How to reduce U.S. overdose deaths.

It has been widely reported that more than 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses during the 12 months ended April 30, 2021, a record high. A large and increasing portion of overdose deaths is attributable to illicitly obtained drugs, especially fentanyl. Many addicts have no choice but to buy their drugs on the black market, so they can’t be assured of the strength or purity of the drug, or what other drugs might have been added to what they think they are buying. As a result, many overdose deaths are accidental.

Imagine if we treated drug addiction using a medical model rather than a criminal model? If addictive drugs could be purchased legally and were regulated as to strength and purity, many overdose deaths would be avoided. Additionally, people who become addicted might be more likely to ask for help to kick the habit if they weren’t afraid of getting arrested and put in jail. Finally, much of the crime and violence associated with the illegal drug trade would go away if our policy of prohibition were ended.

As I’ve written before, if a new pharmacy opens in your neighborhood, the existing pharmacies don’t start a shooting war to protect their turf. And if someone breaks into or otherwise trys to rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy calls the police. It is the prohibition that causes most of the violence.

Under a legal drug regime, it would still be illegal to drive a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants, and children would be prohibited from buying drugs. But a person who minds their own business would not be a criminal for using drugs in a peaceful manner.

Des Moines Police should minimize marijuana enforcement.

Hopefully, the Des Moines City Council and the Des Moines Police Department will follow the recommendation of the marijuana enforcement task force that was formed earlier this year as part of an anti-racial profiling ordinance.”  (See link to Register reports below.)

Included among the list of recommendations are passing ordinances that make enforcement of the possession of marijuana for personal use the lowest enforcement priority for the police, and if allowed by state law, to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for personal use.

It appears clear that our marijuana prohibition laws are enforced unfairly against black folks,  In every case, a conviction dramatically damages a person’s future prospects for work, housing, education, and more.  All because of our prohibition laws criminalize peaceful activities that do not infringe on the rights of any other person.

Our Iowa state legislators need to get a clue from other states and at least decriminalize the peaceful use of marijuana.  It will not only reduce systemic racism, but it is the morally right thing to do.

Link to Register reports:
https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/11/06/des-moines-marijuana-enforcement-task-force-finalizes-report/5867244002/

https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/11/09/des-moines-effort-decriminalize-marijuana-hamstrung-iowa-law-des-moines-police-department/6191753002/

Drug Prohibition causes the associated violence

Under our current regime of drug prohibition in the U.S., it is true that American drug users support the violent drug cartels in Mexico.  If we ended the drug wars, and instead legalized and regulated peaceful drug use, and treated addiction under a medical model, the violence associated with the illicit drug trade would mostly go away.  When CVS opens a drug store across the street from Walgreens, they don’t get into a gun battle.  When a drug store is robbed, they call the police instead of sending out a gang to get revenge. It is the government policy of prohibition that causes the violence associated with the illicit drug trade.  Our drug wars will be endless until prohibition is ended.

Link to related Wall Street Journal opinion:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-cartelization-of-mexico-11572999461

Don’t ban vaping!

It was like a breath of fresh air to read in The Des Moines Register that our Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, used logic in concluding that banning vaping by adults in Iowa would be a mistake.  (See link to Register article below.)   It does appear clear that almost all of recently rreported deaths and severe illnesses were the result of vaping black market products that contain THC, not nicotine.
While it may be true that no amount of vaped nicotine has been proven safe, we do know that vaping popular legal nicotine products has been going on for years without the type of health problems that have been reported recently.  We also know that nicotine vape products do not contain the tars and other substances in cigarettes that are known to cause cancer.
It’s reasonable to think that vaping nicotine is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, and that going from smoking cigarettes to vaping can be a good step towards quiting a nicotine habit altogether.  But, prohibition of vaping would only worsen the health problems, just like with opioids, where people who purchase their drugs on the street have no idea of the strength or purity of the products they are buying.

Bootleggers and Baptists – strange bedfellows.

During the time of alcohol prohibition, bootleggers and baptists were both opposed to repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment.  It’s an example of how, “politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Even though the two groups seemed to have completely opposite views about drinking alcohol, they both opposed the repeal of prohibition: The baptists for moral reasons, the bootleggers for financial reasons.
I read the report in The Des Moines Register about how scared the Iowa medical marijuana dispensaries are about losing money once the legalization of recreational marijuana in Illinois begins next January 1st.  (see link below)  It makes me wonder if Iowa might face a similar situation in the future. The governor and many other politicians oppose efforts to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for moral reasons.  I wonder if Iowa’s legal medical marijuana producers and sellers will oppose efforts to legalize recreational marijuana for financial reasons?

Need to end Iowa’s excessive Drug Stamp tax.

Thanks to Lee Rood for her expose’ in The Des Moines Register about the financial devastation of an Iowa citizen that was caused by Iowa’s drug tax.  As Rood reported, Stephanie Hilgenberg was arrested in 2016 after police found about $5,000 worth of meth in her purse.  She was convicted and served time in prison.  She is now free and working to support heself and her two kids.  But she still owes the Iowa Department of Revenue about $150,000 in tax, penalty and interest!  She had failed to pay the “drug stamp tax” required in order to avoid the penalties and interest.
Iowa’s Constitution prohibits excessive fines, but this is technically a tax, not a fine.  Again as Rood reported, part of the strategy of the tax was to use as a negotiating lever to get small time dealers to give up their suppliers.  In our failed drug wars, the little guy is often sacrificed as a means to what drug warriors consider  more important ends.
Drug addiction is a terrible thing.  But we will be better served as a society by treating addiction under a medical model rather than a criminal model.  Education works better than punishment.  One step in the right direction would be to repeal the punitive stamp tax that is added to the injury caused by drug prohibition.  State legislatiors should take that up next session.

