Legal Pot Creates Quandary For State Agencies Addicted To Federal Money

In light of its ongoing status as a Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule 1 controlled substance, the decriminalizing and legalization of recreational marijuana is creating some secondary complications in States where voters have recently approved the change.

In Washington and Colorado, State-funded agricultural extension services have had to turn away amateur marijuana gardeners interested in getting some expert tips to help them grow their crops.

That’s because there’s Federal money on the line for the public universities that deploy the cooperative extension programs in the States. Federal student aid, research appropriations and technological initiatives, among other programs, all rely predominantly on the reliable flow of U.S. taxpayer money that emanates with regularity from Congress.

And so long as consuming, possessing, growing or transacting marijuana is against Federal law, State universities have a lot to lose if they elect to tell residents how to grow it — no matter how benign the circumstances.

Just as conservative States have claimed sovereignty over the regulation of healthcare, Western States struggling to protect their pot legislation from the Feds are in for a rough trip.

Recreational weed growing remains illegal in Washington but is legal in Colorado (just don’t grow more than six plants at a time). But both States face the same uncertain future when it comes to long-term marijuana law. Court challenges and shifting U.S. drug policy have a tendency to discourage States from expanding sanctioned services even tangentially related to pot.

Until Congress takes the target off marijuana at the Federal level, no State that receives Federal carrot-and-stick contingency funding is likely to cultivate a robust support infrastructure for marijuana growers — not even gardeners and hobbyists. County extension services that provide local farmers and gardeners with research, documentation and instruction on raising other crops and specialty plants simply can’t afford to risk losing the Federal dollars their agencies have become addicted to.

Marijuana policy reform group NORML compares the contemporary Federal policy on pot to Prohibition, noting the absurdity, in both cases, of enjoining States to enforce laws that had no popular support and of vastly insufficient Federal funding. Responding last year to the Colorado and Washington referenda, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano noted:

Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police. Alcohol prohibition fell when a sufficient number of states enacted legislation repealing the state’s alcohol prohibition laws. With state police and prosecutors no longer engaging in the federal government’s bidding to enforce an unpopular law, the federal government had little choice but to abandon the policy altogether. Today, history begins to repeat itself.

A bill before Congress, HR 499, would end the Federal prohibition on marijuana and leave the matter for each State to decide. The passing of such a bill wouldn’t exactly be a victory for States’ rights advocates — we went through this charade in the 1920s with the Volstead Act — but it could perhaps serve as a starting point for States whose leaders are eager to recover some of the sovereignty eroded by Federal aggression (and, in recent decades, State leaders’ own lazy deference).

Farrakhan, Gangsters And A New Black State

Louis Farrakhan may be nearly 80, but age isn’t softening his politics.

In a bizarre address in Chicago Sunday, the Nation of Islam leader laid out a vision for the future of black Americans that, if realized, would elevate urban thuggery to a sort of secessionist, collectivist, isolationist, militant statecraft.

Telling gangsters they already possess the martial character necessary to defend turf (discipline? judgment? self-sacrifice?), Farrakhan urged leaders of gangs to become protectors of lands the Nation of Islam aims to acquire through incremental buying.

Calling gang leaders in Chicago “natural warriors,” minister Farrakhan posited a future scenario in which gangsters and recruited gang members could physically protect domestic lands the Nation of Islam is amassing — evidently with the buying power of poor black people’s pocket change — in rural Georgia and, perhaps soon, the Midwest.

“You are the natural warriors to defend. And the science of war must be taught to us, so that we will protect whatever God allows us to buy or build,” he said, speaking at his organization’s annual Savior’s Day event.

In a remarkable generalization, he encouraged black Americans to stop spending their discretionary income on cigarettes, liquor and cellphones and urged them instead to contribute “pennies, nickels and dimes” — presumably to some fund tended by the Nation of Islam — to help achieve common goals he said have been systematically denied them by the U.S. political and economic spheres.

Farrakhan did manage to nail one truth concerning gun violence among black Americans, asserting that 2nd Amendment rights will continue to have little meaning for those blacks who carry — and use — guns off the legal grid.

“The Second Amendment has no relevance to the black community in this sense,” he said. “All your weapons are illegal and you’re using them like a savage people.”

In keeping with the notion that recruited gangsters could one day need to hold a firearm while they patrol the borders of Nation of Islam-owned lands, he defended the self-protective spirit of the 2nd Amendment, saying that only by maintaining arms can citizens ensure their rights against a tyrannical government.

It would be interesting to learn how the National Rifle Association feels about Farrakhan’s 2nd Amendment remarks.

Historically, when racial politics and gun rights issues collide, strange things happen. When the Black Panthers staged a gun-toting march on the California Capitol building in 1967, the NRA helped shape gun control legislation that went on to be passed and signed by that State’s Governor, Ronald Reagan.

