More casualties in the war on drug-using Americans

From The Economist:

LANCE SALTZMAN did not like the way his stepfather, Toni Minnick, settled arguments with his mother, Christina Borg. Once Mr Minnick fired a gun into a wall beside her. A couple of weeks later, says Ms Borg, he threatened to shoot her. So Mr Saltzman went into his stepfather’s bedroom and took the gun. He sold it to a friend, who used it in a burglary. Mr Saltzman was charged with burglary, theft and being a felon in possession of a firearm””all for taking a gun from his own house””as well as with the burglary committed using the gun, in which he says he took no part. He was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. He was 22.

Mr Saltzman was mauled by a pit bull as a toddler and is “not altogether upstairs all the time”, says his mother. In his teens he got hooked on drugs and was convicted of marijuana possession, trespassing and petty theft. He was then jailed for a burglary he committed when he was 16, and this was his undoing.

He stole his stepfather’s gun within three years of his release; under a Florida mandatory-sentencing law for re-offenders, the judge had to lock him up for ever. Given Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, Ms Borg believes that her son would probably be free if he had shot his menacing stepfather instead of stealing his gun.

Mr Saltzman is one of at least 3,278 people serving sentences of life without parole for non-violent crimes, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Around 79% of them were convicted of drug crimes. These include: having an unweighably small amount of cocaine in a shirt pocket, selling $10-worth of crack to a police informant and mailing small amounts of LSD to fellow Grateful Dead fans. Property crimes that earned offenders a permanent home in prison include shoplifting three belts, breaking into an empty liquor store and possessing stolen wrenches. (emphasis added)

Roughly 65% of the non-violent lifers are black.

Polls show that 58% of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, and the number is rising fast.

President Obama will never again have to face the voters.

President Obama continues to oppose marijuana legalization.


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28 Responses to “More casualties in the war on drug-using Americans”

  1. Gravatar of Dan Dan
    8. December 2013 at 06:42

    Couldn’t agree more…great post.

  2. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    8. December 2013 at 06:48

    It’s the next great triumph for social liberalism, I hope. Ten years ago, I’d never have expected how strongly homosexual marriage would sweep over the Western World. If it takes 20 years to accomplish the same thing for ending the War on Drugs, I would be very, very happy.

  3. Gravatar of Squarely Rooted Squarely Rooted
    8. December 2013 at 06:58

    That Obama cannot face the electorate again is exactly why he should NOT lead the charge against prohibition from a political standpoint. Were he to announce today an about-face on the issue, not only would he polarize the issue, squelching any incipient anti-prohibition sentiment in the GOP, he would also set back potential progress in his own party, since his own expulsion from electoral politics as a candidate makes him a low-cost foil for members of his own party seeking office.

    Those seeking an end to the foolish, awful drug war regime should be pressuring candidates for federal office from both parties to turn away from reflexive support of the status quo while pressuring the White House for mitigation. Obama has used his pardon/commutation power less than any modern comparator; that is shameful and should change immediately. Additionally, the President could very publically order federal law enforcement to devote no resources to prosecuting marijuana use in Colorado, and that he has not should invite strong critcism from partisans of all sides.

  4. Gravatar of Tommy Dorsett Tommy Dorsett
    8. December 2013 at 07:12

    Scott, slightly off topic, but relevant:

    If ~4 NGDP growth is lowering the unemployment rate ~0.70 percentage points per annum, will steady NGDP growth from here on out ultimately drive the UR below the natural rate? Or will an eventuall rising w/NGDP as the labor market tightens stop the UR from falling below the natural rate?

    P.S. Krugman has a new secular stagnation post up that seems to reason from a deleveraging and confuses AS with AD. I think you need to stage an intervention.

  5. Gravatar of Geoff Geoff
    8. December 2013 at 07:24

    Given that there is a drug war, rather than be ideologues, we should consider advocating for a stabilized rate of increase in drug busts, say 4.5% the rate of increase in the population. Call it NGDBLT, or National Gross Domestic Drug Busts, Level Targeting.

  6. Gravatar of Ashok Rao Ashok Rao
    8. December 2013 at 07:45

    My kids will probably cringe when reading Eric Holder’s chapter in history.

