Tag: war on drugs

The Insane Drug War

“Thousands of police and soldiers swarmed into slums in Jamaica’s capital Tuesday in search of an alleged drug kingpin wanted by the United States, trading gunfire with masked supporters of the fugitive,” the Washington Post reports. “At least 30 people, mostly civilians, have been reported killed since the battle erupted Sunday.” Later reports put the number of deaths at 44. And for what?

[Christopher] Coke, who allegedly assumed leadership of the “Shadow Posse” from his father, was accused in a U.S. indictment in August of heading an international trafficking ring that sells marijuana and crack cocaine in the New York area and elsewhere.

So he’s accused of selling pot and coke to willing buyers. I’m sure he and his colleagues have engaged in violence along the way, but that’s an inevitable part of illegal businesses. And to capture a drug dealer, we’ve spent nine months pressuring a friendly government, and “thousands of police and soldiers” have been dispatched, with 44 deaths and counting. This policy is insane.

And it seems to confirm the point of this Newsweek column by Conor Friedersdorf, which I read a few hours earlier:

Forced to name the “craziest” policy favored by American politicians, I’d say the multibillion-dollar war on drugs, which no one thinks is winnable. Asked about the most “extreme,” I’d cite the invasion of Iraq, a war of choice that has cost many billions of dollars and countless innocent lives. The “kookiest” policy is arguably farm subsidies for corn, sugar, and tobacco—products that people ought to consume less, not more.

These are contentious judgments. I hardly expect the news media to denigrate the policies I’ve named, nor do I expect their Republican and Democratic supporters to be labeled crazy, kooky, or extreme. These disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.

Friedersdorf goes on to declare that Rand Paul’s views on the gold standard and his doubts about the Civil Rights Act are “wacky.” (Without refighting the civil rights argument, I’ll note that some economists would disagree with Friedersdorf about the gold standard.) But, he concludes, “crazy, kooky, extreme actions are perpetrated by establishment centrists far more often than by marginalized libertarians.” Look no further than Jamaica.

Souder’s Departure

In case you haven’t heard, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) is departing Congress because of an extramarital affair with one of his staffers. His replacement can only improve Indiana’s Third District on drug policy and limited government (and here).

During the initial hearings on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Souder was one of two representatives (the other being former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)) stressing the need for DHS to get into the drug war business. Souder went so far as to compare drug use to chemical warfare: “more than 4,000 Americans die each year from drug abuse – at least the equivalent of a major terrorist attack.” Rep. Gilman went so far as to propose that the DEA fall under the DHS since, as anyone can see, its supervision of nearly two-dozen subordinate agencies isn’t enough. And drug dealer = terrorist. Clearly.

While it would be preferable for voters of his district to reject pork-barrel spending and the nonsensical drug war, this resignation is not lamentable.

Associated Press: Drug War Failing

From an Associated Press story:

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.”

Former Drug Czar John Walters complains, ”To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is … saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.” 

Precisely.

Read the whole thing.  More here and here.

Another View on Immigration

With all due respect to my colleague Roger Pilon, I can’t say I share his views on immigration. This is an old, old argument among libertarians, so it should come as no surprise that someone takes the opposing view here. Roger writes,

We no longer control our southern border, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it. It hardly needs saying that a welfare state, in the age of terrorism, cannot have open borders.

It’s never really been the case, though, that we did control that southern border. Passage has always been relatively easy, at least aside from the natural dangers. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a matter of historical fact. We can certainly change that, but it will only be by doing something relatively new.

As to the welfare state, don’t expect me to shed any tears. Our welfare state is already well on the path to bankruptcy, with or without illegal immigrants. Compared to the damage being done by native-born U.S. citizens and their cursedly long lifespans, the immigrants’ overall effects are quite small. It would be unkind of us to set up such an ill-considered system and then pin its inevitable demise on others.

And as to terrorism, there are measures we could take that would both combat it and increase individual liberty – like legalizing recreational drugs. Without the black market in drugs, we’d have a lot less to fear from terrorists, particularly on our southern border. I can’t say I favor a liberty-restricting policy to quash terrorism when a liberty-increasing policy seems to do even better.

