Lessons From Andrew Sullivan's Pot Bust

Gawker, citing a report on the blog of Massachusetts Lawyer's Weekly, notes that blogger/journalist Andrew Sullivan was cited for pot possession in July at the the Cape Cod National Seashore. The U.S. Attorney's Office later sought to drop the charge, arousing objections from a judge who suspected Sullivan was receiving special treatment. At a hearing last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings noted that people caught with pot at the Cape Cod National Seashore are "routinely" prosecuted. When he asked why an exception was being made in this case, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Lang said his office did not want to adversely affect Sullivan's application for "a certain immigration status" (possibly a visa renewal; Sullivan is a British citizen). Dissastisfied by this explanation, Collings worried in a memorandum (PDF) issued yesterday that "the United States Attorney is not being faithful to a cardinal principle of our legal system, i.e., that all persons stand equal before the law and are to be treated equally in a court of justice once judicial processes are invoked." He said "it is quite clear that Mr. Sullivan is being treated differently from others who have been charged with the same crime in similar circumstances." Collings nevertheless granted the prosecution's request to dismiss the charge against Sullivan, saying he felt constrained to do so by his limited discretion in such decisions.

Sullivan is an outspoken critic of the war on drugs, so he can hardly be accused of hypocrisy for smoking pot or seeking to avoid punishment for it. At the same time, Collings' concerns about unequal treatment, whether or not they are justified in this particular case, are valid in general, especially in drug cases. Because there is no victim demanding justice, it is much easier to make such cases disappear, and it is inevitable that well-connected people who can afford good lawyers (such as politicians' children) will have more success at avoiding charges, or minimizing penalties, than the average Joe Pothead. This kind of inequality is not unique to drug cases, but the victimless nature of the "crime" makes it more likely. With 873,000 or so marijuana arrests each year, nine out of 10 for simple possession, there's plenty of opportunity for favoritism. 

Another point illustrated by this case is that the collateral penalties associated with pot busts—which can include suspension of driver's licenses, loss of student aid, disqualification from various professions, and bars on adoption, voting, and jury service—are often the most serious outcome. Evidently the idea that Sullivan might not be allowed to live in this country anymore because he was caught with a little dried plant matter struck the U.S. Attorney's Office as so manifestly unjust that it decided to drop the case.

Notably, Massachusetts, where Sullivan was busted, recently decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, making it a civil offense subject to a $100 fine (plus confiscation of the pot) and eliminating all collateral sanctions. But because Sullivan happened to be on federal property, his marijuana possession was a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

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  • !||

    Now, if prosecutors would only do the same for carrying concealed firearms in federal parks I would be just giddy!

    Next, the elimination of the federal parks system, then . . .

  • ||

    It really pays off to be the Obama cheerleader-in-chief!

  • ||

    I am shocked, shocked! I tell you.

  • ||

    Andrew Sullivan received preferential treatment because he abandoned his political principles to endorse Barack Obama.

    It's a crude payoff to Sullivan for supporting Obama in 2008 and today.

    Although Obama's big-spending, budget-deficit-exploding policies are completely the opposite of what Andrew Sullivan claims to believe in, Sullivan continues to slavishly support Obama and back his massive spending increases -- such as his health-care plan, which the Congressional Budget Office says will increase the deficit, and his stimulus package, which the Congressional Budget Office says will actually shrink the economy "in the long run."

  • nobody special||

    I'm surprised Sullivan didn't push the issue to become a cause celebre.

  • JB||

    it is much easier to make such cases disappear, and it is inevitable that well-connected people who can afford good lawyers

    This is why economic freedom is more important than social freedom. You can always buy social freedom with economic freedom. It doesn't work as well the other way around.

    six months in jail

    Would Andrew Sullivan consider it torture if he was raped for those six months?

  • !||

  • Old Bull Lee||

    If this would have happened last year you can bet he would be on a crusade about it.

