Why, Exactly?

by Belle Waring on February 12, 2014

As I am certain every one of you knows, the extraordinarily talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died recently of a heroin overdose in New York City. In what is a very heart-wrenching aspect of the story, he had been clean and sober for over 20 years before relapsing onto prescription painkillers and booze a few months back (people say.) He had been going to 12-Step meetings even close to the time of his death, and he’s leaving three young children behind. A total bummer.

What’s weird is that the police decided to go on a manhunt for the specific people who sold the drugs he OD’ed on, and then arrest those people in particular. Why? People must die of heroin overdoses in NYC all the time, right? More than one a day, surely. Does it matter especially much if a famous person OD’s on your drugs? As opposed to, say, a struggling single mother, or a homeless person? They first tested his body to see if the heroin had been laced with fentanyl, a pharmaceutical heroin analog, which has caused deaths in nearby Pennsylvania. It hadn’t. He had just gotten good old regular drugs, from his dealer, who did him a solid there. The internet briefly hyperventilated about how there were 50 bags of heroin found in his apartment. This also seemed stupid. He’s rich and famous—he’s supposed to walk out in the freezing cold to Avenue C every single day? The man can’t stock up? Isn’t there a polar vortex or something?

This is like a person drinking themselves into a fatal alcoholic coma and the cops say: “there was a full bar at his house, with 2 unopened bottles of gin, and one of vodka in the freezer he had forgotten about, and some Kahlua that was 20 years old, because, seriously, Kahlua? AND 4 cases of beer!” People who die of drug overdoses other than this type usually die because they are also drinking. Like, say, they OD on valium and xanax and muscle relaxers—except oops they also drank a bottle of vodka! Tragic prescription drug overdose! Even in the case of heroin overdoses people often make dumb miscalculations because they are wasted drunk. But America doesn’t have a drinking problem so whatever.

The actor’s apparent overdose set off a special manhunt for the source of the narcotics due to his celebrity status. “An internal email went out to all supervisors [!? what, even?—ed] asking if anyone has had any experience with those brand names of drugs,” a police source told the New York Post. The dozens of baggies of heroin found in Hoffman’s West Village apartment were marked “Ace of Hearts” and “Ace of Spades,” although the drugs found in the Mott Street apartment were reportedly not stamped with the same names. The investigation is continuing, the Times reports.

“Spades” or not, Robert Vineberg, 57, and Thomas Kushman, 48, were charged with felony drug possession, while Max Rosenblum and Juliana Luchkiw, both 22, were charged with misdemeanor drug possession.

The high-profile death has put a spotlight on the existence of branded bags, “a fevered underground marketing effort in a city that is awash in cheap heroin.” Just last week, a Bronx bust included a creative collection of stamps including “Lady Gaga” and “Government Shutdown.” (Historically, brands also include “Grim Reaper; a skull and crossbones; D.O.A.,” according to the Times.) Heroin seizures are up 67 percent in New York over the last four years.

John was wondering whether these unfortunates could use, in their defense at trial, that ain’t nobody never would have bothered with them at all if their famous friend hadn’t screwed them over by accidentally on purpose dying like that. Because, seriously, what? Now, I favor decriminalization of all drugs, so I’m unusual, and recognize that heroin dealers are not the most popular people in the world. But look, someone’s got to sell heroin otherwise no one will get any heroin. Really. Somebody would have sold Mr. Hoffman those drugs. If they weren’t laced with anything then he maybe killed himself (it’s a sort of suicidal hobby anyway) or he maybe got a batch from one source that was much purer than that from another source, or maybe he just f#$ked up really bad and got greedy when he was heating up that spoon. But why these patsies? Was there going to be a national outcry?

Also, the “feverish underground market” thing is ridonk, NYC has always had this. I have to admit “Government Shutdown” is really winning my heart right now, though. New York Magazine interviews a heroin blogger here if you want to read about this weirdly fascinating branding. There was a famous bust of a dealer when I lived in NYC in the 90s who had gotten his glassine envelope stamp, “Poison” in a Coca-Cola font, done in blue on the bottom of his pool in the Dominican republic. That was how the DEA caught him. There was a photo in the Village Voice, it was hilarious. Named after the nauseating perfume, I think, in an ouroboros of death-wish imagery that was liable to make you puke your guts up. He was an up-and-comer because so many people were dying using Poison that it was a form of advertising! Lines around the block for his unusually pure goods, apparently. That guy I can see going after. The schmucks of Hearts up there on Mott St who weren’t even holding the right brand? I would be willing to bet a lot of money that they were just using buddies who copped for him because he was rich and paid for their dope. What did they ever do but sell the bullets someone put in a revolver and spun to play Russian roulette time after time after time? And then take the revolver out of his hand and put it to their own temples and spin the cylinder and dry-fire? And then hand somebody else the revolver and another .45 calibre bullet? And then…? (and here I must say there are many more than 6 chambers in this venomous pistol.)

Obligatory, but I’m really getting a ‘using the product vibe’ off these people that disqualifies them from being Superfly. Nonetheless, you got to get mellow y’all.

{ 73 comments }

1

TM 02.12.14 at 3:41 pm

I think your readers get the point, Belle. Btw did you know that US criminal justice system is seriously screwed up?

2

mpowell 02.12.14 at 3:49 pm

I appreciate your observation that there is a lot of ridiculous hyperventilating on this issue. We desparately need to decriminalize the use of all currently illegal narcotics and move to a treatment based regime (most likely one that establishes the state as the sole provider of highly addictive drugs like heroine to addicts) for users. And we need to have realistic definitions for users, not counting people with preposterously small quantities as dealers. The hyperventilating and completely unrealistic public commentary on drug usage makes it more difficult to have mature and informed conversation on public policy. Though I will say that if America has a drinking problem it pales in comparison to those of a number of other developed countries.

3

Donald A. Coffin 02.12.14 at 3:58 pm

4

politicalfootball 02.12.14 at 4:18 pm

The combination of a big job and limited resources always leads to this sort of justice-by-example. New York cops have been asked to stem the drug trade, but haven’t been provided with anything resembling the resources necessary to do so (for very good reasons).

To say this is a PR move on the part of the cops is accurate, but excessively cynical. By making a show of busting Hoffman’s dealers, the cops are trying to create the impression that the drug trade is riskier than it actually is – which is a legitimate goal of law enforcement (if we accept the premise that drugs ought to be illegal, which we don’t).

The SEC can’t come close to enforcing insider trading laws – even in the case of obvious violations – but they can bust Martha Stewart for some borderline behavior and send a message pour encourager les autres.

Prediction: Some prominent folks will get in trouble with the IRS in the first half of April this year. You heard it here first.

5

Anderson 02.12.14 at 4:49 pm

Well, this is just an occupational hazard of selling junk to a celeb – the celeb ODs, you’re taking a fall. Which is why I hope they were charging PSH 200% or more of market rate.

6

The Raven 02.12.14 at 4:57 pm

People who fight the drug war—they want a clear enemy and a victory, and these things don’t exist. But for a while, they can pretend.

7

parse 02.12.14 at 5:56 pm

What’s weird is that the police decided to go on a manhunt for the specific people who sold the drugs he OD’ed on, and then arrest those people in particular. Why? People must die of heroin overdoses in NYC all the time, right? More than one a day, surely. Does it matter especially much if a famous person OD’s on your drugs? As opposed to, say, a struggling single mother, or a homeless person?

Given that the death by overdose of a struggling single mother or a homeless person in New York isn’t typically fodder for front-page stories in the tabloids or detailed coverage in the Times, it doesn’t seem that the different reaction by the police to Hoffman’s particular case is out-of-step with the different reaction by the media and pretty much everybody else. I don’t think that going after Hoffman’s dealer makes much sense, but it doesn’t strike me that the motivation for it is particularly difficult to discern.

