March 25, 2014
The End of the Addict

From the article:

"Addict" is one of those words that so many of us use, largely without pausing to wonder if we should. We just take for granted that it’s totally okay to describe a human being with one word, "addict" — a word with overwhelmingly negative connotations to many people.
We don’t really do that for other challenging qualities that can have a serious impact on people’s lives. We don’t say, “my mother the blind,” or “my brother the bipolar.” We don’t say, “my best friend the epileptic,” or “my nephew the leukemia.” We don’t do that because we intuitively understand how odd it would sound, and how disrespectful and insensitive it would be. We don’t ascribe a difficult state as the full sum of a person’s identity and humanity. Maia Szalavitz eloquently expressed similar frustration with terms like “substance abuser” in her recent piece at
When we do feel the need to reference a state of disability, challenge or disease when describing a human being, we say something like, “My mother has cancer,” or “My nephew has leukemia.” And we would almost certainly never let that be the only thing said about that person, something that defined them.  We do not say or suggest that a person is their challenge. We remember that they are a person first, then if appropriate indicate their challenge as one factor of their existence.
Why can’t we be that intelligently sensitive with people struggling with drugs?
My days of chaotic substance abuse are long behind me. I am not “an addict” now, and I wasn’t “an addict”  then. I’m just a person, who had a period of difficulty, pain and challenge. I battled, I failed, I tried again — just like most people.
Why not try using any of the following as alternatives to calling someone “an addict”: person dependent on drugs; people struggling with drugs; person in recovery from addiction. The use of person-centric language may seem inconsequential, but I assure you, it is not. It is vitally important to scores of people, most of whom you’ve never met and never will. They are the people who, in the eyes of the world, are lumped into that “other” category you’ve created for them by calling them “an addict.” 
This makes a lot of sense to me.  I use the same logic to discuss people accused of breaking the law, i.e. “criminals don’t commit crimes, people do.”  The term “criminal” carries with it a lot of additional negative implications that don’t actually apply to most people accused of breaking the law.  
"Addict" falls into a similar category: a mental checklist of negative characteristics gets lit up whenever we hear it.  We imagine a person who is unstable, has a complete lack of self control, and is perhaps even a danger to those around them (even though that’s usually not the case).  Even the facially-neutral term “drug user” has the same effect.  People who take anti-depressants or insulin are technically “drug users,” but we’d never refer to them as such.  It’s more often used as an ad hominem, than a neutral adjective.  
Once objective terms become loaded like this, it’s hard to rob them of their acquired meaning.  It may be the better option to simply abandon them altogether to achieve the desired result.

March 24, 2014
The “Outrageous Government Conduct” Doctrine & The War On Drugs

Recently, Techdirt reported on a California case where Judge Otis Wright slammed the government for its conduct in a drug sting operation.  Judge Wright’s opinion is a thorough primer in Drug War conduct, and how “outrageous conduct” by the Government can violate the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

In this case, ATF agents baited a couple of residents from a poverty-stricken neighborhood into “assisting” the agents with a drug stash robbery to acquire cocaine.  They played up how “pure” the cocaine was, how it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and stressed how much money the defendants stood to make from the robbery.  Over the course of the sting, they convinced the defendants to buy firearms, come with them in a rented van, and accompany them to the alleged safehouse where the robbery would be staged from.  Once there, the defendants were arrested.

The Defendants sought to get their indictments thrown out on the “outrageous government conduct” doctrine.  Judge Wright sums up the doctrine as follows:

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution commands that “[n]o person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. V.  The Due Process Clause stands as a bar to the Government invoking judicial process to obtain a conviction when its conduct is “outrageous.” United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 431–32 (1973) (Rehnquist, J.).  The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine permits a court to dismiss an indictment when the Government engages in conduct “so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice.”  United States v. Smith, 924 F.2d 889, 897 (9th Cir. 1991).  Judicial scrutiny focuses solely on the government’s actions—not the alleged actions of the criminal defendant.  United States v. Restrepo, 930 F.2d 705, 712 (9th Cir. 1991).  The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine thus differs in that respect from an entrapment defense.  Id.

As Judge Wright notes, there’s no “brightline test” for determining when the doctrine applies.  Courts in the Ninth Circuit evaluates a number of factors, including: 

(1) known criminal characteristics of the defendants; (2) individualized suspicion of the defendants; (3) the government’s role in creating the crime of conviction; (4) the government’s encouragement of the defendants to commit the offense conduct; (5) the nature of the
government’s participation in the offense conduct; and (6) the nature of the crime being pursued and necessity for the actions taken in light of the nature of the criminal enterprise at issue.

After applying the factors, Judge Wright determined that the Government’s conduct here was indeed outrageous.  He stressed that the Government’s conduct here was essentially targeted at desperate poor people who were more likely to risk their life and liberty for the Government’s promise of wealth:

Allowing after-the-fact knowledge to mitigate the Court’s concerns in a situation like this also creates a perverse incentive for the Government. It encourages the Government to cast a wide net, trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas—all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past. And if the Government happens to get it right and catch someone who previously engaged in crime, the courts will place their imprimatur on the whole fishing expedition. 

