Momentum is building in Texas to reduce possession of less than a gram of cocaine from a state jail felony (six months to two years in state jail, day-for-day) to a class A misdemeanor (up to a year in county jail, with time off for good conduct); 16 of 22 Harris County felony court judges publicly support the reform (Brian Rogers in the Chronicle) —

“The ‘War on Drugs’ isn’t working, and we as judges realize it,” [Judge Mike] McSpadden said. “And the public realizes it.”

Judge McSpadden has been on the bench for 26 years; he knows whereof he speaks. This position is not new for him, but the public support of 15 other felony judges is. Most of Harris County’s professional criminal bar — prosecutors and defense lawyers — know that he’s right. One particular politician, however, does not; she needs more time to study the problem:

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said the problem is multifaceted, and she is studying the best ways to solve the problems associated with drug abuse, including pre-trial diversion and residential treatment centers.

She said she was looking at the “big picture” and noted that Class A misdemeanors could still involve jail time, which wouldn’t help jail overcrowding, and that small drug arrests lower other crimes in neighborhoods.

Lykos also pointed out that any drug user contributes money to criminal empires, including drug lords in Mexico and terrorists worldwide.

“Anyone who uses illicit drugs has blood on their hands,” she said.

Yes, it’s a multifaceted problem. But WADR, in her 27 years as a judge and retired judge in government service, Pat Lykos has had plenty of time to study the best ways to solve the problems associated with drug abuse.

Changing an offense from a felony with a minimum of six months in jail to a misdemeanor with a maximum (accounting for good time) of six months in jail will help jail overcrowding. That’s not some vague political theory, it’s mathematics.

I’ll give Pat Lykos her last two points — that small drug arrests lower other crimes in neighborhoods, and that users of illicit drugs have blood on their hands. But arresting people for class A misdemeanor possession of cocaine, police are still making the small drug arrests that lower other crimes in neighborhoods.

More importantly, though, the blood that cocaine users have on their hands and (largely) the other crimes committed by illicit drug users are the result not of the use of drugs but of the use of illicit drugs.

Cocaine is just a chemical. It has no more and no less moral weight than any other chemical. It’s bad for you, but treat it like other chemicals that are bad for you — like ethanol or high fructose corn syrup — and it’s just another commodity. Outlaw it, though, and threaten government-sanctioned violence against those who possess it, and you create a black market with its attendant dangers, among which is the use of violence in aid of security and market share.

I’ve known drug lords in Mexico. They’re not making money because
they’re trafficking in something intrinsically valuable or inherently immoral, but because
they’re trafficking in something with a value artificially inflated by
government. Legalize cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine,
and the drug lords are out of business. (When was the last time you heard of gangs
killing each other over alcohol territory? Have you ever heard of
Seagram’s giving money to terrorists worldwide?)

So who’s responsible for drug violence? Not only those in the stream of commerce, but also those who support the creation of the black market: those who write and enforce the laws that make drug production, transportation and sales so lucrative.

Reducing cocaine possession from a felony to a misdemeanor is not going far enough. As long as some drugs are illegal, it’ll be both profitable and unregulatable to traffic in them. In the discussion of whether cocaine possession should be felony or misdemeanor, the “blood on their hands” argument has no place.

If all those with blood on their hands for making drug dealing profitable were to be convicted of felonies, a lot of judges, prosecutors, and legislators would be serving time.

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0 responses to “J’accuse”

  1. Patty is speaking in political spin talk. She is very good at that. I hope this passes, but don’t have much confidence. Getting the judges to support it is a very good start. Too bad Patty won’t let the line troops give their opinions. I happen to know many of them would express support. In addition, the media ought to talk to narcotics cops, many of whom would be frank about the ineffectiveness of current tactics.

  2. State jail felonies are a monument to our government’s drug war hubris. The change to misdemeanor punishment would only reflect the reality in courtrooms across Texas. In Kaufman county I get better plea offers on state jail dope cases than on DWI.

