Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘legalization of marijuana’


In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Marijuana Debate, Obama, politics on October 26, 2009 at 11:40 am
Marijuana Debate Waters Are Muddied By Obama--Holder Hands Off Weed Policy

Marijuana Debate Waters Are Muddied By Obama--Holder Hands Off Weed Policy

Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.

Bring me reefer when I want to get high.

Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.

Bring me reefer when I want to get high.

Muddy Waters Blues Song

The Obama administration’s new marijuana prosecution policy has effectively “legalized” the burgeoning “medical marijuana” drug distribution system.  The new Obama/Holder drug prosecution guidelines reward criminality and dump a major policy and law enforcement problem into the laps of states already reeling from the effects of the recession.  As The New York Times puts it today (“States Pressed Into New Role on Marijuana”):

Some legal scholars said the federal government, by deciding not to enforce its own laws (possession and the sale of marijuana remain federal crimes), has introduced an unpredictable variable into the drug regulation system.

Do not be confused.  The so-called “medical marijuana” system is not that Utopian system of legally produced, quality-monitored, tax-generating, legal distribution of licit drugs that potheads and organized Libertarians (there is so infrequently a difference, how is one to know?) enthuse about.

It is rather lipstick on a pig — the same old criminals are selling the same old contaminated illegal drug through a quasi-legal, bastardized system of outlets forced onto unwary or complaisant governments by a relentless and quintessentially dishonest campaign appealing to cheap “compassion.”

For an engaging look at what is really going on in Los Angeles — and by fair inference elsewhere in “medical marijuana” high country — please watch this short video featuring Los Angeles Special Assistant City Attorney David Berger.  Among other points Berger makes are these: (1) there is no way the “pot shops” (lipsticked-up “dispensaries”) could be moving the quantity of weed they sell if they were actually adhering to the current law’s cooperative grow requirements (ergo, the “medical” distributors are ipso facto breaking the law), and (2) forensic analysis of the weed being sold in L.A. demonstrates that it is laced with a pesticide not used in California but common in Mexico for use against fire ants (ergo, the pot is being imported from Mexico’s beloved drug cartels.)

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from

In practical effect, the Obama/Holder hands-off policy has evaded honest debate about whether a hit of BC bud is any worse than a bottle of Bud.

That is fair ground to engage and, clearly, many millions of Americans favor toke over brew.  But to engage in an honest dialogue, of course, would require the Administration to take a straightforward position, up or down, and that might be difficult for two reasons.

First, this early exchange from something called “Open for Questions ” on the transitional “” website:

Open for Questions: Response

Monday, December 15, 2008 06:05pm EST / Posted by Dan McSwain

We’ve launched several features recently that are opening up the two-way dialogue between the Transition team and the community.

Q: “Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?” S. Man, Denton

A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

On the other hand, campaigner Obama admitted partaking of the sultry smoke stuff as a “confused” teenager (“Barack Obama, asked about drug history, admits he inhaled”).  Obama did not cop to a clever Bill Clintonesque Plea (“Did not have sex, did not inhale”), but owned straight up, getting down with the voting-age kids whose jeans reek of the forbidden weed:

For one thing, he said, “When I was a kid, I inhaled.”

“That was the point,” Obama told an audience of magazine editors.

One line of serious fact-based policy analysis I heard recently goes like this:  Obama’s getting elected in spit of this admission, and the pattern of marijuana use among young people (say those under 30), makes it virtually inevitable that our drug policy will change and marijuana will be truly legalized.

That may be so.  And if it is, let’s get the debate on the table.

But do not be fooled.  This is not what the Obama/Holder policy does.  It is simply a perverse form of “don’t look, don’t enforce” in the face of rampant criminality.  And, as The New York Times suggests in today’s article cited above, a patchwork of different state laws could result:

“The next step would be a particular state deciding to legalize marijuana entirely,” said Peter J. Cohen, a doctor and a lawyer who teaches public health law at Georgetown University. If federal prosecutors kept their distance even then, Dr. Cohen said, legalized marijuana would become a de facto reality.

