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December 3, 2008

Should we end a failed expensive war (the war or drugs) during these hard economic times?

I have been thinking a lot lately about how the tough economic times are likely to impact crime and punishment realities. I fear that crime rates will inevitably rise because of rising unemployment and reductions in social services. But punishment rates, at least in terms of incarceration rates, cannot possibly also rise because most states are already unable to pay for all their tough-on-crime punishment practices.

Against this backdrop and all the talk of the Great Depression, it is notable that this Friday we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment repealing alcohol prohibition.  (See, e.g., great BLT post here).  It is especially notable because a group of cops, judges and prosecutors who want to legalize drugs issued a report this week saying that ending the "war on drugs" will boost our economy by at least $76 billion a year and will put dangerous gangs and cartels out of business.

The main group behind all this call for a new repeal of old drug prohibitions is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.  Here's what's up on their site today:

December is the 75th anniversary of when America's leaders had the good sense to end alcohol prohibition. Today, we have another ineffective, harmful and expensive prohibition, the "war on drugs." LEAP has made it easy for you to take action and let your legislators know that we can't afford prohibition in these tough economic times. Visit www.WeCanDoItAgain.net for more information.

December 3, 2008 at 03:45 PM | Permalink


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The dangerous drug gangs and cartels will not be out of business because there will always be a black market for those addicts who are not happy with Uncle Sam's daily shot. To think otherwise is extremely naive.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 3, 2008 4:41:02 PM

MJS - the continuing production of moonshine 75 years after prohibition says that you will not entirely eliminate an illegal market for drugs however

1) moonshine is primarily produced in isolated rural areas and isn't really associated with violence - most distribution is locally.

2) moonshining is only illegal due to the lack of payment of taxes tax - the fact is, one can make moonshine legally merely by paying the tax on it. For why they don't, see next point.

3) moonshine continues in production due to culture as much as anything - in some areas primarily in the rural, mountain south (e.g. Franklin County, Virginia who at least, at one point, proudly proclaimed themselves the Moonshine Capital of the United States on a road sign) moonshine is engrained in the culture. In much of these same areas, there is an inherient distrust of authority. Needless to say in these areas, while everyone may know who is making moonshine, there are no prosecutions. The local prosecutors know its a waste of time - if they get a conviction, the jury will set the penalty (in Virginia juries sent sentences) as a fine of $1 and no jail time - and some of them will pretty openly state that they believe that people have the constitutional right to make moonshine in their homes and its none of the revenewers business.

4) yes, people do get arrested for running moonshine and making moonshine - but its extremely rare - unless someone is running large quantities across state lines, the police will pretty much ignore them. Apparently there is very little cost advantage of untaxed moonshine over taxed liquor and the customers who buy it do so because they like the taste or due to cultural reasons

So, it would seem that there really aren't a lot of harms (besides those inherient in the use of alcohol) in the illegal alcohol market today. I'd expect the same thing to happen with other drugs.

Posted by: Zack | Dec 3, 2008 5:19:03 PM

I believe that Marijuana should be legalized not sure I am ready to see the harder drugs (herion,cocaine,Meth) legalized. I have never heard someone being violent or overdosing using marijuana.

Posted by: BS | Dec 3, 2008 6:29:27 PM


Your comparison between moonshine and a hard drug legalization scenario couldn't be more inapposite.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 3, 2008 7:47:42 PM

All this economic doom and gloom is Chicken Little. It's been used to justify the looting of trillions of dollars from the public purse but it has no basis in actual fact. Now that Wall Street has got their "bailout" everyone has their hands out and so everyone has an interest in keeping the narrative going. But it's BS. It was BS when the good time were going to last forever and its BS that we have another Great Depression on our hands. In historical terms, this recession is nothing; it wouldn't even register on the radar.

There may be good reasons to end the war on drugs, but the current economic circumstances aren't one of them.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 3, 2008 9:53:33 PM

This article over at Reason.com is maybe the best brief explanation about why the drug war is not only a complete, counterproductive failure, but unconstitutional as well. This piece is so clear, concise, well-written and right-on, that when I was reading it, I think I felt my penis move... just a little bit.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 3, 2008 10:50:30 PM

Well since this is the US where failure is not an option in order for the war on drugs to end we'd have to declare victory. And I'm not sure anyone is gullible enough to fall for that.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Dec 3, 2008 11:22:46 PM

we were gullible enough to fall for all the reasons we were told for why drugs had to be made illegal - opium causes chinese people to enslave white women, marihuana causes mexicans to steal, cocaine causes black men to rape white women and become impervious to police bullets, LSD causes white children to jump off of buildings or stand in front of trains, etc. So, we're gullible enough to fall for anything.

