Tag Archives: Ethan Nadelmann

Harm Reduction vs. Legalization – The Myths and Politics

by Robert Weiner, originally published in the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly last October:  Last week, the Harm Reduction Coalition held its conference in Baltimore. Marijuana legalization is not one of its issues, which are mainly access to clean needles and syringes, overdose prevention with naloxone, HIV and hepatitis C, and the rights of drug users. Keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), supports naloxone and medication-assisted treatment. He is a clear harm reduction advocate, but not an advocate of marijuana legalization.

But harm reduction sometimes gets confused with marijuana legalization. I had the privilege of speaking to the “Politics” class at American University in nearby Washington, D.C. on October 20, a few days before the conference was to begin. I was invited to discuss the movement toward drug legalization. I also covered some “harm reduction” assertions as well.

Unfortunately, because the legalization movement is sweeping across America, my counterpoints were very well-received — I say “unfortunately” because we are being overcome by the tidal wave of the movement. Here is some of what I said to Assistant Professor Rick Semiatin’s “Washington Semester” class of juniors and seniors from 200 colleges and universities across the United States.

I’m a “liberal” on most things, but on the drug issue, I know the harm that is done by car crashes, DUIs, date rape and the impact of flooding already overcrowded emergency rooms — and that includes from marijuana, which most “legalizers” claim they want to separate from “harder” drugs. I was the one who wrote then-Congressman Ed Koch’s testimony on his bill in the 1970s to legalize marijuana, and sat with him at the table as he told Congress that drugs are personal and harmless, and that we should stop crowding our prisons. But both Ed and I learned and changed our positions, he as mayor of New York City and me as I learned more and more as spokesman for the House Narcotics Committee and then the White House ONDCP.

I told the students that the election is being overwhelmed by the issue because my own party, the Democrats, don’t want to touch it. They are afraid their candidates will lose a big chunk of the youth and liberal base who support legalization/decriminalization in the legislatures and state referenda. Like laetrile in the 1970s (which was legalized in more than 20 states and was supposed to cure cancer but turned out to be useless apricot pits that simply deferred real and needed treatment), “medical” marijuana is backed up only anecdotally and never is compared to an “n” of other treatment modalities that would be prescribed by doctors. There is truth to former drug czar Barry McCaffrey’s joke that a shot of gin also takes away your pain. Having said that, no one wants to deny a truly sick or dying patient who wants to get high the opportunity to feel better, even if it’s a placebo effect. It’s not the truly “medical” cases anyone wants to stop; it’s what law enforcement tells us are the 90+ % (and as many as 99 %) non-sick people who also come in to the clinics feigning illness with a makeshift letter just to get drugs.addiction equality

Harms of marijuana

The evidence on harm in the legalizing states is rolling in. You have to scrounge for the reports, but they say, “youth marijuana use increased by nearly 11 % since medical marijuana became legal in 2009,” “traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana have increased by 100 percent between 2007 and 2012” and “toxicology reports with positive marijuana results for driving under the influence have increased 16 % from 2011 to 2013.” In addition, Colorado Public Radio reported, “Denver Emergency Room Doctor Seeing More Patients for Marijuana Edibles.” The United Nations reported, “Marijuana-related Health Problems on Rise in US,” with a 12 % rise last year in marijuana usage by teens.

But for the most part, the legalization referenda are speeding ahead. The most-cited ones, in Oregon and D.C., show legalization 11 and 20 points up, respectively, with just days before the election, and the legalization advocates say they are counting on “young voter turnout.” Since Democrats count on that demographic as well, you can understand the silence.

Even though Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told me personally two weeks ago that “I’m concerned about legalization” because of car crashes, emergency room upticks, the horrible message to kids (how legalization disarms parents from the moral high ground on the message), and the like, politicians in the state are silent on the issue.

Of course, the legalizers say the drug war is a “failure.” But the students I addressed did open their eyes when I said that because of the efforts of parents, teachers, coaches and religious and business leaders, and a strong foreign policy (Plan Colombia) and domestic enforcement efforts, drug use has declined almost 50 % in the last three decades, and cocaine use — the disproportionate driver of crime — is down 70 %. If any other social problem, such as literacy, hunger or poverty, or health problem, such as cancer, diabetes and heart attacks, improved 50–70 %, would we call it a failure?DOJMarijuana

Drug Courts Work

To these quite smart college juniors and seniors, I pointed out that medically assisted treatment — including methadone, buprenorphine and Vivitrol — is in fact harm reduction. It’s valid because people can function, work and pay taxes. But if we’re talking about heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to addicts, that’s pure nonsense that destroys their lives. If we are talking about marijuana, I still oppose it because it jams hospital emergency rooms with car crashes and treatment centers with patients. Legalization or decriminalization would simply increase availability and use. When I debate the Ethan Nadelmanns of the world on radio or Bill Maher or Crossfire, they invariably say, “That’s true but…” I cut in and say, “You can’t say ‘but’ to more availability and use — that’s the point. Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

I do concede we need to stop prison overcrowding but point out that’s why Attorney General Janet Reno and ONDCP Director McCaffrey supported creating drug courts, for treatment instead of prison for nonviolent drug offenders. There were eight drug courts when we started in 1996. Drug courts rose to 1,000 under Clinton-Reno-McCaffrey, and now are near 3,000.