De facto reality?

Anyone who thinks drug traffickers will not seize on such a disparity of state law to set up illicit smuggling systems must be smoking something.  If Oregon, for example, completely legalizes marijuana, planes, trains, buses and backpacks will be flowing out to the rest of the United States.

This evasion is neither a good thing for policy-making nor for law enforcement.  Let’s look this pig right in the eye.

There are plenty of well-organized, well-funded advocates of outright legalization on the web.  Here, however, is a voice of experience strongly against legalization, taken from a May 22, 2009 “Freakonomics Quorum” in The New York Times, What Would Happen if Marijuana Were Decriminalized?:

Mike Braun recently retired from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the Assistant Administrator and Chief of Operations.

In 1975, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that an adult’s possession of marijuana for personal consumption in the home was legal. Although the ruling applied only to persons 19 and over, teen consumption of the drug skyrocketed. A 1988 University of Alaska study found that the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds used marijuana at more than twice the national average for their age group. School equivalency test scores plummeted, as work place accidents, insurance rates and drugged-driving accidents went through the roof. Alaska’s residents voted to recriminalize possession of marijuana in 1990, demonstrating their belief that legalization and increased use was too high a price to pay.

In 1985, Stanford University conducted a study of airline pilots who each consumed a low grade marijuana cigarette before entering a flight simulator involving a stressful, yet recoverable scenario. The test resulted in numerous crashes. More alarming was the fact that the pilots again crashed the simulator in the same scenario a full 24 hours after last consuming marijuana, when they all showed no outward signs of intoxication, reported feeling “no residual effects” from the drug, and each also stated they had “no reservations” about flying! Part of the problem with marijuana is that Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gives the user his or her high, is absorbed into the fatty tissues of the body where it remains for at least several days, and can continue to have an adverse impact on one’s ability to act capably under stress days after the drug was last ingested.

If healthy pilots can’t respond effectively in the cockpit 24 hours after smoking a low-grade marijuana cigarette, do we really want our kids transported to and from school by a school bus driver who smoked one or two joints the night before? How do we ensure the cop on the beat, who’s carrying a badge and gun, hasn’t smoked marijuana 24 hours before entering onto duty once the drug is legal? And what about those pilots?

Marijuana legalization advocates love to say that we can tax the sale of the drug and generate revenue to cover all the costs associated with legalization, but a few more questions need to be asked.

Will the taxes pay for the significant increases in health and casualty insurance the experts tell us will be levied if marijuana is legalized? Is the government going to hand out free marijuana to those who can’t afford it? If so, who pays for that? Is it O.K. with you if the government or corporate America opens a marijuana distribution center in your neighborhood, or should they only establish them in the economically depressed areas of town? Which government agency will be responsible for rigorous testing to ensure that marijuana sold in the marketplace meets the strictest of consumer standards and is free of pesticides and drugs such as LSD and PCP? Which government agency is going to be responsible for taxing your next-door neighbor when he starts growing marijuana in his back yard, adjacent to your prized roses, of course? What happens when the taxes on marijuana become so excessive from covering all the ancillary costs of legalization that the vast majority of users simply grow the product themselves? Then who will pay for all of this?

I can’t help but ask a couple final questions. What’s the legal age limit we attach to marijuana use? Is it 18; is it 21? And what do we do about the predatory narcotics traffickers who shift every “ounce” of their undivided and merciless attention to those under the authorized age limit once the drug is legalized? Folks, all we need to do is educate ourselves, ask the tough questions, and apply common sense and logic when making a decision on this issue. Most hard-working taxpayers with kids like me will come up with the same answer, which is no to legalization.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Inhaling Was The Point of a Confused Teenager -- But What Does He Think Today About This Drug for Other Confused Teenagers?

