Drug War

'The Bill of Rights Is Not a Trick'


Last week I noted the First Amendment implications of the crusade against drug paraphernalia, citing the October 26 raids on two Capitol Hemp locations in Washington, D.C. To show that the water pipes sold at the stores were meant for smoking marijuana (rather than legal plant material such as tobacco), the search warrant affidavit noted the books and videos carried by Capitol Hemp, including "a DVD…entitled '10 Rules for Dealing with Police.'" To which Steve Silverman of Flex Your Rights responds: Hey, that's our video! The affidavit highlighted the DVD's nefarious aims:

The DVD gave the following listed topics that were covered as:

     A. Deal with traffic stops, street stops and police at your door.

     B. Know your rights and maintain your cool, and;

     C. Avoid common police tricks and prevent humiliating searches.

Your Affiant notes that while this DVD is informative for any citizen, when introduced into a store that promotes the use of a controlled substance this DVD becomes a tool for deceiving law enforcement to keep from being arrested. The typical citizen would not need to know detailed information as to US Supreme Court case law regarding search and seizure because they are not transporting illegal substances in fear of being caught. 

In other words, the water pipes are not inherently illegal, and neither are the DVDs. But if you sell them together in the same store, you can be busted for violating the District of Columbia Drug Paraphernalia Act. The upshot is that you are punished for exercising your First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which makes a kind of sense, because the effort to eradicate drug paraphernalia is all about stamping out controversial messages (as I argued in "Bongs Away!," my 2009 Reason story on the subject). Silverman also objects to the implication that only criminals take an interest in the Fourth Amendment:

10 Rules for Dealing with Police shows how everyday people can sometimes face uncomfortable encounters with police, and every citizen is better off understanding their constitutional rights. There is nothing in the video that a "typical citizen would not need to know," because every citizen has a chance of having an encounter with police at some point in their lives.

I'm pleased to discover that law enforcement and legal scholars share our belief in the importance of making this material available to the public. We've received more orders from police departments than hemp stores, and I'm proud that our film has helped foster positive collaborations between police and the communities they serve. The film is also a popular tool among police trainers, who use it to educate officers about respecting constitutional rights and to appreciate how they're perceived by the public they serve.

That's why I'm disappointed to hear our material described as "a tool for deceiving law enforcement." When police use it in criminal procedure courses at the academy, that doesn't make it a tool for arresting people any more than a hemp store customer might use it to trick cops. The Bill of Rights is not a trick or a loophole to protect criminals. It's the highest law of the land. It's also a template for good police work and good citizenship.

More on Flex Your Rights here

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  1. This is what you get when you leave thins up to the free market: ruinous competition that leads to a waste of resources, namely the time of writers.

    1. Any article without alt-text is a waste of the writer’s time.

    2. Yup, waste of writers’ time. I’m glad to know that tarran is the highest expert on what people should be and should not be writing.

      Maybe he should make a ban list of bad publications and books so he can save readers’ time by helping them avoid reading ‘ruinous’ works that have already caused waste in their production.

      1. He’s referring to the double posting by Sullum and Gillespie, sparky.

  2. Semi-OT: Is it just me, or does the District really look like utter shit (except for all the monuments and memorials)? So many TV shows pan around the “skyline” as if it’s impressive. What a fucking joke.

    1. The District has always looked like shit. A pack of squat, concrete buildings bumped up against ghettos.

      1. It used to bump up against wilderness and hot festering swamps. Probably a lot nicer then. Unfortunately somebody invented air conditioning.

  3. The worst part is that an actual judge–who ought to know better–signed off on this. IMHO, judges are getting way too much of a free pass in this whole charade. They are supposed to be a check on police zealotry, and often simply refuse to do their jobs.

    1. The job of judges is to rubber stamp and defend whatever the rest of government does.
      Checks and balances? Ha! There is only collusion.

      1. The job of judges is to kiss up to their law school classmates – prosecutors and defense attorneys.

        1. prosecutors and defense attorneys

          And legislators as well, for what is a legislator other than a shitty lawyer who writes shitty legislation?

  4. The typical citizen would not need to know detailed information as to US Supreme Court case law regarding search and seizure because they are not transporting illegal substances in fear of being caught.

    Hey, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you don’t need to know the SCOTUS law on illegal searches and siezure, amirite? I mean, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t mind us taking a look in your car, do you? We can do this the hard way or we can do it the easy way, if you know what I mean. It’s up to you.

  5. The original Bill of Rights was sort of a trick… to help get the main Constitution passed.
    It was never taken seriously. Just read of the actions of John Adams as Prez.

    1. The Constitution was ratified by the last of the original 13 states in 1790. The ten amendments that form the Bill of Rights were ratified in 1791, independently of the original text. It may have been a compromise, but it was not a “trick” in the sense that word is now used. It required political savvy and fortitude to hold together an agreement and constituency to keep the whole thing from shattering.

    2. Uhh, yea. Especially since Adams essentially wrote the template for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the form of the Massachusetts Constitution and Declaration of Rights eight years earlier. He considered individual rights so unimportant that his Declaration of Rights preceded the Frame of Government section.

  6. Illusions, Michael. Tricks are what whores do for money.

  7. When I was a teen “head shops” were all over the place and nobody gave a crap. If you had told me then that selling “paraphernalia” would become a crime I wouldn’t have believed it. It would have sounded insane. It is amazing how insensibly we become inured to the encroachment of authoritarianism.

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