Articles Tagged with drug laws

esteban-lopez-234052-copy-300x200The Chicago legislature has recently put laws in place that allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. This is a replacement of the old regime under which such actions were barred. A system of permits ensures that issues of public safety and good conduct are taken into consideration. Hemp belongs to the family of the cannabis plant. Although it can be used as a narcotic in sufficiently strong concentrations, it is also used to make textiles as well as paper-based industrial products. Farmers could potentially earn an income from this plant that is also on the banned list of substances. The old law was caught between encouraging genuine commercial activity and preventing the large-scale production of potential narcotics. The initial plan was to allow the cultivation for research purposes and then move on to commercial production for non-narcotic usage.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture is intimately involved in all the proceedings so as to ensure appropriate oversight. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) previously classified hemp as a Schedule 1 Drug. That meant that farms could not legally grow it, certainly not on an industrial scale. The classification was based on the findings that the drug had a high potential for abuse. Those who dispute the classification argue that hemp contains only trace elements of the offending substance known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This is indeed the psychoactive chemical that is known to create a high for marijuana users. Over time, a number of states (now numbering 16) have gradually legalized the production of hemp for commercial purposes. By 2014, Illinois had put legislation in place to allow for the growing of hemp by State Universities and the Department of Agriculture.

The Narcotic with Huge Potential

Marijuana_jointThe possession of marijuana in Chicago straddles the thin and ambiguous line between criminality and socially risky behavior (see The Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) 7-24-099). Some have reached the conclusion that the continued criminalization of marijuana in Chicago is against the public interest and represents a waste of precious police resources. For example the state attorney’s office in Cook County has already indicated that it will dismiss minor pot cases as part of their overhaul of the criminal justice system.

Others may wonder whether it is appropriate for a DA to have such wide discretion to the extent that they can effectively decriminalize activity that is criminalized under statute. In some ways the debate boils down to practicality and commonsense. If every single low level offense was prosecuted, the DA would never have the time to go after the big drug overloads. Moreover there is general public acceptance that there are people who use marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes without intending to or actually causing any harm to members of the public.

A Law in Suspense

BRMHS_classroom_wall_2Questioning the Rationale and Practicality of the Current Legal Regime

The first principle of the law in the USA is equality. That may not quite square up to the enhanced sentencing regime for designated drug free zones in Chicago. The current trends owe their origins partly to the 1980s when the super-predator ethos started to take hold in the echelons of legislative assemblies. It was fashionable to be tough on crime. As a result many people are now serving ridiculously long sentences for relatively minor drug offenses. President Barack Obama has used his discretion in pardoning some of these offenders. A less shocking but equally serious manifestation of this fear of crime is called enhanced sentencing. The regime was designed to tackle those areas that were at a very high risk of becoming drug dens. In effect, people who committed drug offenses within these localities would eventually face penalties that were stiffer than those who committed crimes in the non-designated areas.

The principles of natural justice do not quite square up to these situational aggravating features given that an offender has limited control over the geography of the USA or how the authorities decide to designate drug free zones. Supporters of the regime argue that it makes sense when you consider the actual zones that are affected. These include schools and drug recovery institutions. The rationale is that the hardened criminals should not be allowed to exploit vulnerable people without serious consequences. In any case, the same principle has been used to develop aggravating features for burglary. The offender may not know that the home is occupied when he or she decides to steal from it, but the fact that it is occupied will lead to a harsher sentence. Illinois is one of the areas that has fully embraced the school zoning criteria for enhanced sentencing.

an urban warning sign
Local agencies in Illinois are getting concerned about the increasing use of designer drugs, particularly as it relates to driving offenses. Incidents of bizarre behavior that is clearly out of the ordinary are being reported regularly. It is almost as if there is something in the water but the truth is much simpler; drugs are to blame and the law enforcement agencies are of the view that it is about time someone did something about it. The clinicians call it Alpha-PVP while the street-smart call it Flakka. Although this is a relatively new drug, it is noted for its highly addictive qualities. Some have compared it to Bath Salts, but it is much worse. Dozens of overdose deaths are being reported or suspected, and the strange behavior that it induces in its fans includes running around the streets in the nude.

Worse still, Flakka is a combination and co-dependency drug which is preferred by those that are already heavily addicted. The challenge for the law is whether to deal with production, consumption, or distribution or all of them together; the latter being a complex and resource-heavy task. To make matters worse the designer drug trade is based on the ability to create permutations and versions of the same drug using various combinations of the active ingredients. Consequently these research drugs are outside the current specifications of the law and yet they are as dangerous (or even more dangerous) than their parent counterparts. The shipping trail starts all the way to Asia before making its clandestine journey all the way to Illinois. A lot of disguise and misrepresentation is involved since the narcotics and stimulants are disguised as legal products, hence evading the legal controls.

Should the Federal or Local Government Crack Down?