Inhaling Was The Point of a Confused Teenager -- But What Does He Think Today About This Drug for Other Confused Teenagers?

Are Drug Legalizers Smoking Dope? A Range of Strong Opinions on What to Do

In Corruption, Crime, Mexico, politics, Transnational crime on May 7, 2009 at 9:09 pm
Should This Be Legal?  And What Else?

Should This Be Legal? And What Else?

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has done what many politicians in Washington only do off-the-record and preferably alone in a sail boat thirty miles off-shore:  suggest a national debate about legalization or decriminalization of some currently illegal drugs (in this case, marijuana).

The subject is percolating, perhaps because of the hurricane of drug violence battering Mexico.  Mark Kleiman wrote a long piece in The American Interest two years ago that is worth reading now.  Here is an excerpt:

…the first step toward achieving less awful results is accepting that there is no one “solution” to the drug problem, for essentially three reasons. First, the potential for drug abuse is built into the human brain. Left to their own devices, and subject to the sway of fashion and the blandishments of advertising, many people will wind up ruining their lives and the lives of those around them by falling under the spell of one drug or another. Second, any laws—prohibitions, regulations or taxes—stringent enough to substantially reduce the number of addicts will be defied and evaded, and those who use drugs in defiance of the laws will generally wind up poorer, sicker and more likely to be criminally active than they would otherwise have been. Third, drug law enforcement must be intrusive if it is to be effective, and enterprises created for the expressed purpose of breaking the law naturally tend toward violence because they cannot rely on courts to settle disputes or police to protect them from robbery or extortion.

More recently, Moises Naim  wrote a short, provocative article titled “Wasted” for Foreign Policy magazine in which he stated:

As a result of this utter failure to think, the United States today is both the world’s largest importer of illicit drugs and the world’s largest exporter of bad drug policy.

I was curious what thoughtful people think about our drug policy and its results.  So I sent the link to a bunch of serious people I know.  I would estimate that about half replied.  (Some no doubt thought that the better part of a career is not putting any views about drugs in writing.) I assured my correspondents that I would not attribute their remarks.  So no names are attached to any of what follows.  But the diversity of their views is impressive, at least to me.  (I made only a few minor edits to correct misspellings and the written equivalents of “you know” and “uh…”):

Health professional

This parallels an article in The Economist a few months back, which made the case that alcohol prohibition entrenched the mafia into US society and that the global drug lords are a modern version of the ‘untouchables’.

The worldwide shortage of Morphine should be included in any analysis of Afghanistan’s heroin industry, though it’s seldom mentioned.

Scholar at a Defense Institute

In general I think that we have to continue with some level of drug trade suppression, but that if we define it as a war it will never be won….The drug war has to be divided conceptually according to the various drugs because they are so distinct in terms of source, shipment variables and toxicity…

Legalization or degrees of permissiveness in use are generally bad ideas in spite of my tendency to believe in the power of the free market.  This is because of the power of the free market.  Although the government could make heroin use legal, for instance, it could not keep people from suing the makers and distributors of such a substance in tort, thus forcing it back to a black market anyway, etc.

In a society wherein cigarettes are being made illegal slice by geographic slice, it is tough to envision a successful movement to make more dangerous substances legal. Additionally, the drug trade fuels other organizations, most of which are bad, so suppression is not just about keeping a kid in Kansas safe, its is about Chavez not having quite as much money with which to screw us.  More or less there it is in a nutshell.

Former Senior Federal Law Enforcement Official

Our government should have been spending far more money for demand reduction for many years, and most anyone you talk to in DEA will agree with that statement.  However, the author alludes to legalization as the answer, and I could not disagree more.  The worst period in our nation’s history for drug abuse and addiction was the 30-40 year period after our Civil War.  One in every 200 Americans were addicted to cocaine or heroin/morphine/opium, and far more were abusing one or more of those drugs.  Those drugs were unregulated and could be purchased off the shelf of any drug store in the country.  ‘Legalization’ didn’t work then and I don’t believe it will now.  The Netherlands’ parliament is now routinely debating the success of their lax drug policies/laws, after they’ve experienced continually rising crime rates and declining quality of life in their city parks, etc.  The bottom line—you can’t control the actions of people under the influence of powerful stimulant and depressant drugs; people simply don’t act responsibly while under their influence.  That’s why there are countless examples of cocaine, meth, GHB, PCP, etc. addicts shooting their next door neighbor or siblings, because they thought they were going to kill them.

