The reeking soul of U.S. justice

bullet image Small ‘c’ conservatives should end the war on drugs by Charles W. Moore

Interesting reading that really slams U.S. drug and prison policy and also slams Canada for following us. I particularly love the descriptions of Conrad Black, who spent some time in U.S. prisons.

Mr. Black lobbed withering and well-deserved broadsides from behind bars at the United States justice system, which he accurately describes as “putrefied,” “‘a carceral state’ that imprisons eight to 12 times more people per capita than the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany or Japan…”

“From my cell I scent the reeking soul of U.S. justice,” Mr. Black proclaimed in a 2008 letter to the London Sunday Times, asserting that America’s justice and penal systems are in critical condition, largely because of the so-called “war on drugs,” especially marijuana, which can only be regarded by thinking persons – including and especially conservatives – as hysterical, bordering on the psychotic. […]

Mr. Black characterizes “the entire ‘war on drugs'” as dismal failure, “a trillion taxpayers’ dollars squandered… one million small fry imprisoned at a cost of $50 billion a year”… “with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42 per cent of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.)… targeted substances are more available and of better quality than ever, while producing countries such as Colombia and Mexico are in a state of civil war.”

bullet image Mexicans, US question drug legalization proposal

This is a very surreal article to read, because of the sense of almost panicked confusion regarding the idea of legalization. The great thing is that now, in an article like this, you’re hearing legalization as a legitimate option, and that’s making those who oppose it have a hard time describing why legalization won’t work.

“The legalization proposal is mistaken, because it shows a lack of understanding of Mexico’s problem and avoids the main cause, which is quite simply the government’s loss of the monopoly on the use of force,” the group said, referring to cartels that confront security forces with grenades, automatic weapons and now car bombs.


Or how about this bizarre statement:

“I favor regulating the market … medicinal marijuana is an attempt to regulation,” Gonzalez said, “But legalization, never, ever.”

bullet image In case you missed it… a good interview by with LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin

I agree with Scott Morgan:

I’m particularly interested in Neill’s argument regarding the dramatic drop in clearance rates for homicides over the past few decades. Of course, it would be difficult to prove empirically that increased drug prosecutions make it harder to solve murders. Still, it’s certainly an unflattering portrait of modern law enforcement priorities that we get better and better at arresting people for petty marijuana possession, while more and more people are literally getting away with murder.


This is an open thread.

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21 Responses to The reeking soul of U.S. justice

  1. Just me. says:

    You want to get away with murder? Come to America, they are more interested in busting kids with pot.

    Anyway it wont matter if the monetary system crashs, there wont be arrests for pot or murder.

    Helluva way to bring change to America….

  2. claygooding says:

    But it appears that it will take economic failure to take the power away from the industrialists and federal bureaucrats that now control the prohibition.
    While the US spends millions eradicating crops all over the US,Mexico has no reports of eradication programs,because that is not what they want. Mexico’s economy is supported by the illegal exportation of marijuana. It is estimated that 1/5 of their economy is from marijuana. That is why they fear legalization in the US.

  3. allan420 says:

    clay… provide us a source for that “1/5 of their economy is from [cannabis]” please. It sound’s like a handy number to have, thanks.

  4. kaptinemo says:

    “,,,the sense of almost panicked confusion…”

    Ah yes, the mendacious prohib’s pants are fully engulfed by roaring flames, and the heat and the lack of oxygen from the fire is affecting what few brain cells they have left, leading to disorientation and hysteria.

    As the kids say nowadays, “We don’t need no water; let the MFer burn! Burn MFer, burn!”

  5. Maria says:

    Claygooding, interesting point. To me the panicked tone reinforces that legalization is being considered seriously but maybe not quite by the “right” people.

    Mexico has valid reasons to be worried and the US can’t ignore the potential economic impact of legalization and regulation on a country with whom it shares a border and supplies a good portion of the product.

    And that’s precisely why legalization needs to be in Obamas dictionary right now, not next year, or next term or the next president. It’s not enough that local and state levels address internal status, production, sale and distribution. A bottom-up only approach isn’t enough but thank goodness it forces the question. Yet, with the president pretending the word doesn’t even exist … no wonder Mexican interests might be a bit panicky.

