Controlled Substances Act: 39 years of drug war tyranny.

Richard Nixon resigns in disgrace.

Richard Nixon resigns in disgrace, August 1974.

Thirty nine years ago this week an evil befell the USA.

President Richard Nixon, in cahoots with his fellow Watergate criminal (and Attorney General), John Mitchell, ramped up the war on drugs by prodding the misbegotten legislation, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This act crafted the schedule system for classifying the illegality of (some) drugs. In 1973 Nixon created the DEA to act as overseers of federal drug policy and enforcement.

Cannabis had actually been legal since a 1969 Supreme Court decision. Instigated by no less than Timothy Leary, the high court declared as unconstitutional the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 ended this short period of freedom, instituting a repressive, punishment-oriented approach. Because of Nixon’s direct actions, cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restricted, illegal and penalized.

This draconian schedule for cannabis was purported to be just temporary, until a commission studied the question. This became the famous Shafer Commission. Kevin Zeese reported on the commission and Nixon’s attempts to declare marijuana dangerous. As Zeese reported, the commission took its task seriously and ended up having to conclude that marijuana is not very dangerous and does not justify harsh legal treatment of its users.

Nixon blew up, ranting (on tape) instead for laws that “tears the ass” out of marijuana users. He got his way. Even though Nixon had to resign in disgrace, the drug war he promoted has lived on. In the intervening 40 years, 20 million Americans have had their lives torn asunder in the form of needless and wasteful arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations for victimless cannabis “crimes.”

The CSA is is unconstitutional. An amendment to the US Constitution was required to prohibit alcohol. The same is true for marijuana and other drugs. Richard Nixon and the US congress ignored his requirement in passing the CSA. The courts, of course, should have quickly flagged this flagrant unconstitutionality. Instead the judiciary gave it a free pass under the “drug war exemption” to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Subsequent generations of congressional drug warriors such as Joe Biden found even this legislation too timid and schemed at “enhanced penalties” and evils such as asset forfeiture.  Mandatory minimums were reinstated again in the drug war-crazed 1980s. See Why 1984 WAS like 1984. Member of both political parties fought to out-do each other with ever more repressive legislation, including the Controlled Substance Penalties Amendment Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

International legislation, the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances soon codified schedules and penalties world wide.

Under the 39 year-old CSA the DEA is given authority to classify substances. It can at will, stubbornly stick to obviously incorrect schedules, e.g. Schedule I for cannabis. The classification of various drugs by the DEA is not based whatsoever upon the actual dangers of the drugs, but is based on bureaucratic and turf reasons.

  • The most dangerous drug, cigarettes, for example is not even under DEA enforcement. Nor was it regulated even by FDA, until a few months ago. But cannabis, a far safer drug, is degraded by the most draconian Schedule I classification and brutally enforced by the DEA.

Constitutionally the  US government has no business in the prohibition business. Practically such prohibitions have become an incarceration nightmare. We need to drug war collateral damage. Harsh penalties conceived to “tear the ass out” of hippies 40 years ago should not be mandating continuation of prison state and police state policies.

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.

Cannabinoids 1988 – The Day the DEA told the truth

With 2008 just behind us, this post looks back not across last year, but farther back, 20 years. 1988 witnessed a remarkable event. On September 6 of that year the federal bureaucracy, the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the truth. This may be the only case of veracity by the DEA during its meteoric 35 year history.

The uncharacteristic truthfulness from the DEA came from one of its own administrative law judges, Francis L. Young, in his report and recommendations to the agency on the prospect of reducing cannabis’ Schedule 1 status.  Such extreme status supports governmental torments inflicted upon Americans nearly equal to the tortures of the Inquisition for mere possession of plant material used by humans over the last 12,000 years. Instead of tools of physical torture, the new Drug War brought torments such as the family and soul-killing horrors of mandatory minimum sentences and asset forfeitures.

Zero-tolerance zealotry inflamed Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush, along with authoritarian senators, such Joe Biden and John Ashcroft, and Torquemada-like prosecutors such as Eric Holder and Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s. Their ire was written into harsh new drug laws and sentencing scheduling. New legislation began allowing drug war bureaucrats to make war against a sub-set of Americans

  • These laws allowed the DEA and even local police to take Americans’ property away from them and give it, in part, to police agencies.
  • The same laws encouraged police to take Americans’ liberty away from them and give it to the mushrooming prison/industrial complex.

Cannabis sativa, of all drugs, was the center of this ever-growing drug war. Crack cocaine got the headlines, but as always, marijuana users suffered the most arrests. “Just say no” campaigns and DARE programs, along with beer and cigarette company planned and financed drug-free America campaign, institutionalized lying about cannabis. This drug has none of the violence promotion of alcohol, or the addictiveness or lethality of cigarettes, and even then showed strong medical utility. Nonetheless, it was denounced by the DEA and essentially the entire US government, as without medical value and dangerously addictive, fully supportive of its harsh schedule 1 status.

Into this maelstrom came a voice of calm from DEA law judge Francis L. Young. His investigation into the correctness of Schedule 1 for cannabis resulted in a set of talking points remarkable in their clarity and a direct challenge to the plant’s draconian rating:

  • The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision.
  • Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.
  • Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.
  • It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.

Such findings caused Judge Young to reject the agency’s claim for Schedule 1 status for cannabis. What was the result of truth being told to power? Essentially nothing.

The DEA continued, of course, to be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious and stubbornly clung to the draconian scheduling of cannabis that accounted for (and still accounts for) so much that agency’s total activity. Like any bureaucracy, the DEA is protective of its turf, and persecuting cannabis makes up huge portion of the agency’s reason for existing.

Since Judge Young’s honest but futile ruling, over 10 million Americans have suffered arrest and the resulting damage to their lives and families for possession of a relatively harmless and medically beneficial plant substance.

Californians voted in 1996 to exempt medical cannabis users from prosecution. Clinton administration drug warrior Rahm Emanuel participated in the attempted persecution of physicians who might advise patient’s of cannabis medical benefit. Emanuel actually said “We’re against the message that the initiative sends to children.” Apparently young people might be damaged by being made aware of the medical benefits of a plant? Attempts by Emanuel and the Clinton administration at muting physicians suffered defeat at the hands of the US Supreme Court when such heavy-handedness was declared as a violation of free speech.

During the ensuing 20 years since Judge Young’s refreshing candor, essentially nothing has changed at the federal level. During this time, the discovery of the endocannabinoid receptor system has redefined our understanding of the workings of the human body. Cannabis remains as Schedule 1, despite 20 years of research, performed mostly outside the USA, showing huge medical value as an anti-inflammatory, neuro-protectant and pain relievers. Instead, over 800,000 Americans suffer arrests each year, more than one cannabis arrest each minute. Although these mass arrests seem to have no effect on use of cannabis, it does serve as a colossal jobs program for urine testers, snitches, cops, DEA agents, drug counselors and jailers.

After 20 years since Judge Young told the truth, many Americans hoped the election of Barack Obama might signal a new direction. Perhaps the drug war might be reconsidered by better minds? Perhaps the incarcerated nation with over 2 million of its citizens behind bars might be reexamined/ Perhaps decades of lies and tens of millions of arrests for possession of a beneficial plant might end? But now things do not look hopeful. Barack Obama, for some reason, has placed in key positions, including Attorney General, the worst of the drug war zealots of the Clinton administration. Probably none of them have heard of the DEA law judge and his findings of the relative harmlessness of cannabis and the great injustice in demonizing the plant in draconian legal code as Schedule 1. Nor would they care. After all, it sends the wrong message to children.