BRING DRUGS under LEGAL CONTROL
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Is Efficacy a drug legalization organization?
If one thinks we want children to have easier access to narcotics, of course not. We care deeply about the welfare of kids.
If one thinks we want to see a "nation of zombies", please think again.
We have been accused of wanting to see inner cities and minorities destroyed. We say this has already happened with the drug civil war. The war is not really against drugs; it is against people.
Efficacy advocates bringing drugs under legal control
That is what we mean by legalization
Drug prohibition is presumed to control the production, distribution, sale, possession, and use of substances society has deemed dangerous. Prohibition does not work. With prohibition, all control is lost to the black market. Global, billion-dollar dangerous criminal industries control the cocaine, opium, heroin, and marijuana businesses. Prohibition is their necessary fuel. These industries did not exist before the drug war and will disappear when it ends.
There are many substances, subject to potential abuse, presently controlled through the law by the medical profession. This would include morphine, valium, and the like. They are more difficult for anyone to obtain than marijuana, heroin, or cocaine.
Two drugs are legal for personal use by adults, tobacco and alcohol. Everyone knows tobacco use has adverse health consequences. For too many decades, these effects were not taken seriously. If the truth had been accepted from the beginning, the scenario would be different.
Alcohol has been glamorized, as has tobacco. Our culture has viewed staggering drunks as amusing, and has tolerated heavy drinking. Abusers of alcohol cause serious health problems for themselves and social problems for othesr. And alcohol is frequently connected with domestic abuse and violent behavior. However, alcohol use alone is not a cause of abuse or violence. Doctors say a drink or two every day is not harmful, and can even be healthful for an adult. Wine or beer with meals is the norm in many cultures, even for children. Societies that do not make a big deal of moderate alcohol use have far lower rates of alcoholism.
When prohibition made alcohol illegal, problems were much worse. Sure, a lot of people complied with the law and did not drink. But those who did not wish to comply adopted dangerous practices. There were illegal drinking clubs called "speak-easys"; where people were encouraged to get drunk. People made "bathtub gin" at home, which sometimes caused blindness or death. Cocktails were invented to mask the taste of the harsh alcohol that was available and made it easier to drink more.
The worst thing was that a dangerous criminal empire developed around alcohol. Black markets always provide great profits. Street violence increased dramatically. Prisons were overcrowded and violent criminals were often released to make room for prohibition violators.
Alcohol prohibition lasted only 13 years because these symptoms of failure were so obvious to Americans. The drug war has been much more effective in confusing people and blurring the issues. It has truly bamboozled otherwise intelligent folks with fear. It has made drugs seem worse than they are, so people are willing to sink more money into the failed policies. Billions of dollars and lives have been wasted with misery, hysteria, intolerance, and violence the results. We have been bamboozled!!
Efficacy wants to bring marijuana, heroin, and cocaine under control. The only way to do that is to bring them under the law, not to exclude them from legal regulation.
Surveys of school children always show that marijuana is much more easily obtained than beer. Street dealers do not ask for I.D., package store owners are subject to the loss of their businesses for selling to minors.
So, in these contexts, Efficacy is a drug legalization advocacy organization.
HARM has BEEN DONE
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Legalization without indemnification is totally irresponsible
This article was originally published by the Hartford Courant.
By Clifford W. Thornton
The recent push to decriminalize, medicalize and legalize drugs, especially marijuana, has picked up steam worldwide. These drug prohibition reform efforts, while motivated by the massive harms caused by prohibition, are incomplete remedies if limited to criminal justice reform. A major aspect of prohibition's harm is economic, and among the remedies which reform needs to include is financial relief for prohibition's victims.
Fortunately, reform offers an opportunity for efforts to relieve damage done by prohibition, without raising taxes.
Prohibition reform is gaining mainstream recognition with growing visibility and momentum. Former California Governor Schwarzenegger said legalization has to be on the table. The state of Washington may be the first to legalize cannabis with the entire legislature voicing support. When and if Washington accomplishes this, many predict a domino effect for other states. Rhode Island has created a marijuana prohibition commission that within months will formally address legalization. Portugal has decriminalized small amounts of formerly illegal drugs, along with Mexico and Argentina. Many countries in the European Union are considering such policies.
But in the United States the drug reform movement is sharply focused on marijuana and not on drug prohibition as a whole. Unfortunately, this focus ignores three other longstanding and devastating social issues.
As a result, billions of dollars that could have funded education and health care have been consumed by law enforcement for punishment that has worsened community safety and health. Inner city business investment has been thwarted. We have taken countless young people out of our community on drug charges and wonder why they and their contemporaries no longer have faith in our criminal justice system. Our children are not stupid; they see two forms of justice, one for the well-connected, and one for the poor. Society will pay for this perception of injustice for decades to come.
Beyond the human tragedies, reform must not forget the impact of the Drug Prohibition War on local economies. The police chiefs of Camden, Newark, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles have said that parts or most of their cities would collapse financially without the illegal drug trade. It has become the only commerce.
In December, 2009, Central Connecticut State University Department of Public Policy published an economic report that outlines the massive spending by the state of Connecticut. This report summarizes what many cities and towns in Connecticut are spending to fight the drug war, with emphasis on Hartford. The capitol city with a population of over 120,000 spends $174 million to combat what is estimated to be a $41 million illegal drug market. When one looks at towns like Glastonbury with 30,000 people and sees that it spends $1.3 million to combat illegal drugs, one begins to see the windfall that could be recouped.
This windfall of anywhere between $1 and $2 billion -- without looking at our prison system or taxes from legal cannabis and hemp -- shows we could help get Connecticut out of the $3.5 billion deficit that we are facing.
We need to look at how we can revolutionize public and higher education and provide a sound educational foundation for our most important product, our children. These funds could be diverted into plans to do this. I think one teacher and one assistant for every ten pupils k-9 would be a great start. Put in those after school programs that were so prevalent when I was growing up. We have been punishing disadvantaged children for generations out of prejudice. It is time to begin to nurture and educate them. We wonder why their parents don't support the system, but they were damaged by the system as well and don't see any improvement on the horizon.
