Sunday, March 29, 2009


(Almost three years ago, I ran this photo with the following news story. Decriminalization of drugs is once again in the news, as President Obama gave an unqualified "no" to the town hall questioner who asked if he would consider decriminalizing marijuana- the #1 question on the online poll of questions to ask the President.)

“There’s nothing good about drug use. We know it. It destroys individuals. It destroys families. Drug use destroys societies. Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. And the laws are good because we know what happens to people in societies and neighborhoods which become consumed by them. And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up. What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. Too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff. The answer to this disparity is not to start letting people out of jail because we’re not putting others in jail who are breaking the law. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too.”

- Rush Limbaugh, speaking on his syndicated radio talk show, Oct. 5, 1995.

“MIAMI, -- Talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh surrendered to authorities Friday on a charge of committing fraud to obtain prescription drugs, concluding an investigation that for more than two years has hovered over the law-and-order conservative.

The charge will be dropped in 18 months, said his attorney, Roy Black, provided that Limbaugh continues treatment for drug addiction, as he has for 2 ½ years. According to an agreement with the Palm Beach County state's attorney's office, Limbaugh also must pay $30,000 to defray the costs of the investigation, as well as $30 a month for his supervision.”

Washington Post, April 28, 2006.

Annual Causes of Death in the United States:

Tobacco 435,000
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,000
Alcohol 85,000
Microbial Agents 75,000
Toxic Agents 55,000
Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,347
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs 32,000
Suicide 30,622
Incidents Involving Firearms 29,000
Homicide 20,308
Sexual Behaviors 20,000
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,000
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,600

Marijuana 0


If you want to provoke a conversation at a gathering, suggest that the best way to deal with the drug problem in America is to legalize drugs-- and give away the most addictive drugs for free. You’ll get a stunned gasp, an awkward silence, then a huge negative visceral reaction as if you have just suggested putting a drug dealer in every third grader’s classroom.

The sad truth is that we already have drug dealers in school classrooms. And on street corners. And in suburban homes. And in office buildings. And so forth.

Why? Because government has created the incentive- a huge incentive in most cases- to capitalist entrepreneurs willing to risk a few decades in the slammer for the privilege of selling a product for which the government has granted them a near monopoly status.

We have addicts who are prostituting themselves to get the money to buy crack or heroin. Addicts who will steal from their parents or other relatives, pawn the items, and use the few bucks to buy crack. Addicts who will burglarize homes or stores, shoplift, or mug pedestrians to get the money for drugs.

We have drug wars between gangs in inner cities. We have cartels and huge drug dealing criminal enterprises in the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia, in Afghanistan, in the plateaus of South America. Resurging Taliban in Afghanistan, previously wholly opposed to the poppy trade which put heroin in the veins of American addicts, are now financing their terrorist operations from the drug trade in that war torn country.

We have hundreds of thousand of American citizens locked up in our prisons, costing them their freedom and sometimes their lives, whose only crime is to fall prey to the inner demons of the chemical imbalances of their brains. We have AIDS and hepatitis being spread by shared needles of heroin users.

My solution? One that will destroy the drug cartels, end official corruption, free addicts from jail, free the rest of us from being victims of crimes ranging from check forgery to convenience store robbery, and save countless lives and tens of billions of tax dollars.

Legalize drugs. All of them. And give the addictive drugs away for free.

Yes, give away addictive drugs for free. But not in the way you might think at first blush.

Build a structure near the local hospital. The building will have a “Door A” and a “Door B.” Door A is the door an addict knocks on to get any addictive drug he or she desires. As much of it as he or she desires. But the drug has to be administered there (with clean needles and safe product) and used there, and the addict can’t leave while high. While high, he or she will have a room to sit or lie in, with movies or videos to watch. Or Music. Brownies. Whatever. And they can have all the dope they want- can overdose to death if they want. Because we can’t save addicts. Only they can try to save themselves.

Which is where Door B comes in. Door B is treatment. Rehab. Support groups. Al Anon and Narcotics Anonymous. The latest in techniques and technology to wean addicts away from addictive drugs like Crack and Heroin.

