Ending drug prohibition

February 17, 2012

in Bombs and rockets, Economics, Law, Politics, Rants, Security

Earlier, I wrote about whether the phrase ‘greenhouse gas pollution’ is accurate, and whether it might be useful for building political will to do something about climate change. The phrase is accurate – CO2 is an unwanted by-product of various processes and it does harm to people all over the world – and it may be a useful way to remind people that ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ are a real problem that needs to be dealt with. It calls to mind phrases like “make the polluter pay [for the cost of cleaning up pollution]“.

I wonder whether a similar change in language might be helpful for opposing unreasonable drug laws. Mention ‘marijuana legalization’ and the eyes of the people around you will glaze over. They have heard the debate, they have their view, and they probably don’t care about it too strongly one way or the other.

Maybe we can do better by saying things like: “End marijauana prohibition” or “End the prohibition of drugs”.

People remember the prohibition of alcohol, the way it failed, and the problems it caused. It enriched organized crime and pushed alcohol use underground. It led to inferior and dangerous kinds of alcohol being sold. It cost tax revenues, crowded the prisons, and so on. All this is true of drug criminalization today. Most of the problems associated with drugs only exist because they are illegal, or are made much worse because they are illegal. Drug prohibition turns the drug trade into a violent, dangerous business and it turns ordinary people who use substances that are often more benign than alcohol or tobacco into criminals.

Al Capone was the natural consequence of alcohol prohibition. His successors created by the drug war may be less famous – and they may kill more people in Mexico than in Chicago – but their business has arisen for exactly the same reason, and operates according to the same logic. Stratfor describes what has been happening recently in Mexico as “a stalemate” “between the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas and the government” and argue that it has produced 50,000 deaths. That is more than 16 times the number of people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. It’s about 6% of the number of deaths associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Ending drug prohibition just makes sense. It is both unethical and ineffective for governments to try to control what consenting adults do with their bodies. Their efforts to assert that control are doing demonstrable harm. Perhaps by speaking about the situation in terms of ‘ending prohibition’ rather than ‘legalizing’ this or that, the political debate can be moved forward just a little.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

. February 17, 2012 at 11:31 am

And so the first time I ate E – or X, or EX, or XTC, or MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) – it was having given my son permission to sell it to me. I became his customer, a buyer, a reliable and steady client, the lowest link on the food chain of the multibillion-dollar commerce that proceeds unabated every day, every hour, in every large city and small town in every state in this union, in what is called by those paid to “war” against them “controlled substances”.

I find it ironic. Because I cannot think of a single commodity in our country that is less controlled than such substances, nor a single “war” that is as pathetically futile, vaingloriously chimeric and long-ago-lost as is this one. Wrestle as you will, you cannot reform or arrest human appetite. Ecstasy is as illegal as heroin. This is just the sort of run-amok governmental lunacy guaranteed to ensure that those like myself – and more importantly, our children – will write off that same government and those who enforce its drug laws as out of touch, coercive, morally bankrupt and, yes, un-American. Because America is not, or did not used to be, about throwing 16-year-old kids in jail for – all in the spirit of free-market capitalism and entrepreneurial enterprise – home-growing a little cannabis, even as the rest of us chain-smoke our Camels, sip our Absoluts with a twist, and devour our Prozac.

Tristan February 22, 2012 at 2:16 am

This language change sounds quite promising.

. February 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm

In addition to the 15 tons seized last week, we saw a record seizure of 675 tons of methylamine, a key ingredient of methamphetamine, in Mexico in December. From 2010 to 2011, seizures of precursor chemicals like methylamine in Mexico increased 400 percent, from 400 tons to 1,600 tons. These most recent reports are similar to reports in the 1920s of U.S. liquor seizures going from barrels to shiploads, which indicated bootlegging was being conducted on an industrial scale. They are also eerily similar to the record cocaine seizure in 1984 in Tranquilandia, Colombia, when Colombian National Police uncovered a network of jungle cocaine labs along with 13.8 metric tons of cocaine. It was the watershed moment, when authorities moved from measuring cocaine busts in kilograms to measuring them in tons, and it marked the Medellin cartel’s rise to power over the cocaine market.

