Date: Sun, 7 Jun 2009
Subject: #405 The Drug War Opinions In The Los Angeles Times
THE DRUG WAR OPINIONS IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #405 – Sunday, 7 June 2009
Today the Los Angeles Times printed the three OPEDs below which focus
on marijuana and the war on drugs. The Sunday edition of the Times has
a circulation of over a million copies, exceeded on Sunday only by the
New York Times. The Times’ home delivery area extends from Santa
Barbara to the Mexican border – a 45,000-square-mile area larger than
the state of Ohio.
Your letters to the editor could focus on many points, but the letters
most likely to be printed will contain no more than two or three.
Printed letters typically run 150 words or less. You may send letters
to the newspaper by either using their webform at http://www.latimes.com/services/site/la-comment-oped-cf,0,86410.customform
or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
The War on Drugs Has Caused Too Much Collateral Damage: Even the Ill
Face Stigmatization by Using an Alternative to Harsh Pharmaceuticals.
By Marie Myung-Ok Lee
I’m on the phone getting a recipe for hashish butter. Not from my
dealer but from Lester Grinspoon, a physician and emeritus professor
of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. And not for a party but for
my 9-year-old son, who has autism, anxiety and digestive problems, all
of which are helped by the analgesic and psychoactive properties of
marijuana. I wouldn’t be giving it to my child if I didn’t think it
I came to marijuana while searching for a safer alternative to the
powerful antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, that are typically
prescribed for children with autism and other behavioral disorders.
There have been few studies on the long-term effects of these drugs on
a growing child’s brain, and in particular autism, a disorder whose
biochemical mechanisms are poorly understood. But there is much
documentation of the risks, which has caused the Food and Drug
Administration to require the highest-level “black box” warnings of
possible side effects that include permanent Parkinson’s disease-like
tremors, metabolic disorders and death. A panel of federal drug
experts in 2008 urged physicians to use caution when prescribing these
medicines to children, as they are the most susceptible to side effects.
We live in Rhode Island, one of more than a dozen states — including
California — with medical marijuana laws. That makes giving our son
cannabis for a medical condition legal. But we are limited in its use.
We cannot take it on a plane on a visit to his grandmother in Minnesota.
Even though we are not breaking the law, I still wonder what my
neighbors would think if they knew we were giving our son what most
people only think of as an illegal “recreational” drug. Marijuana has
always carried that illicit tang of danger — “reefer madness” and
foreign drug cartels. But in 1988, Drug Enforcement Administration
Judge Francis L. Young, after two years of hearings, deemed marijuana
“one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. ..
In strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than many foods we
Beyond helping people like my son, the reasons to legalize cannabis on
a federal level are manifold. Anecdotal evidence from patients already
attests to its pain-relieving properties, and the benefits in quelling
chemotherapy-induced nausea and wasting syndrome are well documented.
Future studies may find even more important medical uses.
Including marijuana in the war on drugs has only proved foolhardy —
and costly. By keeping marijuana illegal and prices high, illicit drug
money from the U.S. sustains the murderous narco-traffickers in Mexico
and elsewhere. In fact, after seeing how proximity to marijuana
growers affected the small Mexican village of Alamos, where my husband
spent much of his childhood, I was adamant about never entering into
that economy of violence.
Because Rhode Island has no California-like medical marijuana
dispensaries, the patient must apply for a medical marijuana license
and then find a way to procure the cannabis. We floundered on our own
until we finally connected with a local horticultural school graduate
who agreed to provide our son’s organic marijuana. But given the seedy
underbelly of the illegal drug trade, combined with the current
economic collapse, even our grower has to be mindful of not exposing
himself to robbery.
Legalizing marijuana not only removes the incentives for this
underground economy, it would allow for regulation and taxation of the
product, just like cigarettes and alcohol. The potential for abuse is
there, as it is with any substance, but toxicology studies have not
even been able to establish a lethal dose at typical-use levels. In
fact, in 1988, Young of the DEA further stated that “it is estimated
that … a smoker would theoretically have to consume … nearly 1,500
pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal
response.” Nor is it physically addicting, unlike your daily
Starbucks, as anyone who has suffered from a caffeine withdrawal
headache can attest.
Although it has been demonized for years, marijuana hasn’t been
illegal in the U.S. for that long. The cannabis plant became
criminalized on a federal level in 1937, largely because of the
efforts of one man, Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the then newly
formed Bureau of Narcotics, largely through sensationalistic stories
of murder and mayhem conducted supposedly under the influence of
cannabis. Cannabis was still listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, or USP,
until 1941 as a household drug useful for treating headaches,
depression, menstrual cramps and toothaches, and drug companies worked
to develop a stronger strain.
