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Opinion

Opinion

Obama off base on drug legalization

April 19, 2012

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If President Obama had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin. So the president famously said.

And the president’s son would thereby find himself at significantly greater risk of running afoul of the so-called “War on Drugs” than, say, a son of George W. Bush. Depending on what state he lived in, a Trayvon Obama might be 57 times more likely than a Trayvon Bush to be imprisoned on drug charges.

This is not because he would be 57 times more likely to commit a drug crime. To the contrary, white American men commit the vast majority of the nation’s drug crimes, but African-American men do the vast majority of the nation’s drug time. It is a nakedly racial disparity that should leave the U.S. Department of “Justice” embarrassed to call itself by that name.

So it is difficult to be anything but disappointed at President Obama’s recent declaration at a summit in Colombia that “legalization is not the answer” to the international drug problem. The president argued that drug dealers might come to “dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint.” This dominance, he said, “could be just as corrupting if not more corrupting than the status quo.”

One wonders if the president forgot to engage brain before operating mouth.

Dealers might “dominate certain countries”? Has Obama never heard of Mexico, that country on our southern border where drug dealers operate as a virtual shadow government in some areas? Is he unfamiliar with Colombia — his host nation — where, for years, the government battled a drug cartel brutal and brazen enough to attack the Supreme Court and assassinate the attorney general? That scenario Obama warns against actually came to pass a long time ago.

Similarly, it is a mystery how the manufacture and sale of a legal product could be “just as corrupting if not more corrupting than the status quo.” How could that be, given that there would no longer be a need for drug merchants to bribe judges, politicians and police for protection? What reason is there to believe a legal market in drugs would be any more prone to corruption than the legal markets in cigarettes and alcohol? Or popcorn and chocolate?

The president’s reasoning is about as sturdy as a cardboard box in a monsoon. Even he must know — who can still deny? — that the drug war has failed. When it comes to quantifying that failure, several numbers are stark and edifying:

Forty-one. That’s how many years the “War” has raged.

Forty million-plus. That’s how many Americans have been arrested.

One trillion-plus. That’s the cost.

Two thousand, eight hundred. That’s the percentage by which drug use has risen.

One-point-three. That’s the percentage of Americans who were drug addicted in 1914.

One-point-three. That’s the percentage of Americans who are drug addicted now.

The numbers come from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of cops, judges, DEA agents and other drug warriors who are demanding an end to the drug war. Their statistics call to mind an old axiom: the definition of crazy is to continue doing the same thing but expecting a different result.

That said, it is not difficult to understand why the president — or anyone — might flinch at the notion of legalizing drugs. It is a big, revolutionary idea, an idea that would change the way things have been done since forever. If someone feels a need to pause before crossing that line, that’s understandable.

But let none of us do as the president did — hide behind a specious argument that offers no solution, no way forward and, most critically, no leadership.

Drug legalization is not the answer? OK, Mr. President, fair enough.

What is?

— 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 www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

its_just_math 2 years, 8 months ago

"Depending on what state he lived in, a Trayvon Obama might be 57 times more likely than a Trayvon Bush to be imprisoned on drug charges.

This is not because he would be 57 times more likely to commit a drug crime. To the contrary, white American men commit the vast majority of the nation’s drug crimes, but African-American men do the vast majority of the nation’s drug time. "

Maybe white drug dealers are just smarter and better organized. To address your assertion of "the vast majority of the nation’s drug crimes", blacks comprise about 14% of the population, whites about 5 times that. It's just math.

Roland Gunslinger 2 years, 8 months ago

Or maybe enforcement is more stringent in black neighborhoods.

FalseHopeNoChange 2 years, 8 months ago

Or maybe blacks should handle enforcement in black neighborhoods.

"Critics" like to pigeonhole people for voting. So why not enforcement?

Alyosha 2 years, 8 months ago

Why do you put "critics" in quotes? Are you quoting someone? If so, who? You need to cite your quotations, or reasonable readers will think you're making the quote up.