8

roy belmont 02.12.14 at 6:56 pm

an ouroboros of death-wish imagery

! (Speechless compliment)
-
It’s catharsis mm? Bad thing happened. Bad persons puneeshed. Bad thing all done.
Also maybe Hoffman is perceived as being an “us”. Cause of on the screen of “us”.
Bad persons from outside the screen made him dead. Enemies of “us” are not going to get away with that.
Also maybe the perception that heroin is coming from street dealers with maybe some ethnical kingpins in there at the top. Need to keep that illusion happening.
As opposed to the illegal drug industry and its multi-many-billions being the fully-owned purview of the same parasitic scum that are doing so much damage in other majorly important areas of the human endeavor.
That perceived otherness attacking us from outside and underneath, but now our defenders have defended us.
At the same time fulfilling their mandate to leave the big money alone.
Which is why drugs are illegal.
Because it makes them expensive.
Afghanistan world #1 source of opium.
Biggest crop ever last year.
After a decade of US military presence.
Pure coincidence.

9

Dave Maier 02.12.14 at 7:00 pm

I have to admit “Government Shutdown” is really winning my heart right now

I know, right? You could take it while listening to Government Mule. Although I guess I don’t actually want to do either of those things.

10

marcel 02.12.14 at 7:11 pm

an ouroboros: do you mean like Queens or Staten Island?

11

rcriii 02.12.14 at 7:12 pm

John was wondering whether these unfortunates could use, in their defense at trial, that ain’t nobody never would have bothered with them at all if their famous friend hadn’t screwed them over by accidentally on purpose dying like that.

Kind of a second-order “affluenza” defense?

“We figured that he was so rich the drug laws did not apply to him.”
or
“We have been dealing to the rich and famous for so long that we forgot it was illegal.”

12

js. 02.12.14 at 7:26 pm

Also, the “feverish underground market” thing is ridonk, NYC has always had this.

I’d think it’s a pretty general phenomenon, no? Drug branding hardly seems shocking! (Though I guess it depends on the drug? I guess of the two drugs I’m familiar with, one generally had branding—at least in its better quality versions—and the other didn’t, or if it did, I wasn’t noticing.)

Anyway, “Government Shutdown” is really great. It doesn’t quite fit, but you could always listen to Clampdown?

13

js. 02.12.14 at 7:27 pm

Yikes, mods! That last was not something I necessarily wanted my full name on. Any chance you could delete?

14

The Modesto Kid 02.12.14 at 7:47 pm

“an ouroboros: do you mean like Queens or Staten Island?”

And with that, my quota for today is filled. I can rest easy — not slacking off — hearing and laughing at bad puns is dirty work, but somebody’s got to do it.

15

BananaGuard 02.12.14 at 7:48 pm

Deaths due to heroin overdose in NYC 382 in 2012, so yeah, a little over one a day. That’s an increase of 84% in 2 years, so no, NYC wasn’t always a big city for heroin. In fact, emergency room visits for drug overdose in NYC were not high by national standards as of 2009.

Death from heroin overdose is common when the user is away from the normal drug-use location. It’s a Pavlovian thing. Resistance to narcotic effects rises in anticipation of narcotic use. New environment means less elevated resistance, so more risk of overdose. This is apparently a big deal in the epidemiology of heroin overdose.

I know it sounds weird, but dealers need to be responsible. They have reason to know the effects of their product better than their customers. If they sell to babies, sell to drunk newbies, sell to tourists, they should take a bit of care about ODs. Till drugs are decriminalized, let the police go after drug dealers that kill their customers. It’s not much of a regulatory mechanism, but it’s all we have.

16

John Emerson 02.13.14 at 1:02 am

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist[1] drug developed by Sankyo in the 1960s.[2][3] Naloxone is a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, for example heroin or morphine overdose.

Should be available over the counter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naloxone

I will now return to cursing the darkness.

17

Ebenezer Scrooge 02.13.14 at 1:22 am

You think that the cops get frisky with celebricide? You should see ‘em when they deal with copicide!

18

Dr. Hilarius 02.13.14 at 1:29 am

Maine’s governor opposes making Naloxone available for the usual crazy reasons: http://www.salon.com/2014/02/12/tea_party_governor_paul_lepage_to_reject_bill_increasing_access_to_lifesaving_drug/

Hoffmann possibly fell victim to a fairly common problem; overestimating his tolerance for the drug after a long period of abstinence.

19

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 3:12 am

Yes, naxolone should be available over the counter. It’s true that people who relapse often over-estimate their tolerance based on past tolerance, but it’s also true that people rapidly approach their past max tolerance after even a short period of using, leading to disappointment when there’s no honeymoon effect, leading, perhaps, to extra dumb shit like OD’ing for no reason.
Modesto Kid: LOL. Maybe it’s Staten Island, actually.

20

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 3:40 am

Oh also,
1: sorry, I’ll check with you first about whether you know something already before I post, and if you do, I’ll just jot down a few sentences to help you remember your own preëxisting knowledge, serving much like one of the extravagantly violent frescoes you surely keep on the walls of your Palace of Memory. Extravagantly violent ones work better, as I’m sure you know. Who, after all, can forget that the Battle of Chamdo took place in October 1950 when she has emblazoned upon the walls of her memory palace a tragic fresco in which 10 Buddhist nuns are raped by 19 Buddhist monks (under duress, naturally, so that they are also being raped) at gunpoint by 50 People’s Liberation Army soldiers. This isn’t even fair, because initial hostilities were not entirely horrific, but that’s not what memory palaces are about, are they TM? And you would know, having brought them up and everything, as I clearly recall from the top of this very thread.

Ebenezer Scrooge: well, when people kill cops–that’s just them wanting to use disproportionate force. They are more like a street gang than anything else in that regard. “You fuck with us, now it’s a must that we fuck with you,” as Dr. Dre says, and additionally “you fucking me, now I’m fucking you, little ho.” While only pretending to be a gangsta, it must be noted, when in fact he was a musician. But the cops ain’t playing! I wonder what it’s like in a city with a truly dysfunctional police force, like NO. I bet they come down hard and indiscriminate.

21

TM 02.13.14 at 3:59 am

Belle, I don’t think anybody suggested that you can’t write what you want and how long you want. Certainly not me.

22

js. 02.13.14 at 4:23 am

Thanks, Belle!

23

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 4:26 am

TM, I think I might have been joshing you a little. On account of your peremptory “we get it.” Which seemed to imply, “enough already with the words.” But we cool. Also, I like your memory palace, nice work there. The boxwood maze hedge section about Hegel is very ingenious, I may borrow that. I’ll use the leaves themselves to represent the thesis, then those spiderweb/moth cocoons that develop, shelving, between the leaves in summer and which hold water in huge glittering pearls to represent the antithesis, and the peculiar dusty smell of boxwood leaves that have not been rained on to represent the synthesis. Quite tidy really. +10.

24

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 4:53 am

No big, js. Sorry I was asleep until 11am my time. Like usual, suckers!

25

roy belmont 02.13.14 at 5:11 am

The Rock of The Falling Flowers
http://koreanhistory.info/puyo.jpg

As it came to me – the feudal shift brought a conquering (Chinese) army to the castle redoubt and the ladies, 70 and more, seeing their men defeated protecting the walls of the fortress, and them, threw theirselves off the rock pictured, and into the river.
Rather than be captured and mistreated.
Sometimes you get a choice, sometimes you don’t.

26

godoggo 02.13.14 at 5:57 am

madness

27

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 6:18 am

Ah, but roy, that’s not a memory-palace-needing example–it’s self-explanatorily-violent in a way that other things aren’t. Like, why Chamdo? Because one PLA soldier is on a horse which he is visibly restraining, which is thus champing at the bit to go ahead and do…? Even the Tibet example isn’t good. You need to use monks raping nuns in a fresco that helps you remember something about organic chemistry for your memory palace to be truly doing the work it is supposed to. Cicero himself uses/suggests temple maidens of some kind being raped–but in the service of remembering something non-violent.

Naturally a memory palace is only successful to its constructor; TM, you, in all likelihood do not have strong feelings about the dusty smell of August boxwood leaves which have not been rained on, while I do. I have a pretty firm commitment never to refer to Proust’s madelines on any occasion for the reason that they appear in the first 50 pages of the book, and I read the whole damn thing and am thus tired of ever hearing only of the author holding his mother’s kiss like a benison as he goes up to bed, one which will be destroyed if he encounters some obstacle etc. (all of that being in the first 27 pages), but nonetheless I find the smell of dry boxwood hedges to be transporting in a very visceral way. Proustian, even. Smells like Georgetown in Washington, D.C. in high summer. I have instructed my daughters that if they wish ever to read Proust but do not feel they will wish to go the distance they will accept my advice of what volume to read (Sodom and Gomorrah?) and NOT READ SWANN’S WAY and thus be educated people without driving me insane about that motherfucking nightlight he had with the motherfucking Duchess de Guermantes from ye oldene tymes on it, described on page 12. (Spoiler alert: it turns around because it’s got a tiny windmill-like apparatus at the top and so is powered by the candle.)

