Jeffrey A. Miron, Joseph D. McNamara, Ethan A. Nadelmann
- Introduction by David Theroux
- Jeffrey Miron, Professor of Economics, Boston University; Author, Drug War Crimes
- Joseph D. McNamara, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution; Former Chief of Police, San Jose and Kansas City
- Ethan Nadelmann, Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance; Author, Cops Across Borders
- Questions and Answers
I see some familiar faces, and a lot of new faces as well. As many of you know, we sponsor a regular series of events hereseminars, debates and lectures, on different social and economic issues, featuring top scholars and policy analysts. And tonight is no exception.
Our program tonight, as you know, is entitled Drug War Crimes and is co-sponsored by our good friends at the Drug Policy Alliance. Marsha Rosenbaum is in the audience here, and Im delighted to have a chance to work with them again. And were also featuring the book Drug War Crimes of the same title, by one of our speakers, Jeff Miron. And Ill say a few things about that in a minute.
For those of you who are new to the Independent Institute, hopefully you got a packet, and youll find information about our program. The Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, scholarly public policy research institute. We sponsor many studies. We produce lots of books, and hold lots of conference and media projects.
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As a result, the Institute was literally started to cut through what we considered to be intellectual poverty, noise, and spin of so much of public policy debate, which we thought was too heavily special interest driven.
The Institute, in effect, was, we feel, a new kind of research institute, one of a kind in the public policy field in many respects, because of the highly partisan nature of so many advocacy groups who may be right, may not be right, but for most people, how do you tell the difference?
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In your packets, there is also a program for tonight. On the first page at the bottom, youll see information about our next event. That will be on June 17th. Its called, The Future of Iraq: Democracy or Empire? Some people suggested we should call it, Debacle or Empire? Maybe Debacle and Empire.
Anyway, it will feature George Bisharat, who is Professor of Law at Hastings College of Law, Ivan Eland who is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty here at the Independent Institute, James Noyes who is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute, and Robert Scheer who is a senior lecturer at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC.
For tonights program: As many of you no doubt know, each year the U.S. government spends over $30 billion dollars on the war on drugs, and arrests more than 1.5 million people annually. There are currently well over 300,000 people behind bars in the U.S. for drug violations, more than the total number of people incarcerated for all crimes in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.
And despite the claims that have been made, and the drug war has been going on for many years in different ways, the questions that were going to be discussing tonight, I think need to be asked. Such as, Have current drug laws deterred drug use and reduced crime, as claims have been made? What are the real costs to the war on drugs? Is there a link between crime rates, including homicide, and the kind of resources that are spent on the drug war? And many other questions.
So tonight were quite delighted and pleased to have three outstanding experts on illicit drug policy, who are here to examine some of these questionsand we welcome your questions at the endand look at some real alternatives.
Our first speaker, as I mentioned before, is the author of our new book called Drug War Crimes. Jeffrey Miron is Professor of Economics at Boston University. Hes a reassert fellow here. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from MIT. Hes been a research fellow for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Hes been a Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan, Associate Editor for The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking. His articles on drug policy have appeared in numerous scholarly journals, as well as various newspapers like The London Observer, Boston Globe, San Diego Union Tribune, and elsewhere. So Im very pleased to introduce Jeff Miron. (applause)
Professor of Economics, Boston University
Thank you all for coming. We certainly appreciate your interest in the topic.
As most of you know, drug prohibition is an incredibly important policy in the United States, and it affects millions of lives every day. We lock up hundreds of thousands of people. We arrest approximately one-and-a-half million a year on drug-related charges. We spend tens of billions of dollars, and forego billions of dollars in tax revenue that could be collected if drugs were legal instead of being prohibited.
Now, of course, that policy didnt happen for absolutely no reason whatsoever. There are people who believe that current U.S. drug policy generates benefits that outweigh its costs. So the alleged benefits, according to the proponents, would include reduced drug use and abuse, lower crime, improved health and productivity, and, perhaps most importantly to many people, it makes what they believe is a moral statement that says drug use is bad, and that society should not tolerate drug use. So there is certainly lots of sentiment out there in favor of current policy.
At the same time, theres a different view; a different view that believes that its prohibition rather than drugs themselves that are generating much, if not most, of the harm. So according to the critics of current policy, the opponents of prohibition, prohibition not only costs billions of dollars, as I mentioned, but prohibition itself is what generates crime and corruption, prohibition is what reduces the health and productivity of drug users. Prohibition itself has numerous other side effects that well talk about in a few minutes.
And indeed, even from the moral perspective, as Ill describe later, prohibition has a number of consequences that are at least as bad, if not far worse, than any moral consequence one might attach to drug use.
So what Im going to try to do in about 30 minutesI apologize, I might skip a slide or two to stay within that timeframeis to talk about these opposition views. And Im going to present an analysis thats based on economics, not philosophy, or rights, or, for the most part, on morality. Im going to talk about what are the consequences of prohibiting drugs as opposed to the consequences of allowing drugs to be legal.
Im going to do it in an economist, typical nerdy fashion. Im going to use some words that dont mean what they seem to mean, and things like that, but therell basically be two parts to my discussion.
First Im going to do what economists refer to as a positive analysis. And by a positive analysis, economists mean were going to describe the effects of drug prohibition, whether those effects are good or bad. And ideally, a positive analysis is scientific. Its one that all economists would agree with, subject to areas of legitimate scientific uncertainty, before you get to the question of whether on net, we think that the particular policy is a good policy or a bad policy compared to some alternative.
And then in the second part, Ill turn to that question and talk about, given the set of effects weve described as stemming from prohibition, OK, which is a better policy, prohibition or legalization?
And so let me start with the positive analysis. What are the effects of prohibiting drugs?
To do that, OK, we first have to be specific about what were comparing it to. And that may seem obvious, but its one of the points that bears a certain amount of emphasis. People who advocate not just prohibition, but lots and lots of government policies, have a tendency to say there is something bad going on, therefore we must have a policy. The economics view is well, there may be something bad going on, but we have to ask does the policy make those things better or worse, or what are the effects of that policy, compared to some alternative?
And the alternative I want to consider is full legalization. OK? So to be specific, by prohibition, I mean a regime like the current policy in the U.S., where we criminalize the possession, the sale, the transportation, etc., of drugs. We enforce those laws with real penalties like long jail terms, heavy fines, and asset seizures, and we really make an effort to put those laws into practice.
By legalization, for the next 15 minutes or so, I mean a regime in which we just treat drugs like any other good, whether its toothpaste, toaster ovens, ice cream cones, Starbucks, whatever. So there would be a whole set of government policies that would apply to legalized drugsminimum wage laws would apply in that industry and things like thatbut there are no special policies towards drugs, theyre just another commodity.
So there are lots of other things you might consider that are in between. Im going to put those aside for the moment.
So the starting point for the analysis is a very simple observation, which may seem trivialprohibition doesnt eliminate the supply or demand for drugs. It seems really obvious, but its important to emphasize, because policy makers, advocates of prohibition, sometimes act as though, gee, if we prohibit drugs, there wont be drugs. The problem will go away.
Thats patently untrue. We have to ask how does the market operate? What occurs, given that there will be at least some market in drugs, despite the existence of prohibition. OK?
So the market doesnt go away, but prohibition may affect the market in specific ways. The assertion by calmer, more rational prohibitionists is prohibition will decrease the demand for drugs. It will convince some people not to want to buy drugs in the first place, and it will raise the cost of supplying drugs, and that will raise the price, meaning fewer people buy drugs because of the increased cost.
So I want to look at both of those claims, OK, to see whether it looks plausible that prohibition in fact decreases demand, restricts supply, and thereby lowers consumption of drugs.
So think first about the demand curve for drugs. There is no doubt that prohibition might reduce the demand for drugs. Some people might choose not to consume drugs if theyre illegalpeople who would otherwise use drugs, because they want to respect the law. No doubt that occurs for some people in some instances, but in and of itself, respect for the law doesnt seem to be a huge effect. We can think of zillions of laws, which are very weakly obeyed. Because theyre weakly enforced, people know that theyre not likely to be sanctioned, and so in fact, people routinely violate them.
A second reason people might decrease their demand for drugs is because there are real penalties associated with buying drugs. You can be arrested. You can go to jail. You can have certain assets seized. You can lose professional licenses, and things like that.
Now, its certainly true that there are many arrests for drugs, many of them for drug possession, so you might think that that aspect of prohibition would be a relatively powerful force. If you think about it, however, its probably not. Although there are lots of arrests, there are zillions of people who buy and use drugs every day, and many of those possess drugs, buy them day, after day, after day, so a simple calculation of whats your probability of being arrested for drug possessionin fact, its going to get you a very, very small number.
In addition, despite some of the occasional horror stories, most of the time the penalties for mere possession of drugs are quite mild, and so it seems unlikely, to me, that in fact, prohibition reduces the demand for drugs in and of itself, to any substantial degree. So in my analysis, the effect on demand is plausibly pretty small.
A possibly more convincing argument is that prohibition raises the cost of supplying drugs, and then even if it hasnt shifted demand, it would lead to a higher price, and that may persuade a lot of people from wanting to buy drugs, from consuming drugs. So its clearly the case that prohibition does increase certain costs of supplying drugs. Black market drug suppliers have to hide their activities, they have to bribe officials, they transport the drugs in secret. They may have to compensate their employees at higher than normal rates because when you work in the illegal drug trade you risk getting shot, and incarcerated, and things like that.
Nevertheless, I think the effect of prohibition on supply is not necessarily as large as its frequently made out to be. OK? Black market suppliers, although they do face increased costs from one perspective, actually have a cost advantage relative to legal suppliers from a different perspective. Given youre operating in secret, that youre staying away from the police, as a black market supplier youre not going to comply with excise taxes, minimum wage laws, child labor laws, environmental regulation, and zillions of other things. So that, to some extent, offsets the increased costs due to prohibition.
So the question is then what is the evidence? How big an effect do we expect prohibition to have on the consumption of drugs?