Science, not politics, should guide U.S. drug policy.  Bob Weiner is former spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the House Narcotics Committee and the House Government Operations Committee. He now heads up a public affairs and issues strategies group in Washington, D.C., Robert Weiner Associates, and is founder and president of Solutions for Change, a foundation supporting young journalists to write op-eds informing the public on issues in major newspapers. He can be contacted at weinerpublic@comcast.net

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Legalization Doesn’t End Drug Wars

The cause of drug violence in Mexico, Central America  and South America is NOT the  US government, as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), ACLU, NORML and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) want us to think. Their argument that the violence of drug gangs and cartels is caused by US policy shows a lack of understanding of the nature of drugs.

If it’s not naivete, it’s probably outright deception to say government can tax marijuana and take profits away from criminals, and the pro-legalization forces probably realize it, too.  In fact, there’s plenty of evidence which  traces the US  heroin crisis, to Mexican cartels moving into poppies instead weed.

Marijuana businesses are incorporating with slick marketing campaigns.  Businesses run by MBAs, like Privateer Holdings, go forward, without a word from the U.S. Department of Justice, the FDA, the Treasury Department, or any other governmental agency that is constitutionally mandated to uphold federal laws.  It could be only a short time before big tobacco companies get into the market, too.

We’re being misled by Ethan Nadelmann, Keith Stroup, Mason Tvert and others who, along with their billionaire benefactors and a complicit media, have turned a dangerous psychotropic drug into a cause célèbre.  The marijuana industry pretends that the US government is to blame for the greedy violent wars between drug cartels, and that legions of people are in jail for drug possession alone.

Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages. Top: Johnny Depp starred in Blow, played George Jung who -- now in jail -- brought the Columbian cocaine trade to the US
Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages. Top: Johnny Depp starred in Blow, played George Jung who — now in jail — brought the Columbian cocaine trade to the US
Some state governments and/or voters  have surrendered to the drug culture because they’ve been misled.

 When Drug Wars Occur

Drug wars happen when growers and cartels compete to have the strongest, most potent strains of marijuana.   Drug wars go out of control when gangs and cartels fight for greater share of the obscene profits.  Competition for the stronger, “better” strains of marijuana — meaning high-THC — is a reason that marijuana is so much stronger today, quicker to cause psychosis and quicker to get our children hooked on it and other drugs.

We can see the violence that comes with the competition in the drug trade in the book and movie, Savages of 2012, with Benicio del Toro.  An earlier movie  Blow, in which Johnny Depp played notorious drug dealer George Jung, tries to illicit sympathy for the criminal who was instrumental in bringing the Columbian cocaine trade to the USA.  It is clear that greed and adventure motivated Jung, without concern about the harmful consequences to others.

Marijuana plants have undergone a huge genetic alteration over the last 20 years to get a higher THC content.   American cannabis plants have been interbred with the plants native to central Asia, where it is believed that the high THC content protected the plants from the sun. THC is the ingredient in marijuana which produces a high, now often as high as 20%, compared to an average around 1-3% in the 1970s.

Marijuana advocates who say “drug wars don’t work,”  play into current anti-government sentiments.  They say those who don’t agree with marijuana must be taking money from the drug-making companies, the police unions, alcohol industry, the prison or prison guard industry.  Otherwise, how could anyone not believe in their psychotropic drug that has been manipulated — to become stronger and to work medical miracles, as they claim? Now it’s revealed that the alcohol industry doesn’t care, and big pharmaceuticals aren’t fight it. In their twisted logic, marijuana financiers say the US has created cartel violence in Mexico. Violence of course has many causes including poverty.

childrendrugdeals
Photo courtesy of http://killthedemand.com/mm.html

Most marijuana is grown in the US now.  So Mexican cartels have moved into the heroin trade, and they have strong demand in the US.  There’s also evidence that cartels have moved out of Colorado into Central America, and are causing our heroin epidemic today.

Drug Policy – Violence Theory

The drug policy – violence theory also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of humanity.  Gangs and cartels are money-making paths that bring profits quickly.  Anyone can be lured into the profit motive without fully thinking of the harm, particularly when a person is young and risky behaviors make it seem exciting.  There is a certain “high” that comes from evading the law.

Criminal businesses will be always be attractive to both the rich and the poor.  Some cartel leaders are well-educated and even rich.  If it were only about income inequality, many would get out of the drug trade sooner.  We need to foster opportunities for the poor, so they don’t see drug dealing as the only route out of poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, the dealers, gangs and cartels are hungry for power.  They wouldn’t lose power over people, if pot became legal! They would branch out to other crimes such as human trafficking, and to stronger drugs.

Photo courtesy of http://killthedemand.com/mm.html
Photo courtesy of http://killthedemand.com/mm.html

Anyone who believe drug wars totally failed should explain:  Why  don’t we hear about Medillín Cartel any longer?  We should be happy that cocaine and crack are less prevalent in the US.

Those who criticize the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) need to realize that the child abuse that comes with drug usage is much greater than mistakes made by the DEA.

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