Anyone can make methamphetamine, but it is a huge organizational, financial and legal challenge to make it on the industrial level that appears to be happening in Mexico. The main difference between the U.S. labs and the Mexican labs is the kind of input chemicals they use. The U.S. labs use pseudoephedrine, a pharmaceutical product heavily regulated by the DEA, as a starting material, while Mexican labs use methylamine, a chemical with many industrial applications that is more difficult to regulate. And while pseudoephedrine comes in small individual packages of cold pills, methylamine is bought in 208-liter (55-gallon) barrels. The Mexican process requires experienced chemists who have mastered synthesizing methamphetamine on a large scale, which gives them an advantage over the small-time amateurs working in U.S. methamphetamine labs.

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/meth-mexico-turning-point-drug-war

. March 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm
. March 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

Drugs policy
Pills and progress
Signs of compassion mixed with pragmatism are emerging in America’s treatment of drug users, who are also changing their habits

ON A recent evening, some 50 people turned up for their weekly reckoning at Judge Joel Bennett’s drug court in Austin, Texas. Those who had had a good week—gone to their Narcotics Anonymous meetings and stayed out of trouble—got a round of applause. The ones who had stumbled received small punishments: a few hours of community service, a weekend in jail, a referral to inpatient treatment. Most were sanguine about that. Completing the programme will mean a year of sobriety and the dismissal of their criminal charges.

After the session, Mr Bennett noted that the drugs problem has grown worse during his nearly 20 years on the bench, largely due to poverty, poor education and cycles of abuse. Still, he reckoned, less punitive approaches to drug users are gaining acceptance. That is largely because the punitive approach has failed.

More than 40 years have passed since Richard Nixon declared a federal “war on drugs”, and drug use is still a big problem. In 2008 roughly 8.9% of Americans aged 12 and older used an illegal drug, up from 5.8% in 1991-93. Nor have the consequences abated: in 2008, according to preliminary data from the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), there were 37,792 drug-induced deaths, compared with 14,218 in 1995.

. March 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

“But if America’s war on drugs has failed to curb drug use, it has been a boon to the prison industry: in 2008 non-violent drug offenders accounted for a quarter of American prisoners, up from less than 10% in 1980.

The cost of jailing so many people, particularly in straitened times, together with a lessening in the pressure on politicians (because of the declining violence) have led to a change in the tough-on-crime rhetoric. In 2009 Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, announced that the office would no longer use the phrase “war on drugs”. Sixteen states have legalised marijuana for medical use, and over a dozen have similar legislation pending.”

. April 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Drug policy in Latin America
Burn-out and battle fatigue
As violence soars, so do voices of dissent against drug prohibition

LATIN AMERICA is rich in sought-after commodities, including narcotics. The coca leaf, from which cocaine is refined, is grown only in the foothills of the Andes. Mexico produces more heroin than anywhere but Afghanistan, as well as much cannabis. Latin American traffickers are even diversifying into synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine.

The illegality of this successful export business means that its multi-billion-dollar profits go to criminal gangs. Their battles for market control have a high cost: according to the UN, eight of the world’s ten most violent countries are in Latin America or the Caribbean. Drugs are not the only business of organised crime, but they account for the bulk of the gangs’ income and thus their firepower. Honduras, a strategic spot on the trafficking route, has the world’s highest murder rate, about 80 times that of western Europe.

. April 16, 2012 at 11:54 am

Softening tone, Harper concedes drug war ‘is not working’

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/softening-tone-harper-concedes-drug-war-is-not-working/article2403500/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Home&utm_content=2403500

Something is just not working with the way the hemisphere has tackled powerful and violent drug traffickers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Sunday as he wrapped up a meeting with the leaders of the Americas.

It was the first time Harper has suggested he is open to discussing new approaches to the war on drugs. Several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia have called for an open and frank discussion about how to deal with the cartels.

“There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people,” Mr. Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas.

“I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The gathering of 31 leaders agreed to analyze the approach to the drug situation in a more formal way through the Organization of American States.

While some voices in Latin America and the Caribbean have suggested legalization and regulation of drugs might alleviate some of the suffering and violence in the region, others have opposed the idea.

. June 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm

The path to decriminalisation

ON TUESDAY, Beto O’Rourke, a former city councilman from El Paso, defeated the longtime incumbent Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for Texas’s 16th congressional district. It was probably the biggest upset in the state, and an outcome that has attracted national attention, for a simple reason: Mr O’Rourke, who will almost certainly win the general election in November, supports legalising marijuana.

