Drug war idiocy: 40 years of Operation Intercept

Forty years ago today, and 5 years before he resigned in disgrace, President Richard Nixon launched Operation Intercept. The operation, planned in part by future Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, involved the intensification of searches at border crossing points from Mexico. The goals were stopping the smuggling of marijuana into the USA and reducing drug distribution channels in Mexico.

  • Four decades later, a half dozen powerful criminal cartels challenge even the Mexican government. They employ armies of paramilitary hit men and cause great carnage in Mexico. It is estimated that over half the financing of the powerful and violent cartels is from smuggling marijuana into the USA. The removal of this cartel gravy train would be but one of the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition.

In 1968, 80,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession, only 10% of last year’s total. In the intervening 40 years, nearly 20 million Americans have been arrested for cannabis “crimes”. America’s prison population has exploded to the world’s most bloated, with 2.3 million prisoners.

Cannabis is misplaced on Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act in good part due to the animosity nursed by Nixon towards the counterculture. He hated hippies. Nixon loathed the anti-war activists who protested his raining down death upon Vietnam.

Kevin Zeese in 2002 covered the events by which Nixon secured Schedule I draconian status in the CSA, despite the Shafer Commission he appointed to study the issue recommending just the opposite. Check out Zeese’s AlterNet article that discloses the content of Nixon’s famous tapes on the issue. Stunningly, Nixon compares the threat from marijuana, to that of “homosexuals, Jews and communists.”

The Shafer commission, after actually investigating marijuana, could not come up with a recommendation matching Nixon’s prejudices. Instead they concluded,

  • “Marihuana’s relative potential for harm to the vast majority of individual users and its actual impact on society does not justify a social policy designed to seek out and firmly punish those who use it.

The tapes show this science-based conclusion drove Nixon wild with anger. What he desired, in his own words, was a “goddamn strong statement about marijuana … that just tears the ass out of them.” Tragically, Nixon got his way. Marijuana was classified Schedule I, a draconian classification triggering major felony penalties and mandatory minimums. Tens of millions of Americans have had their ass torn from them by these laws and their zealous enforcement.

Cannabis remains Schedule I today, a cruel and wasteful fiction. This artifact of one of America’s worst presidents could be and should be easily reduced (say to Schedule V) by command from President Obama.

Gateway drug to incarceration.

LA times offers a great OP-ED, The racism of marijuana prohibition. Authored by Stephen Gutwillig, the California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the piece clarifies the terrible damage done, especially to blacks, by zealous enforcement of malignant marijuana laws.

Gutwillig writes:

  • An 18-year-old convicted of a felony is headed nowhere fast. In this sense at least, marijuana is indeed a gateway drug; it is a feeder for the criminal justice system, disproportionately for black kids.

The article points out how arrests for real crimes, such as rape and murder have fallen, as have rates for actually solving these violent crimes. Meanwhile, in California, arrests for possession of cannabis have soared. Last year, nearly 800,000 Americans and over 75,000 Californians were arrested for possessing pot. With the exception providing employment security to the police, prosecutors, jailers and urine testers, these arrests did nobody any good. In fact, such arrests represent a major investment of negative social capital. Instead of a positive investment such as educating a young American, arresting him or her for marijuana possession is instead a negative waste of resources.

  • Financially, education will enrich the youth. The increased taxes he or she will pay will increase the treasury. Financially, arrest will impoverish the youth. The decreased taxes he or she will pay will decrease the treasury.
  • Socially, during education the youth will develop important contacts for success throughout life. Socially, the young American’s arrest and incarceration will develop criminal contacts for success in a life of crime.
  • To the family, an educational degree, such as a high school and college diploma, is a huge asset to all and a unifying force. In the family, an arrest, especially a felony drug “crime”, is a horribly corrosive force, tearing the family bonds, separating all with iron bars.
  • Personally, any educational achievement is a key personal asset and widens potential contributions to society.
  • Personally, any marijuana arrest is a huge lifelong handicap, throwing up barriers to education and employment. The damage is done by the penalty, not the cannabis.

Law enforcement that is addicted to the gateway drug of marijuana prohibition. An American, mostly young and often black or Hispanic is arrested, on the average, every 38 seconds. With the severity built into the drug laws of the last 40 years of rabid drug war legislation, making felony marijuana arrests are far easier than actually protecting people and solving real crimes.

Rigid criminalization and draconian punishment for cannabis must end, for a dozen good reasons. Prohibition does not work, and ramming marijuana prohibition down the throats of Americans is un-American. It is also costly, cruel and counterproductive, building negative social capital, birthing the “incarceration nation.”

Schwarzenegger ignores the low hanging fruit, harmful cannabis arrests and prosecutions.

As California crashes into the financial sea, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is ignoring easy money from simple changes in approach to drugs. California’s drug policy, like America’s, has always chosen a harm maximization approach. This most expensive drug policy option was modified and made more just and less expensive by California voters decriminalizing medical marijuana. Yet opportunities for saving money (and human anguish) surround Gov. Schwarzenegger like low hanging fruit. So far, he seems blind to them.

SF Gate reports Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has “outlined a plan to save $1.2 billion in prison spending by changing the criminal justice system so that fewer people are sent to prison and fewer parolees are sent back to prison.”

  • Some items on the governor’s list of reforms is greatly needed in a state bleeding money by incarcerating 167,000 of its citizens, in good part for the benefit of the prison guards’ union. Many of these reforms, however, involve crimes with actual victims. Car theft (for cheap cars, at least) would not be a felony, for example.
  • Instead of “reforming” laws for crimes with actual victims, the governor could do much better revamping enforcement of drug “crimes” where any crime is consensual, and, in any case, is really the business of the California citizen, not the business of self-serving state bureaucrats.
  • Crimes committed by people on drugs, should be enforced, but overwhelmingly crimes committed while on drugs center on the legal drug, alcohol.
  • On the recreational level, arrests for cannabis possession fuel alcohol consumption and abuse. Alcohol is a far more powerful drug than cannabis. Alcohol intoxication is often associated with belligerence and violence; a cannabis high is never the cause of violence. For California, as elsewhere, cannabis is a SAFER alternative to alcohol.

The current wasteful approach was well demonstrated last winter, when the California budget tsunami was on the horizon, police in northern California had the excess resources to waste on outlandishly lavish marijuana busts. Consider the utter stupidity and waste of sending 100 armored cops into 2 tiny northern California High School to arrest a few students for cannabis “crimes.” These drug cops should have to get real jobs doing real work, not padding the pensions with unwarranted but cinematic shows of force.

The governor should drop the current costly harm maximization approach approach to drug use in California and adopt more effective and far less costly harm minimization.

  • A rational harm minimization tactic would be to end all marijuana arrests.
  • Since cannabis is so blatantly misrepresented as a Schedule 1 drug, all the laws, regulations and mandatory minimums associated with Schedule 1 status should be thrown out the window.
  • California prisons should be emptied of those whose “crime” involved cannabis.

The state of California could save huge sums of money by not inflicting needless, useless arrests, prosecutions and incarceratons for cannabis “crimes” with no victims.

The drug war policy Barack Obama should have urged on the NAACP

President Obama spoke to the NAACP’s 100th convention, the first time the group has had a black president as speaker. The president’s speech was at times inspirational, but his talk ignored the elephant in the room at the NAACP, the drug war that has so devastated the black community. In fact, the president’s presence at the convention was due only to the fact that he himself, as a self confessed teenage cannabis user, was not ensnared by the same cruel laws and racially corrosive justice system that he now leaves unchallenged.

The NAACP did have debate on legalizing cannabis, as reported by Radical Russ Belville in Norml’s Daily Audio Stash. This debate, however, did not seem to recognize the drug war policies so devastating to the black community over the last 40 years. Ethan Nadelmann pointed out that of the yearly 800,000+ cannabis arrests in the USA, nearly 40% ensnare black and brown Americans. Often their first arrest, says Nadelmann, often for one joint. They are damaged not by the use of a mild drug, but damaged they are by arrest and prosecution.

Radical Russ summed up the issue:

A 2008 New York Times article, On Arrests, Demographics, and Marijuana, showed that in New York City arrested nearly 400,000 people for pot possession in the years 1998-2007. This is nearly 100 young lives daily scarred and compromised by a needless arrest. Citing the study, the NYT article pointed out:

The NAACP should be out on the streets in force, tearing down the un-American drug war. Current drug war policies and laws, along with their enforcement, are like an enormous, bloated tick, feeding upon the lives of American citizens, most of them brown and black. Shame on NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, normally a sensible man, for supporting such injustice.

The drug war policy Barack Obama should have urged on the NAACP was delivered by Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.

