Free Markets, Free People

Federal Drug Warriors Double Down On The Drug War (UPDATE)

New administration, same lame approach:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mexico in its violent struggle against drug cartels, and acknowledged the U.S. shares blame because of its demand for drugs and supply of weapons.

She said the United States shares responsibility with Mexico for dealing with violence now spilling across the border and promised cooperation to improve security on both sides.

And it’s your fault:

“I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility,” Clinton told reporters, adding: “Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians.”

Of course, if we had control of our borders and drugs weren’t “illegal”, we probably wouldn’t be seeing the slaughter on the border now, would we?

Look, I know, as does everyone who reads this blog, that the sudden realization that it is the prohibition that drives all of this violence and not the demand, isn’t going to suddenly dawn on the politicians. The lessons of 1920’s prohibition have apparently been lost on them. The lawlessness, the gun violence, the flouting of the law by a majority of the population – all were essentially eliminated with the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

I’m not going to make the argument that drugs are good for you, harmless or something I’d want my grandkids to do. But I understand, despite all of that, that our approach – prohibition – is an abject failure and the war on the border is simply a manifestation of that failure.

The key to winning this war is to take the profit motive for criminals out of the equation. For most observers that seems self-evident. No profit, no war. No war, no need for guns and killing.
Yet governments seem to resist that obvious point. Instead they wage “war” on the producers, suppliers and users. But the profits, propped up by the government prohibition, are so obscene that the replacement of producers and suppliers taken out of the “business” is almost instant. And the size of the user population is such that only low single digit percentages of them are ever caught and prosecuted.  It is, relatively speaking, a low risk business with very high rewards for the producers.

In reality, a criminal business is motivated by the very same things as is a legal business. It responds to the same sorts of market incentives as a legal business. The market, however, isn’t created by natural demand and regulated by competition. Instead, the market is one created by government prohibition. No prohibition, no “illegal” demand. No illegal demand, no possibility of the obscene profits enjoyed and no real appeal to a criminal enterprise or syndicate.

So calling for more of the same in terms of addressing this problem seems insane. As long as the prohibition remains in place the profit motive for the criminal gangs remains in place as well. And as long as the profits are large enough to more than offset the losses incurred in the distribution process (and the fight with governments and police), they will continue in their “business” until such a profit motive disappears.  And as long as the price of drugs remains reasonably low and readily available (and the enjoyment remains high), and the population wanting them remains large, demand will remain pretty constant.

As has been demonstrated for decades, governmental efforts to stem both supply and demand through prohibition has been a pitiful failure. Yet here we are, getting ready to double down on this horribly failed policy.

In reality, this is again a manifestation of the nanny state. It is a determination by government that something it has decided is detrimental to individuals should be denied them. Instead of approaching the issue as it did with alcohol, our government has eschewed the lessons learned and the success of that effort in favor of the approach it is now taking.

To most rational people such an approach seems absurdly irrational. Yet there is no serious debate within government circles about the failure of the present approach or discussion of alternatives. And that’s in the face of evidence that drugs are now being used to finance terror organizations.

Something has got to change. And it needs to change quickly, or what you see on the border now will only grow worse. We’ve talked about how governments can distort markets. What you see now is a classic example of the results of such a distortion.

UPDATE: New York is trying something different in terms of combatting drugs.  Although still not signed into law, the Governor and legislature have agreed to legislation which would dismantle much of the ’70s era “mandatory sentencing” laws and put more of an emphasis on treatment:

The deal would repeal many of the mandatory minimum prison sentences now in place for lower-level drug felons, giving judges the authority to send first-time nonviolent offenders to treatment instead of prison.

The plan would also expand drug treatment programs and widen the reach of drug courts at a cost of at least $50 million.

New York’s drug sentencing laws, imposed during a heroin epidemic that was devastating urban areas nearly four decades ago, helped spur a nationwide trend toward mandatory sentences in drug crimes. But as many other states moved to roll back the mandatory minimum sentences in recent years, New York kept its laws on the books, leaving prosecutors with the sole discretion of whether offenders could be sent to treatment.

“We’re putting judges in the position to determine sentences based on the facts of a case, and not on mandatory minimum sentences,” said Jeffrion L. Aubry, an assemblyman from Queens who has led the effort for repeal.

“To me, that is the restoration of justice.”

To me, it’s a start.


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11 Responses to Federal Drug Warriors Double Down On The Drug War (UPDATE)

  • I’ll just leave this here for Bruce.  It is a line lifted from another blog about Obama’s use of teleprompters:

    “Tonight, I want to address the American people and tell them that error code 024 call technician for service.”
    I had to laugh…and share.

