11/16/14 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay reports: The FBI releases its annual Uniform Crime Report, and we talk with Steve Rolles from the UK's Transform Drugs Policy Foundation about the recent US election and the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016.

Audio file


Century of Lies: 11/16/14

This week: The FBI releases its annual Uniform Crime Report, and we talk with Steve Rolles from the UK's Transform Drugs Policy Foundation about the recent US election and the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network, which comes to you through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

Find us on the web at drug truth dot net, where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, on with the show.

On Monday November 10th, the FBI released its annual Uniform Crime Report for 2013. The UCR provides a measure of reported crimes, arrests, and clearance rates. According to the FBI,

In 2013, there were 1,501,043 arrests for drug law violations out of a total 11,302,102 arrests nationwide for all offenses. Also in 2013, authorities reported 480,360 arrests for all violent crimes and 1,559,284 for all property offenses.

Of the 1,501,043 arrests for drug law violations in 2013, 82.3% were for possession of any controlled substance. Only 17.7% were for the sale or manufacturing of any drug. Specifically regarding marijuana, simple possession of marijuana accounted for 40 percent of all drug arrests, while sale, cultivation or manufacture of marijuana accounted for five point six percent of all drug arrests.

What sort of value are we getting for all that effort: According to the FBI, in 2013, 48.1 percent of violent crimes and 19.7 percent of property crimes were cleared by arrest or exceptional means. Clearing a crime basically means that someone has been indicted, not that anyone has been found guilty. We can only hope that the real perpetrator was found rather than the blame simply getting pinned on one of the usual suspects, yet one way or the other, these data mean that law enforcement can't even find someone on whom to pin the blame for more than half of all violent crimes and eight out of ten property crimes committed each year. While those numbers are abysmally low, it must be noted that the clearance rate for property crime is the highest in decades, and the violent crime clearance rate is at its highest since it peaked in 1999 at 50 percent.

You can find these data and much much more on my website at Drug War Facts dot org, the section on crime and law enforcement has several data tables that will be of interest.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, get ready to mark your calendars. December 17th is the 100th anniversary of the Harrison Narcotics Act, the day the US began its 100 year long drug war – its century of lies. On that day, people in towns and cities around the nation will hold rallies at local courthouses to call for an end to prohibition. You can get involved by emailing the Drug Truth Network's executive producer Dean Becker, he's dean @ drug truth dot net. Several organizations are already on board including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Break The Chains, and the November Coalition. Get involved today. Find out more at endprohibition dot org. Also check out the facebook page, it's facebook dot com slash 100 Years Is Enough, that's facebook dot com slash 1 0 0 years is enough.

DOUG MCVAY: The US elections on November 4th were a huge day for drug policy reform, as ballot initiatives in several states passed with large majorities. Even the measure in Florida that failed still got a large majority of the vote. People around the world are watching the US to see how we handle the drug policy rebellion that's going on.

It's not just an interest in US politics. The US serves as a model for many nations, what we do here has global implications. The US also works hard to exert its influence on international drug control policies and treaties. Our government's current position is that the drug control treaties are flexible. But what will our position be after the 2016 elections? And that's not the position of most international drug control authorities. Reuters news agency reported last week UN Office on Drugs and Crime director Yuri Fedotov said: he did not believe that marijuana legalization by US states can be compatible with existing conventions.

Let's talk then to someone who knows quite a lot about the treaties, and the international drug war. Steve Rolles is with the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation in the UK, I spoke with him via skype recently. Here's part of that interview:

DOUG MCVAY: You've seen the election results. What do you think?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, wow, we're pretty delighted. I woke up this morning and checked out my smartphone twitter feed and just saw this sort of amazing news flooding in, so yeah, we're delighted, I mean it's great to see that the momentum from Washington and Colorado is continuing. There were some worries, I guess, if some of these, these latest votes failed or faltered then the momentum might be sort of derailed to some degree but that's very much not happened, clearly, it's full steam ahead. I think it sets us up amazingly for 2016, I think. Is that the next ballot initiative, I guess it is.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh yes, and it's a presidential election year too –

