Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dude, my hands are floating

George Will, one of my favorite conservative columnists, offers an occassionally well-reasoned but flawed and contradictory defense of the war on drugs, and in particular the crackdown against marijuana users.

Will seems to imply the effort is working, noting that teenage marijuana use has declined by 18 percent over the last three years. This is significant, he writes, because, according to the U.S. drug czar, the chances that a person will use marijuana as an adult if they did not do so as a teen is slim.

But if the war on drugs is working, then why, as Will also explains, has the price of marijuana and other drugs decreased while their potency has increased? And if keeping marijuana away from teenagers and children is so important that we must make it illegal for adults as well, then why is alcohol, arguably much more destructive for all age groups, legal for adults?

Will has always been dismissive of the comparision between Prohibition and the war on drugs, noting as he does in this column that per-capita alcohol consumption fell during Prohibition and did not return to pre-Prohibition levels until the 1960s. That fails, of course, to take into account its unintended consequences--the growth of organized crime--nor does reflect an attempt to weight the costs in enforcement versus the benefits of an ostensibly more sober populace.

The fact of that matter is that alcohol has always been more socially acceptable than marijuana, but that's an arbitrary distinction. The bottom line is that government has no obligation nor should have any right to keep you from harming yourself, so long as you do not harm others. Keeping children from using mind-altering drugs until they are adults is a worthy and appropriate goal, but it does not merit taking away an adult's freedom to choose.


Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

Depending upon whom you quote, between 60 million and 80 million Americans have tried marijuana, the famed "gateway" drug. But only about 11 million are regular pot smokers. President Bush is one of those who tried it, and it's a fact that he went on to harder drugs such as cocaine. Yet he's fine now, right?
So how is it credible to suggest that those who smoke marijuana will end up dead, or are helping terrorists, etc., when even our fearless Drug War leader himself has indulged, and much of the pot smoked in this country is grown here or in Canada?
The lion's share--some 700,000 arrests--of all drug arrests in this country are marijuana-related. Hence, keeping up the fiction that pot will kill you if you smoke it is one of the few lame arguments that Drug Warriors have to prop up their racist, classist, unAmerican Drug War.
If there's true justice in the world, the Drug War will some day end, and our legislators and narcotics police will be held for crimes against humanity, like former Nazis.

9:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hyperbole by Barnes aside, JP, have you checked up the latest biz from John Forbes Kerry's national politics advisor, Ari Melber?

I actually witnessed this one in DC last week, but WAPO had the funniest write up:

And, I hate to say it, but Bill Kristol is right about the coming Dean-cum-Durbin flap:

4:23 PM

Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

It's funny, anonymous can claim I'm full of hyperbole, but he (or she) is too chickenshit to sign his name. I stand by my comments--look up the figures--700,000 is the magic marijuana arrest number. Take away those arrests and a lot of lazy, unethical people lose their jobs.
Is my comment considered gross exageration because I brought up the Nazis? Spend some time in prison for marijauna possession and you might agree that people should pay for prosecuting this evil Drug War.

8:11 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I agree with Melber's sentiments, and I think that perhaps Conyers should consider voluntary commitment, but regarding Durbin, I'm going to have to defer to Andrew Sullivan on this one:

"The moral question that Durbin is absolutely right to raise is a simple one: two years ago, would you have ever believed that the United States would be guilty of such a dehumanized treatment of a prisoner in its care? If the particulars had been changed, would you have believed that such a thing could have happened in a totalitarian regime's prison? Does the way in which human beings have been completely robbed of dignity, treated cruelly and turned figuratively into "barking dogs" shock your conscience? The moral question is not simply of degree - how widespread and systematic is this kind of inhumanity? It is of kind: is this the kind of behavior more associated with despots than with democracies? Of course it is. When a country starts treating its prisoners like animals, it has lost its moral bearings; and, in the case of the United States, is also breaking its own laws (and, in this case, the president has declared himself above the law)."

12:58 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I get the feeling you wouldn't say "chickenshit" to my face, but beyond the blunted heroism of picking a web fight you are being hyperbolic.

One cannot reasonably compare the reign of the Nazis -- who sought to exterminate millions of people, mostly Jews -- to the leaders in the war against drugs.

You might disagree with the efficacy of federal anti-narcotics policies, the fairness of the justice meted out or even the very existence of laws that seek to stamp out adult consensual behavior.

Fair enough. But the Allegheny County prosecutor, the local cops who make the bulk of the narcotics arrests, the legislators who design the sentencing guidelines and the various officials who regulate probated sentences, treatment centers and investigative units are hardly the stuff of Hitler.

A first-time collar for marijuana possession doesn't exactly send you to Bergen-Belsen.

In journalism, literature and other forms of communication, such metaphors are written off as "hyperbole."

Because I actually know what I'm talking about, and not cribbing notes from a NORML webpage, let me remind you that marijuana arrests didn't skyrocket until the early 1990s, that the rise in pot busts has mirrored an increasing number of arrests for synthetic drugs and manufactured substances, such as methamphetamines.

The reason for the increasing number of marijuana arrests has nothing whatsoever to do with increased pursuit of marijuana traffickers.

Rather, it's been a side-effect stemming from shifting business models in the narcotics trade itself.

DEA, state and local drug task forces have not concentrated on busting pot dealers, although many sellers have been swept up because of the more prevalent use of "one stop shopping" outlets (whether open air or clandestine). Unlike 14 years ago, more dealers today are likely to vend both marijuana and heroin.

The task force might investigate him for heroin sales, and get the pot arrest as a side bonus.

