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February 5, 2019

"White House Opioid Plan: Recycled ‘War on Drugs’?"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new Crime Report commentary authored by Roman Gressier discussing the recently released “National Drug Control Strategy” report from the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. I recommend the whole commentary, and here is how it gets started:

With the federal shutdown temporarily at bay, it’s back-to-school time for the White House, which recently released a drug policy report strikingly reminiscent of former President Reagan’s “Just Say No” response to the so-called “crack epidemic” of the 1980s — and of the hardline rhetoric of the Nixon administration.

The “National Drug Control Strategy” report issued last week by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) asserts that the current opioid crisis is “unprecedented,” while seeming to undercut claims by President Trump and his advisers that the “Wall” is critical to stopping the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S.

According to some critics, the report is simplistic.  The 20-page report reads “like a book report from a student who may or may not have read the book, and who may or may not have wrote his report on the bus ride to school,” carped Reason.com.

The report’s “policy priorities” will surprise no one who has advocated for focusing policymakers’ attention on an epidemic held responsible for 130 overdose deaths a day.

  • Reduce the size of the drug-using population through education and prevention programs;
  • Remove barriers to long-term recovery programs; and
  • “Aggressively reducing the availability of illicit drugs in America’s communities.”

But it rachets up the rhetoric, noting that “the drug crisis our country faces today is unprecedented,” warning that it has “evolved over the past several decades and has steadily worsened with time,” directly affecting every state and county and “every socio-economic group.”

February 5, 2019 at 10:59 AM | Permalink


I’m curious as to what Doug thinks about the report that California is reducing its pot tax considerably because people are buying on the black market. I remember being told by Doug, and others, that the pot tax would be a considerable boon to tax revenue (a strange advocacy position considering his supposed “libertarianism”) and that it would end the black market. You know, because prohibition taught us that.

Just like the DP, sentencing deform, and most other crocodile tear positions, the apple we have been sold is wormy and rotten to the core.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 5, 2019 12:09:56 PM

Tarls, setting “sin taxes” at an optimal level — especially with a long standing and persistent black market —- is always a very challenging policy balance. It is aggravated by the patchwork of state and local laws in the marijuana space. I do not think I ever suggested moving away from prohibition would be easy. But if you think black markets are harmful, history shows they thrive more in prohibition regimes than in others. So are you for or against a regime that especially fuels a black market?

On the other fronts, I will just note with SotU coming that Prez Trump has fostered the move for sentencing reform and has not reversed the decline of the death penalty (and senator Gardner says he supports marijuana reform). Are you troubled he seems keen on eating from the criminal justice reform apple?

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 5, 2019 1:19:18 PM

I will add, Tarls, that California's experience in its first year of legalization/sales seems somewhat comparable to what we have seen in some other legalizing states where the move away from black markets starts a bit slowly. I believe tax revenue in Colorado came in below expectations in 2014, but then started exceeding expectations thereafter. This Forbes article from a few months ago, headlined "Cannabis Is A Tax Bonanza For States," talks about some of these issues while making some broader points about economic development in California and elsewhere:

"There have already been 80,000 new jobs created in California because of cannabis sales, producing a $3.5 billion increase in labor income, according to a study by ICF International. And the University of Illinois has found that the taxation and regulation of cannabis could create nearly 24,000 new jobs and generate over $500 million in new revenue for that state. The entire cannabis industry has the potential to create more than 300,000 new jobs by 2020."

As for political theory, my sense is that most libertarians prefer user taxes to other forms of taxation (though I will readily admit that my libertarian leanings can become faint-hearted in this context and many others).

That all said about taxes, I do not want to push back too hard on your concerns about how marijuana reform is being sold by some overly ardent advocates. I still cringe when some suggest marijuana reform will be sure to usher in some kind of utopian nirvana. There are all sort of societal harms as well as benefits that flow from legal and commercialized alcohol (including some bad SuperBowl commercials), and the same is surely true regarding marijuana. But I still generally prefer, for philosophical reasons and well as practical ones, a move away from prohibition regimes that have proven harmful over time to explore other possibilities as we are now doing with marijuana.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 5, 2019 2:16:38 PM

I am sorry, Doug, but we were not sold a “challenging policy balance.” We were sold Big Rock Candy Mountain, where “the railroad bulls are blind, there’s a lake of stew, and whiskey too.” The tax income is not there as promised, the same problem that we have always had when people advocate for new taxes. Peoples’ behavior changes to avoid them. In this case, a black market. I suspect the advocates knew this, as you are far from dumb and just as you like to use prohibition as an example, you could just as easily have used cigarettes where there is still a robust black market and people going to the rez for taxless smokes. This is for a product that has not even been banned. That money was never going to come at the level promised and you knew it. It was never going to cover all of the rehab programs nor even be used for it in any great amount. General fund and then spent on another stupid project like high speed trains.

I am troubled by Trump (who I didn’t vote for) , Gardner, et al., and what I believe is a cynical attempt to gain more of the minority vote rather than what works. I’ll take Cotton any day. It hasn’t helped California and to continue the musical reference, we are reaching the point where “all the cops all have wooden legs...the jails are made of tin, and you can walk right out again.”

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Feb 5, 2019 2:21:18 PM

Tarls, I know California voted down adult use marijuana in 2010 and then voted for it in 2016. Sorry to hear that the political rhetoric was deceptive in your view, but it seems the state still may have collected around $400 million in taxes in 2018, and I would predict it collects more in 2019. I would like to see a lot more of that money devoted to CJ reform in the state (I have written an article on the topic: "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices"), but few folks listen to how I want to spend money.

It seems you may be advocating lower taxes on cigarettes and marijuana in order to combat the black market. I agree that high taxes create incentives for black markets, but prohibition appears to make black markets worse. And, I think marijuana policy need to deal with a lot complicated issues, not just seeking to eliminate the black market.

I am not surprised to hear you are a Cotton fan. Maybe you can talk him into giving Prez Trump a primary challenge.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 5, 2019 5:46:27 PM

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