Before we can repair the damage, we have to come to terms with what has happened. That means to connect the dots and see the results clearly. The battle over the funds saved by giving up this war will be as big and nasty as any battle over money. Ending the drug war will undoubtedly reap benefits. Seeing that those who deserve the benefits are the ones who receive them will be the tricky part.
HARM / INDEMNIFICATION COMMENTS
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63 Comments on "Legalization without indemnification"
This article was originally published by the Hartford Courant -- comments below come from there.
Mr. Thornton is very knowledgeable on this subject and a great asset to the state of Connecticut. I would like to see Governor Malloy sit down for a meeting with Mr. Thornton on the war on drugs in CT.
I support the two marijuana related bills, introduced by Malloy, that are now in front of the legislature. However Mr. Thornton is correct that they do not address everything and will not solve all our problems.
They are however a great start and more than most Governors are willing to propose and more than most states can pass. We need to support the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana and make medical marijuana legal but we must use those to make a big dent in the problems caused by the war on drugs and realize there is more work to do and continue the discussion.
if you are a prohibitionist, you subscribe to an irrational cognitive bias.
The evidence is out, and right now this is solely a political issue. "Decrim" and "medical" convolute the process on what will most certainly be a legal commodity in a matter of years.
Free the Leaf supports Cliff and his statements; as well as elements of the Governor's progressive budget plan and any politician with the spine to admit that prohibition has failed.
GLOBAL CANNABIS FREEDOM
We need a comprehensive survey undertaken to determine by what extent the profits of gas stations, supermarkets, pharmacies and liquor stores will increase by if they were allowed to legally sell marijuana to adults. When these large, reputable corporations see what they're missing out on they may feel very motivated to demand that adult marijuana sales be legalized!
Marijuana has repeatedly been proven to NOT cause cancer, heart disease, brain damage, liver disease, emphysema, or any other significant health issue, and its addiction potential is about on par with coffee. In all respects, marijuana is far safer than beer and wine and should, at the very least, be controlled by exactly the same laws that we use for alcohol.
Our current marijuana prohibition empowers drug dealers and the Mexican drug cartels by preventing any form of legal competition to their activities. Instead of protecting children from marijuana, these laws create an environment of zero legal supply amidst massive and unrelenting demand and effectively serve to make our children LESS safe. It is *because* of the failings of the prohibition that our children now have easier access to marijuana than to alcohol! Our communities need legal adult marijuana sales for exactly the same reason that they need legal alcohol and tobacco sales - to keep unscrupulous black-market criminals away from our neighborhoods and our children.
Parents work hard to keep drugs away from their children and they need effective, logic-based laws to help them with this. In order to greatly improve the safety of our children we need legal adult marijuana sales in gas stations and supermarkets at prices too low for drug dealers to match - just as beer and wine are sold today. Our laws must be based on logic, fact and reason, and NOT on ideological positions and unprovable assumptions!
Prohibition is not only expensive and socially unjust, it is holding back a bright spot in the recession that will go supernova when cannabis is finally legalized. Reuters reports that medical cannabis legalization alone has sparked a $1.7 billion tax-paying industry that is expected to grow exponentially as legalization unfolds. In the Northeast this proliferation of income and enterprise opportunities is certainly evident in RI and ME, and patients across the region are reporting better outcomes with medicine that costs less than what our prohibition laws were forcing them to choose.
Unlike most of our elected officials Thornton speaks from knowledge rather than platitudes. He knows the drug issue coming and going and if the public would insist on those they elect ending what is certainly America's biggest public policy failure of the past hundred years we'd be significantly better off.
Wake up America. Legalize and regulate these currently illegal drugs. Will things be perfect then? No... but they'll be a lot better than they are now.
All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions. As our Governor said before he took office, "Connecticut is a mess"! We need to make smart, bold decisions with our tax dollars and the best choices include long term gains for short term sacrifices. As Mr. Thornton conveys, we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. That is the definition of insanity!
The "War on (some) Drugs" has been an abysmal failure and requires a new approach! We should at least follow the legislative achievement of our neighbors in Massachusetts, and decriminalize cannibus to help ease the strain on our judicial system. We have a great opportunity before us to send a progressive message to the rest of our country. The prohibition of marijuana has been a war on our people as nearly 800,000 arrests are made annually for the non-toxic plant. Time for a new approach in 2011!
The Drug War has failed in just about every manner possible. From the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the blood soaked streets of Juarez , this outrageous waste has consumed resources ( human and material) at a rate unknown to modern man. Rational policy examination on the reform of all drug laws is long overdue, as there are scarcely any of our institutions not affected by the failure to reexamine them.
Reform? Yes; legalizing drugs? No.
Regarding the economics of it, what value do you put on a life? Lives destroyed by drugs have been left out in the above discussion. Perhaps the money spent on reducing the flow of drugs into communities sounds high, but without it, how many more lives would have been negatively impacted by drug use? I would say the cost would be higher, but I put a high value on a life. Drugs don't make people more productive or more responsible. The children that are "orphaned" by drug addicted parents are not all in a worse place with the parent temporarily removed. Drug use and parenting/child care don't go well together at all. If the well-being of children is to be pulled into the discussion, then we need to find ways to get drugs out of people's lives.
Very important points especially for supporters of marijuana legalization to keep in mind. Thanks Cliff.
Amen to what Jac wrote above!
Remember the slippery slope back in school for all of you who want to decriminalize drugs.
Start handing out harsher sentences for dealers, and users-make an example of them...send a message that it's not business as usual.
This is a giant, complex issue. The problems that we see and ascribe to "drugs" are worse under prohibition that they would ever be under a smart system of legalization. Removing the profit motive from criminals will be a great benefit to public health. Crime and violence are not cause by drugs, but by the illegal drug business.
