Archive for Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drug war finds new opponents

July 31, 2011


There was a quake last week, but you likely didn’t feel it.

See, this particular quake was not of the Earth, involved no shifting of the planetary crust. No, what shifted was a paradigm, and the implications are hopeful and profound.

On Tuesday, you see, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for an end to the War on Drugs.

Said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous in a written statement, “These flawed drug policies that have been mostly enforced in African-American communities must be stopped and replaced with evidence-based practices that address the root causes of drug use and abuse in America.”

Here’s why this matters — or, more to the point, why it matters more than if such a statement came from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. The NAACP is not just the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. It is also its most conservative.

That word is used here not in the modern sense of tea party antics or Fox “News” rantings but, rather, in the original sense, denoting a propensity toward caution and a distrust of the bold, the risky, the new. And that’s the NAACP all over.

Let the Universal Negro Improvement Association go back to Africa. Let the Nation of Islam preach black supremacy. Let the Congress of Racial Equality launch Freedom Rides.

The NAACP went to court.

Yes, the comparison is simplistic, but it’s essentially apt. Nor is the point of it to disparage — after all, going to court produced a landmark ruling in 1954. No, it’s only to say there has always been something determinedly middle class and cautious about the NAACP. This is the group whose then-leader, Roy Wilkins, famously detested Martin Luther King for his street theatrics.

For that group, then, to demand an end to the Drug War represents a monumental sea change.

Interestingly, a number of other conservative — again, in the old, intelligent sense of the word — observers have also questioned U.S. drug policy. That includes George Schultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state; Kathleen Parker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist; and the late William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review.

And why not? By now, two things should be neon obvious where the Drug War is concerned.

The first is that it failed. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an advocacy group, reports that after 40 million arrests and a trillion dollars spent to fight drug use, the number of those who have used drugs is up 2,800 percent since 1970.

The second is that it has come down like a hammer on the African-American community while leaving the white community, which does most of the buying, selling and using of drugs in this country, unscathed. The Sentencing Project, another advocacy group, reports that while two-thirds of regular crack users are white or Latino, better than 80 percent of those sentenced in federal court for crack-related crimes are black. That is absurd, obscene and unjust.

It is time to concede what has long been apparent: You cannot jail people out of wanting what they want. But, you just might be able to treat and educate them to that purpose. Granted, that will require a paradigm shift some of us will find difficult to get our heads around.

But if the NAACP can do it, you and I have no excuse.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on His email address is


Liberty275 6 years, 4 months ago

It's unfortunate the NAACP made the right choice for the wrong reason. Instead of objecting to the drug war on the grounds of personal liberty, they are doing it as knee-jerk reaction to the systemic racism that still inundates America. The folly of American drug policy is far greater than just it's racist implementation.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

Hey! We actually agree on something! Good to know. I'll keep this in mind the next time I rip into ya.

Liberty275 6 years, 4 months ago

"It's difficult to educate people about what they really want"

Why do we even need to educate people about what they want? I can accept more education on the consequences of actions, but telling people what they want or need is creepy and makes me think of communist re-education camps.

I realize I took you out of context and my reply is really more to the paragraph you quoted.

You are right about the varied values in America, but that is what makes America still somewhat great. We should encourage the cats to run around, not try to herd them.

Paul Decelles 6 years, 4 months ago

"We should encourage the cats to run around, not try to herd them."

Great! Meow!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

"a trillion dollars spent to fight drug use"

Isn't the national debt about $14.3 trillion? It would appear that quite a large chunk of it was spent right there.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

It is estimated that the USA wasted 1.3 trillion dollars over the last 40 years fighting the War on Poor aka War on Drugs.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

It's true...the Prison-Industrial Complex does not want to give up their golden goose.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

Neill Franklin, a former Maryland narcotics cop, says that we need to legalize ALL drugs to stop cops from needlessly being killed in the "drug war" line of duty.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is an international organization of criminal justice professionals who bear personal witness to the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

The fair thing to do would be to try 40 years of legalization. Let's see how bad things get under legalization...regulate and tax...Did it work out okay when we did this with alcohol?