  7. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. December 2013 at 07:50

    Squarely, As you say, at a minimum he should do what he can from a Federal law enforcement perspective.

    Tommy, Unemployment should fall to the natural rate, then level off.

  8. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    8. December 2013 at 08:05

    Well…in addition to his drug offenses the guy was convicted of trespassing, petty theft, burglary before he stole his step-father’s gun. Does he really sound like the kind of guy we should want out roaming the streets.

  9. Gravatar of Matt Matt
    8. December 2013 at 08:21

    @Patrick

    So you really think that a sixteen year old kid that was convicted of trespassing, petty theft and burglary should be sent to prison for life? That seems incredibly harsh and over the top to me.

  10. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    8. December 2013 at 09:10

    Ironically, had President Obama gotten caught when he was Saltzman’s age at the time of the latter’s possession offense, he would not now be President:

    “Obama, by all accounts, was a habitual drug user in high school. He tried cocaine, he admits in Dreams From My Father; he “tried drugs enthusiastically.” The Chicago Tribune reported back in 2007 that Obama thanked the “Choom Gang” in his high school yearbook; “chooming” was Hawaiian slang for smoking pot. The Honolulu Advertiser reported that Obama’s senior portrait “prominently displayed … A package of ‘Zig-Zag’ rolling papers and a matchbook.” One of Obama’s close friends was arrested for drug possession during high school.

    In his memoir, Obama talked about routinely getting high. “Junkie. Pothead,” he wrote. “That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man.” But, according to Obama, he only got high because he was contemplating deep matters: drugs could “push questions of who I was out of my mind.”

    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/05/10/Obama-High-School-Drugs

    The current official government policy on marijuana legalization can be found here:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/marijuana-legalization

    I don’t find the argumentation on that site persuasive, particularly the argument that legalization would make marijuana cheaper and therefore increase usage. While they also argue that it would not raise much revenue, it strikes me that legalization combined with taxation would likely not reduce the price. Even if it did reduce the price, I seriously doubt that price is currently an obstacle to anyone who wants to smoke marijuana (or use most other illegal substances).

    That said, one should not overlook the fact that the authority to criminalize (or de-criminalize) marijuana use and possession is primarily a state matter. And, there are (at least) two issues here: criminalization of marijuana use (and other “personal offenses” and habitual offender laws, including “three strikes”. The latter is a state issue as well.

  11. Gravatar of Mike Sac Mike Sac
    8. December 2013 at 10:47

    I wish Obama did support legalization though at least he’s not going after the states that have legalized pot-Colorado, etc.

    Even if the public is opening up to the idea, Washington has not caught up-it’s hardly the case that the House GOP is supporting it. If Obama proposed anything like this tomorrow Darrell Issa would probably start a new phony investigation.

    Most in both parties assume that politics are against legalization or decriminalization at least at the national level. At the state level there are some positive developments in Colorado and NY, et. al. Hopefully NYC’s new liberal mayor Blasio who’s married to a black woman will do something positive in this regard.

    Vivian are we really going down this road again of calling the President a junkie? So was W-who was less supportive than Obama on relaxing the war on drugs. If Obama tomorrow talked about pot legalization no doubt Breitbart’s friends would be smearing him all over the place quoting this book ad nauseum. It’s thanks to the GOP in Congress that we won’t get a relaxing in the policy any time soon.

    That’s likely the real reason the President can’t even consider things like legalization or decrimnalization-the political environment is so poisonous.

  12. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    8. December 2013 at 17:06

    “Vivian are we really going down this road again of calling the President a junkie?”

    No, Mike. Nobody is calling Obama a Junkie. The words quoted were from his own Memoir—-“Memories of My Father” (the clues were the quotation marks followed by “he wrote”). Perhaps you want to take it up with him?

  13. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    8. December 2013 at 18:10

    I know those are exceprts from the book he wrote-this admirable candor on his part hasn’t stopped many from slandering him with his own words.

    I don’t judge him worse for what he wrote here-do you? However, this is my point: how can you expect him to push strongly for legalization when Breitbart nation will immediately go down this road?