More vigorous public debate is needed. There is so much misinformation, fear, and confusion among people.
We can't end the War on Some Drugs while private for-profit prisons are going begging for inmates.
Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble - by John Burnett of NPR
Push for private prisons draws fire - by Kevin Giles of Star Tribune; Minneapolis, MN
What Is GEO Group? - by Aarti Shahani of NPR
This is really great. Thank you for putting this out into the public forum clearly and eloquently. One point that I would like to add to the human tragedy part of this whole thing is that the well connected do get the advantages of the legal disparity as far as prison time goes -- but they frequently, more often than is ever reported or spoken about, lose their children to overdose.
The "War on Drugs" has been a waste on so many levels for so long. It's time we as a society admit that we have made a grave mistake and move to rectify it.
@Sharon: I heard that story on the radio. Amazing, isn't it?
@Jac, I truly understand your concern for the welfare of children, but understand this. Because of prohibition, our children are NOW in the worst possible place. People will and are using all drugs, including prescription, at excessive rates. And because we spend enormous amounts of money, manpower and intellect on criminalization (law enforcement) we have nothing left for on demand effective treatment and education. Overdoses are at an all time high because of fear in acquiring medical assistance and the inconsistent tainted drugs being sold by criminals, not pharmacists who are trained in drug properties and dispensing.
But let's discuss the lives we ALL value. Over the last four years - 30k plus murdered in Mexico, 40k plus murdered in Venezuela, tens of thousands more in other South American countries murdered at the hands of drug cartels and as for the US, 36k drug related homicides. How's that for the lives saved by way of prohibition? How about the police officers who already have dangerous jobs? Let's create a criminal marketplace where criminals can make billions; this will give them the financial foundation for buying weaponry superior to any police agency; they can buy politicians, judges and cops; they will murder cops and anyone who appears to be interfering with their profits, including innocent children... Do you get the picture? We are killing way too many people now, under prohibition.
Let's end prohibition, establish proper regulations (just enough to end criminal profits), focus upon education and treatment, reunite families, rebuild families, free our imprisoned neighborhoods and get our communities, cities and country back on track. Teach your child how to make good decisions, whether it's drug use, cigarettes, driving fast or extreme sports - they all can kill you.
@Susan: It is. But even more amazing was the story on This American Life over the weekend. Did you hear any of it? I listened to it twice: once on the way to CT and once on the way back.
@Sharon I hear you my dear, consider this, seventy percent of the 8 million people that are either on probation, parole, or in a halfway houses, jail or prison are there for drug related charges. The drug war provides an unending feeder pool, for those prisons you talked about in your post. Prison reform will not take place until this drug war is ended.
Clearly, the biggest aspect of trying to get the drug war derailed is public relations. As the comments above indicate, there are still a lot of people who think they can punish their way out of drug use. They are silly beyond description. According to the Bible, even God almighty could not get humans to "just say no."
Also of note: even the prospect of immediate death does not dissuade people from risking their lives by using substances of unknown dose and quality -- so, realistically, what sort of punishment do you think you can up with to prevent people from using drugs?
As with alcohol, the number of problematic users is but a small fraction of the population of users. Making the drugs legally available will not exponentially increase rates of use for the most dangerous drugs simply because the vast majority of people wouldn't use those drugs if you gave them away for free.
All of the claims about how everyone will turn into a drug-addled zombie if we stop persecuting users of drugs other than alcohol are provably absurd using the government's own data.
Here, in fact is a comparison of drug use rates that indicate their relative popularity over several decades: Click the little graphics to move around the various data depictions.
Now, for anyone wishing to continue the inane claims about how we are all a bunch of out of control idiots held in check by laws, explain how making heroin legal is going to lead to all of us laying around with needles in our arms.
Marijuana is every bit as "illegal" as heroin is -- yet, for some strange reason hardly anyone (even among people who really like using drugs) will ever use heroin. The reasons for that have precious little to do with law.
As to the claims of "I have seen first hand what these drugs can do to people" -- decades of the government's very own data clearly indicate that problem drug use is the exception. The vast majority of the users of any and every drug simply do not cause problems -- either to themselves or to others.
One final thought: if these drug users are causing so many problems, then why do we have to resort to testing their urine just to figure out who they are?
We have to educate people out of the stupor induced by the century and a half of propaganda we have all been exposed to for our entire lives. The way forward on this issue is to face the truth: and the most glaring truth about our "drug problem" is that it really isn't much of a problem at all. Indeed, it is our reactionary war mentality that has caused the greatest harms when it comes to the issue of drug use.
@Clifford: I'm on your side. I'm just pointing out that the problem has now been compounded by the private, for-profit prison industry. Their lobbyists are going to fight drug law reform tooth and nail. The fewer people we put in prison--and the U.S. already has the highest prison population in the world, by any measure--the more money these corporations lose, and the towns that made this deal with the devil are losing $$$ too.
I wonder... if Georgia's Judge Amanda Williams and her associates were to be thoroughly investigated... would there be any evidence of collusion with the for-profit prison industry?
I don't agree with harsher sentences for users. I'd prefer to focus on helping users become non-users. But I think there's a conflict with trying to teach people to NOT use drugs while allowing drugs to be sold.
I'm for stricter gun control, too. I'm of the opinion that when harmful things are less available, less harm is done. As far as controlling the black market for these things, I see that as a related, but separate issue that needs to be addressed as well.
To eliminate conflicting messages, let's prohibit everything we teach our kids not to do or use. I'll begin the list.
I'm getting tired. Anyone else?
Seriously folks. I believe the problem here is that we've allowed the prohibition of drugs to meander for so long that it's extremely difficult for many of us to imagine drugs any other way. It's more emotional than anything else. We logically see and understand the dire need to move from this place of pain and disfunction, but emotionally, because of all we have been led to believe, we are afraid. The task which lies ahead seems so enormous and daunting that it causes paralysis. Somehow we believe it could be worse. Well folks, it can be worse, but only if we remain here. It's time to go...seriously!