So my assessment is that looking at the body of evidence, and as summarized in the book in some detail, theres a lot of evidence that prohibition has some effect, but very little evidence that it has a substantial effect.
So to give you a few examples, for the past 20 to 25 years in the United States, the attempts to enforce drug prohibition have escalated enormously. Were arresting way more people. Were incarcerating four or five times more people than we were 25 years ago. Were spending four times as much money for the Drug Czars office and things like that.
Yet drug prices have fallen by a factor of about 80 percent. If prohibition is an effective policy, if its useful for raising the cost of supplying drugs, thats exactly the opposite of what one would expect to see. In fact, the decline in drug prices has been dramatic.
If you look at differences across countries, some countries enforce their drug laws very strictly, such as the U.S. and a few other places. Many other countries such as Europe and Canada, although they enforce them to some degree, enforce them way less than the United States. So if prohibition is an effective policy, youd expect to see the countries with weak enforcement have a lot higher rates of drug use than the countries with strict enforcement. That, in fact, is not the case. Rates of drug use bear no correlation to the degree of enforcement of drug prohibition.
So based on those two pieces of evidence, and a number of others that I discuss in the book, my conclusion is that both theory and evidence suggest the effect of prohibition on drug use is probably modest, not zero. OK? Sometimes legalizers fall in the trap of just asserting that its zero, that there cant be any effect. There probably is some effect. But its 20 percent, or 30 percent, maybe its 50 percent. Its not 5,000 percent or five million percent, as is often asserted by prohibitionists.
So why is prohibition such a big deal if its not having a huge effect on the amount of drug consumption? Its having a huge effect because it creates a black market. And in a black market, a whole bunch of things happen that wouldnt happen in a legal market, and that are potentially very costly for society. So what I want to talk about next are all the things that happen as a result of prohibition above and beyond any effect of reducing drug consumption.
First, and quite importantly, is the effect of prohibition in increasing violence. The standard claim that you will see in the newspaper over, and over, and over again, on the ONDC, on the Drug Czars Website and all sorts of other places, is that drug use makes people violent. In fact, there is almost no evidence to support that claim: that merely consuming drugs makes you go out and do violent things or other criminal things.
The much more plausible effect is in the other direction. The prohibition itself creates violence, because the participants in a black market cannot resolve their disputes using lawyers, and arbitration systems, and judges. They have to resort to guns, or knives, and other forms of violence, because they dont have access to the non-violent legal dispute resolution system.
And there is a huge amount of evidence, which is consistent with this view that Ive just enunciated, rather than the traditional view that drugs themselves cause violence. If you look at the history of alcohol and drug prohibition in the United States, the periods in which the U.S. has had elevated rates of violence are the periods in which weve tried to vigorously enforce alcohol and drug prohibition. If you look across countries, countries that have high rates of violence are, other things equal, the countries that attempt to enforce drug prohibition to a substantial degree.
If you look across a whole range of other commoditiesgambling, prostitution, tires, sugar, blue jeans in the Soviet Unionany cases where because of war, or because of a centralized economy prices have not been allowed to be free and there has been a black market, youve always seen violence associated with those commodities, independent of the characteristics of the commodity. And theres a number of additional pieces of evidence to that effect. So thats one key effect of prohibition: prohibition itself generates violence.
A second possible effect is generating crime more generally. The main mechanism by which that might happen is that prohibition as weve raises drug prices, as weve discussed, although, as Ive discussed, Im not convinced that thats such an enormous effect, although its certainly not a zero effect. If prohibition raises drug prices, then there is more incentive for people who use drugs, low-income persons who use drugs, to commit theft, robbery other income generating crime, to be able to afford their drug habits.
A second reason prohibition might generate crime more generally, is that prohibition diverts the police from trying to deter standard crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, arson, etc., because theyre offthe police are busy, preoccupied, trying to deter a drug crime. The evidence is consistent with this view, with both of these mechanisms. Its not as clear-cut, in my assessment, as the evidence on violence, but its certainly some evidence to support that.
Another effect of prohibition, and again, whether or not it reduces drug use, is that prohibition redistributes societys resources to people whove chosen to be criminals. In a legal market, some of the income thats generated accrues to the government in the form of taxes, or to the ownership as profits. In a black market, there are no taxes, so all of that profit goes to the suppliers.
To be technical, thats not a cost in a strict economic sense; its a redistribution. It enriches drug suppliers relative to drug consumers, but its obviously a kind of redistribution that no one would ever endorse if they actually knew what was going on. If you put on a ballot initiative, do you want to have a policy which enriches criminals? Obviously most people would vote against it. And yet, thats exactly whats happening as a result of drug prohibition, with the consent, unfortunately, of a substantial fraction of the populace.
Still another important effect of prohibition is diminished quality control. In black markets, you cant sue manufacturers for faulty goods. You cant complain to the FTC or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Manufacturers cant advertise to promote their high quality products, and manufacturers want to transport drugs in purein relatively pure forms of the drug. All those factors mean that quality control, ability of people to get a commodity whose purity they understand, and whose content they understand, is greatly inhibited in the black market, and so you get more overdoses and accidental poisonings relative to what you would see in a legal market.
Prohibition is likely to increase corruption. In a legal market, we see campaign contributions. We see lobbying. That cant happen in the black market, and so youre going to get corruption of police, of law enforcement officials, of politicians, via bribes and corruption, which you wouldnt see in a legal market for drugs.
Let me mention a few things very quickly, other effects of prohibition. Because prohibition is a victimless crime, there is a strong incentive for the police to want to restrict the notions of civil liberties, because its hard to enforce crimesexcuse me. Its hard to enforce crimes against consensual activities, without impinging on those civil liberties, so the police use more invasive tactics. Again, because the police have to enforce a consensual crime, a crime that doesnt have a victim, theres increased incentive to use racial profiling. Because of the restrictions on clean needles fostered by prohibition, there is increased spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases.
Because the prohibitionists are worried about anybody getting access to drugs, theyre forced to push restrictions on the medicinal uses of drugs. So we see relatively limited access, except under a few state laws, for medical marijuana. We see doctors being pressured not to use opiates for the alleviation of pain of cancer patients, and other people who are suffering from all sorts of extremely painful and debilitating diseases.
Prohibition makes it much more complicated just to conduct all sorts of other policies, because our negotiations, say, with Mexico over Free Trade, cant just be about free trade. We have to worry about if we allow free trade, is that going to make it easier for more drugs to get into the country?
So let me summarize what Ive said so far, quickly. Prohibition probably does reduce consumption of drugs, to some degree, but neither theory nor evidence suggests a large effect. And indeed, a substantial part of the effect may be on relatively casual consumers about whom people tend to be less concerned than heavy consumers.
Whether or not prohibition reduces consumption very much, it has a whole range of other effects, and those effects are things that we need to think about, not just the effects on drug consumption.
I want to turn now to the normative analysis. Is drug prohibition good or bad compared to legalizing drugs? What almost everyone would agree to is that almost all of the effects Ive discussed so far are bad. Theres some room for reasonable scientific disagreement about certain magnitudes, and maybe, in a few cases, about whether Ive gotten the sign of the effect right, but I dont think there is very much of that.
Anybody who agrees with my analysis, nevertheless, would agree that having a policy which increases crime and violence, transfers resources to criminals, spreads HIV, etc., etc., anyone who agreed with those conclusions from the positive analysis, would of course agree that those are undesirable effects of prohibition, and with other things equal, oppose those effects, and presumably oppose the policy.
But theres one critical exception to that view, which is any effect of prohibition in reducing drug consumption. Some people clearly think that reducing drug consumption is a good idea, and that thats the reason we want prohibition, and they might be willing to trade off some other negative effects, some other bad things, in exchange for being able to reduce drug consumption.
So thats a critical question which the normative analysis has to address. If you think that prohibition reduces drug consumption minimally, then the analysis really isnt very hard. Youre getting all these bad effects and not reducing drug consumption, so end of story. If you think that drug prohibition is reducing drug consumption to a moderate degree, and you think that thats a good thing, then you have a harder balancing to undertake.
What Im going to do in the remaining part of the talk is discuss four different perspectives on how policy should treat drug consumption. Im not going to talk about just whether drug consumption is good or bad; the question is whether the policy of attempting to reduce drug consumption does more harm than good, taking into account all of the effects.
And theyre really two separate questions, whichand a point that is frequently overlooked. The first question is should some policy be used in the attempt to reduce drug consumption? Secondly, if the answer is yes, is the right policy prohibition, or possibly something else?
So let me start with a view that I will refer to as rational drug consumption. Standard economic model, which economists use over, and over, and over again to study the demand for toothpaste, or the market for personal computers or whatever, says people buy things because they want to. OK? They choose to do one thing as opposed to another, because they think it makes them better off. And so people buy drugs because they want to buy drugs, because they like consuming drugs, because it helps, its a form of self-medication, because it makes you look cool, because you enjoy being intoxicated, or whatever.
In the standard rational economic model, it doesnt matter why people choose to consume drugs. It doesnt matter whether drugs are addictive, or if drugs can, sometimes, be harmful. That doesnt distinguish drugs from zillions of other commodities. OK? All that matters is that people are voluntarily choosing to accept the risks of using drugs because they think it makes them better off.
Now, before I continue, let me emphasize my overall bottom line doesnt rely on the assertion that everybodys drug use is rational, but I think that thats a perspective thats useful to think about.
If you take that perspective, then the analysis of drug prohibition is really easy. Because if you think that all drug consumption is rational, not only is policy having all of these negative effects of creating crime and corruption, but its preventing people who wish to use drugs from obtaining the benefit of so doing, and thereby making them worse off as well.
And, even if one can point to situations where drug use seems to be irrational to almost any observer, its hard to deny that a lot of drug use, in fact, seems just as rational as anything else. Its hard to distinguish why, to say why some peoples use of marijuana is any different than other peoples use of alcohol; why some peoples use of cocaine for the short-term enjoyment that they get, is any better or worse than other peoples short-term enjoyment from using alcohol, or engaging in sporting activities, or anything else.