    Every thinking person in our state knows this isn’t working. If we could only convince the political class.

    On a side note- I can imagine that county governments are going to balk at the prospects of paying to incarcerate these defendants. Shifting from state jail to county jail is going to represent a huge influx of new bodies to feed/house/medicate etc.

  3. Stretching things a little to say that a user of cocaine has ‘blood on their hands’ such that they should be culpable for that blood…

    If Pat thinks they should be, I hope she doesn’t wear diamonds – or cheap (sweat shop) clothing – or use oil – or etc…

    I absolutely agree that users of drugs should be educated in the ‘blood’ which each gram costs; but they are no more culpable for it than any consumer of a whole raft of products.

    In relation to the ‘legalise’ argument – would you say this is something which is a real possibility over there?

    • I think that legalization is going to happen here one way or another: either the politicians are going to realize that the WOD is destroying us, or we’re going to run out of money to prosecute it.

  4. I absolutely agree. And this line of thinking is very similar to the line of thinking that leads to the conclusion that the political and corporate class is responsible not just for the blood spilled over the war on drugs, but also for the blood spilled in most run-of-the-mill homicides, too, since criminologists and sociologists understand wealth and income inequality (and instability in the poor, more generally) to be the predominant cause of violent crime.

    In other words, most homicides can be prevented by moving towards socialism for all (i.e., stabilizing the everyday lives of the poor, as by guaranteeing housing, mental and physical health care, food, etc.), as opposed to socialism for the rich and powerful only (i.e., ludicrously high military expenditures (a means to subsidize business), bailouts of Wall Street, banks, auto corporations, etc.), and it is a conscious decision on the part of the political/corporate class not to do this. Ergo, a choice has been made to have a high violent crime rate instead of a low one.

  5. PJ–Has socialism really reduced crime in France, Germany, Spain? Go visit “Le Zone” in Paris and explain that away. Resentment never seems to die off.

    I fear your diagnosis and prescription are overly simplistic.

  6. Hi Mary,

    The answer is yes, although you are correct that it is not quite as simple. (For example, intolerance and marginalization of certain classes, e.g., Muslim immigrants, by the dominant political class can undoubtedly create problems that may result in criminal violence.) Nevertheless, criminologists and sociologists (and even economists) have identified wealth/income inequality to be the predominant cause of violent crime like homicide (including gang violence).

    All of the places you have mentioned have much deeper and more widespread social welfare programs than the US, lower Gini coefficients, and, surprise, much lower homicide rates (by orders of magnitude). Of course, all are still rank capitalist countries with entirely too much inequality and too little social welfare (hence the ultimately unacceptable violent crime rates in all of them).

  7. “When was the last time you heard of gangs
    killing each other over alcohol territory?”

    You have a point. The last time you heard about gangs killing each other (and sometimes innocent people) was during prohibition. So, in your aside, you sort of re-enforce that fact (if in fact you meant it as an aside).

    Although I do not believe anyone should use prohibited substances, I find the whole “reefer madness” approach to drugs to be Orwellian. The thought that if you make these drugs ‘legal’ and then the streets will be littered with addicts is a dream IMO. People will try drugs if they are willing, they will not if they are not willing. Never have I heard of nor seen someone smoking ‘grass’ pull a gun on someone and make them smoke.

    This is not to say that we should be scrapping criminal penalties for the use of illegal drugs, but something more fitting should come in to play. Drunk Drivers are regularly let off without much more than a suspension, and a fine. Even when they injure someone, they still get away with minor scars respectively. But getting caught with just over an ounce of the big three will land your butt in the pokey and a whole new girlfriend. That is completely silly.

    The entire criminal system really should be overhauled, regardless of crimes involved. There are some that should remain classified as overtly heinous and should be regarded harshly, but a good 90 % of the felony statues should be looked at and re-done. That goes for Murder, sex offenses, violent acts, drugs, drunk driving, etc, etc. Do that, and you will be able to cut prison populations, while keeping the very dangerous behind bars.

    Just the 2 cents of someone passing through.

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