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Opinion Research Corporation, polling Nov. 19 - 22, asked a sample of 1008 adults the following:  "Thinking about the criminal justice system, which comes closer to your view  --  that we have too many drug traffickers in prison for too long, or that we don't do enough to keep drug traffickers off the street?"

The result was not close:  58% said we're not doing enough to keep traffickers off the street, while only half that number, 30%, said we have too many traffickers in prison for too long.

The poll is devastating to the sentencing "reform" bills now pending in Congress. Those bills would reduce sentences for drug convictions (the Senate bill would do so retroactively as well), and the overwhelming majority of prison sentences imposed for federal drug offenses are for trafficking, not mere possession or use.

In other words, the American public, by a bigger margin than in any Presidential election in history, wants more done to keep traffickers off the street, not more done to put them back there.

Memo to Congress:  Wake up.

Agree With Me Or Get Out

Liberal fascism continues its march through the political landscape, now with a pro-pot scattering of Congressmen demanding the removal of DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg.  Rosenberg's sin, it seems, is that he said that "medical" marijuana is "a joke."

The Washington Post's story is, "A growing number of lawmakers wants Obama to fire the nation's top drug cop."   The "growing number" is a total of seven (out of 535 senators and representatives) (and the story cites no evidence of "growth").  The story starts:

A bipartisan group of seven lawmakers today called on the president to fire the acting leader of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg. They join nearly 100,000 people who've signed an online petition similarly calling for Rosenberg's removal after he infuriated patients and advocates by dismissing medical marijuana as "a joke" earlier this month.

Rosenberg's statements are "indicative of a throwback ideology rooted in a failed War on Drugs," the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D.-Or.), begins. 

One might forgive a fellow who was appointed to lead the Congressionally-mandated effort to suppress drug use for not sharing the view that the effort has failed, especially since we have no way of knowing what levels of drug use would be but for that effort.  Still, you get the point.  You either agree with the views of the 1.3% of legislators who signed the letter, or you are unfit for office. 

Heather Haddon has this article in the WSJ with the above headline.  The subhead is "New Hampshire poll participants put it above jobs and economy as something candidates should address."

I am pleased to see this important issue getting attention.  However, there is a big difference between saying this is something candidates must address and coming to a consensus on how to address it.  One thing we don't need is vague, boundless faith in "treatment" without an awareness of how difficult it is to keep addicts in treatment.

Big Pot Crashes and Burns in Ohio

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Ohio's obnoxious marijuana legalization initiative went down to a crushing defeat yesterday, Christopher Ingraham reports in the WaPo.

Voters rejected the measure with 64 percent opposed and only 36 percent in favor. It was defeated in every single one of Ohio's 88 counties, some of which voted against the bill by huge margins, according to preliminary numbers: 55 percentage points in Holmes County. 60 in Mercer. 65 in Putnam.

The bill was likely doomed to fail from the get-go for a variety of reasons. It was an off-off election year, where voters are older and more conservative. Ohio has never exactly been a bastion of marijuana culture. And most crucially, the bill would have created a state-mandated oligopoly on the production of marijuana, with a handful of the measure's wealthy backers as the primary beneficiaries.
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Jonathan Adler has this post at the Volokh Conspiracy.  The title is his description of Issue 3 on the Ohio ballot.

Issue 3 would create a marijuana "monopoly" (actually, an oligopoly) consisting of 10 producers who would have their exclusive rights to engage in the commercial production of marijuana enshrined in the state constitution. The campaign in support of Issue 3 -- so-called Responsible Ohio -- is predictably supported by those who would hold these exclusive rights. This is crony capitalism at its worst.
As I have mentioned on this blog before, I see a legalized marijuana industry as a greater threat than legalization as such.  Legal producers with a First Amendment right to promote their product will increase consumption considerably above and beyond what legalization alone will do, as we have seen so disastrously with tobacco, and that is not good.

My solution, given that I think legalization is inevitable, is for the government to monopolize the business itself, as some states do with liquor at the retail level and many states do with the numbers racket at the wholesale level.  Few seem to be interested in that, though.  Some people are dead set against legalization in any form despite the seeming inevitability, and some are gung ho for maximizing consumption despite the medical evidence of ill effects and the slim-to-none benefits.

