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August 2014
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On addiction

The always excellent Maia Szalavitz has another good article: Most of Us Still Don’t Get It: Addiction Is a Learning Disorder

There’s a lot of misinformation pushed out there about addiction, and much of it is used to justify interventional drug policy – the whole notion that drugs enslave people against their will. And part of that is driven by “brain disease studies” showing that drug use “changes” the brain.

All experience changes the brain—it has to, in order to leave a mark on memory. If experience didn’t alter us, we couldn’t perceive, recall or react to it. So, simply changing the brain doesn’t make addiction a disease because not all changes are pathological. In order to use brain scans to prove addiction is a disease, you’d have to show changes that are only seen in addicted people, that occur in all cases of addiction and that predict relapse and recovery. No one has yet done this. [...]

Researchers long argued that the pharmacology of particular drugs is what makes them addictive—that, say, cocaine’s alterations in the dopamine system cause a worse addiction than sex or food do because the drug directly affects the way the brain handles that chemical. But since sex and food only affect these chemicals naturally—and can create compulsive behavior that’s just as hard for some people to quit—why should we see cocaine differently?

Of course, none of this is to say that addiction isn’t a medical disorder or that addicted people shouldn’t be treated with compassion. What it does show, I believe, is that addiction is a learning disorder, a condition where a system designed to motivate us to engage in activities helpful to survival and reproduction develops abnormally and goes awry. [...]

Addiction—whether to sex, drugs or rock & roll—is a disorder of learning. It’s not a disorder of hedonism or selfishness and it’s not a sign of “character defects.” This learning, of course, involves the brain—but because learning is involved, cultural, social and environmental factors are critical in shaping it. [...]

We’ve been doing the equivalent of trying to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder by banning hand sanitizer when what we really need to understand is why and how obsessions and compulsions develop in particular people.

Fascinating and useful stuff.

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Chief David Oliver of Brimfield Ohio is part of the problem

Yesterday, we discussed the idea of law enforcement visiting the holocaust museum to avoid the authoritarian mistakes of the past.

Of course, the problem is, even as the linked article admitted, it’s not so easy to see past your own blinders when you’re the person heading down that path.

Several people yesterday pointed out this piece by Brimfield, Ohio Police Chief David Oliver: Open Letter to The Police Officers Who Want to Legalize Drugs where he disparages one of the most intelligent and full-of-integrity groups of officers I know: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

The legalization folks are quitters.

Of course, that’s not true at all, and if Chief Oliver had an ounce of integrity, he would do more research on LEAP and realize that they find ending the drug war only the first part of the job. As Peter Christ said (paraphrased): “Legalization is about solving our drug war problem. Then we can actually deal with our drug problem.”

Oliver also uses the tired old washed-up and completely inane analogy of legalizing murder:

Having laws against murder does not work, because people still kill other people everyday. As a matter of fact, why don’t we just legalize everything?! If everything is legal, we can do away with police, prisons and courts. The “war on crime” is obviously not working. It is evident it has failed because of the continued rapes, murders, burglaries and assaults. Prisons are overcrowded not because of the choices of the people committing the crimes, but solely because of the police officers who enforce laws which keep us safe and protect our quality of life. Blah, blah, blah.

I tire of having to explain this, as to a kindergartener, but there’s a difference between prohibition laws and laws against crimes such as murder, rape, burglary and assault. If you take a drug dealer off the street, because of the simple and immutable economic laws of supply and demand, another one will emerge to replace them. If you take a murderer or rapist off the street, there is no demand for murderers or rapists that causes them to be re-stocked. The economies of prohibition also insure criminal profits, and tough enforcement rewards those criminal enterprises that are more ruthless.

These undeniable facts demand a different kind of policy.

When you see Chief Oliver’s other postings, you get a reinforcement of his warped world view – police departments are not becoming militarized, we haven’t really tried hard enough to fight the war on drugs, and police officers are dying because of loose talk on the internet.

