Taking The War Out Of The Drug War

Remember this?

Things being as they are, and people as they are, there is no way to prevent somebody, somewhere, from concluding that “NATIONAL REVIEW favors drugs.” We don’t; we deplore their use; we urge the stiffest feasible sentences against anyone convicted of selling a drug to a minor. But that said, it is our judgment that the war on drugs has failed, that it is diverting intelligent energy away from how to deal with the problem of addiction, that it is wasting our resources, and that it is encouraging civil, judicial, and penal procedures associated with police states. We all agree on movement toward legalization, even though we may differ on just how far.

It was WFB himself who opined, in the symposium that followed the above announcement,

that it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.

In a tart, potent update of his long attack on the drug war, Radley Balko brought it all rushing back to me with a grim bottom line:

As I explained in a column a couple weeks ago, this wasn’t a “botched raid.” It was a routine raid. The police got the correct house. They found the guy they were after. They arrested him. No one was killed. Most of these raids don’t turn up huge stashes of drugs or weapons. Most result in misdemeanor charges. If Krauthammer finds the Missouri SWAT raid video “harrowing and horrible,” he ought to find the drug war “harrowing and horrible.” Because the images in that video are typical of how we’re fighting it.

I’m in favor of the rule of law. But the way we’re struggling to enforce our present drug laws has begun to work against the purposes of the rule of law itself. If National Review could point to a way beyond this dilemma in 1996, couldn’t — and shouldn’t — we make the effort to do so again today?

  1. Bryan G. Stephens

    I don’t like the way the drug war gets waged, however, if we make drugs legal, more people will use them and we will get more addicts. I work in the Mental Health field, and believe me, drugs are not a victimless crime. They destroy far more innocent lives than the drug war itself does. I believe that if drugs are legalized, more innocent lives will be hurt than we have right now.

  2. Duncan Reilly
    Bryan G. Stephens:: I don’t like the way the drug war gets waged, however, if we make drugs legal, more people will use them and we will get more addicts. I work in the Mental Health field, and believe me, drugs are not a victimless crime. They destroy far more innocent lives than the drug war itself does. I believe that if drugs are legalized, more innocent lives will be hurt than we have right now. · May. 25 at 5:46am

    And as a person in the Mental Health field I’m sure that you have seen just as many, if not more, lives destroyed by legal drugs. If we’re going to be intellectually honest we have to realize that we are pouring billions of dollars into fighting the importation and sale of substances that are, in many cases, less harmful than some legal substances.

    We can’t afford to spend ourselves into oblivion trying to baby-proof the whole nation. If someone really wants to smoke a joint they will find a way to do that, whether it’s legal or not. And who are we to tell them they can’t? Just like drinking, if you don’t drive afterward then it’s not my concern.

  3. Jorgee Bush

    From a purely economic standpoint, legalizing drugs would be the right thing to do. It would destroy other sources of drugs, including dealers on the street and larger criminal organizations. It would also keep a lot of black men out of jail long enough for them to provide for their families. The problem with legalization is that the negative consequences are largely unknown. We know that the amount of drug users would go up, but we don’t know how many, or for how long. It’s a mixed bag.

  4. Brandon Zaffini

    I always found Buckley’s arguments on this issue very interesting. However, I have two problems, or questions at least, with the points he raises.

    First, “Drugs” is a big-tent type of word that can refer to a variety of substances spanning from the innocuous to the perilous. Comparing the Drug War to Prohibition Laws, as Buckley frequently did, is instructive and helpful when marijuana is the drug in question. However, Heroine and alcohol are not quite analogous. If these substances are legalized, they must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

    Second, Buckley thought the dreadful methods used to deal with violators of the drug regulations – hated by many conservatives and liberals alike – proved the prohibitory laws should not exist at all. He may have had a point, but he would have to prove these laws are impossible to enforce in a better way. Maybe drug laws necessitate the kind of police-state reaction we are so used to and that we so hate. Even more reason for continued debate on this issue. If there are alternative ways of enforcing drug laws, they should be added to the conversation at least.

  5. Bryan G. Stephens

    Often people make the statement that alcohol causes more problems than illegal drugs. Of course it does. It is legal, therefore it has a greater level of use. It is also part of almost every civilized culture out there for the past 5,000 years. Alcohol is part of our culture in a way that applies to no other drug. Therefore, using arguments around Prohibition are of less use than they may appear.

    In addition, Smoking Crack or Meth is nothing like drinking alcohol. The addiction rate for those is 100%. There is no safe level of use that won’t produce an addict. It makes no sense to encourage people to engage in a behavior that we know will destroy their free will, wreck their lives, and damage the lives of those around them. There is no level of safe use.

    Legal drugs will not result in a tax bonanza. Cigarettes are legal, yet they are smuggled from state to state by organized crime right now in 2010.

  6. Duane Oyen

    I still think that George would deploy his Cirrus parachute, wash up on the beach, and hire Bob Bennett to sue the DEA.

    Conservatives are supposedly cautious. Libertarians throw off all rules. I am a fact-driven conservative- and I see problems with removing all drug regulation. The FDA is ridiculous as it is and the approval processes need reform, but it is still there for a reason. The decriminalizing trend for most personal use makes sense- the laws should be enforced like seat belt or Arizona immigration laws, and juveniles who are too dumb to make good decisions should be able to be pardoned with expunged records after applying upon achieving maturity.

    But I do not want to experiment, based on UNK-UNK, with a society where we add a bunch more mind-benders to the daily cognitive deficit-inducers. Medical MJ? Absolutely- under routine prescription like any other drug. We need more opportunities to arrest doctors!

  7. Michael Labeit

    Economist Walter Block offers the following argument against the prohibition of hard drugs:

    When the government criminalizes the production and exchange of hard drugs, an effect is an increase in the costs of producing drugs. Now drug merchants must incur greater costs by evading law enforcement, paying bribes to continue transactions, and paying higher wages to risk-averse labourers. When the costs of producing drugs increases, the price of drugs increases.

    Now drug addicts treat hard drugs as a good of necessity, meaning their demand for hard drugs is very inelastic, i.e., the quantity of drugs demanded by them hardly changes in response to a change in the price. So when the production and exchange of drugs is criminalized, the price of hard drugs increases, but the quantity of hard drugs demanded remains roughly the same. Thus, in order to pay for the price increase, drug addicts become encouraged to commit crimes like theft and fencing, crimes that’ll enable them to continue paying for their addiction.

    Thus, when the government criminalizes the production and exchange of hard drugs, criminal activities like stealing increase.

  8. Michael Labeit

    Buckley’s stance on drugs is surprising, given he was a conservative. I agree that the production and exchange of drugs should be legalized but I haven’t examined Buckley’s proposal to execute those who sell drugs to minors. While it should be illegal, I doubt it should be a capital offense. The argument would have to be spectacularly good.

  9. George Savage

    I recall a Customs proposal years back to shoot down private planes suspected of running drugs into the country since too many suspicious aircraft were eluding pursuit. As a private pilot, I was awestruck by the hermetic circularity of the approach. Any plane shot down over the ocean would disappear without a trace, enabling Customs to say whatever it wanted to about the deceased. Until the proposal was scrapped, I used to break the tedium during night flights by imagining possible posthumous headlines. One favorite: ” DEA — Local Physician Led Double Life. Friends, Family Had No Idea.”

  10. Brandon Zaffini

    These types of dilemmas require caution. Abolishing drug regulations on a national scale would be extreme – though experimentation of this sort could be instructive if implemented in small areas. Loosening the laws slowly at the local municipal levels would demonstrate the “politics of prudence” more compatible with a conservative mindset. The current enforcement system has its flaws, but the devil we know is often preferable to the devil we do not know.

    On the other hand, an important principle to keep in mind is that simple regulatory laws, no matter how well enforced, cannot eradicate the drug problem. To think so would be to espouse the same progressive ideals inherent in the Prohibition Laws – which is probably why Buckley made that comparison in the first place. Limiting demand for these substances is a far superior way to restrain drug trade, and the amount of demand has more to do with the cultural and religious milieu – not simple laws.

  11. Bryan G. Stephens

    Brandon,

    I agree a sudden abolishing of regulations would be a mistake. I do like the idea of a change in response. If we assume that addicts are no longer rational actors, what is required is not always locking someone up, but diversion to treatment. Enforced Treatment works as well as voluntary treatment. Drug courts can work.

    That being said, what I hope for is more medical solutions to help the addict brain be re-wired back to something approaching normal. Drugs cause permanent changes in the brain that lead to relapse. If we could shut down the relapse cycle, we could greatly improve outcomes.

  12. Brandon Zaffini

    Bryan,

    Your ideas are interesting and could work for people already addicted to some of the more harmful drugs. I guess I always hope for solutions prior to exposure, and answers that do not involve the state acting like our nanny. But given the decadence of our culture, perhaps such a hope is simply too naive.

  13. Bryan G. Stephens

    Some people will always make poor choices if given the freedom to do so. Once someone is an addict, they are no longer free. The Drug is in charge. It seems to me that having a system that gets them help, even if that is being a nanny, is better than just locking them up.

    Drugs are a horrible scourge on society. I see the wreckage daily.