Posts Tagged ‘Marijuana’

McCaffrey Caught In Another Lie

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Tim Lynch from Cato@Liberty appeared on CNN with former drug czar Barry McCaffrey and was outraged at the blatant lies he told. Lynch points to two specific lies:

  • that it is a “fantasy” with “zero truth” that “the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other federal law enforcement ever threatened care-givers or individual patients” regarding medicinal marijuana; and
  • that it was “nonsense” that the DEA was “going to threaten doctors simply for discussing the pros and cons of using marijuana with their patients” until the Ninth Circuit held that such a restriction was unconstitutional.

Of course, McCaffrey is no stranger to eliding the truth. I posted a video a while back pointing out another whopper McCaffrey told – this time to an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations:

De facto legalized? Yet McCaffrey himself attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana:

After California passed a compassionate use initiative in 1996, McCaffrey warned doctors in the state that their privileges to prescribe narcotics would be stripped by the DEA if they prescribed or recommended marijuana use. In July 1998, as part of the anti-pot campaign, the drug czar claimed that Holland, a country with liberal drug laws, had a murder rate double that of the United States. In fact, although robberies have increased in the Netherlands since pot was made widely available in the late 1980s, the country’s murder rate is scarcely a quarter of the U.S. rate. McCaffrey never corrected himself. When Gary Johnson, New Mexico’s maverick Republican governor, spoke in favor of decriminalization, McCaffrey flew out to the state and claimed that Johnson had said “heroin is good.” [my emphasis]

If we are to believe his comments now, he apparently secretly did not oppose legalization while he was drug czar – as I reported earlier, he said at the same event as the above:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

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.

Yet despite the fact that he claims marijuana is de facto legalized and that he secretly didn’t care if it was legalized, under his leadership as drug czar continuing through his successor’s term, arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] – and not just for large amounts as he suggests here. Yet arrests related to marijuana surpassed that of both heroin and cocaine in McCaffrey’s first year as drug czar – and almost matched that of all non-marijuana-related drug offenses.

According to a study by Ryan S King and Marc Mauer [pdf], “Marijuana arrests increased by 113% between 1990 and 2002, while overall arrests decreased by 3%” – and the bulk of these arrests (over 50%) were of small users.

Under Barry McCaffrey, the War on Drugs became the War on Marijuana – yet he claims marijuana was de facto legalized; Barry McCaffrey himself personally attacked politicians who supported medical marijuana laws, supervised an agency that deliberately went after people following state laws allowing medicinal marijuana, and threatened any doctor who mentioned to a patient that marijuana might help him or her with prosecution – yet any recitation of these facts documented at the time and afterwards, he refers to as “fantasy” and “nonsense.”

On top of it all, he now claims to have not even opposed the legalization of marijuana as he supervised the War on Marijuana.

Obama Hasn’t Betrayed The Gay Rights Movement (Yet)

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Or, In Quasi-Defense of Waiting

From The Colbert Report:

JIM FOURATT: I’m very troubled by Barack Obama because I think most gay and lesbian people in this country voted for Barack Obama and expected him to talk about our issues and he’s playing a classic liberal role. It’s always about just, “Wait, wait, wait…” We’re waiting and waiting and waiting and I’m quite frankly, as most people are, sick and tired of it. We expected Barack Obama to step up to the plate and do what is principled, to do what is right.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Why don’t you do the smart thing: If you’re tired of liberals saying one thing and then saying, “Wait, wait, wait,” when they get into office – why don’t you come over to the conservatives because we’re honest. We say, “No, no, no,” from the very beginning. Isn’t there something to be said for honesty?

JIM FOURATT: Actually, there is something to be said for that because [then] we know who our enemies are…It’s deeply troubling and I asked Cornell West about this…

STEPHEN COLBERT [Interrupting]: Brother West, he’s a friend of the show.

