Sunday, November 25, 2012

Legalization Catching Up

I'm starting to think marijuana legalization is about at the place marriage equality was ten or so years ago.And I won't be shocked if we are in the early stages of a similar very swift shift in public opinion.

The analogy isn't perfect and I'm not arguing an equivalence, but the political dynamic is similar.

We're seeing the same tentative state level steps, with medical legalization as the halfway measure, like the civil union was, and now Colorado and Washington voting for full legalization. Those were by initiative, so we're seeing the same people ahead of politicians dynamic. There's the same age-related divide, with pre-baby boomers opposed and the boomers and younger in support.

The drug war also fractures the conservative coalition along the same divide, with the self-appointed moralists on one side and the less-government libertarians on the other.

The biggest difference I see right now is the dignity factor. The LGBT movement has grown its message and support to the point where they can't simply be dismissed with the same old tired mocking stereotypes. In the public eye, the Village People have been pushed off stage by the lifelong committed couples. The opponents have lost a lot of their name-calling power and have to retreat into rhetoric about their religious "right" to prejudice.

But talk about the drug war, and politicians and press are still making jokes about the munchies and Cheech and Chong. I haven't got the vision yet to see what replaces that, but it's time to stop cracking the jokes -_ I've been guilty, too - and start calling it out when we see it.

9 comments:

Chris said...

This is exactly why we should figure out how legalization would affect our jail population before we build a huge and expensive new jail.

John said...

Even if every simple pot smoker in Johnson County were left alone, which would be a good thing, we'd still be shipping people elsewhere. And the courthouse itself remains a too small, unsafe, inaccessible relic.

But this discussion definitely needs to be on the front burner as we move forward, and the local pols need to be more up front about where they stand on it.

Chris said...

"Even if every simple pot smoker in Johnson County were left alone, which would be a good thing, we'd still be shipping people elsewhere."

If that assertion is true, it's an important thing to know. Sheriff Pulkrabek made similar assertions during the campaign for the new jail. But where is the evidence for those assertions? Are we just supposed to take his word for it?

The study cited here determined that over 95% of the people in jail for more than a week had been jailed for misdemeanors. Most of these were classified as "aggravated or serious misdemeanors," but they are nonetheless misdemeanors. So what counts as a "serious misdemeanor"?

Keep in mind that legalization wouldn't just eliminate convictions for marijuana possession or use. It could also affect convictions for parole violations, or for crimes that are considered worse because the offender has a previous (non-violent drug) offense, or (depending on the terms of legalization) for sale of marijuana. So when do we see the actual numbers on the *full* effect legalization would have on the jail population?

I'm sure it's true, by the way, that the courthouse itself needs improvement. That doesn't mean the improvement needs to include a massive increase in jail capacity.

RevGreen13 said...

well, when the Drug Czar of Iowa tells the media this following quote, he really is doing those campaigning for reform the opened green door from Colorado...Mason Tvert had the winning formula to begin the conversation...educate the people on the hypocrisy regarding alcohol for responsible, non-violent adults.......and how much that cost in taxes to enforce such an insane policy to begin with.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20121119/NEWS09/311190020/Legalized-marijuana-Iowa-next-?nclick_check=1

"Today smoking a joint can be like drinking a keg.” said Iowa Office of the Governors Drug Control Policy Chief Steve Lukan. Please feel free to twiitter @SteveLukan

Cannabis law reform equals progress, thank you CO and WA for voting more for a plant than any person that will free people from oppression. Now can we begin to release some NON-VIOLENT ADULTS in unhealthy, Federal & State prisons. Iowa NICER 2012 - Iowa is so nice we still jail non-violent adults for cannabis...
http://youtu.be/9szOHy3vRPw

Sick of Spin said...

Voting for vices, the demise of our country.

http://coralvillecourier.typepad.com/community/2012/11/election-2012-analysis-romney-didnt-lose-the-pursuit-of-vices-won.html

John Neff said...

The jail inmates are a mixture of those charged with traditional crimes that harmed another persons (fraud, larceny, assault, burglary, arson, armed robbery, rape, kidnapping and homicide), life-style-choice crimes (alcohol and drug/use/abuse), disturbing the peace and annoying an official (judge or parole/probation officer).

A high percentage of those charged with traditional crimes are also charged with life-style-choice crimes and annoying an official so there has to be a process to sort out the good guys from the bad guys.

The sorting out is done by judges and magistrates who release 60% of those booked within 24 hours and another 20% by the end of the first week of incarceration. The remaining 20% are a mixture of inmates charged with traditional crimes, habitual alcohol offenders and those charged with drug felonies, contempt and parole/probation violations.

We know from centuries of experience that if the police are given the power to sort out the bad guys they will abuse that power. So we are stuck with having the judges and magistrates do the sorting. Their priorities are to protect public safety, prevent flight to avoid prosecution and failure to appear.

I did a ten year study and I found that 60% of those booked were booked once and they did not return. My conclusion is that some were visitors and others were members of the general population that made a mistake that they self-corrected. My view is if they self corrected let-them-be.

I know that some people are outraged that members of the general population are jailed but we have no way to keep them out if they are charged under a state statute and they best we can do is release them as soon as we have determined they are no longer a threat to safety and they can be counted on to show up in court.

I also found that about 450 or so habitual offenders are jailed per year and they are drawn from a set of about 2,000 habitual offenders (about 40% to 50% are not Johnson County residents). Jail overcrowding is primarily caused by re-incarceration of people from this set.

The maximum sentence for a serious misdemeanor is a year in jail and the maximum sentence for an aggravated misdemeanor is two years in prison in contrast to a simple misdemeanor where the maximum sentence of 30 days is seldom imposed.
Serious and aggravated misdemeanors are very common and for habitual offenders typical sentences are 7, 30 and 60 days which adds up to a lot of jail bed usage.

Chris said...

Thanks, John! From your data, can you draw any conclusions about how legalization of marijuana would affect the prison population?

John Neff said...

Chris

The data I have does not tell in all cases what the controlled substance was nor does it provide any information about the amount. It could be between a fraction of an ounce or several tons.

One of every four drug charges booked in FY2012 was a secondary charge one of the other charges involved a more serious offense. This is because alcohol and drug abuse are frequently part of the lifestyle of folks involved in criminal behavior.

The reduction in jail bed use would be too small to measure. For 93% of single drug charges at the simple and serious misdemeanor level the accused was released within 24 hours. Inmates held longer than a week used 80% of the jail beds.

John Neff said...

Chris

The data I have does not tell in all cases what the controlled substance was nor does it provide any information about the amount. It could be between a fraction of an ounce or several tons.

One of every four drug charges booked in FY2012 was a secondary charge one of the other charges involved a more serious offense. This is because alcohol and drug abuse are frequently part of the lifestyle of folks involved in criminal behavior.

The reduction in jail bed use would be too small to measure. For 93% of single drug charges at the simple and serious misdemeanor level the accused was released within 24 hours. Inmates held longer than a week used 80% of the jail beds.