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Posts Tagged ‘War on Drugs’

What word best describes the War on Drugs?

The right answer is All of the Above. Politicians have ruined lives and wasted money in a futile campaign to stop people from recreational drug use.

It may be true that people who use drugs are being stupid. Or even immoral. But the key thing to understand is that it’s a victimless crime.

Actually, that’s not true, there are victims. They’re called taxpayers, who have to finance the government’s drug war. And there are secondary victims thanks to bad laws (dealing with asset forfeiture and money laundering) that only exist because of the drug war.

Speaking of which, here’s another horror story from the drug war.

A report by the Justice Department Inspector General released Wednesday found that the DEA’s gargantuan amount of cash seizures often didn’t relate to any ongoing criminal investigations, and 82 percent of seizures it reviewed ended up being settled administratively—that is, without any judicial review—raising civil liberties concerns. …the Inspector General reports the DEA seized $4.15 billion in cash since 2007, accounting for 80 percent of all Justice Department cash seizures.

Here’s the jaw-dropping part of the story.

…$3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

In other words, the government took people’s money even they weren’t charged with a crime, much less convicted of a crime.

Drug users also can be victims. Heck, sometimes people are victims even if they’re not users, as we see from this great moment in the drug war.

“They thought they had the biggest bust in Harris County,” Ross LeBeau said. “This was the bust of the year for them.” A traffic stop in early December led to the discovery of almost half a pound of what deputies believed to be methamphetamine. The deputies arrested LeBeau and sent out a press release, including a mug shot, describing the bust. According to authorities, the arrest was due to deputies finding a sock filled with what they believed to be methamphetamine. …After the arrest, LeBeau was fingerprinted and booked into a jail where he spent three days before being released. The problem came after two field tests, performed by deputies, came back positive for meth. Later a third test was conducted by the county’s forensic lab which revealed that the kitty litter was not a controlled substance. The case was later dismissed.

And more bad things like this are probably going to happen because the Justice Department now wants a more punitive approach to victimless crimes.

C.J. Ciaramella of Reason reports on the grim details.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and maximum possible sentences available, reversing an Obama-era policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level drug crimes. …the overall message is clear: Federal prosecutors have the green light to go hard after any and all drug offenses. …The shift marks the first significant return by the Trump administration to the drug war policies that the Obama administration tried to moderate. In 2013, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered federal prosecutors to avoid charging certain low-level offenders with drug charges that triggered long mandatory sentences. The federal prison population dropped for the first time in three decades in 2014, and has continued to fall since.

Some Republicans are unhappy about this return to draconian policies.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a statement. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. …Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), although he did not directly criticize Sessions, wrote in a tweet Friday morning that “to be tough on crime we have to be smart on crime. That is why criminal justice reform is a conservative issue.”

For what it’s worth, Sessions isn’t the only one who deserves blame.

While it’s easy to point the finger at Sessions, …Congress ultimately passed the laws the Justice Department is tasked with enforcing. Lawmakers in Congress had a golden window of opportunity over the past three years to revise federal sentencing laws—with bipartisan winds at their back and a friendly administration in White House—and failed miserably.

And there is a tiny bit of good news.

…the Office of National Drug Control Policy… Trump plans to reduce the agency’s budget by 95 percent… there are plenty of actual harm reduction advocates who would be happy to see the agency close up shop.

Though don’t get too excited.

…you know what federal agency with drug policy ramifications is not dormant? The Justice Department. …In the grand scheme of the drug war, who might occupy the ONDCP’s bully pulpit matters less than the army Sessions is building.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for better policy.

Here’s another reason why the war on pot is so absurd. As reported by the Daily Caller, people without access to marijuana are more likely to get in trouble with opioids.

Opioids continue to claim 91 lives a day across the U.S., but new research shows medical marijuana programs are drastically cutting down on rates of painkiller abuse. Research from the Journal of the American Medical Association is adding to a growing body of evidence showing states with medical marijuana programs have lower rates of opioid related overdoses. Patients who are offered pot as an alternative treatment for chronic conditions are increasingly shifting off their prescription opioids entirely, reports WLBZ. The researchers found states with medical marijuana programs in 2014 had an opioid overdose rate roughly 25 percent lower than the national average.

Last but not least, an article in Reason explains how greedy politicians are undermining the otherwise successful pot legalization in Colorado.

