The Folly and Futility of Drug Prohibition 

  The Folly and Futility of Drug Prohibition 

Posted by FoM on January 23, 2001 at 09:03:20 PT
By Timothy Lynch  
Source: National Review  

America's drug policies are never seriously debated in Washington. Year after year, our elected representatives focus on two questions: How much more money should we spend on the drug war? and, How should it be spent? In the months preceding elections, politicians typically try to pin blame for the drug problem on one another. After the election, the cycle begins anew. 
Outside the capital, however, there is growing unease about the war on drugs. More and more Americans are concluding that the drug war has been given a chance to work and has failed. Voters in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, and Maine have rejected the lobbying efforts of federal officials and approved initiatives calling for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Two sitting governors, Jesse Ventura of Minnesota and Gary Johnson of New Mexico, have declared the drug war a failure. As public opinion continues to turn against the war, we can expect more elected officials to speak out. Federal officials do not yet appreciate the extent of public dissatisfaction with the war on drugs. Congress continues to propose and enact laws with such platitudinous titles as "The Drug-Free Century Act." Not many people outside the capital are even paying attention to those laws, and even fewer take the rhetoric seriously. To be sure, some people of good will continue to support the drug war. Their rationale is that we may not be close to achieving a "drug-free" society, but our present situation would only deteriorate if the government were to stop prosecuting the drug war. The burden of persuasion on that proposition has always rested with drug reformers. But nowadays it is a burden reformers happily accept, buoyed as they are by the realization that momentum in the debate is shifting in their direction. Reformers are as eager as ever to debate the efficacy of the drug laws while supporters of the drug war discuss the issue only grudgingly. Reformers ask: Why should an adult man or woman be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for using heroin, opium, cocaine, or marijuana? The answer, according to the most prominent supporters of the drug war, is simple: Drug use is wrong. It is wrong because it is immoral, and it is immoral because it degrades human beings. The prominent social scientist James Q. Wilson has articulated that view as follows: "Even now, when the dangers of drug use are well understood, many educated people still discuss the drug problem in almost every way except the right way. They talk about the 'costs' of drug use and the 'socioeconomic factors' that shape that use. They rarely speak plainly drug use is wrong because it is immoral and it is immoral because it enslaves the mind and destroys the soul." William J. Bennett, America's first drug czar, has expressed a similar view: "A citizen in a drug-induced haze, whether on his backyard deck or on a mattress in a ghetto crack house, is not what the Founding Fathers meant by the 'pursuit of happiness.' . . . Helpless wrecks in treatment centers, men chained by their noses to cocaine these people are slaves." Wilson, Bennett, and their supporters believe that to eradicate this form of slavery, the government should vigorously investigate, prosecute, and jail anyone who sells, uses, or possesses mind-altering drugs. The criminal sanction should be used in Bennett's words "to take drug users off the streets and deter new users from becoming more deeply involved in so hazardous an activity." For more than 25 years, the political establishment has offered unflagging support for the ban on drugs. In 1973, President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration, a police agency that focuses exclusively on federal drug-law violations. President Reagan designated narcotics an official threat to America's national security; he also signed legislation authorizing the military to assist federal and state police agencies in the drug war. In 1988, Congress created the Office of National Drug Control Policy; President Bush appointed Bennett national drug czar to centralize control and coordinate activities of federal agencies in the drug war. President Clinton appointed a former military commander, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, as drug czar. Since the early 1970s, Congress has been escalating the federal government's drug-war efforts. In 1979, the federal government spent $900 million on various antidrug programs; in 1989, it spent $5 billion; by 1999, it was spending nearly $18 billion. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, vigorous law-enforcement tactics help reduce drug abuse chiefly by reducing demand and disrupting supply. Enforcement of the drug laws reduces demand by increasing social disapproval of substance abuse; arrest and threatened imprisonment also offer a powerful incentive for addicts to take treatment seriously. Drug enforcement disrupts supply by detecting and dismantling drug rings, which facilitate the movement of drugs from suppliers to the streets. Congress has devoted billions of dollars to these tasks, and there have been palpable results. To begin with, the criminal-justice system has grown much larger: There are more police officers, prosecutors, judges, and prison guards than ever before. The number of arrests, convictions, and prisoners has increased exponentially; so has the amount of seized contraband. In February 1999, the New York Times reported that "every 20 seconds, someone in America is arrested for a drug violation. Every week, on average, a new jail or prison is built to lock up more people in the world's largest penal system." There is certainly a lot of government activity; but is the Office of National Drug Control Policy really achieving its twin objectives of reducing demand and disrupting supply? The demand for illegal drugs remains strong. According to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 11 million Americans can be classified as "current users" (past month) of marijuana and 1.75 million Americans as current users of cocaine. As startling as those numbers are, they represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Millions of other individuals can be classified as "occasional users," and tens of thousands of people use less popular illicit drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine. In short: The government's own statistics admit that millions and millions of Americans break the law every single month. The supply of drugs has not been hampered in any serious way by the war on drugs. A commission on federal law-enforcement practices chaired by former FBI director William Webster recently offered this blunt assessment of the interdiction efforts: "Despite a record number of seizures and a flood of legislation, the Commission is not aware of any evidence that the flow of narcotics into the United States has been reduced." Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the failure of the drug war is the flourishing of open-air drug markets in Washington, D.C. the very city in which the drug czar and the Drug Enforcement Administration have their headquarters. Even though law enforcement has been unable to seriously disrupt either the supply of or the demand for illegal drugs, many hesitate to draw the conclusion that the drug war has failed. They choose to focus on the evils of drug use, and the need to keep up the fight against it, on the grounds that even an incomplete success is better than a surrender. But a fair appraisal of the drug war must look beyond drug use itself, and take into account all of the negative repercussions of the drug war. It is undeniable that the criminalization of drug use has created an immense and sophisticated black market that generates billions of dollars for gangster organizations. The criminal proceeds are often used to finance other criminal activity. Furthermore, rival gangs use violence to usurp and defend territory for drug sales. Innocent people die in the crossfire. Then there is the cost. Billions of taxpayer dollars are squandered every year to keep drugs from entering the country. The government cannot even keep narcotics out of its own prisons and yet it spends millions every month trying to keep contraband from arriving by air, land, and sea. Prosecuting the war also involves a disturbingly large number of undesirable police practices: Paramilitary raids, roadblocks, wiretaps, informants, and property seizures have all become routine because of the difficulty of detecting drug offenses. Countless innocent people have had their phones tapped and their homes and cars searched. A criminal-justice system that devotes its limited resources to drug offenders is necessarily distracted from investigating other criminal activity such as murder, rape, and theft. Unfortunately, the most prominent supporters of the drug war have refused to grapple with these grim consequences of their policy. Drug legalization, they retort, would undermine the moral sanction against drug use. William Bennett has actually indulged in a comparison that would equate alternative drug policies such as decriminalization with surrender to the Nazis: "Imagine if, in the darkest days of 1940, Winston Churchill had rallied the West by saying, 'This war looks hopeless, and besides, it will cost too much. Hitler can't be that bad. Let's surrender and see what happens.' That is essentially what we hear from the legalizers." After decades of ceaseless police work, it is safe to say that Bennett is confusing perseverance with bullheadedness. One thoughtful analyst, Father John Clifton Marquis, recognized as long ago as 1990 that "when law does not promote the common good, but in fact causes it to deteriorate, the law itself becomes bad and must be changed. . . . Authentic moral leaders cannot afford the arrogant luxury of machismo, with its refusal to consider not 'winning.'" Marquis is correct; and this is precisely why Bennett's World War II imagery is misplaced. The notion that the drug czar is somehow leading an army against an evil foe is an example of what Marquis calls "arrogant machismo." A more apt analogy would be America's 15-year experience with alcohol prohibition: Americans rejected Prohibition because experience showed the federal liquor laws to be unenforceable and because alcohol prohibition led to gang wars and widespread corruption. The war on drugs has created a similar set of problems. The most valuable lesson that can be drawn from the Prohibition experience is that government cannot effectively engineer social arrangements. Policymakers simply cannot repeal the economic laws of supply and demand. Nor can they foresee the unintended consequences that follow government intervention. Students of American history will someday wonder how today's lawmakers could readily admit that alcohol prohibition was a disastrous mistake, but simultaneously engage in a reckless policy of drug prohibition. Drug policy in America needs to be reinvented, starting with a tabula rasa. Policymakers ought to address the issue in an open, honest, and mature manner. A growing number of Americans are coming to the conclusion that the law should treat substances such as marijuana and cocaine the same way it treats tobacco, beer, and whiskey: restricting sales to minors and jailing any user who endangers the safety of others (by, for example, operating an automobile while under the influence). Education, moral suasion, and noncoercive social pressure are the only appropriate ways to discourage adult drug use in a free and civil society. Complete Title: War No More: The Folly and Futility of Drug Prohibition Source: National Review (US) Author: Timothy Lynch Published: February 5, 2001 Address: 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016 Copyright: 2001 National Review Email: letters Website: Forum: Articles:Drug Czar Self-Congratulations Unmerited Prohibition, Another Failure Perspective on Prohibition

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Comment #5 posted by Dan B on January 23, 2001 at 22:35:35 PT:

Add Senator Joseph McCarthy to the List . . .
. . . of people whose drug habits didn't seem to affect their work capacity. And he was aided by none other than Harry Anslinger, author of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act:"Anti-communism put Anslinger back in the public eye, along with his good friend Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was later revealed by Anslinger in his book, The Murderers, and also by Dean Latimer in his book, Flowers in the Blood, that Anslinger supplied morphine to McCarthy on a regular basis for years. Anslinger's justification? To prevent the communists from blackmailing such a fine American just because he had a 'minor drug problem.'"from Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, by Peter McWilliams
Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: Drugs
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on January 23, 2001 at 17:13:18 PT:

The pols aren't *publicly* paying attention
but their staffs are.But largely because Officer Boot's minions are keeping them abreast of what goes on in places like these.But the pols, dim as they are, are starting to sense the change in the wind. To have an anti like the Guv of New York State making noises that he would rather have been flayed alive for uttering 5 years ago, is progress. To have Charlie Rangel, formerly as devoted an anti as there ever was, making the same kind of reformist noises, is definitely progress. But there will always be the die-hards, who honestly believe their own propaganda. Whether it be cracker segragationists in the Deep South, Flat-Earthers or fulminating antis, we'll always have these living anachronisms amongst us. But it is becoming increasingly bad form to display narrow-minded bigotry...and the ignorance that accompanies it. As more and more people begin to come around, it will become quite evident that the anti position - and those espousing it - have joined that club of living dinosaurs. No matter how articulate it presents itself as being, it's time is almost up. We just have to endure a bit longer. But I have to admit that I find the anti tendency towards trying to equate drug law reform with the fall of Western civilization amusing. Particularly when it is that self-appointed moral proctor and font of civic virtue Bill Bennett baying in the van. (You remember Bill, don't you? He wanted at one time to behead us.)Bennett has a gift for hyperbole...which is another, more fancier name for BS. So, Bill Bennett likens the WoSD to WW2? I have an even better analogy: the behavior of the antis can be likened to the General Staff of the HitlerBunker. While Hitler raved about winning a war that was so plainly lost, while his closest associates sycophantically, fawningly stroked his mania by loudly assuring him - and each other - that they could still win, artillery shells were making the plaster in the ceiling fall, giving the lie to the entire sordid proceedings.The plaster is falling on the antis. But like most wilfully blind people, they refuse to say it is anything but dandruff.
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Comment #3 posted by meagain on January 23, 2001 at 16:09:27 PT

Are there really any polititions actually paying attention to what we are telling them here??????If your a politition please reply.
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Comment #2 posted by ugotit on January 23, 2001 at 16:07:30 PT

Ya right sure is gettin deep wheres my waders at
William J. Bennett, America's first drug czar, has expressed a similar view: "A citizen in a drug-induced haze, whether on his backyard deck or on a mattress in a ghetto crack house, is not what the Founding Fathers meant by the 'pursuit of happiness.' . . . Helpless wrecks in treatment centers, men chained by their noses to cocaine these people are slaves." If you really think about this what was our founding fathersmeaning of "pursuit of happiness" you will realize our founding fathers concieved this American dream in a bar/pub. geeee wonder what they were indulging in there ????Life liberty and pursuit of happiness not tread on me!
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on January 23, 2001 at 09:47:00 PT:

Great Editorial
I hope the politicians take the time to read it.Readers of my tirades may already be familiar with my criticisms of such statements:"and it is immoral because it enslaves the mind and destroys the soul." This makes for provocative prose, but in the case of narcotic addiction, it is not even true! Remember our friend Halsted, chief of surgery at Johns Hopkins, and longterm morphine addict: Plug in the search terms Halsted and morphine at the PubMed site: Nunn DB. Related Articles William Stewart Halsted: transitional years.Surgery. 1997 Mar;121(3):343-51. No abstract available.PMID: 9068677; UI: 972216312: Colp R Jr. Related Articles Notes on Dr. William S. Halsted.Bull N Y Acad Med. 1984 Nov;60(9):876-87. No abstract available.PMID: 6391590; UI: 850733343: Penfield W. Related Articles Halsted of Johns Hopkins.JAMA. 1969 Dec 22;210(12):2214-8. No abstract available.PMID: 4902635; UI: 70064352Certainly, it is amply demonstrated from studies in Jamaica and Costa Rica that cannabis actually improves work capacity and stamina for some tasks. We all know responsible people in variety of professions who partake of the herb on a regular basis and manage to perform quite nicely despite the threatened deterioration of body, mind and moral fiber. Such pronouncements are a moral imperative that bears little relation to medical fact, and should be derided as such. To me, Bill Bennett is a poor spokesman for health or morality. 
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