Another Great Drug War Moment

From Radley Balko:

In February, I wrote the following about a drug raid in Missouri:

SWAT team breaks into home, fires seven rounds at family’s pit bull and corgi (?!) as a seven-year-old looks on.

They found a “small amount” of marijuana, enough for a misdemeanor charge. The parents were then charged with child endangerment.

So smoking pot = “child endangerment.” Storming a home with guns, then firing bullets into the family pets as a child looks on = necessary police procedures to ensure everyone’s safety.

Just so we’re clear.

Now there’s video, which you can watch below. It’s horrifying, but I’d urge you to watch it, and to send it to the drug warriors in your life. This is the blunt-end result of all the war imagery and militaristic rhetoric politicians have been spewing for the last 30 years—cops dressed like soldiers, barreling through the front door middle of the night, slaughtering the family pets, filling the house with bullets in the presence of children, then having the audacity to charge the parents with endangering their own kid…

There are 100-150 of these raids every day in America, the vast, vast majority like this one, to serve a warrant for a consensual crime.

But Jonathan Whitworth won’t be smoking that pot they found in his possession. So I guess this mission was a success.

Real Shocker: Drug Enforcement Increases Violence

Remember Calderón’s It’s-OK-if-criminals-kill-criminals argument? In light of the new study that finds increasing drug enforcement increases violence, our last drug czar weighed in:

The former drug czar, John Walters, said the researchers gravely misinterpret drug violence. He said spikes of attacks and killings after law enforcement crackdowns are almost entirely between criminals, and therefore may, in a horrible, paradoxical way, reflect success.

If only we could regulate more behaviors with so much bloodshed.

[via Pete Guither]


…Deaths in the last three years of Mexico’s drug war. While U.S. prohibitions create thousands of criminals, Calderón reassures us they’re mostly killing each other. Of course plenty of cops, govt. officials, and innocent kids are in that figure, too. With the Mexican economy going South—especially tourism—parents will just have to hope their children don’t go into…the only highly profitable industry.

I see this situation as definitive proof that our current drug policies are immoral. At the very least the federal government should not strong arm other countries into fighting the supply of drugs into the U.S. We have no business imposing these harms outside our borders.

Mexicans would be wise to boot their “wage war on the cartels” politicians and try to regulate the supply chain, or return to the good old days when suppliers to the U.S. market were quietly ignored by law enforcement.

Walter McKay provides ongoing coverage on the LEAP blog.

Voicing Opposing to UF’s E-cigarette Ban

Update Nov. 15: My letter to the editor in Monday’s Alligator.

Recently I wrote about the potential e-cigarettes hold for harm reduction, so when the University of Florida proposed a regulation that would expand its tobacco use ban to explicitly include e-cigarettes, I decided to speak up. Today I sent the following e-mail to Paula Fussell, Vice President for Human Resources. Continue reading  

More Cannabis Research Around the Corner?

Today almost no credible evidence suggests that cannabis belongs on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, alongside drugs like heroin. This position has stifled medical research of the drug and its component chemicals for 39 years, making research extremely expensive and arbitrarily difficult to secure compared to that of much more harmful drugs.

A few organizations have spent enormous amounts of money going through the formal petition process in good faith to reschedule cannabis, and each petition has been met with blatant obstructionism; lengthy delays, arbitrary dismissals, last-minute over-rulings. The current petition hasn’t been acted on since its submission seven and a half years ago.

Two signs suggest we may soon see a relaxation of the unjustified limitations imposed on researchers.

1. One of the last influential and independent voices claiming that the drug had no medicinal properties (ignoring an absurd amount of evidence) was the American Medical Association. Today they finally fixed that. They make a very reasonable request:

Our American Medical Association (AMA) urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines. This should not be viewed as an endorsement of state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product. [AMA statement pdf]

Sativex vs Old Timey Meds!2. Sativex is an oral spray pharmaceutical made from the whole cannabis plant; it should look suspiciously familiar to these medicinal extracts used around the turn of the century. Already approved in Canada, it’s breezing through U.S. phase III clinical trials for M.S. treatment, with FDA approval potentially a couple years away (barring political shenanigans). Upon approval, whole-plant cannabinoids–not just the isolated THC in dronabinol–can finally be easily studied for the treatment of other ailments.

If a cannabis extract proves to be as effective and safe as many scientists expect, I think it’s likely the public will demand more research in this area via some alteration of the Controlled Substances Act. My bet is that politics will keep marijuana in Schedule I, and (a generic name for) Sativex will be placed in Schedule III. This would ease research considerably while ensuring GW Pharmaceuticals enjoyed a healthy monopoly for years to come.

As for why cannabinoid research is so damned important, see GW Pharm’s site.

E-cigarette: Potentially a huge harm reduction win

I first learned about e-cigarettes from Reason’s coverage of the FDA’s rush to ban them, and of the rightful criticism of that intent from the American Association of Public Health Physicians. Without smoke (e-cigs are miniature vaporizers), nicotine use is likely to be many magnitudes less harmful to the body.