Colorado…voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, transforming the popular stuff from a prohibited vice to a substance that could be produced, bought and sold without the hassle of hiding dealings from the authorities and the fear of arrest for voluntary transactions. Yet the marijuana black market is still going strong over four years later, with many sellers and customers willing to take a chance on legal consequences rather than make a risk-free deal. …the driving force behind the black market…is taxes so sky high and regulations so burdensome that they make legal pot uncompetitive. “An ounce of pot on the black market can cost as little as 180 dollars,” according to PBS correspondent Rick Karr. “At the store Andy Williams owns, you have to pay around 240 dollars for an ounce. That’s partly because the price includes a 15 percent excise tax, a 10 percent marijuana tax, the state sales tax, and Denver’s marijuana sales tax.” Colorado also piles on expensive regulatory requirements to get a license.

This is not a surprise.

I wrote back in 2015 that the tax burden was excessive.

Indeed, I even wondered if legalization in Colorado was a good thing if the net result was a big pile of tax revenue that could be used to expand government.

The libertarian part of me says Colorado made the right decision, though the fiscal economist part of me definitely sees a down side.

And that down side may become an even bigger downer.

Governor John Hickenlooper wants to increase the marijuana sales tax from 10 percent from 8 percent. “It seems kind of odd that at the same time they’re trying to do something about the black and gray markets they’re going to ratchet up the taxes and drive more people to the black and gray markets,” state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) commented.

P.S. I wonder if Senator Steadman realizes he just embraced the Laffer Curve?

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that voices as diverse as John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, John McCain, and Richard Branson all agree that it’s time to rethink marijuana prohibition. 

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What do John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson all have in common?

And let’s add voters from the states of Colorado and Washington to this list. So what unites this unusual collection of people?

They’ve all expressed doubts about the War on Drugs. And that’s a good thing.

As explained in this video, the Drug War has been a very costly failure. Indeed, it’s been such a boondoggle that we can now add John McCain to the list of those who think maybe it’s time to consider decriminalization.

McCain Drug WarSen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled Thursday that he’s receptive to legalizing pot. Tim Steller, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, reported over Twitter from a town hall in Tucson, Ariz. that McCain cited the “will of the people” in expressing an openness to legalization.

I’m glad Senator McCain is moving in the right direction, though I’m not sure I like his reasoning. The “will of the people” sometimes means two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

I much prefer the logical arguments of my Cato colleague Jeffrey Miron, who is a Senior Lecturer in economics at Harvard. Here’s some of what he recently wrote for the Huffington Post.

I have come to regard legalization as a policy no-brainer. Virtually all the effects would be positive, with minimal risks of significant negatives. An important piece of that research has been examination of drug policy in the Netherlands, where marijuana is virtually, although not quite technically, legal.

Jeff just visited Amsterdam and here’s what he found in that supposed den of iniquity.

Legalization advocates point to Amsterdam as evidence that legalization works, at least for marijuana. Legalization critics, such as former White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, believe instead that Dutch policy is flawed, generating crime and nuisance effects. Only first-hand observation could give me a clear view of which description is more accurate. …the Red Light District could not have felt safer or more normal. Yes, marijuana was widely available. …But nothing about the District felt unsafe, or suggested elevated crime or violence; I have felt less safe in many American and European cities. …The absence of violence is not surprising. Prohibition, not drug use, is the main reason for the association between violence and drugs, prostitution, gambling, or any banned good. In a legal market, participants resolve disputes with lawyers, courts, and arbitration. In an illegal market, they cannot use these methods and resort to violence instead. Thus the critical determinant of violence is whether an industry is legal, as the history of alcohol prohibition illustrates. That industry was violent during the 1920-1933 period, when the federal and many state governments banned alcohol, but not before or after. And if the government banned tobacco, or coffee, or ice cream, or any good with substantial demand and imperfect substitutes, a violent black market would arise.

There’s no evidence, by the way, that legalization means more drug use.

In 2009, the past year marijuana use rate was 11.3 percent in the United States but only 7.0 percent in the Netherlands. This does not prove that legalization lowers drug use; many other factors are at play. But these data hardly support the claim that prohibition has a material impact in reducing use. When we were toured Amsterdam on a canal barge, the guide commented that, “Despite legal drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam is a safe city.” My son, who has heard me rant about prohibition for years, looked up and quipped, “He should have said “Because drugs and prostitution are legal, right?” Exactly.

Sounds like Jeff’s done a good job as a father (and if I’m allowed to brag, I haven’t done a bad job either).

In closing, let me emphasize that libertarian does not mean libertine. My Republican friends are wrong when they think libertarians are like the guy in the upper left of this poster.

