I’ll Mention It

Simon Asks:

If they wanted to reduce gun deaths why not eliminate Drug Prohibition? The elephant in the closet.

It worked for alcohol prohibition.

I note it is never mentioned by pro gun folks either.

I’m pretty sure if you did a poll of gun bloggers you’d find most of them would admit that the War on Drugs is an abject failure and maybe we should rethink it.  The problem is, there’s virtually no political support for this position.  I think the reason for this is that parents envision drug decriminalization as making it easier to sell drugs to their kids, or making it more likely their kids will do drugs.

If decriminalization does happen, it won’t happen fast, and there probably won’t ever be political support for legalizing, say, heroin.  But we do indeed pay a high price in terms of cost and liberty trying unsuccessfully to keep drugs out of this country, and our inner cities pay most of the cost of the violent black market that results from prohibition.

I actually do tend to use the drug war’s abject failures with people who argue that despite that, we can be successful at keeping guns out of the country.

25 thoughts on “I’ll Mention It”

  1. If we got serious with the War on Drugs and put in truly discouraging penalties for dealing, the problem would go away very very quickly.

    I haven’t read up on it myself, but I’ve seen references to China doing this 50 or 60 years ago. Something like a rather quick death penalty for dealing or for your second offense for possession. That sounds a little extreme to me, but the “1st offense chop off your hand, 2nd offense chop off your other hand, 3rd offense chop off your head” penalty in places like Saudi Arabia has made them relatively theft free.

    Right now, if you just do the math on what your average annual income is for dealing, factoring in jail time and the odds of getting caught and doing any jail time, it’s still a pretty high income. If you’re poor, you don’t even see jail as that far of a step down, so you can even discount jail time.

  2. Maybe it would be effective, but is killing someone for engaging in an activity that doesn’t harm anyone but themselves something that a just society does? I know people who do illegal drugs that are otherwise good, law abiding people. I’d revolting against a government that thought people like that deserve death.

  3. Assuming you could get those kinds of penalties enacted, jurys would never convict knowing that such harsh sentences would be administered.

  4. The same way they would never convict a man who lent a semi-automatic rifle to someone and it malfunctioned once and fired three times on one trigger pull? That kind of never convict?

  5. Jury’s convict people all the time for stupid things which shouldn’t be crimes. But the penalties are relatively short prison sentences, not execution or mutilation.

  6. I’ve had the ‘legalize drugs’ talk with several Libertarian friends, and I’ve always been against it. I’m a father of 4 (12-20) daughters, and have seen first hand just how badly drug abuse can screw up a person’s life.

    I’m beginning to reconsider.

    I don’t gamble, but I voted for casinos in MO. I don’t drink, but I sure as heck wouldn’t be for trying to ban alcohol again. I don’t smoke, but I’m against smoking bans and attempts to tax the tobacco industry to death. Basically, I’m for just about any policy that gets the government out of our day to day lives.

    If it’s ever going to happen, it’ll have to move slowly… starting with marijuana. There’s a larger percentage of our population that have tried it than not… surely we can agree that it didn’t destroy every life it touched. I’d say that far more lives have been destroyed by the illegal industry surrounding the stuff than by the drug itself.

    Unfortunately, there’s zero political will to implement such a plan.

  7. I agree that the drug prohibition has been no better than the alcohol prohibition, and its failure is something I point to in order to prove that prohibitions against guns would never work, & never have worked everywhere it has been tried.

    It is often said that if you criminalize the ownership of guns than only the criminals will have guns, and it is very true. Only the law abiding are impacted by gun control laws both by making it harder & more expensive for them to own guns, as well as leaving them defenseless against the criminal element who will always have guns. The criminals are actually in favor of gun control law because they buy all their guns on the black market, and they prefer that their victims be defenseless.

  8. I mentioned it on plastic.com a long time ago (under a different pseudonym, of course).

    However, it should probably be a problem for individual States to deal with, not the federal government (save for smuggling and interstate border crossings).