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

It seems to have worked rather well with tobacco products.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 4 months ago

The WoD has also had unintended consequences on the medical front. People with chronic pain they will live with for the rest of their lives are refused drugs that can alleviate at least some, if not all, of that pain and help them remain productive, active, functional people. Instead, because of the threat of diversion and the paranoia of the DEA, these people are left to suffer and made to jump through sometimes unmanageable hoops to get the medications they need to keep moving and functioning. Those "hoops" are simply another layer of control to prevent diversion, however they produce an undue, and sometimes impossible, burden on the sufferer. Also, health insurance companies have used the WoD as an excuse to further stiff their customers. Most insurance policies that cover medications will not, under any circumstances outside the hospital, cover pain medications; especially medications for chronic pain. This can and has left people on fixed incomes in the position of paying over 200$ for a box of 5 Fentanyl patches, which will last them 15 days. That's 400$/month out of a monthly income of 1500$. This is a proprietary fee as almost all Class II narcotics are the cheapest drugs on the market to produce. Therefore, big pharma has a huge reason for keeping the WoD going. Lastly, one other group that has a lot at stake to keep the WoD going (other than the proprietary private prisons mentioned above) is organized crime; be it the Mafia, the Columbian or the Mexican cartels. As long as the WoD continues, these groups can and will keep the cost of drugs artificially high and funnel billions of dollars out of this country. It's an "outsourcing" that screws people at both ends of the spectrum. It behooves people to realize that, far from not "acting in their own best interests", these groups are spending millions keeping the WoD intact. They ain't stupid. I don't know what the solution is to these problems. There are a lot of people with their fingers in the "WoD" pie; an octopus with myriad tentacles. But for the sake of this country I think it needs to change and change soon.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 4 months ago

Heehee! But seriously, whatcha think of what I said? :)

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

I hope everyone realizes that ending the prohibition on illegal drugs will simply be trading one set of problems for another set of problems. Maybe it is time to change directions, but to suggest that things will get better is a false assumption. Drug use will go up. Costs associated with that will increase. Regulation sounds nice, but many drugs that are currently regulated are some of the drugs that are most abused. There will be lost productivity. Workplace accidents will go up. There will be increased costs for treatment and other medical interventions. There will be increases in domestic violence. there will be an increase in DUI related problems, including the occasional death of innocent bystanders. There will be a significant decrease in the prison population. Violence associated with the high profits in illegal drug trafficing will decrease. If regulated, our tax base might increase.
There are many other reasons on both sides. Just please, don't suggest that ending the prohibition against illegal drugs will improve our situation. It's a even swap.

pizzapete 6 years, 4 months ago

I think any increase in drug use would only be a temporary spike if all drugs were made legal. Just because cocaine is suddenly legal wouldn't make me rush out and buy any, heck I could probably buy some tonight, the fact is I don't want any, so making it legal would have zero impact on me.

The fact that it's illegal is a big motivator I think for some people to start taking drugs. If sweet corn were suddenly made illegal it would suddenly cost $30 an ear and people would be killing each other to get their next fix.

PracticalToker 6 years, 4 months ago

And, where are your statistics to support these erroneous claims? As one with ten years in the drug policy reform game, let me tell ya how misinformed you are. At least when it comes to marijuana.

Have you heard of Portugal and their drug laws? Ten years ago, they decriminalized all drugs. Not just cannabis, but heroin, cocaine, meth. In the following ten years, drug use among minors and the recorded number of diseases that are associated with the sharing of dirty needles went down. [1] This has been after a decade of this policy, which to any reasonable drug policy analyst demonstrates that decriminalization works wonders for decreasing use.

As for workplace productivity and safety, don't get me started. I am a 'user' who works two jobs, runs a website, raises my family, and am active in drug policy reform. I am one of the most productive people on my respective crews despite (or possibly because of) my drug use. I have been commended many times for my outlook, my drive, and my ambition. Again, I am talking about marijuana.

DUIs are already rampart. If people are going to drive stoned, they will drive stoned no matter the legality of their drug of choice. And despite the increases in marijuana use in recent years, I haven't seen a correlation with a rising number of wrecks with intoxicating drivers.

As for your claims about the economics of drugs... all I can say is 'ha'. Not only will we make money in the taxation of a legalized drug market, but we will reap massive windfalls in the form of spending cuts [2]. In my humble opinion, it is the exact opposite of the current debt debate. The money is in the cuts, not the revenues.

The drug war is racist in nature, an attack on the American people, and an abomination against the constitution.

Let's start with legalizing marijuana and see where that takes us. If things go as bad as you think, then we can stop there. When history proves my points, we can move on to the harder drugs.