  • The Obama administration does not care about drugs or the border or the Constitution.  This blame America is the opening shot in the assault on the Second Amendment.  Obama will say, “We just can’t allow assault weapons to be sold here.”  An assault weapon will be any handgun, pump, lever action or semiautomatic rifle or shotgun.  He will do it by executive order as an “emergency” action to stem the flow into Mexico.

    Personally, I doubt that the drug runners buy weapons here.  They are buying (or being given) military fully automatic weapons.

  • Hillary needs to look within to find the enemy. The only friends I know in my greater circle that enjoy recreational substances are die-hard liberals with an “alternative smoking” lifestyle. The two go hand-in-hand, sweetheart. In the rare case of a conservative abusing substances, they tend to come in the form of prescription med abuse ala Limbaugh, and it doesn’t take a drug runner across the border to provide that supply.

    Democrats… always destroying and then blaming us for their wrecks.

  • Drug users aren’t the enemy, even if they might be poisoning themselves.    In this case I think McQ is right, prohibition simply doesn’t work, and thus we are doomed to both high levels of drug abuse and crime and violence in our streets and on our borders.  But given how some want to expand the fight to a war on tabacco or even a war on sugar, I doubt sanity will come to the regulations any time soon.

  • I agree that prohibition has been a disaster.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid that it isn’t only the politicians who “double down”: it’s the general public that has been educated (indoctrinated?) since grammar school to believe that drugs are an evil that MUST be stamped out.

    Lost in all the hysteria is the simple idea that adults ought to be treated as… well… ADULTS.  “If you want to snort coke or smoke crack, that’s fine: it’s your brain you’re destroying.  But heaven help you if you hurt somebody while you’re stoned (or drunk), because we’re not going to have too much mercy.”

    Unfortunately, medical cost concerns also play a role thanks to our national belief that medical care should be cheap / free: “WHAT???? You’re doing DRUGS???  Don’t you realize that you could overdose or get hepatitis-C or even HIV???  The rest of us will have to pay for your medical bills when that happens!  So, we’ll just nip the problem in the bud and make sure you CAN’T do drugs.”

  • You must not be allowed to make any choices for yourselves.

    I’m just glad I grew up in a relatively free country.  I’m sorry my children never experienced what I did.  They think this is normal. 

    • I was with students in Italy in February (blogged about the trip on my blog Feb 12 – 23).  They were shocked by the lack of laws limiting where people could smoke, lack of no-smoking sections in restaurants, the fact they could go places with no mandatory disability access, or the fact that they could drink at 18 and not even have to show ID.  Climbing one tower we ran across a stairway which had no rail and uneven steps.  “Don’t they worry about getting sued,” asked one student.   “In the US they could claim negligence that there’s no rail and the steps are in disrepair.” 

      My response:  “Here a judge would say, ‘couldn’t you see that there was no rail, or look at the steps you’re climbing?'”   Are Americans more free than Europeans?    Well, we pay less taxes.  But in every day life the regulations in the US are often much more stifling.  (Though the Brits are getting a bit weird in their rules, and photographing everyone…)

  • I disagree with nearly every word in your post, McQ. Though having heard Hillary Clinton run through the usual platitudes about the drug problem was enough to make me wretch.

    For starters, I don’t think that drug proscription is directly analagous to alcohol prohibition, even if it does cause similar responses by producers. There are different root justifications for the proscriptions.

    The concept of the “drug war,” on the pro and the con side makes use of the war metaphor with the usual results: no clarity.

    Drug proscription is really part of the culture war (which I believe is an accurate use of the war metaphor) that runs parallel with the economic war (which together constitute the cold civil war in the U.S. and in the West more generally). Libertarians generally take the view that there is no culture war, or that if there is one, they aren’t interested in it. That’s why I’m do not consider myself a libertarian even though I share many common bonds with them.

    But in more or less libertarian terms, there will never be sufficient “legalization” of drugs in this country to end what are thought of as the perils of prohibition. First, the government will become the drug dealer, further lowering the character of government and the character of the people along with it. Second, it will never be legal to sell drugs to teenagers, which is the main target market now, and the black market will still exist.

    Drugs are a cultural catastrophe. For people of my generation, smokin’ a little weed, well, what’s wrong with it? But the potency of a lot of weed on the market, and on the market for a long time, has made it about the equivalent of a horse’s hoof to the head. And while it’s only a correllation, the rise of weed can be tracked, over forty years, I think, with the decline in learning. (I like to blame the schools, but it’s not just the schools.)

