L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 61, December 15, 1999
Happy Bill of Rights Day!
Why the War On Drugs Will Never Succeed
(And Other Good Reasons To End It Now)
by Michael W. Gallagher
Special to TLE
The "War on Drugs" is a major governmental program, designed to
modify the behavior of individuals, by criminalizing activity. It
operates on the belief that, if you ban an activity, people will be
dissuaded from engaging in that activity. To that end, we spend many
billions of dollars of taxpayer funds each year, at the federal,
state, and local level. This "war" is used as an excuse to modify the
laws on posse comitatus, in order to have the military "aid local law
enforcement" in the interdiction of drug imports. It has resulted in
the federalization of much of criminal law enforcement, under the
auspices of the DEA, the FBI, the Border Patrol, and other agencies.
Further, it has resulted in a coast-to-coast wave of gross violations
of basic property rights, under civil confiscation rules for alleged
(and usually never proven) criminal activities, as detailed in Vin
Suprynowicz's article in the November 15th issue of TLE. It has
resulted in a culture that permits the violation of civil rights by
law enforcement, particularly federal law enforcement, with a
resultant atmosphere of fear among the innocent neighbors, as much as
the guilty possessor of drugs, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.
What Does It Cost?
Just looking at the cash costs, the federal government estimates that
it will spend, directly, $17,100,000,000.00 this year on drug
enforcement and interdiction. (Office of National Drug Control
This does not include the cost of prisons or other "indirect" costs.
The states will spend an estimated $20,000,000,000.00 this year,
exclusive of prison costs.
Almost 43,000 people will be incarcerated this year alone for drug
offenses.(U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics).
Using a commonly given estimate of prisoner cost, i.e., $25,000.00
per prisoner per year, this will cost about of $1,075,000,000.00 per
year just for those new drug prisoners. There are currently over one
million (1,000,000) persons incarcerated in the United States. It is
estimated that over fifty percent those imprisoned are jailed for
drug offenses. That means that the American taxpayer shells out about
Twenty Five Billion Dollars ($25,000,000,000.00) every year, to
shelter, house, and otherwise confine people in jail, with over half
of that being due to the "war on drugs". In 1993 alone, new prison
building programs cost an estimated Twenty-Five Billion Dollars
($25,000,000,000.00). Since violent crime is down, according to the
Justice Department, and over half of those currently in jail are
there for drugs, all of that expansion is made necessary by the "war
Then there are some of the "indirect"costs, which range from
increases in welfare payments (for the wives and children of those
incarcerated), to the higher medical costs caused by the war on
drugs. "Accordingly, it appears that present drug control laws
themselves, have directly led to an increase in the health risks
associated with drug use and substance abuse. In addition to those
dangers posed by lack of quality control and safety regulations
governing illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia laws, together with a
failure to promote needle exchange programs, have resulted in the
preventable spread of AIDS and other similarly transmitted diseases
to users, their partners and children." -- New York County Lawyers
Association, Drug Policy Task Force report, October 1996.
Despite all of this, the DEA admits that only about ten percent (10%)
of all illegal drugs are ever intercepted. And, ladies and gentlemen,
the net result of all of this expenditure, these suspensions and
violations of basic civil rights, and this battering of the
Constitution, has been that drug abuse is far more common than it was
thirty years ago. Weapons offenses have increased substantially in
the last thirty years, despite the passage of literally thousands of
gun laws. (No, I don't believe in those either-but that is for
another article, at another time). The reasons, I believe, are as
1. Criminal laws do not modify behavior: In the words of Abraham
Lincoln, "Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it
attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and make crime
out of things that are not crimes." While the government will never
admit it, criminalization of behavior does not end that behavior. In
fact it can, under some circumstances, INCREASE that behavior. For
example, most illegal drug use commences during adolescence, or
shortly thereafter. While the government will never admit it, anyone
who has survived their own adolescence will know that banning or
criticizing something will, for many adolescents, make it even more
attractive. All teenagers tend to feel some degree of alienation from
society and family, simply as a part of being a teenager. Also, since
the typical teenager believes that he or she is virtually
bullet-proof--they are unable to truly comprehend either their own
mortality or any inability to control a behavior over time-the usual
propaganda does not work on them. Teenagers are often incapable of
foreseeing the negative aspects of their actions, or of believing
that they apply to them. Hence, seeing that adults-the "system", the
"establishment", whatever name you give it-hate what you are doing,
will make it all the more attractive. This is a normal part of
growing up-adolescent rebellion.
Further, among those individuals who are prone to take risks, the
negative attention will make it even more attractive still. However,
once that behavior is begun, it sometimes will continue for a
lifetime. Vidae smoking. Finally, if criminalization worked, then you
must believe that alcohol prohibition was a shining success, and
prostitution has been all but stamped out. No? Well, then, I think
that shows the point I was trying to make.
