By Rees Sloan
The diagram to the right represents the current situation of the War on Drugs, a hard-line prohibitionist approach to drug use taken by nearly all of the world's most powerful nations, including the U.S. The diagram below it involves one possible solution to the scenario, but that will be addressed later. For now, consider that the current Drug War cycle is complex, never-ending, and involves three key players:
1.The Government - not an ambiguous entity, but the entire populace of citizens
2.Profiteers - including Warlords, growers, dealers, smugglers, suppliers, traffickers, and chemists.
3.Users - include anyone who ever pays for illegal drugs, including minors.
The good news is that the cycle can be broken. Breaking the chain at any one of the 8 steps will effectively win the war on drugs. Breaking any one of the links isn't as easy as it sounds, and it will require completing or changing one step so profoundly that it prevents the next step from happening. A careful analysis of each step will allow us to determine what kind of changes (if any) can help. We'll start at an arbitrary point on the cycle and follow it around.
Illegal status drives up price - Many recreational drugs are addictive substances, but more importantly, it seems like there are always people who want to do them. This means their demand curve is inelastic. Making certain recreational drugs illegal increases the risk for suppliers and decreases the supply available, but the demand remains the same. This drives the price up tremendously as suppliers expect to be compensated for their efforts. Because the demand for drugs is high and inelastic, users get screwed into paying exorbitant prices for drugs and they end up funding a vast network of profiteers. Additionally, there are problems with the drugs that users pay for, which are frequently cut and adulterated. Lowering the price of drugs would deter profiteers from selling them, but can we do this directly? To do so we would either have to change the demand of the users, or the supply available. The gravity of such a question will be addressed last, when a complete view of the cycle is evaluated.
Profiteers take advantage of high price - If money is the root of all evil, then it's safe to say that it's the primary cause that profiteers even promote drugs in the first place. Drug dealers will frequently target children for their operations because they know that the penalties agains them aren't as severe. A 7 year old in the D.C. suburbs will quickly learn that he can make more money dealing cocaine in a year than he ever could by going to school or eventaully getting a real job. Letting our kids live in that kind of a world and expecting that some of them not to be attracted to the profitability of drugs is completely unrealistic. The attractive strength of drugs is especially strong in areas stricken by poverty. Does advocating alternative forms of revenue, like real jobs, deter everyone from dealing drugs? Again no. The expansive network of people that it takes to deliver a drug to a user profits on every level, and always more than "honest" work can pay. It is for this very reason that profiteers will always exist, even for illegal substances. Consequently, the high profitability of drugs is a significant cash flow for gang activity, and the reason why "wars" are fought between rival gangs on city streets over who controls what area to sell drugs in. At the pinnacle of a drug trade are drug lords, usually well funded individuals. In some poorer countries they have more support than the national army. Clearly the lure of drug control is not a force to be underestimated. As long as drugs remain high priced, we will see their devastating ability to organize and fuel criminal activity.
Gov't spends money to deter profiteers - The network of people that it takes to supply a drug is enormous. There are so many people involved, often spanning several countries, that I believe it is impossible to track them all. The key point in this step is that the U.S. for example, spends enormous sums to try to thwart this massive complex of people. Their federal government alone spent 19 billion dollars in 2003, while state governments spent another 30 million. Each year that budget size has increased as the U.S. continues its prohibition campaign. It averages out to about 600 per second. Theoretically, all they have to do is prevent the next step from happening, all they have to do is catch all the profiteers. In the real world, is this possible? Consider the fact that the U.S. army, the most powerful and well funded on earth, has occupied Afghanistan for the past 8 years, and yet that small country is still the most prolific producer of opium in the world. Not only is it quite impossible to catch every last profiteer, but even doing so won't deter more people from stepping up to the opportunity. In the 1990s, an Opium King named Khunsa made an offer to halt his entire production of the drug for an annual cash infusion of 40 million dollars. Even if the U.S. did agree to meet his outrageous demands, some other drug lord would step up to the plate after him. The reality is we've grown quite accustomed to shelling out money to pay this problem, both directly at home, and indirectly by offering foreign "assistance" to individual countries. The U.S. has paid the governments of Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, and countless others untold billions to fix the drug problem. Has it worked? No, so more importantly, at what cost? When will we wake up to the idea that throwing money at the problem won't fix it?
