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September 13, 2013

"After Kerlikowske, What’s Next for America’s ‘War on Drugs’?"

000001111The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new commentary by Ted Gest over at The Crime Report.  Here are excerpts from a piece that draws in large part from a notable new article on the topic appearing in Volume 42 of Crime and Justice:

“No one is happy with American drug policy,” Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland declares in a new overview of a debate that hasn’t changed dramatically in the last three decades. Reuter’s assessment (“Why has American Drug Policy Changed so Little in 30 years”) appears in a sweeping review of U.S. criminal justice published this month: Crime and Justice in America, Volume 42, 1975-2025, University of Chicago Press, 2013)

With the U.S. government awaiting a new “drug czar” — President Barack Obama has nominated current National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske to head the federal border protection agency — The Crime Report takes a look at Reuter’s views in some detail.  The following summarizes Reuter’s principal arguments, but also includes new material not included in his original essay. The entire book can be ordered here....

Reuter makes [these] major assertions:

  • Marijuana must be treated separately as a social and criminal justice problem. It hardly touches the central problem of American criminal justice — the high incarceration of minorities — nor does it cause significant health and social harms.

  • Harm reduction, the idea that governments should pay attention to the harmfulness of drug use (not just to the number of users of drugs) is a big idea that has importantly changed drug policy in much of the Western world. In the United States, among the core harm reduction programs, only methadone maintenance has been accepted.

  • Legalization, the idea that drugs such as cocaine and heroin should be treated like alcohol and be made available legally under substantial regulatory restrictions, deserves separate discussion. Though Reuter argues it has no appeal to the general public, it attracts a great deal of interest from the educated elite and from some Latin American presidents.

  • The prevalence of drug use, the most widely reported measure of drug problems, is not a good target for drug policy. Policy should be oriented toward reducing violence, dysfunction, and disease related to drug use and to reducing the use of incarceration and reducing racial disparities in incarceration....

Contrary to the assumptions of many policymakers, there is very little evidence that enforcement can raise prices or reduce availability, the mechanisms through which it might reduce the prevalence of use. During a period of massively increased enforcement intensity (1980-2008), the retail prices of heroin and cocaine both fell about 70 percent.

If drug policy cannot affect prevalence, what can it do? We do know, writes Reuter, that bad policy choices can make drug use, drug distribution and production more harmful. For example, if the police choose to use possession of prohibited syringes as the basis for targeting heroin injectors, they may accelerate the spread of HIV....

The drug problem changes in unforeseen ways with occasional epidemics that are unpredictable in their occurrence and magnitude. For example, the use of diverted prescription drugs constitutes a significant and disturbing public health problem.

September 13, 2013 at 11:12 AM | Permalink

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Buy This Book.

Cloth $90.00

Nah.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 13, 2013 11:24:26 AM

"Legalization, the idea that drugs such as cocaine and heroin should be treated like alcohol and be made available legally under substantial regulatory restrictions, deserves separate discussion. Though Reuter argues it has no appeal to the general public, it attracts a great deal of interest from the educated elite and from some Latin American presidents."

I'm delighted to see the mask slipping so far down the face.

As we are now seeing (and I've been saying for years), it was never about legalizing JUST pot. Pot is the camel's nose for heroin (and meth, PCP and the rest of it), as Prof. Reuter makes quite plain. Thank you, Professor!

In addition, the real engine of the legalize-everything movement has become clearer. This line is truly wonderful: "...it has no appeal to the general public, [but]
it attracts a great deal of interest from the educated elite and from some Latin American presidents."

Far out! I could not have said it better. To hell with those ignorant, unwashed masses who would just as soon not see their 16 year-old ruin his life with heroin. What a bunch of wahoos!! Better that our law be imposed on us by "the educated elite and Latin American presidents."

This article will indeed put some energy in the debate, as tends to happen when the pro-heroin side is foolish enough to actually speak its mind.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 13, 2013 11:24:37 AM

Bill Otis is against the legalization of marijuana, which is getting growing support from the public. The "ignorant, unwashed masses" that support it would in his lights be unfortunately misguided on the subject. This cry for democracy is touching, really, but when just discussing possible policy moves, it is not the only thing to rely on.

I don't think there is a "mask" here -- it is clear that legalization of heroin etc. does not have broad public support. I reckon various things don't, including some things that various members of this blog community think make good policy, left and right. Discussing the various options seems to be something deemed a good thing in this country. Market place of ideas and all that.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 13, 2013 11:55:43 AM

“No one is happy with American drug policy"

I'd beg to differ. There are a LOT of people who owe their living to American "drug policy", and a pretty nice living at that! Prosecutors, judges, lawyers, guards, etc. etc. all the way down to Professors of Public Policy.