JIM FOURATT: He said that, “Barack Obama is wrong but he will come along.” I don’t know if Martin Luther King, what he would have said if someone said to him, “We’ll come along on your rights.” I don’t know about Rosa Parks, if she would have got off the bus and not sat down.

Frank Rich approvingly cites a gay activist who met with Obama in the White House this past week:

Chrisler seized the moment to appeal to the president on behalf of her boys. “The worst thing you can experience as parents is to feel your children are discriminated against,” she told him. “Imagine if you have to explain every day who your parents are and that they’re as real as every family is.” Chrisler said that she and her children “want a president who will make that go away,” adding, “I believe in his heart he wants that to happen, his political mistakes notwithstanding.” [my emphasis]

Jennifer Chrisler and Jim Fouratt clearly express the growing feeling of anger and even betrayal directed at Barack Obama from the LGBT community. They remember that Bill Clinton led them on, took their money and votes, and then created the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and passed the Defense of Marriage act which Obama’s Justice Department is now defending. Similarly, many opponents of the War on Drugs have become angry and disappointed that Obama has barely advanced their issues. Civil libertarians have been likewise disappointed by Obama’s use of the State Secrets Privilege, withholding of documents and photographs related to Bush administration torture, and other defenses and continuations of Bush-era executive aggrandizement.

I count myself as a supporter of the goals of all three groups. But I see the feelings of anger and betrayal directed against Barack Obama as nothing less than the result of naivete. As if electing Barack Obama president would solve any of these problems! As if a president is morally responsible for all things status quo! As if history and change were passed down from above – rather than bubbling up from below.

These feelings of betrayal are based on profound misunderstandings of the presidency and how change happens.

The President of the United States is not The Leader. He is merely a leader. George Will has quoted Calvin Coolidge on this general theme a few times recently:

It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.

Even Franklin D. Roosevelt, who many did consider a great man, had his own way of telling his constituencies the same message:

I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.

The “cult of the presidency” is a source of moral rot in this nation. If you belive in an issue, fight for it! Don’t whine about being betrayed. There are better uses of your energy. More important, it reflects a misunderstanding of what the role of the president is.

As to citing figures from the Civil Rights era: Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King did wait – and wait, and wait for a president to act. And as they waited, they fought for what they believed in – without undue anger or inappropriate feelings to betrayal. They put pressure on Congress, on the White House, on state legislatures, on governors, on courts. And in each of these skirmishes they gained something. Until eventually their movement had achieved a momentum that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The fact is, the role of the activist and the role of the president are very different. To confuse the two as Fouratt does, and as many other activists do, doesn’t help anybody. The president, in having so much power, must have on goal above all – to protect the status quo. He or she can push reforms and changes and improvements – but their dreams must be constrained. The activist can dream of a new world – in which all things are vastly improved – and fight for it and demand it – and be right in doing so. But the president can say no, and be just as justified. For these are their roles. The goal of the activist must be to make the president do what he or she wants – to force them to make a decision which, taking into account political factors, is still an easy one. Abraham Lincoln was a great example of this – as abolitionists pressed for him to emancipate the slaves and go to war with the South but he firmly took an incrementalist position, only making such decisions as he was forced to.

There is a natural tension between the activist and the president because of their roles – but this tension can be productive if both sides understand how change happens. The presidency is an essentially reactive job, with the best presidents reacting with an eye towards achieving larger goals. The activist must provoke these reactions – and create favorable circumstances to shape all political actors’ responses to these actions. And while a president can force an issue or two through given the powers he or she exercises, this “forcing” creates problems and backlash. No president can make prejudice “go away” as Chrisler seems to be counting on. But the president can be expected to make a decision when it is thrust upon him or her. This is why it is important to have a president sympathetic to your aims.

As Matt Yglesias smartly observed:

Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has become a majoritarian position, but the Obama administration would still prefer to avoid the headaches involved in working to repeal it. At the same time, if a court case were toorder the administration to end this policy, it’s abundantly clear that there would be no critical mass of political support for trying to put it back in place.

