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Marijuana Becomes Focus of Drug War

In Today’s Washington Post, an article by Dan Eggan, with some excellent information, a couple of lies, and some clueless comments.

The focus of the drug war in the United States has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide, according to an analysis of federal crime statistics released yesterday.

The study of FBI data by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent. […]

“In reality, the war on drugs as pursued in the 1990s was to a large degree a war on marijuana,” said Ryan S. King, the study’s co-author and a research associate at the Sentencing Project. “Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance, but that doesn’t explain this level of growth over time. . . . The question is, is this really where we want to be spending all our money?”

Of course, the White House Drug Czar’s office was there to spread the usual lie.

Bush administration officials attribute the rise in marijuana arrests to a variety of factors: increased use among teenagers during parts of the 1990s; efforts by local police departments to focus more on street-level offenses; and growing concerns over the danger posed by modern, more potent versions of marijuana. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study yesterday showing that youth who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia.

“This is not Cheech and Chong marijuana,” said David Murray, a policy analyst for the anti-drug office. “It’s a qualitatively different drug, and that’s reflected in the numbers.” [emphasis added]

And did Dan Eggan do his job as a reporter and ask David Murray if he had any evidence regarding the claims that it’s a different drug today? Did he ask if there is any evidence that marijuana today affects people in any different way than it did in the past? Did he ask why the drug czar’s office won’t put this claim in print where it would be subject to Data Quality Act review? Nope. Dan dropped the ball and just continued on.

The study released yesterday by the Sentencing Project found that arrests for marijuana account for nearly all of the increase in drug arrests seen during the 1990s. The report also found that one in four people in state prisons for marijuana offenses can be classified as a “low-level offender,” and it estimated that $4 billion a year is spent on arresting and prosecuting marijuana crimes.

In addition, the study showed that although African Americans make up 14 percent of marijuana users generally, they account for nearly a third of all marijuana arrests.

Among the most striking findings was the researchers’ examination of arrest trends in New York City, which focused intently on “zero tolerance” policies during Rudolph W. Giuliani’s mayoral administration. Marijuana arrests in the city increased tenfold from 1990 to 2002, from 5,100 to more than 50,000, the report said. Nine of 10 of arrests in 2002 were for possession rather than dealing.

Winner of the Clueless award goes to Jonathan Caulkins, a criminology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

“There’s been a major change in what’s going on in drug enforcement, but it clearly isn’t something that someone set out to do. It’s not like anyone said, ‘We don’t care about cocaine and heroin anymore.'”

Jonathan, let me introduce you to John Walters, and his campaign to meet superficial goals through the demonization of marijuana, and his spreading of lies to state and local law enforcement.

[Hat tip to Andy]

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