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May 2015
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And now for something completely different

Just for fun:

9 Reasons We Should Never, Never, Never, Ever Legalize Marijuana by Michael McCutcheon.

Pretty convincing stuff.

Consider this an open thread.

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United Nations Agency tears into the drug war

No, not the UNODC, but the United Nations Development Programme has nothing good to say about it.

Transform has great coverage: Another UN agency savages the drug war

Here’s the key quote:

“[Drug control efforts] have had harmful collateral consequences: creating a criminal black market; fuelling corruption, violence, and instability; threatening public health and safety; generating large-scale human rights abuses, including abusive and inhumane punishments; and discrimination and marginalization of people who use drugs, indigenous peoples, women, and youth” — The United Nations Development Programme

Wow! Really powerful stuff.

And they keep going, talking about the impact of drug policies on the formal economy, on human rights, on gender, on the environment, and on indigenous peoples, and they argue that “new approaches are both urgent and necessary.”

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About the notion of cyclical support for legalization

Kevin Sabet has an recent interview with German Lopez in VOX. Most of it is the usual stuff he peddles, like wanting to somehow reduce some of the harmful effects of prohibition while keeping marijuana illegal, bemoaning the greed involved in commercial legalization while completely ignoring the overwhelming greed of prohibition forces. At one point in the interview, Kevin indulges in a bit of wishful thinking…

There’s no doubt that there’s some truth to the momentum for legalization that has grown in the past 10 years or so.

But I think what goes up must also come down. I think these things come in cycles. In the 1970s, we had the exact same thing happen with support for legalization. Maybe not as much as we have now, but we did see a dramatic change from the 1950s to the 1970s — in the same way you’ve seen a change from the 1990s to the 2010s. And that reversed for all sorts of reasons after the 1970s. It might reverse this time, but it might not.

I don’t think he believes it, either, but it’s an interesting point to disuss.

Jacob Sullum addresses it in Anti-Pot Activist on Support for Legalization: ‘What Goes Up Must Come Down’ and crunches some of the numbers to show that the pattern is closer to natural dips in an overall movement rather than cycles.

I have a few more thoughts on this…

First, when the dip in support happened in the 1970s, there was a whole lot going on – reaction to the various youth movements of the time, the Vietnam War, and the beginning of culture wars. I think the reduction in support for legalization had less to do with marijuana than it did with other factors.

Today is a much different time, and marijuana is no longer associated in the minds of the population with one cultural group that can be separated and demonized.

Also, in the 1970s, the government had a much greater control over the dissemination of information to the population, so when the drug war was ratcheted up, their propaganda had very little organized countering (except in specialized populations). And at that time, the media and other institutions were even more likely to support the official government line without question. This allowed for the creation of an atmosphere where even the discussion of legalization was considered some kind of antisocial and dangerous behavior.

Despite this, the anti-legalization forces were still only able to effect a temporary drop in support for legalization.

Today, of course, the dynamics are drastically different. The internet and unlimited means of information distribution have made suppression of information pretty much impossible. Reformers have a legitimate voice that can be heard, even over the full might of the federal government.

Now, might there be dips? Of course.

With major change, there is likely to be temporary shifts in public opinion up and down. As we see legalization expand, there’s always the potential for a tiny minority of stupid people making a public spectacle of themselves, which could cause a temporary blowback. But that’ll quickly settle out.

You could conceivably make a case that there will be some scientific discovery that will change public opinion about marijuana, but that is extremely unlikely. Prohibitionists have tried time and time again using junk science to try to derail support, always unsuccessfully. And we know enough about cannabis to be pretty certain that there is no as-yet-undiscovered danger of any significance.

There will always be those who oppose legalization. But the idea of a cycle that will leave legalization support marginalized once again — just a pipe dream.

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HAT in Nevada?


Nevada State Senate to Consider Goundbreaking Heroin-Assisted Treatment Program

Last week, Nevada State Senator Richard Segerblom introduced groundbreaking legislation, Senate Bill 275, which creates a four-year heroin-assisted treatment pilot project.

Heroin-assisted treatment, also known as heroin maintenance, refers to the supervised administration by a doctor of pharmaceutical-grade heroin (diacetylmorphine) to a small group of chronic heroin users who have failed more traditional forms of treatment including abstinence-based models and medication such as methadone.

Pretty amazing to see, although you can bet it’s going to face some very stiff opposition. If it were to happen, we could be in a position to demonstrate here in the U.S. just how stupid our policies have been.

As Ethan Nadelmann notes:

“All that stands in the way of starting such programs in our country is backward thinking and drug war ideology.”


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Just a reminder about drug scares…

Remember crack babies? How we lost an entire generation because crack destroyed all those new lives?

Yeah. Didn’t happen. We all know that now.

It’s good to be reminded of the scientifically unsupported panic that our government and media likes to push on us regarding drugs.

Recently, there was a very good story about the situation 25 years after the “crack baby epidemic.”

Crack Baby Myth Goes up in Smoke

“We were really preparing for the worst,” Hurt said. “We had reports of psychologists saying this was going to be a biologically inferior underclass, might not even be able to dress themselves.”

But after 25 years of research, she found there were no differences in the health and life outcomes between babies exposed to crack and those who weren’t.

The crack baby was a myth.

What did make a difference for those babies, however, was poverty and violence.