  • ||

    So, in the end, everyone basically agreed that having to live in the UK is way worse than suffering from cancer. I mean, if all he wanted to do was ease his pain, tough shit, right?

  • ||

    I'm surprised disappointed [that] Sullivan didn't push the issue to become a cause celebre.

    FTFY!

  • Paul||

    All this would be made right if Andrew Sullivan comes out and publicly admits to the pot posession and further admits that he received special treatment due to his celebrity status.

  • ||

    He is not a US citizen. You don't wanna go on a crusade against anything if it jeopardizes your immigration status.

  • ||

    Well, if this resulted in Andrew Sullivan's deportation then at least one good thing would have come from the drug war.

  • ||

    While pushin' back his glasses Sam is sayin' casually
    "I was elected by the masses"
    And with that in mind he starts to unwind
    A vicious attack on the finest of grasses

  • Nipplemancer||

    ! - i watched the coast guard press conference. the media grilled some admiral for twenty minutes over a panic that the media caused, trying to get him to apologize for conducting a training exercise that happens nearly every day. Poor guy needs a drink now.

  • Kevin||

    If drug laws were uniformly enforced, Mr. Obama might very well be in jail instead of the White House. Same goes for the last 2 presidents. (I don't think they do drug sweeps in Ivy League schools). So for that reason, I will always consider Obama, Bush, and Clinton to by hypocrites of the highest degree.

    "For thee, but no for me" you know.

  • ||

    If this would have happened last year you can bet he would be on a crusade about it.

    Hey, I just called my bookie in Vegas and he wouldn't take the bet...something about how it's pointless to bet on what might have happened in the past.

  • JB||

    They run training exercises near the Pentagon every day? That seems odd.

  • Robert Stacy McCain||

    A foreigner too stupid to out-smart a narc?

    DEPORT HIM!

  • ||

    I know Sullivan isn't popular here because he's not ideologically pure. However, I contend that Sullivan has done more to popularize libertarian thoughts and ideals than the entire Reason staff combined. Sully's blog gets way more traffic than Reason dot com, and he links here frequently.

    Libertarianism needs allies; I'm unaware of any state legislature, municipal council, etc, that even comes close to having a libertarian majority.

    But please, go ahead and continue to bite the hand that feeds you, and piss off potential allies.

  • mark||

    If I were a prominent critic of the war on drugs, I'd have requested the full six months in a federal prison. It'd give me some time to read and mount a legal defense.

  • $||

    libertarian thoughts and ideals

    Name one.

    He doesn't have any.

  • ||

    Evidently the idea that Sullivan might not be allowed to live in this country anymore because he was caught with a little dried plant matter struck the U.S. Attorney's Office as so manifestly unjust that it decided to drop the case.

    I'm not so sure the U.S. Attorney's Office considered pressing charges "unjust" so much as "exceedingly likely to be publicized to our detriment."

  • ||

    Look, Sullivan is a hyperventilating, hysterical Obamatron who happens to be on the correct side in the WOD. He's not at all hypocritical here, and it's good that his life won't be screwed up because he got caught with a bit of plant matter. The more people whose lives don't get screwed up, the better.

  • mark||

    You can blog from jail, Epi. I don't see why he didn't do the time, if he did the crime.

  • NeonCat||

    I'm reminded of a great line from The Big Sleep: "He didn't know the right people. That's all a police record means in this lousy country."

    Fortunately for Mr. Sullivan, the right people know him.

  • ||

    And I'm reminded of a great line from The Big Lebowski: "Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don't draw shit, Lebowski."

  • ||

    Name one.

    He opposes the WOD, as has been pointed out by others, here.

    He doesn't have any.

    Pwned.

    Sullivan frequently links to Balko's posts here. Which drives way more traffic to this site than it would otherwise get. Which benefits us all by raising the profile and respectability of libertarianism.

    Libertarianism is still considered rather fringey by the majority of the electorate, so we need all the help we can get.

    So, $, what have you done for the cause?

