Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Want a New Drug

A couple of articles published during the past week point to the failure of the drug war as policy.

In Tuesday's Washington Times, A. G. Garcanski reviewed a new book from the conservative American Enterprise Institute entitled An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy, by David Boyum and Peter Reuter. He begins his review:

There has always been a certain resistance on the right to the war on drugs. One of the most persuasive texts on that front came in 1972, when the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse put forth a report entitled "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding." This document recommended decriminalization on the grounds that marijuana and its users did not sufficiently endanger the public safety to warrant criminal penalties.

President Nixon had no apparent use for the findings of his own commission's study as he ran for re-election. But the report was not without its executive influence. President Carter, early in his term, referred to it when he argued that "penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use."

Despite these strong words, Mr. Carter accomplished precious little on the national level in stemming overzealous enforcement of marijuana prohibition. His successors took a different tack than the one-term Democrat recommended, increasing penalties on drug users and helping the prison-industrial complex grow at nearly-exponential rates to house those caught in the web of illicit narcotics. But despite these efforts, America's drug problem is legendary around the world. With that in mind, as Congress wrestles with the specter of twained budget and trade deficits, it is fair to ask: Why does it seem like the war on drugs is not simply a failure, but the kind of failure that seems more egregious with each passing year?

Many conservatives have wondered the same thing, and have condemned the inefficacy of the effort, especially regarding cannabis. But their often emotional appeals have yet to resonate with national policy leaders. In that context, the utility of this slender volume becomes clear. Using arguments rooted largely in cost-benefit analysis, the authors neatly debunk the drug war as it is currently fought. Decrying the lack of "strong empirical evidence of substantial effectiveness" of the effort, the scholars suggest that the drug war's advocates be charged with providing said evidence.
This is not the first time the Washington Times has published a conservative critique of the war on drugs. I replied to one of those, by the Times' police-beat columnist Fred Reed, on May 17, 1996:
Columnist Fred Reed is right on target when he says "Legalization of some drugs is worth a try" ("Police Beat," April 29). Like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s, drug prohibition has been a miserable failure, bringing in its wake pain, suffering, and the enrichment of gangsters and hoodlums.

Mr. Reed joins a chorus of conservative voices who have identified the drug war's futility, including Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and commentator William F. Buckley, Jr.

In fact, just a few weeks ago, Buckley's magazine, National Review, which almost singlehandedly buoyed the conservative movement through the dark days of the Great Society, featured a cover story proclaiming the failure of the drug war.

If we really want to end the killing in the streets, if we want to preserve what is left of family and community values in our inner cities, if we want to pull the rug out from under wealthy criminal drug dealers, we must end drug prohibition. Why should conservatives assume that the government can succeed in the drug war's social engineering, when it fails in its every other intervention in the economy, from minimum-wage laws to welfare to farm subsidies?

Let's be consistent: To reduce the size and scope of government and to protect our constitutional rights to life and liberty, end the drug war before it's too late.
Meanwhile, last week in the Roanoke Times, Ronald Fraser of the DTK Liberty Project, a civil-liberties group, reported on a study released by Jon B. Gettman, a senior fellow at George Mason University's School of Public Policy in Fairfax, Virginia, which notes, among other findings, that (in Fraser's words):
Virginians spend about $99 million each year to enforce state and local marijuana laws. What are taxpayers getting for their money? Not much, according to a recent study.
Fraser adds:
Virginians are, in effect, paying for Washington's marijuana prohibition policies. "The use of criminal law to control the availability and use of marijuana," says Gettman, "is a federal policy that is dependent on local law enforcement for its implementation." And state and local costs quickly add up.

A Boston University economics professor, Jeffrey A. Miron, estimates that state and local officials spend about $5 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws. Virginia's share is: $31 million for police services; $56 million for judicial services; $12 million for correctional services.

