Category: drug abuse

George Will on drugs (and drug legalization)

Should we legalize drugs?  Conservative pundit, George Will, lays out the arguments, con and pro, in two columns recently published in the Washington Post. 

I don’t always agree with Mr. Will, but he is the kind of conservative who is willing to admit the obvious failings of politicians on his side of the cultural divide, and he writes far better than most columnists, liberal or conservative, so, agree or don’t, you know what he’s driving at.

You won’t learn everything that needs to be said about the war on drugs in these two essays, and if you are a conservative with libertarian leanings you won’t find anything new.  But if you believe the war on drugs is worthwhile and winnable, please read on.  Will is no pot-smoking lefty; he just doesn’t want to spend $100,000 incarcerating a corner boy for a $100 transaction, and he doesn’t like supporting violent drug cartels.  AGB   

The drug legalization dilemma

By , Published: April 4

The Washington Post

The human nervous system interacts in pleasing and addictive ways with certain molecules derived from some plants, which is why humans may have developed beer before they developed bread. Psychoactive — consciousness-altering — and addictive drugs are natural, a fact that should immunize policymakers against extravagant hopes as they cope with America’s drug problem, which is convulsing some nations to our south.

The costs — human, financial and social — of combating (most) drugs are prompting calls for decriminalization or legalization. America should, however, learn from the psychoactive drug used by a majority of American adults — alcohol.

Mark Kleiman of UCLA, a policy analyst, was recently discussing drug policy with someone who said he had no experience with illegal drugs, not even marijuana, because he is of “the gin generation.” Ah, said Kleiman, gin: “A much more dangerous drug.” Twenty percent of all American prisoners — 500,000 people — are incarcerated for dealing illegal drugs, but alcohol causes as much as half of America’s criminal violence and vehicular fatalities.

Drinking alcohol had been a widely exercised private right for millennia when America tried to prohibit it. As a public-health measure, Prohibition “worked”: Alcohol-related illnesses declined dramatically. As the monetary cost of drinking tripled, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver declined by a third. This improvement was, however, paid for in the coin of rampant criminality and disrespect for law.

Prohibition resembled what is today called decriminalization: It did not make drinking illegal; it criminalized the making, importing, transporting or selling of alcohol. Drinking remained legal, so oceans of it were made, imported, transported and sold.

Another legal drug, nicotine, kills more people than do alcohol and all illegal drugs — combined. For decades, government has aggressively publicized the health risks of smoking and made it unfashionable, stigmatized, expensive and inconvenient. Yet 20 percent of every rising American generation becomes addicted to nicotine.

So, suppose cocaine or heroin were legalized and marketed as cigarettes and alcohol are. And suppose the level of addiction were to replicate the 7 percent of adults suffering from alcohol abuse or dependency. That would be a public health disaster. As the late James Q. Wilson said, nicotine shortens life, cocaine debases it.

Still, because the costs of prohibition — interdiction, mass incarceration, etc. — are staggeringly high, some people say, “Let’s just try legalization for a while.” Society is not, however, like a controlled laboratory; in society, experiments that produce disappointing or unexpected results cannot be tidily reversed.

Legalized marijuana could be produced for much less than a tenth of its current price as an illegal commodity. Legalization of cocaine and heroin would cut their prices, too; they would sell for a tiny percentage of their current prices. And using high excise taxes to maintain cocaine and heroin prices at current levels would produce widespread tax evasion — and an illegal market.

Furthermore, legalization would mean drugs of reliable quality would be conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people. So there is no reason to think today’s levels of addiction are anywhere near the levels that would be reached under legalization.

Regarding the interdicting of drug shipments, capturing “kingpin” distributors and incarcerating dealers, consider data from the book “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know” by Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken. Almost all heroin comes from poppies grown on 4 percent of the arable land of one country — Afghanistan. Four South American countries — Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia — produce more than 90 percent of the world’s cocaine. But attempts to decrease production in source countries produce the “balloon effect.” Squeeze a balloon in one spot, it bulges in another. Suppress production of poppies or coca leaves here, production moves there. The $8 billion Plan Colombia was a melancholy success, reducing coca production there 65 percent, while production increased 40 percent in Peru and doubled in Bolivia.

In the 1980s, when “cocaine cowboys” made Miami lawless, the U.S. government created the South Florida Task Force to interdict cocaine shipped from Central and South America by small planes and cigarette boats. This interdiction was so successful the cartels opened new delivery routes. Tranquillity in Miami was purchased at the price of mayhem in Mexico.

America spends 20 times more on drug control than all the world’s poppy and coca growers earn. A subsequent column will suggest a more economic approach to the “natural” problem of drugs.

