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True Cannabis Freedom is Illusive

 

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” …John Stuart Mill-1859

Isn’t that a great quote? This expresses the wonderful feeling a human being is entitled to when their definition of expressing their own good in their own way, is exercised unencumbered.  It’s called freedom.

We have a brain. We can think. The things we pursue is a result of the thoughts we articulate. And we have the freedom to think, say and do what we want.

However, silent boundaries have been established in our society. Although we have the choice of exercising our freedom, inappropriate words, acts or behaviors can be problematic and consequences may come in to play. So long as that is realized, everything is fine.

The caveat is the second half of the quote. “…so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it…”

Every human on the planet thinks differently. One person’s “freedom” could be another one’s suppression. And by not infringing on theirs, perhaps we are loosing the freedom to exercise ours.

Let’s take another look at the quote. A single word stands out which might place the quote in its intended context. That word is ‘good’. “…pursuing our own ‘good’ in our own way.”

This quote is taken from the philosophical book On Liberty, which John Stuart Mill published in 1859. A much different world existed then. ‘Good,’ was a stronger word. Good meant good!

Mr. Mill was essentially saying relax and leave people alone to enjoy their freedom. If they’re not affecting anyone adversely, it shouldn’t matter what they do. But in today’s world, if there is a part of society who does not approve of our pursuit of freedom, then we are impeding their efforts to do the same. Consequently, exercising true freedom has become difficult.

Today, that quote would have a footnote reference after “our way” that might read like:

*So long as ‘your way’ does not include devious acts of destruction, hacking private data, corruption, lying, cheating stealing, deception, greed, betrayal, obsession with power, sexism, racial bias, bigotry, unlawful incarceration, etc.

Everyone has their definition of freedom. A dear friend told me, “In spite of laws which often infringe upon people’s definition, to me, America is a wonderful country. Freedom for me comes from within. In my own small universe, I am grateful for everything.”

To be specific, freedom in this piece refers to freedom with cannabis. Growing plants and medicating within your home should be a personal choice.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed federal prosecutors to get significantly tougher on drug defendants than they had been under the Obama administration. And a task force launched by Sessions is looking at changes in enforcement, particularly regarding cannabis. Sessions has been in opposition to relaxing cannabis restrictions. The industry is concerned about what could come next.

“It just creates a lot of uncertainty, and that uncertainty is deeply concerning for patients and providers,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that has sought to roll back the nation’s war on drugs. “We had thought medical marijuana wasn’t really in play in terms of a crackdown.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he expects states to be subject to “greater enforcement” of federal laws against marijuana use, but he also said Trump sees “a big difference” between use of marijuana for medical purposes and for recreational purposes. Whatever that means, it’s a contradiction to the words of the Attorney General.

Once Mr. Sessions was in office, he was quick to begin talking about tougher cannabis laws with seemingly no concern or compassion for the implications his position could bring to the cannabis community, which is larger than Sessions perceives. Not since Nixon and Reagan has an administration spoke with such a sense of purpose to re-establish and strengthen the war on drugs as Sessions has.

The freedom to enjoy cannabis is the type of freedom John Mills spoke of in 1859. To pursue our own good in our own way so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is impeding our right to enjoy freedom. Mr. sessions would say the cannabis community is impeding his right to enjoy his definition of freedom, which does not include cannabis.

What Sessions’ freedom does include is imprisonment for violation of cannabis law. The price of shares in the two leading U.S. private prison companies,  GEO Group and CoreCivic, have doubled since the Trump administration took office.

In an age when freedom is becoming the exception rather than the rule, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a revenue generator for big business. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key to protect society.

Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, the flawed American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed form of mass punishment based upon profit.

The War on Drugs and especially Marijuana prohibition has kept private prisons full for decades. The Obama administration was phasing out private ownership, however, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed that decision.

Private Prison Corporations make millions by incarcerating people who have been imprisoned for cannabis. Naked Capitalism’s report from Matt Stoller explains how CoreCivic, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, revealed in a regulatory filing that continuing the drug war is part of their business strategy. Prison companies have spent millions bankrolling pro-drug war politicians and have used secretive front groups, like the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes.

Growth depends on ability to obtain new contracts and develop new correctional and detention facilities. This growth depends on crime rates, sentencing patterns and acceptance of privatization. The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentence practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Legislation has been proposed in numerous jurisdictions that could lower minimum sentences for some non-violent crimes and make inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior. Also, sentencing alternatives under consideration could put some offenders on probation with electronic monitoring who could otherwise be incarcerated. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities.…Correction Corporation of America, 2005 Annual Report

The War on Drugs initiated by Nixon, followed by the Reagan get-tough campaign, set the stage for the creation of the private prison industry. The imprisonment boom began in the late 70’s and has exploded the state and federal prison system. Including local jails and other lockups (juvenile facilities, immigration detention), population is estimated at 2 million in 2016. The deeper story on the U.S. private prison industry and their lobbying efforts is for another day.

The important point in this piece is that we understand how private prisons work. To maximize their capacity, they depend on state contracts to be fulfilled. That means increased arrests and jail time. Cannabis and immigration violations are the easiest and fastest way to add numbers to the penal system. Prison corporations depend on lawmakers to keep harsh drug laws in place.  In their efforts to maintain tough laws, lobbyists contribute huge amounts of money to political campaigns on behalf of the prison industry.

“For-profit prisons are making contracts with states, saying, ‘Guarantee that our prisons will be filled. Guarantee we’ll make a profit,’” says Michael Skolnik, a filmmaker who visited over 100 prisons while researching Lockdown, USA, a documentary about reforming jail sentences for drug offenses. “And how do you guarantee that? You create drug laws,” Skolnik said.

