New statistics show that Massachusetts has the lowest arrest rates for marijuana possession in the country, but that there's still work to be done in the Bay State. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that after Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2009, weed arrests dropped to 18 for every 100,000 citizens the following year. That amount is six times fewer than Hawaii, the next lowest state on the list. However, the reported statistics came before marijuana was made legal in Colorado and Washington.
Although police in Massachusetts are not making pot busts a high priority, there is still racial disparity when it comes to those who are arrested. Despite similar use rates, the ACLU reports that black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Meanwhile, Massachusetts' own figures show that African-Americans are 3.9 times more likely than whites to be busted for pot, while African-Americans in Plymouth and Barnstable counties are 11 times more likely to be arrested.
“We still today arrest 1.6 million people a year for non-violent drug offenses, and we imprison as many as we can — and then we have to pay for it,” said retired State Police Lt. Jack Cole, a co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization with offices in Medford. “Imagine what we could do with that money.”
However, Massachusetts has no plans to join Colorado and Washington in making marijuana legal, something which even local decriminalization groups believe is the right strategy, due to a possible increase in health care costs and addiction. “We're coming from a youth prevention perspective,” said Jody Hensley, a coordinator with Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “The march to legalization ... is really changing behaviors (in youth). That's our concern.”
According to researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the number of instances of people smoking and drinking on the big screen has dropped since 1985, with tobacco use in movies taking a drastic plunge.
The study, which will be published in the January 2014 issue of Pediatrics, focused on 390 popular movies released between 1985-2010 with the goal of comparing instances of sex, violence, and alcohol and tobacco use in PG-13 movies to R-rated films. And while the silver screen staples of sex and violence remained static during that period, alcohol use in movies dropped from 89.6 percent to 67.3 percent and tobacco use fell from 68 percent to 21.4 percent. But despite the decline, researchers remained concerned about how alcohol and tobacco use were being portrayed regardless of the rating. “We know that some teenagers imitate what they see on-screen,” said Amy Bleakley, lead author of the study and senior researcher at Annenberg. “What concerns us is that movies aimed at younger viewers are making a connection between violence and a variety of risky behaviors – sex, drinking and smoking.”
Daniel Romer, a director at the Annenberg Center, expressed equal concern over how adolescents might mimic what they see on screen. "We know that some adolescents will initiate alcohol use, some adolescents will initiate tobacco use and some adolescents will initiate sex," based on what they see, he said. But while the report called into question Hollywood’s ratings system, the Motion Picture Association of America defended it. "The purpose of the rating system is to reflect the standards of American parents, not set them – the rating board tries to rate a film the way they believe a majority of American parents would rate it,” said Kate Bedingfield, spokesperson for the MPAA. “Societal standards change over time and the rating system is built to change."
According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, some 10,141 children were removed from their birth homes in 2012, with roughly 59% of those children taken away because their parents were abusing drugs or alcohol.
With a sharp increase in heroin and prescription drug abuse over the last five years, Arizona’s Child Protective Service has concurrently seen the rise in the number of children entering the system, including babies that have tested positive for drugs. “There’s more of a focus on keeping track of parents with babies that are born with substance abuse,” said Jinny Ludwig, executive director of the Northern Arizona Office of Ameripsych, a privately held provider of foster and adoption service. “More immediate action is being taken.”
In fact, some places have seen a rise of 50 percent in the number of babies entering their facilities who are testing positive for drugs. “CPS does have a visible presence here because we have so many high-risk babies with challenging family situations,” said Dr. Alan Bedrick, chief of neonatology at the University of Arizona Medical Center. “We’ll have babies ready for discharge, and we are not able to send them home because Child Protective Services has not been able to find placement.”
Overall, there has been a spike in children being put into Arizona’s CPS, and more than 15,300 kids are currently in foster care. While the national numbers show an 18 percent decrease from 2007 to 2012, in Arizona the number of children entering foster care skyrocketed by 48 percent and deep cuts to state services have been to blame. “The state Legislature is the real culprit here,” says Eric Schindler, president and CEO of Child and Family Resources in Tucson. “The choices they have made, the cuts they’ve made, have real-world consequences.”
