Five Minutes Five Issues: Marijuana Votes, Proposition 63, Drug Pleas, White Privilege, Pirate Party
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The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity welcomes you to Five Minutes Five Issues.
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Hello, I am Adam Dick, a Ron Paul Institute senior fellow.
On Tuesday, popular votes in several states will decide if state governments will, to varying degrees, opt out of the war on marijuana. Marijuana legalization will be voted on in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. People will vote on medical marijuana ballot measures in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota.
Voters in America’s largest population state will consider Tuesday a gun control initiative with significant privacy implications. Among the provisions in California’s Proposition 63 are required background checking, licensing (for a fee), and databasing of people who buy ammunition.
It appears that at least 100,000 people in America each year plead guilty to drug charges supported by police-conducted drug field tests that do not reliably indicate whether a substance tested is an illegal drug. So reports Ryan Gabrielson in an in-depth article published last week at ProPublica.
Gabrielson relates that police can conduct a field test, costing a couple bucks or less, at the site of an arrest and quickly obtain results. The catch is that the tests are not reliable. Gabrielson explains that false positive results on field tests are a reason “[f]ederal guidelines say all drugs in criminal cases must be identified by a qualified lab” and “[c]ourts across the country have repeatedly refused to admit field test results as evidence at trial.”
But, most alleged drug law violators never end up at trials. With large potential penalties hanging over their heads and often insufficient funds to present a strong case in court, they plead guilty, often in hopes of obtaining reduced sentences.
In some jurisdictions, field tested substances are thrown out after a plea deal. But, in Houston, Texas, the substances have been kept. Gabrielson reports that a mass retesting of those substances in Houston “identified more than 300 cases in which innocent people took plea deals largely based on field test results that proved wrong.” The district attorney’s office for Harris County, where Houston is located, no longer accepts guilty pleas where there have been only field tests. Still, Gabrielson writes, “in jurisdictions of all sizes and in all corners of the country, unconfirmed field tests are being used to help extract guilty pleas.”
I am seeing commentary arguing it is an example of “white privilege” that Malheur National Wildlife Refuge protestors in Oregon were found not guilty on October 27 while police were cracking down on people, many of them Native Americans, seeking to block construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota.
Government agents shot dead Oregon protestor LaVoy Finicum. Also, among the 26 indicted Oregon protestors, Maxine Bernstein reports at Oregon Live that seven more await trial and 11 have pled guilty instead of risking trial, though one has filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and more may do so. While a jury rejected prosecutors’ arguments and found seven Oregon protestors not guilty, this victory came for the defendants only after they endured arrest, incarceration, and trial.
That does not sound to me like any sort of special privilege.
In the August 24 episode of Five Minutes Five Issues I talked about Iceland’s Pirate Party supporting offering mass surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden the option to live in the country.
Iceland elections were held last week. While the Pirate Party did not win the most votes, the Associated Press reports the 14.5% Pirate vote is almost triple the party’s 2013 election result and will yield the party members 10 seats in Iceland’s 63-member parliament.
Pirate Party leader Birgitta Jónsdóttir, interviewed after the election on Democracy Now, confirmed the party will support in parliament, as it has in the past, Icelandic citizenship for Snowden.
That’s a wrap.
Transcripts of Five Minutes Five Issues episodes, including links to related information, are at the Ron Paul Institute blog.
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