A while ago I wrote a post about how progressives and other leftists make pretty flakey allies on drug reform issues.
Jacob Sullum has a post today at Reason illustrating the same problem.
Today Tom Marino, the Pennsylvania congressman whom Donald Trump nominated to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, withdrew his name because of a bill he was publicly bragging about just a year and a half ago. That bill, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016, was uncontroversial when it was enacted. Not a single member of Congress opposed it. Neither did the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or President Obama, who signed it into law on April 19, 2016. Yet Marino's sponsorship of the bill killed his nomination because of the way the law was framed in reports by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post.
Here was a bipartisan bill without any congressional opposition. It limited the DEA’s power to keep people away from their pain medication. Thank goodness for that. But the Washington Post and 60 Minutes decide to spin this story about a sinister industry-sponsored bill that limited the DEA’s power to prevent the opioid crisis. “Simpleminded narrative” indeed. If “opioid epidemic” means heroin users accidentally overdosing on fentanyl, that is the DEA’s fault to begin with. Giving them more power to harass pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t help anything. In fact it would almost surely make the problem worse. If people could buy pharmaceutical grade heroin from a licensed dealer, this rash of overdoses would not have happened in the first place. By cracking down on dealers and disrupting the market, the DEA is making the dosage of street heroin unpredictable.
The Tom Marino thing is really a non-story, but here’s what I think is actually happening. These guys are willing to side with the DEA, against pain patients and their doctors, in order to sink Trump’s nominee and embarrass his administration. And they’re willing to tell this “evil pharmaceutical companies are bamboozling naïve patients into taking medicine they don’t need that’s actually bad for them” narrative. Shame on them. The leftist worldview assumes that mere “bigness” grants large companies power over their customers. This makes meaningful drug reform almost impossible, because leftists will try to hold companies (drug manufacturers) responsible for the misdeeds of their customers. I think most leftists are at least nominally in favor of "ending the drug war" and instituting harm-reduction policies. None of this will work if they start berating the first company that sells pure heroin because some fools use it recklessly, become hopelessly addicted, or take way too much and overdose. A stable, legal drug market is necessary if we want to implement meaningful harm reduction. If legal suppliers immediately see themselves on the wrong end of firm-wrecking wrongful deaths suits and theatrical grillings in front of congress, that's not going to work. This "blame the supplier" ideology obliterates the responsibility of the individual. It destroys the very concept of self-ownership, the notion that we have sovereignty over our very bodies. It also indulges a particularly toxic brand of economic populism.
I'd gladly be part of a political coalition for drug policy reform, even if it included people who I profoundly disagree with. But if it means signing on with people who are poised to sabotage any actual progress in order to score some cheap political points (and I think dumping on the Marino bill counts as a shining example), count me out.