What I Think About Drug Legalization

I’ve posted on this subject before but the topic has usually been embedded within a post about something else or within comments so I thought I put it here for easier reference. What always bugs me about the subject is that people are so unwilling to define their terms.

Let me do some defining. I think you can divide the subject into several different categories. I have no problem with legalizing the sale or use of marijuana. I think that legalizing the sale or use of all Schedule I drugs would be imprudent although I’m willing to listen to arguments over decriminalizing the use of Schedule I drugs. I think that making everything—not just “recreational drugs” but antibiotics, anti-depressants, antivirals, you name it—would be foolish.

I also think that many of the benefits touted by advocates of broad legalization would only be realized in the extreme case of all Schedule I drugs being completely legalized and unregulated or taxed. Cigarettes are legal but there’s a thriving black market because they’re regulated and taxed.

59 comments… add one
  • michael reynolds

    Alcohol is regulated and heavily taxed. Is there still some bootlegging and theft/resale? Yes. Is it even a fraction of what we saw during Prohibition? No. No major gang is living off alcohol — they can’t compete with Bev Mo.

    Are some of these drugs extremely dangerous? Yes. Dangerous and available and sold by criminal gangs. Would they be more dangerous if they were available from CVS? I don’t see how.

    Would there still be some street level sale of drugs? Yes. But as with Prohibition there is simply no reason to imagine that street gangs would out-compete CVS.

    Legalization would slow the spread of AIDS and hepatitis as addicts could use clean needles. Access to rehab would improve. Those who remained addicted would only be addicts, not necessarily criminals. Police resources would be freed up to go after remaining gang activity. Tax money would be available to educate on the dangers of drugs — as has been so successful with cigarettes. We could begin the process of de-militarizing the police. We would empty courts and prisons.

    The only real downside would be the possibility of more widespread addiction. That’s bad, but people inclined to addiction already have legal alcohol and illegal but available drugs now.

    We’ve been through all this with Prohibition and with gambling. Illegal gambling led to numbers rackets. Legalized gambling led to Las Vegas. Legalized booze led to safer products including low-alcohol products. It did not destroy society.

    I see no argument that supports this self-destructive drug war.

  • You haven’t defined your terms. Marijuana? All Schedule I? All drugs?

  • PD Shaw

    I agree with Dave, though the incrementalist in me would prefer to start with decriminalization, which would achieve the main benefit of reducing incarcerations. The rise of social acceptance of marijuana increases the need for reform.

    michael, alcohol isn’t regulated by the FDA, its exempt from the basic health standards, like guns. That’s why the arguably quite dangerous alcohol-caffeine products are still sold.

  • PD Shaw

    I meant: “The rise of social acceptance of _medical_ marijuana increases the need for reform.”

  • BTW, Michael, you’re wrong on the facts. Alcohol smuggling is a billion dollar industry in the United States and at least that much between the United States and Canada. According to some law enforcement officials (particularly in Canada) smuggling booze is more lucrative than smuggling drugs and is a major support of gang activity.

  • TastyBits

    I would like to see a sharp reduction in the federal government’s involvement. There are things that could be federal crimes, but most (all) money given to fight drug crimes should cease. Interstate transporting and out-of-country importing would be a federal crime. Also, local police forces would not be able to profit from drug busts.

    When the states began legalizing gambling, there was the inevitable “hue and cry” about the horrors it would bring. The flood gates were never opened. Riverboats were deemed acceptable because water is apparently a mitigating factor.

    I am not an absolutist about legalizing drugs. I am not comfortable with limiting freedom, but I am open to arguments for keeping them illegal. Alcohol is legal, but there are local alcohol bans. If drugs are legal, they could follow this model. I also have a problem with prescription drugs. Many of the restrictions are to drive up the price.

    Usually, bootlegging is due to high taxes or other restrictions.

  • TastyBits

    @michael reynolds

    … as addicts could use clean needles. …

    I agree with most of what you wrote, but I do not see this occurring.

  • michael reynolds

    Dave:

    The alcohol or cigarette smuggling going on is tax-avoidance. Equalize taxes a bit more and it would go away. In any case, it’s not in the same league as drug smuggling which is not merely tax avoidance and where higher profit and much higher risk raise the level of violence.

    I would legalize all drugs. Decriminalization is a silly interim step that doesn’t accomplish the goal. It leaves the current distribution network (gangs) in place and fails to collect taxes. Let CVS (or Jewell-Osco) sell whatever CVS wants to sell. Label it, educate on it, treat the addictions.

    I’d legalize prescription drugs, too. There’s an argument that we’d see even more overuse of anti-biotics with resulting immunity issues, but that, too, can be a matter of education. God knows the doctors aren’t stopping it, all they’re doing is adding the cost of an office visit.

    But most of what people get in pharmacies are things like statins, blood pressure meds, sleeping pills, etc… that are absurdly over-controlled and way more expensive than necessary. I’ve been on Zocor for maybe 20 years now. But twice a year I have to trundle in to the doctor so she an be sure I haven’t turned yellow.

    Aspirin would be by prescription only if it were discovered today, and it would cost a dollar a pill.

    Educate people. Enhance the role of the pharmacist. Then let people make their own choices.

  • michael reynolds

    Tasty:

    Sell heroin in pre-loaded syringes.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    For me, my terms are all drugs including prescription ones. I am open to regulating or outlawing, but I believe the burden should be to justify the regulating or outlawing not the other way around. Ofttimes, the hysteria is unjustified. I am not sure we can blame Elvis for the current cultural environment.

    Getting the feds out and stopping local profiting are my largest concerns.

