Barack Obama’s 1st 100 Days: Drug Policy grade = D

As Barack Obama’s 1st 100 Days in office looms, many are assigning grades. In several aspects of his presidency he get high grades. But this blog is about drug policy. Obama’s drug policy grade = D. Not exactly the change we had hoped for.

Just a couple of bright spots elevate Obama’s grade:

  • The other main hopeful sign is the appointment of a drug czar with a very different and refreshing mindset from any we have had before. Of course, that is a pretty low bar. Gil Kerlikowske, expected to be confirmed as drug czar next month is more friendly to some harm reduction approaches to drug use.

Despite great hope, many of Obama’s appointments and policies are big drug policy reform disappointments. Hope for change dimmed with each of these appointments:

  1. Joe Biden. The vice president is one of the very worst drug war mongers in congress, with a history of supporting authoritarian drug war policies since the Reagan administration. Biden virtually invented the Drug Czar office. He has enthusiastically supported the bare-knuckle enforcement of draconian laws that has done much to quintuple the American prison population into the largest gulag on the planet. See No, Joe Biden, we don’t “know we needed tough laws.”
  2. Rahm Emanuel. Chief of Staff. Pugnacious anti-cannabis zealot. Helped engineer the short-lived policy in the Clinton administration to penalize California doctors who recommended cannabis after Prop 215 legalized its medical use in California in 1996. Luckily the courts would have none of the federal censoring of free speech of physicians. See Rahm Emanuel: Free Speech Hall of Shame.
  3. Eric Holder. A prosecutor with an icy heart, he encouraged the mandatory imprisonment of black youths for minor drug crimes when he served in Washington DC as US Attorney for Bill Clinton. Some of his comments about not persecuting medical cannabis dispensaries in California were encouraging. Other actions, though, show a darkly authoritarian streak.
  4. A telling non-appointment, DEA head. 100 days in office and no new DEA director. 100 days into his presidency, Barack Obama has left control and direction of the DEA in the hands of the lying Bush apparatchiks. They should have been frog-marched from the building by US marshals in the first hours of the new administration. The White House dog is firmly in place for weeks now, but these same thugs are still paid to commit drug war on their fellow Americans.

In addition to these appointments, other actions bring down Obama’s drug policy score:

  • In response to solicited ideas from citizens on how to improve government and the country, Barack Obama twice downplayed the obvious public support for changing marijuana laws. Looking for economic ideas, he dissed the popularity of the questions and said their is no place for cannabis reform in his economy. In reality, cannabis and drug policy could save the American economy tens of billions of dollars a year and provide for whole new areas of innovation that would grow the economy, such as basic materials, food, fuel and medications from hemp.
  • Although Obama promised during the campaign that federal laws would not be enforced against state legal medical marijuana operations, he has equivocated on the issue. The latest bad news was the apparent direction given to federal prosecutors in the case of Charles C. Lynch, the California medical dispensary operator who will be sentenced June 11. The trial judge had asked the justice department for direction in sentencing; by the demeanor of federal prosecutors in court last week a hard-line approach is apparently being taken by the attorney general.
  • Inclusion of the Byrne grants into the stimulus package. These so-called Justice Assistance Grants ramrod through more of the same get-tough drug war policies that have created our prison gulag. Instead of creating positive social capital, as in education or health, they create negative social capital, more Americans behind bars, more felons and ex-felons, more SWAT teams eager to war on their communities. One of George W. Bush’s best policies was to discourage this wasteful spending.
  • Michigan v. Jackson. Just last week, the Obama Solicitor General urged the supreme court to decide in a way that the AP report on the move describes it as “another stark example of the White House seeking to limit rather than expand rights.” The Obama administration policy on this case is nearly exactly what could have been expected from his predecessor Bush administration and attorney general Alberto Gonzales. As it turns out, the behest for initiating the Obama directive came from Bush-appointee neocon supreme court justice Sam Alito. Nauseating!

Although Barack Obama gets only a D grade in drug policy reform, most former drug war presidents fare worse.

