Friday, February 24, 2006

Wall Street Journal - Musings About the War on Drugs

WSJ.com - Global View:
Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon's ambitious 'global war against drugs' would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition.
Could it be that a tipping point is approaching with respect to the US War on Some Drugs?

I tend to doubt it simply because I have come to view the socially conservative mindset as unchangeable under any circumstances. Thirty five years ago I was optimistic that a libertarian stance would emerge and prevail, but it's been downhill all the way since then.

Between Walter Cronkite's recent appeal for support of the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Wall Street Journal editorial that prompts this post, one would think there's a possibility that sanity is emerging. Time will tell, but I've learned not to be optimistic.

The references I mentioned above are in comments 1 and 2 below, and some money is on the way to the Drug Policy Alliance.

3 comments:

Steve said...

Original here
or here

Musings About the War on Drugs
George Melloan, Global View, Wall Street Journal, February 21 2006

Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon's ambitious "global war against drugs" would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition.

To be sure, Mr. Friedman wasn't the only critic. William Buckley's National Review declared a decade ago that the U.S. had "lost" the drug war, bolstering its case with testimony from the likes of Joseph D. McNamara, a former police chief in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif. But today discussion of the war's depressing cost-benefit ratio is being mainly conducted in the blogosphere, where the tone is predominantly libertarian. In the broader polity, support for the great Nixon crusade remains sufficiently strong to discourage effective counterattacks.

In broaching this subject, I offer the usual disclaimer. One beer before dinner is sufficient to my mind-bending needs. I've never sampled any of the no-no stuff and have no desire to do so. So let's proceed to discuss this emotion-laden issue as objectively as possible.

The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs, such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4 billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

That reflects government's tendency to throw more money at a program that isn't working. Not only have the various efforts not stopped the flow but they have begun to create friction with countries the U.S. would prefer to have as friends.

As the Journal's Mary O'Grady has written, a good case can be made that U.S.-sponsored efforts to eradicate coca crops in Latin America are winning converts among Latin peasants to the anti-American causes of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Their friend Evo Morales was just elected president of Bolivia mainly by the peasant following he won by opposing a U.S.-backed coca-eradication program. Colombia's huge cocaine business still thrives despite U.S. combative efforts, supporting, among others, leftist guerrillas.

More seriously, Mexico is being destabilized by drug gangs warring over access to the lucrative U.S. market. A wave of killings of officials and journalists in places like Nuevo Laredo and Acapulco is reminiscent of the 1930s Prohibition-era crime waves in Al Capone's Chicago and the Purple Gang's Detroit. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban are proselytizing opium-poppy growers by saying that the U.S. is their enemy. The claim, unlike many they use, has the merit of being true.

Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the trade immensely profitable -- tax-free, of course. The more the U.S. spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs.

In 1933, the U.S. finally gave up on the 13-year prohibition of alcohol -- a drug that is by some measures more intoxicating and dangerous to health than marijuana. That effort to alter human behavior left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and deaths and blindness from the drinking of bad booze. America's use of alcohol went up after repeal but no serious person today suggests a repeat of the alcohol experiment. Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at great expense, for the small portion of the population -- perhaps little more than 5% -- who habitually use proscribed drugs.

Mind-altering drugs do of course cause problems. Their use contributes to crime, automobile accidents, work-force dropouts and family breakups. But the most common contributor to these social problems is not the illegal substances. It is alcohol. Society copes by punishing drunken misbehavior, offering rehabilitation programs and warning youths of the dangers. Most Americans drink moderately, however, creating no problems either for themselves or society.

Education can be an antidote for self-abuse. When it was finally proved that cigarettes were a health risk, smoking by young people dropped off and many started lecturing their parents about that bad habit. LSD came and then went after its dangers became evident. Heroin's addictive and debilitative powers are well-known enough to limit its use to a small population. Private educational programs about the risks of drug abuse have spread throughout the country with good effect.