Legalizers will often say that alcohol prohibition didn’t work, so drug prohibition will never work.  The numbers of Americans treated for alcoholism and liver disease decreased significantly during the prohibition years, as did the numbers of alcohol related highway deaths.  The vast majority of Americans who use alcohol, do not abuse alcohol.  When I mow the lawn on a hot summer day, I thoroughly enjoy a cold beer or two when I’m done, but I do not drink those beers to alter my behavior.  When my wife cooks my favorite Italian pasta dish, I enjoy complementing the meal with a glass or two of red wine.  I do not drink the wine to alter my behavior in any way.  However, those who use the drugs I mentioned earlier, or any other illicit mind altering drugs, including marijuana, are doing it for one reason and one reason only—to seek a sense of euphoria and ultimately an alteration of their behavior.

No responsible nation has ever decriminalized drugs that did not eventually re-criminalize them, because they experienced skyrocketing addiction and abuse rates, workplace accidents, highway deaths, insurance rates, etc.; at the same time experiencing significant decreases in school equivalency/efficiency test scores, workplace output, etc.  And what drugs would we legalize, and who/what would regulate their manufacture (to pharmaceutical standards), marketing, distribution, taxation, etc.?  The federal government (you’ve got to be kidding me)?  Will we legalize PCP, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, GHB (the date-rape drug), ecstasy?  How about 3-methyl fentanyl, a synthetic form of heroin 1,000 times more potent then heroin?  Do we allow the user of cocaine hydrochloride to ‘crack’ it up on the kitchen stove with basic household products?  By the way, what’s the age limit we attach to drug use?  Is it 21?  Is it 18?  And do we really want the traffickers, after we legalize drugs, to suddenly prioritize their focus on our fellow citizens under the designated legal age—our kids?

The reality of the situation is that we do a pretty damn good job of keeping a lid on our drug problem here in the U.S.  We did not experience over 6,000 drug related deaths on our streets last year; we did not have over 200 drug related beheadings in the U.S. last year; we did not have our Deputy Attorney General arrested for taking multi-hundred thousand dollar payoffs from drug lords; we did not have to throw our military into the fight domestically because our federal, state and local law enforcement community had become so corrupted by drug cartels that they could not be trusted; etc.  This should at least be considered as one of the ways we measure success against drug abuse and trafficking in our country.  There are somewhere between 40% to 50% fewer Americans abusing illicit drugs today than in 1979 at the height of the most recent era of drug abuse in our country.  If some medical research team had reduced the number of cases of diabetes by 40% to 50% since 1979, someone would be getting a Nobel prize.

Finally, we’re not winning the War on Domestic Violence.  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Racism?  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Corporate Fraud.  Should we legalize it?  We’re not winning the War on Child Pornography.  Should we legalize it?    The only thing we accomplish by legalizing drugs, is that we provide our kids and other citizens with greater access to cheaper, more potent and powerful mind-altering, addictive substances.  Don’t we have enough problems to deal with?

Lawyer in criminal division of a federal law enforcement agency

Very interesting – it does seem clear that the war is a failure, and we are losing.  The new ONDCP Director (Kerlikowski) will focus on demand reduction as well, but it certainly seems reasonable to explore ways to take the vast criminal profit out of the drug trade.  Unfortunately, no one can say that politically – though, who knows, maybe Arlen Spector will lead the charge as a Democrat?

