Victories Against the War on Drugs

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Washington and Colorado have become the first states to pass laws legalizing marijuana. In the election just ended, Washington's Initiative 502 and Colorado's Amendment 64 each are passing by about 55% of the vote. A similar measure in Oregon is failing, with only 45% of the vote. Massachusetts became the 17th medical marijuana state by passing Question 3, with 63% support.

Why Washington and Colorado? Was it because these were the two states in which Libertarian nominee John Hospers made the ballot in 1972? Probably not.

Washington and Colorado were among the earliest medical marijuana states, with ballot measures passing in 1998 in Washington and in 2000 in Colorado. They were not the first, however. California was first, with a ballot measure for medical marijuana in 1996. California voters were offered a legalization measure in 2010, and they rejected it.

Each case comes with specific reasons, and I can speak only for those in Washington, where I live. Medical marijuana has come out of the closet here, with open "dispensaries" all over Seattle. Police shut them down in Spokane and some other cities, but in liberal Seattle they thrive. We have a "Hempfest" here — a huge public music-and-weed celebration, every August. In the middle of the last decade, Seattle voters approved a measure making marijuana possession the lowest priority crime, and the new city attorney, Pete Holmes, stopped prosecuting simple possession cases in 2010.

Still, legalization was a battle — though not so much with the supporters of prohibition. Two more radical efforts to legalize, in 2010 and 2011, didn't get enough signatures to make the ballot. These measures would have repealed all state marijuana laws affecting people over age 18 and replaced them with nothing. The sponsors said the measures were bulletproof to federal challenge, because they created no law. They simply erased. But to Seattle liberals, having no regulation of the private marijuana market was too radical, and the sponsors could raise almost no money.

Then came the mainstream effort for I-502. It was not full legalization. It legalized possession of one ounce for adults over 21, continued the ban on private growing, and ordered the state to set up a system of licensing commercial growers, distributors and marijuana shops. The measure was backed by City Attorney Holmes, a Democrat; the former George W. Bush-appointed US Attorney in Seattle, John McKay, a Republican; travel entrepreneur Rick Steves, who has written extensively about Amsterdam; and the ACLU of Washington. The effort raised lots of money, got on the ballot, and was cheered on by the state's largest newspaper, the Seattle Times.

Mainstream politicians, however, were wary of it: Gov. Christine Gregoire, Democrat, opposed it, as did the Democrat and Republican candidates to replace her — because the measure conflicts with federal law.

Legalization was a battle — though not so much with the supporters of prohibition.

Initiative 502's most vocal enemies were the sponsors of the more radical measures of the two years before. Their beef was that 502 creates a "per se" standard of intoxication of 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. They noted that the Colorado initiative did not have this. They said the standard was unscientific, and would cause medical marijuana patients to lose their right to drive. These opponents had support in the medical marijuana community, part of which was against marijuana prohibition but for a "no" on 502.

The more mainstream supporters of 502 argued that the 5 ng/ml standard was not the main issue, and that legalization was. Vote for legalization, they argued, and if 5 ng/ml is the wrong standard, we'll fix it later.

The conservatives' argument against 502 was that smoking marijuana is bad, and that legalizing it for over-21 adults would encourage more people, especially more teens, to smoke it. They didn't spend any money on ads. And they lost.

The Colorado and Washington initiatives both appear to conflict with federal law. Now we shall see what the federal government does about it.

/p




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Taking Aim

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What I would like to talk about today is two themes that come together. The first is what is wrong with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the second is what’s wrong with Independence Institute President Jon Caldara.

Michael Bloomberg has created a faux grassroots organization called “Mayors Against Illegal Guns.” Financially, it is by far the economic center of the gun prohibition movement in this country today. It is very wealthy and employs lots and lots of lobbyists in DC and in state capitals around the country. George Soros put some money in it as well; they’ve got some bucks.

But it’s not exactly what it seems. There are 12 people who got their names off this list of supposedly “Mayors against illegal guns.” These mayors said, “I never signed up for this; you just put my name on this without asking me. Or you told me his group is against illegal guns. Well, there are not too many people for illegal guns, so I signed up. It turns out you’re just against guns in general.”

