Thursday, April 26, 2012

Obama doesn't get it > Rolling Stone interview

Obama is interviewed in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
His comments about medical marijuana are absurd:

Let me ask you about the War on Drugs. You vowed in 2008, when you were running for election, that you would not "use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana." Yet we just ran a story that shows your administration is launching more raids on medical pot than the Bush administration did. What's up with that?
Here's what's up: What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana. I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it's against federal law. I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, "Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books." What I can say is, "Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage." As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes.

The only tension that's come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we're telling them, "This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way." That's not something we're going to do. I do think it's important and useful to have a broader debate about our drug laws. One of the things we've done over the past three years was to make a sensible change when it came to the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. We've had a discussion about how to focus on treatment, taking a public-health approach to drugs and lessening the overwhelming emphasis on criminal laws as a tool to deal with this issue. I think that's an appropriate debate that we should have.

Obama is completely dodging here. He is blaming legislation for having let his Justice Department get out of control. This "large scale commercial operations" is a red herring. How did he think that hundreds of thousands of patients would get their medication. It is outrageous that more people are now dying from prescription drugs than are killed in automobile accidents each year. Yet DEA is doing almost nothing to investigate the large corporations that manufacture and distribute these drugs, other than bust a pharmacist here or there. They have challenged some minor parts of a couple of retail drug companies.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Obama 2012 National Drug Control Strategy released

The first National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS), issued by Dr. William Bennett in 1989 in the Bush Administration generated some careful analysis. However, soon it became clear that they were simply public relations documents of little substance, and they began to be systematically ignored. The newly-unveiled 2012 strategy is also quite forgettable.

Like the 1999 NDCS issued by the Clinton Administration, for example, this strategy says that it has specific targets it wants to achieve ... in 2015. The 1999 NDCS promised of a more detailed report card than outlined now. But in documents that accompanied the 1999 strategy, ONDCP revealed that many of the proposed measures were not being counted by the government or were impossible to count. In 2000, ONDCP claimed progress toward the goals, but actually changed the standards of measurements. For example, instead of measuring the attitudes of 12th graders, they measured 8th graders!

The government was charged with reporting how much money it was spending fighting drugs. The George W. Bush Administration, to deflect criticism of the enormous expense, began to not count about a third of anti-drug expenditures (such as the cost of incarceration of all the federal prisoners serving sentences for drug offenses).

The National Drug Control Strategy has not been any kind of strategy for many years. However the occasion of its release provides an annual public relations opportunity for the Administration to utter sound bites that convey both the necessary alarm at the terrible problem and the necessary reassurance that the Administration is taking "leadership" in carrying out the appropriate measures to address the problem. Last year the magic word was "balanced." The strategy was "balanced" between law enforcement and international control on one hand, and prevention and treatment to reduce demand, on the other.

This year, Congress is being thanked because cuts in domestic spending are likely. But the Administration can't point to reassuring data. Past month use of marijuana by tenth grade students has grown between 2006 and 2011 from 14.2 percent to 17.6 percent. (p.2)

The Administration reports the "shocking finding" that one in nine high school seniors reports trying synthetic marijuana in 2011. As proof of its dangerousness, it notes that "calls to Poison Control Centers relating to synthetic cannabinoids reached 6,890 in 2011—more than double the number received in all of 2010." (p.2) It is worth noting that there are roughly five million high school seniors, and 20 million high school students. In addition, the population most likely to using drugs, those 19 to 22 amount to another 20 million persons. 6,890 calls out of a population of 40 million sounds like a pretty small number to me.

Consider, first, how the strategy reports the scale of the problems and how little has actually been done to address them over the years:
"In 2010, an estimated 23.1 million Americans (9.1 percent ) aged 12 or older needed specialized treatment for a substance use disorder, but only 2.6 million (or roughly 11.2 percent of them) received it." (p. 15)
"The number of individuals on probation and parole has more than doubled since 1986; over the same period, annual state corrections spending increased from $8 billion to more than $50 billion to keep pace. In 2010, over seven million people in the United States were under the supervision of the criminal justice system: over two million incarcerated and the remaining five million on probation or parole." (p.19)

Then, consider (A) the audacity of the Administration taking credit as "Accomplishments" many things that are not yet done, and (B) the frequent inadequacy of what is actually being done. The Administration uses this "National Drug Control Strategy" to shamelessly take credit for tiny programs.

(A) Not yet done, but listed as "Accomplishments."

