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by Peter Moskos

August 9, 2010

View From Across the Pond

The Guardian has one, two, and three stories on the war on drugs.


Dana King said...

My greatest concern is that we Americans are too stiff-backed to accept reality. Any time we declare "war" on a social/domestic problem, we seem to lock ourselves into a policy of watching the program fail, then doing more of what didn't work the first time.

PCM said...

Nobody likes to admit defeat. We, as a country, seem particularly bad at it. But better to try something different that might work than keep on with something we know doesn't.

Part of the problem is that it's not clear what the goal of a "war on drugs" actually is. Far better would be to have a "war on the violence associated with drug distribution." Or a "war on drug overdose deaths." Of course these don't exactly roll off the tongue.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone truly think "regulating" drugs will be any different. We already have regulated pharmaceuticals and they are being abused more and more frequently.

Get back to me when drug use/addiction increases along with driving while high, etc. If I'm not mistaken, Alaska tried legalizing marijuana and then changed their minds when use doubled. Also anyone with open eyes knows by California's example that "medical" marijuana is just cover for people wanting to smoke because it makes them feel good.

My heart bleeds for anyone involved in organized crime who gets killed for it, but...they are involved in organized crime. If it's not drug sales they're into it will be something else, and they will kill each other over that. You can't make some people nice.

PCM said...

Anonymous, if you're giving the best defenses for the war on drugs, the drug war will be over soon. Clearly regulation has failed with alcohol and cigarettes, too. People still drink and smoke.

I mean, did you actually read any of those articles? Do you have any response to what they say. That might be interesting. Or at least worthy of discussion.

If regulation isn't the answer, do you think we should prohibit all pharmaceuticals? Or bring back the 18th Amendment? Sure prescription drugs are being abused more and more frequently (in large part because of the war on drugs). And yet, as you might notice, very few people are being killed over their sale.

I'm not willing to concede that drug regulation would increase use (thought it might). Marijuana use is not higher where laws are more lax. Quite the opposite.

Sure California medicinal marijuana can be a bit of a scam. But it's not for all. Certainly you don't want to keep cancer patients from being happy, do you? And even though it sounds fishy, I have at least one friend who was able to stop taking many prescription anti-anxiety drugs as a direct result of "medicinal" marijuana. Yes, it does also make her feel good. Talk about win-win!

And Alaska never saw use double. Sorry, but I hate false statements of fact. Before you make shit up, you should try google (it's not perfect, but it's amazing what you can learn on this new-fangled interweb these days). Alaska's history with the drug involves a court decision and then a law, and they've been in a strange state of legal limbo ever since.

And no you can't make some people nice. Or smart. You really think people go into drug dealing because they're evil rather than, say, trying to make a quick buck? If only drug dealing were more organized... the problem is there's nothing organized about it.

Anonymous said...

If you don't see legalization resulting in more drug use as an argument against legalization, then I can't argue with you. Do you not believe that drug use (I'm excluding marijuana here) harms people or are you using the libertarian "let people put anything they want into their bodies" argument? Along the same lines...If you are not sure that legalization would not cause increased usage then can drug laws have limited drug usage to some degree?

I don't think anyone is "evil" (kind of an absolute term), but when a person decides to sling on the corner rather than deliver refrigerators for Sears, yes they have made a choice. The difference I see between users and drug sellers is that (excluding addicts who truly sell to support a habit) selling drugs to an addict so directly and vividly contributes to that persons misery and physical harm that you have to possess a set of morals that is not accepted in our society to profit from it. I have no sympathy for such people and thus don't really worry about them putting themselves in harm's way. They knew the risk going into it.
As for my point about Alaska, I was trying to suggest that drug use would increase if drugs were legalized. Maybe it wasn't the most clearly documented example, I'm not really against the magical herb that will solve all the world's problems if only we legalized it. I don't see marijuana doing as much harm as most other illegal drugs.
Anyway, my feelings on legalization are that it is a radical backlash against laws whose results have horrified liberals. Also it is put out as a solution to a problem that has no absolute cure. Some people like drugs, until they're addicted. I happen to believe that relying more on proven treatment and diversion of truly addicted offenders from jail is the right way to go. I just hope the system is not being gamed by those who are really just drug dealers or who stand to profit from "rehabilitation" scams.
There is alot to say on this topic, I hope I have explained my feelings somewhat clearly if incompletely. If the argument is whether legalization will cause higher rates of drug use, I'll have the figure out this kooky interweb thing and back up my argument.

