I was joined in studio by Jay Fisher of LEAP–Law Enforcement Against Prohibition–that’s right! Cops, prosecutors and others in the field of law enforcement who are fed up with the Drug War have banded together to spread the word: The Drug War is a lost cause. Here’s a good short video by LEAP that introduces the subject of legalizing drugs from a few of the many law enforcement agents in the organization:
Many have concluded that the Drug War is a lost cause, but as with so many lost causes I have observed (the coercive, monopoly form of government for starters), they are lost because they are wrong and unnecessary, not because evil prevails.
Violence Is Caused by the Drug War NOT by Drug Use
The fact is, the extreme violence surrounding drugs is purely a result of the Drug War and not drug use. Drug dealers, like the mafia, use violence to enforce contracts and redress grievances because they do not have access to the police and the courts nor can they establish a stable system of law and order if they are actively hunted down by the “legitimate” government. Black markets always create this situation: excessive profits that motivate aggressive businessmen and finance massive, brutal enforcement systems. Extreme violence accompanies the Drug Wars in the US and in Mexico as it did alcohol prohibition in the US. To demonstrate that the black market causes the violence observe the fact that there is no violence surrounding alcohol sales today. A good side-by-side observation would be the fact that pimps use violence to enforce their girls’ contracts where prostitution is illegal in the US, while in places where prostitution is legal, violence related to prostitution contracts is unheard of–they just call the cops!
Would Drug Use Skyrocket if Drugs Were Legal?
The real fear people have of legalizing drugs is that drug use would skyrocket. This is simply untrue. The rate of regular drug use/addiction is variously estimated as having been 1%, 2% or 3% before drugs were banned in this country and it remains at those levels today. (From the book Drug Crazy and LEAP.) And if you think that the Drug War is keeping people from trying drugs in the first place, think again. 46% of Americans over the age of 12 claim to have tried illegal drugs yet fewer than 3% are regular users and only 0.6% are addicts. (From the book Drug War Facts.) My conclusion from that data is that anyone who wants access to drugs has it and only a very small number of people choose to use drugs regularly–whether they are legal or not.
A comprehensive analysis of decriminalizing drugs in Portugal shows that drug use has actually gone down since they ended their Drug War. Likely explanations for this phenomenon described by Glenn Greenwald are:
1. Authorities have no ability to positively interact with drug-addicted individuals or stricken communities when their main function is to engage in violence against users and dealers–that is, there’s no way to educate a community or offer help when no one trusts you.
2. The resources absorbed by police and prison activity in fighting a drug war leave little for programs to help addicts.
3. Treating addicts as criminals instead of having a sickness makes their behavior worse and their lives less healthy, productive and conforming than offering them treatment or other help.
It’s Really a Matter of Principle
Funny enough, my arguments to end the Drug War have nothing to do with the practical realities of reducing violence or reducing the negative impact of drug use on the addict or on society. My argument, as always, is a matter of principle. No one has a right to tell a person what he can do with his body or his money. If someone encroaches on your rights because he is a druggie or just because he is a jerk, you have legal recourse, if not, you have no right to complain. And what’s worse, violating strict adherence to the concept of civil liberties and individual rights destabilizes society (because the victim whose rights are infringed won’t willingly cooperate with the law) and also starts us down the slippery slope at the bottom of which we have no rights left. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t notice–or resent–that slide!
As a matter of fact, public opinion regarding the legalization of marijuana–and that comprises the vast majority of illegal drug use in this country–is changing: In 1996 only 25% of Americans thought marijuana should be legalized, today 50% think so. But presidential policy gets worse every administration: Clinton was bad, Bush was worse, but Obama, despite his campaign promises to the contrary, is the worst!
I got many interesting calls including a couple from people who don’t want to give welfare to druggies but empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that many addicts are functional and able to work if they are not marginalized by society–that even though they may still be addicted they would not necessarily be excluded from work, health and hygiene as they are now in the same vein that many alcoholics are “functional alcoholics”–they may not be fun to be around but they aren’t stealing to feed their habits or getting incurable illnesses. And of course in my world we wouldn’t coerce anyone into redistributing wealth–I hate to ban drugs by use of government force to get around a problem created by government force to start out with.
Recommendations & References
Here are some recommendations for reading and watching, some of which I mentioned on the show:
This is a short video of Glenn Greenwald summarizing his study of the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal: Glenn Greenwald at Cato. Here is the review of the documentary: a/k/a Tommy Chong which includes a very short summary and video of Barack Obama’s broken campaign promise about medical marijuana raids. Here is my review of the very interesting and enjoyable book about the history of drug prohibition in America: Drug Crazy, by Mike Gray.
For the very big picture about what might be the real motives for both parties insisting on escalating a losing war, I recommend the books: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by Alfred W. McCoy, and The Underground Empire: Where Crime & Governments Embrace, by James Mills. And I came upon this new book discussing the racism inherent in the Drug War: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander.
Finally, I referred to this article about the latest horror to occur on the Mexico-US border: 9 bodies hanging, 14 heads in a cooler in latest Mexican Drug War skirmish.
For hard data and other drug policy resources here are a few good links:
The Drug Policy Alliance
LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition)
Stop the Drug War
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Brian C. Bennett Drug Facts
I hope you enjoyed the show. If you missed it, you can check out show archives at wsbradio.com.
And one final thought…of all the horror stories you have heard of how drugs have ruined the lives of so many–addicts, their families, those caught in the crossfire of turf wars or drug busts–reflect on the fact that all this destruction, all this violence comes in an atmosphere of extreme anti-drug policy and a direct cost to US taxpayers of $1 trillion since Nixon launched the Drug War, while not reducing drug use in the slightest bit. It’s time to try non-intervention for a change.