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Federal Drug Numbers Are Garbage, RAND Corporation Finds

The independent RAND corporation said that federal drug statistics are pretty much total garbage.
East Bay Express (CA)

Drug Czars Past and Present Oppose Prop 19 Marijuana Init

In an absolutely unsurprising turn of events, current head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske and five former drug czars have come out against Proposition 19, California's marijuana legalization initiative. The six bureaucratic drug warriors all signed on to an op-ed, Why California Should Just Say No to Prop 19, published in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske with President Obama
Joining Kerlikowske in the broadside against legalization were former drug czars John Walters, Barry McCaffrey, Lee Brown, Bob Martinez, and William Bennett.

The drug czars claim that Prop 19 supporters will "rely on two main arguments: that legalizing and taxing marijuana would generate much-needed revenue, and that legalization would allow law enforcement to focus on other crimes." Then they attempt to refute those claims.

Noting that marijuana is easy and cheap to cultivate, the drug czars predict that, unlike the case with alcohol and tobacco, many would grow their own and avoid taxes. "Why would people volunteer to pay high taxes on marijuana if it were legalized?" they asked. "The answer is that many would not, and the underground market, adapting to undercut any new taxes, would barely diminish at all."

Ignoring the more than 800,000 people arrested for simple marijuana possession each year, including the 70,000 Californians forced to go to court for marijuana possession misdemeanors (maximum fine $100), the drug czars claim that "law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana."

They then complain that Prop 19 would impose new burdens on police by making them enforce laws against smoking marijuana where minors are present. Those laws already exist; Prop 19 does not create them.

The drug czars warn that if Prop 19 passes, "marijuana use would increase" and "increased use brings increased social costs." But they don't bother to spell out just what those increased costs would be or why.

The drug czars' screed has picked up a number of instant critiques, including those of Douglas Berman at the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, Jacob Sullum at Reason Online, and Jon Walker at Firedoglake.

We're waiting for a drug czar to come out for pot legalization, not oppose it. Now, that would be real news.

Los Angeles, CA
United States

The Drug Czar's Only Job is to Oppose Legalization (And He Sucks at It)

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske is back in damage control mode again following Mexican President Felipe Calderon's call for a debate on legalizing drugs.

Kerlikowske, known officially as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, spoke this morning at a border security conference in El Paso, where he tried to debunk the belief that taxing and regulating currently illegal narcotics would somehow put narco-traffickers out of business.

“[Traffickers] would not change their ways and turn to legal pursuits if drugs were legal,” he said. “Legalizing drugs makes them cheaper, makes them more accessible and therefore makes them more widely abused.” [Texas Tribune]

I would love for Kerlikowske to explain to me how legalization is going to completely change everything, yet somehow fail to affect the illicit market. Rather obviously, if drugs become much cheaper, the cartels get screwed. That is so painfully simple, I'm running out of ways to explain it.

As usual, the argument once again comes down to this ridiculous division over whether or not legalization hurts drug kingpins. It shouldn't take more than a kernel of common sense to solve this riddle, and if that's too much to ask, history has also settled this debate rather decisively for us. We did once ban the most popular drug in the country, and then legalized it again, so there's plenty to be learned from that experience if one is so inclined. Alcohol prohibition was the only period in American history during which the alcohol industry was controlled by murderous gangsters. Everyone knows that.

Of course, the only reason we even have a drug czar is to confuse people about how drug policy actually works. We've spent enormous sums over the years empowering government propagandists to distort the debate, and if there's anything remarkable about Kerlikowske's various comments on legalization, it's how bland, brief and boring they've been. His job is literally to clarify the Obama administration's opposition to legalization in as few words as humanly possible, so as to avoid getting anyone excited. His goal is to make the conversation less interesting, and he does a pretty good job.

Unfortunately for the drug czar, it really doesn't matter very much how he expresses his opposition to legalizing drugs. He's just the latest stooge to be tasked with the miserable duty of dealing with us, and as long as we keep forcing the subject, we're scoring points.

Feature: Medical Marijuana Advocates Smell Victory in South Dakota

With Election Day still more than four months off, the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion is laying the groundwork for South Dakota to become the country's next medical marijuana state. The campaign is confident of victory in November, and low-key for now with no organized opposition in sight, but promises to progressively ramp-up its efforts through the summer and fall.
coalition banner
Bucking a recent trend in state medical marijuana laws, the South Dakota Safe Access Act (known as Measure 13 on the ballot) does not provide for state-operated or -regulated dispensaries. Instead, it allows patients or designated caregivers to possess up to one ounce of usable marijuana and six plants. A single caregiver can grow for no more than five patients.