The thousands of persons arrested on marijuana possession charges in Virginia each year -- especially teenagers -- pay extra. "Marijuana arrests," Gettman stresses, "make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. Indeed, the primary consequence of marijuana arrests is the introduction of hundreds of thousands of young people into the criminal justice system."
The costs to taxpayers and the Virginia economy are high, with few positive returns to show for it. Fraser explains:
And what do Virginians get for these financial and personal costs? In 2002, there were 12,798 marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but the number of users keeps going up. While 4 percent of Virginia's population was estimated to be monthly users in 1999, in 2002 the estimate stood at 6.4 percent. Nationally, monthly users went from 4.9 percent in 1999 to 6.2 percent in 2002.
An alternative to the current system would be to legalize marijuana, regulate it, and tax it, so it can become a source of revenue rather than a drain on the state treasury. Fraser writes:
By shifting to a policy that treats and taxes marijuana like tobacco and alcohol, Virginians could gain the following benefits: a decrease in illegal activities surrounding drug sales; government control of marijuana quality; better control of underage access to marijuana; and removal of the profit motive that attracts sellers, including a substantial number of teenage sellers who, most frequently, supply other teenagers.

On top of that, Miron estimates a marijuana sales tax would replace the $99 million a year Virginia taxpayers are now spending to enforce unenforceable laws, with a new revenue pipeline bringing in $20 million a year.
I can't think of a Virginia politician who is courageous enough to question the wisdom of the drug war in such a clear and concise manner. There is no Gary Johnson (the former Republican governor of New Mexico) here to argue on behalf of Virginia taxpayers that (in Johnson's words):
The nation's so-called War on Drugs has been a miserable failure. It hasn't worked. The drug problem is getting worse. I think it is the number one problem facing this country today . . . We really need to put all the options on the table . . . and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization . . . What I'm trying to do here is launch discussion.
Johnson also said, in June 1999:
Common sense or logic would dictate that when you take this issue on, when you talk about legalization or decriminalization, if you are going to talk about that, you are going to talk about taking it in steps, and certainly the first step would be marijuana.

All of us can make a list out of friends that have used drugs. Are our friends criminals for using drugs? Yes, they are today given the laws that we have. Should they be criminals? Are they criminals? For the most part, no they are not.
What Virginia politician, either Democrat or Republican, elected or aspiring to elective office, will step forward to say that, in both moral terms and according to a cost-benefit analysis, the war on drugs is a failure and should be replaced with something more sensible? As Goethe said, "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid."


Anonymous said...

