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January 24, 2014

Rick Perry: I Favor Non-Criminal Penalties (Fines, Rehab) for Marijuana Possession Busts

He specifically says he's not in favor of legalization, but of decriminalization.

“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization” by introducing alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said during an international panel on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

It's the first time the governor, who's voiced support for drug courts in the past, took a position on decriminalization in Texas.

His spokeswoman confirmed that Perry is staunchly opposed to legalization of marijuana because of the dangers that have been associated with the drug but is committed to policies that would lower the punishment for its use to keep smokers out of jail.

“Legalization is no penalty at all, whereas decriminalization doesn't necessarily mean jail time (for minor possession offenses). It means more of a fine or counseling or some sort of program where you don't end up in jail but in a rehabilitative program,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry.

“The goal is to keep people out of jails and reduce recidivism, that kind of thing,” she said, adding that decriminalization would exclude violent offenders and dealers.

These remarks were made in Davos, Switzerland, in a panel with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Decriminalization is clearly superior to the current regime (though legalization may be superior to both; I don't know). I always hear pro-War-on-Drugs people making the point that, despite the 750,000 marijuana arrests per year, only a tiny fraction of people are in jail for simple possession of marijuana.

Okay that's a fact. I accept that. But in that case we have a law on the books -- with prosecutors permitted to seek long jail sentences for simple possession, even if they routinely do not seek such sentences -- at their discretion.

So, even per the pro-War-on-Drugs' argument, we're already in a state of partial decriminalization. So Bill O'Reilly's arguments about how decriminalization will have disastrous effects seems contrived -- out of his own mouth, he's constantly talking up the fact that we're already in such a system.

However, it's selective decriminalization. A prosecutor can still threaten you with the full sentence and scare the living shit out of you and induce you to copping to some lesser charge via that threat. And there are a small number of people -- just a small number, but they exist -- who are actually serving time in prison only because they were found with pot in their pockets.

I think it is elementary that the law should say what the law actually is. It is a strange situation where we keep laws on the books, justifying their continued existence by saying, "Well, you know, we really don't enforce the jailtime-for-pot-possesion law" (or, a few years back, "Well, you know, we really don't enforce anti-sodomy laws, so there's no problem keeping them on the books.")

It is a basic premise of law -- a false one, most of the time, but still a premise of it -- that the ordinary citizen should know what the law is, that he could know what the law is if he read the statutes (this is part of the reason they're published and publicized), and, therefore, that he is presumed to know what the law is if he is caught violating it, and cannot plead ignorance of the law as an excuse.

Laws which are on the books, but not enforced, or enforced in a strikes-like-lightning sort of way -- 98% of simple marijuana possession defendants do not go to prison, which makes it an unfair shock to the 2% who do -- are anti-democrat and an affont to the idea that the average man ought to, or at least could, know what the law really is.

And in these types of "crimes" where 98% of offenders are not punished with jail, but then, kapow!, 2% are, this makes What The Law Really Is almost entirely dependent not on the law but on men -- Has this particular prosecutor decided that, in his jurisdiction, for the cases he prosecutes, the full jailtime-for-pot laws are in operation? Did you piss off a cop a little too much with smart-mouth?

Do prosecutors suspect you of crimes they can't prove but can prove that you had some pot on you, and thus will seek to jail you as if they had been able to prove those more serious crimes they suspect you of?

Many people will call that last one a benefit. The reasoning goes: Well, they suspect this guy of more, but they can't prove it. So the fact they got him on drugs is a good thing. Otherwise, that guy would get off completely. It's like getting Capone on tax fraud.

Is this really a good thing, where prosecutors get to effectively jail you for crimes they suspect but can't prove, and thus impose jailtime for simple possession when 98% of other simple-possession-offenders don't get jail time?

Do we really want prosecutors empowered to throw people in jail for crimes they actually don't have enough evidence to prove?

That's a benefit? That seems like a deeply corrosive thing. That seems, actually, pretty unAmerican, in as much as the American system is pretty firm on the point that people should go to jail for crimes only after having been duly convicted of them by an airing of evidence before a jury of their peers.

That's not a "nice to have" feature of American justice. That's supposed to be a "must have."

If the actual law is that simple pot possessors don't go to jail (except for the 2% who do, on a prosecutorial whim), then that should be the written law as well. There should not be these great divergences between the Law As Written and the Law As Actually Applied.

The two should track each other almost perfectly. Sure, the Law As Written will never completely describe the Law As Applied. But neither should we deliberately build gigantic discrepancies into it.

I think... Perry's halfway position will be the "conservative position" in five years or less.

Because most people who support the War on Drugs will say they don't favor prison for possession, by and large. They just want to have it recorded in the law that drugs are bad, and they'd like to see people nagged, hectored, and otherwise dissuaded from doing drugs.

And I'm being snarky on that: I happen to agree, drugs are bad. While many people can do drugs without any particular consequence, you will also have a great many people who like the drug too much, and they'll become addicted, and unable to perform any kind of useful work, and ultimately either wards of the state that taxpayers have to feed and clothe, or criminals.

Or, and this is the wonderful part: Often both.

But most people who favor the War on Drugs say they don't actually want prison to be on the menu of penalties for simple possession. So Perry's sort of approach, paternalistic, yes, but not excessively punitive, might wind up being acceptable (or even preferable to the current regime) to the prohibitionists.

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posted by Ace at 11:47 AM

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