“I saw guys that were in there eight, nine, ten years and never saw the inside of a courtroom, and if the state has their way about it, they won’t,” said a former Florida Civil Commitment Center resident identified only as David, who spent 4½ years at FCCC. “Everything they’re doing, based upon what I know about the law, is violating every constitutional right. It’s like a living death sentence,” he stated. “You just function from one day to the next.”

Florida based GEO Group, a FOR PROFIT, private prison corporation, is hoping for crime to rise and incarceration rates to continue to grow. They lobby for increased and harsher penalties because they’re making a killing locking up people. In-Florida, they run the civil commitment center! They are a client of Ron Book, a big player in government lobbying contracts, and one of the largest contributors to Governor Scott.

For-profit prison interests spent close to $1.5 million towards buying Rick Scott’s support in the 2014 elections. Scott attended a fundraiser at the home of the CEO of the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the world. Rick Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work Committee” has received at least $365,000 from GEO and related companies alone.

  • The GEO Group gave Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC $315,000 dollars in the 2014 election cycle.
  • The GEO Group gave the Republican Party of Florida $1,016,000 dollars from 2009-2014.

Governor Rick Scott has done his part by supporting legislation that would have privatized nearly a third of Florida’s prisons, pushed (unsuccessfully) by The GEO Group and other for-profit correctional facility companies. From 2010-2012 when this legislation was introduced, the for-profit lobby unleashed over a hundred lobbyists to push the measure, spending nearly $200,000 a quarter. Despite Scott’s strong support for prison privatization, and thanks in large part to the efforts of civil liberties and labor organizations fighting the measure across the state, the legislation did not pass. Although this legislation failed, that hasn’t stopped Scott from handing out contracts to one of his largest campaign contributors. Under Scott in 2013, The GEO Group was awarded contracts to manage 76 percent of Florida’s private prisons worth $57 million annually.

While state officials take their time bringing civil commitment cases to trial, Correct Care Recovery Solutions, following GEO Group’s lead, works to ensure that it achieves maximum profitability.

Although the following data is dated 1988-91, it provides us with a glimpse of Mel Sembler’s Partnership for a Drug Free America, donors. If you visit the full list of Sources of Funding from 1988-91, you get a better picture of who is contributing money for lobbying efforts to maintain tough laws on drugs.

Extracted from Federal Tax Returns

(figures are approximate)

PROVIDED BY Washington Hemp Education Network

Pharmaceutical Firms

J. Seward Johnson, Sr. Charitable Trusts    $1.1 million

Du Pont                                                                125,000

Proctor and Gamble Fund                                120,000

Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation                   115,000

Johnson & Johnson                                             100,000

Merck Foundation                                                 85,000

Hoffman-LaRoche                                                75,000

Tobacco and Liquor Firms

Phillip Morris                                                      125,000

Anheuser-Busch                                                 100,000

RJ Reynolds                                                         100,000

American Brands                                                100,000

The small circle of individuals who steer major decisions about correctional policy are typically from legislative and executive branches of Government. Those with a direct stake in the outcome of policy have more power in the process. Private prisons use political connections and lobbying power to influence policy & build new prisons.

In the 19th century, lobbying was perceived as an illegitimate and inherently corrupt activity, a betrayal of one’s own citizenship. “Throughout the country, from the early 1830s through the early 1930s, the sale of personal influence was treated as a civic wrong in the eyes of the law,” “A citizen did not have a personal right to pay someone else to press his or her legislative agenda.”… Zephyr Teachout

Private prison companies dependence on ensuring a large prison population to maintain profits provides inappropriate incentives to lobby government officials for policies that will place more people in prison. This is evidenced by the creation and coordination of model legislation through conservative lobbying groups, as well as in the political contributions and lobbying efforts of individual companies. This effort to increase reliance on incarceration comes at a time when America’s rate of imprisonment is the highest in the world.

My goodness. No wonder we have seen such resistance from lawmakers on Amendment 2. High paid lobbyists have a pocketful of campaign money for those willing to support tough drug laws. For politicians, this is where many of them go dirty. The money gets the support while the constituents must get inline.

I wonder how John Stuart Mill would view our society today. The freedom Mr. Mill spoke of does not exist in the world of medical cannabis.

I wonder what this country would look like if Nixon was never President. The war on drugs served as a breeding ground for an enormous deterioration of America. If it had never been declared, we would have witnessed millions of Americans journey through life as free citizens. There likely would have been no DEA or Domestic Cannabis Eradication program. The Justice system and law enforcement would have been different. Private prison corporations may never have been a part of the economy. The entire ugly state of greed and corruption may not have been as pervasive as we see it today.

It has never been about cannabis. Even before Nixon used cannabis as the scapegoat for the war on drugs, the politics of deception regarding cannabis was put in play in the late 30’s and early 40’ by the likes of Dupont, Hearst and Anslinger. It was about greed and power, that led to self-serving legislation. The same holds true today.

Cannabis has always been the victim without a voice. It seems like the Department of Justice has adapted Nixon’s approach.

“The majority of people love cannabis. We need people to fill prisons. We need a reason to arrest them. Everybody has cannabis so we’ll use that as a reason for arresting them. We’ll need the cannabis laws to be tough but Sessions said he would do that. Then we can get some jail time and perhaps confiscate some good stuff. Oh yes. The good ol’ days are coming back.” (Fictitious quote.)

“The freedom to pursue our own good in our own way, without depriving anyone or impeding their efforts to do the same.”

That’s all we ever wanted. It could have been so simple.

 

 

 

 

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