In other words, for the activist, it never makes sense to wait; for the president, it almost always does. And both sides – even if they share the same goals – will conflict on strategy. That’s the way things are – and it is by understanding this dynamic that successful movements are built.

The gay rights movement does seem to understand this – Ted Olsen’s and David Boies’s lawsuit notwithstanding. This has been the source of it’s outstanding success – from a time within living memory when psychologists would diagnose “homosexuality” as a disease to today as six states recognize gay marriage. (David Sedaris was especially moving as he spoke of the progress in the past forty years on The Leonard Lopate Show.)  This is no time to abandon a successful strategy.

Homo Blogicus, Pup, Pakistan, Torture, Marijuana, and the Revenge of Geography

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’m going to start creating a list of best reads for the week every Friday – picking between 5 and 10 articles or blog posts that are well worth reading in their entirety.

  1. Christopher Buckley writes a very personal essay for the New York Times, adapted from his soon to be published memoir, about growing up as the son of the famous Mr. and Mrs. William F. Buckley (“Pup” and “Mum”). Truly moving, surprising, honest and earnest. An excerpt:

    I’d brought with me a pocket copy of the book of Ecclesiastes. A line in “Moby-Dick” lodged in my mind long ago: “The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.” I grabbed it off my bookshelf on the way here, figuring that a little fine-hammered steel would probably be a good thing to have on this trip. I’m no longer a believer, but I haven’t quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great” at deathbeds of loved ones.

    Soon after, a doctor came in to remove the respirator. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, just pings and blips from the monitor. I stroked her hair and said, the words coming out of nowhere, surprising me, “I forgive you.”

    It sounded, even at the time, like a terribly presumptuous statement. But it needed to be said. She would never have asked for forgiveness herself, even in extremis. She was far too proud. Only once or twice, when she had been truly awful, did she apologize. Generally, she was defiant — almost magnificently so — when her demons slipped their leash. My wise wife, Lucy, has a rule: don’t go to bed angry. Now, watching Mum go to bed for the last time, I didn’t want any anger left between us, so out came the unrehearsed words.

  2. Stephen Walt, blogging for FP, asks Three Questions About Pakistan. He quotes David Kilcullen explaining:

    We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now.

    He cites a Timur Kuran and Suisanne Lohmann for providing a construct for understanding why such collapses as Pakistan’s possible one are hard to predict:

    [R]evolutionary upheavals (and state collapse) are hard to predict because individual political preferences are a form of private information and the citizenry’s willingness to abandon the government and/or join the rebels depends a lot on their subjective estimate of the costs and risks of each choice. If enough people become convinced the rebels will win, they will stop supporting the government and may even switch sides, thereby create a self-reinforcing snowball of revolutionary momentum. Similar dynamics may determine whether the armed forces hang together or gradually disintegrate. As we saw in Iran in 1979 or in Eastern Europe in 1989, seemingly impregnable authoritarian governments sometimes come unglued quite quickly. At other times, however, apparently fragile regimes manage to stagger on for decades, because key institutions hold and the revolutionary bandwagon never gains sufficient momentum.

  3. Evgeny Morozov, also blogging for FP, suggests that “promoting democracy via the internet is often not a good idea.”

    I simply refuse to believe in the universality of this new human type of Homo Blogicus – the cosmopolitan and forward-looking blogger that regularly looks at us from the cover pages of the New York Times or the Guardian. The proliferation of online nationalism, the growing use of cyber-attacks to silence down opponents, the overall polarization of internet discussions predicted by Cass Sunstein et al, make me extremely suspicious of any talk about the emergence of some new archetype of an inherently democratic and cosmopolitan internet user.

    As much as I’d like to believe that internet decreases homophily and pushes us to discover and respect new and different viewpoints, I am yet to see any tangible evidence that this is actually happening – and particularly in the context of authoritarian states, where media and public spheres are set up in ways that are fundamentally different from those of democracies.