Neill (cool name btw): Illegal drugs impair sense of reality (can cause phobias, panic, hallucinations, agitation, anxiety and even psychosis), some raise heart rate to a point that causes stroke - even in young people while others cause lethargy, some impair judgement, poor concentration & productivity - all in a single pill, joint, inhalation or injection. That's not an emotional response.
You listed things some parents do/consume that are legal and not healthy while telling their kids not to. The conflict I referred to was related to law, not parental behavior.
Can we come together on more effectively reducing currently illegal drug use?
What a well written commentary. Not only would money be saved and available for redirection into counseling, health related care,and other life improving activities such as preventative medicine and educational opportunities. Legalizing drugs, especially marijuana, would allow the stigma attached to go away. This would take away the fear that drug users may have about seeking these services in the first place. What this details, is a shift in how we provide care for the citizens of our nation and also world wide. If we were to take a poll, I would not be surprised if every family in the United States has or has had a family member that has been effected by drug use. It is important to recognize that drug users come in all ages, cultures and economic statuses. Also, that we do not penalize our youth in the process of making the shift for adults towards legalization. Instead we should be looking at the underlying causes of why the drug use is sought after, allow legal approach to trained professionals who can provide services and health education/care in an appropriate setting, which then allows the user to move forward and improve their lives.
@ Susan I know u are with me and I understand the emotion that prisons create to those who care. I want to see everything u do, however I cant see prison reform until these drugs come inside of the law. I am with u wholeheartedly.
With our state and country in such dire financial and health crisis, NOW is certainly the time for the government to regulate and control such drugs. Taking the profit out of now illegal drugs will win the monetary battle on the drug war. Such funds could then be used to safely treat those dependent on marijuana- wean off- as well as the proven benefits weed provides to MS and cancer patients.
Jac my friend, I agree with you 100%. These drugs are problematic and potentially dangerous to consume. No argument there. That's the reason for regulation and control. Prohibition does not accomplish this. Prohibition forces it underground into an available dangerous criminal market making them more accessible to kids. Criminals will sell anything to anyone for a price.
So, it is the policy we disagree on. It is the policy causing the overwhelming violence, death, disease, crime and yes, even addiction.
With over three decades in law enforcement, managing numerous multi-jurisdictional drug task-forces and training hundreds of cops, I once believed that we could keep drugs out of our communities and discourage people from selling by way of hefty criminal sentences. How wrong I was and how damaging these enforcement policies have been to our citizens - mainly people of color.
May I suggest two readings, "The Black Dragon" by Joseph Collum (corrupt policing at its best, which gave birth to drug related racial profiling in New Jersey) and "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration.
@jac the number of people who suffer the adverse effects of various drugs and medicines is extremely small. So, I'm sorry but a list of possible side effects isn't an indicator of anything. What are the numbers for these problems? How many users of any given drug suffer the problems you insist are the reason to keep kicking in doors and killing people?
Another term for zero tolerance is "absolute intolerance" -- and that intolerance of the self-inflicted acts of others has lead us to the disastrous state we find ourselves in today. The problem is not drug use in and of itself, the problem is drug abuse. And there just aren't that many drug abusers -- most users of every drug function quite well in society to the extent that they cannot be discovered without testing their bodily excretions.
The zero tolerance brigade has led the parade for far too long. It's time to stop acting stupid and insane over drug use -- and while we're at it, everything else that adults choose to do to themselves or with willing others.
How long until the policy choice of drug prohibition actually works?
Whilst you ponder that question tobacco use will continue to fall. Why? Because high taxes and health warnings actually discourage drug use.
"The problem is not drug use in and of itself, the problem is drug abuse."
This is what fundamentally divides us, I think. IMO, drug use IS a problem for the user and for those around him/her at minimum. And, I don't agree that "most users of every drug function quite well in society." Perhaps they think they do, but that belief is most likely denial.
@Neill: Your law enforcement experience is very impressive. I hear your frustration. However, if drugs are legalized and regulated, do you really think the dealers will go away? I would think they'd most likely be able to sell to users more cheaply and their network is already set up. Why would they stop if there's money to be made and there's a reduced risk of incarceration? I do agree that hefty sentences for users is not the way to go.
Why do people becomes users? Maybe we should look more closely at the answers to that question...especially as it relates to socio-economically disadvantaged populations. People need hope and good options, and that's missing for some. They need to be well educated and have job prospects. They need affordable mental help when needed. I could go on & on. Also, drug addiction treatment should be available to anyone who wants it. We need to improve in that area, too.
Jac, are you aware that caffeine is drug?
Please explain why you consider coffee and tea consumption problematic. How is it a problem for the user and those around them?
@ Jac, when we regulate something we do NOT automatically condone it's use; the regulations concerning alcohol and tobacco are there to protect us from the vast increase in criminality that would otherwise exist if these substances were prohibited.
Nicotine is the biggest killer of all known drugs, but it's sale is legally regulated. Now why is that? Alcohol Prohibition made cigarette smoking a national habit. High on the evangelicals' hit list, second only to alcohol as a substance that had to be prohibited. In 1921, cigarettes were illegal in fourteen states, and anti-cigarette bills were pending in twenty-eight others. The prohibition of cigarettes, promoted by the very people who gave us the prohibition of alcohol, made cigarette smoking almost irresistible. As the experiment of Prohibition failed, the anti-cigarette laws fell. By 1930, they were legal almost everywhere; during Prohibition, the consumption of tobacco had nearly tripled.
A regulated and licensed distribution network for all mind altering substances would put responsible adult supervision in between children and premature access to drug distribution outlets (illegal street dealers). Regulated and licensed distribution would reflect and respect society's values, thus preventing children obtaining easy access to these dangerous substances. What we need is legalized regulation. What we have now, due to prohibition, is a non-regulated black market to which everybody has access and where all the profits go to organized crime and terrorists.
