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How To Cut Crime And Solve The Fiscal Crisis
Legalize coke (and other drugs), tax them, and sell them at the corner drugstore. Camilla Cavendish writes in The Times/UK:

The benefits of legalisation could be enormous. Overcrowded prisons would be relieved of people needing treatment rather than punishment (about 15 per cent of prisoners are in for possession or supply). Addicts would not be forced into associating with criminals. Children could be safe in Britain's playgrounds again.

Something similar happened in 1933, when America repealed Prohibition. The ban on alcohol had corrupted the police, increased the number of hard drinkers and created a whole new criminal class of bootleg suppliers. Britain's equivalent of Prohibition was the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. Up to that time we had treated addiction as an illness, heroin addicts got their fix on prescription, and there were only 5,000 problematic drug users, according to Transform, the drug policy group. Thirty years on there are 280,000. That is a direct result of Drugs Inc, which makes more money from pushing harder substances. Our laws have created crack, a concentrated form of cocaine, and skunk, a concentrated form of cannabis, both of which are devastating.

The prohibitionists fail to distinguish between recreational and problem users. The vast majority of people stick to recreational use of cocaine, Ecstasy and substances that even the Strategy Unit has classified as low-risk. There are tragic cases, of course, but they are often caused by impure supplies. Cocaine and Ecstasy can be cut with other substances. Glass has recently been found in cannabis - another nasty aspect of Drugs Inc that would disappear if the market went to Boots.

Annual deaths from drug use (about 2,000) are still minuscule compared with those related to alcohol and tobacco (about 160,000). These figures are not precise, because some people abuse all three. But it is arguable that the violence associated with the illegal drugs trade does more harm than the drugs themselves.

Posted by aalkon at March 7, 2008 8:44 AM

Comments

Drugs are bad for people.

I like 'em too, just saying.

Posted by: Crid at March 7, 2008 2:33 AM

Let me get this straight: One hundred and sixty thousand people die per year in the USA in alcohol-related action, and this is an indication of success? And that it would be a great idea to allow more public impairment?

Posted by: Radwaste at March 7, 2008 5:00 AM

people who are going to use drugs are going to use them whether they are legal or not. prison does not help them quit, it just crowds the prisons. we might as well have it legal, regulate what the stuff gets cut with, and make tax money from it instead of from me. also regulate prices, so at least maybe dealers won't get rich off people's addictions. i don't know. that probably wouldn't work. but it might be worth a try.

on the other hand, if we did legalize it, the US government, i am told, would go bankrupt. although how that would be different from now i'm not sure.

Posted by: kt at March 7, 2008 6:59 AM

Alcohol is available to me at this moment, yet I'm going to write this morning, not get drunk off my ass.

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at March 7, 2008 7:27 AM

also regulate prices, so at least maybe dealers won't get rich off people's addictions.

If drugs were legalized, the price would fall drastically on its own, just as it did with alcohol. The point is to replace the skell on the corner with Walgreen's. If Walgreen's makes a tidy profit, at least we know they won't spend it on drive-by shootings, just as we don't see Anheuser-Busch trucks shooting it out with Coors trucks or the cops. Finally, if a junkie goes bankrupts, it's his own fault; we don't regulate alcohol prices to protect alcoholics. As for the rest of your comment, I can only say "Amen!"

Posted by: Jordan at March 7, 2008 8:25 AM

I agree with Amy. And with Crid.

One hundred and sixty thousand people die per year in the USA in alcohol-related action, and this is an indication of success? And that it would be a great idea to allow more public impairment?

Posted by: justin case at March 7, 2008 8:35 AM

Crap. A bunch of my last comment got lost and I don't have the time to reproduce.

The Cliff's notes version: I think that Rad has a point, but that it's too narrowly focused. I'd be willing to accept a few more addicts and people dead of drug overdoses if we were able to reduce our expenses on prisons, quit providing a massive revenue stream to guerilla armies, terrorists, drug cartels in Mexico, and street gangs in the U.S. Plus we wouldn't need to wage deforestation campaigns that are very destructive in places like Columbia. On balance, I think the economic analysis - including increased human costs in some places (more drug deaths) and decreased human costs in others (fewer cops get killed) - favors decriminalization.

Posted by: justin case at March 7, 2008 8:42 AM

Let me get this straight: One hundred and sixty thousand people die per year in the USA in alcohol-related action, and this is an indication of success? And that it would be a great idea to allow more public impairment?

Freedom isn't free. A hell of a lot of people die in traffic accidents and swimming pools every year too. As others pointed out, the loss of freedom far outweighs the additional deaths which may occur from drug legalization.

Posted by: Jordan at March 7, 2008 8:53 AM

Problem is, if we decriminalize drugs, there goes the CIA's pin money. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at March 7, 2008 9:33 AM

I love potheads! They always have Little Debbies to share.