Some doctors argue that the use of some drugs is too limited. Marijuana can help control nausea after chemotherapy, relieve multiple-sclerosis pain and help patients whose appetites have been lowered to a danger level by AIDS. Morphine, some say, is used too sparingly for easing the terrible pain of terminally ill cancer patients. It is argued that pot and cocaine use by inner-city youths is a self-prescribed medicine for the depression and despair that haunts their existence. Doctors prescribe Prozac for the same problems of the middle class.

So what's the alternative? An army of government employees now makes a living from the drug laws and has a rather conflictive interest in claiming both that the drug laws are working and that more money is needed. The challenge is issued: Do you favor legalization? In fact, most drugs are legal, including alcohol, tobacco and coffee and the great array of modern, life-saving drugs administered by doctors. To be precise, the question should be do you favor legalization or decriminalization of the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines?

A large percentage of Americans will probably say no, mainly because they are law-abiding people who maintain high moral and ethical standards and don't want to surrender to a small minority that flouts the laws, whether in the ghettos of Washington D.C. or Beverly Hills salons. The concern about damaging society's fabric is legitimate. But another question needs to be asked: Is that fabric being damaged now?

Steve said...

From: Walter Cronkite

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: "And that's the way it is."

To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.

Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all in a time of war.

I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

While the politicians stutter and stall - while they chase their losses by claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed more people and knocked down more doors - the Drug Policy Alliance continues to tell the American people the truth - "the way it is."

I'm sure that's why you support DPA's mission to end the drug war. And why I strongly urge you to support their work by giving a generous donation today.

You see, I've learned first hand that the stakes just couldn't be higher.

When I wanted to understand the truth about the war on drugs, I took the same approach I did to the war in Vietnam: I hit the streets and reported the story myself. I sought out the people whose lives this war has affected.

Allow me to introduce you to some of them.

Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend - who actually knew something about dealing drugs - was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.

Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan - five months pregnant and feeling ill - was cuffed and taken in.

Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, Jan - who miscarried soon after the arrest - was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an eight-by-eight cell.

In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of justice this reporter has ever seen.

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.

People who do genuinely have a problem with drugs, meanwhile, are being imprisoned when what they really need is treatment.

And what is the impact of this policy?

It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clich├ęs of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

That's where the Drug Policy Alliance comes in.

From Capitol Hill to statehouses to the media, DPA counters the hysteria of the drug war with thoughtful, accurate analysis about the true dangers of drugs, and by fighting for desperately needed on-the-ground reforms.

They are the ones who've played the lead role in making marijuana legally available for medical purposes in states across the country.

California's Proposition 36, the single biggest piece of sentencing reform in the United States since the repeal of Prohibition, is the result of their good work. The initiative is now in its fifth year, having diverted more than 125,000 people from prison and into treatment since its inception.

They oppose mandatory-minimum laws that force judges to send people like Nicole Richardson and Jan Warren to prison for years, with no regard for their character or the circumstances of their lives. And their work gets results: thanks in large part to DPA, New York has taken the first steps towards reforming the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws under which Jan was sentenced.

In these and so many other ways, DPA is working to end the war on drugs and replace it with a new drug policy based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

DPA is a leading, mainstream, respected and effective organization that gets real results.

But they can't do it alone.

That's why I urge you to send as generous a contribution as you possibly can to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing war on drugs about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion. The Drug Policy Alliance is the one organization telling the truth. They need you with them every step of the way.

And that's the way it is.

Sincerely,

Walter Cronkite

jj mollo said...

My view is that the temptation for easy money always does more damage than the drugs themselves. (As with the lottery, very few actually make much of the easy money, but they keep trying.) Controlling behavior is more important than controlling use. People should not be permitted to drink or be drunk in public where others, especially children, are psychologically effected. But there is no justification in this country for denying people the right to pursue their own peculiar path to happiness.

The persistence of drug laws in spite of all the countervailing arguments presents further evidence that modern democracies have important systems errors in their design. Pieces are missing from the methodology. There are insufficient antibodies against demagoguery and turf tending.