May 21, 2012

The Kinder, Gentler Drug Czar Still Wants To Lock You Up For Pot

May 21, 2012
Gil Kerlikowske drug czar marijuana

Gil Kerlikowske

By “Radical” Russ Belville

Letting The Days Go By… Let The Water Hold Me Down… Letting The Days Go By… Water Flowing Underground
Into The Blue Again… After The Money’s Gone… Once In A Lifetime… Water Flowing Underground
Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was…
Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was… Same As It Ever Was…

The Talking Heads — “Once in a Lifetime”

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has a new article at the Huffington Post where he once again attempts to fulfill his statutory duty to scare the bejeezus out of Americans who might be considering the legalization of marijuana in three states and the medicalization of marijuana in a dozen others. This time he cites stats from something called ADAM warning that over half of arrestees in ten surveyed metro areas tested positive for drugs! You need to be afraid, very afraid, of the crime-seeking drug junkies!

He opens by setting the “Kinder Gentler Drug Warrior” frame established by his former advisor, Dr. Kevin Sabet, Ph.D. — the idea that both legalization and prohibition are ideological extremes. Gateway Gil has even begun using our terminology (“we can’t arrest our way out of this problem”) to pretend that the Obama Administration presents a rational, compassionate third approach:

One month ago today, we released the Obama Administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, a drug policy grounded in sound research from the world’s preeminent drug abuse researchers. This policy marks a departure from the debate I’ve seen develop during the past few years, which has lurched between two extreme views. On one side are those who suggest that drug legalization is the “silver bullet” solution to our nation’s drug problem. On the other are those who still believe that the “War on Drugs,” law-enforcement-only strategy is the way forward. Our policies reject both these extremes in favor of a “third way” to approach drug control.

How does that “third way” work? Well, instead of busting you for smoking pot and putting you in a cage, the kinder gentler drug warrior will bust you for smoking pot and put you before a judge in a drug court who lets you “choose” between rehab and a cage. Then in rehab, they’ll force you to swallow and regurgitate lies about your “problem” marijuana use, require you to pee in a cup and, should that turn up positive, put you in a cage for smoking pot for a longer time than if you’d just chosen the cage in the first place. See, in the old “War on Drugs” paradigm, we only created jobs and revenue for cops, judges, lawyers, and prison guards. With the “Kinder Gentler War on Drugs”, we add jobs for rehabs, pee testers, and probation officers, too.

They say if you want to understand an organization’s priorities, don’t look at their mission statement, look at their budgets. Here are the budgets for the “War on Drugs”, divided between “war” (or “supply reduction” — busting druggies, seizing drugs, paying other countries to bust druggies and seize drugs) and “drugs” (or “demand reduction” — preventing drug us, treating drug addiction):

Drug War Budget 2013

As you can see, while the Obama Administration has, indeed, increased funding for treatment and prevention over the Bush Administration’s budgets. But Obama has increased funding for law enforcement, interdiction, and international funding, too. In overall terms, Obama has devoted $102 billion in his first term to the War on Drugs, while in Bush’s last four years, the figure is $91 billion. The percentage of the War on Drugs that is still dedicated to the “war” side averages at 59.3% throughout the first four years of Obama, when it averaged 59.0% in the last four years of Bush.

The latest survey numbers he twists into a pretzel to find a way to scare you are from something called ADAM – the 2011 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Annual Report. In his essay, Gateway Gil warns:

This study found a majority of adult males arrested for crimes tested positive for an illegal drug at the time of their arrest. In fact, positive drug tests among arrestees ranged from 64 percent in Atlanta, GA, to 81 percent in Sacramento, CA.

These data were obtained from individuals booked for all types of crimes, from misdemeanors to felonies, and not just those arrested on drug charges. The ADAM program tests only for drugs marijuana, cocaine, opiates (including heroin and prescription pain relievers), amphetamines/methamphetamine, Darvon, PCP, benzodiazepines, methadone, and barbiturates – not alcohol.

Real quick, let’s just knock these points down with simple common sense, then I’ll dig deeper into the numbers and tell you what they really mean. The basic premise is that these scary stats are padded by including marijuana users, whose most likely crime is possessing or growing or trafficking marijuana. Sure, we all worry about the meth tweekers stealing cable off bridges, the coke fiends committing petty crimes, the heroin junkies trespassing and loitering, and the alcoholics crashing their cars and getting into fights, but does anybody really think smoking weed is leading people to harm others?

  1. Alcohol and CrimeTesting positive for marijuana tells you nothing about whether a person is under the influence of marijuana. Since marijuana can test positive for weeks after use, and since (at minimum) 17.4 million Americans aged 12+ uses marijuana monthly, all we’re discovering is that some criminals might have smoked pot this month, not that smoking pot made them criminals.
  2. “…not just those arrested on drug charges” tells us they are including people who are busted on drug charges, doesn’t it? So you found that people busted for having, growing, or selling pot have some pot in their systems? Great work, Inspector Holmes!
  3. Oh, we’re not including alcohol, the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind? Why is that? Could it be the crime stats about drugs you’d scare people with would be much worse if we were talking about booze?