28

Clay Shirky 02.13.14 at 11:47 am

@Parse #7 posts for me. The motivation here is not hard to discern, and is only confusing if you believe that police activity is generally proportioned to criminal acts at random, weighted by severity.

To reverse-engineer Stalin’s logic, a million heroin deaths is a statistic, but one is a tragedy. The only other time such deaths get in the paper are when there is a sudden spate of them because the dealer decided rat poison would be a good thing to cut his smack with, and the NYC cops, to their credit, do seem to be getting better about various sorts of “Don’t eat the brown acid” messaging.

But in Hoffman’s case, his deaths is not just the end point of some crime having committed, it is unusually salient bit of evidence about How The War On Drugs Is Going. If, as would otherwise be likely, the dealer doesn’t get caught, it would be far more compelling bit of conversational fodder than all the statistics in the world. So any institution committed to said WoD has to go especially hard after the salient cases, because in addition to the usual dictates of putting perps in the pokey, in cases like this one they are trying to keep the Overton Window nailed shut.

29

alkali 02.13.14 at 2:24 pm

Does it matter especially much if a famous person OD’s on your drugs? As opposed to, say, a struggling single mother, or a homeless person?

As a practical matter of investigation, it’s pretty difficult to confirm that a homeless person obtained drugs that caused an overdose from a particular dealer. A homeless person pays in cash for things, may not have a cell phone or e-mail, may not live in a particular place, and comes and goes without people noticing. What’s more, his or her friends and associates may not trust the police. A celebrity is a different matter: PSH’s whereabouts in the days prior to his death are knowable almost to the minute because of the digital footprints he left behind, the reports of his family and friends, and the reports of strangers who recognized him in public places. That makes it feasible to tie the drugs he was using at his death to a particular dealer to a high level of certainly. In short, as tragic as his death is, it is also an unusually good opportunity for investigation.

30

Belle Waring 02.13.14 at 4:06 pm

No way. That homeless dude always went to the same shelter when it got too cold, lived outside the same bodega otherwise, and always bought Get Paid brand heroin from his favorite dealer, whom he trusted. He had 6 empty glassine envelopes of Get Paid on him when he died that he was planning to lick to the point of eating the next day if he had trouble panhandling enough to buy a bag before 2 pm. Everybody knows that. The bodega owner. The people who shop there and give him money and/or food. His best friend. Maybe no one’s eager to turn Narcy McNarcerson the tough on drug crime dog on somebody, but the cops could fine out if they cared to. Bull. Shit. Also, homeless people do too have phones! Who all buy those prepaid phones at the bodega? And how do you think he calls the Get Paid guy? The cope don’t give a flying fuck, is what that is.

31

Doug K 02.13.14 at 5:04 pm

as 6 and 7 observe, this is just war-on-drugs theatre, like security theatre.. first the tragedy, then the farce..

I had fentanyl for a medical procedure recently, that was the happiest I’ve been all decade.. can see the attraction.

32

Plume 02.13.14 at 5:13 pm

Belle Waring,

Apologies if you’ve already done this. But could you write a bit about the differences regarding drug policies in your new home versus America?

I’m with you on decriminalizing all of it. But it’s probably going to require international decriminalization in order to be really effective, though it will still be a massive improvement regardless.

If it’s done piecemeal, I’m guessing the site of tragedy will just move. Whack a mole, I think they sometimes call it. Which also ties into things like labor and environmental reforms, regs, etc. etc. Needs to be geoholistic, etc.

(Did I just invent a word?)

One big advantage of doing big, positive reforms in America is that they tend to positively influence the rest of the world. Our curse is that our negatives do as well. And we seem to produce more negatives.

33

Matt 02.13.14 at 7:27 pm

I’m with you on decriminalizing all of it. But it’s probably going to require international decriminalization in order to be really effective, though it will still be a massive improvement regardless.

I’m also on board with decriminalizing all of it, probably legalizing most of it. I’m not sure what effectiveness you mean when you say it requires international decriminalization to be really effective. Do you mean that violent cartels will continue to profit from the drug trade as long as there remain areas where there is a black market premium markup on drugs? That’s probably true, but the US is by far the world’s largest market for illegal drugs, so just changing the US would be a big improvement.

As for Singapore, cripes, they kill people for cannabis possession there. Maybe that makes utilitarian sense for drugs that people can fatally OD on, if you think “total life years” should be maximized regardless of how people die, but for cannabis… come on!

34

Plume 02.13.14 at 8:00 pm

Matt,

Basically, and obviously, the world is really small these days. In order to have effective reform, it really needs an internationalist approach. Otherwise, you just move the scene of tragedy, exploitation and oppression. For instance, America made some small advances in workplace protections — which seem to be slipping away — and American capitalists just shipped jobs, exploitation and oppression to new sites. Instead of paying obscenely rotten wages here, in dangerous working conditions, they moved that to places like China and Foxconn.

Which tells me in no uncertain terms they’d do it here if they could get away with it.

So, anyway, we need to decriminalize all drugs and, as you mention, legalize most, but we also have to work on broadening that to include the rest of the world. We don’t really want to create new opportunities for organize crime in different locations. We want to kill those opportunities worldwide, to the degree possible.

A living wage here and one all across the globe. That would prevent that exportation of misery elsewhere. I think the same thing applies to drug laws. We need to get on the same humanitarian page, etc.

35

Alex 02.13.14 at 9:42 pm

It doesn’t need an international approach. The whole enterprise depends on supply reduction, which is why US drug warriors have been desperately trying to coerce and maintain an international consensus – because even small chinks could be lethal to the whole exercise.

If mdma gets legalised in the netherlands, then it is just going to be legally posted wholesale everywhere else in the world. This would reduce rather than export misery. Illegal production and supply networks which depend on vertical integration will be undercut, as anyone with a post box could become a dealer. The only defense will be interdiction efforts which would be worthless against a supply which could easily be ramped up with impunity.

36

Peter T 02.14.14 at 12:08 am

First, I’m sorry for Hoffman and especially for his kids, and I think Belle’s post is spot-on about the police reaction (and her usual lovely writing).

Second – background – I have spent 30 years dealing with heroin in the family, including the death of a child. But I also spent a decade working in drug law enforcement and drug policy, including several years where I was a member of a drug policy group which brought together treatment providers, drug experts, health and law enforcement.

Drug policy discussions that do not first ask “what drug?” and then go on to ask a lot of questions about how it is used and supplied, and what its effects are are simply confused. Cannabis is not heroin, and heroin is not meth. “Legalise” cannabis? Probably no more problem that you already have, and much less effort/aggro. Just remember that because something is legal does not mean there is no need for law enforcement (think of tobacco or alcohol). This seems – after a few wasted decades – to be getting through to politicians in some US states. Here in Australia most police forces largely gave up on street-level cannabis years ago – arrests for cannabis possession are still quite common, but they are mostly adjuncts to other behaviour the cops don’t like.

Ecstasy? Probably much the same.

Heroin. One sobering piece of research showed that, pretty much regardless of treatment regime and policy approach, one in four people who try heroin will become heavy users and, after 15 years, 40% of heavy users will be dead, 40% in some long-term maintenance arrangement (usually methadone) and 20% recovered. We have treatments for overdoses (like Naloxone), but no effective treatment for the addiction itself.

So supply control makes sense – IF it can be done. Here in Australia supply control measures worked to reduce heroin use/deaths by two-thirds in ten years (how they worked is a complicated story, and not the usual police pap). But Australia is not the US. If supply control is not feasible, then some version of palliative care until the current wave burns out/dies off may be the best you can do. In short, there is no easy answer, and no sensible debate at any high level of generality.