STEVE ROLLES: So you'll get better turn-out, right? You'll get better youth turn-out, better Democrat turn-out, better turn-out of likely voters so my guess is that a bunch more states including California will go in 2016 now that this has happened. I think at that point, that federal law will have to be reconsidered. You almost have a majority of people living in – I mean I saw someone posted a little graphic just now on Facebook, that said if you add up the total population living in states with medical, decrim, or legal recreational, now it's a majority of people in the US don't live under absolute cannabis prohibition anymore.

So you know, and that, alongside the clear majority amongst the voting population nationally in support of legalization, clearly the US has passed some sort of tipping point, both in terms of public opinion and political opinion, and now with these results in terms of actual action on the ground it's amazing, it's inspiring, it's almost kind of annoying actually that the US, for so long kind of the pioneers of the war on drugs, are now going to get the credit of being the pioneers of ending the war on drugs as well, but, you know, but fair play to all people who have been involved and congratulations to all the activists and campaigners and policymakers, all the people who have been doing it. We're, we've been watching very closely over here in the UK and in Europe, and I think that the wider movement around the world is delighted to see what's happened today.

DOUG MCVAY: Now you mentioned 2016, because that is our next presidential election. The Democrats have lost the Senate, they don't have control of the House, so in a lot of ways 2016 is going to be a fight for the soul of America. We either go down a very dark path with a Republican majority and a Republican Senate, or the Democrats gain spines and they take it back. And, uh, yeah, youth votes – I think that in a way losing the Senate gives us a great organizing tool for the next couple of elections, and at this point I'm outing myself as a Democrat and, oh well, that's life. I am. Now how do you think this is going to play internationally? You're heavily involved in the, uh, the NGO preparations in the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016, and of course in the UK you just had a drug policy debate in the House of Commons, and I – you said you were jealous, I was almost weeping listening to people saying these, I mean speaking out, and real live members of Parliament, real live legislators, speaking out honestly and openly about the need for drug policy reform, I mean it – it warmed my heart. But how do you think this is going to, what kind of effect do you think this is going to have?

STEVE ROLLES: Well, I mean, what's happened in the UK in the last week or so I think reflects the wider sort of movement in the right direction in terms of where the debate is up to that you're experiencing in the US. I guess it's just a bit more direct in the US because at state level people have just taken it into their own hands and you have this facility for ballot initiatives, we don't have that in the UK, so we have to wait for change to come from Parliament and it's much more, seems to be much slower in the UK for whatever political reason.

But in terms of internationally, what's happened in the US is very important internationally because in 2016 we also have this UNGASS meeting, this UN General Assembly Special Session where all the heads of state from around the world gather to talk about drugs and it has this specific reform mandate, and the US has always held this sort of hegemonic position in the global drug debate as the kind of chief architect and cheerleader for global prohibition, and their authority to sort of impose that sort of view globally has been massively eroded by the fact that there are multiple jurisdictions within the United States that are going against that philosophy, that whole punitive paradigm, and even decriminalizing or legalizing now, in a number of states, certainly with cannabis.

It's sort of fundamentally undermining the whole kind of prohibitionist paradigm, at an international level. Exactly how it's going to play out is hard to see but clearly the US is now seriously in breach of its international legal commitments which are very strictly imposed, saying you can't do this, you can't have legalization. Now there's a whole sort of tedious legal debate about preemption and whether states can do things, whether states are bound by international law. They are bound by international law, they're part of the international community, the US is part, the architect of this particular international law, and you can't avoid that, they are in breach.

So that multiple jurisdictions are now in breach of the UN drug convention is unprecedented, and we have the first meeting since that's happened, the first major meeting since that's happened in 2016, and it's, that's a head of state level meeting, so the dynamic there is just – we're in uncharted territory, we don't know how that's going to play out. It's interesting to hear what Brownfield, one of your senior – is he DEA, Brownfield?