Should the U.S. legalize hard drugs?

By , Published: April 11

The Washington Post

Amelioration of today’s drug problem requires Americans to understand the significance of the 80-20 ratio. Twenty percent of American drinkers consume 80 percent of the alcohol sold here. The same 80-20 split obtains among users of illicit drugs.

About 3 million people — less than 1 percent of America’s population — consume 80 percent of illegal hard drugs. Drug-trafficking organizations can be most efficiently injured by changing the behavior of the 20 percent of heavy users, and we are learning how to do so. Reducing consumption by the 80 percent of casual users will not substantially reduce the northward flow of drugs or the southward flow of money.

Consider current policy concerning the only addictive intoxicant currently available as a consumer good — alcohol. America’s alcohol industry, which is as dependent on the 20 percent of heavy drinkers as they are on alcohol, markets its products aggressively and effectively. Because marketing can drive consumption, America’s distillers, brewers and vintners spend $6 billion on advertising and promoting their products. Americans’ experience with marketing’s power inclines them to favor prohibition and enforcement over legalization and marketing of drugs.

But this choice has consequences: More Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses or drug-related probation and parole violations than for property crimes. And although America spends five times more jailing drug dealers than it did 30 years ago, the prices of cocaine and heroin are 80 to 90 percent lower than 30 years ago.

In “Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know,” policy analysts Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken argue that imprisoning low-ranking street-corner dealers is pointless: A $200 transaction can cost society $100,000 for a three-year sentence. And imprisoning large numbers of dealers produces an army of people who, emerging from prison with blighted employment prospects, can only deal drugs. Which is why, although a few years ago Washington, D.C., dealers earned an average of $30 an hour, today they earn less than the federal minimum wage ($7.25).

Dealers, a.k.a. “pushers,” have almost nothing to do with initiating drug use by future addicts; almost every user starts when given drugs by a friend, sibling or acquaintance. There is a staggering disparity between the trivial sums earned by dealers who connect the cartels to the cartels’ customers and the huge sums trying to slow the flow of drugs to those street-level dealers. Kleiman, Caulkins and Hawken say that, in developed nations, cocaine sells for about $3,000 per ounce — almost twice the price of gold. And the supply of cocaine, unlike that of gold, can be cheaply and quickly expanded. But in the countries where cocaine and heroin are produced, they sell for about 1 percent of their retail price in the United States. If cocaine were legalized, a $2,000 kilogram could be FedExed from Colombia for less than $50 and sold profitably here for a small markup from its price in Colombia, and a $5 rock of crack might cost 25 cents. Criminalization drives the cost of the smuggled kilogram in the United States up to $20,000. But then it retails for more than $100,000.

People used to believe enforcement could raise prices but doubted that higher prices would decrease consumption. Now they know consumption declines as prices rise but wonder whether enforcement can substantially affect prices.

Kleiman, Caulkins and Hawken urge rethinking the drug-control triad of enforcement, prevention and treatment because we have been much too optimistic about all three.

And cartels have oceans of money for corrupting enforcement because drugs are so cheap to produce and easy to renew. So it is not unreasonable to consider modifying a policy that gives hundreds of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime.

Marijuana probably provides less than 25 percent of the cartels’ revenue. Legalizing it would take perhaps $10 billion from some bad and violent people, but the cartels would still make much more money from cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines than they would lose from marijuana legalization.

Sixteen states and the District have legalized “medical marijuana,” a messy, mendacious semi-legalization that breeds cynicism regarding law. In 1990, 24 percent of Americans supported full legalization. Today, 50 percent do. In 2010, in California, where one-eighth of Americans live, 46 percent of voters supported legalization, and some opponents were marijuana growers who like the profits they make from prohibition of their product.

Would the public health problems resulting from legalization be a price worth paying for injuring the cartels and reducing the costs of enforcement? We probably are going to find out.

Coverage of drug bust reveals healthy skepticism

By Alan Bean

A routine drug bust in Fort Worth, Texas has sparked a firestorm of media interest.

Seventeen people have been arrested, almost all of them charged with selling small amounts of marijuana to an undercover agent.

Fifteen of the defendants are students at Texas Christian University and four are football players.  Without the sports connection, no one would give much attention to a routine drug roundup, but in Fort Worth the Horned Frogs are the biggest thing going.

Reading through the half-dozen stories in this morning’s Star-Telegram, I couldn’t help thinking about the big Tulia drug bust in 1999.  But there is a difference.  Media response to the Tulia bust was universally positive.  Seldom was heard a discouraging word . . . until Friends of Justice got involved.

