Anniversary to Drug WarRant
Pete Guither's excellent blog turned one-year old today. The care with which Pete has put forth the case for liberalization of our drug laws, his rejoinders to the claims made by prohibtionists, and his cataloguing of the costs of the drug war, are an inspiration. Congratulations, Pete, for work that is helping, I hope and believe, to one day render itself (and much of Vice Squad) unnecessary.
Labels: Drug WarRant
1) Probably the top offbeat story of the day: a girl claims she found a marijuana joint in her McDonalds parfait.
2) Local Chicago news: apparently yet another drug sting is resolutely under way in the city.
3) An 80 year old Italian granny responsible for a good amount of drug dealing has finally been apprehended.
4) Friend of Vice Squad George Byrd sends word of a plan to prevent future drug addiction in children: anti-drug immunizations. A descriptive article is here. [Update: Mark Kleiman speaks some sense on this story: the probability of any government mandating for children any of the existing "immunizations" is virtually zero -- JL] [Further update!: Last One Speaks has more, and it is troubling; now I don't know whether or not to be concerned. I'll try to read the report (52 page pdf) to learn more -- JL]
5) New data about the number of people incarcerated: drug violations cover 25% of probationists.
6) And finally, this story seems to have slipped through the cracks: a Pennsylvania judge has apparently been letting minor marijuana possession cases go without prosecution! The decisions have been reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the Attorney General is quoted as saying: "It has been and remains illegal for juveniles to possess marijuana." Strong words.
Monday, July 26, 2004
Poker in the Olympics
When I drove past a demonstration supporting poker in the Olympics I thought that it might be tongue-in-cheek. Well, for the long-run, there are some folks who apparently are serious. But a web-based poker site has put up a webpage supporting poker for this summer's games in Athens -- and this one is just for grins, it seems, and maybe to stir up some business for the gambling site. Here's their "news story" on the willingness of poker players to submit to drug testing.
Return of the Vice
Well, I just made my final guest post at Overlawyered, so I hope to be back to a normal Vice Squad schedule now. (These are the sorts of ambitious goals I set for myself: to return to a normal Vice Squad schedule.) For those of you who had the sense to stay well clear of my Overlawyered posts, I'll torment you by linking to the last bunch here:
(1) More Victories in the War on Drugs;
(2) Attractive Nuisance and Drug Laws;
(3) Brazil Hoping to Shoot Down Suspected Drug Planes;
(4) Racial Profiling;
(5) More on Racial Profiling (which I believe was a finalist for the "creative blog-post title" award);
(6) Personal Responsibility and Addiction;
(7) My farewell to Overlawyered.
Many thanks to the kind netizens of Overlawyered, Walter Olson and Ted Frank, for letting me infiltrate their neighborhood this past week -- despite the resulting plummet in e-property values.
More Pressure on Sweden's High Alcohol Taxes
Vice Squad has been following the alcohol policy events in Northern Europe in the last few months. Finland pre-emptively cut its alcohol taxes to try to forestall the expected wave of personal imports from new EU member Estonia. Sweden has been feeling the pressure, too, from the EU-mandated liberalization of controls over imported, non-commercial alcohol. Imports of alcohol are way up, and tax receipts from the Swedish state monopoly seller Systembolaget are way down:
Systembolaget sales have been in free fall since the European Union last January forced Sweden to raise the legal limit on alcohol imports, undermining the drinks monopoly and allowing Swedes to shift crates and crates of booze back from neighboring countries where alcohol is much cheaper.
In January 2004, Swedes purchased 85 percent more alcohol abroad than in the same month a year earlier, and by March those imports had doubled, [Swedish newspaper] Dagens Nyheter reported.
Sunday, July 25, 2004
Extorting Web-Based Casinos
Computer-savvy crooks have targeted web-based casinos with "denial of service attacks" that render the betting sites inoperative. The crooks then suggest a payment to make the problem go away. Newsweek has an interesting story on this phenomenon, and points to how the money made at these casinos has made them attractive targets. I might add that their not-entirely legitimate position -- which was once the case for Las Vegas casinos, too, but ceased to be so when financing rules were relaxed and "normal" corporations could become involved -- adds to their attractiveness. From the Newsweek article:
"The first known wave of threats came last September, with cyber-mafiosi using massive spam attacks to slow betting sites, then following up with bland e-mails asking for payments to "fix the problem." Since then, according to British authorities and industry executives, virtually every major Internet betting site from the Caribbean to Australia has been hit, including those based in Britain, the international hub of online bookmaking."
Saturday, July 24, 2004
.... "Individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their pockets," according to the Supreme Court of Canada. So the police can't go fishing through your pockets for drugs, just because they have reasonable suspicion to briefly detain you in a criminal investigation. Imagine!
Why is Marijuana Illegal?
Pete Guither at Drug WarRant has an excellent essay explaining how marijuana became illegal in the US -- but why has it remained illegal? Alcohol Prohibition, after all, only lasted 13 years, and we have had national marijuana prohibition for some 67 years now.
The recent news out of Canada offers a partial explanation, though. It's not a matter of principle, of course, it is a matter of numbers. Alcohol prohibition was rescinded in part because alcohol use was popular with something on the order of 1/2 of US society -- and probably at least 1/2 of the legislators and police officers who were enacting and enforcing the anti-alcohol laws. Marijuana use, by contrast, remains a distinctly minority pursuit, with perhaps 5% of the population using it in the past 30 days. (Marijuana prevalence statistics might be significant underestimates of true usage, but even accounting for that possibility, only a small proportion of the population uses marijuana.) Maybe usage will have to rise before some sanity is brought to our drug laws. Alcohol prohibition, for instance, was enacted when alcohol consumption had been falling -- and falling almost monotonically for 80 years, actually. It began to rise three years or so into Prohibition. But sacrificing hundreds of thousands of users annually to the criminal justice system is a very costly method of bringing about reform.