  • robc||

    John Dos Pesos,

    Agreeing with libertarians doesnt mean he has a libertarian principle. He may agree on the WOD for completely different reasons.

    There were plenty of leftists who opposed the War in Iraq for the wrong reason.

  • ||

    Well, it does set a public precedent. A non-famous defendant similarly situated should ask for the Sullivan result.

  • ||

    The Sullivan precedent plus the Charlie Rangel precedent and we live in a free country!

  • ||

    Epi, I agree that it is a good thing that his life didn't get fucked up because of a stupid and unjust law. I don't agree with his politics and I don't consider him libertarian.

    John Dos Pesos, being against the drug war in itself certainly does not make one a libertarian, especially if that opinion is not grounded in valuing individual liberty as a general principle, but for other reasons. It seems to me, that Sullivan is against the drug war for personal reasons, i.e. because he likes marijuana. There's certainly nothing wrong with that or hypocritical about it, but don't conflate that with libertarianism.

    I don't agree with some libertarians' (especially some in the Libertarian Party) rejection of those considered "not libertarian enough", but that isn't the case here. There is one area where Sullivan and our stance on issues (not philosophy) overlap. He may be an ally with respect to that issue, but that's probably where it ends.

    I don't think he's a hypocrite -- he's against the drug war, so I don't see how some can say that. I also don't think his skating had anything to do with his support of President Obama or politics. I think it was because of his position in the media. If he had been some no-name kid on a college campus or on the street, they would have thrown the book at him without hesitation. And therein lies the injustice of the whole situation.

  • ||

    Agreeing with libertarians doesnt mean he has a libertarian principle.

    OK, give me some concrete examples of what you'd consider "libertarian principles".

    He frequently references Mill and Oakeshott on his blog. He frequently writes about liberty, due process, rule-of-law, etc in a manner consistent with what I consider libertarian thought. I can't really claim to be an arbiter of libertarian thought, but from where I'm sitting in the moderate section two seats away from the libertarian section that's how it looks. Edumacate me.

    He may agree on the WOD for completely different reasons.

    Or he may not. Putting the burden-of-proof on you to demonstrate this.

    And nobody here has addressed the tactical stupidity of slamming someone who generates good publicity for this cause. Which isn't to say you have to give him a pass, or violate your principles, but sometimes it's better to simply STFU about something.

    BTW, posts @ 12:39, 12:47, 12:54 and 1:17 are all me (as you can see from the "email address"). I used to post exclusively as Tonio, but then that little shit-stain Tony showed up and people started confusing him with me.

  • ||

    People lose their greencards every day for less than this. It is terrible. Honestly, if Sullivan really cared about the drug war, he would give up his greencard and go back to the UK in protest to show how unjust the drug laws are. He should have demanded a trial and made a spectacle out of it. As it is, he slinked off and used his status as a D list journo to walk away. Good for him. But, there are thousands of people every year who don't get that priviledge.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    But please, go ahead and continue to bite the hand that feeds you, and piss off potential allies.
    If our allies get pissed off because of the inane comments we post on this board, we're in worse trouble than I thought.

  • ||

    You're right, John, Sullivan is not a hero. Who is?

  • ||

    This scenario gets played out every day in this country. From the cop's initial decision whether to bust the high school football star or just confiscate his weed, through the DAs decision whether to prosecute and what charges to bring, to the judge's decision on what the sentence will be.

    If you're poor, a minority or have pissed off the powers that be, you're fucked.

    If you're none of the above, it's not going to be a life changing event.

    FTR, I don't really give a crap about Sullivan's political views as they don't relate to this case one fuckin' bit.

  • !||

    You're right, John, Sullivan is not a hero. Who is?

    SugarFree, but my blogger buddy might say Naga.

  • ||

    Through the wind and the chill and the rain
    And the storm and the flood
    I can feel his approach
    Like the fire in my blood

  • !||

    SF,

    I thought lyrics from "Fire Island" or the Village People ould be more appropriate for Sullivan?

