George Will gets drug war right, mostly.

Columnist George Will

Columnist George Will

Conservative writer George Will addressed the war on drugs, especially marijuana, in his Oct. 29 column. True conservatives, as believers in small government, abhor the drug war with its big government meddling in the lives of Americans. But many “conservatives,” especially neo-cons, still support support the bureaucratic persecution and incarceration of fellow citizens.

Will quotes drug czar Gil Kerlikowske as saying, “not many people think the drug war is a success.”  George Will makes a great many good points to back this up.

  • Furthermore, the recession’s toll on state budgets has concentrated minds on the costs of drug offense incarcerations — costs that in some states are larger than expenditures on secondary education.
  • He quotes the Economist, “The annual U.S. bill for attempting to diminish the supply of drugs is $40 billion. Of the 1.5 million Americans arrested each year on drug offenses, half a million are incarcerated. “Tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars,” the Economist said in March.”

Will’s most important quotation from the Economist is a key truth unrealized by most law makers, presidents and drug czars:

  • “There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer.” Do cultural differences explain this? Evidently not: “Even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.” (emphasis mine)

This last point underscores the basic futility and corruption of the failed, decade’s-long war on drugs. It is doubly troubling that the drug war has been allowed to take it most savage form in the USA and transform the land of the free into the world’s largest incarceration of human beings. Drug warriors like to think that only their efforts stand between the populace and drug catastrophe; in truth, their activities are essentially irrelevant to the amount of drug use.

Will does allow Kerlikowske to make a couple of dumb points. The drug czar says, “”You don’t find many heroin users who didn’t start with marijuana.” Hey, Gil, try reading the drug czar-commissioned 1999 Institute of Medicine report that debunked this gateway propaganda, supposedly for once and for all.

Importantly, Will contrasted the failed war on drugs with the very successful American experience with the deadliest drug, tobacco cigarettes. “The good news is the progress America has made against tobacco, which is more addictive than most illegal drugs.” He continues with a discussion of historic alcohol use in the USA.

Will ended his column vaguely. He began with a suggestion to the drug czar, “With his first report to the president early next year, he could increase the quotient of realism.” But apparently George F. Will is unaware that the drug czar cannot, by the laws of his office, be truthful. He must, by law, disavow any validity to medical marijuana, a position puts him at odds with science and will prevent him from telling his boss the truth in the upcoming report.

Overall, George Will provided a refreshing account of several important truths about America’s failed war on drugs.

Interesting news reactions to new federal medical marijuana policy.

The Obama administration’s new guidelines discouraging federal prosecution of marijuana in states where it is medically legal was widely reported this week by the major networks. This writer, while using the treadmill of course, was able to catch the NBC, CBS and ABC coverage between 5:30 and 6pm Monday evening.

The news of the new federal policy is one of the biggest events in the last several decades of drug policy reform and important actual news to tens of millions of Americans. But this switch in medical marijuana policy was not the first story at either network. CBS lead off its newscast with, again, coverage of the Balloon Boy hoax, which, by this time, was over 72 hours old.

The second CBS story finally got to the new policy sent by the Obama justice department to prosecutors across the country and to the head of the DEA, essentially telling them not to waste resources on prosecuting medical cannabis where it is state legal.

All three of the traditional networks played the story cautiously. Prohibitionists were interviewed for their reactions and allowed to recite their tired talking points. The LA City Attorney Cooley was given face time to call alarm about the high number of dispensaries in LA. He did not mention that the crime rate is down.

Surprisingly, by far the most intelligent reporting on cannabis issues is this week coming from Fox Business News. As flagged by Norml’s Radical Russ, the Fox stories have been matter-of-fact, adult and intelligent. Tuesday’s interview with Denver hedge fund manager and cannabis seed developer Ben Holmes was as positive and intelligent as the Colorado cannabis entrepreneur himself. It was followed Wednesday with a prohibitionist LA official.

The next day, ONDCP Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske showed himself to be a dullard. The Fox Business news team seemed exasperated in trying to pull any intelligent responses to the changes underway on the ground in California and other states with medical exemptions. On hearing the L word, legalization, the drug czar lapsed into his lame, “legalization is not in our vocabulary” rant.

A surprising discussion was found, oddly, on the CNN show of drug war reactionary, Lou Dobbs.  His panel addressing the new medical marijuana guidelines included Clinton Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, Cato Institute scholar Tim Lynch and from LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, ex-cop and criminal justice professor Peter Moskos. Moskos did an excellent job explaining the LEAP position.

McCaffrey fumed, then blatantly lied when he said providers and consumers of medical cannabis had never been targeted by the Feds. Over a decade ago, McCaffrey himself (along with, regrettably, Rahm Emanuel) threated physicians in California with even mentioning medical uses of cannabis to patients, after California voters demanded change in 1996’s Proposition 215. This was too much for Cato Institute scholar Tim Lynch who pointed out that McCaffrey’s anti free speech actions had ended in a circuit court ruling against him. It was good to see such assertive and competent anti-prohibitionists pitted against the sputtering drug war lies of years gone by.

The czar these right wingers should be worried about is the drug czar.

