Should the FDA Regulate Recreational Drugs?

…We may need to consider giving the FDA the authority to approve the least harmful recreational drugs. The best way to fight the market is with the market, even though that may mean making uncomfortable choices. Drug demand isn’t going away, so we can either increase the harm related to it by using criminal sanctions and incarceration, or we can try to reduce it with less dangerous alternatives like treatment, education and regulation.

Drug regulation is a solution that has worked before and it should at least be properly debated, especially if we want to approach our current drug problems as a health matter, not a criminal one. An obvious place to start would be to consider submitting marijuana to the FDA approval process. Or, we can continue to play whack-a-mole and hope that none of these new drugs triggers a public health disaster.


New Jersey will begin requiring nonviolent, drug-addicted offenders to enter treatment programs, even if they don’t apply for admission, rather than be locked up in state prisons, under a law enacted by Gov. Chris Christie.

“What we’re dealing with with most people here is an addiction, an illness, that needs to be treated as such,” said Christie. “I truly, firmly believe that this will not only be extraordinarily successful in terms of the numbers that it will produce over time, but I also believe that even if it was successful only once we could claim success.”

Not only are MDMA related cases a small percentage of all drug-related emergency room visits, but a large percentage of MDMA cases are not life-threatening. In a recent study conducted by the physicians in the Emergency Department of Bellevue, regional hospital ecstasy cases phoned into the New York City poison control center were analyzed. There were 191 cases reported during the years 1993 to 1999 inclusive. This is a rate of fewer than thirty cases per year. 139 cases (73%) were mild and experienced minor or no toxicity. The most commonly reported symptoms were increased heart rate (22%), agitation (19%), and nausea and vomiting (12%). In these seven years, only one ecstasy-related death was reported, which was due to hyperthermia, or overheating. Ecstasy is simply not the “killer drug” the media would like us to believe.

Since Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón began an all-out assault on drug cartels in 2006, more than 50,000 people have lost their lives across the country in a nearly-continuous string of shootouts, bombings, and ever-bloodier murders. Just last weekend, 49 decapitated bodies were reportedly discovered on a highway in northern Mexico. The New York Times reports on an increasing numbness and apathy among Mexicans after years of worsening carnage, about which they’ve been able to do virtually nothing.

The reason there’s violence in underground markets is because they’re underground. People can’t resolve disputes in underground markets with lawyers, with advertising, with courts….They need some other mechanism to resolve their disputes and the natural thing is violence.
- Jeffrey Miron, Marijuana: A Chronic History

Correcting Bush’s Drug Czar

Legalized Drugs: Dumber Than You May Think - John P. Walters

…as imperfect as surveys may be, they present overwhelming evidence that the drug problem is growing smaller and has fallen in response to known, effective measures. Americans use illegal drugs at substantially lower rates than when systematic measurement began in 1979—down almost 40 percent. Marijuana use is down by almost half since its peak in the late 1970s, and cocaine use is down by 80 percent since its peak in the mid-1980s. Serious challenges with crack, meth, and prescription drug abuse have not changed the broad overall trend: Drug use has declined for the last 40 years, as has drug crime.

According to USA Today, “Marijuana, with 17.4 million users, is by far the most commonly used drug. Its popularity is growing: 6.9% of the population reported using marijuana regularly, up from 5.8% in 2007.” Among teens, says The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, “heavy” marijuana use is up 80% since 2008. As the chart below demonstrates, marijuana use and illicit drug use in general have risen over the past few years. 


Walters is arguing that there has been a general decrease in drug use over the long term and not necessarily on a year to year basis. However, a 2010 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which Walters used to be the White House director of, showed that illegal drug use is higher than it has been for nearly a decade. From MSNBC: “About 21.8 million Americans, or 8.7 percent of the population age 12 and older, reported using illegal drugs in 2009. That’s the highest level since the survey began in 2002.”

According to Gallup polls, in 1973 12% of respondents said they tried marijuana. By 1977, that number had doubled to 24%. By 1999, the number had increased again to 34%. It’s debatable as to whether or not more people simply felt comfortable admitting to marijuana use or whether more people were actually using marijuana, but either way, there is simply no evidence of the drug war, started by Richard Nixon in 1971, having decreased the number of people who admit to smoking weed. This is despite skyrocketing incarceration rates, shown in the chart below.


 The are many criticisms to be made of Walter’s assertions, such as marijuana being far less dangerous than alcohol or the fact that drug-related crimes have decreased because crime in general has decreased or that countries with liberal drug laws have the lowest usage rates or that he has failed to prove that the war on drugs actually caused rather than coincided with decreased usage of cocaine.

