The overwhelming success of Portugal’s decriminalization approach to drugs is in the news again. The AP article is available here, “Portugal’s drug policy pays off; US eyes lessons.” See the article for details of how every aspect of Portugal’s harm minimization, treatment-based approach has succeeded.
Unfortunately, the title is somewhat incorrect. Portugal’s decriminalization has indeed worked out remarkably well. The USA, however, may “eye” these lessons but is intent on ignoring them and clinging to its trillion dollar harm maximization approach of arrest, prosecution and incarceration.
This writer knew something was wrong when conservative pundit George Will wrote two opinion pieces with which I could agree. The first was regarding Afghanistan where, regrettably, Will makes more sense for leaving than Obama does for escalating. The other was for his recent criticism of the war on drugs. However, in a November 29 Washington Post column, Rocky Mountain high, Will returns to his authoritarian, neocon roots with criticisms of Colorado’s medical marijuana program.
Those wishing to disdain the medical value of marijuana typically put the term “medical” in quotation marks when the word is followed by marijuana. George Will goes further, when belittling the conditions for which medical cannabis may be used, he includes “chronic pain” (quotation marks his). It may be news to George, but pain is the primary reason people go to the doctor, and indeed was the core reason the medical profession came into being! Yes George, pain, especially chronic pain, is a good reason for seeking medical care and medication.
Cannabis has been used for pain relief for at least 5,000 years and is proving in new studies to be highly effective in lessening many types of pain. It is also the least toxic of any pain relieving substance. Indeed, cannabis is the safer choice for pain relief, far safer than Oxycontin, far safer than Vicodin, safer even than aspirin. Aspirin causes several hundred deaths each year, marijuana causes zero deaths. Typically, use of dangerous, mind-altering opioid pain relievers is greatly reduced when cannabis is added as an adjunct analgesic.
Yet George Will and the authoritarian wing of the Republican party would deny Americans their personal freedom of medical choice for pain relief, if that choice happened to be marijuana.
- How did the Republican party, supposedly the party of small government, transform itself into a tyranny that controls and punishes American citizens needlessly?
- How did the Republican party, supposed for keeping the government out of people’s lives, still seeks to deny Americans the freedom to make their own safer medical choices?
Will gets off on the wrong foot by lauding prohibitionist Colorado attorney general, John Suthers, calling him honest and thoughtful. Actually he is a bureaucrat protecting his turf, a law enforcement official extending his domain over the medical choices of his fellow Coloradans. Because of his prohibitionist efforts, Coloradans may be forced to give up the right to choose safer, cheaper medications. Hopefully, Colorado citizen Mason Tvert of SAFER will educate the authoritarian George Will on the “thoughtfulness” of the hardline AG.
Americans should rightly bristle when self-serving bureaucrats deny them medical choices. The police should not be lobbying against the medical freedoms and choices of their fellow citizens, just because costs them enforcement turf, as is the case with medical cannabis. George Will allowed Suthers to feed him age-old platitudes about current marijuana being “seven, eight times as concentrated” as pot used to be. Even if this old saw were true, it would only make it “seven, eight” times safer, requiring less consumption for equal medical benefit.
George almost misted up when revealing that Suthers claimed that in a recent survey, “non-using young people revealed that health concerns did not explain nonuse. The main explanation was the law: We underestimate the number of people who care that something is illegal.” Great rationale for continuing the current marijuana laws devastate the lives of the 800,000 people arrested each year in the USA! Such reasoning is contradicted by the Dutch who have a much higher level of “nonuse” of cannabis than Americans, but have much more lenient laws against the plant substance.
Will concludes, “by mocking the idea of lawful behavior, legalization of medical marijuana may be more socially destructive than full legalization.” Gee, George, the arbitrary, unreasonable and capricious laws against marijuana have been dissed and disobeyed for more than 40 years now by Americans who knew the restrictions were unjust. These laws have been willfully broken by tens of millions of Americans for decades, mocking the law, flaunting legislators who passed them and viewing as enemies the police that enforced them. Respect for the law demands laws deserving respect.
As far as legalization of marijuana being socially destructive? Not in the least. The recent experience of Portugal proves that. The social destruction of the last 40 years of failed drug war has been the 20 million cannabis arrest casulties inflicted upon Americans by their government. The unneeded, counterproductive and failed war on marijuana users has produced maximum harm and is the mockery of American justice George Will should be protesting.
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
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.