  4. Julian Sanchez blogs reflectively about “our special horror over torture” – especially as related to aerial bombing. He concludes:

    Civilian life affords us the luxury of a good deal of deontology—better to let ten guilty men go free, and so on. In wartime, there’s almost overwhelming pressure to shift to consequentialist thinking… and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have leaders who remember to factor the other side’s population into the calculus. And so we might think of the horror at torture as serving a kind of second-order function, quite apart from its intrinsic badness relative to other acts of war. It’s the marker we drop to say that even now, when the end is self-preservation, not all means are permitted. It’s the boundary we treat as uncrossable not because we’re certain it traces the faultline between right and wrong, but because it’s our own defining border; because if we survived by erasing it, whatever survived would be a stranger in the mirror. Which, in his own way, is what Shep Smith was getting at. Probably Khalid Sheik Mohammed deserves to be waterboarded and worse. We do not deserve to become the country that does it to him.

  5. Jim Manzi is equally reflective in his piece written “Against Waterboarding” for the American Scene and published at the National Review’s Corner as well:

    What should a U.S. citizen, military or civilian, do if faced with a situation in which he or she is confident that a disaster will occur that can only be avoided by waterboarding a captured combatant? Do it, and then surrender to the authorities and plead guilty to the offense. It is then the duty of the society to punish the offender in accordance with the law. We would rightly respect the perpetrator while we punish him. Does this seem like an inhuman standard? Maybe, but then again, I don’t want anybody unprepared for enormous personal sacrifice waterboarding people in my name.

    But consider, not a theoretical scenario of repeated nuclear strikes on the United States, or a tactical “ticking time bomb” scenario, but the real situation we face as a nation. We have suffered several thousand casualties from 9/11 through today. Suppose we had a 9/11-level attack with 3,000 casualties per year every year. Each person reading this would face a probability of death from this source of about 0.001% each year. A Republic demands courage — not foolhardy and unsustainable “principle at all costs,” but reasoned courage — from its citizens. The American response should be to find some other solution to this problem if the casualty rate is unacceptable. To demand that the government “keep us safe” by doing things out of our sight that we have refused to do in much more serious situations so that we can avoid such a risk is weak and pathetic. It is the demand of spoiled children, or the cosseted residents of the imperial city. In the actual situation we face, to demand that our government waterboard detainees in dark cells is cowardice.

  6. Robert Kaplan writes about the “Revenge of Geography” for Foreign Policy. The summary of the article:

    People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict.

  7. Time magazine has a piece written by Maia Szalavitz on drug decriminalization in Portugal which is also worth checking out. Excerpt:

    “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

    Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.

Barack Obama Declares the War on Drugs “an utter failure”

Monday, April 20th, 2009

I’d heard this quote often, but never saw the video:

It’s interesting how the younger and less constrained Obama is able to flatly state the fact that the War on Drugs has been an utter failure and that marijuana should be decriminalized while still maintaining his opposition to legalization. 

I’m all for gradual steps and half-measures that push our society in a positive direction – rather than abrupt shifts that prompt backlashes. And I think Obama has the politics of this right, if not the policy – decriminalization must come first and separate from legalization. But once pot is decriminalized, the logic of it’s legalization becomes inevitable. The problem is that decriminalization could just as easily aid the Mexican drug cartels in the short term – as they take advantage of the gray area in which marijuana would exist legally. Of all 7 positive effects that would be possible if marijuana were legalized, only 3 of them would be partially accomplished by decriminalization.

The prudent political path then is to make the case for legalization while pushing for decriminalization – with the knowledge that the latter will lead to the former.

