Tag: war on drugs

Obama’s ‘New’ Drug Strategy

Ho-hum. Another administration, another “comprehensive plan to combat drug abuse, putting the focus on prevention and treatment strategies.” This one “calls for a 15 percent reduction in youth drug use, a 10 percent decrease in drugged driving, and a 15 percent reduction in overall drug-related deaths by 2015.” It involves more central planning – “ the creation of a community-based national prevention system” – more taxpayers’ money – “an expanded array of intervention-oriented treatment programs” – and more nannyism – “a push to screen patients early for signs of substance abuse, even during routine appointments, and the expansion of prescription-drug monitoring programs.” And don’t forget the ever-popular, ever-futile “more international cooperation in disrupting the flow of drugs and money.” Let’s write down those percentage goals, modest as they are, and see how many of them get accomplished.

As it happens, I had a chance to meet with drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and his top aides last year, as part of a series of outreach meetings as the new team planned its strategy. It doesn’t look like my advice was taken. Of course, I probably didn’t help my case by noting that our last three presidents have acknowledged using illegal drugs, and it is just incomprehensible to me how they can morally justify arresting other people for doing the same thing they did. Do they think that they would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated for their youthful drug use? Do they think the country would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated? If not, how do they justify punishing others?

I then suggested that they pursue the policies recommended by Timothy Lynch and myself in the Cato Handbook for Policymakers:

● repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970,

● repeal the federal mandatory minimum sentences and the federal sentencing guidelines,

● direct the administration not to interfere with the implementation of state initiatives that allow for the medical use of marijuana, and

● shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Suspecting that the administration despite being headed a young president who in 2004 had declared the war on drugs an “utter failure” and advocated the decriminalization of marijuana, would not adopt my proposals, I went on to recommend a few mildly ameliorative reforms: stop federal lobbying in state initiative campaigns, stop federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and other interference with state policy choices, and stop the Pentagon from giving military equipment to local police forces.

I must admit, though, that the other think tank analysts at the meeting, both liberal and conservative, offered the sorts of proposals for more social workers and more transition programs and more doctors that seem to have ended up in the “new” proposal. Perhaps I should have come up with a couple of proposals that would have cost more money rather than less.

Life under Prohibition

Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of marijuana smokers in the nation, reports the Washington Post. “More than 11 percent of Washingtonians older than 26 reported smoking marijuana in the past year – the highest percentage of any state in the nation, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

Is that a problem? Well, back around 1990 a satirical revue described the city government as “the nation’s first work-free drug zone.” But the people described in the Post article seem to work pretty hard, as scientists, businessmen, and so on.

One problem is inadvertently described by D.C. Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham:

“People don’t feel marijuana is dangerous, but it is, because of the way it is sold,” he said. “We frequently recover weapons when serving search warrants associated with the sale of marijuana.”

Exactly. Because marijuana is illegal, it’s not sold by kindly old liquor store owners. It’s distributed by people who are by definition criminal and who tend to engage in criminal behavior to protect their markets.

Its illegal distribution also accounts for another phenomenon that the Post notes:

Teenagers in parts of the city said they can buy pot more easily than beer or cigarettes.

Legal products, for sale to adults only, are harder for teenagers to obtain than a product that is illegal for everyone. Maybe it’s time to rethink the success of drug prohibition.

A Dubious Record in Mexico’s Drug War

In 2008, there were some 6,300 drug war killings in Mexico, double that of the previous year. El Universal newspaper in Mexico reports that deaths related to the drug war have just surpassed 7,000 since the beginning of 2009, with more than 1000 of those homicides in the last 48 days. That’s a daily rate of 21.3 deaths for the year.

Drug traffickers have long operated in Mexico, but the rise in drug violence is a direct result of President Calderon’s all out war on the drug trade, which he announced upon coming into office December 2006. Annual drug war deaths have more than tripled since then. As Washington starts to spend the bulk of the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative to help Mexico fight drugs (Washington has spent $24 million so far), we can expect the violence to continue increasing. (For a review of Mexico’s futile war on drugs, see Ted Carpenter’s study.)

Libertarian Candidate May Force a Runoff in Costa Rica

A new poll published today by Costa Rica’s daily La Nación shows that Libertarian presidential candidate Otto Guevara has 30% of support among likely voters, trailing the candidate of the incumbent social democrat party Laura Chinchilla, who has 43% support. The news here is that in just two months, Guevara has increased his share of the vote by 18 percentage points, while Chinchilla’s share has collapsed by 20 percentage points during the same period.

The elections are scheduled for February 7th, and if neither of the candidates reaches the 40% threshold, there would be a runoff on April 4th. Given the trend, it is very likely that Guevara might force a runoff with Chinchilla in April. However, if Chinchilla’s rapid decline continues and Guevara captures more independent and undecided voters, he could still pull a surprising victory in February.

Guevara is a capital “L” Libertarian. His main issue during the campaign has been to get tough on crime (Costa Ricans’ main concern, according to polls). His economic platform is consistently free market: he proposes to abandon the colón and adopt the U.S. dollar as the official currency, he wants to unilaterally liberalize trade, he is calling for the implementation of a flat tax, and promotes an aggressive deregulation agenda. Moreover, he wants to introduce more competition in health care (currently a government single payer system) and education. On the international front, he has said that he would use international pulpits such as the UN and the Organization of American States to criticize Washington’s War on Drugs and propose sensible alternatives to international drug policy.

It’s still too early to call this election. Two months is also an eternity in Costa Rican politics. But things are certainly getting interesting in my home country.

Tuesday Links

  • All eyes on India: Party crashers aside, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the U.S. was an important event.

PATRIOT Act Provision Used for Drug Cases

The PATRIOT Act contained a number of tools that expanded the power of federal law enforcement officials. One of these, the “sneak and peak” warrant, allows investigators to break into the home or business of the warrant’s target and delay notification of the intrusion until 30 days after the warrant’s expiration. This capability was sold to the American people as a necessary tool to fight terrorism.

In Fiscal Year 2008, federal courts issued 763 “sneak and peak” warrants. Only three were for terrorism cases. Sixty-five percent were drug cases. The report is available here.

Ryan Grim has more on this, including video of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) grilling Assistant Attorney General David Kris.

Cheye Calvo Reflects on SWAT Shooting

Cheye Calvo is the DC-area small-town mayor who had his two pet dogs shot and killed by a botched drug raid about a year ago.  In an article to be published in this Sunday’s Washington Post, Calvo reflects upon his experience – not just the raid itself, but on the actions of the police department afterward.  Excerpt:

I remain captured by the broader implications of the incident. Namely, that my initial take was wrong: It was no accident but rather business as usual that brought the police to – and through – our front door.

In the words of Prince George’s County Sheriff Michael Jackson, whose deputies carried out the assault, “the guys did what they were supposed to do” – acknowledging, almost as an afterthought, that terrorizing innocent citizens in Prince George’s [County] is standard fare. The only difference this time seems to be that the victim was a clean-cut white mayor with community support, resources, and a story to tell the media.

What confounds me is the unmitigated refusal of county leaders to challenge law enforcement and to demand better – as if civil rights are somehow rendered secondary by the war on drugs.

Mr. Calvo has been a super advocate for reform – he has given up countless hours of his spare time to study and speak on this subject so that fewer people will be victimized the same way his family was.  He spoke at a Cato Hill Briefing over the summer.

Calvo told his story at Cato last year.

For related Cato research, go here and here.