  9. Start with MJ. Personally, I don’t care for the War on (disfavored) Drugs – and as a semi-libertarian I think if the “lighter” drugs are legalized, it might reduce some of the use of the “harder” stuff on the inverse of “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

  10. There’s probably a stronger case for decriminalizing heroin than marijuana, but the major problem with decriminalizing any of these drugs, and that is true for alcohol as well, is that the social costs of widespread intoxicant use are murder, rape, child abuse, robbery, and burglary. There’s a tendency to assume that the economic crimes associated with drugs are because the addicts need money to buy their drugs–but murder, rape, and child abuse are the result of people that are intoxicated losing inhibitions.

    And yes, I’m partly motivated by the knowledge that the two heroin addicts that murdered my wife’s classmate and her little sister were high at the time they were burglarizing the house. They raped the little sister and then strangled her when she came home from junior high; when her older brother came home, they beat him to death with a roofing hammer. (Closed casket.)

    Meth is perhaps the worst example of a drug where decriminalization would certainly accelerate what is already a very serious problem caused by the intoxicating effects. The consequences of widespread alcohol abuse are already widely visible; adding meth aggravates the problems.

    I agree that the primary focus should be reducing demand, simply because reducing demand doesn’t cause the price increase that reducing supply does. But let’s not pretend that decriminalizing drugs like meth, or marijuana, or heroin, is going to be free of substantial social costs.

  11. What’s the real social cost of marijuana use? Other than the fact that a lot of potheads aren’t really motivated to do much else other than sitting around smoking pot. I don’t think the social costs of that drug would be any higher than alcohol.

  12. Wasn’t planning on pretending that decriminalizing drugs would result in no social costs – indeed, alcohol has a fairly heavy social cost, but we decriminlized it a few years after prohibition anyway. However, I know more drug addicts than I do alcoholics – both classes of people have issues functioning, and both have tended to have an underlying problem that led them to their substance abuse issues. But abusing one substance is legally acceptable (short of DWI), and one is beyond the pale and leads to governmental abuses in the name of the children…

    I will agree that not all currently abused illegal drugs should be decriminalized/legalized – meth is among the ones I would not be willing to decriminalize any time soon. But I’ve been given to understand crystal meth compared to bathtub gin AKA methanol – the one went away after prohibition lifted. The main attraction for meth seems to be it’s relatively easy to make from the precursors (though environmentally quite nasty).

    The War on Drugs seemed to pick up after prohibition, and the marijuana prohibition has always seemed to me to be fairly racist in its roots (Reefer Madness, etc).

    Disclaimer – While I did use an amphetamine at one point, it was prescribed (Dexedrine in middle school; the side effects plus the utter pain in the ass to get ahold of it legally put an end to that); and I am a light social drinker at most. I have no desire to partake of anything more than that anytime soon.

  13. While I occasionally support decriminalizing possession, I’m not so gung ho about permitting importation or production.

    I’d support compelling a person into rehab/treatment. Throwing a user in jail could potentially make things worse.

    So, you could say I’m for drug prohibition, but in a softer way.

    Of course, I also support “banishment” as an acceptable form of legal punishment, so I may just be crazy.

  14. I may be talking through my hat here, but the social costs of the drug war have largely been the corruption of various individual police, the corruption of agencies through the forfeiture laws, and the lessening of Constitutional protections for nearly everyone. This has been brought about because drugs are terribly profitable, because forbidden. Is there not a way to make drugs unprofitable, while at the same time not making them freely available to just anyone who wants to use them? Can they not be regulated, like alcohol and tobacco, but without the obscene profits that drive criminal gangs to want to be in that business? Can not society impose enough shame on people to discourage usage by most of the middle class? I’m just saying…with the money we have spent on the drug war, we could have done a lot to educate, treat, and discourage. But I hear Clayton Cramer’s concerns as well.



