Saturday Morning with Gil

I was able to attend the media presser this morning following Jay Inslee’s meeting with Office of National Drug Control Policy head (and former Seattle police chief) Gil Kerlikowske. The meeting was about legislation being pushed by Inslee to promote the safe disposal of prescription drugs, an initiative that I support. During the Q&A, I was able to ask our “Drug Czar” about the situation in Mexico:

Lee: President Obama is going to Mexico this weekend to meet with Mexican officials – and they’re dealing with an enormous organized crime problem fueled in big part by American consumption for marijuana. I’m wondering why is the equation for dealing with the problem different than it was in the early 30s when dealing with alcohol? Why isn’t setting up a regulated market the right way to go?

GK: Well, because they’re criminals and they’re terrorists. And they are creating huge amounts of havoc.

Lee: What I’m saying is…

GK: Let me finish. [One part is that anyone looking] at prohibition doesn’t realize the crime suddenly ended or changed drastically before or after. The other part is, we see with these criminal narco-terrorists and the violence that they’ve done that suddenly they’re not going to change and say “you know what? I think I’ll get a job out in the field growing potatoes”. They’re going to continue to be criminals and terrorists.

Lee: But how are they going to, can I follow up to this? How are they still going to still make money if we’re not buying marijuana from them?

GK: Extortion. Kidnapping. Theft of auto parts. Etc.

I was relying on my MP3 recorder, so I missed a few words of Gil’s second answer, so the part in brackets is a paraphrase from memory, but there were a number of video cameras there, so I’ll try to update as soon as I can. The general point he’s making here is clear though. And he’s making an invalid assertion. Crime rates did change drastically as a result of alcohol prohibition. Homicide rates steadily increased throughout the 1920s to much higher levels than before, and then began decreasing again within a few years after prohibition was repealed in the early 1930s. What makes these statistics even more extraordinary is that you’d think that the Great Depression would have had the opposite effect on those numbers.

Kerlikowske is right that the criminal organizations in Mexico aren’t going to just give up. But neither did the other criminal organizations that once benefited from alcohol prohibition. During the 1920s, they used their position in charge of Chicago’s thousands of speakeasies to control city government:

Chicago was a “wide-open” town. Police and judicial corruption were so widespread that the Better Government Association petitioned the United States Congress to intervene in the internal affairs of the City, stating that its leaders were in league with gangsters and that the city was overrun with protected vice (Woody, 1974:136). The alliance between corrupt government and organized crime was made clear by Big Bill Thomspson’s return to City government. Promising that he “was as wet as the Atlantic Ocean”, Thompson was returned to the Mayor’s Office in 1927 with strong support from Chicago’s criminal element (Nelli 1970:232). In fact, a number of Capone gangsters reportedly worked in Thompson’s campaign headquarters (Wendt and Kogan, 1953:269). It is also said that Capone, himself, donated $260,000 to Thompson’s reelection fund (Hoffman, 1989:2). With the advent of Thompson, Capone returned to the Levee, setting up headquarters in the Metropole Hotel at 2300 S. Michigan and in 1928 one block north at the Lexington Hotel. Speakeasies and vice again flourished in the First Ward, but they were not under the control of Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin (Wendt and Kogan, 1974:351). Vice remained strictly in the hands of the Capone syndicate. In fact, the Aldermen were called into Capone’s office and told that their future would depend on their usefulness to the Capone organization (Nelli, 1976:191). To this Coughlin was said to have replied, “We’re lucky to get as good a break as we did.”

After alcohol prohibition ended, these groups didn’t just disappear either. But without the ability to control a commodity as popular as alcohol, they had to resort to prostitution, racketeering, and other narcotics, trying to maintain this level of influence they had during the prohibition era. I’ve never encountered anyone who believes that ending alcohol prohibition didn’t allow for law enforcement to have more success in fighting these groups and to weaken their grip on our government.

Well, maybe I just did. Kerlikowske seems to think that ending marijuana prohibition won’t help in our effort to defeat Mexico’s drug cartels. And he appears to justify it by saying that ending alcohol prohibition didn’t help in our efforts to fight organized crime syndicates. It certainly did, even if it took a number of years for the power of those groups to diminish. Mexico’s drug gangs make billions of dollars per year from American marijuana consumption. There’s simply no way they can recoup that level of income through extortion or stealing car parts. Setting up a regulated, legal market for marijuana will be a major blow to these groups, and it’s time that the Obama Administration start to seriously consider it.

Comments

  1. 2

    watcher spews:

    Setting up a major, legal market for mj is a major blow to the jobs and funding of Kerlikowski and others in the antidrug industry. Their are addicted to the public dollars for salaries, offices, cars, bugs, computers, forensic specialists, cops, overtime, pensions, prosecutors, jail construction, guards, more pensions and so on. Plus they get to go on TV sometime.