  • ||

    "...his office did not want to adversely affect Sullivan's application for "a certain immigration status"

    You don't have to be charged or convicted for immigration to fuck with you over a drug-related encounter with law enforcement. That may or may not be the policy, but it is certainly the practice.

  • Richard ||

    B, that's actually what the magistrate said in his opinion (linked in the post). Sully's still going to have to declare that he was "chaged" with a drug crime, regardless of whether the charges were dismissed. Doesn't seem to have done him a lot of good. He saved the fine, but spent at least 10 times more than that in legal fees.

  • ||

    The more people whose lives don't get screwed up, the better.

    Can't agree, if we are picking the people whose lives don't get screwed up by how well-connected they are. Screwing up the lives of the well-connected serves two laudable goals:

    (1) The rule of law.
    (2) The repeal of the WOD.

    Letting them walk preferentially undermines both of those goals.

  • Boston||

    The more people whose lives don't get screwed up, the better.

    Would you say the same about "The Steamroller"?

  • ||

    Destroy yourself, if you don't know!

    It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I
    admire you, beloved, for the trap you've set. It's like a
    final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

  • Xeones||

    You can always buy social freedom with economic freedom.

    Two billion Chinamen: "Always?"

  • Citizen Nothing||

    ...Also, X, "Chinaman" is not the preferred nomenclature.

  • Colin||

    If Sullivan were (still) a conservative, he'd not only be in prison, but we'd be hearing how "no one is above the law" from the media.

    He may have had libertarian sympathies in the past, but now he is nothing more than a statist thug.

    And the fact that he links to Reason, means little. Many neoconservative blogs, such as The Corner and Hot Air, also link to Reason when they happen to agree with a particular point. It doesn't make them libertarian, either.

  • ||

    Why is nobody surprised that one of the lunatic leftist hero is a pothead?

    I mean seriously folks, young kids doing pot is to be expected as they are rebellious and foolish, but if you are still involved in this still illegal drug at the age of Sullivan, then you are a LOSER!

    No wonder Sullivan is so angry and deranged, I mean how silly must he must feel slinking around looking for a dealer. Does he get some stoner kid to get his stash?

  • ||

    I mean seriously folks, young kids doing pot is to be expected as they are rebellious and foolish, but if you are still involved in this still illegal drug at the age of Sullivan, then you are a LOSER!

    He's eight years younger than me. I could probably pass a piss test today but I make no promises about urine cleanliness in the future.

    No wonder Sullivan is so angry and deranged, I mean how silly must he must feel slinking around looking for a dealer. Does he get some stoner kid to get his stash?

    Are you really that clueless about how the retail reefer market works?

  • ||

    It might also be relevant that Mr. Sullivan is married under Massachusetts law, and thus would be a US citizen by now - except that it's a same-sex marriage and thus not by federal law. He's also HIV positive, and would thus be barred from ever re-entering the US if he leaves.

    So, yeah, sounds like the Massachusetts prosecutor is doing the morally correct thing to drop charges that could result in deportation, given the current unconscionable state of federal law.

  • uncleremis||

    AndyHat - yes but the unequal application of drug laws means the political class can continue the drug war without having it apply to them. Only when it impacts them like the rest of us will they come around. The consequences of cases like this are much more serious than even Reason is describing in this article.

  • ||

    Surprise, surprise, JB goes straight for the anal sex angle. An obsession. You can let it all out here, big guy.

  • ||

    He may have had libertarian sympathies in the past, but now he is nothing more than a statist thug.

    Riiiight. Which explains why his blog's "Quote for the Day" for 9/11/2009 is from Friedrich Hayek's The Road To Serfdom

    It's well-known that zealots reserve their harshest venom for those who differ with them in degree rather than in kind, ie if you're the People's Front of Judea you spend most of your energy venting against the Judean People's Front rather than fighting the Romans.