  15. Actually, repealing prohibition had no effect on the crime rate. The mob was already in place; repealing prohibition did nothing but make them shift markets. Legalizing drugs would not affect crime; the gangs would just move into different markets.

    You’d think free market types would understand that, but they’re far too obsessed with being able to suck on a bong legally.

  16. I wonder if it’s actually possible to recommend decriminalizing some drugs without being accused of wanting to “suck on a bong”? Let me clearly state that I have absolutely no such interest…that being said, please consider the following.

    I have (for anonymity’s sake, let us say “relatives”) who are a generation younger than myself. Intelligent, articulate young people. All through high school they had ready access to most illegal drugs, including marihuana, crack, powdered coke, heroin, and meth. What they DIDN’T have immediate access to was any form of alcohol, including beer. It was actually quite difficult for them to procure booze.

    Can we think this through? Simply making a behavior illegal doesn’t necessarily stop the activity…it simply forces it underground. While alcohol is legal for adults, for minors it was quite difficult for them to have access. They had to find an adult willing to break the law to purchase it for them. On the other hand, the drugs which were completely unlawful were actually ridiculously simple for them to have procured, should they have wanted to.

    Let us stop the War on (Some) Drugs. As a modest proposal, let us sell (some) drugs through the same types of facilities though which alcohol is currently sold. And with the same type of nasty penalties for selling to minors. We can use a minor portion of the tax income from sales for treatment for addicts, and also for unemployment for the legions currently employed in this pointless war…prison guards, DEA, prosecutors, etc. .

  17. Actually, repealing prohibition had no effect on the crime rate. The mob was already in place; repealing prohibition did nothing but make them shift markets. Legalizing drugs would not affect crime; the gangs would just move into different markets.

    Switching markets requires another market to switch to. As you shrink the number of markets in illegal items by removing the items to legal markets, you reduce the ability of these gangs to function. Look at how the patent system works – for a limited period of time, the patenter and licensees have a monopoly on their product, and can charge whatever they like for the product, within the bounds of the limited market. Once the patent expires, the free market takes over. Right now, the black market has a “patent” on illegal drugs. Break the patent, and the have to find another “patented” product. But there may not be such a product as easily patentable.

    If the mob is already horizontally diversified, loss of a market can’t be made up. They can continue to operate in other areas that are illegal, of course. But they can’t find another market to replace the one they’ve lost, as they are already in all the markets.

  18. “Switching markets requires another market to switch to.”

    And there are a great many. lllegal guns, for instance.

    Legalizing drugs will have no effect on crime. None. As for stopping the war on drugs, do you mean, then, that we’ll just let gang-bangers kill people, and not bother to throw them in prison?

    No thanks. I don’t want whores walking the streets where I live, nor do I want junkies nodding in my front yard. Let them stay in the cities, where the people stupid enough to live there can appreciate them.

  19. At this point, the “mobs” are already into all the “illegal” markets, they’re running guns, etc.

    Legalizing prostitution, to follow up on your example, hasn’t put whores on the streets of Nevada, for example – the reports I have seen of the Nevada brothels make them out to be rather safer and healthier for both client and worker. And a gang-banger killing someone would still be a crime (homicide of some variety). The legalization of “drugs” would give him one less thing to kill over (the money being made on drugs).

    I don’t accept the argument that there are other markets yet untapped by the criminal element – there’s no reason for them to have left these markets untapped hereunto, after all. The rumrunners moved into drugrunning because the laws regulating drugs came into effect about the time Prohibition came down ; give me an example of what we will be making illegal in “exchange” for the drugs.

    All I’ve proposed is that the penalties for use and possession of drugs (start with marijuana),and regulation thereof, be realigned to those of say, tobacco or alcohol. Do you have drunks “nodding in your front lawn”? (I doubt it, since you implied you do not live in an inner-city).