    I often wonder about the impact of American legalization and regulation on the Mexican cartels and in extension, the Mexican economy. I’d also love a source for the 1/5th stat.

    Will some attempt to turn over a new leaf and establish themselves as suppliers of a legitimate agricultural product since they already have the land and production capabilities? Would the US and Mexican governments work with formerly brutal criminal organizations in this transition? Is that even a workable model?

    Would all “imports” of cannabis be “stopped” while the US fine tunes its new social and economic relationship with the plant? For that to happen much of the vast (and wasted) resources devoted to dealing with cannabis now could then be used to provide for border control and security.

    Would there be fair trade cannabis and special trade relationships / incentives hammered out with Mexico over the product? How would Canada fit into this picture? I wonder what the import regulations and tariffs would be like? Would there be subsidies for internal production?

    All this is purely in the realm of thought experiment (gives me an odd sense of hope) but I think they are questions that will need to be addressed at the top and in the halls of policy groups, think tanks and congressional committees. Are there any exploring these sorts of questions?

    So ya, despite all the well rounded articles, the level headed studies, the rational and serious talk about legalization and an end to the drug war, the silence from Obama is increasingly deafening.

    /end long winded soap box 😛 sorry.

  6. claygooding says:

    I will have to search the info out,it was in an AP article last month about the war in Mexico.
    That is the trouble with a partial photographic memory,I remember almost everything I read,but not the links,,,,hmmm
    maybe I am suffering from memory loss caused by herbal use,or the lack of it. Let me try to fix the lack of and then I’ll see what I remember,,,,don’t you love these non-clinical tests?

  7. claygooding says:

    “A full 10 percent of Mexico’s economy is built on drug proceeds – $25 billion smuggled in from the United States every year, of which 25 cents of each $100 smuggled is seized at the border. Thus there’s no incentive for the kind of financial reform that could tame the cartels.”

    Found this estimate but still searching for the quoted 1/5
    estimate. The above is for all drugs and the one I saw estimated 20% if Mexico’s gdp is made from marijuana production and distribution.

  8. Scott says:

    “/end long winded soap box 😛 sorry.”

    I hope you do not mind if I borrow your soap box for a moment, Maria.

    I do not believe there is a need to establish exclusive relationships with Mexico with regards to marijuana farming and distribution.

    Legalization would seriously cripple the financial supply line of the drug cartels, likely eventually allowing the Mexican government to restore its “monopoly on the use of force”.

    To assume we must ensure that ‘1’ in the 1/5 estimate is somehow protected by exclusive deals to keep Mexico from serious economic harm seems wrong to me.

    One reason is the overall economy can improve when the government regains enough of its power. In other words, the other 4/5 of their economy will likely naturally grow as a result of legalization.

    For Mexico to compete in a legalized-marijuana world, “Mexican brick” must go. Marijuana can be professionally grown in all 50 of our states, making the quality generally excellent even for a moderately-priced product. Schwag will disappear.

    If Mexico can provide a successful product, I am guessing it will at best succeed to a level comparable to Corona.

    To conclude yet another of my soap box moments (and I apologize for all of them — this is one of my favorite ways to practice writing), with all due respect, Maria, I do not think those questions you mentioned should deter legalization from promptly going into effect.

    Even immediate “full” legalization (i.e. no marijuana regulation) is better than the status quo at this point, given the lack of any good evidence proving a net societal benefit at any point going all the way back to 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act went into effect.

    I may be wrong, but I do not believe that alcohol regulation reduces overall tragedy. Such regulations apparently serve to make society feel more civilized by at least doing something to manage alcohol abuse (even if it is just an illusion).

    Here is your soap box back. Thank you, and sorry for not asking if I could borrow it first. 🙂

  9. claygooding says:

    In general, it has been estimated that for each of the 100 peasants working in drug production, there are at least 56 more persons involved in other stages of drug traffic (Lee, 1989). Assuming this rate is accurate, the approximate number of drug employees in Mexico is 468,000, a figure equivalent to almost three times the number of employees of PEMEX, the largest state-owned company in Mexico and the fourth most important oil company in the world. Even more, drug industry employs significantly more people than its main enemy, the Mexican army. The Mexican army, which has as one of its principal duties to fight against drug production and traffic, has 237,800 active members (IISS 2007), about half the number of employees. Comparing the drug industry to other Mexican industries, drug smugglers employ five times more people than the whole timber industry of the country, and between 50,000 and 100,000 more people than the paper and editing industry, the basic-metals industry and the non-metallic industry. As Figure 2 shows, among the eight most important industrial categories of Mexico, drug trafficking would occupy a very respectable fourth place

  10. zwitterion says:

    “The legalization proposal is mistaken, because it shows a lack of understanding of Mexico’s problem and avoids the main cause, which is quite simply the government’s loss of the monopoly on the use of force”

    The second half of that statement is just eery, nuff said.

  11. Just me. says:

    zwitterion :

    I have to agree with your eeri statement. Its a lot of lost force and control to them.

  12. Duncan says:

    Have you ever seen the TV show ‘The First 48′, which follows real murder police investigating real murders. To try and give it a sense of urgency they use the false statistic that most murders are solved within 48 hours of the crime being reported. Truth is that most murders are solved within 48 hours because it isn’t a friggin’ mystery who wanted to kill the victim. It’s why contract killers can have careers committing murder for hire if they can figure out how to get clients safely. The war on some drugs causes people who aren’t really associated with other people to sometimes murder them. It creates an underground which contract killers can bid for jobs with less worry about being hired by an undercover officer. It creates fortunes of ill got gain which if stolen likely won’t be reported to the police which motivates robbers to target those fortunes.

    I’m skeptical if you submit the notion that the police will have more resources to investigate murder if the current officers that investigate cannabis possession offenses were put to work on the murder. It’s just a totally different skill set. I’ve read opinions that detectives aren’t really needed because something like 6 of 7 felony charges are filed by beat cops. But again, that’s a function of the crimes that they charge are pretty cut and dried about which crime was committed and who did so. I suppose there could be a help to the real murder police to have some extra beat cops to send out asking everyone that lives on the street what they saw. But the main advantage is those crimes that arise in business disputes over black market profits just won’t happen very often, if at all.

  13. Don Piano says:

    Like “JUST ME” says, When the system crashes, they won’t have money to solve any crimes. The time has come to legalize. I get around 3 letters with pictures every month about this Sex Offender, and that Sex Offender is moving into our neighborhood because they got Parole. Bulleffinshit. They parole this kid rapers to make room for people who harm no other individuals but themselves (if you so see it that way even, Which when it comes to cannabis I do not). Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so long as you do not infringe on someone elses life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Should this not be the law when we talk about any type of drug use, including alcohol (no drunk driving, it kills, and no public intoxication, because my kids don’t need to see someone all effed up stumbling into traffic) and Tobacco (they make you stand 25ft from the entrance of a building so as not to infringe on another’s life). Free the weed, we will be responsible, I promise.

  14. paul says:

    The state made quite an enemy when it jailed Conrad Black for “depriving investors of honest services”, whatever that was supposed to mean. The supreme court just struck down that absurdly vague law, and I believe Conrad Black is scheduled to go free.

    Conrad Black is a billionaire, and the owner of a newspaper empire in Canada. His extremely unpleasant encounter with American law has familiarized him with its workings in a way few rich and powerful men ever experience. When he is released, I imagine he is going to have quite a bit to say, and the means to say it.

    Oh, and he hates the drug war. This man is going to be a fine ally.

  15. Ned says:

    “But a State Department spokeswoman who was not authorized to be quoted by name also said that the department’s position is that “we don’t believe legalization is the answer.”