PCM said...


Let me just respond to your first paragraph for now.

I do not see legalization resulting in more usage. To say that legalization would increase drug use is to say that prohibition is effective. I'm not willing to grant that. Especially when we lead the world in drug use.

Sure I may be wrong (but why not find out). Regardless, I would tolerate higher drug use if drug harms and deaths decreased at the same time.

Or let me put it another way: Is there any way you could say that regulation could not decrease drug use?

The problem now isn't that drugs are prohibited. The problem is that there is no regulation. People who support the drug war can't seem to understand that legalization is a way to control what is now a free-for all.

And countries that have legalized drugs (or come close to doing so) have not seen drug use skyrocket. There's something about education, regulation, and taking the forbidden-fruit aspect out of the equation.

But in addition to all that, I am a bit of a libertarian about what people do to themselves. Not my business. Not the governments. But if somebody wants to get high, I don't think that person should go to jail.

IrishPirate said...

There's a maxim out there that "a solution to one problem will create another problem". I'm familiar with it because of the late John Boyd, military theorist and all around pain in the ass.


I've been making the drug legalization argument since "Broken Windows" came out in the early 80's.

I don't know what problems the legalization of drugs would cause. My informed guess is that the problems caused by legalization would be much less severe than the problems of "the drug war".

One thing occurred to me recently. The low level street sellers of drugs would lose their source of income. What do they do after drug legalization?

I'll take my chances with the problems created by legalization being less severe than the problems created by prohibition.

I've never smoked weed in my life and my drugs of choice are caffeine, alcohol and cialis in that order.

If weed use helps someone cope with the vagaries of life then let them smoke away.

The idea of classifying weed as a schedule one drug is insanity.

The idea of a "drug war" is essentially a war on our citizens. Wars generally suck as some people are belatedly coming to realize.

Anonymous said...

Just throwing this out there. You may not have come across it yet. Again, I don't have a particular problem with marijuana, but I do think use/harm of all drugs will increase with legalization.

Hope you can get to it.


Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be a pest but this pro-legalization study by the CATO institute seems to show an increase in overall drug use in Portugal after decriminalization.


Please especially note figure 6.


PCM said...

Ed, I hope I can get to them, too! So I really appreciate you pointing them out.

Figure 6 does indeed show an increase in "ever tried" among 20-24 year-olds. But a decrease among the younger cohort. And a slight increase overall. So you can read that as good or bad, overall. Also heroin use went down, which is probable the most important drug to watch (at least there).

And their overall drug usage rate is still well-below their neighbors (which is also true of the Netherlands). That signifies something, I would have to think.

And when you combine it figure 7, which shows zero drug users sentenced since 2002(!), it looks pretty good to me.

Fewer deaths is good too (figure 11, though the uptick since 2003 is worrisome).

Overall the news just on drug use seems mixed to moderately good. And the big picture seems very good.

Especially when you consider just how radical what they did is considered, at least by our standards.

Anonymous said...

I guess statistics can be massaged to arrive at whatever conclusion you wish to support. I'm probably doing it too, but if legalization does result in more drug use, which is how I read it, I can't support legalization. The violence associated with use, the exposure of kids to it's use, the increased health costs, I'm not willing to condone that.
I'm not worried about the thousands of (non-addicted) people caught up in selling drugs because this is 21st century America and they have a choice to do something different. Yes, they do.
I'm not worried about Mexican cartel members killing each other, they should have stuck with farming or come to America like everyone else.
I'm not worried about prison overcrowding because we've been on a downward prison pop trend in NY for years now although you don't hear about it.
I would love to see much more stress on rehab of true users, although I have reservations about many rehab programs (scams). There would also have to be safeguards against dealers masquerading as users.
I would love to see more surety in sentencing so that a drug dealer knows he is risking jail time, not SHOCK or rehab.
I would love to see more prosecution of driving while drugged because I believe it to be a hugely underreported crime.
I think these things can be done without legalization and the improvement would be statistically significant.