Judge Wright then discusses the arbitrariness of the charges:

In these stash-house cases, the Government’s “participation in the offense conduct” is what makes them particularly repugnant to the Constitution. Everything about the scheme—and therefore almost everything bearing upon a defendant’s ultimate sentence—hinges solely on the Government’s whim. Why were there not 10 kilograms in the stash house? Or 100? Or 1,000? Why were the guards allegedly armed—necessitating that Defendants bring weapons along with them? All of these factors came down to the ATF and the undercover agent alone. That sort of arbitrariness offends the Constitution’s due-process demands.

Judge Wright then goes on to discuss the futility of these “make crime” operations in a brilliant takedown:

Zero. That’s the amount of drugs that the Government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country.That’s the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs. But for the Government’s action, the fake stash house would still be fake, the nonexistent drugs would still be nonexistent, and the fictional armed guards would still be fictional…. Instead, the Government comes close to imprisoning people solely because of their thoughts and economic circumstances rather than their criminal actions. 

Society must question whether the astronomical cost associated with prosecuting fake crime is worth it.

Indeed.  Unfortunately, there is a real question as to whether this will hold up on appeal.  But Judge Wright deserves all the credit in the world for having the courage to stand up to the federal government and call them out for truly outrageous conduct: baiting desperate poor people with the promise of drug money.

March 17, 2014
"I did a mushroom trip as my last crazy thing I do alive. I planned on killing myself the next day. I was lucky enough to do it in a park on one if the nicest days imaginable, and that day I saw something I had not been able to appreciate before. It was how beautiful everything was. Everything. I vividly remember looking up into the trees and being fascinated with the branches protruding from the forest around me, and how the waterfall just existed without any human assistance. Naysayers who haven’t tried shrooms need to. Don’t believe the propaganda. It can change you for the better. I wouldn’t be alive now without that experience."

Comments at HONY.

March 13, 2014
United Nations: Criminal Sanctions for Drug Use Are "Not Beneficial" | Drug Policy Alliance

From the article:

Today, a key working group of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced the release of groundbreaking recommendations discouraging criminal sanctions for drug use. The Scientific Consultation Working Group on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights of the UNODC – which includes Nora Volkow, head of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – is releasing the recommendations at the High-Level Segment of the 57th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The working group recommendations say “criminal sanctions are not beneficial” in addressing the spectrum of drug use and misuse.

March 1, 2014
"Our grievous error was in allowing the narcotics addict to be pushed out of society and relegated to the criminal community. He isn’t a criminal. He never has been. And nobody looked on him as such until the furious blitzkrieg launched around 1918 in connection with the enforcement of the Harrison Act. […] All the billions our society has spent enforcing criminal measures against the addict have had the sole practical result of protecting the [drug dealer’s] market, artificially inflating his prices, and keeping his profits fantastically high. No other nation hounds its addicts as we do, and no other nation faces anything remotely resembling our problem."

Rufus King, Chairman of the American Bar Association, from 62 YALE Law Journal, Pages 784-7 (1953).

February 28, 2014


Five police officers in San Francisco have been indicted for allegedly stealing money and drugs that had been seized as part of investigations. The prosecutions originate from surveillance footage released by the city’s public defender.

LTMC: Another example of how the War on Drugs creates incentives for public officials to engage in corruption.  From the article:

In another incident the same month, the indictment says, the officers took marijuana [seized during investigations]. Vargas is accused of delivering the pot to two informants and asking them to sell it and split the proceeds with him, Furminger and Robles.

This type of behavior is extremely common among police who deal with drug crimes.  These officers know that the problem they are policing (drug trafficking) is intractable.  So after years of frustration, they figure they might as well get something out of this pointless venture known as drug enforcement.  They’ve been staring into the abyss for so long that it started staring back into them.

February 26, 2014
El Chapo’s Arrest Unlikely to Break Mexican Cartel

It’s amazing to me how authorities are praising themselves for doing something that they readily admit will have little impact on the problem they are trying to combat:

When it finally ended last year, Operation Dark Water, as the investigation was known, was heralded as a milestone in the fight against the global drug trade. Police officers seized 750 pounds of cocaine and caught four cartel members, including a first cousin to its infamous kingpin, Joaquín (El Chapo) Guzmán Loera.

But for the Sinaloa cartel, a criminal multinational corporation handling billions of dollars, the arrests proved only a minor setback, authorities acknowledged. The cartel has established channels of cooperation with so many European criminal groups, including Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and street gangs in Budapest, that business there continues to boom.

