Saturday, November 16, 2013

Edward H. Jurith, Drug Policy Leader and Attorney, 1951-2013

Edward H. Jurith, a key figure in American drug policy making since the early 1980s, died peacefully at home in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Ed has been my friend since 1981.

Ed served at very senior levels in the Office of National Drug Control Policy at the White House for almost 20 years, including serving as Acting Director for almost all of 2001 at the start of the Bush Administration and during 9-11. Ed had been Director of Legislative Affairs, General Counsel and finally Senior General Counsel at ONDCP, beginning in the Clinton Administration. At the beginning of the Obama Administration he was again Acting Director until Gil Kerlikowske was confirmed on May 7, 2009.

Ed also represented the United States for many years in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the Executive Committee and as chair of the Education Committee.

Ed was a very distinguished lawyer. For over twenty years he was a leading member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and at the time of his death was chair of its successor entity, the Task Force on Substance Use Disorders of the Health Law Section. He was also a very popular adjunct professor of law at the Washington College of Law at American University.

 Ed was a son of Brooklyn, NY. He graduated from Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn in 1969, American University cum laude in 1973, and Brooklyn Law School in 1976. He practiced criminal law in Brooklyn and was involved in politics. He worked with U.S. Rep. Leo Zeferetti (D-NY), from Brooklyn, who in 1981 became the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).  That year, Mr. Zeferetti brought Ed back to Washington to be Counsel to the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control (SCNAC).

The Select Committee on Narcotics was responsible for investigating and reporting on the entire range of drug abuse issues. At that time, I joined the staff of the House Subcommittee on Crime, chaired by U.S. Rep. William J. Hughes (D-NJ), responsible for overseeing federal drug enforcement programs and processing amendments to the Controlled Substances Act in addition to money laundering, organized crime, gun control, pornography and other issues. Mr. Hughes was also a member of the Select Committee on Narcotics and I staffed his participation on the Select Committee. Thus I attended many hearings that Ed organized.

From the start there was a friendly professional tension between us. The Narcotics Committee had a very focused agenda and a fair deal of staff and budget, and some very senior and powerful members, including, after 1983, Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), a very senior member of the New York Delegation, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. But it had no power to report legislation. It could hold hearings and press conferences and issue reports and press releases -- but the Select Committee could not write any bills. The Crime Subcommittee had a very broad agenda: we had a smaller staff and drugs was just one of many important issues that we had to address. But we could write and move legislation to amend the drug laws or to modify DEA's powers. That was genuine power.

In 1983, the Select Committee on Narcotics organized a study mission to Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Jamaica to oversee U.S. anti-narcotics activities in those countries, to learn about those countries narcotics problems and anti-narcotics activities, and to meet with the top political, law enforcement and judicial officials of those countries to convey U.S. concerns about narcotics. Mr. Hughes and our Ranking Republican Member, Harold Sawyer (R-Michigan), arranged to accompany the SCNAC, and they were able to bring our subcommittee chief counsel, our Republican associate counsel, and me, an assistant counsel, as well. Since the trip was a Select Committee show, I did not have to work as hard as Ed and his colleagues, but those intense experiences strengthened our bond.

By 1984, I was often sharing with other staff and others my view that the war on drugs was a mistake and that some form of legalization of drugs would better fight crime and protect public health than prohibition. After my deep involvement in the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1986 and 1988 -- along with Ed and his colleagues on the Narcotics Select Committee, as well as the House leadership, I carried out a strategy to leave the Judiciary Committee and work full time to end drug prohibition.

By 1987, Ed had been promoted to Staff Director of the Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. After I left Capitol Hill, Ed and I became friendly sparring partners on a number of occasions when the fundamentals of drug policy were being challenged.

In 1990 or '91, the American Bar Association established a Special Committee on the Drug Crisis, and Ed and I both were able to participate.

A few years later, the Special Committee was formalized as the Standing Committee on Substance Abuse. Ed, then the General Counsel of the White House "drug czar," was warmly welcomed. I was appointed by the ABA Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities -- the powerful organizational home the ABA's "liberals" -- to be their liaison to the standing committee. The Standing Committee strongly embraced an ABA-Join Together study that identified the crippling problem of continued stigmatization of persons in recovery, and Ed and I worked together on ABA policy to address that. Ed took the lead in encouraging the ABA House of Delegates to endorse Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP), but the proposed policy was defeated on privacy grounds. Today PDMPs are widely respected tools to identify doctors who are irresponsibly prescribing prescription narcotics or persons who are using multiple doctors and pharmacies to obtain large quantities of opiates and diverting them away from legitimate pain patients.