I agree with your article 100%. her is my personal view on the matter.
Drugs should be legal! No one can argue that the abuse of drugs are a scourge on our society. However, as bad as the effect of drug abuse on our society is, the effect of prohibition is worse. If recreational drugs were legal, under controlled conditions as is the legal drug alcohol, hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of lives would be saved each year. Criminal and terrorist organizations would be denied a major source of income. Crime would be reduced. Doctors can use any efficacious treatment that will benefit the patient most. Billions of tax dollars could be diverted to useful and successful programs. The economy would grow and provide benefit for more people. The social benefits would be manifold.
Many of the deaths that are now pigeonholed as 'drug overdose' are, in fact, caused by drugs that are purer than the users' accustomed dose. This
will cause an overdose by merely taking the dose to which they are accustomed. Other deaths are caused by the drugs being 'cut' (diluted) with impure or
dangerous substances. At present drugs are cut with anything from relatively harmless things such as baking soda, powdered sugar, lactose and corn starch to potentially poisonous substances like strychnine and arsenic.
Legal drugs would fall under the supervision and standards of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thereby insuring cleaner, purer drugs at
consistent dosages. In addition, intravenous and intramuscular drugs could be packaged in single use syringes that are designed to be destroyed by the act of using them once. Thus preventing the reuse and sharing of needles. This will reduce the spread of AIDS, hepatitis and many other types of infection. Hence, more lives saved, as well as reducing the burden on public resources since many drug abusers cannot afford to pay for medical treatment.
Legal drugs will take the drug trade out of the hands of criminals and terrorists. It will make it more difficult to have future attacks of the nature of the attack on our Marines in Lebanon, the American Embassy in Kenya and the World Trade Center by terrorists who are, in part, financed by the drug trade. It will eliminate the wars for territory and many of the drive-by
shootings that have become commonplace in our inner cities. We will not only save the lives of the dealers who are the targets of these shootings but the innocent bystanders, too often children, who get caught in the crossfire.
Speaking of saving children... Legalizing drugs with the appropriate regulation and control would severely limit the access of drugs to children. Just as minors cannot legally buy alcohol, they would not be able to walk into a state regulated drug store and buy drugs. Under the present conditions drug dealers don't care if the customer is 5 years old or 50. 'If you got the green you got the dope.' Consequently, more lives saved.
Let us now discuss crime. Legalizing and regulating drug production and sale will quickly eliminate a whole plethora of crimes relating to those endeavors. Crimes such as smuggling, producing and selling drugs would cease to be profitable. These crimes would cease to be, except perhaps, for a few diehard adventurers. Or in those locales where the local community has mandated that it remain illegal (After all, their is still a thriving 'Moonshine' industry despite the legality of alcohol). We would also eliminate the crime of possession of drugs. It will also limit the availability of funds to finance other crimes such as illegal gambling, prostitution, extortion and terrorism.
Drugs will likely be cheaper. The supply would be relatively consistent. Market forces such as 'supply and demand' will be less of a determining price factor. Nor will the 'risk' factor to dealers and smugglers
affect price. The cost of producing most illegal drugs is minimal, particularly in an industrial setting. Therefore, legalization will make the drugs cheaper thereby reducing crimes such as burglary, mugging and prostitution.
The laws we enact to legalize and regulate drugs must include severe, mandatory penalties for the violation of those laws. In addition, crimes
committed while under the influence of drugs and crimes committed for the purpose of obtaining drugs must be dealt with more severely than crimes committed for mere profit.
I would like to propose that criminals motivated by an addiction to drugs be treated as the sick people that they are. That they're conviction require a mandatory, indeterminate stay at a drug treatment facility until such time as the addict is declared, by a competant medical authority, not only free of the addiction, but unlikely to return to drugs. Then, when the addict is cured of their illness they can be returned to the sentencing authority to determine if further criminal penalties are in order. It would also be nice if the people who comprise said medical authority, as well as parole boards and other agencies with the responsibility for releasing criminals into society be held personally responsible for those decisions. But, I suppose that is too much to ask.
Mandatory drug testing in critical industries, massive drug education efforts and a changing social climate as relates to the non-acceptance of drug abuse by the general public in recent years has been more effective in the
control of drug use than prohibition ever was.
Another cost factor for drugs which will be eliminated is one that is not talked about very much, but it's effect on society is just as devastating, although not as obvious. That is the cost of corruption. The money that drug
traffickers now expend for policemen, judges and public officials. I want to say here that the vast majority of policemen and judges (I'm not so sure about
politicians) are honest, hardworking public servants. Nevertheless, they are human, mostly underpaid and overworked and some will succumb to temptation. There is today a 'revolving door' justice system with it's plea bargaining. early paroles and assorted rules that make it difficult for police and judges to do the job of taking criminals off the streets and keeping them off. This gives rise to a level of frustration and cynicism that is enormous. It is an atmosphere ripe for corruption. The surprising thing is that there is not more of it! This is a tribute to the men and woman of the law enforcement and criminal justice community. Corruption, however, does exist and imbrues the character of the individuals that engage in it, as well as diminishing the institutions that depend on them. Also, we cannot forget the people in our financial institutions who knowingly 'launder' (legitimatize) the ill-gotten gains of the criminals who engage in these activities.
In addition, the elimination of drug crimes and the reduction of drug related crimes will reduce the burden on the prison system by more than half. It will free law enforcement officers to concentrate on other, more pressing, matters. It will allow judges to put away more dangerous criminals and to keep
these people off the streets longer when prison overcrowding becomes less of a consideration.
Let's talk economics now! The legalization of drugs will, first of all, create jobs. Jobs in agriculture growing the plants. Prosperity and freedom to many third world countries and their citizens. Much of these drugs are now grown by warlords and criminals who oppress their people. Jobs in the manufacturing of drugs. Jobs in the distribution and wholesaling of drugs. As well as jobs in the retail sector. Then there are the tax revenues. The taxes that will be paid by the industries that manufacture drugs. The taxes paid on the incomes of those who find jobs in the drug industries. The 'sin' taxes that will most likely be levied on drugs. If the taxes on alcohol and tobacco are any indication every dollar spent on drugs will be 60¢ to 70¢, perhaps as much as 90¢, will be taxes. Not to mention local sales tax. A portion of the 'sin' tax can be earmarked for effective drug rehabilitation and drug awareness education. After all it is only fair that the people who are the problem be a part of the solution. Some of that money might also be used to develop drugs that are not addicting or physically harmful, but will provide the pleasure that drug users seek. Wouldn't it be nice that when a drug abuser matures enough to no longer need to use drugs to hide from their life, they can make a choice to stop. A choice unobstructed by a physical dependency. While moderate users can enjoy their pleasure without fear of addiction.
Further, the reduction of drug dealers who provide a negative role model to the young people in a community is a social benefit that cannot be denied. Today young people, especially in the slums and ghettoes of the inner cities, are given a mixed message. They are told by their families, spiritual leaders and teachers to be hard working, honest and law abiding in order to have a good and prosperous life. Then they look around and see, all too often, people who live by these ideals struggling in poverty and unhappiness at worst, struggling to make ends meet at best. Driving old beater cars (when they can afford cars), living in rundown homes, imprisoned in their homes afraid to walk the streets. While the drug dealers, pimps and thieves seem to own the streets, ride around in flashy new cars, live in classy houses and apartments and always seem to have money. Not only does this send a confusing message to the children. It creates disrespect for those people they should respect most. Children will feel they have been deceived by parents, clergymen and teachers when the lessons they are taught do not conform to the reality they see around them. Legalization will, to some extent, eliminate those negative role models. Then the children will only have corporate executives and politicians to look to for negative role models
I realize that the drug problem is an emotionally charged issue to many people. There are no accurate figures on the extent of drug use and drug abuse in this country. Estimates indicate that between 5 and 15% of the people
in this country abuse themselves with drugs. The number of moderate drug users is practically unknown. However, if we use as an indicator the ratio of moderate alcohol users to the number of alcohol abusers perhaps that will give us some indication.
The people who use recreational drugs and medicinal drugs for recreational use moderately are often discrete, quiet, responsible people who go to work every day. They mow there lawns on the weekend and have their friends and neighbors over for dinner. However, because of the illegal nature of their activities they must keep it discretely behind closed doors, often hiding from their children even their mates. These estimates vary to some extent with the rise and fall of the economy. Poverty is a great stimulus to drug use and drug abuse. Perhaps some of the billions of dollars that will be saved by ending the, so-called, ‘War on Drugs' could be used to help reduce poverty. Estimates also indicate that there is no appreciable change in drug abuse figures from when drugs were legal to when they weren't.

