Let’s declare victory in the war on street drugs.

Don't devolve

Brother’s keeper? Big Government is no kindly brother; it’s a bully.

Remember the Darwin Awards? They are said to be given posthumously to those whose irresponsible antics prevent them from continuing to pollute the gene pool.

Voluntary users of street drugs seem to be in the running for such awards, yet society tries valiantly but ineffectively to save them from the consequences of their own irresponsibility at costs that sometimes far exceed the minimal benefits — even to them. Freedom to behave stupidly is good, provided that no harm results to others and, concomitantly, that those who behave stupidly aren’t given benefits taken from those who behave responsibly.  The sword of freedom has two edges and if one is to enjoy freedom’s benefits one must accept its responsibilities as well; neither  immunity from freedom’s detriments nor sympathetic understanding should be granted to those who whine about being picked on or otherwise oppressed in consequence of their own irresponsible actions.

Prohibition was a failure and encouraged much activity by criminal mobs as well as governmental efforts to suppress that activity. The war on street drugs has also been a failure and has also encouraged substantial criminal activity as well as efforts at suppression. Those efforts have cost lots of money, directly and indirectly. Ron Paul favors stopping it.

The best way to fight violent drug cartels would be to pull the rug out from under their profits by bringing these transactions out into the sunlight. People who, unwisely, buy drugs would hardly opt for the back alley criminal dealer as a source, if a coffeehouse-style dispensary was an option. Moreover, a law-abiding dispensary is likely to check IDs and refuse sale to minors, as bars and ABC stores tend to do very diligently. Think of all the time and resources law enforcement could save if they could instead focus on violent crimes, instead of this impossible nanny-state mandate of saving people from themselves!

If these reasons don’t convince the drug warriors, I would urge them to go back to the Constitution and consider where there is any authority to prohibit private personal choices like this. All of our freedoms – the freedom of religion and assembly, the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from unnecessary government searches and seizures – stem from the precept that you own yourself and are responsible for your own choices. Prohibition laws negate self-ownership and are an absolute affront to the principles of freedom. I disagree vehemently with the recreational use of drugs, but at the same time, if people are only free to make good decisions, they are not truly free. In any case, states should decide for themselves how to handle these issues and the federal government should respect their choices.

Although many of his other notions seem loco, that does not mean that everything he proposes is. His position on street drugs makes a lot of sense to me, with some significant modifications along the lines suggested below.

Most of money and other resources spent on the war on drugs go to interdict drugs, to apprehend, convict and imprison those who sell and use them, to check the rising influence and prosperity of the criminal gangs that enable users and profit from them, and to imprison and rehabilitate the potential Darwin Award winners who use them. The now more than forty year old drug war has cost about one trillion dollars.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

Yet we still try to solve the problems in ways that haven’t worked before and won’t work now. Thomas Edison, while trying many potential light bulb filaments, discovered that none of them worked satisfactorily. He continued experimenting with different filaments until he found something that worked well. That’s what the states should be able to do.

Here is a filament that won’t work again because it hasn’t worked before. In May of this year,

President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Why not?

He must have in mind a reset to a smart power policy, hopeful that it will produce awesome and unbelievable changes comparable to those he has achieved in other areas of foreign and domestic policy, such as — well,  offhand I can’t  think of any but there must have been some; our humble President can think of only three former presidents possibly better than himself. His “new national policy” appears to be little different from the old one and seems a bit like his linguistic exercises such as classifying terrorists as mere criminals and Major Hasan’s thirteen murders and thirty-two attempted murders at Fort Hood as workplace violence. “Allahu Akhbar” must mean no more than “the pay and working conditions here suck!” Even considering the probably intended soporific effect of such nonsense, it’s worse than merely silly.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric.

It may take an even longer time than suggested — maybe until Hell freezes over — for the effectiveness to match the spending.

There are better ways to halt, rather then to continue perpetuating, the increasing costs of the use of street drugs as well as the substantial collateral damage that also continues to increase.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of federal prisoners and 21% of state-level prisoners are incarcerated on the basis of drug-related offenses. This means that over a half million people are presently incarcerated as a result of antidrug laws–more than the population of Wyoming. The illegal drug trade also sustains gang activity, and is indirectly responsible for an unknown number of homicides. (The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports describe 4% of homicides as being directly attributable to the illegal drug trade, but it plays an indirect role in a much larger percentage of homicides.)