And, as this article points out, the unfounded hysteria may have come from more than just ignorance…

But in fact, the fuel was provided by an entity even more powerful than the media — it came from the federal government. As law professor Michelle Alexander revealed in her book, The New Jim Crow, when President Ronald Reagan declared a War on Drugs in 1982, recreational drug use in the U.S. was in serious decline. Reagan’s declaration of war tapped into a growing public sentiment against illegal drug use. So the declaration was more about politics than about drugs presenting an actual danger to the nation.

The Reagan administration was trying to make his pitch to white people, so it was easy to construct Black people as the enemy in the War on Drugs. This has led to mass incarceration that has imprisoned millions and devastated Black communities across the U.S. The administration made crack into the monster it needed to create the modern prison industrial complex.

Alexander said the administration even used publicists to help create the myth of the uniqueness of crack, a new incredibly addictive superdrug. At the start of the crack scare in the fall of 1985, the news media unleashed a series of startling stories about newborn infants who allegedly suffered severe and permanent health damage as fetuses because their mothers ingested cocaine during pregnancy. But as Hurt and other researchers found, the impact of cocaine exposure on newborn health and development was, at best, greatly exaggerated in media accounts.

The story of so much of the drug war. The federal government willing to lie and cause severe damage to society to push a political agenda regarding drugs, and a complicit media that loves sensationalism.

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Why marijuana isn’t at the bottom of the list

President Obama:

“Let’s put it in perspective,” Obama said in response. “Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”

That, of course, completely misses the point regarding what “thinking about marijuana” actually is about.

Tom Angell:

“But he should think again about how important this issue is. On average, there’s a marijuana possession arrest in the U.S. about every minute. Billions of dollars are wasted on enforcing prohibition laws that don’t stop anyone from using marijuana but do ruin people’s lives with damaging criminal records.”

Lee Rosenberg (via Twitter):

No, marijuana legalization is not the most important issue for young people to care about, but government incompetence on the issue has a very negative and very real impact on the perception that government is capable of solving more serious problems.

“Thinking about marijuana” is about more than getting high.

It’s about systemic police corruption. It’s about a failed criminal justice system that fuels situations like Ferguson. It’s about tens of thousands dead in Mexico. It’s about failed foreign policy. It’s about using bad laws to control a population and deny them basic rights. It’s about perversion of our Constitution. It’s about financial self-interest trumping science and reason.

Marijuana most definitely isn’t at the bottom of the list.

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ONDCP willing to sacrifice public safety to push political agenda

For some years now, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has had a public agenda of fighting marijuana legalization by promoting the dangers of “drugged driving,” pushing for zero-tolerance laws that would essentially make it illegal for anyone who uses cannabis to ever drive, regardless of impairment.

They have regularly lied about the science behind cannabis and driving, often by implying that testing positive is the same thing as impairment (this writer even filed a successful petition for correction of some of the false information on the ONDCP website).

On Thursday in Vienna, at the 58th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the United States and a few others led a session titled “Developing a comprehensive response to the challenge of drug-impaired driving.”

At this session, Richard Baum, International Policy Branch Chief at ONDCP made some remarkable statements, as reported by CND Blog (Note: CND Blog reports as events happen at the sessions and paraphrases the statements made, so this is not an exact quote. I’d be happy to post any clarifications or corrections.)

Richard Baum , ONDCP, US

This is an important issue because it is a factor that affects people’ve lives in many ways. We’re all at consensus within drug policy that we want our families to be safe on the roads, so it’s good that we can come together and work on this issue collectively.

In the US, we have a problem with drug driving and an irony is that drunk driving is relatively less of a problem. In 2014 a survey found that 8 percent of people on the road had alcohol in their systems. 21 percent had three or more drugs in their system. [emphasis added]

Once again, note the conflation of “drugs in their system” with “problem.” And even with ignoring the differences of how long drugs stay in the system, the study never gave that percentage for “three or more drugs.”

But here’s the really outrageous point. Baum is indicating that drunk driving is “less of a problem” than drugged driving.

And, of course, that’s ridiculous. There’s no doubt that drunk driving is a much more serious problem than driving while testing positive for other drugs. That has been noted clearly by the NHTSA (pdf)

Here are the relative risks of crashes based on the drug used:


So Baum’s assertion that “drunk driving is relatively less of a problem” is not only horribly wrong, but it’s dangerous.

What Baum and the ONDCP is promoting is that public policy would be well-served by shifting focus from drunk driving to drugged driving. And that would provably be a recipe for highway disaster.

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Friday thread

I’m heading back from New York later today — it’s been a crazy and busy week with a group of college students, doing walking tours and seeing theatre.

I hope to get back to some new posting today or tomorrow. In the meantime, you need a new open thread.

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Open Thread

I’m in New York all week with my students, so posting will be sporadic. Check the comments here as the couchmates will likely keep you well informed, if I drop the ball a bit.

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INCB’s pathetically late and weak call to stop killing people

UN Narcotics Agency Calling for Abolition of Death Penalty

the INCB’s annual report, which was published on Tuesday, board members encourage all “states which retain and continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offenses to consider abolishing the death penalty.”

Encourage to consider? Wow. They blatantly condemn Colorado for pot, but finally, after decades of criticism, work up the nerve to encourage to consider not killing people.

Of course, the INCB has had a hand in all the deaths that have come about as a result of the drug war, as they’ve been egging these countries on to get tougher about drugs.

The INCB reminds me somewhat of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation – a fictional organization in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which were described as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came’.

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