Tag Archives: War on Drugs

Jeff Sessions And His War On Pot

Given the daily headlines generated by this Administration–everything from porn star lawsuits and tariffs to the escalating exodus from the White House (Bill Maher opined that this is the largest rush to exit since the British burned it)– it may have escaped most people’s notice that various cabinet officials are making a valiant effort to take America back to the last century.

Nowhere is that effort more concerted than in Jeff Session’s Department of Justice.

Sessions has refused to enforce consent decrees with various police departments. He has rolled back anti-discrimination measures. He’s re-instituted civil forfeitures (one of the few measures uniformly condemned by civil libertarians, criminal justice experts, and politicians from both parties). His retrograde policies about immigration have led him to sue California for its sanctuary efforts. His “tough on crime” initiatives ignore 25 years of criminal justice research.

But it is his unrelenting insistence on reinvigorating the discredited War on Drugs that best illustrates his passion for returning us to the 1950s. So it will be interesting to see what eventually happens with a lawsuit first filed last November.

Alexis Bortell, along with her father and other plaintiffs, including former NFL player Marvin Washington, filed suit in the Southern District of New York against the attorney general as well as the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency….

Alexis, whose family moved to Colorado from Texas to take advantage of the state’s legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, had been suffering since she was 7 from a form of epilepsy that cannot be safely controlled with FDA-approved treatments and procedures, the lawsuit says.

As a result, she often had multiple seizures a day. “Nothing she tried worked,” the suit states. When her family finally tried a form of marijuana, the girl found “immediate relief from her seizures.”

“Since being on whole-plant medical Cannabis, Alexis has gone more than two years seizure-free,” the suit says.

 Alexis won’t be able to return to her native Texas where she qualifies for free college, because she would be subject to arrest if she continued to use marijuana to control her seizures.

Unfortunately, in February, the Judge dismissed the claims, citing precedent.

The Second Circuit has already determined that Congress had a rational basis to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug,” Hellerstein writes, “and any constitutional rigidity is overcome by granting the Attorney General, through a designated agent, the authority to reclassify a drug according to the evidence before it. … There can be no complaint of constitutional error when such a process is designed to provide a safety valve of this kind.”

However, Hellerstein immediately follows this conclusion with a paragraph suggesting that he is sympathetic to assertions that marijuana has medical uses.

“I emphasize that this decision is not on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim,” he points out. “Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purpose of this motion, claims that the use of medical marijuana has, quite literally, saved their lives, One plaintiff in this case, Alexis Bortell, suffers from intractable epilepsy, a severe seizure disorder that once caused her to experience multiple seizures every day. After years of searching for viable treatment options, Alexis began using medical marijuana. Since then, she has gone nearly three years without a single seizure.”

Alexis wasn’t the only plaintiff: she was joined by six-year-old Jagger Cotte, who treats with cannabis for Leigh Syndrome, a horrible, terminal neurological disorder; former NFL linebacker Marvin Washington, who makes cannabis-based products for head trauma; Iraq War veteran Jose Belen, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and was given the option of “opioids or nothing” from the Veterans Administration; and the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit concerned with racial disparities in drug policy enforcement.

All indications are that the dismissal will be appealed to the Second Circuit, and no matter who wins there, probably to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Jeff Session’s Justice Department will continue to ignore both the overwhelming consensus of research and the undeniable, abject failure of the 20th Century’s drug war.

In Trump’s America, of course, evidence and expertise are irrelevant.

Jeff Sessions, Drugs and the Late Lamented GOP

Jeff Sessions is a poster boy for the contemporary GOP–a perfect example of its takeover by racists, misogynists and anti-intellectuals, and its retreat from (and misapplication of) its philosophical roots.

Nowhere is the intellectual and moral corruption Sessions represents clearer than in his enthusiasm for re-instituting the War on Drugs–a counterproductive effort that even the rank and file of the GOP has largely abandoned.

Whether Sessions’ determination to go after marijuana, as well as harder drugs, is a result of his inability or unwillingness to understand the research, or is prompted by investments in the private prison industry, as has been speculated, is beside the point. In either case, Sessions is an example of the division–the abyss– between thoughtful adherents of principled conservatism and the ideologues who appeal to a far less thoughtful Republican base.

Nothing makes those contemporary Republican divisions clearer than a recent issue of Policy Analysis, a publication of the Cato Institute. Whether one agrees with its positions or not, Cato is indisputably home to legitimate scholars who make principled and consistent arguments for a libertarian point of view that used to be widely accepted–albeit never dominant–within the GOP.

Unlike today’s Republicans, Cato does not confine its application of libertarianism to economic issues and the boardroom while cheerfully endorsing theocratic control of personal behaviors.

The Institute’s current research adds to the great weight of evidence against Session-like drug policy, as the introduction makes clear:

Proponents of drug prohibition claim that such policies reduce drug-related crime, decrease drug-related disease and overdose, and are an effective means of disrupting and dismantling organized criminal enterprises.