Posted by: kg at March 7, 2008 9:57 AM

Here ya go, kg! >_o

Posted by: Flynne at March 7, 2008 10:10 AM

I'm in favor of legalizing softer "recreational" drugs but I don't think legalization is the panacea some seem to view it as.

I don't believe everyone who sells drugs does so simply b/c the economics are so irresistable. Some studies have shown that on *average* many drug sellers earn less than minimum wage.

If drug sales were legalized, do you think all the criminals selling on the street would just go apply to work at Walgreen's? I think they'd take up some other form of crime to replace their lost drug income.

Also while treatment for drug users is certainly better than incarceration, I think it's also a mistake to think that the property crime associated with drug use would disappear. Chronic drug users are still going to have to buy food and pay rent and come up with money for all the other things they'd probably like to have if their money weren't getting soaked up by expensive illegal drugs. I doubt a prescription program is going to suddenly turn them into responsible, employable citizens who can fund the rest of their existence with a job a the DMV or something.

Posted by: BerthaMinerva at March 7, 2008 11:11 AM

Bertha,

The studies (check out Freakonomics) are true. But the economics aren't it. I think many join up with the big drug sellers in their neighborhoods without illusions of making it big.

It's about protection. Being a part of something that might keep you alive. The money sucks, but if you don't join it might put you at risk. Survival isn't just about money.

Legalizing drugs (some at least...) is a step in the right direction. But it's important for Americans to realize that drugs aren't necessarily the root of the problem - the WHOLE THING is broken and sickly intertwined. If drugs don't provide the lifeblood for gangs (even unofficial ones) it's one factor removed from the equation. "Drug Inc." isn't just the cause; drugs are the result of many conditions.

Posted by: Gretchen Author Profile Page at March 7, 2008 12:21 PM

I just got an email from a friend of mine, whose friend's son is in the hospital. He od'd on heroin Tuesday night, but his friends were too scared to call an ambulance, and by the time they got him to the hospital, he had suffered oxygen depletion. The docs say his organs are shutting down one by one, and he's not going to make it. He's 20 years old.

Posted by: Flynne at March 7, 2008 12:39 PM

"Alcohol is available to me at this moment, yet I'm going to write this morning, not get drunk off my ass."

And we would be fine if the whole nation was "you". Unfortunately not - and because alcohol is legal, you have a fine chance of being killed by a drunk driver, despite the best efforts of authorities. Want to talk about the loss of freedoms? OK - you also get traffic stops to look for drunk and unlicensed drivers.

If anybody wants to talk about what may happen with more "drug freedoms", don't forget to calculate the number of lives that may have been saved by not allowing your local drunks to walk into WalMart for their bottle.

-----

You know, I can't believe how shallow and superficial this thinking is. Just what will you do to establish the limits of intoxication for each drug? Keep in mind that if you are going to judge impairment, you have to have testing and arrive at a legal definition. How do you propose to give the city police in Goose Creek, SC a means to test for LSD if you legalize it? Just how do you propose to protect the consumer from the obvious health effects?

Criminy. This is hypocrisy! What do you think smokers are doing - over your and others' stentorian objections on health and second-hand effects grounds?

Posted by: Radwaste at March 7, 2008 12:47 PM

Here's Dalrymple (a rerun from earlier comments):

"...In China, millions of Chinese addicts gave up with only minimal help: Mao Tse-Tung's credible offer to shoot them if they did not. There is thus no question that Mao was the greatest drug-addiction therapist in history."

Yes, a fondness for narcotic effects is a broad human weakness. (I know this. Really.) But the fact that it's human nature doesn't mean we should just let the appetite roar. Just like sex and anything else, social tolerance has a lot to do with how much misery this behavior causes.

Posted by: Crid at March 7, 2008 1:06 PM

Stanton Peele points out that people can give up -- addiction, while certainly chemically driven, is also opting for immediate gratification over longterm gratification. He argues against the "disease model" of addiction, which suggests people are helpless in the face of the ability of drugs, which -- see Crid's example above -- clearly, they are not. They just aren't motivated enough to quit.

A book by Peele on this issue: Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control.

Posted by: Amy Alkon Author Profile Page at March 7, 2008 1:29 PM

For anyone who believes that legalization of drugs will eliminate crime, I highly recommend Sanyika Shakur's "Monster," a chilling account of L.A. gang life in the early 80's, BEFORE drug economies took over. Cliff's Notes - impovershed inner-city denizens found reasons to kill each other in horrible, violent ways long before there was any money in it.

Last time this topic came up, Vlad and I had a spirited debate. My view: I just don't think the government can create an effective infrastructure to cheaply move enough product to impact crime. Vlad disagreed.