37

Matt 02.14.14 at 12:54 am

Heroin. One sobering piece of research showed that, pretty much regardless of treatment regime and policy approach, one in four people who try heroin will become heavy users and, after 15 years, 40% of heavy users will be dead, 40% in some long-term maintenance arrangement (usually methadone) and 20% recovered. We have treatments for overdoses (like Naloxone), but no effective treatment for the addiction itself.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012 1.8% of the US population had tried heroin, but only 0.1% had used in the past month:

http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2012SummNatFindDetTables/DetTabs/NSDUH-DetTabsSect1peTabs1to46-2012.htm#Tab1.1B

That looks to me like 6% of people who try it currently being heavy users. Which is not necessarily incompatible with your 25% ever becoming heavy users — current status vs. something that happens in a lifetime. If you have a link to the study that would be great.

38

The Temporary Name 02.14.14 at 1:03 am

http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/371/ille/presentation/alexender-e.htm

My hope is that this quick survey of the illusory scientific support for the conventional belief that heroin and cocaine cause addiction can help to show why society should turn away from this unsupported belief. Understanding that there may not be any inherent addictive power in drugs could help to turn us toward a broader, more efficacious formulation of the causes of addiction in our time, and of the huge, dismal saga of tragedy that it produces.

39

Peter T 02.14.14 at 1:28 am

https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/professor-shane-darke/publicationsMatt

The Australian National Drug Household Surveys can be found at http://www.aihw.gov.au. IIRC they fairly consistently showed 0.8 per cent lifetime use to 0.2 per cent last month use. There are some caveats around the small numbers, but this squared with other data on numbers of dependent users and inflow/outflow rates.

The cross -national outcomes study mentioned is by Prof Shane Darke of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. I see he has recently published a book on the same theme (which I will not read because I no longer work in the area and it would be too depressing). I can’t pinpoint it among his many articles, and my summary was from a presentation he gave. For what it’s worth, his publications are at: https://research.unsw.edu.au/people/professor-shane-darke/publications

40

Belle Waring 02.14.14 at 3:30 am

Plume–all the knock-on effects from decriminalizing drugs in the US market would be good ones. There would literally be NO bad external problems that would arise as a result of decriminalization. Authoritarian governments in Central and South America and Afghanistan would stop getting money and guns from the US. The drop in profits would mean narcotraficantes had less reason to form gangs that metastasize repeatedly, taking over various local and federal and new federal government agencies in turn. Small farmers all over the world could grow coca leaves or opium poppies if they wished, if it were profitable, or food, if they wished and that were profitable or allowed them to be subsistence farmers, and no one would either come agent orange the place or need to guard it with AKs or jack up their whole crop one day at gunpoint.

The problems would be internal to the US, and here everyone’s always like, ‘people should be able to use [here insert drugs person has himself used in past], but [here insert cocaine or heroin as necessary unless person has snorted coke at parties in their twenties and then never used again in which case just leave heroin] should obviously still be illegal, because if you try it even once–YOU’RE HOOKED FOR LIFE!’ Thanks, Narcy McNarcerson the tough on drug-crime dog! But that’s bullshit. Tons and tons of people try hard drugs a few times when their weird friends have them or at some afterparty and then that’s it. The truth of the matter is that it’s a trade-off: quite a few people would become junkies who wouldn’t have otherwise, if it were easy and legal to get high, reliable-quality dope and clean works everywhere. BUT I bet you a bunch of money that what those people are doing right now is becoming motherfucking alcoholics. People make do with what they got. People huff gasoline and aerosol floor polisher, for god’s sake! Let’s give those poor bastards some crack!

Some people are just really liable to get hooked on something, and what they get hooked on depends to a great degree on what’s available. It seems like it’s partly genetic, with some families losing swathes of people to alcoholism and drug abuse. But then, growing up in that house was prolly no picnic either, right, so…environmental factors? In any case, some people need to get wasted to take the sharp edges off life where it is cutting them on their soul, and who are we to say they have to drink bourbon when they’d rather snort some Government Shutdown? Is it so important to society that they drink bourbon? Bourbon’s good an all, but I’m not seeing where the state should step in and say, “nope, gotta be bourbon. Sorry, I know you wanted that Demerol, son. There’s a compelling government interest in the bourbon though, in the constitution somewhere, only I can’t happen to find it right this minute, on account of, between you and me, I’m shitfaced.”

The reason people don’t want to do this is they can see and imagine the middle-class white kids who would become crack addicts but don’t see the invisible black kids who are being ground into raw meat by the grinder of the justice system. I’m willing to trade one unfortunate middle-class white kid who would probably have become a heavy drinker instead becoming a junkie for 40 black kids who never go to fucking jail even one time.

Finally, what’s alcohol’s over/under for ‘ever tried,’ ‘heavy drinker,’ and ‘alcoholic’? Not so pretty, I think. AFAIK 80% of alcohol sold in the States is to like 25% of drinkers. That is not some wine with dinner. That is just scores of millions of drug addicts who started dabbling in drug use in their teens, because they saw their parents using and thought that was normal in their community. And now they’re hooked for life. What’s the recovery rate for people who go into treatment for alcoholism? 20% stay sober for a year, I think, is the best they do. What percentage of violent crimes in America happen when either the victim or the perpetrator or both are drunk? Way more than half! Why is this hunky dory and heroin would be the end of the world? Where’s the compelling state interest in bourbon again?

41

Plume 02.14.14 at 3:47 am

Belle Waring @40,

I definitely agree with you. We should have done this since forever. I was talking in terms of making it more effective by extending it internationally. Not as a way to postpone our own policy changes, which must be made. Yesterday. We currently incarcerate more people than any other nation per capita, and most of that is for drugs. That’s actually “criminal” in my book.

Alcohol addiction, which afflicts roughly 10% of the population, is far worse than the vast majority of drug addictions, but it doesn’t have the same taint. Though, class plays a major role in how drug users and alcoholics are perceived, obviously. A very rich person can have a “a problem” with either, seek the finest treatment available, and actually be deemed courageous, etc. etc. A poor person with a drug or alcohol addiction is just a junkie or a drunk.

I bumped into an odd snippet the other day. Apparently, the South Koreans kick everyone’s butt in drinking per capita. Twice as much as the next most frequent, Russia. Soju is the apparent drink of choice.

Who’d a thunk it?

42

roy belmont 02.14.14 at 4:39 am

I have a fresco of the Falling Flowers in the corridor of my memory palace that leads to the Gymnasium of Exemplary Courageous Imperatives. Where I keep the brave things I’ve seen.
Korea, the whole one, the one without the US-rigged lobotomy division through its middle, has a really to me wonderful color sense as part of the cultural aesthetic.
The women were wearing best robes of aristocratic fineness. People saw them falling, and remembered.
-
One gets that hesitation. You know, the kids. Let em find out for themselves. One balks. But hey I’ve been in this for decades.
I did relatively serious jail time for weed*, been shoved around a little for other things too. Spent a lot of thought hours on it.
It is childish and nearly has to be intentionally naive to keep insisting the blockage to legality is puritanical resistance and lack of moral common sense.
It’s like the feel-good stories around the WBush presidency. What a mistake!
It was all them dummies in the hinterlands, so essentially a mistake of stupid. As opposed to an intentional shuck and jive media-driven scam to get a major sock puppet in the forefront of planned skulduggery. To take the blame.
If it’s necessary for your comfort levels to believe it so, please continue.
But if you want the truth you’re going to have to confront some pretty counter-consensus discomfiting facts.
The illegal drug industry’s gross in the US is around 40 billion annually, worldwide ten times that.
The oil bidness is around 170 (taxed, traceable) billion. Or about half of the illegal drug industry’s (untaxed, untraced) annual take.
Now just let’s think about how easy it is to push them petro-cowboys around shall we?

Boston.com:
Annual worldwide illegal drug sales are greater than the gross domestic product of 88 percent of the countries in the world, the UN said yesterday.
”This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster,” Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an annual report.

That power is what is in the way of legalization. Not the danger-fearing brainwashed simpletons of Anytown USA.
Legalize and the profits disappear. Unless like in the weed campaign you can rig it so the price stays up as it moves into quasi-legal acceptance. But you won’t slip powder drugs in through the transition zones of “medical” dispensaries.
Legalization would get rid of almost all the problems associated with hard drug use except the actual medical dangers, so it makes huge sense from a humane standpoint.
But the guys running the business aren’t humanitarians, they’re ruthless gangsters with enormous financial and political weight. The fantasy includes a topography of control that has the corruption stopping at the southern borders of the US. Ridiculous.
Talking about drugs and drug laws as a problem of education and common sense, while leaving out the controlling strength of the (tax free, untraceable) money and where it goes, and who it’s going to, is a little, not to be rude, wankerish.

*cultivation and possession for sale, also possession for sale of schedule 1 mushrooms – 5 years state pen. suspended, 9 months county jail time, with 4 1/2 mos. served, parole release, 3 yrs probation.

43

Matt 02.14.14 at 5:15 am

Petroleum is a way bigger business than illegal drugs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_oil_and_gas_companies_by_revenue

There are 7 companies on the list that each have more than $170 billion annual revenue. The combination of them brings in more than $5 trillion annual revenue.

If it’s big money rather than moral panic that keeps drugs illegal, why are there tryptamines in schedule one (like your fateful mushrooms)? They don’t induce dependency, nobody dies of an OD*, and the cartels aren’t pushing them.

*Well, maybe very rarely, like that poor elephant killed with LSD by University of Oklahoma researchers.

44

Belle Waring 02.14.14 at 5:33 am

Belatedly sorry for the county jail, roy. I feel confident in saying that fucking sucked.

45

Ronan(rf) 02.14.14 at 11:36 am

” Till drugs are decriminalized, let the police go after drug dealers that kill their customers.”

What are people talking about when they say they favour decriminalisation here ?
Afaik any decriminalisation regime that exists (although I’m sketchy on the specifics) *does* still go after dealers, both at the street level and (obviously) everything above. You are still prosecuted for selling drugs, and any realistic policy in the forseeable future is still going to go after dealers (afaict) I dont see the problem with this (so long as the punishments are sensible) not because drug dealers are generally any particular type of evil, but because it’s a compromise for shifting between a bad system and a (potentially) slightly better one.

“I’m willing to trade one unfortunate middle-class white kid who would probably have become a heavy drinker instead becoming a junkie for 40 black kids who never go to fucking jail even one time”

That might be a nice sentiment, but it’s not exactely how any new drug regime is going to work. America seems to have a problem with f**king over black Americans independent of the WOD, I dont see why legalising drugs is going to suddenly shift the balance to white kids from the suburbs.
Those who are most likely to be negatively affected by any blanket legalisation are still those most marginalised by the current system ie those with a disposition to be addicted and the poor. If there isn’t a proper treatment system, and if there isnt universal access to it, (and as an outsider looking in I dont see how thats going to happen in the US) then any new system really isn’t going to be worth much. Is public policy suddenly going to shift in favour of the interests of poor African Americans? Libertarians can obviously overlook this, because they don’t care, but I wouldnt think the left should be so sure about the positives of the alternatives here.

” There would literally be NO bad external problems that would arise as a result of decriminalization. Authoritarian governments in Central and South America and Afghanistan would stop getting money and guns from the US.”

Most Latin American cartels have diversified away from drugs and so (afaict) if the drug business ended tomorrow it wouldnt make a huge difference to their profits. You might put a few Afghani poppy farmers out of business but at the top end international gangs and authoritarian governments involved in supplying drugs would continue as usual.
Even with legalisation the most plausible outcome, to me, would be those who now control the drug market would continue to do so, just legitmately. How could anyone compete (in the short/medium term) with organisations with that much expertise, control of drug producing regions etc ?
Which isn’t to say I agree with how it’s fought internationally now (or domestically in a number of countries) but I dont see how legalisation is the panacea people claim. A lot of the problems associated with the WOD are deeper societal problems (a dysfunctional US justice system, poor governance in drug producing countries, US propensity to use force in FP etc) that don’t get resolved by this one policy. And the possible negative outcomes (increased use, increased addiction etc) are real enough that they should prevent us from imagining that a Utopian solution exists (rather than a choice of terrible options)

46

alkali 02.14.14 at 3:19 pm

@30:

If the point is to try to tie a particular dealer to a particular person’s overdose death for purposes of criminal prosecution — beyond a reasonable doubt, etc. — a really high level of detail about that person’s activity leading up to the overdose is required. If you can’t account for the person’s activity for a couple of days, you can’t say who else they might have been dealing with, and the case melts down.

That homeless dude always went to the same shelter when it got too cold, lived outside the same bodega otherwise, and always bought Get Paid brand heroin from his favorite dealer, whom he trusted.

It is true that people living on the street with substance abuse problems have regular habits and patterns. The difficulty is establishing what they are. If you want to know where I was this morning, you can ask my spouse (who can verify where I was until about 8) and the people at my office (likewise after 8:30), and it’s very easy to find those witnesses. There may be a coffee cart vendor who frequently notices the same homeless dude every day at about the same time, but is that person (if he/she can be found) really going to be able to testify to particular dates and times? And even if so, that would account for only a short period of time.

Also, homeless people do too have phones! Who all buy those prepaid phones at the bodega?

True, some homeless people have mobile phones. (That’s more common with people living in hotel rooms or their car than with people living on the street with substance abuse problems, but even so.) But suppose you find a prepaid mobile phone with an overdose victim. It’s impossible to know how long the person had it, where it came from, who else may have used it, etc. My phone is tied to my credit card and I’ve got a bunch of pictures of my kids on it.

47

Belle Waring 02.14.14 at 3:20 pm

Ronan(rf): a premise of my argument was that a considerable number of people who would not have become heroin addicts otherwise, would become heroin addicts if it were legal to obtain reliable quality heroin. What about that screams “utopian” to you? And no, when I say it should be legal I just mean plain old legal. It’s legal to sell cocaine if it’s legal to buy cocaine, otherwise there’s not much of a point. And I really have to say I think it would come as a big surprise to the Mexican government that legalization of all drugs in the US wouldn’t have any impact on corruption there, or journalists being gruesomely murdered, or entire federal agencies going systematically rogue. You should let them know.

“How could anyone compete (in the short/medium term) with organizations with that much expertise, control of drug producing regions etc.?” [First of all, this lament is decidedly at odds with the immediately preceding claim that Latin American cartels would be unaffected by legalization.] The control they exert is illegal and is main force. The expertise…well, why are criminal enterprises so effective at selling drugs? Because the drugs are illegal, not because criminals have a unique skill-set that allows them to sell drugs. The reason non-criminals can’t compete in the market now is no non-criminals exist in the market. And why are criminals so interested? Because it’s so profitable. And why is it so profitable? Because the drugs are illegal! You’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, dude.

Also, many of the vulnerable African-American children you’re talking about already have fabulous, amazing access to hard drugs. The joys of city living, amirite?That part of their life would be unchanged, so even if no money was allotted for treatment centers it wouldn’t make much difference from where they stand now. The difference would be not sending the people to jail in a way that systematically fucks up the rest of their entire lives. You can’t possibly sit here with a straight face and look at the percentage of young black men in jail or prison for non-violent drug offenses and tell me wouldn’t make any difference if the things for which they were being sent to jail were no longer crimes. You don’t even believe that a bit.

“OMG Belle are you saying people should be able to straight up sell you cocaine for real?” Yes, I am. I assure you this is not because of my lack of experience with drug addicts, alcoholics, religious teetotallers, drug dealers, or crazy DEA agents. I have experience with all such manner of people. Not much regular police, I guess. Maybe the government would have to sell you drugs. Because everyone would sue you otherwise? But they can’t sue Maker’s Mark because–? Goddamn I would sue Old Crow bourbon for all of my childhood back, all of it. Every golden drop of youth. Still and all, I say, people are going to get high, and they can huff gas or they can do something reasonable like snort 90% pure heroin that is stamped “government continues to operate.” HUFFING GAS IS A BILLION TIMES WORSE FOR YOU. And, I swear to god, there is no amount of you making heroin illegal is going to stop that 15-year-old-girl in Mississippi from huffing gas.

48

Ronan(rf) 02.14.14 at 4:16 pm

“[First of all, this lament is decidedly at odds with the immediately preceding claim that Latin American cartels would be unaffected by legalization.] “

It’s not because the preceding claim is imagining a hypothetical where the cartels drug business dissapears, in those circumstances (from what I know) they have their fingers in enough pies that it’s not really going to make a *significant* difference. The next part is saying what I assume would happen if we simply legalised the drug trade, the cartels (in some form) would probably still be heavily involved. (And the problems associated with normalising drugs at the international level *might* cut back on some of the problems associated with the cartels but it’s still going to have dometic reprecussions in the countries producing drugs. Look at the impact drugs have had in Mexican border cities on smuggling routes. Im just saying I think there will be some consequences in drug producing countries, so not :

“There would literally be NO bad external problems that would arise as a result of decriminalization”

and the benefits might be less than hoped for.)

“The reason non-criminals can’t compete in the market now is no non-criminals exist in the market. And why are criminals so interested?”

Maybe. But you’re also talking about countries with significant corruption and weak institutions so if we legalise drugs at every level, who gets the right to produce and supply coke from, say, Colombia ? Those already heavily involved in the process, would be my guess. (In the short/medium term anyway) Perhaps there’s some way of designing an international drug trading regime that opens it up to legitimate competition, where those already involved in supplying drugs arent heavily involved, but Im sceptical.

” And I really have to say I think it would come as a big surprise to the Mexican government that legalization of all drugs in the US wouldn’t have any impact on corruption there, or journalists being gruesomely murdered, or entire federal agencies going systematically rogue. You should let them know.”

What impact it would have is an open question. I dont think it’s a panacea is all. I think Mexico’s problems go deeper. Again I’m not against rethinking large aspects of ‘the war on drugs’, I just dont think a blanket legalisation is the way to go. And my impression is that even among the political elites in Latin America, who want to rethink it, they arent pushing full legalisation (My preference would be to see how different programs work in different countries, and then come up with ideas from there)

“Also, many of the vulnerable African-American children you’re talking about already have fabulous, amazing access to hard drugs.”

Well maybe, but these things cluster in specific communities afaics. I dont think every working class urban community neccessarily live with the consequences of drug use in the same way. (At least in Ireland during the influx of Heroin in the 80s the social problems clustered in certain areas, specific estates in Dublin etc) So greater access to drugs means greater access to drugs, for all classes races etc Maybe it wouldnt have a significant impact in working class areas, but again we dont know.

“The difference would be not sending the people to jail in a way that systematically fucks up the rest of their entire lives. You can’t possibly sit here with a straight face and look at the percentage of young black men in jail or prison for non-violent drug offenses and tell me wouldn’t make any difference if the things for which they were being sent to jail were no longer crimes. You don’t even believe that a bit.”

Well (with the caveat Im not American so speaking from ignorance) I agree, ideally. But I also dont see the problem with attacking that issue specifically, rethink US drug laws on their own without legalising drugs. Would that not be a more realistic approach (is there any chance of full scale legalisation) ?
I do agree with you on this part, if this was a choice on the table (legalise drugs and by extension stop locking people up for drug offences) I dont know what my position would be. But you will still have all the problems associated with a punitive, dysfunctional justice system (ie will people not just be locked up for drug related offences – as they are for drink related – robbing for drugs , fighting when on Meth, driving when stoned etc If we accept that drug use is going to increase with legalistion then these crimes are also going to increase. So why not approach it though reforming the justic system?)

“Yes, I am. I assure you this is not because of my lack of experience with drug addicts, alcoholics, religious teetotallers, drug dealers, or crazy DEA agents. I have experience with all such manner of people.”

Sure, but it’s still a personal experience rather than a generalisable one. A lot of people experience these circumstances and come away with different conclusion.
I’m not against the idea in principal, I’m just a little sceptical of the benefits, and would worry about the consequences. If it evolved in that direction over time then I wouldnt mind.
I also dont know how it works in practice (you create large federal agencies involved in making sure drugs meet national standards, prices will fall significantly, you get increased use and increased addiction (potentially), and still have a lot of the other problems associated with the WOD(employers drug testing etc), you probably introduce specific drugs into communties where they arent prevelant and if you dont invest properly in treatment (ie have a system in place beforehand) you have an increase in societal and individual problems with no remedy. Yes you cut down on locking people up for non violent crimes, but a lot of countries do that short of legalisation)

49

Ronan(rf) 02.14.14 at 4:18 pm

Look, sorry, thats long and convoluted. Im not neccesarily completely disagreeing with you, and sorry if my initial comment sounded snarky etc
Im just not sure is all. (which would have been a shorter way of putting that)

50

godoggo 02.15.14 at 2:21 am

I guess this as good a time as any to announce that I’m getting a bit weary of my old pseudonym, at least as far as this blog this blog is concerned. I think that henceforth, in keeping with the canine theme, I will use the name of a dog breed, followed by the name of a dog disease, which readers will be free to pronounce according to their preference. assuming there are no objections; otherwise speak now or forever hold your pies.

51

Main Street Muse 02.15.14 at 2:56 am

I have a friend who died of a heroin overdose a few years ago. No one was arrested.

Pot should be legalized. But I think heroin is truly a terribly addictive drug and it should remain illegal. I don’t think that it is illegal because people “imagine the middle-class white kids who would become crack addicts but don’t see the invisible black kids who are being ground into raw meat by the grinder of the justice system.” That’s a simplistic look at a complex issue, actually. Heroin was a huge issue in the local HS where I used to live – full of middle-class white people.

52

Belle Waring 02.15.14 at 3:57 am

Sure, I grant you your experience has formed your opinion, but in general why do legislators think that? And the truth is it’s just not super-hard for a determined young person to lay their hands on some heroin. That’s not the locus really. Then we suddenly face a hideously forked path: black kids and lowest economic class whites get sent down the road to permanent, life-long trips in and out of jail and eventual going to prison for theft or low-level dealing or whatever. White kids whose parents have any money (and black kids likewise, but they’ve got a tough row to hoe even with the most expensive lawyer around) have a very good chance of getting their asses saved with treatment, forcible moves to a new town (can work, actually) or a host of other things. Mooching off parents keeps richer kids from getting busted for shoplifting or super low-level dealing (to friends). The whole thing sometimes burns itself out in the person’s 20s and they come out oftener than you’d think. But the people that got sent right to jail, do not pass go when things started? Are fuckity fucked fucked.

53

Belle Waring 02.15.14 at 4:06 am

Oh, Ronan(rf) I overlooked this in your response, that you’re not from America. You really have to look at the percentage of the black population we currently have in jail for non-violent drug offenses to grasp the scope of the problem. From the NAACP:

1. About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug.
2. 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites.
3. African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
4. African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

And finally, devastatingly:
“One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.”

ONE IN THREE! Fuck, 10 million people can become junkies (Granting my stipulation that a reasonable subset were nascent alcoholics) and it would still be worth it.

54

Ronan(rf) 02.15.14 at 1:16 pm

Belle – I agree with you here and am not disputing it. I know the stats re black males being overrepresented in jail for drugs crimes while statistically not doing drugs more often than whites, sentencing discrepencies between white and black etc
(Now Im going to speak from great ignorance, so forgive me.) I just think any legalisation policy would still hit the poorest/most marginalised most. I still think there would be reasons found to lock up black men, if that’s what was felt was needed to be done. I would be sceptical that investment would be made in treatment, or after prison help, or jobs programs in poor and poor black neighbourhoods. I still think employers would exclude people from work with random drug testing. And I still think systemic racism in the US would exist, just without the war on drugs.
If Obama came out tomorrow with an AMAZING plan to end the war on drugs that tied all of this together, breaking up the cartels, disbanding the drug enforcement agencies, reforming the justice system, investing in working class areas, creating some set in stone government monopoly to import and sell drugs (with no possibility of the market being captured by private business interests) then I’d (personally) certainly consider it. But Im guessing what would happen instead would be the equivalent of 90s economic shock therapy except with meth. I would guess it’d be awful.

I still think all the other things need to be done first, personally, but I agree completely that locking people up for drug offenses is stupid, and should be ended. (my impression reading around is that this is actually beginning to happen in the US ? that some police departments have accepted the WOD was a failure and so are concentrating less on mass drug arrests and going after ‘violent networks’? that prisons are proving unaffordable and so there’s a shift to other forms of punishment ?)
Anyway I’m speaking more generally here, as not being from the US I’m loath to speak to the specifics on it.