But for now, let’s just look at the available data and state the obvious: there is nothing impressive about the results of the war on drugs and there is mounting evidence that legalization can do so much more.

The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.

The appeal of legalization is clear. At a stroke, it would wipe out most problems of the black market by depriving gun-wielding thugs of their competitive advantage. But for it to work, it would have to include not just the possession of drugs but their production as well—and not just of marijuana but of substances that really are very dangerous: cocaine, crack, heroin and methamphetamine.

Legalizing possession and production would eliminate many of the problems related to drug dealing, but it would certainly worsen the problem of drug abuse. We could abolish the illicit market in cocaine, as we abolished the illicit market in alcohol, but does anyone consider our current alcohol policies a success? In the U.S., alcohol kills more people than all of the illicit drugs combined (85,000 deaths versus 17,000 in 2000, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Alcohol also has far more addicted users.

Any form of legal availability that could actually displace the illicit markets in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine would make those drugs far cheaper and more available. If these “hard” drugs were sold on more or less the same terms as alcohol, there is every reason to think that free enterprise would work its magic of expanding the customer base, and specifically the number of problem users, producing an alcohol-like toll in disease, accident and crime.


Rethinking the War on Drugs - The Wall Street Journal

Portugal’s decade-long experiment with legalization isn’t mentioned in this article so I have to assume the authors thought the subject irrelevant to their argument (perhaps because Portugal’s success disproves their assertion that legalization must increase drug abuse).

It should go without saying that legalization comes with strings attached, specifically that all substances would be taxed, restricted, and regulated and that money currently spent on incarceration and enforcement of drug laws would instead be used to finance effective rehabilitation programs and clinics. This should go without saying because as far as I know, virtually all legalization advocates, from conservatives to progressives to libertarians, all support a shift from treating drugs as a criminal issue to treating it as a health issue.

The alcohol comparison is an interesting one but there are some major differences between alcohol use and drug use. For one thing, alcohol use is glorified in our culture whereas heroin use or meth use is not. Users of hard drugs such as heroin, crack, and meth tend to be poor people who are using drugs to escape their misery. Since the root of hard drug use tends to be the result of poverty, poor education, and a lack of proper health care, all of these topics need to be addressed if we are to effectively combat drug addiction. It should also be mentioned that addicts report that the greatest hindrance to seeking help with their addiction is their fear of getting arrested. Eliminate this fear and more addicts will seek treatment. 

I sound like a broken record, but Portugal is doing precisely what I and other legalization advocates are calling for and this policy has proven incredibly successful over a 10 year period.    


The Economist: Why are the feds cracking down on marijuana in states that allow it?

[Marijuana] dispensaries, and even landlords of dispensary-operators, all over California, Colorado and Montana have been getting menacing letters. Many have closed shop. Growers and users are by turns livid and scared. Some have protested. Others have ducked back into the black market, as in the old days before medical marijuana was allowed.

The question is why the federal government is doing this. On the one hand there is a federal law, the Controlled Substances Act, which recognises no exception for medical marijuana and thus considers all use and trade of it criminal. But on the other hand the Obama administration originally signalled that it would not deliberately clash with the states about weed. In the so-called Ogden memo of 2009, the Justice Department advised its lawyers to leave small-beer marijuana enforcement to the states and focus on graver crimes.

But then, last year, the administration issued the Cole memo (these things are named after the deputy attorneys-general who draft them). It seemed, in dense verbiage, to suggest that the Ogden memo had been misunderstood, and that federal prosecutors should indeed go after the cannabis trade, especially if they suspect that serious money is being made.

The overall effect has been to confuse everybody and leave matters entirely at the discretion of individual prosecutors. Thus there are few signs of federal aggression in New Mexico, Rhode Island or Vermont, for instance. Rather, the crackdown appears to be occurring in just six federal districts—the four in California, and those in Montana and Colorado.

To Ethan Nadelmann, the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which lobbies for an end to the failed “war on drugs”, this suggests that six federal prosecutors may be acting on their own, perhaps even in conflict with the Obama administration. The president, in this scenario, is too afraid to touch anything that looks soft on drugs in an election year and stands weakly by.

States do not like it. Democratic and Republican legislators from five medical-marijuana states have written an open letter to Barack Obama to end the “chaos” and leave this matter to the states. Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee, governors of Washington state and Rhode Island, have asked the federal government to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug (like heroin, say) to a Schedule II drug (like morphine) so that doctors can at least prescribe it safely in certain circumstances. Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii, and Connecticut have joined in the request. Ms Gregoire has already found herself having to veto a medical-marijuana bill she supports for fear that her state employees may be indicted by federal prosecutors. To all the good reasons for drug reform can now be added this classically conservative one: states’ rights.