Employers Scale Back Insurance Contributions By Axing Family Plans

Most employer-supplemented health insurance plans have long given workers the option either of electing single-patient coverage for themselves or a family plan that includes spouses and children.

If you have a job with employer-sponsored insurance, you likely know the difference in cost between an individual coverage policy and a family policy. And that difference — for yourself and, often, for your employer — is vast.

If you aren’t a government employee and your employer is paying half your single-coverage premium (or more), the chances are good that they’ve made a very conscientious — perhaps even a financially painful — decision to assist you with your healthcare costs. Take offense, but call it charity.

Yet the exigencies of the changing healthcare business are gradually informing many employers’ decisions to scale back their contributions to employee premiums.

Most often, the self-imposed frugality is coming not in the form of business owners reducing their contributions to individual premiums. Rather, employers are eliminating sponsored family coverage policies altogether, while focusing on what they can do to keep individual coverage affordable.

A Marketwatch story attributes the change to employers who anticipate absorbing increased per-patient expenses as the timeline for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act slowly unfolds. Historically, many employers have offered subsidized coverage only to their own workers’ individual plans — if, that is, they have working spouses who’re eligible for single coverage at their own jobs.

But with Obamacare proffering health coverage even for those who don’t have jobs — and there are plenty of spouses who don’t — companies that once offered family coverage are, understandably, finding less incentive to go the extra mile.

Research and analysis released Friday by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index concludes it’s still difficult to predict how pervasive such changes could ultimately become or how Obamacare policies will affect employers’ decisions:

Beginning in 2014, under the Affordable Care Act, large employers will be required to pay a fee — called an “assessment” — if they do not provide adequate insurance coverage and their employees receive tax credits to buy their own insurance. Whether this creates an incentive for employers to provide affordable coverage, or whether they will simply pay the penalty remains unclear, thus the future direction of the employer-based insurance rates in the U.S. is yet to be determined.

But human nature is self-interested, and it’s reasonable to expect that many employers won’t voluntarily subsidize insurance policies for those spouses who soon may be covered by an expanded Medicaid program.

Much will depend on just how damaging the new law’s punitive “assessment” fees may wreak on small businesses’ bottom lines.

Advancing Drone Tech Could One Day End Up With Police

President Barack Obama sent military drones to Niger over the weekend to aid a reported counterterrorism mission, led by France, against Islamist rebels in Mali. Different news sources have conflicted in their reports over whether these drones are the kind that can kill you or just do aerial surveillance.

A December 2012 piece by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked back at the President’s first-term track record engaging enemies (and, on occasion, U.S. citizens overseas) with military drones. The authors concluded his drone policy has so far been… enthusiastic.

The American military drones now in use — so far as we know — have become a familiar sight. They’re small, stealthy, light. Most of them look like very cool model airplanes. But it’s only a matter of time before they’re completely outclassed.

While we’re talking enthusiasm, listen to this narrator’s zeal as he describes the tiny, deadly, pretty much undetectable new generation of MAVs — Micro Aerial Vehicles — under development by General Dynamics for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“Unobtrusive. Pervasive. Lethal.”

See where this is going?

National Geographic points out that current drones come with their share of problems, most of them related to safety issues that could mar their media image and hamper rapid development and deployment.

But those issues can, at most, only slow the inevitable. Tech improves; manufacturing processes tighten. Like any piece of emerging technology, drones will become smaller, quieter, more reliable, more conserving of energy, more consistent in performance. Their feature sets will expand with little to no downside.

That’s when the fun begins, because, at that point, research and development brains and military hawks will be able to sell their use to the public as “safe.”

What “safe” would mean in that context is “flawless in function.” What it would not mean is “absent the capacity to do harm.”

The civilian consumer tech most analogous, at present, to weaponized micro-drones comes in the form of those little, agile remote-control helicopters that seem to proliferate at Christmastime. Those things can be repurposed, up to a point, with the addition of cameras or incredibly tiny payloads, and it’s not hard to imagine an aspiring bad guy figuring out how to plot a relatively impressive amount of damage using so small a device.

But you can bet government agencies with access to drones will be playing with the expensive stuff, while the technology that trickles down to the public will be unmistakably consumer-grade.

Without question, modern nations long ago passed the point at which citizens had a legal means of acquiring weapon tech commensurate with that owned by their representative militaries. No one has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, Harriers or Virginia-class submarines.

All those weapons aim outward; they’re developed and deployed using citizen funds to guarantee American sovereignty against the aggression of other nations. Even if our leaders have debased that mission, improperly using weapons of war to give teeth to their foreign policies, those abuses have taken place on foreign soil.