    @PD Shaw

    A long, long time ago, I used to combine coffee and beer (separately). It is legal speed-balling, and it is definitely a strange high.

  • Icepick

    Alcohol is regulated and heavily taxed. Is there still some bootlegging and theft/resale? Yes. Is it even a fraction of what we saw during Prohibition? No.

    Not even a fraction? I guess transcendental numbers must be involved somehow. Clue for the clueless: Fractions can be very, very small. Another clue for the clueless: stopping using anything vaguely mathematical in your arguments if you don’t even understand the basics.

    Of course, this from the guy that thinks running trillion dollar deficits demonstrates that Democrats are more fiscally responsible than the guys than merely ran deficits of a few hundred billion.

  • TastyBits

    I believe that federal involvement has worsened the problems. At one time, must of the cultivation and production was local, and the non-local production was loosely organized.

    I cannot have a 30 day supply of Claritin-D because the local meth cooks were buying large quantities. This was supposed to curb the crystal meth problem, but crystal meth is still easy to obtain. Now, the organized drug gangs are handling it, and they are far more ruthless than the locals were.

  • The effect of legalizing all drugs would be the end of the antibiotic era. A simple cut could kill you. Tuberculosis would return as a major killer. Syphilis or gonorrhea would return to being diseases with a pretty fair likelihood of sterility, fatality, or both.

    IMO we should be doing almost the opposite of that. We should be lobbying for an international accord prohibiting the over-the-counter sales of antibiotics. We should impose trade sanctions on and ban travel to/from countries that do allow over-the-counter sales of antibiotics. We should implement measures here to reduce the over-prescription of antibiotics.

  • PD Shaw

    I doubt any reputable businesses would be willing to sell heroin, cocaine, meth without the government giving them liability immunity. At the very least, they would have to charge premium costs to cover the implicit insurance coverage from the harms of selling a dangerous product.

  • Icepick

    The effect of legalizing all drugs would be the end of the antibiotic era.

    Weren’t antibiotics over-the-counter in large parts of Mexico for some time? Did Mexico have more problems with drug-resistant strains than the USA?

  • Drew

    I find myself largely in agreement with Michael. However, this is something I did not know, and quite frankly is surprising:

    “Alcohol smuggling is a billion dollar industry in the United States and at least that much between the United States and Canada. According to some law enforcement officials (particularly in Canada) smuggling booze is more lucrative than smuggling drugs and is a major support of gang activity.”

    However, I find Michael’s observation that the Canadian booze issue is tax driven as opposed to availability driven to be compelling. That said, I can’t help myself. So taxation has a a significant effect on economic behavior?

    Who’d a thunk it?

    I have a question for Dave. I wonder why the inclusion of a large suite of drugs, including antibiotics in the debate? Gangs aren’t shooting each other, and innocent bystandards, over amoxycillin. Its largely hootch, cocaine, smack, meth and perhaps a couple others. This isn’t perfection, its hitting the major culprits.

  • PD Shaw

    I watched a bit of that Cable show, Moonshiners, and they seemed like the type of people who don’t like to pay taxes and want to make hootch the old-fashioned way without all of the sanitized equipment and what not. Plus it was exciting.

  • I have a question for Dave. I wonder why the inclusion of a large suite of drugs, including antibiotics in the debate?

    Mainly because I want to know what people are talking about. They usually just say “legalize drugs!”, they don’t say what they mean by it. Also because people wrongly attribute benefits that will only be realized by making all Schedule I drugs (or even all drugs) over-the-counter, unregulated, and untaxed to legalizing marijuana while regulating and taxing it heavily. Sort of a bait and switch.

    Here are the things that I believe will not happen even in a regime of making all Schedule I drugs available over the counter:

    • They won’t be unregulated
    • They won’t be untaxed or even taxed lightly
    • We won’t give liability immunity to companies that sell them
    • We won’t allow minors to use them

    Those are all reasonable speculations because of past experience and present practice There are big differences between alcohol, cigarettes, (I think) marijuana and many Schedule I drugs. Among them are that alcohol, etc. can kill you but they usually don’t do it all at once and that it is possible to use alcohol, etc. responsibly. It’s not any more possible to use some Schedule I drugs responsibly than it is to play Russian Roulette responsibly.

    So far I haven’t mentioned that we are a signatory to international conventions that prevent us from legalizing the sale and use of all Schedule I drugs. If we and the EU put some muscle into the effort we could probably get cannabis taken off the list. No way with all Schedule I drugs.

  • michael reynolds

    Ice:

    Clue for the clueless…. Not even a fraction?

    Clue for the illiterate: terms that begin as mathematical often migrate to common usage where their meaning can be somewhat different. It’s one of the cool things about English: it’s a very adaptive language. Thus “the devil to pay” can go from being a nautical term involving caulking, to a hackneyed but useful phrase that has nothing to do with boats. There are probably a million such examples. (By which I do not mean a literal million. See what I did there?)

  • michael reynolds

    Among them are that alcohol, etc. can kill you but they usually don’t do it all at once and that it is possible to use alcohol, etc. responsibly. It’s not any more possible to use some Schedule I drugs responsibly than it is to play Russian Roulette responsibly.

    People can and do kill themselves with a single use of alcohol. Happens all the time in binge-drinking episodes, frat hazing, spring break, etc… And contrary to much propaganda all the drugs I’m aware of, when taken in a moderate dose, do not kill or instantly addict.

  • Mennogreg

    As someone with a relative addicted to heroin, I think those who are saying “just treat the addictions” have to understand (if they don’t already) that treatment will likely be a very long process. My relative has been in and out of treatment now for 8 years, and from visiting her at the treatment facility she’s far from the only one. I’m not sure it’s wise to go from a drug war into an outright quagmire. That’s a lot of wasted youth for a society to process.