2. Drug laws have caused the creation of and enlargement of criminal
cartels. It is axiomatic that anything which creates a scarcity --
artificial or real -- of a substance will drive up the price of
it. That is the most basic of economics. Further, it is also obvious
that increasing the risk of importing, manufacturing, or selling a
substance will cause a substantial scarcity. That increase in cost
will, by definition, make it more profitable to engage in such
activity. Therefore, it guarantees the presence of criminal
individuals and organizations, such as "Organized Crime", in such
activity. The profit is enormous. For example, the pharmaceutical
cost of a typical cocaine abuser's weekly intake is about $20.00.
However, its street cost is about $1,000.00. (William F. Buckley,
National Review, 1996). The $980.00 is profit-risk money. "About $500
worth of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much
as $100,000.00 on the streets of an American city. All the cops,
armies, prisons, and executions in the world cannot impede a market
with that kind of tax-free profit margin." (Joseph D. McNamara,
former Chief of Police, Kansas City, MO, writing in National Review,
Once a criminal organization involved in drug import, manufacture
and/or sale is created, it will work very hard to promote its
continued existence and profitability. Governmental corruption,
murder, blackmail, and a host of other ills result. This has been
shown many times over, from Al Capone's organization in Chicago in
the 1920s to the Columbian Cartels of the 1980s and 1990s. In the
words of Kurt Schmoke, Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, "...prohibition
is a major source of crime: it inflates the price of drugs, inviting
new criminals to enter the trade;...These are not problems that are
merely tangential to the war on drugs. These are problems caused, or
made substantially worse, by the war on drugs".
3. The drug laws are largely responsible for the increase in violence
feared by many persons in the last twenty years. Edward Rendell,
mayor of Philadelphia and current chairman of the Democratic National
Committee, once said that he could tell almost to the day when
"crack" cocaine first came to Philadelphia, because of the increase
in violent crimes that followed it. This violence occurs primarily
among dealers and users of the substance, in turf wars, thefts of the
drugs from other dealers, collection of debts related to the drug,
etc. The killing of innocent persons caught in the cross-fire of
dealers became so common in major cities that the news almost stopped
carrying the stories.
In cities throughout the United States, we find a proliferation
of armed violence resulting from "turf" wars for control of
territory for lucrative drug sales, together with regularly
recurring dangerous and deadly altercations over drug deals gone
bad. In addition to this community-based violence, there are
"shoot-outs" between drug dealers and law enforcement officers,
the latter developing the need for greater and more powerful
weapons, only to be matched and then surpassed by those in the
drug trade who have enormous profits, and personal liberty, at
stake. The net result of these circumstances has been an
extraordinary casualty rate for those involved in the drug
trade, (35) injury and death to innocent bystanders "caught in
the crossfires," injury and loss of life to law enforcement
officers, and a prevailing atmosphere of violence in many inner
city communities. A further byproduct of these conditions is an
increase of weapons possession, and thereby, the weapons trade,
where use and sale of dangerous and increasingly powerful
weapons have proliferated. This widespread possession and use of
dangerous and deadly weapons has further resulted in the
increase of armed violence in our communities, not always
directly related to local drug wars, but fostered by the
undercurrent of violence, guns and money supported by the drug
-- New York County Lawyers Association Drug Policy Task
Force, October 1996.
Of course, those same people who demand we continue this idiotic
"war" also demand that we give up the right to defend ourselves with
personal armaments. The fact that the violence referred to above is
committed, almost exclusively, with illegal weapons, (either stolen
or purchased illegally), never enters their minds. It is axiomatic
that laws only control the law-abiding. Those already breaking the
law have little or no reason not to break it further. Further, since
illegal drug sales generate massive profits, even for street dealers,
this gives the dealers more than enough cash to buy any sort of
weapon they want usually very chromed, and very large caliber.
Sometimes fully automatic.
4. Governmental corruption is an inevitable result of a "war on
drugs". This is not merely a continuation of the argument about
cartels, above. Despite many attempts by the government to discredit
the story, the authors and editors of the San Jose Mercury still
stand by their story of several years ago, detailing how the United
States Government permitted the sale of crack cocaine in California,
in order to finance certain "intelligence" activities which they
could not finance through their own (congressionally reviewed)
budgets. The evidence, from what I have seen, is on the side of the
Mercury. In other words, as a matter of policy, the United States
Government became a drug dealer. If that is not "governmental
corruption", then I think we need a new definition for it. If you
have a hard time believing this, please remember that this is the
same government that:
A) Expanded an attack on an American vessel into the Tonkin Gulf
Incident, as an excuse to expand the Vietnam War;
B). Attempted to hide the fact, and discredit the man who revealed
the truth, (Daniel Ellsberg), by burglarizing the office of
Ellsberg's psychiatrist in the early 1970s;
C). Experimented on its own, unwitting citizens with L.S.D. as a part
of an interrogation technique for the C.I.A. (Speaking of "controlled
D). Experimented on persons infected with a sexually transmitted
disease, and never told them that they were never properly treated,
in order to study the full course of the disease, in the infamous
Released cold and other disease germs in the New York subway
system, in order to test disease vectoring and spreading techniques,
as part of CIA and Defense department germ warfare experiments in the
1950s and 1960s;
F). Set up a political "hit" squad under Richard Nixon, and used FBI
and IRS files in order to embarrass and destroy political "enemies"
in the 1970s;
G). And has otherwise engaged in more sordid, base, and disgusting
behavior than I have either the time or the stomach to list here.
