AOH :: WODPROB.TXT|
The many problems of the War on Drugs
Permission is granted to reproduce this paper as long as you're cool about
it: i.e. don't change it, don't take my name off of it, and don't make any
money off of it, or if you do, share with me! :-)
American Drug Policy: What's the Real Problem?
by Joe Germuska (email@example.com)
"There were 2000 drug arrests in Cleveland in 1987, 3700 in 1988, and
[former mayor George] Voinovich predicted 6000 in 1989. Arrests are
growing at 70% a year. Juveniles arrested for drug abuse in Cleveland
increased from 23 in 1985 to 142 in 1988 with a prediction of more than 520
arrests in 1989"
-Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2 April 1989
"U.S. Stops Some Airborne Drugs but Admits the Smugglers Are Winning"
-Headline in The New York Times, 30 July 1989
"On Thursday, March 17, 1988, at 10:45 p.m, in the Bronx, Vernia Brown was
killed by stray bullets fired in a dispute over illegal drugs. The
19-year-old mother of one was not involved in the dispute, yet her death
was a direct consequence of the "war on drugs."
-from "Thinking About Drug Legalization" by James Ostrowski (1989)
(In Colombia:) "Since 1980, assassins have gunned down 178 judges; eleven
of the 24 members of the Supreme Court died in a 1986 shootout between the
army and leftist guerillas thought to have been paid by the drug barons.
Also hit were two successive Justice Ministers (one survived), an Attorney
General, the police chief of the nation's second largest city, Medellin,
and the editor of the newspaper, El Espectador in the capital city of
Bogota. The drug lords also kidnaped the 33-year-old son of a former
-Time, 4 September 1989
"The operation of New York's famous Rockefeller Drug Law, which provided
high mandatory minimum sentences for heroin sellers and restricted plea
bargaining . . . caused essentially no decrease in heroin activity, but did
lead to a drop in the number of heroin offenders arrested and convicted, a
considerable increase in the court and correctional resources necessary to
process those apprehended, and a significant increase in the overcrowding
of the state's prison system."
-from The Hardest Drug by John Kaplan (1983)
It was recently noted that the Eighties are the first decade since the
depression in which the U.S. was not involved in any wars. In a
traditional sense, this may be true, but, especially in the latter half,
the war of the 80's has been the American government's "war on drugs".
Suggested solutions have ranged from Nancy Reagan's glib "Just Say No!" to
George Bush's extravagant "I'm requesting--altogether--an almost billion
and a half increase in drug-related federal spending on law enforcement...."
(from President Bush's televised address, 5 September 1989) However, all
efforts of law enforcement officials to crush the drug traffic seem to have
little end effect on traffic. For example, in 1984, Colombian authorities
seized and destroyed thirteen and a half tons of cocaine, more than the
total amount seized in the history of law enforcement, and yet "it did not
nudge the price of coke on the street in the United States." (Latimer,
1985) In fact, the effects of law enforcement may sometimes actually be
detrimental. Columnist Doug Bandow reports, "A government study in Detroit
found that as the drug laws were more strictly enforced, drug prices rose
and the number of other crimes committed increased." (1984) Obviously,
with respect to drugs, the state of the American nation is absolutely
intolerable. In an August Gallup poll, Americans named drugs as the biggest
problem facing their country. "Drugs," however, is but a very vague
simplification of the problem in America. Before American policy can win
the war, the enemy must be defined. Analysts and policy makers debate with
little progress. Drugs are blamed for crime, loss of productivity, and the
decay of social institutions. Now, though, many experts are suggesting
that the problem may actually lie in the actual laws prohibiting drug use.
Whichever argument is more convincing will direct the future of policy. If
the drugs themselves are the culprits, then enforcement efforts must be
stepped up so as to minimize illicit drug sales and abuse. However, if the
scenario created by prohibition of drugs is judged to be the true problem,
then legalization methods must be developed.