But the local paper’s coverage of the big TCU bust ranges from cautious praise for the school’s proactive stance against the drug scourge to deep skepticism.

Texas has changed a lot since 1999.  The wisdom of the war on drugs is no longer assumed. (more…)

The other L-word

By Alan Bean

Since Ronald Reagan rode to power on a wave of white racial resentment, programs designed to benefit America’s marginalized citizens have been treated as a political pinãta by conservatives and avoided as a liability by . . . well, non-conservatives.  No one dared identify as a liberal.  The L-word had become toxic.

There is another L-word: “legalization”.

Unless you are a big fan of Ron Paul, you have probably never been exposed to a compelling argument for legalizing drugs.  Libertarians support the legalization of drugs because (a) they don’t think the government should regulate hardly anything, (b)drug prohibition, like the prohibition of alcohol, is a futile attempt to repeal the law of supply and demand, and (c) our counter-productive war on drugs eats up billions of tax dollars.

Today, at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, three of America’s leading authorities on the drug war wrestled with the other l-word.

Michelle Alexander told us she was inching toward support for drug legalization but remained on the fence.  The author of the most successful criminal justice reform book in the history of publishing is committed to ending the war on drugs and the policy of mass incarceration.  Should legalizing drugs be part of the program?  She’s still thinking about it. (more…)

Jimmy Carter: Call Off the Global Drug War

This op-ed in the NY Times from President Jimmy Carter speaks for itself.  Now, if we can just get Bill Clinton to admit that he extended Ronald
Reagan’s militaristic solution to the drug probelm, we might be getting somewhere.  AGB

Call Off the Global Drug War

Published: June 16, 2011



IN an extraordinary new initiative announced earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy has made some courageous and profoundly important recommendations in a report on how to bring more effective control over the illicit drug trade. The commission includes the former presidents or prime ministers of five countries, a former secretary general of the United Nations, human rights leaders, and business and government leaders, including Richard Branson, George P. Shultz and Paul A. Volcker.

The report describes the total failure of the present global antidrug effort, and in particular America’s “war on drugs,” which was declared 40 years ago today. It notes that the global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008. Its primary recommendations are to substitute treatment for imprisonment for people who use drugs but do no harm to others, and to concentrate more coordinated international effort on combating violent criminal organizations rather than nonviolent, low-level offenders.

These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

This approach entailed an enormous expenditure of resources and the dependence on police and military forces to reduce the foreign cultivation of marijuana, coca and opium poppy and the production of cocaine and heroin. One result has been a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.

The commission’s facts and arguments are persuasive. It recommends that governments be encouraged to experiment “with models of legal regulation of drugs … that are designed to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.” For effective examples, they can look to policies that have shown promising results in Europe, Australia and other places.

But they probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3 percent of all American adults!

Some of this increase has been caused by mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws. But about three-quarters of new admissions to state prisons are for nonviolent crimes. And the single greatest cause of prison population growth has been the war on drugs, with the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses increasing more than twelvefold since 1980.

Not only has this excessive punishment destroyed the lives of millions of young people and their families (disproportionately minorities), but it is wreaking havoc on state and local budgets. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pointed out that, in 1980, 10 percent of his state’s budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.

Maybe the increased tax burden on wealthy citizens necessary to pay for the war on drugs will help to bring about a reform of America’s drug policies. At least the recommendations of the Global Commission will give some cover to political leaders who wish to do what is right.

A few years ago I worked side by side for four months with a group of prison inmates, who were learning the building trade, to renovate some public buildings in my hometown of Plains, Ga. They were intelligent and dedicated young men, each preparing for a productive life after the completion of his sentence. More than half of them were in prison for drug-related crimes, and would have been better off in college or trade school.

To help such men remain valuable members of society, and to make drug policies more humane and more effective, the American government should support and enact the reforms laid out by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the founder of the Carter Center and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

David Simon offers to make a new season of ‘The Wire’ if the feds end their drug war

Eric Holder and stars of 'The Wire' discuss endangered children.Attorney General Eric Holder recently appeared with several actors from the HBO series ‘The Wire’ to discuss the plight of children exposed to the drug culture.  It seems the program, co-produced by David Simon and Ed Burns, is a real hit at the Justice Department.  President Obama is also a big fan.  In fact, AG Holder is so impressed with The Wire he ordered Simon and Burns to produce at least one additional season.

“I want to speak directly to Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon. Do another season of ‘The Wire.’ That’s actually at a minimum….if you don’t do a season, do a movie. We’ve done HBO movies; this is a series that deserves a movie. I want another season or I want a movie. I have a lot of power Mr. Burns and Mr. Simon.” (more…)

Will lowered federal penalties for crack cocaine be retroactive?