So one cost of prohibition under this view, is any reduction in drug use by persons who would use drugs responsibly if drugs were legal. And thats not a bizarre argument. Its the same argument we make for keeping alcohol, cigarettes, cars, Ben and Jerrys Ice Cream, and millions of other things legal, all of which have the characteristic that they can be misused, and they can cause harm if misused, but for the vast majority of users theyre not misused, and they provide enjoyment to the people who use them.
So thats one possible perspective on drug use, and I think it leads to the conclusion that some of the reduction in drug use achieved by policy is, in fact, a cost of policy, of prohibition, not a benefit.
A second perspective referred to as paternalism, asserts that many drug users are myopic or irrational, they dont know what theyre doing, theyre not properly taking into account the future consequences of drug use, and so policy should discourage drug use to protect people from themselves. OK? Its of course impossible to deny that some degree of myopia, irrationality exists with respect to drugs, and many other commodities. But that does not, by itself, imply that a policy intervention is necessarily desirable, and certainly not that prohibition is necessarily desirable. So why not?
Well, first of all, the paternalistic view opens a Pandoras box of government interventions. Once you say government should be in the business to deciding whats good or bad for people, then government has the authority to choose a whole range of things: from what books you should read, to how much exercise you should get, and a whole host of other things, that I personally would have very, very strong objection to. And theres no presumption that governments get it right. Any objective assessment of marijuana versus alcohol would say that alcohol is the more serious commodity, and yet policy has chosen to prohibit marijuana, not alcohol.
A second objection to the paternalistic approach, justification for policy interventions, or for reducing drug use, is that the underlying assumptions, while not wrong, are frequently grotesquely exaggerated, and in particular, dont differentiate drugs from a host of currently legal goods.
Its certainly true that drug use can be addictive. Its certainly true that drug use can be harmful. Its certainly true that some drug users are myopic. But is that more true for drugs than it is for alcohol, or under-saving, or not spending enough time on your kids homework, or watching too much late night TV, or a zillion other things? There is no reason to think that the degree of these problems is any more serious for drugs than it is for a whole host of other things.
In addition, you attempt to reduce drug use, you may simply encourage people to consume some other thing, which is just as bad for them, and then youve had no net effect, in any event, even if all of those things, in fact, are potentially quite harmful.
Finally, even if you grant all of the assumptions behind the paternalistic perspective, and think that that implies some type of intervention by government to help protect myopic drug users from themselves, that doesnt imply prohibition. The right question is not does the existence of myopia justify prohibition? The right way to think about it is what policy will balance the negatives of myopia against the negatives of policy?
Weve discussed that prohibition has an enormous range of undesirable consequences, and isnt particularly effective at reducing drug use, so theres just no reason to think that on net, the benefit of sometimes reducing myopic drug use, could possibly justify the enormous cost that prohibition imposes on society.
Other approaches? Possibly subsidized treatment. Possibly public information campaigns. Possibly sin taxes or things like that might have a reasonable ratio of benefits to cost, but prohibition almost certainly does not.
Another perspective on a possible reason that you might think government should intervene to discourage use of drugs, is that there are externalities, another economics term that I will attempt to explain. OK? Externalities means their effects on innocent third parties. When I do something, it negatively impacts you, even though you havent volunteered to be impacted by my actions. So if people consume drugs when theyre pregnant, that may adversely affect an unborn fetus. If people consume drugs and drive, that may cause traffic or industrial accidents and the like. If people make themselves sick and use publicly funded health care, thats potentially an example of an externality.
So again, one certainly cant deny that drug use can cause externalities. Theres no room for debate about that. It does occur in some instances. But again, the mere existence of those externalities does not imply that there is a role for policy, and especially not for prohibition.
So again, the magnitude of externalities from drugs is frequently highly exaggerated, and if assessed objectively, is not obviously different from that of many legal goods: whether its alcohol, saturated fat, watching too much late night TV and therefore being unproductive at work, or lots and lots of other things that one can think of. OK?
There is, again, the problem that attempts to reduce the use of one good that can cause externality, such as driving under the influence of marijuana, might cause you to drive under the influence of alcohol which, according to many controlled studies, actually has a bigger negative effect on your ability to drive.
Its also the case that calculating net externalities is very tricky. Many of you may be aware that people have attempted to see whether smokers are imposing a big externality on everyone else by making excessive use of publicly funded health care. It turns out that yes, smokers do use more publicly funded health care on average, while theyre alive, but they tend to die young. So they collect less Social Security and less Medicare, on average, than non-smokers. So in fact, they seem to approximately be paying their way. (laughter)
That sounds really heartless, but if youre going to take this approach, if youre going to rely on the externality argument, you should be consistent, and that means accepting conclusions such as the possibility that government policy should be subsidizing tobacco use, or at least reducing taxes, rather than the other way around. It doesnt always have to come out to show that more policy intervention is better.
Finally, on externalities again, the right question is not whether externalities exist. Theres no doubt that they exist. The right question is does a particular policy have more of an effect in reducing externalities, or have a benefit in reducing externalities relative to the costs generated by that policy? In the case of prohibition, we know that it has enormous costs, and therefore the chance that its reducing externalities more than it itself is causing those externalities, is very remote. Theres no reason to think that the benefits exceed the costs. There are other approaches that are far more likely to make sense.
Finally oh, thank you very mucha possible perspective on why policy should attempt to reduce drug use is a moral perspective. According to some, drug use is inherently immoral, or against religious views, or in some way evil, so policy should prohibit drugs to make a moral statement, even if that policy has substantial costs.
Well, whats wrong with that view? First of all, unless you put an infinite weight on making this moral statement, you should still be willing to consider all the other effects of prohibition. You might think that its good for policy to signal that drug use is undesirable, but you should be willing to do that at any cost, and so you should recognize all the other arguments that Ive raised here today.
Even more importantly, if you accept my analysis, prohibition is at least as immoralin my view, far, far more immoral, than legalization and drug use, because it has enormous effects, which negatively impact innocent bystanders. Theres increased violence generated by prohibition, some of which leads people walking down the street to get caught in drive-by shootings.
Theres increased crime, which means the police are not protecting you in your homes as well as they might be, because theyre out locking somebody up because he was caught with a joint in his pocket. OK? There are restrictions on civil liberties. Theres the prevention of marijuana and opiates being used to treat people who are sick because of the desire to enforce prohibition.
Theres the reduced respect for the law thats generated by any policy that has anything like the degree of non-compliance that prohibition laws do in the United States. Theres the encouragement of the view the people arent accountable for their actions; that its the drugs that made them do it. Thats a consequence of prohibition. And that, to me, is also an immoral consequence of prohibition.
I dont think that the moral view carries the day for the prohibitionist. Far from it. I think it goes in just the opposite direction.
So to summarize, anyone who accepts the economic analysis I provided would agree that virtually all the effects of prohibition are undesirable, with the only possible exception being any reduction in drug consumption thats achieved by prohibition. Even that is partly a cost, as long as youre willing to assume that some people can use drugs rationally and responsibly, assuming drugs were legal.
Most importantly, even if there is a case for policy to attempt to reduce drug consumption because of myopia, because of externalities, prohibition is almost certainly the worst possibly approach for doing that. Other far less interventionist policies would have a much better ratio of benefits to cost than the current analysis of prohibition.
OK. Let me just sum up, which I think I already did. The bottom lineso the broader perspective is simply policies have a range of consequences intended and unintended. Rational analysis of any policy, including drug prohibition, should consider all of the consequences, not just the feel-good consequences, not just the consequences that politicians want to occur, or that the voters want to occur, but all the consequences that actually will occur. OK?
So its clearly true that there are unknowns about legalization. We dont know exactly how much drug use would change. What norms would develop about drug use, how it might affect certain parts of society. OK? But theres no evidence which makes an overall case that the benefits of prohibition exceeds the cost; in fact, the evidence is strongly to the contrary. So despite the unknowns, far and away the most appealing policy is to legalize drugs, and to do it sooner rather than later. Thank you very much. (applause)
David J. Theroux
Thank you, Jeff. During the Q & A, those of you who are interested, you can pursue questions about specifics pertaining to Jeffs findings on the effects of the war on drugs, on homicide rates, and other issues.
Our next speaker is Joseph McNamara. Joe is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the Chief of Police for the City of San Jose, California, and before that, Kansas City, Missouri. He has had published articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. Hes been a commentator on NPR, and has appeared on many TV programs, including 60 Minutes, Meet the Press and so forth.
He is currently completing work on a new book called Gangster Cops on the issue of the corruption of law enforcement as a result of the drug war. Im very pleased to introduce Joe McNamara. (applause)
Thank you very much. Id like to share with you an e-mail that I received today from my friend Ethan, a news release from some news agency regarding tonights meeting, saying that one of the speakers would be retired police chief Ethan Nadelmann. (laughter)
Now, Ive known Ethan for some 15 years as a brilliant academic, a drug reformer, and so on. I never knew he was with the Secret Police. Whether it was the DEA, or the FBI or the CIA, its mind-boggling. I had these bizarre visions of him out on hunting trips with Dick Cheney and Ashcroft and others. (laughter) So Ill leave Ethan to defend himself from that vision.
Id like to follow a rather simple theme with you: that there are roughly a million police officers in the United States, and some 17,000 or so different police agencies. And so one needs to be somewhat cautious in generalizing, but there is such a thing as the police culture. And I would like to make the point with you that the police culture nurtures the Drug War, and that the police culture has been greatly influenced by the Federal escalation of the drug war.
I dont think its particularly useful for those of us who wish to change the current drug laws and think that theyre wrong-headed, to bash politicians, and to bash the police. Because after all, politicians want to get reelected, and the theory of democracy is that they do what the voters want, they get reelected. And the police have a duty to follow. In a democracy, the policies are set by civilians, otherwise we have a police state.
So Id like to say that I think in terms of looking at this issue of the drug war and its escalation, and the terrible problems that it has caused, to approach it a little bit from a different perspective.
