Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prohibition Fails Again

Prohibition is an awful flop.
We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.
We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime.
Nevertheless, we're for it.
-- Franklin P. Adams (1931)

Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to a group of Latin American leaders on Monday, demonstrated the brilliance and open-mindedness so typical of current Washington leadership when speaking of drug legalization.
It warrants a discussion. It’s totally legitimate for this to be raised. It’s worth discussing … but there is no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.
That's the best you've got, Joe? Really? It's worth discussing, but nothing's going to change? That's real progressive of you. Let's look at a few facts, since you've at least admitted that the topic is legitimate and worth discussing, shall we? Here's a nice, concise summary of my position, courtesy of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Drug prohibition has made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens, cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars, made drugs more dangerous, created powerful criminal syndicates, increased violent crime, corrupted law enforcement at all levels, and expanded the size and scope of government.
Let's start with the obvious. Drug prohibition doesn't work any better than alcohol prohibition did. The World Health Organization did an extensive study in 2008, and what they found may still surprise a few people, so let's get it out of the way right up front.
Getting back to the WHO study, it's striking that the lifetime marijuana use rate in the U.S. (42.4 percent) is more than twice as high as the rate in the Netherlands (19.8 percent), despite the latter country's famously (or notoriously, depending on your perspective) tolerant cannabis policies. The difference for lifetime cocaine use is even bigger: The U.S. rate (16.2 percent) is eight times the Dutch rate (1.9 percent).
Yet the prevailing attitude among the 535 members of Congress and the current administration echoes that of the prohibition era, when Franklin Pierce Adams, New York Herald Tribune columnist, penned the little ditty that introduces this essay, two years before American regained its senses regarding alcohol.

Even your boss has changed his tune, sending in the DEA to shut down providers of medicinal marijuana, completely reversing the position he held as candidate Obama.
Back when he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments. "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," he vowed, promising an end to the Bush administration's high-profile raids on providers of medical pot, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia.
And then there's Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, claiming in the face of enough facts to choke a horse that the war on drugs in Mexico "is not a failure."

Joe, given how you're a representative of the people, you should probably be aware that a record-high 50% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.

If you do some checking, you'll find that other countries are reporting some success with changing their tune. Take Portugal, for example. They decriminalized drug use and now treat addicts instead of throwing them in jail, and they've had pretty fair results.
Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal's decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.

"There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal," said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, at a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered "problematic" -- those who repeatedly use "hard" drugs and intravenous users -- had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.
Even Forbes thinks Portugal might be on to something.
This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time.
Joe, do you know that Connecticut (ask your boss -- it's one of the 57 states) has started handing out $150 fines for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less? How's that working out for them?
Defense Attorney Richard Meehan, of Bridgeport, believes the lessened penalties are having a positive impact on an overburdened court system.

"Typically, what would happen before the law changed is somebody comes in, they're arrested with five or six joints -- less than a half-ounce -- and go to the community service labor program," Meehan said. "That required at least three court appearances before the matter was resolved ... (And) our Judicial Branch has taken a huge hit with budget cuts."

A pair of state law enforcement leaders, one representing Connecticut's police chiefs, the other rank-and-file officers, said they are unaware of any complaints about the reduced marijuana penalties.
Did you know there's even an entire organization of current and former law enforcement officers who are speaking out about the futility of the drug war? It's called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. They even have a very active website where they document their reasons for existing.

It's small wonder that some police officers feel that way. It must be hard down in the trenches, snatching people off the streets knowing they could face life in prison for the wrong stash box. I can imagine they'd feel kind of sleazy being asked to pretend to be high school students and seduce teenagers into buying illegal drugs for them so they can be busted. It can't be good for the digestion to break into homes in the middle of the night, not knowing if you'll get killed by some real badass, or find out you've invaded some innocent granny's home on a bad tip and shot them to death before the paperwork got straightened out. And the embarrassment of killing a mayor's dogs because a package was delivered to the wrong house has to be enough to make some people think about a career change.

