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Friday, April 26, 2019


We all know that Joe Biden was a senatorial leader in passing the 1994 federal crime bill.  This law, supported by members of the Black caucus and Bernie Sanders, by the way, in conjunction with state laws, effectively criminalized the purchase, sale, or use of certain drugs, resulting in millions of Black men being put in jail for long periods of time.  It was part of the “war on drugs.”  Those targeted were Black men and women and non-college educated drug pushers.  The punishment for use of crack cocaine was much higher than for the use of other forms of cocaine, thereby effectively focusing law enforcement efforts on inner city Black communities.

Now, there is a new drug crisis, the excessive use of opioids.  Scores of thousands of people are dying of overdoses of drugs even more dangerous than cocaine.  Non-college educated White users are dying at so great a rate that the national life expectancy rates for White non-college educated men have actually declined for the first time in living memory.

This time, the excessive use of dangerous drugs is declared not a public safety or crime crisis but a “public health emergency.”  The victims are White, and the pushers are doctors and corporate officials.  No one is suggesting putting users in jail.  Since the drugs are prescribed by doctors, it is not even clear that their possession is a crime.  Opioid users do not lose their right to vote. 

Does anyone see a pattern here?


David Palmeter said...

I don’t think the pattern is all that clear. Opiods are legitimate medications. Those of us who’ve had joint replacement surgery are grateful for them. Cocaine and crack cocaine are not legitimate medications. More important, when crack came on the scene, 25 or 30 years ago, it was viewed with alarm in the black community. It was seen as a way the white drug lords could turn an expensive drug like cocaine, whose main market was the wealthier white community, into an inexpensive one that would devastate the black community. Many black leaders and organizations, including, I believe, the Congressional Black Caucus, called for tougher penalties against it. Prominent among them was Charles Rangel, one time head of the Black Caucus.

Ridiculousicculus said...

It is not correct to say that "no one is suggesting putting users in jail." People of all races are sent to jail or prison for prescription opioid possession, especially oxycontin.

And there is an intersection between "legal" prescription opioid abuse and illegal drugs, namely heroin and illegally produced fentanyl. An observation: When it was first released, most people thought that oxycontin was just another prescription painkiller, and it was cheap - around $5.00 for an 80mg pill. Then Rush Limbaugh got busted with it, a few news articles came out explaining to people that it's basically prescription heroin, and the price shot up to about $1.00 or $2.00 per milligram.

When that happened, most addicts could no longer afford oxycontin, and began switching to heroin. And heroin use is zealously prosecuted everywhere.

s. wallerstein said...

The argument isn't that opioid users should be put in jail, but that crack users shouldn't be put in jail, that crack use should have been treated as a public health issue, not as a crime.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Bad Clinton Era Legislation: Example #2

During the heyday of the Clinton Administration and the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council there were at least two pieces of bad legislation: the crime bill and the 1996 welfare reform bill. I recall there being overwhelming support for both among democrats. It was the height of influence of the DLC/Clinton theory that the Democratic Party needed to more to the middle of the political spectrum and both pieces of legislation were designed to prove the efficacy of that assumption. I was working in the VT Agency of Human Services at the time and despite the states liberalism regarding welfare, everyone in the field thought the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was a good idea except me.

It accomplished all that Republicans wanted from welfare reform. On the policy side the name gives it away: poverty results from a character flaw, not structural economic forces. Welfare receipt became time limited with a lifetime cap. And lastly, the new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program became a block grant. Prior to reform, the funding mechanism was a Keynesian counter-cyclical shared state/federal burden that encouraged states to continue to fund welfare expenditures during recessions. Post reform a state had X dollars and if expenditures exceeded the state's block grant the state was outta luck. One hundred percent of the increased cost fell to the state. The old system shared costs: Vermont's share was usually about 40% of the total and the Feds picked up the rest. Poorer states got a high federal match and richer ones a lesser one, but the lowest the federal contribution could be was 50%.

When the Great Recession happened the predictable result was states cut welfare expenditures, vastly fewer children and families received assistance, and there was no counter-cyclical economic advantage. These two bills tell us much of what we need to know about the Democratic Party in its "moderate" incarnation.

Chris said...

Oh lord what puritanical nonsense David! ANY DRUG CAN BE USED AS A LEGITIMATE MEDICATION OR ABUSED AS A CRUTCH. ANY! Of course cocaine has medical properties! Coffee and tobacco have them too! Everyone in medicine knows cocaine was medicinal, it was literally a staple of the medical community for a near century! Similarly, we know LSD, magic mushrooms, and various other hallucinogens have medical properties, but are outlawed, and we know various substances like adding acetaminophen to legally prescribed opioids is a major contributor to liver failure and barely a contributor to pain relief. Opium went from medical drug, to outlawed, back to a medical drug in a new form (i.e., Rx pills, but somehow the pure forms are outlawed, e.g., heroin and tar opium).

Wolff is right, the 'war on drugs' has always been a class war and a race war. It's never been about medicine. If it was about medicine, marijuana, mushrooms, and lsd would have been legal ages ago, and tar opium would be more than sufficient without adding other chemicals to it which induce organ failure.

David Palmeter said...

Chris, coffee and tobacco are not at all like Oxycodone. Believe me. I've tried them.

Chris said...

Yeah, same, but that's a red herring.

s. wallerstein said...

In any case, none of the drugs mentioned above should be illegal. The war on drugs is a disaster as was the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920's.

Anonymous said...

None of these drugs should be illegal? Crack? Cocaine? Non-prescribed oxycontin ?Should they be regulated?
The disease model of addiction in public health and genetic studies point strongly in the direction of regulating these drugs and potentially punishing those who put them on the street illegally. Fergus

s. wallerstein said...

Legal and regulated. That way no one is putting them on the streets illegally. Rehabilitation programs should be available and either free or very low cost.

In any case, adults have the right to the poison of their choice.