There are another 19 mayors, actual members of “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” who now have left office because of felony convictions or because they are under indictment or because charges are pending or because they had to resign and the prosecutor was nice and didn’t bring a case. With 19 identified criminals in “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Michael Bloomberg’s organization has a much higher crime rate then do people who have permits to carry handguns for their own protection.

In the interest of truth and advertising, the proper way to refer to this group is “Illegal Mayors Against Guns.”

But I would say they have done one important service. There are a lot of people who wonder if there is an afterlife or not. How could you ever know for sure? Well, one mayor who was in this group and genuinely signed up for it passed away, and yet afterwards “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” was distributing letters from him lobbying on the gun issue — anti-gun letters signed by this deceased mayor. So if there any doubt, well, doesn’t that prove there is an afterlife?

I’m not sure if writing anti-gun letters is the ideal way to spend it. Probably this mayor enjoyed it.

What we consistently see out of Michael Bloomberg and his crowd, including in their attempts to exploit the recent murders in Aurora and Wisconsin, and really every day, is undifferentiated hostility towards gun ownership and especially toward people who own firearms for protection.

With 19 identified criminals in “Mayors Against Illegal Guns,” Michael Bloomberg’s organization has a much higher crime rate then do people who have permits to carry handguns for their own protection.

This is rather hypocritical because when Michael Bloomberg says people shouldn’t have guns for protection, he must have his fingers crossed or he has a mental reservation. Apparently if you can get an entire New York police security detail carrying machine guns to accompany you every second, that’s OK. Because after all, he isn’t personally owning a gun for protection. So maybe he feels there is some kind of difference there.

And they put out these terrible malicious, libels against people — like when they say the only reason the person would own an AR-15 rifle is because they want to be a mass murderer.

What a horrible thing to say about the literally millions of Americans who have made the AR-15 the most popular, best-selling rifle in the United States of America, and what a malicious falsehood to say about our police who frequently carry an AR-15 in their squad cars for those circumstances where they might need a rifle for backup.

Neither the Americans who use their AR-15 for target shooting, for home defense, for hunting game up to the size of deer (it’s not powerful enough for anything larger than that), nor the police who use AR-15s, want to harm a lot of people. They have these firearms for legitimate purposes and especially for protecting themselves and other people.

At the Independence Institute, in our legal work on the gun issue, we almost always file joint amicus briefs with police organizations. We represented a huge coalition of police organizations in the Supreme Court amicus briefs we filed in Heller and McDonald.

Just last week in Woollard v.Gallagher, in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, our amicus brief was filed not only for the Independence Institute but also for the two major organizations which train law enforcement in firearms use. These are the policemen who are the trainers for all the rest of the police: the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association and the International Association Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.

What we consistently say with the police is that there is one key principle which has two manifestations. One is that guns in the wrong hands are very dangerous, and so we need strong laws to try to keep guns out from the wrong hands; and if they get in the wrong hands we need strong laws to punish misuse and to put misusers away so they can no longer endanger innocents.

The second part of the principle is that guns in the right hands protect public safety. They help the police to protect people; they help civilians protect each other; they sometimes civilians help protect the police. So we are also in need of strong laws to make sure there are guns in the right hands, to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to purchase, own, use, and carry firearms.

Forty years ago there were virtually no gun laws of any sort in Colorado or in most of the United States. The reason the gun debate in this country has finally settled down after four decades, as it also has in Colorado, especially after Columbine, is that we’ve come to a Colorado consensus and a national consensus based on a common sense. We have added a lot of laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands and we have added a lot of laws to protect the rights of law-abiding people.

Because of the right to carry law, Jeannie Assam, a church volunteer, was lawfully carrying a handgun. She stopped the killer.

The most important of these laws in Colorado, which is the same thing we are supporting in the Woollard case in Maryland (Maryland being one of the nine holdout states on this issue), is the right to carry. Colorado’s right to carry law was written by the County Sheriffs of Colorado. It insures that a law-abiding adult who passes a fingerprint-based background check and a safety training class can obtain a permit to carry a handgun for lawful protection.

That’s our single most important post-Columbine reform. At the Independence Institute we worked on this issue for a decade to make it become law, and what a difference it’s already made.

