More Misguided Drug Policy Commentary From Inside the Bubble

Mike Riggs of Reason Magazine rages:

The administration has so few reforms worth touting in the post-drug-war drug war that you’ve probably heard them both several times: It reduced (but did not eliminate) the sentencing disparity for crack cocaine and regular cocaine, and it’s encouraged the use of drug courts over regular courts.

That. Is. It.

Riggs has written some informed pieces on drug policy, but this isn’t one of them.

The term “Affordable Care Act” generates almost 30 million hits on Google, and there can be no doubt that Riggs has heard of it. So why hasn’t he apparently read what it says about drugs and alcohol? Riggs is furious at Neera Tandeen of the Center for American Progress for believing that the Obama Administration has made a major change in drug policy. Instead of maligning her, Riggs should have considered the possibility that she is aware of the provisions of the most important piece of domestic policy legislation in a generation.

The Affordable Care Act is the most sweeping expansion in the quality and quantity of drug treatment in at least 40 years. John McWhorter recently erred mightily by not knowing about it and now Riggs has done the same. Perhaps they talk only to each other and the fact-challenged advocacy groups within the “Obama-is-an-evil-drug-warrior” bubble, which would account for their ignorance and spreading of misinformation. They really ought to get out more.

The Affordable Care Act is not a secret, and its transformative role in drug policy has been well-covered by people such as Jesse Singal and Harold Pollack. Thousands of people in Washington alone could have helped Riggs understand how the ACA is an historic move toward health-oriented drug policy…what a pity he didn’t get outside his bubble before he wrote such a misinformed article.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

15 thoughts on “More Misguided Drug Policy Commentary From Inside the Bubble”

  1. The Affordable Care Act is not a secret, and its transformative role in drug policy has been well-covered by responsible journalists such as Jesse Singal.

    Who turns out, seemingly, to source her information on the benefits of ACA, just from you. The key benefit of ACA is that (mandated-)insurance will have to cover addiction treatment.

    This briefing(PDF) by Washington Office on Latin America says,

    In 2010, more people than in 2005 were considered in need of treatment (an estimated 7,890,000) … The Obama administration also points out that in 2014, when (or perhaps “if” is the word) the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, the requirement that health insurers cover treatment for substance abuse should improve treatment access. Cost certainly remains a major barrier to treatment access. According to SAMHSA, based on 2007-2010 data, more than a quarter of a million Americans each year feel they need drug treatment but do not receive it because they lack health insurance or because their insurance does not cover the cost of treatment.

    So certainly a significant boost for those estimated quarter million individuals to seek treatment, but they constitute ~3 percent of the total estimate of those needing treatment. Hardly revolutionary in terms of the big picture. The briefing PDF also points out that expenditure on enforcement will still constitute roughly 60% of total federal expenditure on drug control, same as has been the case for the last 6 years.

  2. Of course, “putting people in prison for getting high” is utter fantasy. But I suppose that doesn’t matter to you, or to Brett.

    1. For once in an extremely rare while, I’m with Brett on this one, including his phraseaology. Obviously it’s an exaggeration – the cops or other special drug warriors have to find the person in possession of marijuana, not just enjoying the effects of it, but otherwise, it’s basically accurate. And the point about raids on medical marijuana facilities by federal officials is dead right. They could be stopped.

      1. Well, an issue is “medical marijuana facilities.” There are some large, industrial style farms and shops that the state and local authorities are uncomfortable with, and these state and local authorities have asked for assistance from the feds.
        The feds have obliged these state and local authorities. So it’s difficult to say that the big bad justice department is stepping on the local prerogatives when those same localities are asking for federal enforcement assistance.
        If there are actions being taken by the Justice Department without local support, and against people or entities that are in compliance with local law, I’m open to changing my mind. Obama never took the position that federal law had no further writ, he took the position that he would respect state law on the issue. it appears that many of the dispensaries are not in compliance with the local laws.
        This isn’t an argument about the merits of the laws; I just wanted to highlight that a big part of this is the feeling by local enforcement that they’ve lost control of the situation.

