Repeal Day links and videos

Today is Repeal Day, which as most of you know is the holiday celebrating the ratification of the 21st Amendment and the end of Prohibition. To mark the occasion, Reason has put together an interesting video on the “The Man in the Green Hat,” Congress’s very own bootlegger:

Also of interest: This trailer for Breaking the Taboo, a new documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman about the failure of the War on Drugs:

On a similar note, outgoing Mexican president Felipe Calderón spoke to The Economist about the Drug War and its devastating effects in his country:

“[E]ither the United States and its society, its government and its congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.

“If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I’m concerned let them take them. I don’t agree with it but it’s their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers.”

Finally, here’s an essay I wrote for The American Spectator on the 75th Anniversary of Repeal Day.

Romney won’t be president, and other good news

It’s no secret that I greatly dislike both Obama and Romney, so my expectations were pretty low going into yesterday’s election. Thus it came as some surprise to me that I went to bed late last night feeling happier about the results than I have for any election in my lifetime, and that has nothing to do with who will or won’t be in the White House.

Yesterday morning I tweeted, “Hoped-for silver linings today: Marijuana legalization, marriage equality, no GMO labeling, good turnout for Gary Johnson.” Pretty much everything I could have reasonably hoped for came true.

Marijuana legalization — Two out of three states where marijuana legalization was on the ballot approved the measure. My own Oregon let me down, but Washington and Colorado succeeded. Voters also legalized medical marijuana in Massachusetts and decriminalized it in Detroit. By putting two states in direct conflict with the federal government, this is potentially a watershed year in the movement toward a more humane drug policy.

Marriage equality — Same-sex marriage was on the ballot in four states yesterday. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, it was approved by popular majorities. In Minnesota, a majority rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Demographic shifts and growing social acceptance make it seem inevitable that more, perhaps all, states will eventually follow their lead.

GMO labeling — This is one issue on which I’m opposed to many of my peers in the food and drink industry, but I think that California’s proposal to require labeling of genetically modified foods was deeply flawed. The case that they are harmful to consume is very weak, labeling and liability would be costly, and the proposal itself was riddled with exemptions. If consumers and activists want to avoid GMOs I would rather see them push for more organic food or other explicitly GMO-free options than force mandatory labeling onto the entire food system. Cheers to California voters for getting this one right.

Eminent domain bonus — I wasn’t following Virginia’s referendum to further protect private property from Kelo-style takings for private development, but I’m heartened to learn that it was overwhelmingly approved.

Gary Johnson — His campaign never crystallized as I hoped it might, but Johnson nonetheless earned 1% of the vote and as of this writing a raw total of 1,139,562 votes, the most of any Libertarian Party candidate in history. More importantly, I think Johnson may have done more than any recent candidate to reach out to the left and make libertarianism cool. (Sorry, Bob Barr.)

Romney lost — Romney was just terrible. The flip-side is that Obama won, which is also terrible but marginally less so. Most importantly, yesterday was a straight-up beatdown for social conservatism and the last twelve years of Republican politics. This opens the door, at least, to a better GOP.

After all of this, watching Obama’s soaring acceptance speech at a bar in downtown Portland was simply anti-climactic. As my friend Conor Friedersdorf tweeted, “This speech would be more enjoyable if I didn’t already know what follows Barack Obama speeches like this. An imperial presidency.” Or as my friend sitting next to me summed it up, “I don’t even care about this shit. This is just bullshit.”

The electoral outcome of this presidential race was going to be dismal no matter what. On the economy, on foreign policy, on the Drug War, neither side offered the kind of changes we need. The inspiring story from yesterday is that in so many instances where voters had the option to expand freedom directly, they voted to do so. Given the opportunity to let gays marry the people they love, to let sick people access medical marijuana, to let ordinary citizens smoke a joint once in a while without fearing prison, they voted to live and let live. This bodes well for the future. We progress in spite of our politicians.

Chefs smoke marijuana and they like it

I initially wasn’t going to link to this New York Times piece about how marijuana has “fueled a new kitchen culture” focused on delicious, casual food that stoned back of house staff like to eat. As causality goes that’s a bit of a stretch and it’s not news that people in the service industry like to light up now and then. However I agree with Radley Balko and Will Wilkinson that the more successful people who come out as marijuana users the better chance we have of changing our disastrous drug policy, so for that reason alone the article is worth pointing out. The main reason I’m linking though is this appearance from Portland:

Duane Sorenson, the founder of the coffee roaster Stumptown, said that fat buds of marijuana often end up in the tip jar at his shops.

“It goes hand in hand with a cup of coffee,” he said. “It’s called wake and bake. Grab a cup of Joe and get on with it.”

This happened to me once even in the staid atmosphere of Carlyle. A customer (service industry, of course) left me a large bud along with his cash tip. According to my coworkers it was a generous gift but unfortunately it was wasted on me. Not knowing any better I took it home and put in my humidor. It turns out this is not the correct way to store it, which is apparently common knowledge among my friends who would have gladly taken it off my hands. It turned into a big ball of mold that went straight into my trash can the next time I opened the lid.

I consider this story karmic revenge for all the times people have told me about the fantastic Cuban cigars they’ve been saving for a special occasion without keeping them humidified.

“The chemists’ war of Prohibition”

Writing in Slate today, Deborah Blum shines light on the little-known Prohibition horror in which the US government deliberately poisoned the nation’s industrial alcohol supplies:

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Read the whole thing here. Like Blum, this is an aspect of Prohibition I’d heard about but never read a full account of, so I’m grateful that she’s giving it the attention it deserves.

The wrong lesson to take from this is that we’re more enlightened now. Poisoning the alcohol supply was an egregious abuse, but it’s a small step from that to forcing terminally ill AIDS and cancer patients to give up the marijuana that suppresses their vomiting, to mention just one of the most tragic casualties in the War on Drugs. With prohibition of any kind, grotesque absolutism often leads the government to choose killing its citizens over letting them get high.

[Via Coldmud.]

It could happen to you

Today’s Cato Daily Podcast features Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo recounting how a SWAT team burst into his home, forcing he and his mother-in-law to the ground with guns drawn and killing his two Labrador retrievers. Police were conducting a drug bust that turned up absolutely nothing and Calvo has been completely exonerated. Listen to it here.

Even if you’re not appalled by the idea of putting people in prison just for getting high, stories like this ought to give you pause. The War on Drugs has eroded all of our civil liberties, exposing us to searches, property forfeiture, and violent raids.

Calvo appeared at Cato yesterday along with Peter Christ, Tim Lynch, and Radley Balko, whose blog, of course, is a must-read for documenting these kinds of abuses. Video of the event should be up within a few days.