The money currently being wasted on locking up addicts, on police, on border security, on international military efforts in a futile effort to roll the rock back up the mountain- all of that will be redirected to buying up the poppies, the coca leaves, the prime cash crops in countries from Afghanistan) to Peru.

The result will be the end of the spread of diseases from illegal drug use and from prostitutes selling themselves to get drugs. The end of victimless crimes crowding our prisons and bankrupting our taxpayers. The end of drive by shootings by gangs to establish who has the right to wheel and deal drugs on city blocks. The end of hypocrisy as nicotine and alcohol abusing politicians bark about cracking down on drug related crime by ratcheting up punishments.

It’s a trip all right- a trip towards sanity.

And the non-addictive drugs? Ecstasy? Marijuana? We decriminalize them, tax them, sell them.

Oh yes. You’ve got to be 18 to be a drug user- same as with cigarettes. And I won’t be complaining if the age limit for all such toxic substances is raised to 21.

My proposal isn’t far fetched. It will work. And it will happen- guaranteed. Not this year, next year, or ten years from now. But 20, 50, 100, 500 years? At some point, sanity will prevail. No doubt about it. How much are we willing to pay until then?


(Following are two e-mails I received- names removed to protect their privacy- after a shorter version of the above ran in my hometown newspaper, Johnstown, Pa.'s Tribune-Democrat)

Dear Attorney Finkelstein,

Your op-ed piece in today's Tribune-Democrat is extremely well written and will hopefully prove enlightening to many readers. I share your views on legalizing drugs.

I would add one additional point to your argument. The Department of Defense's United States Southern Command (, which is based in Miami, is a regional combatant command engaged in counter-drug operations on a 24/7 basis. Our country has thousands of military men and women tied up in a losing battle, the so-called "War on Drugs." This war has yet to yield positive results, despite having squandered millions of precious man-hours and billions upon billions of dollars on the problem.

Keep up the fight!

Best Regards,

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret), U.S. Army
Johnstown, PA

Dear Mr. Finkelstein,

I read the article that you wrote, that was published in The Tribune-Democrat on April 2, and I wanted to take a moment to applaud you for making such a bold suggestion. For years, it has been my contention that the government could not only save a great deal of money, but possibly make a great deal of money, by decriminalizing drugs. Let's face, after spending billions, of tax payers dollars, on their war on drugs, there is still a major drug problem in this country. The government needs to wake up and realize that as long as there is a demand for illegal drugs, there are going to be people who are going to be willing to risk life and limb, and, as you noted, jail time, to fill that demand. What the government needs to stop and think about is: if they approached this situation correctly, they could make probably make a great deal of money for the sale of legalized drugs.

Hopefully, some of the politicians in Washington, and elsewhere, had the opportunity to read your article and will take heed of the advise that you offered. Personally, I think it's a damn good solution.


Friday, March 06, 2009


It's time to save the wasted billions of dollars while providing better health care- and here's how to start...

As the old joke goes, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Unfortunately, if President Barack Obama intends to reform the nation's health system by that method, the odds are against him. Unlike budget compromises where it is possible to find a middle ground, health care reform requires an Alexander willing to cut the Gordian Knot without wasting countless months trying to unentangle it. If he is serious about improving services while cutting costs, there are a few simple- but bold- moves that President Obama can and should initiate as soon as possible without waiting for compromise from those fighting to maintain the status quo.

First and foremost, we need a national health insurance that will cover catastrophic illnesses. Pick an arbitrary figure- say $5,000- and every family's annual medical bills that exceed that amount will be paid in full by the government. In one stroke this will free Americans from the fear that an illness or accident will swallow a lifetime of savings, cause them to lose their homes, and ultimately bankrupt the breadwinner(s). It will also free employees and persons with pre-existing illnesses from the fear of losing employer provided group health insurance at the same time that it tremendously reduces the overhead for businesses which are paying billions for it. To pay for the system, a national sales tax as low as one or two percent would ensure that all Americans (we all consume goods) are paying into the system without the political baggage of the ugly sounding "mandated coverage" that predominated the debates between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during the primaries.