You know what happened in December 2007 when an evildoer went into the sanctuary of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs. Seven thousand people were there. He had already murdered four people, two in Denver, two people in a parking lot, and he went in there intent on mass murder. Because of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, because of the right to carry law, Jeannie Assam, a church volunteer, was lawfully carrying a handgun. She stopped the killer. Pastor Brady Boyd said she saved over a hundred lives that day.

We want laws like that everywhere in the country. We have them in 41 states. Maryland is coming soon. It is essential that the right to bear arms be protected nationally, as all national civil rights should be.

Another thing we are going to be promoting very much at the Independence Institute is stronger laws on mental health. There are lots of ways government spending can be cut, starting with corporate welfare, which is illegal by four different clauses of Colorado constitution. We should cut every penny that goes toward corporate welfare and spend it on proper government services.

At the next session of the legislature we are going to explain the importance of better funding for mental health services — not only because of sensational crimes like in Aurora, but also because of the many homicides that happen and that never get camera crews from other continents out here. In Colorado and around the country there are so many murders perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill — people who 30 years ago or 50 years ago would have properly been institutionalized, but today there are no beds for them and no support system. We want to change that. We want to take money out of the hands of corporate welfare, away from special interests and put the money into the community interest of a better, stronger system of mental health in Colorado.

So that’s what’s wrong with Michael Bloomberg on the gun issue, but let me tell you what’s wrong with Jon Caldara, our president at the Independence Institute. In his opening remarks today he referred to the alcohol, tobacco, and firearms we’re celebrating at this party as the “perks of adulthood.” That’s fine to characterize alcohol and tobacco in those terms, but it’s not right on the firearms side.

Let me tell you about two different places in the world. One is Western Australia. There was a study done of aborigines in Western Australia who were in prison for felonies. One group of the imprisoned criminals had misused guns in a crime. The second group also had guns; but they had never misused a gun against a human being.

What was the difference between the two groups? The criminals who never misused a gun against a person had been taught about guns by an older authority figure such as father or an uncle. They had learned about shooting sports and acquired an attitude of treating guns with responsibility. They saw guns as something you use to shoot some game but not something you use to try to harm an innocent person.

Another study comes from Rochester, New York, on the other side of the world. They did a longitudinal study to try to find the 16-year-olds who are the most likely to become juvenile delinquents and then criminals. This means they didn’t study girls at all. If you want to study crime, and you have only so many people you can study, you focus on the males; that’s just a sociological fact. They tracked these young people over the years.

The youths who at 16 illegally owned a gun (maybe they bought a handgun from somebody on the street) had in future years a very high rate of being arrested for serious crimes, including gun crimes. The youths who at 16 legally owned a gun (say they had a shotgun that their parents given them, or went hunting with their dads or rifle shooting with their uncles), they had essentially no crime of any type. So how young people are socialized about guns is hugely important in future outcomes.

Now contrary to this socialization that some of the young people in Western Australia and in Rochester had is the desensitization that comes through too much of our media, particularly television entertainment and movies. The people who produce these horrible grotesque pornographic celebrations of violence, like Quentin Tarantino’s movies, will tell you, “Oh, it doesn’t affect people; movies and TV have no influence on people.”

I’m sure that’s true for the large majority of folks. But if you say that what is on television has no effect on what people do, isn’t it kind of odd that they sell advertising? What a waste of money that must be, because apparently what you see never affects what you do.

How strange it is that these movies and TV shows have sold product placements. Where they say “Oh, if Coca-Cola pays us some money, we will have a character drinking a Coca-Cola.” But apparently on the other hand what the people see on TV and the movies never has any effect on them.

Likewise, in the ongoing culture war against smoking, you’re not supposed to show characters smoking in a movie that young people are going to see. So the producers do think that what people see does have an effect.

So now Hollywood says “We are going to make sure that when a 15 year old goes to a movie he is never going to see somebody lighting up a cigarette, but he is going to see mass violence and gun misuse.”

We’re not for censorship at the Independence Institute. But we are for counter-programming and that’s part of what the ATF Party is about. It is about introducing some of you to shooting sports, giving others the opportunity to participate more often, and hoping that all of you go out and introduce your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors and especially some young people you know to responsible shooting. Which is, as you know, a culture of safety, responsibility, self-control, self-discipline — of so many things that exemplify exactly what’s right about America.