While not entirely unprecedented, this is an outlying opinion among politicians. Polling shows that fully half of Americans now support legalising marijuana. Yet among national office-holders, the figure is about 0-1%. As Paul Waldman argues, the disparity might arise from the fact that there aren’t really any electoral incentives for the politician who wants to go to bat on this issue, but there are plenty of risks—the risk of being seen as soft on crime, the risk of being seen as a crank, etc. Mr O’Rourke is perhaps insulated from these risks, because this is manifestly an issue that affects the district he hopes to represent, rather than some kind of dilettantish libertarian thing. He and Susie Byrd, also a former city representative, published a book last year describing the devastation of Mexico’s drug war, particularly in El Paso’s twinned city of Juarez, and arguing that decriminalising marijuana would be the best way to dismantle the black market that fuels the trade. The Economist supports decriminalising drugs for similar reasons, and such arguments are more compelling than complaints about personal freedom which, while valid, can come across as tasteless and self-absorbed. You can’t open a paper from Juarez without reading about somebody being beheaded or disemboweled.

. June 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Do it for the young black males: legalize marijuana, writes Touré in TIME

“Black men are targeted and stopped and frisked for the crime of being black in poor black neighborhoods,” Touré writes, “and those found with small bags of marijuana are sucked into the justice system and forever branded a criminal. This means they will struggle to find work, may not qualify for student-aid and likely stay in public housing. These men are virtually removed from society for a nonviolent offense that many Americans commit. They are failed by America.”

. June 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Recognizing that, I called Ohio State University Associate Professor of Law Michelle Alexander, the author of the The New Jim Crow, a definitive study of the impact of the War on Drugs. Professor Alexander told me that the loss of human potential for possessing small amounts of marijuana is staggering. “If Barack Obama had been caught for making that mistake [smoking weed in high school], he would have been branded a criminal and the odds that he would’ve made it to college are slim,” Alexander said. “He might not even be eligible to vote.” Decriminalization is a positive step toward stopping the damage, Alexander said, but she also thinks we should do even more.

“I find it encouraging that Cuomo acknowledged the racial dimensions of these marijuana arrests and the lifelong consequences of acquiring a criminal record. Once you are branded a criminal, even for marijuana possession, that record follows you for life,” Alexander said. “It’s encouraging that Cuomo acknowledges how people of color have been subject to discriminatory enforcement, and a criminal record can relegate you to permanent second-class status. What I’d like to see is Cuomo go even further and call for the expungement of records for those who’ve been criminally charged with marijuana possession to ensure those who were ensnared before this likely policy change aren’t branded for life.”

. June 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Pure ecstasy can be ‘safe’ if consumed responsibly: B.C. health officer

At least 16 people from B.C. to Saskatchewan have died since last July from a tainted batch of ecstasy they obtained from criminal dealers, the only way an average person can acquire the drug in Canada. It was cut with a toxin called PMMA.

Police say an average of 20 British Columbians who consume street ecstasy die each year.

Dr. Kendall and several other health colleagues liken the mutation of MDMA into a contaminated street drug to the wave of bootleg beverages during the 1920s prohibition era.

“Methyl alcohol led to huge rates of morbidity and mortality in the United States under alcohol prohibition because of illicit alcohol manufacturing,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a lead researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and internationally-recognized expert in drug addiction and related policies.

“PMMA is a natural and expected consequence of the prohibition on ecstasy.”

. June 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm
. August 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm

MURDER has become so common in parts of Mexico that gangsters craving attention must go to ever more appalling lengths. The 49 or so mutilated bodies dumped on May 13th on a roadside close to Monterrey, a wealthy city near the Texan border, were enough to make the front pages. The massacre was the worst since last August, when 52 people were killed in an arson attack on a casino in the same city. The latest outrage may be even deadlier: investigators are still not sure how many victims the body parts add up to.

The horror diverted attention from a rare drop in Mexico’s overall murder rate. The opening quarter of 2012 saw the first year-on-year fall in killings since the government’s assault on the gangs got going in 2007. The 5,037 murders (which include ordinary killings as well as mafia hits) represented a 7% drop compared with the same period last year, and a 17% decline compared with the worst three months of last summer. The government no longer breaks out mafia-linked murders, but Reforma, a newspaper, reckons that so far this year these are 10% down on last year.

. August 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm

FOR a few months in 2009, David Nutt was the most famous pharmacologist in Britain. As chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), he was responsible for advising the government on the relative dangers posed by different kinds of illegal substances. He published a scientific paper that landed him in hot water, when he compared the risks of taking Ecstasy with those posed by horse-riding, and found riding to be several times riskier.