    Like bear at a good salmon stream, they can find someone to bust whenever needed to keep up the p.r. campaign that supports them.

    So, stop reporting their views like they’re

    Stop reporting their views as if they are disinterested experts. They’re participants with a financial stake and they don’t want to lose it.

    In this light, it’s in his interest to be dumb and ignorant about the real facts of ending prohibition. It’s not a innocent error he made, it is a calculated one…his job depends on not telling the truth that ending prohibition lowers the corruption and social and public costs. So, he calculatingly doesn’t inform himself the way you bothered to, and instead spreads all kinds of erroneous infomration that are in his interest to spread.

    Really, this is like the WMD charade all over…their could be a RISK….BE VERY AFRAID….WE HAVE KNOWLEDGE THAT THERE’S SOMETHING DANGEROUS unless you suport our war, and so on.

    Their goal is to fuel this war, not to win it. That, too, would result in them not having jobs.

    Just like good grizzlies won’t wipe out the never ending salmon stream.

  2. 3

    spews:

    @2
    One of the more interesting parts of the presser (which if I can find a clip of, I will post), was Snohomish County Sheriff Jon Lovick discussing how sad it was that so many people are in his jails for low-level drug offenses. It never occurs to them that the problem is that they blindly accept that jail is the proper place for drug users.

    You’re right, none of them will ever admit this, but you have to keep shining the spotlight on them so that they recognize the political damage to this charade.

  3. 4

    ArtFart spews:

    Uh….Lee? LEE????

    Gil Kerlikowski’s job, as specifically defined by the law that created it, prohibits him from saying anything favorable about any of a long list of “controlled substances”, nor advocating any relaxation of their prohibition or the enforcement thereof. Gil no doubt knew that when he took the job, so you shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his attitude.

  4. 5

    Gordon spews:

    I don’t want to sound too conspiratorial. But don’t you think the drug war special interests are still rife in our government? Maybe, not as many bootleggers in our government. But there are certainly a lot of inertia bound interests that stand to lose a lot if we decriminalize drugs.

    I have been thinking about this problem a lot lately. Turning over the switch overnight isn’t going to be easy. We have too much infrastructure and entrenchment with the drug war. The cartels would lose a lot of course. But if the American government, or various state governments became the defacto cartels under a legalization regime then that is a double whammy. The foreign drug cartels lose out, and also all the local interests lose their Raison d’être (DARE, police organizations, prison systems, etc).

    I think for the good of our country we need a way to figure out a way to pay these domestic interests off. How do you train DARE officers and prison guards into drug rehabilitation nurses and staff?

    Anyway, good analysis Lee. I always enjoy reading your drug war posts.

    William Burroughs’ character in Drugstore Cowboy was right.

    “Narcotics have been systematically scapegoated and demonized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict in the near future right wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to setup an international police apparatus. I’m an old man, and I may not live to see a final solution of the drug problem.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnjiZ58WgXU

  5. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Some social policies just don’t make much sense. (Letting Republicans vote, for example.) I suspect if they outlawed fucking, people would fuck anyway. I know rabbits would!

  6. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    When I was in Vietnam, you could buy a joint for a nickel (5 cents, not 5 bucks), and a kilo of Thai Gold cost $5. Them were the days …

  7. 9

    spyder spews:

    GK’s syllogism was faulty (and was it intentionally so?). His apparent suggestion that if we legalize some drugs (that war on some drugs certainly allows lots of drugs to be passed around your country) then organized crime will do other bad things. This is so DUH!!! The label drug cartels has been applied to criminal enterprises to reduce the acknowledgment that what are in place in Mexico (and all over the planet) are hundreds of extraordinarily powerful non-government syndicates seeking to control their own economic, social, and political power through militarized action. Organized crime syndicates will use whatever economic capital is available to maintain their territorial and political power and these include: drugs, weapons, money laundering, fraud, corruptions, etc.. Of course legalizing marijuana won’t end the behavior, it will only change the tool set. To suggest that we can’t legalize it because the tool set would change is uttering blatant stupidity.

  8. 10

    zdp 189 spews:

    I enjoyed that post, as someone who lived in Chgo quite a few years. I was told the mafia-types were still somewhat active as late as the 60’s, but slowly faded, and the only mafia-types I ever ran across were making their money from sports betting. They had been supplanted by younger gangs, mostly black & latino, who were much better at purveying drugs.

    It makes me wonder what might have happened if booze had stayed illegal and drugs not. Would our jails be filled with Italian-Americans, and black & latino kids expected to grow up to become lawyers, teachers, mechanics, etc. like any other group?

    Maybe we don’t realize how much of our racial disharmony can be traced to the war on drugs.