The legislature has put another proposition on the same ballot forbidding putting monopolies in the state constitution.  What happens if they both pass?  In California we have a nice, clear rule.  If two contradictory measures pass on the same ballot, the one that gets more votes prevails.  (Article II ยง 10(b).)  Apparently Ohio has no clear answer.
The Washington Post supports a currently pending bill that would go easier or heroin pushers, but has the honesty to publish this story showing in heartbreaking detail the human damage these people bring about.

Let's assume arguendo that pot sentences can sometimes be too harsh.  What is the earthly excuse for voting to go easier on heroin dealers?  Do our senators and representatives have no clue about the ongoing, deadly heroin epidemic?  Or the ravages this drug causes even when it doesn't kill you?  Or is it that they don't care? As long as those billionaire-funded political contributions keep coming in, hey, look, stuff happens.

Read the story and decide for yourself whether now is the time to go soft on heroin dealers.  It begins:
A big part of the energy behind sentencing "reform" takes root in the belief that we have not only too many people in prison, but the wrong people.  Under this view, prisons are packed with "low level drug offenders" ("pot offenders" is often implied), leaving insufficient room for the "truly dangerous."

As Heather McDonald explains in "The Decriminalization Delusion," this is pure hogwash.  She shows, for example:

[Contrary to President] Obama, the state prison population (which accounts for 87 percent of the nation's prisoners) is dominated by violent criminals and serial thieves. In 2013, drug offenders made up less than 16 percent of the state prison population, whereas violent felons were 54 percent of the rolls and property offenders, 19 percent. (See graph below.) Reducing drug admissions to 15 large state penitentiaries by half would lower those states' prison count by only 7 percent, according to the Urban Institute.

Chief Reformer to the Rescue, Almost

Prof. Doug Berman saw the same Post article I blogged about this morning, and, as is typical, he has a ready reply.  In his post, he says:

[The Post reporter] is quite right to highlight the statistical reality that lots more imprisoned offenders are behind bars for violent offenses than for drug crimes.  But he fails to acknowledge that a considerable amount of violent crime is related to black market turf wars and that the failure to treat effectively drug addictions and related woes often drive property crimes.  American legal and social history should provide a ready reminder of these realities: violent and property crimes (and incarceration rates) spiked considerably during alcohol Prohibition not because of greater alcohol use but due to enhanced incentives for otherwise law-abiding people to profit in the black market from others' desire for a drink.

The problem here is that (as I can tell you from many years as a prosecutor), violence is relatively uncommon in the pot market.  Where you see it is overwhelmingly in the market for hard drugs, such as heroin, meth, and crack. These drugs, being more expensive, are also the ones that principally fuel property crime (for the money to buy the druggie's next hit).

Doug's solution (legalization, a' la the repeal of Prohibition) will not work because, by huge margins, the American people do not want hard drugs legalized.

I propose a different solution:  Let hard drug dealers understand that selling their poison is not going to be tolerated and will be met with the full force of law, undiluted by big breaks for thugs sentencing reform.
No as to both.

Drug offenders account for less than 20% of the total federal-state prison population, and most of them are in for trafficking hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, not smoking a joint.  Essentially no one gets a prison sentence for just smoking a joint.  And the clear majority of prisoners are in for violent crime.

In addition, as the Washington Post reports:

Given the relatively small share of drug offenders, ending the war on drugs would not significantly alter the racial disparity in incarceration rates, contrary to the conventional wisdom.

Blacks make up 37.5 percent of all state prisoners, about triple their share of the population as a whole, according to the Justice Department. If we released all 208,000 people currently in state prison on a drug charge, the proportion of African Americans in state prison would still be 37 percent. 

Translation:  Sentencing reform has been doing a lot of false advertising.  The kinds of proposals we see being put forward about leniency for "low level, non-violent" drug offenders will neither decrease the prison population to anything like what reformers demand, nor will they do anything at all to curb racial disparity in the prison population.

The idea that society should decide about incarceration based on racial statistics is repulsive to me (I guess we don't have enough Jewish prisoners, yes?), but, as the Post article shows, even if we were to adopt it, it won't produce the claimed results.

Not So Harmless After All

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It has become standard issue that pot is, if not a form of "medicine," at least not harmful.  

One internist, Dr. Sushrut Jangi, begs to differ.  See his Boston Globe article, "Can We Please Stop Pretending Marijuana Is Harmless?" He notes that that, behind the momentum to legalize pot... the misconception that the drug can't hurt anybody. It can, especially young people.

