22 August 2009

"What we've been doing has not worked."

Mexico effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs. This is gonna make our own fedarales' heads asplode.
Until now, Mexico, like the US government, believed prohibition is the solution. Absolute prohibition = absolute solution. It's impossible to prove this theory wrong because it's impossible to attain absolute prohibition in an otherwise free society.
People have always like getting wasted, many will take some astonishing risks to get wasted, and there's little you can do to stop some who are truly determined to get wasted from doing so. Prohibitionists take that fact as proof that they need to be more militarized and increasingly suspicious and intrusive toward the public, while being less constrained by laws designed to protect the innocent. Only then can they attain the success that the people demand.
Except...the people aren't demanding this.
Thirteen states and I have no idea how many municipalities have decriminalized simple possession (nonviolent offense, drug quantity so miniscule there's no evidence of dealing) for first-offenders. Federal law enforcement disregards the will of the people when it comes to state and local laws permitting marijuana use, medical or otherwise.
Besides wasting a lot of money busting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for simple possession, the more disturbing trend is the palpable levels of contempt between police officers and the public that is apparent wherever I go in this country.
Mexico realized they not only a problem with drugs, but perhaps more worrisome — a more serious problem with law enforcement. I needn't acquaint you with the practice of Mexican cops arresting people just to shake them down. You probably already know that drug cartels are actually run out of some Mexican prisons. Admittedly, I was surprised to learn that Mexican law enforcement actually break cartel members out of prison. Mira:
"Suspected members of a drug cartel disguised as police." Suuuure. Whatever you say, esse.
Anyway, Mexico's reforms are based on Portugal's template.
...in 2001 [Portugal] became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. At the recommendation of a national commission...jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal's new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.
The question is, does the new policy work? At the time, critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to "drug tourists" and exacerbate Portugal's drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.
The paper, published by [libertarian think tank] Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.
"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."
- Maia Szalavitz, Time Magazine, 26 April 2009
Well, it's pretty hard to argue with success, but I'm sure the prohibitionists will. They are already telegraphing their next step — testing for "drugged drivers." From the Office of Drug Control Policy's blog:
According to NHTSA's National Roadside Survey, the number of drivers with BACs at or above the current legal limit has declined 70% since 1973. The same survey, found that more than 16% of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medication.
Um, "over-the-counter" means "not contraband," but let's just ignore that. There's also this:
At a press conference hosted by the Nevada Highway Safety Patrol on drugged driving in Las Vegas, Director Kerlikowske spoke about the scope of drugged driving in the United States and the need to prevent this dangerous behavior. According to a recent national survey, 11 percent of weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs — five times as many as were under the influence of alcohol.
Wow! That's a lot of positive tests isn't it? Sounds like an epidemic!
These guys got a false positive when they tested air. AIR, ferchrissakes. Hershey bars, Tylenol, and manner of other perfectly legal and benign substances resulted in false positives for narcotics 70% of the time.
Shit the bed! Randomly guessing would be accurate about 50% of the time.
You may be thinking, "Meh. Even if I got pulled over and they got a false positive for drugs on a field test, nothing's going to happen to me because I'm innocent."
Tell that to Donald May. He got pulled over for expired tags, in Kissimmee, Florida. The cop removed a white substance from Mr. May's mouth and field tested it for crack. The field test was positive for cocaine, Mr. May was arrested and taken to jail, and his car was impounded. He was unable to post bond, so he sat in jail for three months while Florida farted around with the laboratory test. That test eventually returned negative. The substance was indeed breath mints, just as Mr. May had maintained all along.
While Mr. May was in jail for possession of candy, he lost his job, his apartment, and the police sold his car.
So at this point, Mexico has a more sane, reasonable, and progressive drug policy than the United States...which is where my head asplode. Oh, and the title of this posting is a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, admitting in Mexico City during a visit in March that decades of US drug policy have been ineffective.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

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