  • George W. Bush also gets a D in drug policy. He did hideous things, like appoint mad-dog John Walters as head of the NODCP, the Drug Czar, given free reign and hundred of millions of taxpayer dollars to wage his personal war on cannabis. All to very little effect, thankfully. But George W. Bush pretty much ignored the drug issue. He had other wars to fight. In one of his few acts of controlling wasteful spending, he discouraged the Byrne grants which Obama has embraced.
  • The Bill Clinton administration also get a D, a D – actually, as the growth of the Justice Department, drug war arrests,  prosecutions and incarcerations rose at their highest rate.
  • The George W. H. Bush administration also gets a D-, probably should be an F. Focused on the war on drugs with specials from the White House where he fondled a bag of crack cocaine supposedly purchased near his residence. Expanded drug war by Invading Panama and arresting its leader.
  • Ronald Reagan gets an F. After espousing that big government is part of the problem with America, Reagan pushed through authoritarian, intrusive drug war policies that still have supposedly “freedom loving” Americans lining up to urinate into bottles, just to get or keep a job.

Barack Obama, raise 1st 100 days drug policy grade! Appoint a new DEA director now. Let his name be Norm Stamper.

Descriminalização – Drug decriminalization has worked out wonderfully in Portugal.

As the USA finally seems to be taking a look at its drug and incarceration policies, the experience of Portugal over the last decade is instructive. In 2001 the Iberian country took the step of removing all criminal penalties from possession of drugs of any sort. Small, administrative penalties remained.

American drug warriors propagandize that only strong drug laws and robust enforcement, prosecution and incarceration control drug use behavior. As it turns out, all such un-American coercion has virtually no effect on drug use.

The drug war does not work. America had few drug problems, other than alcohol and tobacco, prior to the criminalization of drugs. A 2008 study of world-wide drug use and drug control policies confirms; strong, even cruel drug enforcement, like that in the USA, does not reduce drug use.

  • USA has, by far, the world’s highest rate of incarceration.
  • The USA also operates the strictest and most enforced drug laws.
  • The country is also home to the most drug users and the highest rates of illegal drug use.

Portugal’s experience over the first decade of the 21st century is particularly impressive. The CATO Institute’s Glenn Greenwald authored the report, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies is available online in pdf form. The report documents actual decrease of drug use in moste parameters. Nowhere did drug use or any sort of related problems spike. From the report: (emphases mine)

  • None of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents – from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists”-has occurred.
  • The true effects of Portuguese decriminalization can be understood only by comparing postdecriminalization usage and trends in Portugal with other EU states, as well as with non-EU states (such as the United States, Canada, and Australia) that continue to criminalize drugs even for personal usage. And in virtually every category of any significance, Portugal, since decriminalization, has outperformed the vast majority of other states that continue to adhere to a criminalization regime.
  • Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies-such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage-have decreased dramatically.

Virtually all the news coming out of Portugal’s policy of decriminalization then, was positive. Especially important was the decrease in drug use by 15-19 year old Portuguese youth.

As Senator Jim Webb and other senators from both parties undertake the the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, we hope they will study the positive results of decriminalization in Portugal. The clearly positive results for Portugal in decriminalizing drugs should be a key piece of evidence for Senator Webb and others on the new commission. Hopefully, the commission will be guided by the the overwhelming verdict:

  • Possession of all drugs could be and should be removed from the American criminal justice system.

Drug use in the USA would decrease, as it has in Portugal. all health and societal problems associated with drugs would diminish. The vast network of harm maximization of the drug war could be dismantled. This is a difficult goal in a country that has for 40 years been consumed in a War on Drugs, no matter how badly this war has failed.

An early goal in this process, one with the most harm minimization effect the quickest should be:

  • Decriminalize cannabis in the USA.
  • As a first step, the plant and its cannabinoids should be moved from Schedule I to Schedule V.

American citizens would be spared the expense, waste, handicap and indignity of over 800,000 cannabis arrests each year. To the extent this is a goal for many policy makers, cannabis use would likely decrease, along with a vast waste of money and squandering of human lives.

If the USA is to set policy by facts and science, rather than by politics and bureaucracy, we will be guided by how wonderfully decriminalization of drugs has worked out in Portugal.

