Sunday, June 05, 2011

How About a Cease-Fire in the War on Drugs?

Mary Anastasia O'Grady write in Monday's WSJ about how an increasing number of world leaders are concluding that laws against drug consumption do more harm than good (see related CD post here about the Global Commission on Drug Policy Report):

"Almost 100 years after drug prohibition was ushered in, school children report that they can easily access narcotics and surveys indicate they are used across social classes. A May 23 story in the Economist reported that Canada now trumps Mexico as an entryway into the U.S. for the drug "ecstasy." American jails are taking in record numbers of young minorities and converting them into hardened criminals; gang violence is on the rise; organized crime is undermining U.S. geopolitical interests in places like Mexico, Central America and Afghanistan. Thousands of innocents, including children, have been killed in the mayhem. 

Having produced nothing but hardship for the most vulnerable, disrespect for the rule of law, terror in formerly peaceful cities and profit opportunities for gangsters, drug warriors now want to militarize the southern U.S. border."

In her article, Ms. O'Grady quotes Claremont Institute scholar Angelo Codevilla:

"Even if our southern border were completely closed off it would do nothing to change the fact that mind-altering drugs have become morally and politically acceptable to mainstream American society.  America's assumption that restricting supply can somehow make it safe for us to tolerate widespread drug use has itself proved to be a habit-forming narcotic that has reduced our sensitivity to moral rot." 

HT: Pete Friedlander

24 Comments:

At 6/05/2011 9:59 PM, Blogger BBL Jr said...

I am not nor have I ever been a drug user. I was there in 68 to 72 during the explosion of drug use during the anti vietnam war period. I wrote back then and I still believe we need to legalize drugs. i would treat them much like alcohol, no driving under the influence etc. tax and regulate distribution, but allow it. All we accomplish by fighting this drug war is the enrichment of criminal organizations and the expenditure of vast sums of money for no good result. Make it a tax positive by legalizing, while starving criminal organizations of cash.

 
At 6/05/2011 11:33 PM, Blogger Cabodog said...

Didn't we learn anything from Prohibition?

 
At 6/06/2011 1:32 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Why don't we raise the speed limit to 75, and when enough people break that law, raise it to 80, then 85, etc.

Some people can handle driving 100 MPH, while others can't. However, as long as they only kill themselves, it's OK.

Rather than legalize drugs to increase demand, then tax it to decrease demand, and use the taxes for something unrelated to drugs, e.g. global warming, we need to spend money on rehabilitation.

A drunk, a heavy drug user, or a four pack a day cigarette smoker should have free access to the best therapy to quit, or at least cut down, for the benefit of themselves and society.

 
At 6/06/2011 6:11 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from PeakTrader: "Why don't we raise the speed limit to 75, and when enough people break that law, raise it to 80, then 85, etc."

Again with the speed limit strawman? Speed limits are completely arbitrary. We set the exact same speed limit no matter what the road conditions, no matter what the vehicle size, etc., and they are always in increments of five, but if you don't obey them you've somehow made some terrible infraction against society requiring the full enforcement powers of the state.

You're extreme position on drug prohibition sounds equally ridiculous.

 
At 6/06/2011 9:30 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"Almost 100 years after drug prohibition was ushered in, school children report that they can easily access narcotics and surveys indicate they are used across social classes"

the irony is that if drugs were legal, fewer kids would be able to get them.

in high school it was hard to buy beer, buy easy to buy drugs.

 
At 6/06/2011 9:33 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

"Why don't we raise the speed limit to 75, and when enough people break that law, raise it to 80, then 85, etc."

this is an irrelevant argument.

it's totally orthogonal.

there is no speed limit on private property. you can build a track on your land and drive as fast as you want with no license and no insurance.

it is only when using public roads that you face a speed limit.

thus, your argument defeats itself. if drug law were like speed limits, then you could use whatever drugs you wanted so long as you were on private property.

 
At 6/06/2011 12:36 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

Wait, I thought that we were losing the "war":

Since 2001 the number of young people using illegal drugs has dropped by 900,000 to about 2.7 million .... The rate of drug use among high-school seniors has been cut nearly in half since its peak years of 1978 and 1979, to 22.3% in 2008.

Nationwide there are more than 2,000 drug courts pushing low-level offenders to get treatment when drug use brings them into the criminal justice system. Child welfare and family courts also push drug treatment -- many endangerment and neglect cases involve an adult with a substance abuse problem. The criminal justice system has become the most powerful force in the country supporting addiction treatment, exactly the opposite of the critics' depiction.

... we have legally and successfully instituted random drug screening programs in schools that are as promising as systems in place in the military and many workplaces. The rate of positive tests in the workplace are lower today than they have been since comprehensive national reporting began -- 3.8% of workers tested positive for drugs in 2007, down from 13.6% in 1988.

