Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Science Versus Government—Part 1

OK, we’ve got the Controlled Substances Act, and it’s not likely that it will be going away any time soon. Fair enough (not really, that’s just a figure of speech). So why can’t we make the government abide by it to the same degree that they insist we citizens must? Our government officials work for us after all. They should be held to the same, if not higher, standards expected of plain old John Q. Public.

What I’m talking about here is Part B – Authority to Control; Standards and Schedules (of the Controlled Substances Act), which states how substances are to be classified:

The Attorney General shall consider the following factors with respect to each drug or other substance proposed to be controlled or removed from the schedules:

  1. Its actual or relative potential for abuse.
  2. Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effect, if known.
  3. The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug or other substance.
  4. Its history and current pattern of abuse.
  5. The scope, duration, and significance of abuse.
  6. What, if any, risk there is to the public health.
  7. Its psychic or physiological dependence liability.
  8. Whether the substance is an immediate precursor of a substance already controlled under this subchapter.

Those are the criteria that are supposed to be used in classifying controlled substances. How substances fit these criteria is supposed to be based on scientific and medical evaluation. So if we look at the findings of some of the major studies of marijuana, many commissioned by our government, we should be able to understand why it is a Schedule I substance (not safe, high potential for abuse, no medical value). Assuming of course that our Attorney General is doing his job.

The La Guardia Report (1944) was commissioned by the mayor of New York in response to anti-marijuana propaganda of the 1930s. Its relevant findings include:

  • The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.
  • The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction.
  • Marihuana is not the determining factor in the commission of major crimes.
  • Juvenile delinquency is not associated with the practice of smoking marihuana.
  • The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded

The Consumer’s Union Report (1972) is a comprehensive, landmark study of the entire drug issue. Its relevant recommendations include:

  • Stop emphasizing measures designed to keep drugs away from people.
  • Stop publicizing the horrors of the “drug menace.”
  • Stop increasing the damage done by drugs.
  • Stop misclassifying drugs.
  • Stop viewing the drug problem as primarily a national problem, to be solved on a national scale.
  • Stop pursuing the goal of stamping out illicit drug use.
  • The immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana.
  • That each of the fifty states similarly repeal its existing marijuana laws and pass new laws legalizing the cultivation, processing, and orderly marketing of marijuana-subject to appropriate regulations.
  • An immediate end to imprisonment as a punishment for marijuana possession and for furnishing marijuana to friends.
To be continued…

Friday, April 25, 2008

It’s All About the Attorney General

According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the Attorney General of the United States has the sole power to decide which substances should be controlled and how those substances should be classified. That’s right, it is entirely up to one person to decide what recreational and/or medicinal substances we can or cannot use. Not only that, but to decide how dangerous these substances are, their potential for abuse, and whether or not they have any medicinal value. I don’t know about you, but this boggles my mind. Here’s why:

First and foremost, the attorney general is not a legislator. The attorney general has no power or authority to make laws. The position is not mentioned in the Constitution, but was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789. Nowhere in that act is the attorney general given any power over legislation. The office is simply that of the chief lawyer for the United States.

Second, the attorney general is not an elected official, but is appointed by the president. So how does a non-elected official of the executive branch have such power over legislation? That doesn’t sound to me like something a lawyer normally does. Nor does it sound like something someone who is not elected does. It isn’t even a power granted to the executive branch by the Constitution.

Third, the attorney general is accountable to no one but the president. Where are the checks and balances? Granted, the attorney general does have to answer to the president, but that doesn’t count. Checks and balances are between branches of the government, not within.

Fourth, what exactly qualifies a lawyer to make decisions that should be based on scientific, medical, and social factors? The Controlled Substances Act does specify that all decisions should be based on a scientific and medical evaluation. But in practice, such evaluations and recommendations have been consistently ignored.

Finally, assigning various substances to “schedules” often has nothing whatsoever to do with the assignment criteria listed in the act. Just take a look at the substances currently classified as Schedule I, the substances considered most dangerous, versus Schedule II or III, which are for less dangerous and/or medicinal substances. You’ll see that marijuana is a schedule I substance, while methamphetamine is schedule II, and various amphetamines and barbiturates are way down in schedule III. The least the attorney general could do is follow the rules like the rest of us.

Haven’t we learned by now that granting absolute power to an individual, with no oversight or accountability is not a good thing. Even the president is accountable, at least in theory. Didn’t we learn anything from the framers of the Constitution about the importance of checks and balances? Do we really want to have a non-elected, non-qualified, non-accountable individual responsible for decisions that have resulted in needlessly destroying the lives of millions of otherwise-law-abiding citizens? Giving one person the power to control what consenting adults are allowed do in private is not only insane, but it’s un-American.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Would Someone Please Explain This To Me?

I don’t understand how the federal government has the power to enact a law that makes recreational drugs illegal. Not being a lawyer or legal scholar, I just don’t get how this works. I guess lawyerly types use a different version of the English language than the rest of us do.

Specifically, here’s where I get confused. The U.S. Constitution enumerates the powers granted to the federal government. Rather than show my ignorance by attempting to interpret the Constitution, I’ll leave it to someone whom I think you will agree had a pretty good handle on the subject, Thomas Jefferson:

Resolved, That the Constitution of the United States, having delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies, and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations, and no other crimes, whatsoever; and it being true as a general principle, and one of the amendments to the Constitution having also declared, that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,”

(from The Kentucky Resolutions, 1798)

It sounds pretty unambiguous to me (in my state of blissful ignorance) that the federal government does not have the power to punish crimes involving so-called “controlled substances.” Clearly such crimes do not involve treason, counterfeiting, or piracy. Apparently those in power in 1919 agreed with this interpretation, since at that time a Constitutional amendment was required to criminalize a recreational drug.