The DEA alone has some 10,000 employees; all told I wouldn't be surprised to find least a quarter-million highly paid people happy with the War On Drugs.

Not to mention the thugs who make a fortune selling the stuff are probably happy with it too.

Posted by: Boffin | Sep 13, 2013 1:31:59 PM

A timely piece out of Lexington, KY. More people have died in the city from heroin this year than from murder and car accidents combined.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Sep 13, 2013 11:34:54 PM

Joe --

"Bill Otis is against the legalization of marijuana, which is getting growing support from the public."

It's getting "growing support" in part because it has, up to now, shrewdly kept the rest of the agenda -- the legalization of everything else -- out of sight. Articles like this help pull back the curtain, for which I am grateful.

"The "ignorant, unwashed masses" that support it would in his lights be unfortunately misguided on the subject."

As noted in the preceding paragraph, people are misguided partly because they're not getting the whole story, either about the rest of the agenda or about the harmfulness of pot. And "unwashed masses" is a liberal, not a conservative, line, as beautifully illustrated by Prof. Reuter's cooing to the "elites."

"This cry for democracy is touching, really, but when just discussing possible policy moves, it is not the only thing to rely on."

Nor is it the only thing I rely on. Did you not catch the Mayo Clinic study on the effects of pot on the adolescent brain? Well, maybe not. That's something else the legalizers try to sweep under the rug.

"I don't think there is a "mask" here -- it is clear that legalization of heroin etc. does not have broad public support."

It's not the lack of broad (or, more accurately, virtually any) public support that's the mask. It's that pot legalization is the camel's nose for legalizing heroin and the rest of it.

One thing I really loved about the Prof. Reuter's take on it is that it so aptly represents how liberals operate. Start with the basic quest for human dignity, a la' Martin Luther King; hold off until later the bullying, hectoring demand for a racial spoils system, a la' Al Sharpton. Start with the demand to end the DP, complete with fake stories about how we routinely execute the innocent; hold off until later the demand that we also get rid of LWOP (which was the bait-and-switch promise made to push the abolition of the DP). Start with legalizing pot, which is already de facto legal; hold off until later the demand that we legalize meth, PCP, Molly, heroin and all the rest of it.

I will be the first one to concede that this is a clever strategy. I hope you'll concede how dishonest it is.

"Discussing the various options seems to be something deemed a good thing in this country. Market place of ideas and all that."

It's not the discussing of it that I object to. To the exact contrary, I'm overjoyed that the pro-drug crowd is taking their premature victory lap about pot, and in the process shedding their previous discipline about not showing their hand about legalizing hard drugs too.

What I object to, that is, is not the discussion, which I enthusiastically welcome for its revealing quality. What I object to is the idea that these drugs should be made more available. They're bad news, as you can't help knowing, and they should NOT be made more available.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 14, 2013 9:08:36 AM

Bill: You must advocate for the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco, if you oppose the legalization of less dangerous drugs, less dangerous by 4 orders of magnitude, killing around 500,0000 per year, instead of 50 people.

I can go either way, whichever has the support of the public. legalize marijuan or ban alcohol and tobacco. It is the current situation which is untenable, and can only be maintained for rent seeking.

I do not expect any human being to argue against personal economic interest. Legalization will result in much less lawyer employment, including at the DOJ.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 14, 2013 10:29:40 AM

With respect to Kerlikowske, Kevin Keim could not be reached for comment.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 14, 2013 10:59:19 AM

SC --

Do those favoring legalized alcohol and tobacco also have to favor legalized meth, heroin, Molly, PCP and all the rest, in addition to legalized pot?

The former two -- both legal -- create, in the aggregate, much more serious health concerns than the hard drugs. By your logic, then, those who favor keeping booze and smokes legal are also required to favor making all the hard drugs legal.

Is that not correct? If not, why not?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 14, 2013 11:17:21 AM

Is the aim of harm prevention the motivation for prohibition? Or is it to generate government jobs and to fill rural prisons with urban young people?

If harm prevention is the aim, then you have a gigantic contradictory positions in allowing alcohol and tobacco. In order to prohibit these two substances, it would have to be done right, not like in 1919. You would need two thirds public support for prohibition, instead of two thirds public opposition. Then only Draconian measures would drop consumption more than the mere 50% of the Prohibition era. That will mean executing 10,000 smugglers in mandatory, summary executions, upon reading of the verdict. Then, drop demand by giving 10 lashes to any user (punishment must be cheap, immediate, and memorable to work).

Because there is close to zero chance of persuading the public of the above, the reverse must be advocated to maintain sane consistency.