According to this article,

As a student of history and a retired deputy chief of police with the Los Angeles Police Department, I can attest that the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition. In the last 40 years drug money has fueled the growth of violent street gangs in Los Angeles, from two (Bloods and Crips) with a membership of less than 50 people before the drug war to 20,000 gangs with a membership of about 1 million across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These gangs serve as the distributors, collection agents and enforcers for the Mexican cartels that the Justice Department says occupy more than 1,000 U.S. cities.


Why can’t we declare “victory” in the war on drugs, use some of the tax revenues now spent on such foolishness to reduce the deficit or (gasp) to reduce taxes, “bring the troops home,” have some appropriate ceremonies — where President Obama could garner all glory of victory — and even find something useful (maybe patrolling and securing our borders) for them to do? Here are a few modest proposals. I like most of them and won’t identify those as to which I am dubious because I look forward to comments on them all.

For Federal civilian purposes,

♦ Repeal federal laws criminalizing the production, sale and use of marijuana and most other street drugs in the civilian context.

♦ Impose federal taxes, comparable to those now imposed on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, on such stuff and permit their private sale in similar fashion.

♦ Release drug pushers undocumented pharmacists and other non-violent people now in Federal jails for drug activity before they master additional skills needed to pursue other criminal activities, provide modest and temporary stipends for their reentry into society and deny them welfare benefits upon release and for a reasonable time thereafter.

♦ To the extent possible under the U.S. Constitution, implant chips in non-citizens convicted for violent and/or drug related activity and otherwise make sure that when released from prison they are deported promptly and not permitted to return.

But, and it’s a big But –

♦ It should be stated clearly in any pertinent Federal legislation that it is not is intended to, nor does it, preempt state and local law, currently in force or to be enacted in the future. In particular, none of the state actions suggested below should be preempted or required. Although I think the states should follow these principles, that should be up to their citizens, not to the Federal Government. It is important that the states devise their own, probably different, approaches for their different situations. States, as to which one size does not fit all, should be the testing grounds for solutions.

♦ States should provide for the sale of newly legal street drugs under such conditions as they decide best. Some states now permit the private sale of alcohol, some restrict the sale to state operated stores. They should be free to treat the sale of street drugs the same or differently.

♦ Condition unemployment and other welfare benefits for those otherwise entitled to them on passing random tests for the use of street drugs — usage would no longer be unlawful but that does not mean that its consequences should be subsidized or otherwise rewarded by society.

♦ Eliminate any legal restrictions on testing employees and potential employees for street drug use. A new right to use street drugs should not implicitly prohibit discrimination against users. By analogy, sleeping on the job is not, in a civilian context, generally illegal; that does not mean that an employer should be obligated to tolerate it.

♦ Impose additional criminal and civil penalties on voluntary users of street drugs who, because of that use, harm others — analogous to additional penalties for crimes committed using firearms and for “hate crimes.”

♦ Along similar lines, just as those found to be driving or creating public disturbances while under the influence of alcohol are punished criminally so should be those found to be driving or creating similar disturbances while under the influence of street drugs.

♦ Use some of the funds now spent for the war on street drugs to establish insurance funds to assist those who do not use street drugs and want such assistance in paying for their own medical care and rehabilitation necessitated by the actions of street drug users.

♦ Eliminate any requirements that insurance cover medical care necessitated by “victims” own voluntary use of street drugs. Also eliminate all requirements for mandatory care for such self-induced conditions; if you elect to kill or harm yourself, have at it but don’t expect everyone else to pick up the tab. If there is a market, insurance companies can and probably will offer insurance riders to street drug users for such coverage at actuarially sound prices. Should private hospitals and physicians wish to provides such services gratis, that should be up to them.

Some of these suggestions probably seem simplistic and harsh. Good; that’s what I intended and hope they may provoke rational discussion. With suitable refinement, these suggestions can form a general framework for actual policies and laws requiring no more than minimal government involvement, capable of implementation at far less cost and with far greater likelihood of success than anything now being done. Tough love is needed; private organizations and private individuals to whom that is an anathema can follow their hearts privately.

