Donald Trump on Drugs: Election 2016, Part I

In response to Donald Trump’s sniffly debate performances over the last month-and-a-half of the 2016 presidential campaign, the Twittersphere erupted in wild speculation that the alleged billionaire had prepared with lines other than his taking points. “Notice Trump sniffling all the time. Coke user?” ventured Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, one-time presidential candidate, and, not incidentally, licensed medical doctor. Others consulted drug authorities, of a sort. Self-described cocaine “expert” Carrie Fisher told a curious fan that she “ABSOLUTEY” thought Trump appeared like a “coke head.”

Dean’s jab, relatively on par with some of Trump’s own supposed zingers, was immediately scrutinized and dismissed by commentators. But it is curious that drugs have only sporadically entered the national conversation when, in recent years, opioid overdoses – usually in combination with other substances – routinely kill about 1,000 Americans a month. Moreover, four states are voting on medical marijuana and five, including the hugely influential California, may fully legalize.

While Trump probably doesn’t toot key bumps before going onstage, it is worth considering in a serious way what a potential future commander-in-chief believes about an issue near and dear to Points readers: drug policy. What follows is an attempted breakdown of Trump’s position on the three key topics mentioned above. I say “attempted” because, like with most things, his often contradictory stance on drugs is characteristically hard to pin down.

Medical Marijuana

Sitting for an interview on the O’Reilly Factor in February, Trump displayed some surprising compassion for others after host Bill O’Reilly called medical marijuana a “ruse”: “But I know people that have serious problems and they did that, they really – it really does help them,” Trump professed.

He didn’t offer any clarifying details but said that he was “in favor of it a hundred percent.”

Of course, Trump would take no action for or against such an initiative at the federal level. “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen, right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states,” he told a Reno crowd during the primaries last year.

Recreational Marijuana

Still toeing the small-federal-government line of the party that gave him its nomination, Trump similarly left recreational weed for states to decide. I think.

During a debate last summer, he opined that “[regulating marijuana] is bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it’s bad and I feel strongly about that.” When pressed by the moderator about states’ rights to set their own policy, he verbally shrugged: “If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado – some big, big problems.” (Again, no specifics.)

Later, at the same rally he proclaimed medical a state issue, he softened his tone. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state.”

Notably, during the cultural hysteria of the crack epidemic, Trump supported full legalization. “We’re losing badly [bigly?] the War on Drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars.” When pressed about his 1990 statement last year, Trump must have misremembered. “I said it’s something that should be studied and should continue to be studied. But it’s not something I’d be willing to do right now. I think it’s something that I’ve always said maybe it has to be looked at because we do such a poor job of policing. We don’t want to build walls. We don’t want to do anything. And if you’re not going to do the policing, you’re going to have to start thinking about other alternatives. But it’s not something I would want to do.”

Opioid Addiction

Trump calls the problem of opioid addiction “tremendous.”

He may very well believe that his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border will stem the tide of heroin into the states, but traffickers are responding to demand cultivated domestically.

In any case, don’t expect any enlightened harm reduction rhetoric from a man who idolizes Vladimir Putin. Earlier this year, hardline Russian delegates to the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on Drugs insisted that that very term – “harm reduction” – appear nowhere in the resulting document outlining the contours of future global drug policy. Among the common treatment modalities in Russia are reportedly hypnosis, flogging, and comatose electroshock therapy. Unsurprisingly, addiction and HIV transmission through injection drug use are pressing social problems in Russia.

It remains unclear whether the experience of Trump’s own brother Freddy, who died addicted to alcohol in 1981, inspires any empathy for the plight of users. He did, however, give a second chance to at least one Miss USA accused of drug use.

I guess he’ll keep us in suspense!

Check back next week for part II of Point’s election 2016 candidate breakdown.

 

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“From Whence It Came”: Rethinking the Federal Role When Discussing the War on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Matthew June, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University. June’s current work studies the sources of federal power to prosecute national drug laws.

The United States has a massive prison problem. As more attention has been drawn to this stark reality, it has become equally clear that there are no simple solutions or easy explanations. Nonetheless, while many have cited the “war on drugs,” others have dismissed this as too small a part in the larger problem. Last summer a Washington Post Op-Ed argued, “ending the war on drugs would not end mass incarceration.” Taking these back of the envelope calculations a step further, Slate highlighted how reforming the federal system wouldn’t help the country’s 1.3 million state prisoners. This proposition has again come to the fore in debates over Hillary Clinton’s responsibility for the rise of mass incarceration. Arguing against such a conclusion, German Lopez of Vox recently insisted, “Federal policy is not the cause of mass incarceration” because “federal prisons house only 13 percent of the overall prison population.”

