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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: November 2007

Friday, November 16, 2007

G.O.P. Presidential Candidates and Medical Marijuana

Republicans often pride themselves as the party of limited government, federalism, and state’s rights (try not to laugh) but when confronted with issues such as medical marijuana these principles go out the window. Several states have passed laws which make it legal for doctors to prescribe cannabis to patients (usually terminally ill patients) as a way to relieve pain and suffering. Despite the will of the voters in these states, the federal government decided it knew better.

Medical marijuana is controversial in the medical community but there is evidence that this treatment helps patients in certain circumstances. Angel Raich suffers with a brain tumor, chronic pain, seizures, Scoliosis, TMJ and other medical conditions. Angel was once in a wheelchair due to paralysis but her therapeutic use of cannabis made it possible not only to ease her pain but also gave her mobility without the aid of a wheelchair. Angel’s doctor has even gone as far to say that if she were to stop using cannabis, she could die of malnourishment and/or dehydration. No other drug has helped her. Despite this, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Angel should not have the ability to use this treatment for her condition (the law’s the law ya’ know).

Now its presidential campaign season and G.O.P. hopefuls are being asked how they would address this important issue. Unfortunately, all but one is completely ignorant on this issue and how the federal government has chosen to respond.

Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani’s reliance on the FDA is disturbing. How many life saving drugs have never reached the market because the FDA stood in the way? We will never know for sure. Because a few people might respond negatively to a drug, those who may benefit would be deprived. Furthermore, there has never been one documented case of anyone dying from an overdose of marijuana. But never mind that, Giuliani and the FDA know better.

Mitt Romney

Romney’s response is the most disturbing in my opinion. He can’t get away from that man in a wheelchair fast enough!

John McCain

McCain wants evidence that government agents are raiding the homes and arresting patients using medical marijuana. In the next clip, he is offered some.

McCain again

Another man offers McCain a letter written by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) detailing events of a federal raid on the home of a medical marijuana patient. McCain “respectfully” calls Richardson a liar in so many words. I know that Richardson’s a Democrat, but honestly, would he lie about something like this happening in his own state? Even so, none of this matters to McCain. John McCain knows better than the doctors and patients.

Fred Thompson

Soon after Thompson entered the race, I stopped short of endorsing him (I’m glad I didn’t). His response to this question seems to run counter to all his talk of federalism. Thompson makes no commitments on the issue but is “sympathetic” to this woman’s condition. How sweet of him.

Mike Huckabee

Huckabee is also sympathetic to the woman’s plight but is “not convinced” of the efficacy of medical marijuana. He does at least say he is open to legalization on the federal level if he can be convinced from medical evidence. My hunch is that he will only believe anti-cannabis evidence.

Ron Paul

I can’t really add much to Ron Paul’s answer; he’s right on the money. It’s kind of interesting that the one candidate who is a doctor would not deprive an individual of this treatment. Paul goes even further to say he would end the war on (some) drugs once and for all. Ron Paul believes that YOU know better what’s right for YOU.

Hat Tip: Doug Mataconis @ The Liberty Papers
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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter: Oklahoma’s Political Prisoners

Paul Jacob, Susan Johnson, and Rick Carpenter could face up to 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines for “conspiracy against the state” in the State of Oklahoma. Perhaps the three were conspiring to commit an act of terrorism? Or maybe they conspired to commit welfare fraud? Sold counterfeit tickets to a Sooners game? Nope. The trio now known as “the Oklahoma 3,” their alleged “conspiracy” was circulating petitions to amend the state constitution to include a taxpayer’s bill of rights. It’s illegal in Oklahoma for Jacob and Johnson to circulate petitions since they are not Oklahoma residents (a claim they both dispute).

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A multicounty grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court names three key figures in the failed effort to put a taxpayer bill of rights on state ballots last year.

Tulsan Rick Carpenter, president of Oklahomans in Action, faces one count of conspiracy to defraud the state and one count of filing a false, fraudulent, felonious and fictitious initiative petition.

Oklahomans in Action circulated the initiative petition.

Susan Johnson of Michigan, president of National Voter Outreach, and Paul Jacob of Virginia, of Citizens in Charge, were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state.

Jacob is a leader of the term-limits movement.

National Voter Outreach, a Nevada corporation, was responsible for the circulation and signature collection process, according to the indictment. The group was paid by Carpenter and Jacob for signatures gathered in support of the TABOR petition, according to the indictment.