DOUG MCVAY: Brownfield, no, he's an assistant secretary of state, he's head of a bureau which we refer to lovingly as Drugs & Thugs, the State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement –

STEVE ROLLES: Right. But I mean, you know, he was saying stuff, and has been saying for about 6 months, he's been kind of introducing this new doctrine that somehow cannabis regulation can be allowed within a very flexible interpretation of the treaties, and clearly the US's State Department is trying to sort of cover its back here, because on the one hand I think they know they're in breach and on the other hand they don't want to have to reform the treaties so they're trying this kind of fudge that somehow a very broad interpretation of the wording of the treaties might allow regulation but really I mean it's a pretty tortuous justification.

And I think what will have to happen, rather than to try to find these kind of messy, tortured legal loopholes is for the, for the international drug control system will have to ultimately be re-considered. I don't think that's going to happen in 2016 although a process may have to be put in place in 2016, but clearly you can't have a system in which, which is set up specifically to prohibit the legal production and supply of certain drugs that then allows exactly that. I mean, it just doesn't – you can't have a law that specifically forbids something that is then openly flouted, or openly ignored, or openly sort of traversed.

So it's not – it's a very unusual situation, it's a very new situation, the dynamic is very fluid, we don't really know how it's going to play out, but Brownfield has been saying, one of your senior drug policy bureaucrats has been saying, that the US will essentially tolerate other sovereign states exploring legalization. It was an amazing moment, really, to hear a senior US bureaucrat saying that, and it's difficult, you know – people are still trying to think about that, process it and analyze what exactly that means for the wider discourse. Because you know, there's lot of countries who've been wanting to explore that issue but have held back because they've been concerned about international law or concerned about US pressure.

Now US pressure has effectively evaporated because they are legalizing themselves and they've lost all authority. And the idea that international law is a restriction on what they do is now being challenged by the US itself. So, you know, a lot of these countries are now thinking, what's going on, well let's just, let's do something. It's going to be amazingly interesting to see over the next 18 months how that plays out in the run-up to the UNGASS.

DOUG MCVAY: Now of course one of the places that legalized last night was Washington DC itself. Seventy percent, it got 70 bloody percent. I was just talking to Sanho Tree, our good friend, a few moments ago. And, you know, the normalization of an idea, the fact that – until yesterday, legalization was something that happened over in Washington state and in Colorado, a couple of jurisdictions where the, you know, there are representatives from there, sure, and they go back and visit every once in a while but they live in DC, 535 members of Congress, they all live in the DC area, and now they're going to be living in a place with legal marijuana.

STEVE ROLLES: Yeah, they can smoke mariuana in the White House now.

DOUG MCVAY: Actually I think it's a no-smoking area so that would be tricky.

STEVE ROLLES: Carry on doing it but do it legally now.

DOUG MCVAY: They'd have to vaporize it, it's a non-smoking thing.

STEVE ROLLES: On the lawn then.

DOUG MCVAY: DC is not only the home for all of our members of Congress it's also the home of, you know, most nations in the world have an embassy in DC and so now all of these international representatives will be living in a place with legal marijuana.

STEVE ROLLES: It's a good point, I really hadn't thought of that. My understanding is that it's still moot, whether the DC thing would actually come into being. Doesn't it have to pass through Congress still, is that right, or – ?

DOUG MCVAY: To an extent. It's a messed up situation because DC is technically, is really just a colony. The limited self-rule that it's been allowed, this – this initiative, the results will be certified by the City Council, which says that it will transmit those results to Congress. Congress then has either 30 or 60 days, I think it's actually 60, I was talking with someone yesterday, but I – I think it's a 60 day period in which they can challenge it. If they decide to, then it requires majority votes in both houses and it would have to be signed off by the President to actually stop it.