Prohibition causes massive crime and suffering, causes government/police corruption, causes America to have the highest prison population of any country in the history of the planet, causes Americans to lose all their rights and all their true values, causes the waste of trillions in taxpayer dollars, causes wars, causes violence and death in other countries, causes America to be hated by other countries, funds criminals, funds terrorists, causes the people who use drugs to be instant criminals who have to spend 100x the money for an inferior, adulterated, impure, unmeasured and thus unsafe product. Drug prohibition was started as a policy of racism and it perpetuates racism to this very day.
Wake up Jac! We have a far bigger prohibition problem than we do a drug problem. The prisons are bursting! The police are corrupt! Many of us are not even safe in our own homes anymore and the whole country is on the verge of a total financial collapse!
@malcolmkyle: I woke up hours ago, but thanks for making sure I haven't slept in.
@at others: You'd be better off arguing about this topic with people that have a say on it. I can tell you, and others here, are passionate about this topic and as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying your position isn't worthy of discussion among our lawmakers or that you're terrible people because of your views. I respectfully disagree with legalization. The FDA does not approve every new drug that is submitted. If any currently illegal drug can be approved by the FDA, then I'd be fine with legalizing it for medical purposes, prescribed and use overseen by a physician. That type of legal regulation would be fine with me. But then again, I have no decision making power in this. I'm only expressing my personal opinion.
What a great discussion,keep it going. Legalization is the only way we can go. Prohibition does not, can not and will not work. We are facing the same deli ma with cigarettes, where the over taxation has created an underground economy in the billions. We have to be very careful with cannabis and all other substances legal and illegal.
Wow, what a great thread! Several times I wanted to stand up and cheer after reading a comment!
"Statistically speaking there are FAR more drug users who DO function normally in society than those who have harmed themselves or others."
Just look at everyone who uses alcohol! Or .... wait ....
Hi Vegas! (You know I love you even though we disagree on this topic!)
Open to anyone- Beyond our fundamental disagreements, how do you see regulation taking place? I'm not clear on what you mean when you say they'd be controlled and regulated? Beyond ensuring the product is pure (which will add cost and contribute to a lower cost underground market), do you mean available via prescription? Sold like sudafed at the pharmacy counter in limited quantities? Sold to only over 21 year olds?
@Jac, Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon how you view it, I have had the opportunity to speak to many who distribute within the black market. One in particular is a man by the name of Little Melvin Williams. Little Melvin was one of the most notorious heroin dealers in Baltimore during the 70s and early 80s, so much so, David Simon gave him a significant role as a preacher in the HBO series "The Wire." Little Melvin told me that we could have put him out of business decades ago - all we had to do was legalize heroin. He said, "Me trying to sell heroin on the streets in a legal market would be like me trying to sell you a gar full of homemade booze, right here, right now. Would you buy?" Of course I said no and here's why. #1 I don't trust him or its contents. It would be foolish for me to buy an unknown product that may kill me or make me extremely ill, especially when I can find and buy quality booze in one of many stores. #2 He can't beat store prices. #3 It would be illegal for me to buy from him. Obviously not due to prohibition, but because he has no license to sell.
So, to answer your question, illegal dealers may not disappear entirely, but I wonder how many people on this thread have access to illegal booze. And if they do, a can assure you that those bootleggers are not involved in running gun battles over market-share. And as for our legal bootleggers, Coors and Miller employees are not involved in drive-by shootings.
As for why people become users? There are many reasons, but I believe you mean those who abuse. Most who use like to enjoy themselves and have fulfilled lives. I don't agree with their methods for enjoyment, but that's their lives and choices. However; for those who abuse, wouldn't it be wonderful to have funding for research and on-demand treatment. Wouldn't it be wonderful to divert billions of dollars, man-hours and intellect toward those social issues causing people to abuse. Well, it will never happen until we end prohibition. We are a distracted nation; from politicians to police, from corrections to citizens. End the War and focus upon the root issues for abuse.
I can assure you of one thing. Prison is not a deterrent for an abuser or seller in the illegal market. Abusers have such a craving and problem that they already risk death every single day to get what they feel they need. They buy from some of the most dangerous people in the most dangerous neighborhoods, they buy dangerous goods and they share contaminated needles. Prisons do not frighten them. They need treatment on demand. And sellers, well, the money is worth the risk, especially when legal employment is unavailable.
Oh, BTW, I do communicate this to our policy makers every chance I get and as for this forum, you never know who's reading.
I'm getting the sense that some of you are pro-legalization because you believe using currently illegal drugs is predominantly safe and some of you don't agree with that but want legalization for other reasons. Am I right in that assumption?
@Neill: The desperate users you describe toward the end of your post are exactly the ones that will continue to buy from the low cost provider, regardless of risk. When money is an issue, as is with many of those addicted to drugs such as heroine, they'll stretch what they have to cover their fixes. I'm thinking the underground will be the low cost provider as it is with other things sold on the street.
I'd like to see money diverted from our other war(s) toward research, on-demand treatment and improving social issues.
I'm glad to hear you keep this issue in front of policy makers. I think there are a number of ways to address the variety of issues related to illegal drugs and habitual users. I do wish there would be more focus on it. The next generation needs more opportunities and more hope in my opinion.
@jac -- despite the problems with contamination and lack of quality control for black market intoxicants, the simple truth is that the use of such drugs is in fact predominantly "safe." the government's own data make that abundantly clear. indeed, the single greatest risk of using the drugs (as reflected in the government's measures of the "harms" attributed to drug use) is getting caught with them.
as to why i am "pro-legalization" it is simply a human rights issue. there is no legitimate right held by anyone to punish another over the acts they direct upon themselves, and (particularly in the case of marijuana) because no one has the legitimate authority (or "right" if you will) to declare life forms "illegal."
@cynical susan -- the vast majority of alcohol users do indeed function normally in society.
"@cynical susan -- the vast majority of alcohol users do indeed function normally in society."
Agreed. My little snark didn't work very well. I don't use the stuff myself because of alcoholism in my family and I don't want to run the risk, but there's cold beer in my fridge for visitors.
@Brian: The FDA is in place to protect and promote public health through regulation of a number of things including prescription and OTC drugs. They have the authority, based on specific guidelines, to reject drugs and prohibit them from sale. I don't view that as a violation of human rights. It's protective and personally, I appreciate it. Do you think the FDA should go away?
I don't agree with your "simple truth". Look more closely at the health of a heroine, meth, cocaine, PCP users and show me evidence that those drugs are safe.
@Jac, Once again, drugs can be problematic, I agree, but most do use cocaine and heroin without issue. For years growing up in Baltimore, I knew heroin addicts and never knew they were until someone told me. Most heroin addicts functioned better than alcoholics. Their problems came in the form of the police, prison, sharing needles and financing their addictions...all products of prohibition. Some countries, such as Switzerland and Canada, are investing in heroin maintenance programs. Addicts receive pharmaceutical grade heroin at medically supervised clinics while receiving counseling...at no charge. I don't know of a single criminal dealer who can undercut free. Now they can maintain a non-sensitive job, commit no crimes to pay for their habits and pay taxes.
Oh, as for the FDA, I like them too, but all I want from them is the truth about products and for them to require those who sell to tell the truth. I'll make my own decision whether to partake. I know it's more complex than that...I'm just saying.
@Neill: Methadone maintenance and treatment clinics with counseling are also offered here (covered by medicare/medicaid or available on a sliding scale). I think we need to do a better job of pulling in users, but that's a separate issue. Dealers still are able to sell heroine here, even with essentially free methadone available.
@Jac, Let's not confuse a methadone clinic with heroin maintenance. Methadone maintenance never did work because methadone doesn't work for addicts, that's why pharmaceutical heroin is so important. And it wasn't the heroin that directly contributed to tooth loss, it was the lack of nutrition and poor hygiene due to the addict's effort in finding their next high. In doing so, they neglect everything else. Neither of these are a concern under a real heroin maintenance program. They no longer neglect themselves or their families.
As for pulling in users, I agree, a better job is needed. That's done with a true heroin maintenance program, not junk methadone. It's been proven to work as mentioned previously.
As for the alcohol, again I agree, but would you want to venture back into alcohol prohibition? If we did, we would still have the same health issues you mention, but add increased crime, murders, higher consumption related deaths, corruption, less money for treatment, higher taxes, and so on and so on.
@Jac, (love you too!) What troubles me about your arguments is that they are not fact-based. You say many things as if they were true but they are not. A few that stood out to me:
"I'm of the opinion that when harmful things are less available, less harm is done."
"The desperate users you describe toward the end of your post are exactly the ones that will continue to buy from the low cost provider, regardless of risk."
"The children that are "orphaned" by drug addicted parents are not all in a worse place with the parent temporarily removed."
Finally, let me ask you a question. Do you think I'm a good mom? A productive member of society? An upstanding citizen? An intelligent, kind person who contributes to making the world better? (the correct answer is yes lol!) I'm a drug user. Not abuser, user. It's funny, the people I've known who have harmed themselves through substance abuse have always been alcoholics (not because it's available but because it's more addictive and more harmful than most street drugs). I know that's anecdotal but considering the number of drug users I know, it's telling.
@jac The FDA is there to protect people from other people, not from themselves. They are also not empowered to create rules about the plant kingdom, how a person touches themselves physically or mentally, nor responsible for oversight of recreational intoxicants.
If the various classes of medications that are currently being used "off-label" for intoxication were available legally in forms that were designed for that purpose, it would guarantee the purity of the product and measure of the dose, resulting in improved safety. Strangely enough, nobody does quality control on street drugs.
Fentanyl, morphine, oxycontin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc are all "safe and effective medicines" according to the FDA -- so what kind of alchemy turns them into dangerous poisons if someone uses them to catch a buzz? Is it the intent of use that divides "safe" from deadly?
And what is meant by "safe?" Water kills a boatload of people every year -- is it "safe?" What about fire? Gasoline? What is the measure of safe or dangerous? How is that decided, and by whom?
As to the measures of alleged "damages" attributable to recreational intoxication, the most pertinent is that of incidence rate among a given user base. In other words, out of all of the users of any given drug, what percentage of them suffer any particular negative result?
I built and maintain a website where you can easily find boatloads of government data related to the topic at hand. I am constantly adding to and updating the site and it is a huge job, so some of the data is a bit old but still quite relevant. Other parts, like the use rates and mortality data are completely up to date.
Here is the sitemap. And here are the links to the data sources.
As the producer of the site, I am intimately familiar with the subject matter. Thus if you wish to make a claim about the "damages" of drug use, you should probably look at the pertinent data to more accurately interpret the situation.
Yes, some small number of people suffer negative consequences as a result of using various drugs (and by engaging in a multitude of other amusements, for that matter), but that is not grounds for punishing the vastly larger number of those who don't.
The drug war has turned a personal medical issue into a worldwide calamity. Enough is enough.
Guys, I'm moving on. I'm going to spend my time on other things. My opinions are my opinions, but I do base them on facts. We apparently have different sources for our facts and draw from our own unique experiences and exposure. My view of what is considered "safe" and "functioning well" seem to be different from some of yours. But I'm a no one. Your time is better spent on sharing your views with someone who has a say on this. Best to you all.
As someone who as a young man, "learned the metric system, one gram at a time," I would acknowledge that our nation's drug policy is a failure.
@jac I was where u are today some forty years ago but as I watched decade after decade with no positive results I changed my tune. It took sometime to get to where I am today but there were not the mountains of data that contradict most what you say. It takes a great deal of courage to admit you may be incorrect let alone go along with what I and many others on this blog have written. You have been taken, hood winked, bamboozled.
@Cliff: As I sat by my friend's side as she cried while describing her deep desire to continue on methadone treatment, because she didn't want to go back to using and she wanted to live, I saw her desperation and regret for ever taking that first injection of heroine. All I could do was hold her hand, listen and encourage. The hoodwinking and bamboozling was done to her. Someone convinced her it was safe and it would make her feel better. Well, it didn't.
Thank you Cliff Thornton for bringing sanity to this issue. Your critique of present policy is 100% correct. Stay tuned for my proposed solution!
Jac I appreciate your concerns, none of us like to see the damage people cause themselves through the abuse of drugs --legal or illegal. But prohibition does nothing to reduce the supply or demand for non-medical drugs --it only makes those drugs and their commerce more dangerous.
Ending drug prohibition and replacing it with a legally-regulated, age-restricted market will NOT solve the problems that drugs can cause. THOSE problems will have to be addressed through a public health approach to legalization. I have some ideas on that, to be posted here below, but for now let's just say that ending prohibition will only end the problems of prohibition --but these are many and they aggravate any problems inherent to drugs while also posing many additional problems --from overdoses and poisonings due to unregulated and unlabeled product dosage and purity, to turf battles and contract disputes in the street trade, to employment of youth and thousands of others in all levels of organized crime cartels thriving on the $$hundreds of billions$$ of unregulated and untaxed moneys of the illegal drug trade.
Under these present chaotic and uncontrollable black market conditions, an effective public health approach to drugs is impossible. The product, producers and distributors are all completely unregulated, the consumers uneducated, unlicensed, unrestricted and unprotected, the authorities and their warnings discredited and disrespected.
PROPOSAL FOR A DRUG POLICY TRULY PROMOTING PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
Virtually every drug presents some danger or potential for harm. Aspirin overdoses will kill, and even small doses can be fatal to some persons. Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is "safe." Individual consumers must ultimately take responsibility for educating themselves about the hazards and safest use practices for any drug.
When a drug is prohibited, it still widely available, but much more dangerous. Now the consumer has no certain knowledge of dosage or purity, essential to calculating the risk v. benefit of taking the drug. This is the root of most drug overdoses and poisonings. Even heroin addicts desire to live and avoid bodily harm. Prohibition kills people by blocking consumers from obtaining essential information about the drug they are being sold. Prohibition kills people by making drugs much more dangerous than they would be under legal regulation. The only thing more dangerous than Jack Daniels whiskey is bathtub whiskey.
We should replace drug prohibition with a regulated market not because any drug is "safe" or "endorsed" by the state or society. These are personal decisions for free and informed and responsible adults. Rather we regulate the market because it is necessary to public health and safety.
In order to ensure the consumer has maximum education about the hazards of the drug, there would be a separate license for each class of drugs. The license is obtained by completing a safety course informing of all the hazards, safest use precautions and advice, and where to get counseling or treatment if needed.
I propose licenses be issued by quasi-public consumer unions rather than the state in order to avoid any connotations of "big brother." Getting your license would in essence mean joining the Consumer Union for that class of drug. Your picture ID card license allows you to purchase personal use quantities of that drug from licensed dispensaries. The drug manufacture and packaging would be regulated much like pharmaceuticals are now. Joining the Consumer Union would include signing a statement that you understand the dangers involved and, should harm come, will not hold legally liable the CU or any other party involved in manufacture or delivery of the drug.
The Consumer Union would be governed by a Board of Directors, some elected by the membership and some appointed by the state governor. The CU BoD would include medical and addiction experts as well as consumer representatives to jointly draw up the curriculum to reflect both the medical and psychological hazards as well as keeping the advice relevant to actual use conditions. The regularly-published newsletter of the CU would be sent to each member, keeping them informed of the latest research and news and opinion relevant to that class of drug. Licenses could be renewed at set intervals by taking the update course and smiling for a new license picture. The CU would be self-funding, ie, operated as a non-profit agency that sets the license fees and retail drug costs at a level that covers the expenses of manufacture and distribution of the drug plus all other costs of the CU.
There would remain a separation of medical from recreational drug regulation systems in the sense that medical treatments remain on the prescription system while recreational be sold to any licensed adult having undergone an education specific to the drug. In actually delineating these categories there would be a lot of grey area as some people wished to take medical drugs for non-medical reasons, examples such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. These grey areas could be resolved for certain categories of drugs (like the opiates) by making different forms available depending on whether it was intended for medical or recreational use; ie, heroin or smokable opium through the recreational license and Oxy and Vicodin through the medical prescription. Much prescription drug misuse and the resultant dangers could be greatly reduced by legalizing formulations more appropriate for recreational use, heroin v. Oxycontin being an example.
It would still be illegal to give or sell drugs to minors (or unlicensed adults), to drive while impaired, or any other act that violates the person or property of others. Police would now be able to concentrate on such real crime.
By eliminating the vagaries of unregulated drugs in an unregulated market, accidental poisonings and overdoses would be virtually eliminated, as would the street crime and organized crime and corruption of the black market. Then those with drug problems could be seen as people who need help rather than as criminals. Then law enforcement and courts could concentrate on REAL crime while people with drug problems could be dealt with much more effectively through a public health approach, rather than forcing them into criminal settings and ostracizing them from society.
@Jac: I feel for you and your addicted friend, but how does making her a criminal help her? She needs medical help, not prison.
Jac, I know you don't want to discuss this further but I was wondering if you could give me references for the facts you cited?
Jac, it is so heartbreaking to see someone you love get lost in addiction, I'm so sorry. If someone told your friend that heroin would help her in some way then she was indeed "bamboozled".
JAC When I went to identify my mother who had died from an apparent heroin overdose two weeks before I graduated from high school i thought all illegal drugs should be eradicated from the face of the earth. 12-13 years ago I visited heroin maintenance programs in Switzerland and saw what was being done and how effective it was, I knew then that I had been taken. One has to weigh the consequences and come to a sound logical conclusion and it took me decades to come around and I a so glad I saw the light.