UN Bureaucrats Promote Drug War Tyranny

The freedoms of Americans and other world citizens are being restricted by a handful of UN bureaucrats.

  • UNODC is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The office takes a hard line, prohibitionist view of (some) drug use around the world. Essentially, they play out international laws codified from the authoritarian mind of Henry J. Anslinger, the USA’s first drug warrior.
  • The agency has an evil twin, the The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). This INCB operates out of Vienna, Austria. With the UNODC, it successfully works furthering the neocon drug war agenda from the USA to the entire planet.
  • The punitive stance played out by bureaucrats at both powerful organizations was formed and is still maintained by America’s delegation, which has pushed this approach for the last 50 years. Sadly, the same coercive stance continues well into the Obama administration.
International Narcotics Control Board

International Narcotics Control Board

Americans are less free because of the prohibitionist, incarceration-happy inclinations of UN officials. These elderly men promote, even demand, that the USA continue its hard-line, zero-tolerance approach to drug use. The demand is based upon US signing onto UN mediated international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988.

Americans have less medical choice thanks to the UN. America and Americans are not free to act, in their view, in ways that challenge these international laws, such as removing prohibitions against medical use of cannabis. The international organization takes the view that cannabis should remain strictly prohibited, world-wide. They deny that it has any medical benefit. Americans in medical need of cannabis, such as those suffering from glaucoma, do now have increasing access to their medicine because of state action, at least in 13 states. Such freedom of medical choice, however, has been fiercely resisted on the national level by entrenched interests such as the DEA, and on the international level by by UNODC and INCB.

Americans are caged behind bars at record rates because of the hard-line, punishment-oriented approach of this country has taken is reaffirmed by the UN. Execution of drug-possession “criminals” around the world remains a part of the UN’s Anti-Drug Day festivities, each June 26.

UN 1, Magna Carta, 0. Civil forfeiture is the process whereby governments take the property away from their citizens, without need of criminal charges. In the ominous year 1984, the USA adopted this procedure, popular during the Inquisition, to confiscate the property of Americans violating the country’s newly enhanced drug laws. See Why 1984 WAS like 1984. Supposedly to repossess the fruits of crimes of major drug lords, forfeiture became a favored tool of every prosecutor, sheriff and newly formed drug “crimes” team. Taking the money and property of Americans running afoul of draconian laws was far easier than actual police work, protecting people and property, addressing crimes with actual victims. An analysis of American forfeiture legisilation from a South African paper:

  • In 1970, the US passed the federal statute, The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. It was subsequently amended in 1978 and 1984. Unlike the admiralty courts, US civil forfeitures in the modern era are used when wrongdoers are within the court’s jurisdiction. Officials can seize property without notice, upon an ex parte application (without hearing the defendant’s case) of probable cause (a low standard of proof) that the property has been ‘involved’ in a crime.
  • No person has to be charged. The action is against the ‘thing’. The allegation of ‘involvement’ may be that the property is contraband, represents the proceeds of crime, or somehow ‘facilitates’ crime. ‘Probable cause’ may be based on nothing more than hearsay, innuendo, or the oral evidence of a party with interests adverse to the property owner. Family homes, vehicles and other assets have been seized in pursuance of this law, especially in relation to drug-dealing.

As it turns out, the USA and 169 other signatories of the 1988 treaty have to agree to promote forfeiture, just as they have to agree to keep drugs such as cannabis illegal. In the eyes of these UN bureaucrats, Americans have no right to medical cannabis, nor can they even work to change American laws prohibiting cannabis. These international treaties, they argue, trump national sovereignty.  

The only drugs acceptable for use, by the criteria of UN officials such as the UNODC director Antonio Maria Costa, are alcohol and cigarettes. All cultural, sacred and recreational use of other drugs, such as cannabis and coca leaf, are classified as “abuse.” Indeed, in the UN anti-drug mission, both plants, cannabis and coca, are slated for forced extinction.

Idiotically, the UNODC back in 1999 called for a drug-free world in 10 years. Despite valiant efforts towards this goal by such countries as Thailand which killed 2,500 “drug abusers” in 2003, cannabis and other plant-based drugs still exist. In that 10 years, American prison population, already the world’s highest, grew to over 2.3 million citizens behind bars. Instead of no drugs in the USA as the result of this incarceration hysteria, drug use is little changed. Indeed, there is almost no relationship between the harshness of a country’s drug policy and levels of drug use.

The UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna met last March to decide the organization’s drug policy for the next decade. Obama’s UN drug policy team, which was the Bush UN drug policy team unchanged, argued for more of the same hard-nosed approach. Harm reduction tactics were vilified.

This first crack in the UN’s intransigence came last week with the release of the UNODC’s annual report. The report did mention the hugely positive results obtained by Portugal in decriminalizing drugs. The UNODC office took a new look at the rousing success of decriminalization in Portugal. They went on however, to reject decriminalization in other countries.

Perhaps the 4th of July is the time Americans should reject the UN’s overbearing and obtrusive drug war zealotry. Individual American citizens deserve to have their rights to medical choices not quashed by paper pushers sitting behind desks in Austria. The American nation deserves to have its ability to free itself from the evils of the drug war and prohibition not given over to UN bureaucrats.

US Senate regulates cigarettes, America’s most lethal and addictive drug.

The drug that kills 1,200 Americans each day will finally be regulated in the USA. Tobacco cigarettes, perhaps the most addictive of all drugs, yet virtually unregulated as a consumer product, will come under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA. This will not result in prohibition, as the legislation provides for the continued sale of nicotine cigarettes. But several major things will change:

  • Cigarette companies must provide lists of ingredients in cigarettes. The drug cigarettes is a combination of tobacco with a great many additives to strengthen their nicotine kick and mellow their delivery.
  • The FDA will be able to regulate these additive drugs going into cigarettes.
  • More advertising, warning and other restrictions will apply. Graphic warning labels will cover half the cigarette pack.

During the last 40 years of the War on Drugs, those politicians and bureaucrats who most demonized drugs like cannabis were apologists for tobacco companies and loathe to even call cigarettes a drug. Even in today’s historic senate vote, Drug War mongers such as Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell voted against the legislation bringing cigarettes under control of the FDA. As reported by McClatchy, “Senators who opposed tobacco bill received top dollar from industry.” In addition to McConnell, North Carolina’s Jim Bunning and Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss, republicans all, tried to stop the bill. Tobacco state senator Jim Webb, D-Virgina voted for the legislation.

The progress made already in reducing use of the drug cigarettes by Americans has been remarkable. Increased taxation, eduction and smoking area restrictions have helped to greatly reduce the use of this drug, even though highly addictive.

  • During the same period as the War on Drugs (some drugs, that is, such as cannabis) which has had virtually no impact on drug use, cigarette addiction and consumption has dropped in the USA.
  • To win this great preventive health victory over cigarettes, no one had to go to jail, and no SWAT squads were sent to break down doors. The FDA regulation should help these encouraging non-smoking trends even more, without the ineffective and un-American brutality of the drug war.

Strangely, during these long decades when the drug cigarettes killed over 400,000 Americans each year, the drug war was aimed chiefly at a far less addictive drug that killed no one. Marijuana, or cannabis, was (and still is) listed as a Schedule I drug and controlled by the DEA.

  • If any drug fits the requirements for Schedule I, it would be nicotine-laden tobacco cigarettes. They are highly addictive and have no recognized medical use, the supposed requirement for Schedule I.
  • Cannabis, on the other hand, is far less addictive and has dozens of well documented medical uses.

As cigarettes now move to FDA regulation, cannabis should be removed from DEA schedules and restrictions and likewise regulated by the FDA.

LA crime rate plummets as medical marijuana booms!

Due to a glitch in an attempted moratorium on medical cannabis dispensaries in Los Angeles, the number these legal marijuana outlets recently flourished into hundreds. In parts of LA, such storefronts may indeed be more numerous than Starbucks. Confounding medical marijuana’s detractors, the LA crime rate during this same time dropped like a rock.

The LA Times report, “L.A.’s medical pot dispensary moratorium led to a boom instead.” is datelined June 3 2009. An exemption in a moratorium instead allowed hundreds of cannabis clinics to pop up in LA. The density is highest here, but across the state dispensaries flourish. The booming cannabis industry is growing as most other sectors of the California economy are swooning. Arguably, the medical marijuana industry is the single most vigorous new economic engine in the state.