On Saturday, Mexican and American authorities struck even deeper, capturing Mr. Guzmán in a predawn raid on a seaside condominium in the Mexican city of Mazatlán. Governments around the world are hailing the capture as a landmark in the fight against organized crime. Yet many authorities agree that the arrest will probably not bring an end to the cartel’s activities, much less make a lasting dent in the availability of illegal drugs.

El Chapo is a scary man.  But he will be replaced by another scary man who will take over the business and its profits.  Even if the government destroyed the entire cartel, another cartel would absorb its market-share.  The U.S. Government has cooperated with the Sinaloa Cartel for 12 years in exchange for information on rival cartels.  Those cartels still exist.  And so will Sinaloa after Chapo is gone.

What drug warriors fail to recognize is that all of these organizations plan for this.  They all know that at any time, someone could be arrested or killed.  These are multi-billion dollar organizations.  Like any large company, they have business models.  They have hierarchies.  They have contingency plans.  You don’t get rich breaking the law for a living without planning ahead for what happens if you get arrested.

Furthermore, the profits of this industry are high enough that even if a plan wasn’t in place, and these organizations collapsed, someone would reinvent them.  The profits to be made from drug trafficking are absolutely outrageous, comprising up to 7.6% of all global trade.  Private interests in the West stand to profit handsomely from the drug trade, which (like any business) has contingent services that need to be provided (such as banking).  And since they know they’re doing is illegal, traffickers are willing to pay handsomely for that service.

There is a reason the mob no longer gets rich off of bootlegging.  There is a reason why we don’t have gang violence over alcohol.  There is a reason why Anheiser-Busch doesn’t bring M-16’s with its delivery trucks when it supplies its product to local grocery stores, beverage centers, and convenience stores:  Because their product is legal for consenting adults to purchase and consume.  And any disputes over their product can thus be solved in the courts.

Drug traffickers, however, cannot resolve their commercial disputes in the courts.  So instead, the drug marketplace is regulated by violence.  Terrible, horrible violence that has left countless thousands of victims in its wake.  Violence that would stop if their products were legalized, destroying traffickers’ profit margin and making their service obsolete.

But instead, governments will continue to use brute force, trying to muscle their way out of the problem—the metaphorical equivalent of using a small bucket to bail water out of a sinking ship.  When we should have the sense by now to know that we don’t belong in this particular lake to begin with

February 21, 2014
Colorado’s Legal Pot Market Far Exceeds Tax Revenue Expectations

Hit it.

February 16, 2014
"The fundamental job of anyone wishing to move society beyond marijuana and drug prohibition is to show prohibitionists the essential humanity of drug users."

Eapen Thampy

February 16, 2014
How To Make Irresponsible Journalism

NBC News has posted this gem of a headline, "Pot Fuels Surge In Drugged Driving Deaths."  Like every good story, it leads with a compelling anecdote—in this case, someone who was killed by a stoned driver.  Then it cites the following statistics:

As medical marijuana sales expanded into 20 states, legal weed was detected in the bodies of dead drivers three times more often during 2010 when compared to those who died behind the wheel in 1999, according to a new study from Columbia University published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“The trend suggests that marijuana is playing an increased role in fatal crashes,” said Dr. Guohua Li, a co-author and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University Medical Center. The researchers examined data from the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), spanning more than 23,000 drivers killed during that 11-year period.

But wait!  Buried towards the bottom of the article are these statistics:

A separate study — also based on FARS data — found that in states where medical marijuana was approved, traffic fatalities decrease by as much as 11 percent during the first year after legalization. Written by researchers at the University of Colorado, Oregon and Montana State University, the paper was published in 2013 in the Journal of Law & Economics.

Those authors theorized pot, for some, becomes a substitute for alcohol. They cited a recent, 13-percent drop in drunk-driving deaths in states where medical marijuana is legal.

“Marijuana reform is associated with … a decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely due to its impact on alcohol consumption,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a trade association in Colorado.

So there’s an increase in marijuana-related crashes in states with some form of legalized pot, but there’s also a corresponding decrease in alcohol-related crashes.  The net result is a decrease in the overall number of traffic fatalities.  Yet NBC still chose to run a headline that, without context, suggests that legal pot is leading to more traffic fatalities, which it is not.  The opposite is in fact true.

Most people aren’t going to dig to the bottom of the article to get this important contextual information.  Instead, they’ll see the headline, read the first couple paragraphs, and the message they’ll get is that legal pot is increasing the number of traffic fatalities—without realizing that legal pot has actually reduced traffic fatalities overall.  

Presenting the story in this manner is irresponsible.  The headline is misleading, as are the initial supporting paragraphs.  A lot of people are going to walk away from this article with the wrong message because NBC presented it in a poor fashion.  And now, we get to listen to anti-pot crusaders tell us about how legal pot activists have blood on their hands, despite the fact that legal pot hasn’t actually increased the number of people dying in traffic fatalities.  It has actually reduced them.  And if this story leads people in battleground states to vote against legalized pot, it will be NBC that has blood on its hands, not legalization activists.

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