Tag Archives: war on drugs

JUST IN CASE: Know your black market weed etiquette

My article for Noise Journal

Editor’s note: While a majority of states have legalized cannabis in one form or another–for medical and/or recreational use–the election of President Donald Trump, and his appointment of drug warmonger Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, has driven fear into the hearts of both marijuana users and hundreds of thousands of cannabis industry workers across the United States. What will come next for our nation’s great experiment? Who knows. Trump and his motley crew of right wing know-nothings are sending mixed messages, having probably not even developed a plan yet. In the meantime, get involved. Call your members of congress. Attend an Indivisible meeting

And freshen up on your black market etiquette. Because, if the worst predictions come true, you could be buying your weed from that dude down the street again pretty soon.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug (22.2 million current adult users) according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That year–the most recent available–marijuana was used by 81.0 percent of current illicit drug users and was the only drug used by a majority of them. In other words, read this chapter. It’s useful.

To begin, instead of using the proper he/she term to refer to your “drug dealer,” I will use the male pronoun but only for simplicity’s sake. I will also not use the word “drug dealer” as I find it to be moderately dehumanizing and pejorative. I will refer to him as the “purveyor.” All of the following anecdotes are based on interviews and as such are “true stories,” or at least true to someone, somewhere (before you ask, I know nothing about any of this…I am but a lowly writer). I have purposely withheld the names and any details, as to allow the interviewees to share stories in an uninhibited way.

Any ideas you might have about the type of person who is a purveyor of marijuana should comfortably be tossed into the ashtray where they belong because they are patently, or should I say, potently false. People from all walks of life purvey, and they do so for an equally broad range of reasons. Ph.D.s in the sciences—yep; college kids—yep; intelligent girls with daytime jobs—yep. Literally all ethnicities, age groups, genders, and orientations are represented. Any stodgy ideas you might have about your purveyor being in any sense of a lower social stratification than you are completely and thoroughly baseless. If you think your purveyor is a “pothead,” that is also plain wrong. Your purveyor is a business man and you better believe he is on top of his business.

More to the point, however, every “drug dealer” you have seen in the movies is probably not even remotely akin to your purveyor. Scarface this is not. Nor is it Spring Breakers. The biggest way in which he is not like those tropes—dollar dollar bill, y’all. He is not stacking the ducats, son. Let me break it down for you—the profit margin on an eighth of an ounce of weed is $10, at best. Most buyers purchase eights or quarters. They do not buy pounds. So, your little transaction, as momentous to you as it may be is *hardly* momentous to your purveyor. How many of those little bags a day do you think he has to sell to be able to even make rent in a major metropolitan area? And the risk? Good. Now that I have put things in perspective for you, maybe you can better start to understand what is up.

The customer is always wrong. Well, not quite, but my point is that the customer service ethos you have so accustomed yourself to does not hold any water in the weed game. Statements to your purveyor like “I am helping you,” “You need my business,” “Look what favor I am doing you,” are…well, thoroughly asinine. Why? Because this is a market economy, yo. Wake your little bourgeoisie self up! The market sets the price; you get what you pay for…all of those trite adages are freaking true! Medical marijuana dispensaries will always be more expensive than the underground purveyors. The product is in high demand, and it’s risky to procure. Fast, good, and cheap: you can have any two of those, but you can’t have all three.

In addition, as I said earlier, most purveyors of marijuana do just that. They do not sell a smorgasbord of drugs! Just because he has really nice Sour Diesel doesn’t mean he has a kilo of cocaine. You probably won’t ever hear, “You’re right! I totally forgot I have a pound of crystal meth!” It doesn’t hurt to ask, *in person*, but do not press for answers.

OK, let’s get on with the pointers on how not to be a big dummy when buying weed.

