Tag: war on 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?

Government and Violence

Radley Balko writes:

[I]t’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence… is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

The worst outcome would be for all dissent to become suspect. “Anti-government” is a concept used, essentially, to stifle debate, by conflating reasonable criticisms with the actions of lunatics. Both — of course! — are “anti-government,” and both are therefore guilty. It should be obvious what sort of agenda this furthers: Everything “government” is good.

Another Dubious Record in Mexico’s Drug War

Mexico ends 2010 with 15,000 illicit drug-related murders for the year—a record for the Calderon administration that began its term four years ago by declaring an all-out war on drug trafficking. Drug war violence skyrocketed since Calderon took office, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Though it is an unwinnable war whose consequences also include the rise of corruption and the weakening of the institutions of civil society, it is being used by drug warriors and skeptics alike to push for pet projects ranging from increased development aid to more military cooperation.

A recent example comes from the Washington Post this week. It editorialized in favor of an Obama administration plan to stem the flow of arms to Mexico, and it ran a story the same day citing the claim that 90 percent of guns in Mexico’s drug war come from the United States (though the Post also noted that the Mexican and U.S. governments refuse to release the results of their weapons traces). My colleague David Rittgers notes here that the proposed gun regulation is unlawful and here he has explained that a more realistic figure for guns of U.S. provenance is about 17 percent. In a Cato bulletin earlier this year, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda calculated a similar figure and explained why attempts at controlling the trade in U.S. arms are a waste of time:

In fact, we only know with certainty that about 18 percent of guns come from the United States, according to Mexican and U.S. sources. The rest is surely coming from Central America, countries of the former Soviet Union, and beyond. And as countries as diverse as Brazil, Paraguay, Somalia, and Sudan attest — all countries with a higher arms per capita than Mexico — you don’t need a border with the United States to gain easy access to guns. Nevertheless, the possibilities of really limiting the sales of weapons in the United States is not imminent, to put it mildly. Moreover, asking the United States to stop arms trafficking from north to south is like asking Mexico to control its border from south to north, whether it is for drugs, people, or anything else. It’s not going to happen.

Prop 19, Employment at Will, and Social Peace

Writing at CNN, my colleague Jeffrey Miron puts his finger on one reason for the disappointing defeat of California’s Prop 19:

Prop 19 failed also because it overreached. One feature attempted to protect the “rights” of employees who get fired or disciplined for using marijuana, including a provision that employers could only discipline marijuana use that “actually impairs job performance.” That is a much higher bar than required by current policy.

Like so many other developments in employment law in recent years, this would have chipped away at the basic principle of employment at will, which holds that in the absence of a contract specifying otherwise, either party to an employment relation may end that relation at any time for any reason or for no reason at all.

It was no doubt inevitable that the proposition would fare poorly among self-identified conservatives and older voters. But the “users’ rights” provisions were enough to raise doubts even among liberty-minded thinkers like David Henderson, who predicted that by signaling hostility toward freedom of association, such provisions would “make the drug-legalization hill even steeper.”

Marijuana of course remains illegal under federal law, which means that its consumption would at one and the same time have been 1) protected under employment-discrimination rules, and 2) illegal and subject to prison sentences. If this paradox seems vaguely familiar, maybe it’s because not that many years ago – before the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas – there were localities where consenting homosexual conduct was simultaneously protected under one set of laws, and unlawful under another. Indeed, there were more than a few advocacy groups that worked to promote the new controls over employer decisionmaking and yet never troubled themselves to work for repeal of the still-on-the-books anti-gay prohibitions. If the goal is to achieve social peace, however, rather than wage constant culture war on each other, you’d think the “leave people alone” message would hold more appeal than the “fall in line or you’ll hear from our lawyers” message.

Jeffrey Miron surmises, no doubt rightly, that the problem of undislodgeable tenured stoners in the workplace would be more the exception than the rule. Yet it’s worth noting that the issue has already arisen in various lawsuits in which workers with a doctor’s note recommending marijuana use have contested firings. Lawyers have also eagerly cobbled together suits over related issues, as with this class action noted less than two years ago at my other website, Overlawyered:

Starbucks’s job application asked prospective baristas if they’d been convicted of a crime in the past seven years and added for “CALIFORNIA APPLICANTS ONLY”, at the end, that minor marijuana possession convictions more than two years old didn’t have to be disclosed, in accord with a state law along those lines. Entrepreneurial lawyers then tried to steam-press $26 million or so out of the coffee chain on the following theory: that the clarification was placed too far down the application after the original question; that Starbucks had therefore violated the California Labor Code; and that each and every Starbucks job applicant in California since June 2004, perhaps 135,000 persons, was owed $200 in statutory damages regardless of whether they had suffered any harm. Per John Sullivan of the Civil Justice Association of California, the lawyers also took the position that “it didn’t matter that two of the three job applicants who signed on as named plaintiffs testified in court that they read the entire application and knew they didn’t have to mention a marijuana conviction (which neither had anyway!)” The court refused to certify the class and made the following observations (courtesy CJAC blog):

