Bill Piper

Good News! Trump Will Not Nominate Rep. Marino as Drug Czar

According to news reports President Donald Trump will not be nominating Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (colloquially referred to as the “drug czar”).

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Trump's Apparent Drug Czar Pick Would Double Down on Failed Drug War, Take Country Backward

President Donald Trump is expected to soon nominate Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (also referred to as the drug czar). Marino, a former prosecutor with no background in health or treatment, supports a punitive, 1980s-style approach to drugs, including mass incarceration and coerced treatment, even for marijuana. Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, gave him an F in its 2016 congressional voter guide.

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Four Ways Drug Policy Reformers Must Play It Smart Under the Trump Administration

I began working, advocating and lobbying for federal-level drug policy reform in Washington, DC in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency. I’ve continued to do so ever since: I was a loyal soldier in the war against the War on Drugs through eight years of George W. Bush and then eight years of Barack Obama. But now, with the election of Donald Trump, it feels like the work during those three presidencies was just basic training—the real challenge is just beginning.

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New Poll Shows New Hampshire Primary Voters Strongly Support Decriminalizing Drug Possession

A new poll finds that New Hampshire voters support treating drug use as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue – this includes decriminalizing drug use and possession, eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, and making naloxone (the antidote to opiate overdoses) more widely available.

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Veterans' Medical Marijuana Amendment in US House Comes Up 3 Votes Short

There are reasons to be optimistic about a vote in Congress that didn’t go our way.

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One of Obama's Top Drug Cops Has Resigned -- He Has a Big Opportunity to Hire a Reformer

The resignation of the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, comes as no surprise to those of us working to reform the agency. The DEA is a bloated, wasteful, scandal-ridden bureaucracy charged with the impossible task of keeping humans from doing something they’ve been doing for thousands of years –altering their consciousness.  As states legalize marijuana, reform sentencing, and treat drug use more as a health issue and less as a criminal justice issue the DEA must change with the times.  Leonhart’s departure is an opportunity to appoint someone who will overhaul the agency and support reform.

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Justice Department Defying Congress, Breaking the Law on Medical Marijuana

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently told the Los Angeles Times that a bipartisan amendment passed by Congress last year prohibiting DOJ from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws doesn't prevent it from prosecuting people for medical marijuana or seizing their property.

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Hey, Nebraska, On Marijuana, Colorado's Not the Problem. You Are.

The attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma have launched a lawsuit against Colorado claiming the state’s 2012 voter initiative legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana is causing marijuana to come into their states, creating a public nuisance and consuming law enforcement resources.

Leaving aside the fact that states, and for that matter the federal government, cannot force states to criminalize marijuana, the lawsuit gets things backwards – it is Nebraska, Oklahoma and other states with marijuana prohibition that are creating a public nuisance.

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The Drug Czar Talks About Public Health, But Still Wants to Arrest People for Drugs

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released its 2014 National Drug Control Strategy today. The strategy has shifted some from previous years in that it more clearly focuses on reducing the harms associated with substance misuse, such as overdose and the transmission of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases, while also reducing the harms associated with punitive drug policies, such as reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentencing.

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Thousands of Rapists Are Not Behind Bars Because Cops Focus on Marijuana Users

A piece in the Washington Post highlights the growing backlog of untested rape test kits that are sitting in police storage units while rapists run free and victims suffer.  Missing from the story, however, is one of the biggest contributors to this backlog, the enormous amount of police and tax resources spent targeting drug crimes, particularly marijuana possession.

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Why the DEA Chief Should Resign

For months Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart has openly rebuked the drug policy reform policies of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama with one embarrassing statement after another. Now she is picking a fight with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Y) and other members of Congress over hemp. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation into multiple scandals plaguing the agency. It is clear that Leonhart lacks the ability to lead and should resign. Activists are using the Twitter hashtag #FireLeonhart.

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Major Progress for Fixing Cruel Drug War Prison Sentences

Today the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed bipartisan sentencing reform legislation that reduces the federal prison population, decreases racial disparities, saves taxpayer money, and reunites nonviolent drug law offenders with their families sooner. The reforms are supported by a strange bedfellows group of senators, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The legislation is opposed by some U.S. prosecutors who continue to defend a harsh, racially unjust system that has led to a greater percentage of black men being locked up in the U.S. than in South Africa at the height of Apartheid.