Some, but not all profiteers are caught - I make the case that increasing the amount of money we spend or the manpower we use to catch drug profiteers will never catch them all, and is a waste of our valuable resources. Considering all the money used to investigate, track, catch, prosecute, and imprison these people, and considering how well it's worked over the past few decades, has it really been worth it? No. Drug cultivators in 3rd world countries like Columbia, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Peru, Morocco, Laos, Myanmar, and a slew of others have supplied the first world countries for decades. Global estimates determine that less than 10% of all drug crops are destroyed. I would also argue that not all these people are actually bad people, but maybe they've been motivated my desperate socioeconomic conditions to take part in the drug trade. For some farmers, seeding some or all of their fields is the only possibility to feed their family. "Getting caught" is an elastic and relatively unlikely event. The the actual number of drug traffickers and dealers that escape detection is astonishing. Even when they are caught, the situation is complicated by the fact that our prisons are overrun already. 25% of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated for drug charges alone. If thats not scary enough, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 1 out of every 31 people either in state jails, federal prisons, on probation, or parole. We have more incarcerated people than China, and yet China has four times as many people as the US. In 2007, 1.8 million people were arrested for drug charges alone, that number is expected to increase. 800,000 of those people were charged with cannabis violations. Drug abuse violations constituted the highest category of arrests at 13%, more than murder, assault, or theft, or any other. Even catching everyone involved (which would require an enormous amount of manpower and money) would still attract others to fill the gap left behind: the profitability of drugs still remains. The large network of profiteers with a number of steps means that everyone profits on their own level, and the mere motivation to make money will always attract people. As long as some people slip through to the next level (ending with the users) it will always be a profitable enterprise.
Users pay to get risky drugs from profiteers - Why do people do drugs, even though they're illegal? If you've ever done them yourself, you know why. If you've ever smoked a cigarette or had alcohol as a minor, you know why. If you've ever used or abused any substance recreationally, you know why. People are idiots, and we like messing up the homeostatic chemical processes in our body. But I would make the case that most sane people, like you and I, consistently don't let drugs ruin our lives. Consider the drug alcohol for instance. For adults, it is legal to use. Just because it is legal, does this mean that you use every waking opportunity of your life to guzzle it down and do stupid things? No. Are you capable of responsibly drinking it? Yes. Are you free to choose not to use it? Yes. Are there laws and regulations that deter you from doing absolutely stupid things like driving with it? Yes. On one hand alcohol is an absolute bane to society, the cause of numerous accidents and incidents. The real disadvantages of alcohol, however, are caused by a relatively small percentage of its users that I would argue, are idiots, and I am perfectly okay with the fines and jail time they may incur for doing stupid things while on alcohol. Most importantly, just because a few people are irresponsible with it, does that mean we should ban it for everyone? America tried that once, it was called prohibition. Immediately crime skyrocketed and gangs profited from alcohol smuggling in the 30s, they quickly learned how miserable of an idea it was. The constitutional amendment to prohibition was repealed only years later. I make the case that you will never be able to deter some idiots from abusing drugs, but sometimes this isn't a fair assumption. Why do people abuse drugs in the first place? Hardcore drugs like heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine are highly addictive. Profiteers know this, and they use this property of drugs to exploit users. A dealer might initially sell someone a high quality drug to get them hooked, and later switch them to a low quality form. Users can't tell the difference because they've abused it to a point where the pleasurable effects are no longer significant, and they're simply trying to avoid withdrawal. The illegal status of drugs forces users to resort to dangerous or risky conditions, sharing needles for instance, will drastically increase the risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, and other diseases. Additionally, illegal drugs are frequently cut, adulterated, or made in dirty labs. These unnecessary attributes form dangerous cocktails of unregulated substances that contribute to our stigma of the harm that drugs can do. Are all drugs powerfully addictive though? Hardly, but through nothing more than stigma and illegality alone, some people still lump together substances like cannabis with cocaine. Making drugs illegal does not deter people from taking them however, and there will always be some idiots (an arguably small fraction of users) who wish to abuse them.