The measure cites the usual list of diseases (cancer, glaucoma, HIV, MS, Alzheimer's) and conditions (wasting syndrome, intractable pain, severe nausea, seizures, spasms) for which marijuana could be used medicinally, and includes a provision allowing the state Department of Health to add other diseases or conditions. Upon getting a physician's recommendation, the patient and his caregiver (if any) would register with the department and receive registration ID cards.

South Dakota gained notoriety in 2006 when it became the only state to see voters reject a medical marijuana legalization initiative, defeating it by a margin of 52% to 48%. This year, the outcome will be different, the coalition said. "I am very confident we're going to get it this time around," predicted coalition spokesman Emmett Reistroffer.

The political atmosphere, both locally and nationally, is certainly better this time around. In 2006, the medical marijuana initiative faced in Republican Larry Long a South Dakota attorney general strongly opposed to it and a Bush administration concerned enough to send officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) to the state to campaign against it. Now, recently-appointed Attorney General Marty Jackley, while, like Long, a Republican, is on the fence on the issue, and the Obama administration seems much less inclined to interfere in a state initiative vote.

"I talked to Marty Jackley, and he is nowhere near as opposed to medical marijuana as Larry Long was," said Reistroffer. "His ballot explanation was very fair, unlike 2006, when MPP had to sue then Attorney General Larry Long to make him write a fair explanation," he said.

"Jackley told me he was open to a carefully managed program, but wasn't prepared to specifically support our proposal. What he's afraid of is what could be hidden in the details," Reistroffer related. "Jackley was appointed to office and is running for election the same day as our ballot measure. I don't expect him to support us, but I do expect that he will remain neutral."

Jackley's office did not return Chronicle calls asking his position on the initiative.

The coalition has enlisted some potent advocates with credentials that could help push the effort over the top. One is Tony Ryan, a retired police officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "We are doing well, we seem to be well-received, we've been speaking to groups and have more invitations coming up," he said. "There seems to be a trend toward people being more accepting of the idea that we need to change our approach to drugs, and when you're talking specifically about medical marijuana and you can point to the ample evidence it is beneficial, people seem to be a lot more accepting than they were even four years ago."

Ryan was optimistic at the measure's prospects for passage this year. "Now that the American Medical Association has come out and said we need to think about getting it off Schedule I, things are really falling into place. This isn't about marijuana, this is about helping sick people -- that's the message we have to hammer home."

Another well-placed advocate is state Rep. Martha Vanderlinde (D-Sioux Falls), a practicing nurse who introduced a medical marijuana bill in the legislature, where it promptly went nowhere. "The South Dakota legislature is very conservative," she said. "They told me it was political suicide to sponsor that bill, but I felt it was necessary. There are people I talk to who say they want it, but they don't want to say so out loud," Vanderlinde explained.

"Medical marijuana is just one more tool in the kit for people with severe, debilitating medical conditions to use for relief," said Vanderlinde. "Working with cancer patients, MS patients, and others, I've seen it help so many people relieve their pain, their anxiety, their spasms. As a nurse working in the field, I see this as a simple herb that could help people, and that means a lot. Legalization for medical use is the only way to go."

This will be the year, she said. "With the AMA supporting medical marijuana, with the past president of the local MS Society on board, with Emmett and Tony crisscrossing the state to get the knowledge out there, the word is getting out. We want South Dakota to be the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana."

While the coalition is pleased with the AMA's acknowledgement of marijuana's medical benefits and call for a review of its scheduling, it's not so impressed with the local affiliate. The South Dakota Medical Association has been a disappointment, said Reistroffer. "We've received no support from them. They haven't even returned phone calls or emails. I'm hoping we can get them to remain neutral."

Things are about to start heating up, the coalition said. "We've got a little money set aside for some ads and we're ready to make a TV commercial featuring the former head of the state MS Society if the funding comes through," said Reistroffer. "Tony Ryan is in the middle of a long list of speaking engagements. Things are starting to pick up for us now, and July will be a big month, and the closer to the election we get, the more intense the campaign will get. I'm meeting with the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) this week to probably set up our first polling."