    Drugs are not same as the traditionally established poisons of alcohol and tobacco. They are much worse, in my opinion, and I resist this effort by libertarians to plant the flag of liberty in dung. It doesn’t belong there. And I reject with it how economic arguments are used via a vis culture, which was a habit of Milton Friedman and others that I never liked. Culture is not a dime store, nor even a long term political, transaction.  On the other hand, the long-term cultural disintegration of the West was not incited by drugs (as far as I know, though who knows what some of the French revolutionists were doing to themselves), they are absolutely an accelerant, and are very efficient as well as a fixitive, holding populations and communities in place as they rot.

    I’ve been through all the declensions of this argument in the past, so I’ll depart from this thread because I don’t have enough hours in the next 24 to go back through every objection to my position on this. But I do think that the extent to which the United States is still a functional society, some credit has to be given to keeping drugs illegal (and yes, I understand the dynamic appeal of that which is forbidden, but drugs were no less appealing in the places where they were effectively decriminalized and carried no particular stigma — I refer to the 1970s in NYC, where as late as the early 80’s blowing a doobie on Madison Avenue at lunch and control of city parks by dealers was common).

    That’s my dissent, and I’ll happily get out of the way as the cans and bottles come flying in.

    • They are much worse, in my opinion, and I resist this effort by libertarians to plant the flag of liberty in dung.

      Hardly dung, Martin. It’s a bit like “hate-speech”. I may not like it, I may find it to be vile, degrading, bordering on incitement and totally noxious, but if I believe in liberty, then I find it to be my job to defend it just as much as I might defend speech I agree with. There may be dung (hate speech/drugs) scattered around the flag of liberty, but it isn’t planted in dung when it is deployed against statist inclinations to deny something because they have strong feelings against it or just don’t like it. I know I don’t have to describe the slippery slope that finds one on.

      The flag in question is planted in the rock of individual choice, even when we don’t agree with all the choices individuals choose to make. And by basing it in individual choice, we have just as much right to demand individuals who make such choices be responsible for the consequences of those choices. I have no sympathy for someone who gets picked up for DUI. That’s the price for acting irresponsibly after making a choice. I see no reason the same sorts of standards couldn’t be applied to drug use.

      I certainly don’t just accept as valid any decision by society’s “leaders” about what is best for me just because they have the power to enforce their belief.

      Here’s a truth as old as man: people are going to get high, whether you like and accept it or not. As you might imagine, they really don’t care what you think or like. So it simply becomes a force of wills and, as has been proven for decades it is a battle the enforcers are going to consistently lose. They always have. Oh they’ll get their small victories and fill up the jails with the 3 or 4% of users and sellers they catch, but they will not stop the trade. It’s not a fad. It’s not something which is going to stop, or go away.

      So it is time to reevaluate the problem. There are various way to do that, none of which are being serious considered, mostly because of attitudes like the one you reflect.

      We’ve just said “no”. We’ve scared people straight. We’ve cracked down. We’ve used mandatory sentencing. We’ve taken over-the-counter drugs back behind the counter. We monitor what people buy (grow lights, chemicals, over-the-counter meds). We monitor how much energy they use. We have resorted to no-knock searches in which innocent people lose their lives. And we’ve not even made a dent in the problem.

      Are you content to see this abomination continue as it is? Aren’t you the least concerned that perhaps it is liberty, even if you don’t like the form it takes in this particular case, which is taking the beating? Does it concern you that what is happening on the border is a natural consequence of our present policy toward drugs?

      • McQThe flag in question is planted in the rock of individual choice, even when we don’t agree with all the choices individuals choose to make. And by basing it in individual choice, we have just as much right to demand individuals who make such choices be responsible for the consequences of those choices. I have no sympathy for someone who gets picked up for DUI. That’s the price for acting irresponsibly after making a choice. I see no reason the same sorts of standards couldn’t be applied to drug use.

        Hear, hear!

    • I once thought the same way you do Martin.  Then, I read a lot of well researched books.  And everyone of them pushed me further and further to the realization that Nothing works like liberty, and nothing succeeds like personal freedom, with personal responsibility.

      here is a nice little reading list on the subject:
      Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum

      Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs by James Gray

      Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition by Jeffrey A. Miron

      Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times, and Places  by Robert J. MacCoun and Peter Reuter

      Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society by Peter McWilliams

      Undoing Drugs: Beyond Legalization by Daniel K. Benjamin, Roger LeRoy Miller

      Drugs in America: The Case for Victory : A Citizen’s Call to Action by Vincent Bugliosi

      Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana”, by Alan W. Bock