A Prohibitionist in the Legalizers' Den

Today Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, gave a talk at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in New Orleans. No drug warrior of Costa's stature has ever before agreed to speak at this gathering (which is held every other year by the Drug Policy Alliance), so he scored points for courage just by showing up. His tone was good-natured, even jocular, and he displayed admirable patience with the scattered hecklers who apparently could not bear to hear him out without loudly expressing their displeasure. Costa, an economist, was much more intellectually honest than the average U.S. drug warrior, which was scary as well as refreshing.

Although his office devotes much of its attention to source control, Costa conceded that eradication and interdiction will never have a lasting impact on drug consumption, since new sources inevitably will appear as long as there's a demand for psychoactive substances. Even while citing the violence and disorder associated with the drug trade as a reason to discourage use, he admitted that shootouts between dealers in Baltimore and chaos in Latin America are products of the black market created by prohibition. He tried to find common ground with his audience by emphasizing "prevention" and "treatment" over law enforcement, and this tack drew a few rounds of applause. He conceded that the "drug-free world" of U.N. propaganda posters will never be realized.

At the same time, Costa took it for granted that a drug-free world is desirable, and here is where he lost most of the audience. Likening drug use to hunger, poverty, AIDS, and sexual slavery, he said none of these problems is likely to disappear anytime soon, but that doesn't mean we should stop fighting them. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the idea that drug use is not inherently bad, let alone that it can enhance people's lives. Notably, he included alcohol and tobacco on the list of substances whose use ideally should be eliminated. So for all his apparent reasonableness, Costa struck me as more of a fanatic on the subject of drugs than most government officials in the U.S., who typically concede that alcohol can be (and usually is) consumed responsibly, while falsely insisting that's not true of the currently illegal drugs. 

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  • Bong Hits 4 Jesus||

    That dude needs to get smoked up.

  • ||

    Good for him for showing up.

  • jimmydageek||

    Notably, he included alcohol and tobacco on the list of substances whose use ideally should be eliminated.



    I wonder if he really believes that or if he was just heading off the "...what about alcohol and tabacco..." crowd since there's no real good argument as to why those should be excluded.

  • jimmydageek||

    ...and not the rest...

  • ||

    "Likening drug use to hunger, poverty, AIDS, and sexual slavery, he said none of these problems is likely to disappear anytime soon, but that doesn't mean we should stop fighting them."

    Way to compare a voluntary, victimless act with involuntary illness and being po' foke. I'm surprised he didn't mention all the orphan crack addicts in the streets looking for another fix.

    BTW, how much money is being spent on the 4 scourges he mentions compared to the war on some drugs?

  • fyodor||

    Damn, he MUST have a vice....caffeine?? Step away from the coffeepot, Mr. Costa......

  • ||

    "A drug free world." That doesn't make any sense. Like all drugs or just the enjoyable ones?

  • ||

    At the same time, Costa took it for granted that a drug-free world is desirable
    As far as I'm concerned, that's like taking it for granted that a music free world is desirable.

  • ||

    Damn, he MUST have a vice...



    Being a jack-booted busybody. That's my anti-drug.

  • Episiarch||

    how much money is being spent on the 4 scourges he mentions compared to the war on some drugs?

    You know, as much as I agree that it's absurd that some drugs are legal while others aren't, the use of the term "war on some drugs" bothers me. Not because it's wrong, but because it's got to be annoying to the drug warriors, and I swear just to shut you up they'll just say "let's include them all in the WOD, then!" They're much more likely to declare war on everything than to come to their senses.

    "A drug free world." That doesn't make any sense. Like all drugs or just the enjoyable ones?

    Yeah, what about Viagra, Mr. Costa? You're looking a little old and droopy.

  • ||

    Good for him for showing up, despite the fact he sounds like a sanctimonious prick.

    And folks, the only drug hes on is Incarcerex.