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. December 2013 at 18:38

    Not much to add here. Focus should be on the awful law. I suppose another President in Obama’s shoes (from either party) would probably be making the same mistake. The voters really are ahead of the politicians on this.

  15. Gravatar of War On Drugs – Page 3 War On Drugs - Page 3
    9. December 2013 at 04:31

    […] Re: War On Drugs More casualties in the war on drug-using Americans TheMoneyIllusion […]

  16. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    9. December 2013 at 07:50

    ‘…slandering him with his own words.’

    Of all the goofy things Mike Sax has written here (and on his blog), that has to take the cake.

  17. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    9. December 2013 at 07:55

    ‘So you really think that a sixteen year old kid that was convicted of trespassing, petty theft and burglary should be sent to prison for life? ‘

    Read the excerpt, he was 22 when he was sentenced to life. After a life of crime, victimizing others. Would you want the guy living in your neighborhood?

  18. Gravatar of jj jj
    9. December 2013 at 08:13

    Patrick, now you’re slandering Mike with his own words. This slandering has to stop! Don’t quote me on that.

  19. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    9. December 2013 at 09:21

    Well using someone’s own words can be slander in the wrong context. What I meant is simply that he had the openess and candor to admit he’s done recreational drugs and now eager beavers from Breitbart Nation hold it up as proof he’s a bad guy. Would you prefer to lie as W-and Clinton did.

    I agree with Scott. The law needs to change whoever is President. My point is that at least Obama has not interfered with the new states that have passed legalization so that is a good development.

    Again, I agree that the War on Drugs is a travesty and needs to stop.

  20. Gravatar of Doug M Doug M
    9. December 2013 at 09:33

    We must stop declaring wars we cannot win.

    The first criteria before going to war should be: “What will be the criteria to declare vicory.” If we don’t know what winning is, how can we expect to win! Once we have define victory, we can determine if fighting is in the national interest and weigh the cost against the benefits, and the strategy to secure victory.

    This goes for “real” wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan as well as “moral wars” such as the “war on drugs” the “war on terror” and the “war on poverty.”

  21. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloom Vivian Darkbloom
    9. December 2013 at 09:56

    Mike,

    Space here doesn’t allow a full blown course on defamation tort law; however, just for starts, “slander” is when someone utters actionable language orally. Libel is the word you are looking for when the supposedly objectionable language is written. An easy mnemonic device to remember this is that libel is literary and slander is spoken.

    Since you’ve shown such a keen interest in the subject, I just thought I’d pass that along.

  22. Gravatar of Michael Michael
    9. December 2013 at 10:13

    Scott wrote:

    “Squarely, As you say, at a minimum he should do what he can from a Federal law enforcement perspective.”

    He has done some, through the Justice Department, on the reprehensible mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

  23. Gravatar of Chuck E Chuck E
    9. December 2013 at 11:30

    to Doug M.
    WELL said!

  24. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    9. December 2013 at 12:04

    Pat, the punishment should fit the crime. You’re attempting to justifying an unjust sentence with an attack on the man’s character rather than basing your argument on his actions. You have absolutely no idea what sort of character this person has, only a few tidbits of actions he committed. Does he have any children? If so, what sort of father was he? How did he treat his friends and family?

    Honestly, it’s pretty low to condemn somebody as a bad person without putting any thought into these questions.

  25. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    9. December 2013 at 15:33

    The fact that he’s had numerous brushes with the law doesn’t give me any clue as to his character?

  26. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    9. December 2013 at 16:38

    Too bad there isn’t a political party focused on repealing drug laws and NGDP growth. I think the key is to change society’s values first. Just look at the way society’s views on gay marriage changed over the last 20 years. 20 years ago people like Ellen Degeneres were in the closet and today they are married. Ending the war on drugs will need some good spokesmen.

  27. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    10. December 2013 at 11:48

    Legalization plus taxes that guarantee price floors would lead competition towards increasing quality.

    I wonder what your average agribusiness hater would say if those same companies put their expertise at work away from row crops and into other kinds of plants.

  28. Gravatar of jad rahim jad rahim
    11. December 2013 at 02:57

    great post! : )

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