Skip to comments.Addicted to the Drug War
Posted on 12/30/2001 1:25:13 AM PST by NoCurrentFreeperByThatName
Now that it is being rededicated as part of the war on terrorism, the hapless war on drugs will claim even more liberties and lives than it already has. While omnibus antiterrorism bills were being rammed past pliant populations in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, Tony Blair got on the drug tack by ominously pointing out that the avails from drugs finance roughly 25 percent of the world's terrorist activity.
Blair, whose New Labor is committed to a "curious blend of moralism and utilitarianism" (TLS, September 14), one that has enshrined in law coercive drug testing and compulsory treatment protocols, proclaimed that fighting terrorism must extend to the war on drugs. This implies that the war effort will entail a renewed assault on individuals for their consumption choices.
Last year alone, roughly 1.5 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, most of them for marijuana possession. Sure enough, since September 11, DEA agents have stepped up the savage crackdowns on infirm medical-marijuana users.
There is no denying that the drug trade is a source of revenue for al-Qaida and for armed insurrections the world over. However, had governments not outlawed these substances, profits would not be excessive, and criminals would be looking elsewhere for a quick fix. Had the trade not been outlawed, the $400 billion worth of illegal trade per annum would not be in the hands of a criminal class whose market share is captured with guns.
The avails from drugs, moreover, would be much less likely to be funneled to unsavory causes if the trade were in the hands of legitimate law-abiding business. It is ironic that terrorists owe a debt of gratitude to governments for the solid financial base they enjoy.
Besides indirectly sponsoring terrorism, governments terrorize their citizens in more direct ways. While gangsters fight turf wars with other gangsters in order to maintain their upper hand in the lucrative market of illegal drugs, they don't go out of their way to assault their bread and butter, their drug-consuming clients. Drug dealers are not responsible for the incarceration on any given day of some 500,000 adults--100,000 of whom are nonviolent--in U.S. jails for drug taking. It is not drug lords that carry out unconstitutional assaults on adults because they happen to choose to consume marijuana, heroin, or cocaine, instead of alcohol, nicotine, or prescription drugs. Governments do.
The brutal punishing of adults for the substances they ought to be able to ingest, inhale, or inject at their own peril is based on a parochial and moribund prior restraint argument. Policy wonks have arbitrarily decided that heroin consumption is potentially worse for individual and society than compulsive eating, bunjie jumping, gambling, alcohol consumption, fatty foods, or tobacco. This serves as a justification to trample the constitutional rights of people before the foreseeable harm comes to pass. Considering the extent and severity of its assault on otherwise peaceable people, the state's conduct in the war on drugs befits the conduct of a criminal class, albeit a criminal class that enjoys the protection of the law.
If we accept prior restraint arguments, then apply them we must ad absurdum. We would have to stop all teenagers from driving, all people from eating Twinkies, or all socialist parents from procreating, lest they too sire proponents of state theft. "As soon as we surrender the principle that the state should not interfere in any questions touching on the individuals mode of life," wrote Ludwig von Mises in 1927, "we end by regulating and restricting the latter down to the smallest details."
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Despite the libertarian gush over the Hollywood motion picture Traffic, it was simply reiterating what seems obvious to almost all, except to President Bush's new drug czar, John Walters: The war on drugs is a dismal failure. Walters, who backs tough penalties for drug users and opposes the use of marijuana for medical purposes, intends to reinvigorate the flailing war. To make the thing hale and hearty again, the new chief of the U.S. antinarcotics operation has promised to shift the focus of his $20 billion-a-year office to "the demand side of this problem."
The attempts to reduce demand can be traced as far back as the 1917 Harrison Act that outlawed cocaine and other illicit drugs. While the criminal penalties over the decades have become harsher and harsher, demand has actually grown apace. The government spends billions attempting to brainwash children into "Just Saying No" to drugs. In the process it has managed to create not much more than an ever looming forbidden fruit syndrome.
The urge to experiment with psychoactive drugs is seemingly as strong now as when, in "On Liberty," John Stuart Mill argued that the freedom to consume alcohol and opium is one of the most basic civil rights. It is unlikely to cease any time soon. Most moderate users, however, do not become addicts. This is the secret that is concealed by the addiction industrys hysterical chemical McCarthyism.
The irony becomes even greater when law enforcement turns its attentions to the supply side of the problem. In British Columbia, the media commend the Vancouver police force whenever it performs one of its sting operations. But what happens when supply is reduced? Why, prices shoot up. And what happens when prices go up? The potential profit causes a renewed influx of dealers into the trade, resulting in more crime. In the war on drugs, success is failure. A free market in drugs, however, will bring prices down drastically, inclining fewer pushers to enter the trade.
