Sunday, June 14, 2009

We Waged a War Against Drugs, And Drugs Won

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

1. We have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that’s because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same
as that of other countries.

2. We have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

3. We have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment.

It’s now broadly acknowledged that the drug war approach has failed.

~Nicholas Kristof
in yesterday's NY Times

MP: Note the "War on Drugs" is actually a war against generally peaceful American citizens who decide to buy, sell or ingest drugs that are somewhat arbitrarily considered to be illegal by government officials, e.g. cannabis sativa, an annual, dioecious flowering herb that grows naturally all over the world.


At 6/14/2009 4:17 PM, Blogger Nathan Benefield said...

The column was by Nicholas Kristof, not Irving Kristol, but good article nonetheless.

At 6/14/2009 5:35 PM, Blogger fboness said...

I continue to support the war against murder even though that war has been going on without resolution since Cain and Able.

At 6/14/2009 5:50 PM, Blogger pkd said...

Jesus Krist!

At 6/14/2009 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous 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 6/14/2009 6:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The origins of federal drug laws were a response to disastrous drug and violence epidemics when virtually every family had access to opiate- and cocaine-based remedies around the end of the 19th century. Drugs were available without penalty. Addiction was rampant, with an estimated 250,000 opiate addicts in the U.S. population of 76 million.

Or if you really think that prohibition causes the problem, remember that ancient China was brought to its knees by easy access to opium. Today, even highly traditional and regulated societies like Thailand, Malaysia, Iran and Afghanistan are suffering terrible addiction problems -- because heroin is addictive and easily accessible. Making highly addictive drugs easier to get and use is what makes this harm greater.

Although cynics on the left and right assert the drug problem is as big or bigger than ever, it is simply not true. Illegal drug use is still a problem, but by any fair assessment it is a smaller problem. Half as many teens are using drugs than 30 years ago and a quarter fewer than seven years ago, according to the Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study conducted by the University of Michigan under grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine and meth use are less than half what they were at their peak. Even drug offenders are a smaller percentage of the prison population than they were 15 or even seven years ago.


Drug courts leading to referral for treatment by the criminal justice system are now the major pathway through which the dependent are getting the help they need. Do we want to end all this by taking the courts out of the equation? Supervised, court-sanctioned treatment works best. Legalization robs us of this tool.

We have also learned how to join law enforcement and national security resources to break down trafficking groups and narcoterrorists. One of the greatest international policy success stories of the last decade has been the transformation of Colombia from a state dominated by narcoterrorism, violence and corruption to a thriving liberal democracy.


At 6/14/2009 6:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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. Prevention and treatment have been producing steady results.

The criminal justice system has been transformed over the past 15 years. Adult and juvenile drug courts are now common in most states. 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.


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. The U.S. has also been more permissive in the past than it is today, only to pay a huge price for the mistake. The predictable costs in addiction and disease are unsustainable.


Today there is terrible violence in Mexico. Those who carry out attacks do so with the intention of making us stop resisting them. But 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.


Nicholas Kristof is a Manhattan "party girl", simply repeating what he hears on the cocktail circuit.

At 6/14/2009 7:27 PM, Anonymous Dr. T said...

"...found that more than 85% of people in prison for all drug-law violations were clearly involved in drug distribution..."

This is absolute bullshit, because the legal definition of distribution is ridiculous. Basically, if you are found with a certain quantity of an illegal drug (usually less than 10 days supply for a regular user), you are automatically classified as a dealer whether or not you ever sold any drug. "Distribution" is the only crime I know of where no evidence of the crime itself is needed to convict.

The bottom line is that most people in prison for drug related crimes were users or low-level, non-violent dealers. In European countries that have illegal drugs, these types of persons would get fines, parole, and/or community service. We imprison them for years, and most of our fellow citizens like it that way. (I love living in a "Christian" nation.)

At 6/14/2009 10:29 PM, Anonymous Αμάτι Nώνυμος said...

But why drunken drivers
and why sniffing jivers
and why the sadness of splat
? Tell me that fat cat

! Marie Antoinette
, they get what they get
, because of their slimy habits
Why not feed them lethal overdose tablets

At 6/15/2009 5:27 AM, Blogger Plamen said...

The subtitle of the WSJ article, quoted by Anonymous, is "Progress in Colombia provides clear evidence that the war on drugs is winnable, while history repeatedly shows that relaxed restrictions lead to more abuse and addiction."

Right, sure, winnable - somewhat, and if the US bankrolls it. And then there are also all those violent marijuana users and dealers rampaging through Amsterdam...

At 6/15/2009 8:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps that's your problem, you need to read further than the subtitles.

At 6/15/2009 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why aren't there cigarette cartels or alcohol cartels?
Could it be because these are LEGAL drugs--not prohibited? Do adults have the right to ingest whatever they want into their bodies? What they DO under the effects of these things is a matter of the law, not the use of them.

At 6/16/2009 4:29 PM, Blogger Hot Sam said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/22/2009 2:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like it has been a disaster.


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