The Wire‘s war
Last week’s sentencing of Dr. Mollie Fry and Dale Schafer, as well as the ongoing discussions by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors about issuing I.D. cards to residents with marijuana prescriptions, are the local face of the ongoing “war on drugs.”
Obviously, this “war” is as successful as the one on “terror.” Instead of a decrease in drug use and a drop in addiction rates, we see more Americans imprisoned. People like Fry and Schafer do not belong in prison. Neither do the other casualties of the “drug war.”
Californians know this. We’ve attempted to create more humane drug laws, as in the provisions of Proposition 36, allowing for treatment rather than incarceration, and our decision under Proposition 215 to allow the use of marijuana by patients with a prescription. But as the federal government and local law enforcement continue to show no respect for California’s decision to decriminalize the medical use of marijuana, it’s time for citizens to take action.
The creators of the award-winning television series The Wire recently called for an unusual step in the “war on drugs.” Noting the high rate of incarceration in America, the disparity in sentencing among races and social classes and the resources spent chasing drug convictions rather than being used making our cities safer, they’ve called for citizens to engage in “jury nullification.”
They vow that, when seated on a jury “deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented.” Quite sensibly, they make exception for cases that involve violence. But if the defendant is charged with a drug offense—and a drug offense only—they will “nullify” the law by acquitting.
Jury nullification, an old concept in the history of U.S. law, remains the last option when the laws themselves are unjust and the government has refused to alter them. In California, this means most specifically the continued prosecution of citizens for growing, distributing and using marijuana for medical purposes. It is obscene for the government to continue prosecuting ill people for using a drug to make their lives more comfortable.
But all drug offenses can sensibly fall into the same category. If the legislative and executive branches don’t care enough about the welfare of our citizens to change the drug laws, we can refuse to enforce them.
We’ll happily convict a defendant who used guns to protect his stash or who stole from a neighbor to get her fix. But recreational use is no threat to society, and addiction is a disease better treated outside prison.
Naysayers may claim that those of us who agree to nullify will simply be eliminated from the jury pool. But if enough of us insist that drug possession, use and sale should not be a crime, we open a public discussion of our nation’s failed drug policy.
Bravo to The Wire. If drugs are it, we will acquit.