So I probably agree with you on most things (and I’d decriminalise pretty much everything at the street level, using or dealing) but just not full bore legalisation, and Id still going after those importing(not through military intervention or crop eradication) and/or dealing large quantities and try cut back on the supply of drugs coming into the country. I don’t think any of this is going to work to any great effect – these things appear to run cyclically beyond any meaningful human control – and I don’t think this is a great idea or particularly coherent, but that’s where I am. I just think the consequences of and political economy that would build up around full scale legalisation are too unknowable at the minute, and would probably be worse than other half measures.

55

Ronan(rf) 02.15.14 at 1:26 pm

Btw Belle – you might be interested in the book ‘Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control’ by Amy E. Lerman and Vesla M. Weaver which I came across while browsing around the internet looking for stuff (I haven’t read it as its not out yet)
Here’s a link to their research (which I found pretty interesting, from a laymans perspective)

http://veslaweaver.wordpress.com/research-2/

about how the US justice system has redefined citizenship for those who come into contact with it, reinforces racial inequality etc

56

roy belmont 02.16.14 at 2:43 am

Matt 43 at 5:15 am-
Bad research, should have gone straight to wikipedia but… I didn’t.
The real data was:
Annual worldwide illegal drug sales are greater than the gross domestic product of 88 percent of the countries in the world, the UN said yesterday.
”This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster,” Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said in an annual report.

So the estimates of int’l drug trade annual income are more in line (except for taxation and accountability!) with more like only one major oil company, say oh, BP frinstance.
With its little almost 400 billion piece of that pie.
Pretty easy pushing them around hmm? Specially after that nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico, right?
Your secondary argument, from the actual scheduling lists of actual schedule 1 drugs, is pretty straight-up logical fallacy.
Because there are non-corruption-produced restrictions on drug legality, codified by moral ninnies and the scientifically uninformed, the major resistance to legalization can’t be coming from the corrupt assholes who are making major bank off illegalness.
This is fallacious logic.
No doubt there are large numbers of earnest and serious objections to legalization, or even drug use itself, from decent moral convinced and concerned people. Some of whom have legislative power.
No doubt as well there are lots of individuals in the DEA and ICE and other agencies who are convinced of their moral imperative, and act from conscience and a mandate to make things less bad. As opposed to being played as thug enforcement agents, or just trying to make some bank on their own.
So that means… what? As far as my point, which was pretty clearly I thought stated.
Maybe not.
We’re not talking about soldiers in the field or even the consensus will of the public, we’re talking about the same decision-making power that is so brilliantly at work in regulation of criminality in other areas of concern, like the financial industry for example.
If you’re not seeing corruption there then you’re not looking very hard.
Even Belle, even Ronan, appear to be working with the received media-impression that there’s a massive “monster” (UN guy’s term) operating in the drug biz, but it’s living South of the Border.
Up here in the US it’s all mom and pop dealers with actual nasty cartels having only franchise presence, while still having their HQ’s in el Sur.
Poor vulnerable American society just can’t protect itself from those greasy vile narcotraficantes.
It’s a racist p.o.v. and it’s garbage.
The logical extension is a cartoonish image where that massive corrupt thing is only down there, not up here, not in the US. Where the dollars are.
That is naive, in my opinion, no matter how out-moneyed Big Drugs are by Big Oil.

57

roy belmont 02.16.14 at 3:15 am

Belle-
It was a long while ago. The sucky parts were not the actual incarceration so much, although…
but the actual bust, rural Napa Valley August heat, dawn, answering the pounding on the door buck-naked to 6 or 8 drawn guns, loud incoherent yelling, cops and sheriffs in the shooter’s crouch, me with two hours sleep from being up all night high doing wood carving of a bird into an old oak table top I had.
They broke my little green glass violin ashtray and my miniature meerschaum.
And then having to appear respectfully a bunch of times in a court of law for which I had no respect other than their ability to harm me further.
I got into a firefighting camp after a month in the actual jail. Night and day. Fresh food and lots of work, clean air and water way out in the woods.
While there, you must believe this, on my honor as someone who loves language, in a big poker game for packs of cigs and cans of snoose, lots of spectators, in a hand of seven card stud, I drew to a royal flush in spades.
Couple guys actually fled the table as fast as they could. Others withdrew discreetly. Clamor of cheating. Guy who dealt the hand was scared and defensive against accusations. My buddy who was advising me how to play couldn’t stop laughing and pounding me on the back.
On the way down to the parole hearing (where I pointed out to the one humane judge I encountered in all that Kafkan madness that it was Bastille Day, and traditional to release prisoners in the name of Liberty etc) they flew me in this prisoner transport plane. An 8 seater, leg shackles and handcuffs, orange jumpsuit. The guy next to me was going back to Soledad, the gladiator school in those pre-privatized pre-pharma’d days, from an appearance on a matter up north.
His vibe was the heaviest I ever felt in another human. Nice polite even but man immeasurable depth and dark with the darkness he was going back to, that he lived in.

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Peter T 02.16.14 at 3:38 am

Just a note: the UN (and most other) estimates of drug profits are pure bs. Take the street prices of all the drugs, multiply by estimates of amounts used and – hey presto – huge sum. Never mind that reported street prices are an inaccurate measure of actual money changing hands, that most of the money goes around in small circles at the bottom level of dealing, that there is no Microsoft, Pfizer or Shell of drugs aggregating money at the top, that a large fraction of the total is marijuana which is often grown, traded for favours or given away (so no money involved at all) and so on.

Drug-selling is not some cold corporate process, it’s a crazy quilt of opportunists, criminals and scam artists, leavened with a fair number of entrepreneurs. It’s amazingly inefficient (leakage of 50% is not uncommon) The War on Drugs is like having a war on bread.

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Belle Waring 02.16.14 at 3:44 am

That’s fascinating roy. You’re right in your comment above about externalizing the drug menace, and I will try not to characterize the problem like that in the future; I agree it has nasty undertones. My point was more on the other side, that the US is exporting violence, and that these gangs overseas, or real and for true drug lords like used to live in North Myanmar, wouldn’t exist at all if we weren’t feeding them. Obviously the prison-industrial complex and the DEA itself have a pretty big vested interest in seeing drugs remain illegal, and quite clearly there are plenty of big-time dealers in the States, no news there. The drugs themselves still aren’t for the most part produced here, though, so there is an inevitable element of import involved.

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js. 02.16.14 at 4:53 am

I just think any legalisation policy would still hit the poorest/most marginalised most. I still think there would be reasons found to lock up black men, if that’s what was felt was needed to be done.

This is a bit backwards, actually. It’s not as if there’s it’s a plan to incarcerate as many black youth as possible, and then the ‘war on drugs’ is marshaled in to meet this goal. So that if you got rid of the war on drugs, the cops would just rely on some other set of laws to incarcerate as many black youth as possible. This effectively is what you’re saying, I think.

But it’s rather that there’s a set of insane laws, collectively the ‘war on drugs’, which laws are partially motivated by racial and other kinds of paranoia, and then other preexisting racist tendencies feed into the implementation of these laws, so that the net effect of the laws is hugely racially disproportionate. Getting rid of the war on drugs obviously won’t solve the problems of racism or poverty, but it will take away the overriding reason so many black people end up in jail. So, a lot fewer black people will end up in jail.

As an analogy, consider the argument people advance against gun laws: if you take away guns, people will just use knives or baseball bats or cricket bats or voodoo dolls to kill people. But, it’s just way harder to kill if you don’t have a gun. Similar points apply here.

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js. 02.16.14 at 4:55 am

Actually, in my last comment, replace ‘getting rid of the war on drugs’ with ‘legalizing drugs’. That’s really what I meant.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.14 at 5:07 am

“Even Belle, even Ronan, appear to be working with the received media-impression that there’s a massive “monster” (UN guy’s term) operating in the drug biz, but it’s living South of the Border.”

I love you roy, I do. I think you have a lovely writing style and seem an all round decent guy. But there really is no Southern border for me, so yes and no to this.

