I first posted this four-part series on the War on Drugs in March and April of 2011. I plan to revisit the series and add a Part V. This is because a decade and a half of data is now available from Portugal after they legalized drugs in their country. This gives us some insight on the doomsday scenarios painted by those who adamantly oppose legalization. Mind you, I am not trying to convert anyone. I am laying out facts. You may challenge my facts – I have given the sources for all.
Please remember that these were written nearly 5 years ago and some statistics and laws have changed.
It’s worse than a crime; it’s a blunder.
It is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society.
Unknown author (Possibly the Libertarian, Murray N. Rothbard)
Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another. Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.
Americans face a thorny issue. Should “recreational drugs” be legalized or should we redouble our efforts through the “drug war” to interdict use of these stimulants? The dichotomy is a false one. To oppose the “war on drugs” and to believe that legalization is a better course of action does not mean that one who believes the latter also believes that drug use is s good thing. I do not use “recreational” drugs and strongly advise against the use of “recreational” drugs. I neither smoke nor consume alcoholic beverage (legal drugs) – the latter because alcohol is one of my triggers for migraine headaches, not because I believe alcoholic beverages to be the “devil’s work.” Drugs that cloud the mind can potentially degrade the body, as well. The images below are pictures of a woman who used methamphetamines over a 10-year span. These images are scary to say the least.
I suspect that many of my readers will disagree with this posting. However, the libertarian side of my personality feels strongly about this issue. The United States needs to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and heroine. Will this be a panacea? No. However, it is far more rational and “American” than what we are currently doing. Arguments for the War on Drugs are becoming increasingly seen as wrong-minded. What I can say with near certainty is that the “War on Drugs” has failed miserably. Perhaps it is time for a diametrically different approach.
R. Gil Kerlikowske was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. He brings 37 years of law enforcement and drug policy experience to the position. What does he say about the “war on drugs?” “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.” After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and God knows how many thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.
If we legalize drugs violence by drug-crazed persons will increase.
The ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (Prohibition) occurred on January 16, 1919. It was then repealed on December 5, 1933. In that brief 14-year span, this ill-conceived law did not stop people from drinking alcoholic beverages. In this Amendment we see the culmination of government hubris. I want the government to protect me from you. I do not want the government to protect me from me.
The purposeful production of alcoholic beverages has been documented back to the Stone Age. It is common to nearly every culture. Indeed, it has been speculated that beer preceded bread as a staple in the human diet. The 18th Amendment was an ill-conceived attempt designed to thwart human nature.
While it did not stop alcohol consumption, it did spawn what we now call “organized crime.” At the time, the “crime organization” was the Sicilian Mafia. The Mafia had been around for a long time, but prohibition supplied the needed revenue to make this organization one of the most powerful crime syndicates in all of history. Despite the repeal of the Amendment, it was too late. The power of organized crime did not simply vanish. We were stuck with it.
The current crime organizations spawned by the “drug war” are the so-called “drug cartels.” These organizations make the Mafia seem like playground bullies. The drug cartels wield enough wealth and power to challenge entire nations – nations with armies – and successfully.
“Each of the most violent episodes in this century (referring to the USA) coincides with the prohibition on alcohol and the escalation of the modern-day war on drugs. In 1933 the homicide rate peaked at 9.7 per 100,000 people, which was the year that alcohol prohibition was finally repealed. In 1980, the homicide rate peaked again at 10 per 100,000 in relation to the escalation of the war on drugs.” [From the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.]
At least 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico as a direct result of the “Drug War” started by President Phillipe Caulderon just 3.5 years ago. Compare that to the 6000 American combat deaths from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 8 years (some American war deaths in Afghanistan are also related to drug trafficking). As noted above, the prohibition homicide rate peak seen in 1933 at 10 per 100,000 is comparatively modest when placed alongside the current homicide rate in El Salvador (71/100K) and Honduras (67/100K) – two new drug distribution centers since Mexico began its interdiction. These fatalities again are the direct result of the “war on drugs,” not the consumption of drugs. What can be said with certitude is that the phenomenal amounts of money involved in drug trafficking (see below) have given us the most violent crime organizations in modern history and some of the most corrupt governments. Here is the choice for many government officials in Central and South America. Cooperate and become wealthy or fight us and we will slaughter everyone in your family. You will be last. Think about it.
The above data from 2001 demonstrates that, in a single year, assets approaching a $500 million were seized by the government. Due to the murky world of the trade, it’s hard to find hard facts about the profits being made. In its 1997 World Drugs Report estimated the value of the market at $400 billion, ranking drugs alongside arms and oil amongst the world’s largest traded goods. With these kinds of financial resources in the hands of brutal drug cartel chieftains, violence will be nearly impossible to eradicate. Force will not accomplish this end. These revenues must be severely curtailed to decrease the violence they beget.