  • Medic001||

    why hasn't anyone shot his dog?

  • damnitall||

    He broke the law. Tough shit. Do the time.

    If the teenager next to him gets slammed, so should he.

    Pro MJ pro Gay Marriage or not.
    He has to spend his day in court as too!

    This isn't a monarcy.

  • ||

    Pot or no pot, I've concluded he's been insane since around September of 2004. If you need confirmation, look to Hugh Hewitt's interview of him a couple years ago.

  • ||

    Sullivan is a whore and a fraud in the worst way. He used to regularly write about the excesses of gay culture and how it hurt normal gays like himself. Then he got caught advertising for bareback sex in a local Washington DC gay rag even though he is HIV positive.

    These days he hawks his book on Conservatism even though he marches lockstep with Obama and the gang.

    Sullivan is shameless.

  • D.R.M.||

    This dismissal should be met with the same degree of outrage that Sullivan would have expressed had Bristol Palin been the one being let off.

  • ||

    I'm all for legal drugs but if some average person gets caught with grass they're going to have to go through our legal system one way or another. Sullivan probably dialed up Obama and he got him off the hook. He ought to face the same charges anyone else would. It must be nice to have friends in high places. I used to love Sullivan back when he held everyone accountable. Now his blog is one big disgusting Obama love fest. I read it once in a while but it's seriously crap anymore. Anyone who claims to be a libertarian minded person yet applauds the acts of Obama's presidency is very much insane.

  • ||

    And I love how he still gives Bush hell for his presidency when in all honesty, I can't tell the damn difference between Bush and Obama except one can read a teleprompter better! Hell, some of the same people are still working in the White House! Yeah, he brought lots of change didn't he?

  • ||

    So, yeah, sounds like the Massachusetts prosecutor is doing the morally correct thing to drop charges that could result in deportation, given the current unconscionable state of federal law.

    All excellent points, but they should stand for the proposition that our drug laws are inhumane, rather than being cited in favor of giving special treatment to one person.

  • MattXIV||

    Tonio,

    He was quoting Hayek in support of gov't health insurance and kind of missing the point. The crux of Hayek's argument is that there aren't perverse incentives when "the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make the provision for the consequences", which would include some health care matters, but definitely not all of the ones that fall under the scope of what modern health insurance covers given the role of lifestyle factors in a wide variety of conditions, particularly the ones that are of major concern in the current medical system. This would be an argument for the goverment covering accidents and illnesses that could not have been prevented by the person being more responsible. He's also ignoring the pragmatic matter of where the money is going to come from, which is unrelated to the peverse incentives issue and a more pressing concern from my point of view. Quoting Hayek in defense of gov't run health insurance is no more libertarian than quoting Marx in defense of free trade is communist.

  • JB||

    [You can always buy social freedom with economic freedom.]

    Two billion Chinamen: "Always?

    Generally yes. Many of those rich Chinamen have access to drugs and prostitutes. They may not be able to vote, but that works a little differently and is not exactly a good or service you can obtain. For the right amount of money, they can even get around censors and purchase illegal news.

    Economic freedom is more important than social freedom. Do you really care that you can buy drugs if the government confiscates 99% of your income? You won't be able to afford the drugs.

  • JB||

    Surprise, surprise, JB goes straight for the anal sex angle. An obsession. You can let it all out here, big guy.

    mantooth, you need to go buy or rent a clue. Andrew Sullivan often writes about anal sex and torture.

  • mark||

    William R, I hate to have to defend Andrew Sullivan, but when he took out that ad he explicitly said he was HIV positive. Actually it was "POZ" but PLEASE try not to go looking for that ad, now that I've done the research. Time to go wash out my eyeballs.

  • Carsten||

    Now, if prosecutors would only do the same for carrying concealed firearms in federal parks I would be just giddy!



    Actually, if prosecutors would only do the same for us folks who don't write for the Atlantic and have friends in the Obama administration, I'd also be giddy.