But somehow 50 years later things had changed. And I say “things” because I’m not sure exactly what it was that changed. The Constitution didn’t change during that time, at least not in any relevant way. As far as I can tell, the only change is in how the Constitution was interpreted. You see, another power granted to the federal government by the Constitution is the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.” That power to regulate international and interstate commerce was interpreted as the power to regulate the use of recreational drugs. Again my ignorance shows, because to me “regulate” does not mean criminalize or punish. Regulate is something you do with legal commodities, and refers to things like taxation, importation, and distribution. As Mr. Jefferson pointed out, the federal government’s authority when it comes to punishing crimes is very limited.

Even so, let’s say for the sake of argument that the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is legitimately based on the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce. How can such a law in any way, shape, or form apply to what I do in my own home? If I want to grow a medicinal herb in my home for my own personal use, medical or otherwise, and use said herb in private, where does the government get the authority to tell me I can’t? Not only that I can’t, but if I do I will be subject to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment.

So would someone please explain to me how it is that the federal government has the power to tell consenting adults what they can or can’t do in the privacy of their own home? I just don’t get it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Happy 420!

I think the title says it all.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Why You Can’t Legislate Psychoactive Drug Use Out of Existence

Psychoactive drug use is one of the “big three” so-called “victimless” crimes that our government has, in recent years, tried to control though criminalization, aka prohibition. (The other two are gambling and prostitution.) I think a big part of the rationale behind such legislation is a belief that behavior can be controlled through the use of punishment. In other words, it’s a simple application of the principles of instrumental conditioning—a punished behavior has a tendency to decrease in frequency.

However I believe that psychoactive drug use is not governed by any of the principles known to affect human behavior, but instead is quite unique. It’s not even like the other victimless crimes, which can to a certain extent successfully be controlled. That’s because virtually everyone uses psychoactive drugs. Not just everyone today, here in this country, but I think I can reasonably assert that virtually everyone that ever lived has used psychoactive drugs of some kind. If you think about it, how many people do you know or have known that use no psychoactive drugs whatsoever (in case you didn’t realize it, alcohol is a psychoactive drug)? I can think of four people (adults) I’ve known in my nearly half-century of life that, to the best of my knowledge, used no psychoactive drugs. If I broaden the definition to include caffeine, which is certainly a psychoactive drug, I don’t know a single person who would qualify as a total abstainer. Unless you are a member of a very strict fundamentalist religious group (and even Christians use alcohol as a sacrament), I’m guessing you would probably answer that question the same way I did. Non-drug users are pretty hard to find.

So what does that tell you? It tells me that the desire to use psychoactive drugs is a very basic, deeply-ingrained aspect of human nature. Unlike gambling or prostitution, which a relatively small percentage of people do, drugs appear to be something people cannot live without. Our government telling people that drugs are bad and we should not use them is about as effective as the Catholic church telling people they should only have sex for the purpose of procreation. I know a lot of Catholics, and I’d venture to say that not a one of them abides by that decree. Regardless of what any government says, or how severe its punishments are, people will always use recreational drugs. It’s what people do. You simply cannot legislate any aspect of human nature out of existence.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

I Hate The Dutch

That’s right, you heard me. Those Dutch are just so damn smug and think they’re better than everybody else. They don’t even have a huge army or a nuclear arsenal of their own, so where do they get off thinking they know anything about anything? I mean, just who do they think they are anyway?

Sorry to go off like that, but I was just reading something about the situation in Holland (or The Netherlands, or whatever they call themselves these days), and it got me a little hot under the collar. And more than a little scared. I’m talking about the way the Dutch deal with recreational drugs and their users. I just can’t believe how tolerant they are. What’s wrong with them? So what if they have the lowest incidence of drug use in the civilized world? So what if heroin and meth addicts are practically an endangered species in Holland? If the Dutch are not spending exorbitant amounts of money and doing everything they can to put drug users behind bars, then what kind of message are they sending their youth? Where do they get off treating drug abuse as a social rather than a criminal problem? Do they think that just because their approach works, it’s OK? That kind of thinking sure wouldn’t fly here in the good ol’ US of A.

Or perhaps it’s the Dutch people, and not their government, that are to blame. Maybe they are just too ignorant to understand that if their government doesn’t put drug users in jail, that means that they are supposed to use more, not less, drugs. Really! How stupid could the Dutch people be? Maybe we need to all pitch in and buy them a clue.

In any event, something must be done about it. The sooner the better. Being an American, I think the best solution is a military intervention. Some wise and benevolent republic with a powerful military needs to liberate the poor, ignorant Dutch from their misguided, dangerously non-oppressive government. A simple invasion, followed by the installation of a new government and a lengthy occupation should do the trick. Now that I think about it, that’s right up the US’s alley. Once we get this business in Iraq settled, which should be any day now, maybe we should set our sights on Holland. That’ll wipe the smiles off their smug, tolerant, drug-addled faces. Of course, finding a drug-addled face in Holland might not be quite as easy as it is here. At least not until after the liberation.