Why 1984 WAS like 1984

April 4, 1984

So begins George Orwell’s nightmarish novel of future totalitarianism. That date is now long gone, 25 years past.

When Apple first released the Mac computer in 1984, they promised in an innovative Super Bowl ad that 1984 (the year) won’t be like 1984 as in the dark, well, Orwellian vision. Apple Computer 1984 ad introducing Macintosh

An excellent movie made from the book (in 1984, of course) is also available at YouTube – Movie Trailer – 1984. The book and movie portray a cruel society where police helicopters lurk overhead and children watch adults for report of possible “thought crimes” to authorities. Squads of government goons terrorize the citizens with no-knock raids followed by mass incarceration.

Although Apple’s new computer might have been liberating in 1984 (it even offered a new appendage, the mouse), other parts of America were lurching towards big government, intrusive and punitive.

  • Ronald Reagan ruled from the White House and eagerly pressed a cultural crusade. The drug war fit perfectly with his tough talking and authoritarian impulses.
  • Congress also found in the drug war an excellent way to express outrage, pass legislation, gain votes and take permission to spend more of the taxpayer’s money. In many cases, Democrats were the most enthusiastic in wishing to appear, “tough on drugs.”
  • The Supreme Court was underway rewriting the US Constitution with the “war on drugs” exemptions that would steadily whittle away the rights of Americans formerly guaranteed under their Bill of Rights.

In 1984, one of the worst new drug war laws issued from this time of congressional zealotry was the Omnibus Crime Bill. Basic provisions of this vindictive legislation took away property rights extending back to the Magna Carta.

  • The Omnibus Crime Bill greatly expanded the power of government to forfeit away the land and possession of its citizenry. Citizen property rights secure for centuries were usurped.
  • Proceeds of such government seizures of private property could go to the enforcers, from DEA to the local police. Thus policing incentives were warped from enforcing crimes with actual victims, such as rapes, to drug offenses, crimes far more lucrative to the police.
  • Even when police arrests could not secure convictions, many times the police could keep, and sell,  the  private property and land of the American citizen.
  • In some cases police took property without even making an arrest. Under this 1984 legislation, property itself could be “arrested” and confiscated by the police.

The assault on American property rights in the Omnibus Crime Bill was matched by diminished personal rights. Drug possession had now been deemed a far more serious crime, much more commonly a felony.

  • Mandatory minimum sentences befell those for petty possession “crimes.”
  • Sentencing guidelines were “enhanced,” dooming hundred of thousands of future prisoner to millenniums of person-in-prison years.
  • In the intervening 25 years, the number of Americans incarcerated has quadrupled, from 580,000 to 2,300,000, chart below.

One generation after legislation hatched in the drug war zealotry of 1984, the USA, land of the free, finds itself a bloated prison gulag, far out jailing any other country on earth. In the words of Senator Jim Webb,

  • “With so many of our of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different-and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter.

As Senator Webb points out, in his introduction to pioneering legislation, the National Criminal Justice Act of 2009, Americans, in the last 25 years, have not become 4 times more evil nor in need of 4 times the rate of incarceration.

Ironically, neither have Americans become less likely to use drugs, the purported “purpose” of draconian legislation like that passed in 1984.

With nearly two and a half million prisoners in federal and state gulags, the USA 2009 is in some ways very much like 1984. If Senator Webb and brave colleagues joining him on development of the new criminal justice act succeed, perhaps 2014 will be less like 1984.

The year 1984 shared some cultural trends with another year, this one 1484, 500 years earlier. These will be covered in a future post, Why 1984 was like 1484.

Extra: THC, the main cannabis cannabinoid kills brain cancer, but still has no medical value.

New Spanish research confirms earlier studies that THC, the main cannabinoid in cannabis (marijuana) kills brain cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Researchers in Spain’s Complutense University have for years been studying the anti-cancer properties of cannabis. They have published dozens of papers on how the cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, and also those made by our own bodies, can help prevent and treat different types of cancer.

  • Among the Spanish researchers’ most impressive results have been in attacking some of the fastest-growing and most fatal cancers, those of the brain. Gliomas, or recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, often kill quickly. These were they type studied in the Spanish research. Treatment with THC for a month caused the glioma cells to die while normal brain cells thrived.