At the ABA Standing Committee, after a few years, most lawyers would move on to another project in the ABA, but Ed and I stayed on. When the Raich v. Ashcroft medical marijuana case headed for the Ninth Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, Ed and I began to collaborate on what became a series of continuing legal education programs on the subject held at three ABA annual meetings over the years. Prominent members of the ABA, including judges, served on the Standing Committee, but rarely with the experience in drug policy matters that Ed and I had. Often some matter of drug policy would provoke a mini-debate between us. A number of times I was told by one or another member how educational, stimulating and respectful they found our impromptu debates.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Ed spoke to a forum that I moderated, hosted by the Drugs and the Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association, on proposed legislation to regulate medical marijuana in New York State. As always he was generous with his time, completely prepared, powerfully cogent in making his points, and unfailingly polite and gracious before an audience largely composed of those opposed to his position.

Ed Jurith was an extremely intelligent and diligent lawyer deeply dedicated to making the world around him better. He built an enormous network of friends who treasured his relaxed and open sense of humor, and his loyalty. We all knew him as a man who told the truth and honored his commitments. We learned how he adored his wife and boys, and treasured his joy as a father and husband.

In early August when I learned that ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske was being promoted to Customs Commissioner, I hastily wrote a blog and threw out some prominent names as appropriate successors, such as former Baltimore City and Howard County Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), or U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). But as I reflected on who, in the real world, would really be the most effective successor, I realized it would be Ed Jurith. Ed knew every aspect of the job, he had the long experience of working closely with Congress, with all of the involved federal and international agencies, and with all the private and state agencies in the field regarding prevention, treatment and enforcement. Ed also had profoundly good judgement. He knew what could work, and what wouldn't and had the courage and drive to fight for what was needed. His vision of the work was not driven by ideology, by partisan advantage seeking, or by personal ambition. He deeply wanted to free individuals, families and communities of the pain of substance use disorders. He was not interested in preserving organizational budgets or fiefdoms, but in justice and mercy. I knew that open support from a "drug legalizer" like me was not the most strategic approach, and so I worked behind the scenes to put Ed's candidacy for ONDCP Director before the President, the Vice President and other key players. If Ed's treatment for cancer had not failed to restore him, I think we could have found the perfect ONDCP Director to work with Attorney General Eric Holder and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to re-balance our drug policy in a world with the parity for treatment  and expanded coverage of the Affordable Care Act, with legal marijuana in Washington, Colorado, and other states, and medical marijuana being demanded by legislatures and voters across the nation. His death is a real loss to the nation and the world, as well as his family and friends.

I shall my conclude this tribute to Ed Jurith with a much longer version of a story I briefly told his family and friends after his funeral mass Friday.

Advocates of "drug policy reform" or drug legalization (and journalists, civic association and academic programmers) often have a hard time finding prominent, qualified representatives of the prohibition-based national drug strategy to debate in public forums. What legalizers criticize as their opponents' strategy of trying to win the argument by ignoring its legitimacy, or an unwillingness to risk the embarrassment of defending the indefensible, is partly a legitimate unwillingness to face what is often a highly partisan audience willing to indulge itself with mocking laughter and snarky outbursts.

Ed Jurith was unafraid of critical audiences and faced them often, always with grace and good humor. I witnessed both the rudeness of the pro-legalization audiences in mocking the government's spokesman, and Ed's self-composed presentation.

On March 17-18, 2000, three very prominent New York City institutions arranged a two-day conference on the questions, "Is Our Drug Policy Effective? Are there Alternatives?" The distinguished sponsors were the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (now known as the New York City Bar Association), the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Academy of Sciences. The proceedings were to be transcribed and were published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal (Vol. XXVII, No. 1, October 2000, pp. 3 - 361). Forty-two distinguished experts across a wide range of fields were invited to speak. Most of the well known drug legalizers or critics of the status-quo policy were on the program: former Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore, MD, Ethan Nadelmann, JD, PhD,  U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet (SDNY), Harvard Professor Lester Grinspoon, David Boaz of the Cato Institute, et al.

Ed was invited and knew that it would be a hostile audience, but he was willing to come. In fact he was the only representative of the federal government. His remarks were greeted by jeers and laughter. Near the end of his remarks he said, "I was surprised that when I showed those slides earlier there was laughter concerning youth misbehavior and marijuana use.You may not believe the data, but I do not believe anyone thinks that it is healthy for young people to abuse drugs. This is the cynicism we need to get beyond." (p. 46).

Mayor Schmoke made the next speech, and I followed him. At the beginning of my remarks I said,
"I want to commend my old friend and colleague, Ed Jurith, for his thoughtful presentation a few minutes ago and for his willingness to come and speak to what he anticipated was going to be a critical audience, not a warmly receptive audience. I do not see you, Ed, in the audience, but Ed has always been a man whom I could talk to in a very civil and informed manner about drug policy, even though we have disagreed. Ed is an honorable and bright public servant who is genuinely committed to the public interest in these matters." (pp.53-54).

Ed, thank you for being my rival, ally and partner, and always my friend.

Ed's family would welcome gifts in Ed's memory to be made to his high school alma mater, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn, NY.

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