Second, we need to institute a single payer system that will ensure that doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers are paid promptly, in full, and from one source. There is simply no excuse for having a health care payment system which is so complicated that doctors offices and hospitals have to hire numerous clerical employees just to negotiate the current overlap of Byzantine insurance plans and government benefit programs. Every American citizen will be issued a health payment card to use for all medical services, including prescription medicine, and the government will be the middle man making the payment to the provider. Medicare and Medicaid will be eliminated. If any person doesn't have insurance, then he or she will be responsible for paying the bill in full, in one payment or over time, with low interest rates. Any unpaid bills would be recouped from the following year's tax refunds and by replacing the current medicare tax in payroll withholding with payments on the card. This would be similar to an ordinary credit card system-- except that the government won't be summarily jacking up interest rates or flooding your mailbox with more credit card applications.

Third (and this is coming from a plaintiffs' trial lawyer), we need to eliminate all medical malpractice lawsuits and replace the current tort system-- which requires proof of negligence which caused harm to the patient-- with a no-fault system that will not require lawyers or lawsuits. The system will be similar to Workers Compensation insurance, which pays workers injured on the job preset amounts for certain injuries regardless of fault. All medical malpractice and liability insurance for doctors, hospitals, and drug companies will be eliminated, freeing doctors to practice in any specialty, including ob-gyn, without the crushing overhead of insurance premiums which have far outstripped settlements and awards paid by insurance companies. The no-fault system will be financed by a one percent tax on all medical services and goods, most of which are currently untaxed. The analogy is to the old flight insurance where a passenger paid $1.00 for $100,000 in flight insurance. If the plane went down and the passenger died, his heirs got $100,000 without having to prove fault of the airline or airplane manufacturer. Instituting a national no fault system would result in tremendous savings from the tens of billions of dollars currently spent on insurance costs and unnecessary defensive medicine.

These are three simple, yet effective ideas with virtually no downside. To the naysayers who shout "Socialism" (much like Marty Feldman invoked the name of Frau Blucher in the movie Young Frankenstein): we already have socialized medicine in this country in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, and hospital emergency rooms which have to treat all injured or ill who show up. These ideas, if implemented, would still leave people free to choose their doctor, their medical provider, and the course of treatment they deem best, without having to be overseen by avaricious HMO's or insurers which restrict access to certain physicians, hospitals, or life saving courses of treatment.

Sunday, March 01, 2009



It beats me how the national discourse on the direction of our country continually misses the obvious. The following list of proposals, some using "outside the box" thinking, is my effort to steer the conversation-- and, if we're lucky, the attentions of our Congresspersons-- away from angry chimpanzees and towards issues that matter in the real world:

1. Food stamp programs henceforth will provide only healthy foods. All food stamp eligible products will be computer coded and available for purchase with a food stamp card with the user's photo. No more buying expensive ribeyes, sugar laden sodas, or junk with food stamps- but users will get fruits, vegetables, whole grain foods, and rice-- and generic (the least expensive) brands of foods.

2. Normalize relations with Cuba. There is no downside.

3. Sunset all federal agencies and programs (including all military contracts and weapons systems) and all federal employees except constitutional officers every 10 years. Every program/agency will have to be re-authorized by new legislation no sooner than 5 years and no later than 10 years after the last re-authorization.

4. Give Congressmen and Senators $1 million each every year for every $100 billion they reduce the budget deficit in that year. The taxpayers will save $100 billion for each $535 million spent- a good return on that investment.