Gov't spends money to deter users - Users represent the foundation of the drug trafficking network. Public education and harsh penalties have motivated most of the public to not use drugs, but again there is still that elusive minority of the population that persists, why? Some users might not actually know the full impact of a drug before taking it, they could be mislead by false testimony. Even the respected Psychologist Sigmund Freud once proclaimed that cocaine made people feel "completely normal" and "in no way caused further cravings." Drug dealers prey upon potential users who have been motivated by peer pressure and curiosity to just "try" it once by offering them highly addictive forms of their drug, often cut or laced with additives. Later they will supply them with a significantly watered down drug. In more ways than one, the user gets screwed. But ultimately the users motivation is different from the profiteer: they aren't motivated to make profit, they are motivated to alter their consciousness. Under the "no harm, no foul" philosophy, I would argue that you have the right to alter your consciousness as long as you harm no one else in the process. I would also argue that not everyone wants to alter their consciousness in extreme irreversible ways. Education is key to drug discouragement, but making sure that everyone has access to that education is often the difficult part. Even so, will everyone listen to this education? No. Smokers know that it is bad for them, but they still do it. Binge drinkers know that it damages their liver, but they still do it. Even with all the knowledge in the world, there very well may be only a minority of people who wish to "use," but this is the reason for the entire war on drugs in the first place.
Some, but not all users are caught - The the War is an ongoing process because the gov't fails to catch and deter some, if not many users. The liklihood of "getting caught" really depends on where you live, and how much the officers choose to enforce the law. In the Australian suburb of Cabramatta, heroin users had a 1 in 3000 chance of getting caught per use. Police eventually stepped up efforts in the neighborhood, but that simply caused users to develop more sophisticated methods of concealing their habit. Historical data shows that it IS possible to drastically reduce drug usage in certain areas, but the solution is highly localized, and temporary. Stamping out drug use in one area just moves it to another, and the process takes a great waste of police resources, time, and taxpayer money. Prohibition will only work if the philosophy is carried out to the maximum: Theoretically, if they caught all of the users this might stop the drug trade. But I think it is highly unrealistic to think that the Gov't could ever spend enough money to find and catch all users, let alone prosecute and imprison them, then release them, force them to go to rehab, and expect that they never use drugs again. How do you really stop someone from doing something you don't want them to do, but they want to? Harsher punishments might work. A more extreme example would be like Thailand, which imprisons users and traffickers for life or simply executes them. Death is a more effective deterrent to be sure, but then I would argue that the government is impairing these people as much as the drugs. Even here though drug trade and drug use still exist, harsh measures do not completely eliminate the effects of drugs. A more important question related to these matters might be: is it really right, or even necessary, to stop people from performing actions that affect no one else?
Gov't makes drugs illegal to deter everyone - The legality and illegality of something is usually a moral issue, depending on the context it is used in. Most people can agree that murder is immoral in everyday life, but the context can change, and in times of war it is not preferable but acceptable. Most people have come to the agreement that recreational drugs are immoral, and should thus be illegal. At the same time however, they have completely ignored the context in which recreational drugs should be placed in. The context in which we think of recreational drugs now, is indeed a perverse one. As a society we have turned a blind eye to the minority of users that will always exist, and condemned the lot of them to a life of poverty, inescapable addiction, and neglect. It is no wonder we associate such a negative stigma with drugs. There is a pernicious underworld we have not just allowed to exist, but actually created by making drugs illegal. Gangs, mobs, and drug traffickers are not the sum effort of very bad people doing very bad things, making drugs illegal has given them the reason and the means to promote recreational drugs. Illegality vs. Legality is the real issue here. It is in fact, a complicated on/off switch, and represents the most viable method of Winning the War on Drugs yet. We've seen the effects of illegality for quite some time now, but consider for a moment what happens if we change this. Referring to the 2nd picture captioned, "a break in the chain" lets us see exactly how changing one of the steps completely alters and breaks the cycle.
Now at this point, you might be saying, "That's great, everything works on paper, BUT…" and you'll probably imagine a dozen things that will go horribly wrong with the legalization of drugs. It's very true, the real life scenario of legalization is not that simple. But this is not a no-holds barred legalization scenario, this is legalization with regulation. More accurately, it's the nationalization of some recreational drugs. It's aim is two-fold: the first is to eliminate any profitability lure that drugs might have, the second is to protect users by offering them uncut, unadulterated, disease-free, safe, regulated recreational drugs if they really choose to use them. It is based on one, important assumption: that not everyone will choose to abuse, or even use, certain hardcore recreational substances. If cocaine was legal would you use it? I sure wouldn't. I argue that most people wouldn't because they know what it does, and they know they have pre-existing obligations to work, family, school, and life. Even less people would abuse cocaine given other more benign substances available, and given its addictive properties were replaceable. There are factors we can introduce to significantly reduce or eliminate the addictive nature of even hardcore drugs. I maintain that only a small percentage of society chooses to abuse drugs beyond their control, and legalization provides them protection from harming themselves and others in the process. It's an enormous mental leap to consider, but the following hypothetical conditions allow us to imagine a smooth transition of what would change, and what could stay the same.