7 Reasons to Legalize Marijuana

Monday, April 20th, 2009

On this April 20th, the case to legalize marijuana is a no-brainer. There are at least 7 things that could be accomplished by legalizing it:

  1. Stabilize Mexico. The drug cartels are waging a war against the Mexican government and each other funded mainly by the profits from marijuana sales in the United States. Legalizing marijuana would create an opportunity for the current government’s attacks on the cartels to succeed – as the cartels would need to scramble to find alternate sources of revenue while fighting a war against a military bolstered by American aid.
  2. Stop wasting money on a failure. Barack Obama called the war on drugs “an utter failure.” Since he took office, he has vowed to cut the fat from the federal budget and eliminate failed programs. At a time when our tax dollars are at a premium, why should we continue to waste money on a failed government program?
  3. Protect the legitimacy of our laws. Almost half of all Americans admit to have tried marijuana – including 3 of our past 3 presidents – which means that they all broke the law. Such flagrant law-breaking undermines respect for the Rule of Law – and more important, once Americans break the law they can see how distorted the government propaganda campaign against marijuana is – further undermining respect for the government. America is currently waging a war on its citizens the likes of which have rarely been seen in history – as we imprison a greater percentage of our population than any other nation on earth and continue to militarize our police as they stop enforcing community standards and instead impose federal policies using extreme force.
  4. Stop aiding terrorists. According to a 2004 Congressional report, the illegality of drugs has incentivized a vast system of money laundering, smuggling, and corrupting of government officials – as well as created failed states and lawless regions – all of which aid terrorists seeking to carry out attacks on the United States. The criminalization of marijuana creates the biggest incentive on all of these fronts.
  5. Reduce crime. The War on Drugs has been militarizing America’s police forces and eating up resources which has led to a statistical uptick in non-drug related theft and violent crime synchronous with this shift. As police resources are spent enforcing federal drug laws – arresting, testifying, surveiling – and as the police become more militarized and distant from the communities they are charged with policing – serious non-drug related crimes increase. One report quantified this by explaining that every additional drug arrest leads to an increase of 0.7 Index (serious) crimes [page 6 of the pdf].
  6. Stimulate the economy. Obama may have tittered at the question, but there is precedent – the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol when FDR took office during the Great Depression. 
  7. I’ll let Tim Meadows make the final point for legalization by explaining why not to smoke marijuana:

[Image by Torben H. licensed under Creative Commons.]

 

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The Price of Prohibition I: Propping Up The Mexican Cartels

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

We are keeping the finger in the dike.

Sgt. David Azuelo of the Tuscon, Arizona police force as quoted by Randal C. Archibold in The New York Times.

I’ve been arguing for some time that the War on Drugs and the prohibitionist policies underlying it must be ended for the sake of our national security. I’ve made the argument from a civil libertarian point of view; I’ve made the argument that the War on Drugs is interfering with the fight against terrorism; and I’ve made the argument based on the fact that this war is destabilizing our neighbors

Here’s a parallel argument:

The Pentagon listed Mexico as a country that might collapse suddenly into a civil war between the central government and the cartels. A top cabinet official in Mexico claimed that “unless [the cartels are] confronted, ‘the next president of the republic would be a narco-trafficker.” The levels of violence in the country now are astounding – with higher rates than those in Iraq in recent months – and they are continuing to spill over the border into America. We are currently supplying both sides of this conflict with weaponry and funds – and the conflict is escalating. Mexico is now following the route of Colombia by militarizing it’s approach to the problem of drugs. For decades, war raged in Colombia to stop the drug smugglers – inflicting an enormous cost on the country as they – in the words of an influential and prestigious report by former Mexican, Brazilian, and Mexican presidents, “implemented all conceivable measures to fight the drug trade in a massive effort whose benefits were not proportional to the vast amount of resources invested and the human costs involved.” The report explains that the “traumatic Colombian experience” should teach other nations “not to make the mistake of adopting the US prohibitionist policies.”