    If education works so well, why not educate them now while its illegal? If its because we’re not doing it well, better to get handle on that first before opening the floodgates.

    It makes it a little hard for the government to regulate anything unhealthy in our food if they’re allowing the next counter over to sell PCP and crack. Maybe they’ll have better luck if they label them as a known carcinogen.

  • Lost revenue on cigarettes due to cigarette smuggling, much of it by gangs, is estimated to be $5 billion/year. That suggests that the illegal trade in legal commodities (alcohol, tobacco, firearms) is in the tens of billions of dollars and a major gang activity. You’re not going to knock out gangs by legalizing drugs.

  • The number of alcohol poisoning deaths per year in the U. S. is about 300. The number of deaths due to illegal drug overdose is about 17,000. There really is a difference here.

  • jan

    Addiction to any drug does not lead to mature or better thought processes. The opposite happens. Impulse control shortens, the frontal cortex becomes a sidekick to the more primitive brain’s needs and wants, which usually revolves around pleasure-seeking rather than healthy decision-making. Pavlovian rat experiments demonstrates that pressing a bar for the high of a drug, becomes the focus of an addicted rat, rather than feeding themselves, resulting in starvation and self neglect.

    Therefore the conclusion that addicts would conscientiously seek clean needles, rehab, not resort to crime is naive. Those people, without addictive tendencies, who could moderate themselves, would probably do fine. But the many others will lose themselves in drugs, developing more untoward, unpredictable behavior, possibly evolving into more serious mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, which will then become the unintended consequences of any across-the-board legalization of drugs.

    I agree with others here that the so-called War on Drugs has been futile. It was merely another political slogan, much like the War on Women was. To me decriminalization is a key first step, over and above, just letting the public <have at it through legalization. Youth education also helps to reach some kids before they begin mind-altering experiments, especially graphically showing the downside of long-term, chronic drug abuse.

    Like most social issues, though, there is no one pat answer or one side fits all remedy for drug use/abuse. However, throwing all regulation and caution to the wind would exacerbate, not positively recalibrate the negative outgrowths of drugs in this country. And, yes, I again want to reinsert that, IMO, many of the root causes to the misuse of substances/actions/laws (etc.) leads back to the dysfunctional, destructive patterns that have become sanctioned and normalized in our society.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    Individual responsibility has morphed into societal responsibility. I am now responsible for “my brother’s” behavior. If my brother is not able to work, I am responsible for him not his family. If my brother is compelled to abuse substances, I am responsible for him not his family. My request is philosophical consistency. A safety net is a safety net.

    I will grant you that there may be an initial die off, but after initially thinning out the herd, the problem will follow the same pattern as any other legalized vices. Legalizing sodomy was predicted to be the downfall of civilization. I am still waiting. About 10 years is the length of most people’s memories. After that time, the uproar seems quaint. It is always different this time.

  • Icepick

    See what I did there?

    Yaz, EU have changed the argument so that whatever ewe right (most famous Warhol painting – suburb of San Jose – a liquid food) never bee criticized because it can never B assumed to average N-E-thing in particular, ass only something that eeewwww will keep changing to avoid criticism. Makes about as much sense as phonetic spelling, use of inappropriate synonyms and homonyms, or weird free-association when discussing specifics.

    Which is funny as hell given that Schuler’s post is an effort to get people to clearly state what they mean.

    Also, I’m still interested in how a trillion dollar deficit is much more fiscally responsible than a one hundred billion dollar deficit. Is that another case of meaning shifting over time too? Maybe you think the trillion is denominated in pennies?

  • Drew

    I guess, Dave, that all the issues you cite are possible, perhaps even probable, but that for just a handful of drugs – and we all know we are talking the mood altering types – you have an overwhelmingly disproportionate and horrible social cost. Michael’s list of social costs seems appropriate. A pragmatist would focus efforts there.

    To go to, what I consider, an overly literal or comprehensive treatment of all drugs and the attendant issues of decriminalization or legalization is to wring our hands over 5%-10% of the problem. A lot of jails could be emptied, public costs avoided and deaths prevented etc by dealing with a list – plus or minus – of perhaps about 7. In my business we always look for the perfect deal. Haven’t found one yet. So we look for the solution to the investment pace problem with the doable, the effective and reasonable expectations.

  • Icepick

    Also, Reynolds, you seem to have missed big time in underestimating the problem of alcohol smuggling AND overestimating the number of deaths from alcohol poisoning. Why should your intuition be trusted? If you intuition can’t be trusted, you need to provide specifics. And if you are going to do that you need to WRITE PRECISELY WHAT YOU MEAN.

  • michael reynolds

    Ice:

    Here’s what I said:

    People can and do kill themselves with a single use of alcohol. Happens all the time in binge-drinking episodes, frat hazing, spring break, etc…

    Show me where I “overestimated” anything. Show me where I estimated at all. Show me for that matter where we were talking deficits in this thread?

    This is typical of discussing anything with you. You’re a head case. Waste of time. Bye.

  • I bet the drug trade is where many gangs most of their money.

    My researches suggest that it varies. One of papers I’ve cited in the bibliography post above makes a really interesting point. While drug trafficking might be a major source of revenue for gangs, it’s not the gangs’ major activity. They’re not drug-selling companies that also perform other functions, as Baxter-Travenol might have a daycare center. They’re social organizations for which drug-selling is one among many ways of paying for the functions they perform. I think that’s an important distinction.

