Friday, September 22, 2017

Pot Prisoners Profiled in Rolling Stone -- Victims of the flawed goals of the "war on drugs" approach

Rolling Stone magazine (Sep. 13, 2017) has profiled five prisoners serving incredibly long sentences even though marijuana cultivation and sales are now legal in eight states.
I provide the background and a critique. Take a few minutes and click on this link.
You can go to Life for Pot to learn even more about these injustices.

It is clear that the nation is thinking differently about how to handle "the drug problem" than it did in 1986. Then, the goal of drug policy was the cessation of distribution and use of drugs, and reliance upon punishment to achieve it.  Today we know that policy has failed. 

However, many of us struggle to clearly articulate our objective. Most urgently, our goal must be to save the lives of drug users. We witnessed over 60,000 drug poisonings and overdoses in 2016, up from less than 8,000 when Ronald Reagan was declaring drug war.

If we are going to save the lives of drug users then we need new policies, founded on the belief that drug users lives matters. What is killing drug users?

1. Forced abstinence. Arresting drug users and putting them in jail reduces their tolerance. When they get out, we know that many will return to drug use. With their reduced tolerance their risk of overdose skyrockets.  We coerce drug users into treatment. Treatment works, when you are ready and convinced. But there is always the risk of relapse. Again, tolerance has gone down and risk of overdose death is huge! Our good intentions are killing drug users. Methadone treatment does not reduce tolerance and even though there are overdoses with clandestine and diverted use, it is a relatively safe and highly effective treatment modality.

2. Poisoned drugs.  Many drug dealers want to supply drugs to their friends and community, and make some money in the process. Most distributors of drugs are not vicious fiends. They know they are breaking the law and they want to be rewarded for taking the risks of law-breaking and doing business with other criminals who may be highly dangerous. They are providing a highly desired product to very desperate people. They often use drugs with their customers. Their customers are frequently family, friends, neighbors, and school mates. They don't want them to be hurt or to die. But they have no ability to know the quality of what they get from the traffickers above them.

Higher level traffickers are often indifferent to human life. They often have killed rivals to their leadership, killed underlings to discipline their employees, and perhaps killed officials, law enforcement officers or journalists who threatened their business. They have no product liability insurance, indeed they can't be sued for defectively lethal products. For many traffickers, the reputation they want is not about pure product or honorable dealing, but about their lethality and their willingness to use violence against any threat. To add dangerous ingredients that adulterate their drugs is perfectly okay of that enables them to boost their profits.

Our current drug policy is designed to keep the drug manufacturing and distribution in the hands of dangerous criminals, not well managed pharmaceutical companies. Our policy is designed to keep drugs dangerous and threaten users with death. These tens of thousands of deaths each year are not merely the "collateral damage" of a smart strategy, they are the foreseeable result of a stupid drug policy that does not put the lives of drug users in the center of the strategy. Under the old policy, a dead drug user is not a dead child or dead sibling or parent -- a drug user has no value except as an object lesson to others who are not yet drug users. Under the old strategy a drug user's life is not worth saving. Indeed, a dead drug user allows a prosecutor to seek a homicide indictment against a distributor, and do what prosecutors do best.

For a sane and compassionate society, our drug policy should be to minimize the suffering of drug users. That means get clean drugs to drug users and keep the drugs affordable to minimize the hassle to obtain them. It means helping drug users get housing, jobs, education and counseling.

Under our current policy drug users are kicked out of housing, kicked out of school, fired from their jobs, and removed from treatment programs.  Imagine hospitals that only admitted people with the simplest symptoms and least serious diseases, and kicked out those who got sicker because they "failed" treatment.

Certainly, as a minimum as we legalize marijuana, we must not leave behind in prison those whose conduct today would no longer be criminal.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Guns, gun control, gun violence, etc. and drug legalization

There was a very smart commentary by Richard Feldman, head of the Independent Firearms Owners Association (IFOA), in USAToday (Dec. 12, 2013) about the largely pointless debate about "guns" after the Newtown, CT.