Current American policy is based on the premise that the use of illicit
drugs is, by nature, wrong. The laws, some say, were enacted to protect
Americans from the harm drug abuse can cause. However, socialization has
created several "drugs of choice" which are, despite possibly being more
dangerous, considered acceptable to use and even abuse. For too long,
American society has accepted caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol as "O.K."
drugs, despite possible negative side effects. The government tried to
protect its citizens with the eighteenth amendment, but tenacious drinkers
who wanted ways around the law motivated criminals to industrialize
bootlegging, which became the foundation of organized crime in America.
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop released a study declaring nicotine
a drug at least as addictive as heroin, yet President Bush's appointed
"Drug Czar," William Bennett, is still hooked on cigarettes. In fact,
technically speaking, if nicotine were discovered today, it would be listed
as a "Class C narcotic," putting it in a league with heroin and cocaine,
neither of which has been a part of our culture long enough to be accepted
like tobacco. Because of the nature of illegal drugs, few studies have
been conducted. However, it seems that neither heroin nor cocaine have
long term health effects anywhere near as severe as the chronic effects of
America's drugs of choice. Lawyer James Ostrowski writes:
It is well known that tobacco causes cancer, heart disease, and
emphysema. While the effects of heavy alcohol consumption are not as well
known, they include anemia, fatty liver, hepatitis, cirrhosis,
pancreatitis, gastritis, ulcer, hypoglycemia, congestive heart failure,
ataxia, brain damage, blurred vision, dementia, cranial nerve palsy,
circulatory collapse, and hemorrhages. (1989)
The government is trying more to protect its citizens from the acute, or
immediate effects of these drugs. However, many scholars argue that the
acute dangers of cocaine and heroin are predominantly because of their
illegality. It has been "reasonably estimated that at least 80 percent of
deaths from illegal drugs today are attributable to the effects of drug
prohibition." (Ostrowski, 1989) Obviously, legalization would prevent all
of these deaths. First, street drugs are not monitored, so the user has no
idea what he is actually putting into his body. Many drugs are cut with
other substances to increase their bulk at no cost to the dealer. The fact
that some of these additives may be harmful or fatal need not bother
dealers, as their customers have no legal recourse. This is comparable to
the sale of denatured alcohol during prohibition. Criminals often sold
blindness-inducing wood alcohol to unknowing customers. Obviously, since
the repeal of Prohibition, brewers and distillers have been obeying
government safety measures. It has been quite a while since anyone was
sold methyl alcohol as an intoxicant! Also, because street drugs are not
labeled, the user has no idea of the potency of the drug he may be using.
A drug user may shoot up with a dose of the same quantity as the last time,
and therefore be apparently safe. If the second dose is more pure,
however, the user may overdose. Since distribution of alcohol includes
legislation requiring consistent percentages of alcohol by volume, drinkers
can know how much they've been drinking. If currently illegal drugs were
instead monitored by the government in essentially the same way as legal
"drugs of choice," those who so desired would be able to monitor their use
much more carefully and responsibly, as may today's drinkers and smokers.
Also, the illegality of drugs may be the motivation for users to turn to
more dangerous methods of administration. Randy Barnett, a law professor,
writes, "Intravenous injection, for example, is more popular in countries
where the high drug prices caused by prohibition give rise to the most
'efficient' means of ingesting the drug. In countries where opiates are
legal, the principal methods of consumption are [smoking] or snorting. . .
. [N]either is as likely as intravenous injections to result in an
overdose." (1987) Also, addicts often share needles, which helps spread
AIDS and hepatitis. It seems that, from a strict health standpoint, the
laws outlawing drugs are causing users more harm than use through
government approved channels might.
The one health aspect that would be constant regardless of the legality
of drugs is the prospect of addiction. The laws in place today are there
primarily to prevent Americans from becoming enslaved to a chemical.
However, there are serious problems with these motivations. First,
Americans can and do become addicted to alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and
numerous legal over-the-counter and prescription drugs. The government
does not, however, forbid the use of these addictive chemicals. And
marijuana has been determined not to be physically addicting. That is, a
marijuana user will suffer no health problems if deprived of THC for an
extended period of time. If the government will outlaw psychologically
addictive substances such as this, then it may as well include gambling,
eating, and even dieting, all of to which people can become psychologically
addicted, or more accurately, all of with which people can become obsessed.