    Another of the sources noted that a number of major gangs are actively making a transition from drug trafficking into other sources of revenue. Human trafficking and weapons trafficking are increasingly important. Perhaps we’ll need to add open borders and elimination of gun control laws to the list of steps needed to eliminate gang violence.

  • Wow…this has to be a first…me defending Michael….

    BTW, Michael, you’re wrong on the facts. Alcohol smuggling is a billion dollar industry in the United States and at least that much between the United States and Canada.

    Dave, shame on you. You know better. The issue is relative size. How much is the drug smuggling business? Billions? Tens of billions? How much is the illegal alcohol trade? You indicate a couple billion. If the U.S. spends say $30 billion on illegal drugs (probably too low) and $3 billion on illegal alcohol, then Michael is right as one is an order of magnitude larger than the other.

    Mainly because I want to know what people are talking about.

    I think most people are talking about drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. The idea of legalizing anti-biotics really isn’t the issue. I understand the drug resistance argument and can understand why keeping those as prescription is reasonable. However, cops are not kicking in doors, shooting dogs and sometimes people (even innocent people) over anti-biotics. The issue is really a small side issue.

    I cannot have a 30 day supply of Claritin-D because the local meth cooks were buying large quantities. This was supposed to curb the crystal meth problem, but crystal meth is still easy to obtain. Now, the organized drug gangs are handling it, and they are far more ruthless than the locals were.

    And more efficient at making it as well.

    Classic case of where drug policy took a bad problem, made it worse, made innocent people criminals (i.e. you bought too much Claritin-D cause you and your kid have allergies…oopps send in the SWAT unit and put guns to your head–I am not joking by the way).

    Yeah, drugs are far more risky…but you have to look at relative risks as well.

    Lost revenue on cigarettes due to cigarette smuggling, much of it by gangs, is estimated to be $5 billion/year. That suggests that the illegal trade in legal commodities (alcohol, tobacco, firearms) is in the tens of billions of dollars and a major gang activity. You’re not going to knock out gangs by legalizing drugs.

    Globally, the illegal trade of drugs has an estimated of $320 billion/year. That puts it on par with guns and oil in terms of commodities.[1] That number was from 2003, so it is undoubtedly larger today. About 44% of that is attributed to North America, or about $140.8 billion. In other words, drugs are about 14x larger than your estimate alcohol, guns and cigarette smuggling.

    You’re not going to knock out gangs by legalizing drugs.</blockquote.

    I'm thinking the problem here is that nobody is saying this is a magic bullet for gangs. But why give them such a huge revenue center?

    [1] "World Drug Report – Global Illicit Drug Trends“. Unodc.org. Retrieved 2011-11-26.

  • Lost revenue on cigarettes due to cigarette smuggling, much of it by gangs, is estimated to be $5 billion/year. That suggests that the illegal trade in legal commodities (alcohol, tobacco, firearms) is in the tens of billions of dollars and a major gang activity. You’re not going to knock out gangs by legalizing drugs.

    BTW, regarding this, the lost revenue is kind of a misleading statistic to use to impute the income to gangs for this kind of activity. They aren’t selling the stolen goods at retail prices. They sell them at discount prices. So the actual revenues is far lower.

  • Drew

    “That suggests that the illegal trade in legal commodities (alcohol, tobacco, firearms) is in the tens of billions of dollars and a major gang activity. You’re not going to knock out gangs by legalizing drugs.”

    Correct. But again I think Reynolds has the better argument, at least for alcohol and tobacco. What we should all admit is that we have created this problem due simply to sin taxes because politicians view the consumption of these items to be relatively price inelastic. Shorter: they can stick it to you. That’s why people on the IL, IN border cross into Indiana to buy cigs and booze. Gasoline too, BTW. It seems to me the better argument is the old Pigouvian one: smokers for example impose health care costs on society in general. Better for uniformity in taxation to compensate, given that our health care scheme is a mess.

    As for guns. If the worldview is that people will seek, at price premiums induced by scarcity and by illegal methods, desired goods no matter what, can anyone tell me why we are shooting our johnsons off by imposing the regs Obama is? Especially in light of the fact that a) heavy gun law jurisdictions have been ineffective in stemming gun violence, b) despite guns guns and guns, gun violence is declining over time and c) almost everyone agrees (except zealots) this is all window dressing and crass political posturing? Bizarre

  • Icepick

    I have to wonder how truthful the stats are for all the people that are in jail ‘just’ on marijuana charges. Marijuana is very plentiful, very easy to get, and its use isn’t hidden all that well.

    Examples I’ve seen of its open use: At a Steely Dan concert back in the mid-1990s (must have been 1994) in St. Pete, at that awful stadium where they play the MLB games. The stadium lights went down, and thousands of little butane-fueled lights ignited all over the stadium. Our seats weren’t too good so we were high up and far back – it was quite a sight. And then quite a smell. It’s a doomed stadium, and the reek of it got so noxious that my wife had to leave the main seating area. (I won respect from my future father-in-law by leaving the main area with her. I was surprised by his reaction later, what else was I supposed to do, but apparently his experience was that most men my age would have stayed at the concert.) If the police were really serious about busting pot smokers, they could have arrested thousands that night.

    Some Haitians lived across the street last year. The grandmother liked to sit out on the front porch at night and smoke dope. You could see her smoking something and you could smell what the something was. It wasn’t exactly hidden. On pleasant evenings you can often smell pot being burnt all over the neighborhood. Forget the drug sniffing dogs, any human could track down the offenders. The police don’t even bother to try.

    I’ve seen pot deals go down near the middle school three blocks behind me*, done by students in broad daylight, as I drove by. Hell, I once saw a drug deal go down in a combinatorics class in Little Hall at the Unversity of Florida – in the middle of the lecture!