Zonker Harris Covered By Medicare?
Some people get "addicted" to ultraviolet light.
Friday, July 23, 2004
Better Ban It, Just In Case
Earlier this month Vice Squad noted that the alcohol vaporizer -- which allows one to consume alcohol via inhalation (a long-term desire for many people?) -- had been banned in New South Wales, Australia. But at least the machine had made it to Australia. There is now an attempt to ban the vaporizer in Suffolk County, New York, before the evil device even makes its New York premiere.
According to the linked article, it takes 20 minutes to "inhale" one "vaporized shot" of alcohol, which is less than one-half of a usual shot. Does this sound like a desirable way to consume alcohol? I have a feeling that the proposed ban will largely be a case of painting the lily.
Drugs and Terrorism
The D'Alliance looks at the 9/11 Commission Report and its references to drug policy. Here's a quote from page 77 of the Report itself: "In 2000, there were still twice as many [FBI] agents devoted to drug enforcement as to counterterrorism."
Vice is Elsewhere
I mentioned before that I have been guest blogging at Overlawyered this week. Recent posts include:
(1) Obese Arkansas Schoolkids
(2) Vice Law Revolutions
(3) A Different Sort of Zero Tolerance Tale
(4) Alcohol Prohibition v. Drug Prohibition
(5) More on Alcohol Taxation.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Advice to the Drug Czar -- No, Really
Yesterday I mentioned Ethan Nadelmann's fine article on marijuana legalization in the June 12 National Review. At some point, Nadelmann connects up the medical marijuana controversy with the overall legalization movement:
"The medical marijuana effort has probably aided the broader anti-prohibitionist campaign in three ways. It helped transform the face of marijuana in the media, from the stereotypical rebel with long hair and tie-dyed shirt to an ordinary middle-aged American struggling with MS or cancer or AIDS. By winning first Proposition 215, the 1996 medical-marijuana ballot initiative in California, and then a string of similar victories in other states, the nascent drug policy reform movement demonstrated that it could win in the big leagues of American politics. And the emergence of successful models of medical marijuana control is likely to boost public confidence in the possibilities and virtue of regulating nonmedical use as well."
But I want to point out a fourth connection. The passion with which medical marijuana has been opposed by many drug warriors is (probably inadvertently) revealing to many Americans who are not particularly committed one way or the other on drug prohibition. What they see in drug warriors are people who are willing to embrace policies -- keeping helpful medicines away from very sick and even dying people -- that seem (and are) needlessly cruel and uncompassionate. The fact that some drug warriors -- who no doubt are quite decent people -- are willing to endorse such policies is evidence that their judgment has been clouded by a moral intolerance of drugs. And once they have demonstrated clouded judgment on medical marijuana, it becomes easy to believe that their opinions on other drug policies are similarly warped by moral fervor.
So, for what it is worth, my advice to drug warriors is that they work for legal methods for sick people to acquire marijuana. They might want to think about the words of George Ade in his 1931 book on saloons: "The ultra-Drys have had their day in court, and now they are in danger of getting on the nerves of those who do not happen to absolutely agree with them. They are so militant in their goodness that they attribute the basest motives to all opponents. They should remember that the American public will not stand for intolerance, in the long run, and that it has a way of jumping from one extreme to another...[pp. 169-70]."
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Marijuana Treatment: Rebuttal Number 2
Early yesterday I pointed out an unbalanced Reuters news story on the perils of the new, high-voltage marijuana, and how this claim -- "The number of children and teen-agers in treatment for marijuana dependence and abuse has jumped 142 percent since 1992, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported in April." -- was given without rebuttal or context. My post linked to an earlier rebuttal from Pete Guither at Drug WarRant, but I want to mention Ethan Nadelmann's fine recent article ("An End to Marijuana Prohibition") in the July 12th National Review, too. Here's the part of Nadelmann's article that addresses the treatment claims:
"Few Americans who enter "treatment" for marijuana are addicted. Fewer than one in five people entering drug treatment for marijuana do so voluntarily. More than half were referred by the criminal justice system. They go because they got caught with a joint or failed a drug test at school or work (typically for having smoked marijuana days ago, not for being impaired), or because they were caught by a law-enforcement officer--and attending a marijuana "treatment" program is what's required to avoid expulsion, dismissal, or incarceration. Many traditional drug treatment programs shamelessly participate in this charade to preserve a profitable and captive client stream."
Drunks on Planes
Usually it's the customers that you have to worry about. Not always, though, at least in Russia. (Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the pointer.)
When I was boarding my flight across the Atlantic on July 4, there were a couple of loud (though seemingly harmless) guys in the boarding area who seemed to be rather drunk. They boarded the plane (everyone else hoping, "oh no, I hope I am not seated next to them") without incident, but just before we were getting ready to leave the gate, Chicago Police Officers boarded and watched while flight attendants informed the gentlemen that they would have to deplane -- which they did, again without incident. But I wonder why they allowed the obviously drunk people to board in the first place? Police were all over the boarding area.
Incidentally, to round out my deplaning experiences, for the flight back to the states, a gentleman was removed even after the door was originally closed. In this case, however, he was anxious to leave the plane -- so anxious, in fact, that he was shouting/crying "Please let me off the plane, please let me off." (It was even hard to watch, though impossible not to.) Turned out he had a pathological fear of flying. So I guess that, for him, even boarding in the first place was a bit of a triumph.
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
1) Here's more on the Iraqi fundamentalist restriction of vice, particularly alcohol.
2) Scientists are suing the government for being unable to research the effects of marijuana effectively under our prohibitory regime.