He was publicly rebuked, on the spurious grounds that the two activities are not comparable, by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary at the time. The following year he contributed to a paper that came to the conclusion that alcohol was a more harmful substance than cannabis, LSD or Ecstasy. Alan Johnson, Ms Smith’s successor, responded by removing Professor Nutt from the committee.

. September 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm
. September 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

“[A] great many other sorts of harm have been more or less accidental, perverse effects which although predictable were not intended by those who instigated the War [on Drugs]. These ‘perverse effects’ include:

1. Increasing the spread of infectious diseases
2. Causing terminally ill people to die in agony
3. Increasing instability and unaccountability in the financial system
4. Holding back research on new medicines
5. Increasing levels of drug-related violence and crime
6. Increasing the number of users by forcing them to become dealers
7. Bringint the law into disrepute; allowing discriminatory policing
8. Diverting attention away from the dangers of alcohol and tobacco”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.273 (paperback)

. September 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm

“So, prison is worse for people’s mental health, more likely to lead to hard drug use, more likely to ruin someone’s career, more likely to lead to a cycle of destructive behaviour, and far more expensive for society than cannabis: imprisoning people for using cannabis increases harm, rather than reducing it. Al alternative model for punishing those caught in possession of cannabis is the ‘Cameron approach’. When [British Prime Minister] David Cameron was caught with the drug at Eton, he was made to write out hundreds of lines of Latin; there are certainly thousands of young people across the UK whose lives would be immeasurably improved if this became public policy.”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.262 (paperback)

. September 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

“Another thing we could do to learn more about new drugs as they appear is to set up a Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS) like the one they have in the Netherlands, which is a fascinating example of applying common sense to drug use. Across the Netherlands there are a number of hospitals where drugs can be tested. Users can take their drugs to the centre knowing that they will not be arrested. After the tests they are given information on what the drug is, health and safety advice to help them decide whether to take it or not, and what to do if they get adverse effects. Not only does this offer an opportunity for harm prevention, but also the Dutch authorities get to know exactly what drugs are in circulation and where, and they catch ‘bad batches’ before they do too much damage.”

Nutt, David. Drugs Without the Hot Air: Minimising the Harms of Legal and Illegal Drugs. p.124 (paperback)

. October 13, 2012 at 1:54 am

The 1315 Project (a documentary film)

An unchanging 1.3% addiction rate. A $1.5 trillion price tag. Stories from the front lines of a war we cannot win but will not end.

. November 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

CO and WA Voters Legalize Marijuana

Colorado and Washington have become the first U.S. states to approve regulating, taxing and controlling marijuana similar to alcohol.

Statement from Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance

Colorado and Washington have become not just the first U.S. states – but the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world – to approve regulating, taxing and controlling marijuana similar to alcohol.

The Drug Policy Alliance and its electoral arm, Drug Policy Action, worked closely with local and national allies to draft these initiatives, build coalitions and raise funds.

“The victories in Colorado and Washington are of historic significance not just for Americans but for all countries debating the future of marijuana prohibition in their own countries,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is now a mainstream issue, with citizens more or less divided on the issue but increasingly inclined to favor responsible regulation of marijuana over costly and ineffective prohibitionist policies.”

The Colorado and Washington initiatives inspired diverse coalitions that included traditional drug policy reformers, law enforcement, organized labor, advocates for fiscal responsibility, mainstream civil rights organizations, advocates for children, and people from across the political spectrum. The campaign in Washington gained strength and legitimacy from the unprecedented number of endorsements by elected officials as well as former and current law enforcement officials.

. November 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

If pot were truly legal, high-quality joints would cost the same price as a Splenda packet

How cheaply could pot be grown with advanced farming techniques? One potential data point is Canada’s industrial hemp industry, where production costs are about $500 per acre. If the kind of mid-grade commercial weed that accounts for about 80 percent of the U.S. market could be grown that cheaply, it implies costs of about 20 cents per pound of smokable material: Enough pot to fill more than 800 modest-sized half-gram joints for less than a quarter!

. December 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Marijuana smokers breathed a puff of relief today as they lit up legally for the first time in Washington state and were not cited, ticketed, or arrested for what is still a federal offense.

“There are no federal agents out there busting people,” Seattle police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said today, hours after a new state law legalizing pot went into effect.

Seattle police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the department’s blog, “The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a Lord of the Rings marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to.”

. December 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm
. December 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Although your typical non-violent drug inmate isn’t the white child of a celebrity, he’s usually a minority user who gets far stiffer sentences than rich white kids would for committing the same crimes – we all remember the crack-versus-coke controversy in which federal and state sentencing guidelines left (predominantly minority) crack users serving sentences up to 100 times harsher than those meted out to the predominantly white users of powdered coke.

The institutional bias in the crack sentencing guidelines was a racist outrage, but this HSBC settlement blows even that away. By eschewing criminal prosecutions of major drug launderers on the grounds (the patently absurd grounds, incidentally) that their prosecution might imperil the world financial system, the government has now formalized the double standard.

They’re now saying that if you’re not an important cog in the global financial system, you can’t get away with anything, not even simple possession. You will be jailed and whatever cash they find on you they’ll seize on the spot, and convert into new cruisers or toys for your local SWAT team, which will be deployed to kick in the doors of houses where more such inessential economic cogs as you live. If you don’t have a systemically important job, in other words, the government’s position is that your assets may be used to finance your own political disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, if you are an important person, and you work for a big international bank, you won’t be prosecuted even if you launder nine billion dollars. Even if you actively collude with the people at the very top of the international narcotics trade, your punishment will be far smaller than that of the person at the very bottom of the world drug pyramid. You will be treated with more deference and sympathy than a junkie passing out on a subway car in Manhattan (using two seats of a subway car is a common prosecutable offense in this city). An international drug trafficker is a criminal and usually a murderer; the drug addict walking the street is one of his victims. But thanks to Breuer, we’re now in the business, officially, of jailing the victims and enabling the criminals.

. December 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

80 Years After the End of Prohibition, Prohibition is Finally Coming to an End

Voters in Washington and Colorado made history on Election Day when they voted to legally regulate and tax marijuana. Their votes signaled the beginning of the end for the costly and unjust war on drugs.

Thank you to the citizens of Washington and Colorado.

The Drug Policy Alliance is especially proud of this milestone, as we worked for years to make this historic day happen.

We’d also like to thank: President Bill Clinton for acknowledging the drug war’s futility and failure; President Jimmy Carter and Pat Robertson for saying it’s time to legalize marijuana; Governor Christie for calling the drug war a failure and Governor Cuomo for working to end New York’s racially discriminatory marijuana arrest crusade; Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank for introducing the first bill to end federal marijuana prohibition; Presidents Santos (Colombia), Pérez Molina (Guatemala) and Mujica (Uruguay) for breaking the taboo on alternatives to drug prohibition; and, most of all, our many allies around the world for demanding no more drug war.

We strive for the day when drug policies are no longer motivated by ignorance, fear and prejudice but rather by science, compassion, fiscal prudence and human rights, with education and treatment available for everyone. Help us fight the good fight by making a tax deductible donation.

. December 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The Next Seven States To Legalize Pot

Why Oregon, California and more are likely to follow Colorado and Washington toward legalization

. January 3, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Drugs and violence
A glimmer of hope
After five years of soaring murder rates, the killings have at last begun to level off

Nov 24th 2012 | from the print edition

WHEN FEUDING BETWEEN drug traffickers was at its most brutal in Ciudad Juárez, a border city on the edge of the Chihuahua desert, the deadliest time to step into its mean streets was 4.45pm. The main television news bulletin is broadcast at 5pm, and Juárez’s gangsters, experts in public relations, would time their murders to lead the evening headlines. “They would kill in the streets, by the highways, on the main avenues. They wanted to send a message to the authorities,” says David García, head of the city’s forensic service. Five years ago his team dealt with about 400 homicides a year, giving the city of 1.3m a murder rate roughly equal to that of New York in the early 1990s. By 2010 the small mortuary had to accommodate 300 murdered bodies a month, making Juárez by some reckonings the most violent city in the world.

anon January 21, 2013 at 9:42 am

Wood & Antweiler: Canada should follow America’s lead in liberalizing marijuana laws

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/01/21/wood-antweiler-canada-should-follow-americas-lead-in-liberalizing-marijuana-laws/

As of November, any Canadian caught with as few as six cannabis plants faces a mandatory six-month minimum prison term. Ironically, the new rules came into effect at the same time that Washington state and Colorado voted to tax and regulate the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

The results of the legalization measures in those states came as a surprise to many Canadians, including, presumably, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. When asked about the four former Vancouver mayors who publicly support the regulation and taxation of marijuana in Canada, he argued “it would inhibit our trade generally because they’re certainly not going to make that move in the United States.”

That may have been true in the past, but Canada has fallen way behind the U.S. when it comes to progressive drug policy. In addition to the two states that legalized the adult use of marijuana, three more legalized it for medical uses. A total of 18 states now allow medical marijuana, and 12 have decriminalized possession of the drug. Meanwhile, Canadian policy is moving in the opposite direction.

. February 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Prison and the Poverty Trap

By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: February 18, 2013

. March 10, 2013 at 11:18 pm

A budding market for legal pot

AS COLORADO grapples with the logistics of legalising marijuana, lessons are being drawn from the medical-marijuana industry

. March 25, 2013 at 9:15 pm
. April 23, 2013 at 10:34 pm

But immigration offences and Prohibition redux—America’s drug war—drove both numbers up in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 1990 29,011 defendants crowded the federal court system; by 2010 that number had nearly tripled, to 83,946. Of those, 81,217 pleaded guilty, meaning that prosecutors did not have to convince juries of their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. They merely had to persuade a grand jury to charge the defendants, a far lower standard of proof (not for nothing did a New York judge once say that a good prosecutor could convince a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich”), and they had to persuade defendants that pleading guilty was a sound rational choice.

They have been helped by another unfortunate legacy of the drug war: mandatory minimum sentences. From 1990 to 2010 the number of federal defendants whose conviction carries at least one mandatory minimum sentence has more than tripled, from 6,685 to 19,896. Intended to ensure fairness and reduce variation in sentencing between jurisdictions, mandatory minimums have instead, in effect, transferred discretion from judges to prosecutors. Many judges dislike mandatory minimums, and last week Patrick Leahy, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for ending them, but where that ranks among the priorities of the incoming Congress is unclear.

. April 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Illegal drugs
The great experiment
At last, drug prohibition is being challenged by fresh thinking

UNTIL recently it seemed that nothing would disturb the international consensus that the best way to deal with narcotic and psychotropic drugs is to ban them. Codified in a United Nations convention, this policy has proved impervious to decades of failure. Drug consumption has not, in most parts of the world, fallen. Prohibition inflicts appalling damage, through the spread of organised crime, the needless deaths of addicts exposed to adulterated drugs and the mass incarceration of young men.

. April 23, 2013 at 10:53 pm

Winding down the war on drugs
Towards a ceasefire
Experiments in legalisation are showing what a post-war approach to drug control could look like

. April 23, 2013 at 11:11 pm

Marijuana legalisation
Tax, and tax again
America’s first market for recreational marijuana will be far from free

. April 23, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Drugs in Brazil
Cracking up
The world’s biggest crack market seeks a better way to deal with addicts

. June 24, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Harm reduction more effective than war on drugs, study says

Harm reduction – not a war on drugs – has reduced illicit drug use and improved public safety in what was once Ground Zero for an HIV and overdose epidemic that cost many lives, says a 15-year study of drug use in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.

The report by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that from 1996 to 2011, fewer people were using drugs and, of those who were, fewer were injecting drugs, said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-author of the report and co-director of the centre’s Urban Health Research Initiative.

. June 24, 2013 at 11:41 pm

“Vancouver took a public health approach to the crisis, opening the country’s first supervised injection site in 2003, and Kerr said the statistics show that approach was successful.

There were fewer people sharing needles in 2011, and there were fewer new infections of HIV and Hepatitis C related to sharing needles, the study found.

In 1996, almost 40 per cent of drug users reported sharing needles, but by 2011, that had dropped to 1.7 per cent. About 25 per cent of Vancouver’s drug users are HIV positive, and about 90 per cent suffer from Hepatitis C.

The overall health of drug users had improved and more people were accessing addictions treatment, jumping from 12 per cent on methadone treatment in 1996 to 54.5 per cent since 2008, statistics showed.

“This is probably the city with the most aggressive harm reduction approach, yet we’re seeing declining rates of drug use within this community,” Kerr said.”

. July 2, 2013 at 2:18 pm

The report will be debated at the OAS’s annual summit next month in Guatemala; the government there is perhaps the hemisphere’s most radical on drug policy. Otto Pérez Molina, the president, has called for the legalisation—and strict regulation—of all narcotics, including the hard ones. A former military man who has burned down his fair share of cannabis fields, he makes a strange ally to the libertarian-minded legalisation movement. But he has said that fighting the drug war only made him realise its futility. He has appointed Fernando Carrera, a former local head of the Open Society Foundations, as his foreign secretary.

. July 2, 2013 at 2:28 pm

The foreign ministers of the Organisation of American States agreed to “encourage the consideration of new approaches to the world drug problem in the Americas”, which some countries take to include legalisation of marijuana. But they also asserted the importance of fully implementing the prohibitionist UN conventions on drugs.

. August 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Uruguay’s proposed law would break new ground by legalising the entire business, from cultivation to consumption, across the whole country. If the bill becomes law, Uruguayans will be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis plants per household, or join cooperatives licensed to grow up to 99 plants each. Private firms will be allowed to grow weed too, but only to sell to the government, which will sell it to customers through pharmacies. Each person will be allowed to buy up to 40g (1.4oz) per month, enough to fuel most habits. Minors will be excluded, and driving under the influence will remain a crime. Foreigners thinking of booking a holiday to Uruguay should be warned that only Uruguayan citizens will be eligible to use the pharmacies.

Uruguay’s government argues that the law will allow the police to focus on violent crime and on stopping the smuggling of harder drugs. Other Latin American governments, many of them battling criminal gangs made rich by the export of illicit intoxicants, are considering similar proposals. The presidents of Colombia and Guatemala have said they are in favour of legalising marijuana (and perhaps other drugs), but only as part of an international effort. Such a concerted push has long been blocked by more conservative voices, among them the United States. But since Colorado and Washington voted to legalise marijuana, it has been harder for Barack Obama to lecture other governments on the benefits of temperance. Expect more countries to follow Uruguay’s lead.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/08/economist-explains-1

. August 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Legal highs
A new prescription
New Zealand’s plan to regulate designer drugs is better than trying to ban them and failing

Sick of trying to keep up with drugmakers, the government is trying a new tack. Last month a law was passed which offers drug designers the chance of getting official approval for their products. If they can persuade a new “Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority” that their pills and powders are low risk, they will be licensed to market them, whether or not they get people high. Drugs will have to undergo clinical trials, which the government expects to take around 18 months—much less than for medicines, because the drugs will be tested only for toxicity, not for efficacy. Drugs that are already banned internationally, such as cocaine and cannabis, are ineligible. Only licensed shops will sell the drugs, without advertising and not to children.

While New Zealand and Uruguay are discussing what level of toxicity or what dosage is acceptable, every other country is leaving the matter to drug dealers, who do not care about quality control and who peddle to children on the same terms as adults. As New Zealand ponders what rate of tax to levy, in the rest of the world the business is tax-free. A hard road lies ahead for New Zealand and its fellow policy innovators. But every dilemma they face is a reminder that, unlike other jurisdictions, through government they are regulating the drugs business, not the gangs.

. August 29, 2013 at 6:52 pm

U.S. allows states to legalize recreational marijuana within limits
http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSBRE97S0YW20130829?irpc=932

. September 29, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Top UK cop calls for end to war on drugs, legalization of Class A substances

http://boingboing.net/2013/09/29/top-uk-cop-calls-for-end-to-wa.html

. October 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm
. October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Marijuana legalisation
Tokers’ delight
A sensible drug-policy decision from the federal government, for once
Sep 21st 2013 | LOS ANGELES |From the print edition

. December 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Leaked paper reveals UN split over war on drugs

Latin American nations call for treatment strategy, claiming UN’s prohibition stance plays into hands of paramilitary groups

. December 11, 2013 at 11:49 am

“A CRITICAL turning point in the failed war against drugs,” is the verdict of Martin Jelsma of the Drugs and Democracy Programme at the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam-based think-tank. On December 10th Uruguay’s Senate approved a law that not only legalised marijuana use but also regulated its production and sale. Others have gone down this route before: the American states of Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But Uruguay is the first country to do so.

. December 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), the body charged with implementing United Nations drugs conventions, is also concerned. Uruguay’s law violates the 1961 Convention on Narcotics Drugs, which prohibits the production and supply of all drugs not used for medical or scientific purposes. Mr Jelsma insists the problem is with the INCB’s treaty, not Uruguay’s legislation. “Uruguay’s government is doing what it is convinced is the correct move for the health and safety of its population,” he says. “That is more important than living up to the letter of the INCB treaty.”

