Skip to comments.The Conservative War on Drug Prohibition
Posted on 05/16/2011 8:25:10 PM PDT by rabscuttle385
Most people cant imagine an America without a minimum wage. Without such wage regulation many believe poverty would run rampant, families would become homeless and children would be starving in the streets. Yet conservatives have rightly recognized that these are moralistic and emotional responses to what is essentially an economic problem. Pointing out the policys failure, National Review founder William F. Buckley wrote: The minimum wage is about as discredited as the Flat Earth Society Yet the very notion of getting rid of it remains something most Americans simply cannot fathom.
Most people cant imagine an America without the War on Drugs. Without federal drug laws many believe substance abuse would be rampant, families would be destroyed and the nations youth would be strung out across our streets. Yet opponents of federal drug laws have rightly recognized that these are moralistic and emotional responses to what is essentially an economic, political, and due to our approach, criminal problem.
In 1995, National Review declared The War on Drugs is Lost. Leading this charge, Buckley broke down the troublesome cost of prohibition: We are speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemenyet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect.
Much like the minimum wage, virtually all data available on drug prohibition points to the utter ineffectiveness of our policies. The primary difference is that prohibition of drugs has been far more damaging to this country than prohibition of market determined base wage levels. Whether measured in dollars or livesthe War on Drugs continues to be a great and unnecessary tragedy.
It should not be surprising that those most comfortable with the damage caused by the War on Drugs have often belonged to administrations that have wrought the most damage on this country. Denouncing Congressman Ron Pauls opposition to federal drug prohibition, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote this week in the Washington Post: Welcome to Paulsville, where people are free to take soul-destroying substances and debase their bodies to support their personal habits. Added Gerson: In determining who is a major candidate for president, lets begin here It is difficult to be a first-tier candidate while holding second-rate values.
Gerson was addressing the first Republican presidential debate last week, in which the moderators seemed intent on belittling Pauls position on federal drug laws by using the most extreme example of heroin use, similar to how leftwing defenders of the minimum wage might invoke visions of homeless mothers and starving children. Pauls simple yet controversial position is that drugs should be regulated at the state and local level as the Constitution demands, just like alcohol. But Gersons review of Pauls debate performance specifically focused on what the Bush speechwriter found to be a cold and dismissive libertarian attitude toward the very real problem of drug abuse. Gerson is not completely wrong in his criticism. Neither was Buckley, when he highlighted the larger question by addressing the same aspect of this issue as Gerson: Those who suffer from the abuse of drugs have themselves to blame for it. This does not mean that society is absolved from active concern for their plight. It does mean that their plight is subordinate to the plight of those citizens who do not experiment with drugs but whose life, liberty, and property are substantially affected by the illegalization of the drugs sought after by the minority.
Gerson believes Pauls second-rate values on drugs makes him a second-tier candidate despite any polling data or fundraising achievements to the contrary. Gerson should know, as the speechwriter once worked for an electorally successful first-tier candidate. And for the next eight years, through his spending and big government agenda, the once top-tier George W. Bush would proceed to take the GOP brand to unprecedented lows.
If Paulsville is the place for supposedly second-tier ideas like drug legalization, Bushville was the land of consistent discredited status quo insanityin domestic policy, foreign policy, drug policyall served up and made rhetorically palatable to conservative audiences by speechwriters like Gerson. In his later years, Buckley would call the Iraq War a mistake, denounce Bush and support an end to the federal drug warall parts of Pauls unconventional Republican platform. Would a candidate Buckley today be considered second-tier for his views? Would supposedly first-tier candidates like Tim Pawlenty or Rick Santorum be preferable or somehow more genuinely conservative not only in their support for Bush and Obamas policies but in their disagreements with Buckley on those same policies?
Buckley wrote: The minimum wage is an accretion of the New Deal that is not defended by any serious economist. The same is now true of the thoroughly discredited War on Drugs, a disastrous policy that given its evident failure should now belong to a distant era. That the more traditionally conservative yet unconventionally Republican Ron Paul now leads on this issue, is as symbolically appropriate as the fact that so many of his fellow Republicans still lazily and reflexively oppose him on it.
Or as the late William F. Buckley once described rightwing resistance on revisiting the War on Drugs: Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.
Taxation and regulation will take care of any cost savings. Drug gangs will move to even greater marketing efforts to youths, since they will never allow minors to shoot up heroin, etc.
I also fear a whole new class of welfare for the poor souls who cannot be allowed to “fall through the net” if they get addicted. There are always unintended consequences.
I agree. The most widely accepted theory of narcotics addiction and alcoholism is the “disease model” in which the patient has a genetic predisposition to chronic drug or alcohol abuse. The percentage of true drunks and junkies in the general population remains static. The disease is not confined to any ethnic, economic or social class. Though the damage caused by chemical dependency has a social, legal and economic impact it originates from a medical, physiological cause.
