Recently in Drugs Category

Mr. Nicey Has Goodies for You

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From the Drugs Are Wonderful Department, this news report:  "33 pounds of fentanyl - enough to wipe out Massachusetts - seized in Boston."

Boston authorities said they seized more than 33 pounds of fentanyl--enough to kill millions of people--in connection with one of Massachusetts' biggest drug busts ever.

In announcing the results of a six-month wiretap probe called "Operation High Hopes," prosecutors said the synthetic opioid was being sold on the street by a drug gang with links to Mexico's notorious Sinaloa Cartel, the drug organization once led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

"I want to be clear about the size and scope here," District Attorney Daniel Conley said at a news conference Thursday. "Massachusetts' fentanyl trafficking statute covers quantities greater than 10 grams. That threshold represents less than 1/1000 of the quantity we've taken off the street."...

The Boston Herald quoted a law enforcement source as saying that the 33-plus pounds of fentanyl is enough to kill more than 7 million people in its raw form. Massachusetts population is 6.8 million.

By All Means, Legalize Drugs...

...because making them legal will make them easier to get, so we'll have more of the sorts of experiences reported by the NYT in its story "1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours."   

PEMBROKE, N.H. -- The first time Patrick Griffin overdosed one afternoon in May, he was still breathing when his father and sister found him on the floor around 1:30. When he came to, he was in a foul mood and began arguing with his father, who was fed up with his son's heroin and fentanyl habit.

Patrick, 34, feeling morose and nauseated, lashed out. He sliced a love seat with a knife, smashed a glass bowl, kicked and broke a side table and threatened to kill himself. Shortly after 3, he darted into the bathroom, where he shot up and overdosed again. He fell limp, turned blue and lost consciousness. His family called 911. Emergency medical workers revived him with Narcan, the antidote that reverses opioid overdoses.

Throughout the afternoon his parents, who are divorced, tried to persuade Patrick to go into treatment. His father told him he could not live with him anymore, setting off another shouting match. Around 4, Patrick slipped away and shot up a third time. He overdosed again, and emergency workers came back and revived him again. They took him to a hospital, but Patrick checked himself out.

Of course, if legalizing drugs is too much for the common sense of the American people, we can take the next "best" step and shorten sentences for trafficking them, because this will improve everyone's life.


Lester Black has this article at FiveThirtyEight with the above title:

But here's a word of warning for those looking to dive head-first into these brand-new legal weed markets: The data behind the first four years of legal pot sales, with drops in retail prices and an increase in well-funded cannabis growing operations, shows a market that increasingly favors big businesses with deep pockets. As legal weed keeps expanding, pot prices are likely to continue to decline, making the odds of running a profitable small pot farm even longer.

Washington offers a cautionary tale for would-be pot producers. The state's marijuana market, for which detailed information is available to the public, has faced consistent declines in prices, production consolidated in larger farms and a competitive marketplace that has forced cannabis processors to shell out for sophisticated technology to create brand new ways to get high.
Hmm.  How to keep the pot industry safe for small business?  How about this?  Maintain federal prohibition, repeal the legislative restriction on enforcement efforts, but maintain a "small potatoes" threshold for enforcement as a matter of policy.  Then when a pot operation gets too large, the feds swoop in and forfeit its assets.  Small businesses keep the business, users have nothing to worry about, the price gets a boost to provide at least some discouragement of consumption, and, most importantly, no weed business gets large enough to engage in large-scale marketing efforts.

Opioids' Astonishing Toll

If we make it easier to obtain addictive but lethal drugs, more of them will be used.  Legalizing them, or reducing the penalties for trafficking them, will make them easier to obtain.

So is this what we want?

The liberal Washington Post today features an article that makes the answer unavoidable to any but the most dead-end partisan.  Its title is, "Fueled by drug crisis, U.S. life expectancy declines for a second straight year."

American life expectancy at birth declined for the second consecutive year in 2016, fueled by a staggering 21 percent rise in the death rate from drug overdoses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

The United States has not seen two years of declining life expectancy since 1962 and 1963, when influenza caused an inordinate number of deaths. In 1993, there was a one-year drop during the worst of the AIDS epidemic.

Not for nothing do the American people overwhelmingly oppose legalizing hard drugs.
Legalizing marijuana saves bushels of money because we no longer have to spend a dime on marijuana enforcement, right?  Um, not quite.  KCRA, Sacramento, reports:

The Sacramento City Council approved funding Tuesday night to enforce new marijuana laws set to take effect on Jan 1.

Sacramento police will get $850,000 for the first six months of 2018 in order to crack down on illegal marijuana grows in homes and neighborhoods.

That money would cover three sergeants, 12 officers and a city employee responsible for getting rid of the seized marijuana and cultivation equipment.

Drugs, Delegation, and Isomers

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I have been very skeptical of laws that delegate the power to define crimes to administrative agencies.  The case of United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460, decided today by the Ninth Circuit, illustrates why it is sometimes necessary to let agencies fill in some of the blanks.

Congress moves so slowly that it could not possibly keep up with the illicit chemists who design new and dangerous drugs.  Some amount of authority must necessarily be delegated.
Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford, has this post at the WaPo Wonkblog:

The most rigorous study yet of the effects of marijuana legalization has identified a disturbing result: College students with access to recreational cannabis on average earn worse grades and fail classes at a higher rate.
A:  Drug overdoses.