Back when, in '98, in 1998 when DC passed medical marijuana, Congress actually put in a provision to the DC government's funding bill, that uh – because they control some of the purse-strings – they actually put in a provision to prevent the elections office from counting the vote. It took, it took months before they were even able to count the votes and then they held up the results for the longest time to prevent the implementation. In this case the votes have been counted, and so now once they certify it goes to Congress. They would actually – as I understand they would have to proactively vote to stop it from going into effect, so, and then the President would have to sign off. I mean yeah, you're right, there is a, there is a chance –

STEVE ROLLES: I mean he probably, he probably wouldn't, would he? I mean, like you say, 70 percent. Wouldn't it be profoundly un-American to reject the will of the people in such a severe way, does anyone think that's likely? Sorry, I'm asking you questions now

DOUG MCVAY: No, that's fine. From what I understand, no. Actually, the, it's, people view it just as you just said, it would be madness. Seventy percent of the people in DC, and not just that, Oregon, and Alaska. Alaska is a very conservative state, and Oregon is an oasis of progressivism, it's – our Senate candidate, our US senator Jeff Merkley won re-election last night. He was, he actually a few days ago came out in support of Measure 91, the legalization initiative. A sitting US Senator up for re-election said he was going to vote yes on Measure 91, and he won. Handily. Against a, uh, one of the few Senate Democrats who did well last night.

So well, I mean – going against the will of the people, yeah, and also, politically I think the calculus, they have to be making the calculations, I hope at least, that they're going to try and embrace, at least to a degree, legalization, or at least not oppose it.

STEVE ROLLES: Well, you know, it's certainly true in the UK, and to a lesser extent I think Europe and the rest of the world, but what, you know, when progressive reforms happen in the US, you know, it often then spreads very rapidly. You know, gay marriage was a classic example, and although that's obviously a very different issue from cannabis reform, it was interesting that you had this sort of contentious, often very emotive issue issue that was sort of tied up with lots of other philosophical and ethical and religious things that didn't really have anything much to do with sensible policy making.

But, when that sort of turned around really quite quickly in the US, and once Obama sort of signed it off, it all snowballed, and since then it's spread very, very rapidly around other places in the world, including in the UK – amazingly, I mean, really nobody would have expected that, even at the beginning of this government, that that would happen.

So I do wonder if the reforms in the US, particularly if the federal government responds, and they will have to at some point, you know, particularly if California goes, it can't go on forever having a majority of people in the US, it wouldn't be feasible I don't think, to have a majority of the population in states, operating under state laws that were in direct contradiction to federal. The federal law's going to have to give at some point, and certainly when that happens I think it will open the, not open the floodgates, it will provide political space for other countries around the world and it will open up the debate enormously, that will be a huge step forward I think for the global reform movement as well as in the US.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm hoping so. Now one of the initiatives that passed yesterday was in California, Proposition 47 reduced the penalties on several different drug and property crime offenses. At this point in California, simple possession of a variety of drugs – cocaine, heroin, or of hashish – simple possession will no longer be a felony. California has been under federal court order to reduce its prison population for the last few years, they've been trying, they've tried early releases, they've tried putting, instead of sending people to prison they send them to jails which are now becoming even more overcrowded. And so they're, basically they're getting desperate. This measure will end up reducing the prison population, it will end up transferring quite a bit of money into education, into mental and health services, into substance abuse treatment services. So, uh, now, this is the thing. I've always worried whether marijuana users would just say okeh, we're done, we're good now, but it does seem like we're getting all drug policy reform. You folks –

STEVE ROLLES: Yeah, that's great news too. I think decrim, I mean wider decrim, cannabis decrim is important but wider decrim is clearly a very viable policy that a lot of countries around the world have already done. There's a sort of popular perception that it's just in Portugal but it's not, it's a bunch of countries around Europe, in Latin America, and even in some states in Australia, some strange places like Kazakhstan – is it Kazakhstan? One of those fairly obscure Central Asian countries has decriminalized personal possession. So it's actually happening all over the place. It's a policy that's been endorsed by the World Health Organization now, by UNAIDS, almost, virtually been endorsed by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime even, and recently by the Organization of American States. They didn't specifically recommend it, but they came a close as they could to making a recommendation to decrim without actually doing it.