That said, 8.8 percent of all drug dealer arrests target heroin and cocaine sales. Marijuana sellers account for only 5.5 percent of total drug arrests.

You're keying on the possession arrest totals. Well, possession collars usually are local affairs, carried out by police who make traffic stops, party busts, gang suppression or other detentions (including emergency room interventions) that are not centered on the drug trade itself.

Marijuana possession arrests account for half of all drug arrests in toto. This, largely, has absolutely nothing to do with enforcement probing marijuana use and everything to do with the likelihood that drug users tend to prefer ingesting pot to other substances.

When they're caught up in the criminal justice system (mostly for other offenses), they're tagged with the marijuana possession because (1) it's far easier to prove; (2) it can pull in federal help in funding the prosecution, something the shoplifting, drunk driving or petty larceny book won't do.

Based on your reasoning, it would be like saying police target Budweiser drinkers because more of them are arrested for drunk driving than people who guzzle Schlitz. The reality, of course, is that Budweiser is a more popular drink, just as marijuana is a more popular drug than, say, black tar heroin.

The various possession arrest rates ape drug use survey patterns that ebb and flow along with consumer demand for the mix of intoxicants.

Oh, and another thing, the vast majority of marijuana possession arrests involve white men. This has been especially true in the long, largely unsuccessful plot eradication program.

If you're going to look, however, at drug manufacture/sales arrests, you will see far more African-Americans represented in the mix. I would assume you're not going to argue that open air drug dealers in major metropolitan areas (the easiest to catch) were targets of a racist regime.

Rather, you should argue that sentencing penalties for certain drugs (crack cocaine, especially) are disproportionate to their use in the white community, so there's a defacto penalty for selling, manufacturing or consuming drugs that are preferred by a distinct minority of African-American people.

For the raw numbers, I would refer you to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. There also are readily available Excel databases published by the Bureau of Justice Statitistics that can assist you in making arguments that rely more on facts and less on hyperbole.

OJP will be more than helpful and likely disprove the notion that they're "nazis."

Of course, it's easy to call someone a "Nazi" when you're not a serious policy maker trying to understand the nuances of the narcotics trade but, instead, a former Pulp writer.

One would imagine even a reporter could learn common policy research if he wanted to make a nuanced, informed argument about the transnational drug trade.

Or he could just call everyone involved in it a "Nazi."

Now, back to Ari Melber.

1:33 PM

Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

Or, he could be a pussy who calls himself "anonymous."
If you knew jack about me, anonymous, you'd know I'd have the balls to call you chickenshit to your face. Anyone who knows me would agree.
People of questionable ethics have no business telling anoyne what they should be ingesting or smoking.
And yes, I would say that targeting open air drug markets is not only racist, it's chickenshit.
It's easy to take shots at people without letting yourself open for a shot... So who are, oh intellectual wannabe tough guy?

3:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm someone who doesn't need to be outed providing valuable insight on a Pittsburgh blog. I do this out of respect for the blogger, not those who typically comment on it.

You're proof of that. Take a few bullet points from NORML, add in a cachet as a local news writer of few skills and some questionable ethics (see also and you get "Nazis" running the Allegheny County Department of Probation, not to mention those blackshirts running DUIs, hearing cases and monitoring piss tests.

This forum allows me to be anonymous, a point that's important both to me and my employer. Suffice it to say, however, that if I ever get a phone call from a "reporter" like you, I'll advise the secretaries to let it ring.

Potts, I'll talk to you.

3:58 PM

Blogger Jonathan Barnes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP, I agree with you (or, Sullivan) on the issue of Abu Ghraid and allegations of same at GITMO and Bagram.

Some (but not all) of the policies adopted by the White House in the WoT have been shockingly horrific. It's as if Rumsfeld unzipped and pissed on all that is good and noble about the U.S. military.

Like Sullivan, I fault those architects of the system of coercing intelligence AND the yeomen carrying out unlawful orders to make it so, such as Uniontown's own, Sgt. Granger.

You might have noticed the ongoing investigations and related courts martial of various members of the uniformed services for murder, torture and violations of basic human rights. Let's pray that these investigations continue, and that the men and women found guilty of these time-honored traditions (and their commanders) face just punishment.

That said, let's not get all Barnes-y and accuse them of being Hitler or Stalin.

So far, no one has died at GITMO, which is a far cry from the millions who were burned to death, starved, shot, exiled or allowed to expire from want or disease in the gulags or the Gestapo's death camps.

Caricature has its place, as does hyperbole, as a dramatic weight in an argument.

Such forms of rhetoric, however, should not displace a real pursuit of the truth.

I discussed these issues the other day with Sen. Joe Biden, who seems to me has made a good faith effort to unite with the GOP leadership to find a way out of this. Certainly, moderates in both parties are reaching out on this issue, which is why you see Collins, Lieberman, McCain, Corzine, Chafee, Bayh and Lugar are working so hard on these issues.

Bayh and Lugar are a case study in bipartisan comity, considering their from the same state.

I wish the House would do the same, but I can't see it happening.

Instead, you get crap like the Conyers confab's antisemitic ramblings, "no blood for oil," blah, blah, blah.

5:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're, even.

5:06 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I don't mind heated exchanges, but I do not tolerate people using derogatory language to describe third parties who are not participating. Please adhere to that rule Jonathan.

5:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest on the SCOUTS decision on ED seizures. I think this ruling is repugnant, and I can't imagine why the majority would have endorsed it.

10:46 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:19 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

This discussion is closed.

9:40 PM


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