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About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Appeasement, Deportation, Drug legalization, Freedom, Government reliance, health care, Legalization, Prohibition, Street drugs, Tough love and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Let’s declare victory in the war on street drugs.

  1. Reblogged this on danmillerinpanama and commented:

    I posted this article last December, but in view of the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena and the focus there on the failed war on drugs, it seems timely now.

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  6. el says:

    PART 2

    If there is a market, insurance companies can and probably will offer insurance riders to street drug users for such coverage at actuarially sound prices.

    Wrong. In economics it’s called insurance death spiral or adverse selection.
    http://healthinsurance.about.com/od/glossary/g/deathspiral.htm
    The same reason nobody offers you insurance against divorce. Markets don’t provide every kind of insurance, not even close. Thus, according to econ101, those companies won’t spring into being.

  7. el says:

    Please, publish this version of the 1st comment.

    Hi, I am from Israel and came here via Clarissa’s blog, so all my US info is from bloggers.

    if you elect to kill or harm yourself, have at it but don’t expect everyone else to pick up the tab.

    It’s hard for me to just let people, especially young people who made this mistake, die on the street (or in their parents’ house) without medical care. Imo, the care should be provided with offered help to go to free (yes, free) treatment against drug addiction. Surely it would cost less than today’s war on drugs, save lives (can government only pay for killing for it to be considered worthwhile?) and bring some revenue from taxes paid by cured people. Also, if possible, I would make them pay for care later, taking care it won’t lead to bankrupting those people and making discounts for being drug-free for X years as an additional incentive in the right direction.

    Insurance companies do *everything* in their power to deny paying. This law would lead not only to drug users being denied, btw. Imagine car crash, the driver or even 1 of passengers was using drugs (at some point in unspecified past since traces are left in blood for a long time). I am sure it would lead to everybody being denied even if the crash had nothing to do with drugs and the user smoke small amount of marihuana (I mean some of less dangerous drugs) long time ago.

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  9. good ideas...you bet says:

    Good ideas come easily. Implementing them is the sticking point. Too many people profit from the war on drugs, including the prison “industry.” Elected officials don’t dare look soft on crime, so keeping those draconian sentences and sentencing guidelines is profitable for them; prison employees and their union also profit. And, Lord–law enforcement is the big winner in this lottery.

    Last year’s change in the mandatory minimum sentences for crack offenses was only a tiny step in the right direction.

    In the meantime, the feds have decided that child porn is going to be their new cash cow. Driving child porn far underground will accomplish the same things that the war on drugs accomplished: a burgeoning prison industry, a popular voting issue (“Soft on child porn? Not me!”) for the politicians, plenty of money for the crooks, and a huge increase in the supply of child porn.

  10. I don’t think the great measures you propose will ever be accepted. The reason for this is that the two mafias – the drug cartels and the governmental “war on drugs” machine – bring too much profit (both monetary and political) to their participants. Neither the cartels nor the governments want to relinquish the income and the power that the illegal status of drugs offers them. It only seems like these two groups are at war with each other. In reality, they are both profoundly invested into the continued illegality of drugs.

    • Thanks for commenting, Clarissa.

      You may well be right. However, I understand that the drug cartels in South and Central America have at least begun to diversify into other spheres — many also illegal but some at least at the fringes of legality. When it appeared in the 1930s that Prohibition would end in the United States, there was little that the mobs could do effectively to make it continue and some also diversified into at least quasi-legitimate business. It was at least rumored that Joseph Kennedy (the father of JFK and the progenitor of the Kennedy Clan) — who had been in the liquor market before Prohibition began and had large supplies waiting just offshore when it ended — was in the bootleg booze trade before Prohibition ended. At any rate, following the end of Prohibition, he and his clan rose to great power in the United States.

      Also, the establishment in the United States does need to find ways to cut costs and to increase revenues; how to do so is quite contentious. Might termination of the war on drugs be seen as a less contentious and possibly more effective way at least to appear to do that than many of the other ways that go and off the table?

      Anyway, I have been pleasantly surprised a few times in the past and may still have a stubborn streak of optimism.

  11. I would really like to learn what others think of my insane suggestions. Come on! Speak! Write!

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