On October 7, 2007, Paul Jacob wrote an article at explaining his experience and his side of the story:

I was placed in hand-cuffs and leg-irons before my release on bond, and am threatened with a ten-year prison term for that oh-so-violent crime of helping others petition their government.

I wasn't alone. I was cuffed to the other two bewildered citizens that make up The Oklahoma Three, my alleged co-conspirators, Susan Johnson and Rick Carpenter.

Susan is a mother and grandmother who lives in Michigan. She's also the president of a petition management firm called National Voter Outreach. She started on the streets as a petitioner many years ago, learned the business and is now at the top.

Seeing this sweet lady (and I mean "lady") in leg-irons as we were being processed is something I'll long remember — whenever I think I've had enough, whenever I doubt that my extra effort is needed or wonder if freedom can be guarded without personal sacrifice.

Rick Carpenter of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the head of Oklahomans in Action. He was the legal proponent of two Oklahoma initiative campaigns launched back in 2005, neither of which amused the political elite. One was designed to end eminent domain and regulatory abuse by governments and the other measure would have capped the rate of government spending growth, allowing greater spending only with voter approval — a measure similar to Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights.


Unlike most initiative states, Oklahoma has a residency requirement allowing only Oklahoma residents to circulate a petition. But when the petition company checked with state officials to determine what constituted a resident, those officials said that a person could move to Oklahoma and immediately declare residency — and begin petitioning.

Just to be safe, since sometimes simple law can be made amazingly complicated, I asked for any relevant legal precedent. The ruling in a recent challenge to an Oklahoma petition to ban cock-fighting seemed clear: residency was determined by an individual's intention to be a resident.


Then, the various forces of big government that had worked so hard to block the vote, joined by a who's who of corporate CEOs and the heads of energy companies and banks (can you say "daddy welfare"?), challenged the petition. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court came to their aid, providing a much different standard for residency than in the past. The judges now equated residency with a "permanent home."

How permanent was "permanent"? One petition circulator, who moved to Oklahoma in September of 2005 and was still living there in July of the following year, was ruled not to be a resident.


Yes, it was a terrible injustice. But it was trumped this past week by further injustice, the indictment charging Susan Johnson, Rick Carpenter and me with conspiracy to defraud the state of Oklahoma for allegedly "willfully" violating the state's residency statute. For this alleged crime Attorney General Drew Edmondson seeks to imprison us for up to ten years.

Susan says she can't even remember ever getting a speeding ticket. Rick and I have both admittedly sped before . . . but our occasional automotive misadventures did not quite prepare us for the current prosecution.

If we are to believe Mr. Jacob, it appears that he had done his due diligence to avoid breaking this stupid law. Unfortunately for Jacob and his co-defendants, the opponents of their ballot petition are not shy about using the police power of government against them. As powerful as these political opponents may be, surely the courts would not convict 3 American citizens to a 10 year prison sentence for petitioning a state government with such weak evidence?

Perhaps this isn’t about convicting Jacob, Johnson, and Carpenter. Maybe this has more to do with intimidation? Jacob continues:

The goal is to scare, to intimidate, to silence; it is happening more and more in Oklahoma at the hands of Attorney General Edmondson — and throughout the country as our politics becomes increasingly regulated, controlled, and criminalized. Politics has lurched off the highway of democracy, off the curb and back into the old insider system, the gutter method of accumulated power.

Once upon a time you could participate in politics without a battery of attorneys. Once upon a time you could lose an election without fear that one's opponents would use the power of their office to imprison you. No more.

Well, it is definitely scary. Personally, it's not fun to think of what impact this legal truncheon to the head could have on my wife, kids, grandchild. But we'll not allow our rights to be bullied away. Nor will we stand idly by while the one process capable of reining in corrupt politics — citizen initiative and referendum — is threatened into non-existence.

We, the Oklahoma 3, didn't conspire to break the law. Instead, we sought to understand it and abide by it, even as we sought to change other laws. We now face the full onslaught of the state of Oklahoma. It is apparent that this retaliation is not for any crime, but for our political beliefs and our audacity to put them into action.

Maybe it's time for all Americans — conservative, liberal, populist, libertarian — to "conspire" together to take back our political system from the gutter.

Before it's too late.

However one thinks about the Oklahoma 3’s political goals, we should all agree that this injustice cannot stand.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

The Broader Implications of the Genarlow Wilson Verdict

Last week’s 5-4 Georgia Supreme Court ruling in the Genarlow Wilson case is not only great news for Genarlow Wilson but also great news for others who have found themselves in a similar situation. With the ruling being as close as it was it’s clear that the court could have easily ruled the other way.

