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October 2007



Happy Halloween

Can you identify the ghouls?


U.S. Drug War Endangering the Lives of the Troops


A US anti-narcotics program in Afghanistan has raised tensions, undermined security and endangered Australian and Dutch soldiers’ lives, a respected international foreign policy think tank has warned. The Senlis Council claims the US Government brushed aside Australian and Dutch concerns to ram through an ill-conceived poppy eradication program in Oruzgan province, which has undermined […]

Marijuana equals Speeding and Drunk Driving

A fascinating Freakonomics at the New York Times this afternoon by Stephen J. Dubner: On the Legalization Ö or Not Ö of Marijuana
He asks a number of people on both sides of the issue: “Should marijuana be legalized in the U.S.? Why or why not?” and gets detailed responses from Dr. Lester Ginspoon, Dr. Robert L. DuPont, Allen St. Pierre, Dr. David Murray, and Richard Lawrence Miller. Some high powered players on both sides.
One disappointment with Dubner’s article is his semi-complaint:

You will find that their replies routinely contradict one another, even on statements of fact. This is a limitation of nearly any debate of this sort, and while these contradictions illustrate what makes the issue a potent one, you may also be frustrated (as I was) by them.

Well, that’s simple. What you do then is check out the facts and say which one is a liar. I have very little patience with reporters who ‘report’ things in ways like… “Flat-earthers say the earth is flat and the sun revolves around the earth, while round-earthers say the earth is round and revolves around the sun. Unfortunately both are dogmatic in their positions and refuse to compromise, leaving us frustrated.” If there are facts at issue, then research them and come up with the truth. Not everything is subjective, and there are, within the marijuana legalization debate, economic and social truths as clear as the one that describes our solar system.
One thing that is absolutely clear when reading these essays is that the prohibitionists are really reaching to come up with a credible argument at all.
Grinspoon and St. Pierre do a fine job in their detailed supported arguments; Miller gives up and goes for the sad truth:

At the risk of being long-winded, I wanted to let you know why I‰m not citing any studies here. Reformers know about studies, and opponents disregard them, so I see no benefit in mentioning any.

Murray spouts the usual ONDCP propaganda, but the award by far for ridiculousness goes to DuPont:

Legalization of marijuana would solve the marijuana problem the way legalizing speeding would solve the speeding problem: it would remove the legal inhibition of a dangerous behavior, and thereby encourage the behavior.

Um. No.
That is one of the most stupid analogies I’ve every heard. And yet he continues with it, going even further…

Just as many people who speed do not have accidents, many people who smoke marijuana do not have problems as a result of their use, especially those who use the drug for brief periods of time and/or infrequently. The same is true for drunk driving Ö it is estimated that the drunk driver‰s risk of an accident is about one in 2,000 episodes of drunk driving. Nevertheless, speeding and drunk driving are punishable by law because of the serious consequences of these behaviors. In all of these cases, legal prohibition serves as a reasonably effective deterrent to the behavior. For those who are undeterred by prohibition, the enforcement of the law produces escalating consequences for repeated violations.

That’s right. Using marijuana is like drunk driving. You might be OK some of the time, but you just might smash a multiple-ton steel object into innocent people while smoking that joint on your couch.
Of course, all the speeding and drunk driving analogies to marijuana are as stupid as the “Well, why don’t you legalize murder and rape while you’re at it?” nonsense.
First of all, marijuana is relatively harmless to both the user and those around the user, particularly when used responsibly. Second, there’s not much of a black market for rape, murder, speeding or drunk driving. If you arrest a drunk driver, there’s not a cartel in Mexico sitting there ready to supply more drunk driving at a price to fill the need. If you put a rapist in jail there isn’t a new rapist that will step up to meed the demand for rape.
DuPont’s analogies with speeding and drunk driving are simply ways to avoid talking about the real issues — the vast costs of prohibition compared to the extraordinarily mild risks of marijuana use.
Then DuPont goes even further over the edge:

Today in the U.S., the criminal penalties for marijuana use are mild, far more so than for speeding and drunk driving, and are usually limited to the payment of a small fine. The few people now in prison solely for marijuana use have almost all been charged with more serious offenses, and then pleaded guilty to this lesser offense.