You can support legalization without being a drug user or without thinking that it’s a good idea for other people to smoke pot. Heck, I’m probably one of a small minority of people in my generation to never try any drug.

But that doesn’t mean I want to squander lots of tax money and reduce human freedom to persecute others who are engaged in victimless activities. Especially when it means a massive increase in the power of government!

Let’s not forget, after all, that politicians used the Drug War as an excuse to enact reprehensible and costly laws on asset forfeiture and money laundering. One foolish policy leads to a couple of other misguided policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

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Here’s a new edition of my “you be the judge” series.

These are posts designed to explore some of the more challenging aspects of a pro-libertarian philosophy.

Today’s example comes from Colorado, which had displayed a libertarian streak on issues ranging from school choice to drug legalization.

But the latter issue is the source of today’s quandary. Should marijuana be legal if it means more tax revenue that will be used by the political elite to expand the burden of government spending?

Here are the details from the Denver CBS station.

A draft bill floating around the Capitol late this week suggests that a new ballot question on pot taxes should repeal recreational pot in the state constitution if voters don’t approve 15 percent excise taxes on retail pot and a new 15 percent marijuana sales tax. Those would be in addition to regular state and local sales taxes. …Marijuana activists immediately blasted the proposal as a backhanded effort to repeal the pot vote, in which 55 percent of Coloradans chose to flout federal drug law and declare pot legal in small amounts for adults over 21.

If my math is correct, the politicians want a 30 percent special tax on marijuana, which is on top of the regular taxes that would be imposed.

That would be fine with me – if the proposal specified that the additional tax revenue was offset by a tax cut of equal size.

But as I explained in my “starve-the-beast” post, higher taxes usually finance bigger government.

Indeed, some politicians openly admit that they want the new revenue to expand the budget.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said the whole purpose of legalizing recreational marijuana was to raise money for education and other programs. “So if there’s no money, we shouldn’t have marijuana,” Crowder said. …In Washington state, the only other place where voters last year approved recreational pot, the ballot measure set taxes at 75 percent, settling the question. Both states are still waiting to find out whether the federal government plans to sue to block retail sales of the drug, set to begin next year.

Though I didn’t realize that the state of Washington imposes a 75 percent tax on marijuana. How…um…French!

More Money for Government? The Ultimate Buzz Kill

So what’s the bottom line? If I lived in Colorado, would I vote to keep pot legal even if it meant more money from the buffoons in the state capital?

Since drug legalization is about 990 out of 1000 in my list of priorities, I’m tempted to say no.

On the other hand, it would be nice to reduce the onerous burden of the War on Drugs, which has been used an excuse to expand the size and scope of government.

What do you think?

P.S. If you want more examples of “you be the judge,” previous editions are listed below.

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One of the new Tea Party senators, Ted Cruz, gained a lot of support when he was Solicitor General of Texas Texas Sovereigntyand successfully defended his state’s ability to execute a murderer over the objections of the International Court of Justice.

At the time, this fight even led me to confess one of my lurid fantasies.

Now we have another battle involving American states and an international bureaucracy.

Here are a couple of passages from a report in the Seattle Times.

A United Nations-based drug agency urged the United States government on Tuesday to challenge the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, saying the state laws violate international drug treaties. …U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that he was in the last stages of reviewing the Colorado and Washington state laws. Holder said he was examining policy options and international implications of the issue.

Here’s a news flash for the bureaucrats at this branch of the United Nations in Vienna: American states are sovereign and don’t need to kowtow to a bunch of mandarins who get bloated (and tax free!) salaries in exchange for…well, I’m not sure what they do other than pontificate, gorge themselves at receptions, and enjoy first class travel at our expense while jetting from one conference to another.

If the people of Washington and Colorado want to legalize certain drugs, that’s their right. They haven’t signed any treaties with the United Nations.

By the way, this has nothing to do with whether drugs should be legalized.

Like John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson, I’m skeptical of the drug war.

But since I’m an abstainer, I confess I don’t really lose any sleep about the issue.

I generally do get agitated, by contrast, when international bureaucracies seek to impose one-size-fits-all policies on the world. Much of my ire is directed at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which seeks to penalize jurisdictions that commit the horrible crime of having attractive tax regimes (or, to be more accurate, having tax regimes that are more attractive than those in places such as France and Germany).

But I also get upset with bad policies from the IMF, the World Bank, the EU mega-bureaucracy, and even the World Health Organization.