By contrast, drug violence perpetrated by drug users is almost solely due to a need to acquire sufficient funds to feed their drug habit. If this were not an issue this portion of drug violence would likely be eradicated. Further, the drug violence perpetrated by drug cartels would necessarily diminish remarkably. Americans are the largest market for illegal drugs. Put the sale and disbursement of these same drugs into the hands of the State governments instead of drug cartels and the latter are essentially put out of business.
Returning to the drug violence perpetrated by drug users, one can see below that the crime listed as a “violent” act by drug users is overwhelming robbery, not assault or homicide (I apologize that the data are somewhat old – I couldn’t find more recent data). Again, the data show that the vast majority of offenses leading to imprisonment in either Federal or State institutions are related to “property” or “drug law” offenses, not violence.
The War on Drugs keeps drugs out of the hands of Americans.
Let us, for the moment, not focus on illegal drugs transported across our borders, but only consider production on American soil. Marijuana is now the nation’s number one cash crop. It exceeds corn and soybeans. The study, admittedly by a group against the war on drugs [Marijuana Arrests in the United States (2007), by Jon Gettman], nonetheless used official government figures. The study showed that between 1981 and 2006 US marijuana production increased from 1000 metric tons to 10,000 metric tons (2.2 million pounds). This is a $35 billion business on US soil alone. Further, due to the ingeniousness of American entrepreneurs, the growing of marijuana is now so cleverly diffused throughout America that it cannot be eradicated!
According to a Library of Congress report, “an estimated 50 percent of the marijuana available in the United States is imported.” There seems to be general agreement among law enforcement officials that only a maximum of 10 percent of the marijuana being smuggled into the United States is intercepted.”
According to this report: “Calculating the total amount of marijuana available in a given year based on the amount seized during that year necessarily provides only a rough estimate. If only 10 percent of illicit drugs are seized in any given year, then, based on the figure of 2,412,365 pounds of marijuana seized in 2002, one could estimate that in 2002 the total amount of marijuana that traffickers succeeded in smuggling into the country was roughly 24 million pounds, or about 10,889 metric tons. If one doubles that amount to take into account the domestic production of marijuana that was not seized, then the total amount would be closer to 22,000 metric tons.”
From 1998 to 2003 federal drug seizures averaged 2,410,571 lbs per year. On this basis one can estimate that on average traffickers succeeded in smuggling into the United States roughly 24.1 million lbs of marijuana annually, or 10,932 metric tons per year. As in the example above, taking domestic production into account this suggests that there is a supply of marijuana in the United States of 21,865 metric tons annually.
The War on Drugs has curtailed the spread of drug use by Americans.
The following graph depicts two things without any ambiguity. The drug war has failed miserably in preventing Americans from partaking in “illegal” drugs. Americans that wish to use these drugs for whatever reason find them plentiful and easily obtained. It also points out that increased availability and increasing use by adults has not affected juvenile usage to any significant degree. Parental guidance, far more than availability or government intervention, appears to be the key factor in limiting spread amongst minors. The graph also shows us that “starting as a minor” is not the reason we are seeing a marked increase in adult drug usage.
That drugs are plentiful in the USA is well shown in the data below. Again, one must do a computation to determine what percentage of these drugs you believe that the Federal government seizes – 10%, 20%, more, less. I would be surprised if the seizures were 20% of the total amount produced in the US or illegally imported. These statistics indicate an available volume of illegal drugs that boogles the mind.
The revenues expended by the Drug Enforcement Agency to accomplish these very modest “gains” are huge.
Thus, these are my conclusions:
1. Drug violence is the result of making drugs “illegal” much more so than the violence begotten from the taking of these drugs.
2. Interdicting drug traffic is an abysmal failure. Drugs are plentiful and easily obtained.
3. The use of drugs by adults has not been curtailed by waging a “war on drugs.” Exactly the opposite appears to be the case.
4. Drug use by adults is not the result of “starting as a minor.”
5. The prevalence of drug use among minors and adults are unrelated.
6. We are spending more and more to interdict drug use and are less and less successful. (Does that mean that we are doing what Einstein stated was the definition of insanity? He instructed us “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Answer: No. We are worse than insane, because we keep doubling down and get worse and worse results.)
7. If the sale of drugs were controlled by the State, the tax revenues would be more than sufficient to fund drug education and drug rehabilitation programs. If one then adds the revenues currently spent to interdict drugs the amounts would be remarkable. Further, add in the amounts of dollars needed to incarcerate drug “offenders” and the total begins to look like we can pay off the national debt.
I will continue with this subject in the near future. I was concerned that the current posting would be too long. Unfortunately, I believe that goal has already elluded me.