Alternative regulatory schemes give little attention to how a free society will function when it sells known disease-causing poisons that are more powerful than alcohol and that profoundly attack the user's capacity for free action.

No nation that has tried to avoid controlling supply has been able to stand by its permissive approach. Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have all experimented with being more accepting of drugs, only to backtrack later when the resulting destruction was clear.

Colombia has attacked drug production and the violent groups that profited from it. In the process, it transformed its national security and made its streets safer. What nation in South America -- or anywhere -- has reduced violence and human rights abuses more than Colombia since 2002? Could President Álvaro Uribe have done this by surrendering to the drug trade?

... what narco-terrorists want is power, not control of the drug trade. These terrorists are growing more violent because over the past three to four years the money that criminal organizations get from trafficking meth and cocaine has dropped sharply -- perhaps by 50% or more. To bankroll their activities, they are now kidnapping, extorting and grabbing power. The drug trade is a tool, not the cause of these violent criminal groups.

"Drug Legalization Isn't the Answer", WSJ

 
At 6/06/2011 12:37 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

The "speed limit" argument raises some other interesting questions. Will those suspected of driving under the influence of narcotics be required to submit to urine and blood tests or forfeit their license? Some drugs, including cannabis, can stay in the system for several weeks will a positive test at any point along that timeline be sufficient to deny you driving privileges? Revoke your pilot's license? Put your medical incense in jeopardy?

 
At 6/06/2011 12:46 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

An honest debate on marijuana policy also carefully considers the costs of our current approach. Arrest rates for marijuana are relatively high, reaching about 800,000 last year. Though these numbers are technically recorded under the category of "possession," the story that is seldom told is that hardly any of these possession arrests result in jail time (that is why former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made headlines when he aggressively arrested public marijuana users and detained them for 12 to 24 hours in the 1990s).

One of the most astute minds in the field of drug policy, Carnegie Mellon's Jonathan Caulkins, formerly the co-director of Rand's drug policy research center, found that more than 85% of people in prison for all drug-law violations were clearly involved in drug distribution, and that the records of most of the remaining prisoners had at least some suggestion of distribution involvement (many prisoners plea down from more serious charges to possession in exchange for information about the drug trade). Only about half a percent of the total prison population was there for marijuana possession, he found. He noted that this figure was consistent with other mainstream estimates but not with estimates from the Marijuana Policy Project (a legalization interest group), which, according to Caulkins, "naively ... assumes that all inmates convicted of possession were not involved in trafficking." Caulkins concluded that "an implication of the new figure is that marijuana decriminalization would have almost no impact on prison populations." This is not meant to imply that marijuana arrests do not have costs, but rather, that these concerns have been highly exaggerated.

L.A. Times

 
At 6/06/2011 1:14 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

Given the potential legal liability associated with the cultivation, manufacture and sale of even the most benign recreational narcotics it's by no means certain that private industry would rush to fill the demand. Street dealers have little of the overhead that these businesses would have to shoulder and collecting the promised tax revenue on the sale of their dope will not be their top priority. Their is already a thriving black market for cigarettes in places like New York City spurred by the avoidance of taxes. As a result, the savings promised as a result of decreased prosecution of drug use and possession could be offset by the increased need to eradicate black market sales and enforce tax collection. Further, drug dealers pray on kids who under any legalization scheme would be prohibited from legal purchases - or are you advocating that children be allowed to buy dope, too? The benefits that "legalizers" promise are far from certain, and their proposals for dealing with addiction related problems are already largely in force so any benefits are currently being realized. One thing I haven't seen is a proof from a country currently under a permissive drug regime that the taxes collected offset the societal costs. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

 
At 6/06/2011 1:23 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

Singapore pursues a comprehensive national strategy to combat the scourge of drugs, comprising a high-profile public education campaign, treatment and rehabilitation of drug offenders, as well as strict laws and stiff penalties against those involved in the drug trade.

Public education against drug abuse starts in schools. For abusers, our approach is to try hard to wean them off drugs and deter them from relapsing. They are given two chances in a drug rehabilitation centre. If they go through counselling, kick their drug habit and return to society with useful skills, they will not have any criminal record. Those who are still addicted go to prison, where they are put on general rehabilitation programmes to help them reintegrate into the community.

Strong community support against drug abuse has been critical to our fight against drugs. Singapore society resolutely rejects drug abuse. Several voluntary welfare organisations run halfway houses to help recovering addicts adjust back into society. Many employers also come forward to offer reformed drug addicts employment opportunities. ...

Singapore is renowned for its draconian drug laws ... with the South East Asian city state boasting one of the lowest instances of illegal drug use in the world.

