Posts Tagged ‘illegal drugs’

The reach of civil RICO

My new post at Cato describes how a pro-Drug-War group is using civil RICO to go after banks, bonding companies, landlords, and other commercial vendors that do business with marijuana facilities legalized under Colorado’s Amendment 64. Whatever you think of the underlying Colorado law, RICO (I argue) puts too much power in the hands of bounty-hunting private lawyers. More: Josh Blackman.

Crime and punishment roundup

  • “Regulatory Crimes and the Mistake of Law Defense” [Paul Larkin, Heritage]
  • Victims of sex offender registry laws, cont’d [Lenore Skenazy]
  • James Forman, Jr.: case against mass incarceration can stand on its own without flawed Jim Crow analogy [Boston Review and N.Y.U. Law Review, 2011-12]
  • “For-profit immigration jails, where the inmates — convicted of nothing — work for less than peanuts.” [@dangillmor on Los Angeles Times]
  • “The New Science of Sentencing: Should prison sentences be based on crimes that haven’t been committed yet?” [Marshall Project on statistically derived risk assessments in sentencing]
  • Group of 600 New England United Methodist churches issues resolution calling for an end to Drug War [Alex Tabarrok, who was also profiled the other day]
  • Prison guard in Florida speaks up about witnessing abuse of inmate, and pays a price [disturbing content, Miami Herald]

Carrying your medications around in a substitute container

A unanimous appellate panel in New York has ruled that Sephronia Bravo, 39, of the Bronx, is allowed to sue police after being “arrested [at a bus stop] for not having her prescribed medications in their original containers”:

Bravo said she refused to give consent, but the officers searched her purse anyway and found a single bottle containing her daily regimen of prescription medications and vitamins. …She was told she was being arrested for violating Public Health Law §3345, which prohibits possessing prescription medication “outside of the original container in which it was dispensed,” except for “current use.” …No illegal drugs were found and all charges were dropped at her first court appearance.

Police “later claimed they had seen her [at the bus stop] ‘exchanging small objects with another individual.” [New York Law Journal via author Benjamin Bedell, who adds, “Is there any normal day in which you could NOT be arrested for something?”] Earlier on legal hazards of seven-day pill boxes and the like.

Forfeiture roundup

  • How does your state rank on asset forfeiture laws? [Michael Greibok, FreedomWorks via Scott Shackford] Maryland delegate alleges that vetoed bill “would have made it easier for criminals to get their forfeited property back,” seemingly unaware that it focused on rights of owners *not* found guilty of anything [Haven Shoemaker, Carroll County Times] Arizona counties said to have nearly free rein in spending money [Arizona Republic via Coyote]
  • I took part last week in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. on civil asset forfeiture, sponsored by Right on Crime, and it went very well I thought [Sarah Gompper, FreedomWorks]
  • “Nail Salon Owner Sues For Return Of Life Savings Seized By DEA Agents At Airport” [Tim Cushing, TechDirt] And: “A federal judge has just ordered the government to return $167,000 it took from a man passing through Nevada on his way to visit his girlfriend in California.” [Cushing]
  • “How Philadelphia seizes millions in ‘pocket change’ from some of the city’s poorest residents” [Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post “Wonkblog”]
  • IRS drops structuring forfeiture case against N.C. convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan, will return more than $107,000 it seized [Institute for Justice]
  • Canada, too, has civil forfeiture when there has been no criminal conviction [British Columbia Civil Liberties Association]
  • Michigan testimony: “After they breached the door at gunpoint with masks, they proceeded to take every belonging in my house” [Jacob Sullum]
  • Town of Richland, Mississippi, population 7,000, builds $4.1 million police headquarters with forfeiture money. Thanks, passing motorists! [Steve Wilson, Mississippi Watchdog via Radley Balko]

Medical roundup

  • “Embattled Broward Health paid law firm $10.2 million; tab included a lawyer’s M&Ms” [Miami Herald]
  • “Journalists were not very interested in the areas of vaccine policy that are actually debatable. They just wanted to find fools and laugh at them.” [Matt Welch]
  • Wider access to pharmaceutically based drug rehabilitation may be sound policy. But is it compelled by the ADA? [Huffington Post via @sbagen]
  • Kamala Harris carries water for the SEIU in a hospital deal, and Californians are the losers [John Cochrane]
  • Drug case: “Hagens Berman argument ‘gives new meaning to frivolous,’ judge says; sanctions imposed” [ABA Journal]
  • California: Kaiser Permanente “ordered to pay woman more than $28 million” [L.A. Times]
  • “Bacteria can evolve. So can McDonald’s. Maybe federal policymakers can as well, before it’s too late.” [Steve Chapman]