The hope is that e-cig use wouldn’t be more harmful than downing a few espressos, but the research to confirm that absolutely needs to be done. In the meantime, we should allow adult smokers to try them. Taking them off the market would be ironic and cruel to today’s smokers and their families, who are absolutely certain that their–now FDA approved–smoking habit is leading them to an early grave.

We should also carefully regulate e-cigs, answering some hard questions. Should we restrict use to places where smoking is allowed? I’m not so sure that’s wise. An e-cig user is obviously taking an expensive step to reduce the harm to herself and others; should we punish her and force her to be around smoke, or use tolerance of e-cigs to encourage other smokers to also switch?

If a bit of vaporized nicotine turns out to be completely benign to bystanders, the public should concede that e-cig use just isn’t smoking (and we should rename it). We coffee and soda addicts enjoy the privilege (burden) of being able to catch our fix nearly anywhere, so we should consider being more accommodating for the sake of public health. We’re often talking about our parents and relatives.

Now it looks like Philip Morris may buy exclusive rights to e-cigs in the U.S. If their intent is to kill e-cigs, it would be consistent with their evil. On the other hand, PM would likely have the resources to get e-cigs through FDA approval, so literally the lives of many nicotine addicts could be saved if we allow PM to use its marketing muscle to turn smokers into e-cig users. Do we hate Philip Morris more than we care for the well-being of smokers?

Update: Great info on this topic at, run by Dr. Carl Phillips, Associate Professor in the University of Alberta Department of Public Health Sciences.

Groups that are truly anti-smoking should embrace any alternative, but those that are more interested in making life difficult for smokers or nicotine users do not like these products because they could make nicotine users more comfortable.

One of the site’s headings: “Smokers have more choices than just quitting or dying.” Can’t agree more.

Thoughts on The Wire Season One

(From January 7)

Over the break Kathleen and I watched a bunch of movies, but season 1 of The Wire delivered beyond the hype it got from friends. It gives a crash course on the frustration and futility of local cops fighting drug gangs on the street level in West Baltimore. The police jump through major hoops to get an idea of the shape of the organization, and use civilians who risk their lives informing on the gangs, but there’s zero day to day effort made to actually keep drugs out of the hands of people.

The police would do more good just walking up and slapping drugs out of the hands of dealers directly all day. What you have instead is the slow methodical building of cases designed to put away upper level gang members. This takes a lot of time, and in the meantime people suffer from addiction and the added pressure applied to the gangs results in increased violence. In the end a few people designated to take the fall (or with the least information to barter with) get sent away, and the addicts remain potential customers, ensuring the business continues to attract new members. Continue reading  

Plan Juarez

If you haven’t noticed, Juarez and many other Mexican cities are facing a violent crisis. The drug cartels are so well funded and armed that they can bribe officials and even threaten police chiefs into retirement. The drugs moved by the traffickers can, of course, cause harm, but Mexico’s problem isn’t a “drug problem” but rather a prohibition problem.

The relatively rich people of U.S. and Canada create a huge demand for drugs, both government regulated and illegal. By waging war on some drugs, we outsource much of our illegal drug production to South America. Mexico has traditionally given lip service to our prohibition, but not devoted much to the effort in practice, forcing the U.S. deal with the problem on our side of the border and in Colombia. This allowed the cartels to work in relative peace for many years, but this was still unacceptable to former president Vicente Fox. Fox battled the cartels and managed to unseat a few kingpins, which only led to more violence. When Calderón replaced Fox in 2006, he declared his own war on the cartels, calling in federal troops to replace the police and greatly escalating the war.

U.S. officials and drug warriors, of course, find the violence acceptable. “There will be more violence, more blood, and, yes, things will get worse before they get better. That’s the nature of the battle,” said U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza. (Would these people find it acceptable if thousands of U.S. citizens were dying and living in a police state to prohibit sales of goods to Canadians?)

A Solution for the People of Mexico

It is not your money, guns, or addictions that are feeding the violence in your country. I propose that you end the war on your fellow citizens.

  1. Create a license to legally produce and traffic “illegal” drugs strictly for export to the U.S.
  2. Allow licensees to freely operate, but with taxes and rules, while continuing to fight unlicensed organizations.
  3. Allow law-based disagreement resolution mechanisms and revoke licenses from organizations linked to violence.

In other words, you should make your narcotraficante industry look more like UPS and Budweiser than Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit.

Resistance to such a policy would come primarily from key players in the drug war. Your cartels will want to maintain control, but their profits will die as non-violent businessmen take up licenses and take their business. Our DEA may suggest closing your border or even replacing your government by force; we’ve done it before.

In the end you’ll have to decide what is in the best interest of your people. Is it worth their lives and the very stability of your government to prevent Michael Phelps from hitting a bong?