THE COSTS OF ILLEGAL MARKETS
Prohibition--not drug use--is responsible for the current crime and chaos. Prohibition makes the price of drugs far in excess of their cost of production. The production costs of common drugs are low. These chemicals are derived from hardy plants. A poppy is not an orchid. Neither is cannabis a particularly fragile plant. As with other illegal commodities, the price is pushed up by the high costs of circumventing the law as well as by the reduced supply brought on by prohibition. The price of pure heroin for medicinal purposes is a fraction of its street price. The difference amounts to a state subsidy for organized crime.
Again, in British Columbia, policy pundits are perennially alarmed at the flood of extra-potent drugs into Vancouver's East Side area, where drug use is endemic. Last year there were over 200 overdoses. Why the surprise? Prohibition is directly related to the potency of drugs. Given the risks involved in circumventing the law, dealers would rather transport the more potent and lucrative drugs. Reduced to criminals by law and held to ransom by mercenary suppliers, consumers have no recourse to the courts when they are sold adulterated or poisoned substances.
To "deal with supply," it is now the habit of the U.S. to invade foreign countries, to seize property on finding miniscule amounts of dope, to search people willy-nilly, to break into their homes and threaten their safety, even kill them. While the motion picture Traffic did not warrant the gushing praise it got from libertarians, it did provide some sober lines. As the protagonist decreed, "[T]here is no sacred protection of property rights in our country. You grow marijuana on your farm, be it an ounce or an acre of plant, that farm can be seized, that farm can be sold." And you can be killed. . .
The U.S. has been able to make prohibition piety an integral part of its foreign policy. It's quite clear that President Bushs new warlord and his retinue will preserve the uniquely made-in-America flavor of the war. One of the ploys favored by Walters is the issuance of report cards, certifying or decertifying a nation in accordance with how its drug warriors perform. The U.S.s drug strategy is predicated on ensuring prohibition is written into every international treaty and properly used as leverage in foreign agreements. Sweeping antiterrorism measures will further bolster these powers.
One question ought to loom large: When a drug purchaser and a drug seller make an exchange, is it voluntary? If it is voluntary, then both parties expect to benefit ex ante. A voluntary exchange is, by definition, always mutually beneficial inasmuch as, at the time of the exchange, the buyer valued the purchase more than the money he paid for it, and the seller valued the money more than the goods he sold.
Writing in the Journal of Business Ethics (1993), economist Walter Block points out that there will always be meddling third parties seeking to circumscribe and circumvent a voluntary activity not to their liking. Some feminists want to stop lovers of pornography from making or consuming it. Other busybodies would like to stop adults from gambling. These third parties have no place in a transaction between consenting adults, unless these transactions infringe directly--not foreseeably--on their property or person.
Any transaction that was at the time of occurrence voluntary, and hence beneficial to the participants, can, retrospectively, be denounced as harmful and regrettable. A litigious culture that shuns personal responsibility facilitates this. Consider the Sicamous, British Columbia, man who bought cocaine from the same dealer for ten years running. The drug consumer is now suing the dealer, alleging dealers "owe a duty of care to their customers." Is this the same kind of care the baker owes the obese buyer, or the local pub owner owes the alcoholic?
If the legislator has no place in a voluntary exchange between adults, what role can the state properly arrogate to itself?
THE ROLE OF THE STATE
The safest--to say nothing of most just--society is one that demands accountability from people, and treats them--so long as they are compos mentis--as if they have "initiative" and free will, for they do. Policymakers, however, dont get votes for fostering reliance; on the contrary, they get lifelong co-dependence from their voters for getting them off the hook.
Currently, instead of being punished and shamed, the therapeutic state exculpates, treats, and often rewards addicts who commit crimes. Crimes perpetrated under the influence are cast as a disease for which a lesser sentence is meted. Often, criminals like this even go on to become advocates, mainstream role models, and preachers of the gospel of abstinence. It gets worse: state subsidized treatment has the victim, the taxpayer, pay for the ostensible restitution of the criminal. This kind of inversion of the moral order shields the perpetrator from the consequences of his actions and guarantees recidivism.
Drug use is a choice and a private one. If people should be arrested, it is only for crimes they perpetrate against anothers person and property. The correct solution is to visit the full force of the law on anyone who commits a crime against another's person or property. If an addict tosses a used needle in a public park, and a toddler steps on it, the addict must be made accountable for reckless endangerment. If the victim gets Hepatitis B or HIV--both diseases that can kill--the addict is complicit in attempted murder.