Additionally, it has caused a degradation in government policy, with
its new emphasis on civil forfeiture law. As better described in Vin
Suprynowicz's article, previously cited, the civil forfeiture laws
have become a new, alternative funding source for police departments
and elected district attorneys one which is not subject to the review
of budgetary agencies and voters. Totally aside from the damage this
has done to constitutional rights, including the right to property
and the right to due process, these confiscation laws have had a
major social cost as well.
"Moreover, the increased enforcement of civil forfeiture laws
has further undermined the security and stability of families.
Recognizing a growing trend of evictions and asset forfeiture as
a further weapon employed in the "war on drugs," entire families
have lost and continue to lose homes and other substantial
assets for the acts of a single household member, thereby
punishing eve drug-free members of the community".
-- NYCLA Drug Policy Task Force report, October 1996.
5. There is little or no drug treatment in jail. If someone is in
jail, they are not getting treatment. It has been shown for decades
that the punitive, incarceration model of drug control does not work.
First of all, it is well-known among professionals in the
drug-rehabilitation field that no person sobers up until that person
decides to do so for themselves. It requires a willingness to change.
No judge or prison can force that willingness upon someone. While it
is true that some people do change in prison, this is the exception,
rather than the rule. For all the speeches and promises made by
politicians, prison does nothing but isolate someone from the outside
world for a period of time-and teach them how to be a better
criminal. In fact, most prisons have a thriving internal trade in
these same drugs. Despite the best efforts of prison authorities,
incarceration does not even prevent the use of drugs in the prisons
So, what is it going to be? Do you want to keep a nice Republican
"war on drugs" going, with the attendant violence, destruction of the
constitution, and insane spending? Or do we do something else? Do we
admit that the statist, top-down, moralistic, model so favored by
Bill (I didn't inhale) Clinton, George W. (so I did a few lines of
coke) Bush, and numerous other political hacks and control freaks has
been an unmitigated disaster? Do we realize that adults are allowed
to MAKE THEIR OWN MISTAKES, and hopefully learn from them? Do we
realize that, by banning something, we have guaranteed its existence,
and the existence of violent criminals who profit from that
illegality? Or do we keep dumping seventy billion dollars a year down
a government rat hole?
I personally am not of a mind to create more government programs.
But, if you are,consider, please, how many people you could treat for
drug (and alcohol) addiction for even half of that seventy billion
per year. Treatment lasts usually less than thirty days, if the
person is ready. It can last for a lifetime. And it costs a lot less
than $25,000.00 per year. Plus, the person who does sober up goes on
to earn a living, contribute to his or her society, and do all the
other things that responsible adults do. Which is a whole lot better
than sticking them in a crummy little concrete box for years at a
time, at $25,000 a year.
I am an attorney and sometimes-public defender in Pennsylvania.
Doing what I suggest would cost me money. So, when a lawyer suggests
doing something that would cost him income, perhaps you might want to
give it some thought!
Michael W. Gallagher
STATISTICS, DAMNED LIES, AND LIES
Ever notice that when the local weather prognosticator says, 'There's
a 50% chance of rain today" ... it rains every time?
My son and I once worked it out: if the forecaster says 'there's a
30% chance', there's a 50% chance; if 'there's a 50 % chance',
there's a 100% chance; and if 'there's a 70% chance', it's already
TWA 800 was not hit by a 'missile', according to the NTSB and FBI?
How about a supersonic target drone?
The FBI 'did not fire a single shot' into the Branch Davidian church?
How about three-shot bursts ... or, better yet ... why has no one
made the same claim for Delta Force operators?
HOW WILL THEY KNOW WHAT TO THINK IF WE DON'T TELL THEM?
"'The confusion about the [Seattle WTO] protestors' [sic] political
goals is understandable,' wrote a New York Times columnist Thursday,
'this is the first movement born of the anarchic pathways of the
Internet. There is no top-down hierarchy, no universally recognized
leaders, and nobody knows what is going to happen next.' "
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