    This is lame - I favor legalizing marijuana but not special treatment by the US Attorney's office for a journalist who's lopsidedly in favor the current administration.

  • ||

    This is a flyspeck on the windshield of justice. What Sullivan did was legal in the town but not on nearby federal property, which he may or may not have known - and marijuana use is common among HIV-infected individuals like Sullivan for medicinal reasons. The "special treatment" consisted of prosecutors understanding that this minor infraction could fun afoul of the absurdly rigid requirements that DHS imposes on many U.S. visitors and foreign nationals like Sullivan, and so they dropped charges to prevent that. Every year numerous students, journalists or scholars are invited to the U.S. for university seminars by a group with which I'm affiliated, and every year several are arbitrarily barred by DHS for ludicrous reasons. This year a Nepali BBC employee coming for a one-week institute and leaving a 4-month old baby behind with her mother was barred entry and branded a risk of becoming an illegal alien. DHS is not answerable for its Kafkaesque decision-making, and most everyone in the justice system knows it, except apparently this judge. Until DHS is forced to be more accountable, other parts of our system will have to make adjustments so that people aren't unfairly jeopardized by their requirements.

  • ||

    Keep writin' them mash columns to Obama, Sully!

  • ||

    "mantooth, you need to go buy or rent a clue. Andrew Sullivan often writes about anal sex and torture."

    Torture, yes. He speaks of that often. Anal sex? 15 mentions in 3 years of archives. The conversations you have with him in your head don't count.

  • ||

    It's a good thing that the immigration folks aren't going to find out about his pot bust on federal property. That would be sad.

    Heh.

  • ||

    You rightly hit on the prosecutor's motivation for seeking a dismissal: the collateral immigration penalty for a simple possession can be severe, especially if it is the second offense.
    The prosecutor's understandable sympathy, though, does raise a question why a non-citizen should be treated BETTER than a citizen, who would surely have suffered the fine. The alien gets special treatment because of he would get such severe treatment arising from a guilty plea.
    The answer, then, is to modify the immigration law so that alien's are only face removal for serious offenses, and not for such minor matters as possessing marijuana. That way, prosecutors are not faced with the temptation to undermine equal protection values in the disposition of their cases.

  • ||

    I really don't see what Sullivan's support for Obama has to do with this. Obama is not for marijuana legalization and I don't think he is big pals with Sullivan. The defense attorney and US attorney cut this deal and the judge called them out on it. If you are against the law, change it. If you want to openly flout it, take the consequences.

  • TallDave||

    Sullivan is an outspoken critic of the war on drugs, so he can hardly be accused of hypocrisy for smoking pot or seeking to avoid punishment for it.

    Actually, he can.

    "if you genuinely believe in the rule of law, you can't invoke political expediency as a guide to whether possible crimes should be investigated and prosecuted."

    That was... Andrew Sullivan.

    Also, his Trig-Trutherism gives a bad name to sane cannabis consumers eveywhere.

  • TallDave||

    "My view is that no one is above the law, and that when a society based on law prosecutes the powerless and excuses the powerful, it is corroding its own soul."

    --Andrew Sullivan in April

  • ||

    If Sarah Palin or any of her family members had been busted for a marijuana charge, we know how Andrew Sullivan would have reacted. And if the charge had been dismissed with this kind of justification? The heavens would have been rent with his outrage.

    I am a naturalized citizen who went through the long and painful immigration process. From what I have read, Andrew Sullivan has a green card already, which means that the only meaningful "unspecified immigration benefit" that he is seeking is likely naturalization - his admission into US citizenship.

    I wonder if he will truthfully answer question 10. D. 16. on the N-400 form, which asks:

    Have you ever been arrested, cited, or detained by any law enforcement officer ... for any reason?

    Considering the amount of slander and lies that Andrew has leveled at his political opponents and even neutral persons, I somehow doubt it. The title of part D. is Good Moral Character. How many people think that Andrew Sullivan has Good Moral Character?

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