American universities and research organizations over the past 30 years of the drug war have obeyed an anti-cannabis political correctness. A generation of medical research on cannabinoids has been lost in the USA. Clear indicators of potential anti-cancer properties of cannabis surfaced in research out of the Virginia Medical College in 1974. These findings were scarcely reported in the press, ignored by researchers and discouraged by the government. Tragically, cannabinoid anti-cancer research soon disappeared, at least in the USA.

  • Luckily researchers in other parts of the world were less guided by doctrine and more by science, so research in places such as Madrid, Salerno and, especially, Jerusalem, continued. Actually, major anti-cancer findings of cannabis were reported by this same Spanish university back in 2000, but again essentially ignored by the American press. Even today’s news may suffer the same fate.

The property of THC to kill brain cancer cells contrasts totally with the DEA’s Schedule I classification of the drug, claiming it has no medical uses.

  • Surely this is enough evidence alone to end the cruel charade that cannabis is without medical value.
  • Surely cannabis, THC and all the plant cannabinoids can be down scheduled to Schedule V without delay.

Eric Holder, be bolder. If you can overturn Senator Steven’s conviction, you can stop a travesty in the case of Charles Lynch.

Attorney General Holder has taken action to throw out the recent conviction of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens. Apparently Justice Department prosecutors acted improperly. Defense did have not access to documents. The judge criticized the prosecution and had been awaiting clarification from the Justice Department.

Another Judge on another case also awaiting clarification from the Justice Department. That would be George H. Wu, the district court judge who just oversaw the federal conviction of California medical cannabis provider Charles C. Lynch.

As mentioned before in an earlier blog post, during the federal trial Judge Wu  enforced the edict that nothing could be said about the legality of medical marijuana in California. The state laws legalizing medical cannabis under which Mr. Lynch operated faithfully could not be mentioned. Nor was mention of the dispensary’s grand opening with the mayor allowed, and not the great help the medication helped some of the residents of Morro Bay.

Outraged jurors, who felt forced to convict given the few facts available to them, condemned their own verdict and enforced ignorance imposed by the court. As reported in the New Times, Juror Mariclare Costello wrote,

  • “I had to find Mr. Lynch guilty of breaking the federal law. Mr. Lynch is in the impossible position of being caught between two valid and contradictory laws. Common sense has been abandoned. Justice is questionable at best. To compound this lack of justice with further punishment is untenable.”

Actually there is nothing valid about the federal cannabis laws. Constitutionally, the federal government has no such powers; An amendment was required to prohibit alcohol. There is no amendment against cannabis. Drug laws, if they exist, should be state laws.

  • The federal government certainly has no business overriding state laws and specifically denying the will of voters. It certainly should not be tormenting and probably caging good Americans like Charles Lynch. No matter, he will probably be sentenced on April 20.

Eric Holder, in light of prosecutor misdeeds, is overthrowing Senator Steven’s conviction. As he put it, “I have determined that it is in the interest of justice to dismiss the indictment and not proceed with a new trial.”

Well good, because if “the interest of justice” is actually foremost in Eric Holder’s mind he should be equally as quick to avoid a travesty by dismissing the indictment of Charles Lynch.

Vastly Counterproductive: The American prison system. Jim Webb is a new American Hero

Freshman Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia is providing a bold and much needed voice in congress. Jim Webb looks across the country and sees a vast gulag of 2.3 million prisoners. The USA, with 5% of the world’s population houses 25% of its prisoners. Like so many others, the senator finds this a troubling fact. He notes, in Parade Magazine cover story delivered with the last Sunday’s paper across the nation,

  • With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different–and vastly counterproductive. Obviously, the answer is the latter.

Senator Webb will energize his convictions with an 18 month Senate investigation of the American Criminal Justice system. His actions appear to have great bi-partisan support.

The American criminal justice system has been bloated and distorted over the past 3 decades by mindless legislation, dishonest drug laws and the drug war itself. Few voices have stood to counter this malignant tide and the result has swamped American justice. Senator Webb’s perceptions and actions come at a critical time when great change can take place.