  1. Don’t talk about drugs over the phone or any medium, for that matter. Never, ever, ever, never! Don’t even use code! The NSA is the greatest code breaker in the world; you are not going to come up with a code in the next five minutes that they won’t crack. Don’t talk about it on Facebook. Don’t talk about it on email. Don’t talk about it on Skype, Snap Chat. Whatever. Don’t talk too loudly about it in person! In most states, marijuana is still illegal. We recommend, “Wanna hang out?” or “Hey. I’d love to see you.” He knows what you mean. You’re not romantic with him. And if you are, you shouldn’t be paying.
  1. Show up. On time. Never ever, should there be a circumstance where the purveyor is waiting for you. Or even worse—you are sending a multiplicity of texts about how you are lost, or whatever nonsense/terrible fate has befallen you. You don’t keep your doctor waiting. You don’t keep your boss waiting. Right? Common sense.
  1. Get your money straight! Your purveyor does not accept barter or your Grandma’s cookies. Nor does he care to see you rummaging through your purse in broad daylight like the big dummy you are. Nor does he carry change. Or take credit card. Never ever should there be “I’ll pay you later.” These words are not in the lexicon of your purveyor.
  1. There is no free delivery! Delivery is a major and added risk; it is also incredibly time- consuming and cuts into an already low profit margin. Would you expect your pizza delivery guy to deliver without a tip? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
  1. To that point, this is not social hour. If he sets the tone with wanting to socialize, OK, but he is there to do business.
  1. If you’re meeting in a public place, don’t get into any cars you feel uncomfortable getting into. Make the transaction, and move along. A deal should take as long as it needs to take, and no longer.
  1. Do not ask or even suggest coming to the house of your purveyor unless you’ve been invited by him. Would you want your boss showing up at your house uninvited? Right; didn’t think so.
  1. Do not assume that your purveyor wants to be talked about with your friends. Treat your relationship like a relationship, and don’t spread it around. Most purveyors prefer to be monogamous, so don’t kiss and tell. If you want to hook your friends up, hook your friends up, but don’t ask your dealer to. You wouldn’t ask your girlfriend to.
  1. If you see your purveyor in a social setting, you don’t know him. Even if you are friends with your purveyor, the actual transaction is a business moment, entirely separate from your friendship. Treat it with respect.
  1. Be an informed consumer: buying good marijuana is like going to the farmers market. You don’t ask to try all of the strawberries! You try one variety of strawberry, then decide if you want those, or blueberries. Know what your tastes are. That’s what Leafly is for. Know what strains are the ones you would like, but never expect anything.
  1. Contents may settle during shipping.” The season and where the variety is grown (indoors vs. outdoors) will impact the bud, even with the same strain. Colors, crystals, and contents may vary. This is an organic product, after all.
  1. “This is not Target!” If the product is not up to your standards for whatever reason (weight, quality, packaging), point these discrepancies out immediately. Do not, under any circumstances, expect a refund at any point. After you’ve handed over the money, the deal is done. Your purveyor has almost zero interest in “cheating” you. Remember that $10 profit margin. Yeah…He has no time to listen to a litany of complaints or entitled whining. Seriously.
  1. If your purveyor has treated you to free drugs in the past, don’t assume this is going to happen again. Consider yourself lucky. Don’t ask. Free drugs are free, but should never be.
  1. If you do something that makes your purveyor decide to cut you off, don’t come back begging or threatening or even texting. Beg texting? Bexting? Threatxting? Just picture how grabby and pathetic you look from the side and by pathetic I don’t mean worthy of scorn. I mean sad. It’s sad to see someone acting like a petulant brat. Not a good look. If you are cut off, it means you were a big dummy. Accept that.

 

Incarcenation: In Pursuit of Liberty in American’s Broken Prison System

My article for Voice of Russia

A 2014 report published by the National Research Council asserts that the prison population of the United States “is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons.” There are currently 2.3 million people behind bars. Since 1980, the federal prison population has grown 721 percent, according to a recently released Human Rights Watch Report.