The first mistaken premise in Gateway Gil’s scaremongering is the idea that we’re talking about a bunch of out-of-control maniacs high on drugs committing crimes. Most people understand that there are “drugs” and there is “marijuana”. In fact, even going all the way back to the 1972 release of the Shafer Commission’s Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding report to President Nixon, our government has been well aware of the fact that pot smokers aren’t any more criminal (aside from smoking pot) than the general population:

…”marijuana only” marijuana users are only very slightly more likely to commit crimes than non-users…. In fact, the “marijuana only” user is far more similar to the non-user in number of offenses committed than he is to the user of marijuana plus two or more other drugs….

Our confidence in the lack of basic association between marijuana use itself and offenses—and our ability to attribute the simple original relationship to the use of drugs other than marijuana-is strengthened when we examine the relationship between frequency of use and offenses, holding the use of other drugs constant…. Among “marijuana only” users, there is no statistically significant correlation between frequency of use and the commission of crimes—the differences are small, insignificant, and in no consistent direction. Among users of one other drug, likewise, frequency of marijuana use is extremely loosely associated with committing offenses-the differences which are observed are small, statistically insignificant, and point in no particular direction. And lastly, among users of two or more other drugs aside from marijuana, the association between frequency of marijuana use and the commission of the offenses described earlier is loose and not at all significant.

ADAM Drug TestsOf course the Drug Czar knows this, but one of the tenets of the Drug War is that you must always include marijuana among the hard drugs in order for the numbers to be big enough to scare anyone. For example, it is absolutely true to point out that at least 8.35% of the US population aged 12 and older will use illegal drugs this month [Table B.3]. However, it is also true that the same monthly drug use figure is only 3.53% if you don’t count marijuana [Table B.6]. If you do the math on that, you’ll find that 57% of the monthly “drug users” are just pot smokers.

Indeed, looking at Table 3.3 of the ADAM report shows us that between 64.1% — 81.0% of the male arrestees tested positive for any drug, but Table 3.5 shows us that between 35.9% — 56.1% of them were testing positive for marijuana.

The second mistaken premise is that all crimes committed by people who tested positive for drugs were a result of the drug’s effects causing the criminal to commit the crime, not the illegality of the drug itself leading to the crime. As mentioned above, drug crimes are included in these ADAM data, with the percentage of drug crime arrests ranging from 14.2% (Denver) to 46.4% (Chicago). Obviously, if you do drugs, you’re committing a crime, and when they arrest you for that, you’re likely to test positive for drugs. If merely drinking, brewing, or buying a beer were crimes, you’d discover a strong correlation between alcohol and crime, too (I mean, a stronger correlation than already exists).

Other crimes, too, can be a result of the drug’s prohibition more so than the effect of the drug. Property crimes (10.7% — 30.2%) can result from addicts having to steal to afford or find drugs — a situation rarely faced by an alcoholic. Violent crimes (16.4% — 28.5%) can result from drug deals gone bad — a situation you almost never hear of when buying beer at the supermarket.

The third mistaken premise, and the heart of the new kinder gentler Drug War, is that we’re rejecting the extremes of legalization vs. prohibition in favor of a “third way approach to drug control.” This is the Drug War Strawman, because the actual debate is over who should run the drug markets, violent criminals or regulated businessmen.

The Drug Czar is operating under a priori assumption that government has the right and the duty to stop adults from taking drugs. But every argument that can be made to support that assumption — crime reduction, public health, workplace safety, and economic productivity — is an even better argument for the government to prohibit the use of alcohol and tobacco by adults. The Drug Czar crows “Over the past 30 years, the overall rate of current drug use in America has dropped by roughly one third,” without noting that over the same period, past month alcohol use by adults dropped 6% and tobacco use dropped 33%, and we didn’t arrest a single person for merely drinking a beer or smoking a cigarette to affect that change. In other words, use of all drugs, legal and illegal (except booze), are down by roughly one third.

Marijuana Arrests and ImprisonmentThe facts are these: in the beginning of the 20th Century, about 2% — 5% of the US population were addicted to hard drugs, mostly the opium preparations known as “patent medicines” like morphine, laudanum, and other “Mother’s Helpers”. In the beginning of the 21st Century, about 3.6% of the US population are using drugs other than marijuana in the past month. The big difference you find is in what we do to try to deal with that small minority of citizens with drug abuse issues, which these days means locking them up in a prison. In 1900, just 69 in 100,000 citizens was imprisoned; today that figure is 478 in 100,000, with 23% of those imprisoned for drug crimes. This makes the US the world’s top jailer, with more imprisoned per capita (1 in 143) and overall (1.3 million) than even China with over four times our population.

So when the Drug Czar tries to scare you with the notion that people taking drugs are out committing crimes, remind him that most of the crime committed is because it is illegal for people to take drugs, and most of the drugs we’re talking about are marijuana.

Article originally appeared on and was republished with special permission


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