Id like to first talk about this police culture. Most of the police officers, the overwhelming majority of them, have working class backgrounds. And they enter police work for a variety of reasons, but most of them, because they see it as a positive occupation, in which theyre the good guys, theyre protecting the citizens from criminals, and that theyre doing good.
The first thing that happens after theyre sworn is they swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. But its not the same Constitution that the ACLU sees, or that a law professor sees. Very quickly, the police agencies have to change the recruits from civilians into police officers.
Now, I think we Americans, its safe to say, have a natural tendency to mind our own business. That has to be drilled out of the police recruits. They have to be trained to interfere, sometimes, with the activities of others, to be nosy, to be suspicious. And almost every police agency that Ive ever seen sees themselves as crime fighters. They are the ones that prevent crime. They do so by arresting people that commit crimes, and taking them out of circulation through the court system, or the fact that the threat of an arrest deters others from committing crimes.
So if you keep that in mind, and think about the training the police begin withI was fortunate when I joined the New York City Police Department, that in my particular class of some 600 recruits, we were broken into groups of 30, and we had a very good instructor, a real street smart sergeant who had integrity, and was also a good teacher.
And the lesson plan of the New York City Police Academy for what was then the most advanced training of any police agency in the United States, a four-month training course, in which some 10 percent of the recruits didnt make it, had great impact by the ACLU, the NAACP, other community groups. And so each instructor worked from a prepared lesson plan.
And when our sergeant taught us about the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the police from making searches generally, without a warrant, although there are some exceptions, he went through the lesson plan as it was written. However, a couple of days later when he was teaching a course on police procedures from another lesson plan, he taught us how to search people.
And there was a certain contradiction there, and being a kind of maverick even back in those days, and he being a reasonable man, unlike some of the other instructors, I asked the question, Well, but what about the Fourth Amendment? I thought we werent supposed to search people unless we had a warrant. And he said, Well, thats just a civil matter. Someone can sue you for violating their civil rights, but you go ahead and search them, and no jury is going to find against a cop who comes up with a handful of dope outside the schoolyard. And if the courts didnt want us to do this, they wouldnt let us do it.
Now this was a good instructor, so thats the indoctrination that comes in. The Constitution is not seen as a glorious document that established unique Civil Rights in the history of civilization, but its seen by the police as an obstacle that they have to get around to do their job.
Now let me say one other thing about the police culture. The police officers very soon see a slice of life that you dont see. They see misery, violence, human cruelty. Theyre thrown problems with emotionally disturbed people that they cant solve, that no one can solve. They see children horribly mutilated. They see violence, a great deal of violence. In fact, the Dark Angel of Death sits just behind the police officers shoulder throughout their entire career, and it influences the way they see life very greatly.
And also the police officers know full well that someone whos not a police officer just doesnt see this chaos, doesnt see the results of society, and poverty, and other problems that they see, and oftentimes, will not be able to judge a police officers actions, the way the police themselves think it should be judged.
As a result of this, the danger, the physical danger, which is very realand the legal danger that they may be charged falsely with a crime of using unnecessary force, they may be injured or so onthe police bind together in a rather unique way. And weve all heard of the code of silence, and it actually exists. Its one of the things in the police organization that is a very important fact of life.
We dont have very many whistleblowers among the police, for good reason, because the police feel they have to stick together. Theyre often the only witnesses that will support their actions, and if they are seen by their fellow officers as a whistleblower, theyre ostracized. And if they need help on the street, people, not only other police not only dont respond, but sometimes will jam their radio calls for help. And so if you want a police career, you dont get the idea in your head that its advanced by reporting the misconduct of other police officers.
Certainly thats not unique to the police. There are many other groups, in fact, some people say politicians even have the same view of life, and attorneys, and doctors, and others who feel threatened, sometimes, by false accusations.
But Id like to talk about the value systems by whichthe reward systems and the value systemsby which the police operate. As a young officer, we walked foot patrol ourselves. There were no portable radios in those days, no bulletproof vests, or anything like that. And I worked in Harlem.
One day I turned the corner, and I saw a crowd a block away. And we had been trained in the Police Academy to be curious, and to pay attention to such things. And as I approached the crowd, I saw a body on the ground, and suddenly the crowd split open, and a man ran. I ran and I caught him, and I made my very first arrest as a police officer. It was for first-degree murder.
It was very unusual for a uniformed officer to make an arrest for murder, especially a foot patrol officer, and especially not in response to a call. It was made on observation. And one of the things that happened was I was immediately praised for this arrest, and interviewed for appointment to the Detective Bureau, which was rather astounding, because I had been walking a beat for a couple of months. I didnt have any real clear idea of how to be a cop, let alone how to be a detective. (laughter) I often approached situations that would be bewildering on the street, and Id listen to people yelling and screaming, and Id say to myself, What would a real cop do in this situation? (laughter) And so the idea of being a detective didnt have a lot of appeal to me.
But the captain called me into the office and he said, That was a good pinch that you made. Now, if I had turned the corner a couple of minutes earlier and stopped the two men from fighting, the man would have lived, the victim would have lived, and the NYPD would have given a great big yawn. But because the man died, and I arrested the perpetrator, then I was recognized. And you have to understand that thats the way police departments work.
The captain, however, gave me a promotion. He put me on radio motor patrol, which was wonderful. It was very exciting and you went from one assignment to another. You saw more in a year on radio motor patrol in Harlem, than the average police officer saw during a 20-year career in most areas of the country.
But the captain said something very puzzling to me. He saidI was, after all, 22-years old. As you can see, Im not the tallest policeman you ever met, and in fact, just made the minimum height that existed in those days. And I looked like I was about 16-years old. The captain looked at me, and he said, One thing about this detective interview, keep in mind that a kid like you, with a baby face, will be stuck, theyll stick you right into the Narcotics Squad. And it was puzzling to me, because many officers would have sold their soul to get the detective badge, and the prestige that went with the detective assignment. I saw myself as rising up through the superior officer ranks, which in fact I eventually did.
But it took some 10 years before I understood what the captain was warning me about. Ten years or so later, the New York State Investigation Commission found massive corruption in the New York City Narcotics Department. And I received my interview for the Detective Division in 1957.
Detectives, narcotic detectives, had been robbing drug dealers, stealing their drugs and the money, selling the drugs back into the street, committing all sorts of other crimes. Scores of detectives were arrested and sent to prison, a couple of them committed suicide. The investigation involved officers up to the rank of lieutenant, which was a pretty high rank. And so even that far back, the corruption was there in drug work.
Why? Well, thats an involved question, involved many complexities.
On motor patrol one day, my partner and I arrested a heroin addict on the top floor landing of what we call shooting galleries, the tenement top floor. And the addict that day had possession of a hypodermic needle, and a little cooker, in which he had just heated up his heroin mixed with water, and injected it.
Now, there was no usable heroin left in this bottle cap, but we would send it to the police lab, and it would come back with the residue of heroin, which was possession of heroin, punishable by six months in jail, as was the hypodermic needle.
Why would we make those kinds of arrests? Because the police department wanted us to. And if you wanted to ride in a police car, you had better show sufficient activity, and not only that, the captain gave you a day off for making an incredibly minor arrest like that, of a pathetic, hardcore addict.
This day, the addict said, Officer, give me a break, as I handcuffed him. And I said Yeah, sure, because we werent paid to give breaks to people who were committing these kind of crimes. My partner, who was senior to me, and ordinarily more sensibleI was the cop who loved to throw on the siren and the red light, and race through the streets, and drive on the sidewalk. And we were always the first car on the scene of a robbery when I was driving. When he drove, we were the last car on the scene. But of course, he was married and had three children.
But this day he went along with the addict, and the deal was that the addict would give us a pusher, and that in return for that, we would let the addict go, escape. And we were in police uniform in a marked police car. It was a warm day, and we traveled down Lennox Avenue, following this heroin addict, who we had warned, Dont try to run away, because this guy, my partner pointed at me, can run much faster than you, and well add a couple more charges if you do that.
So the addict was never more than a few feet from the police car, because we stayed close to him. And as he walked along crowded streets, he talked to one man after another. And I suddenly felt very humiliated. I mean, after all, here we were, resplendent with our uniforms, our radios, our red lights, our handcuffs and our guns, and people were doing drugs a few feet away. They were doing drug deals.
(break in tape)
Otherwise, we would have looked at the men, and thought they were talking about sports, the weather, or anything. There was no way of knowing what they were doing. It was a consensual activity between people who obviously valued their privacy, to put it mildly. And on the third conversation, the addict, as prearranged, went into the hallway to exchange money, which he didnt have, for drugs. We wandered in, and sort of by accident arrested the pusher, and the let the addict escape.
The pusher that we arrested was also an addict. He was selling small amounts of drugs just to finance his own habit. But what struck me that day is that the police really are totally ineffective in normal police work against drug crimes. This is probably occurring millions of times a day right under the nose of the police, and theres no way that they know about it.
Now, when the police are pressured to make more arrests, as they have been by their own departments, but pushed very hard by the Federal government. The Federal government has taken over an incredible amount of police training, local police training in the United States. The police are subjected to a constant barrage of what I call propaganda: drug users are evil, immoral people. This is your job, fighting good against evil, and so on.
The difficulty of enforcing the drug lawsas compared to lets say a robbery or a rape where there is a victim, there are witnesses, theres physical evidence, someone calls the police, theres a degree of community outrageis the police dont know whos doing drugs, unless they use very questionable methods. The detectives who were involved in the scandal had been
David J. Theroux
We justhe has to change the tape in a second. Sorry.
Joseph D. McNamara
The DEA wants a new tape? (laughter) Ill get a glass of water while (inaudible) I find the Federal government does this to me wherever I speak, so its no difficulty. (laughter)
So theIll tell a couple more jokes about Ethan while Im waiting here. (laughter)
David J. Theroux
OK. Go ahead.