    And doesn’t even get to mentioning all the people I’ve known who smoked (and still smoke) the stuff regularly. They’re not hard to find.

    What I’ve observed is that pot possession in small amounts is simply a “let’s fuck with ’em” crime the police use when they can’t get something else out of a suspect. They suspect someone of being a burglar, they toss their car or their apartment, they can’t find any stolen goods, but they do find a baggy. Oops, we know this guy is bad, let’s throw his ass in the clink.

    Or they know a guy beats his wife, but they can’t get her to admit to anything (this time), but they catch him with some weed. Bus-ted!

    They know a mother mistreats her children but can’t prove it? Bust HER for possession and get DCF to come take her kids away.

    Thousands of mostly middle-aged (at that time) hipsters standing in a giant open space openly smoking a LOT of weed? Eh, who cares? College students passing around suspicious baggies in class rooms? Eh, who cares as long as they don’t HAZE anyone, or call anyone a ‘fag’ in an inappropriate manner. The grandma across the street openly smoking weed several nights a week? Not gonna bother.

    My point is that I believe the marijuana laws may be getting enforced a little more selectively than the proponents of legalization think.

    * IN this aspect the neighborhood has only gone sideways since I was in middle school (then called junior high and covering grades 7-9 instead of 6-8). I don’t recall seeing any deals happen back then, but I wasn’t really paying attention to much besides the really good looking girls. But I know deals were going on all over the neighborhood, it would be silly to think some didn’t happen over on North Lane in broad daylight. Middle schoolers aren’t really known for their caution and ability to think things through.

  • I think most people are talking about drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc.

    The reason it’s worthwhile is that different people clearly mean different things and if the discussion is to be coherent you need to know what people are talking about. Michael is talking about legalizing everything. You and Drew are talking about moving certain substances off Schedule I (I think). I’m talking about moving cannabis off Schedule I.

    Let me turn your argument around on you a bit. If the official estimates are true, marijuana comprises 60% of illegal drug trade profits. Shouldn’t legalizing the sale and use of marijuana reduce their revenues by 60%? If on the other hand criminal gangs merely turn their attentions to other sources of revenue, doesn’t that support the point I’ve been making?

    I won’t bother looking it up but “hard drugs”, e.g. cocaine, heroin, etc. hasn’t been a growth industry for quite a while. If, following legalization of marijuna, it suddenly becomes one, doesn’t that undercut the argument being made? Why not take the more modest step of legalizing marijuana to find out?

  • PD Shaw

    One point I would make about tobacco, is that its situation is in flux and I wouldn’t be surprised if a generation from now cigarettes become essentially black market items. (1) After never losing a lawsuit, they are starting to pour on, using the same legal framework as was used in the asbestos litigation; (2) social acceptance of smoking has soured extremely, its no longer seen as a personal vice that the weak suffer, but a drug addiction manipulated for corporate profit; (3) to keep the government off its back, the smoking companies have to accept increasingly high rates of taxation and are required to fund anti-smoking programs.

    Its one thing for RJ Reynolds to stick with the business given its past investments, but maybe one day it decides to give up and only sell to third world countries. Would anybody be shocked? But who would want to be the RJ Reynolds for cocaine? You’ll face lawsuits and taxes, be barred from advertising and promotions, and most likely be required to fund anti-cocaine programs? Drew are you in?

  • PD Shaw

    @Icepick, in 2011, 18.9% of people in the state jails were there on drug offenses. And yes, that doesn’t discount the possibility that they were there on multiple offenses, but I do think it means that the drug offense was the one with the highest penalty. It also doesn’t discount the possibility that the drug offense was the one pled, but that other charges were in evidence and could have been prosecuted. (The benefit of a drug plea is to access drug rehab as a mitigation of sentence or early release. The downside is they tend to be on the high side)

    I have to wonder if we released all of the pure drug offenders whether the prisons would still be overcrowded. California will probably give us a clue.

  • Icepick

    Show me where I “overestimated” anything. Show me where I estimated at all. Show me for that matter where we were talking deficits in this thread?

    Estimated at all? How about “Alcohol is regulated and heavily taxed. Is there still some bootlegging and theft/resale? Yes. Is it even a fraction of what we saw during Prohibition? No. ”

    As for bringing up deficits in this thread, it is to point out our looseness with mathematical concepts such as numbers. Numbers are important when considering actual policy. If the policy requires vast efforts to correct a small problem, it is most likely not worth the effort. If a small change can fix a huge problem, it’s probably something worth considering at the very least. Most problems are somewhere in the middle. Deciding what to do with finite resources requires using consideration. Among the things to consider are quantification (where possible) of the problems and quantification of the proposed solutions.

    This is the whole point of Schuler’s post, which he actually makes explicitly clear. “What always bugs me about the subject is that people are so unwilling to define their terms.” He goes on to do some defining. Anecdotes can help illustrate points, but other data points can also destroy other arguments.

    I’m willing to be convinced that police just arrest people in large numbers just because of possession of small amounts of pot with no other considerations. But given that I see a lot of people openly possessing, consuming and even dealing in the stuff, I’m somewhat skeptical that the police are really persecuting some kind of war on offenders. It looks a lot more selective to me.

    My idea could be partially tested by looking at all those arrested for possession of marijuana in relatively small doses. Then look at how many of them have arrests and/or convictions for other crimes. (Not all arrests lead to convictions, even when the person arrested is guilty as Hell. For that matter, police don’t always arrest guilty parties even when they’ve got decent evidence against them.) Another test would be to actually ask police officers anonymously what their actual practices are on this matter. A well-designed and well-executed poll could even help.

