Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Robert Adley likes the giggles

Senator Adley is co-sponsoring a bill in the Louisiana Legislature introduced by J.P.Morrell that would decriminalize marijuana possession.
Sponsored by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, the bill would make possession of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. Under current law, first-time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor; subsequent charges are felonies. The maximum sentence for the third offense is 20 years in prison.
A few weeks ago a less good bill in the House which would have kept the felony charge but reduced the proscribed sentence was deferred, supposedly because Austin Badon forgot to call the Sheriffs Association ahead of time to ask them if it was ok.

The Sheriffs don't like this bill either, of course. But it's worth noting that several conservatives like Senator Adley do.
Referring to Morrell’s bill and the state’s budget problems, Adley said, “We can’t fill up the jails on simple possession charges. We don’t have the money to keep them.”

Adley said that smoking marijuana as a Marine courier in Vietnam during the 1960s has led him to conclude that the dangers of the drug are overhyped. “People were better off smoking it than drinking alcohol,” he said. “They just got the giggles. The more whiskey they drank, the meaner they got.”
The Senate bill goes before committee on Tuesday.  Who knows, maybe it will do better than the Bible bill did today.

If it somehow manages to become law, though, it will be interesting to see how Chief Serpas's statistics-focused NOPD handles it.  Serpas and DA Cannizzaro have previously announced their intention to arrest fewer people on simple possession charges. But, as long as the criminal penalties still exist in statute, those charges can and have been pressed.

Recently Serpas told WGNO he was most worried about encountering marijuana users in the context of.. what else.. one of his renowned traffic checkpoints.
NOPD Police Chief Ronal Serpas says whatever lawmakers decide it’ll be up to law enforcement officers to enforce the changes.

“Marijuana, alcohol, any kind of synthetic drugs, they affect the way people drive and that’s one of the things we’re most concerned about is impaired driving.”
Serpas says he's concerned about impaired driving and I guess we'll take his word for that.  Last year the Times-Picayune reported that, while DWI arrests are way up under Serpas, the rate of traffic accidents due to driver impairment is unchanged. But whether the chekcpoints actually make the roads safe isn't important.  The pretext they provide officers to conduct arbitrary stop-and-searches, on the other hand, sure is a neat bonus. 

Here's a recent Democracy Now! interview with Matt Taibbi. His new book is about contrasts between the way the US justice system treats the superwealthy as opposed to.. pretty much everyone else. In the interview here he's talking specifically about how the drug laws can be used to intimidate people in absurd ways. 
MATT TAIBBI: So, HSBC, again, this is one of the world’s largest banks. It’s Europe’s largest bank. And a few years ago, they got caught, swept up for a variety of offenses, money-laundering offenses. But one of them involved admitting that they had laundered $850 million for a pair—for two drug cartels, one in Mexico and one in South America, and including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico that is suspected in thousands of murders.

And in that case, they paid a fine; they paid a $1.9 billion fine. And some of the executives had to defer their bonuses for a period of five years—not give them up, defer them. But there were no individual consequences for any of the executives. Nobody had to pull money out of their own pockets for permanently. And nobody did a single day in jail in that case.

And that, to me, was an incredibly striking case. I ran that very day to the courthouse here in New York, and I asked around to the public defenders, you know, "What’s the dumbest drug case you had today?" And I found somebody who had been thrown in Rikers for 47 days for having a joint in his pocket. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s—is that even illegal?

MATT TAIBBI: No, in New York City, actually, it’s not illegal to carry a joint around in your pocket. It was decriminalized way back in the late '70s. But with part of the now past stop-and-frisk, what they do is they would stop you, and then they would search you and force you to empty your pockets. When you empty your pockets, now it's no longer concealed, and now it’s illegal again. So they had—in that year, they had 50,000 marijuana arrests, even though marijuana—having marijuana was technically decriminalized at the time.

So, my point was: Here’s somebody at the bottom, he’s a consumer of the illegal narcotics business, and he’s going to jail, and then you have these people who are at the very top of the illegal narcotics business, and they’re getting a complete walk. And that’s just totally unacceptable.
Serpas's sobriety checkpoints aren't NOPD's only answer to stop-and-frisk.  Sometimes, they randomly stop bicyclists too.  Which is what happened to the subject of the lede to the Lens article we began this post with. 
Bernard Noble was visiting his father in New Orleans three and a half years ago when two cops spotted him riding a bicycle. They stopped Noble, frisked him and found a small amount of marijuana — the equivalent of two joints.

Noble, a 47-year-old truck driver and father of three, is now serving a 13-year prison sentence after a jury found him guilty of marijuana possession. It was his seventh drug possession conviction in Orleans and Jefferson Parish.  He originally was sentenced to five years, but Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. appealed and got a longer sentence.
Since Serpas' policy response to the bills in the legislature appears to be a redoubling of his efforts at traffic enforcement, it isn't hard to imagine more scenarios like these even if marijuana possession is partially decriminalized in Louisiana.  It won't be, so we don't have to worry too much about that particular irony.  But between a DA holding out for longer sentences in possession cases despite his own stated policy and the impaired drivers who are actually  bicyclists, there's plenty of that to go around. Perhaps enough to inspire a giggle from Senator Adley when he's in the right state.

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