Friday, August 15, 2008

Why Drugs Should Be Legalized- Part III

The war on drugs is a failure. Since the birth of the war on drugs during the Nixon administration, trillions of dollars have been spent in law enforcement efforts geared toward getting drugs off our streets. The war on drugs is a failure because drugs are still available and plenty of people are still using them. To most, it's common sense. Unless you can literally eliminate demand for illegal drugs, there will be a black market to cater to illegal drug users. And given the innocuousness of drug use- one can use them in the privacy of one's own home, and the relative ease with which drugs can be transported, there is literally no way to stop the illegal drug market, short of violating the Constitutional rights of every American citizen.

Not only has the war on drugs been ineffective and expensive, it's also cost countless numbers of innocent Americans their lives and their neighborhoods. Anyone familiar with American history knows about the rise of organized crime during Prohibition in the 1920's, about Al Capone, and about the Chicago gang wars. Black markets create criminals and black markets create violence, as violence is the only way for those engaging in criminal activity to resolve their disputes. In the legal world we have contracts enforced and disputes resolved by our legal system, but the black market provides no such framework.

Drug prohibition has created criminals where there were none before and created violence in neighborhoods that had been peaceful. The escalation of "the war on drugs" with more brazen and militaristic tactics by police has only served to further amplify the violent nature of the drug trade. The drug war has countless innocent victims, victims of both criminals and law enforcement who only happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Radley Balko, through his blog the Agitator has chronicled the rise of paramilitary police culture and the associated collateral damage of mistaken violent raids and innocent victims. Not surprisingly, the growth in the use of SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics has coincided with the escalation of the war on drugs. The war on drugs has turned into a war on the American people, a war where violent tactics are used far too often and a war where civil liberties are not secure and private property can be seized and taken for those merely accused of a drug crime. Under current federal drug laws, property seized in a drug arrest can be kept by law enforcement, even if charges are never filed.

If drugs were legalized, drug dealers would stop selling drugs because illegal sources of drugs would dry up. The business would be legitimate. And criminal gangs can not provide a product as cheaply, as safely, and as efficiently as a large corporation. Street drugs cost a lot because of the dangers of the black market- take away those dangers and legal drugs would not cost nearly as much.

One point I've argued countless times is that true legalization would not result in a continued black market, or at least, not a black market of the sort we see today. The comparable example would be the black market in pharmaceutical drugs, which does currently exist, but is not plagued by violence. Legalized drugs would not mean a utopia or an end to all criminal activity- but it would mean the end of violence associated with the illegal drug trade. Just like with pharmaceuticals, any black market that developed would be non violent and mostly local. Why? Because you'd be talking about legal products manufactured by large corporations.

Whatever one's opinion on drugs, there are several undeniable facts. 1- Legalizing drugs would put an end to drug-related gang violence. No, not the end of all gangs or the end of all criminal violence, but a reduction in violence. 2- Legalizing drugs would put an end to the number of innocent victims who are the collateral damage of militaristic drug war policies. 3- Legalizing drugs would create a legal framework for manufacture, distribution. Criminal activity may still occur, but only as part of the existing structure and not as part of an independently operating black market dependent upon violence. And 4- Previously unmentioned, but equally as important, drug abuse will be far easier to treat and drug users themselves will not become enmeshed in criminal subculture.


Blogger hellolacey226 said...

Drug use can be really costly. Now I do agree that funding is being used incorrectly. The majority of the increasing prison population is spent on drug offenders. However, I think there should be a reallocation of those costs. Treatment is proven as much more effective at reducing repeat offenders. I recently read an Italian study where Leone completed a realistic evaluation on a drug deterrence program for criminal drug offenders. Basically these offenders would be detained, then participate in a court mandated interview (speech discouraging use), and then possibly receive counseling. It was found that 61% of people who completed the program decreased their drug use thereafter. Fifteen percent responded oppositely to the program and increased drug use and 23% of participants did not have sufficient data to include in the results.

I suppose we'd have to do a cost-benefit analysis to see if this really could be implemented as an alternative to jail time, but it seems to be a pretty effective program for controlling drug use.

There are also several costs associated with drug addiction, including problems like theft and neglect or abuse of children. The movie "American Meth" has a pretty good example of child abuse in it.

Also, here's a SAMSHA publication on costs of drug abuse at the work place

SAMSHA has a lot of good publications on research based drug use statistical data, as well as treatment options and things.

I think the problem with drugs is that, there is no way of knowing who will become addicted, and who will use drugs in a responsible manner (and with some drugs, is it even possible to use them in a responsible manner?), and we know that addiction can cause major problems in society involving legal issues, family issues, occupational issues, educational issues, and medical issues. All at a great cost to the taxpayer, who has to pay taxes to support the DCF programs that protect abused children, or welfare that pays for the addicts fix, or health insurance to pay for cocaine related heart problems, among other things.

5:10 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

Thanks for mentioning prison costs, which I sort of forgot to mention. It costs hundreds of billions in law enforcement dollars to conduct the war on drugs and hundreds of billions more to run our prisons.

2:35 PM  

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