  9. 11

    manoftruth spews:

    well, i guess this shows the hatred and division in this country. i think pot should be legalized too. but i’ll still want to say…fuck you lee…jeez i guess someone created an unbridgable gap

  10. 12

    Phil M spews:

    As Director of ONDCP, Kerlikowske is required by law to oppose legalization efforts:

    By law, the drug czar must oppose any attempt to legalize the use (in any form) of illicit drugs.[5]. According to the “Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998″[6] the director of the ONDCP

    (12) shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that– 1. is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and 2. has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;

    Application of Anti-Lobbying Laws to the Office of National Drug
    Control Policy’s Open Letter to State Level Prosecutors,
    B-301022, March 10, 2004[7]

    Finally, apart from considerations of whether any particular law has been violated, you have asked whether the Deputy Director’s letter disseminated misleading information in connection with statements relating to the debate over legalization of marijuana. Clearly, the Deputy Director’s statements reflect one perspective regarding marijuana-a perspective that is disputed by others with different viewpoints. However, ONDCP is specifically charged with the responsibility for “taking such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use” of certain controlled substances such as marijuana /11/ -a responsibility which logically could include the making of advocacy statements in opposition to legalization efforts. /12/ The Deputy Director’s statements about marijuana are thus within the statutory role assigned to ONDCP. Given this role, we do not see a need to examine the accuracy of the Deputy Director’s individual statements in detail. /13/

    In “The Drug Czar is required by law to lie“, Pete Guither suggests that this will require Kerlikowske to lie about the situation:

    If the government finds that marijuana Has “currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” or “accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision,” then by law, marijuana cannot remain in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which would immediately legalize it for medical purposes.

    But by law, the drug czar must oppose any attempt to legalize the use (in any form).

    Therefore, despite the fact that there is extensive evidence of medical marijuana’s safety and effectiveness (including the fact that even the federal government supplies it to patients), and clearly the drug czar would know about all this information, he is required by law to lie about it.

    The job description also means that since he must oppose any attempt to legalize, he has no choice but declare that the drug war is working, that legalization would fail, etc., regardless of any… facts.

    On April 2, 2003, Congressman Ron Paul wrote a letter to the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) asking for an investigation into ONDCP lobbying activities and their dissemination of “misleading information” (a polite euphemism for “lying”)

    The GAO responded (pdf):

    Finally, apart from considerations of whether any particular law has been violated, you have asked whether the Deputy Director’s letter disseminated misleading information in connection with statements relating to the debate over legalization of marijuana. […]

    ONDCP is specifically charged with the responsibility for “taking such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use” of certain controlled substances such as marijuana — a responsibility which logically could include the making of advocacy statements in opposition to legalization efforts. The Deputy Director’s statements about marijuana are thus within the statutory role assigned to ONDCP. Given this role, we do not see a need to examine the accuracy of the Deputy Director’s individual statements in detail.

    Translation: Since lying is in the job description of the ONDCP, there’s no point in bothering to see whether they’re telling the truth.

  11. 13

    watcher spews:

    you’re missing the point.

    Yes keep the spotlight on the drug war.

    But show the truth.

    The truth isn’t that there’s some kidn of legitimate good faith policy difference…that’s how you are reporting it.

    The truth is people like GK and about 400,000 other cops, prosecutors, and jail guards are part of an antidrug industry and THEY HAVE THEIR HAND IN OUR POCKETS via taxes to keep their jobs, so it’s IN THEIR INTEREST TO LIE, OR TO PUT IT CHARITABLY, TO BE GROSSLY INCOMPETENT AND PLAY WITH THE TRUTH as Gk so cavalierly did in the interview.

    the man doesn’t know the simple, simple, basic fact about ending prohibition….that it helped clean up politics….city governments owned lock stock and barrel by the mob, were no long owned by the mob! And the mob shifted out of alcohol, depriving them of a huge market!

    When YOU report this as some kind of good faith error it’s misleading. GK ought to know what the facts are. That he’s BARRED BY LAW from telling the truth means that he’s an “institutionally suspect” person.

    Not some kind of disinterested expert just struggling with facts that are “in dispute.”

    Fact: we have very little violence associated with the trade in alcohol today. We do not have gun wielding crews trading alcohol.

    Fact: we do not have governments being corrupted by alcohol market the way they were in the 1920s.

    To deny that ending prohibition had these good effects..well jeez, it’s like you’re interviewing some idiot who says the earth is flat and you go and write a long dissertation on why it’s not true.

    The man’s either an idiot or grossly incompetent for not knowing the facts or just an instutional liar.

    SAY SO.

  12. 14

    zdp 189 spews:

    well said, watcher. I always ask people, ‘when was the last time you heard of a beer truck driver getting into a shootout?’ It is one of those things so clear, that the widespread denial of it makes me fear for the future of the country.

    It seems like we have a brief window of opportunity due to the recession, and especially the state budget problems of West coast states. If CA were to legalize, it would be like a domino falling.

    If Gil K blocks the window, we might not get another chance, ever. But that is exactly what I think will happen, unless Obama decides to replace Gil as ‘drug czar.’