Attorney General Sessions: A Blunderbuss on Drug Policy

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Harm Reduction, Medical Marijuana

Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee (via Vox at https://youtu.be/_ghAfc-q6n4)

It was evident before he was appointed Attorney General that Jefferson Sessions’ drug policies are ill-informed and wrong. It took watching his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last Tuesday to understand just how this is the case. I had a “eureka” moment.

He closed his statement with a self-serving peroration that had no relation to why he had been called before the Committee:

“… Just last week, it was reported that overdose deaths in this country are rising faster than ever recorded. The murder rate is up over 10 percent—the largest increase since 1968. Together, we are telling the gangs, the cartels, the fraudsters, and the terrorists—we are coming after you. Every one of our citizens, no matter who they are or where they live, has the right to be safe in their homes and communities.”

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Can Law Enforcement Really Change?

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Harm Reduction

Image credit Diane Robinson.

In the previous post, former police officer Brian Gaughan describes why he resigned after 11 years rather than perpetuate the War on Drugs. Here Executive Director Rev. Alexander Sharp reflects on what his experience might tell us about law enforcement in the future.

Several years ago I asked a distinguished Illinois suburban police chief whether he might support medical marijuana. I still remember the hiss in his voice as he replied: “It’s not medicine, it’s just a weed.”

Since that day, 29 states including Illinois, covering over half the U.S. population, have legalized medical marijuana. The same thing is happening with other drug laws: 21 states have either decriminalized or legalized marijuana. The decriminalization of all drugs was introduced in one state legislature this year.

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A Police Officer’s Conversion Experience: “The Final Straw”

Brian Gaughan Guest Pieces, Harm Reduction

For 11 years, Brian Gaughan served as a police officer fighting the War on Drugs the conventional way.  What he was doing every day began to seem horribly wrong. He resigned his position and now serves as a spokesperson for drug policy reform.  We asked him to describe what led to this change. To hear more from Gaughan, view his interview with Jim Gierach on CAN-TV (pictured above).

How did I shift from being “pro-drug war” to realizing that it was totally wrong?  I watched people who were addicts being arrested, taken into custody for mere possession of an “illegal” drug, when in reality, they were being put into a cage for possessing something they may or may not be addicted to and were doing no one any harm, except perhaps their own self.

I struggled with the idea that I was part of an organization that was punishing people, often times severely, for being addicted to something. Not only would we put them in a cage, we would oftentimes financially ruin them. Their cars were towed, they needed to find bond money to post if possible.  More times than not, they would lose their jobs for not being able to show up at work, they had to spend thousands and thousands of dollars for legal representation, families were split up, homes were lost.  It slowly began to weigh on my mind.

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Civil Asset Forfeiture: A Path to Reform

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Ending Forfeiture Seizure

“Reform” image via Mark Bonica

Did you think that under the law we are innocent until proven guilty? Not when it comes to civil asset forfeiture. Police are allowed to seize property they suspect is connected to a crime. Usually, they take cars. Cash and electronic equipment are also likely objects of seizure if police decide to search where victims live.

The burden is on owners to court to get their property back. They are not given counsel. Since most of the defendants are very poor, they cannot afford their own. The instructions on where and when they can plead their case are confusing or non-existent. If they don’t act fast enough, their property is auctioned off and proceeds handed over to law enforcement.

It is estimated that a significant majority of individuals whose process is seized in Cook County end up never even trying to prove that their property should be returned. This is not surprising (if painful to watch). Without procedures telling them what to do, the victims of property seizure simply give up.

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Government Theft: A First-Hand Account

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Ending Forfeiture Seizure

Those fortunate enough to see this flyer will have access to legal representation.

It’s easy enough to read about civil asset forfeiture and be angry at a system that seizes property and keeps it until the owners prove they have not committed a crime. Last week we wanted to get a more personal, first-hand view, of how the process works.

All proceedings for civil asset forfeiture in Cook County are held in Room 1707 of the Daley Center. Anyone can go. We sat in on a docket of cases.

Four prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney were present. No one represented the four defendants waiting to be called. All were African-American.

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