First, a rational categorization of each drug would need to take effect to consider both its addictive and harmful properties, and determine how tightly regulated a drug needs to be (if at all). It is illogical to lump all recreational drugs together. This solution does not attempt to find the answers to such, but addresses the most dangerous of drugs.
>Drugs would be legal, but this would not mean that anyone can make/grow/sell them. Drug production would be a very constricted process, but ultimately even home growers would be deterred because it would cost them more money to make the drug than a regulated manufacturer can with economies of scale.
>There would never be any advertisement promoting recreational drug use…ever
>There would absolutely be an age limit on when recreational drugs can be used.
>The government would provide, through subsidized manufacturing by pharmaceutical companies, regulated recreational drugs that conform to standards of safety and quality.
>Through economies of scale, pharmaceutical manufacturers would be able to make drugs at a significantly lower price than what any dealer can offer a user
>The manufacturers would profit somewhat for their efforts, but since the production is subsidized their profits are completely indeterminate of demand.
>The real revenue would be generated through the sale of recreational drugs to users, the profits of which would not go to individuals in the government, but be used to supplement taxes. (Thus income taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes in general would be expected to decrease)
>Existing laws about crimes committed under the influence of drugs are still valid. Users still have the responsibility to ensure that they do not commit crimes while under the influence of the drug. City ordinances like: You can't use or be under the influence of LSD in public, are perfectly valid. Other new laws like: you can't use drugs within 100m or plain sight of a school, would have to be written.
>To promote safety, Recreational drugs could only be sold at licensed, safe drug retailers.
>All retailers would be required to include safety, side effect, interaction, and other pertinent information with a drug purchase. This includes licensed retailers that would be the equivalent of a nightclub or bar.
>Users could not buy drugs while noticeably intoxicated by alcohol or any other drug
>To discourage abuse, It would be an offense to supply an intoxicated person with drugs, just like it is an offense to serve an intoxicated person alcohol (example of Australian law).
>Users would always have the option of including a drug which nullifies or eliminates the addictive properties of all drugs.
>The most destructive pattern associated with drugs, the uncontrollable craving for the drug, would be eliminated in this way.
>Since users always have the option of including this drug both before, during, or after use, they could only be dependent on any drug if they really wanted to. The cost of this drug would be covered by the revenue generated from drug use.
>Users would have the option of staying at designated areas similar to bars or nightclubs for the duration of their drug use in a place that would pose minimal risk of harming themselves or others, this is encouraged but not required. Being in the safety of one's own home is also encouraged. Having a sober responsible friend nearby is also encouraged. In all aspects, drug use is encouraged to be a private, not a public matter.
>Trained pharmacists would be available for consultation to deter the likelihood of overdose or interaction.
>Drug purchases would be kept track of in a state database, in the same way that ephedrine (cough medicine) purchases are kept track of by scanning one's diver's license at a pharmacy.
>Drivers licenses, or at the very least, State ID cards, would have the capacity to license a person to be a user.
>That privilege, if abused, could be taken away.
>The price levels of the nationalized drugs would be fixed across the board to prevent consumer capitalism from taking advantage of the prices in different areas
>The choice to abuse prescription drugs like Ritalin would be the difference between having them covered by insurance or paying full price.
>Admittedly, there could still be small scale smuggling, as profiteers attempt to give drugs to minors or others. Police could enforce this activity, but the national price minimums would ensure that the profitability of such actions would remain incredibly low, and thus deter such action.
>Law enforcement would still have to ensure that minors do not do drugs, schools could retain random drug testing.
>Large sliding scale fines could also be in effect for distributing recreational drugs illegally. Fines would need to be reworked to prevent the wealthy from being able to "afford" to break the law.
>Minors would be faced with heavy fines if caught. Penalties could "stack" until paid at a future date.
>Laws would have to be written to protect users from being discriminated per se, but existing laws, such as an employer's requirement that employee's can't be intoxicated in the workplace, or even test positive for drugs, are still valid.
>Although the drugs would be legal, there would still be an underlying goal to discourage their use and abuse. Discouragement could be in the form of education at school, commercials, public service announcements, and at the licensed drug retailers themselves. Combined with warning label information available at every purchase, a user would quickly learn that some drugs can be used responsibly, while other drugs are downright dangerous to use.
>Even amoung people that are likely to abuse drugs at all, the use of some exceptionally harmful or dangerous drugs like heroin would expectedly be nonexistent with the availability of other safer drugs, combined with the education about what those dangerous drugs do, and the availability of a free or discounted addiction suppressing drug.
