Tag: drug war

Obama’s Latin America Trip

President Obama’s trip to Latin America is likely to focus on economic topics, but two security issues deserve scrutiny during his stops in Brazil and El Salvador. 

Washington’s diplomatic relationship with Brazil has become somewhat frosty, especially over the past year.  U.S. leaders did not appreciate Brazil’s joint effort with Turkey to craft a compromise policy toward Iran’s nuclear program.  The Obama administration regarded that diplomatic initiative as unhelpful freelancing.  And when Brazil joined Turkey in voting against a UN Security Council resolution imposing stronger sanctions on Tehran, the administration’s resentment deepened.  Obama should not only try to soothe tensions, he should shift Washington’s policy, express appreciation for Brazil’s innovative efforts to end the impasse on the Iranian nuclear issue, and consider whether the milder approach that the Turkish and Brazilian governments advocate has merit.

In El Salvador, worries about Mexico’s spreading drug-related violence into Central America are likely to come up.  El Salvador and other Central American countries are seeking a bigger slice of Washington’s anti-drug aid in the multi-billion-dollar, multiyear Merida Initiative.  President Obama should not only resist such blandishments, he should use the visit to announce a policy shift away from a strict prohibitionist strategy that has filled the coffers of the Mexican drug cartels and sowed so much violence in Mexico, and now increasingly in Central America as well.  Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it’s not working any better with currently illegal drugs.

The Drug War and Black America

Here is a new publication from Cato, “How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America,”  (pdf) by John McWhorter, who is a lecturer in linguistics and American Studies at Columbia University and a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and The New Republic.  Here is his conclusion:

If we truly want to get past race in this country, we must be aware that it will never happen until the futile War on Drugs so familiar to us now is a memory. … The time to end the War on Drugs, therefore, is yesterday.

Read the whole thing.  You can also listen to McWhorter’s speech by clicking here.

For additional Cato work related to drug policy, go here.

Patriotism, Dedication, and Esprit de Corps

From a press release by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:

[A] U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent… was fired for saying in a casual conversation that legalizing and regulating drugs would help stop cartel violence along the southern border with Mexico. After sharing his views with a colleague, the fired agent, Bryan Gonzalez, received a letter of termination stating that his comments are “contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and espirit [sic] de corps.” Last week, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Gonzalez filed a lawsuit seeking damages.

I know very little about employment law and have no idea whether the agent has a case. But just consider that even some Border Patrol agents are questioning the War on Drugs – and even when it can cost them their jobs.

If it costs you less to speak out, then please, consider doing so. American patriotism is about speaking one’s mind. Dedication to a failed policy isn’t a virtue. And will the firings continue until the esprit de corps improves?

Obamacare and the Drug War

I wrote an op-ed for National Review (Online) last week showing how conservative exploitation of the Supreme Court’s broad misreading of the Commerce Clause to reach intrastate medical marijuana facilitated liberal exploitation of the same to create the individual mandate in Obamacare.

A principled stand on the limits of federal power does not begin and end with health care. The Commerce Clause is a double-edged sword: Conservatives cannot wield it in the drug war without making it a useful tool for advancing progressive visions of federal power.

I’m happy to see Barton Hinkle, winner of the 2008 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, pick up on my writing and drive the point home in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch:

So far, many conservatives outraged over Obamacare do not seem to have reconsidered their enthusiasm for national drug prohibition. Whether they do so could provide a good indication as to whether they’re standing up for a principle — or merely against the president.

Hinkle points to a recent Heritage Foundation paper opposing Prop. 19, California’s referendum on marijuana legalization. The Commerce Clause makes a prominent appearance:

In 2006, the Supreme Court held in Gonzales vs. Raich that the Commerce Clause confers on Congress the authority to ban the use of marijuana, even when a state approves it for “medical purposes” and it is produced in small quantities for personal consumption. Many legal scholars criticize the Court’s extremely broad reading of the Commerce Clause as inconsistent with its original meaning, but the Court’s decision nonetheless stands.

Yes, the decision “nonetheless stands.” That doesn’t make it right. Several prominent conservative drug warriors signed on to an amicus brief in Raich endorsing an expansive use of the Commerce Clause. Copy, paste, and replace the word “marijuana” with “health insurance,” and you just wrote a Department of Justice brief for any of the suits defending Obamacare across the nation.

Or, for a good laugh, go read former Oklahoma congressman Ernest Istook, now working for Heritage, who frames the health care debate as “Obamacare vs. Limited Government.” As he puts it: “Straining to find a constitutional basis for mandating that everyone must buy health insurance, Obama’s lawyers resorted to the all-purpose Interstate Commerce Clause.” Istook signed on to the drug warrior brief in Raich.

There’s no good reason for this inconsistency. State attorneys general from both sides of the aisle opposed the federal intrusion in Raich. Deep red Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana touted their drug warrior prowess but argued against an overly broad Commerce Clause reading on federalism grounds. True blue California, Maryland, and Washington argued that the Controlled Substances Act did not bar states from regulating intrastate markets.