The myth that marijuana is not habit-forming is constantly challenged by physicians. "There's no question at all that marijuana is addictive," Dr. Sharon Levy tells me. She is the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children's Hospital, one of a few programs designed to preemptively identify substance use problems in teens. At least 1 in 11 young adults who begin smoking will develop an addiction to marijuana, even more among those who use the more potent products that are entering the market.

CJLF takes no position on the legalization of pot. 
My title is, obviously, a takeoff on the old rhyme, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

The principal effect of the sentencing reform bill introduced in the Senate last week will be to go softer on drug dealers, of course including heroin dealers.

Is this the time to go softer on heroin dealers?

This story from the Chicago Tribune gives us a clue:  "74 Overdoses in 72 Hours: Laced Heroin May Be to Blame."

In fact, I have no clue whether actual facts about the damage that drugs cause will have any effect on sentencing reform; I guess I tend to doubt it.  Lowering drug sentences has never been about been protecting the public. It's about ideology  --  as well as, it now seems, fact-free and, it's depressing to see, occasionally slanderous religious bullying by such people as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

The Extent of the Drug Abuse Disaster

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It's often said by those who would legalize drugs and/or substantially reduce the punishment for trafficking in them that the real drug-related damage befalling our country arises, not from drug use, but from the "war" against drug use.

I am content to let the following story speak for itself. From CNN, July 7, 2015:  "Heroin-related overdose deaths quadruple since 2002."  The article starts out:

Heroin use is increasing rapidly across the United States among all age, race, income and ethnic groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday. And the increase comes with a devastating price: Deaths from heroin-related overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013.

Heroin use doubled among women and young adults ages 18 to 25, and more than doubled among non-Hispanic whites. Some of the highest increases were in groups with historically low rates of abuse: women, people with higher incomes and people who are privately insured.

In other words, as we lose our nerve in the war against drugs  --  to the point that Congress is (apparently) thinking breezily about lowering penalties for illicit drugs of every sort  --  the human toll is exploding, and reaching into groups where it was little known before.

Indeed,, a pro-legalization group, acknowledges in this chart that there were 17,000 deaths per year from illicit drugs (and that's using 2002 data), Moreover, in 2013, before this year's spike, there were 8,257 heroin overdose deaths alone.

It's not the drug war that kills.  It's drugs that kill.  

How the Heroin Business Operates to Kill

A chilling Washington Post story describes how heroin is a bigger business than ever, having spread its market from big cities to medium-sized communities like Dayton, Ohio.

Mexican cartels have overtaken the U.S. heroin trade, imposing an almost corporate discipline. They grow and process the drug themselves, increasingly replacing their traditional black tar with an innovative high-quality powder with mass market appeal: It can be smoked or snorted by newcomers as well as shot up by hard-core addicts.

They have broadened distribution beyond the old big-city heroin centers like Chicago or New York to target unlikely places such as Dayton. The midsize Midwestern city today is considered to be an epicenter of the heroin problem, with addicts buying and overdosing in unsettling droves. Crack dealers on street corners have been supplanted by heroin dealers ranging across a far wider landscape, almost invisible to law enforcement. They arrange deals by cellphone and deliver heroin like pizza.

Then there was this chilling line:

Pellets bursting [inside the carrier's intestine] was a courier's worst fear. Once in Lorain, Ohio, a courier started foaming at the mouth, and his handler called down to Mexico to figure out what to do. As authorities listened via wiretap, the handler was told to cut the courier open and retrieve the remaining drugs.

Libertarian theory looks upon the "opportunity" to traffic in drugs as a hallmark of individual freedom.  I look upon it as one of the most heartless and grotesque forms of murder.
That's what Judge Royce Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia pondered as he considered a defense request to pare back the sentence of Melvin Butler, a key lieutenant of famed DC drug kingpin Rayful Edmond.  I think it fair to say that, in the 1980's, Edmond and his gang inspired more sheer dread than anything else in Washington, DC.

Butler has been incarcerated for 24 years.  The question before Judge Lamberth is whether the court should grant Butler the lower sentence he would be eligible for today under more recently revised sentencing guidelines. The Washington Post story, by Spencer Szu and Julie Zauzmer, puts it this way:

A move to lower the lengthy prison sentence of a top associate of one of Washington's most notorious drug lords has prompted a federal judge to ask whether the nation's nascent drive to reduce prison populations might already be going too far.


In a comment to Bill's post on marijuana, Oscar asks why CJLF does not take a position on marijuana legalization.  I've explained this before on the blog, but readers come and go, so it won't hurt to explain it again.

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