Drug Dealing: Not a Victimless Crime

 

My Ricochet profile includes a statement of principles. In part:

On economics, I support maximizing liberty under the minimum law needed for
informed, consensual exchanges. There is no truly free trade or truly neutral
government.

On social issues I am a 1st Amendment absolutist, nearly. I support the death
penalty but abhor its modern medicalization. Re-legalize unhybridized marijuana, powder cocaine and opium, as the black market created by the drug war has cost enough. Reduce harm, don’t create a market for it.

So, I am not a Drug Warrior. Yet, within the call for a harm reduction strategy is the recognition that the illegal trade is not victimless. This past week, two local incidents, within a block of each other, made real the significant harm to third parties.

A week ago Monday, 10 December 2018, a woman drove her car into a Mesa, Arizona, Subway shop. A local station, Fox10 Phoenix, gave a brief account:

According to crews at the scene, the incident happened at a Subway store near Main Street and Dobson. Police say impairment is suspected on the driver, but she is not in custody, pending test results.

(Courtesy: May Phan)

This Subway is the end cap of a small shopping strip which has struggled to come back over the past decade. The hourly sub shop workers are victims of this accident. The Chinese restaurant and the Korean coffee shops next door have the blight of a boarded-up shop next door. What has this to do with the Drug Wars?

The staff at a cigar lounge across the parking lot talked with the police who responded to the crash. See the line in the news story about “pending test results?” Apparently, the woman who drove the car up over a high curb, and all the way into the Subway, was unrecognizable from her two years old driver’s license photograph. The crash did not destroy her face; she showed the ravages unique to methamphetamine.

I heard this account as I was talking with another customer and the staff about the second incident. This one was not victimless either. Close to midnight on Saturday, 10 December, I was driving along the light rail line in Mesa. I saw the first two sets of blue and red lights pulled off near a small independent convenience store. Officers were lined up on either side of the door, preparing to enter.

By the time I pulled into safe parking and got my camera out, two ambulances and a small fleet of cops were there. I spoke to a younger man who told me his father had been working in the back of the store. Another man was working the register at the front. A gunman entered the very small space and the employee apparently closed in, grappling. The employee and another man, a customer, perhaps, were shot. The father, unarmed, had run out and across the street to his son’s apartment, telling what he saw.

The Z’s Convenience shooting warranted only a brief mention in the news, as the gunman was at large.

Mesa Police say a possible robbery gone bad left one person dead and another injured.

Another patron at the cigar lounge expressed the range of reactions as we talked. “Give up the cash, it isn’t worth it.” “If you get the chance, take the gunman down.” He claimed to have been in two such confrontations, in small businesses in another city. He was shot once and another time seized and pummeled a gunman, feeling ribs give way under his fist while his wife grabbed the gun away.

The common denominator in these low-payoff robberies? Men desperate for just enough cash to get their next fix, and working, lower-middle-class victims. You can see this from the simple memorial that friends put up next to the convenience store.

Any grand strategy, any policy recommendation, that fails to account for the direct and indirect ravages of substance abuse is not worth the electrons transmitting it. In this particular location, a completely independent set of policies may have elevated the risks. Supposed urban renewal and enlightened planning may be neither enlightened nor really renewal.

I mentioned the light rail line, running down the center of the street. This impoverished the already marginal businesses, as half the traffic on the street cannot cross the protected rail line. At the same time, the line became a conveyor belt for drug addicts and homeless people, dumping them out into places where they could hang out.

Indeed, the city recognized this problem belatedly and changed the bus stops from bench seating to individual seats with steel tube armrests. That keeps vagrants from sleeping on benches under cover. Nevertheless, there are mini-parks and other grassy areas where people camp out between drug fixes.

So, have grand transportation policy and drug policy combined to concentrate risks to local residents? There are plenty of photographs from across the country of cars driven into buildings. The city block under consideration is not a regular target of armed robbers. Yet, the risks are clearly elevated, to the extent that economically marginal drug users congregate in clusters along the easiest transportation line. That was not urban planners’ intent, but it appears to be a result.

Too often, casualties go unmarked, even in the local press. The simple memorial for the murdered man started with prayer candles, a few flowers, cards, and a full sized teddy bear with a little teddy bear. A night later, there were more candles, more flowers, and a photograph. So now we have a face to put in our thoughts and prayers.