“In the last 40 years, there has been a historic marked expansion in the US prison system. There are 7 times as many people in the prison system today than in the 1970s,” says Marc Mauer, Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit that documents trends and calls attention to policies.
The exponential rise in imprisonment rates is, sadly, not a reflection of rising crime rates. The prevailing consensus points a finger squarely at politicians and their push for policy changes in a much more punitive direction, intended to send more people to prison and to keep them there longer. According to a national study, 88 percent of the increase in incarceration rates between 1980 and 1996 was due to policymakers’ decisions to lengthen sentences, impose incarceration (as opposed to probation), and ensure that offenders spent an increased amount of their sentence in person (for example, by reducing parole).
In the 1980s, with rising crime rates, simmering racial tensions, and the spread of crack cocaine, legislators adopted a “tough on crime” stance. The “war on drugs,” that gained tremendous political speed during the Reagan administration, contributed significantly to the skyrocketing rates of incarceration. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to nearly 500,000 by 2000. The political hysteria led to the passage of draconian penalties at the state and federal levels. Even as the drug scare faded from the public mind, the tough-on-crime stance became a default for most politicians.
“Mandatory sentencing laws took away the power of discretion from judges to consider the personal circumstances of the offenders. ‘Three strikes and you are out,’ the war on drugs, and a number of other policies have all combined to make the system much harsher,” says Mauer. If all of this was intended to safeguard public safety, how has increased incarceration impacted crime rates? “The broad consensus is that while the threat of prison has some effect on crime, as the system has grossly expanded, we very much have a case of diminishing returns.” According to an ACLU report, over half of prisoners with a sentence of one year or more are serving time for a non-violent offense. Life sentences are often imposed on recidivists for property or drug-related crimes.
On average, it costs $25,000 to keep someone in prison for a year. With almost 700,000 people returning home from prison each year, “they find it hard to establish themselves since in most cases, they did not pick up any substantial work skills or education in prison that would enable them to reintegrate back,” Mauer explains. As a result, recidivism rates remain high, he adds—66% for violent crimes, 78% for property crimes, and 71% for drug re-arrests.
Who stands to profit from the massive incarceration? One obvious culprit, the private prison industry, interestingly enough, is not as deeply enmeshed in the system as one would think. Mauer points out that only 130,000 inmates are held in the private prison system, which amounts to roughly 8% of the total prison population. The industry has, instead, focused its profit-seeking efforts on immigration detention as the new area for expansion and has spent over 45 million in lobbying funds to ensure that immigration reform remains mired in a legislative quagmire. With a record number of deportations taking place, imprisonment is turning into the solution of choice when it should be the last option.
And prison labor has become the new sweatshop labor. Nearly a million prisoners are performing labor for private corporations, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day, giving new meaning to the term “confinement at hard labor.” The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM. In 1979, Congress created the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program to establish employment opportunities for inmates “that approximate private sector work opportunities”—a far cry from the tidy profit-making scheme for corporations that exploit the captive labor force it has devolved to. The worst abuses have taken place in the agricultural sector, especially in states like Arizona that require inmates to work, earning between 10 and 50 cents an hour, hardly approximating “private sector work opportunities.”
So what should be the priorities in seeking to reform the system? “Sentencing policy change is the most important. Reforming or eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing laws that prevent judges from being able to tailor sentences to the individual crime and the particular defendant is vital. Extremely long sentences are far too common. Far too many 25 year olds are sentenced to life in prison when their progress should be reviewed and they could be released back into the community,” states Mauer.

Public To Politicians: End The War On Drugs

My Article for Voice Of Russia

WASHINGTON (VOR)— Over the past 40 years, the War on Drugs has cost more than $1 trillion and accounted for more than 45 million arrests.

