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January 3, 2015

"How did a law to regulate heroin traffic turn into the costly, futile War on Drugs?"

150102_schneider_heroin_wikimedia1The title of this post is the subtitle of this lengthy Politico magazine feature carrying the headline "A Hundred Years’ Failure." These titles highlight the basic themes of an article that reviews lots of interesting parts of the modern drug war's back-story, giving special emphasis to opiates and heroin along the way.  Here are a few excerpts from a piece that merits a read in full:

Twenty-five years ago, the stated goal of the United States’ anti-narcotic efforts according to the Department of Justice was to “disrupt, destroy and dismantle drug trafficking enterprises.” That same year, the U.S. government pumped almost $8 billion into anti-drug efforts, including $600 million in prison construction alone. It was just a typical fiscal year during the height of the drug war. But two and a half decades later, despite this dizzying spending, we don’t need a drug czar to tell us—even though one of them has—the war on drugs, by its own measures, has been a century-long failure.

A hundred years ago this month, the U.S. government started this fight to rid us of the scourge of opiates. Today, not only have we failed to control drug demand, an entirely new breed of opiate epidemic has flourished in the face of the most draconian drug laws in the world. Aided by aggressive Big Pharma marketing and enthusiastic “pain specialists,” opiate abuse has simply taken on a new shape, moving from urban enclaves and overrunning pockets of New England and the South, from rural Vermont to the suburbs of Dallas, that have little history of widespread drug abuse. Heroin today is cheaper and purer than it was 50 years ago. That’s to say nothing of the 700 percent increase in incarceration of American citizens in the past four decades, the distribution of nearly $450 million worth of military equipment that is used by local and state law enforcement agencies (that “militarization of the police” you’ve been reading so much about lately), and the creation of a wasteful, labyrinthine bureaucracy dedicated to what has proven a perhaps impossible goal: The eradication of drugs....

At the beginning of the 20th century, everyone’s medicine cabinet contained opium in some form. Patent medicines mixed alcohol and opium, and women used them for menstrual cramps, coughs and other minor symptoms, as well as for infants’ teething pains. Aging Civil War veterans self-injected morphine to soothe old wounds, and physicians dosed patients liberally with opium pills and morphine. Opium smokers, usually Chinese, but also habitués of the urban underworld and the occasional slumming college student, were the most common recreational users....

During the Progressive Era, a culture war was raging over sexuality, alcohol and modern life—as seen in efforts to censure pornography and eliminate “red light” districts—and prohibition offered the best hope of legislating moral certainty. While alcohol prohibition had the largest domestic constituency, drug prohibition fit with foreign policy interests. Years of lobbying by religious groups in both the United States and Britain, who were appalled at opium smoking in China and places to which the Chinese emigrated, culminated in the 1912 Hague Convention, where a dozen countries agreed to regulate the international narcotics traffic and signatories promised to limit opiate use in their own countries....

After a century of aggressive policing, mandatory minimums and enforcement that disproportionately targeted the most marginalized of American citizens, the failure of the war on drugs is ultimately a cautionary tale about pursuing an agenda at any cost—financial or human. From the founding of a vast bureaucratic infrastructure to support the new war, to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on military police equipment, to the $50 billion spent annually on incarceration, the story of fighting addiction in America has brought out its mirror image: An irrational dependence, despite all logic to the contrary, on a steady flow of government cash and brute enforcement.

We should have just said no.

January 3, 2015 at 10:55 AM | Permalink


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"on a steady flow of government cash and brute enforcement."

Working as intended. Agree with it or not the war on drugs cannot be seen as an end in itself but as part of a larger cultural war. Just like welfare in its own way is a bribe to a certain political constituency the war of drugs is also a bribe to a certain political constituency. All the war on drugs has shown is that in the final analysis Americans like short hair rather than long, clean shaven rather than beards, whites better than blacks, and machismo rather than equality. This should surprise no one.

The truth is this: American believe deeply, irrationally, in the Protestant work ethic and anything that interferes with that ethic must be cut off (welfare, the indolence of drugs). There remains no dispute on this point among the overwhelming majority of Americans. The only real debate is whether this these people should be cut off via government intervention or through capitalism's calculated misery.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 3, 2015 1:18:16 PM

To the effect that we are worried about the negative medical and such effects, various efforts against cigarettes and alcohol -- while not w/o problems -- is telling. A glaring example being criminalizing of clean needle exchanges.