I beg your pardon? Do you know of anyone who has been denied financial aid or lost their job for going over the speed limit? ‘Cause I certainly know some who have from possession of marijuana.
And this nonsense about how those who use marijuana don’t get tough penalties? That ignores the way the law tends to define almost everything as trafficking. Pass a joint to a friend? Trafficking. When I was in college, people bought marijuana by the ounce (usually for about $20). Today if you were caught with an ounce in most places that would be trafficking. The federal government supplies

Mitt Romney — a sign of the sickness of our system

The youtube videos of Romney brushing off a medical marijuana patient who asks if Romney believes people like him should be arrested have been circulated pretty widely. Clayton Holden has been continuing to try to get an answer, and Romney actually responded with this gem:

“I don’t do any arresting,” said Romney, who appeared uncomfortable, […]

How things change…

Not that long ago, anything approaching the Senlis proposal in Afghanistan was completely ignored or dismissed out-of-hand by the U.S. government. Opium eradication was the only possible solution to dealing with Afghanistan.
However, as the situation continues to show no signs of improvement and U.S. looks more and more embarrassing every day, the previously taboo becomes thinkable.
In a new report at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, Lieutenant Colonel John A. Glaze writes:

The United States should deemphasize opium eradication efforts. U.S.-backed eradication efforts have been ineffective and have resulted in turning Afghans against U.S. and NATO forces. The Council on Foreign Relations in New York has warned, ‹Elimination of narcotics will take well over a decade, and crop eradication is a counterproductive way to start such a program.Š While the process of eradication lends itself well to the use of flashy metrics such as ‹acres eradicated,Š eradication without provision for long term alternative livelihoods is devastating Afghan‰s poor farmers without addressing root causes. […]

The United States should explore the possibility of assisting Afghanistan in joining other countries in the production of legal opiates. […] The Senlis Council recommends a strictly supervised licensing system in Afghanistan for the cultivation of opium for the production of essential opiate-based medicines such as morphine and codeine. Such a licensing scheme is already being administered in Turkey, India, France, and Australia. While cultivation for legal uses is not a ‹silver bulletŠ solution to Afghanistan‰s opium problem, it could eventually become a viable source of income for some farmers.

This is the Army speaking. It’s still too timid, but a remarkable concession nonetheless, even in an academic paper.

A revenuer wants to be President

Via Atrios — Fred Thompson the prosecutor

But more than anything, Thompson took on the state’s moonshiners and a local culture, rooted in Tennessee’s hills and hollows, that celebrated the independent whiskey maker’s battle against the government’s revenue agents. Twenty-seven of his cases involved moonshining — more than any other crime. “Hell, I made whiskey […]

Being blunt

Andrew Sullivan picks up on the story of Robin Prosser — the medical marijuana patient/activist who recently ended her life.
Sully’s post got the attention of my favorite conservative blogger, John Cole, and this is what he had to say…

I have had a couple drinks, so let‰s be blunt (pardon the pun)- and this goes out to anyone, of any political persuasion, anywhere, who had a problem with this woman using marijuana to alleviate her pain (especially the alleged ‹conservativeŠ federalists who can‰t handle the thought of states making their own drug laws):
Go fuck yourself. To death.
I am sick of the bullshit. Life is hard for most people out there, and damned near impossible for people in chronic pain. Quit making it worse, you allegedly compassionate sons-of-bitches.

Thank you, John.
(Read the rest of his post, and the comments as well.)
Update This story is affecting a wide variety of bloggers. See Memeorandum

Open Thread

“bullet” NJ fugitive arrested after 28 years on the run — The guy is 75 years old now. But they got him.

Jurado is being held in Philadelphia until he can be extradited to New Jersey. He served less than four months of a three- to 10-year prison sentence for drug offenses before he escaped. […]

Random thoughts on drug war administrators

[Note: This is all idle speculation. I don’t know these people personally, so I can’t be in any way sure of my analyses.]

The recent announcement of Karen P. Tandy’s departure as head of the DEA (and her move to a position with Motorola) got me thinking about the various personalities in charge of the drug war.
Some have informally suggested that a boycott of Motorola is appropriate, given Tandy’s record as head of the DEA, but I’m not so sure.
You see, I don’t think she’s a true believer or a hard core career drug warrior. I think she’s simply a not-too-bright opportunist completely lacking moral values. She was ignorant coming in to the position. Note this exchange from her confirmation hearing:

Durbin: Are you aware of information regarding the medicinal benefits of marijuana (for example: an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine on [January] 30, 1997; the 1999 Institute of Medicine report “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base authorized by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; and the 1988 ruling from the DEA’s chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young)?…”
Tandy: “I am not personally familiar with the sources you cite discussing the putative “medicinal benefits of marijuana…”