"We helped draft the initiative and provided some strategic advice," said MPP spokesman Mike Meno. "The local campaign will be taking off soon. This almost passed in 2006; now, it's just a matter of getting people out to the polls."

"We will be reaching out to whoever we can," said Ryan. "We will be targeting college campuses," he said, noting the formation of a Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. "And we'll be using word of mouth. We'll be going places we didn't go in 2006, like some of those rural counties in the center of the state that voted strongly against it."

So far, so good in South Dakota. But let's see what the next four months bring.

Marijuana: Study Finds Minimal Changes in Driving Performance After Smoking

The head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, is pushing a campaign targeting drugged driving and has singled out marijuana as a main problem. But if the latest research findings on stoned driving are any indication, the drug czar may want to shift his emphasis if he wants to (as he claims) let policy be driven by evidence.
According to clinical trial data published in the March issue of the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, subjects tested both before and after smoking marijuana exhibited virtually identical driving skills in a battery of driving simulator tests. Researchers in the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial tested 85 subjects -- 50 men and 35 women -- on simulated driving performance. The subjects had to respond to simulations of various events associated with vehicle crash risk, such as deciding whether to stop or go through a changing traffic light, avoiding a driver entering an intersection illegally, and responding to the presence of emergency vehicles. Subjects were tested sober and again a half hour after having smoked a single medium-potency (2.9% THC) joint or a placebo.

The investigators found that the subjects' performance before and after getting stoned was virtually identical. "No differences were found during the baseline driving segment (and the) collision avoidance scenarios," the authors reported. Nor were there any differences between the way men and women responded.

Researchers did note one difference. "Participants receiving active marijuana decreased their speed more so than those receiving placebo cigarettes during (the) distracted section of the drive," they wrote. The authors speculated that the subjects may have slowed down to compensate for perceived impairment. "[N]o other changes in driving performance were found," researchers concluded.

Past research on marijuana use and driving has yielded similar results as well, including a 2008 driving simulator clinical trial conducted in Israel and published in Accident, Analysis, and Prevention. That trial compared the performance of drivers after they had ingested either alcohol or marijuana. "Average speed was the most sensitive driving performance variable affected by both THC and alcohol but with an opposite effect," the investigators reported. "Smoking THC cigarettes caused drivers to drive slower in a dose-dependent manner, while alcohol caused drivers to drive significantly faster than in 'control' conditions."

Something to keep in mind when lawmakers in your state start pushing for zero-tolerance "per se" Driving Under the Influence of Drugs laws that want to label people impaired drivers because of the presence of a few metabolites left over from last week.

WARNING: Recent Claims That the Drug War is Over Are False

Our new drug czar really has a way with words. He says things you never thought you'd hear from a drug czar. Unfortunately, like his predecessors, he's completely full of BS:

THE United States has "ended its war on drugs" and is now moving its focus to prevention and treatment, the US drugs chief has told top Irish drug officials.

"We’ve talked about a ‘war on drugs’ for 40 years, since President Nixon. I ended the war," said Mr Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). [Irish Examiner]

Except, he absolutely did no such thing. Their guns are still loaded. Their rubber stamps are all inked up and ready to authorize aggressive raids on non-violent suspects. They'll put several hundred thousand people in handcuffs this year just for smoking marijuana. Just watch this and tell me what the guys in the battle suits are doing if not waging war on people.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it when the drug czar talks about moving beyond the "war" metaphor and approaching drug policy from a public health perspective. It's a step in the right direction, even if it's shockingly disingenuous under the current terms of engagement. I just wonder if they actually think anyone's buying any of this.

It's a war, you numbskull. You can't fight a bloody war against millions of people on your own soil and just pretend it's not happening. If you really believe we don't need this war, then stop trying to sugarcoat it and end this dreadful escapade once and for all.

Accurate Media Coverage Upsets Drug Czar

Last week, the Associate Press ran one of the best pieces on U.S. drug policy I've ever seen, and it began like this:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.
Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

So now the drug czar is annoyed at AP for, I guess, quoting him and accurately reporting on his anti-drug budget:

The budget piece is fair to focus on, but we told AP that we objected to the article's mischaracterization of current policy.  A fairer and more nuanced observation would have been: This does look/sound a lot different, but the budget scenario hasn't changed overnight (it never does, in any realm of government) and it will take some time to test the Administration's commitment to the new approach. []

Really? Because the drug czar did kinda admit that the strategy sucks. It's not a "mischaracterization" when someone prints the words coming out of your mouth. It's not like Ethan Nadelmann said that and they falsely attributed it to you. Guess what guys: until you stop spending more than half your budget on the exact activities that even you agree have failed, you're going to get called out early and often.

