The new American police state
No matter the Marine Corps Semper Fi inked on your bicep, to indulge in a bowl on your back porch brands you a dissident. In the broadest sense under the post-9/11 regime, just about any crime is terrorism. If it's been on TV it must be true: Drug use equals terrorism. Or so the White House has instructed the citizenry to the tune of $150 million and more a year.
The new, enhanced police state tactics have been fueled more than anything by the passage of the US Patriot Act, that is, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act ? and what right-minded member of Congress could oppose that? Not that they were allowed to read the complex 342-page legislative package, supposedly written from scratch only one month after 9/11, and passed amidst the oh-so-conveniently timed anthrax scares.
According to Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), one of Congress's most ardent champions for drug reform, the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress without any legislative review. In fact, in the anthrax-riddled weeks following 9/11, Congress was instructed by the Republican leadership to close their eyes, hold their noses, and authorize sweeping new police powers to the executive branch. To do otherwise was to risk condemnation by the leadership, blame for any future terrorist attack, and certain defeat in the next election.
According to an analysis by Nancy Chang, a senior litigation attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Patriot Act grants vast new powers to the executive branch with almost no oversight by Congress or the judiciary. Chang writes that the Patriot Act threatens the rights of assembly and freedom of speech "by creating a broad new crime of 'domestic terrorism.'" Such crimes only have to "appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," the law reads. It remains to be seen how far that will go in terms of criminalizing political dissent.
Says Chang, even non-violent protest might fall under the act. Environmental, anti-globalization and anti-abortion activists "who use direct action to further their political agendas are particularly vulnerable to prosecution as 'domestic terrorists.'"
Perhaps the main assault is on the right to privacy through granting, according to Chang, "largely unchecked surveillance powers, including the enhanced ability to track email and Internet usage, conduct sneak-and-peek searches, obtain sensitive personal records, monitor financial transactions and conduct nationwide roving wiretaps." All of this can occur based not on probable cause, but on the less onerous reasonable cause. And it knocks down the wall between criminal and intelligence actions and thus "opens the door to a resurgence of domestic spying by the Central Intelligence Agency."
The sneak-and-peek provision, which is currently denounced in a nationwide ACLU advertising campaign, means the government can break into your home, search your possessions, download files from your hard drive, examine the titles in your library ? without you ever knowing they were there. Unlike standard searches where, to a degree, you can monitor what's happening and get a receipt for anything removed, the feds can now delay for up to 90 days before giving notice.
Graham Boyd, director of the ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, said that any drug violations stumbled upon during such searches "can give rise to further investigations." The delay provision of the law applies to any criminal matter and is not scheduled to expire. Chang asserts that the law "gives the FBI a green light to resume domestic spying on government 'enemies.'" She points to prior federal spying on civil rights and Vietnam War protesters "who had been targeted solely because they were believed to harbor politically dissident views."
The law also allows for monitoring Internet usage, though it remains to be adjudicated whether this includes the content of email messages. Boyd said that a "low threshold" now applies as to the government monitoring who visits what site. "It's now more plausible that the government is watching who's going to which site or buying an item related to marijuana."
In fact, Boyd was one of several individuals interviewed, including NORML head Keith Stroup, who asserted that when the Drug Enforcement Administration busted head shops earlier this year, they diverted patrons visiting the shops' web sites to DEA sites which could have then captured patrons' computer addresses. For its part, the DEA said it wasn't targeting any visitors to the sites.
Rave culture ATTACKED
As of this writing, Patriot II still lies ahead. That's not the case with Joseph Biden's (D-Del) resurrected RAVE Act (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act), which was snuck onto a child protection act and is now called the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act.
While the reform community, in a rare victory, managed to block Biden's original RAVE Act last year, he just passed a virtually identical bill that holds club owners, pool hall mavens, even the owners of sports teams liable for any drug use on their premises.
As is typical of such legislation, there were no floor votes or committee hearings on the bill ? just attach it to an unrelated piece of legislation and sneak it through.