Chuck Deputy Director JoCoNORML



jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

The expression "War on Drugs" in an all encompassing expression. It's like saying "car", and then making broad statements that include a Yugo and a Rolls Royce. From your title, you're coming from a perspective of marijuana. Are your comments and concerns about marijuana the same as crack cocaine and heroin?
You mentioned Portugal. I no idea about what's going on over there. I did live in San Francisco for many years. Let me tell you some of my personal observations. First, San Francisco is about as close to decriminalization as you can get. It's difficult to get arrested for marijuana or any other drug for that matter. And even if arrested, treatment is the path the city has chosen, not criminal prosecution. Let's just say that drug use is rampant in the city. What are the results? The first thing one notices is the lack of children in the city. Young people flock to the city for the fun, the nightlife, the party. As soon as they have children, they leave. The schools suck and the parks have been overrun by addicts. Harm reduction programs, needle exchange free condoms, etc. have made the city streets and parks a cesspool. This is what happened in a city that experimented with decriminalization. There are several neighborhoods where homelessness and addiction go hand in hand. You spoke of holding down two jobs while smoking some weed while challenging my assertion of loss of productivity. I saw hundreds on each block, sleeping on the streets, never working, committing petty crimes like breaking into cars, crimes that don't even show up in statistics because residents long ago saw the futility of even reporting those crime. Death comes early and often for those people. And treatment is rarely successful. Quality of life is a running joke. This is the face of decriminalization. Yes, the jails are emptied but law abiding adults leave. I see where you're coming from with your feelings about marijuana. But that's a very small part of the "war on drugs" and looks almost nothing like the crack epidemic or heroin epidemic that I saw on a daily basis.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

That's like saying we should still make it illegal to drink hard liquor, but not wine or beer.

Do you think that's a good idea?

Are conditions now with alcohol essentially the same as during Prohibition, which is what your argument would lead to?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

I'm not advocating for or against a prohibition against what are now illegal drugs. I'm just saying that each carries problems, just different problems. Let's look at a recent example involving alcohol. During the Viet Nam war era, there was a lot of discussion about lowering the drinking age to 18, the rationale being that if they can be drafted and serve and maybe die, they should be allowed to drink legally. The rationale may be fine, but the consequence was that DUI related issues went way up. It was that that caused the Federal government threatened to withdraw highway funds unless every state raised the drinking age to 21. Cause & effect - increased access to alcohol for the 18-21 year old group = increased DUI issues, including drunk driving deaths. Now what I'm saying is the same will be true for other drugs. If you want to legalize or decriminalize drug use, that's fine. There will be other consequences that will come up. For every reduction in prison population there will be an increase in DUI. For every reduction in racial profiling, there will be an increase in treatment costs. For every this, there will be a that. Whether or not it's a good thing, that's for each of us to decide.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

"It's an even swap"

That's your statement about legalizing drugs - do you think we just had an even swap when we repealed Prohibition?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

Exactly even? I'm not sure. How much does it cost to incarcerate vs. a 28 day treatment program, a treatment program that includes relapse as part of the disease? How much racial profiling equals a single death? I really don't know the answers. I'm just saying that if one looks only at one side of the equation (decriminalization, less incarceration, less profiling, etc) and does not look at the other side of the equation (increased death, increased medical intervention, increased lost productivity, etc) then you're not looking at the whole picture.
Maybe the War on Drugs has been a failure and it's time to look at another approach. I just don't think it will solve the problem.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

It depends on how you define the problem, at least in part.

Legalizing drugs wouldn't stop people from using them, any more than legalizing alcohol stopped people from drinking.

There's nothing mandating that we have to pay for treatment programs if we don't want to, by the way.

I think deaths would decrease, especially since we'd no longer have the criminal enterprises surrounding drug use/sale.

I'm not sure what your concern is about productivity - if people don't do their jobs, they can be fired. Employers already routinely screen for drug use as it is.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

First, I do think making something illegal will stop some people from doing that activity. Everyone, of course not, but some. So if we made cocaine legal or we made heroin legal, I do think that use would increase some. Right, we don't have to pay for treatment. We can leave unconscious people on the street and leave them to die. I just don't think we will do that. Addiction has been defined as a disease for some time now (even though I disagree with that classification) and as a society, we will continue to treat it as a disease, so yes, treatment will happen. You may be right that deaths amongst the criminals will likely decrease. But with increase usage, death amongst consumers will increase. And I think that deaths amongst innocent bystanders as in DUI situations will increase. Deaths of innocent bystanders by criminals will decrease but I think that happens much more outside the U.S. than inside. And loss of productivity - as I said, there are large areas of every major city we can call skid row. These people are useless. With increased usage, we can assume that the numbers on skid row will increase. Some of them would wind up there no matter what. But again, with increased usage, their numbers will also increase.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

Did Prohibition stop people from drinking?

It's not just among "the criminals" - it's among the ordinary folks who get killed in drive by shootings related to gang/drug situations. And, since the price would drop, associated crime like muggings would decrease as well.