But it’s changing.

Through Federal initiatives like the Department of Defense 1033 excess property program, local police departments have begun acquiring the means to set their might far above that of the legally armed civilian. They’re gaining, essentially for free, equipment designed for military use and accessible — until recently — only to American fighting forces.

If the militarization of our Nation’s local police forces continues, the day will soon come when departments that resemble small, technologically privileged armies, will be commonplace. They’ll be better equipped than the law allows any civilian to be.

The Pentagon temporarily suspended the 1033 program last June — not because the line between soldier and cop was getting too blurry, but because of this Arizona Republic story that revealed what can happen when some police departments get their hands on the good stuff.

Florida Governor Says ‘Yes, We Can’ To Obamacare He Formerly Opposed

Will there ever be any true political winners in the Obamacare fight?

Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida — one of the most recalcitrant opponents of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — came half-circle Wednesday, resignedly telling his constituents he will work with the Administration of President Barack Obama by asking the Legislature to expand the Medicaid program in his State.

He’s trying to look as Republican as he can about it. He credits his change of heart to a viscerally wrenching  event, one unassailable for all but the most callous of media (the death of his mother). His press conference remarks Wednesday were appropriately grumpy:

I believe in a different approach, but it doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter what anybody believes. The Supreme Court has already made its decision. We had an election in the fall. OK. The public made its decision. Now the president’s health care law, the mandate, is the law.

Florida Tea Party conservatives who helped get Scott elected in an expensive, tight 2010 race are having none of that. One lucky Tea Party activist beat all others to the punch in calling Scott the “Benedict Arnold to the patriot and Tea Party movements in Florida,” according to McClatchy News Service.

Liberals are skeptical, too, but happy to step back and watch the political career of one of the President’s most galvanizing and vocal adversaries self-destruct. This is a man for whom there’s long existed a titanic motive to protect healthcare, as a business, from regulatory harm. He’s the founder of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), the nominal champion of a systemic alternative to Obamacare based on free-market principles. He led the 26-State legal charge to thwart the healthcare bill’s enforcement before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now he’s become the seventh Republican Governor to capitulate to the new reality of healthcare in the United States and accept Obama’s vision of an expanded Medicaid. He likely won’t be the last, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who’ll be more vilified for the change.

Comcast To Broadcast Tons Of Shows With Gun Violence While Banning Ads With Guns

The biggest cable company in the United States is all set and ready to sell you some quality entertainment. Whether it’s the self-described “sex-fueled, violent world” of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Walt White’s bloody survivalism on AMC’s “Breaking Bad” or anonymous crime victims’ gun-shattered lives on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU,” you can sit for quite a spell while enjoying a fictitious world of prime time hack-‘n’-slash.

But don’t linger through the commercial breaks hoping to learn where you can buy the same kind of pistol Jesse Pinkman used to murder Gale Boetticher in the “Breaking Bad” Season 3 finale.

Bad example?

Fine: Don’t expect the ads to tell you what kind of sweet bird gun Uncle Si totes through the placid Louisiana wetlands on A&E’s “Duck Dynasty.” Because suddenly, Comcast sort of frowns on advertisements that have to do with guns, as well as other things that go “boom.”

When Comcast (finally) took control of NBC Universal last week, it decided — evidently without informing advertisers — to adopt NBC Universal’s policy of not selling advertising time to any company involved in the sale and promotion of firearms or fireworks.

CBS Detroit spoke with a Canadian advertising agency that had tried to renew an ad agreement with Comcast for Michigan-based Williams Gun Sight and Outfitters. The ad was rejected by Comcast, which informed the agency it had stopped accepting firearms ads earlier this month.

The company’s chief operating officer said Williams had spent “a good portion of their advertising” budget with Comcast in the past.

The big guns of outdoor retail – Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s — have dropped decades’ worth of coin to advertise on specialty cable TV networks, like the Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman Channel. According to MSN, the Comcast ban applies only to “commercial time sold by Comcast Spotlight, the advertising-sales division of Comcast Cable that sells local spots on national cable channels.” Translation: some, but not all, hunting and fishing programming will be able to run with gun ads as before.

As in all cases of culture creep, other major entertainment companies have followed each other, in the wake of last December’s Sandy Hook murders, in pulling or limiting gun ads to run on television.

It sounds like now is a great time to be an ad rep for Field & Stream or Garden & Gun.

Supreme Court Throws Cop Dogs A Bone While Leashing People

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday gave a pass to law enforcement agencies employing trained drug-sniffing dogs used in vehicle searches.

The ruling overturns a 2011 Florida Supreme Court decision that rejected evidence cultivated when a Liberty County man was arrested following a dog’s alert outside his vehicle.