  • ||

    """"Notably, he included alcohol and tobacco on the list of substances whose use ideally should be eliminated."""

    America is about the ban, not the freedom.

  • Hmmmm||

    And people call Dr. Paul's ideas insane....

  • ||

    Ok, I'm half kidding.

  • ||

    Does anyone remember the drug debate back in the 1980's? I think Michael Kinsley (SP) or George Will was the moderator. William F Buckley was arguing on the legalization side. It was good. The legalization side kicked their butts as I vaguely remember. I do remember the moderator at the end saying something like. "We all need (or could use) a drink".

  • ||

    he admitted that shootouts between dealers in Baltimore and chaos in Latin America are products of the black market created by prohibition.

    I don't understand how he can concede this and then not advocate some sort of liberalization.

    Milton Friedman said the Drug War cost us as many as 10,000 homicides per year. Now, I'm pretty sure that as good an economist as this guy may be, he's no Milton Friedman.

    So I'm wondering: how can this drug war be worth thousands of extra homicides per year?

  • ||

    Is it just me or does he look like Michael Caine?

  • ||

    At the very least, it's notable this dialogue is taking place in public forums. Has anyone attended any of the DEA vs. High Times debates over the years? Also, living in the Denver metro area, we can certainly applaud the recently approved resolution as a sign of progress.

  • ||

    Likening drug use to hunger, poverty, AIDS, and sexual slavery, he said none of these problems is likely to disappear anytime soon, but that doesn't mean we should stop fighting them.

    Does he really believe drug use is comparable to these other problems? I don't know. But on the UNODC link provided it outlines what his job requires him to fight against. Those include, AIDS, human slavery, organized crime, terrorism and illegal drugs. So of course he's going to link these problems together. Is he a rabid drug warrior or a simple bureaucrat justifying his duties? In the end, does it matter?

  • Cliche||

    Carrie Nation in a coat and tie.

  • ||

    I wonder if he really believes that or if he was just heading off the "...what about alcohol and tabacco..." crowd since there's no real good argument as to why those should be excluded.

    Those substances have a long history of use in western society. The other drugs are used by other cultures and are thus wrong for America.

  • ||


    Those substances have a long history of use in western society. The other drugs are used by other cultures and are thus wrong for America.


    Yup. Don't want those chinks smoking opium to take our jobs, the negroes using cocaine to rape our PureWhiteWomen, or especially those Marihuana-using beaners./sarcasm

    "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."-Harry J. Anslinger, first "Drug Czar"

  • ||

    TrickyVic

    Does anyone remember the drug debate back in the 1980's?



    The one I remember had Ted Koppel as moderator. I think it was on ABC in about '92 or 3. I'm not sure if it's the one you're thinking of.

    The pro-legalization side had Buckley, Geo Schultz(?), Kurt Schmoke(google and you'll find an interesting guy IMO) and someone else.

    The antis were Newt Gingrich, Charley Rangel, Pat Schroeder (won't somebody think of the children?) and William Van Raab (he resigned as Commissioner of the Customs Service because Bush I was soft on drugs).

    The antis came up with some howlers. Van Raab said that Holland's murder rate was higher that the US's because of their permissive drug policy. When he was called on it he said, "I didn't say that".

    Pat Schroeder basically said, "I don't really want anyone to go to jail, I just want to save the children". And for some reason the woman always looked like she was on the verge of breaking into tears.

    Charley Rangel as good as said that drugs were just another way the man oppresses the brothers.

    Peter Jennings hosted an ABC Special around 2000 that was pretty favorable to legalization, or at least liberalization.

  • ||

    This should stand as a reminder that while we sometimes get the impression that other countries have more liberal drug policies the difference tends to be superficial.

    The means of dealing with "THE PROBLEM" might differ but from where I sit it looks like everyone basically agrees with Mr Mackey.

  • ||

    Costa conceded that eradication and interdiction will never have a lasting impact on drug consumption, since new sources inevitably will appear as long as there's a demand for psychoactive substances.

