Going Down for Drugs

What won’t those daffy drug dealers do to disseminate their deadly produce? In Texas they dig tunnels hundreds of feet long so as to bypass border security.

Now the Houston Chronicle reports they’ll even build their own pseudo-submarines like this one:

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The Chronicle says:

The drug cartels are taking trafficking to new depths.

The latest example is the seizure of a submarine-like vessel off the Pacific coast of El Salvador that was packed with 5.5 tons of cocaine worth $352 million. The craft was operated by four suspected smugglers, who sank the vessel shortly before they were arrested by U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Wild. Is there anything these guys won’t try? Besides getting jobs and leading useful, productive lives, I mean.

Of course, smugglers wouldn’t be spending so much time and effort on the problem of getting their merchandise in-country if their local dealers weren’t moving the product at street prices that are vastly inflated by drugs’ illegal status.

The relationship between drug abuse and poverty is, in regard to drug prices, somewhat counter-intuitive. Yet according to a study by Chamberlain C. Diala, Carles Muntaner, and Christine Walrath:

A high rural household income was protective, but rural and urban households reporting wealth of $10,000-$49,000 are positively associated with drug disorders. In addition, respondents without health insurance were more likely to have drug disorders across geographical contexts.

In this study, occupational stratum was the class measure most powerfully associated with alcohol and drug disorders. The polarization of the U.S. socioeconomic structure in the last decades (46) has produced a shortage of previously well compensated blue collar jobs in the craft and precision production occupations accessible to workers with high school degrees. As rural America has disproportionately suffered as compared to other regions from a relative deficit in job growth (47), this may be related to both the mental health–increased levels of stress, anxiety and depression (48)–and substance abuse and dependence among rural populations reported here for that occupational group.

So poverty has a tendency to correlate with – I would say “lead to” – drug abuse. But where would poor drug users get the money needed to support their habits? Crime, where else?
The relationship between drug use and crime is obvious enough that even the White House, never interested in discussing any cessation in the so-called “War on Drugs”, acknowledges the causal relationship:

Drug-related offenses and drug-using lifestyles are major contributors to the U.S. crime problem and are the focus of this fact sheet.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conducts an annual National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) that asks individuals living in households about their drug and alcohol use and their involvement in crimes (see table 1). Provisional data for 1997 show that respondents arrested in the past year for possession or sale of drugs and driving under the influence had the highest percentage of illicit drug use in the past year. Past year illicit drug users were also about 16 times more likely than nonusers to report being arrested and booked for larceny or theft; more than 14 times more likely to be arrested and booked for such offenses as driving under the influence, drunkenness, or liquor law violations; and more than 9 times more likely to be arrested and booked on an assault charge.

Drug habits cause crime. That should not be a surprise – the cause-and-effect relationship is obvious – but increase in theft arrests, 16 times higher than a non-user is tremendous. I believe that a large portion of this difference is due to the street price of drugs and that, if it was lower, drug-related crime would decline as a natural result.

This is not surprising either. Prohibition provides a case study that is very similar to the current situation with illegal drugs. Alcohol use remained prevalent during Prohibition and illicit trafficking in booze became its own criminal industry. Eventually we gave up trying to dictate personal behaviors and repealed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, one that should never have been enacted. Yet here we are again, fighting a losing battle to regulate the intake of certain plant extracts at the cost of billions.

According to drugsense.org, the current bill is at $33 billion dollars and counting. What a waste of money. But not only our hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted. drugsense.org also claims that:

Arrests for drug law violations in 2007 are expected to exceed the 1,678,192 arrests of 2003.

That’s a staggering number. At what point does it become necessary for a government to admit that a policy is not supported by the people and that it’s time to do something different?

The truth is that drug use is not even a crime in the conventional sense. That is, no direct harm is done to any party save the imbibee. Yes, my wife, children, friends, and relatives may be saddened if I O.D. But I do not injure them by shooting up, I hurt only myself. The government is acting as a nanny, protecting us from ourselves, when all that is needed is enforcement of standard criminal laws. If I drive high and crash into someone, that’s a real crime. But if I stay home and watch Monty Python, who is the drug czar to say I’m wrong?

I’m not saying that governments cannot legislate morality – that’s what law is. But the purpose of law is not to codify the right and wrong of every possible choice in life or to ensure that every person has the best possible outcome in life. Rather, it is to define, as narrowly as possible, those actions that are definitely wrong, as determined by society.

Viewed in that light the war on drugs is a complete disaster that should be ended immediately. The cost to the U.S. in terms of wasted lives is huge. According to Human Rights Watch:

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, more than two million men and women are now behind bars in the United States. The country that holds itself out as the “land of freedom” incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country. The human costs — wasted lives, wrecked families, troubled children — are incalculable, as are the adverse social, economic and political consequences of weakened communities, diminished opportunities for economic mobility, and extensive disenfranchisement.

Contrary to popular perception, violent crime is not responsible for the quadrupling of the incarcerated population in the United States since 1980. In fact, violent crime rates have been relatively constant or declining over the past two decades. The exploding prison population has been propelled by public policy changes that have increased the use of prison sentences as well as the length of time served, e.g. through mandatory minimum sentencing, “three strikes” laws, and reductions in the availability of parole or early release.

Although these policies were championed as protecting the public from serious and violent offenders, they have instead yielded high rates of confinement of nonviolent offenders. Nearly three quarters of new admissions to state prison were convicted of nonviolent crimes. Only 49 percent of sentenced state inmates are held for violent offenses.

Perhaps the single greatest force behind the growth of the prison population has been the national “war on drugs.” The number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased twelvefold since 1980. In 2000, 22 percent of those in federal and state prisons were convicted on drug charges.

No one wants their kid doing coke or horse. But imagine if one could pick up a line down at CVS that’s guaranteed to be safe and probably cut down to some reasonable level of dilution, as is done with beer in the U.S. What exactly is wrong with that picture?

Drug prices would fall immediately as competition drives profit margins down to corporate levels. Overdose cases would fall among those capable of reading a safety label. Drug-related crime would fall to near zero. How many criminals do a B&E to get enough money to buy aspirin? Not many.

Personally it makes no difference to me. I do not indulge and have done my best to ensure that my kids will keep themselves safe.

As a matter of principle, however, it seems to me that most drugs should be legalized. Perhaps then the “Columbian navy” could stay ashore and save a few lives to boot.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.

Author: marc

Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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