If the drug czar wants us to understand why his budget can't change overnight, then he'll need to explain what the hell that means. Is he talking about the massive drug war industry that depends on our tax dollars to buy fancy technology that's useless without prohibition? Is he wondering what the dog-slaughtering SWAT soldiers in Missouri are supposed to wear without federal subsidies for their bullet-proof bodysuits? If that's the problem, then let's talk about it.

In the meantime, Kerlikowske shouldn't be complaining that AP's coverage isn't "nuanced" enough for him. He's the one who talked to them and said things that didn’t make sense.

Prohibition: Drug War is a Failure, Associated Press Reports

In a major, broad-ranging report released Thursday, the Associated Press declared that "After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US War on Drugs Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals." The report notes that after four decades of prohibitionist drug enforcement, "Drug use is rampant and violence is even more brutal and widespread."
The AP even got drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to agree. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske said. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The AP pointedly notes that despite official acknowledgments that the policy has been a flop, the Obama administration's federal drug budget continues to increase spending on law enforcement and interdiction and that the budget's broad contours are essentially identical to those of the Bush administration.

Here, according to the AP, is where some of that trillion dollars worth of policy disaster went:

  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico -- and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the US were serving sentences for drug offenses. [Editor's Note: This $450 billion dollar figure for federal drug war prisoners appears erroneous on the high side. According to Department of Justice budget figures, funding for the Bureau of Prisons, as well as courthouse security programs, was set at $9 billion for the coming fiscal year.]

The AP notes that, even adjusted for inflation, the federal drug war budget is 31 times what Richard Nixon asked for in his first federal drug budget.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron told the AP that spending money for more police and soldiers only leads to more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

"President Obama's newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush's, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance. "This despite Obama's statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue."

"For the first time ever, the nation has before it an administration that views the drug issue first and foremost through the lens of the public health mandate," said economist and drug policy expert John Carnevale, who served three administrations and four drug czars. "Yet... it appears that this historic policy stride has some problems with its supporting budget."

Of the record $15.5 billion Obama is requesting for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it is destined for law enforcement, eradication, and interdiction. About one-third will go for prevention and treatment.

The AP did manage to find one person to stick up for the drug war: former Bush administration drug czar John Walters, who insisted society would be worse if today if not for the drug war. "To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Uh, yeah, John, that's what it's saying.

Drug Czar Admits Failure, Pledges to Continue It

Tell me something I don't know:

MEXICO CITY (AP) — After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

Yes. Yes! Did I just hear a drug czar basically admit that the drug war completely sucks? Well then, what are you going to do about it?

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric.

Really? Why? This isn't hard, dude. You just stop paying everybody to [email protected]#king destroy everything. I mean, it's interesting that he admits their rhetoric is nonsense, but that was already super obvious. We're in the middle of an economic crisis, and here's the drug czar telling us we can't stop funding programs that even he himself admits are a complete waste. What the hell is going on here?

It's easy to call the Obama Administration out on their hypocrisy, and we should. But it's also worth contemplating why they're doing such a miserable job of defending their own drug strategy. I think the difference between Kerlikowske and his predecessor is that John Walters actually bought into his own hype. His ego won't let him understand the destruction he oversaw. I don't believe Kerlikowske is even loyal to the war in the first place. I think he's just trying to do his job while pissing off as few people as possible. He aims to placate the public by acknowledging the obvious, while simultaneously ensuring that the drug war industrial complex is still able to pay its bills.

So which is worse, a drug czar who won't learn from his mistakes, or one who continues to support policies he knows are wrong?

John Walters Still Thinks the Drug War is Awesome

This comment from the former drug czar perfectly explains why drug warriors are so incapable of ever admitting failure:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided." [AP]

Well, yeah. If your idea of law enforcement is shoving guns in the faces of misdemeanor drug suspects, if your idea of treatment is forcing casual marijuana users into drug therapy, and if your idea of prevention is spending countless millions on anti-drug ads that are proven to increase drug use, then I would call you "misguided," to say the least.

This is what you've accomplished, sir, and instead of demanding gratitude, you should consider yourself lucky you haven't yet been paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in tar and feathers.

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