3) Larry Flynt is expanding his pornography business to South Florida, by opening an upper scale sex shop in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (egads, that's my hometown!).
4) Four inmates in a Tennessee prison went on a beer run, purchasing more than two cases of beer while on the lam. They were promptly chastised upon their return to prison(!)
5) And finally, this Sunday I, a strapping lad 21 years of age, was forbidden from purchasing an alcoholic beverage at Wrigley Field. For whatever reason? Well, my driver license still contained the "Under 21 until" bar, though that day had long passed. Thus by a Wrigley Field rule, I could not purchase a good I wished to consume. Oh well.
Marijuana v. Heroin
Pete at Drug WarRant reminds me that in the fairly wretched Reuters story -- mentioned here earlier today -- is this item: "Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin because so many more people use it." Well, the "threat" posed by a drug has a lot to do with the legal environment surrounding it, but it is hard to imagine any circumstances in which marijuana will cause, for instance, this kind of carnage.
Texan Sex Toy Seller Beats the Rap
Yes, the Passion Parties perpetrator got to walk when some liberal county prosecutor didn't have the guts to go to the mat with the perversion purveyor. Here's the CNN.com story, sent our way by a loyal Vice Squad reader and blogger. The end of the article provides an interesting nugget about the relevant statute: "Texas law allows for the sale of sexual toys as long as they are billed as novelties. But when a person markets the items in a direct manner that shows how they are used in sex, it is considered criminal obscenity." (Or to quote our blogger/informant, "Apparently, 'sex as joke' is OK in Texas. But anything else is a crime.")
Vice Squad has been following this attempt to rein in the forces of evil, most recently, here.
Vice Intolerance Spreading in Iraq
Attacks on alcohol sellers in Iraq continue, and if anything, it looks as if the hate is growing:
"Iraqis say al-Sadr and his followers are carrying out the anti-alcohol drive to garner support ahead of elections scheduled for January. Along with printed warnings plastered on shop doors, al-Sadr’s group is reportedly circulating leaflets banning the sale or purchase of alcohol, CDs, or pornography."
Vice Squad has been tracking attacks on Iraqi alcohol sellers; for instance, in this post last week and this post in February.
Vice is Elsewhere
I am guest blogging at Overlawyered this week, so I won't be totally up to speed here. Here's one of my guest posts on alcohol taxes, and here's one on alcohol advertising. I have to remember to try to make shorter posts on Overlawyered.
"Stronger marijuana poses risk for young"
That's the title appearing on Yahoo's homepage right now (12:18 AM, CDT) linking to this Reuters story. The story itself is only slightly less balanced, but it does include some comments from a marijuana legalization advocate towards the end. The worrying news of more kids in treatment for marijuana is not challenged, however: "The number of children and teen-agers in treatment for marijuana dependence and abuse has jumped 142 percent since 1992, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported in April." (Here's one challenge, from the Drug WarRant archives.) But the really bad news is in the second paragraph of the Reuters report:
"Pot is no longer the gentle weed of the 1960s and may pose a greater threat than cocaine or even heroin because so many more people use it. So officials at the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) and at the White House are hoping to shift some of the focus in research and enforcement from "hard" drugs such as cocaine and heroin to marijuana."
It's about time that we started to think about arresting marijuana users! Oh, wait, we already arrest more than 700,000 such users per year? Never mind.
Monday, July 19, 2004
New Link: The D'Alliance
Pete Guither over at Drug WarRant brings our attention to a new blog , The D'Alliance, run by the Drug Policy Alliance. Here's their recent post providing a round-up of comparisons between Bush and Kerry on drug policy. We will add The D'Alliance to our permanent link list forthwith.
Apologies for the slow blogging lately -- I made a quick out-of-town trip, to avoid all the Millennium Park hoopla here in Chicago.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
1) Earlier this week, there was a march and rally in Glasgow calling for the legalization of cannabis.
2) Courtney Love's troubles continue, as a sentencing arrangement has been worked out for 24 hours after her release from a New York hospital. Her charges include being under the influence of drugs and possessing drugs, as well as assault, and the sentence will likely include a drug rehab program.
3) More brothel news: the United Kingdom is attempting to reform prostitution by possibly decriminalizing brothels and protecting those within the sex trade.
4) More on summer laws in parts of Britain preventing people under 21 from drinking on the weekend. In a related story, this effort to crack down on alcohol related violence has been heralded as a success, though the only successes mentioned in the article is the prevention of the sale of alcohol to minors.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
Britain's Prostitution Policy Review
Yesterday the British Home Office released its long-anticipated "consultation paper" concerning prostitution policy. (Here's the press release, and here's a webpage at which the paper itself is available, along with links to supporting documents.) I haven't had a chance to read the paper yet but press reports (such as this BBC one) indicate that it examines changing the law to allow licensed brothels and toleration zones. The fact that the report is a consultation paper means that the Home Office will welcome your views, at least until the closing date of November 26.
The BBC also offers a useful capsule summary of prostitution laws in a handful of other countries.
Vice Squad has been trying to keep an eye on the British prostitution policy review; relatively recent posts include one from June 15 and another from June 8.
Friday, July 16, 2004
Priests Ask For Right to Drink and Drive
Vice policy can make for strange political alliances, as when educators (hoping for improved state funding) lobby along with gambling interests for increased legal gambling. In Croatia, the government is adopting a zero tolerance policy towards drinking and driving. In late August, the current blood alcohol content per se standard of .05 percent will be reduced to any positive amount; i.e., even a BAC of .01 would be enough to convict someone of impaired driving, which carries a heavy fine. But Croatian priests have to imbibe wine at mass, and some priests conduct multiple masses a day, driving between the churches. So priests are asking to be exempted from the zero tolerance rule.