Incidentally, many libertarians have no difficulty stating that parks ought to be privatized in order to avoid the eventuality I describe. But they refuse to concede that, since the existence of public property is a reality, it is incumbent on government to manage this property as if it were private. These libertarians err on the side of libertinism by supporting the right of a bum to intimidate library-going children, or the right of the user to dispose publicly of his intravenous weapons.
When an employer is free to exercise property rights, he can implement a policy of compulsory testing as a prerequisite for employment. Should he refuse employment to a user, the user is free to either look elsewhere or quit the habit. In contrast to the state, members of the community cannot, unless they violate the law, take away a persons liberty or interfere with the integrity of his person or property. With its protected species and anti-discrimination regulation, the state disrupts the markets self-correcting mechanism.
The State must then exert its only mandate, and that is to protect people and their property from incurring unprovoked harm. Acting for the state, the criminal justice system must stop ameliorating punishment with a disease label or treatment protocol. Once the secular liberal state retreats from managing what people ingest, inhale, or inject, it will fall, once again, to custom and religion to reinvigorate those informal checks on behavior the therapeutic state has undermined. Shame, loss of face, being denied membership, excommunication, counseling, and support are some of the ways moral communities have, in previous eras, kept their members in check.
ADDICTION: VICE OR DISEASE?
The film Traffic grows heavy with portent when the protagonist takes a few drinks before dinner. In an attempt at some foolish equivalencies, or slippery-slope error, it's implied that the hard-working--if vocationally misguided--father's predinner drinks are on a par with the addiction of his slack-jawed teen. "We are all out of control" is the hysterical message. Neither is it without significance that Traffic ends with the twelve-step session. Had Oprah Winfrey made a grand entrée, the scene could not have been more endorsing of the disease model of addiction. Lost in the hysteria is that most people, even when they help themselves regularly to a joint or indulge in a few drinks, choose not to descend into the addiction abyss or turn their backs on life's responsibilities.
On the issue of drugs, adherents of the left and right appear incapable of coming down from a shared high. Prohibitionists unanimously support outlawry, coerced treatment protocols (incidentally, the success the proponents of this treatment claim for it is no argument in its favor), and deny that people are capable of making conscious choices. Both hawk and harm-reductionist dove believe addiction is not a problem of behavior, but a disease as organic as cancer or diabetes.
There are, however, no genetic markers that distinguish the addict from the moderate user or the nonuser. There is no inherited mechanism that leads a person to be unable to control his substance use, to go on tremendous binges, or to leave off his connection to people and environments in order to consume a substance. The scientific evidence for brain-based addiction theories is shabby.
When people take drugs, their brain functioning changes. When they have sex, cuddle their toddler, or eat chocolate, similar changes occur in the same brain centers. Do changes in the brain tell us anything about the persons behavior or its motivation? Hardly. Can we draw conclusions about whether the connubially preoccupied is addicted to sex from the fact that certain centers in the brain--the very same centers that react when drugs are taken--perk up when said individual has sex? Of course not. When people recover from addiction--by any means at all--their brain functioning changes once again. This does not amount to saying that addiction is organic or biological in the sense that appendicitis or diabetes is.
Everything we do involves our brains, and brains alter their physical structure and functioning in response to the environment. We could just as well say that learning French is a biological accomplishment, though most of us would rather call it an intellectual achievement (John Winston Bush, Ph.D., unpublished Letter-to-an-Editor, SSCP Listserve).
Identifying activities as stimulating the cerebral pleasure centers fails to explain why people find different things pleasurable and why different people react in destructive, addictive ways to some of these things, while others incorporate them into a balanced overall lifestyle ("Medical Mumbo Jumbo Does not Explain Addiction," Ilana Mercer, The Calgary Herald, 2000).
REDUCING DRUG ADDICTION
Reducing addiction lies in withdrawing the perverse incentives that reinforce the maladaptive behavior. To use twelve-step locution, free treatment programs are "enablers." The dismal failure of state programs launched by the addiction industry and the high rates of recidivism alert us again and again to the fact that addicts quit when they decide to. And they are more likely to be nudged in that direction when made to shoulder the consequences of their lifestyle.
Currently, we don't have free-market insurance. It is legally impermissible to exclude or refuse to insure certain risky populations. Some self-destructive behavior has acquired disability status and hence is legally protected. If insurers cannot transfer to the addict the full costs of the risk he poses, they must make those of us who choose to watch our diets, exercise, and refrain from smoking or drug taking the repository for these costs. Legislative interference ensures we subsidize the lifestyle of the smoker, compulsive eater, drinker, and addict.