This amazing and depressing fact is only one of those included in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's compelling defense of DOJ's policy, in the typical case, of charging the most serious readily provable offense.  Trafficking dangerous drugs is the single most frequently prosecuted federal crime.

Rosenstein's recent statement follows the break.

I don't really need to add much, so I'll limit myself to two brief comments.  First, to me, the most straightforward justification for the policy is simply that we should expect prosecutors to charge defendants with what they actually did.  An indictment should tell the truth, neither more nor less.  Second, the extent of the drug crisis, from street pushers to pill mill doctors feeding on (and building) misery, ignorance and addiction has come to the point that the arguments to go easier on drug trafficking have morphed into self-parody.  Do not expect them to generate any less enthusiasm, however, in academia.

Is the Drug War a Failure?

I'm opposed to the legalization of drugs.  Yes, it would increase "freedom," very broadly construed, but comes at too high a price to the well-being of the country.  I might add that, except for pot, this is the overwhelming view of my fellow citizens.

It is nonetheless often said by those supporting drug legalization that the drug war is a failure, and simply for that reason, should be abandoned.

Is that true?  Is the drug war a failure?

Pot and Auto Accidents

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Solomon Banda reports for AP:

A recent insurance study links increased car crash claims to legalized recreational marijuana.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a leading insurance research group, said in study results released Thursday that collision claims in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon went up 2.7 percent in the years since legal recreational marijuana sales began when compared with surrounding states.

Legal recreational pot sales in Colorado began in January 2014, followed six months later in Washington, and in October 2015 in Oregon.

"We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana," said Matt Moore, senior vice president with the institute, which analyzes insurance data to observe emerging auto-safety trends.
As always, we should avoid jumping to a conclusion based on one study, particularly a correlational study with a small sample.  The HLDI report is here.
The Washington Post today carries the story of a local man (the former mayor of Fairfax City) who got a sentence of zero for distributing one the most dangerous drugs out there, methamphetamine.

This is not a young person, not a minority, not poor, not uneducated  --  and it's not pot and not simple possession. This is a grown man with a lot of advantages who is basically getting a walk (he did get time served, a little less than three months, plus "community service" (an especially sick joke since he was already a public servant at the time of his arrest)).

He was also, according to the story, unapologetic, and instead portrayed himself as the "victim" of addiction.  I was unable to find, however, any evidence of this in the news account beyond his self-serving claims  --  not that it would excuse either him or the clueless judge even if it were true.

Our country is suffering from crisis-level overdose deaths from hard drugs, of which meth is one of the worst.  As much as the Stanford rape abomination,,  this case proves that judges need the discipline and limits of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Nicole Hong reports for the WSJ:

A federal appeals court Wednesday affirmed the conviction and life sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind Silk Road, an online drug bazaar that was once described by the government as the most sophisticated criminal marketplace on the internet.

In a 139-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a lower court's decision to sentence Mr. Ulbricht, now 33 years old, to life in prison. A federal jury found him guilty in 2015 of seven criminal charges related to Silk Road, including conspiracies to sell drugs and launder money.
Some of the opposition to the charging policy restored by Jeff Sessions  --  which requires career federal prosecutors ordinarily to charge the most serious readily provable offense  --  has argued that these prosecutors will rebel at the loss of their "discretion," and will balk at following the policy in practice.

Of course, that is an empirical question, so I asked someone who would know. Specifically, I asked Larry Leiser, an AUSA for more than 20 years and President of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys. The question I posed to him in an email this afternoon was whether the great majority of AUSA's support Sessions' decision that federal prosecutors should charge the most serious readily provable offense, including offenses that would involve a mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant is convicted.

He gave a one word answer.  "Yes."

Full disclosure:  Larry has been a friend of mine for years, and I knew full well what his answer would be, as would anyone who understands that prosecutors do not spend their time trying to figure out ways to cut breaks to smack pushers.


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One of the many controversies in the flurry of activity over the Arkansas execution of Ledell Lee was whether midazolam is a sufficient anesthetic for this purpose.  There is surprisingly little in the media reports this morning about whether it worked as intended in this case.  This story in USA Today does not mention the actual result, but the web page does have video of a television report by Marine Glisovic of KATV, a media witness to the execution.  From her report, it appears that the drugs worked as intended.

In my view, the States and the Federal Government should work to restore the supply of thiopental or pentobarbital as quickly as possible and eliminate the need for these more debatable alternatives.  Until that channel is open, though, midazolam appears to be effective when used correctly.

Alternative Execution Methods

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Joseph Ax and Nate Raymond have this article for Reuters on states turning to other methods of execution as the supplies of lethal injection drugs dry up. Defense lawyers say they will challenge new methods.  So?  They are challenging the old methods.  The article quotes me:

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the nonprofit Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment, said death penalty critics had pressured drug companies into cutting off the supply of drugs, thereby causing problematic executions when states turn to inferior drugs.

Scheidegger said he favors the use of nitrogen gas as an alternative if lethal injection drugs are unavailable, noting that it is used every day by veterinarians as a way of putting animals down painlessly.

"I don't think murderers deserve a painless death, frankly," Scheidegger said. "But as far as removing obstacles from getting these sentences carried out, I think that's the way to go.
Mr. Ax evidently misunderstood me in the second paragraph.  I said the states should turn to nitrogen if they can't get barbiturates such as pentobarbital, which is used by veterinarians every day for euthanasia.  The part about veterinarians refers to the pentobarbital, not the nitrogen.  Pentobarbital is the primary ingredient of Euthasol.

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