Monday, April 11, 2016

Cold War on drugs

Do we need to revise our drug enforcement policies? I don't have a firm position, but I have some inclinations on the question. 

i) Some libertarians think we should legalize hard drugs. If drug abuse only harmed the individual user, there'd be a case for legalizing drugs. But humans are social creatures. We live in communities. Certain behaviors are socially destructive as well as self-destructive. If a social behavior is detrimental to the common good, that's a potential reason to legally deter it. 

However, drug enforcement presents a dilemma: On the one hand, the fact that demand is so great demonstrates the danger that it poses for the social fabric. On the other hand, the same enormous, insatiable demand makes it very hard to deter. 

ii) In popular parlance, drug enforcement is called the "war on drugs". One problem with that characterization is that we tend to think of wars as a contest in which one side wins and the other side loses. The war ends. 

But drug enforcement isn't that kind of "war". Given demand, the conflict never ends. 

If we wish to retain the martial metaphor, we might call it the Cold War on drugs. Because both Russia and the US had the bomb, both sides avoided a head-to-head showdown. The American strategy was the containment policy.

It's best to frame drug enforcement in terms of containment. Keeping drug abuse at manageable levels. If enough people want it, you can't prevent it. But you can still deter it. 

iii) Another way to assess drug enforcement is balancing harms. Drug abuse is personally and socially harmful. The more widespread, the more harmful to the common good.

However, drug enforcement has many incidental harms. Although these may be side-effects of drug enforcement, the cumulative effects are considerable. Current drug enforcement is very expansive and very intrusive. The cost of opposing evil should not outweigh the evil opposed. So these need to be calibrated. We need to balance the social harm of drug enforcement against the social harm of drug use, so that drug enforcement doesn't do more harm than good. This isn't a choice between drug enforcement and general legalization, but striking a balance between competing goods. 

iv) Consider some elements of current drug enforcement:

• Gov't involvement at federal, state, and local levels

• Drug raids, no-knock warrants, sting operations, entrapment, seizure and civil forfeiture

• Random checkpoints, stop-and-frisk

• Interdiction, air smuggling

• Undercover operations, viz. recruiting informants, informant payments, protecting informant identity, undercover apartments, undercover patients, fake internet cafes, fake Facebook accounts. 

• Surveillance, viz. domestic drones, laser microphones, Stingrays, RFID chips, spyware, thermal imaging, mail imaging, radio-frequency scans, turning laptop webcams into hidden cameras or cellphones into hidden microphones, use of voice recognition to scan mobile networks.

• Access to bank/phone records

• Targeting possession, drug paraphernalia 

• Corruption of police departments on the take 

v) Some of these are not specific to drug enforcement, but part of a larger pattern. I'd say current drug enforcement policies have become far too expansive and invasive. We need to scale back. 

vi) Some drugs are more addictive and dangerous than others. It makes sense to concentrate on those. 

vii) I think drug enforcement should focus on production (e.g. meth labs) and sales rather than possession. We should consider legalizing possession. Call it supply side drug enforcement.

This would also mean police can't plant evidence to justify arrest and conviction.

Of course, you have possession with intent to distribute, which shades into sales. We could debate that. 


  1. Another complicating factor is the phoney diagnosis of substance abuse as a disease which, in our socialist milieu, means the "patient" is entitled to medical care for both his "condition" and subsequent physical and mental consequences of his chosen behaviors (eg, heppatitis c with new drugs running ~ $90k for a course of treatment). All too often, substance abuse teatment ends up as nothing more than "three hots and a cot" in jail, prison, or treatment facilities - all at the taxpayers' expense with precious little success.

  2. You should watch this:

    I see no strong reason to keep drugs illegal. If we had a free market in drugs which obviously are a rare thing in the US the price of manufacturing and production would be low and ergo drug users could afford them. Crime has high risk and high returns. Since the sales of drugs have to go underground the dealers are associated with crime. So the buyers too get caught up with this.
    Having to steal, rob and what not to get the money. Whereas if it were illegal they could hold down a part-time job to fund their habit.

    I feel this blog is against libertarianism as is modern Evangelicalism in the US. If we look at this situation holistically

    The cons of legalization are:

    - Addiction (which can be debated) which MIGHT lead to domestic abuse. Which is likely due to other factor such as their upbringing.

    The pros of legalization:

    - An increase in civil liberties
    - Reduction in tax and thus taxes
    - Helps dismantle the police state
    - Won't ruin the lives of young minorities who end up going to jail over an ounce of weed which then makes it impossible for them to land a job, and thus forcing them to resort to crime as a means of income/welfare dependency

    I see you are trying to take a balanced approach and yes I am biased. I am a "classical liberal". Which means I only think the gov't should run is the military, police, courts, emergency services and local roads. It's obvious you can see the pitfalls of this terrible gov't program.