Free Markets, Free People

Drug War

Eggs, Omelets, etc.

Here is a police video.  It’s a warrant service on a chap who was believed to have an excessive amount of marijuana in his home.

Alas, the house wasn’t chock full of the sweet hemp of happiness.  Fortunately, however, the family owned a couple of dogs, so the raid wasn’t a total loss.

Megan McArdle says it very well:

This is our nation’s drug enforcement in a nutshell.  We started out by banning the things.  And people kept taking them.  So we made the punishments more draconian.  But people kept selling them.  So we pushed the markets deep into black market territory, and got the predictable violence . . . and then we upped our game, turning drug squads into quasi-paramilitary raiders.  Somewhere along the way, we got so focused on enforcing the law that we lost sight of the purpose of the law, which is to make life in America better.

I don’t know how anyone can watch that video, and think to themselves, “Yes, this is definitely worth it to rid the world of the scourge of excess pizza consumption and dopey, giggly conversations about cartoons.”

And, frankly, I wouldn’t care if the guy had a room full of China White stacked up to the ceiling like he was Authualpa stockpiling gold for Pizarro.  Absent a compelling physical threat from the “dealer”, there’s simply no reason for the police to launch this style of paramilitary raid on a home, especially with children present. Yet, this has become practically the standard method of warrant service.  It’ll probably come as a shock to you, but I can remember a time when nightime raids on private homes were considered the hallmark of police states.

Now, it’s just called “policing”.

And if the 7 year-old kid in the video had been clipped by a stray round or richochet, I’m sure the officers involved would regret it, personally. But, they would undoubtedly say, “I was just doing my job,” a phrase that runs a close second only to “I was only following orders” in the Banality of Evil Hall of Fame.

And the idea that their choice of these tactics will eventually make such an outcome inevitable would probably never even occur to them at all.

An Interesting But Apparently Obscure Health Care Fact

One of the questions constantly posed as the debate over health care insurance reform rages is, “if we have such a great health care system, why is our life expectancy lower than countries with socialized care?”

Well apparently it is our propensity to murder each other and die in car accidents which obscures the fact that with those factored out, we actually enjoy the longest life expectancy. James Joyner provides the numbers and a handy little chart.

But the bottom line is when you remove homicide and car crashes, we jump from number 15 with a life expectancy of 75.3 to number 1 with a life expectancy of 76.9.

So we must be doing something right in the medical field wouldn’t you say – certainly more so than anyone else if you want to hang your hat on life expectancy data that only focuses on what medicine can help.  Drive safely and avoid getting on the losing side of a gun fight and you can expect to be around for longer than any of those in the so-called “more advanced” countries.

And, as Dodd points out, there’s even a way to improve the homicide numbers:

Homicide, however, we could impact immediately and irrevocably right now simply by decriminalizing most (or all) currently illegal drugs. Remove the artificial, government-created scarcity, and the profits and incentive to engage in underworld violence that goes with it, and the homicide rate would fall significantly. More of our young men would survive to middle adulthood, hundreds of thousands of prisoners would be freed (or never created) to engage in productive work, and our life expectancy at birth would jump immediately and permanently. All without the government having to nationalize one-sixth of the economy and expropriate trillions more dollars from the private sector to pay for the hope that the outcome will be improved.

He’s right, of course – remove profit, remove incentive. The drug market today is a government created market. And it reacts to the distorted incentives prohibition introduces into such a market.

We know how to regulate such markets legally. We do it fairly successfully with alcohol. And we don’t have booze gangs shooting it out in turf wars or finding bunches of bodies from bootleg deals gone wrong.

Why we don’t consider reform in this area is beyond me. Life expectancy numbers would certainly see an increase if we did. So would our freedom and liberty numbers.

~McQ

Speaking Of The “Drug War” …

Not everyone engaged in it is the sharpest knife in the drawer – and that goes for both sides.

In this particular case it’s the supply side, instead of the enforcement side, which gets the spotlight:

Officials say a suspected drug dealer who led police on a 90 mph chase in Indiana was arrested after he stopped suddenly at a Taco Bell parking lot.

Fort Wayne police Sgt. Mark Walters says 36-year-old Jermaine Askia Cooper told officers he “knew he was going to jail for a while” and wanted to get one last burrito.

Expect to see a variation on that theme in a Taco Bell commercial soon. At least Cooper was thinking outside the bun.