>Any measure that restricts drug use while keeping profitability low is acceptable,.any measure that attempts to be restrictive (even in good faith) but allows the profitability of drugs to increase is not acceptable; we will be right back where we started.
In summary, I believe that most people who do not use already drugs would continue not to use them. If you doubt this, consider your own moral constitutions on why you wouldn't use or abuse a hard drug like cocaine. There may be a portion of the population driven by curiosity to experiment for a brief period of their lives, but with the continued education on many fronts, the knowledge of what drugs do would deter this. The "taboo" effect would also no longer apply. For the population that does choose to use recreational drugs despite all this, they could do so in a safer way than what is available to them now. They could also do so without the risk of becoming dependant on the drugs, since they can switch to an addiction eliminating drug. Abuse rates characterized by an incessant craving for a drug, would expectedly plummet. Over time, most users would shy away from hardcore drugs that actually do irreversible damage to the body. The actual abuse of drugs (which happens to any substance legal or not), would only come as a matter of choice. These individuals would still be under the same obligations to use the drugs safely and, if they do not, they can be subject to fines and imprisonment just like anyone else. The draconian methods of imprisoning someone for the mere act of possessing or using a drug in a way that is not harmful to anyone else would be a thing of the past. The spread of diseases due to the irresponsible use of drugs should also expectedly decrease. Since drug would be sold and maintained in regulated areas, clean paraphernalia could be provided to minimize health risks. Since drugs would be regulated for safety and quality, overdoses would drop dramatically, and complications arising from cut and adulterated drugs would cease to exist. Users would know how much it would take to overdose, and every user would be forewarned about interactions.
What we have to accept is the fact that it is unreasonable to think that we will be able to control all drug trade indefinitely through a prohibitionist stance. There will always be gaps through which traffickers can squeeze through. There will also, always be drugs available to be made by someone. The reality is, we can either make them illegal and allow other people to exploit the minority of the population who chooses to use, or we can make the drugs ourself and give that minority every opportunity and encouragement to quit.
Nationalization would cause the entire network of drug traffickers to cease to exist. Users would have the choice between paying $60 for an adulterated drug, or say, $12 for the same safer state approved drug. The main goal of legalization is to negate any kind of profitability the drugs may have, and protect users. In order to prevent users from paying into the illicit drug network, the state would have to offer comparable drugs of equal purity and even better safety/quality. If the Gov't does not make full attempts to eradicate the profitability of drugs, profiteers could circumvent the system and the plan would backfire. If done successfully the effect would be instantaneous, and overnight the illicit supplies of billions of dollars of non-regulated drugs would be worthless. The main economy of gangs and mobs would be kaput, and they could no longer use drugs as addictive substances to exploit and prey on the desperate. The seven year old in the D.C. suburbs would never learn to sell cocaine to his classmates; he would actually go to school and learn what cocaine does to the body, and why he shouldn't take it. Responsible drug use would expectedly escalate for a while, abuse would decline, but as the taboo wears off I imagine people might realize there are more important things to do with their lives. There will always be abusers, but now at least we're not confining them to the dirty back alleys. Done properly, legalizing drugs not only protects people, but gives targeted education to all users, discourages use, and undermines the entire drug trafficking operation in a single move. Its ultimate advantage is that it forces all users through a narrow regulated gate. Through that portal, targeted education, discouragement, and safety efforts can be applied.
1. Nationalize drugs to eliminate illicit trade
2. Protect users by offering safer drugs
3. Educate users to deter use
4. Provide resources to help quit, (addiction antagonists, rehab, etc) at any opportunity
1. Lower taxes
2. Lower crime
3. Lower drug abuse
4. National health improves.
5. Drug education improves
This idea is a working solution to a real-world problem, as is by no means complete. It operates under several assumptions, namely:
>It is acceptable for a person to use a drug in a way that does not harm anyone else.
>Most people, given the choice, will not use hardcore drugs, and even less will abuse them
>Given the choice between an expensive drug of unknown origin, and an inexpensive comparable drug of known content, a user will choose the latter.
>Illegality fuels the profitability of drugs, which in fund much of (but not all) criminal activity.
>The prohibitionist stance is ultimately a futile and will never reach completion.
>Recreational drugs will always be available/used to some extent
>The proposed alternative of nationalization is the best strategy for minimizing the many harms caused by drugs.
Please feel free to add your ideas, concerns, knowledge, testimony, and general comments to the process!