In addition, as with alcohol, if drugs were legal and regulated, there would be more quality control, and so fewer people would die from problems on that level.

Do you think that Prohibition was a good idea, and that we should have continued that? Or was it better to repeal it?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

Prohibition clearly did not stop people from drinking. Did the end of prohibition end crime? As drinking went up, legally, crime went down. But that just brings me back to my original point, that we will be trading one set of problems for another set of problems if we ended the War on Drugs. And as I said above, maybe it is time for a change in direction. I just don't want us going in that direction wearing rose colored glasses. And of course there are degrees. Decriminalization of marijuana is very different than legalizing crack cocaine and heroin. And if we decriminalize marijuana but not crack and heroin, the reduction in crime would be much less, as the criminal element would persist.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

So should we have kept Prohibition?

Or were we correct in ending it?

Whichever position one takes, it should be consistent - if ending Prohibition was a good idea, then legalizing drugs is a good idea as well.

If you think we should continue to keep drugs illegal, then it would follow that we should have kept Prohibition in effect.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

As I've outlined, both sides of this debate have positives and negatives. So I'm not sure a consistent policy is something we need or should be striving for. We already have policies that legalize alcohol for 21 year olds but not 18. Cigarettes are available to 18 year olds but not 16. I think there are restrictions on the availability of some alcoholic products that are very strong, like grain alcohol (I admit I'm not sure about this, I think it's true). An inconsistent policy reminds me of highway speed limits. We all know higher speeds lead to more deaths and we lose energy efficiency. But we also know we can't lower it too much because no one wants to drive 55, we tried that and we hated it. But we can't raise it to say 100. But back to the drug issue, in my opinion, legalizing heroin, crack, meth, those types of drugs would be wrong for a variety of reasons, the primary one being it would be too dangerous. I would love to figure out a reliable method of testing for marijuana so I could feel comfortable that drivers wouldn't be impaired. But generally, I think decriminalization of marijuana is the right way to go while keeping strict laws on other drugs.

jafs 6 years, 4 months ago

So then the analogous idea with alcohol would be to allow wine and beer to be legal, but make stronger forms of it illegal.

Is that a good idea?

Inconsistent policies don't make any sense, including the ones you list as far as cigarette and alcohol consumption, and the ability to be drafted.

The age for all of those should be the same - if you're old enough to be drafted, you're old enough to smoke and drink legally.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

"if you're old enough to be drafted, you're old enough to smoke and drink legally". What is the draft age now? I lived through the draft era. Women were exempt. As were many others. Those with connections got into the reserves, lessening their chances of going to Viet Nam. But I digress. I assume you're saying that 18 is the number. I see your point about being consistent. And coupled with your desire for a consistent policy about making drugs legal, I have a very strong feeling that deaths will go up dramatically amongst consumers and innocent bystanders as in DUI related accidents. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree here, I'll take the deduced deaths along with an inconsistent policy.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

Nothing will 'solve the problem.' We ended prohibition of alcohol 70 years ago, but we still have alcoholics. What we don't have are gangland drive-by shootings or ambush of cops by the criminal alcohol gangsters. Here in the USA we handle the problems as they arise...we don't jail people for making a personal decision to use drugs in their home. Land of the free mean anything to you?

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

The fact that the baby bomers were coming of age during the period when the drinking age was lowered might have had something to do with it. Do you have a link with statistics showing the increase in drunk driving correlated with lowered legal drinking age?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

Nope, no link, just my memory. I was there during the Viet Nam era. I listened to the arguments about allowing 18 year olds the right to drink. I was here when as an 18 year old we could drink 3.2 beer in Kansas. We could get stronger beer in Missouri, but there you had to be 21. Once the war ended, along with the draft, I heard the arguments about the increased deaths amongst 18-21 year olds. I saw the Feds put pressure on the states to raise the drinking age to 21. It was the treat of withholding highway funds. Faced with that threat, all the states complied. These things I'm saying are from my personal memory. If you'd like to do some research, have at it. But unless I was being lied to back then, I'm pretty sure that my version is accurate.

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, I remember those days too. Anecdotes do not an argument make.

deec 6 years, 4 months ago

Sep. 8, 2010 - Choose Responsibility

Jeffrey A. Miron, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Economics, Harvard University, and Elina Tetelbaum, JD, Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation, wrote in their Apr. 15, 2009 Forbes article "The Dangers of the Drinking Age":

"For the past 20 years, the U.S. has maintained a Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 (MLDA21), with little public debate about the wisdom of this policy...

In our recently completed research, we show that the MLDA21 has little or no life-saving effect.