I make many of these points in a Cato Podcast, Conservatives, Obamacare, and the Commerce Clause. For some more Cato work on the drug war, check out how Portugal decriminalized drugs without the social ills that conservatives forecast, and how ending the war on drugs would save billions annually.

More on the Siobhan Reynolds Case

Building on Ilya Shapiro’s post on the sealed grand jury proceedings against Siobhan Reynolds, founder of the Pain Relief Network, and the sealed Reason Foundation/Institute for Justice amicus brief, here is some more background on the Wichita witch hunt:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wichita, Kansas, indicted physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, a nurse, for illegal drug trafficking in December 2007. Reynolds found an eerie parallel between Schneider’s case and the prosecution that denied her husband pain medication, so she took action. Her public relations campaign on behalf of Dr. Schneider so annoyed Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Treadway that Treadway sought a gag order to bar Reynolds’s advocacy. The presiding judge denied the gag order.

When the judge denied Treadway’s gag order, Treadway instead subpoenaed Reynolds for records related to Reynolds’s PR campaign against the prosecution of the Scheiders. Ms. Reynolds resisted the subpoena and tried to challenge it in court, but the $200 daily fine intended to ensure compliance with the subpoena has left Reynolds pretty much bankrupt.

This case represents the worst of government excesses in federal overcriminalization and overzealous prosecution. The federal government continues to treat doctors as drug dealers, as Ronald Libby points out in this Cato policy analysis. The grand jury, intended as a check on prosecutorial power, instead acts as an inquisitorial bulldozer that enhances the power of the government. My colleague Tim Lynch examined this phenomenon in his policy analysis A Grand Façade: How the Grand Jury Was Captured by Government.

Cato Adjunct Scholar Harvey Silverglate examined the case of Dr. William Hurwitz in his book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. The DEA turned a few of Hurwitz’s patients into informants and prosecuted Hurwitz. When Hurwitz shuttered his practice, two of his patients killed themselves because they could not get prescriptions for necessary painkillers. Siobhan Reynolds’s husband, another of Hurwitz’s patients, could not get essential medication and died of a brain hemorrhage, likely brought on by the blood pressure build-up from years of untreated pain.

Ninja bureaucrats continue to treat doctors that prescribe painkillers as tactical threats on par with terrorist safehouses. When the DEA raided the office of Dr. Cecil Knox in 2002, one clinic worker “thought she and her husband, who was helping her in the office that day, would be shot. She looked on in horror as an agent put a gun to his head and ordered, ‘Get off the phone! Now!’” Radley Balko chronicles this unfortunate trend in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America, and the Raidmap has a separate category for unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people (sorted at the link).

Embed the Raidmap

Cato Fellow Radley Balko highlighted the trend toward heavy-handed police practices in Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Radley continues to chronicle police abuses at The Agitator and Reason. Recent examples of police excesses include the unnecessary death of seven-year old Aiyana Jones in Detroit and this raid on an innocent elderly couple in Chicago (immigrants who fled the Soviet Union because of oppression).

One of the fruits of Radley’s research was the Raidmap, a Google map application that allows you to see the scope of this epidemic of “isolated incidents.” You can also sort botched raids by category: death of an innocent, raid on an innocent suspect, death or injury of an officer, death of a nonviolent offender, unnecessary raids on doctors and sick people, and other examples of paramilitary police excess.


View Original Map and Database

Now you can embed the Raidmap on your website or blog as seen below. The code is on the Raidmap page.

Pass it on.

New Colombian President Backs Debate on Drug Legalization

Colombia’s new president Juan Manuel Santos came out last week in support of a debate on drug legalization, endorsing the call made a few weeks ago by his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderón.

Santos even said that if Californian voters passed a ballot initiative this November to legalize marijuana, he would team up with the presidents of Mexico and Peru “to work out how we are going to react and what is going to happen after this referendum.”

This seems to confirm the reports of the Mexican newspaper El Universal which claimed that Calderón’s turn around in his willingness to discuss drug legalization came after meeting with then president-elect Santos, who told him that Mexico should lead a debate on drug legalization. A week ago, Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla said she was open for a debate on legalizing marijuana [in Spanish], even though she personally was against it.

Santos’ statement came the same week that leading Latin American experts met in Rio de Janeiro for the 2nd Latin American Conference on Drug Policy that I spoke at. Among the speakers were government officials from several Latin American countries, representatives from international agencies such as the Pan-American Organization and the UN, and experts from academia and NGOs. Even though not all speakers favored drug legalization or decriminalization, most did. The experience of Portugal on the issue (thoroughly documented in a paper by Glen Greenwald published last year by Cato) was widely cited during the conference. One panelist, a Brazilian congressman from the incumbent Workers Party, said that Brazil needed to adopt the same model as Portugal.

Attitudes on drug policy are changing in Latin America. The question remains: Is anyone in Washington paying attention?