June 1

As there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics,” there are many ways to look at these numbers – especially the fact that over half of all federal prisoners are there for drug charges. While it is reasonable to note how this is only a small step for criminal justice reform, changes in federal drug sentencing could benefit nearly 1 out of 20 people under some form of local, state, or national supervision. Put another way, releasing every federal drug offender might not bring us out of the top spot for world incarceration rates, but even a five percent dent in our overall numbers cannot be dismissed. Just ask my students if they wouldn’t mind dropping from an “A-” to a “B+” and you will get a pretty good sense of how just a slim percent difference can seem mighty important to those directly affected. But this somewhat flippant re-examination of the statistics only belies a small sliver of the overall federal role in the “war on drugs” and its impact on mass incarceration. The 105,000 men and women behind bars for federal drug charges are just the most visible part of the federal role in the national “war on drugs.” And the causes and consequences of that role demand ongoing attention from scholars and others.

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Points Roundtable, “Becoming a Marihuana User”: Amanda Reiman

Editor’s Note: This week, we welcome Amanda Reiman to the roundtable on Howard Becker’s Becoming a Marihuana User. Reiman is the Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, where she works to develop DPA’s marijuana reform work as it relates to litigation, legislative and initiative drafting, campaign strategy, policy advocacy, media relations, fundraising, and public education in the local, state, federal, and international jurisdictions in which DPA is active. You can follow her work on twitter.

ReimanMarijuana prohibition is fruitless, because we have already learned to enjoy it.

Howard Becker’s seminal work, Becoming a Marihuana User, lays out the pathway to marijuana use based on the experiences of those who have used the substance. The gist of the piece is that there are three steps to becoming a marijuana user: 1) learning how to correctly ingest it; 2) recognizing the effects; and 3) interpreting the effects as enjoyable. According to Becker, if a person completes the three steps they will continue to use marijuana until they can no longer feel the effects and/or it is no longer enjoyable, at which time they will stop their use.

This theory is supported by the fact that most people who stop using marijuana do so without formal treatment. The term “aging out” is often used to refer to folks who discontinue their marijuana use once they take on the responsibilities of job and family. This makes sense in the context of Becker’s work, because he purports that changes in how marijuana use is viewed in one’s peer group and community can change the ability to derive pleasure from smoking. Indeed, today we see many people age out of marijuana use, and then return to the practice once they no longer have as many daily responsibilities and/or are beginning to feel the aches and pains of aging.

Becker is a sociologist and his work on social learning focuses on interviews with marijuana users, but there is a vital policy implication that can be derived from this work as well. According to Becker, the single driving force behind continued marijuana use is the ability to derive pleasure from it. If this is indeed the case, how could prohibiting marijuana ever be successful at reducing use? Prohibition relies on the theory that punishment influences drug using behavior. When it comes to drugs with a more serious level of dependence potential, we know this is not the case. Those experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms are not necessarily dissuaded from use because of the threat of criminal justice intervention. The data support this, as harder drug use in the United States has remained fairly stable even in light of rising financial support for the war on drugs. But what about marijuana?

Marijuana use among adults has been increasing. As Becker points out, no severe withdrawal syndrome drives use, but rather the presence of pleasure. It seems, then, that prohibitionist policies for marijuana are futile because continued use is about pleasure and shared experience, something that prohibition has been unable to influence. As laws change and marijuana use is no longer dampened by the threat of incarceration, and the market provides a wide variety of products and potencies, the experiences of pleasure will become even more common.

What are the impacts of changing views of marijuana on expectation effects? It is commonly said that in order for drug use to occur, two things must be present: predisposition and availability. Becker is critical of predisposition and likens it to an underlying desire or need to use a substance before initiation even occurs. However, if we have gotten to a place in society where the use of marijuana is perceived as a positive, healthful practice, even prior to initiation, then predisposition might be replaced with expectation. Interestingly, recent research shows that this new expectation of a positive marijuana experience seems to be limited to adults. Approval of marijuana use and use itself among young people is down. This could be attributed to the rejection by young people of what is considered desirable among adults. If this is in fact the case, and youth expectations for pleasure from marijuana are inversely related to those of adults, increased acceptance and positive expectations around marijuana use in the adult population might be the best deterrent for youth use that we have come across.

As Becker rightfully points out, in some ways marijuana itself has changed since this study was first conducted. Advanced cultivation techniques and the threat of arrest have resulted in higher potency strains (think Moonshine during alcohol prohibition). However, in states that now have legal marijuana systems, we are starting to see lower potency strains and products come back into fashion, especially among those who are re-initiating use after aging out. It would be fascinating to replicate Becker’s study today to assess the evolution of becoming a marijuana user.