Posted by: snakeman99 at March 7, 2008 1:36 PM

Just like sex and anything else, social tolerance has a lot to do with how much misery this behavior causes.

Yep, this is key. No matter what drugs are legal, there are certain types and degrees of being fucked up that will never be socially acceptable. And this is a good thing. If you want a good job, a good life, you can't go around being wasted lots of the time. No law can change that fact.

Keep in mind that if you are going to judge impairment, you have to have testing and arrive at a legal definition.

A relatively minor detail, all things considered. It's not that hard to come up with some good performance related benchmarks that could be used in a field test to determine if someone lacks the coordination and decision making ability to drive a car, etc.

As I've said, it's wrong to think that making drugs legal wouldn't lead to an increase in some drug-related deaths or injuries. I'm happy to concede that. However, considering only those things without considering what gets getter as a result doesn't strike me as the correct way to do public policy analysis. The correct question is how do those things balance against, among other things: the other lives not lost, when the gangsters here and in Mexico and Columbia and etc. don't have such a steady stream of cash coming their way to buy weapons; the cops not shot executing a search warrant or pulling over a drug courier; the money we don't waste locking up so many people in prisons, the tax revenues that are gained, environmental improvements when hemp can be used instead of trees for paper, etc.

I'd love to see a sober, fair analysis of the full question - not just one aspect of it.

Posted by: justin case at March 7, 2008 1:49 PM

For anyone who believes that legalization of drugs will eliminate crime

Does anyone actually think this?

Posted by: justin case at March 7, 2008 1:51 PM

I don't think the assertion is that legalizing drugs will eliminate ALL forms of crime across the board, just that it will eliminate SOME forms of crime to SOME wortwhile extent.

This is often part of the argument in favor of legalizing drugs. Not the whole rationale, but certainly part of it.

Posted by: BerthaMinerva at March 7, 2008 2:43 PM

It's a stretch to think legalization of drugs will eliminate crime, but it should reduce it.

How did they become illegal in the first place? The roster of "baaaaad drugs" seems random.

I don't indulge in various fun chemicals because I have no idea how to obtain them and it's not a priority to find out or assume the risk of doing so. Ironic, since I'm sure there's a strong supply chain nearby as there is in every suburban town. But if the Feds dropped Prohibition II I would happily and safely sample.

Posted by: DaveG at March 7, 2008 2:45 PM

Alcohol was legal and it took a Constitutional amendment to make it illegal. Cocaine, Marijuana, etc were legal, now they are illegal. But where is the Constitutional amendment making them illegal?

"regulate interstate commerce" puhleeeez!

Posted by: winston at March 7, 2008 5:14 PM

The assertion that a Constitutional amendment was required to make alcohol illegal is false. That was a political move sought to illustrate the seriousness of the problem.

"It's not that hard to come up with some good performance related benchmarks that could be used in a field test to determine if someone lacks the coordination and decision making ability to drive a car, etc."

Bzzt! Fail. Such a test must name the impairing substance. A person may be removed from their vehicle for being impaired (which is too late, if you want this argument to go pro-drug), but they may not be charged with a crime or infraction unless the substance abuse is shown. That means that you must identify it.

Hey - I'm waiting for you guys to rush to the support of smokers now. Apparently it's their right to load hospitals with cancer cases, fling butts everywhere, start fires at home and at the roadside and disgust you with secondhand smoke at Starbucks as they use their wholly legal (and definitely poisonous) drug.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 7, 2008 9:38 PM

Alcohol was legal and it took a Constitutional amendment to make it illegal. Cocaine, Marijuana, etc were legal, now they are illegal. But where is the Constitutional amendment making them illegal?

"regulate interstate commerce" puhleeeez!

Part of the equation is also the fact that the federal government ignores the constitution with increasing impunity. It's the job of the Supreme Court to enforce the constitution, but they increasing fail to do so.

Large parts of the federal government's activities are, in fact, unconstitutional. Department of Education? Department of Housing and Urban Development? Flip through a catalog of federal agencies and compare it to Amendment X of the Constitution (The powers not delegated...by the Constitution...are reserved to the states...or to the people).

The best thing that could happen to the US would be to get a strict constitutionalist government - won't happen, of course, because lots of politicians and bureaucrats would suddenly be unemployed...

Posted by: bradley13 at March 7, 2008 11:06 PM

Radwaste -

Correct me if I'm wrong, but your pretty big on the right to bare arms write? (not actually certain, don't recall from the gun rights threads - if your not ignore this) I really see an incongruence here. Just as I think we should have the right to choose to be armed, I also think we have the right to put what we will in our bodies.