If you are one of liberal friends, you will hear that we will plant evidence, violate your rights and search your stuff after stopping you for no reason. We will then convict you and send you to prison by committing perjury. If you resist arrest, we will tase you and probably shoot your dog. These ideas and this vitriol all has one thing in common. It is all hogwash… every last bit of it. These sites are publishing lies.

If by lies, you mean case after case of documented proof in the courts? Sure, not all cops are doing that, and we emphasize that fact all the time, but as long as cops like Chief Oliver deny the existence of this corruption and the blue code of silence continues to protect those who are corrupt, then we have a duty as citizens to hold these public servants accountable, or we face the very real threat of walking that road from yesterday’s post.

I’m sure Chief Oliver considers himself to be a good cop. He has a number of authoritarian-cheerleading commenters for all his posts who like him. And, from reading his posts on Facebook, it seems that he genuinely cares about his community and many of the people in it. But because he fails to see the damage done to society by his approach to policing, he is a big part of the problem.

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You’d think this would be good training… (Updated)

This surprised the hell out of me…

FBI sends agents to Holocaust museum

We send every one of our agents to the Holocaust Museum before they’re agents to know and understand what happens when an agency goes rogue,” ex-FBI director Robert Mueller explained recently.

Agents take a private, guided tour of the museum. Then there’s a specialized class that highlights how everyday law enforcement played a key role in Germany’s descent into authoritarianism. It wasn’t only elite military units, like the infamous Schutzstaffel, or SS. [...]

Then he brings up dark moments in American history. Japanese-Americans were sent to World War II internment camps. Civil Rights protestors were beaten by cops. And the FBI’s own covert surveillance program, COINTELPRO, targeted athletes, journalists, politicians and grassroots movements for being “subversive.”

“We can’t afford to think we’re different, just because of our DNA or upbringing,” Friedman said. “If we’re not careful, all of us can slide down that slippery slope.”

The FBI isn’t alone. Nearly every federal law enforcement agency sends new recruits to the museum. The 90,000 who have been there since 1999 include agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service and U.S. Marshals, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

What a great idea.

And yet, from the things we read every day in criminal justice stories, it seems that the intended lessons may not have taken hold all that well.

Makes one wonder if some have come away from the experience mistakenly thinking that the admonition was, instead, a suggestion.


This video, which is getting some serious play, points out the problem we face today and the failure of law enforcement to learn those lessons. It’s not all cops, for certain — I work with a number of law enforcement officers who do amazingly good community policing. But it’s becoming the perception of how law enforcement generally works, which means that it’ll take a huge effort on the part of the entire profession itself to change that image.

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Drug War and Immigration

Report: Honduras President Blames US Drug Policy for Migrant Surge

Hernandez, who took office in January after winning on a pledge to be tough on crime, said only a drop in violence would curb the wave of families and unaccompanied minors fleeing Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who have overwhelmed temporary detention facilities on the U.S. border.

“Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade,” Hernandez told Mexican daily newspaper Excelsior. “The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it.”

So often, we are our own worst enemy.

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Open Thread

Programming note:


Judge Jim Gray to Advocate for Legalization Opposite Dr. Kevin Sabet

CO—Former federal prosecutor, judge advocate for the Navy JAG corps and Superior Court Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) is in the Denver area this week meeting with media and civic groups and preparing for a debate this Wednesday on the merits of marijuana legalization, regulation and control. Judge Gray is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials who believe that prohibiting illicit drugs only serves to empower the criminal networks that sell them, wastes law enforcement time and resources, contributes to racial disparities in the justice system, saddles people who would be better served by treatment with criminal records and ultimately is ineffective at reducing use.

“The essential question is, would you rather have government regulators and legitimate business owners deciding how marijuana is grown, what it’s laced with, and who can buy it, or would you rather leave those decisions – and multiple billions of dollars in profits – to drug cartels and juvenile street gangs?”

He will be debating Dr. Kevin Sabet of Project SAM this coming Wednesday at the Colorado School of Mines in an event that will be broadcast live here. ( Judge Gray will also be available for interviews before and after the debate.