 

The Death of Marilyn Monroe and the Birth of “Drug Abuse”

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by contributing editor Matthew June, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University. You can follow him on Twitter @Users_Abusers.

For the past four decades, the concept of “drug abuse” has been the foundation of American drug policy. As many drug researchers know, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov) provides the scholarly basis for national drug programs. Since 1970, government assessments of potential for abuse have determined the legal status of all drugs. Focused on declarations of “war” against drugs, we have often failed to appreciate how this concept of drug abuse is neither timeless nor politically neutral. In fact, the idea was rarely used before the early 1960s and owes its sudden popularity to a confluence of events surrounding President John F. Kennedy in the summer of 1962 – including the suspicious death of Marilyn Monroe from an overdose of barbiturates that same year, on August 5.

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Happy Thanksgiving from Points!

Happy Thanksgiving, Points readers!

It’s been quite the year. Since relaunching Points in April, we’ve seen enormous changes in drug policy and the social and legal discussions surrounding drug and alcohol use. We’ve been able to contextualize many of these changes historically, as well as discovering new and unique ways to integrate alcohol and drug use into larger historical discussions.

We asked our stable of contributing editors what they were most thankful for this year, and here are some of their responses.

– From Amy Long: “I’m thankful that the FDA stood up to media hysterics and resistant lawmakers by refusing to back down from its approval of pure-hydrocodone pain medications Zohydro and Hysingla. The issue remains complicated, but pain patients will undoubtedly benefit from additional treatment options.”

– From Michael Durfee: “I’m thankful I have white skin.  My privilege allows that I will not be routinely perceived as potentially threatening or criminal.  My privilege assured that my youthful misadventures did not lead to punitive pathways or limit my future opportunities.  My pigment has meant that I do not fit the ‘drug courier profile’ and will not be pulled over or pushed against a wall and frisked by police.  I am hopeful, but frightened by numerous recent events and all too much history that my son will not be able to enjoy such luxuries.  When he is born, I will see a young boy, the fruit of a white father from Buffalo and a black mother from Ghana.  Law enforcement may see something entirely different.”

– From Nicholas Johnson: “I’d say that I’m thankful that this year I got the opportunity to study in Berlin and explore the international side of the history of intoxication. I’m also thankful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to blog for Points about some lesser-known aspects of WWI.”

– From Trysh Travis: “I’m grateful that, after two years on ice, when I finally got the wherewithal to write something again, I had a venue and an audience waiting for me at Points.”

– From Claire Clark: “I was also glad to see Michael Botticelli, the acting director of ONDCP (aka ‘drug czar’), who is in abstinence-based recovery himself, open the tenth National Harm Reduction Conference a few weeks ago (http://harmreduction.org/blog/drug-czar/). Just one of many recent signs of the growing public awareness that there are many different approaches to drug-related health problems, and routes to recovery.”

– From Kyle Bridge: “It sounds a bit clichéd but I’m thankful for time with my family over the holiday season. Particularly my mother, whose long career in drug offender probation probably influenced my interests more than I realize, and whose knowledge, resources, and contacts continue to aid my work.”

– From me, Emily Dufton: “I’m grateful to live in Washington, D.C., a city that is recognizing the racial effects of prosecuting marijuana possession crimes. As a historian primarily of marijuana’s social and legal policy, I look forward to being able to witness firsthand our country’s next experiment with decriminalization and legalization. I am also grateful that, at this moment at least, it seems as though we are learning from our mistakes of the past, and are moving forward with legalization in a sustainable, safe and sane manner.”

As my fellow managing editor Claire Clark put it, “It’s nice to look at the bright side of drug policy for a change!”

Happy Thanksgiving Points readers! We are grateful for you!

picture-of-turkey

Why Is Marijuana Illegal? A Historical View – Part Two

Why is marijuana illegal? Do a quick internet search and you’ll find a series of generally related answers: racism, fear, corporate profits, yellow journalism, ignorant and incompetent legislators, and bureaucratic preservation. Almost all of these are also tied to one man: Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962. While these issues are critically important to consider, they help explain only portions of our nation’s marijuana prohibition story. Indeed, in part one of this series I examined the origins of cannabis regulations dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. These state level statutes demonstrate a clear, historical precedent for medicinal cannabis legislation in the United States, driven by the concerns of medical doctors and pharmacists seeking both their own professional authority and consumer protections in the marketplace. My objective is to suggest that these early developments demonstrate a far longer and more complex history of cannabis regulation than most existing versions of the story suggest, especially those readily available on the internet. It’s not that those internet versions of marijuana prohibition are entirely wrong; it’s that they often sustain a sensational narrative that misses critical components of this longer history and the original scholarship from which they are derived.

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