Venue owners who conduct their business knowing that drug use may occur on the premises can now be prosecuted. Never mind that the government can't keep drugs out of prisons, let some kid smoke a joint in the back of a club and run the risk of huge fines.
Events which promote drug law reform, such as hempfests and the Million Marijuana March, might be especially vulnerable to claims that they were allowing drug use at their events. Organizers of these events could be prosecuted, fined and jailed.
Said Dale Gieringer of California NORML, "What's upset me the most was the ease with which Congress slipped through the RAVE Act, just steamrolled it through." And while raves are not on an interstate scale typically to invite federal scrutiny, Gieringer worries that local authorities will call in the the feds to prosecute these cases, since federal penalties are tougher.
? Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund: www.emdef.org
Patriot 2: permanent lockdown
Orrin Hatch, Republican Senator from Utah and head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is among those scheming to make the Patriot Act eternal. It was originally scheduled to end, or "sunset" in 2005, but Senate Republicans now aim to void that provision of the law.
Though the Justice Department denied its existence for months, a true patriot finally leaked the provisions of Patriot Act II, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. Already crafted and given to the Republican congressional leadership, there's been no formal consideration or even acknowledgment of its existence. It is lying dormant until the right terror pretext to speed its "emergency" passage occurs.
At least the existence of Patriot I was acknowledged. Only a leak in February to the respected Washington think tank, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), exposed the very existence of the planned Patriot II. According to CPI, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were lied to by the Justice Department and told there was no such legislation in the works. A month and more following CPI's announcement, the Justice Department finally acknowledged the nascent legislation, the vicious spawn of Patriot I.
As to its fate, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Associated Press, "I can't answer that because the Justice Department has classified as top-secret most of what it's doing under the [first] Patriot Act."
According to Libertarian Party national chair, Geoffrey Neale, Patriot II "would destroy some of the legal protections that make America different from totalitarian states like Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Iraq. For example, Patriot II would allow the government to arrest and detain people in secret, paving the way for the midnight knock on the door that terrorizes the population in police states."
Neale's statement continues: "There's no need to file charges, present evidence, or even hold a trial. A simple accusation by the police or an anonymous informant is all that's needed to lock up an innocent person for life."
What's more, as analyzed by Alex Jones of Infowars.com, if enacted, Patriot II would reorganize vast swaths of federal, state and local government operations under federal executive branch control. Said Jones, its "tentacles reach into every facet of our society. It strips American citizens of all of their rights and grants the government and its private agents total immunity."
And, as revealed by Gannett Newspapers, New Jersey's chief security official declared earlier this year that during a red alert ? the highest terrorism threat warning, which can be issued at whim ? de facto martial law will be in effect, and, according to the article, "you will be assumed by authorities to be the enemy if you so much as venture outside your home." The official added, "You literally are staying home, is what happens, unless you are required to be out."
A New Jersey red alert brochure also warns the public to do as they're told: "You must adhere to the restrictions announced by authorities and prepare to evacuate, if instructed. Stay alert for emergency messages."
Jones maintains that, should Patriot II pass, people can be grabbed off the street, never to be seen again, and it will be unlawful to reveal what happened to such individuals. There will be a national database of "anyone associated with suspected terrorist groups"; the gathering of information, such as the writing or reading of this article, can be classified as "clandestine intelligence activities for a foreign power." It provides for martial law without a declaration of war; eviscerates the Fourth Amendment by granting immunity for searches conducted without court approval; destroys federal whistle-blower protection; allows federal officials to keep their finances hidden; creates lifetime parole ("basically slavery," says Jones) and throws any statute of limitations out the window when so-called "terrorism" is concerned.
Jones concludes: "From snatch and grab operations to warrantless searches, Patriot Act II is an Adolf Hitler wish list. You can understand why President Bush, Dick Cheney, and [House Speaker] Dennis Hastert want to keep this legislation secret not just from Congress, but from the American people as well."
