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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

"Historic" Drug Compromise Guidelines Oddly Penalizes Weed

Category: Society
Posted: 04/29/16 13:00

by Dave Mindeman

A crime legislation compromise proposal is being classified as "historic" in terms of changes made to the sentencing structure of drug related offenses.

After weeks of closed-door wrangling between law enforcement, defense attorneys and lawmakers, a compromise has been reached on an effort at the Capitol to lighten criminal penalties for drug offenders statewide.

I am not sure why this had to be a "closed door" negotiation, but that is how this came to be. And there are some good things here:

1. In general "sentencing guidelines" -- the amount of prison time a convicted criminal will be presumed to get when sentenced by a judge -- for all drug crimes, will be reduced, regardless of degree.

2. Additionally, the amount of confiscated drugs required to trigger a charge has been increased for drugs like heroine, methamphetamine or cocaine. (Marijuana is a different story which will be discussed below).

3. It would define what a "trace" amount of drugs is -- a definition that has been lacking in current law and leading to a lot of law enforcement discretionary interpretation. And possession charges for trace amounts would become a gross misdemeanor, rather than a felony for a first offense.

4. Sentences for what prosecutors have called "kingpin" dealers -- those possessing or selling especially large quantities of drugs -- would become mandatory, unalterable by a judge. Also, if the accused possessed a gun, the old, harsher sentencing levels would stay in place, in addition to being mandatory. Prior law didn't differentiate much from users and dealers.

5. Mandatory penalties would be eliminated on lesser-degree drug crimes, allowing judges to be more lenient.

If utilized properly, these guidelines could reduce the incarceration rate in Minnesota prisons and give judges more latitude.

But there is one very troubling and puzzling provision....

For marijuana, on the other hand, the 100 kg required for a first-degree possession charge has been reduced to 50 kg.

In other words, marijuana was actually singled out for harsher restrictions.

This compromise was agreed to because....

Defense attorneys noted that Minnesota's marijuana thresholds are extraordinarily permissive compared to most other states, and agreed to allow them to become more strict.

I have trouble understanding why marijuana, which has medicinal legality in Minnesota, would get treated the opposite of other illegal drugs. Especially when the purpose of this compromise is to lighten the load on our prisons. Why not just leave marijuana alone? What difference does it make that our current laws are "permissive", when the tendency in the country moves towards complete legalization?

I expect that the law enforcement establishment lobbied for this. They seem to have some kind of inherent bias against marijuana and cling to decades old ideas and stereotypes about this drug.

The compromise guidelines will probably move through the legislature fairly quickly...because it has law enforcement's blessing. The marijuana aspect is troubling, but as the mood of the country changes on recreational use, maybe it won't make any difference in the long run. However, in the short term, marijuana possession will, ironically, be treated worse than your basic heroin and cocaine user.

That just feels wrong.
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Prince's Death May Have Been Drug Related, But It's Complicated

Category: Society
Posted: 04/28/16 17:24

by Dave Mindeman

I realize there is always a certain fascination in the circumstances surrounding a celebrity's death. In Prince's case, with his rock star background and mysterious personna, it all gets intensified.

Recently the media reported that Prince had prescription drugs in his possession at the time of his death. Well, he was 57 - had epilepsy - and double hip deterioration (which he refused surgery for because he is a Jehovah's Witness and cannot have a blood transfusion). Obviously, he had several medications and he had a chronic pain situation. More than likely, he has been taking opioid pain killers, (like Vicodin), for some time and there are indications that he was in a treatment program.

Certainly, prescription medication could have been involved in Prince's death, but, frankly, I do not think that should lessen anyone's opinion of him. It is doubtful that his medications were recreational in nature. Like millions of other Americans he was trying to live a normal life under painful circumstances and, in his case, with the public constantly watching.

Like other Americans, I have the feeling that Prince probably did not use proper care in the use of alcohol when taking prescription pain medication. The additive effects are hard to predict and have many other factors to consider. That could have complicated things during a medical crisis.

I guess what I wish to convey is that this country has a tendency to sweep opiod pain killer addiction under the rug. Our concerns focus on heroin and cocaine....and wrongly on marijuana.

As a pharmacist I saw people with chronic pain go through Vicodin or Oxycontin or Percocet with regular freqency. The attitude was that if the doctor prescribes it, it must be safe....and how I take it is my own business. Which is fine if taken strictly as directed and over short time periods. But chronic pain is seldom cured because by definition it has an untreatable cause or is unexplained. And that sets a lot of people up for an addictive lifestyle.

People get lulled into a false sense of security. The opioids control the pain well, at least at first, and you learn to adjust accordingly. But as the body's tolerance for the painkiller grows, they become less effective in pain control and the tendecy to increase the frequency of consumption or to increase the dose becomes the real danger.

A person who is on pain killers for a chronic situation do not think of themselves as addicted. They are treating their condition with medicine. Their doctor knows about it. But soon the patient will be calling the doctor to increase the frequency of refills or indicate that once in a while they need to take an extra tablet. And then it starts to gravitate to lies about losing the medication or spilling some tablets down the sink. Which increases, in drastic cases, to forging prescriptions.

I guess I am talking about this because we tend to think of musicians as being susceptible to the "drug culture". They get into that pattern of seeking greater experiences and more willing to experiment.

But there is also the day to day drug battle that millions of everyday citizens work with as they simply wish to seek relief from pain that forces them to live differently from what they wish.

I have the feeling that Prince fits into the latter category, although there is certainly the possibility that he could have mixed his regular pain medication with other stronger substances. After all, he certainly lived in a world exposed to that. But most of the relevant data that is out so far doesn't really to point to that.

Whatever the toxicology report states, I would be careful to just dismiss this as another "rock and roll culture drug death".

The truth is often very complicated.
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Another American Dream

Category: Society
Posted: 04/23/16 14:11

by Alan Anderson

This election is filled with lots of issues. One deals with people's frustrations with financial concerns, especially challenges for those who desire the American Dream of working hard and achieving economic success. Some suggest there is class warfare; that people are unfairly targeting rich people, especially the richest one percent, because of their extreme wealth. They believe the rich work hard, develop innovative businesses, and reap the benefits of their efforts by gaining monetary success. They argue that the wealthy pay more than 80% of all taxes and give large amounts of money to charity. In response to the critics, they suggest don't take away the American Dream and don't discourage people from dreaming about working hard and smart to gain material wealth.

There is a cost for this American Dream...of people gaining wealth far in excess of the average person. In 1983 the poorest 47% of America had $15,000 per family, 2.5 percent of the nation's wealth. In 2009 the poorest 47% of America owned ZERO PERCENT of the nation's wealth (their debt exceeded their assets).

At the other extreme, the 400 wealthiest Americans own as much wealth as 80 million families. Inflation-adjusted wages have gone down. But the stock market has increased by over ten times, and the richest quintile of Americans owns 93% of it. So the fact that the wealthiest 20% pay the vast majority taxes is only due to the fact that they control more than 80% of all assets. If half of Americans have no assets (in fact almost 1/3 of all Latino and African American households have negative assets....which means they owe more than they have), then the fact that they pay little to no income taxes is not unfair....or unusual.

And there is a real human cost for this differential in wealth. Almost 45,000 people die each year because they don't have access to affordable health care. The achievement of students in schools is based more on income and position in society than on race or other factors (Reardon, 2009). More than 50% of children in public schools in America are poor. The income/asset levels in the US simply are unequal.

So, while one American Dream is touted as a great goal, getting rich, it comes with a huge cost to society. Wealth inequality simply produces quality of life inequality. And that is not a dream for millions of people. It is a nightmare.
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