Also, it's not clear at all what you mean by "...like to pigeonhole people for voting." Can you revise that to be more clear what point you're trying to make?

Perhaps you need to think through your thoughts more clearly before committing them to a comment. Otherwise you are giving readers the opportunity to think your comments are wholly without merit.

JustNoticed 2 years, 8 months ago

Nancy Boy loves quotation marks. - as if they lend an air of being in the know about something the rest of us just can't figure out.

pace 2 years, 8 months ago

Or maybe prejudice is ruining an effective front on the war.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

According to every study that has ever been done, there is no effective front in the war on drugs. According to Rand Corp, for example, drug enforcement is the LEAST cost-effective method of addressing drug problems and actually causes additional costs for every dollar spent.

jafs 2 years, 8 months ago

That might explain the difference in rates, but it doesn't explain the difference in incarceration.

If whites commit the vast majority of the crimes, they should be doing the majority of the time.

werekoala 2 years, 8 months ago

Ah, yes; it's not racial prejudice and cultural bigotry that has blacks arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced much more severely than whites. It's just that blacks are at a disadvantage when compared to the inherent superior intelligence and organization skills of the White Man. It's not their fault, the poor dears.

But let me guess: i better not DARE suggest your racist comments are, y'know, racist. That would be below the belt...

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

The original purpose of the laws was to punish minorities. That much is absolutely clear from the history of the laws. When did you think the purpose changed to something else?

jafs 2 years, 8 months ago

I knew that even in a column criticizing the president, that some right wing folks would find a way to criticize Mr. Pitts.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

The laws were deliberately intended to punish racial minorities from the very beginning. See below for the references.

Flap Doodle 2 years, 8 months ago

If you are seeking trout, you generally don't look up in the trees. ( ... from ... a ... source ... )

booyalab 2 years, 8 months ago

The president argued that drug dealers might come to “dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint.” This dominance, he said, “could be just as corrupting if not more corrupting than the status quo.”

The first part of that statement is true in the sense that companies like Pfizer dominate the pharmaceutical drug industry. But I don't think the dominance is what would cause the increased corruption. That would result from recreational drugs being used more widely, such as in the 20th century when babies were administered opiates to keep them quiet. Even right now, speed is becoming increasingly easier to get in prescription form and consequently more people use prescription drugs. When people say they want drugs legalized, they're saying they want the fun prescription drugs available over the counter. At the least, I think that is a messed up set of priorities. Speed should be easier to get than antibiotics?

jafs 2 years, 8 months ago

I think that's a misunderstanding of legalization advocates - it certainly is of my view.

All of the same constraints that exist with alcohol and nicotine could and should apply to other drugs as well, so nobody will be giving babies heroin.

Also, alcohol and cigarettes are widely available without a prescription - should you have to have a prescription for them? If not, why not, and what's the criteria for determining prescription medication?

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

The great lesson of history is that prohibition only makes matters worse. These drugs may be bad, but prohibition only drives the problems underground where it is harder for ordinary social services to deal with them.

The human demand for drugs has been with us forever. Every society in the history of the earth has used recreational drugs. Drugs are not going to go away any time soon, and they are a multi-hundred-billion-dollar market. Therefore, there are only three choices for who will control that market, make all the rules for production and sales, enforce age limits, and collect all the hundreds of billions in revenue:

1) Government, with proper regulations and taxes to address social problems.

2) Private business, with proper regulations and taxes to address social problems.

3) Organized crime, with no regulations or taxes to address social problems.