Joseph D. McNamara
So when you put this pressure on the police, and understand that it comes from a number of different sources. I went to a lot of community meetings as Police Chief, and when you met with community groups, they wanted the police to stop drug selling and drug use in their neighborhood. They did not want a lecture on the Constitutional law. They didnt want any excuses. Their view was we want these drug pushers arrested, you know who they are, and trying to explain that we really didnt. And we want you to drive the drugs out of our neighborhood to protect our children.
You cant dismiss this. This is a very valid concern for people who live in neighborhoods where theres an open drug market, and certainly, of parents in general. And so the pressure is put on police in a number of ways.
What Ive been working on, and have discovered in the last nine years of my research, is that the police brass develops an attitude, and the Federal government has really reinforced this attitude. Certainly their own agents have that attitude, that you cant handcuff the cops. When they go after drug pushers, the pushers use all sorts of subterfuges and so on, and so it takes extraordinary methods to use this.
Now at the same time, as was mentioned earlier, the country is still flooded with drugs. Back when I was a rookie, there used to be an occasional shortage of drugs. When the Feds made a big seizure, and the price would temporarily go up, people would use other drugs as a substitute.
Today that doesnt occur anymore, and the police get demoralized. As a result of that, any number of policeI calculate that I, in my research, have found more than a million police crimes committed in the drug war. Police officers from uniformed officers, to elite narcotic squads committing murders, armed robberies, stealing drugs. I call them gangster cops. Instead of taking pay-offs from gangsters, they are the gangsters. And this has been something spread throughout the country over 40 years.
The reason for it is that you have modestly paid police officers who see its hopeless. Their efforts have become hopeless. Many of them rationalize their crimes by saying we cant do anything about it. Why should the enemy get to keep all the money?
Within the last two weeks, New York has experienced yet another case of this, involving at least 10 officers. Two detectives, veteran detectives, were observed by a team of Federal officers, who had a drug courier under surveillance, robbing the courier. The investigation began from there, and they found each of the detectives had about $700,000 in cash in a safe deposit box.
And I found this over, and over again: detectives, other cops, stealing millions of dollars over a period of years, in police agencies, and none of the other cops seemed to notice. Why? The code of silence, the vested interests of mayors and police chiefs, of minimizing scandal, putting the spin on: Its only a few rotten apples. In fact, it often turns out to be the most decorated officers in the department.
So Im completing a book called Gangster Cops: The Hidden Cost of Americas War on Drugs. Its been neglected as a national phenomenon because policing is so local, but it has been small towns, the big cities, East Coast, Midwest, West Coast, patrolmen in uniform breaking into peoples homes committing armed robberies, to the chief, or sheriff himself, or herself. And this is a scandal that I think we have to make the public aware of. We have to make the police acknowledge this, and recognize it as a cost of the drug war. Thank you. (applause)
David J. Theroux
Thank you very much, Joe. Our third speaker is Ethan Nadelmann, who is Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan received his Ph.D. and JD from Harvard University. Joe also received his Ph.D. from Harvard, I should mention. Ethan also received his MS International Relations from the London School of Economics. He is author of the book Cops Across Borders. His articles have appeared widely, ranging in such publications as Science, Foreign Affairs, National Review, American Heritage and elsewhere. Were very pleased to have Ethan Nadelmann. (applause)
Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance
Author, Cops Across Borders
Thank you very much. I just since we are going on a bit, why dont we just take 30 seconds, if you want to stand up for a second, stretch, all right, just to take a breath. OK, thats enough. (laughter)
So I thought it wouldand Im going to talk fast, because youre getting tired, and Im from New York, and I talk fast anyway I thought what might be useful, because in hearing Jeffs analysis, and Joe sort of talking about his evolution, just to put it a little bit in terms of my own evolution, I mean, in terms of the drug policy reform, in sort of four stages.
I mean, the first was, in my youth, as a police chief when I was(laughter). No, but actually, not quite the police chief, but 20-odd years ago doing graduate work, and I was very curious about international drug enforcement and control. And I actually, in fact, did get my self a security clearance, a secret security clearance. I did go work in the State Departments Narcotics Bureau.
Joseph D. McNamara
Yes, a long time ago. And I did write the first State Department report on trying to deal with drug-related money laundering around the world. And I did go around the world interviewing drug enforcement agents in South America, Europe, go on operations, get to know the guys who are doing this stuff.
And what, you know, what becomes apparent when you do that is theyre not thinking about that theyre doing. Theyre thinking about how to do what they do, but theyre not thinking about what theyre doing. And I even had access at that point to at least the secret and top secret stuff coming out of the intelligence agencies, and the analyses. And there was nothing in the way of really thoughtful analysis. It was like, Which groups trafficking which, this, that, whos corrupt? But nothing in the way of looking at the consequences, or the unintended consequences of the policies, or the alternative policies.
I mean, you just saw people going along, going along. And what I also became aware of was that on some level, there was almost a willful ignorance, I mean, a willful desire not to ask certain questions. It was not allowed to put those questions on the table.
And I can tell you something; it was bad in the late 80s, it was almost as bad throughout the 90s, and its worse now than ever. Its worse now than ever. Just not allowed to ask research questions, notbecause even to ask the question is to suggest that thats what you want to have happen, right? So there is a total absence of critical analysis on the part of Congress, the part of the administration, almost anybody else. That was my first awareness.
The second one was coming out of that, and basically the stuff that Jeffs been talking about. In the late 80s, starting to write and think about all the consequences of prohibition, and realizing the extent to which most of what we identified as part and parcel of the drug problem are, in fact, the results of drug prohibition, the analogy to alcohol prohibition. Right?
And seeing, in fact, the extent to which those in power, those promoting the drug war, wanted to keep a confusion going. They did not want people, and they do not want people, distinguishing between the negative consequences of drug use, and the negative consequences of prohibition. They want the mishmash. They want the confused thinking, to the extent that their own thinking is not confused. Because there are some people whose thinking is not confused, who are promoting this policy.
You know? And so it was pivotally importantthats what Jeff does so beautifully in this book hereits really to distinguish what are the negative consequences of prohibition. Because its only through that awareness of it, that same awareness that seized people in the late 1920s and the early 1930s and caused them to repeal the 18th Amendment and end the prohibition of alcohol, understanding that Al Capone was not about booze, it was about prohibition. Understanding that the violence and corruption were not about booze, they were about the prohibition.Understanding that even the overdose fatalities, the people dying of bad wood alcohol, and all of this sort of stuff, was about prohibition.
Well, that led to a third phase. And I just want to talk about a little more. Because the question does arise, and it kept arising. What is the optimal drug policy? What is the optimal model? I mean, there are some people who are diehard libertarian, and for them its not a consequentialist issue; its a matter of rights. And you have a right to use, a right of your body, a right to buy, sell, right to property. Damn the consequences, we believe legalization is the answer. Right?
But there was another perspective, and that perspective was emerging under the rubric of the term harm reduction. It was the one that said the optimal drug policy is the policy which most successfully reduces two things: reduces on the one hand the negative consequences of drug use, rightoverdoses, addiction, disease, cirrhosis, all of these sorts of thingsand on the other hand, reduces the negative consequences of prohibition: the crime, the violence, the corruption, all of these other sorts of things. And that the optimal drug policy is the one which most successfully achieves the dual objective of reducing drug abuse, and reducing the harms of drug prohibition.
And the question was, OK, what is that optimal policy? What does it look like? Right?
Now, there were some who are firmly convinced from a libertarian perspective, who said the optimal policy in terms of reducing drug abuse and reducing the harms of prohibition, is the full legalization model. Go there. Thats, to some extent, a suggestion of just study. Right? And in fact, that may well be the right answer.
But I was curious about what happens when you bring a cross-section of people together? And so I was teaching at Princeton at that time, and I pulled together a group of 18 scholars from about a dozen disciplines, and we called it The Princeton Working Group on the Future of Drug Use and Alternatives to Drug Prohibition. And they were from, you know, names youdAndy Weil the natural medicine guy; Lester Grinspoon and Sasha Shulgin; Marsha Rosenbaum, whos sitting here right now; John Morgan and Lynn Zimmer, who subsequently wrote the book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts; Harry Levine, who authored the essay that David just mentioned; Robin Room, who used to run the Alcohol Research Group, Ken Warner, a distinguished public health economist at Michigan Silvia Law, distinguished NYU law professorjust a, I mean, a really remarkable group of people.
None of them ideologically sort of Libertarian in a kind of Milton Friedman sense. All of them highly critical of the drug war. And our challenge was to design the optimal drug policy. And we had these spectacular sessions. This was in the early 1990s. And we finally gotand the way I put it out to people is lets imagine this. I said lets imagine, take twotake two extremes. At one extreme, imagine that we have the current situation of drug prohibition. And ask yourself how can we modify, and decriminalize, and public healthasize prohibition as much as possible to reduce its negative consequences without inviting substantial increases in drug use?
So stretching from the prohibition model through whats called harm reduction. You know, through decriminalization, and needles, and methadone programs, and heroin maintenance, and all of these sorts of things that the Europeans are starting to do.
And then on the other hand, lets imagine a really total free market, total free market in drugs. Right? Which for most people conjures up a nightmare scenario of rampant drug addiction, and drug abuse and Sodom and Gomorra and all that sort of stuff. And which, its hard to argue. You cant prove it. I mean, Jeff makes a persuasive case that its not going to go there, and my gut feeling is its not going to go there. But you could
And how do you then put on there increased taxation, increased restrictions, regulations? Think about cigarettes for example. You know, were trying to reduce cigarette addiction, and the cancers, and all of that stuff. What sorts of additional controls could you put on to try to reduce the harms of drugs without inviting the harms of prohibition? And to try to take these two models, and stretch them together, and see if we could get right in the middle and figure out that optimal policy in the end.
And so we got to the third session of these things, these amazing weekend meetings. And we got to basically the $64,000 question of the drug legalization debate, which is, do you believe that there should be any government-sanctioned gatekeeper: a cop, a doctor, a pharmacist, whoever, between the producer distributor of these drugs, and the consumer? In other words, should it be over the counter, or should there be something resembling a prescription thing, or a prohibition, or whatever? Right?
