Postscript to this post: A minute or so later, General McCaffrey went on to explain that marijuana possession is effectively a “non-prosecutable offense” today:
This statement seems at odds with the more than 6.2 million arrests since 1990 for simple marijuana possession that a 2006 study analyzed [pdf]. According to that report, arrests for possession of marijuana have actually risen – as the War on Drugs was transformed from a war primarily against heroin and cocaine to one against marijuana. The main reason for this discussed by the report is that marijuana arrests pad arrests statistics, although other studies have measured a discernable increase in violent crimes as a result of every police resource wasted on combating marijuana.
Perhaps what General McCaffrey was referring to was of the enormous number of those arrested for marijuana possession, only a very small number of those arrested, booked, and otherwise put through the system are convicted of or even charged with any crime.
Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care. I care about 6th graders through 12th graders. If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.
(For those watching the video, the first questioner who did not identify himself sounded like Ted Sorenson, the venerable former Kennedy speechwriter who is a frequent guest at Council on Foreign Relations events. )
McCaffrey is not the first drug czar to reveal more nuanced views after his tenure was over. Matthea Falco, a drug czar in the 1970s, has become a strong proponent of the harm reduction over the prohibition approach. When asked why by PBS, she responded:
It’s very hard not to change your vision if you stay in the field long enough…
If you look over the sweep of time, what changed for me from 1980 until about 1990, and continuing today, is that the price of drugs has just plummeted in this country…So that’s got to be a failure [of the War on Drugs]…
It’s also a flawed strategy. Many people argue that it just hasn’t been implemented enough, that, “If you just put ten times as much money into it, it would change everything.” But, in fact, it’s a flawed strategy at its very core. [my emphasis]
Yet another former Drug Czar Peter Bourne commented on the evolution of the War on Drugs into the war on marijuana – beginning here with the claims that marijuana had significantly bad health effects:
It was policymakers trying to hide behind the skirts of science, trying to say that marijuana poses a threat to the health of young people.
Taking any drugs is probably not a good idea. But [marijuana] certainly posed no significant public health problem. In many ways, it’s somewhat reminiscent of 50 years ago when moralists argued that masturbation was morally wrong. They couldn’t just argue that it was morally wrong, so they argued that it made you insane. They were able to get enough physicians to say, “Yes, masturbation makes you insane,” and people argued that this was causing insanity. Therefore, you were justified in condemning masturbation. I see the same sort of process with the use of marijuana, which is a trivial health problem.
These are the men and women who were in charge of the War on Drugs – and in running this war, they have come to see it’s madness. As Matthea Falco said, “It’s very hard not to change your vision if you stay in the field long enough.” Those who are engaged with these issues begin to see the obvious:
Now that senator is president of the United States of America – and though he offers better policies and a softening of the hardest edges of the Drug War (which includes refraining from calling it a war), he does not offer the bold action that we need to make us safer. The Obama administration seems content to maintain the prohibitionist policies “firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions” that have failed decisively (in the words of the major report on the Drug War by the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia.) But the War on Drugs and the prohibition it is based on endanger both our liberty and our security. Both must end.
For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other.
This distinction – between the holder of power and the law – is one of the fundamental insights of our Founding Fathers – and one that the Bush administration treated with contempt – a contempt I am loathe to attribute to conservatives in general, but one which far too many for my comfort seem to share.
My criticisms of the Bush administration’s War on Terror arise largely from their abuse of the Rule of Law – from asserting unchecked presidential authority to attempting to evade any laws by creating a prison in Guantanamo to flagrantly committing felonies even after being advised as such by the attorney general and FBI director.
I believe Bush’s War on Terror evolved all too quickly into a war on the Rule of Law itself, as one of the few remaining checks on presidential power.
It is why I believe that men and women who knowingly attempted to undermine the Rule of Law, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by the law.
Perhaps the reason I have been so attracted to this concept as a fundamental principle is that it is not an absolute one – but instead requires a balancing test. Rather than focusing on liberty or equality – both of which are important principles that must be balanced against other principles to avoid becoming the justification for great evils, the concept of the Rule of Law itself is a balancing test between anarchy and authoritarianism, between justice and legality, between what is needed and what can be done.
The most efficacious approach [.pdf] to stemming the violence in Mexico is to recognize that just as what most newspapers blithely call “drug-related crime” is actually drug-law-related crime or even drug-law-caused crime, the wave of violence in Mexico is not caused by the inherent viciousness of the Mexican underclass or the physiological properties of drugs deemed illicit, but by the set of perverse incentives that arise when governments treat adults like children and dictate what they can ingest, attempting to prohibit plants and substances that are easily grown and formulated and for which there is a steady demand. The violence in Mexico is not “drug-related” but “drug-law-related” or even caused directly and indirectly by the laws attempting to prohibit the use of some substances.
While I do not agree with the moral aspects of Bock’s approach – which attribute the moral failings of individuals to government policy – and place the moral blame for these actions on the government – his policy analysis here strikes me as fundamentally sound.