Singapore has one of the lowest prevalence of drug abuse worldwide, even though it has not been entirely eliminated. Over two decades, the number of drug abusers arrested each year has declined by two-thirds, from over 6,000 in the early 1990s to about 2,000 last year. Fewer than two in 10 abusers released from prison or drug rehabilitation centres relapse within two years. We do not have traffickers pushing drugs openly in the streets, nor do we need to run needle exchange centres. Because of our strict laws, Singapore does not have to contend with major drug syndicates linked to organised crime, unlike some other countries.

According to the 2008 World Drug Report by the United Nations office on drugs and crime 8.2% of the UK population are cannabis abusers; in Singapore it is 0.005%. For ecstasy, the figures are 1.8% for the UK and 0.003% for Singapore; and for opiates – such as heroin, opium and morphine – 0.9% for the UK and 0.005% for Singapore.

"Singapore's policy keeps drugs at bay", UK Guardian

I'm not advocating that we adopt Singapore's drug policies, but what they are doing can more truly be called a "War On Drugs", and they are not losing.

 
At 6/06/2011 1:29 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

"Will those suspected of driving under the influence of narcotics be required to submit to urine and blood tests or forfeit their license?"

they already are.

"Given the potential legal liability associated with the cultivation, manufacture and sale of even the most benign recreational narcotics it's by no means certain that private industry would rush to fill the demand."

you have to be kidding me. compared to alcohol, cigarettes, or aspirin, most of these drugs are extremely easy to make.

note the huge surge of legal pot growing in response to legal dispensaries. quality is up, price is down.

making most drugs is incredibly easy compared to pharmaceuticals. in fact, pharmaceutical versions of many already exist.

dilaudid is essentially heroin. cocaine was used medically for centuries. there are dozens of prescription amphetamines and opioids.

this would be the biggest new market to open in this space maybe ever. companies would jump all over it.

hell, they would probably innovate.

who knows what they would come up with.

but two things are certain - quality would improve and cost of production would drop like a rock.

both are good things. the former promotes safety and the latter allows for significant taxation to pay for treatment etc.

you have to remember - all these drugs used to be legal in the US. it did not cause social collapse.

 
At 6/06/2011 1:35 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

"I'm not advocating that we adopt Singapore's drug policies, but what they are doing can more truly be called a "War On Drugs", and they are not losing."

yes, but look at their society.

1. it's tiny. there is nowhere to grow/make drugs so it all has to be imported in only a couple ports of entry. they do not have open borders like we do.

2. they have dramatically fewer civil rights that we do.

3. their police have outlandish powers in comparison to our.

4. they have a system of laws that are incredibly stifling relative to ours. imagine being caned for chewing gum.

5. drugs are still not hard to get in singapore if you are wealthy. they have not won anything, just increased the price. this will always be so. the whole war on drugs is just price support for thugs. there will always be demand, limiting supply just ups the price and pays the thugs more.

a war on drugs is not compatible with a free, open society.

 
At 6/06/2011 1:48 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"they already are"

I know from personal experience with a drug abuser who hit me in a cross-walk that this is not true.

"most of these drugs are extremely easy to make ... note the huge surge of legal pot growing in response to legal dispensaries"

I didn't say anything about making narcotics, I was commenting on the associated legal L-I-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y.

Teenage cannabis smokers face bigger risk of full-blown mental illness in later life

Long-Term Cannabis Users May Have Structural Brain Abnormalities

smoking marijuana, like smoking tobacco, has toxic effects on cells

cannabis smoke damages DNA in ways that could potentially increase the risk of cancer development in humans

Daily consumption of marijuana in teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have an irreversible long-term effect on the brain

And that's just pot!

The potential legal costs associated with the sale of narcotics is astronomical and would have to be reflected in the price. Add on taxes and the fact that minors would still be unable to legally buy and the street dealers position looks increasingly secure.

 
At 6/06/2011 1:58 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"a war on drugs is not compatible with a free, open society."

No, the sale and promotion of mind-altering recreational narcotics that "profoundly attack the user's capacity for free action", is what is incompatible with a free society. The right to alter your consciousness in a manner that results in a direct societal cost is nonexistent.

 
At 6/06/2011 5:19 PM, Blogger Zhang Fei said...

Morganovich:

they have a system of laws that are incredibly stifling relative to ours. imagine being caned for chewing gum.

Wikipedia:

Confused reporting about these issues has led to worldwide propagation of the myth that the use or importation of chewing gum is itself punishable with caning. In fact, this has never been a caneable offence, and the only penalties provided under Chapter 57 are fines.

 
At 6/06/2011 9:32 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

As Thomas Sowell said, "There are no solutions, only trade offs."

Applying that logic to drugs, we have to compare the trade offs (costs and benefits) of drug prohibition vs. drug legalization.