* “There are better ways to filter out impermissible questions on job applications than allowing ‘lawyer bounty hunter’ lawsuits brought on behalf of tens of thousands of unaffected job applicants. Plaintiffs’ strained efforts to use the marijuana reform legislation to recover millions of dollars from Starbucks gives a bizarre new dimension to the every day expressions ‘coffee joint’ and ‘coffee pot.’”… “The civil justice system is not well-served by turning Starbucks into a Daddy Warbucks.”

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy notes that “the case against the War on Drugs and other ‘morals’ regulations is very similar to the standard conservative critique of economic regulation.” But if a much-needed rollback of morals regulation is made the excuse for an expansion of economic regulation, there may be grounds to wonder whether the goal is truly freedom at all.

Santos: ‘Proposition 19 Could Change Colombia’s Drug Policy’

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has stated that if Proposition 19 passes next week in California and marijuana is legalized in the state, it could force his country to rethink its drug policy.

“Tell me if there is a way to explain to a Colombian peasant that if he produces marijuana we are going to put him in jail… [while] the same product is legal [in California]. That’s going to produce a comprehensive discussion on the approach we have taken on the fight against drug trafficking,” said Santos, who, a couple of months earlier, endorsed the call for a debate on drug legalization made by Mexican president Felipe Calderón. However, Santos has also said that he believes that legalization will increase drug consumption, a presumption that has been rebutted by evidence in countries with liberal drug policies such as Portugal.

Today, in his opening remarks at a Latin American presidential summit held in the Colombian city of Cartagena, Santos brought up [in Spanish] the subject again : “If we don’t act in a consistent way on this issue, if all we are doing is to send our fellow citizens to jail while in other latitudes the market is being legalized, then we have to ask ourselves: isn’t it time to review the global strategy against drugs?”

Santos’ statements have been backed by his Minister of Foreign Relations, who even said in an interview with El Tiempo, Colombia’s leading newspaper, that the country’s new seat on the UN Security Council could be “a good place” to start a “worldwide discussion” on the way that the war on drugs is being conducted.

It’s ironic–and gratifying–that the president of Washington’s closest ally in Latin America is the leading voice in the region questioning the wisdom of the war on drugs. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. Back in 1998 Juan Manuel Santos signed a public letter to then Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan denouncing the war on drugs as a “failed and futile” experiment, and calling for drug policies to be based on “common sense, science, public health and human rights.”

Even though the impact of Proposition 19 in California and the United States could be limited, Juan Manuel Santos’ statements show that its reverberations in Latin America could be significant.

That Conway Ad and Social Liberalism

The infamous Conway attack on Rand Paul may be found here. Most people have focused on religion and politics in talking about the ad. I want to examine a part that has been overlooked.

We often hear that contemporary liberalism comprises a big state role in economic regulation combined with a small state regarding social and civil liberties. Maybe not.

Look at the disclaimer at the beginning of the ad. Who is standing behind Jack Conway? Those two gentlemen would police officers, probably Kentucky state police. Why are they there? After all, Conway could have put his loving wife and dear children in the background. But he choose police officers. Conway is saying: “I stand with the forces of order.” Not a very socially liberal message.

Why are the police willing to be in Conway’s ad? After all, the forces of order usually endorse the Republican candidate. Not this time. The Fraternal Order of Police in Kentucky endorsed Jack Conway. Why? Rand Paul suggested the drug war in Kentucky might be paid for in Kentucky. This had two effects. First, it cast doubt on the holiness of the anti-drug crusade. By putting the police officers behind him, Jack Conway is saying: “I will fight the drug war no matter what.” Not good for social liberalism or civil liberties.

Of course, the police have a material interest in the drug war in Kentucky. They believed that Dr. Paul’s call for federalism would mean lower salaries and less resources for the drug war in Kentucky. Conway is saying here: no budget cuts for my friends, the forces of order.  Thus does the drug war bring the Kentucky State Police and the Daily Kos into a political alliance.

Like most politicians, Jack Conway is doing whatever is necessary to win a senate seat. He could end up as the pivotal vote for a Democratic Senate majority, at least in partisan matters.

If he votes as he ran, Conway will be a reliable vote for the policy status quo on the drug war, against civil and social liberties, and for a politics that always and everywhere covets victory “by any means necessary.” He should fit in well in Washington, especially with the more authoritarian parts of the GOP.