So our choices boil down to Budweiser or Al Capone - private business or organized crime. No solution to the problems will ever be perfect, but organized crime is the worst of all choices.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

It'd be interesting to find out what the discrepancy in incarceration rates stems from first before taking it for granted it's purely racial. Off the top of my head I'm thinking arrest records, illegal weapon possession, felony convictions, and whether or not one arrest was enough to stop the behavior in its tracks, thereby avoiding the three strikes law.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

If you want to examine the actual statistics, see the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. If you examine the stats, you will find that blacks and whites get roughly equal treatment in virtually every category of crime except drugs. In drugs, the stats are way out of balance. Blacks get harsher treatment at every stage. They are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison. In some categories, such as mandatory minimum sentences, blacks account for more than 90 percent of the people sent to prison. In Wisconsin, blacks account for 2 percent of the population, and 44 percent of the people in prison for drugs.

But that is just what the drug laws were originally intended to do. They were originally targeted at racial minorities. See http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/history.htm for numerous historical references on the subject.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

" In some categories, such as mandatory minimum sentences, blacks account for more than 90 percent of the people sent to prison. "

None of your post before the above quote answered jack about what I posited. But the quote is priceless. "Mandatory minimums" is your coup de grace? Why don't you chew on that a while before responding, hopefully you'll discover your folly.

As to what "drug laws were originally intended to do", the advent of "drug laws" began w/ marijuana and that law's sole purpose was to justify the continued existence of the Federal Narcotics Bureau after prohibition had been repealed. Granted, the first target was a Latino, so Anslinger played on peoples' prejudice to make "Reefer Madness" more palatable. But it wasn't made to keep minorities down. Sorry.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

OK, so you didn't even bother to look at the link. In case you missed it, it is the largest online collection of historical research on the subject. The first Federal drug prohibition law was the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914. The Marihuana Tax Act was modeled after it.

You can find an excellent history of all the drug laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm

You can find a good short history of the marijuana laws, written by the law professor who wrote the history for Nixon's US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm

You can find the full text of the congressional hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/taxact.htm

Do some reading - or watch the four-hour History Channel special that was made out of my website - and get back to me.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

"watch the four-hour History Channel special that was made out of my website "

Bingo! Keep ripping off links to the same site along w/ the short lead-ins I'm thinking "this guy has an agenda related......" and then boom!

And I did check out your links. If I was writing a thesis perhaps I'd scour the endless files contained therein. But I've already written my paper on the advent of drug laws in America. If you'd like to address the issues I brought up directly and include DIRECT citations to those - fantastic. Just giving me links to something that resembles the Library of Congress in an extraordinarily broad swath is ridiculous. I have a life.

Nice avoiding the "mandatory minimums" snafu, btw. Apparently you need to "do some reading", figure out how silly that was.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

OK, let's make it as simple as possible for you. The reason for the racial disparity is that the laws are doing exactly what they were intended to do. The proof of it is in those links. It is very clear. If you don't want to read anything, that doesn't change any of the facts. It just indicates that you don't know the facts, and don't really care.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

Let's make it as simple as possible for you. You stating such and then pointing to links that are nothing more than a maze ain't proof of jack. CITE. Then provide a direct link to that citation. Incredibly simple.
And you can shove it with the "you don't know the facts, and don't really care" childishness. Prove your point. I'm more than open to hearing an argument and seeing it backed. All you've done is state absolutes w/ mentions of libraries. If you can't discern the difference, stop wasting my time.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

You didn't bother to read anything. It is as simple as that.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

Amazing. Allow me to imitate:

There's been a gigantic fraud and conspiracy perpetrated against a select group of citizens. The proof is right here:

http://www.loc.gov/index.html

Here's a complete history of the law:

http://www.lawsource.com/also/

More proof can be found here:

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html

Thanks for wasting my time, pal.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

You obviously didn't even bother to look.

the short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm

The first few chapters of Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm That is the table of contents page, so you can pick whichever topics you want to cover.

The report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, with summary, conclusions, table of contents, and as much summary or detail as you want. http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm

It isn't really a lot of reading, and some of it is downright entertaining. More entertaining that most of the opinions posted here, anyway.