It appears that this lack of interest in actually knowing anything continued through her administration. I had the opportunity to have dinner with one of her assistants (also a political appointee) – a man who is sometimes sent out to talk and debate about marijuana.
We talked candidly at dinner, and I was astonished to learn that there were a number of items of common drug policy knowledge that he was lacking (for example, the fact that Bush had campaigned in favor of states’ rights regarding medical marijuana, or that Marinol can get you high). For his part, he merely saw it as a temporary job, and cared to learn just enough to do what was necessary. He wasn’t interested in the kind of extensive research that we do on a daily basis.
I suspect that any additional knowledge Karen Tandy has upon leaving the DEA she obtained by accident– and that most of her “expertise” was simply provided by career staff and speechwriters. I think her knack was the ability to unquestioningly follow the administration’s line and spout the “correct” talking points. This is probably what makes her attractive to Motorola. As someone with international connections because of her position with the DEA, and no moral compunctions or annoying tendencies to think, she’s a perfect tool.
Sure, she’ll probably be trotted out on some occasions to speak in favor of the drug war due to her status as past DEA head, but I doubt we’ll hear much from her anymore.

Tandy’s deputy, Michele Leonhart, who will most likely be put forth as head of the DEA is, in some ways, more troublesome. A career DEA agent, who finds nothing particularly wrong with lying… in court!…

“The only criticism (of Chambers) I’ve ever heard is what defense attorneys will characterize as perjury or a lie on the stand.”

She sees the drug war not as a temporary career advancement, but rather sees the long term power of the DEA as a good unto itself.
So how do you categorize other drug war leaders?
One that has fascinated me for some time is Andrea Barthwell. She joined the ONDCP in late 2001 as Deputy Director for Demand Reduction. I had a conversation with a treatment professional who knew her prior to her ONDCP days and thought highly of her. In fact, Andrea herself claimed that she was unhappy with the Bush administration’s focus on enforcement and was hoping to use her position in the ONDCP to advocate for more focus on treatment.
But being deputy drug czar appeared to have turned her completely to the dark side. Rather than pushing for treatment, she spent most of her time in the position extolling the evils of marijuana and pushing for drug testing. Upon leaving, her dementia seemed to deepen. Rather than pursuing a “respectable” career in the treatment field, she has pursued one hair-brained scheme after another, from her Illinois Marijuana Lectures organization (which I stopped) to promoting liquid marijuana in the pay of Sativex, to attempting to run for senate, to her con game pushing false data regarding drunk driving (which I also exposed)…
Now, Barthwell is apparently promoting some new kind of junk science treatment scheme, but she’s having a harder time getting a properly supportive audience for her nonsense. As the Windy City Times reports:

Another attendee said that the whole presentation seemed like ‹a major sales job.Š He also told Barthwell that he felt that her ‹explanation of addiction was very naive. … ” […] Windy City Times asked CCMTF‰s Jim Pickett what he thought of the presentationÖand he was not impressed. ‹I want scienceÖand most of us in the community want science before we start advocating for a treatment,Š he said. ‹I think it‰s irresponsible that they‰re pushing forward with such little science…”

The Tandys and Barthwells of this world can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time, and need to be watched closely while they’re in power, but, in the long term, they are less of a concern than the lifetime career drug warriors.

Certainly the ones who come most to mind are the current villains like John Walters and Mark Souder, and some of the ongoing heirs to the Anslinger legend, like William Bennett and Peter Bensinger. These are individuals who have decided that the drug war (and related culture wars) are something to build a lifetime around. They have decided that the rest of the world is incapable of living “correctly,” and so will do anything from lying to sacrificing innocents for their power trip. They base it around a false concept of morality to justify the immoral actions they take. For the most part, they know full well that they are living a lie, but find that fully acceptable (although it’s possible, in the case of warriors like Souder that there is also a bit of self-delusion going on).
So, do I have a point in this post? Not sure.
I have, in recent years, come to the firm belief that any responsible individual faced with enough facts about the drug war must inescapably come to the conclusion that the drug war is wrong. Period. So I find a somewhat morbid fascination in trying to understand those who are in a position to know enough to oppose the drug war, yet support it anyway.
It may not be an analysis that will provide any practical use — after all, our task is not to change those knowledgeable, yet corrupt, drug war supporters. It is, rather, our job to get the vast majority who do not know enough up to speed, so they can oppose it. Still, knowledge and questioning is always good.
What do you think drives drug war administrators?

Welcome ISU SSDP folks

I had a great time at the SSDP meeting tonight. And thanks for the cake!!! Welcome — feel free to jump right in.