    But here’s a concrete example of what I’m getting at. There’s this guy that lives on my street, who’s been busted for possession a couple of times. Weeeelllll, I also know that whenever the police end up talking to him the first thing they make him do is pull up his shirt to see which gang he may belong to. I also know he’s been arrested and convicted in the past of beating his ex-wife (apparently before and after the divorce) and has been charged with domestic battery against his current girlfriend. He’s also gotten in some other fights that got police attention. (It’s amazing what you can find on a county comptroller’s website.) So did he get busted simply for possession, or was it simply a way to increase the sentence he got for punching his baby mamas in the face? I suspect the latter because of what I’ve seen elsewhere. And I suspect there’s more of that going on with lots of minor prosecutions than the proponents of legalization would care to admit, even if they knew the answer. And I’d also like to see some actual data that could either tell me I’m on to something, or that I’m full of shit.

    Similarly, claiming that legalization will end gang-related violence due to smuggling runs into a problem if that hasn’t actually happened in the past. Yes, the gangsters aren’t shooting up the place like they did in the 1920s, and that IS an improvement. But the practice hasn’t disappeared, either.

    But questions remain. Why is the violence less, but not zero? Seems to be a difference in prices due to relative tax burdens in different locales. Given that, how much would the price come down due to legalization? How high could taxes be raised given that drop without encouraging gangs to stay in the business in a large way? Is there some final price point which will largely stop gang activity in these fields? Will the government regulate who can grow the stuff? If people can go full-frontal moonshiner, they likely will. How many, and how tough of an enforcement problem will that be? Or will we simply not enforce any laws, including sales tax laws?

    Related questions: Are the gangs involved solely for the money? If we cut off their revenue will we necessarily cripple them? How much do we WANT to stop gang violence? Are we okay with them just shooting up their own neighborhoods? (Don’t tell me this isn’t a consideration. You think Oak Park and the shitholes of Chicago all get the same consideration?)

    Can other policies achieve stated goals (What are the stated goals? Have they been enumerated? Or is that as ill-defined as the idea of “legalizing drugs”?) and can they do so in a manner that is more cost-effective? (Don’t forget to include all costs!) Who will pay the price? Who will benefit?

    And on, and on, and on. Many of these questions can be quantified, some easily, many would require much more work. Simply waving a hand and saying “It’ll work now because it worked before!” ignores that everything did NOT work before, not completely, and that the two cases (actually there’s a case for every single drug) aren’t wholly synonymous. And it’s one helluva bad way to actually have a policy debate.

    So tell me what you define as success, what you define as failure, what you think the problem is! And then try a little bit, just for the sake of shits and giggles, to be at least a little specific. Hand-waving achieves even less positive results here than at a blackboard in a mathematics class, and will frequently produce much harm.

  • Icepick

    And yes, that doesn’t discount the possibility that they were there on multiple offenses, but I do think it means that the drug offense was the one with the highest penalty.

    Is that how it works? Or do the cops and DAs just push the drug offenses because that’s what everyone talks about? I’m asking because I don’t know.

    But back in the 1980s I figured out local authorities were selectively reporting how well they were doing by altering numbers that no one (except me, apparently) ever bothered to check. There was one week where local authorities in various local jurisdictions valued a key of coke anywhere from $10,000 to $250,000! Purity ain’t gonna make that big a difference, unless on key is almost entirely baking soda! But in this report it was this many pounds valued at so much overall. In that report it was kilos reported. In a third they’re report total value, but you’d have to read the paper to find out how much they got. And so on. The local media types simply weren’t checking the numbers being reported to see if they were consistent or not.

    These days I could get attention for something like that by putting it on a website, back then it wasn’t worth the trouble to hand write a note to the newspaper citing a bunch of reports that I couldn’t always place. Was that one about Casselbarry on channel 9 or channel 6? The one about Pine Castle was definitely on 2, but did it air Thursday or Friday night? Etc.

    Back to the belabored point: Are those stats being pushed because that’s what people want to hear about, or is there a uniform procedure from jurisdiction to jurisdiction on how these stats get reported?

    It also doesn’t discount the possibility that the drug offense was the one pled, but that other charges were in evidence and could have been prosecuted.

    The DAs and the police and the judges and the gaolers have to meet their other goals, too. So let’s say I’m a DA and the police have handed over evidence that one Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson has been busting into people’s homes and stealing their stuff, and when they pick him up he also has some crack and unexplained cash in his pockets. The evidence on the burglaries is okay, but not a slam dunk (ooo, I must be learning a thing about WRITING from Reynolds!), and if I pursues the burglary charges it’s certain to go to the courts. I’ll probably win, but it isn’t certain, the judges’ dockets are full, my office is understaffed, I’d like to get back to work on the Casey Anthony case, whatever. We’ve got him dead to rights on possession of crack, we can tie in the unexplained cash, and force him to take a plea deal. I get him off my docket, I avoid annoying the judges, the police get to keep working the streets instead of sitting in court, and Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson ends up going to one of the state’s prisons because he’s a three-time loser, so we clear a bed in the county jail.

    That’s likely a big stinking win from the DA’s point of view, and he just dropped the burglary stuff outright. (That’s one of the reasons I’m interested in arrests, and not just trials or convictions.)

  • Icepick

    Incidentally, I should mention that I did Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson something of a disservice. He was actually part of a bank robbery gang. But I couldn’t use that in my example because the authorities are very VERY serious about bank robbery, and would be much less likely to plead that down to simple drug charges.