But the best way to end the drug war would be for the President to just come out and admit that he, along with every president since Nixon, has been lying to us about the dangers of drugs, and that drugs are really not bad at all. Unfortunately, after nearly 4 decades of propaganda, I'm not sure anyone would believe the truth. Drugs don't hurt people, drug prohibition hurts people. And insofar as anything can be used improperly, alcohol is by far the most intoxicating, debilitating drug known to mankind, and it's perfectly legal.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 4, 2008 5:11:16 AM

Bruce M

So drugs don't hurt people? Your credibility is severely compromised.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 4, 2008 9:21:43 AM

mjs - how so? Maybe if you can bring actual facts, you might have an argument - but really, it seems that the only currently illegal drug where there would be a realistic chance of black market production competiting with legal production is marijuana - and with marijuana like alcohol, it is most likely first, that people would have a reasonable case that the illegality of private at home production for at home use would be protected by the Constitutional right to privacy under the 9th Amendment. Second, it is most likely, that illegal production of marijuana is not going to be able to seriously compete with illegal production in the marketplace.

Try citing some actual evidence. It would seem that the alcohol example would tend to show that illegal, black market production will not seriously compete with the legal production. It would seem that illegal production would be even more at a disadvantage when dealing with a commody like cocaine which comes from a plant which can only grow in a small region of the world (and which, of course, has long standing cultural uses in that region).

Posted by: Zack | Dec 4, 2008 10:10:32 AM

ZACK: Cocaine and heroin will be grown regardless of the legalization scenario. Some will go to Uncle Sam's representatives and the rest will go to the black market.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 4, 2008 11:42:24 AM

mjs: No, drugs do not hurt people. Drug prohibition hurts people. It causes drugs to be made underground, so they are impure, adulterated, and sold in unknown quantities. Due to the inability to read the package to know the quantity, sometimes people overdose, though it's much rarer than you'd think due to media reports of "epidemics" (every year there's a new drug "epidemic" because it sells newspapers).

Moreover, people are so brainwashed that when they are caught with a drug, arrested, given a felony conviction and thrown in prison, they actually blame the drug, rather than the bad law. The drug didn't ruin their life, the drug laws did. The same thing applies to drug-related crime. Ban cigarettes and they will instantly move to the black market and there will be cigarette related crime, and courts will be full of people charged with possession of tobacco (which wouldn't surprise me as being the eventual result in 5-10 years).

Like I said, most people have been so brainwashed over 40+ years that the mere suggestion that drugs are not bad is incredulous, and you prove my point quite succinctly.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 4, 2008 11:52:11 AM

Drug laws are rather dangerous pro active laws. These laws make it illegal to use or possess a substance regardless of the affect of that activity. We have selected certain substances for this penalty and exempted others. Thus, marijuana and oxycontin can put you in jail and marlbros and chivas regal cannot. It is very arbitrary.

Jack Kennedy was taking amphetamines, steroids, phenobarbital, amytal, testosterone, methamphetamine, and codeine. He received prescriptions and injections from a variety of physicians at a level that would be over the top abusive. He functioned at a very high level. Clearly with our current criminalization he would be indictable.

Rush Limbaugh took oxycontin at levels that are unheard of. He was also able to function and meet expectations.

The Drug War is manufacturing crime.

Posted by: beth | Dec 4, 2008 11:57:48 AM

Well said, Beth.

The notion that people cannot function on drugs, or that drugs "fry your brain" is not supported by fact. Too much of anything, from water to french fries, can be bad, but drugs are not impossible to use in moderation. And the most dangerous thing about drugs is not knowing what's in them. If you could buy 100% pure heroin for $9.95 per pound at Walmart, heroin would not be a problem. That's the way it used to be, in fact.

For the vast part of human history, all drugs were perfectly legal, readily available, and untainted. Bayer sold heroin over the counter, and it was not a problem. America was founded, won its independence from the British, expanded to the west coast, pioneered the industrial revolution, and became a world superpower all without any drug laws. Only in very recent history have we decided that here in the land of the free, the government should be able to deprive us our freedom for possessing certain leaves, powders, or pills.

Yes some drugs can cause physical addiction, but addiction's only a problem if the substance you are addicted to is illegal, tainted, or extremely expensive (due to black market premium). I'm addicted to Afrin nasal spray, but as long as I don't have to buy a homemade, impure, unmeasured form of it for $100/bottle instead of $5/bottle it's not a problem for me.

Also, being in favor of legalization is not the same as being in favor of legalizing driving while intoxicated. Even though a drunk driver is more dangerous than a driver under the influence of pot, heroin, or amphetamines (the latter can actually improve driving skills), nobody has the right to directly endanger other people. Driving/flying/boating, or operating any heavy machinery while one does not have the normal use of their mental or physical faculties due to the ingestion of any foreign substance is a legitimate criminal offense. But the safe use of a substance is NOT a legitimate criminal offense.