"In a collaborative interagency effort with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Education is revising, updating, and planning to post online one of its most popular publications, Growing Up Drug-Free: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention." (p.8)

"The Office of the Surgeon General completed work on a Call to Action to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse among Youth, scheduled for publication in 2012." (p.8)

"NIDA is funding a small business grant for the computerized training of primary care providers. The training will be complete in April 2012, and a preliminary evaluation of the program’s effectiveness will be available in September 2012." (p.13)

"Also in 2012, the Department of Defense will receive public comments on a proposed rule to lift the prohibition on covering the treatment of substance use disorders through maintenance on substances with addictive potential, such as methadone or buprenorphine. The Department of Defense recognizes that current medical evidence shows that the TRICARE benefit should include such safe and effective treatment options." (p. 16)

"The Attorney General’s letter to state Attorneys General urged them to review the collateral consequences of state laws, such as housing and employment restrictions, that affect ex-offenders leaving the criminal justice system and reentering their communities. As mentioned previously, the Administration is currently leading a similar review of collateral consequences in Federal laws." (p. 19)

"The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is conducting a program evaluation of the DMI TTA Initiative [Drug Market Intervention Training and Technical Assistance Initiative], including an assessment of its impact in the community, which is projected for completion in 2013." (p.20. Again, this is listed under "accomplishments.")

"SAMHSA has transferred funds to CDC to begin a pilot study [to phase out and replace DAWN]; data from the new system will be available in 2013." (p.40)

"SAMHSA is redesigning NSDUH for full implementation in 2014-2015. Initial steps are already underway, such as gathering recommendations from Federal agencies and various user groups for improvement (e.g., obtaining data on people in recovery)." (p.40. Again, this is listed under "accomplishments.")

"SAMHSA is currently implementing a plan to ensure the continued viability of DASIS [Drug and Alcohol Services Information System] so states will continue to be able to provide comprehensive and timely data on treatment admissions to specialty facilities." (p.40)

"Separately, in 2012, ONDCP will be updating estimates of the amount of drugs consumed in the United States. U.S. Government agencies will continue efforts to improve the CCDB [Consolidated Counterdrug Database] by pursuing and implementing measures to increase efficiency and interagency participation. Similarly, they will continue to improve the Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movement by refining its analytic methodologies." (p.41)

"HHS is moving forward to set standards for oral fluid testing that will be published in the future for public comment before they can be finalized in the Mandatory Guidelines for Drug Workplace Testing. These Guidelines will also be available for state and local jurisdictions to apply as appropriate for the prosecution of drugged driving violations, and to encourage the drug testing industry to develop accurate point-of-collection oral fluid testing devices." (p.44)

"In 2012, ONDCP will participate in a public workshop conducted by the Food and Drug Administration at which the medical and social issues related to naloxone use by non-medical personnel will be discussed." (p.48)

(B) Tiny, bullet-point, "drop-in-the-bucket" programs highlighted as accomplishments.

"During the past two years, ONDCP provided $5.7 million to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs) to increase coordination between the law enforcement and prevention communities." (p. 9)

"The Systems Change Initiative held a national judicial training and two state trainings in 2011 for approximately 125 chief or presiding judges and other law enforcement professionals." (p. 20)

"Drug court grants served 5,862 clients, which exceeded the target of 5,265 clients." (p.22)

"The Administration for Children and Families is providing $6 million to support an integration of the Project Reunite Model [engages local public housing authorities to support the successful reunification of formerly incarcerated or chronically homeless men and women with their families] into the agency’s Healthy Families and Ex-offender Reunification Program, while HUD is simultaneously working to identify private foundations to enhance support from the private sector." (p.23)

"Eradicate Marijuana Cultivation (5.3.C.) Violent transnational criminal organizations exploit public and tribal lands as grow sites for marijuana. In 2011, Operation Full Court Press used tested enforcement strategies to reduce marijuana cultivation on public lands in California. Operation Full Court Press was a three week long, multi-agency marijuana operation in Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Mendocino, Tehama, and Trinity counties. Targeting large-scale illegal marijuana grow operations in and around the Mendocino National Forest, the operation consisted of more than 300 personnel from 25 Federal, state, and local agencies, resulting in the seizure of 632,058 marijuana plants and the arrest of 159 individuals." (p.28. Huge investment of personnel, negligible pay-off).

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Federal Sentencing Mess: Is there a "fix?"

For twenty-five years, activists have blamed Congress for the harsh sentences being sought and imposed pursuant to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

For more than a decade, I have been disagreeing and arguing that the locus of problem has been the misuse of the statute by the Department of Justice.

Now I have a prestigious ally. The "Berman Blog" reports that U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, in his March 30, 2012 opinion in U.S. v. Dossie tells the Attorney General the exact steps he can easily follow to correct drug sentencing injustices. Judge Gleeson is a former federal prosecutor.

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