Youths who at 16 illegally owned a gun had in future years a very high gun crime rate. But those who legally owned a gun at 16 committed few crimes of any type.

Some of the things that we are handing out today come from our friends at the NRA. Founded in 1871, the NRA is America’s oldest civil rights organization, and one of America’s oldest mass educational organizations as well. They’ve been teaching people about shooting safety and responsibility, with a special focus on young people, ever since 1871. So there are lots of materials you can take with you.

One of those I especially recommended is the NRA Qualification Program. It’s about the size of a magazine and it shows how you can practice and improve your gun proficiency on your own, whether you like air guns or sporting clays or .22 caliber rifles or revolvers or whatever. The Qualification Program has courses of target shooting you can go through and earn yourself these cool little patches and medals as you work your way up in proficiency. It’s a self-paced thing, so everybody can do it and we encourage you to do it yourself and hope you introduce as many people to it as possible.

On the gun issue we are not only on the pro-choice side; we are on the pro-life side as well. What we are doing on ATF day and what we do every day at the Independence Institute is to fight for those life-saving values of safety, responsibility and American constitutional rights.

We are not just protecting rights in Colorado; in the long term, we are making sure that those rights are protected nationally, as we did in the McDonald case.

We look forward to the day when even the people in the most oppressed parts of the United States — under the sweltering heel of Michael Bloomberg — will regain their rights to smoke a cigarette or a cigar, to drink a Big Gulp soda, and to own and carry a handgun for lawful protection, because it is a civil right of every American.

Thank you.


Editor's Note: This article is adapted from a speech given at the Independence Institute’s 10th annual Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Party. The ATF Party speeches were broadcast on C-SPAN.



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Batman and Business

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Business is bad in Hollywood, and I'm not talking about the box office receipts. Businesspeople have been portrayed as bad guys in movies for the past several decades. When an audience member asked about this trend during the "Liberty in Film" panel at the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival last month, Hollywood biographer and insider Marc Eliot dismissed it with a wave of his hand. "It's just a shortcut," he explained. "When you see a businessman on the screen, you know it's the villain. It just streamlines the story."

As moderator of the panel, I agreed with him that these shortcuts are probably not intentionally sinister; in fact, the technique goes all the way back to Aesop, who used them in his fables. "If a character was a dog, you knew he would be loyal," I acknowledged. "A fox would be cunning. A crow would steal. In the old days," I went on, "a black hat meant 'bad guy' and a white hat meant 'good guy.' But shortcuts are dangerous and unfair when we're talking about whole groups of people." I specifically referenced the "shortcuts" of earlier generations of filmmakers: blacks were clowns; Indians were ferocious; women were weak. I suggested the danger of having a new generation automatically think "villain" when it sees a businessperson. The problem is that these characters often mirror and perpetuate basic prejudices within a culture. Onscreen stereotypes lead to real-life prejudices.

Panelist Gary Alexander added this biting criticism: "Using shortcuts is just plain lazy." It's true that filmmakers have always used stock characters as shortcuts to storytelling, and they probably always will. But that doesn't mean we have to accept them.

The silver lining to this clouded silver screen is that these shortcuts can be changed. The challenge for filmmakers is to break away from them and create independent characters who can surprise and satisfy. Just as filmmakers of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s deliberately challenged black and female stereotypes by casting against type and writing untraditional storylines, so libertarian filmmakers today need to write screenplays that challenge and overturn the stock business villain. These characters need to be portrayed in the rich, three-dimensional diversity that exists in the real world, where some business people are admittedly bad but others are surprisingly (to filmgoers) good.

What a reversal of stereotypical shortcuts! A businesswoman who expresses the proper role of business, and a burglar who reveals her petty jealousies.

This actually happens in The Dark Knight Rises, the latest entry in the Batman franchise. It's subtle, but it's clear: although there are some bad businesspeople in the film, there are just as many good ones, smashing the stereotype and insisting that viewers look past their stock expectations. For example, when Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) discovers that his homes for at-risk and orphaned boys have not been funded for two years, he confronts his trusted friend and protector, Alfred. "The homes were funded by profits from Wayne Industries," Alfred sadly explains. "There have to be some." That’s a reminder to Bruce, who has been in a deep funk since his girlfriend died, that his neglect of his company has had wide-ranging effects. Bruce — and the audience — are thus informed that "excess profits" are a good thing. They can be used for doing good works, if that is the business owner's goal.