Over and above the immorality of forceful wealth distribution, socialized schemes (like the Canadian healthcare system) distribute wealth from the risk averse to the reckless, stealing from responsible adults, and rewarding the rash and imprudent.
Insurance on the free market would restore the right to discriminate between risk groups. With such discrimination comes the incentive on the part of the insured to avoid lifestyles or behaviors that incur costs.
If a society wishes to persist in pursuing a worldview where misdeeds are parlayed as diseases--where the thief is considered a kleptomaniac, the arsonist a pyromaniac, and the promiscuous a sex addict--it must at the very least stop forcing the majority of people to sponsor this deviance. In the absence of distribution schemes, these behaviors will become less prevalent.
A free market in drugs, aver the determinists, will bring prices down drastically and send demand rocketing, causing rampant addiction. These conclusions are based on assumptions not in evidence: There is no indication that, prior to prohibition, people flocked to the opium dens in proportionally greater numbers than contemporary addicts flock to the crack houses. In the same vein that biological hardwiring fails to explain this vice, addiction cannot be understood as a mere byproduct of environmental exigencies.
Try as the egalitarians do to whittle down the differences between people to simple schedules of reinforcement, they invariably fail. Not being laboratory rats, human behavior is mediated by--and cannot be explained without reference to--values, conscious choices, and probity of character or lack thereof.
Conversely, because drug taking--like most things--involves elements of choice, it would be inaccurate to blame the dire situation of addicts entirely on the absence of a competitive market. The impeded accessibility of drugs is not insignificant in the plight of the user. But, absent drugs, a person with such proclivities may well branch into other antisocial behavior.
It is not unreasonable to postulate, however, that, were addicts able to purchase drugs at market prices, and were they not forced to structure their lives around obtaining a fix, criminal conduct among users would be considerably reduced. These pragmatic predictions aside, prohibition is unconscionable and should no longer be finessed.
We also support the repeal of all laws establishing any category of crimes applicable to children for which adults would not be similarly vulnerable, such as curfew, smoking, and alcoholic beverage laws, and other status offenses. --
Below is a classic Roscoe dishonesty. He takes a statement about the jailing of young children that have not been charged with a crime and intentionally misconstrues it to mean that a young child runaway should not be held until his or her guardian arrives. Further more, he attempts to hide his statement by tacking on a question mark to the end of it. In the following sentence he responds to the statement as though it was fact. The original statement is blue text. Roscoe's reply is red text.
From the Libertarian platform:
We call for an end to the practice in many states of jailing children not accused of any crime. We call for repeal of all "children's codes" or statutes which abridge due process protections for young people.
Because you omitted the first sentence above are we to assume that you are in favor of jailing children not accused of a crime?
About the second sentence: That implies that under the current government young people are having their due process protections abridged. That sure sounds like young people are not being given Fourth Amendment protection. And that the Libertarian platform seeks to return full protection to the young people.
You are either incompetent, ignorant, or intended to deceive the reader. The choice is yours.
A ten year runaway shouldn't be held until his or her parents or guardians are located? Libertarianism is a cartoon philosophy.
I pity you. Get well, or get lost.
Any shelter worker, or, for that matter, anyone who thinks about it for 30 seconds, will tell you that the chances are in the 99+ percentile that a 10 year old that isn't desperate to volunteer to be "held" until his or her parents can be located is a 10 year old that's being sexually, emotionally and/or physically abused by someone in his family with legal impunity--an all too common state of affairs. A child that wants emancipation usually has a damn good reason. The world is a scary place for a 10 year old without parents.
I won't take responsibility for the current libertarian platform as anyone that actually wants to run for office is going to be an evil lunkhead (the reason we have a Bill of Rights), but I can tell you where most libertarian theorists come down on the question of children's rights: namely, that they don't have many. Children are not competent to bear the rights and responsibilities of full adults, and so not members of the laissez-faire community. A toddler is not capable of understanding the moral restraint that should prevent you from murdering those you are angry with--a 6 year old is not capable of driving. To be in the moral community, you have to be able to exercise moral judgement. We do not grant rights to rocks or chickens because they are not capable of moral judgement. The same goes for younger children, and we cede them rights in a complicated and somewhat arbitrary manner as they age. None of this is particularly a central libertarian problem. Like riparian rights, or right-of-way cedings, or which side of the road to drive on, this is a question libertarians should leave to current traditions in the law, as they have no basis in theory for addressing them. Libertarians are interested in the restriction of coercion and fraud in human affairs, between citizens, and as committed against citizens. Children are not citizens, they are something else. Some of them become citizens eventually. In the mean time, they have a few slowly growing citizen-like rights, are partly the responsibility and property of their parents, tempered by the responsibility of the State to step in occasionally, on the question of who their parents really are, and whether their parents are doing them coercive harm. None of this substantially disregards libertarian theory which, as I said, applies to citizens.