By Victoria Frayre

Imagine being sentenced to prison for life for possession of crack cocaine and then one day being given the possibility of a reduced sentence or possibly even an eventual release. How would this change your life and the lives of your family and friends?

This could be an eventual reality for thousands of prisoners currently serving disproportionately longer sentences for possession of crack cocaine as compared to those caught with powder cocaine. (more…)

To the surprise of no one . . .

By Alec Goodwin

The Global Commission on Drug Policy is calling the war on drugs a complete and utter failure.

Finally, someone has the spine to admit what everyone has known for years; that the war on drugs has been a costly, deadly fiasco.

The report, which was prepared by former world leaders and UN members such as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and
Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, soundly condemns the war on drugs as ineffective, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars and leading to rampant drug crime and death.  The report is intensely critical of the United States, where we’re less concerned than other nations about treating drug addicts and users and more concerned about punishing them.  According to the report, America lacks the courage to admit in public that our methods have been ineffective and counterproductive. (more…)

Montana socialite who hosted cocaine parties won’t be doing time

Mansion arrest: Dru Cederberg, 52, served copious amounts of cocaine at lavish drug parties
Dru Cederberg

Dru Cederberg is heir to the Brach’s candy fortune.  She is also a Billings, Montana socialite who held cocaine parties at her home with socially prominent friends.  Perhaps I am being unkind.  The cocaine didn’t come out until late in the evening, after the fine food had been consumed and the help had cleared away the rich desserts.  This drug-fueled social activity went on for at least ten years and involved dozens of prosperous people.

Dru Cederberg won’t be spending a day in prison.  She is white, fifty-two years old, and a recent convert to a higher and purer life.  More importantly, she is a member of high society and the American criminal justice system hates putting women like Dru Cederberg behind bars.

Besides, Dru kindly participated with federal prosecutors–U.S. District Judge Charles C. Lovell thanked her for performing “yoman’s service” for the United States government.  That means she ratted out her friends including businessman Terri Jabs Kurth and Robert L. Eddleman, Carbon County’s former top prosecutor and one-time Montana Supreme Court candidate.

The only person doing serious time for the high-society drug escapade are the three Latino males who supplied the drugs: Domingo Baez, Maurisio Ramiro and Gilberto Acevedo.  Baez, the purported kingpin, will be serving eleven years in federal prison.  There is no question that Baez was bringing in the drugs only because people like Dru Cederberg, Terri Kurth and Robert Eddleman made it worth his while.

Federal authorities could have indicted dozens of prosperous white folks had they chosen to do so–that’s how extensive the drug activity was.  But drug use among the monied class holds little interest for prosecutors at either the federal or state level.

I am not suggesting that Dru Cederberg should have been sentenced to a decade or longer in the slammer (although federal sentencing guidelines could have been manipulated to justify a life sentence).  Eight months of house arrest and a $500,000 fine seems an appropriate sentence.  But ask yourself how things would have played out had Dru Cederberg been a black male street hustler running a crack house in the hood. (more…)

Narcotics: Attack Capital, Not People

Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, believes we should stop arresting scores of low-level drug dealers and start interdicting drug money in high places.  This concise form of his unique take on drug policy appeared in the Huffington Post.  If you are intrigued by Professor Osler’s thesis but aren’t sure about the details, an in-depth statement of his argument can be found here.  Highly recommended. 

Narcotics: Attack Capital, Not People

By Mark Osler

The war on drugs is over. Drugs won.

There seem to be two common answers as to what to do next. The political establishment (including the Obama administration) largely supports doing the same things we always have — locking up lots of people who are selling, making or carrying drugs. Meanwhile, increasingly vocal groups of reformers on both the right and left support the legalization of narcotics.

They are all wrong. Supporters of the same tactics we have pursued for decades need to recognize the failure of that enterprise. Many drugs are cheaper, purer, and more widely available now than they were twenty years ago. Legalization proponents, meanwhile, ignore the dire social consequences of narcotics like crack cocaine and methamphetamine (they have a stronger argument in relation to marijuana). There simply is no ignoring the way hard drugs can rip apart the social fabric of a family or community — especially in areas that are already economically vulnerable. (more…)

Michael Gerson displays his ignorance of drugs and the drug war

By Alan Bean

Michael Gerson doesn’t like Ron Paul for all the wrong reasons.  George W. Bush’s ex-speech writer is appalled that a presidential candidate who advocates the legalization of heroin expects to be taken seriously.  Me?  I am appalled that a man who doesn’t grasp the futility of the war on drugs can be taken seriously as an authority on the subject.  Has he not been following the debate?  Apparently not. (more…)