The only grounds upon which the government would be justified in
maintaining this inconsistency is if it were demonstrable that addiction to
currently illegal drugs would necessarily be more harmful or more
inevitable than addiction to currently accepted drugs. There is simply no
reason to believe that this would be so. Popular belief may hold that
these drugs are particularly worse than the ones we use today, but many
people are basing their beliefs on fear-motivated research such as that
which produced the film "Reefer Madness." In this film, marijuana smokers
were depicted as raving psychotics after one puff of smoke. While this
myth has been debunked, similar misbeliefs about other drugs persist. For
example, Henry Giordano, former head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics,
said that his agency's research showed that anyone who used heroin more
than six times would become an addict. Even at that time, several studies
showed that those who had tried heroin far outnumbered those who became
addicted. And today, "it is now clear that there exists a sizeable
population of nonaddicted but regular heroin users who seem well integrated
into society and in many ways indistinguishable from the rest of the
population." (Kaplan, 1983) It is likely that, as with alcohol, caffeine,
and tobacco, other drugs would after a short period of acculturation be
similarly compatible with daily life.
Also, there are considerable questions about the rights of the government
to prohibit what is often called a "victimless crime." The United States
government was founded on principles of limited government. Many
libertarians point out that it is not the government's business to regulate
commerce between consenting adults. To these people, drug use is a private
matter in which the government has no business. Obviously, neither the
buyer nor the seller of drugs objects to the transaction. One counter to
this viewpoint is the claim that drug abuse cannot truly be victimless:
the user's friends and family may suffer if he becomes an addict, and many
drug users commit crimes to support their habits. What about these
Well, a person's associates may suffer if that person were to become
obsessed with anything, not just illegal drugs. However, this in other
cases is considered a social problem and not a criminal problem. Or, in
the case of child abuse or neglect, the parent is punished for that crime,
not for the possible causes of his misdeeds.
As for crime, quite simply the laws against drugs cause many more crimes
than simply drug sales and possession. Because of the legal risk, sellers
can inflate prices. A dose of heroin that costs pennies to hospitals sells
for $10-20 on the streets. Also, because the market is illegal, ruthless
"businessmen" can resort to violence and terror to control business, since
their customers could certainly not turn to the police and risk detection
themselves. This danger inflates the prices still further. But, drug
conviction records keep many users from gaining useful employment and
money. Therefore, they must rob or steal to maintain their habit. Drugs
themselves do not tend to promote violent crimes against persons. As Duane
McBride reports, "Non-drug users were more likely to commit crimes against
person than were all types of drug users. . . . Heroin addicts concentrated
their activities on behaviors that would result in the most monetary gain,"
so that they could by drugs. (1981) Experts generally agree that very few
of the violent crimes committed that are connected to drugs are committed
because of the pharmacological effects of the drugs. As New York Police
Department Deputy Chief Raymond Kelly said, "When we say drug-related,
we're essentially talking about territorial disputes or disputes over
possession. . . . We're not talking about where somebody is deranged
because they're on a drug. It's very difficult to measure that." (quoted
in The New York Times, 1988) If the drug prices were not inflated, the
addicts would be buying their drugs over the counter with money earned at
legitimate jobs, and crime would be reduced tremendously. After all, few
alcoholics need to resort to muggings to buy their booze.
To summarize: prohibition of drugs is justified on the following
grounds: Americans must be protected from the ill effects of drugs, both
on their health, and addiction; also, Americans must be protected from
those who use drugs, particularly those who commit crimes because of their
drug use. But, though the long term side effects of illegal drugs are
unclear, they are unlikely to be worse than alcohol and tobacco. The
immediate dangers of drug use have been shown to be largely attributable to
illegalities which would be absent from a legally regulated production
industry. Addictiveness of illegal drugs has not been shown to be any
greater than addictiveness of alcohol or nicotine. And, the crime caused
by drugs is committed for two reasons: to meet high prices which would be
much less without the inflation caused by criminalization; and in the
course of criminal business, to settle disputes that legitimate industry
would take to court. It would seem, in fact, that much of the problem that
faces America today is truly a result of the laws prohibiting drugs rather
than the drug use itself. If this is the case, then legalization must be
considered. And, if the social cost of legalization would be less than the
current costs of criminalization, then the solution must be implemented.
