The economy of the rural Northern Californian region is dominated by marijuana, and many growers are worried that when pot becomes legal, prices will plummet and they’ll lose their livelihoods.
We Need to Stop Trusting the Police
Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guiltyon one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.
That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests
One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.
The Make-A-Kush Foundation: Kids, Cancer, and Medical Marijuana
The way Frankie Wallace tells it, his calling revealed itself in his sleep.
“I had a dream [that] cannabis would cure cancer and many other diseases,” he recalled as his wife, Erin, stood beside him on the back porch of their house.
A few minutes before, the three of us had ducked into the basement of Frankie and Erin’s suburban split-ranch house near Portland, Oregon. We went down there to sample something called Absolute Amber, a potent concentrate Frankie concocted by soaking a batch of his latest crop of medical marijuana in butane and isopropyl alcohol, boiling those liquids away, after which the oily residue was frozen and double-filtered. The resulting product was as close to a pure distillation of THC as a mortal was likely to get.
Frankie lit a blowtorch and held it to a small piece of metal attached to a glass water pipe until it was red-hot. He touched the matchstick-size shard of burnt-sienna-colored hash oil to the metal, and it released dense white smoke that the pipe caught, filtered, and delivered into my body. On exhaling, I felt an astringent tingle pass through my lungs. I sat down and quietly counted to 30. The urge to speak would be great, Frankie had warned, but to do so might send my body into a fit of convulsive coughing. As I looked at Frankie and Erin, their soft smiles appeared to curl up like arabesques in an illuminated manuscript.
Frankie is more than a weed aficionado—he’s a marijuana evangelist, a THC high priest. After his fateful dream, he sold all of the couple’s belongings and moved from Birmingham, Alabama, to Erin’s cousin’s garage in Portland, where medical marijuana is legal. They partnered up with another grower and found a house in a nearby suburb, where they now live alongside the two dozen marijuana plants in their garage. They have 12 patients and keep their modest grow operation afloat through donations.
This kind of small business isn’t uncommon in the statured legal-marijuana market of the Pacific Northwest, especially now that “dabbing” is becoming a luxurious but increasingly popular form of ingesting THC and its cohorts. What sets Frankie and Erin apart is that they believe pot can literally cure cancer. And ever since the dream they have been testing their theory on an eight-year-old named Mykayla Comstock.
This week on the VICE podcast, Reihan Salam sits down with Rebecca Richman Cohen, lecturer at Harvard Law School and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. Cohen's latest film,Code of the West, follows the political process of marijuana-policy reform in Montana, as well as the federal crackdown on medical-marijuana growers across the country.
The Feds Will Let States Legalize Pot… Maybe
Ever since Colorado and Washington state voted last November to legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol or coffee or anything else that comes from nature, maaaaaaaan, the question has been how the federal government would respond. Would the people in charge of conducting the war on drugs really be OK with letting state law trump federal law? Well, the Department of Justice released a memo today and it turns out that yes, they’ll let everyone from Seattle to Denver light up legally—but there are some caveats, as always.
The memo (which can be read in full here) says that the DOJ has already been prioritizing stopping the really bad crimes that are connected to marijuana, like the sale of pot to kids, revenue going to cartels and other criminals, and violence that’s connected with the weed trade. It goes on to advise prosecutors that focusing on those activities is still a good idea before tackling the meat of the matter at hand: though some states have legalized weed, it shouldn’t change the Feds’ policy of going after drug growers and dealers who are killing people, growing pot on federally-owned land, or breaking the law in other ways.
One Senator Kept Child Marriage Alive in Nigeria Last Month
Thanks to a legal loophole, the average age of marriage for girls in Kebbi State, northern Nigeria, is 11 years old. The law is often manipulated and exploited for perverse ends, but it’s rare that one forgotten detail in legislation can affect an entire mass of people quite so profoundly.
Section 29 of the Nigerian constitution allows any Nigerian of full age (18 or above) to renounce his or her citizenship. However, a subsection of that law adds that women can only be deemed of full age when they get married—a convenient loophole that’s become easy to exploit by any adult man in the mood to snatch himself up a child bride.