    Also incidentally, I should mention that Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson (alias, Cryme Time, which is a distinct improvement over the name his parent(s?) gave him) lost out for the 2011 Name of the Year. He was runner up to the European medical researcher Taco B. M. Monster. (Some reports state that Doctor Professor Monster is Dutch, but he may be Danish instead. He definitely OUGHT to be Dutch, however.) Cryme Time couldn’t catch a break. First he gets stuck with the kind of parent(s?) that would name him Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson, then that(those?) parent(s?) ACTUALLY NAME HIM Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson. Then when the name is finally useful for something (an annual Name of the Year contest run by a now defunct website), he runs into that smooth, privileged European medical researcher with the all-time awesomest bad name ever, Taco B. M. Monster. Cryme Time just couldn’t catch a break!

    Truth be told, his parent(s?) should be serving time with him. He never had a chance with that name. Which gets me back to the related topic of gangs: You think Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson had a chance at any career NOT related to crime? Think he could avoid a gang by dent of natural talent and hard work? Well, if he didn’t have the presence of mind to change his name to something better than Cryme Time, the answer is probably no. (If he’d been really smart, he could have kept the name and become a sommelier!)

  • Icepick

    And yeah, my singular purpose upon entering this discussion was to get around to mentioning the epic battle for 2011 Name of the Year between Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson and Taco B. M. Monster.

  • I’m willing to be convinced that police just arrest people in large numbers just because of possession of small amounts of pot with no other considerations.

    I think the opposite is also worth considering as a possibility, i.e. that people who are actually guilty of serious crimes are being arrested on pot charges because that’s what the police can prove. The “they got Al Capone on tax evasion” case. I’m not defending the practice by the way. Just pointing the possibility out.

  • PD Shaw

    @icepick, the d.a. isn’t necessarily interested in getting a conviction for every offense he can charge, particularly if it won’t result in a longer sentence. The d.a. doesn’t want to go to trial on every case either, he usually doesn’t have the resources. The plea bargain is a quid pro quo, where the d.a. gets approximately what he/she thinks a trial would present without the work. A drug offense is often going to have a decent sentence, and since most only require evidence of possession and quantity, the defendant may feel no choice but to cop to that one in exchange for dropping the others.

    States report crimes and prison compositions to the DOJ using federal guidelines. My impression is that the DOJ just wants the main offense reported. There is no way that year-after-year the various categories (violent, property, social order, drugs) would total 100% if they weren’t trying to simplify things by selecting the main offense.

    The thing is that just because the parties agree to a conviction, the other offenses don’t disappear. Federal sentencing guidelines include the possibility of lengthening the sentence on the basis of offenses for which there wasn’t an actual conviction. Parole boards want to look at the entire record before agreeing to an early release. They don’t want to look at an Al Capone and recommend his release because it was only a non-violent tax problem.

  • steve

    I would legalize everything except meth. Since people are not killing each other over antibiotics I see no need to change policy on them.

    We know that the prices for drugs, adjusted for inflation have changed relatively little over the years. We also know that the US has more drug use than just about any country. We spend more on our war on drugs than anyone and lock up more people. We are spending a boatload and have nothing to show for it, drugs are just as easy to get.

    With Prohibition we had a major uptick in violence over the sales of alcohol. Most of the violence associated with drugs, which probably accounts for the majority of gun homicide in our country, involves the acquisition of drugs. Some by the gangs and some by people stealing to buy them. If they are legal, the shootings by gangs over drugs drop. With lower prices, violence to get money to buy them drops also.

    Steve

  • PD Shaw

    Weird, I wrote the Al Capone reference before I read Dave use it. Brilliant minds or cynical minds think alike.

  • Let me turn your argument around on you a bit. If the official estimates are true, marijuana comprises 60% of illegal drug trade profits. Shouldn’t legalizing the sale and use of marijuana reduce their revenues by 60%? If on the other hand criminal gangs merely turn their attentions to other sources of revenue, doesn’t that support the point I’ve been making?

    So your position is that a “firm” (for all intents and purposes) wont change one tiny bit if suddenly 60% of its profits go away? Forever?

    That is an extremely strong statement and one I find…well…laughable.

    Try again Dave.

    I won’t bother looking it up but “hard drugs”, e.g. cocaine, heroin, etc. hasn’t been a growth industry for quite a while.

    Maybe you should. It might not be growing that much here in the U.S. but it is growing world wide, and it is stable here in the U.S. As for gangs turning to other drugs, I’m sure they would, but unless they decrease prices or something the idea that these other drugs would become growth industries strikes me as rather dubious. As I pointed out in another thread with drugs you need to voluntary parties: the buyer and the seller. If there isn’t an increase in the number of buyers it is doubtful there would be a sustained increase in the number of sellers.

    I’d also offer this alternative for consideration. You have people here agreeing that often disagree on many topics. Doesn’t make us right, but I’d suggest at the very least it indicates a review of assumptions and conclusions.

  • Icepick

    The thing is that just because the parties agree to a conviction, the other offenses don’t disappear. Federal sentencing guidelines include the possibility of lengthening the sentence on the basis of offenses for which there wasn’t an actual conviction. Parole boards want to look at the entire record before agreeing to an early release. They don’t want to look at an Al Capone and recommend his release because it was only a non-violent tax problem.

    Yeah, but do federal guidelines influence how the states run their systems? Has the erosion of state authority gone that far?

    I think the opposite is also worth considering as a possibility, i.e. that people who are actually guilty of serious crimes are being arrested on pot charges because that’s what the police can prove.

    Well, yeah, that’s my point.

  • I think the opposite is also worth considering as a possibility, i.e. that people who are actually guilty of serious crimes are being arrested on pot charges because that’s what the police can prove. The “they got Al Capone on tax evasion” case. I’m not defending the practice by the way. Just pointing the possibility out.