While the new security state's enabling legislation doesn't specifically target potheads, life sure ain't getting any easier. Seattle-based defense attorney Jeff Steinborn defends many an accused toker (see his informative site at www.potbust.com).
In an interview with Cannabis Culture, Steinborn explained that "Under Bush/Ashcroft, there's a resurgence in focus on marijuana. The sophistication of some of the investigations I see is astounding, with two or three inches of paperwork like they're going after a nuclear terrorist, all for some two-bit marijuana farm."
"It's ratcheted up only one way," added Steinborn. "Once you get those laws, it's tough to get rid of them."
Ron Crickenberger, political director of the Libertarian Party, said, "The government has been after marijuana smokers for a long time. Now, they have new tools and a different direction. For the average home user, it's not a great deal more trouble. On the sales end of things, though, it's now a lot tougher."
On the other hand, Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, told Cannabis Culture that he has remained focused on protecting patients' rights under Prop. 215. As to the new security apparatus, he said, "In practical terms, it's had no impact on the pot-smoking community in California." That said, given all the DEA raids on the patients' clubs, he worries that war might suck all the air out of the media and thus provide cover for more DEA action.
Said Boyd, "I haven't seen an explicit connection between the two issues. But think of the war on terror and the war on drugs and the importance of metaphor. In both, the government panders to fear as an excuse to expand its powers which are then used in a wide variety of ways. When the erosion of the Fourth Amendment is directed at drug users, it affects everyone."
"Metaphorical wars generally are corrosive to civil liberties," added Boyd. "They trade off rights for security, but the ACLU maintains you can have both."
Chris Conrad, a court-qualified expert and co-author of Shattered Lives: Portraits from America's Drug War, told Cannabis Culture, "Right now there's not a huge amount of difference. People are carrying less for personal use, but that hasn't stopped them from carrying." And, says Conrad, "Oddly enough, prices are lower these days in California."
Care and caution
Some among the adept are relatively sanguine. Then there's Steinborn, who says, "The right-wing Christians' moral indignation; the fear that pot will destroy children; the enormous political power of the pharmaceutical industry; the bully pulpit it affords to every two-bit politician; the disenfranchisement of people who might vote for progressive causes ? prohibition suits the interests of a lot of people." Given that, it's no surprise, says Steinborn, that nearly 60% of the war on drugs' focus is on marijuana.
But, he adds, believing in the rightness of their cause, pot-people often take unnecessary risks. Attendees at drug reform conferences, for instance, confident in the economic clout that 600 people ensconced in a downtown hotel confer, smoke blatantly in chandelier-encrusted ballrooms. That's not something two guys attending a wedding in the same room a week later should try. "You've got to be secretive these days," Steinborn said. "You can't afford to be cavalier. With neighbors looking to turn people in ? don't use a pipe. Roll a joint instead."
Libertarian Ron Crickenberger agrees. "There is an extra zeal on the part of one's neighbors. There's so much emphasis on reporting anything suspicious, neighbor informing on neighbor. I'm sure it all spurs the cops on just a bit more. But as it is, they're pretty eager to bust people for pot," he said.
Med-pot activist, patient, and retired surgeon Dr. Tom O'Connell told Cannabis Culture: "When you factor in things like the drugs-equals-terrorism ads, there is increased vigilance. It turns a lot of security personnel into eager beavers, and even driving in your car isn't that safe.
"One problem you have with cannabis is the lack of factual information. There's the attitude that people who use pot are still despised. And now with the war on, it's very likely that using pot is associated with dissent, with the peace movement and opposition to the war ? all those pot heads, hippies and whiny radicals."
Whether currently much employed against reefer or not, the new legal regime manifests its intent in ways both chilling and ridiculous. As to the latter, consider, says Privacy International, that the Washington, DC conference center now requires patrons to show picture ID before entering the food court.
Less ridiculous, according to an outfit called Freedom to Tinker, is the legislation pending in Massachusetts and Texas that would ban any technologies that "concealed the origin or destination of any communication" from your Internet service provider. Both encrypted emails that concealed the origins of incoming and outgoing email and most security firewalls designed to flag and prevent external snooping in computers would be outlawed.