The multi-billion-dollar illicit drug industry begins and ends with the American junkie and with millions of recreational users, not the other way around. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I really think that until our society gets away from the idea that we must always provide a “safety net” for those who make a mess of their lives (usually continually) - and until we get back to teaching that ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES - we will continue our downward spiral.
I don’t think legalizing drugs will get rid of the problem, but I think we need to approach it differently than we are now. It’s illegal NOW and we still have a huge problem with it. I don’t have a solution, but I know that what we are doing now is not working.
I agree that unwise taxation & regulation would cancel out many benefits. It would simply become "prohibition light".
Do you agree that if marijuana, for example, were taxed and regulated in a similar manner to alcohol, that the violence associated with the marijuana trade would be reduced? Would the cartels have any incentive grow pot in our national forests?
Drug gangs will move to even greater marketing efforts to youths, since they will never allow minors to shoot up heroin, etc.
Kids don't get their alcohol from drug gangs. They get it from older brother or Uncle Ted who got it from the liquor store, which got it from Annheiser-Busch.
Why would the same not be true for marijuana if it were taxed & regulated like alcohol?
I also fear a whole new class of welfare for the poor souls who cannot be allowed to "fall through the net" if they get addicted.
Drugs are cheap and plentiful today, and I understood you to say that the law goes pretty easy on simple users. Anyone who wants to abuse an illegal drug can do so at a reasonable cost and in relative safety. What is your evidence that addiction would increase if drugs were taxed and regulated like alcohol?
Many advocates use the American experience of Prohibition to predict behavior should hard drugs be legalized. I believe there is a flaw here in this methodology. There has never been a widespread culture of consumption of drugs in the United States as there has been with alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol can be used for purposes other than mind altering effects, hence the existence of non alcoholic beer and the like. Also, the possession and consumption of alcohol was never illegal during Prohibition. The production and distribution was banned, so to one degree or another people kept drinking throughout whether it was from a private stash bought before 1919 or at a local speakeasy.
I am not sure what will happen. I saw an article recently that stated that the Mafia made MORE money from alcohol after prohibition, than during. They just muscled in on legal producers. Will the Mexican gangs melt away? I doubt it. Maybe they will supply at a lower cost, or a more powerful product than the regulators will allow. I don't think they'll all get jobs at Walmart.
“Kids don't get their alcohol from drug gangs. They get it from older brother or Uncle Ted who got it from the liquor store, which got it from Annheiser-Busch.
Why would the same not be true for marijuana if it were taxed & regulated like alcohol? “
I think it's unlikely that family members or retail outlets will be able to supply demand. You already see politicians pushing to outlaw fast food joints and liquor stores in the inner city. Can you imagine how Louis Farrakhan would rail against the “white devils” who brought the scourge of addiction to the ghetto out in the open?
What if the gangs offered drugs at a lower price, that they could more easily afford? What if it was more potent? What if they hired chemists to develop new types that the legal stores didn't even have? Remember that a conservative knows, unlike his misguided “progressive” brother, that people react to new laws, and not always in the way the government wants.
“What is your evidence that addiction would increase if drugs were taxed and regulated like alcohol?”
Just about every study I've heard of, and common sense, tells me there would be more addicts. Let me ask you, if speed limits were eliminated would the number of people speeding increase or stay the same?
Regardless, my argument is political, not medical. Whole groups of leftists are dedicated to the proposition that the failings of an individual are the responsibility of someone else. Right now drug addicts are law breakers, but they would not be if drugs are legal. Now, how can you be so heartless as to allow Big Pharma to destroy the lives of the underclass like that? After all, women and minorities are the hardest hit! If the cold, uncaring hypocritical so called “Christian Right” is going to throw them to the wolves, then the least we can do is provide a modest safety net. And of course the families of those who OD’d can file suit for wrongful death.
Do you see what I mean? I believe prostitution should be legalized, but I will admit that doing so would not eliminate streetwalkers, nor end sexual slavery, nor stop child trafficking for that purpose. As for drugs, am I am open, but people must think through all aspects of legalization and look beyond the obvious.
It’s all about the money folks, just follow the money trail. There is just too much of it at stake, all of it free, clear and un-taxable. No one or no nation in the Western Hemisphere wants to give up on that.
Swap "drugs" for "guns" and you get the VPC/Brady Bunch arguments in a nutshell.
Both are equally wrong.
Then don’t argue for “legalization”. Just end the Federal “war” that isn’t working and hand the issue back to the States where it belongs.
Nonetheless that's never going to happen, hence the "War on Drugs(TM)", instituted under Richard Nixon. This is the single biggest issue I have with Republicans and there is little if anything to choose between demmy and pubby pols on the issue. The "war on drugs" leads to
It is that final item which some would use as a pretext to eviscerate the second amendment, which is the link pin of the entire bill of rights. Consider the following from the former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Bush administration no less:
The former head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection called Monday for the U.S. to reinstitute the ban on assault weapons and take other measures to rein in the war between Mexico and its drug cartels, saying the violence has the potential to bring down legitimate rule in that country.
