Friday, August 22, 2014

The war on drugs

I don't agree with McWhorter's overall position, but in some ways he's a more intelligent critic. Take this statement:

So, what will really make a difference? Really, only a continued pullback on the War on Drugs. Much of what creates the poisonous, vicious-cycle relationship between young black men and the police is that the War on Drugs brings cops into black neighborhoods to patrol for drug possession and sale. Without that policy—which would include that no one could make a living selling drugs—the entire structure supporting the notion of young black men as criminals would fall apart. White men with guns would encounter young black men much less often, and meanwhile society would offer young black men less opportunity to drift into embodying the stereotype in the first place.

i) Up to a point, I think that's undoubtedly true. It's the war on drugs that often brings police, including white policemen, into direct contact and conflict with young black men.

In addition, the war on drugs has been the primary impetus for the militarization of the police force. 

I don't have a solution. The war on drugs has many horror stories. Bungled no-knock raids. Police state apparatus. 

ii) But I fear that decriminalizing drugs would just replace one set of intractable social problems with another. Different horror stories.

It's said that prohibition caused organized crime. Probably an oversimplification. But even if that's true, repealing prohibition didn't repeal organized crime. Once established, it was here to stay. Why think legalizing drugs would be any different?

Suppose, instead of fighting the Cali Cartel, Columbia had legalized drugs. Would that put the cartel out of business, or would it simply make it easier for the cartel to do business? Expand business. Have even more citizens and officials on the take? Basically, everyone would be in the drug business. Corrupt everyone by putting everyone on the payroll. Like a company town. 

As long as narcotics are illegal, there's a distinction between gov't officials and narco dealers. But if was decriminalized, then what would hinder gov't officials from having their hand in the till? To my knowledge, libertarians who advocate legalizing drugs also decry the "military-industrial" complex. But wouldn't legalizing drugs create the equivalent public/private sector complex vis-à-vis narcotics?  

In fact, if hard drugs were legalized, then presumably the FDA would step in to regulate them. That would add to the cost of production. And you'd have sales tax. So I imagine there'd still be black market for hard drugs.

iii) One problem with legalizing narcotics is what if it fails? Presumably, legalizing hard drugs would dramatically increase the use and abuse of formerly controlled substances. For one thing, there'd be no danger of arrest and imprisonment. 

But, of course, many of these are highly addictive. And once people are hooked, many are unable to kick the habit.

If legalization failed, you couldn't turn the clock back to the status quo ante. The situation would be much worse. 

That would instantly and greatly escalate the war on drugs. The police would be even more aggressive to rein in a situation which spun way out of control. 


  1. Steve, wouldn't it be fair to state their premise as - permitting evil rids of evil. That's seems to be the gist of the argument for legalizing drugs. I imagine they would disagree but when I've listened to others speak about legalizing drugs, they all seem to argue as you've described.

  2. I don't know what the state of affairs is in the States, but Peter HItchens has repeatedly argued that the "War on Drugs" in the UK is fictional, and that we are living in a state of effective decriminalisation. I wonder if something comparable could be true in the USA.

  3. It's true, albeit counterintuitive, that attempting to prevent evil sometimes causes more evil than permitting evil.

  4. Whether or not a particular evil is also to be made illegal according to Man's law seems to me to be a wisdom issue. I don't think one form of lack of sobriety should be illegal when others are not, but that is a matter of opinion. Mine is that, if gov't welfare were eliminated, and draconian laws were in place to punish those who give intoxicants to minors, it should be none of the gov't's business if one citizen wants make, import, or sell such to another citizen. The jails would likely empty, law enforcement would be able to concentrate on other matters, and on a minor note, members of my profession would no longer have to double as policemen. If someone told me they were having back pain, e.g., I could believe them. After all, if all they wanted were narcotics, they could go down the street & get them as easily as they could get a bottle of whiskey.
    Meanwhile, absent welfare, those who didn't work wouldn't eat. This would likely make it much more difficult for the chronically 'stoned' to survive.
    'Course I recognize mine as a minority opinion...