Let’s Declare Victory in the War on Street Drugs

December 18th, 2011

By Dan Miller

Brother’s keeper? Big Government is no kindly brother; it’s a bully.

Charles Darwin

Don’t devolve!

Remember the Darwin Awards? They are said to be given posthumously to those whose irresponsible antics prevent them from continuing to pollute the gene pool.

Voluntary users of street drugs seem to be in the running for such awards, yet society tries valiantly but ineffectively to save them from the consequences of their own irresponsibility at costs that sometimes far exceed the minimal benefits — even to them. Freedom to behave stupidly is good, provided that no harm results to others and, concomitantly, that those who behave stupidly aren’t given benefits taken from those who behave responsibly.  The sword of freedom has two edges and if one is to enjoy freedom’s benefits one must accept its responsibilities as well; neither immunity from freedom’s detriments nor sympathetic understanding should be granted to those who whine about being picked on or otherwise oppressed in consequence of their own irresponsible actions.

Ron PaulProhibition was a failure and encouraged much activity by criminal mobs as well as governmental efforts to suppress that activity. The war on street drugs has also been a failure and has also encouraged substantial criminal activity as well as efforts at suppression. Those efforts have cost lots of money, directly and indirectly. Ron Paul favors stopping it.

The best way to fight violent drug cartels would be to pull the rug out from under their profits by bringing these transactions out into the sunlight. People who, unwisely, buy drugs would hardly opt for the back alley criminal dealer as a source, if a coffeehouse-style dispensary was an option. Moreover, a law-abiding dispensary is likely to check IDs and refuse sale to minors, as bars and ABC stores tend to do very diligently. Think of all the time and resources law enforcement could save if they could instead focus on violent crimes, instead of this impossible nanny-state mandate of saving people from themselves!

If these reasons don’t convince the drug warriors, I would urge them to go back to the Constitution and consider where there is any authority to prohibit private personal choices like this. All of our freedoms – the freedom of religion and assembly, the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from unnecessary government searches and seizures – stem from the precept that you own yourself and are responsible for your own choices. Prohibition laws negate self-ownership and are an absolute affront to the principles of freedom. I disagree vehemently with the recreational use of drugs, but at the same time, if people are only free to make good decisions, they are not truly free. In any case, states should decide for themselves how to handle these issues and the federal government should respect their choices.

Although many of his other notions seem loco, that does not mean that everything he proposes is. His position on street drugs makes a lot of sense to me, with some significant modifications along the lines suggested below.

Most of money and other resources spent on the war on drugs go to interdict drugs, to apprehend, convict and imprison those who sell and use them, to check the rising influence and prosperity of the criminal gangs that enable users and profit from them, and to imprison and rehabilitate the potential Darwin Award winners who use them. The now more than forty year old drug war has cost about one trillion dollars.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“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.”

Yet we still try to solve the problems in ways that haven’t worked before and won’t work now. Thomas Edison, while trying many potential light bulb filaments, discovered that none of them worked satisfactorily. He continued experimenting with different filaments until he found something that worked well. That’s what the states should be able to do.

Here is a filament that won’t work again because it hasn’t worked before. In May of this year,

President Obama promised to “reduce drug use and the great damage it causes” with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Reset ButtonHe must have in mind a reset to a smart power policy, hopeful that it will produce awesome and unbelievable changes comparable to those he has achieved in other areas of foreign and domestic policy, such as — well, offhand I can’t  think of any but there must have been some; our humble President can think of only three former presidents possibly better than himself. His “new national policy” appears to be little different from the old one and seems a bit like his linguistic exercises such as classifying terrorists as mere criminals and Major Hasan’s thirteen murders and thirty-two attempted murders at Fort Hood as workplace violence. “Allahu Akhbar” must mean no more than “the pay and working conditions here suck!” Even considering the probably intended soporific effect of such nonsense, it’s worse than merely silly.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget.

Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric.

It may take an even longer time than suggested — maybe until Hell freezes over — for the effectiveness to match the spending.

There are better ways to halt, rather then to continue perpetuating, the increasing costs of the use of street drugs as well as the substantial collateral damage that also continues to increase.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of federal prisoners and 21% of state-level prisoners are incarcerated on the basis of drug-related offenses. This means that over a half million people are presently incarcerated as a result of antidrug laws–more than the population of Wyoming. The illegal drug trade also sustains gang activity, and is indirectly responsible for an unknown number of homicides. (The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports describe 4% of homicides as being directly attributable to the illegal drug trade, but it plays an indirect role in a much larger percentage of homicides.)

According to this article,

As a student of history and a retired deputy chief of police with the Los Angeles Police Department, I can attest that the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition. In the last 40 years drug money has fueled the growth of violent street gangs in Los Angeles, from two (Bloods and Crips) with a membership of less than 50 people before the drug war to 20,000 gangs with a membership of about 1 million across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These gangs serve as the distributors, collection agents and enforcers for the Mexican cartels that the Justice Department says occupy more than 1,000 U.S. cities.

Why can’t we declare “victory” in the war on drugs, use some of the tax revenues now spent on such foolishness to reduce the deficit or (gasp) to reduce taxes, “bring the troops home,” have some appropriate ceremonies — where President Obama could garner all glory of victory — and even find something useful (maybe patrolling and securing our borders) for them to do? Here are a few modest proposals. I like most of them and won’t identify those as to which I am dubious because I look forward to comments on them all.

For Federal civilian purposes,

♦ Repeal federal laws criminalizing the production, sale and use of marijuana and most other street drugs in the civilian context.

♦ Impose federal taxes, comparable to those now imposed on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products, on such stuff and permit their private sale in similar fashion.

♦ Release drug pushers undocumented pharmacists and other non-violent people now in Federal jails for drug activity before they master additional skills needed to pursue other criminal activities, provide modest and temporary stipends for their reentry into society and deny them welfare benefits upon release and for a reasonable time thereafter.

♦ To the extent possible under the U.S. Constitution, implant chips in non-citizens convicted for violent and/or drug related activity and otherwise make sure that when released from prison they are deported promptly and not permitted to return.

But, and it’s a big But –

♦ It should be stated clearly in any pertinent Federal legislation that it is not intended to, nor does it, preempt state and local law, currently in force or to be enacted in the future. In particular, none of the state actions suggested below should be preempted or required. Although I think the states should follow these principles, that should be up to their citizens, not to the Federal Government. It is important that the states devise their own, probably different, approaches for their different situations. States, as to which one size does not fit all, should be the testing grounds for solutions.

♦ States should provide for the sale of newly legal street drugs under such conditions as they decide best. Some states now permit the private sale of alcohol, some restrict the sale to state operated stores. They should be free to treat the sale of street drugs the same or differently.

♦ Condition unemployment and other welfare benefits for those otherwise entitled to them on passing random tests for the use of street drugs — usage would no longer be unlawful but that does not mean that its consequences should be subsidized or otherwise rewarded by society.

♦ Eliminate any legal restrictions on testing employees and potential employees for street drug use. A new right to use street drugs should not implicitly prohibit discrimination against users. By analogy, sleeping on the job is not, in a civilian context, generally illegal; that does not mean that an employer should be obligated to tolerate it.

♦ Impose additional criminal and civil penalties on voluntary users of street drugs who, because of that use, harm others — analogous to additional penalties for crimes committed using firearms and for “hate crimes.”

♦ Along similar lines, just as those found to be driving or creating public disturbances while under the influence of alcohol are punished criminally so should be those found to be driving or creating similar disturbances while under the influence of street drugs.

♦ Use some of the funds now spent for the war on street drugs to establish insurance funds to assist those who do not use street drugs and want such assistance in paying for their own medical care and rehabilitation necessitated by the actions of street drug users.

♦ Eliminate any requirements that insurance cover medical care necessitated by “victims” own voluntary use of street drugs. Also eliminate all requirements for mandatory care for such self-induced conditions; if you elect to kill or harm yourself, have at it but don’t expect everyone else to pick up the tab. If there is a market, insurance companies can and probably will offer insurance riders to street drug users for such coverage at actuarially sound prices. Should private hospitals and physicians wish to provides such services gratis, that should be up to them.

Some of these suggestions probably seem simplistic and harsh. Good; that’s what I intended and hope they may provoke rational discussion. With suitable refinement, these suggestions can form a general framework for actual policies and laws requiring no more than minimal government involvement, capable of implementation at far less cost and with far greater likelihood of success than anything now being done. Tough love is needed; private organizations and private individuals to whom that is an anathema can follow their hearts privately.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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6 Responses to “Let’s Declare Victory in the War on Street Drugs”

  1. Dan Miller |

    I would really like to hear what others think of my insane suggestions.

  2. Tom Carter |

    I completely agree, Dan. I understand why we aren’t going to legalize, control, and tax drugs. Never mind that it would be practical, reasonable, would reduce crime significantly, would reduce the overcrowding in our bloated prison system, would avoid branding so many people with felony convictions that aren’t justified, etc. As on other issues, there are just too many self-righteous people out there whose morality is offended if other people smoke a joint now and then.

    One thing — in addition to testing people for drug use for employment and welfare benefits, you need to include alcohol on the list. There’s not a lot of difference.

  3. Jan |

    Ron Paul raises good points on this issue as he does on over-reaching military policies. Maybe there should be a national rationality test for political candidates.

  4. Dan Miller |

    Jan, your suggestion that there be “a national rationality test for political candidates” is perverse. If the need for such a test could be agreed upon and a suitable test devised through a consensus of sane folks (half a dozen of them might be found cowering in remote caves), no national level candidate could pass it. Soon, we would have no government to tell us what to do and what not to do. Anarchy would result and the nation’s economy would enter a tail spin. Worse, political pundits and bloggers would have nothing about which to write. What could the country do with large feral herds of such folk roaming aimlessly about, unable to write about politics? It might be necessary to create WPA type jobs at which they could craft new unreality TV series.

    Sigh, I suppose that charity is required. For that reason, we should all try to come up with at least a few titles and story lines so that they can prepare for the inevitable disaster.

  5. Tom Carter |

    Well, I don’t see why we couldn’t have such a test. I’d be happy to write it, being myself a thoroughly rational person. Then next fall we could have maybe a Ron Paul – Ralph Nader ticket. Or maybe Condi Rice – Bill Ayers. Or how about Jan Barry – Dan Miller, or v-v? Heck, who knows what might be possible under a rationality regime.

    The real problem, though, would be that the only one likely to pass my test would be Cat. He knows when it’s time to eat, he knows where to poop, he wouldn’t mess with the economy as long as there was a sufficient supply of cat food, and he would be more than willing to bare his claws and fangs at any other country in the world … or federal judges when necessary. What more could we want?

  6. Dan Miller |


    Einstein is said to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over in hopes of different results. I have a better definition: anyone who seeks high public office is insane (or maybe just high on something).

    It is possible to be insane and rational at the same time; if I insanely perceive a harmless small toad as a threatening dinosaur and try to kill it or to flee, my perception is flawed but my response to that perception may be rational.

    Our beloved politicians seem to have flawed perceptions — or at least many of those they articulate seem to be flawed. Based on their perceptions as they articulate them, their behavior often seems to be rational to those who share their perceptions. However, their behavior viewed in the light of reality should be considered insane. Therefore, any test of rationality should include tests of their perceptions as they articulate them, compared with reality. If their perceptions are flawed, they should receive failing grades on sanity as well.

    As to having Cat as our next President, I have no objection. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, on your recommendation I think he would be better than the incumbent. I assume that he was never a community organizer, lecturer in law, or taught by William Ayers and the Reverend Mr. Wright. Would he perhaps consider our dog Princess as his running mate? She would be far lower maintenance than the current VP and would make far fewer blunders. However, I do insist that she stay where she is. Maybe she could just telecommute. Surely, something can be worked out.

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