Washington, D.C.: “Court orders man to stop smoking in his own home”

Lawyers Brendan and Nessa Coppinger moved into their row house in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood last September. They have now gotten a judge to agree to a temporary restraining order prohibiting their neighbor, Edwin Gray, from smoking or allowing anyone to smoke on his property. The Coppingers say the smoke is getting onto their premises through openings between the connected structures and “is harming them and their children”; they also want cash damages. The Gray family has owned the house next door for 50 years. [AP/ABC13 via ABA Journal; Washington Post]

Benjamin Freed at Washingtonian was kind enough to quote me at length making several points about this and similar litigation: 1) it would have been thrown out over most of the course of legal history because courts insisted that nuisance and similar claims (in this case couched as “negligence, nuisance, and trespassing”) exceed a de minimis standard and, in a claim for damages, required proof of actual harm going well beyond “you hit me with a molecule and that could kill me”; 2) smoking is uniquely disapproved nowadays which means some courts are willing to entertain de minimis claims that they would not for other common neighborhood nuisances; 3) if carcinogenic smoke drifting across property lines is to be stopped, both backyard grills and barbecues and common fireplaces are in trouble, at least if courts behaved logically — a very big if, of course. (It should be noted that the lawsuit includes some claims — such as that an unrepaired chimney at the Grays’ is contributing to the smoke problem — that might fit more readily into traditional legal categories.)

The temporary court order, incidentally, also bars the Gray family from allowing any smoking of now-legal marijuana in their house, which prompts this additional thought:

“It does make you wonder why conservative opponents of marijuana would bother to fight legalization in DC when instead they can let it go through and get rich suing over it,” Olson says.

Whole thing here.

Pharmaceutical roundup

  • War on painkillers finds new casualty in ailing veterans [Washington Post, Brian Doherty]
  • “Woman says ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ lube doesn’t deliver, should be registered with FDA” [Legal NewsLine]
  • “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Twisted Anti-Vaxx History” [Russell Saunders, Daily Beast back in July]
  • Using antitrust law, New York seeks to force maker to go on producing older formulation of drug [Ilya Shapiro on Cato brief in Second Circuit] Courts have mostly rejected claims of a duty to supply grounded in obligation to patients [James Beck, Drug & Device Law]
  • “Patients see [biotech] startups and hope for a cure. Too many lawyers see them and hope for a payday.” [Standish M. Fleming, WSJ]
  • Argument that policymakers undervalue pharmaceutical aids to heroin rehabilitation [Jason Cherkis]
  • After suing the obvious defendants in New England Compounding Pharmacy contamination case, lawyers started in on the less obvious [Drug and Device Law, background on regulation-spurred rise of compounding pharmacies]

Prohibition and the lessons of Repeal Day

Last month the Cato Institute hosted a panel celebrating Repeal Day
with me, alcohol policy expert Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Stacia Cosner of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cato Digital Marketing Manager Kat Murti as moderator.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies….

Some links related to the discussion:

  • All the panelists quoted from Daniel Okrent’s excellent history of Prohibition, Last Call. You can find out more about the book at the author’s site.
  • I quote from a speech by the late Christopher Hitchens delivered ten years almost to the day before our panel. It is excerpted in this David Boaz post.
  • Radley Balko wrote a 2003 Cato Policy Analysis, “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking“. More: The federal Centers for Disease Control, as I noted, has been an agency of choice for public health campaigners because of its legacy of scientific credibility, yet this credibility is itself put increasingly at risk as the CDC lends its name to propaganda. Jacob Sullum provides examples from the agency’s elastic application of the term “binge drinking” to the trouble it seems to have acknowledging that minor alcohol consumption does not seem to correlate with poor health outcomes;
  • As I mention, the Prohibition episode was important in eroding constitutional protections against various law-enforcement tools, especially search and seizure, the law being inherently aimed at contraband goods. The same is true of the nascent Drug War undertaken following the Harrison narcotics act of 1914. You can read about one of the resulting Supreme Court cases here.
  • The role of exorbitant cigarette taxes in contributing to New York’s giant black market in cigarettes came to wider public notice following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island; more here, here, etc. The New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city law department to refrain from filing an intended press release over a would-be landmark suit filed over untaxed cigarettes the week of the Garner grand jury decision, because it interfered with City Hall’s efforts to downplay the role of the tobacco black market.