It's not just liberal, pot-smoking hippies that are calling for "Change We Can Believe In," either. Given that you and your boss ran for office representing the left wing of the Republicrat turkey, I figure you've already heard all the arguments they have to offer. So instead, I'll clue you in on some people you may not often lend an ear to; those "tough on crime" right-wingers, the political heirs of Richard Nixon, who made escalating the "War on Drugs" a central tenant of his presidency.

Folks like Pat Robertson, religious and conservative icon, who recently had this to say:
We here in America make up 5% of the world's population, but we make up 25% of jailed prisoners...

I just think it's shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of controlled substance. The whole thing is crazy.

Think of California. California is spending more money on prisons than it spends on schools. There's something wrong about that equation.
Seriously, Joe, you and your boss are letting Pat Robertson out-liberal you on the drug war. What are you thinking?

Not only are you letting Pat Robertson out-liberal you, that goes for the President of Guatemala, too. Guatemala, Joe! There's still time to stay ahead of Guatemala, though. He won't be proposing legalization of drugs until later this month. You can still slip in under the wire. And you might have a real chance of beating out the President of El Salvador, since he still seems to be on the fence, although he's farther over than you are.

It's not just Pat Robertson and Latin American leaders, either. A recent Miami Herald article pointed out a lot of other reasons that legalization forces are gaining ground.

Now I don't know about you, Joe, but when I see things like that, I have to wonder why the War on Drugs is so popular with you and your liberal brethren, as well as the representatives of the other turkey wing in Congress, if even one-time hardliners like Pat Robertson and Latin American Presidents are speaking out against it.

I'm sure it's not any of the three absurd yet historical reasons for banning drugs that Dr. Stephen Davies discusses in this video, and I know it's not because all you fine folks in Washington still believe in Reefer Madness. According to Allen St. Pierre, a lot of you people really know how to party.
"This is a town where I could probably kill 200 major careers if I wanted to be a complete prick," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which is headquartered on K Street. "Politicians, members of Congress and the Senate, many of their principals—legislative directors, chiefs of staff, communications directors—people in the private sector, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Brookings, police, any number of notable journalists from television, print, radio, many brand names most Americans would recognize pretty quickly—I've smoked with all of them. There is more smoke in DC closets than there is sex."
But I've got one idea why the War on Drugs is still so popular with you DC types. I know it's kind of cynical, but let me run it past you and see what you think.

In earlier essays here at The Tireless Agorist, we've discussed the Cronyism Model of legislation. Interestingly enough, at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (See, Joe? Conservatives again!), retired police officer Howard Wooldridge described how pharmaceutical companies, the alcohol lobby, police officer and prison guard unions, and private prison operators all work together to keep the War on Drugs going strong.

Wooldridge's claims are confirmed by Tim Kelly, writing at the Future of Freedom Foundation, writing in detail about the benefits that accrue to the U.S. government, local police departments, the legal-industrial-imprisonment complex, and the banking system. He also documents the involvement of the CIA and other segments of the U.S intelligence community in drug trafficking.

For one example, Jacob Sullum, writing at conservative (psst... Joe!), has explained how the New York City Police Department has ignored New York's state decriminalization of marijuana possession (since 1977!) to keep arrest numbers high. "Pot busts have skyrocketed in New York City during the last decade and a half, even while marijuana use (as measured by government-sponsored surveys) has remained about the same."

If I didn't know better, I'd say continuing the War on Drugs is a great way to practice social engineering, pander to a lot of influential people who stand to lose a lot of money and influence if the war was ended, and justify the continual growth of the police state.

But I hate to be that cynical about our dear leaders.

Say it ain't so, Joe.


  1. It costs the government nothing to protect me against my use of drugs or alcohol, but then I don't murder, rob or rape anyone either. So since so many people are just like me - how are drunk and drugged drivers working out for y'all? Kind of like trying to stop shootings in schools, or terrorist activity in the media (one can't be terrorized unless one has something to fear).

  2. Reefer Madness is the drug war.