It looks like the citizens of Mendocino County, CA are headed towards repealing an earlier law legalizing marijuana agriculture. Often, drug advocates try to portray anti-drug laws as the product of overly conservative or disconnected lawmakers, and therefore illegitimate and fair game for simply being ignored. But if such laws are passed by direct popular vote, does that make them more legitimate?

From Reuters:

[Mendocino] voters on Tuesday leaned toward repealing a law allowing home marijuana growing, according to preliminary results of a ballot measure vote released on Wednesday.

Mendocino, a rural county north San Francisco, in 2000 approved marijuana cultivation for recreational use, voting to let residents grow up to 25 marijuana plants, compared with the state limit of six.

“We thought Ma and Pa growers would be able to grow a little bit,” said Dave Bengston, the county’s agricultural commissioner, who supported the repeal. “The legalization of marijuana sent a message to organized crime that they could set up shop here, and we got people with automatic weapons growing marijuana in large quantities.”

That last quote suggests that drug cultivation, like legalized gambling, can be one of those freedoms that we like individually but has unintended consequences for a community as a whole.

From the AP:

CLEVELAND – A man pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to writing racially hateful letters and e-mails to black or mixed-race people, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

David Tuason, who lived in the Cleveland suburbs with his parents, sent threatening communications to high school, college and professional athletes, coaches, celebrities, musicians, news anchors, hospitals, police departments, lawyers and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a plea deal made public Thursday.

This seems like it touches on a very common question around free speech: “is hate speech protected?” In this case, it seems not, as criminal charges were brought against a man for writing vitriolic letters. But on the Internet, it seems things are different, and courts protect the anonymity of people who posted really lurid personal attacks and rape threats against law students, as well as other other “unquestionably offensive and demeaning” forum trolls. 

So, is Internet hate speech more protected than postal-mail hate speech?

Andy Carvin and NPR producer Wright Bryan had an experimental Gigapan automatic panoramic-photo camera on loan from Carnegie Mellon University, so being the public-minded journalists that they are, they decided to see if it could get them a nice panorama of Washington, DC’s Union Station.

Everything went fine when they took an initial eastward-facing 180° pano; a security gaurd came by, asked if they were taking pictures, said “okay”, and left. But then when they tried to get a 360° from the center of the station hall, more security guards arrived and demanded that the journos stop taking pictures and leave immediately, or face arrest.

Meanwhile, the whole incident was being twittered live. Carvin describes it:

Throughout the conversation, which I should point out was conducted in a cordial, but firm tone, we received mixed messages from the security guards. One told us the problem was that we were using a tripod, while another insisted it was because we had “that thing” on top of our tripod. They then changed the story again, and said that journalists couldn’t take pictures without permission from management, and that Union Station is a private space run by a private company, not a public space. They never gave us an answer as to why we were first allowed to take photos in the first location, but could not do the same here.

I debated them, telling them the story of the security guards who tried to prevent someone from photographing downtown Silver Spring by arguing it was a private space controlled by a private corporation, but was eventually overruled by local officials after much public lambasting. Their reaction was that they were just following orders. I said I wouldn’t leave the premise until someone would go on record as to why we were being stopped, and would supply their name as well.

A fourth security person arrived. He was dressed differently than the other three people, and had a former-marine-turned-middle-management air about him. I asked for his business card and he handed it to me: Robert H. Mangiante, Assistant Director, IPC International Corporation. He then summed up the situation: pack up your gear and leave now, or we’ll arrest you. It’s our choice. Our gear was already packed up at this point, and Wright and his friend had an event at the National Press Club anyway, so that was that. The Gigapan went into my backpack, I folded the tripod and we went our separate ways.

So, is a train station a public place, even if it’s owned by a public nonprofit but leased by a private real estate firm? Is taking pictures in Union Station grounds for arrest? And exactly whose idea was it to throw two amateur photographers out of a train station for taking pictures?

In her post about Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a convicted panderer who committed suicide rather than go to prison, economist-commentator Megan McArdle holds the government responsible for the suicide on the grounds that the law against prostitution is unjust:

A number of people have argued that since prostitution was illegal, and Palfrey knew she was risking jail, I have no right to be indignant that she got caught, and sentenced to jail, and then killed herself. They have further argued that “rage” is not the proper response to the illegality of something that a majority of my fellow citizens think should be illegal. … I really can’t accept the notion that I’m not entitled to be enraged at a law that a majority support. I think that there are a lot of sorts of laws that don’t become more just because a majority likes them. … When an unjust law makes someone’s life so unendurable that they end it, I lay much of the responsibility at the foot of the law, the system that contributed.

This seems a rather undemocratic point of view to me. At the heart of the rule of law is the idea that there are a system of rules we all live by, and that these rules also apply to those who choose to break them. Without some sort of agreement on these rules, we have no rules at all: for example, some people say that speed limit laws are unjust, and they should be permitted to drive at whatever speed they like. Does that mean that any prosecution of them is unjust, no matter how many people voted to establish a speed limit?

Democracy resolves these issues by giving everyone in the community a voice in establishing the laws they live by, but if people could simply ignore laws they voted against, all laws would be utterly meaningless.

Some commenters on her site respond succinctly:

I am not crazy about criticizing the prosecutors – I don’t really *want* prosecutors to ignore organized crime rings solely because libertarians think the law is a dumb one. If you want to use the suicide as an argument for decriminalizing prostitution, go for it, but I don’t have a problem with prosecutors prosecuting crimes. ( J Mann )

 

It’s a fundamental rule of law concern if prosecutors ignore laws they consider “unjust.” It’s their job to enforce the law, not to agree with it. I’d add, I’m not sure I accept the argument that prostitution should be legal simply because it’s consensual, but I am quite sure this is a political matter to be settled by the legislature, not prosecutorial discretion. ( Salemicus )

 

We can debate the propriety of prostitution all day long. But when you do something that you know to be illegal and get caught, you assume the risk of prosecution. I don’t think prostitution laws are proper. I don’t think drug laws are proper. (Legalize and regulate with both, I say.) But blaming the government for someone’s suicide when they know that what they were doing was illegal is ridiculous. She was an adult, and she knew that what she was doing carried risks. If she wasn’t willing to accept those risks, she shouldn’t have been doing it. ( Trigger )

The Smoking Gun:

 APRIL 30–The web’s leading gossip outlet, TMZ.com, today published the name and photo of a 14-year-old boy whom the site reported has allegedly been the victim of a sex crime.

How far does freedom of the press go in naming victims? There’s a longstanding custom among journalists not to print the names of rape victims, but it’s not a law. Is naming underage victims of sex crimes protected speech, if the crime is newsworthy?

Seattle Times news story:

“That we hurry to castigate a person who turns out to be entirely innocent … I don’t know how it could be worse,” said King County District Court Judge Peter Nault, saying the incident will make it harder for real sexual victims to bring their cases forward.

Nault accepted a guilty plea from Katherine M. Clifton, accused of making false statements to a public servant.

Those statements led to the rape charge last summer against the professor who subsequently spent nine days in jail and was placed on leave from his job.

Make rape, physical violence, and even non-gun-related death threats all you want online with virtually no consequence—but when it comes to school shootings, law enforcement thinks the ‘Net is serious business. A student at Colgate University has been arrested and charged this week with aggravated harassment after he made a post on Juicy Campus, a site that serves as a public forum for students to anonymously gossip about others.

“I wonder if i could shut down the school by saying I’m going to shoot as many people as i can in my second class tomorrow. I hope I get more than 50,” 20-year-old George So wrote on Juicy Campus.

 (Ars Technica)

 

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