Based on that comparison, I don't think it's even close; the costs of drug prohibition outweigh the benefits by several orders of magnitude, and the benefits of drug legalization outweigh the costs by several orders of magnitude.

And those orders of magnitude are so obvious and large, that I don't think the case for drug prohibition can even be taken seriously. At all.

 
At 6/06/2011 9:55 PM, Blogger DL said...

I say, legalize marijuana and tax it. As for the other drugs, keep them illegal, but cut the DEA budget by at least 90%. Just provide a small amount of government money to go after the big dealers. If we only catch 0.1%of them, so be it.

 
At 6/07/2011 3:30 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

I won't use an an analogy to make it easy on Morganovich.

I think the data will show:

More people use legal alcohol than all the illegal drugs combined.

More people use legal tobacco than all the illegal drugs combined.

More people use legal drugs than all the illegal drugs combined.

Why add fuel to the fire?

 
At 6/07/2011 5:53 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from PeakTrader: "I think the data will show:
More people use legal alcohol than all the illegal drugs combined.
More people use legal tobacco than all the illegal drugs combined.
More people use legal drugs than all the illegal drugs combined.
Why add fuel to the fire?"

This is somehow an argument in favor of drug prohibition? That so few people use them that we should continue to spend billions of dollars a year enforcing prohibition? We should continue to lock up millions of people for victimless crimes? We should continue to ignore basic liberties in order to enforce prohibition? That we should continue to inflict violence in other countries in order to continue prohibition?

 
At 6/07/2011 12:24 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

" I don't think the case for drug prohibition can even be taken seriously."

Simply ignoring the successes of the anti-drug effort - and there have been many - in order to erect a vision of a post-enforcement utopia doesn't prove your "orders of magnitude" argument.

Many countries, and at least one U.S. state, have experimented with drug legalization. In the majority of those cases governments have chosen to reverse themselves, in whole or in part, because the promised benefits failed to materialize. The U.K., Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and our own state of Alaska, whose Supreme Court declared marijuana legal in 1975 only to have the voters recriminalize it in 1990, have reversed course on drug legalization. Countries like Canada and Ireland have seen drug use explode after liberalization with corresponding increases in crime and drug related health costs. Ireland has seen the number of children treated for mental disorders caused by smoking cannabis quadrupled since the government downgraded the legal status of the drug. Since 1994, Canada has seen the number of cannabis users and injectable drug users more than double. The "legalizers" current favorite, Portugal, has, according to the CATO Institute, seen a decrease in drug use and drug related crime. So, what? The U.S. has seen a dramatic decrease in drug usage and violent crime since the 1970's without legalization. Cocaine use in the U.S. has been reduced by an astounding 70 percent in the past 15 years.

Almost all of your "star panel's" recommendations were currently in force and yielding results before they made them. The only significant difference is that your "star panel" would remove the threat of incarceration which experts claim has proven essential in getting drug users into treatment.

You can be as dismissive as you like, but ultimately you will have to convince people like me that gambling with drug legalization is the right thing to do. I don't favor criminalization because I believe that I have the right to impose my moral views on others. I favor criminalization because I see the drug trade at it's attendant dissolution as a threat to my liberty.

 
At 6/08/2011 9:01 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Some people can handle driving 100 MPH, while others can't. However, as long as they only kill themselves, it's OK.

Some people can't drive at all at any speed. Do you propose to ban driving? If not let us stop with the silly arguments and focus this debate on the important issue. You own your body. That means that is is up to you to decide what you choose to ingest, not some idiot bureaucrat looking to buy votes.

And no, we are not talking about letting people put others at risk. We already have laws against impaired drivers.

Rather than legalize drugs to increase demand, then tax it to decrease demand, and use the taxes for something unrelated to drugs, e.g. global warming, we need to spend money on rehabilitation.

Why? It is not the government's business what people do with their own bodies. It should not have the power to use confiscatory taxes on drugs any more than it should have the power to tax income, alcohol, tobacco, or food.

 
At 6/08/2011 9:04 PM, Blogger VangelV said...

Wait, I thought that we were losing the "war"...

You are. If you adjust for the demographics there are just as many addicts as before even after hundreds of billions of wasted expenditures.

 
At 6/11/2011 12:17 AM, OpenID Sprewell said...

Che, all your arguments could equally well be applied to alcohol and tobacco. Do you propose we criminalize those two drugs also? Those of use who want to legalize all drugs take a consistent position with nicotine and alcohol, that people will make mistakes in their consumption but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Prohibitionists on the other hand, make strange and convoluted arguments for how the status quo should be maintained, no matter how random and crazy it is.

If it makes any difference, I'll note that I've never done a drug in my life and I don't even drink or smoke. But I don't see the point in giving up my liberties and a lot more tax dollars in order to keep people from potentially harming themselves.

 

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