And so we voted. We took a vote of the 18 of us. You know, do you believe that there should be some government-sanctioned gatekeeper, which would mean not really full legalization, or not? And the group split right down the middle. And we spent the entire day hassling this out, and thinking it through, and debating it, and we voted again at the end of the day, and the group split right down the middle again, but people had switched sides. (laughter)
And what I came to realize is that for the large majority of people I know who really arent viscerally fully libertarian, but who empathize with legalization, theyre essentially legalizers three days a week, or four, and not legalizers the other days. Or theyre legalizers at that moment, but not at that moment.
Thats what happened, and essentially, what would distinguish that groupand also what distinguishes that group as a whole from many of the prohibitionistswas ultimately not susceptible to the type of analysis that Jeff was offering. Because what it really boiled down, what the divide was really about, was inherently visceral. It was about a visceral, emotional feeling about the vulnerability of human beings in our society, or in modern society around the world, to the greater existence of powerful and not so powerful psychoactive substances.
And so that deep down, right, Jeff believes, based upon analysis, but also I think on some visceral level, I would suspect, that people are not that vulnerable, and we have lots of evidence to show that. And deep down, Im just a step away from where he is. Ive a few more doubts, but there.
But deep down there are other people, including people of good will, who just feelmaybe its because they have addiction running in the family, because theyve seen the devastating consequences of alcoholism or other drug addition, or maybe because they just feel most people are rottenif you give them the chance to fuck themselves up, thats what theyre going to do. You know? (laughter)
I mean, but thatand theyand so you get for example, the former Drug Czar, Bob DuPont under Nixon, heyou know, If you legalize cocaine, youre going to have 50 million junkies. And you say, Bob, where did you get that number from? You know? Well, but you know, cocaine, look at the rats and the monkeys. You know, Well actually Bob, you know those rats and monkey studies, yeah, if you put a monkey behind bars and you give him cocaine, hes going to mess himself up. But you know, if you give those same monkeys in the wild cocaine, they go (sniff) OK, and walk away from it after a while. Its about context, and about setting and stuff, right?
So finally I said, is there a model here that can compromise this thing? Is there some model that stretches these things together, right, and that comes up with something that can both gut prohibition on the one hand, but also respect the concerns and desires of public health people who are not at all libertarian. Right? Theyre about trying to control and reduce harms, and reduce self-harms. Right?
And the model that we came up with out of this whole thing, I would best describe it, and its a model, a model, with all the flaws on it, a model. But we called it the mail order model. OK? And this was the idea. Because if people are really afraid about legalization, realistically otherwise is that whats going to happen is that You know, I mean, you want to have people marketing methamphetamine and cocaine, and selling it like cigarettes, and booze, and sexy girls I mean, what do you want? thats just a fear, and it might be a valid fear. Right?
And so the idea was imagine if you will, right, first, that everybody in America, at least adults, has assumed a right, a right to possess and to consume at lest a small amount of the substance for your own use. Lets regard that as a human or/constitutional right, that you have a right. And that from that right, grows what you might call a second right, a right of access, a right to obtain that substance, anything, whatever it might be, from a legitimate source, that would be civilly liable for misproducing or misrepresenting its product.
Now, you dont want to market all over the place from Adrials perspective, so then imagine you have just one source in America, lets say like a vitamin house in Iowa. Right? And that anybody in America, right, could dial up, call up, fax up, or we didnt actually do an e-mail back then, but e-mail. Right? And give your credit card number, and maybe youd have to build in some proof-of-age-type system or something like that, and you could have, within 24 hours, or by mail, if you prefer, sent to you, wherever you are in the country, up to a certain amount, of methamphetamine, marijuana, mushrooms, LSD, whatever it might be. Right? And that where you live, states and localities, could do what they wanted. If New York wanted to allow marijuana to be sold in tobacco stores, thats fine. If Mississippi wanted to be totally dry, no advertising, no nothing, thats fine.
But wherever you were, if youre a New Yorker down in Mississippi on business, you would still have the right to obtain that package overnight delivery to you, that you could consume right there in privacy, and you would be legal. And it seemed to me that maybe that was a system which effectively gutted prohibition. I mean, you still have black markets for people who want to get it in less than 24 hours. You might have black markets for kids. Right? You would haveand in fact, youd probably have even little groups. But there would be no way for organized crime in this market to grow vast, because anybody could get it from a licensed source within 24 hours.
On the other hand, all the fears of the big promotion of drugs, and the widespread availability, and the widespread acceptability, and all of that sort of stuff, well, that would be nullified in a way, because there is always this vitamin house type of thing. And in fact, if you look even at some of the models for that, I mean, here are like elderly people who can get all sorts of prescription drugs. I mean, now anybody can get drugs on the Internet. But before elderly people could get it that way, and there are other models.
So we came up with that model, and I published a paper in the journal Daedelus about, in the early 1990s, and the piece was called Thinking Seriously about Alternatives to Drug Prohibition. Those of you who want to see it, go to our Website, drugpolicy.org, and youll find that paper. And we published that paper, and I have to tell you, there was no market for it. Nobody was interested. You know, Charlie Rangel kept saying, Hey, let me know your model. Whos going to do it? Whos going to sell it? Whos going to this it and that it?
And OK, we gave them answers. Snore. He didnt care. You know why? Because 90 percent of Americans werent going for legalization, and 80 percent werent even going for legalization of marijuana. And it wasnt really the questions on his part were farcical, they werent real.
Which led me to a conclusion. Which was maybe the next thing to do in life would be to try to create the market for that argument. Right? Lets build a movement. Lets build a political movement to try to end the war on drugs and turn peoples lives around. And basically thats what Ive been trying to do with a bunch of my colleagues, some of them right here, is trying to end the war on drugs, trying to change consciousness. You know?
And I only got probably a few more minutes, so just to whip it up what Ill say is in terms of my own evolution, whereas the first phase was understanding how the drug enforcers did what they did, and the second phase was sorting out what were the consequences of drug prohibition, as opposed to the consequences of drugs. And the third phase was trying to figure out ideally what would be the optimal model.
The fourth phase, which is now going on basically ten years, is how do we transform public opinion, and ultimately public policy and the laws? Right? And what weve done, what I and my colleagues have done, is to try to build a powerful national advocacy organization, a Drug Policy Alliance. You know, you got 50 of us now working around the country. You got 20 people in California, 25 in New York, a few others in a few other states. And weve got 20,000 members. If youre not a member yet, please join. Go to drugpolicy.org and join in support.
But, I mean, basically, the idea is this. It is to keep in mind the vision of where we want to head. The vision of basically gutting drug prohibition, of ending drug prohibition as we know it. That harm reduction vision of the optimal policy being to reduce the harms of drugs and the harms of prohibition, and based upon a core fundamental notion that nobody, nobody should be punished, in any way, simply for what they put in their body. Thats a core, core notion. We regard it as a core human rights notion, and we also regard it as fundamental to good public policy in this area.
And that means keeping that vision always in mind, yet spending the vast majority of our time and our effort on the incremental, nitty-gritty political work of working and changing the way people think and act, and thats what weve been doing.
You know, in the mid-90s we realized that a majority of Americans were beginning to say medical marijuana should be legal. The first issue where a majority of the public were peeling off. Right? And there was a local initiative that was getting going here, and we got in, and we jumped in and we supported it. It was Prop 215 in California. And it opened up a whole wonderful set of things. And then we took those initiatives to other states, in Alaska, and Oregon, and Washington, and Colorado, and Nevada, and even DC, we won those things. And then going through the state legislatures, and winning that way; and trying to legitimized and legalize the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes.
Then we saw the asset forfeiture laws. That when you told ordinary Americans, you know, that they could lose their property without having to be convicted of a criminal offense, and that the cops, the prosecutors who seized it got to keep it for their own departments? Right? So its the exact stuff that the founders of this country recoiled against? Right? Well, we did ballot initiatives on that in Oregon and Utah, won both of those two to one.
And then you saw that people were saying you know, Were locking up too many people. If people have a drug problem, lets provide treatment instead of incarceration. And we did. First there was Prop 200 in Arizona in 96, and then Prop 36 in California in 2000, which you guys should be proud, because that is the single most significant piece of sentencing reform legislation in this country since the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Tens of thousands of people, who would otherwise be behind bars, are not behind bars because of the law that you guys voted for, 61 percent of the vote in the year 2000.
Not that the people who oppose it arent trying to warp it and bring it back to what it was, but it was understanding where the public was at, and meeting them where they were at, while always keeping the vision of where were going.
Now, wheres it going and how do we get to that next stage? Very quickly, here is what I think. I think first of all, I think that the marijuana reform movement has a lot to learn, and resembles a lot the gay rights movement. You know? Its all about a transformation. Its not just the policy arguments, its not just the stuff in the courts, its also understandingIts about people100 million Americans have smoked pot. Right? We cant even find a presidential candidate who will deny using it anymore. (laughter) Right? Its out there. Half of all Americans between the ages of 18 to 55 will admit to smoking pot, and even more that actually did it wont admit it, or they cant remember. (laughter)
But there is an evolution. Its people coming out, and changingin the same way. And its what happens in the TVs and the sitcoms and the movies. And we already see that. Also, by the way, its also being attentive to language. If you ask the ordinary American, You want to legalize marijuana? 25 percent say yes. If you say, How about we make marijuana legal? In other words, dont use the z in legalize, just say make it legal, all of a sudden it jumps to 30 percent. And then you say, Well, how about a policy that makes it like alcohol? Tax it, control it, regulate it, and educate kids from getting in trouble with it. Forty-one percent we got last year, higher than that in California, and close to 50 percent in Nevada and Alaska. Right?
Understand the importance of the language on this sort of thing, and also understanding that for many people their greatest fear about legalization is that they think that means loss of control, out of control. And that when you try to point out, well, actually, prohibition represents the abdication of control. They dont quite get that part. There is a fear that legalization means condoning or out-of-controlness. Right? So understand the public wants control. In this area, control, regulation, sin tax, are good, good, good, even for conservatives, and even for many people who are quite libertarian in their thinking on this stuff.