Personal friend, retired from government, lives in Colorado

I totally agree with this article. In fact, I believe that failed US policies are largely responsible for the Mexican drug wars and their spillover here. If we 1) legalized marijuana and 2) had the same gun policies as Mexico itself, where it is very hard to buy guns, then much of the drug-fueled violence would cease. But what are the chances that either of those things could happen? Even Obama seems afraid of the NRA!

Retired gang investigator, California

…seems logical, but a few things I observe:  Yes, we are losing the war on drugs, just like Viet Nam, and in some respect Iraq.  We have no real political spine for wars.  Our congress has no general consensus on either.  The ideological lock that is occurring in Congress prevents anything meaningful from passing.  I agree we need prevention and treatment, but we also need border control and to toughen the import routes.  Narcotic crimes are not victimless, we have a lot of violence associated with it, and legalizing it is not an acceptable answer.  We have many murders not related to narcotics, in fact, more than those that are.  Should we legalize the murder of wives by irate husbands, or soiled daughters like the Taliban advocates?  The obvious answer if NO, absolutely not.  Let us seal the borders against the importation of human traffickers and narcotics.  It could be done with minimal legislative change, and with the support of Congress.  That is unlikely, so we will probably be having this same argument 10 years from now.

Congressional staff member

I’ve long believed that the “war on drugs’ (another asinine “contribution” to our national lexicon from the guy who gave us the suffix “gate”) has been more than a colossal failure; it has inflicted great harm on the nation, and on other nations (see e.g. Mexico at the moment).  Would the drug gangs in the US and Mexico (and Colombia, Afghanistan, etc.) have that much money and influence if RJ Reynolds sold grass in the corner bodega for $5 a pack?  Hardly.  What would happen to the shooting war?  When was the last time someone got wasted over a shipment of bathtub gin?  When was the last time someone went blind drinking bathtub gin?  Do our kids even know what bathtub gin is?  Prohibition made local gangs into the modern mob, and we’ve done the same with the war on drugs.  Public opprobrium, and the war on drugs lobby, which includes everything from prison industrial complex to the guys who make those idiotic “DARE” t-shirts, are substantial impediments to a more rational policy.  It is also the case that many illegal drugs are extremely harmful.  The only question for policy makers is whether the current legal regime is the best, or at least the least bad, way to deal with those harms.  Decades of experience tell us no.  We can’t even get a consensus for treatment on demand, or guaranteed treatment for people ready to get clean.  I had the experience in [New York]  of trying to get junkies who showed up in my office looking for treatment.  Even calling from an Assembly office I couldn’t get them in.  Our way of treating these people is with prison.  We also make the richest guy in the neighborhood the pusher.  That may be self-satisfying for some people, but it’s not really a solution. We get the problems associated with drug use, plus a failure to help addicts, and we create significant deleterious associated problems.  Not terribly helpful.

Prominent criminal defense lawyer

…we pay a tremendous price for the legalization of alcohol—drunk drivers, alcoholism, etc. I am not advocating abstinence, but in reality we suffer greatly for legalization.  We will pay a much higher price if drugs are legalized.

I agree the war on drugs has not been won, but continuing to fight the war is better than giving up.  The “war” has saved lives, other social ills in our society and will continue to so even if we never achieve anything close to total victory.  If we legalize say even marijuana it will become a slippery slope to much more.  I am more concerned about what I believe will be a drug pandemic in our country— is far more important than angst caused in Afghanistan, etc.

Moreover, if we give up—what does it say about our resolve in other areas when the going gets tough?  Another black hawk down maybe of which Ben Laden took note.

If when we can not fully control something, we surrender, what a sorry state that will be.

Retired senior federal law enforcement official

1. Just like with wine allow every family to have two pot plants for personal use
2. Provide drug addicts amnesty with free drugs
3.Increase penalty for all drug traffickers to death – send special ops teams to other countries to bring ‘em back dead or alive if needed.

I wonder what you think?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: