Friday, May 9, 2008

End The Drug War

James Gibney of The Atlantic comments on the War on Drugs in response to this story about ninety-six people arrested in a San Diego State University drug bust this week. An excerpt:

You'd have to be sucking on a doobie as big as a submarine to think our current drug-control policies work: from 1982 to 2005, the Drug Enforcement Administration's budget increased roughly tenfold, the national arrest rate for drug offenses more than doubled (from 286 per 100,000 to 600 per 100,000) ... and a dangerous drug like cocaine became dramatically less expensive. Meanwhile, busts for the possession of marijuana, which also figured prominently in the San Diego State investigation, still account for the most drug arrests in this country.

The war on drugs not only wastes law-enforcement resources, it also corrodes our respect for the law in general. Using a relatively benign drug like marijuana should become a regulated pastime, indulged in by consenting adults, much like drinking alcohol or gambling. Drunk driving kills more than 17,000 people each year, and 3 percent of the U.S. population meets the criteria for "problem gamblers." But no one talks seriously about reviving the 18th Amendment or shuttering Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Why? Because Prohibition taught us that banning such activities creates a nation of lawbreakers and a popular culture that exalts criminality. Costly, dubious, and ineffective legal strictures just end up undermining the social compact they're intended to reinforce.

His subsequent point about changing the laws makes total sense from a logical, cost-benefit analysis point of view, but it is much harder to institute in the real world. Every group that has something to gain from keeping certain drugs illegal (liquor industry, cigarette industry, law enforcement and it's attendant bureaucracy, religious groups, etc.) have arrayed themselves together against any feasible legalization efforts thus far, with organized political lobbying and tax-payer financed PR efforts doing the lion's share of the work. Until we can have an honest policy discussion on this topic minus any fear-mongering and manipulated government statistics, this war will continue to waste billions of dollars and destroy countless families and lives.


Anonymous said...

I like the way everything is a "war" these days.

We have some friends attending a local seminary. While I'm sure there are some "religious groups" that would definitely be up in arms about legalizing marijuana, our friends said they had a professor stand in front of their class and (in less direct words) tell them that marijuana should, legally, be no big deal. If alcohol is legal, what's the difference.

I thought that was pretty interesting, especially from a notable seminary.

JBW said...

It's just the difference between looking at the facts and being honest vs. believing whatever you're told.

Anonymous said...

First I agree. The War on Drugs is hype.

It should be mentioned that pot dealers and even the "legalized" clubs in some parts of the country also benefit from federal "drug prohibition".

Pot is one thing. The marijuana trade in most of the country is benign when it comes to violence. As creative and innovative ways to grow weed in myriad of different climes has dwindled the demand for import, exporters have looked to other crops for sustainability. Crops such as cocaine and heroin.

Coke and H are initially more valuable than herb just because of their respective densities. That is, you can carry more snow in your suitcase than you can tree. Cut the coke with other chemicals and make more product, bam! There is room for almost all involved to make large money.So of course and naturally sustainability turned to gross profitability. The problem is that it’s hard to get those drugs into the county. It costs lots of money to get past international law enforcement and citizens, traffickers and law officials become victims of violence.

So I guess the question really is, should just marijuana be legal, or should all drugs be legal? Some assert that the war on drugs was started to eliminate the violence and discourage use among the people. Those who adhere believe that hard line is the only way to deal with it.

What ever you may think, I think we can all agree that for the most part, a junkie is a junkie. There are some people who will become junkies one way or another. Junkies and alcoholics abused before, during and after prohibition. The only difference is that Al Capone was mowing down citizens, competitors and law enforcement during the alcohol prohibition. The people of this country enabled Capone and others to do their thing by outlawing booze. All the while the junkies were just getting loaded.

Today, our elected officials have once again opened the door for the Capone types to wreak havoc on the public. Whether you are getting loaded in a speak easy or a crack den. One thing still remains the same. Violence. The violence that is needed to get you, your fix. As we look back to the 20s and then the 80s, 90s and to the present, we can see that it clearly does not work. Illumination reveals the same mistakes repeatedly.

So now that we can acknowledge that we have failed more than once, should we try something else? What about legalizing all drugs for use and for possession with limits? Thus ending the war on drugs. Go ahead! Bring your drugs here. Don't push! Just make them available. Let it flow in to the country with out threat of legal consequences, (you know like 20 years in prison living in fear for your life or in fear of rape). The market will flood. Not only for drugs. But for guns, surveillance equipment and coffins. The prices will dive. Dealers will look for other forms of income. They might even get jobs. Farmers will look for other crops to earn. They might even grow food.

Food and jobs aside, you are enabling our youth to be users some say. Quit being an asshole. The only person that can enable a person to use drugs is that person and the people that intimately surround him or her in life. Be responsible for your self and your loved ones and you children. If you are a junkie, you’re a junkie either way.Sorry.
Also, legalizing drugs does not mean that we should stop educating our youth to the pros and cons of drugs, but keeping it legal condones obscene violence on a global scale.

Just some of my thoughts.

JBW said...

You're absolutely right that legalized clubs and dealers benefit from prohibition. When I was working for a company that owned those dispensaries, I saw two distinct types of people: people who loved cannabis, recognized it's therapeutic effects and were committed to it's legalization in order to make society a better place, and people who loved cannabis, recognized it's therapeutic effects and were completely against it's legalization because they sold it on the black market and a society that allowed people to buy it at the corner store would put them out of business.

My Libertarian side puts me in the "legalize everything" camp. Everything is already available anyway, you just have to pay vastly inflated prices and deal with sometimes violent, and usually fairly shady, characters to get your stuff.

Government should licence businesses to sell drugs to adults only and then regulate, inspect and tax the product to protect consumers from bad shit. We already have an FDA designed to do exactly that. Free-market forces will determine the actual value and prices of these items. We can then use the billions we save not incarcerating people and the additional money from taxation to focus on treatment programs for the serious addicts that can't handle themselves.

As you said, the first thing people say in reply to this idea is, "Well, if you do that, it just makes it easier for kids to get these drugs." To which I inevitably reply, "Do you really think kids are having trouble getting these drugs now? They're just unnecessarily putting themselves in danger and getting screwed on the price."

Whenever people put forth some objection to my previous job, I liked to present them with this scenario: take 10 fifteen year old boys, send each one to a grocery store to get a six-pack of beer, a convenience store to get a pack of smokes, a licensed cannabis dispensary to get an eighth of weed and a dealer on the corner to get that same eighth. Guess where these kids are going to be most successful? That's right, and the product they bring back will be more expensive than it should be and of lesser quality than those other products on a relative scale because there is no regulation to make sure the dealer isn't screwing people over. This is the system that has been put in place to protect our children.

Ultimately, the problem lies with our politicians. As things stand, they are just too vulnerable to public opinion to do anything rational about this problem; anyone who speaks truthfully on this subject is automatically labeled "soft" on drugs and crime by their opponents.

We need to have public financing of elections to free politicians from the ever-present need to raise campaign cash, establish term limits to keep them from always looking ahead to the next election and to keep societal leeches from making politics a career, and then we need to dismantle the lobbying industry altogether and remove these scumbags from our political system. After that, we need to assemble a governmental panel made up of non-partisan doctors, scientists and economists to present the American people with an honest assessment of drugs and their effects on both our physiology and economy.

When enough people have the facts presented to them honestly and people begin to discuss this problem rationally, we can start to move in the right direction and away from the current system of incarceration and punishment for what is essentially a non-violent and victimless crime. Until then, a small segment of society that has the most to lose by instituting these changes will always have the money and power to maintain the obviously broken status quo.

Anonymous said...

I have 2 questions now... and maybe a new post is in order, whatwith the length of the comments here.

1. By legalizing all drugs, do you think prices would come down far enough to eliminate demand for things as damaging as Crystal Meth? I don't know much about that stuff, but what I do know is that it's absolutely terrible.

2. quote: "Ultimately, the problem lies with our politicians. As things stand, they are just too vulnerable to public opinion to do anything rational about this problem; anyone who speaks truthfully on this subject is automatically labeled "soft" on drugs and crime by their opponents."

I understand what you're saying, and agree that politicians cater to public opinion a great deal. (See John Kerry on abortion.) But if public opinion IS that drugs should be illegal, do you want the gov't declaring otherwise? Don't we want our politicians to represent the interests of the population? Do we want them usurping more power? Or do you consider this to be giving up power, and less interference?

Changing these laws (whether right or wrong) is going to bring out massive resistance from anyone and everyone who's ever lost a family member or loved one in a car crash with a drug abuser... for starters.

JBW said...

As far as meth goes, I've never tried it but I've seen what it can do to a person and it ain't pretty; most everyone agrees on that point. Will legalization drop the price enough to eliminate demand? I doubt it. The demand is there no matter what the price; people cook it up and sell it because that demand exists.

Now making it legal and regulated by the government would make it safer, in that the manufacturing process and the end product from that process are both dangerous. But from what I can tell, and despite stereotypes, the majority of users are in the country as opposed to the inner city, and I hear that this is so because there is just not that much to do in the middle of nowhere. So people take this drug that can be made cheaply with OTC medications; boredom fuels the demand.

As far as public opinion goes, I don't remember getting to vote on whether these things should be illegal or not. Prohibition was voted on, as was it's repeal, and we learned a great deal from that, as PK stated above. We see many of the same problems arising from the drug war but the government has chosen to deal with them in a very different way.

You nailed my point exactly: legalization would be government taking it's hands off our personal rights, not forcing substances upon us. Also, I don't think we can trust public opinion as it now stands to be truly representative of what we as a society would want our government to do concerning illegal drugs.

The drug war has basically been a dishonest propaganda campaign forced on the people and paid for with our tax dollars. Certain elements within the government have consistently blocked any kind of open and honest research on many drugs by working under the premise that "we already know that these drugs are bad, so we're not going to waste time and money actually checking if this is true". In fact, the scientific bodies created specifically to do this have been outright ignored by politicians who seem to think that they know what's better for us.

I guess my point is, if these things are really as bad as you say, show me scientific proof and stop with the unfounded and illogical emotional appeals. Then after you do that, rationally explain to me how all of these other things that are legal (cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, fat, etc.) aren't doing just as much or more damage than say weed would. Then after you do that, explain to me how society is made better by incarcerating millions of otherwise law abiding citizens for what is essentially a victimless crime. If you have enough pot on you, you can go to prison longer than if you committed manslaughter. It's the hypocrisy and lack of logical points of view that really burn me.

And as far as the relatives of those killed in drug related car crashes, I don't know one person in favor of drug legalization who is also in favor of driving under the influence. Anyone who is irresponsible enough to drive while impaired is going to do that regardless of whether what is impairing them is legal or not. If you really want to save lives, make it harder for stupid people to get driver's licenses.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of points in your comment that I think are worth more discussion, but I simply haven't the time, the energy or desire. I will say, though, that my previous comment - if you weren't sure - wasn't meant to be an endorsement or condemnation either way. That's why I kind of asked a question from each side.

I'd also implore you not to try Crystal Meth. I hear it only takes one use to make you like Amy Winehouse.