According to the FBI 2012 Crime Report, of all drug arrests, an overwhelming 82.2 percent were for possession and not distribution. For marijuana alone, 88 percent of arrests were for possession. And as spokesmen of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition point out, more people were arrested for marijuana offenses alone last year than for all violent crimes combined. Increasingly in recent times, the futility and utter failure of the “war on drugs” has become all too apparent to the general public, but the shift might be sweeping through the policy-making community as well, where for far too long being anti-prohibition was nearly tantamount to political suicide and equated with being “soft on crime.”
On October 9th, at the National Press Club, Richard Branson of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island hosted a screening of Sundog Pictures’ Breaking The Taboo, followed by a discussion that also included A.T. Wall, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance, and Naya Arbiter, of the Amity Foundation. “Breaking The Taboo”, akin to the documentary The House I Live In, also puts forth that the “war on drugs” has essentially been a very expensive (in human and economic costs) failure with a lot of unpredictable consequences worldwide. Where The House I Live In focused on the United States and examined what role industrialization, classism, and racism play in the entire picture, Breaking The Taboo takes a more global look at how the illicit drug trade has had a lot of collateral damage, with rampant corruption amongst law-enforcers and politicians, especially in producer and transit countries, endangering democracy and civil society (for example, Afghanistan is now dangerously close to being a narco-state), stunting development, and threatening human rights. Both films argue that a move away from prohibition to control is desperately needed. Criminalizing users instead of helping them has been deleterious to communities.
Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance spoke about what he perceives to be a shifting tide not only in public opinion but also in political will. “At DPA, we seek to 1. reduce the harm of drugs on communities and 2. reduce the harm of government policies (corruption, etc.). In a nutshell, we seek to reduce the role of criminalization as much as possible while still protecting public safety.” He is convinced that we are definitely at a “major tipping point” when it comes to legally regulating marijuana, for one. Not just past Presidents are now speaking out against the drug war (Bill Clinton, for example), but also current ones—like the Presidents of Uruguay and Guatemala. Nadelman continued: “We have spent 40 years and trillions of dollars and the new focus is coming up with pragmatic alternatives. Rand Paul recently called the drug war the new Jim Crow, so this sort of injustice is becoming a real rallying call.”
And while we are not at a tipping point, we are definitely at a turning point of public opinion on mass incarceration. “We have the largest prison population of any nation in the world, with 2.3 million people in jail. The public is finally understanding what this really means. My only big fear is we are so accustomed to such massive rates of incarceration that we would be happy even with a 10% decrease.”
When asked to comment on the state of affairs from the correctional point of view, A.T. Wall was optimistic in his assessment: “In my state, prosecuting people for simple possession is now almost relatively unheard of; the focus has shifted to other types of crime. And it has definitely been bipartisan. We have people coming forward from both sides of the political spectrum saying the same things.” He also commented on the fact that “we have to work very hard to keep drugs out of prison,” which is why the focus on the demand side makes it imperative that prisons provide treatment and support and not just punishment.
Which brings us to another huge piece of this quagmire—in a sense, the arrest record that follows is the most dangerous thing about drug use and not the drug use itself, many would argue. The record prevents people from reintegrating into society (for example, affecting a multitude of economic aspects of a person’s life, such as voting, securing housing loans, and jobs), and thus hugely increases recidivism rates. Naya Arbiter, who works on the frontlines of support for former drug users, commented, “instead of criminalizing people and dismissing them as ‘bad apples,’ we should really see how we are building bad barrels all the time. We need to address issues of inequality, racism, lack of opportunity, and the social conditions that lead to drug use simultaneously with addressing the issues of the war on drugs.” Ms. Arbiter is convinced that foster care is almost exclusively driven by the war on drugs. For every 200 incarcerated men, there are 700 children that are affected as a result. “We need to focus on a drug policy that has collateral benefits for a lot of people and not just the white middle class. We need to make the transition from corrections to human services.” Richard Branson brought up the example of Portugal, which has stopped prosecuting drug users, as having registered major drops in heroin use as well as Hepatitis C and HIV infection rates.
The ultimate question is when will the actual policies and laws on the books change to reflect the growing discontent with the war on drugs? Undoubtedly, this question has been gaining some political attention as well—at the most recent Summit Of The Americas, it was firmly on the agenda. The “war on drugs” no longer carries the political cache it did during the “Just Say No” days. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse commented, “Currently, there is an incarceration reduction bill that is making its way through the Judiciary Committee, which will deal with pre-sentencing, sentencing, and treatment in prison. We are also working on a recovery bill that will provide support and recovery assistance.” While the tide is undoubtedly shifting in public attitude toward drug use, the crux of the issue remains decriminalization versus legalization. While legalization seems to require the kind of open-mindedness that seems not present at the moment, a consensus now holds that criminalizing simple drug possession and feeding the prison-industrial complex is untenable. As “Breaking the Taboo” points out, “you can’t wage a war on drugs without waging a war on people.”