For some reason, the Croatian story reminds me of the New Zealand binge tax.
Selling Alcohol to (Apparently) Intoxicated Patrons
If you work in a liquor store and a visibly intoxicated person attempts to buy some liquor, what do you do? Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that, if you are like most clerks, you make the sale, and you are particularly likely to do so if you are young. Here's the story from the Kansas City Star (registration required). An excerpt:
"Traci Toomey, an associate professor of epidemiology, and her colleagues hired actors to impersonate drunks.
They sent them to 355 liquor stores, bars and restaurants in and around Minneapolis to try to buy a drink or a six-pack of beer.
Observers were present at each locale to witness the attempted transaction.
The buyers put on Oscar-worthy performances -- staggering, stumbling into things, slurring their speech, and showing other signs of acute inebriation. No matter. They were sold alcohol in 76 percent of the bars and 83 percent of the stores."
This is not good news. General alcohol regulations can be more lenient if targeted interventions aimed at misusers such as drunk drivers are effective. Visibly inebriated people are at much greater risk of causing harm to others (and themselves) from additional consumption. Cutting off the visibly inebriated from purchasing additional alcohol is a prudent move -- even though some of the denied purchasers would not be problematic -- and one that helps to protect an overall liberal regulatory regime.
Obesity Treatments Might Receive Medicare Coverage
This has been front page news, so I imagine that Vice Squad readers have already heard all about it. Until yesterday's announcement, treatments (such as special diets or stomach stapling) for obesity had not been eligible for Medicare coverage. Now, they will be eligible, if the clinical evidence that the treatments are effective is deemed sufficient. As it will take some time to gather the evidence and make the determination, the coverage will not go into effect overnight. (I learned in the first linked article that since 2002, the IRS has accepted payments for obesity treatments as deductible expenses.)
The Center for Consumer Freedom is not enamored by the declaration of obesity as a disease.
Incidentally, the Summer 2004 issue of Public Interest includes a short article by Inas Rashad and Michael Grossman entitled "The Economics of Obesity." (Though I am as guilty as the next person, let me register an objection to any title that starts out "The Economics of..." Economics, to paraphrase Keynes, is a method, not a doctrine; there can be many economic analyses of some phenomenon but not "the" economics of the phenomenon. Of course, Keynes titled a book "The General Theory of..."; I prefer Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into...") The authors (along with co-researchers) have identified increased eating out and, interestingly, decreased smoking as major causes of the American obesity epidemic: "each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes produces a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people, other things being equal." I also learned from the article that technically speaking, "obese child" is an oxymoron: kids can be overweight, but the term "obese" is used only for adults.
Vice Squad has looked at obesity every now and then, as on March 11.
Poker in the Olympics?
Today marks the start of the grand opening celebration for Chicago's Millennium Park, so named because construction has taken 1000 years and the total cost has been 1000 times greater than the original estimates. Went by the Park earlier today and there was a small but lively demonstration taking place. I thought that it was a labor dispute at first -- just a bit south of the Park is a hotel that has been the scene of a strike and picketing for more than a year now -- but upon closer inspection it turned out that the demonstration was in support of making poker an Olympic sport. I thought that perhaps it was tongue-in-cheek but it appears that the demonstrators were not bluffing: there has been a movement afoot in this direction for awhile now. Here's one poker blogger who isn't having any of it.
As for Blogger the blog service, I am despairing. They have "upgraded" their interface again. The problem for moi is that I use Mozilla, and the new interface is not working with Mozilla (buttons for hyperlinks, etc., are non-existent.) Perhaps if blogging became an Olympic sport we would not be subjected to such sudden shifts in rules or technology.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Nevada Brothel Controversies Update
While I was relaxing by the rivers Aare and Dnieper, Nye and Churchill Counties in Nevada witnessed some developments in their struggles with legal brothels and adult entertainment establishments. In Nye, recall that the main issue was provocative ads for a new stripclub, though the controversy was spilling over into a threat to legal prostitution. Well, now it seems that the owner of the strip club and Nye County officials have come to an understanding, and the more in-your-face billboard ads have disappeared. In Churchill County, legal brothel supporters have finally mustered up some resistance to the impending (for November) initiative vote to outlaw the houses of ill repute. They are challenging the initiative in court.
Olympic Torch Leads to Cannabis Destruction
You never know when some crazy person is going to try to attack an Olympic torchbearer, so you have to provide security. In Crete, the police had a helicopter shadowing the torch, and it's a good thing, too. Eagle-eyed chopper-borne police spotted three fields of cannabis, leading to the destruction of 6,500 marijuana plants. (Chicago Trib article here, registration required; photo of some of the plants here.)
I used to think that it would be possible to track the Goodyear blimp via reports of automobile rear-end collisions; will it be possible to track the path of the Olympic torch through cannabis seizure statistics?
[Update: Last One Speaks beat us to the torch tale.]
An update on the tobacco buyout
As Vice Squad reported a couple of months ago there was a significant controversy about paying the tobacco farmers almost $10 billion to give up a federal quota program that had existed since the Great Depression. The quotas are set each year depending on the demand and supply situation in order to keep up the price of American tobacco. The payment presumably represents the estimated present value of the quota to the farmers. While the distributional effects of the buyout are debatable, standard economic reasoning suggests that the elimination of the quota would reduce price distortions, almost surely improving economic efficiency.
The buyout provision was included in the corporate tax bill passed by the House last month. On Tuesday, however, an amendment to an agricultural spending bill that prohibits the buyout was adopted. Apparently, the amendment passed overwhelmingly, being supported by a coalition of conservative Republicans and anti-tobacco Democrats. Interestingly, what seemed to make these strange bedfellows was the insistence that any buyout should be paid for by the cigarette makers rather than the taxpayers. Assuming that the government is not interested in having cigarette prices decline, this may be a reasonable requirement. The requirement would make sense particularly if the cigarette making business is not highly competitive although it may not be easy to set up a scheme acceptable to all players to assess the cigarette companies the appropriate fees for the buyout.
