The Drug Policy Digest

Monday, June 23, 2003
In Case You Missed It...
For those who were too busy to read the comics section of the paper yesterday, take a look at yesterday's column.

The Washington Post Reviews Reefer Madness by Eric Schlosser
Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor In the American Black Market

No, it is not the movie. This book, along with Reason magazine's Jacob Sullum's book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use has been reviewed in a number of columns. So far, Reefer Madness has gotten far more press. The title is misleading as the author covers three aspects of America's underground economy - marijuana being only one. Pornography (arguably not even an underground phenomenon any longer) and undocumented workers are two-thirds of this fairly scholarly but very readable text.

On all three subjects, the author takes the vantage of the economist and impresses the reader with the sheer size of the enterprises at issue. Adam Smith is Schlosser's muse and he posits the idea that, if one understands economics, all of these markets are predictable. Curiously, he begins by explaining Adam Smith's notion of the "Invisible Hand" which insures that the greater good is served if every person behaves from a position of self-interest -- and then argues that Smith was referring to the intervention of God in man's commercial endeavors - a somewhat unconventional take on Smith's position.

Schlosser's book is also satisfying to this reader because he confirms (with a reasonably reliable reference) the story that Harry Anslinger (J. Edgar Hoover's rival at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics -- the FBN, predecessor of today's Drug Enforcement Administration) supplied morphine regularly to a United States Senator who was an addict. Having heard this story on several occasions, I was pleased when Schlosser confirmed the rumor that the morphine-dependent Senator was none other than the infamous Joseph McCarthy (Republican of Wisconisn).

Schlosser's book is a gold mine of facts and details that remind us that domestic marijuana production may be the United States' largest agricultural cash crop - at between 4 billion and 25 billion dollars a year (even enforcement agencies disagree about the size of this market), rivaling corn - a $19 billion crop. Schlosser is unabashedly critical of the "war on drugs" which he claims has not just failed but "backfired." Not a partisan, he blames Democrats and Republicans alike for a system that has resulted "... in passing zero-tolerance marijuana laws. At a cost to federal law enforcement of more than $4 billion each year, almost three quarters of a million people are arrested on marijuana charges -- the vast majority (more than 85 percent!) merely for possession."

This is a useful and challenging book for anyone who believes that America's stubborn marijuana habit can be solved by more treatment or more enforcement - or any combination of the two approaches. Schlosser makes the case that not only are we up against our ancient desire to seek altered states of consciousness, but that we are also bucking the "Invisible Hand" of Adam Smith's economics -- divine or not, it is, the author claims, inexorable and immune to political forces and rhetoric. Take a look at Reefer Madness and see if you agree.

Saturday, June 21, 2003
Truly Depressing Trends...

According to Mark Kleiman, who tends to be right about these things:

Annual U.S. expenditure on books: $17 billion
Annual U.S. expenditure on alcohol: $105 billion

Of course much of what is spent on books is on works of fiction or, to read today's headlines about the Harry Potter phenom, fantasy. Is a flight from reality taken from a few ounces of alcohol really much different than losing one's self in a good novel? Well, I would say "yes," but as Dennis Miller says "That's just my opinion.... I could be wrong."

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Microgram Now Unclassified and on the Internet
Resource for Forensic Scientists and Law Enforcement Now Public

A long time coming (>15 years), see DEA's Microgram on the web.

"Bumping Dust" and Other Oddities
Street Terms and Drug Slang Update

Surveys show that misuse of prescribed medication is now the second most popular "illicit drug" in the United States -- after marijuana, but ahead of both cocaine and MDMA ("Ecstasy"). So, how do users discuss and understand their use? Well, according to a recent posting on, this is some of the language used and prices of pills diverted from legitimate medical avenues:

"I've Bumped dust for a while, and addicted as hell..But thats a sideffect in my opinion, and withdrawl can make you kinda crazy once addicted.This method is as addicting as eating them, probably even more because you start to like the taste of them because of the drainage,and I'll even suck on them like a cough drop.In all, I wouldn't recommend getting to attatched to it, try it, get the idea and stop,but its up to you whether you don't care that you get hooked,but I'd like to stop, like any smoker,I quit smokeing. Expensive habit to paying up to 5 bucks a pill,ppl are even chargeing $8.I'll pay $5,and very rarely $6,Perc 10's sale for 10 dollars, ppl get 14 sometimes!! Its like within the past 6 months ppl been raising the motherf*****s a dollar and s*it,then 15,16 17 no doubt after a while.I couldn't find it in my heart to charge someone that kind of price..... for real, I charge old school prices like 4 for the 5mg 5 for 7.5mg and 6 for 10mg, but i'll even charge 5 for the 10mg half the time."

For those who are interested in more street drug jargon, consider that "trail mix" is taking a combination of MDMA ("Ecstasy") and Viagra, while "candy flipping" is mixing LSD and Ecstasy. For those interested in more of this kind of thing, see the ONDCP's Street Terms database.

Sympathetic Judge Gives Pot Guru One Day in Jail
Cites "extraordinary circumstances" of the case

It was a federal criminal case that sparked widespread attention for the exclusion of significant amounts of information from the jury and, after their guilty verdict, resulted in several jurors holding a press conference to denounce the court procedings and apologize to the defendant. Nevertheless, Ed Rosenthal, who maintained that he grew marijuana seedlings under contract with the city of Oakland for distribution to cancer patients, was found guilty and faced a lengthy prison sentence.

Today, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer (brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer) sentenced Mr. Rosenthal one day in federal prison. Since he received credit for time already served in custody, Rosenthal was released immediately on probation. The government had asked for a sentence of 6 and a half years in prison. According to a report in The New York Times, Rosenthal's lawyer maintains that he will appeal the conviction and said his client objects to havng received a felony conviction.

On a related note, The New Republic carried an article last year with the following item:

The administration leaked to the press a conversation between Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Bush, wherein the former bemoaned the fact that kids with marijuana get more jail time than do corporate crooks, which prompted the president to reply, "You're absolutely right," and shake his head.

In the context of the article, it seems clear that President Bush was bemoaning the relatively light sentences given to corporate wrong-doers rather than making a statement about the drug laws. But, it is something to think about.

Man Sues After Buying Car With Drugs
Seller was U.S. Government

Associated Press reports: A car purchased at a U.S. marshal's auction four years ago had a hidden surprise for its new owner: 119 pounds of marijuana hidden in the bumpers.

The buyer, Jose Aguado Cervantes, didn't know about the hidden stash until he was stopped at the U.S.-Mexican border three months later. Cervantes, 67, spent three months in jail as a result.

Cervantes is seeking damages for the government's error, alleging negligence, false imprisonment and false arrest. While an appeals court in Pasadena said Monday that he cannot recover damages for false arrest and imprisonment, his negligence claim against the federal government ``is an entirely different matter.''

Yes, that would seem reasonable. Read the entire story on the Los Angeles Times website.