Among Feldman's conclusions: "It's time we remove incentives encouraging criminals to use, rather than avoid, guns."

In a Dec. 15 email to the Executive Directors of Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, NORML, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation on Dec. 15, Feldman elaborated:

"It's time we remove incentives encouraging criminals to use, rather than avoid, guns" The incentives I refer to are of course that guns are the main only option when dealing in black market goods - no call to 911 if stolen, no use of the courts for product distribution or supply dislocation - only the ability to use force, and that force is mainly from the barrel of a gun.
Let me be blunt: The organized firearm community has a vested interest in this [drug legalization] movement even if many of the established organizations don't!  IFOA supports [drug] legalization because it makes sense and lowers harm.
A key point of Feldman's was confirmed -- without any acknowledgement of the significance of the data -- in The Washington Post, (Dec. 14, 2013). Twenty-four percent of all the children under 10 deliberately shot and killed with a firearm in 2012 was  killed due to "random violence, drive-by shootings, and neighborhood gun battles." That sounds like killings associated with the drug trade!

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Edward H. Jurith, Drug Policy Leader and Attorney, 1951-2013

Edward H. Jurith, a key figure in American drug policy making since the early 1980s, died peacefully at home in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Ed has been my friend since 1981.

Ed served at very senior levels in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House for almost 20 years, including serving as Acting Director for almost all of 2001 at the start of the Bush Administration and during 9-11. Ed had been Director of Legislative Affairs, General Counsel and finally Senior General Counsel at ONDCP, beginning in the Clinton Administration. At the beginning of the Obama Administration he was again Acting Director until Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed on May 7, 2009.

Ed also represented the United States for many years in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee.

Ed was a very distinguished lawyer. For over twenty years he was a leading member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and at the time of his death was chair of its successor entity, the Task Force on Substance Use Disorders of the Health Law Section. He was also a very popular adjunct professor of law at the Washington College of Law at American University.

 Ed was a son of Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn in 1969, American University cum laude in 1973, and Brooklyn Law School in 1976. He practiced criminal law in Brooklyn and was involved in politics. He worked with U.S. Rep. Leo Zeferetti (D-NY), from Brooklyn, who in 1981 became the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).  That year, Mr. Zeferetti brought Ed back to Washington to be Counsel to the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).

The Select Committee on Narcotics was responsible for investigating and reporting on the entire range of drug abuse issues. At that time, I joined the staff of the House Subcommittee on Crime, chaired by U.S. Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), responsible for overseeing federal drug enforcement programs and processing amendments to the Controlled Substances Act in addition to money laundering, organized crime, gun control, pornography and other issues. Mr. Hughes was also a member of the Select Committee on Narcotics and I staffed his participation on the Select Committee. Thus I attended many hearings that Ed organized.

From the start there was a friendly professional tension between us. The Narcotics Committee had a very focused agenda and a fair deal of staff and budget, and some very senior and powerful members, including, after 1983, Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), a very senior member of the New York Delegation, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. But it had no power to report legislation. It could hold hearings and press conferences and issue reports and press releases -- but the Select Committee could not write any bills. The Crime Subcommittee had a very broad agenda: we had a smaller staff and drugs was just one of many important issues that we had to address. But we could write and move legislation to amend the drug laws or to modify DEA's powers. That was genuine power.

In 1983, the Select Committee on Narcotics organized a study mission to Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Jamaica to oversee U.S. anti-narcotics activities in those countries, to learn about those countries narcotics problems and anti-narcotics activities, and to meet with the top political, law enforcement and judicial officials of those countries to convey U.S. concerns about narcotics. Mr. Hughes and our Ranking Republican Member, Harold Sawyer (R-Michigan), arranged to accompany the SCNAC, and they were able to bring our subcommittee chief counsel, our Republican associate counsel, and me, an assistant counsel, as well. Since the trip was a Select Committee show, I did not have to work as hard as Ed and his colleagues, but those intense experiences strengthened our bond.

By 1984, I was often sharing with other staff and others my view that the war on drugs was a mistake and that some form of legalization of drugs would better fight crime and protect public health than prohibition. After my deep involvement in the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 -- along with Ed and his colleagues on the Narcotics Select Committee, as well as the House leadership, I carried out a strategy to leave the Judiciary Committee and work full time to end drug prohibition.

By 1987, Ed had been promoted to Staff Director of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. After I left Capitol Hill, Ed and I became friendly sparring partners on a number of occasions when the fundamentals of drug policy were being challenged.

In 1990 or '91, the American Bar Association established a Special Committee on the Drug Crisis, and Ed and I both were able to participate.

A few years later, the Special Committee was formalized as the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse. Ed, then the General Counsel of the White House "drug czar," was warmly welcomed. I was appointed by the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities -- the powerful organizational home the ABA's "liberals" -- to be their liaison to the standing committee. The Standing Committee strongly embraced an ABA-Join Together study that identified the crippling problem of continued stigmatization of persons in recovery, and Ed and I worked together on ABA policy to address that. Ed took the lead in encouraging the ABA House of Delegates to endorse Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP), but the proposed policy was defeated on privacy grounds. Today PDMPs are widely respected tools to identify doctors who are irresponsibly prescribing prescription narcotics or persons who are using multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain large quantities of opiates and diverting them away from legitimate pain patients.

At the ABA Standing Committee, after a few years, most lawyers would move on to another project in the ABA, but Ed and I stayed on. When the Raich v. Ashcroft medical marijuana case headed for the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ed and I began to collaborate on what became a series of continuing legal education programs on the subject held at three ABA annual meetings over the years. Prominent members of the ABA, including judges, served on the Standing Committee, but rarely with the experience in drug policy matters that Ed and I had. Often some matter of drug policy would provoke a mini-debate between us. A number of times I was told by one or another member how educational, stimulating and respectful they found our impromptu debates.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Ed spoke to a forum that I moderated, hosted by the Drugs and the Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, on proposed legislation to regulate medical marijuana in New York State. As always he was generous with his time, completely prepared, powerfully cogent in making his points, and unfailingly polite and gracious before an audience largely composed of those opposed to his position.

Ed Jurith was an extremely intelligent and diligent lawyer deeply dedicated to making the world around him better. He built an enormous network of friends who treasured his relaxed and open sense of humor, and his loyalty. We all knew him as a man who told the truth and honored his commitments. We learned how he adored his wife and boys, and treasured his joy as a father and husband.

In early August when I learned that ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske was being promoted to Customs Commissioner, I hastily wrote a blog and threw out some prominent names as appropriate successors, such as former Baltimore City and Howard County Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), or U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). But as I reflected on who, in the real world, would really be the most effective successor, I realized it would be Ed Jurith. Ed knew every aspect of the job, he had the long experience of working closely with Congress, with all of the involved federal and international agencies, and with all the private and state agencies in the field regarding prevention, treatment and enforcement. Ed also had profoundly good judgement. He knew what could work, and what wouldn't and had the courage and drive to fight for what was needed. His vision of the work was not driven by ideology, by partisan advantage seeking, or by personal ambition. He deeply wanted to free individuals, families and communities of the pain of substance use disorders. He was not interested in preserving organizational budgets or fiefdoms, but in justice and mercy. I knew that open support from a "drug legalizer" like me was not the most strategic approach, and so I worked behind the scenes to put Ed's candidacy for ONDCP Director before the President, the Vice President and other key players. If Ed's treatment for cancer had not failed to restore him, I think we could have found the perfect ONDCP Director to work with Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to re-balance our drug policy in a world with the parity for treatment  and expanded coverage of the Affordable Care Act, with legal marijuana in Washington, Colorado, and other states, and medical marijuana being demanded by legislatures and voters across the nation. His death is a real loss to the nation and the world, as well as his family and friends.

I shall my conclude this tribute to Ed Jurith with a much longer version of a story I briefly told his family and friends after his funeral mass Friday.

Advocates of "drug policy reform" or drug legalization (and journalists, civic association and academic programmers) often have a hard time finding prominent, qualified representatives of the prohibition-based national drug strategy to debate in public forums. What legalizers criticize as their opponents' strategy of trying to win the argument by ignoring its legitimacy, or an unwillingness to risk the embarrassment of defending the indefensible, is partly a legitimate unwillingness to face what is often a highly partisan audience willing to indulge itself with mocking laughter and snarky outbursts.

Ed Jurith was unafraid of critical audiences and faced them often, always with grace and good humor. I witnessed both the rudeness of the pro-legalization audiences in mocking the government's spokesman, and Ed's self-composed presentation.

On March 17-18, 2000, three very prominent New York City institutions arranged a two-day conference on the questions, "Is Our Drug Policy Effective? Are there Alternatives?" The distinguished sponsors were the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (now known as the New York City Bar Association), the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Academy of Sciences. The proceedings were to be transcribed and were published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal (Vol. XXVII, No. 1, October 2000, pp. 3 - 361). Forty-two distinguished experts across a wide range of fields were invited to speak. Most of the well known drug legalizers or critics of the status-quo policy were on the program: former Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, MD, Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD,  U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet (SDNY), Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon, David Boaz of the Cato Institute, et al.

Ed was invited and knew that it would be a hostile audience, but he was willing to come. In fact he was the only representative of the federal government. His remarks were greeted by jeers and laughter. Near the end of his remarks he said, "I was surprised that when I showed those slides earlier there was laughter concerning youth misbehavior and marijuana use.You may not believe the data, but I do not believe anyone thinks that it is healthy for young people to abuse drugs. This is the cynicism we need to get beyond." (p. 46).

Mayor Schmoke made the next speech, and I followed him. At the beginning of my remarks I said,
"I want to commend my old friend and colleague, Ed Jurith, for his thoughtful presentation a few minutes ago and for his willingness to come and speak to what he anticipated was going to be a critical audience, not a warmly receptive audience. I do not see you, Ed, in the audience, but Ed has always been a man whom I could talk to in a very civil and informed manner about drug policy, even though we have disagreed. Ed is an honorable and bright public servant who is genuinely committed to the public interest in these matters." (pp.53-54).

Ed, thank you for being my rival, ally and partner, and always my friend.

Ed's family would welcome gifts in Ed's memory to be made to his high school alma mater, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, NY.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Is the Silk Road the infrastructure of a Libertarian future?

Forbes has a fascinating interview with The Dread Pirate Roberts, the assumed name of the purported CEO of the Silk Road, a website for the anonymous sale of prohibited drugs and other contraband. Anonymity is the key, and the site relies upon the digital currency Bitcoin. The Dread Pirate Roberts argues that he is motivated by his libertarian philosophy to advance personal and economic freedom, and the opportunity to make what is probably millions of dollars.

The Pirate thinks he is going to change the world in favor of freedom. U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is demanding that the government take down the Silk Road. As this anonymous commerce grows, it may become the alternative justification the NSA/DEA/CIA/FBI/IRS needs to justify to an angry public their massive invasions of privacy.

Take ten minutes and read this and think about the future, and the lessons of the past.

Kudos to Andy Greenberg of the Forbes staff.

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I Owed Drug Czar Kerlikowske an Apology

My post in early August about the promotion of "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske from ONDCP director to Customs Commissioner was both erroneous and impolite. Mr. Kerlikowske undertook a number of important public health measures that embraced "harm reduction" that I did not know about. Yet I unfairly criticized his tenure at ONDCP because of my ire at what I thought were uninformed comments about drug legalization and marijuana, and what I thought was posturing in describing federal drug policy as "balanced."  I spell this out at Huffington Post. I owed Mr. Kerlikowske and the readers of Huffington Post, and this blog, an apology. I mailed an apology to Mr. Kerlikowske to his office. I apologize to you for not checking the facts before I published.

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