- Love at First Blast: Woman Falls for Man Who Shot Her While on Drugs [Gawker]
- Oxycontin Tops List of Most Abused Prescription Drugs [Philly.com]
- British Accountant Embezzled Thousands to Fuel Gambling Addiction [Leamington Observer]
- Breaking News: State of New York Approved Medical Marijuana 33 Years Ago [New York Post]
- Former Day Care Provider Convicted of Distributing Crack Cocaine [Lawrence Journal-World]
- South Africa Warns Journalists Covering Mandela Funeral: Don't Get Drunk [Huffington Post]
- Nurofen Plus Labels to Warn Consumers About Addiction [The Age]
- Lamar Odom Cops a Plea Deal in DUI Case [TMZ]
It should come as a surprise to no one that Kirstie Alley was a cocaine addict in her early days as an actress. To be sure, Alley has been less-than-shy about her history with the drug. But what has been missing all these years was how, exactly, she became addicted in the first place.
But last week in a sit down with radio host Howard Stern to promote her new TV Land show, Kirstie, Alley revealed the circumstances of her life that led her to try cocaine. “I didn’t do drugs until I was 25,” she said. “I got a divorce from my husband, and I started hanging out with this guy I was sort of madly in love with. He had already done all of his drugs, but he had a lot of druggie friends.” Her fall from sobriety to addict was fast. "I had heard that cocaine made you peppy and happy and I was sort of depressed because I had gotten a divorce and wrecked everybody’s lives. So I thought, 'I’m gonna try this,'" she recalled. "I took one snort of cocaine, and I go, 'Oh my God! I’m gonna do this every day for the rest of my life!'"
Alley knew that her life was in tatters and sought help though Scientology’s rehab program, Narconon, which she has steadfastly credited with curbing her addiction. “I had a total awareness that I was dead as a being. I could just feel that I had smashed my own life force with drugs,” Alley said.
If you were given a choice between pleading guilty and spending ten years behind bars, or going to trial and potentially facing life in prison, which would you choose? That’s the hard choice drug defendants in the U.S. are increasingly facing, and overwhelmingly they are opting for a lesser sentence.
The choice makes sense if you look at the numbers. In 2012, 89% of defendants who chose to go to trial not only lost their case, but were also sentenced to an average sentence of sixteen years, three times higher than the five year sentence given to those who pled guilty. As a result of these disproportionate numbers, only three percent of federal drug defendants chose a trial in 2012, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
Federal prosecutors have the power to decide which charges to bring against drug defendants. They also decide what conditions to impose in order for a plea bargain to go through, and what consequences the defendant will face if he or she does not plea. Because of the mandatory minimum laws which were instituted in the 1980s, judges do not have a choice when it comes to sentencing drug defendants charged with a particular crime. In other words, if the defendant is guilty of a crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge must impose that penalty no matter what. In essence, it's the prosecutors who are sentencing defendants. According to Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch report, “Prosecutors can say ‘Take these 10 years or, if you get a trial and are convicted, you’re going to look at life.’”
If the defendant knows that he will receive a harsh penalty if he is found guilty, he is much more likely to seriously consider a plea. According to Judge John Gleeson of the Southern District of New York, these sentences can be “so excessively severe, they take your breath away.” Not only do the prosecutors set the plea bargain, it's becoming essential to the system that defendants accept prison instead of going to trail. "If you can get someone to acknowledge guilt without the burden and expense of a trial, without having to marshal witnesses and line up witnesses, and without risking an acquittal, why not," Fellner said. "You don’t have the cost of a trial, it doesn’t take the time and resources, and it increases the notches on your belt of how many convictions you’ve gotten.”
Because our judicial system does not have the resources required to try every case, prosecutors have come to embrace the situation as a matter of course. “Justice would almost stand still if we took the majority of our cases to trial,” said Steven Jansen, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. He also notes that reforms on the mandatory minimum laws are underway. However, he objects to the characterization of prosecutors “forcing” their defendants to plead guilty: “a defendant is really not forced to accept a guilty plea. Obviously they have a right to go to trial no matter what the sentence is,” Jansen said.