Tag: drug war

Reactions to the partial shift in federal drug enforcement policy

| May 11, 2010 | 2 Replies
Reactions to the partial shift in federal drug enforcement policy

Today the Obama administration announced a shift in its priorities regarding drug enforcement.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced a revised approach to “confronting the complex challenge of drug use and its consequences,” putting more resources into drug prevention and treatment.

The new drug control strategy boosts community-based anti-drug programs, encourages health care providers to screen for drug problems before addiction sets in and expands treatment beyond specialty centers to mainstream health care facilities.

At Huffpo, Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, applauds some of the changes:

The Obama administration has taken important steps to undo some of the damage of past administrations’ drug policies. The Justice Department has played an important role in trying to reduce the absurdly harsh, and racially discriminatory, crack/powder mandatory minimum drug laws; Congress is likely to approve a major reform this year. DOJ also changed course on medical marijuana, letting state governments know that federal authorities would defer to their efforts to legally regulate medical marijuana under state law. And they approved the repeal of the ban on federal funding of syringe exchange programs to reduce HIV/AIDS, thereby indicating that science would at last be allowed to trump politics and prejudice even in the domain of drug policy.

The new strategy goes further. It calls for reforming federal policies that prohibit people with criminal convictions and in recovery from accessing housing, employment, student loans and driver’s licenses. It also endorses a variety of harm reduction strategies (even as it remains allergic to using the actual language of “harm reduction”), endorsing specific initiatives to reduce fatal overdoses, better integration of drug treatment into ordinary medical care, and alternatives to incarceration for people struggling with addiction. All of this diverges from the drug policies of the Reagan, Clinton and two Bush administrations.

Nadelmann also criticizes the the budget numbers because they point to a continued waging of the “drug war”: “64% of their budget – virtually the same as under the Bush Administration and its predecessors – focuses on largely futile interdiction efforts as well as arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating extraordinary numbers of people”

LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) also criticizes the budget numbers for the same reason as Nadelmann:

The drug czar is saying all the right things about ending the ‘war on drugs’ and enacting a long-overdue balanced strategy focused on a public health approach,” said Neill Franklin, a former Baltimore cop and incoming executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “Unfortunately the reality of the budget numbers don’t match up to the rhetoric. Two-thirds of the budget is dedicated to the same old ‘war on drugs’ approach and only a third goes to public health strategies. My experience policing the beat tells me that it’s certainly time for a new approach, but unfortunately this administration is failing to provide the necessary leadership to actually make it happen instead of just talking about it.

The strategy devotes 64 percent of the budget to traditional supply reduction strategies like enforcement and interdiction while reserving only 36 percent for demand reduction approaches like treatment and prevention.

StoptheDrugWar joins the chorus, arguing that the budget allocation needs to match the new rhetoric:

President Obama’s first National Drug Control Strategy offers real, meaningful, exciting change,” [Matthew Robinson, professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University and coauthor (with Renee Scherlen) of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the ONDCP"] summed up. “Whether this change amounts to ‘change we can believe in’ will be debated by drug policy reformers. For those who support demand side measures, many will embrace the 2010 Strategy and call for even greater funding for prevention and treatment. For those who support harm reduction measures such as needled exchange, methadone maintenance and so forth, there will be celebration. Yet, for those who support real alternatives to federal drug control policy such as legalization or decriminalization, all will be disappointed. And even if Obama officials will not refer to its drug control policies as a ‘war on drugs,’ they still amount to just that.

In the past, I’ve cited many reasons and sources that paint the “drug war” as ineffective and immoral. See, especially LEAP’s videos here. Also see the powerful arguments raised by conservative Judge James Gray. Gray has commented that “the most harmful thing about marijuana is jail.” In this post, I refer to John Richardson’s shocking statistics: The amount we spend every year on the “drug war” is enough to pay for universal health care. The insanity goes on and on.

I am buoyed by the recent change in federal rhetoric, however. I am glad that many people (a large proportion of whom are in favor of the use of street drugs) are finding the courage to speak out against the status quo. I would hope that this is the beginning to the end to a failed policy that is based on shrill ideology that results in needless violence and stigmatization and the arrests of almost 800,000 people every year for marijuana charges.