As for dealing with potential threats to public safety, I am all for seriously stiffening the penalties for drunk driving and would have no problem extending the same to currently illicit drugs. Indeed, the laws are far worse if you are driving under the influence of crack, than they are for driving drunk (depending on the jurisdiction). I am all for making the charge for driving while actually intoxicated (I am also for making that a reasonable limit) attempted manslaughter. If you happen to kill someone, it's murder, pure and simple. If you are acting in a criminal manner of any sort, because your fucked up, you get no allowances and I wouldn't be averse to making stiffer penalties for perpetrators that are high.

There are plenty of ways to test for virtually everything. The only one that isn't easily or reasonably detectable, is LSD. But generally it's fairly easy to figure out if a person is intoxicated. While it may actually cause the upset of some of the mentally ill, if one isn't engaged in criminal activities, the cops have no good reason to harass them. (not that uncalled for harassment doesn't happen, see the previous thread for my recent experiences that led to me firing off letters to the editors of all the local papers and to the Gresham mayors office, also talking to one of my neighborhood cops about it today.)

I am all for regulating and taxing the shit out of it.

Oy, and I will be happy to defend those nasty tobacco smokers. Though I am not interested in defend my right to smoke my poison wherever I please. Nor will I defend the rights of any smoker to throw their butts wherever they please (I pocket mine, if appropriate disposal is unavailable). I will even go a step further and defend the right of business owners to allow smoking in their establishments.

Posted by: DuWayne Author Profile Page at March 8, 2008 8:34 AM

"The assertion that a Constitutional amendment was required to make alcohol illegal is false. That was a political move sought to illustrate the seriousness of the problem."

Does that paragraph really make sense to you? A Constitutional amendment to illustrate the problem, when an act of Congress is all that's necessary to solve it?

Posted by: winston at March 8, 2008 8:41 AM

DuWayne, as you know, "the law is a ass", specifically because it doesn't allow distinctions once applied. This is the downside to "equal protection under the law". This is also what makes good cops and good citizens so valuable. Though I deplore the general idiocy of possession laws of all kinds and guns in particular, I recognize that just like traffic laws, there is a particular point to be aimed-for which makes it possible for good cops and citizens to operate together to produce order and public safety.

Again: detecting an impaired person is not the whole issue. Determining the extent of criminal conduct, or the degree of negligence, is.

And I suggest you visit findlaw.com or somewhere and determine the definition of murder; you're not getting a conviction for that without identifying the abused substance, and I suggest that you never want to.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 8, 2008 8:56 AM

Winston, yes it does, and for the very reason you have named. Prohibition demonstrated two gross things: the public wants what it wants and doesn't care how it gets it, and the Constitution is a damned poor thing to play with to demonstrate righteousness.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 8, 2008 9:03 AM

You know, I probably should pay better attention to citations like this.

There actually isn't anything showing the cause/effect relationship between the two cited rates of drug use.

Also, so far as the issue goes, Boots, a large, if not the largest drugstore chain in the UK, carries homeopathic "remedies" to sell to the gullible, thereby demonstrating that the retailer cannot after all be trusted to see to the well-being of its customers.

Posted by: Radwaste at March 8, 2008 5:19 PM

"How did they become illegal in the first place? The roster of "baaaaad drugs" seems random."

How sad is it that I can actually answer this question. I couldn't sleep one night and watched the story on the history channel to fall asleep. Anyway, back in the days when the railroads were being built and california was being settled, chinese indentured servants - almost entirely men - came with their topknots and their opium houses. i could elaborate on the history of those as well, but i won't. anyway, the white americans in san francisco - it might have been san diego, i'm not 100% sure on that - were all worried that the chinese men were using the opium houses to lure white women in for sex, and so they outlawed opium houses. this began the illegalness of opium-related drugs. (you know, morphine - which at the time almost everyone was addicted to, including newborns - cocaine, heroine, and all the fun narcotics that you get now for pain killers.) they also banned the topknots. i know. nobody actually wanted the answer to that question.

anyway, i didn't actually mean that i cared whether or not a drug addict goes bankrupt due to their addiction any more than i have a lot of sympathy for an alcoholic who does the same. but perhaps the money could go to something more societally beneficial than the dealer. i don't know that walgreens fits that bill, but anyway.

i read a study once that said a lot of alcoholics/drug addicts are actually trying to self-medicate a mental illness, i.e. severe depression or even schizophrenia. it was an interesting premise. can't exactly expect the rational decision to go to the doctor from someone who isn't capable of rational thought.

Posted by: kt at March 9, 2008 1:58 AM

and flynne, that's very unfortunate about your friend's son. :(

Posted by: kt at March 9, 2008 1:59 AM

Thanks, kt. He passed away a few minutes ago. They took out the breathing tube; the drs. had declared him brain dead. It's a sad thing.

Posted by: Flynne at March 11, 2008 9:53 AM

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