On Wednesday, an agreement was apparently reached in the Senate about having the cigarette makers pay for the buyout and, in addition, letting FDA regulate the sale and marketing of tobacco products. (BTW, the Senate version of the buyout is $13 billion.) I assume that if this compromise approach is adopted in the Senate, it will eventually have to be negotiated with the House. Vice Squad will keep you posted.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
A New Vice-Related Ban
I imagine there is one every day; today's news is out of New South Wales, Australia. Remember those alcohol inhalers that Vice Squad mentioned a couple of times (April 4 and April 10)? They have been banned in New South Wales by the "Gaming Minister." He doesn't seem to have much evidence that a vapourizing machine (that permits the inhalation) has done any harm, but, according to the linked article, he believes that such a machine "sends an irresponsible message about alcohol consumption." The Minister has further comments that seem to suggest he doesn't think of drinking alcohol as drug use: 'Inhalation or snorting of alcohol is basically synonymous with drug use and that kind of practice should not be encouraged.'
Talk to Your Doctor, Lose Your Driver's License
That's what happened to one fellow in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, according to this AP article (registration required) in today's Chicago Tribune. He told his doctor that his average daily consumption of beer ran to more than a six-pack. The doctor, it seems, notified the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which then sent the patient a notice that his license was being revoked for (quoting the Trib article) "medical reasons related to substance abuse." The doctor may not have had any choice in the matter, as a state law requires physicians to notify the licensing authorities of "any physical or mental impairments that could compromise a patient's ability to drive safely..." The patient claims that he drinks at home (and now only on weekends, because of the heart condition that led him to the doctor's office in the first place): "'What I do in the privacy of my own home is none of PennDOT's business,' he said."
People on average understate their alcohol consumption by some 50%, though there is evidence that the underestimation is greater for heavy drinkers.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Trials and Tribulations of Vice Officers
Apparently, police officers in Jefferson County, Kentucky, have been discouraged from having sexual contact with women they are investigating for prostitution. This deplorable policy has been in effect for two whole years now. Prior to that, such touching was encouraged. (The linked article, from the Louisville Courier-Journal, is very detailed and informative, actually.)
In mid-June, Vice Squad noted that nudity and sexual contact had undermined potential prostitution cases following a series of raids in Maricopa County, Arizona. Today we learn that four early cases from the raids that already have resulted in convictions are likely to be overturned, too.
In an unrelated development, I have returned to Chicago from my sojourn abroad. Thanks to my co-bloggers for covering for me last week!
Attacks on Alcohol Sellers in Iraq Continue
It's still legal for non-Muslims to sell alcohol in the emerging democracy of Iraq, but just because it is legal does not mean that it is well-advised. Concerned citizens have been going after alcohol sellers for many months now, sometimes with deadly force, and they have picked up the pace in recent weeks, according to this Reuters article. The protectors of morals are expanding their portfolio, though this sort of diversification increases risk:
And it's not just the selling of alcohol that appears to have incited people's wrath. Cinemas showing explicit films have been bombed in the northern city of Kirkuk and a shop selling DVDs was shut down in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.
Little Sister's Saga Continues
For nearly 20 years now, a Vancouver gay and lesbian bookstore has been in litigation with Canada Customs. The latest news is that the bookstore, Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, will be able to have its court costs fronted by the very government that it is fighting.
The battles with Customs are due to the fact that Customs is in the habit of impounding some of Little Sister's intended future inventory on the grounds of obscenity. A 2000 Canadian Supreme Court decision took Customs to task, and noted that gay and lesbian erotica was singled out by Customs agents. While limiting the time in which Customs could impound material without a court review, the 2000 decision left in place the border checks. Hence, more material has been seized, and the parties are back in court.
The singling out of gay and lesbian erotica by Canadian Customs serves as a strong argument for anti-censorship feminists in their own debates with feminists who support the censorship of pornography, by suggesting that any power to censor is likely to be directed at marginalized parts of society, not at mainstream (male heterosexual) pornography consumers.
Little Sister's maintains a web page that provides a lot of background concerning their litigation.
Monday, July 12, 2004
"Drugs Sting Put Innocent Lives at Risk"
That's the title of a front page special report in today's Guardian. The incidents referred to in the story took place in the early 1990s, and they have many standard elements, including an entrepreneurial informant and the attraction of drug crime to a jurisdiction to serve law enforcement purposes. In a nutshell, it seems as if the informant, who had dreams of being a millionaire from his informing activities, arranged with Colombian drug sellers to bring 250 kilos of cocaine (with promised follow-ups) into Britain -- cocaine that would not otherwise have come to Britain. The informant was working with Customs in Britain at the time in setting up the sting. Now how did the informant convince the Colombians to work with him on this new deal? In part, it seems, by furnishing a human hostage, a person who would be killed if the deal turned sour -- and as it was a sting, the deal was designed to go sour. When the sting was pulled off, two Colombian men were arrested in Britain, and according to their lawyers, associates of the two arrestees were indeed killed in Colombia. So it looks as if UK Customs (through the informant) initiated a drug deal (in contravention of guidelines), and went ahead with the sting even though it was likely that an innocent hostage (provided through the informant) would be killed.
One customs supervisor refused to take part in the operation, and he raised his objections in advance in no uncertain terms. Here's the relevant paragraph from the Guardian story:
The officer went on: "At the conclusion of the briefing on October 27 1993 you stated that the informant had provided a hostage to the supply organisation in South America who would be killed if anything went wrong with the importation. As we in the Division [Customs] together with the informant are the importer and the only end-users of this cocaine, we ultimately will be responsible for the death of this hostage and probably his family as well."