Secondly, medical marijuana. Right? You guys, Oaksterdam, right? Medical marijuanaI think that medical marijuana, if, in fact, we can go to the next steps, where localities and states begin to buy into the regulation and control of this, the same way they are in Canada and some other countries now, where the state becomes a participant in itI mean, theyre already doing patient IDs, but go to the next level on distribution, so its controlled, that becomes a model.
And then the question is whats medical? Right? Marijuana helps a lot of people in a lot of different ways. So does alcohol. All of a sudden we now find out that two drinks a day is like almost better than jogging for your cardiovascular stuff. (laughter) You know? Literally. (laughter) That was a front page story thatYes! Quite! Im telling you. Read that New York Times front-page story based upon dozens and dozens of scientific studies.
WhatsViagra. Right? OK, its medicine, yeah, right. (laughter) But I mean, its the whole idea of prescribedand the same thing with marijuana. People use it like the drink at the end of the day. They use it for this. They use it for that. Its an antidepressant for some people. Its a Viagra for some people. Its a this, its a that.
And so I think that medical marijuana may provide that controlled regulatory model that can ultimately be expanded to allow for the distribution for the recreational user as well. Now thats marijuana. And since half the drug arrests in this country are about marijuana, and probably about a quarter of all the people behind bars on drug charges are on marijuana, were talking a lot. Were talking $10, $20 billion dollars a year on marijuana enforcement, and were also talking aboutwere talking about potential tax revenue from this stuff.
Now on the other side, with the other drugs, there were talking about whats called harm reduction. You know? Ninety percent of Americans arent going for legalization. The question is how do you try to pull back the criminal justice piece? And thats a few pieces there.
One, it means, challenging over, and over, and over, the notion that people who sell drugs to other adults are morally the equivalent of rapists, and murderers, and other violent criminals. Thats bull. Right?
As far as Im concerned, people who sell heroin, and cocaine, and methamphetamine to other adults, and sell good quality heroin, and cocaine and methamphetamine, are no different than people selling good quality booze, and cigarettes, and other things that can be highly dangerous to many consumers, but not most. Thats where they are morally. And we have to bring those penalties down, down, down, so that we begin to look at them in a whole other way.
And then for the person who is a drug addict, you know, thats about alternatives. Thats about providing people treatment. Treatment, not as kind of, you know, this lock-them-encounter-groupI mean, it helps some people. But I mean, treatment defined as whatever helps people get their lives together, even if theyre still using drugs.
And here is the thing where we have to be most careful, and this is whats going on with Prop. 36 right now. You know, its going to have to be renewed for the funding pretty soon in California in a couple of years. The question is, when we divert people into treatment, are we really getting them out of the criminal justice system, or is this just becoming a way for expanding the criminal justice system to include more, and more, and more people? Thats what we need to be attentive to.
Now, what can you do? What can you do? You live in Oakland. There is going to be a ballot initiative here. Did theyare the sign up forms, are they around on the table outside?
No on the table. I (inaudible)
Go to that guy right there, Dale Geringer, head of this campaign. Oakland is going to have a ballot initiative, but first it needs to get the signatures. OK? My organization is investing in this, so are others, and it basically says two things. It says that the people of Oakland believe that marijuana should be made legal, and that when the state does it, were there.
And it says secondly, since Oakland cant do that by itself until the state does it, were going to make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority. Right?
I mean, I spent this morning, I spent 45 minutes with your mayor this morning. I said, Look, at least dont oppose it. He said, Marijuana already is the lowest priority. I said, Good, youve got nothing to be against then. So I mean, maybe that will happen, but support that initiative. Be attentive to whats going on in Sacramento. We have a Sacramento office that has become the office for sensible drug policy.
And finally, join the Drug Policy Alliance. Decide that this is going to be a priority issue for you. You know, make this issue number one, two, or three. Get involved. Do it. Thanks. (applause)
We have some time for questions. Carl has the microphone. The lady right there? Hold the microphone horizontally, if you can. Its already on. Dont worry about it.
I have a question Hello, is it on?
David J. Theroux
I have a question for Joe McNamara. It has to do with Federal funding of local police. And the question is, do most local police forces get a certain percentage of Federal funding for their narcotics enforcement, and how does that influence their policies towards drug enforcement in general in their communities?
Joseph D. McNamara
Yes. The Federal government is rather generous for enforcement, and in fact, demanding of local police, and also, in the seizure of property. Were talking about billions and billions of dollars, and the Federal government loves to distribute checks to local law enforcement people in civil seizure cases, where there is no presumption of innocence, and the saying in police work is the police have become addicted to seizure money.
When I was chief in San Jose, my city manager sent over a proposed budget with zero dollars for equipment. So I politely went over and I said, You know, its traditional when you have a police force, that you buy police cars, and guns, and equipment for the cops. And he laughed and he said, You guys seized $4 million last year, and I expect you to do better this year. And it will be involved in your job assessment.
And so thats the corruption that has really sunk into this whole enforcement process. The Federal government part of that, and I think Ethanno. Who? One of my colleagues said $30 billion a year of Federal money, a lot of it does go to local law enforcement. And there is a lot of hidden money in law enforcement training programs, where the top brass is transported twice a year to nice resorts, and the DEA always gives a presentation, and they always pick up the tab.
And the presentation is always the same. Heres the good news: We stopped opium production in parts of Afghanistan. We disrupted some cocaine production in Columbia. Heres the bad news: that the major opium production is now coming from the liberated part of Afghanistan, where allies are. And the bad news is the other Andean countries have picked up the production that was curtailed somewhat in Colombia.
So it just goes on and on. I think as Ethan says, there is no measurement here of any progress. Its a jihad. Its a holy war. Its one that they feel you have to fight. It doesnt matter whether you win or not, you just must make the fight.
But the power of the Federal government over local law enforcement during the years that I have watched, I cant believe. We were always drilled into us that a national police force meant the end of liberty in our country, but policing really has become more and more under national control, and the threat of terrorism is just increasing that tremendously. And local governments are hurting for cash, so they turn to Washington, as everyone else does. And that, when you take the Yankee dollar, you sing the Yankee song. And thats whats happening with local law enforcement.
David J. Theroux
Gentleman right here.
I wanted to ask Jeff if you had put an age limit on access, and how would you enforce that?
I didnt talk about any of the sort of, I call, in-between issues. If youre going to do something besides out and out legalization, are there halfway houses? Are there partial measures, such as sin taxes, or age restrictions, or advertising restrictions, or things like that?
Personally, I would not. The argument for age restrictions is that kids are not, at least some kids are not ready, mature enough, smart enough, thoughtful enough or whatever, to use automobiles, or alcohol, or cigarettes or drugs. OK? Thats undoubtedly true. But I think all of our evidence suggests that the age restrictions are ignored a lot more than theyre obeyed, and almost all the kids who really want to get the stuff, get it
And so I think what the age restrictions mainly do is teach kids not to respect the law. And to some extent, I think the age restrictions teach parentsgive parents a false sense of security that somehow the law is taking care of this problem, so they dont have to worry about it themselves.
So I think that since its a matter of practice, kids are going to get it with or without the age restrictions. It would be better to just be up front, and honest, and clear and say, Yeah, this is something that parents have to deal with. If the kids get messed up, its something the parents and the kids are going to have to handle.
David J. Theroux
Its a question of whether the government sets the age restrictions, or the parents, or the school, or other institutions.
Yeah, this is a question foroh. This is a question for either Jeff or Ethan, and its really this. Will people be responsible for the consequences of their actions, irrespective of whether theyre on drugs or not? In other words, Mills point, the English philosophers point, was that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions. In other words, its no defense to say that I was under the influence of alcohol, or of drugs, and thats why I ran over this person, or thats why I killed this person. Are you prepared to go that route?
Thats certainly exactly the route that I would go. Im not going to assert that everyone will act responsibly, and Im not going to deny that some people will attempt to avoid the consequences of their actions by trying to blame it on some substance that they consumed, or whatever.
Well, it has been a traditional defense, hasnt it?
Prohibition prohibition doesnt prevent that, so I think thats a given. And indeed, I think to some extent, prohibition promotes not taking responsibility, because promotion creates drugs as these demons, as these all-powerful things that are so horrible, that we have to prohibit them. It gives them more, far more power than they actually have, whereas if they were legal, there would be a little bit more tendency to say, Look, you made the choice to consume it. OK? Now bear the consequences.
I feel obliged to make a statement rather than a question. I spent three years, if you will believe it, as president of a League of Women Voters up in El Dorado County. They let men in too. We spent two of those years doing a study on the effects of drugs in our county.
I found several things. One of the things, we interviewed people from police, to nurses. A comment by a nurse at a school that registered heavily with me is, Prohibition doesnt stop kids. It actuallythe excitement of doing something thats against the law, will cause some of them to use the drugs they wouldnt otherwise try.
Incidentally, the result of that two years steady, our League, which we cant speak of now because its not a national policy, so we cantagreed that marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol, and that other drugs on Schedule II and III should be treated the same as those drugs on schedules III, IV and V; available by prescription, and monitored by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now, this is not ordinarily a very radical organization. And it took a lot, there was a lot of blood on the floor. The biggest problem was getting anybody to do the study.
David J. Theroux
Thats what Ethan said.
And IveEthan is familiar with the book Drug War Facts that you put out and so forth.
Jeffrey Miron [?]
I found it too big. I found problems getting somebody to read the facts. And I have another organization to which I belong, has put out a little book, which I have with me, about a 17-page hand, pocket-sized like this. And if you could get something out like this, with just the facts, maam, just the factsyoull get more people to read it.
David J. Theroux
And there is another issue that I think you have ignored, Im sorry. And its Catherine Austin Fitz, the Former Assistant Secretary of Housing under Bush I, has an article on the Web called The Myth of the Rule of Law. You can all go to it and pull it up. I recommend everybody read it. Just point your search engine to The Myth of the Rule of Law.