In 1938, a skeptical Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, appointed
a committee to conduct the first in-depth study of marijuana’s actual
effects. It found that, despite the government’s fervent claims,
marijuana did not cause insanity or act as a gateway drug. It also
found no scientific reason for its criminalization. In 1972, President
Nixon’s Shafer Commission similarly concluded that cannabis should be
Both recommendations were ignored, and since then billions of dollars
have been spent enforcing the ban. Public policy analyst Jon Gettman,
author of the 2007 report, “Lost Revenues and Other Costs of Marijuana
Laws,” estimated marijuana-related annual costs of law enforcement at
I was heartened to hear California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent
call for the U.S. to at least look at other nations’ experiences with
legalizing marijuana — and to open a debate. And given the real
security threats the nation faces, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder
Jr.’s announcement that the federal government would no longer conduct
raids on legal medicinal marijuana dispensaries was a prudent move.
Decriminalizing marijuana is the logical next step.
Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches at Brown University and is working on a
novel about medical malpractice.
THE PRICE OF LEGALIZING POT IS TOO HIGH
Deterrence Is Preferable to Encouraging Marijuana Use, Which Would
Follow Alcohol and Tobacco in Soaring Costs to Society.
By Kevin A. Sabet
Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reignited a heated debate when
he called for a civilized discussion on the merits of marijuana
legalization. Indeed, the governor was responding to new public
opinion polls showing greater interest in the policy idea — and with
the mounting problems associated with the drug trade in Mexico and
here at home, it is hard to blame anyone for suggesting that we at
least consider all potential policy solutions.
One major justification for legalization remains tempting: the money.
Unfortunately, however, the financial costs of marijuana legalization
would never outweigh its benefits. Yes, the marijuana market seems
like an attractive target for taxation — Abt Associates, a research
firm, estimates that the industry is worth roughly $10 billion a year
— and California could certainly use a chunk of that cash to offset
its budget woes in the current economic climate.
What is rarely discussed, however, is that the likely increase in
marijuana prevalence resulting from legalization would probably
increase the already high costs of marijuana use in society. Accidents
would increase, healthcare costs would rise and productivity would
suffer. Legal alcohol serves as a good example: The $8 billion in tax
revenue generated from that widely used drug does little to offset the
nearly $200 billion in social costs attributed to its use.
In fact, both of our two already legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco —
offer chilling illustrations of how an open market fuels greater
harms. They are cheap and easy to obtain. Commercialization glamorizes
their use and furthers their social acceptance. High profits make
aggressive marketing worthwhile for sellers. Addiction is simply the
price of doing business.
Would marijuana use rise in a legal market for the drug? Admittedly,
marijuana is not very difficult to obtain currently, but a legal
market would make getting the drug that much easier. Tobacco and
alcohol are used regularly by 30% and 65% of the population,
respectively, while all illegal drugs combined are used by about 6% of
Americans. In the Netherlands, where marijuana is de facto legalized,
lifetime use “increased consistently and sharply” after this policy
shift triggered commercialization, tripling among young adults,
according to data analysis from the Rand Corp. We might expect a
similar or worse result here in America’s ad-driven culture.
An honest debate on marijuana policy also carefully considers the
costs of our current approach. Arrest rates for marijuana are
relatively high, reaching about 800,000 last year. Though these
numbers are technically recorded under the category of “possession,”
the story that is seldom told is that hardly any of these possession
arrests result in jail time (that is why former New York City Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani made headlines when he aggressively arrested public
marijuana users and detained them for 12 to 24 hours in the 1990s).
One of the most astute minds in the field of drug policy, Carnegie
Mellon’s Jonathan Caulkins, formerly the co-director of Rand’s drug
policy research center, found that more than 85% of people in prison
for all drug-law violations were clearly involved in drug
distribution, and that the records of most of the remaining prisoners
had at least some suggestion of distribution involvement (many
prisoners plea down from more serious charges to possession in
exchange for information about the drug trade). Only about half a
percent of the total prison population was there for marijuana
possession, he found. He noted that this figure was consistent with
other mainstream estimates but not with estimates from the Marijuana
Policy Project (a legalization interest group), which, according to
Caulkins, “naively … assumes that all inmates convicted of
possession were not involved in trafficking.” Caulkins concluded that
“an implication of the new figure is that marijuana decriminalization
would have almost no impact on prison populations.” This is not meant
to imply that marijuana arrests do not have costs, but rather, that
these concerns have been highly exaggerated.
Finally, legalizing marijuana would in no way ensure that the most
vicious drug-related problems — violence, economic-related crime,
street gang activity — would disappear. Most of those problems stem
from the cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine markets. Marijuana’s
share of the black market is modest (the cocaine market is three times
larger), and the money that is spent on the drug is spread over so
many users and distributors that few are working with amounts that
motivate or encourage high levels of crime.