We analyze the theoretical underpinnings of these claims, using tools and insights from economics, and explore the economics of prohibition and the veracity of proponent claims by analyzing data on overdose deaths, crime, and cartels. Moreover, we offer additional insights through an analysis of U.S. international drug policy utilizing data from U.S. drug policy in Afghanistan. While others have examined the effect of prohibition on domestic outcomes, few have asked how these programs impact foreign policy outcomes.

We conclude that prohibition is not only ineffective, but counterproductive, at achieving the goals of policymakers both domestically and abroad. Given the insights from economics and the available data, we find that the domestic War on Drugs has contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and fostered and sustained the creation of powerful drug cartels. Internationally, we find that prohibition not only fails in its own right, but also actively undermines the goals of the Global War on Terror.

Right now, all eyes are on the harm being done to our nation by the embarrassing buffoon in the Oval Office and his cabinet of theocrats and incompetents. That harm is real. But an even greater and more long-term harm comes from the collapse of a once-respectable political party capable of articulating a serious, intellectually  challenging conservative philosophy.

Much as partisans like to believe it, no political party has all the answers to the dilemmas of modern society. Without the advantage of adult conversation and debate, without the ability to consider and evaluate contending good-faith approaches to our common problems, America can’t move forward.

As long as the GOP remains dominated by clones of Jeff Sessions — in thrall to a rigid ideology, bound to partisan litmus tests, and convinced that genuine consideration of probative evidence is tantamount to betrayal– we all lose.

Defeating The Prison-Industrial Complex

When the Federalist Society is issuing dire predictions about a policy choice, I perk up. (If the Federalist Society is against something, it’s safe to assume I’ll probably approve of it.) And sure enough, it seems that amid the various disasters of the recently-concluded midterm elections, California voters did something sensible: they overwhelmingly passed Proposition 47.

Prop 47, officially named The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014, changes sentencing for certain low-level, nonviolent crimes including simple drug possession and petty theft. It also permits people who are currently incarcerated for such offenses to apply for resentencing.

Unsurprisingly, private prison operators, their political cronies, and the more punitive elements of the law enforcement establishment are predicting the End of Western Civilization as We Know It.

Financial savings are projected to be in the hundreds of millions—and those savings (largely but not entirely from reduced prison populations–hence the hysteria from the private prison folks) would be diverted into mental health and drug treatment programs, K–12 schools, and to compensate crime victims.

Americans may be beginning to come to their senses, at least where crime and punishment are concerned.

Ed Brayton notes that a broad coalition of liberal, conservative and libertarian political leaders has concluded that the tough-on-crime policies of recent decades are both costly and counterproductive.

In that view, widespread drug arrests and severe mandatory sentences are doing more to damage poor communities, especially African-American ones, than to prevent crime, and building ever more prisons that mostly turn out repeat offenders is a bad investment…

Our current, vindictive “law and order” approach to public safety has not only not made us safer, it has cost us a bundle and made us the world’s most aggressive jailers.  America accounts for 5% of the world population yet we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.

According to the LA Times, the greatest effect of Proposition 47 will be in drug possession cases.  California now becomes the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors.

Little by little, albeit at a painfully slow pace, Americans are addressing the nation’s real addiction– to its failed and disastrous Drug War. Measures to decriminalize marijuana in several states, and now California’s tacit recognition of prohibition’s folly, signal a tardy recognition of the damage done by a counterproductive “war” that has ruined far more lives than marijuana ever could.

A little bit of sanity for a crazy time. I’ll take it.




The Beginning of the End of the War on Drugs?

Uruguay has legalized pot.

Before the passage of the law, Uruguay’s president made an important point; admitting that legalization was an experiment, he stressed the importance of finding an alternative to the deadly and unsuccessful war on drugs. “We are asking the world to help us with this experience, which will allow the adoption of a social and political experiment to face a serious problem–drug trafficking,” he said. “The effects of drug trafficking are worse than those of the drugs themselves.” 

Yes. That is an “inconvenient truth” that everyone from Milton Friedman to the lowliest academic researcher has documented. Drug abuse (which, interestingly, is nowhere defined in the law, which simply prohibits the use of scheduled substances) is a public health problem, and criminalizing it doesn’t help anyone. It does, however, incentivize the drug trade, erode civil liberties, disproportionately affect the black community and make hypocrites of us all.

If pot were legal, regulated and taxed, we could control children’s access (it is harder in most communities for teens to get alcohol than pot) and generate income.

In Uruguay, the government will actually sell marijuana rather than taxing it. Andrew Sullivan reports that

Under the new law, Uruguayans registered with the government will be allowed to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces) of marijuana from government-licensed pharmacies. Private companies roped in to help produce enough weed to meet local demand will have to sell their crop to the government for distribution. The government will rake in some extra cash in the process. The black market for marijuana is worth some $40 million. The government won’t earn as much; it plans to sell the drug for about $1 a gram, roughly 30 percent less than the black market price. But it can count on a lot of customers: Uruguay has a relatively high percentage of pot smokers for the region – third only to Argentina and Chile.

If Uruguay’s experiment works, there will be increasing pressure to end a “War” that has been one of the costliest failures of public policy in the history of the country. And that’s really saying something, because we have a habit of legislating stupid and costly failures.