My opposition to legalising drugs (which at one stage was an ambivalent support), is based around the small stories (probably apocryphal) that I heard and read about the heroin ‘epidemic’ that spread through certain Dublin estates in the late 70s/80s. About mothers getting up at 6 in the morning to mop up sick and blood in the hallways of the flats before stepping over junkies to bring their kids to school. About a State unwilling/or unable to cope with the situation, which led parents to organise into vigilante groups and kick dealers (and addicts, some in the process of dying, a lot in the early stages of AIDs) out of estates.
A lot of this has become myth, and a lot might be irrelevant to the current drug debate, but it still influences my thinking, and working class communities (whether in the projects in the US or council estates in Ireland) *do not* poll well on legalising hard drugs, and I know these stories exist in all of these communities.
So I think systems, programs and norms need to be in place before we do anything drastic. And I think communities which will potentially be decimated need to be protected first. And I think, without doubt, they’ll be hardest hit. (This is an academic blog so I’m open to dispute on this)
The international aspects, the transnational criminal gangs, are a different issue, and need to be tackled with different methods. *They do* have domestic attributes – whether cities on smuggling routes, or in growing areas, or areas controlled by criminal gangs partly/largely funded by drugs – but they need a solution that ties all of this together, and again the problems go deeper than simply the results of profits made from smuggling drugs.
So there is no looming monster for me, just a series of little monsters destroying people in different places simultaneously, which builds a bigger picture of something out there, defeatable. But it doesn’t exist, and it can’t be beaten. To my mind (Sorry about the melodrama at the end!)

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roy belmont 02.16.14 at 5:18 am

Belle-
“an inevitable element of import”
Bananas. The banana cartels. Headquartered in Bananaland.
As against multinational something somethings.
I’m not talking about dealers per se. Corporate, executive, with interlocks. Guys who could give a shit about drugs or drug users.
One test of the theory is how long it will take the price of weed in Washington and Colorado to come down to an economically sensible level for something that anyone can grow in their backyard from a seed. How soon it’s legal to grow your own. If it’s not about the money.
I’m also not bitching about little guys making dollars because of how things are.
I’m not even really bitching about massive criminal orgs. Until they get their tentacles into the system so deep decay’s inevitable.
And what I’m seeing as plausible overlap with other forms of pernicious detrimental influence.
Also the modbot threw a response to your upthread sympathetic response into censorial moderation orbit, I think cause it had the word for a seven-card card game in it that starts with “st” and rhymes with “mud”. Or maybe it didn’t believe my story.

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godoggo 02.16.14 at 5:18 am

I recall reading that pot growers in N Cal want pot kept illegal to keep prices up, although, it doesn’t look like they’re incredibly successful with that. And I know that there’s a notoriously powerful prison-industrial complex here. But I get the impression that Roy is extrapolating too much from these sorts of things, since as Belle says, most illegal drugs are produced elsewhere. American money is flowing to other countries to purchase drugs, and it looks like it’s in other countries that the big money is made. And American gangsters, big and small, do tend to end up in jail here. It really is so that a lot of stupid policies are driven by sincere puritanism here.

Dwight Trible wasn’t able to make it out of Ohio for the gig tonight, so I’m back home diddling on the internet.

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godoggo 02.16.14 at 5:24 am

ceossposting

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godoggo 02.16.14 at 5:27 am

Another example is all the cracking down on sellers of prescription opiates. Pain sufferers hate this, the pharmaceutical companies hate it, but it continues.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.14 at 5:27 am

“This is a bit backwards, actually. It’s not as if there’s it’s a plan to incarcerate as many black youth as possible, and then the ‘war on drugs’ is marshaled in to meet this goal. “

js- my point was more that, imo, the best way to tackle this is through changing the laws rather than legalising drugs.

However, my impression is that the largest ‘drug related’ incarcerated group is still alcohol related (drunk driving, drunk and violent etc) so increasing the supply of *all* drugs increases drug related crime, so incarceration increases in some respects (Im not really sticking to this comment. My point was more that anti black discrimination existed before the WOD, and it’ll exist after, and so legalising all drugs tommorrow doesnt really end this reality.)
I also (as the above makes clear) think any legalisation policy will fall heaviest on working class African American (and white) communities

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roy belmont 02.16.14 at 5:49 am

Peter T-
Far be it from me now to do any stat research and put it up here as fact.
But speaking of b.s. you could check into some of the journalism around money-laundering of drug profits? The amounts being moved? As aggregated singular mass belonging to specific particular owners? Just the amounts that have been discovered and reported on?
As opposed to a windblown handful of discarded lottery tickets.
-
Ronan-
What I was fingering there is the use of “cartels” as a concretizing image for the top-end of the problem.
I am in complete agreement with you about the immediate human difficulties of wide-open drug access in the amoral consumerist climate of contemporary Western Civ.
I’m not arguing for or against legalization. Just trying to articulate the outline of the enemy of sane attitude.
The DEA/CIA complicity in the 80′s crack epidemic as opposed to freedom-to-intoxicate for enlightened enthusiasts. With the feds there as servants of something even more heinous than themselves.
Turning a bunch of amoral hedonists loose on the feel-good pharmacopia is got to work out bad in the short run. And be massively neo-Darwinian in the long run.
Try this:
It’s a truth-carrying cliche now that alcohol prohibition in the US gave an economic foundation to organized crime syndicates.
So, lesson learned, by the public, that prohibition didn’t work.
By the gangsters that prohibition works real well.

Also John Sayles Brother From Another Planet.

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js. 02.16.14 at 6:58 am

So I think systems, programs and norms need to be in place before we do anything drastic.

I agree it would be great if such programs were in place. And I agree that an overhaul of the criminal justice system is sorely needed. But, I don’t see how to get around the point that given legalization, you get rid of the primary pipeline to prison for tons and tons of disadvantaged, and to a very great extent black and brown, people. On the other hand, if the disagreement here is decriminalization vs. legalization, then we probably agree on more than we disagree on.

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Plume 02.16.14 at 7:09 am

Belle Waring,

Speaking of Burma. Its treatments of miners has to rate among the worst of any workers (or anyone) in the world. The word “evil” is sometimes overused, but I see no better description for the atrocities in that country:

http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2001/nov/11/features.magazine37

Between hell and the Stone of Heaven

More than a million miners desperately excavate the bedrock of a remote valley hidden in the shadows of the Himalayas. They are in search of just one thing – jadeite, the most valuable gemstone in the world. But with wages paid in pure heroin and HIV rampant, the miners are paying an even higher price. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark travel to the death camps of Burma

An update, of sorts:

Workers, lured by the prospect of a fortune in mining, are exposed daily to harsh and unsafe conditions. Disappearances and deaths are common and serve as a warning to those thinking of stealing. For most, the work becomes sufficiently unbearable that they take solace in the heroin-shooting galleries that exists alongside the mining district.

For less than the price of a beer, an injectionist administers the drug directly into the vein of a miner, delivering as many as 800 separate injections from the same dirty needle. Large quantities of the drug are provided by the mine owners, who pay their addicted workers with a daily fix.

An estimated 500,000 miners are paid this way, some consuming as much as 10 grams of pure heroin every day. On top of the unsanitary injections, workers also routinely have unsafe sex with prostitutes, creating an HIV pandemic in the region and giving Myanmar the highest rate of HIV infection among drug users in the world — nine out of 10 addicted workers are HIV positive.

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.14 at 7:38 am

“On the other hand, if the disagreement here is decriminalization vs. legalization, then we probably agree on more than we disagree on.”

Yeah, this is all we disagree on. I don’t know how it came to this. I am prone to melodrama ; )

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Ronan(rf) 02.16.14 at 7:43 am

I MEANT ; )

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bt 02.16.14 at 6:16 pm

I chock this up to what I call the ‘vengeance culture’. America, more and more, is interested in vengeance and punishment. Whole sections of American society have unlearned how to do anything else; because to do anything else might take a little thinking and judgement. I think it is a close relative of zero tolerance policies, because that’s also what zero tolerance is about, trying to avoid difficult issues and substituting ‘toughness’.

Instead of calling it the ‘Criminal Justice System’, I suggest we call it the ‘Vengeance System’. If you start to use this simple turn of phrase many things come into sharper focus.

With regard to Hoffman, we’re not seeking to solve any problems here, or to learn any larger lessons, certainly not – That’s not really done in America any more. We are avenging something.

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