What the War on Drugs looks like in Rangoon.
Read more. [Image: Associated Press]
In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.
As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”
President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs.
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Under the law in 48 states, here’s what can happen when an adult is thought to possess marijuana: men with guns can go to his home, kick down his door, force him to lay face down on the floor, restrain him with handcuffs, drive him to a police station, and lock him in a cage. If he is then convicted of possessing marijuana, a judge can order that he be locked in a different cage, perhaps for years.
There are times when locking human beings in cages is morally defensible. If, for example, a person commits murder, rape, or assault, transgressing against the rights of others, forcibly removing him from society is the most just course of action. In contrast, it is immoral to lock people in cages for possessing or ingesting a plant that is smoked by millions every year with no significant harm done, especially when the vast majority of any harm actually done is born by the smoker.
Read more. [Image: Colleen Danger/Flickr]
In 1971, President Richard Nixon announced the federal government’s “War on Drugs,” calling controlled substances’ widespread use “public enemy No. 1…” One Dr. Jerome Jaffe had seen positive results weaning junkies off heroin using methadone, and Nixon appointed him head of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. As a 2012 Frontline pointed out, Nixon’s program would be one of the few where federal funds prioritized treatment rather than law enforcement. Every administration since has boosted the war’s funding while militarizing its enforcement. In President Obama’s first year in office, officials announced a sunset of the “counter-productive” term “war on drugs,” a gesture that amounted to an after-the-fact admission of defeat.
This federal campaign has driven several of TV’s better serial dramas, including HBO’s The Wire, Showtime’s Weeds, and Netflix’s new Orange Is the New Black, which follows a naïve middle-class drug mule into women’s prison. But two such properties, Breaking Bad and Nurse Jackie, reveal just how radically the counterculture that the “war on drugs” sought to prosecute has shifted over the decades: from one of classic-rock flower power to one of death-metal corruption.
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My Fellow Americans:
Every day this Administration seeks as best it can to evaluate our nation’s existing policies and priorities to determine whether they continue to make sense or whether they are counterproductive to America’s evolving goals and ideals. As individuals, we make these sorts of re-evaluations all the time in our own lives. We learn from experience what works and what does not. We change our minds. We strive to be better. And as a nation we must do the same to ensure that the path we have chosen is still the one we want to be on.
So, after careful consideration and a through review by the Justice Department, and with the consent and cooperation of other relevant federal agencies, I announce today that this Administration will have a new approach to the issue of medical marijuana in those states which have legalized it. Our new policies are consistent with the promises I made as a candidate, they finally make good on pronouncements I made early in my term, they are faithful in their traditional deference to states’ rights, and they sensibly redirect federal resources at a time when we need every budget dollar we can find.
I have directed the attorney general to issue a directive to all U.S. attorneys and other federal officials that they may no longer raid or threaten to prosecute medical-marijuana growers and distributors in those states that have legalized the use of the drug. As of today, the federal government will be content to allow state authorities to monitor those growers and distributors to ensure that they are complying with state law. To those states we say: We are still here to help you if you need us. To the American people we say: No longer will your federal tax dollars be spent interfering with these particular state policy choices.
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Marijuana has not been de facto legalized, and the war on drugs is not just about cocaine and heroin. In fact, today, when we don’t have enough jail cells for murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals, there may be more people in federal and state prisons for marijuana offenses than at any other time in U.S. history
Eric Schlosser on the U.S. war on marijuana in the August 1994 issue of The Atlantic. His cover story eventually became Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market.
Read more at The Atlantic
Mexican troops seized 15 tons of methamphetamine in a western state of Mexico, the Associated Press reported Thursday, which if sold in the U.S. would be worth $4 billion. The AP says, in fact, this is likely the biggest meth seizure ever made.
After receiving anonymous tips, the troops found barrels of pure meth powder on a ranch in the state of Jalisco. They found no one there and made no arrests, but a U.S. official says it probably belonged to the Sinaloa cartel, a powerful group in the region. Sources said that the amount seized was so large that the U.S. could expect a real disruption in its supply.
[Image: Associated Press]
Better call Saul.
For decades, the trade-off of becoming known as a “prison town” and being associated with incarceration has been a worthwhile trade-off for municipalities in financial straits. And states in need of a place to put their growing inmate populations during the height of the War on Drugs were willing to pay good money for it.
This is where publicly-traded, private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO, formerly known as Wackenhut, — what Eric Schlosser dubbed the “prison industrial complex” — stepped in. They offered cheaper and more efficient prison management than state-run systems because they could use non-union employees at lower wages with less training.
But much like the real estate market crash of the last ten years, the belief that the incarceration market was recession-proof and could only rise is being proved wrong. Declining crime rates are leaving more prisons empty. There isn’t enough crime to keep the prison industry afloat as it currently stands.
To save money, more states are moving their prisoners back to state-run facilities when space is available. Without prisoners, the private companies managing the facilities are leaving. And the small towns who bet on an ever-growing incarceration rate are left further in debt with few sources of capital. Read more.
A compelling, difficult story from The Atlantic Cities about incarceration and struggling American towns. Here’s a question for y’all: Can we reconcile our satisfaction about falling crime rates with concern for those losing their livelihoods?
Police officers, judges, and prison guards opposed to drug prohibition gathered in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to mark an eye-opening milestone: the 40th Anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse,” Nixon declared in a June 17, 1971 press conference. “In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” Just two years later he escalated his rhetoric yet again, asserting that “this Administration has declared all-out, global war on the drug menace,” and creating the Drug Enforcement Agency. Ever since we’ve been doubling down on the strategy. It has never succeeded, even when we’ve gone much fartherdown the “get tough” road than Nixon ever did.
Read more at The Atlantic