        1. This is just false. The state and local officials are proposing the “large, industrial style farms and shops” because they know, unlike Keith and Pres. Obama apparently, that regulated production and distribution is better than prohibition, and it’s the feds who are telling them “no.” Here’s an example:

          In most cases, the state and local officials are telling the feds to back off, not asking for help. Example:

        2. Good examples of federal interference in locales that had happy relationships with medical cannabis dispensaries include the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which operated in Fairfax for about 15 years. The Fairfax council passed a resolution condemning federal actions to shut down the facility because it was too close to a park:

          Another very good example of the feds’ heavy boots on this issue was the bust of Northstone Organics, which worked with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office’s “zip-tie” program, in which growers paid inspection and licensing fees to the county, and in return were not harassed by local authorities. The operation was raided, but its chief, Matthew Cohen, was not even arrested (merely put under fear of prosecution until the statute of limitations expires).

          Not only are the feds attacking businesses that have local acceptance, they are purposely targeting high-profile examples of what a successful cannabis market would look like. Cohen’s operation, for example, fell far short of the thresholds outlined in leaked DEA memos for federal prosecution of marijuana cases. It’s apolitical in the same way the arrest of Marc Emery was apolitical. Read about Northstone Organics here:

    2. I think you’re the one encouraging a fantasy here, Mark. Do you think pot is banned to prevent it’s use in potpourri? The war on drugs is a war on ways of getting high.

    3. Mark Kleiman: Of course, “putting people in prison for getting high” is utter fantasy.

      Not in my experience. I personally know several people who have done prison time for marijuana intended for personal use. Tommy Chong did federal time for advertising glass pipes as “Chong bongs” on the internet and violating an obscure state law clear across the country from where he lived. It wasn’t the Obama administration that did any of that, but it was recent enough and I have no doubt “putting people in prison for getting high” continues at all levels of government.

      Consider these factors:

      Growing your own is considered manufacturing a Schedule 1 narcotic and is categorized with trafficking.
      Possession of more than a very small supply or a few separate containers of different strains is considered possession with intent to distribute and is categorized with trafficking.
      Distribution at the bottom of the network in black market consumables is mostly user-to-user — friends and family dealing among themselves. This is considered trafficking.
      All of these things can get you prison time, for nothing more than getting high with a little help from your friends.

      Do you keep more than two weeks supply of coffee or maybe keep some coffee and some espresso roast in your home? If caffeine were Schedule 1, the federal, state, or local government could make a case charging you with possession with intent to distribute under the pretense that you have more than a reasonable amount for responsible household consumption or that you had Schedule 1 drugs bagged up in separate bags for sale. This happens often enough with marijuana that I’ve witnessed it multiple times, to some of the most decent people you’d ever hope to meet.

    4. MK, you’ve never been busted for pot possession, or you would know better than that.

      And it may be great that the ACA will provide treatment for lots of people who need it, the point of the original criticism is that most people who use drugs don’t need treatment, and for those 80% of drug users who use 20% of the drugs, the side of the Pareto divide that you guys never talk about, Obama’s policies are exactly the same as the policies of Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan.

      As long as your policy prescriptions ignore the 80%, you’re the one with the fantasy problem here.

    5. The prohibition of Earth’s most widely beneficial plant species is a crime against humanity. Period. Not fantasy.

    6. From “92% of the people who receive jail time in Chicago/Cook for low-level marijuana possession are black.

      Cook County spends $500 million per year on its jail, $78 million of it for marijuana arrests.

      84,000 police man hours are devoted to marijuana arrests in Chicago/Cook.”

  3. Artor: but the ACA is just words on paper so far.

    Not correct, the act had multiple provisions that are already in effect, and as a result, the ACA is already benefiting people with drug problems. By allowing parents to keep children on until age 26, the peak years for addiction incidence are more fully covered by health insurance in the population.

    See also Harold’s recent post

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