    The answer… The Answer… it is comments like this that reveal a fundamental flaw in their thinking. Emotion based problem solving, thinking in black and white. There is either a problem to fix or there isn’t. Only solutions designed to achieve perfect 100%success are acceptable. Zero tolerance prohibition has as it’s final goal, no illegal drugs being produced, distributed, sold or used in society and the world, yet, it does not seem to matter at all if that goal is even conceivably achievable. It doesn’t seem to matter that not achieving the goal after 40+ years might be reason for a re- evaluation. The idea the drugs will always exist and harms caused by them might be better managed in different ways. There is not an “Answer” that remains undiscovered that will result in a perfect illegal drug free world. There are only better or worse policies.

    Republicans, not long ago, demanded that environmental rules regulations and enforcement MUST include thorough “cost/benefit” evaluations. They insisted the EPA must determine what was reasonable in those terms. They do not seem to require that of the DEA.

  16. Scott says:

    “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so long as you do not infringe on someone elses life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Should this not be the law when we talk about any type of drug use, including alcohol (no drunk driving…”

    Drunk driving does not kill. It increases the risk that someone will get killed (or injured).

    There are people who can drive drunk from point A to B without hurting anyone.

    Do not get me wrong. Driving drunk is completely idiotic.

    That said, it is acts like drunk driving that prevent liberty from truly being unalienable (noting to the extent we realize liberty is the extent we naturally realize life and the pursuit of happiness).

    We know tragedy is inherent in reality. Each one of us is going to die at some point. We also know that one’s tragedy can be another one’s benefit, and vice versa.

    The notion that society can reduce overall tragedy by banning and regulating this and that is baseless.

    There is no evidence proving a net reduction in tragedy as opposed to simply shifting tragedy to other victims.

    For example, people can be arrested for drunk driving even though they were not driving drunk, because the “good guys” need to pad their anti-crime statistics for the upcoming election. Because of that wrongful arrest, that innocent person might not be positioned to promptly handle a family emergency, resulting in the death of a loved one (or more).

    Because the minority of drug users become drug abusers, and as such the Controlled Substances Act exists to prevent that tragedy, millions of drug users have their lives ruined to varying degrees even though they are not infringing upon anyone else’s rights.

    If you analyze our written national foundation, the only acts that can be banned or regulated are those that directly infringe upon another person’s rights (e.g. murder, assault of all types, theft, etc.)

    Considering the act of breathing leads to all rights-infringing acts, banning or regulating acts solely on the basis of indirect rights-infringement eliminates the “Creator” given (or naturally-given, if you are an atheist) aspect of liberty, because now human beings must draw the legal line between risky acts that should be legislated and otherwise (effectively defining liberty).

    With all of the corruption apparently going on in the halls of power, the real tragedy is believing abusing our legal system is the way to prevent abusive behavior.

    Want to oppose that tragedy?

    Then be prepared to support the “legalization” of drunk driving, and finding a liberty-embracing method of preventing people from driving drunk (e.g. effective education).

    Be prepared to proclaim that there is a heavy price to pay for liberty as mandated in our written foundation.

    Be prepared to proclaim the heavy price we now pay for ignoring liberty as mandated in our written foundation (what I call the Great Hypocrisy).

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    Citizens of other states can Google your state name and “voter registration” to find out how to register; a lot of states allow instant on-line registration. Do it now so you can vote in November!

  18. Windy says:

    Ned, that lack of cost/benefit re: drug war thing IS curious, isn’t it? Perhaps we should each write our “representatives” in congress and our state legislatures and demand that cost/benefit formula be applied to EVERY law/policy currently in place and every new law/policy they want to put in place? Perhaps that will bring about change a tad faster than our current methods?

    Scott, your post of August 11, 2010 at 6:03 am is excellent. I am prepared to support re-legalization of driving while intoxicated, to proclaim the full price of liberty and to proclaim the absolute wrongness of ignoring our Foundation of “mandated liberty” in favor of regulation of every little piece of our lives to suit some nanny minded, hidebound busybodies.

  19. > Ned, that lack of cost/benefit re: drug war thing IS curious, isn’t it?

    No policy prior to implementation or after, should escape ‘impact analysis’ – it is fundemental to sound management. Absent a baseline no performance/deliverables/deficits comparison can be made. (and that is why we haven’t done the cost-benefit work todate, anything that conclusively means ‘legislative implications’ must be avoided. )

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