In my opinion, one of the most direct and courageous statements on the “drug war” was made by travel guru Rick Steves:

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Gagging the experts when discussing the war on drugs

| November 3, 2009 | 1 Reply
Gagging the experts when discussing the war on drugs

Jim Webb introduced a bill to “create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom.”

How shall we proceed? A recent amendment to Webb’s bill by Republican Senator Charles Grassley would bar the commission from “considering” “legalization” of presently controlled substances. See also, this post by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Rolling Stone reports in more detail:

Enter unreconstructed drug warrior Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has released the text of an amendment that would ensure the commission not reach any conclusions that threaten 40 years of failure. The commission would be prohibited, thanks to Grassley, from examining any “policies that favor decriminalization of violations of the Controlled Substances Act or the legalization of any controlled substances.”

Here’s the text of Grassley’s proposed gag rule:

SEC. ll. RESTRICTIONS ON AUTHORITY.
The Commission shall have no authority to make findings related to current Federal, State, and local criminal justice policies and practices or reform recommendations that involve, support, or otherwise discuss the decriminalization of any offense under the Controlled Substances Act or the legalization of any controlled substance listed under the Controlled Substances Act.

Therefore . . . let’s figure out how to revamp our criminal justice system but let’s not discuss the elephant in the room: the fact that the “war on drugs” that has ruined more lives than drugs ever could have ruined. It’s important to keep in mind that some conservatives see the light on the “drug war.”

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The U.S. War on Drugs by the numbers

| September 1, 2009 | 11 Replies
The U.S. War on Drugs by the numbers

In the current edition of Esquire Magazine, John H. Richardson mentions the:

startling lack of controversy that greeted last week’s news that Mexico had suddenly decriminalized drugs — not just marijuana but also cocaine, LSD, and heroin.

In his article, Richardson describes the drug war in the U.S. with some staggering numbers. For instance, every year the U.S. “war on drugs” costs:

15,223 dead and $52.3 billion spent each year — which is, incidentally, almost enough to pay for universal health care.

One can’t help but think of Einstein’s well-used definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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Our insane drug war, revisited

| July 20, 2009 | 3 Replies
Our insane drug war, revisited

Mother Jones has hammered our drug war with undeniable facts . . . well, undeniable unless you are a government official in charge of the “drug war.” In fact, as authors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery advise us, the entire history of the U.S. “war on drugs” is actually a governmental war on truth.

[T]he drug war has never been about facts—about, dare we say, soberly weighing which policies might alleviate suffering, save taxpayers money, rob the cartels of revenue. Instead, we’ve been stuck in a cycle of prohibition, failure, and counterfactual claims of success. (To wit: Since 1998, the ONDCP has spent $1.4 billion on youth anti-pot ads. It also spent $43 million to study their effectiveness. When the study found that kids who’ve seen the ads are more likely to smoke pot, the ONDCP buried the evidence, choosing to spend hundreds of millions more on the counterproductive ads.) What would a fact-based drug policy look like? It would put considerably more money into treatment, the method proven to best reduce use. It would likely leave in place the prohibition on “hard” drugs, but make enforcement fair . . . And it would likely decriminalize but tightly regulate marijuana, which study after study shows is less dangerous or addictive than cigarettes or alcohol, has undeniable medicinal properties, and isn’t a gateway drug to anything harder than Doritos.

If you want to see a bunch of demoralized people wasting time, park yourself at your local drug court and watch a judge slapping faux sentences on marijuana users and small-time peddlers. Everyone involved knows that the system is a joke–a money sucking time-wasting absurd joke that ruins lives, because every so often someone gets ripped from his or her family, thrown into prison for years. The crime (just to remind you) is that these users wanted to feel pleasure. And sometimes its more absurd: the criminal wanted to escape stress or anxiety and he didn’t have a fancy health insurance policy that would allow a doctor to hand him legal pills that do the same thing. And maybe he didn’t want to legally rot out his liver with alcohol, which is the other way of getting a similar high.

As I’ve made clear many times, I am not promoting drug use of any kind. I just had serious surgery and I could have loaded up on narcotics that were made available to me, but I didn’t because I don’t want that or need that. I’m a lucky person in that regard. I am not interested in altering my mind through chemicals. I am trying to convince my daughters that they should strive for clean drug-free living. But I am aware that many people want or need relief from stressful lives (or from their own misfiring brains) or maybe they want the option to simply chill out. I certainly don’t want to stand in their way any more than I would tell a patient to not take those pills prescribed by her doctor.