Ditto other concerns. I joined others in the past, e.g., flagging to our old friend Bill Otis that criminalization of pot results in negative effects regarding trust of the criminal justice system and its efficient practice that makes it a problem even if we grant usage is immoral. Such is the usual practice with "sin" crimes.

Criminalization here in various ways is a net negative, even if we take the "indolent" drug user is the moral concern here. Of course, that approach has various problems, in part furthered by racist and other factors.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 3, 2015 3:21:33 PM

Simply put, as Cuomo noted about abortion etc., criminalization can be counterproductive even for those who find it immoral. Criminalization of cigarettes would probably have been less useful than the health campaigns to influence legal usage.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 3, 2015 3:23:54 PM

The opiate story supports my theories of the lawyer dumbass, rent seeking as the Grand Unifying Theory of Appellate and Legislative Decisions, and government as a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise, with lawyers making 99% of policy decisions. That fraction is true even if the elected figurehead is not a lawyer. He gets to sign off on what the lawyer staff drafts as legislation. Often, he does not understand what it says.

Say something fails after 10 or 20 or 30 years, stop doing it. Unless it is not in failure, and is achieving its truly intended benefit. This is not a failure at all. It the greatest mob success of all. A bunco operation yielding rent of $billions a year.

If the public health were the real aim, they would have banned cigarettes and alcohol, saving 500,000 lives a year, ending half of all crime, dropping a minimum of a quarter of health costs, not including trauma care of car crashes, shootings, suicide attempts. The ban would have been enforced with mandatory guidelines of the death penalty for repeat dealing, and the lash as often as necessary for purchasers. No prosecutorial discretion. No plea deals. While awaiting review of the death penalty by seasoned investigators looking for innocence, the dealer would be water boarded to solve all his other 1000's of crimes and those of his cohorts.

That being said. Imagine a crakc dealer moves in next door because the vile feminist lawyer loosed him, instead of his being in a $600 million construction budget jail. That cost $2 per citizen. But your $100,000 house would zip down to -$100,000. You could offer a buyer that amount, and no one would take it. Instead of $2 spent, you now have lost $200,000. So save yourself that loss, you threaten the dealer. He just laughs and molests your daughter walking home from school in retaliation. You burn him out, with no injuries. Now, the pro-criminal, vile feminist prosecutor is working very hard to convict you instead of giving you a $10,000 reward for helping your neighborhood. The witch hunt is on for the productive male. Your action has raised the values of the other 10 homes on the street from minus $100,000 back to $100,000, for a total benefit of $2 million. In addition, buyers know they have crack house insurance, because the word has spread about the action.

That horrible, vile feminist lawyer and its male running dogs, those traitors to our nation, will prosecute the public and protect the crack dealer. Why? Because her job is owed to the criminal and not to the victim.

So the lawyer traitor gets you on the front end, over-criminalizing smaller harms, allowing harms bigger by orders of magnitude. Then if the public tries to stop the damage from this treason, the lawyer traitors gets you on the back end. Prosecutes the public defending itself, instead of the criminals.

Now there is a force nearly the strength of the lawyer traitors. That is medicine. They falsely say secondary smoke is dangerous, gone anyway. One may not smoke outside anymore. One has to smoke inside one's car, or get arrested. Very strong if bizarre. They could balance the perfidy of the lawyer, but have not. Why? I am not discussing medical rent seeking, a far bigger and more dangerous criminal enterprise than the rent seeking of the lawyer profession. Sorry. Also they are crazy and violent. In praise of the lawyer profession, I have been shunned, but never threatened with physical retaliation. Lawyers are civilized.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 3, 2015 6:11:47 PM

It is time to outlaw the possession and sale of tobacco. A second step is to cut smokers off from health care subsidized by the public or by insurance unless they are in their own plan consisting of smokers and perhaps crack heads. Sell cyanide in little vials in a machine next to the condom machine at the rest room. Guns are quicker than death by heart disease or lung cancer. Those of you who smoke should never complain about crack heads, heroin addicts or pot heads. On a scale of things you are much worse.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 3, 2015 8:04:37 PM

Lib. Of course, you are correct. What you are saying is self-evident. Retarded kids can understand you.

But to the lawyer? Totally perplexing. He is has no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 3, 2015 9:47:15 PM

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