States of fear
Some of the information sweeps rely on nothing more high-tech than the threat of a night in jail and all the ancillary hassles that implies. Anti-war protesters caught up in police sweeps in New York in February and March were questioned on their political affiliations, participation in past protest, where they worked and even where they went to college.
The National Lawyers Guild said that Newsday indicated that arrested protesters were quizzed on their views of Israel, Palestinians, and 9/11. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the information was entered on a form carrying a federal seal. Those who resisted such intrusive questioning were told they couldn't be processed and would have to spend the night in jail.
Referring to the questioning as "debriefing," not "interrogation," the New York Police Department maintained there was no need for legal representation. Separately, a federal judge relaxed decades-old restrictions on New York cops' surveillance of political groups prior to any arrest.
In Pennsylvania, according to a Penn State student publication, anyone whose ID is checked while buying beer or liquor has his particulars, including what he bought, entered in a state database that's accessible by police. Used in every liquor store in the state, the ID scanners are supposedly easier to use than actually looking at someone's ID and figuring out whether they're old enough to buy beer. So your alcohol consumption is recorded for who knows how long and for what purpose. Perhaps child custody cases down the road?
The current airline passenger screening protocol, which flags people paying in cash or traveling one way or showing up late ? or showing up early for that matter ? will likely soon be replaced by the proposed Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening.
Civil Libertarian and drug reform advocate John Gilmore attempted to fly without presenting identification and was turned away at both the San Francisco and Oakland airports. He subsequently sued Attorney General John Ashcroft in federal court in California on several grounds, including discrimination against travelers who choose anonymity.
Gilmore's attorney, Bill Simpich, stated that under the proposed computerized screening, the government will search, "in a stew of databases like credit records, previous travel history, criminal records, motor vehicle records, banks, web searches, and companies that collect personal information from consumer transactions. Your life history will be gathered and scanned, using secret criteria, whenever you book a flight or arrive at an airport."
The ACLU's Graham Boyd points to the increasing use of ion scanners which target microscopic particles. Such devices are used in prisons to search for drugs and in airports to check for explosives. They're common, said Boyd, but what's coming next is the low-dose radiation X-ray that allows operators to see through clothes. They're controversial not only because of concern whether the radiation might prove unhealthy to frequent flyers, but also due to privacy concerns "since you more or less can make out anatomical features."
Summing up the current atmosphere, defense attorney Steinborn minced no words: "Law enforcement has been turned over to a right-wing Christian cabal, with prayer meetings being held at the Justice Department.
"Bush has figured out what Hitler did in the 30s," added Steinborn. "You label the enemy as evil and to disagree brands you a traitor."
Along with taking it to the streets, carrying signs, and having the number of demonstrators grossly miscounted by the mainstream press, pockets of resistance are springing up around the country.
In Palo Alto, California, the Utopian Movement has helped steer the Human Relations Commission, a city council advisory board, to consider a resolution that the city of Palo Alto will not cooperate with federal authorities pursuing unconstitutional aims. That includes federal officials commandeering local police during red alerts.
Ron Crickenberger, political director of the Libertarian Party, told Cannabis Culture that his party has made similar efforts. In conjunction with the ACLU, they have helped the passage of 100 city and county commission resolutions that denounce the Patriot Act, and direct local police to "not cooperate" with federal officials implementing it.
City councils which have passed resolutions against the Patriot Act include the Colorado cities of Boulder and Denver, the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge, Northampton and Amherst, plus Berkeley, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the town of Carrboro, North Carolina.
As to the drug reform movement specifically, Gieringer pointed to November's electoral defeats on state ballot initiatives in Ohio and Nevada, along with the failure of the recent well-organized campaign to liberalize marijuana laws in the town of Columbia, MO. He said, "I don't sense we have a lot of momentum right now. It's a tough year, no?"