Yet, that is what Mexico is doing. For decades, America has waged a war on the suppliers of drugs and on drug users at home and abroad. The casualties have been high – but no matter the body count or the number of arrests has gone, the War on Drugs has remained “an utter failure.” This failure has allowed the reach of the Mexican cartels to extend far into America:

United States law enforcement officials have identified 230 cities, including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston and Billings, Mont., where Mexican cartels and their affiliates “maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors.”

As Stephen Walt explained in Foreign Policy:

[O]ur policy helps enrich drug lords and make it possible for them to destabilize whole governments, as they are now doing in Mexico and Afghanistan. 

As The Economist reported:

[P]rohibition has fostered gangsterism on a scale that the world has never seen before…[T]he war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless…

At the same time, the harm reduction strategy of the European Union, while mitigating the effects of drugs locally, has exacerbated the effects of drug production and smuggling elsewhere.

The failure of both the War on Drugs and the harm reduction strategy has created an enormous market incentive for smuggling, for money laundering, and for corrupting government officials. Together, these and other effects of the Drug War create a sense of lawlessness which is exactly where the cartels thrive. The cartels are able to thrive in part because the scale of their operations and the enormous profits generated give them both incentive and means to experiment with different methods of smuggling, money laundering, and corrupting officials. If there were a way to reduce these profits, it could undercut their successes in all of these areas and undermine the incentives that drive them to take these steps. The cartels might no longer be able to acquire military-grade weaponry; they might not be able to afford to buy subs to smuggle items in; they might not be able to afford to buy off the top Mexican drug enforcement official

We have reached the point that The Economist has characterized as a choice between “A calculated gamble, or another century of failure.” The calculated gamble is to legalize drugs, or at least marijuana.

People have asked me if legalizing marijuana would really make a difference in undercutting the Mexican cartels.

Marijuana represents 60 to 70% of the profits that fuel the Mexican drug cartels. Legalizing it would take away one of the main props holding them up – just as legalizing alcohol helped rollback the gangs that dominated American cities in the 1920s.

Violence in Mexico stemming from the drug war is destabilizing the country and spilling over into America. With a single move, we could remove the monopoloy which gives them 60 to 70% of the cartels’ revenue – in a single move, we could take away their “king crop.” Without the enormous profits of marijuana propping up the rest of the drug market, the costs of smuggling would increase. The distribution network would be pressured. The cost of bribing officials would likely increase as harder drugs would be the only things being smuggled and enforcement could focus more on these drugs. The pressure on our criminal justice system that is currently imprisoning a higher percentage of our people than any nation on earth would be eased. Border guards would be able to focus more on harder drugs, or even on serious threats to our security, rather than searching teenagers for pot. All of this would undermine the cartels – most of all, taking away 60-70% of their profits.

We have reached a point where one of our most aggressive drug czars has publicly stated that he “wouldn’t care” if marijuana were legalized! Where another former drug czar has acknowledged that marijuana “pose[s] no significant public health problem.”  These are men who led the fight against drugs. A massive propaganda campaign, $40 billion a year, millions of arrests, and untold casualties and – and the price of drugs has remained the same and the extent of drug use has barely been affected.

Why are we continuing a failed policy that only serves the interests of the Mexican cartels it is propping up?

Former Drug Czars Against the War on Drugs (cont.)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

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 Czars Against the War on Drugs

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Updated.

When I reported this a few weeks ago, I think I was the first to see significance in what former Drug Czar Brigadier General Barry McCaffrey said – and to be honest, I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up more. (The full video of the Council on Foreign Relations event on US-Mexico relations is here.) One of our more aggressive drug czars who vehemently attacked those politicians who suggested even allowances for medicinal marijuana and under whom arrests for mere marijuana possession went way up [pdf] now says this:

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

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.

(Laughter.)