Let us examine how legalization might go.
If drugs were legalized, use would increase. This is inevitable at
first. However, it is not necessarily true that the novelty would last any
longer than any other fads which strike our country periodically. When the
government of the Netherlands reformed its laws, their goal was to "make
marijuana boring." And, since decriminalization, marijuana use has
declined markedly in that country. As with alcohol after prohibition,
society's use would soon stabilize, and with America's growing concern over
health, drug use would probably soon follow the trend lines of decreased
use of tobacco and alcohol. Also, legalization would free up $4.7 billion
dollars that George Bush budgeted for 1990 for enforcement and corrections.
Much of this, in addition to tax revenue on drug sales, could be added to
the $2 billion already budgeted for education and treatment programs.
If drugs were legalized, the drugs themselves would become safer.
Brewers don't spike their beer with rubbing alcohol or any other dangerous
liquids, and pharmaceutical companies would be similarly bound by FDA
regulations. And, users would probably use safer and easier methods of
administration. More people drink beer and wine than hard liquor.
Similarly, relatively few Americans would resort to injection, given the
common fear of needles, especially when one is not concerned with
"maximizing" the high obtained per dollar. For those who would use
needles, some of the "windfall" dollars liberated from enforcement could be
diverted to an education campaign about the dangers of injection and
Of course, the sudden legalization of drugs would open a new area of
danger, although lessened. Although at first it sounds unusual, a user
licensing system might be the most practical way to educate users. After
all, we require citizens to have licenses to drive cars and carry guns.
All adults who desire to use drugs could be required to pass some kind of
test about effects and dangers of drug use. Those who pass would be issued
a license which would be presented when drugs are bought. While this
system would certainly not be infallible (neither is driver or gun
licensing), it would help somewhat.
Most importantly, if drugs were legalized, crime would be radically
changed. Property crime would decrease. Users would no longer have to
resort to theft to purchase drugs. Users would not necessarily have
criminal records, allowing them to seek gainful legal employment. Violent
crime committed by dealers would vanish entirely. Those who sell drugs
would be behind drugstore counters rather than in back alleys. Few
pharmacists resort to violent crime to boost their sales or eliminate a
Finally, drug legalization would effect great change in many of our
social institutions. Children in poverty would no longer have a shortcut
to riches. Although they might be reluctant at first, they would
eventually begin to strive for success along traditional pathways such as
education and hard work. Also, school children would be free of the
spectre of dealers hanging around the playground trying to find new
customers. With the profits available through legal sales, pharmacists
would be no more likely to break the law and hawk their wares to children
than are liquor store proprietors. As for families torn by drug abuse, if
the problem were accepted as a social, rather than criminal problem, social
policy solutions could be pursued. Once again, the billions of dollars
freed from the "Drug War Chest" could be put towards programs designed to
rehabilitate addicted parents, educate mothers-to-be about the dangers of
drug use to their unborn children, and warn children away from ever
starting to use drugs.
In conclusion, it seems that the cost of maintaining prohibition of drugs
is much greater than the cost of legal drug sales would be. In fact, in
1988 Ostrowski challenged nine major players in the drug war (George Bush,
William Bennett, Assistant Secretary of State for drug policy Ann
Wrobleski, White House drug policy adviser Dr. Donald Ian McDonald, and the
public information directors of the FBI, DEA, General Accounting Office,
National Institute of Justice, and National Institute on Drug Abuse)
challenging them to name any study "that demonstrated the beneficial
effects of drug prohibition when weighed against its costs." None of the
nine were able to cite such a study.
For more than a century, America has been threatened by horror stories
about the effect of drugs. It seems about time that our country took a
more objective look at the situation it has fallen into. The radical
changes that legalization would bring no doubt terrify many people.