Published in Domestic Policy
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 43 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    If we really wanted to save lives, we would use the power of the state to force people into treatment, and use draconian measures to keep them away from drugs. They would be monitored heavily, at great loss of freedom and liberty. One of the reasons alcohol is so hard to quite is because it is everywhere. The more available drugs are, the more they will be used, and the more addicts we will have. 

    The reality of addiction is that people are not in control of themselves. I don’t know anyone who treats addiction to be for legalization of things like herion. 

    • #31
  2. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    If we really wanted to save lives, we would use the power of the state to force people into treatment, and use draconian measures to keep them away from drugs. They would be monitored heavily, at great loss of freedom and liberty. One of the reasons alcohol is so hard to quite is because it is everywhere. The more available drugs are, the more they will be used, and the more addicts we will have.

    The reality of addiction is that people are not in control of themselves. I don’t know anyone who treats addiction to be for legalization of things like herion.

    A Ricocheteer commented elsewhere that there are dealers who go to [addiction] Anonymous meetings to find clients. 

    I could go for laws targeting such people for serious jail time as that has to be one of the more evil things I have heard of. Not sure how one would craft such a law though. 

    • #32
  3. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    TBA (View Comment):

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    If we really wanted to save lives, we would use the power of the state to force people into treatment, and use draconian measures to keep them away from drugs. They would be monitored heavily, at great loss of freedom and liberty. One of the reasons alcohol is so hard to quite is because it is everywhere. The more available drugs are, the more they will be used, and the more addicts we will have.

    The reality of addiction is that people are not in control of themselves. I don’t know anyone who treats addiction to be for legalization of things like herion.

    A Ricocheteer commented elsewhere that there are dealers who go to [addiction] Anonymous meetings to find clients.

    I could go for laws targeting such people for serious jail time as that has to be one of the more evil things I have heard of. Not sure how one would craft such a law though.

    That they do. Treatment is far more than going to AA meetings. 

    • #33
  4. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Remember, Fentanyl has been around for decades.  It’s not really a poison.  It’s generally used peri-operatively by highly trained physicians.  It’s 100 times stronger than morphine, and in fact it’s not even the strongest one made.  Sufentanyl is 10 times stronger than fentanyl.  It’s only recently (and I exaggerate here) that pads of it are being slapped on the backs of people complaining of body aches and back pain.  And only more recently that it apparently is being mass produced for black-market purposes.

    • #34
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Remember, Fentanyl has been around for decades. It’s not really a poison. It’s generally used peri-operatively by highly trained physicians. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine, and in fact it’s not even the strongest one made. Sufentanyl is 10 times stronger than fentanyl. It’s only recently (and I exaggerate here) that pads of it are being slapped on the backs of people complaining of body aches and back pain. And only more recently that it apparently is being mass produced for black-market purposes.

    I believe this was part of the IV cocktail that gave my youngest sister an alert and functioning final week of life when the cancer came back with a vengeance.

    • #35
  6. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Flicker (View Comment):
    Remember, Fentanyl has been around for decades. It’s not really a poison. It’s generally used peri-operatively by highly trained physicians. It’s 100 times stronger than morphine, and in fact it’s not even the strongest one made. Sufentanyl is 10 times stronger than fentanyl. It’s only recently (and I exaggerate here) that pads of it are being slapped on the backs of people complaining of body aches and back pain. And only more recently that it apparently is being mass produced for black-market purposes.

    Right.  An anaesthesiologist informs me that opioids are used in almost every surgery, and that fentanyl is the most common.

    That compound A is “X times stronger than Y” is a statement that may be technically more or less true, but what does it mean, except in cases where one is trying to minimize the size of a smuggled package?

    Who cares if a syringe was pre-filled at the plant with only 99.9999% saline, vs. 99.999999%, or whatever?

    It may help if people learn to think of any two medicines that have the same effect, as administered, as having the same “strength”, regardless of the molar concentration of the active ingredient.  For illegal street drugs, what is relevant is the price per equivalent dose, not the number of molecules of active ingredient per equivalent dose.

    I believe that sometimes people assign great significance to the “strength” of pharmaceuticals because they are not thinking clearly. It it like attaching significance to the fact that a nation has a currency that is “stronger” because its absolute purchasing power per monetary unit is higher–another true but utterly meaningless fact.

     

    • #36
  7. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    I believe this was part of the IV cocktail that gave my youngest sister an alert and functioning final week of life when the cancer came back with a vengeance.

    Gulp.  I’m sorry to hear that.

    • #37
  8. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    but what does it mean, except in cases where one is trying to minimize the size of a smuggled package?

    I think it means that a smaller amount, a nearly microscopic amount, can more easily kill you.

    • #38
  9. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    but what does it mean, except in cases where one is trying to minimize the size of a smuggled package?

    I think it means that a smaller amount, a nearly microscopic amount, can more easily kill you.

    True.  But you missed my point.  It is that it’s highly misleading the way reporters use that fact in the context of articles about the dangers of illegal drugs written for the general public, which they do endlessly.

    In that context, a lay reader naturally assumes that the statement “Drug A is 100 times more potent than Drug B” must mean something like “A is 100 more dangerous than B”.

    In fact the statement doesn’t imply that at all.

    The higher Median Lethal Dose of pure heroin simply means that it weighs, say, about 100 times as much as one of fentanyl.  That sounds very important to the lay reader in the context of an article about dangerous drugs.

    But what is the true significance of that fact?  If you had a lethal dose of pure heroin in one gloved hand, and one of fentanyl in the other, could you tell the difference in weight? What about ten lethal doses of heroin vs. one of fentanyl?

    Newspaper reporters are endlessly repeating this sensational-sounding technical fact,  a scientifically true but irrelevant statement, to convinces readers who lack scientific understanding of something that is untrue.

    It’s irresponsible journalism.

    • #39
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    but what does it mean, except in cases where one is trying to minimize the size of a smuggled package?

    I think it means that a smaller amount, a nearly microscopic amount, can more easily kill you.

    True. But you missed my point. It is that it’s highly misleading the way reporters use that fact in the context of articles about the dangers of illegal drugs written for the general public, which they do endlessly.

    In that context, a lay reader naturally assumes that the statement “Drug A is 100 times more potent than Drug B” must mean something like “A is 100 more dangerous than B”.

    In fact the statement doesn’t imply that at all.

    The higher Median Lethal Dose of pure heroin simply means that it weighs, say, about 100 times as much as one of fentanyl. That sounds very important to the lay reader in the context of an article about dangerous drugs.

    But what is the true significance of that fact? If you had a lethal dose of pure heroin in one gloved hand, and one of fentanyl in the other, could you tell the difference in weight? What about ten lethal doses of heroin vs. one of fentanyl?

    Newspaper reporters are endlessly repeating this sensational-sounding technical fact, a scientifically true but irrelevant statement, to convinces readers who lack scientific understanding of something that is untrue.

    It’s irresponsible journalism.

    Just – I hate to sound dim, but sometimes I gotta play to my strengths – are you saying that this is a little like holding a horse pill with X micrograms of active drug in one hand and a tiny little fingernail-clipping pill with an identical amount of active drug in the other? 

    • #40
  11. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    TBA (View Comment):
    Just – I hate to sound dim, but sometimes I gotta play to my strengths – are you saying that this is a little like holding a horse pill with X micrograms of active drug in one hand and a tiny little fingernail-clipping pill with an identical amount of active drug in the other? 

    [Let me preface this by saying that I felt the same way about sounding dim, at first.  But after a long time, you get used to it.  I even enjoy it now.]

    Yes, that’s it.  100 mg. of heroin (which could kill a new user) is 100 times as heavy as 1 mg. of fentanyl (a lethal dose).  But 100 mg. (about 3 thousandths of an ounce!) is still an awfully small quantity, and given the fact that the industry is built around doses, not “numbers of milligrams of pure substance”, the ratio doesn’t factor into the drug danger equation much at all.

    A drug dealer doesn’t say to himself, “Gee, since the number of mg. of heroin I was putting in a hit before is 50, I have to put the same number of mg. of fentanyl in each hit, even though it’s 100 times as potent.  It’s a shame because now I will be I will be dead or out of business after the first week of sales!”

    When the datum is presented in the context of an actual risk that it causes, obviously I have no objection.  It is an important fact in context.  For example, fentanyl, or at least deriviatives like carfentanyl, are so potent that they introduce an new risk not seen with heroin, where cops and other good guys are exposed in the line of duty to dangerous quantities from accidental skin contact.

    The much-higher potency is also significant to the problem of importation from Chinese manufacturers, since the package size per dollar of value is so low.

    • #41
  12. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    [Let me preface this by saying that I felt the same way about sounding dim, at first. But after a long time, you get used to it. I even enjoy it now.]

    I was just accused of hyperbole (rightly so), and all I wanted to answer was: Yes, and loving it!

    • #42
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Mark Camp (View Comment):
    It’s irresponsible journalism.

    That is all there is. 

     

    • #43
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.