    But, we're not going to change a damn thing about the way we operate. That wouldn't look good on the budget requests.

    Have a nice day.

  • ||

    The only way for a drug warrior to be consistent is to advocate prohibition on alcohol and tobacco.

    That policy is considered to have been an absolute failure by all but for a few nuts.

    Sooooooooo...in order to be anti-legalization you have to be either entirely inconsistent or a nut who wants to ban alcohol.

    Once the UN rids the world completely of drugs, will they then start ridding it entirely of gambling and casual sex as well?

  • Ventifact||

    Notably, he included alcohol and tobacco on the list of substances whose use ideally should be eliminated. So for all his apparent reasonableness, Costa struck me as more of a fanatic on the subject of drugs than most government officials in the U.S., who typically concede that alcohol can be (and usually is) consumed responsibly, while falsely insisting that's not true of the currently illegal drugs.

    One could easily argue tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than marijuana. But then again, weed has always been feared because it makes people act funny (though not dangerous*), not because it's addictive, destroys lungs, causes cancer, breaks families apart, brings dads home looking for something to punch...

    * dangerous to social order maybe

  • Ventifact||

    So, as we libertarians tend to be forced to realize, consistency can appear to be "fanatic[al"] -- but it's something subtly different. Radicals can make more sense than a typical person.

    "Radical" = "root" so it's a bit funny that it has come to mean "fringe" as well; it refers to adherence to a core, a center.

    If substances are harmful, even when used willingly and knowingly, he is being less narrow-minded than most Americans by acknowledging that the drugs we are comfortable with (cigarettes, booze, and maybe even comfort food?) should not get special "protection" (to indulge in the liberal mindset that societal components exist only by governmental exclusion from the overall pruning process that bans things we want to evolve beyond).

  • ||

    Those substances have a long history of use in western society. The other drugs are used by other cultures and are thus wrong for America

    .. jeez, Juanita, it's like you're not even trying anymore!!

    .. Hobbit

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    What an asshat. It's like inviting a member of the Earth Liberation Front to a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Starbucks.

  • the UN||

    Once the UN rids the world completely of drugs, will they then start ridding it entirely of gambling and casual sex as well?

    gambling: yes
    casual sex: no

  • LarryA||

    So I'm wondering: how can this drug war be worth thousands of extra homicides per year?

    Drug Warrior: "They're just druggies. No real loss."

    Yeah. The debate was over lunch. That's an exact quote.

  • Brian Sorgatz||

    Thanks to this event and all the intelligent people who made it happen, we now know more precisely where the miscommunication lies.

  • ||

    I'm just curious, but does anybody have a transcript of this? or a link to a trascript?

  • ||

    "Damn, he MUST have a vice...

    Guys like these are usually found dead of auto-erotic asphyxiation wearing a rubber wet suit with a dildo inserted in the nether-regions.

  • Senor Mota||

    Guys like these are usually found dead of auto-erotic asphyxiation wearing a rubber wet suit with a dildo inserted in the nether-regions.

    I think I saw that on South Park, but I was really stoned

  • ||

    "Guys like these are usually found dead of auto-erotic asphyxiation wearing a rubber wet suit with a dildo inserted in the nether-regions."

    Zig Zag Man - Most humorous comment - because its so often true!

  • allan||

    Bottom to top... CurseOfLono... check the DPA website, I know CDs will be available.

    And in response to KingHarvest re the Stutman/Hager travelling sideshow... rrr... debate... nope, never been, never will. Thats a for-profit event, not about drug policy reform. imho

    And yes, props to Costa for showing up. About time their side started making public appearances where they can be asked unscripted questions. Now, if they'll (DFAF, DPFA, ONDCP...) ever open up their blogs to public comments...

  • ||

    I don't want to fight the drug war any more than Hit and Run does, but do they HAVE to keep making broad claims about how the vast majority of illegal drug users are responsible?