The reason drugs have to be illegal, from a Federal government point of view, is the money that is generated, and is needed by our economy. George Soros, in an interview with Michael Rupert, pre-Enron, estimated that 50 percent of the value of our economy was sustained by illegal activities.
Those two activities he mentioned were the kiting of corporate profits in order to inflate stock market values, and the laundering of drug money. Because drug money is cheap money, and cheap money gives those who have it a competitive advantage against those who dont.
And I think unless we recognize that fact and make the people realize thats the reason the Federal government dumps on medical marijuana, because they cant afford the leak in the dyke.
David J. Theroux
Right, ok. We have other people that have some questions too. Thank you. How about the gentleman right here in the green?
So the war on drugs has brought a lot of power to the Federal government, and it would seem that power is perhaps the most addictive drug of all.
Audience Member [?]
Do we think that we can actually, you know, get the Federal government to back off, or are they going to keep trying to justinstead of acting rationally or reasonably, simply push their policies through by force of will?
David J. Theroux
Who wants to address that?
Well, its a process of working at the local level first, changing state policies, and then sending the message up nationally. Ill tell you something very interesting happened last summer. There was an Amendment introduced in the House of Representatives co-sponsored by a liberal New York Democrat named Maurice Hinchey, and Dana Rohrbacher, the Republican from Southern California.
And what it would have done would have been to prohibit the Justice Department from spending a penny to go after the medical marijuana outlets in California and the other states that had legalized marijuana for medical purposes. And before, you know, we would have been lucky to get, you know, 30, 40 votes from Democrats, and maybe three or four from Republicans.
But this time, you know, a number of things had happened. One was that we now won initiatives in a number of states representing like some 35 percent to 40 percent of the entire population. The second thing that happened was the public opinion polls were showing 70 to 80 percent supporting medical marijuana.
The third thing that happened was that I wasIm now in a position where I can access the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, not directly, but that there are people on my Board, or friends, or funders, or supporters, who when they call Pelosi, or Gephardt or Nedalowe (sp?) or Rosa Deloro the Minority Whip and head of theyou know, their calls get taken. And these people want to make those calls.
And the result was that 70 percent of all the voting Democrats voted in favor of this Amendment, and a dozen Republicans voted in favor of it, and many more said that had it been a vote of conscience, they would have done it. Now this is going to come back around again, so I think its just a matter of time.
But now mind you, it really depends also, its about political organization. You know, I mean, the NRA is powerful, not just because there are a lot of people who feel strongly about the issue, but because its an organization that actually is able to bring that stuff for them to focus in the way of a political fist. And thats what has to happen.
David J. Theroux
Your question actually relates also to the purpose of Independent. Because the mission of what were involved in is to bridge the gap between the problems that people are facing, and perhaps the mythology, or misguided notions that people believe is the case with policy. How about the gentleman right here?
Thanks. One of the things thats surprising to learn about todays prohibition, or about alcohol prohibition, is that it did not criminalize possession or use. My question, and Im notit overlaps each of your areas, is how has todays prohibition that does criminalize possession and use, howhow different is that than the alcohol prohibition model, and how has that impacted our society compared to alcohol prohibition?
I think its a little misleading to say, although technically accurate to say, that alcohol prohibition didnt criminalize possession and use. Its true that the Federal Constitutional prohibition did not, and the Volstead Act which implemented it, did not. But the state laws in many states basically treated possession of small amounts as intent to distribute, intent to sell, intent so they got around the language to a great degree, if they wanted to.
So the critical question was were the authorities, state or Federal, attempting to enforce those laws vigorously? There was a lot of heterogeneity across states, and I think on average, the degree of attempt to enforce alcohol prohibition was less than what we currently have with drug prohibition now.
But to me, that emphasizes the point that its not whether you criminalize use, the supply side or demand side. If you do either side, its basically the same as doing both. And thats why I think the decriminalization approach is misguided. Its at a minimum bizarre to say its legal to buy it but not to sell it. OK? And youre going to have the same effects if you vigorously try to enforce a prohibition against the supply side, against the trafficking, whether or not you legalize the demand side.
David J. Theroux
Two last questions. How about the lady right in the back there?
Ill be the lady. Thank you very much. My name is Rebecca Kaplan, and I live in Oakland, and Im a local elected official, and Im also helping out with the Oakland Cannabis Initiative. And there have been some amazingly hopeful things happening, and one of them is the confluence of different interests that all lead to the same conclusion.
And I think that its much easier to start with cannabis and get people on board, because the visceral fear that people have when you say heroin or cocaine, they dont have, at least here, we know, around cannabis, and the latest national polls show a majority agreeing that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol. So thats a very hopeful sign for people accepting that it should be modeled similar to alcohol, if its not any more dangerous.
My question was in terms of the coalition building aspect: that theres a lot of people whose prime concern is around ending the growth of prisons. And in California right now, with the prisons having just declared a state of emergency, theres a lot of people who dont care about cannabis one way or the other, but they sure care about dealing with the burgeoning prison crisis. And so Id be curious if anybody has anything to add on that. Thank you.
Joseph D. McNamara
You know, I think one of the ironies of that is we may change policy for the wrong reasons. If you take a look at the terrible destruction of lives that weve become callous to as a societyand it relates back to the last question toothat weve allowed the dehumanization of people using certain substances, but if they use Prozac, or they use some other mind-altering substances, we dont view them the same as someone using cocaine, or heroin, or marijuana.
And there is an actual growing hatred, it seems to me, on the part of many of your colleagues in Congress and in state legislatures, that are fanatical. They dont want to even just jail people, they want to deprive them of their drivers licenses, of their college aid. How many lives are we ruining?
I think Ethan mentioned all the prominent politicians who now fess up to using marijuana. But if they had been busted under todays Draconian laws, they wouldnt have had successful careers. And thats another cost thats never figured out.
So I think as much as I have worked with Ethan for 15 years, that we shouldnt forget that for the first 140 years of this Republic, your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included the right to use any substance that you wanted, and to sell it. Bayer Aspirin sold heroin tablets for children that you could buy, and you could buy other drugs in the store. And it related back to the Declaration of Independence that this was our right inherent, that we were born with. Its not the Federal government, or any governments right to dole out certain rights to us. We own those rights, and we should insist that they not take them away for our own benefit.
And I think if we stick with that principal, and bring out the prison situation, bring out the police corruption, bring out the judicial corruption, bring out the routine violation and erosion of civil rights that we all held dear, that you come back to one essential conclusion: that the criminal law should never be used against chemical substances. It has no means, no logic of being there.
And the policy in 1914 was changed by the action of fanatical religious groups, who inserted their version of sin into the penal code. And thats what were paying for: the stereotypes of drug users that they created a century ago are so strong as the users are immoral, evil people, that we cant have a rational debate on this. Theres no reason that we shouldnt.
In fact, there are a lot of reasons that we should, because of the damage that the government policies are doing. And I think thats the principle that we should never lose sight of. Its not up to the government to tell us what rights theyre going to dole out to us; we were born with those rights. (applause)
David J. Theroux
One thing I might mention about the question about prisons, we have a new book also, called Changing in the Guard, which relates to this, in part. And of course, the obvious truth that all the panelists have referred to, is the huge incarceration of peoplebecause of the criminalization of use, and so forth, of these drugs, has converted the prisons into warehouses for people who have committed non-invasive acts in most cases. How about the gentleman right here, and that will be our last question.
I wonder if there are otherother countries that have viewed drug use perhaps in a more enlightened way that we might use as models. Im thinking specifically about, for instance, the death penalty code that a lot of other countries now are against. And I wonder, is the same thought processes going on in other countries concerning drug use in terms of liberalizing it, that we might use as the model?
I mean, the answer is, yes. You especially see it in Western Europe. You see it in Australia, Canada, to some extent, the Caribbean, Latin America, essentially in a few areas. When it comes to cannabis, which is marijuana and hash, you basically see a movement towards decriminalization, and a de-facto backing in to regulation. You know, the coffee shop system in the Netherlands is not just one or two in Amsterdam, its the entire country. And the Swiss recently looked like they were going to leapfrog the Dutch, and actually do a full legalization model; they called it licensing.
But you know, last year the British moved towards decriminalization. The Canadians are heading that way. The Jamaicans just had a Commission that moved that way.
The second area is on the broader area of harm reduction; basically accepting that reducing the harms of drugs, rather than trying to reduce drug use per se, was pivotal. That meant they moved forward with needle exchange, and HIV prevention programs 20 years ago, and with much better consequences than Americas had. It also means that theyve made methadone available not just through clinics, which can be hard to reach, but really over through doctors offices, and pharmacies, making it widely available.
Theyve also begun to prescribe pharmaceutical heroin to drug addicts in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and shortly Canada will do the same thing. So you really do see a much more pragmatic policy moving forward in all of these areas.
I think the most encouraging stuff has been in Canada, which was in a placewhere we are now, is where Canada was 10 years ago, and they have moved very rapidly. I mean, they are moving far towards decriminalization, and maybe, ultimately move towards legalization of cannabis. Theyre going to set up this heroin prescription trial later on this year.
Were notsometimes I analogize this stuff historically. You look at America in the 1850s and early sixties, when we were almost the only country left in the West, except for Spain and Portugal, that still had slavery. You know, we kind of fell behind everybody else. And I think in our punitive drug prohibitionist system, were doing the same thing.
Why dont they call it a repeal instead of legalization? (laughter)
Mostly because its not something so straight forward as an 18th amendment that can be repealed. We would like to. Its an easier phrase, but there is not the thing thats clearly to be repealed.
David J. Theroux
I want to thank our three speakers. (applause)
I also want to thank all of you for joining with us to make this evening so successful. Again, there are copies of Drug War Crimes upstairs, and Im sure that Jeff would be delighted to autograph copies. For those of you who are petitioners, Im going to have to ask you to do it outside the room, though. But we look forward to you joining with us at future events. Thank you so much. And good night. (applause)
END OF EVENT