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 if 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.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: