08 January 2012


   I have written several controversial posts but I have a feeling that this will probably be the most contentious yet by far. I don't ask that you agree or disagree with me. What I do ask of you is to keep an open mind and read the entire thing before forming an opinion...and think. If, through this article I start just one meaningful conversation about the suffering that we as Americans bring upon ourselves, I will have fulfilled my purpose in writing it.

    God knows we've tried. We fought the good fight and gave it our all. We spent our prayers, our time, our money and our blood. Some fell along the way. Many good men and women died or were ruined for life.
    Now, I believe the time has come to face the truth. A very uncomfortable and controversial truth.
    The fact is we lost! We lost the war.
    Not the ones in east Asia or the middle east. I don't mean Korea or Vietnam, Iraq, Grenada, Afghanistan or the cold war.

    I'm talking about the war on drugs.

    Although the war on drugs was officially declared by Richard Milhous Nixon in 1971, in truth it started with the passage of the Harrison Act1 in 1914. This was the first federal attempt to curb usage of cocaine, opium and their derivatives. It was presented as a tax law, but it's real intention was to end the sale and use of recreational drugs. It failed. Miserably!
    Instead of curbing drug use, it only drove it underground; into the world of smugglers, thieves and murders2. One law review stated " The impact... make it almost impossible for addicts to obtain drugs legally.3” What people failed to realise was that they would obtain them. One way or another.
    Instead of stopping crime, this misguided attempt at legislating morality and personal behaviour actually increased it. Drug use and all the suffering associated with criminals and their ways of life flourished. Soon, the cartels began to become a major criminal force in an exact parallel to the rise of the Mafia directly due to our (the governments) attempt to stop us all from drinking: the 18th amendment4.
    Yes. By making illegal drugs profitable, we created the cartels. That makes us responsible for the thousands of murders and kidnappings, be-headings and bombings perpetrated by them every year.

    And besides the cost in misery and blood, let us not forget the absolutely staggering financial cost. According to one police chief, we waste almost 52 million dollars a day5 on a losing battle-a battle we cannot win.
There's another – hidden – cost, too. Not money spent, but money not made. If you buy a new TV, you spent $300 or $400. If you skipped work today, you may not have spent any money, but you didn't make any either. The effect on your monthly budget is the same: you have less money to pay the rent and buy groceries.
    Anything bought and sold on the black market isn't taxed. That's just a plain fact.
    And how much tax revenue is lost each year? One government estimate states that Americans consumed about 22,000 metric tons of Mary Jane in 20026. There are 35,274 ounces in a metric ton. Assuming a tax of just $5.00 per ounce, we lost $3,880,140,000 of tax money that year. And that was just on pot. I'm sure that almost every pot smoker would gladly pay $5.00 or $10.00 more for his/her weed to be able to get it legally. That's 4 BILLION dollars a year we didn't collect in taxes; 8 billion at $10 a bag. And that's just on marijuana. Throw in all the other drugs and you would probably come up with a trillion dollars in less than 5 years. That would cover a lot of the Social Security deficit.

    And now you know where I'm going with all this. Maybe it's high (pun intended) time to look at the issue from another angle.

    Legalization. Total legalization of the purchase, possession and use of all drugs. Let the government control the manufacture and sales of marijuana, hashish, cocaine, opium, heroin, ecstasy, lsd and all other recreational substances.

    Oh yes. I can hear all the screams already. I said you should read the whole thing before forming an opinion.
    Think about it. No more overdoses from extra-pure drugs. Or people getting ripped off buying aspirin instead of X. Or going on a bad trip because they got pot laced with PCP. There would be quality control. People would get what they pay for.
    But wouldn't even more people use drugs if they were legal? Not if history is any measure. Again let's look at prohibition. Thousands of people who never drank before started drinking precisely because booze was against the law. The forbidden-fruit syndrome.
    No more filling our jails with people that just want to get high. According to a study I read, there are about 420,000 people in jail just for drug offenses7. Lane County, Oregon says that it costs between $90 and $130 a day to keep someone in jail8. Another article places the cost at a paltry $79 a day9. Even at that figure, it costs us the taxpayers $28,835 a year for each and every man or woman caught with a bag of weed or a hit of acid. That works out to $12,110,700,000 a year just to lock up the druggies.
    Add that to the lost tax dollars and we are out over 16 BILLION dollars a year. Add in the profits that the states would make from selling the drugs out of state-controlled outlets and about 30 of the 50 states could balance their budgets in under 3 years.

    What about jobs? Consider that someone would have to hire hundreds if not thousands of people to produce, package, market, transport and sell all these products. That's American jobs; not European, Colombian or Mexican. That money would stay in the US of A. Not get shipped to some country that doesn't even like us.
    Some people say that it would cost more money than it saves. Not true10. Addicts will still be addicts. People will still get high, just like all the folks in the speakeasies of the 20s and 30s. The 21st amendment (repeal of prohibition) brought a reduction in drinking and crime, an increase in tax revenues from the sale of liquor and a lot of legal, good paying jobs. The same would happen with the legalization of drugs. The prisons would be empty. Or at least a hell of a lot less overcrowded. And the trillion or so extra dollars we would have could go towards education, health care, feeding the hungry or just getting the country out of debt.
    In this time of financial collapse and failing job markets does our current drug policy really make any sense at all?
    If the drug laws and all the associated problems had ever actually helped to curb drug use, I might say yes. But the reality is that we are simply making a bad situation worse.
    We lost the war. It's time to face the truth, change direction and try something that we know works.
    We know it would work because it worked before.
    We lost the war.
    Time to lick our wounds and start over.
    We lost the war.

At least that's my opinion. What's yours? Leave a comment and tell me...and the world what you think.


1 History of the Harrison act of 1914

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Michael said...

I, too, have considered this. However, I think the one fallacy that dominates this argument can be summed up with your statement "misguided attempt at legislating morality and personal behavior actually increased it."
First, let me say, I am 100% in favor of the legalization and taxation of marijuana. However, when you talk about cocaine, meth, heroin, etc., you are talking about legislating behaviors that affect society. Use of these psychotropic has been proven time and again to lead to degenerative behaviors that can affect society as a whole. I am not disagreeing with your hypothesis, but it must be considered that use of the so-called "hard drugs" does affect more than just the user.

Dan said...

I would like to counter Michael. The heavy drugs are currently designed to be extremely addictive. With oversight, these drugs can be tamed. Nicotine is an example, there is a multi-billion dollar nicotine products industry despite the fact that nicotine is quite similar to heroine. It has been tamed by dilution and taxation.

I am no fan of drugs myself, but I am a big believer in freedom. Simply put, the penalties for violating reasonable laws should equal twice the cost of enforcing the law.

Trafficking drugs illegally should be handled by the IRS in the form of tax evasion. Drugs should be controlled in the sense that identification should be required and age limitations enforced.

I have heard a lot of arguments about people getting high in the workplace or before driving a car. Those things are already handled in the law and in common practice as with alcohol. Some of the billions of dollars spent on drug enforcement could be spent on a simple breathalizer or tissue swab with immediate results.

If a city spends 2million a year on enforcement and catches 2000 people violating the law, then the fine should be $2000 or 2x the cost of enforcement.

Many of the people in prison are are there for drug possession, but many more are in for violence related to the underground drug trade.

Dan said...

Also, the current system produces a net negative of cashflow for enforcement. It is better financially for a police force to bust speeders than drunk drivers. It is as if the penalties are based on arrests and not convictions. If every person arrested was also convicted then the system would be self funding. This is unlikely because police officers can make mistakes. So I propose that the penalties are based something like this:

apply a point value to each offense which is a measure of expense to enforce and collateral expense to society.

speeding = 1, DUI = 20, trafficking = 50 for instance.

take all convictions and multiply the numbers times their point value. Take the total expenses of enforcement and divide it by the total points previously calculated. Now we know what each point costs. DUI costs 40x that, because it is 20 points and double damages.

Let city council adjust the point values, local government should be at the reigns.

Now this part of the system has positive cashflow. This also reduces jail visits because most things are a fine or a brief stay in jail.