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Congressmen Help Launch Drug War Exit Strategy Guide

On Thursday, the Drug Policy Alliance will release An Exit Strategy for the Failed War on Drugs. This comprehensive report contains 75 broad and incremental recommendations for legislative reforms related to civil rights, deficit reduction, law enforcement, foreign policy, sentencing and re-entry, effective drug treatment, public health, and drug prevention education. The guide will be released at a forum on the Hill cosponsored by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), both of whom fought for major drug policy reform at the local level before running for Congress and winning. This new generation of legislators has demonstrated that support for drug policy reform is no detriment to electoral success – and in fact that it can be a key asset.

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Lessons Not Learned Since Tragic Drug Raid in Atlanta

It's been almost four years since Atlanta narcotics officers shot and killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston and planted evidence in a failed attempt to frame her - and her family is just now receiving justice in the form of a $4.9 million settlement. That of course won't bring Ms. Johnston back. And despite some cosmetic changes to how drug law enforcement works, very little has changed. City officials will continue to pressure police officers to meet informal arrest quotas, police will continue to violently raid the homes of people suspected of only nonviolent offenses, and taxpayers will continue to foot the bill of a failed drug policy. Real reform is needed.

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Treating Meth Addiction as a Health Issue

This Thursday, Congressmen Russ Carnahan (D-3rd/MO) and George Radanovich (R-19th/CA) introduced groundbreaking bipartisan legislation that is a major step forward in providing universal access for substance abuse treatment and wide-reaching social, health and economic assistance to people struggling with methamphetamine-related problems. The Universal Access to Methamphetamine Treatment Act of 2010 (H.R. 5768) would increase funding for treatment facilities, provide vouchers to people seeking treatment, offer comprehensive services to ensure recovery and prevent relapse, and increase research into effective treatments.

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Help Mexico by Legalizing Marijuana

For months, Mexican drug trafficking organizations have battled it out with the Mexican government, the U.S. government, and each other, with violence escalating on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. Since 2007, the Mexican drug war has claimed the lives of more than 7,500 people, including 200 Americans. Congress has already held several hearings on the issue and there are more to come.  Although they will try, it will be hard for members of Congress to continue ignoring the root cause of the problem – drug prohibition.
 
Many parts of Mexico today are like Chicago during the days of alcohol Prohibition and Al Capone – times fifty.  Citizens wonder who is in control: the government or one or another of the criminal organizations.  The U.S. Joint Forces Command recently warned that the Mexico government is in danger of becoming a weak and failed state and could descend into chaos. The U.S. State Department has issued an advisory warning Americans of the risks of traveling to Mexico, including being accidentally killed in violent confrontations between drug traffickers and the Mexico military.
 
As Mexico deals with the violence, crime and corruption of global drug prohibition, the United States is just beginning to confront the consequences of its own prohibitionist excesses.  With less than 5% of the world’s population, we have almost 25% of the world’s prisoners.  The incarcerated population has grown from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.3 million today, of which roughly a third are locked up for drug law violations or other prohibition-related offenses.  We rank first in the world in the per capita incarceration of our fellow citizens – and we incarcerate more people than China, whose overall population is four times greater than ours. Millions of Americans are barred from voting or accessing student loans, public housing or other assistance because of a drug law conviction. Even well-heeled states have been forced to put off expenditures on health, education, housing, and environmental protection in order to pay for prisons.
 
It’s no wonder then that more and more people are raising questions about the basic prohibitionist paradigm.  In the border city of El Paso, Texas, where several Mexican mayors live and commute to work out of fear their families will be killed if they live in Mexico, the city council passed a resolution in January calling on Congress to debate drug legalization as a way of reducing prohibition-related violence. In February, the Latin-American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, a high-level commission co-chaired by former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, called for a “paradigm shift” in global drug policy, including decriminalizing marijuana, and “breaking the taboo” on open and robust debate about all drug policy options.
 
The Attorney General of Arizona, citing evidence that Mexican drug trafficking organizations get 60% to 80% of their revenue from marijuana, has suggested that national policymakers debate legalizing marijuana as a way to cripple both Mexican and U.S. gangs. Although he was careful to say he wasn’t advocating legalization, he nevertheless asked the right question: Should marijuana be taxed and regulated like alcohol?
 