P.S. Have you ever noticed that U.N. offices are in swanky places such as New York City, Geneva, and Vienna? If these bureaucrats really want to help the world, why aren’t their offices in Havana, Lagos, and Chisinau.  That would be quite appropriate, after all, since Cuba, Nigeria, and Moldova are all members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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In early January, I shared a “libertarian purity test” based on 64 questions.

I was a bit disappointed that I only scored a 94 out of a possible 160, but my excuse is that it was really a test of anarcho-capitalism. And as I explained when sharing this amusing video, I’m only in favor of getting rid of 90 percent of government.

But maybe the simplest test of libertarianism (and also the simplest test of whether you’re a decent human being) is to see whether you’re upset by the following story.

It combines the lunacy of the drug war with the evil of asset forfeiture.

Here are some of the truly disgusting details from the OC Weekly. First we learn about the victims of this government abuse.

…he and his wife purchased the Anaheim building, which has suites for up to 12 offices, in 2003 and that her dental practice was located there. …Over the years, they’ve rented to a variety of tenants, from insurance companies to an immigration service.

This unfortunate couple rented space to a group that seemed to comply with federal and state legal requirements.

…on June 11, 2011, he began renting to a club called ReLeaf Health & Wellness. …Because of the Ogden memo, because medical marijuana was legal under state law, and because his tenants held business permits from the city, he figured he wasn’t doing anything illegal. “I am a law-abiding citizen,” he says. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

But the city of Anaheim and the jackboots at the Drug Enforcement Administration targeted the tenant, and then decided to try and steal the property of the landlord!

…On Dec. 2, 2011, an undercover officer posing as a patient with a legitimate doctor’s recommendation for cannabis—something required of all entrants to the collective—”purchased 4.2 net grams of marijuana for $37.” The investigation ended there, but the single sale…was enough evidence for the DEA to argue that the otherwise-harmless computer engineer and dentist should lose their retirement-investment property. …The lawyer for the engineer and dentist who may be in the process of losing their nest egg is Matthew Pappas. …”The only evidence in this case is a $37 purchase of medical marijuana and an anonymous comment on a website that anybody could have written,” Pappas says. “For this, they want to take a $1.5 million building.”

You may be thinking that you missed something, that certainly the federal government wouldn’t steal an entire building simply because a tenant may have broken a silly drug law. Especially when it’s very ambiguous whether a crime actually took place.

But you didn’t miss a thing. This is pure, unadulterated, evil government.

And if you’re not already feeling some libertarian blood flowing through your veins, here are some additional examples of government thuggery.

Yes, this is why we’re paying taxes. And Obama just got one tax increase and now he’s asking for another tax increase!

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Someone has to take the tough assignments

I’m currently in the British Virgin Islands to speak at a conference. As you can see from this photo (taken from my satellite office), I’m having to endure hardship conditions.

But I’m willing to suffer because I believe in making personal sacrifices in the battle for liberty.

As you can probably guess, I’m speaking about tax competition. But I write about that issue so much that there’s no need for me to reiterate my remarks.

Instead, I want to focus on the speech given this morning by Sir Richard Branson, founder and head of the Virgin business empire.

Why does Branson get higher billing than me?!?

Sir Richard is a tax resident of BVI (which is a smart step since there’s no income tax here and the top tax rate in the U.K. is 50 percent), and most of his speech focused on business and development advice for his adopted home.

But he also spent several minutes talking about the damaging and destructive impact of the War on Drugs. And I’m proud to say that he cited data from a Cato Institute report on the successful decriminalization policy in Portugal.

This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned Cato’s work on the issue, by the way. As my colleague Tim Lynch noted last year, Branson also cited the Portugal study in a strong message against the failed War on Drugs that he posted on the Virgin.com website.

I suspect Branson isn’t willing to give up his day job running the Virgin Group, but we’re happy to have him as a volunteer publicist for our studies and the cause of liberty.

Incidentally, he’s not the only one who has commented on this development. The Economist also has noted the positive impact of Portugal’s pro-liberty policy.

And if you want general information on the failed Drug War, check out this story on the complete mis-match between the costs and benefits of prohibition. And here’s a speech by Gov. Gary Johnson on the issue, as well as a video exposing how the War on Drugs is completely ineffective – or even counterproductive.

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I’ve written before about how the War on Poverty has likely resulted in more poverty.

I don’t know if the War on Drugs results in more drug use, but I have posted about how it is a costly failure that increases overall crime.

The good folks at Reason TV have just released a video about no-knock raids. This isn’t a typical policy video, but that may make it even more persuasive.

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