This is not responsive or relevant. Judge Young's finding in law was about RESCHEDULING marijuana from Schedule III to Schedule I. You are reporting on a clause of the law in question utterly unrelated to Young's finding. After pestering me for the source, do you mean to tell me you didn't even look at it?
Don't take it personally. That's just how Roscoe treats every problem where he gets in over his head. It stands to reason that at least a few Freepers have had rational discussions beyond three back and forth exchanges with him. But I could be wrong.
This ranks right up there with laws that cite the fact a house is connected to a gas line that may be connected to an interstate gas line to justify a federal law. Standard commerce-clause abuse.
We only observe the commerce clause in the form of tradition, so we have state murder laws, but federal carjacking laws. This bends the Constitution past the breaking point.
Like I said originally, show me where in the Constitution, in plain English, it says the federal government is authorized to do this. You also have the contrast with the two prohibition amendments to work with in figuring out of the federal goverment really has authority in this.
Just because a law exists does not mean that ordinary people cannot look at it and say "This is plainly unconstitutional." We have many, many laws like that. Otherwise why have judicial review? Why appoint people like Scalia and Thomas who take these questions seriously? Why not have a $50k clerck-magistrate instead of a Supreme COurt? Why bother having state government at all?
Thank you. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.
Schedule I to Schedule II, sorry.
The point is: You don't have to be a Libertarian to be disgusted with the Drug War.
Yep. They love their drug war, but don't want to talk about where the basis for waging it comes from. They're into FDR and his New Deal socialism so far, their retinal patterns are imprinted on his butt cheeks.
You: It is immoral or anti-consititution for people to choose to live in states where there are laws against any or all emancipation of slaves? Clearly it was not at one time (see the Dred Scott Decision) What changed?
It has been my experience in life that when people answer a question with another question of dubious relevance, it is because they either don't have an answer or they know their answer is bankrupt.
I'll answer yours though. Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights which renders slavery a violation of that principle. Drug use isn't an unalienable right but understanding that liberty allows stupid choices, in my world, you could pursue those stupid choices in places where others agree with you.
In your world, you would force me and others like me to live under the tyranny of a small minority who think that drug use is an unalienable not legislatable by the citizens of states. So who's the statist here?
"The administrative law judge recommends that the Administrator conclude that the marijuana plant considered as a whole has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, that there is no lack of accepted safety for use of it under medical supervision and that it may lawfully be transferred from Schedule I to Schedule II. The judge recommends that the Administrator transfer marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II."
So, for POLITICAL reasons, the judge's recommendation was ignored. And that's a good thing? Oh, wait, the ends justify the means in the war on drugs. We shouldn't let things like medical research and facts get in the way. Silly me.
The Congress makes the following findings and declarations:
(1) Many of the drugs included within this title have a useful and legitimate medical purpose and are necessary to maintain the health and general welfare of the American people.
(2) The illegal importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession and improper use of controlled substances have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.
(3) A major portion of the traffic in controlled substances flows through interstate and foreign commerce. Incidents of the traffic which are not an integral part of the interstate or foreign flow, such as manufacture, local distribution, and possession, nonetheless have a substantial and direct effect upon interstate commerce because--
(A) after manufacture, many controlled substances are transported in interstate commerce,
(B) controlled substances distributed locally usually have been transported in interstate commerce immediately before their distribution, and
(C) controlled substances possessed commonly flow through interstate commerce immediately prior to such possession. (4) Local distribution and possession of controlled substances contribute to swelling the interstate traffic in such substances.
(5) Controlled substances manufactured and distributed intrastate cannot be differentiated from controlled substances manufactured and distributed interstate. Thus, it is not feasible to distinguish, in terms of controls, between controlled substances manufactured and distributed interstate and controlled substances manufactured and distributed intrastate.
(6) Federal control of the intrastate incidents of the traffic in controlled substances is essential to the effective control of the interstate incidents of such traffic.
(7) The United States is a party to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, and other international conventions designed to establish effective control over international and domestic traffic in controlled substances.
Libertarians are as hungry as liberals for judicial legislation.