Our research compares traffic fatality rates in states before and after they changed their MLDA from 18 to 21. In contrast to all earlier work, however, we examined separately the impact in states that adopted an MLDA21 on their own and those that were coerced by the FUDAA [Federal Underage Drinking Act].

The results are striking. Virtually all the life-saving impact of the MLDA21 comes from the few early-adopting states, not from the larger number that resulted from federal pressure. Further, any life-saving effect in those states that first raised the drinking age was only temporary, occurring largely in the first year or two after switching to the MLDA21.

Our results thus challenge both the value of the MLDA21 and the value of coercive federalism. While we find limited evidence that the MLDA21 saves lives when states adopted it of their own volition, we find no evidence it saves lives when the federal government compels this policy...

The major implication of these results is that the drinking age does not produce its main claimed benefit. Moreover, it plausibly generates side effects, like binge drinking and disrespect for the law--

jhawkinsf 6 years, 4 months ago

You criticized one of my comments with the statement "Anecdotes do not an argument make". Compare that with the final sentence of the study you referenced, "It plausibly generates sides effects, like binge drinking and disrespect for the law. The key word being "plausibly". And while you criticized my anecdotes which I admit were taken from memory, the study you quotes confirmed what I had said, but said that later research revealed slightly different results. Fine. I was just using that as an example to make a different point on a different subject.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 4 months ago

Christopher Columbus should have been promptly arrested as soon as he set foot in the New Word, because not only the ropes on his ships were made of hemp, which is a marijuana product, but the sails he used were also. Cotton sails were never used at that time, because they would rot before even one ocean crossing had been completed.

All of the founders of the new republic of The United States of America should have been thrown in prison, because they passed among themselves a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was written on hemp paper. Only the final copy was written on parchment.

And the biggest criminal of all was George Washington - he grew hemp by the ton on his plantation!

pizzapete 6 years, 4 months ago

And George Washington made it illegal to not grow marijuana during our war of independence. I think something like a minimum of 10% of ones farm had to be planted with hemp for the war effort.

I'm real happy to see the NCAAP getting on board to do away with the stupid drug laws in this country.

Crazy_Larry 6 years, 4 months ago

1901 - 1937 U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts repeatedly that with the advent of machinery capable of harvesting, stripping and separating the hemp fiber from the pulp, hemp will again be America's "Number One" crop.

1916 - U.S.D.A. publishes Bulletin No. 404, "Hemp Hurds As Paper-Making Material," extolling and demonstrating the outstanding qualities of paper manufactured from hemp-pulp. The document was printed on hemp-pulp paper and explained the new technology.

1935 - 116 million pounds of hemp seed are used commercially in America to manufacture paint and varnish.

1937 - February issue of Mechanical Engineering includes the feature story "The Most Profitable and Desirable Crop That Can Be Grown" which tells about the new machines being used to harvest hemp.

1938 - The February issue of Popular Mechanics runs a story, (prepared before the 1937 legislation was enacted) titled: "New Billion Dollar Crop." It tells about the new machine for harvesting hemp which "solves a problem more than 6,000 years old." It further states that increased hemp production "will displace imports of raw material and manufactured products" and calls hemp the "standard fiber of the world." Popular Mechanics goes on to say hemp can "produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane." This is the first time ever in U.S. history the term 'billion-dollar' is applied to the potential for an agricultural crop.

1941 - December issue of Popular Mechanics features a story on Henry Ford, showing a picture of the car he "grew from the soil." The automobile's "plastic panels with impact strength 10 times greater than steel were made from flax, wheat, hemp, and spruce pulp." The auto weighed 1/3 less than its 100% steel contemporaries.

1942 - U.S. government overrides its own ban on hemp and distributes 400,000 pounds of hemp seed to U.S farmers who produce 42,000 tons of hemp fiber annually to support the war effort until 1946. U.S. farmers, including youthful 4-H Club members, are inundated by "Uncle Sam" with incentives to grow hemp. The U.S.D.A. makes it mandatory for farmers to attend showings of the "Hemp For Victory" film. Farmers and their sons who agree to grow hemp are exempt from military service, even though America is at war.

1972 - U.S.D.A. finds that hemp seed is lower in saturated fats than any other vegetable oil (including soybean and canola). Other studies note that until this century hemp-cake (the by-product of pressing the seed for oil ) was one of the world's principle animal feeds. It is also found that hemp seed, like soybeans, can produce a tofu-like curd.

1975 - Researchers at the Medical College of Virginia discover that cannabis is incredibly successful for reducing the size of many types of tumors, both benign and cancerous.

Ford's car:

Hemp for Victory:

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