    The argument in favor of freedom does not hinge on this claim, and thank God; I know so few responsible drinkers, and it generally gets worse when you move to the illegal ones.

  • Scalia is a Federalist?||

    I attend a prestigious law school and I can assure you I've come across many responsible drug users, though they're also very discreet

  • ||

    Costa would be a prime candidate to hit with my "fundamentalist" argument, namely that if the First Amendment gave us the right to put what we want into our heads, wasn't it an oversight on the part of the Founders to not have an Amendment giving us the right to put what we want into our bodies.

    Ruthless

  • GILMORE||

    the scattered hecklers who apparently could not bear to hear him out without loudly expressing their displeasure.

    this is a bad thing for people who want to debate & challenge controversial policies. I have often repeated that people should mock & repress the 'diehards' on their own side as well as the opponents, in some effort to let the forces of reason to at least get a chance do their eventual work.

  • ||

    Jacob says that Costa seemed genuinely sure that drug use was/is a bad thing.. this immediately made me think of his age. I have met this man several times in my activist travels over teh last seven years. I think one thing that must be acknowledged is that a) he is old - in his 60's and b) he is a dedicated careerist, so he will say whatever fits in with his current career role
    It was good to see a write up about this as I 've been sat here in London wondering about it for hours. Cheers and solidarity to all other reformers at the DPA biennial (or not, like me:-()
    Andria E-M
    www.usersvoice.org.uk

  • ||

    I don't want to fight the drug war any more than Hit and Run does, but do they HAVE to keep making broad claims about how the vast majority of illegal drug users are responsible?

    It refutes the notion that drugs will inevitably wreck your life, and points up the horrible arbitrary waste of sentencing people for their choice of entertainment.

    Why wouldn't we want to make those points?

  • Robert||

    Notably, he included alcohol and tobacco on the list of substances whose use ideally should be eliminated.


    I wonder if he really believes that or if he was just heading off the "...what about alcohol and tabacco..." crowd since there's no real good argument as to why those should be excluded.


    Could be. But there may be just as many drug prohibitionists who secretly want to ban alcohol & tobacco too, but to mollify the crowd for the time being state that alcohol & tobacco are acceptable.

  • Matthew||

    I watched the speech here in New Orleans and I thought the "legalizer" audience was generally respectful and attentive. Generous with applause and light hearted with the heckling. You can't say "Drug aren't dangerous because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are dangerous," to this crowd without getting some groans.

  • Duckman||

    I'm impressed this guy had the integrity to both appear and be logically consistent in regards to his views on alcohol. It is a huge hypocrisy that cannabis is not at least las legal as alcohol.

    Unfortunately, this is the mentality that caused the drug war and which must be fought. Defending the idea that it is someone's RIGHT to have something "bad" happen to them if they so choose isn't going to have as much traction as actually demonstrating that responsible drug use is possible and that it is not always "bad" to enjoy using drugs.

  • ||

    This should stand as a reminder that while we sometimes get the impression that other countries have more liberal drug policies the difference tends to be superficial.

    You're probably right, but that said, most other countries do not seem to conduct "wars" on psychoactive substances.

  • ||

    Yes, ChrisO, the rhetoric is different, but the meaning is the same.

  • ||

    Isaac, what I meant was that other Western nations don't seem to put the same effort into enforcing their prohibition laws that we have since Reagan took office. Maybe I'm just poorly informed, but I don't hear about lots of drug-related SWAT activity in Europe. Besides the U.S., I associate that more with places like Singapore.

  • ||

    ChrisO

    America sees it as a police problem while other countries see it as a social problem.

    Their attitude is like Pat Schroeder's ("I don't really want anyone to go to jail, I just want to save the children"). People still end up in jail.

    Other countries are just fortunate that their cops are not assholes like American ones.

    The flipside is that Americans are fortunate that their cops don't have the kinds of power that cops in other countries have.

  • Elemenope||

    A friend of mine worked for a stint in a local Alaska DA's office, and he told me that the DA once told him that if he could have his way, Marijuana would be completely legal and Alcohol would be banned. He reasoned that of all the cases that crossed his desk that represented real threats to life, liberty, and public order, (rape, assault, abuse, impaired driving, etc.) a ton of those cases involved alcohol intoxication and none of those cases involved marijuana intoxication.

    Of course, this is Alaska, and they are already too sensible on the topic of Marijuana...

  • John Chase||

    Years ago on the West Campus of Valencia Community College at a symposium to discuss legalization I saw male drug police "front" gentle drug treatment women to speak for them.

    It is easy for men like the avuncular John Walters and Antonio Maria Costa to advise us not to use drugs. They play the role of the gentle women I listened to at the Valencia CC.
    What we need to hear is prosecutors and undercovers defending their work.

  • ||

    Alcohol use should ideally be eliminated? What a puritan! Ideally everyone should act responsibly is more like it, and taxes on alcohol and other drugs should be high enough to provide for ample (and well thought out) education and treatment strategies. Realistically, why can't he see that the war on drugs is doing far more damage than the drugs themselves, a current example in the news being these musicians getting murdered in Mexico (another one just got it), and also makes it harder to deal with the damage caused by drugs by driving users underground, and creating so much hatred by seeking to ruin people's lives over drug use, most pathetically by wantonly f---ing with people over marijuana.

  • ||

    Ok, so pot=good, maker's mark=good.

    Juanita=Troll=not good.

    Please people, walk by fast, don't look at them, and never, ever feed the trolls.

    (Kool424=lurker and occasional speaker of truth)

  • ||

    For every person I know that should never smoke a puff or drink a drop I know at least 25 that can do so in moderation. So, I would argue that "they HAVE to [absolutely] keep making broad claims about how the vast majority of illegal drug users are responsible?"

    What other way would you use to convince people that in fact, the vast majority of drug users, legal or illegal, are responsible?

  • ||

    Costa seemed to have come there to score a few points. I also fear he was looking for tidbits that could be used in a future disquisition on the subject, maybe even to marginalize anti-WOD leaders. He thought he could use jokes to diffuse our righteous anger. And it seemed to work. But the man has a temper, and I saw it.

    At the breakout-session he and his deputy - a former head of the INCB who was much more reasonable than Maria - attended, I sat next to him but one seat. And the dude was getting pissed. He reacted to some points with anger in his voice and in his face. He said, "Lift the stone that is any addict and you will find a nest of snakes," and that shit really pissed me off.

    There is no working with this guy. He must be overcome like all of them. I would have liked to see him debate the Brazilian Justice who said she foresees a world without prisons, without punishment. There are qualified people out there to take these jobs as they evolve over the death of Prohibition. We don't have to talk to them. They didn't talk to us when their star was on the rise and they had unmitigated power and turnabout is fair play. I think it was a mistake to allow this man to sully such a wonderful conference.

  • Alison Myrden||

    I see people are actually having a civilized conversation about drugs here. Kool424 makes a great point.

    For more information about all drugs and the need to regulate and legalize them and get them away from our children, drop by our website at www.leap.cc

    Here's an exert from 1980 US - The Facts About Drug Abuse. The Drug Abuse Council:

    "Psychoactive substances have been available throughout recorded history and will remain so.

    To try to eliminate them completely is unrealistic."

    For more information on eliminating prohibition and legalizing and regulating ALL drugs please drop by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely,


    Alison Myrden
    Speaker for LEAP
    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
    http://www.leap.cc

  • brentandrews||

    Dr. Costa is to be commended for attending the conference; that took real courage. I enjoyed his speech. He did get some jeers from the audience but he got his share of cheers, too. It's encouraging that he wants to talk to those of us on "the other side" of this war.

  • Custom Nike Dunk||

    thanks

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