Obama’s ‘New’ Drug Strategy

Ho-hum. Another administration, another “comprehensive plan to combat drug abuse, putting the focus on prevention and treatment strategies.” This one “calls for a 15 percent reduction in youth drug use, a 10 percent decrease in drugged driving, and a 15 percent reduction in overall drug-related deaths by 2015.” It involves more central planning – “ the creation of a community-based national prevention system” – more taxpayers’ money – “an expanded array of intervention-oriented treatment programs” – and more nannyism – “a push to screen patients early for signs of substance abuse, even during routine appointments, and the expansion of prescription-drug monitoring programs.” And don’t forget the ever-popular, ever-futile “more international cooperation in disrupting the flow of drugs and money.” Let’s write down those percentage goals, modest as they are, and see how many of them get accomplished.

As it happens, I had a chance to meet with drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and his top aides last year, as part of a series of outreach meetings as the new team planned its strategy. It doesn’t look like my advice was taken. Of course, I probably didn’t help my case by noting that our last three presidents have acknowledged using illegal drugs, and it is just incomprehensible to me how they can morally justify arresting other people for doing the same thing they did. Do they think that they would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated for their youthful drug use? Do they think the country would have been better off if they had been arrested and incarcerated? If not, how do they justify punishing others?

I then suggested that they pursue the policies recommended by Timothy Lynch and myself in the Cato Handbook for Policymakers:

● repeal the Controlled Substances Act of 1970,

● repeal the federal mandatory minimum sentences and the federal sentencing guidelines,

● direct the administration not to interfere with the implementation of state initiatives that allow for the medical use of marijuana, and

● shut down the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Suspecting that the administration despite being headed a young president who in 2004 had declared the war on drugs an “utter failure” and advocated the decriminalization of marijuana, would not adopt my proposals, I went on to recommend a few mildly ameliorative reforms: stop federal lobbying in state initiative campaigns, stop federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and other interference with state policy choices, and stop the Pentagon from giving military equipment to local police forces.

I must admit, though, that the other think tank analysts at the meeting, both liberal and conservative, offered the sorts of proposals for more social workers and more transition programs and more doctors that seem to have ended up in the “new” proposal. Perhaps I should have come up with a couple of proposals that would have cost more money rather than less.

Life under Prohibition

Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage of marijuana smokers in the nation, reports the Washington Post. “More than 11 percent of Washingtonians older than 26 reported smoking marijuana in the past year – the highest percentage of any state in the nation, according to a 2007 survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

Is that a problem? Well, back around 1990 a satirical revue described the city government as “the nation’s first work-free drug zone.” But the people described in the Post article seem to work pretty hard, as scientists, businessmen, and so on.

One problem is inadvertently described by D.C. Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham:

“People don’t feel marijuana is dangerous, but it is, because of the way it is sold,” he said. “We frequently recover weapons when serving search warrants associated with the sale of marijuana.”

Exactly. Because marijuana is illegal, it’s not sold by kindly old liquor store owners. It’s distributed by people who are by definition criminal and who tend to engage in criminal behavior to protect their markets.

Its illegal distribution also accounts for another phenomenon that the Post notes:

Teenagers in parts of the city said they can buy pot more easily than beer or cigarettes.

Legal products, for sale to adults only, are harder for teenagers to obtain than a product that is illegal for everyone. Maybe it’s time to rethink the success of drug prohibition.

A Dubious Record in Mexico’s Drug War

In 2008, there were some 6,300 drug war killings in Mexico, double that of the previous year. El Universal newspaper in Mexico reports that deaths related to the drug war have just surpassed 7,000 since the beginning of 2009, with more than 1000 of those homicides in the last 48 days. That’s a daily rate of 21.3 deaths for the year.

Drug traffickers have long operated in Mexico, but the rise in drug violence is a direct result of President Calderon’s all out war on the drug trade, which he announced upon coming into office December 2006. Annual drug war deaths have more than tripled since then. As Washington starts to spend the bulk of the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative to help Mexico fight drugs (Washington has spent $24 million so far), we can expect the violence to continue increasing. (For a review of Mexico’s futile war on drugs, see Ted Carpenter’s study.)