“I look forward to discussing with Dr. Sabet the lesson we all should have learned eighty years ago with the prohibition of alcohol: Prohibiting a substance doesn’t prevent its use; it merely makes that use vastly more dangerous to both users and the communities in which they live.”

WHO: Judge Jim Gray vs. Dr. Kevin Sabet

WHAT: A public debate on marijuana legalization

WHEN: Wednesday, July 16 10:45am MT

WHERE: Colorado School of Mines Student Center, Ballroom B, 1600 Maple Street Golden, CO 80401 or online at

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White House embracing ‘State’s rights’?

White House Opposes Republican Amendment Undermining D.C. Marijuana law Reform

So the District of Columbia essentially passed a law reducing the penalty for marijuana from jail to a fine. But U.S. Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) pushed forward an amendment in the U.S. Congress (which controls D.C.’s purse strings) that would prevent D.C. from even using its own funds to “carry out any law, rule or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce criminal penalties for marijuana.”

Pretty ridiculous. Now, however, the White House has stepped in, opposing the amendment:

The White House Statement of Administration Policy reads: “Similarly, the Administration strongly opposes the language in the bill preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally- passed marijuana policies, which again undermines the principles of States’ rights and of District home rule.

It’s unusual to see a Democratic administration pointing out the importance of State’s rights. It’s often seen as a loaded term, bringing back memories of segregation and slavery, and being used as a way to undermine any actions of the federal government.

And yet, “State’s rights,” more accurately defined as political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government, are an essential part of the United States Constitution.

It’s an oddly sad victory when we astonishingly note the White House’s support of the U.S. Constitution.

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Radley Balko with more good stuff:

Daniel Chong is the entirely predictable result of dehumanizing drug offenders

“Drug people are the very vermin of humanity.”

– Myles Ambrose, director of the Office of
Drug Abuse Law Enforcement during the Nixon Administration.

After discussing several cases (including Daniel Chong and Jonathan Magbie, Radley concludes:

It’s important to understand that these stories aren’t the product of rogue cops, jail officials or prosecutors. For 45 years now, the government has been waging an all-too-literal war on drugs. Since antiquity, great leaders have known that to win a war — to condition the population to be comfortable with all the violence and sacrifice that winning requires — you first dehumanize your enemy. Understand that, and you’ll begin to understand why the DEA had no safeguards in place to protect Daniel Chong but plenty of safeguards in place to protect the privacy of the DEA agents who almost killed him.

This same dehumanizing of the enemy extended to those “traitors” who dared to give aid and comfort to the enemy by suggesting that there was anything wrong with this war.

Back in a 1999 Congressional hearing on drug policy in Washington, DC, here’s what some of our representatives, sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, had to say:

“Legalization is a surrender to despair,” said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, Republican of upstate New York. “It cannot and ought not be any topic of serious discussion in our nation’s debate of the challenges of illicit drugs.”

Suggesting the depth of hostility toward the notion of legal drugs, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., asked whether anti-racketeering laws could be used to prosecute people conspiring to legalize drugs.

That’s right. Congressmen actually suggested that opposing the drug war cannot even be discussed and that those who do so should somehow be prosecuted.

This is the kind of hostility that those of us who chose to stand up sometimes faced (and that made many in the population afraid to speak up).

There really was that “vermin” notion that speaking out for legalization of drugs was somehow akin to legalizing child abuse, and that drug offenders were not worthy of the considerations you would give to “real” people.

A lot, fortunately, has changed since then (Bob Barr even changed). But that historical ugliness still persists in certain quarters.

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DEA stocks dropping

LA Times: DEA may be losing the war on marijuana politics

“For 13 of the 14 years I have worked on this issue, when the DEA came to a hearing, committee members jumped over themselves to cheerlead,” said Bill Piper, a lobbyist with the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group. “Now the lawmakers are not just asking tough questions, but also getting aggressive with their arguments.”

It has certainly been frustrating that for way too long, the DEA seemed to be untouchable, able to lie, cheat, steal, and even kill with impunity.