The problem is widespread and unfortunately—after a brief glimmer of hope—isn’t showing much sign of going away. On the 16th of July, Nigeria’s Senate committee voted to remove the archaic subsection, thereby supporting the fight against forced marriage and pedophilia. However, after a heavy lobbying campaign, Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima—Senator for Zamfara West in northern Nigeria—persuaded the Senate to reverse its decision, reenacting the subsection and making it totally OK (by law) for men well over the age of 18 to marry girls well under the age of 18.
But being the good samaritan that he is, Yerima, who, at the age of 49, married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl, has defended his actions. He says he’s merely showing concern for the girls of his and other Islamic-governed northern Nigerian states, arguing that the deletion of the subsection would be blasphemous. In his definition of the Islamic faith, when a woman is married she instantaneously reaches her full mental capacity, no matter what her age is. Presumably this means he endorses the idea that any nine-year-old girl married under Sharia law is responsible and intelligent enough to drive a car or possess a firearm.
Who’s Getting Rich Off the Prison-Industrial Complex?
You likely already know how overcrowded and abusive the US prison system is, and you probably are also aware that the US has more people in prison than even China or Russia. In this age of privatization, of course, it’s also not surprising that many of the detention centers are not actually operated by the government, but by for-profit companies. So clearly, some people are making lots and lots of money off the booming business of keeping human beings in cages.
But who are these people?
Using NASDAQ data, I looked through the long list of investors in Corrections Corporation of America andGEO Group, the two biggest corporations that operate detention centers in the US, to find out who was cashing in the most on prisons. When we say “prison-industrial complex,” this is who we’re talking about.
The individual who’s invested the most in private prisons is Henri Wedell, who started serving on CCA’s board of directors in 2000, when the company was struggling with scandals related to prisoner abuse and mismanagement. He now owns more than 650,000 shares in the company, which is far more successful these days. Those shares are worth more than $25 million.
I called Wedell to ask him what it was like to make a fortune from the incarceration of others, and whether it bothered him to profit off a system that puts more people in prison than any other country in the world.
“America is the freest country in the world,” he told me. “America allows more freedom than any other country in the world, much more than Russia and a whole lot more than Scandinavia, where they really aren’t free. So offering all this freedom to society, there’ll be a certain number of people, more in this country than elsewhere, who take advantage of that freedom, abuse it, and end up in prison. That happens because we are so free in this country.”
Presumably, when he’s referring to all the freedom Americans have, he’s not including the 80,000 inmates in 60 prisons operated by CCA.
Beat Your Meat: New Law Lets Factory Farmers Choke Their Chicks in Private
The hidden camera worn by an employee at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina recorded workers stomping and kicking birds, throwing them by their necks into metal cages, and beating them with metal bars. The animals had festering wounds on their bodies and eyes. Some writhed in pain on the ground. For three weeks, the employee, an undercover investigator for Mercy For Animals, documented abuse after abuse in the milking barn, which is where semen is manually collected from the toms; the birds have been bred so large and deformed that they can no longer reproduce naturally. After the investigation, the nonprofit turned over the video footage to prosecutors.
Within days, cops prepared to raid—something unheard of when it comes to factory farms. But Butterball had friends in high places, including the government agency in charge of overseeing its operations. The director of Animal Health Programs called a friend at Butterball hoping to thwart the raid.
The tip-off didn’t work. The raid led to national media exposure, the conviction of a top-level Department of Agriculture official for obstruction of justice, and criminal charges against five employees for animal cruelty. Two of the employees have pleaded guilty, marking the first felony conviction for cruelty to factory-farmed birds. On February 22, two more former Butterball employees were found guilty of animal cruelty.
Industrial agriculture executives and lawmakers have responded swiftly to undercover investigations like this one, but not in the ways you might expect. Rather than improving animal welfare, enhancing criminal penalties, or increasing oversight of the industry, there’s a national campaign to criminalize anyone who brings these abuses to light under the guise of protecting the farmers and their food supply from animal- and environment-loving “terrorists.”
Living in a border city means that you may have to occasionally smuggle some drugs between countries. Don’t worry! We’ve got some tips.
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?