5. Eliminate all bribes- a/k/a campaign contributions. No candidate can ask for them, no lobbyist or private contributor can offer a candidate anything of monetary value- not a ride on a jet, a drink at a club, a round of golf, or a $1,000 a plate dinner. Publicly finance all federal elections and require all TV and radio stations to provide a fixed amount of free ad time within 90 days of elections to each qualified candidate with voters in that viewing area. Preview all TV and radio ads to any candidate attacked in them, and give him/her a free, twice as long time to run a response ad which will air immediately following the attack ad- but the candidate can be the only person appearing and speaking in the response ad. This will effectively end all of the toxic campaign attack ads polluting the airwaves every four years. Charge a reverse poll tax: $100 per year on every person who does not vote at least once that year. Put the money into the fund for public financing of all federal elections. Provide the rest of the public funding with an advertising sales tax for all tv and radio ads, with a minimum 10% federal sales tax on all ads for alcohol and cigarettes in any medium, print or electronic.

6. Every adult American citizen who wants to work will be provided a public works/public service job. There will be no involuntary unemployment. See the 1993 Kevin Kline movie "Dave" for more on this.

7. Change to publicly financed National Health insurance to cover all annual expenses for catastrophic illnesses (anything totaling more than $3,000 per family per year). Use a single payer plan for all other medical expenses, including medicine, with everything up to $3,000 paid for with a "health care" type credit card. The consumer can repay the monthly credit card bill out of his own pocket, with an insurance plan, or over time like any other credit card- but with a 5% cap on annual interest. Fund the government portion of the program with a national sales tax on all goods and services- so every one who consumes anything will be paying for his or her catastrophic insurance. This will eliminate all unnecessary administrative costs and all issues of employees needing or companies paying for job related health insurance, which will save medical providers and employers billions. It would also reduce stress on employees and their families who have now lost or are afraid of losing their medical coverage.

8. Eliminate all medical malpractice lawsuits from the tort system and replace them with a no-fault system without lawyers, based on the model of the worker's compensation program, funded by a 1 or 2 percent sales tax on all medical services and products (1% provides about $23 billion a year for the fund- more than is paid out right now in the entire country in malpractice awards). This will keep doctors from leaving any specialty because of malpractice insurance. It will eliminate unnecessary defensive medicine and will save billions in overhead for physicians, hospitals, and drug companies.

9. Post all awards from the no fault fund on the internet, organized by doctor, hospital, kind of injury suffered, and dollar amount of payout from the no-fault fund, but confidential as to patient. This will inform patients of problem doctors and problem hospitals far better than the current tort system, which frequently uses confidential settlements with no admission of wrongdoing even in egregious cases of malpractice.

10. Legalize all drugs for adults. Prohibit the private importation and sale of formerly illegal drugs, but have the U.S. Government buy up the coca crops in Latin America and the heroin/poppy crops in Southeast Asia, and eliminate all of the middlemen. Tax marijuana like cigarettes, but all addictive drugs will be given away for free. Users must use them only in a controlled environment-- a plain cinderblock building next to the hospital which has a door A- get high- and a door B- drug rehab. The addict has to stay in the building until he/she is no longer high, but can come as often as he/she wants. Because the drugs are free, this will eliminate 99.9% of all drug related crime, including drug cartels, killings over drugs by gangs in the U.S. or Mexico. There will be no addicts robbing stores, burglarizing homes or shoplifting to pay for their habit.

11. Take all politics away from the tax code- except for tax rates. No more treating unearned income differently from earned income. No more deductions, no more tax credits, which are both ways of spending government money but which give political cover to the politicians, especially when they are giving government money to millionaires and oil companies. When you give a mortgage deduction on income taxes, you are rewarding owners of million dollar mansions, who may shave thousands of dollars off their taxes, while middle class people save a few hundred dollars and blue collar working people who rent save nothing. If it's worth spending money on, do it out in the open by writing a check. If we want a billionaire to get $2,000 for having two children, write him a check from the U.S. Treasury. If we want to reward rich people for getting their money from dividends and capital gains by taxing them less than people who work hard eight hours a day, then do so by writing them a check for the difference rather than excluding their income from taxes or taxing them at lower rates. Obviously, no sane member of Congress would vote to give money directly to those people for those reasons- so we'd all save, and the tax code would be so simple that a 1040 would have only 3 lines on it, including the signature line.