Amen Jac! AMEN! You are spot on regarding this issue!
Sometimes being an adult in the room is unpopular...but in the end it comes out in the wash!
Jac, come back! Portugal is a success story that you can't deny.
Mario, not enough info to say that from what I've read. e.g.: Effects Of Decriminalisation
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has written and researched the topic of legalization extensively. Here's their website & white paper if interested.
If only we could see into the future to choose our path...
Cliff - I'm really sorry you lost your mother that way. I can understand your interest in finding a better way to deal with this issue.
"A time of courage is before us — courage for trusting what spiritual institutions, social agencies and ordinary folk can accomplish regarding problem drug use." -- from Cliff's site.
The pain when our attention turns to those suffering from the ugliness of addiction is a pain that calls to be faced. A society facing this ugliness would be a beautiful and inspiring thing. It is a long reach to the edge of our struggle with drugs--to the edge or our soul--but in making that reach any ordinary citizen gets transformed! I did and sincerely believe few are immune. Let's promote that reach... it will change how society holds "problem drugs."
DECRIMINALAZATION is NOT ENOUGH
C O N T E N T S
Contents repeated at top of
Here's why I think decriminalization is not worth fighting for
By Clifford W. Thornton
Decriminalization (as opposed to "Legalization") refers to simply removing criminal penalties for any drug. It usually means that possession of personal amounts becomes a civil penalty (like a parking ticket), but some people also take it to mean the complete removal of illegal laws from the books. A civil penalty bill was attempted in the 2009 Connecticut legislature, but it did not pass.
First, let's dispense with the "remove all drug laws from the books" proposal. As an intoxicant, treating marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. like spinach or dandelions will simply never happen, at least not this century. There is decent public support for the idea of civil-penalty-style decriminalization. People generally don't think you can or should go to jail for possessing small amounts of illegal substances, but Connecticut law specifies a jail term. Even if you don't go to jail when you're convicted of a crime, you consequently acquire a permanent criminal record that will show up in background checks. Additionally, you may be drug tested, lose your job or housing, be barred from professional associations, education, grants, public assistance, gun ownership, and so forth. So, the idea of decriminalization—protecting the end user from these consequences—seems sound.
My three main problems with decriminalization are:
Decrim and the black market
So, imagine that decrim has passed and now illegal drug enthusiasts face only a $50 parking-ticket-style fine if they get caught with a personal bag of a given drug. That's helpful to the tens of thousands of Connecticut adults who carry a bag of illegal drug from time to time, no doubt. But where did they get the bag? From Debbie the Dealer, who A) imported in bulk from Oregon or California or Canada or Mexico, or B) grew it in a closet or spare room or warehouse or garden. There's little public support for Debbie's activities. Her business is "illegitimate"; she commits a felony to engage in it. Big law enforcement budgets are justified by her activities. She risks losing her house and car and everything due to civil asset forfeiture laws. She pays no taxes on her profits. Anyone she hires to help out likewise engages in a felony, pays no taxes, has no workers comp, etc. Her product is not regulated for purity or potency or adulterants. She probably has to deal in cash, and is hence a target for robbery; she may arm herself to prepare for every transaction, which must take place in out-of-the-way locations. So, decrim, as generally proposed, leaves most of the apparatus of prohibition in place. It would protect a lot of people from arrest, which is a big benefit, but I argue that's not good enough, especially when you consider my next two problems with decrim.
Decrim and public support
You can motivate a lot of people with altruistic arguments about justice and compassion. Lots of people agree that jail time is not an appropriate penalty for pot possession. Nearly all regular users of given illegal drug (something like 12% of adults) will agree with you. Add in some libertarians and those who have done it "back in the day" or know someone who enjoys the occasional "special brownie" etc. , and you may indeed get a majority to endorse your decrim proposal. If we can assuage their concerns though, we should be able to generate even stronger support for a taxed, regulated model for legalization, medicalization and decriminalization from:
If we can do a good enough job describing these benefits to these audiences, we will eventually pass a comprehensive Illegal drug legalization bill in Connecticut and nationwide.
Decrim supports the lie
My third problem with decrim is that it continues to support the lie that there's something wrong, something blameworthy, about using illegal drugs. By continuing to maintain penalties for merely possessing or growing a plant, we support the absurd contention that there's something evil about the plant itself, and that those who dare to partake of it are themselves somehow morally tainted. Inherent in such a policy is a denial of our fundamental right as adults to decide what to put in our bodies. We need to be clear with the public that we do not support driving under the influence, or any other irresponsible behavior with illegal drugs. But we must object vigorously to the baseless claim that my vaporizer, needle, or pipe is somehow a sin, while my neighbor's glass of wine is not. Decrim isn't good enough. It preserves the black market, fails to draw support from important groups, and supports the lie that there's something morally wrong about illegal drug use. Given the history of this country and the drug war itself, there are enough reports to fill three rooms in anyone's house to prove this point. Once again, the enforcement of decrim will be predominately in marginalized areas, continuing the ugly pattern of enforcement imbalance between minority and non-minority neighborhoods. And this burdens government with additional administrative costs such as those associated with individuals who are not able to pay a fine.
Instead, we need to end the drug war and all its trappings. We need to fully legitimize illegal drugs in a responsible system of taxation and regulation—similar to alcohol—and all the while, being sure to allow individuals to produce their own at home, as we do with beer and wine. Anything less just isn't worth fighting for!
There are four examples of drug policy reform that taken together suggest decriminalization alone is not the solution—Portugal, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Mexico. Portugal has medicalization in place with heroin maintenance—a form of legalization. It also has methadone which is accepted in most countries as a replacement for heroin. The second, Hawaii, has police ignoring cannabis law and the third, Massachusetts, has not produced significant evidence of effectiveness. The fourth is right across our border in Mexico where in the last four years 28 thousand people have died in drug-related incidents.
Legalize—Medicalize—Decriminalize; all three must emerge and thrive together.