George Floyd, the War on Drugs, and Psychedelics
Good Morning, welcome to The Trip Report for Wednesday, June 3rd.
I apologize that The Trip Report is not bringing you updates, news, and analysis of the psychedelic space today. I just have not been able to follow psychedelic related news this week, I have no idea what is going on. Friday’s pro dispatch will be a huge roundup.
But, I want to keep my promise to readers to publish so we’ll examine a pertinent, and topical, issue and I hope to lay out the beginning of an argument to convince the unswayed among us that by operating in psychedelics it would behoove us to end the Drug War as a public and social health measure.
Everyone in this space is leveraging the science that shows psychedelic agents have the potential to counter mental, emotional, behavioral, psychiatric conditions (whatever you want to call it).
We point to the rising numbers of depression, PTSD, Addiction as our raison d'etre.
However, to champion psychedelic medicine on the one hand and fail to champion the measures that could resolve and prevent so much psychological and emotional anguish especially in minority and underserved communities on the other is inconsistent.
The murder of George Floyd offers the chance to examine the incentives that the Drug War perpetuates when it comes to the police’s relationship with black and poor communities.
Hopefully, connecting just a few dots can be compelling enough for psychedelic entrepreneurs to support policy efforts that would disincentivize the police from needing to involve themselves with drug-related matters.
The negative mental health effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have been well leveraged to highlight the need for advancements in treatment options.
I hope to convince you that we should consider current drug policies in this same light, that is they cause pain, anguish, and trauma. People will need to heal from their impact and they need to stop.
Improving treatment options on the one hand and abolishing the War on Drugs on the other serves to treat AND prevent instances of mental and emotional illness.
In the spirit of iterative sense-making, the below is by no means exhaustive, far from it, and it is likely flawed in some ways but it is the start of organizing some ideas around this topic, one that will be with us until it is changed.
Tasking the police and law enforcement with monitoring personal drug use leads to antagonistic interactions with the public. These interactions are largely based on suspicion of drug possession and suspicion is highly correlated with race, an illegal practice that continues unchecked.
Terry Stops, named after the 1968 Supreme court case Terry v. Ohio, are instances in which police can detain someone based on “reasonable” suspicion.
“To have reasonable suspicion that would justify a stop, police must have "specific and articulable facts" that indicate the person to be stopped is or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is a vague term and the Supreme Court concluded it should be decided on a case-by-case basis.”
Also called pretextual or investigatory stops, these are the initiating circumstances for many interactions between police and minorities. ‘Stop and Frisk’ and Racial Profiling are common terms.
Often suspicion of drug possession is the justifying reason for these stops and based solely on race.
Attorney and legal scholar Jonathan Banks:
“The “pretextual” or “investigatory” stop is a common police tactic to investigate potential criminal activity—particularly drug possession and trafficking—in situations where there is no legal reason to suspect a crime is occurring…
Police are incentivized to initiate unnecessary contact with pedestrians and motorists, and they do so most often against ethnic and racial minorities. Such over‐policing engenders resentment among minority communities and jeopardizes public safety.”
The manner of approach that police officers take in these situations is often aggressive and antagonistic so as to intimidate and subordinate those who they apprehend. This, in turn, incites fear, agitation, resentment and leads to a greater degree of violence.
Jonathan Banks again:
“American policing today has become increasingly aggressive and, at times, even predatory. Policies and tactics have evolved to make police contact more confrontational. In so doing, they have increased the chances of violence and fatal uses of force. This has been particularly true of efforts aimed at fighting the Drug War.”
If drugs are de-escalated or decriminalized these interactions will change.
There is less incentive to conduct stops and there is less hostile interaction between cops and the community.
When we understand that drugs are the solutions that people have found to problems and pain rather than the cause of problems it lessens the burden on law enforcement to be involved. When law enforcement isn’t involved in policing drug use they can allocate their time and energy more effectively.
In policing there is something called Civil Asset Forfeiture in which the police can confiscate money or property without pressing criminal charges.
A practice that the Institute for Justice calls ‘Policing for Profit’ that incentivizes law enforcement to engage with black and minorities at a higher rate:
“Civil forfeiture laws pose some of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation today, too often making it easy and lucrative for law enforcement to take and keep property—regardless of the owner’s guilt or innocence…
The seeds of forfeiture abuse were sown in 1984 when Congress expanded federal civil forfeiture laws and created a financial incentive for law enforcement to forfeit property. Before then, all forfeited cash and proceeds from forfeited property had gone to the general fund of the U.S. Treasury. But starting in the mid-1980s, forfeiture revenue instead went to a newly created fund controlled by federal law enforcement.”
This incentive is truly perverse since confiscated cash and property goes directly to the police and unfortunately the practice is largely carried out against black and minority people
There is even a cottage industry training police officers in best practices for identifying high-quality leads, engaging in order to search vehicles, and confiscating cash found.
As this article highlights, minorities are over-represented:
“Nearly two-thirds of seizures of cash by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies come from blacks, Hispanics and other racial or ethnic minorities, an Oklahoma Watch analysis of high-dollar forfeiture cases in 10 counties shows.
The findings suggest to some critics of the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws that officers are using racial profiling, even subconsciously, in deciding whose vehicles to search or money to seize. Advocacy groups and some lawmakers argue forfeiture practices violate civil rights and allow police to take assets without a conviction or even filing a charge.”
This practice is directly linked to the Drug War since drug sales cannot be charged to a Visa card and forces people involved to carry unusually large amounts of cash.
Pedestrian and vehicle Terry stops are justified by the War on Drugs and the incentive to remove criminals from society for petty offenses and confiscate cash. These investigatory stops are carried out aggressively increasing the likelihood of violent altercations.
As long as the federal government is hell-bent on the ‘drugs are bad, drugs are dangerous’ narrative and ignore scientific evidence that most of the effects of drugs are positive and that addiction is a solution to mental and emotional pain, that is a medical condition, not a criminal offense society is fucked and poor, black and minority communities will bear continue to be targeted.
The events that precipitated this past week of demonstrations, rioting, and looting could certainly be viewed as a Black Swan event, one that comes as a surprise has a major effect, and changes everything. However, the incentives that drive police behavior towards the black community make George Floyd’s death terrifying, sad, and tragic but inevitable.
A major lever in addressing the issue of systemic racism and the marginalization of black and minority communities is the current prohibitionist stance on drugs.
If we want to be consistent with our missions of improving the mental and emotional health and wellbeing with psychedelic therapy and medicines we need to address “the mechanisms through which these tragedies occur.”
Helpful Links and Resources
Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform (Beckley Institute)
The War on Drugs Has Made Policing More Violent
War on Drugs Policing and Police Brutality
The Institute for Justice: Policing for Profit
Thanks for reading,