People like MJS won't be able to distinguish the two, unfortunately. They're too brainwashed, though it's not their fault - 40 years of government propaganda beginning in kindergarden is too powerful for most people to be able to question. Especially when they've been given false examples of why the propaganda is correct. I'd suggest such people read Jacob Sullum's excellent book "Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use" to get the other side of this issue. They've heard the propaganda, now get the facts.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 4, 2008 12:59:31 PM


30 years of experience in the field tell me that most people can not use hard drugs in moderation--leading to addiction.

Addictions in and of themselves are problematic-no matter the substance.

By the way, I suggest you have a sit-down with your family physician to discuss your use of nasal sprays. They are not without serious health ramifications.

Posted by: mjs | Dec 4, 2008 8:28:23 PM

I've been using nasal spray for 11 years with no ill effects. 5-6 squirts of Afrin a day greatly improves the quality of my life. But if you ban it and thus force me to buy adulterated afrin on the street, cooked up in someone's dirty bathtub and make it a felony to buy/possess it, then the quality of my life will greatly diminish, and I might even end up in prison. But then it's your fault for passing a stupid law, not the oxymetazoline hydrochloride I've been squirting up my nose in order to breath.

Most people can use hard drugs in moderation, and most hard drugs do not lead to physical addiction, though anything can lead to psychological addiction. It's not hypothetical - hard drugs used to be readily available before prohibition and many people used them in moderation. With opium, laudanum, and heroin sold over the counter, approximately 11% of the population was physically dependent on said opiates. But they could be acquired easily, cheaply, and legally, so it wasn't any more of a problem than a diabetic who needs insulin.

Regardless, there is nothing unhealthy about addiction per se. That's drug warrior propaganda. You can be addicted/dependent on opiates for 40 years with no ill effects. Your teeth will not rot out, your skin will not fall off, you will not become brain damaged (though opioids do cause constipation). Again, people too often confuse the effects of drugs with the effects of drug prohibition (drug laws). If the substance you're addicted to is extremely expensive and adulterated with lord knows what, you may not have money left over for toothpaste and the adulterants may cause health issues. But 100% pure heroin for $9.99/lb would lead to NO problems and would vastly improve the lives of, well, everyone.

The VAST majority of controlled substances do not cause physical addiction. Addiction is only problematic when the substance one is addicted to is illegal. There are two exceptions to that - alcohol and cigarettes, but only because of the smoke, not because of the nicotine. Nicotine does not cause lung cancer, it's the carcinogens in the smoke that increase the risk of cancer.

As for your "experience in the field" I have no idea what you do, but whatever "field" you're in, your opinion is based on selection bias. I have no doubt that you do not see or hear about the vast majority of people who use drugs without any health, life, or legal problems.

Read Jacob Sullum's book, you're highly misinformed. You've only heard (over and over again) one side of the issue - the government's propaganda. Drug prohibition began due to pure racism, and it's remained due to the power and profit it provides the government. But it's just as foolish and counterproductive as alcohol prohibition. In fact, far moreso. It was never illegal to simply possess alcohol during prohibiton, and the Constitution was amended to give the federal government the power to ban the sale/manufacture of alcohol. Not so with the Controlled Substances Act, which is not only unconstitutional on its face, but has caused our rights under the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th, and 14th amendments to be whithered away - there is no way to prohibit people from possessing "evil leaves" in a free society. Thus, freedom must be curtailed, and that's precisely what's happened.

Posted by: BruceM | Dec 4, 2008 9:20:27 PM

My husband almost died from AFRIN Nasal Spray. I am in search of a good Lawyer who can handle this case. He was told by a certified Ear-Nose-Thraot Specialist that he could do Afrin all day long til he's 90 and suffer no affects - HE ALMOST DIED! After years of Afrin use, he ended up in ER with "stroke like" symptoms & SEVERE head pain. He was admitted & then sent homw, Drs found nothing wrong but claimed he had "Afrin poisoning". After a couple days at home (off of work on medical leave for this problem) he went in for an mergency visit with a Neuorlogist specialist. His head pain was unbareable! He was admitted that day to a much larger/better hospital. They also ran an MRI & CT scan, they found it to be "alarming" and very "abnormal", his blood vessels in & around his brain SHRUNK almost causing a stroke, brain aneurysm or clogging of his arteries. They said it was amazing he did not have a stroke or any other serious issues. This just happend (12-412 to 12/22-12). He was discharged today 12-22-12 but is still in some pain & will not be back to "normal" for a few weeks. He has lost wages, etc......We need a lawyer willing to work with us. Please contact us!

Posted by: Afrinkills | Dec 22, 2012 3:43:44 PM

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