Sunday, July 11, 2004
1) Another pilot has been arrested for operating a plane under the influence of alcohol. Earlier this week, two other pilots who were accused of being drunk in the cockpit were indicted.
2) A cocaine kingpin from a Colombian drug cartel has been captured after attempting to get to Mexico. He was responsible for around $10 billion worth of cocaine entering the United States.
3) More air news: the foudner of Peru's largest airline, Aero Continente, has been accused of drug trafficking, and prosecuters are seeking 15 years penalty.
4) A new ad campaign links pirating DVDs to terrorism and drug dealing.
5) Little victory: the island of Sark has lifted a ban on gambling on its annual sheep race Saturday.
6) Bad celebrities: Ja Rule, Judakiss, Marty Stuart, a Belgian cyclist named Christophe Brandt (found with methadone, by the way), Scott Weiland...that's enough for now.
Saturday, July 10, 2004
An aborted revolt against the Irish smoking ban
As Vice Squad reported sometime ago, in late March, Ireland became the first country in the world to prohibit smoking in all public buildings including pubs and restaurants. A small revolt against the ban began last Monday (see here and here -- subscription required). A Galway pub, Fibber Magees, decided to let their customers smoke at the upstairs tables. This was the first public defiance of the law. While the ban appears to enjoy strong support among the general population, this support is far from universal. The word about the rebellion spread quickly and on Tuesday night the upstairs of the pub was packed with smokers. The Health Minister Michael Martin promised quick punishment. According to the Irish law, the patrons caught smoking could be fined up to $3,700. The pub owners could face a $3,700 fine per each customer who violates the ban. The Fibber Magees' owners insist, however, that without letting their customers smoke, they could not survive anyway, because their business was off two thirds since the imposition of the ban. For a short while it looked as though some other pubs were going to join in on the revolt, but by Thursday the rebellion appeared to be over. Fibber Magees was closed by its owners until further notice. The owners promised to pursue their opposition to the ban “through lawful means.” It looks unlikely though that any effort to sue the government would be successful. Meanwhile, the government representatives said that they were preparing to both prosecute the customers who smoked in Fibber Magees on Wednesday night and petition the Irish High Court to punish the owners unless the latter promised to stop violating the law.
For the time being, the anti-smoking law has won in Ireland. It is less obvious that good sense has been victorious too. The apparent popular support of the smoking ban suggests that most people in Ireland either do not smoke or wish they didn’t. It does not necessarily imply that the ban itself is a reasonable public policy that enhances social welfare. Vice Squad has had lots of posts on smoking bans. Here is one useful general discussion.
Philip Morris "Donates" to European Union
Philp Morris is so upset by cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting into the EU that it decided to give Brussels $1.25 billion to try to do something about it. Not so coincidentally, the EU is abandoning its case against Philip Morris claiming that the cigarette manufacturer flooded their product into cheap (low-tax) cigarette jurisdictions, intending that the surplus stock would be smuggled. Philip Morris is also dropping its countersuit.
Sorry for the dearth of blogging -- I am still in Kiev, but if all goes well, I shall eventually return.
Thursday, July 08, 2004
1) Using new research associating video game violence with aggressive behavior, some states are looking for legislation to restrict sales of video games.
2) As mentioned below by Nikkie, the US House of Representatives has voted to continue prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons. This issue is very important to the Bush Administration, and stopping prosecution would, ominously, send "the message to young people that there can be health benefits by smoking marijuana", according to representative Frank Wolf of Virginia. Of course, whether or not people's pain is eased doesn't appear to matter...
3) A major cocaine bust in England has stopped "massive" supply of the drug. Thankfully, this group was apprehended before they continued their "major and prolific" cocaine sales.
4) Perhaps inspired by the US approach to alcohol policy, some places in England are calling for a drinking ban for people under 21.
5) And the United Kingdom "Booze Cruise" is violating EU rules in their cracking down on people bringing in alcohol and tobacco.
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
(1) I couldn't identify earlier that musician who took an anti-smoking ban position in a debate in the Guardian on Saturday. (Delighted by the fact that I just found a link to the article, too; it's more detailed than the print version.) Turns out it is Joe Jackson, identified by the paper (no, not as the famous Chicago White Sox baseball player) as "a musician and writer who has been researching smoking-related issues for the last two years, and is also a member of the pro-smoking group Forest." Here is what he has to say about passive smoking:
We're also all constantly subjected to hundreds of dodgy statistics. To prove someone has died prematurely and specifically from smoking is much harder than we're led to believe; in the case of passive smoke, it's impossible. Of more than 120 studies to date, only 18 have shown any risk, and, as an epidemiologist, you must know that in such studies the risk factor has to be at least 200-300% to be considered significant. The best these often highly-flawed studies can manage is 20-30%. Do you deny either of those facts? [He's addressing his debate opponent, a physician.](2) A couple of days ago I quoted the Guardian (one of my addictions when I am in Europe) about the prominence of the island nation of Niue when it comes to hosting porn websites. Today I received an e-mail from a generous Vice Squad reader. He pointed out that the island of Niue isn't hosting these web pages in any physical sense. They are hosted by Niue's domain, .nu, and sites with an .nu domain can physically reside on servers anywhere, even in the good ol' USA. I guess that Niue's domain is prominent in the web porn world because of the obvious attractions of .nu to porn purveyors.
10,000 deaths a year? I've also heard 1,000, 700, and 12,000. There's not a shred of evidence that bar workers are dying every week. Sooner or later, scientists and journalists will start to "break ranks" and expose passive smoke as another Weapon of Mass Destruction which failed to turn up. Meanwhile this whole thing stinks more than a bit of tobacco smoke ever did.