Former CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner also called for the United States to more aggressively investigate U.S. gun sellers and tighten security along its side of the border, describing the situation as "critical" to the safety of people in both countries, whether they live near the border or not.
Mexico, for its part, needs to reduce official corruption and organize its forces along the lines the U.S. does, such as a specialized border patrol and a customs agency with a broader mandate than monitoring trade, Mr. Bonner said in an exchange of e-mails.
"Border security is especially important to breaking the power and influence of the Mexican-based trafficking organizations," Mr. Bonner said. "Despite vigorous efforts by both governments, huge volumes of illegal drugs still cross from Mexico..."
The problem here clearly is not guns and it is clearly a problem of economics. The drugs one of these idiots would use in a day under rational circumstances would cost a dollar; that would simply present no scope for crime or criminals. Under present circumstances that dollar's worth of drugs is costing the user $300 a day and since that guy is dealing with a 10% fence, he's having to commit $3000 worth of crime to buy that dollar's worth of drugs. In other words, a dollar's worth of chemicals has been converted into $3000 worth of crime, times the number of those idiots out there, times 365 days per year, all through the magic of stupid laws. No nation on Earth could afford that forever.
A rational set of drug laws would:
Do all of that, and the drug problem and 70% of all urban crime will vanish within two years. That would be an optimal solution; but you could simply legalize it all and still be vastly better off than we are now. 150 Years ago, there were no drug laws in America and there were no overwhelming drug problems. How bright do you really need to be to figure that one out?
I tend to agree that the effects on society would be mixed, but the government end up with less power to intrude into your life and mine; that's enough reason. If I could trade that for having to live with the addicted in society, I'd do it, especially since the WOD doesn't give the payoff it promises anyway.
Who cares? "No negative effects" isn't the standard when what's being justified is sweeping encroachments on EVERYONE's Constitutional rights, wasting of EVERYONE's tax dollars whether they're involved or not. That wouldn't be a good trade if the war was winnable; it CERTAINLY isn't a good trade for the war we get.
You may feel that I misunderstood the question as well, so I'll restate my reply.
I can't imagine how severe the downside of an alternative would have to be before I'd be willing to have my Constitutional rights, the proper balance of power between me and the state, abridged to avoid it.
OTOH, I also have no problem with leaving drugs illegal and simply repealing the laws and court decisions that have granted government new powers to fight it, or kiddie porn, or terrorism, or whatever the bogeyman du jour is. I have no problem with them fighting it to whatever extent they can under the traditional understanding of the BOR and without spending much of my money on it.
“Who cares? “No negative effects” isn’t the standard when what’s being justified is sweeping encroachments on EVERYONE’s Constitutional rights,..”
I tried to explain that was not my argument.
One, keep things as is.
Two, legalize drugs. (Details may vary depending on which drug, etc.)
Three, make policy changes while keeping the production and distribution of drugs illegal. This would include changing punishment, abolishing asset seizures, etc.
My main point is that whatever is done the costs must be weighed against the benefits of nay given policy. I'm not sure a strict libertarian approach is honest in doing that.
How do you know he would be toast? Are you saying that an intelligent candidate cannot make a case for drug laws being a state matter, and that the WOD’s is a complete failure?
Of course there would be negative effects, but they would be small and not significantly different than they are now. The police could concentrate of minor using, and HAMMERING those selling or distributing to minors. Why would anyone have a reason to sell dope themselves, if it is legal for adults to buy. Once upon a time, people had stills in the hills, making moonshine. When prohibition ended, the stills went the way of the dinosaur, except for those making “shine” for themselves or friends. There was no profit in it, and the store products were superior.
Can the costs be compared at a societal level? And at a personal level?
I grossed $155,000 last year. $72,000 went to government at all levels on my behalf in 2010. I then got almost a $5G refund for a net of $67G, leaving me with $88G.
Now of that $67,000 which went to the government, how much went for the war on drugs? Police, courts, prisons, etc? I don’t know. But suppose it was 5,000 of the 67,000. (Certainly it was less than went to Entitlements, defense, education and ???).
The question is, would my life be better off If I had 88+5=93G to spend or invest rather than 88G? And would I be allowed to see that extra 5G or would it be swallowed up by some other government program leaving me with no more than before?
And on the other side, would my life and property be more at risk if druggies could now get their drugs legally? Would they be more or less likely to burglarize my house and car? Would they be more or less likely to endanger me driving under the influence?
And on the 3rd side, what would we do with all those extra police officers? Social Workers? Prison Guards? Would they have to find other jobs?
Of course there would be. But those negative effects are outweighed by the even more negative effects of Federal prohibition. That was Buckley's point.