Global Commission on Drug Policy: War on Drugs a Failure, U.S. Should Legalize

From a BBC News article

The Global Commission on Drug Policy report calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users.

The panel includes former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The White House rejected the findings, saying the report was misguided.

As well as Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo, ex-Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, the 19-member commission includes the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the current Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou.

The panel also features prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU’s former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former US secretary of state.

It cites UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%.

The commission is especially critical of the US, saying it must abandon anti-crime approaches to drug policy and adopt strategies rooted in healthcare and human rights.

If you have not done so already, be sure to sign Avaaz’s petition to end the war on drugs. 566,000 signatures and counting.

Avaaz Petition 


Support Drug Legalization - 195,000 Signatures and Growing

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Avaaz - End the War on Drugs


Why You Should Be Excited that Gary Johnson is Running for President (And Why You Should Consider Supporting Him in the Primaries)

Gary Johnson— the pro-choice, pro-civil union, pro-marijuana Republican— is officially running for President in 2012. Johnson earned a reputation as a principled libertarian-leaning Republican who vetoed every bill in sight while serving as governor of New Mexico for two terms. 

Let me say from the outset that I am not a registered Republican and I don’t think Johnson has a chance in hell of winning the primaries, much less the general election. However, since Obama will obviously be the Democratic nominee, it may be worth briefly registering as a Republican to vote for Johnson in the primaries. Allow me to present my case.

Don’t be a partisan hack

Should a true patriot not desire to see the best representative of each party in the general election? Some Democrats are desperately hoping the Republicans will fuck up and nominate some teabagger who will have no shot at beating Obama. This sounds awfully like party loyalty above loyalty to country. Do Americans want the best candidates every time or do they only want their Party to dominate every election and thus establish a dictatorship-of-sorts in which tens of millions of Americans have no voice in their own government? A solid Republican running against a solid Democrat is good for everyone (It should be mentioned that a few Independents tossed in the mix would be nice).

Give it up for the big-balled, pro-choice Republican

Rejecting the absurd “life begins at conception” argument has long been the kiss of death for Republican candidates. So too will it be for Johnson, but any variant in the conservative candidate formula should be welcomed with open arms. Johnson seems to be the only pro-choice Republican who will run in 2012. George Pataki isn’t running. Giuliani is considering it but his performance in 2008 was too pathetic to justify another go-around. 

Johnson hasn’t highlighted social issues in either his speeches or on his campaign website. At first, this may seem like an attempt to avoid controversy and focus on fiscal matters, but Johnson has made drug reform a big part of his platform. He supports legalizing marijuana which, again, means he can never win the nomination but he can at least draw attention to this long neglected issue. 

Gary Johnson wants you to get high

Few politicians in either party treat this topic seriously, especially President Obama who has a bad habit of laughing whenever the issue is raised. One would think that since Obama, Bush, and Clinton have all used marijuana, they would at least be open to discussion of reform. It would be interesting to ask each of them if they wish they’d all been arrested when they lit up in their younger years. Does their support of current drug laws mean they wish that their friends and family members had all been arrested when they “experimented” with that funky green leaf? 

He’s a good guy…

I happen to hold the perhaps old-fashioned view that a politician’s moral character is important. I might agree with Bill Clinton on some issues but his stunning ability to pathologically lie about things that aren’t even important reveals much about what kind of President he was. Gary Johnson seems to be an honest and principled person. I’m not talking about marriage, family values, or any of that religious shit. I mean he has a demonstrated history of voting according to his beliefs and not voting to curry favor or gain supporters. This is a highly respectable, if not always practical, way to govern for which Johnson and others like him should be commended.

…but he’s still a Republican.

So on at least 3 issues, Johnson has proven himself unique. On the major issues of the day— taxes, spending, deficits and job growth— he is a rather traditional small government type. Lower taxes all around, leave it to the private sector, etc. etc. Johnson is a traditional conservative fed up with big government providing health care to people who might otherwise go bankrupt or die….sorry, I mean evil socialist Obamacare. 

I rest my case

So when it comes time to vote for a Republican nominee, consider Gary Johnson— not because he will win or because you agree with him on everything— but because the other nominees are completely pathetic and deserve your contempt. Then, go outside, give your gay lover a pat on the ass, light up a J, and suck in that sweet smoke of freedom.