I have proposed an intermediate line to attenuate the massive damage that does already ensue from the legality of alcohol and tobacco. I have many times discussed, the adult pleasure license. It allows free use by the majority of people not prone to addiction or damaging effects from these substances. Then get yourself in trouble from these substances, and get points against the license, eventually lose the license. The Draconian measures, including executing a bartender if the unlicensed drunk adult kills people in drunk driving in the immediate period after drinking, and full tort liability for anyone supplying the unlicensed adult.

When we say, 500,000 deaths a year, that extreme harsh outcome does not do justice to the iceberg like massive lesser damages.

What would we do with all those unemployed government workers? There is an infinite need for intelligent labor in a high tech economy of creativity. Take the law budget, and transfer it to research and development. Now, our economy is spending 2 or 3% on R and D. It should go to 20% at the expense of the legal profession. All those brilliant law students can stay brilliant instead of dealing in supernatural doctrines, and super productive in their creativity. All the savings on health care cost from prevention of the damage from alcohol and tobacco can also be funneled into R&D.

So I think licensing solves the problem of freedom and leaving normal non-addictive adults to enjoy these substances, and is more effective at lessening damage to and by addicts than total prohibition.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 14, 2013 2:12:09 PM

On several occasions, I have taken prescribed opiates. While grateful for the pain relief and the ability to sleep a little, I got nothing out of it. The idea of dedicating myself full time to the pursuit of that feeling, of robbing people to finance it, of losing everything I have, including family, jobs, freedom, organ healthiness, is beyond the realm of possibility in my life. I have an intellectual understanding of addiction, but nor a physiological one, because it could not happen to me. The average person experiencing strong opiates has the same experience and feelings that I do.

So the addict is different, is in a tiny minority. His problems should not be the pretext to limit the freedom of the entire public, to expend massive tax funds, and to wrongly dedicate massive human effort at reducing demand for illegal drugs. Target the addict. Leave others alone.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 14, 2013 2:23:35 PM

SC --

Is there such a thing as "freedom" to smoke pot? I guess, but it's about the most juvenile, unimportant, useless "freedom" I ever heard of. That being the case, I just don't have a whole lot of heartburn if some guy smoking a joint bears the very, very small risk that he's going to wind up with a $50 to $100 fine if the gets caught (and the case doesn't get dismissed with a warning, which is what happens a good deal of the time).

I honestly don't know why anyone but fruitcake libertarians gives a hoot about this issue. The country has built up a debt it can's possibly pay off, the unaffordable entitlement state nonetheless keeps right on keepin' one, American influence in the world just took a bit hit with Obama and his fatuous "red line," Iran is getting ready to launch the second Holocaust (and sponsoring terror worldwide), and people get bent out of shape because of the infinitesimal chance that they'll get caught smoking a joint???

Good grief.

You're a smart man, SC, easily smart enough to worry about things that count. Pot is not one of them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 14, 2013 5:39:29 PM

Your intellectual consistency is an important topic to me. You are among the few lawyers here who sides with public safety over protection of the criminal.

When it comes to the lawyer, I worry about the big things too. For example, the duty to retreat was the proximate cause of 9/11, taking out $7 trillion from our economy, at a cost of $500,000. That attack would have been impossible on the airlines of other nations, where the duty is to attack the criminal.

The damage from tobacco and alcohol are as big as they get in the law. 500,000 premature deaths, half the murders, half the suicides, half the car crashes. My licensing idea leaves most people alone and tries to stop the few that get into trouble.

Like all catastrophes, the lawyer profession's damage to the nation is a confluence of many factors into one place and time. They have to be addressed individually, and prevented by making changes in the system.

In the case of marijuana, the damages is mostly from prohibition, the loss of revenue, the threat to the government of a friend, Mexico, those 40,000 murders south of the border are keeping our potential customers too poor. The diversion of mass profits to criminal cartels rather state governments. The profit from marijuana growing in the US exceeds the profit of all other crops combined. That profit should be made by our tobacco companies, and taxed by our cash starved governments.

I can reassure all prosecutors, prison guard unions, even defense lawyers, that legalization will end that line of work. However, remember my often repeated statistic, 20 million FBI index felonies, 2 million prosecutions. Marijuana dealing is not on the FBI Index. You will still have tons of crime to prosecute. The crimes on the FBI Index are really bad.

But, I repeat what you said to me. I know that your IQ is higher than mine. And we share a desire for public safety from crime. If you want marijuana prohibited, I support that, as long as tobacco and alcohol are prohibited too, being 10 times more addictive, and 10,000 more harmful. The public does not support prohibition, leaving the other consistent position, legalization, with tight regulation and high taxation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 15, 2013 4:12:02 AM

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