Zoltan Istvan: “I Became a Pot Felon at 18. I’m Owed More Than an Apology.”

Zoltan Istvan at reason.com:

Zoltan Istvan is founder of The Transhumanist Party. He is currently running for Governor of California as a Libertarian. This commentary is from reason.com

When asked why I advocate for legalization of recreational drugs, I give a simple answer: Because the government doesn’t know what’s best for me or others. But there’s another reason, and it’s far more personal. Twenty-five years ago, as a college freshman, I was arrested by undercover cops for selling $80 worth of marijuana to fellow students. I was convicted of two felonies: distribution and possession of a narcotic. I spent a month in jail.

Long after the ordeal, I feel resentment at the United States government and the old conservative guard who still mostly run it. It’s important to understand that becoming a felon, even for a minor non-violent crime, is no small issue when you’re 18 years old. In addition to the government taking away your voting and gun rights, and forcing you to submit to random drug tests, a felony makes it extremely difficult to ever get a normal job. A criminal rap is a serious and derogatory social badge.

You’d think there would be some consolation that since my run-in with the law in 1992, America has been slowly withdrawing from its conservative anti-drug fervor. Currently, 28 states allow medical marijuana use, and eight states now have made recreational use legal. Eventually, pot will likely become legal everywhere, including $80 amounts to students on college campuses.

Millions of other minor drug offenders like me are left holding the bag. It wasn’t just the defamatory criminal sentence many of us received. The government confiscated my Jeep Comanche and my beloved Honda motorcycle during the ordeal. What little money I had I spent on lawyers and judicial filings in our convoluted court system. My total financial loss a quarter of a century ago was $20,000 dollars. Had I been able to invest that money in the stock market, for example, I’d have over $100,000 now.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that 8.2 million people in America were arrested between 2001 and 2010 for marijuana offenses. The Washington Post says at least 137,000 people sit in US jails on any given day of the week for weed.

Now that the country is on its glacial way to likely legalizing marijuana and taxing the sale of it like it does beer, where is the official apology, to me and all those others? For many of us, an apology—and the government’s inevitable habeas corpus when they likely make pot legal across the land—won’t be enough.

Some of us also want compensation for the financial damage forced upon us—for the literal theft of our property. Maybe that means a class action lawsuit insisting on government reparation for all damage caused, maybe in the form of tax credits or proceeds from the sale of unused Federal land, so as not to abuse the American taxpayer further over the drug war. It’s safe to say—given the damage caused and the lives affected—such a suit would likely be in the billions of dollars.

Whatever happens, don’t expect minor drug offenders to forget the harm Uncle Sam has caused now that smoking a joint is finally becoming legal and acceptable.

Source: Reason Magazine @ http://reason.com/archives/2017/08/24/an-apology-isnt-enough-for-the-millions http://reason.com/archives/2017/08/24/an-apology-isnt-enough-for-the-millions


7 thoughts on “Zoltan Istvan: “I Became a Pot Felon at 18. I’m Owed More Than an Apology.”

  1. Ted Brown

    As governor, Zoltan can give full pardons to himself and the other marijuana felons.

  2. Anastasia Beaverhausen

    The LP of California would have to be suicidal to nominate that guy for Governor.

  3. Ad Hoc

    The LP of California has no say in it. Under the top two only system, anyone who registers to vote as a Libertarian can run for governor – there could be one or a dozen – and they run in the same primary with all the Democrats, Republicans, Greens, independents and whoever else. The top two vote getters regardless of party advance to the general election. In most states this would usually be one Democrat and one Republican, but this being California, it’s likely to be two Democrats. On the other hand, if the Democrats have a lot of relatively well known and/or well financed candidates in the primary and the Republican donors are a lot more disciplined with their money, it could actually be two Republicans (in which case the initiative to repeal top two only may have a very good chance of passing, provided it gets on the ballot).