Moving beyond the simplistic and unrealistic option of legalization,
what can we do to reduce marijuana use and the costly harms it brings?
Increasing the ferocity of enforcement isn’t the answer, but
increasing its potential for effectiveness through deterrent methods
might be. Programs like Project HOPE in Hawaii, which perform regular,
random drug testing on probationers and others and implement reliable,
swift (but short) sanctions for positive screens, have shown
remarkable success. Innovative solutions, grounded in sound research
on prevention, treatment and enforcement, present the shortest route
out of marijuana-related costs. But an open market for the stuff? That
doesn’t pass the giggle test.
Kevin A. Sabet worked at the Office of National Drug Control Policy in
the Clinton and Bush administrations. He is currently a consultant in
LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY: THREE REASONS TO END THE DRUG WAR
Legalizing Marijuana Would Add to State Coffers, Empty Prisons and
By Brian O’Dea
In 1986 and 1987, I was one of the “masterminds” behind the
importation and sale of about 75 tons of pot from Southeast Asia in
the United States. It was the culmination of a 20-year career as a
drug smuggler, a deal that netted more than $180 million wholesale.
All that government saw, of course, was the sales tax when we spent
our illegally gotten gains. Oh sure, there were some forfeitures once
our organization was finally rounded up some years later. But had
rational minds prevailed over the last 70-plus years, government would
have reaped huge benefits — in direct sales taxes — from groups such
as ours. Rather than accept the fact that an estimated 30 million
pot-smoking Americans cannot possibly be criminals, our society has
seen fit to waste almost $1 trillion on its “war on drugs.” Not only
has that approach not worked, the entire situation has been
exacerbated by it.
A cascade of bad outcomes follows a policy of prohibition. The worst
may be the dangerous, bloody criminal activity it promotes. In my day,
guns weren’t automatically part of the picture, but they are now. The
illegal drug trade is the currency that funds and inspires a vast,
violent and well-armed gangster class.
You’ve heard the news from Mexico. Since the government there has
tried to rein in the drug cartels, 10,000 people have been killed.
Last month in the state of Michoacan, Mexican security forces arrested
27 elected officials who are under investigation for their ties to
narco-trafficking. In Toronto — where I live some months out of the
year — police in April arrested 125 people in a sweep that netted
AK-47s, sawed-off shotguns, 34 handguns and large quantities of
cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy.
In April in Los Angeles County, 400 law enforcement personnel
conducted a “gang sweep” that officials said “dismantled” a dangerous
gang that sold methamphetamine, Vicodin, marijuana and cocaine. It
took a year of law enforcement’s time to put the cast together, and
the gang was responsible for at least one killing over the last year.
Take away the currency of illegal drugs and you take away the guns,
the violence and the associated corruption.
Columnist Steve Lopez wrote about a judge in this newspaper: “I’m
sitting in Costa Mesa with a silver-haired gent who once ran for
Congress as a Republican and used to lock up drug dealers as a federal
prosecutor, a man who served as an Orange County judge for 25 years.
And what are we talking about? He’s begging me to tell you we need to
legalize drugs in America.”
Another Republican, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in early May that
he was willing to at least begin a debate on our policies about
marijuana. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) calculates that
taxing marijuana use alone would bring in $1 billion a year in
Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, in whose jurisdiction I was
sentenced to 10 years in prison, supports legalizing marijuana and
other illicit drugs. “It’s time to accept drug use as a right of adult
Americans, treat drug abuse as a public health problem and end the
madness of an unwinnable war,” he wrote in these pages in 2005.
Stamper is an advisory board member of LEAP — Law Enforcement Against
According to LEAP, “After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S.
policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 37
million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, our confined population
has quadrupled, making building prisons the fastest-growing industry
in the United States.” More than 2.2 million of our citizens are
incarcerated on drug charges, and every year we arrest 1.9 million
more, guaranteeing those prisons will be busting at their seams. Every
year, the war on drugs cost U.S. taxpayers $69 billion.
It is time we stopped treating drug addiction, a medical condition,
with law enforcement. It’s time to repatriate the vast quantities of
money that are being hidden, removed from the country and going
untaxed, and it’s time we keep those same vast sums from funding
violent crime. It’s time to end modern prohibition. It didn’t work for
alcohol; it isn’t working for drugs.
Brian O’Dea, one of the biggest marijuana smugglers in U.S. history,
is also a reformed addict and a former drug counselor. He is now a
film and television producer and the author of the just-published
“High: Confessions of an International Drug Smuggler.”
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