How is it that 4 of the justices arrived at the conclusion that Genarlow Wilson’s punishment was not cruel and unusual punishment? The dissent written by Justice George Carley explains:

(dissent pages 14-16)

[T]oday’s decision is rare because of its unprecedented disregard for the General Assembly’s constitutional authority to make express provision against the giving of any retroactive effect to its legislative lessening of the punishment for criminal offenses. If, notwithstanding a provision such as § 30 (c), the judiciary is permitted to determine that a formerly authorized harsher sentence nevertheless constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, then it necessarily follows that there are no circumstances in which the General Assembly can insulate its subsequent reduction of a criminal sentence from possible retroactive application by courts.

It seems that the main complaint by the court’s minority is that the court usurped the state’s legislative authority; perhaps the minority has a point. Justice Carley cites language from the 2006 bill which plainly states that individuals charged prior to the bill’s effective date of July 1, 2006 would be punished according to the old law (this would include Genarlow Wilson).

Regardless of the legislative intent, this seems unjust. Why should an individual who was charged the day before the law’s effective date be subject to a 10 year sentence while another individual commits the same exact crime one day later be sentenced to perhaps a year? Cruel and unusual punishment is prohibited by both the Georgia State Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. At some point or another, these justices each undertook an oath to defend these constitutions. While the minority can make the case that they upheld their oath by recognizing the separation of powers, the majority could make the argument that they upheld their oaths by their interpretation of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment despite the intentions of the Georgia Assembly.

As a lay person, I cannot say which side is technically correct; one side is likely in error. But in cases where there is a grey area in the law, judges should err on the side of common sense, liberty, and justice. This is the side the court’s majority came down on.

Wilson is certainly not the only defendant convicted of aggravated child molestation who benefits at the expense of today’s judicial reduction of the General Assembly’s power to legislate. At present, any and all defendants who were ever convicted of aggravated child molestation and sentenced for a felony under circumstances similar to Wilson are, as a matter of law, entitled to be completely discharged from lawful custody even though the General Assembly expressly provided that their status as convicted felons would not be affected by the very statute upon which the majority relies to free them. […] Moreover, nothing in today’s decision limits its application to cases involving minors who engage in voluntary sexual acts. Any defendant who was ever convicted in this state for the commission of any crime for which the sentence was subsequently reduced is now entitled to claim that his harsher sentence, though authorized under the statute in effect at the time it was imposed, has since become cruel and unusual and that, as a consequence, he is not only entitled to the benefit of the more lenient sentence, but should be released entirely from incarceration. […]Accordingly, as a result of this “rare case,” the superior courts should be prepared for a flood of habeas corpus petitions filed by prisoners who seek to be freed from imprisonment because of a subsequent reduction in the applicable sentences for the crimes for which they were convicted.

Others who have been convicted and punished in circumstances similar to that of Genarlow Wilson will seek to overturn their convictions as well? I should hope so! Maybe the minority should think about the overall intent of both the old and the new laws: to protect children from child molesters. How is imprisoning teenagers who engage in sexual acts with other teenagers protecting children? What would be the benefit of registering Genarlow Wilson as a sex offender? As a parent of three small children, I want only the real predators to be registered. I don’t want to look at a neighborhood sex offender map on the internet and wonder which predators are real and which ones made typical bad choices when they were teenagers.

The effect of registering sex offenders (legitimately or not) has other negative consequences as well. Registered sex offenders have difficulty finding employment, housing, and many other freedoms we take for granted. What happens to an individual who cannot find work or a home? The likelihood is s/he engages in other dangerous criminal activity for sustenance such as burglary, drug trafficking, and/or prostitution (the latter 2 should not be crimes and have similar consequences which lead to real crimes).

This isn’t to say that I want to make life easy for genuine sex offenders – far from it. The answer is not the one-size-fits-all mandatory minimum sentencing laws but to punish offenders of each case based on the facts of each case using common sense. If a judge or jury finds that an individual is one who will likely offend again, then there should be no discussions of registration but incarceration. It should be extremely difficult if not impossible for a child molester to ever re-enter society.

Hopefully, this case surrounding Genarlow Wilson will start a discussion around the country about mandatory minimum sentences and the way we have chosen to deal with sex offenders. Its time to take a step back and examine our emotional response to these issues and search for more reasonable policies.

Related Posts:
More Mandatory Minimums Madness: The “Sexual Predator” Edition
More Mandatory Minimums Madness
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