However, ever-increasing enforcement efforts seem to be leading nowhere but
down. Every time criminals are convicted, the huge profit basically
ensures that someone will move in to take their place. While the demand
for drugs continues, someone will meet that demand, especially with the
profits available in a prohibition system. America must begin to study
legalization options. For the sake of consistency, for the sake of the
American tradition of limited government intrusion, and most of all, for
the sake of every American citizen who suffers from drug laws in place
today, America must open its eyes and learn a lesson from its own past. As
we saw in the 1920's, if a population wants something badly enough, someone
will oblige them, whether it be Chicago's Al Capone or Medellin's Jorge
Ochoa. As soon as America stops adding to the problems with drug laws, it
can spend its time, energy, and money on the underlying causes and effects
of drug use and abuse.
"America After Prohibition: The Next Debate Over Drug Legalization: How
Would It Work?" (Collection of essays) in Reason, October, 1988. p. 22-29
"Americans Are Placing Issue of Drugs At the Top of Their National Agenda,"
in The Washington Post, 18 August 1989. p. A1.
Baltic, Bernard. "Drug Laws are the problem, not the solution," in The
Plain Dealer, 2 April 1989. p. 1-C.
Bandow, Doug. "The U.S. Should End Its War on Drugs," in Chemical
Dependency, Claudia Debner (ed.) St. Paul, MN: Greenhaven Press, 1985
Barnett, Randy E. "Curing the Drug-law Addiction: The Harmful Side
Effects of Legal Prohibition," in Dealing With Drugs, Ronald
Hamowy (ed.) San Francisco: Pacific Research Inst., 1987.
"Bush Heats Up War on Drugs," Chicago Tribune, 6 September, 1989. p. 1.
Chaiken, Marcia R. and Bruce D. Johnson. Characteristics of Different
Types of Drug Involved Offenders. Washington, D.C.: National
Institute of Justice, Office of Communication and Research
Daniels, Mitch. "Bennett Knows Best," in The Washington Post, 22 August
1989. p. A19.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. "Drug Frenzy: Why the war on drugs misses the real
target," in Utne Reader, March/April 1989. p. 76.
"Going Too Far: The drug thugs trigger a backlash in Colombia and
Kennebunkport," in Time, 4 September 1989. p. 12.
Kaplan, John. The Hardest Drug. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Latimer, Dean. "Cocaine Use is Sensationalized," in Chemical Dependency,
Claudia Debner (ed.) St. Paul, MN: Greenhaven Press, 1985.
McBride, Duane C. "Drugs and Violence" in The Drugs-Crime Connection,
James Inciardi (ed.) Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications, 1981.
Moynihan, Daniel. "The U.S. Should Strengthen Its War on Drugs," in
Chemical Dependency, Claudia Debner (ed.) St. Paul, MN:
Greenhaven Press, 1985.
Ostrowski, James. "Policy Analysis: Thinking About Drug Legalization."
Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute. 1989.
Rich, Robert M. Crimes Without Victims. Washington, D.C.: University
Press of America, 1978.
"Should drugs be legalized?" (opposing editorials) in Utne Reader,
March/April 1989. p. 80.
"U.S. Stops Some Airborne Drugs but Admits the Smugglers Are Winning," in
The New York Times, 30 July 1989. p. 1.
Zuckerman, Mortimer B. "The Enemy Within," in U.S. News and World Report,
11 September 1989. p. 91.
|----Joe Germuska | firstname.lastname@example.org | ---- (708) 864-5939 ---|
|-Join the Peter Gabriel Mailing List:email@example.com-|
|"Old men sing about their dreams, women laugh and |"How can we be in when|
|children scream, and the band keeps playin' on..."|there is no outside?"-|
The entire AOH site is optimized to look best in Firefox® 3 on a widescreen monitor (1440x900 or better).
Site design & layout copyright © 1986- AOH
We do not send spam. If you have received spam bearing an artofhacking.com email address, please forward it with full headers to firstname.lastname@example.org.