"Sin lies only in hurting other people unnecessarily. All other 'sins' are invented nonsense. (Hurting yourself is not sinful - just stupid.)"
--Lazarus Long--

Many great people throughout history have been addicted to drugs and gone on to accomplish great things. Ben Franklin was addicted to laudanum,
an opium elixir in an alcohol solution. It didn't stop him from creating the largest publishing empire in the colonies, Establish one of the first fire insurance companies, establishing the US Postal Service, discovering the
nature of electricity, inventing bifocal eyeglasses, the Franklin stove, Etc., Etc. While establishing the Committees of Correspondence, to share ideas
throughout the colonies, that led to the American Revolution, serving in the 1st Continental Congress and being one of the authors of the Declaration of
Independence, as well as serving as our first ambassador to France influencing the French court to support the American cause. George Washington smoked marijuana and drank Madeira wine by the keg, It didn't stop him from taking a
rag tag bunch of farmers, former slaves and indentured servants, exiles and colonists to fight the most powerful and disciplined military force in the world to a standstill, as well as serving as the first president of a fledgling nation based on a totally experimental concept- Democracy!
While we are talking about the founding of this country, let us remember the freedom for the pursuit of happiness. We have an obligation to protect children. One that we too often fail to fulfill. However, as adults where is our right to choose? At what point did we allow the government to be our parents? I, for one, had a very good set of parents who taught me to make discriminating choices for my life. I certainly do not need an absentee parent
who cares little about my safety, my health or whether I can make a decent living. Only that I derive pleasure in an approved manner.
I have seen first hand the deleterious effects of drug abuse, as we all have to a greater or lesser extent. Not only on the abusers, but on their families, their friends and their communities. It is not a pretty sight. However, the real world often calls on us to make choices. Choices that don't always conform to standards of right and wrong, or on the basis of good or bad. Too often we must choose between the lesser of two evils. We make such choices almost every time we enter a polling booth. Every time we elect to buy a foreign-made product because it is cheaper even though we know it means taking jobs from our friends and neighbors. We make such unsatisfactory choices in many other aspects of our lives.
At this point I would like to call on all of you to look at the effects of the drug problem weigh them carefully against the points I have offered here for your consideration. Whatever choice you make, do it loudly! Talk about it with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, the people you ride with to work. Write to your congressmen, your state assemblymen and your county and local political representatives. Let them know how you feel on the subject and remind them that you will be watching their actions and remembering come election time.
Thank you for your consideration,
Paul Diamond

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