Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tilting at windmills

"Most people now view the drug war as a permanent fixture of American life. The fact that it has proven to be such an utter failure seems irrelevant to most people. All that seems to matter is that law-enforcement agents continue making drug busts, raiding homes, arresting people, and filling the prisons. That has become the never-ending measure of drug-war success, even if all those actions do nothing to stem the consumption of illegal drugs. " -Jacob Hornberger

You should read the whole thing, even if you disagree.


Jef Nance said...

The argument against drug enforcement always falls back to 'it doesn't work'.

The premise of that argument is that since it doesn't eliminate drugs... it isn't working.

False premise.

Great posts, Brad, keep up your work... jef

Brad Raple said...

Thanks for commenting, Jef. Sorry for the late reply.

I respectfully disagree. Obviously I wouldn't expect anything short of a humanity-ending meteor to eliminate recreational drugs entirely. But I can't think of a single metric by which the drug war could be considered a success.

In what way have things improved? Even if some limited situations have shown improvement, aren't they outweighed by the enormous costs, not just financial, associated with the drug war?

The most frequently touted statistic I've seen to show the war on drugs is working is the street price of various drugs. I think that equating high drug prices with a successful policy is almost diametrically opposed to reality.

The higher the price of drugs, the more serious crimes addicts commit to support their habits. But more importantly, high drug prices make the drug trade more lucrative. It raises the stakes insanely high.

I don't see many wheat farmers infiltrating, corrupting, and destabilizing the Mexican government. I've never heard of execution-style killings over soybeans. There's a reason why there's no such thing as a Columbian cornlord.

You obviously have a great deal of personal experience in the drug war, and I'm always willing to consider other opinions, but I don't believe the drug war's benefits have been worth the price.

Jef said...

There's the premise of the argument again... the wheat & soybean comparisons seem convincing on the surface...

But it stops short: Nobody loses their job, tunes up the ole lady, or steals to pay for their soybean fix--and that's not because soybeans are legal--they're just not that much fun!

Great point about driving up the prices, causing more theft to pay for them... but there again, this does eliminate a lot people from the game.

If a gram of coke was next to the Falstaff at the corner store at the same price? Lot more takers, don't you think?


Brad Raple said...

"Nobody loses their job, tunes up the ole lady, or steals to pay for their soybean fix..."

But millions of people do those things for alcohol. Why don't we ban alcohol?

For starters, it's pretty universally accepted that doing so would be an invasion of personal liberty. When we tried it with alcohol, we at least understood that we couldn't do it without amending the Constitution.

More importantly, we eventually realized it didn't work, and the adverse consequences (i.e. Al Capone) weren't worth it anyway.

"If a gram of coke was next to the Falstaff at the corner store at the same price? Lot more takers, don't you think?"

You misunderstand my argument. There's a big step between legalizing drugs to the point you can find them in Wal-Mart, and ending the drug war.

Leaving the hundreds of billions in savings aside, I'd gladly put up with a few more addicts if it meant fewer people were dying from the violence that comes from the war on drugs. Also, I suspect that if addicts could get treatment without the fear of prosecution or the stigma of illegality, you'd probably have more people seeking the help they need.

When I worked in criminal prosecution, I saw a guy facing a mandatory life sentence for getting caught with a joint and a one-day personal supply of cocaine. Sure, he was a repeat offender, but his prior convictions were all drug related.

And at any rate, it's not the government's role or right to decide for individuals what behaviors are too unsafe. Otherwise smoking, drinking, motorcycles, casual sex, cheeseburgers, etc. would all be banned by the government "for our own good".

No one is clamoring for the government to ban those things, despite the fact that they probably all kill more people than drug use. Drugs kill a lot of people, but how many of those deaths are due to the effects of the drugs themselves versus the effects of the drug war?