So you have these major multinational agencies are supportive now of decrim, you've got a body of evidence from countries around the world that are already doing it, I really do think it's the next step for other countries in Europe and North America. It seems inevitable to me. I mean clearly we, ultimately we need to go further and regulate the market for drugs to reduce the harms of the market as well. But the harms of criminalization specifically, I think that's probably the next step.

And that might be something we could aspire to at the UNGASS meeting in 2016, that the UN would at least acknowledge that the criminalization of users wasn't an appropriate situation and perhaps again, the, the elements of the UN drug treaties that we're all signed up to that run against that, that say we should criminalize users, and unfortunately the 1998 treaty in particular does, it's very specific that, you know, people who are in possession of drugs should be subject to criminal sanctions although it's not completely specific that those sanctions should include a criminal record.

I think those treaties, those treaty elements are also, alongside the cannabis stuff, are going to be very vulnerable to change in 2016, or at least a process, beginning a process to address those, those growing contradictions between the law and how policy exists in the real world, you know, on the ground. Clearly, there's a growing gulf between the law and practice and nothing could show that more clearly than what's happening in the US, where you've now got four states, five – four states and DC – in direct contradiction with federal law, even, you know, and the federal building is in one of the states where cannabis is now legal, I mean it's extraordinary, really. It does feel like the whole house of cards is coming down.

DOUG MCVAY: Now your government recently issued – your government, the UK government recently issued a really quite good publication, Drugs: International Comparators, looking at different drug control schemes in different countries. They, and they actually, am I getting it right, they withheld that thing for a time –

STEVE ROLLES: Yes, it was finished in the summer, and the Home Office and the Conservatives were very reluctant to release it, because obviously some of the content exposed some of their policy positions in a very sort of critical and negative way, so they were – you know, because clearly, the report basically says that punitiveness doesn't effect levels of use, or enforcement isn't a major factor in levels of use, which very much runs against the whole prohibitionist narrative. So they were very uncomfortable with releasing it, they sat on it for as long as they could. And actually, probably the report would have been even better if it hadn't been – I mean I think, you know, if you actually read it you can tell that they put bits in to try and take the edge off some of the critical stuff, and they, there are slightly weird bits where they mention some of the successes of UK policy in ways that seem random and unrelated to the text that sits with it.

So they've attempted to take the edges off it but haven't really succeeded because it was a reasonably good look at some of the evidence. None of the evidence there is new, I mean, really with all the work that's quoted in there. But the fact that it came, it's the provenance of it, the fact that it comes from the Home Office, it comes from a prohibitionist agency, and it's effectively providing a critique of prohibition, or certainly the sort of punitive enforcement paradigm. That's what's given it it's power, and that's what's made it so – it was picked up in uh, I was reading some stuff about it in the Australian media, and in the New Zealand media, and it certainly got reported in Latin America, don't know whether it's going to get reported in the US, there's still lots been going on there in the last week or so.

It's just another, another kind of nail in the coffin really. When you've got the government's own enforcement agency saying enforcement is irrelevant, that's, you know – it is quite a big deal, and it made an enormous media splash, kind of much bigger than we had anticipated. Last week on Wednesday it led, that story led the news all day, it was the lead story was that we need evidence based policy because the war on drugs isn't working. It was astonishing, really.

DOUG MCVAY: Again that was my interview with Steve Rolles of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation in the UK.

And that's it for this week. I'm Doug McVay and this was Century of Lies. Thank you for listening.

Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network. Century Of Lies is heard on 420 Radio dot org on Mondays at 11 am and 11 pm, and Saturdays at 4 am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp dot com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. A few of the stations out there that carry Century Of Lies include WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, WI; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, FL; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California.

You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. Follow me on Twitter, where I'm @ Drug Policy Facts and @ Doug McVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!