(3) Though I suggested that a return to the US would cure me of expanding Vice Squad's mission to include things like statues of James Joyce holding a cigarette, well, I'm not back yet. So I feel driven yet again to mention that today, in Albert Einstein's old apartment in Bern, I purchased two picture postcards of Einstein, one in which he is holding a pipe and a second in which he is both holding and smoking a pipe. The good news is that I am off to Kiev soon, and will probably not have many opportunities to blog about tobacco in photos or art.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
1) The Dominican Republic is using undercover police tactics to break up child prostitution.
2) China is cracking down on pornographic phone messages by increasing surveillence of mobile phones.
3) No charges will be filed against policemen for drawing their guns in a drug search in a suburban Charleston, S.C. high school, though South Carolina's attorney general called the behavior "grossly inappropriate."
4) A phone company is disallowing access of adult sites via mobile phones in order to prevent children from accessing them.
5) A new study shows alcohol may actually be good for women's bones.
6) Following Wal-Mart's lead, the women of Home Depot have participated in a Playboy magazine promotion.
Britain Mulls Public Smoking Ban
Today's Guardian brings word that British pro-smoking-ban forces are not happy that Tony Blair is looking at leaving the choice over public smoking bans to local authorities. (And though I cannot find it on the web, yesterday's Guardian included a debate over the pros and cons of a smoking ban, where some apparently well-known musician represented the anti-ban side. I'll try to bring a copy along the next time I secure an Internet connection here in Zurich.) From today's article:
Last week the British Medical Journal published research showing the risks of passive smoking were higher than previously thought. Past studies found that it was linked with a 25% to 30% increased risk of coronary heart disease, but the latest figures put the rate at 50% to 60%.Today I visited the grave of James Joyce, who is buried in Zurich, where he died in 1941. (Tonight the Joyce Foundation in Zurich is holding a Ulysses reading -- Ill look into the smoking rules.) Next to Joyce's grave is a statue of JJ in a seated position, holding a book in one hand -- and a cigarette in the other. (Even in smoking ban Ireland, smoking outdoors is still OK.) Later, saw a Van Gogh self-portrait where his ear is bandaged and he is smoking a pipe. For some reason, I felt compelled to pass along these "tobacco in art" stories. I promise to adhere more strictly to the Vice Squad mission when I return to the States. And speaking of the good ol' USA, the smoking ban in Massachusetts went into effect today.
Monday, July 05, 2004
Greetings from Zurich. What does a vice policy researcher do upon arriving in Zurich for the first time? No, not what you are thinking -- such an individual heads to the Platzspitz. That`s a park next to the main railway terminal, and in the early 1990s, it was the site of an amazing experiment: Needle Park. In Needle Park, small-scale sales of drugs, even "hard drugs" such as heroin, were tolerated. Users could shoot up without fear of the police in the Platzspitz, and health facilities were provided to promote safe use and prevent accidental overdose. Though with respect to some health measures and even some overall crime outcomes, Platzspitz could be said to have been a success, it was a political failure, and was shut down. One of the problems was that it was an unique environment, so it attracted users not just from Zurich but from all over Switzerland and beyond. Platzspitz, then, in part serves as a reminder that what constitutes a desirable vice policy very much depends upon the vice policies that other jurisdictions pursue.
Another lesson that I draw from today`s visit is that when setting up an open air safe shooting gallery, you might not want to use some of the best real estate in your city.
Pressuring Credit Card Companies to Fight Internet Porn
Greetings from the renowned vice city of Amsterdam, where I, alas, am only changing planes. But already one of the pleasures of Europe -- easy access to British papers -- is cheering me. This linked story comes from Saturday's Guardian. It is interesting that just a few days after the US Supreme Court more-or-less rejected a law that would have required commercial porn websites to set-up credit card or age-check screens (many of which themselves use credit cards), the Guardian reports on private pressure upon credit card issuers to preclude their use on porn sites. Already, of course, credit card companies would avoid being associated with child porn, which is illegal in the US as well as in Britain. But the new (non-binding) guidelines go further, to separate credit cards from sites "which trade in images of sexual violence, racism or terrorism..."
While we are taking advantage of the Guardian, Saturday also brought this surprising report that a powerhouse country in terms of providing Internet porn is -- no, not my current host country, the Netherlands -- Niue (and Tonga, too.) OK, I have never heard of Niue, but check out the linked article for the story. I'll append the beginning:
Two Pacific island countries have become global centres of the internet porn industry, according to a new report.
The report, by US-based consultants Secure Computing, said Niue and Tonga together provide addresses for almost as many pornographic web pages as the whole of Asia and Latin America. It alleges that Niue hosts 2.9 million porn pages, while the Netherlands has only 1.9 million.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
Pennsylvania OKs Slot Machines...
...up to 61,000 of them, in fact. This will make for 18 states with legal slots, not counting those states that have slots only in Native American casinos. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an interesting article today that looks at legalized gambling's impact on Atlantic City, New Jersey, and how things are likely to differ with legal slots in Pennsylvania.
In what I am pretty sure is unrelated news, I am slated to leave Chicago and even the good ol' USA for a bit more than a week; blogging is likely to be slow from me, but Vice Squad has an entire squad, you know.
Saturday, July 03, 2004
Feds Get Their Way on Blood Alcohol Content
Until the mid-1980s, different US states had different minimum drinking ages (MDA) for alcohol: in my home state, Maryland, the drinking age was 18 for beer and wine and 21 for hard liquor. But the federal government, responding in large measure to pressure from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more-or-less forced states to adopt an MDA of 21 by threatening to withhold highway funds from states with lower drinking ages. (It is this federal "usurpation" of state policy that Colorado Senate hopeful Pete Coors controversially complained about, though he also joined it to a seeming endorsement of an MDA of 18.)