    Drug abuse is drug abuse, whether you are a pack-a-day tobacco user, an alcoholic, or a pot-head.

    I’m not a “pure” legalizer, in that I believe there are drugs that should not be legalized because of their effects- crystal meth is a drug I’d just as soon see go away. But I see little harm in legalizing marijuana, and not that much more harm in most opiates.

    Start with marijuana and see what happens. the states are already trying this, and absent the abominable Raich decision, we would be further along this road.

    (But I’m one of those conservatives who believe Wickard v. Filburn was wrongly decided, and in the 9th and 10th amendment. YMMV.)

  20. Another factor in all the talk of prohibition of various substances and activities that most people tend to ignore is mass.

    It is MUCH easier to regulate alcohol or prostitution or even guns than drugs or pornography or gambling, just because of the size of the object in question. The container requirements and volume necessary for enough alcohol to get drunk is many orders of magnitude greater than that required for drugs. I can supply literally hundreds of customers with drugs using just my pockets and you couldn’t tell I had any on me. That won’t work with booze. You need ample storage space and large distribution capability in order to achieve the same business. Prohibition could work today at a level impossible when it was first attempted. Just having two way radios in police cars would enable much more effective enforcement.

    Prostitution suffers from the same limitations on the packaging of the merchandise. Yes, one hooker can service hundreds of customers without having to restock, but the uh distribution system is rather cumbersome. It’s not just a quick meeting of two hands on the street with an exchange of goods and cash.

    When I was in high school, there were guys with joints in their socks selling them during gym class. Couldn’t do that with alcohol or guns and certainly not with prostitution.

    As to the mob and shifting markets… the mob was big before drugs became a source of income for them. In fact, many mobs intentionally stayed out of the drug business and did just fine without it. There are always plenty of ways to make money illegally. If the Fair Tax (sic) gets passed, there will be a sudden HUGE black market open up for the mob to take advantage of.

    In the meantime, they’ve always got gambling, extortion, union embezzlement, theft, bootlegging cigarettes, etc to keep them going.

  21. “In the meantime, they’ve always got gambling, extortion, union embezzlement, theft, bootlegging cigarettes, etc to keep them going.”

    Because of this, they can’t expand into these areas; they are already in them

  22. But they can expand their operations. There are always more business to sell “protection” to, places to rob, trucks to hijack, numbers rackets to run, etc.

    Organized crime tends to be fairly diversified, which will help them get through the loss of drug income while they build up other areas or come up with new ones. Sure, your local dealer will be out a job and have to find a new line of work, but the mobs will just keep on running.

    Besides, we all know that legalizing drugs will be a very slow process and will probably never include all drugs. That means there will still be drug work available.

  23. “But they can expand their operations. There are always more business to sell “protection” to, places to rob, trucks to hijack, numbers rackets to run, etc.”

    What has heretofore prevented the mobs from expanding into these areas without drug legalization? To be sure, some of this is due to a lack of resources. But the mob is going to have a tough row to hoe to expand their protection racket, for example. Furthermore, I am not championing drug legalization as a way to reduce the power of the drug smugglers or the incidence of violent crime. (It will surely reduce drug crime since the use & possession will no longer be a crime. And I believe that violent crime and the influence of the mobs will reduce as well). I want drug legalization to reduce the damage being done to our constitutional rights.

    Just as I support concealed-carry even if it does not reduce the crime rate, but leaves it level (props to Mr. Lott & Kleck et al. but the evidence that more guns = less crime has not been proven “beyond doubt” – merely that it does not increase crime. Clayton can probably say better than I one way or another), I support the legalization of drugs (at least the ones no worse than alcohol or tobacco) even if there is no reduction in crime (beyond that of the activity no longer being criminal).

    Roll Partnership For A Drug-Free America into MADD (or vice-versa).

  24. Follow-up: I speak of the federal level. You can understand me to read the 21st amendment to read “intoxicating substance” in place of “alcohol”.

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