Big marijuana bust in Iowa – Mayor found growing pot!

As the Des Moines Register reported yesterday, the Mayor of Jamaica, Iowa and her husband were busted two days earlier at about 4:20 p.m. (no joke) for growing 18 marijuana plants inside their home.   The various related charges include a Class “D” Felony for the manufacture and possession with intent to deliver less than 50 kilograms of marijuana.

It’s a shame that our laws in Iowa still make it a crime to do something that is peaceful, voluntary, and uses no force or fraud against others. Marijuana prohibition laws do little to make our state safer, and yet do great harm to people who are victimized by them.  In this case, if these two people are found guilty of the felony, they could be sentenced for up to 5 years in prison, be required to pay up to $7,500, lose their voting rights, be disqualified for military service or student loans, and more.  Compare that to the fact that nothing happens to a person in her home who is found to be brewing 5 gallons of beer – a standard home-brew batch – and possessing, say, 10 to 20 more gallons that were brewed earlier.

Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and yet today we see the same unintended consequences resulting from drug prohibition that we saw from alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s: violence, deaths from impure products, and the arrest and punishment of people who are otherwise honest and peaceful.  Make no mistake, the violence associated with the illegal drug trade is caused by prohibition laws.  If Walgreens moves into a community, CVS doesn’t send out a gang to kill them.  When drugs are delivered to a pharmacy, both parties don’t carry weapons to protect themselves.  Instead, they call the police if someone uses violence against them.  But you can’t can’t call the police for help if you’re dealing in illegal drugs.

We need to follow the trend in other states and around the world:  Legalize recreational marijuana and treat addiction using a medical model, just like alcohol.  Let your elected representatives know your feelings.  That is the way to get these unjust laws changed.

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2019/01/17/jamaica-mayor-ladonna-kennedy-pot-weed-gurthrie-county-crime-marijuana-search-ames-shooting-suspect/2606455002/

Is our government responsible for the opioid crisis?

The Des Moines Register recently reported that 36 Iowa counties have joined in a law suit against opioid makers.  (See link to Register article below.)  Two law firms are enlisting counties across the country to go after drug manufacturers and others for the costs of the opioid crisis.  There is no cost to the counties.  If successful, the “Lawyers will  be awarded a portion of the settlement, …”  (Interesting that the word “settlement” is used instead of “judgment”.)

What is often missing in much of the opioid crisis discussion is how our government’s policy of prohibition has made a bad situation even worse.  When a person becomes physically addicted to opioids, they will do almost anything to get the drugs they want.  If the drugs are not available legally, or if legal drugs cost too much, addicts will find illegal alternatives. According to the CDC, 60% of opioid deaths do not involve prescription opioids.  That is, in 60% of opioid deaths the person who died was using illegal opioids.  (See CDC reference below.)  A significant problem with illegal drugs is that is no way to assure the quality and potency of the drugs.  In the case of opioids, that leads to inadvertent over-doses because the illegal drug was much more powerful than thought.

If opioid addicts were able to readily get prescription methadone or other FDA approved opioids at reasonable costs, many deaths would be prevented.  That would also take the profit out of the illegal opioid drug trade.  If opioid addicts were treated under a medical model rather than a criminal model, it is likely that more opioid addicts would seek help to solve their addiction problem.  But as it is, under our drug war, prohibition policy, addicts have good reason to not seek help.

CDC reference: https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html

Link to Register article: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2018/01/05/iowa-counties-file-lawsuits-against-opioid-manufacturers/1008522001/

End racist prohibition.

As The Des Moines Register reported on 10/13/2016, “Black Iowans are seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Iowans…”  (See link below.)  Drug possession.  A crime without a victim.  Arrests that create a criminal record that seriously negatively affects a person’s ability to get a job.
Even if blacks do possess illegal drugs at a rate seven times more than whites, which I very much doubt, treating possession of any drug as a crime is clearly unfair, if not racist.   Why don’t people get arrested for “possession” if they are caught with a six pack of beer?  Why aren’t people be arrested and charged with “intent to deliver” if they are caught with more than a case of beer?  Why aren’t people charged with a more serious crime if they are caught with high alcohol content distilled spirits, which are surely more dangerous?
We need to end the immoral and impractical drug wars.  The correct and reasonable thing to do is to legalize and regulate the manufacture, sale and use of all drugs, just like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs.  Just like with alcohol, fair regulations would include protecting our children, and prohibiting driving vehicles while intoxicated.  In any case, we need to end prohibition.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/crime-and-courts/2016/10/12/iowa-ranks-2nd-worst-racial-disparities-drug-arrests/91958452/

Our liberties we prize? Our rights we will maintain?

Recent Iowa Polls have found: A majority of Iowans prefer to use the force of government to require fellow citizens to buy gasoline that has ethanol blended into it whether the buyer wants it or not.  A majority of Iowans prefer to treat fellow citizens as criminals if they use drugs that are not favored by the majority, even if such use harms no other person.  A majority of Iowans want to force businesses to pay a minimum wage, even though it means that the least skilled people may not be able to find work.  A majority of Iowans prefer to use the force of government to prohibit vaping in privately owned businesses, even if the owners, customers and employees prefer that it be allowed.  Iowa should change its motto to:  Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain, unless, of course, the current majority disagrees, even if you are a peaceful person and do no harm to others.