But it isn't unusual for people to make lame excuses for failing to learn anything new. Your excuse may be the best in the world, but you still wind up without any real knowledge of the subject.

jaywalker 2 years, 8 months ago

You might very well be the most challenged person in the world. If that's the case, please let me know how I can help. Sincerely.

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

Read. It doesn't hurt. Honest. Lots of people have excuses why they don't want to read. All the excuses are good, but they are still ignorant at the end of the day.

Katara 2 years, 8 months ago

It could also be the quality of legal representation available.

Liberty275 2 years, 8 months ago

When was the last time someone was killed over distilling and selling liquor in America? My guess would be during prohibition.

Flap Doodle 2 years, 8 months ago

What new horrors will the dog-eating tyrant foist on America tomorrow? Stay tuned... ( ... from ... a ... source ...)

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

Why is there a racial imbalance in the way the drug laws are enforced? Because that is what the laws were originally designed to do.

Opium smoking was originally outlawed because of the fear that Chinese men were luring white women to have sex in opium dens. They didn't outlaw all opium, just the Chinese custom of smoking it in opium dens. Kids could still buy it in the store. At the same time, they outlawed the Chinese custom of wearing the hair in pigtails and banned Chinese from various businesses.

Cocaine was outlawed because of the fear that superhuman Negro Cocaine Fiends would go on a violent rampage and rape white women and shoot white men. It was believed that cocaine made them better marksmen and impervious to bullets, prompting police across the nation to switch to larger caliber pistols. Caffeine was almost outlawed at the same time, for the same reasons.

Marijuana was outlawed for two major reasons. The first was because "All Mexicans are crazy and marijuana is what makes them crazy." The second was the fear that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana - exactly the opposite of the modern "gateway" idea.

Only one MD testified at the hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The representative of the American Medical Association said there was no evidence that marijuana was a dangerous drug and no reason for the law. He pointed out that it was used in hundreds of common medicines at the time, with no significant problems. In response, the committee told him that, if he wasn't going to cooperate, he should shut up and leave.

The only other "expert" to testify was James C. Munch. His sole claim to fame was that he had injected cannabis directly into the brains of 300 dogs and two of them died. When they asked him what he concluded from this, he said he didn't know what to conclude because he wasn't a dog psychologist. He also testified in court, under oath, that marijuana could make your fangs grow six inches long and drip with blood. He also said that, when he tried it, it turned him into a bat. He then described how he flew around the room for two hours and then found himself at the bottom of a 200 foot high inkwell.

Mr. Munch was the only "expert" in the US who thought marijuana should be illegal so he was appointed US Official Expert on marijuana, where he served for 25 years.

The laws were absolute lunacy, passed by lunatics, from the very beginning. The laws were recognized as a medical, moral, criminal, and social disaster by medical societies across the nation from the day they were passed.

You can read a good history of the laws in Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm

You can find a good short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm

Another good history can be found at http://druglibrary.org/special/king/dhu/dhumenu.htm

wm97 2 years, 8 months ago

For additional histories by different authors as well as the full text of hundreds of original historical documents, see http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/history.htm

For the full text of every major government commission on drugs from around the world over the last 100 years, see Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer They all concluded that the drug laws do more harm than good -- no matter what you assume about the dangers of drugs.

The evidence is absolutely overwhelming. The drug laws were the product of racism, ignorance, nonsense, and absolute lunacy. Modern people assume that the drug laws must have been passed for a good reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reasons for these laws are so ridiculous that people laugh out loud when they read them.

Flap Doodle 2 years, 8 months ago

Another single-topic poster popping up like a mushroom after a rain. Hmmmmm.

Lawrence Morgan 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm very impressed by wm97's comments. He is backing his comments with research and web sites.

And Karatra has a very good point. Legal representation for blacks has often been poor, at best.

Why don't the rest of you do some serious research, instead of coming up with one-sentence phrases. It's disgusting. Most of you don't even know the background on what you are talking about.

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