Ron Paul debates Stephen Baldwin on Legalizing Marijuana

Ron Paul vs. Stephen Baldwin is like Mike Tyson vs. a five-year-old. No contest.

Paul’s most powerful argument relates to the costs of prohibition, particularly crime from drug cartels and the cost of locking up non-violent offenders.

  

Ending the Rockefeller Drug Laws

New York State might finally repeal the idiotic Rockefeller drug laws.

The Rockefeller drug laws is the term used to denote the statutes dealing with the sale and possession of “narcotic” drugs in the New York State Penal Law. The laws are named after Nelson Rockefeller, who was the state’s governor at the time the laws were adopted. Rockefeller, a staunch supporter of the bill containing the laws, signed it on May 8, 1973.

Under the Rockefeller drug laws, the penalty for selling two ounces (approximately 56 grams) or more of heroin, morphine, “raw or prepared opium,” cocaine, or cannabis, including marijuana (these latter two being included in the statute even though they are not “narcotics” from a chemical standpoint), or possessing four ounces (approximately 113 grams) or more of the same substances, was made the same as that for second-degree murder: a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, and a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. The original legislation also mandated the same penalty for committing a violent crime while under the influence of the same drugs, but this provision was subsequently omitted from the bill and was not part of the legislation Rockefeller ultimately signed. The section of the laws applying to marijuana was repealed in 1979, under the Democratic Governor Hugh Carey.

The New York Times has an editorial arguing for the repeal of the laws.

After 35 years of filling the state’s prisons with drug offenders who needed treatment and disproportionately punishing poor and minority offenders, New York is on the verge of dismantling its infamous Rockefeller drug laws. To get there, Gov. David Paterson and some prosecutors will have to drop their objections to a reasonable provision on second-time offenders.

The Assembly voted last week to restore judicial discretion and end mandatory sentencing for many nonviolent low-level drug crimes. The bill, which has been introduced in the State Senate as well, would limit the longstanding and widely discredited system under which prosecutors decide who goes to jail and for how long.

Once the measure becomes law, courts would be able to sentence many addicts to treatment instead of cramming them into prisons where addiction generally goes untreated.

Republican senators who represent prison districts have long obstructed reforms like these. The latest attempt seems likely to succeed now that Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature — if Assembly lawmakers can broker a deal with the governor and some prosecutors in the state.

The last paragraph struck me. It’s stunning that Republican politicians blocked reform of these laws just to keep prison populations high to protect prison jobs in their districts. Disgusting.

All around the country, our prisons are bursting and states are going broke. We need to stop locking up non-violent offenders and focus on violent criminals.

  

Obama will halt medical marijuana raids

Eric Holder made it pretty clear the other day that the Obama administration will respect state laws and stop arresting sick people who are using medical marijuana.

Holder joked, “What the president said during the campaign, you will be surprised to know, will be consistent with what we will be doing here in law enforcement.” After a bit of laughter, he repeated, “What he said during the campaign is now American policy.”

Just like we’re seeing with the budget, President Obama meant what he said in the campaign.

  

They’re just getting started

Now that the stimulus package has been approved, Fortune offers an inside look at Barack Obama’s economic team.

At this White House there’s no time to settle in. Even as their wall art sat in bubble wrap, Obama’s economic team was pushing through Congress the most expensive emergency spending package in the nation’s history. And they were helping Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner craft his own sweeping plan to rescue the nation’s banking and housing sectors, phase two of a $700 billion effort launched by his predecessor, Hank Paulson.

That’s just the start. The team is fast at work on health-care reform, energy independence, vast changes in banking regulations, and the possibility of a “grand bargain” to curb entitlement costs that envisions historic sacrifices on both sides of the aisle: Republicans supporting tax increases and Democrats conceding to benefits cuts. “This is not a small-ball President,” says Summers, Obama’s top economic advisor and chair of the National Economic Council. “He wants to take on the large issues.”

There is a breadth and breathlessness to these under-takings, a frenzy of policymaking that will shape the contours of America’s economic future. Top Obama advisors who talked (often as they walked) with Fortune in early February put a premium on speed – speed to catch the right moment to turn around a deepening recession, speed to take advantage of this moment of crisis to put in place a Democratic vision of government’s role, speed to pass major legislation while the President is riding high in the polls. Obama’s White House has been endlessly compared to Lincoln’s team of rivals, or J.F.K.’s best and brightest. But we might also toss in the image of Sandra Bullock trying to control a runaway busload of passengers before the bomb goes off. (That scene was of course from the movie – “Speed.”)

It’s becoming clear that the upcoming budget will drive home Obama’s desire to pursue a very ambitios agenda.

The President’s first budget, expected to be unveiled by budget director Peter Orszag within weeks, will chart much of the administration’s ambitious course beyond stimulus and TARP – and it will be a document that Obama’s own shop, not Congress, produces. “In his budget the President is going to lay down markers around his seriousness on all the major issues,” notes Summers.

It’s likely that the decisions and debates on these issues – ranging from health-care reform to what government programs should be cut to ease the deficit – will keep on coming at Congress at mind-numbing speed. The President wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m anxious to see which cuts they will be proposing. Our current budget is littered with programs that waste money, from farm subsidies, unnecessary weapons systems and much of the war on drugs. It’s also littered with tax loopholes bought by lobbyists, along with ridiculous restrictions preventing the government from negotiating bulk prices for drugs purchased by Medicare. If Obama can offer some serious cuts here, he’ll gain considerable credibility in his attempt to reorder the priorities of the nation.

  

Reforming the marijuana laws

Things are starting to change. In Massachusetts, the voters overwellmingly approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing marijuana.

Defying the scare tactics of state and local officials, voters in Massachusetts and Michigan gave current marijuana policies a resounding vote of no confidence Tuesday. Massachusetts voters approved the first marijuana decriminalization initiative ever passed by voters, Michigan voters enacted the nation’s 13th medical marijuana law, and local reform measures appeared to be passing in several communities.

“Tonight’s results represent a sea change,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored the Massachusetts and Michigan campaigns. “Voters have spectacularly rejected eight years of the most intense government war on marijuana since the days of ‘Reefer Madness.’”

In Michigan, White House drug czar John Walters personally campaigned against Proposal 1, calling it an “abomination.” In Massachusetts, all 11 district attorneys warned of huge increases in teen marijuana use and other dire consequences should Question 2 pass, even though studies in the 11 states with similar laws, as well as Australia and Europe, have found no such increases due to decriminalization. Under Question 2, criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be replaced by a civil fine of $100, much like a traffic ticket.

This makes sense and I expect it to gain traction around the country. Marijuana cases are clogging the courts, so more jurisdictions will begin to consider these reforms.

Medical marijuana has made even more progress, and Barack Obama has pledge to stop the disgraceful practices of the Bush adminitration to use federal laws to prosecute users of medical marijuana.

We should expect significant changes in the Drug War as well. Obama will not apoint a drug czar who views medical marijuana as an “abomination” and he has been very critical of locking up non-violent drug offenders.

It’s encouraging, however, to see these changes coming from the bottom up.

  

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