The sniff alone, the State court found, didn’t provide sufficient probable cause to validate the search without supporting evidence that the dog and its handler had accurately executed similar searches throughout their law enforcement careers.

But the Supreme Court ruled that drug dogs’ noses don’t have to be infallible; they just have to be bona fide. An alert by a dog that has passed an approved certification program or has been recently trained is good enough to proceed with a legal search. There’s no need to document its accuracy or consistency in past searches.

Justice Elena Kagan, a 2010 Barack Obama nominee, blithely surmised the Court’s unanimous opinion:

In short, a probable-cause hearing focusing on a dog’s alert should proceed much like any other. The court should allow the parties to make their best case, con­sistent with the usual rules of criminal procedure. And the court should then evaluate the proffered evidence to decide what all the circumstances demonstrate…The question – similar to every inquiry into probable cause – is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime. A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test.

And here, Aldo’s did.

Yes, Aldo is the dog from the Florida case; the one with the right “snuff.”

Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a George H.W. Bush nominee, was much less admissive of police dogs’ reliability in 2005, when he wrote the dissenting opinion in a similar drug-search case. Souter wrote the “infallible dog” is “a creature of legal fiction” and referenced other cases in which the animals’ drug searches resulted in “alerting with less than perfect accuracy.”

Colorado Democrats Turn Backs On Homegrown Industry, 2nd Amendment With Gun Proposal

The mindless trudge toward neutering the Wild West — and the rest of the Nation with it — slogs on this month in Colorado, a State where recent, highly publicized moments of cultural failings that involved firearms has swept from public consciousness the deeper history of civil gun ownership the State has long enjoyed.

If Democrats in the State Legislature aren’t careful, they’ll do more than hobble residents’ 2nd Amendment powers. They may send a good corporate citizen packing (its bags).

Magpul, an Erie-based maker of high-capacity magazines, will be compelled to move its operations out of Colorado if Democrat-sponsored House Bill 1224 passes in this year’s State legislative session. The bill aims to outlaw licensed gun owners from keeping or using ammunition magazines that hold 15 or more rounds — something that’s always been perfectly legal.

Started in 1999 — yes, the same year as Columbine — by a former Marine Corps sergeant, Magpul’s corporate leadership is unequivocal about how the company would respond if the bill goes through.

“We will leave if it passes,” COO Doug Smith said in a Denver Post article last week.

“If we’re able to stay in Colorado and manufacture a product, but law-abiding citizens of the state were unable to purchase the product, customers around the state and the nation would boycott us for remaining here.”

The irony of legislation that essentially makes a firearm accessory illegal for citizens but perfectly fine for government agencies is profound. It edges Colorado closer to one of the very conditions most abhorrent to Constitutional framers: taking the powers of defense out of the hands of individuals, while enriching the state’s power to do, with more capable weapons, as it sees fit.

Colorado wouldn’t be the first State to succeed in eroding citizens’ rights in such a fashion. But the dominoes are falling. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the quixotic lobbying group, lauds California, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico for having banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; New Jersey’s ban — like the proposed Colorado legislation — limits the capacity to 15 rounds.

Bill Would Ban Smoking While Driving With Youngsters

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the southbound cars may have Connecticut plates — and their occupants may be wearing nicotine patches.

Well, that’s not an entirely fair generalization to make about motorists in the Constitution State. But if they’re parents who smoke, they may soon be able to thank the State Legislature for relieving them of the pesky task of having to exercise parental discretion for themselves.

Connecticut House Bill 5280 really does take all the headache out of a driver’s having to make the gut-wrenchingly tough decision not to hold “…a cigarette, cigar, pipe or similar device to, or in the immediate proximity of, his or her mouth while the vehicle is in motion or at rest” while children who are younger than 7 years old, weigh less than 60 pounds and are duly strapped into their child restraints are present in the car.

Admittedly, the bill doesn’t categorically target parents; it would apply equally to any adult vehicle occupant, be it a carjacker, the cab driver or sketchy Uncle Joe. And the bill’s only punitive provision is to issue violators a warning.

If it lacks teeth, then, what is it? Grandstanding? A red herring to preoccupy the media while the Connecticut House Committee on Transportation wades through ephemeral proposals? Well-intentioned proxy parenting?

The latter is most troublesome because it further advances the prevailing American culture of displaced responsibility, of law supplanting individual decision making, of policy encroaching on personal discretion.

Is any kind of smoking bad for kids?

Likely.

Do I have a child’s best interests at heart if I tootle down Interstate 91 with a pack of Camels on the burn and a pack of rug rats in the back?

Likely not.

Do I live in a Nation that endows me with a citizen’s measure of liberty — and a commensurate measure of responsibility — sufficient to make decisions like those on my own?

Well, do I?