It’s time to stop spending billions of tax dollars on a drug war that doesn’t stop drug use and only ramps up violence, destabilizes governments and steals critical services from taxpayers. The drug war is highly immoral, but we won’t be able to fix the situation until we have the courage to have an honest conversation.

Related posts:

The most harmful thing about marijuana is jail (reporting on the opinion of a conservative judge).

The Economist’s argument to stop the war on drugs. (includes the mind-scrambling statistic that the U.S. spend $40 B each year trying to stop the use of illegal drugs).

Johann Hari’s argument that It’s time to stop the drug war. (more shocking statistics)

It isn’t dangerous to use marijuana. (Really, no more dangerous than Doritos)

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The Economist: Stop the war on drugs

| March 6, 2009 | 1 Reply
The Economist:  Stop the war on drugs

How is the war on drugs going, really? According to The Economist, things are not going well.

[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.

How can one quantify this illiberal, murderous and pointless struggle?

The United States alone spends some $40 billion each year on trying to eliminate the supply of drugs. It arrests 1.5m of its citizens each year for drug offences, locking up half a million of them; tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars. In the developing world blood is being shed at an astonishing rate. In Mexico more than 800 policemen and soldiers have been killed since December 2006 (and the annual overall death toll is running at over 6,000) . . . [F]ar from reducing crime, prohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before.

In this article, The Economist points out that it has maintained this same position for 20 years, and it is more evident than ever that the “drug war” is a disaster.

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Time to stop the drug war

| February 11, 2009 | 5 Replies
Time to stop the drug war

Johann Hari sums it up at Huffpo:

Which country was just named by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff as the most likely after Pakistan to suffer a “rapid and sudden collapse“?

Most of us would guess Iraq. The answer is Mexico. The death toll in Tijuana today is higher than in Baghdad. The story of how this came to happen is the story of this war — and why it will have to end, soon.

When you criminalize a drug for which there is a large market, it doesn’t disappear. The trade is simply transferred from pharmacists and doctors to armed criminal gangs. In order to protect their patch and their supply routes, these gangs tool up — and kill anyone who gets in their way. You can see this any day on the streets of London or Los Angeles, where teenage gangs stab or shoot each other for control of the 3,000 percent profit margins on offer. Now imagine this process on a countrywide scale, and you have Mexico and Afghanistan today.

How bad have things gotten in Mexico?

In 2007, more than 2,000 people were killed. In 2008, it was more than 5,400 people. The victims range from a pregnant woman washing her car to a four year-old child to a family in the “wrong” house watching television. Today, 70 percent of Mexicans say they are frightened to go out because of the cartels.

Writer Christina Gleason sums up some of the carnage here in the U.S.:

According to the Department of Justice, over half of all sentenced federal prisoners are drug offenders. Over 80% of the increase in the federal prison population was due to drug convictions between 1985 and 1995. In addition, a 2006 report claimed that 17% of State prisoners and 18% of Federal prisoners committed their crimes in order to obtain drug money. According to a 2001 report, the average sentence for all offenses was 56.8 months. The average sentence for drug offenses was 75.6 months, while the average sentence for violent offenses was 63.0 months. Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 17 seconds. Someone is arrested for violating a cannabis law every 38 seconds.

What’s the solution? Hari quotes Terry Nelson a former U.S. drug enforcement officer who has seen the light:

Legalizing and regulating drugs will stop drug market crime and violence by putting major cartels and gangs out of business. It’s the one surefire way to bankrupt them, but when will our leaders talk about it?

Why do most people reject this solution? They are afraid that the people who are already getting drugs will continue getting drugs, I suppose. They are failing to consider the extent of the violence and the fact that the drug war is taking valuable money out of the economy to accomplish next to nothing. If you doubt me, go watch a drug court docket. Talk about meaningless rubber stamping. People with drug records as long as your arm simply revolve through the system. In state court, judges struggle to find ways to keep from filling our prisons with nothing but drug offenders. That is the extent of the problem.

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