    Party endorsements or disavowals mean little or nothing given that the LP of California doesn’t even remotely have the means to communicate its preferences to tens of millions of people. A convention of a few dozen people could issue endorsements if they wanted to, and use their budget of a few thousand dollars to try to publicize them, but an eight-figure electorate largely will not hear about it.

  4. Ad Hoc

    “As governor, Zoltan can give full pardons to himself and the other marijuana felons.”

    Sure, in the unlikely case that he becomes Governor he could do that.

    But he has a valid point, which is that changing the law and pardoning people convicted under the old law does not get them the money they lost as a result of their legal defense and/or incarceration. In the case of many people they lost more than money – think child custody, jobs, careers, professional licenses, marriages, homes, all due to unjust incarceration. Then they were marked as felons for life, barring them from many employment and housing opportunities among many other things.

    Restitution for all of that damage to millions of people would be a lot more than just letting people out of jail, off probation or parole or even giving them pardons or sealing their arrest records. Unlike reparations for antebellum slavery, we are talking about something that was done to millions of people who are still alive. And many of whom were in fact slaves in the penal system.

  5. Starchild

    As a libertarian and cannabis user, I strongly sympathize with Zoltan Istvan being persecuted by the State at a young age for selling marijuana, and can’t argue with his claim that he is owed restitution.

    When the time comes for the State to pay its debts, people like Istvan should be in front of investors and bondholders in line when it comes to getting their money back. And when the funds run out as they will, I am absolutely fine with those who’ve invested in government being left hung out to dry, financially speaking, because they chose to help fund the problem in the hope of profiting, and bear some responsibility for that. In a situation of moral triage, they are among the least deserving of creditors.

    The sad fact however is that even if governments in the United States renege on all their conventional debts, they simply will not have the resources to fairly compensate all the people they have wronged. When it comes down to it, most of us are net victims of government who have valid claims on some of its resources.

    I’m not sure Zoltan Istvan has had enough exposure to libertarianism to yet fully appreciate the vast scope of that aggression, and to realize that he is standing in a long, long line of victims who have all been wronged and all deserve redress. While he spent time in jail as a youth, millions remain incarcerated right now in this country for selling marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and other drugs; for prostitution; for exercising their right to keep and bear arms; for being undocumented and exercising their freedom of movement; for trying to protect their assets (tax evasion); for resisting unjust arrest; and for many other victimless “crimes”.

    And that’s only those who’ve suffered in the most direct way, by being locked in cages. Consider all the other violations of freedom and basic human and constitutional rights, all the taxes that poor and rich alike are forced to pay in different forms, including the hidden tax of inflation, the higher prices we pay for everything we buy as a result of sales taxes and regulations that increase the costs of manufacture and services, the lost opportunities resulting from all the laws that prevent so much of what might have been from taking place, etc., and it becomes clear that only a tiny number of government beneficiaries and well-paid employees – the real 1% – are likely to have been in any way better off in their lives than would have been the case were it not for all the State aggression.

    The last thing we should want is to repay some of these victims by re-victimizing others. The first rule of libertarian restitution should be this: Make the oppressors pay, not the taxpayers.

    By all means compensate in proportion with the wrongs they’ve endured the victims like Istvan who have documented grievances against the State above and beyond those suffered by nearly all of us, but not in a manner that denies the rest of us our fair chance at compensation equally proportional to our own grievances, or results in more money being stolen from innocent taxpayers. Only government agencies and well-paid government employees should be held liable.

    So let’s plan to tap their budgets, salaries, benefits, bank accounts, and pensions, but recognize up front that the money available to be reclaimed from the worst aggressors won’t be enough. Most of their takings have long since been wasted on everything from salaries and perks already paid out, to billion dollar bombers and protectionist corporate subsidies.

    Under the fairest possible approach to compensation that libertarians of the future will likely be able to manage when the day of reckoning comes, victims like Istvan will likely receive only pennies on the dollar for the wrongs they’ve suffered. It’s a tragic outcome that falls short of real justice, but short of creating new victims and perpetuating the vicious cycle of aggression and theft, that’s the way it will have to be.

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