  • New business storefronts are opening up when the general trend has seen stores being boarded up.
  • A major crop can arise from hiding to take its rightful place in California agriculture. Already the economies of several counties in the state’s north are powered by cannabis cultivation.
  • New careers are being forged in the 21st century education provided by institutions such as Oaksterdam University in Oakland (and now LA). Classes in medicinal cannabis educate students in the pain relief, anti-inflammation, anti-glaucoma, anti-nausea and other health properties of the cannabinoids in the plant substance.
  • Sales taxes are being generated that help financially prop up the not-so Golden State. For every one hundred dollars of medical cannabis sales, the state gets over 8 dollars for its empty coffers.

The benefits of medical cannabis are ubiquitous. Most people have conditions, including pain, at some point in their lives when they could benefit from treatment with, or including, the medical herb. The California law passed by Proposition 215 was wisely worded to legalize any prescribed use of cannabis. Tens of millions of Californians, then, either have or will sometime have health conditions from which they could benefit from legal medical cannabis. With so many people finding relief from pain and other maladies coming from a substance previously and cruelly banned from them, it is little wonder a new industry is thriving in California.

The drug warrior bureaucracy including DEA, prosecutors, SWAT squads, prison guards and urine testers have long warned that legalization of marijuana would result in a wave of crime. Well, marijuana has become de facto legalized in California, especially LA. At the same time LA street crime has dropped precipitously.

Just a week before the proliferating dispensaries article cited above, the LA Times’ Gregory Rodriquez reported:

Not exactly the Armageddon predicted by the drug war bureaucrats. This privileged class thrives on the taxpayer-funded war on marijuana. Their lavish benefits and pensions all ultimately derive from the caging of their countrymen and women.  A major budget problem for California stems from the quintupling of its prisoner population during the drug war of the the last 40 years, in good part in the behest of the state’s prison guard’s politically powerful union. This vast investment in negative social capital has grown far faster than funding for the positive social capital investment, education. And now, California is paying the price. The apparent inverse relationship between cannabis dispensary proliferation and crime belies the claims of those benefiting from the war on drugs.

With any notion of crime increase as cannabis is decriminalized has been debunks. There can be no reason not to end the tragic war on cannabis now!

Sonia Sotomayor and the Drug War Exemption to the Bill of Rights

During the last 40 years of the drug war, America’s three branches of government have sought and attained what many have called the Drug War Exemption to the Bill of Rights. Seemingly, the executive, legislative and judicial branches fought over themselves to be tough in the War on Drugs, at the expense of the Constitution, especially the Bill Of Rights. The hysteria has, in just one generation, transformed “the land of the free” into the nation imprisoning the most people in cages.

  • To restore America’s constitutional values, the country desperately needs fresh thinking at the Supreme Court. Big government right wingers Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have been joined by new neocons John Roberts and Sam Alito. Their decisions uniformly expand the role of the state, especially the executive, favor prosecution and incarceration while reducing the rights of the accused.

As a former drug war prosecutor, Sonia Sotomayor lacks this needed perspective. No ex-prosecutor should ever become a judge, much less supreme court justice. Prosecutors build their careers in good part on how much prison time is sentenced to those they prosecute. The war on drugs, with its “enhanced” sentencing and mandatory minimums, has been very, very good for the careers of prosecutors. Perhaps only urine tested have benefited more.

  • Proof of Sotomayor’s inability to tackle the festering mandatory minimum sentences congress rushed to impose during the height of the drug war is her support from Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. This ex-US Attorney is tragically perched high in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Interviewed by PBS Frontline for Snitch, Sessions reveils himself to be a rabid drug war hardliner. Like most in his party of small government, he is chiefly concerned in increasing the scope of government through intensive prosecutions and mandatory minimums.

As reported by Sam Stein, in 1997 Jeff Sessions grilled Sotomayor on the occasion of her appointment as United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Of mandatory minimums, she testified to him, “I have no idea how the judges before me ever set a consistent standard by which to sentence individuals. The guidelines do provide that framework in a very helpful way.” Even so, Sessions voted against her appointment. Now he supports her Supreme court appointment. Be afraid, very afraid. Ex-prosecutor current Session’s satisfaction that ex-prosecutor Sotomayor will tow the line on mandatory minimums indicate that no voice of change will be heard on this crucial moral and practical issue.

  • Strict drug war sentencing and imprisonment are among many other evils of the war on drugs. The savaging of the Bill of Rights with drug war exemptions in the areas of personal privacy, search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment and mass incarceration are huge failures of American ideals.

America needs its Constitution back. We need repeal of the Drug War Exemptions to the Bill of Rights. Ex-prosecutor Sonia Sotomayor at the Supreme Court would likely do nothing to help.

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.