The same highway-fund hostage has recently succeeded in federalizing another alcohol policy: the blood alcohol content that constitutes prima facie drunk driving will soon be no higher than .08 in every state. Delaware, the last holdout, capitulated to the federal pressure this week. Isn't it a pity that the states cannot be trusted to make good vice laws for their citizens?
Following the Delaware action, MADD issued this statement:
Statement for attribution to:
Wendy J. Hamilton, National President, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
At a time when our country is celebrating its independence and the nation often sees the most alcohol-related traffic fatalities of any other holiday, there has been tremendous success on the anti-drunk driving front. Every state has now passed the illegal .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) law for drunk driving. This means that approximately 500 lives a year will be saved and more loved ones will be around to join in next year's July Fourth parade.
So, as the nation reflects on a starry sky full of brightly colored fireworks, sings patriotic songs and shares a special time with family and friends this holiday, we thank the lawmakers and American citizens for their work in seeing that the .08 BAC law was passed nationwide. A dream that began in 2000, is now a reality and everyone is much safer for it.
Comparative Prostitution News
First, from Cudahy (a southern suburb of Milwaukee), Wisconsin: "Cudahy police targeted prostitution in the city after receiving complaints of sex acts in the hallway of a south side apartment building, where they arrested 11 women and one man during an undercover sting operation."
Second, from Vermont: "Eight women are in custody Friday on immigration violations after police broke up what they say was a prostitution ring being run out of Champlain Valley spas."
Third, from East Moline, Illinois: "Four women were arrested this week in a prostitution sting operation after several females were seen on East Moline's 15th Avenue, whistling at passing cars and trying to solicit customers."
And finally, from the Netherlands:
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Dutch government backs plans for "seals of quality" for well-run brothels and standard contracts for prostitutes, as well as more support for those who want to leave the world's oldest profession, it said on Friday.They just don't seem to be arresting enough women in the Netherlands.
The Dutch cabinet said it supported the initiative from the prostitution industry to further improve supervision four years after the Netherlands lifted a ban on brothels to improve regulation of the business and fight trafficking in women.
"The sector has said it wants to develop a seal of quality to improve its image," the cabinet said in a statement. "This seal could be given to prostitution firms, which ... comply with criteria in areas such as safety, health and integrity.
Friday, July 02, 2004
David, Goliath in Settlement Talks on Internet Gambling
In late March, a World Trade Organization Panel decided an Internet gambling dispute between the US and the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda by backing the islanders; previous related Vice Squad post here. Antigua hosts cyber casinos, while the US tries to prevent at least some forms of Internet gambling. (The legal status of Internet gambling in the US varies state-to-state and is both complicated and unsettled.) That's a restraint upon trade, and the WTO panel thought that the US should have negotiated with Antigua before banning (to the extent that it has) Internet gambling. The US was talking appeal, but this week's news is that the two sides are going to try to come to terms before any further WTO rulings.
Having successfully (so far) taken on the US of A, Antigua and Barbuda is feeling its oats. The next target: looking for some relief from those onerous anti-money laundering controls promulgated by the G-7. Perhaps A&B should mention that the best money laundering intervention would be to abandon the disastrous worldwide drug prohibition.
"The Globalization of Drug Injecting"
That's the title of the editorial article that kicks off the July, 2004 edition of the journal Addiction. The authors , A. Wodak, S. Sarkar, and F. Mesquita, note the worldwide spread of drugs during the last thirty years of intensified global prohibition:
Supply enhancement describes the reality of global illicit drug cultivation and production growing steadily at 5-10% per annum for the last decade. Between 1971 and 1999, global opium production grew fivefold to reach 6100 tonnes [8-10], while coca cultivation doubled between 1984 and 1999 to reach 600 000 tonnes . Enthusiastic reports of declining production usually reflect temporary and local reverses, explained most often by poor weather in critical growing areas. The orderly division of the planet into developing countries which produce illicit drugs and developed countries which consume these drugs ceased to exist long ago. As demand for illicit drugs in the developed world has become more saturated and the risks of exporting to these markets has also increased, more and more illicit drugs have found their way to expanding markets in the growing regions.There's much else of interest in this short article, including an estimate that some 200,000 people die each year from drug injecting overdoses -- presumably, under a regulatory (non-prohibitive) regime, the vast majority of these deaths would not occur.
Labels: recreational drug use
Illegal Solicitation of Alcohol Closes Bar
In early June Vice Squad mentioned a bar in East Los Angeles where some women were arrested for "Illegal Solicitation of Alcohol." The idea was that the women would pose as customers of the bar, chat with guys, and then request that the guys buy them a drink. In reality, the bar owner and the women were working together, and they split the profits from the drink purchases. Now the bar where the alleged violations took place has had its liquor license permanently revoked. This is bad news for a bar.
Turns out (at least if my interpretation of the linked article is accurate) that the authorities were using the alleged illegal solicitation as a pretext for closing the bar, which they had targeted on the basis of public-nuisance-style complaints and drunk driving. The linked article (which is a press release from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) describes illegal solicitation of alcohol, and then offers this amazing paragraph:
Bars and nightclubs that allow this illegal activity have a higher incidence of public drunkenness, fights, shootings, stabbings, illegal drugs and other criminal activity. Occasionally, the illegal solicitation encourages prostitution.Do you think that Alcoholic Beverage Control actually has conducted a statistical study to determine if bars with illegal solicitation have higher levels of stabbings and illegal drugs? How many such bars would have to be in the study to have a large enough sample to test the various hypotheses? To be honest, I find myself being skeptical. They wouldn't just make that claim up, would they -- I mean, they are part of the government?