Critics will say legalization might increase drug use. Perhaps. But then again, studies around the world have found that the relative harshness of drug laws matters surprisingly little. After all, rates of illegal drug use in the United States are the same as, or higher than, Europe, despite our more punitive policies. And thirteen U.S. states have already decriminalized marijuana, but marijuana use rates in those states go up and down at roughly the same rates as in other states.
 
What matters most, of course, is not how many people use marijuana, alcohol or other drugs, but how best to reduce both the harms of drug misuse and the harms of drug control policies.  Seventy five years ago Americans recognized that the harms of alcohol misuse had been exceeded by the harms of alcohol Prohibition; they responded by repealing a national amendment for the one and only time in our nation’s history.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans die prematurely each year because of cigarette smoking but we’re still wise enough to understand that tough public health strategies produce better overall results than criminal prohibition.
 
Marijuana is dramatically less dangerous than either alcohol or cigarettes.  It’s far less addictive than the latter, and typically consumed in much smaller amounts.  It lacks alcohol’s powerful association with violence, accidents and reckless sexual behavior.  It’s impossible to die of a marijuana overdose.  And the consequences of marijuana addiction, for the small proportion of marijuana consumers who do become addicted, are dramatically less than the consequences of alcohol addiction.
 
With Mexico in crisis, U.S. prisons packed beyond capacity, and state and federal deficits soaring, the time has come to at least consider taxing and regulating marijuana. A 2005 study endorsed by hundreds of economists found that legalizing marijuana could save approximately $7.7 billion a year in government expenditures.  Taxing it like alcohol or tobacco could generate another $6.2 billion in revenue.  That’s enough to hire almost 350,000 new elementary school teachers or put 290,000 new police officers on the street.  No one would hate the new policy more than Mexico’s drug traffickers; after all, they’d be out of business.
 
Forty percent of all Americans say it’s time to legalize marijuana.  In some western states, support for legalization is approaching fifty percent.  If ever there were a time for politicians to open up this debate, it is now.

Getting Real About the Economics of Cocaine

"Less Gasoline Available to U.S. Consumers" might be how headlines would read in major newspapers if reporters covered recent decreases in the supply of gasoline in the same way they're covering recent decreases in the supply of cocaine. Of course, such a headline wouldn't pass the laugh test. The supply of gasoline may be down 10 percent from last year, but anyone wanting to buy it may do so (without getting in a long line). The same could be said of cocaine, but that hasn't stopped newspapers from repeating President Bush's myth that we're winning the war on drugs.

According to a declassified report by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), wholesale cocaine prices increased 33 percent on average in the United States between January and June 2007. Retail prices (the price cocaine users actually pay) increased an estimated 15 percent. For comparison purposes, this is the equivalent of gas prices at the pump going from $2.50 a gallon to $2.87 in six months.

There are many factors that could be causing cocaine prices to rise. Bush's drug czar cites recent arrests and seizures in Mexico. He could be right. Major busts of key players in the drug trade can sometimes disrupt the supply of cocaine, at least until drug cartels regroup and new players step in. It's equally likely, though, that the price increase is just a normal market fluctuation. The U.S. cocaine market has seen many short-lived price increases over the last 30 years, but the price of cocaine always ends up falling again.

An economist might tell you that one of the biggest factors contributing to increased cocaine prices is the decline of the U.S. dollar. Latin American drug cartels are increasingly shipping their drug supplies to Europe instead of the United States. This could be a two-for-one business strategy for them. Build their market share over there, while boosting their profits through higher prices here. (To the extent that drug cartels can use violence to maintain oligarchical control over cocaine markets, they can increase their profits by reducing the supply of cocaine).

Regardless of why cocaine prices are rising, it is far from clear that it is a good thing. Consider the following:

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Fixing the Federal Justice System

In a recent pair of drug-related cases, the Supreme Court ruled that federal sentencing guidelines are advisory and judges do not have to follow them in every case (U.S. v. Booker and U.S. v. Fanfan). This ruling, which surprised many, holds both promise and danger, depending on what Congress does.

If legislators overreact and seek quick fixes, they will most likely end up exacerbating problems, such as racial disparities, unnecessary "federalization" of crime and the incarceration of innocent people. If they move slowly and work together, they could pass legislation that would save money and increase public safety.

Legislators should keep five things in mind:

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