(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:

The War on Drugs is a war on our citizenry which has led us to imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other country on earth. It is destabilizing our neighbors and other countries essential to our national security with the Pentagon going to far as to claim that Mexico is at risk of a complete collapse due to the effects of the Drug War. Domestically, it competes with police resources leading to a measurable rise in non-drug related serious crimes [pdf] as police attention is diverted. It competes with counterterrorism measures and resources. The War on Drugs is actively making us less safe – and it has failed to stop or even reduce the availability or price of drugs. As one wise senator said in 2004:

The war on drugs is an utter failure.

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.

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Former Drug Czar McCaffrey Doesn’t Care If Marijuana Is Legalized

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

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.

Discussing Mexico and US drug policy at the Council on Foreign Relations on February 23, 2009.

General McCaffrey as drug czar vehemently opposed medical marijuana; he accelerated the militarization of the Drug War in Columbia and Mexico; and during his time as drug czar, arrests for marijuana possession soared above those for harder drugs (See graph on page 3 of pdf). After years of failure to dent domestic demand for drugs, this chief drug warrior now admits he doesn’t care if drugs are legalized and that he sees nothing wrong with growing your own marijuana. It is incredible that someone could pursue the policies he did – and now state that he either didn’t or doesn’t strongly believe drugs should be illegal. 

Two weeks ago, another group of former drug warriors produced a report describing the failure of America’s prohibitionist policy in Latin America and in the United States:

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs…

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions…

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by [marijuana] is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

From Drugs and Democracy, a report by César Gaviria (former president of Columbia), Ernesto Zedillo (former president of Mexico), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former president of Brazil) and numerous other prominent Latin American figures released February 11, 2009.

As former Governor William Weld recently explained:

There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be.

It is notable that so many of our prominent politicians reveal after they leave office that they don’t really agree with the premise of the War on Drugs – a war which is consuming billions of dollars, waging war on our citizenry, jailing a higher percentage of our citizens than any other nation, destabilizing our neighbors, competing with and undermining anti-terrorism measures, and making America less safe

Instead, the best our current leaders offer is to soften the roughest edges of the Drug War on American citizens.1

Obama has taken a number of sensible positions on Drug War issues – but he has not publicly acknowledged what most informed observers can see – that the War on Drugs has failed, is wasting money, and making us less safe. It is inconceivable that a reflective, informed policy-maker such as Obama does not realize this as well.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to tell all of the favor-seekers who came to impress upon him the importance of certain issues:

I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.

In other words, we must put pressure on Obama if the hopes of reform advocates and Obama administration insiders are to be realized.

(more…)

  1. Yes, I know about the San Francisco Assemblymen Ammiano introduced a bill in California to legalize marijuana and tax it – but he’s clearly the exception. Texas Congressman Ron Paul would be another exception. []

Comparing Michael Phelps’s and A-Rod’s Sins

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I had a column about how A-Rod wasn’t going to be charged with anything but that Phelps probably was – but apparently the local sheriff – after 8 arrests – thought better of wasting to many resources.

This image was inspired in part by this blog post by Timothy Egan at the New York Times. Egan initially focused on those who didn’t get away with youthful indiscretions:

At least one in five people in state prisons are doing time for drug offenses. What must they think, rotting away in musty cells, hearing a president or a celebrity athlete dismiss their mistakes with the hoary line of young and stupid?

…Phelps seemed contrite in trotting out his young and stupid defense. “I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way,” he said.

More like youthful and appropriate. I have a hard time going after him for taking a hit of pot after he spent most of his life as a robo-athlete…

 

But this passage’s appropriate savaging of A-Rod is what inspired the above image:

A-Rod will likely face no legal consequences, nothing from the the toothless barons of baseball. Phelps took his hit for recreation. Rodriguez did his drug to cheat the game and himself. He lied about it. And then he blamed it all on his age and pressure to perform because of his oversized contract.

His punishment will come from the Bronx fans, brutal in their daily assessments, people who know that if they put a syringe in their arm while working with heavy equipment nobody will cut them a young-and-stupid break.