Apparently a few well placed words from Karl Rove has provoked right wingers into new tactic for those attacking the White House and its non-white occupant. As Jason Linkins reports in Anti-Czar Bill Gets 100 Cosponsors In House, the House of Representatives, apparently spurred by George W. Bush’s chief adviser hinting darkly that the numerous czars, appointed by Barack Obama, represent “a giant expansion of presidential power.” Although this group was not troubled by Bush and Cheney’s power grabs, they seek to investigate the czar’s influence and power. Linkins points out that Rove himself was domestic policy czar after 2004, and that some of these current czars were Bush appointees.

There is one czar, however, whom all freedom-loving Americans should fear and despise in part because he is required to lie to us. The job description of the drug czar mandates that he or she deceive the American public, and lie most specifically on the subject of medical cannabis. The demand for dishonesty comes from the very legislation creating that office in 1988, tragically, much of it written by vice-president Joe Biden. The mandatory deception is well documented at Pete Guither’s Drug WarRant. Americans paying the salary of the drug czar should rightly and righteously expect he be fired from his propaganda job and that the ONDPC office should be closed in disgrace.

Few Americans realize the true c of the drug czar office. How many people realize, for example, that in the 1990s the ONDCP made direct payments to television production studios for including drug war propaganda into the programming? After airing, programs such as 90210 and many others were graded for adherence to drug czar-approved content in programs. Taxpayer funds were paid out to Hollywood studios depending upon content adherence to the ONDCP party line. No other government media program has intruded so insidiously into the psyche of the American people.

The drug czar TV programming served to quash interest in marijuana by those with medical needs that might be helped by medical cannabis. It also helped provide cover for the greatest incarceration binge in American history (world history) and allowed for the passage of ever more draconian drug war legislation.

Unfortunately, Barack Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, seems to be following his written instructions,  and lying to us about medical cannabis. So, right wingers, here you actually have an issue of freedom and honesty in government.  Help end the lying reign of the drug czar.

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske: “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Barack Obama’s new Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske just spoke in a way never heard in any of his zealous predecessors. In an interview, WSJ reporter Gary Field elicited some eye-popping comments from the new head of the White House Office of National Drug Control in his provocatively titled, White House Czar Calls for End to ‘War on Drugs’ . These include:

  • “Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them.
  • We’re not at war with people in this country.

These are the sweetest, most sensible words issuing from American anti-drug apparatus in decades! What a great patriotic sentiment, recognizing that hard line drug enforcement is war against our own people.

Sadly they are among the few sensible statements ever issued from the Office of National Drug Policy Control, ONDCP, and its head, the drug czar.

Such sensible, harm-reduction oriented comments are hugely welcome after the last 8 years of scorched earth drug war zealotry of John Walters. In fact, every drug czar had clung to, even relished, the hard line drug war metaphor.

But actually, Gil, you saying we are not at war with people in the country does not make it so.

  • Simply flip your TV remote and find a broadcasta of “COPS” running. Quickly you will find a drug war on the people in this country. Highly trained cops routinely search cars and find marijuana, each new arrest adding to over 800,00 each year for cannabis alone. I bet these 800,000 people feel a war is being made upon them by their country.
  • Better yet, turn on SPIKE TV.  There you will quickly find the DEA making war on the people of this country, in the gize of ridding “bad guys.” Squads of 4 or 5 vehicles, including a loaded van disgorge over 20 screaming, cursing thugs shod in 40 jack boots. They descend on a couple of guys with a little cannabis. Great job team! Oh, of course air cover is being provided by $1,000/hr. helicopter. What a pathetic waste of money and lives!

Gil Kerlikowske, you could take 2 actions to jump start your new way of business:

  1. Help get in a great DEA head. Norm Stamper would be the best.
  2. Make all effort to reschedule cannabis from draconian Schedule I to more reasonable Schedule V. Much of the mandatory evil associated with cannabis prosecution would quickly cease.

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.

No, Joe Biden, we don’t “know we needed tough laws.”

Vice-President Joe Biden loomed large, too large, at the recent swearing in of Obama Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske. Joe Biden’s long and shameful drug war mongering career was built on shattered lives of drug war victims, many still languishing in prison because of the harsh policies he pushed. Biden has gleefully ignored the US Constitution, even the Magna Carta, as a cheerleader for asset forfeiture, bodily fluids testing, mandatory minimums and other Orwellian coercions. Biden chose the ceremony to brag up his record when he should have been pleading forgiveness.

  • Speaking of the heady years he has been surfing the drug war, Biden stated, “We know we needed tough laws” and he added, “and we have tough laws. But that wasn’t enough.” Although he then outlines a larger approach emphasizing prevention, he never backtracks on the wisdom of “tough laws.” These are the laws that have made the USA the “incarceration nation,” by far the world’s great prison gulag. The idea that this might be a huge evil apparently never enters his head.

Joe, the USA needed none of these prohibitionist laws, especially the draconian excesses beginning, ironically, in 1984. These arbitrary and cruel laws have fueled a prison boom, filled and then overflowed these prisons. They have smashed countless lives and families. Just for cannabis, 20 millon arrests. All for nothing, the USA still has the highest rate of drug use. There is no relationship between national drug policy practices and drug use by its citizenry.

  • As far as American drug policy, Joe Biden has been the problem not the solution. Joe, get out of the way.