But slowly, gradually, that immunity is fading, as demonstrated by Congress stepping up, and the Los Angeles Times writing about it.

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The latest National Drug Control Strategy

Jacob Sullum does an excellent job of analyzing this year’s stragety: Obama’s ‘Third Way’ Looks a Lot Like the War on Drugs

As Sullum appropriately notes, it’s a mixture of good and bad elements, but it still overall adds up to more drug war.

According to the latest National Drug Control Strategy, which was released today by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), “we must seek to avoid over-simplified debates between the idea of a ‘war on drugs’ and the notion of legalization as a panacea.” Fans of Obamaspeak will appreciate the way that sentence poses a false choice while renouncing false choices. After all, legalization need not be a “panacea,” or anything resembling one, to be better than the disastrous war on drugs, which Obama himself once called “an utter failure.

What is the president offering in its place? “Drug use and its consequences are complex phenomena requiring an array of evidence-based policy responses,” the ONDCP says. Understanding this reality, “the Administration remains committed to charting this ‘third way’ toward a healthier, safer, and more prosperous America.” But in practice, Obama’s “third way” looks an awful lot like the first way, because he refuses to renounce the use of violence to stop people from consuming politically incorrect drugs.

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Open Thread

I’m on my way to Los Angeles for a few days for work.

Here are a few items to get your blood boiling…

bullet image Meet Jason Westcott, your latest, needless, inexcusable drug war tragedy

On the night of May 27, as armed men streamed through his front door, Westcott grabbed his gun. But the 29-year-old didn’t have a chance to shoot before he died in a volley of gunfire. And those who killed him weren’t robbers.

They were police officers from the same agency he had enlisted to protect his home.

bullet image Imprisoning Women for Addiction

At MCI-Framingham, women committed solely under Section 35 are, in many respects, treated worse than convicted prisoners. Like other prisoners, they are strip-searched, subjected to body-cavity inspections, and deprived of their personal possessions and dignity. But unlike other prisoners, they cannot visit the library, pray at the chapel, or participate in prison programs. In fact, civilly committed women at MCI-Framingham cannot even access the addiction treatment programs available to sentenced prisoners.

As Governor Deval Patrick has acknowledged, Massachusetts is the only state that incarcerates people suffering from addiction who have not been convicted of crimes. This lawsuit seeks to end that practice.

bullet image Via Diane Goldstein, comes this from the Center for Investigative Reporting: Doctor pleads guilty to billing fraud at Los Angeles-area rehab clinic

A Southern California physician pleaded guilty to falsely identifying teenagers as drug or alcohol addicts to justify millions in bills to the government’s rehabilitation program for the poor. [...]

The Redondo Beach doctor had been medical director since 1999 and was responsible for $46 million in fraudulent claims, prosecutors said. Whitson referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment.

Four Atlantic counselors also pleaded guilty to fraud last year. They were accused of spending only a half-hour twice a week with students while fabricating the paperwork to bill for up to five 90-minute counseling sessions each week.[...]

At Atlantic, prosecutors stated that Margarita Lopez, Tamara Diaz, Cindy Leticia Ortiz and Arthur Dominguez enrolled students in substance abuse counseling even if they didn’t have an addiction problem. At the direction of their supervisors, they then fabricated counseling notes to justify billing the government for sessions that never happened. Dominguez, for example, was instructed to improve his fake paperwork if it appeared to be copied and pasted.

bullet image Terminal Cancer Patient Rushed to Hospital During Felony Trial for Medical Pot

Despite Mackenzie’s deteriorating condition, his trial is expected to be completed Friday, Linda Bowman, the judicial trial court supervisor at the Scott County Clerk’s Office, told The Huffington Post. If Mackenzie is found guilty, he faces at least three years in prison — a punishment that he’s said equates to a death sentence. [...]

District Court Judge Henry Latham ruled in May that Mackenzie is barred from using his condition as a defense in court during his trial as a reason for why he was growing marijuana, the Associated Press reported.

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