~McQ

Drug Czar Wants To Banish Idea US Fighting “War On Drugs”

I don’t know if this is a bit of clever semantics or a real shift in policy, it’s just too early to tell, but if true, it may signal the beginning of a move toward sanity as it concerns drugs:

The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

But, of course, that’s precisely what a “war on drugs” has to be – a war on users, suppliers, growers, processors and the supporting network of people who get it from A to B. That’s precisely what we’ve been fighting from its inception and it is a war that’s being lost. It is time to consider the problem again and approach it with a different strategy. After all if input (I) + process(P) = output(O) and you never vary I or P, how can you expect O to ever be any different?

The Obama administration is likely to deal with drugs as a matter of public health rather than criminal justice alone, with treatment’s role growing relative to incarceration, Mr. Kerlikowske said.

Drugs are only a “criminal justice” problem because government chose prohibition – a policy that had been tried and failed miserably decades before – over a more rational and sane approach to drug use. There is no reason that a program that is much less of a threat to all of our freedoms and liberty shouldn’t be tried in the face of the miserable failure of the “war on drugs”. Perhaps then we’d see the violence inherent in the market created by government prohibition, as well as world record incarceration rates, subside dramatically. We can do this much, much better than we’re doing now.

~McQ

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.
drugwar1
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.

~McQ

The Growing Problem At The Mexican/US Border (UPDATE)

The Drug War along the Mexican-US border is getting some high level consideration:

President Obama weighed in Wednesday on the escalating drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that he was looking at possibly deploying National Guard troops to contain the violence but ruled out any immediate military move.

“We’re going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense,” Obama said during an interview with journalists for regional papers, including a McClatchy reporter.

“I don’t have a particular tipping point in mind,” he said. “I think it’s unacceptable if you’ve got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens.”

Already this year there have been 1,000 people killed in Mexico along the border, following 2008’s death toll of 5,800, according to federal officials who credit Mexican President Felipe Calderon for a crackdown on drug cartels.

But the spillover on the border — for example, to El Paso from neighboring Ciudad Juarez — has created a political reaction.

In a recent visit to El Paso, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for 1,000 troops to protect the border.

Obama was cautious, however. “We’ve got a very big border with Mexico,” he said. “I’m not interested in militarizing the border.”

I agree with his point about not “militarizing the border”. And I certainly understand the desire to send in help to quell and control the violence that spills over the border. But my question is, how will the troops be mobilized? The only way Obama can send in National Guard troops as I understand it is by federalizing them. Then it becomes a matter of their role. The Posse Comitatus act prevents federal troops from being used in a law enforcement role except on federal property (like Washington DC). So he’s limited in the role to which he can commit any troops even if he wanted too.

It would seem instead, that perhaps the best way to proceed in this case, if the desire is to send NG troops to the border to help in law enforcement, is for the Governors to mobilize and send them while letting active military lend logistical, intel and perhaps advisory support. But unless they’re sent in a war-fighting mode, there isn’t much of a role for federal troops in this case.

UPDATE: Commenter Jay Evans notes a recent change in the law which may effect this (the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (H.R. 5122)):

 SEC. 1076. USE OF THE ARMED FORCES IN MAJOR PUBLIC EMERGENCIES. (a) USE OF THE ARMED FORCES AUTHORIZED.— (1) IN GENERAL.—Section 333 of title 10, United States Code, is amended to read as follows: ‘‘§ 333. Major public emergencies; interference with State and Federal law ‘‘(a) USE OF ARMED FORCES IN MAJOR PUBLIC EMERGENCIES.— (1) The President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to— ‘‘(A) restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that— ‘‘(i) domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order; and ‘‘(ii) such violence results in a condition described in paragraph (2); or ‘‘(B) suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy if such insurrection, violation, combination, or conspiracy results in a condition described in paragraph (2). ‘‘(2) A condition described in this paragraph is a condition that— ‘‘(A) so hinders the execution of the laws of a State or possession, as applicable, and of the United States within that State or possession, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State or possession are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or
‘‘(B) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

‘‘(3) In any situation covered by paragraph (1)(B), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.

‘‘(b) NOTICE TO CONGRESS.—The President shall notify Congress of the determination to exercise the authority in subsection (a)(1)(A) as soon as practicable after the determination and every 14 days thereafter during the duration of the exercise of that authority.’’.

(2) PROCLAMATION TO DISPERSE.—Section 334 of such title is amended by inserting ‘‘or those obstructing the enforcement of the laws’’ after ‘‘insurgents’’.

It looks like it now depends on the classification of the problem. 

~McQ