. January 4, 2014 at 6:08 pm

New York State Is Set to Loosen Marijuana Laws

ALBANY — Joining a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York plans this week to announce an executive action that would allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses, state officials say.

he turnabout by Mr. Cuomo, who had long resisted legalizing medical marijuana, comes as other states are taking increasingly liberal positions on it — most notably Colorado, where thousands have flocked to buy the drug for recreational use since it became legal on Jan. 1.

Mr. Cuomo’s plan will be far more restrictive than the laws in Colorado or California, where medical marijuana is available to people with conditions as mild as backaches. It will allow just 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health.

. January 27, 2014 at 4:26 pm

“Should’ve done it 40 years ago!” growls a middle-aged man making his first purchase at Medicine Man, one of Denver’s biggest retail outlets. (A home-grower, he later confides that he got bored smoking the same old strains.) For optimists, the votes in Colorado and Washington suggest that America’s war on drugs is finally winding down. The casualties have been legion: 750,000 people are arrested each year for marijuana alone; the subsequent blotted records can derail lives. Some 40,000 people languish in prison for pot-related offences. Murderous gangs fill the supply gap created by prohibition.

The ill-effects of marijuana, including cognitive impairment and a risk of dependency, are fairly well documented (though more research would help). Around 20% of users account for 80% of consumption; as Mark Kleiman, an analyst, points out, it is in a profit-seeking industry’s interest to target these problem users. Set against this is the genuine pleasure that smoking or eating marijuana brings millions of adults. Moreover, increased marijuana use may turn out to be a net positive for public health if, as some studies suggest, it replaces some consumption of alcohol—a far more destructive drug by most measures.

. February 9, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Switzerland and the Netherlands pioneered this “Heroin Assisted Treatment” (HAT) approach in the 1990s, and both countries later adopted it as national policy. HAT trials have also been run in Spain, Britain, Germany and Canada. The evidence suggests that HAT slashes heroin-related deaths and HIV infection, since users are shooting up under medical supervision. It also drastically reduces heroin-related crime, since addicts have no need to steal or sell their bodies to get money for their fix. Some studies find that HAT actually works better than methadone or buprenorphine. Heroin use is falling steadily in both Switzerland and the Netherlands; by the late 2000s the Dutch incidence of new heroin users had fallen close to zero, and the ageing population of addicts from the 1970s and 1980s continues to shrink.

Decriminalisation of marijuana use has also played a role in limiting Dutch heroin use, since it separates the use of cannabis from the use of harder drugs. More interestingly, harm reduction including HAT appears to lead to lower illicit heroin consumption, in part because free government heroin drives out private-sector providers. When addicts shoot up in safe rooms monitored by public-health staff, where they are recruited into treatment programmes or (if they fail or refuse) simply receive free heroin, it gradually erodes the market for dealing the drug. As they say in the tech world, you can’t compete with free. One study found that such policies cut the illegal heroin trade by about 30%.

. March 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Over the past two decades many have come to favour tackling heroin abuse through “harm reduction” policies, rather than tougher policing. Many governments have decriminalised personal use and provided free therapy programmes, using drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine that block heroin’s high. Two other proven ways to reduce harm, however, are more politically controversial: setting up safe sites where users can inject while monitored by health-care staff, and—for registered addicts who cannot or will not comply with treatment regimes—providing heroin itself free.

Switzerland and the Netherlands pioneered this “Heroin Assisted Treatment” (HAT) approach in the 1990s, and both countries later adopted it as national policy. HAT trials have also been run in Spain, Britain, Germany and Canada. The evidence suggests that HAT slashes heroin-related deaths and HIV infection, since users are shooting up under medical supervision. It also drastically reduces heroin-related crime, since addicts have no need to steal or sell their bodies to get money for their fix. Some studies find that HAT actually works better than methadone or buprenorphine. Heroin use is falling steadily in both Switzerland and the Netherlands; by the late 2000s the Dutch incidence of new heroin users had fallen close to zero, and the ageing population of addicts from the 1970s and 1980s continues to shrink.

. April 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm

These teams, whose members wear body armour and are equipped with military-style weapons, were originally intended to tackle only the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers or hostage-takers. Now they are most commonly used to serve search warrants in drug-related cases. The police raided Mr Mallory’s home, for example, because they thought they would find a methamphetamine factory there. Instead they found two marijuana plants, belonging to a stepson who had a California medical-marijuana licence.

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