Similarly, in another brief interchange the audience is told that everyone is affected by the stock market, whether they own stocks or not. I don't think I'm giving away too much to tell you that, early in the film, the bad guys break into the stock exchange. The chief of police is unconcerned about the consequences of a financial meltdown, arguing that the average person saves his money under a mattress and doesn't care about what happens to the stock market. The head of the exchange tells him, "If this money disappears, your mattress will be worth a lot less." A simple truth, simply stated.

Later, Bruce Wayne teams up with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), the head of another corporation, and she voices similar truths about the free market. "You have to invest to restore balance to the world," she tells him, acknowledging the importance of capital investment and private enterprise. And when he looks around at a lavish business party she is hosting, she tells him, "The proceeds will go wherever I want, because I paid for the spread myself." Even Ayn Rand would likely approve this self-interested heroine who understands the value of business.

Meanwhile, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), one of Batman's archenemies, looks around at Bruce Wayne's huge estate and growls jealously, "You're going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us." What a reversal of stereotypical shortcuts! A businesswoman who expresses the proper role of business, and a burglar who reveals her petty jealousies. Bravo, Christopher Nolan!

Cinematically The Dark Knight Rises delivers all that was promised in the weeks and months building up to its release. Christian Bale's troubled Bruce Wayne lifts the character far above the comic book hero created by Bob Kane and trivialized by the Adam West TV series in the ’60s. Gone, too, is the sardonic humor injected by George Clooney's portrayal in the ’80s. This Batman is a reluctant savior of a world that has largely misunderstood and rejected him. While he has a few ardent supporters, most consider him a traitor and want him destroyed. He is briefly tempted away from his mission by the love of a woman. He suffers indescribable agony in a dark prison at the hands of a monstrous villain named Bane (Tom Hardy) — the "bane" who wants to destroy the world. Despite his reluctance, Bruce accepts his arduous task. In short, he is a classic Christ figure, adding gravitas to the modern myth of Batman. He even says at one point, "My father's work is done."

I had to display the contents of my purse to a uniformed employee before entering the theater. I hope that a TSA-style Movie Safety Authority does not take over our malls and movie theaters.

But while the characters are rich and well acted, the story is interesting, Hans Zimmer's musical score is powerfully compelling, and the final hour is particularly thrilling, it was difficult to watch this film. Action movies have always provided an opportunity to enter another world, suspend one's disbelief, enjoy vicarious experience, then step back into the real world where "things like that" don't really happen. But in light of what did happen in Aurora, Colorado on opening night, I found it almost impossible to separate myself from the barrage of onscreen shooting in the first half hour of the film. It seemed devastatingly real because I knew it was during this scene of heartless shooting in a very public location that the actual shooting began. I was almost ashamed to be there, seeking a few hours' entertainment from a film that was the unwitting stage for such terror.

I also found myself looking around the aisles and corners of the theater, watching for suspicious characters and devising an escape plan. This was partly because I had to display the contents of my purse to a uniformed employee before entering the theater. I hope that fears like this dissipate for everyone. And I hope that a TSA-style MSA (Movie Safety Authority) does not take over our malls and movie theaters.

Spoiler alert — read the next paragraph only if you have already seen this movie, or if you have no intention of ever seeing it:

The film ends with an "aha" moment that is so thrillingly unexpected that, when I saw it, the entire audience gasped in disbelief. But I should have known from the beginning. Marc Eliot explained it to us in the “Liberty in Film” panel, and he was right: Hollywood uses shortcuts to tell us who the bad guy is. Even when a writer-director is planning the most delicious of twists for the end, he is helpless against his own Hollywood instincts. Nolan telegraphed it from the start: In modern movies, the business owner is always the bad guy. Even when you least expect it.


Editor's Note: Review of "The Dark Knight Rises," directed by Christopher Nolan. Warner Brothers, 2012, 164 minutes.



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