    Or they get a tip about a guy selling drugs, they go in raid his home, kill his dog, terrify his family, then announce to the press that they found 5 grams of marijuana!!!! And a scale!!!!!!!!!! And plastic baggies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ZOMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5 grams of marijuana is 0.176 ounces. Not quite as much ketchup as you’d find in one of those little ketchup packets.

    What went wrong? The guy smokes pot occassional, maybe even somewhat frequently. His buddy was out, came by and asked for some and he’d pay him for it. So the transaction takes place. The guy gets caught with his small amount of marijuana and rats out his friend. Cops go to the judge and say, “Our informant informed us of where he purchased the marijuana and we want warrant for a no-knock raid for 3AM raid. He has a good sized dog. We’d be afraid that in this situation he’d be alerted to our presence and either destroy the evidence or obtain a weapon.” With warrant in hand off they go!

    Or….they bust a guy for marijuana. They ask him where he got and they’ll let him go. They don’t want the small time user, they want the seller. Great, the guy makes up an address and a story about a guy with a security system selling from said address. Cops go to a judge get a no-knock warrant and off they go!

    (The latter what-if is not too disimilar as to what happened in the Kathryn Johnston case where a 90 year old woman was murdered by the police. Oh and yes, they found a small out of marijuana!!! Clearly a righteous bust.)

    Why do cops use grams? Because it gives you a larger number. When you say 5 grams it sounds like more than when you say, 0.2 ounces. Most Americans who are vaguely familiar with the metric system think, “What is a gram…like a pound? 5 pounds?!?! Wow, good thing they busted into his home at 3AM, shot his dog, and terrorized his family.”

  • Icepick

    So your position is that a “firm” (for all intents and purposes) wont change one tiny bit if suddenly 60% of its profits go away? Forever?

    Who says that the gangs control all of that marijuana trade? I’ve got a friend that smokes a lot of dope. He’s hooked up with some woman who is very particular about her weed, and she’ll only smoke stuff she grows herself. Now they both smoke her home-grown. No gangs or gangstas involved. Make it legal and the gangs aren’t losing a penny.

    And I know that my friend has often bought home-grown off of other acquaintances. (He’s a strong proponent of supporting the local economy!) I’m sure somewhere there are estimates about how much belongs to what type of growers, but that whole 60% doesn’t belong to the gangs.

  • Who says that the gangs control all of that marijuana trade? I’ve got a friend that smokes a lot of dope. He’s hooked up with some woman who is very particular about her weed, and she’ll only smoke stuff she grows herself. Now they both smoke her home-grown. No gangs or gangstas involved. Make it legal and the gangs aren’t losing a penny.

    Let me try again:

    Claim 1: 60% of Drug Cartels profits come from marijuana.
    Claim 2: Eliminating 60% of the profits for Drug Cartels wont impact the cartels in any manner ever.

    Note that claim 1 precludes your finicky friend. Even if your home-growers start selling to each other they are not part of claim 1.

  • PD Shaw

    Steve V, I believe the reason you and others disagree with Dave on this is that you are libertarians and thus do not place much value in seeing human beings as social animals, which is the point from which Dave is arguing — gangs as social organizations, not necessarily even good at profit-making. Dave is not a libertarian. I am not either, though for some reason all the fanciful ideas for regulating obesity drive me crazy.

  • Icepick

    Claim 1: 60% of Drug Cartels profits come from marijuana.

    Okay, I misunderstood and thought it was 60% of drug profits period. I withdraw my previous post.

    But 60%? Damn, that sounds high. (Ahem.) Does marijuana have that high a profit margin? Or do they just sell that much of it?

    I’m also curious, how much of that Mexican drug cartel profit is from sales in the US versus sales in Mexico? It’s not like Mexico is a small country….

  • Icepick

    you are libertarians and thus do not place much value in seeing human beings as social animals

    Which is why I can’t identify as a libertarian.

    This reminds me of a girl from a speech class I took over 20 years ago. She was pretty, maybe 18, had some brains but no experience, was from a nice family, etc. And one day while discussing drug policy someone asked if anyone would really do drugs just because they were legalized. And she said, “Sure, I’d try coke if it were legal.” At the time that statement floored me. “Do coke or don’t do coke as one sees fit,” I thought, being more libertarian in my youth, “but don’t decide to do that or anything else based on mere legality!” It took a long time before I realized that giving the state seal of approval to some behavior can really have an impact. These days that sad fact is evident everywhere….

  • TastyBits

    @Icepick

    Before the internet, obtaining info took a lot of work. I kept an almanac nearby at all times. I would always breakdown the newspaper numbers, and they usually did not support the assertions.

  • Icepick

    TB, I still have a few almanacs on one of my shelves. I’ve got 1968 (my birth year), 1976 (BiCentennial, and my first almanac!) and The U.S. Book of Facts Statistics & Information for 1969. Just opened the last up to a chart on disposable personal income from 1930 to 1967. Total GDP listed at just under the staggering sum of $800 billion. That wouldn’t even pay off the deficit these days, LOL!

  • PD,

    Of course libertarians see humans as social animals. Your statement is patently offensive, so much so I’ll give you this piece of advice, when talking to libertarians in real life, you might want to eschew such language so as to avoid the real time punch to the nose.

    However, I happen to also realize that money is very important in any economic endeavor and that includes drug trafficking/selling. Gangs don’t do it just so they can hang out together and shoot the shit. They do it mainly for money. So the claims Dave has been constantly relying on:

    Shrinking profits will have absolutely no impact on gangs at all, ever,

    is patently ridiculous. Now if he said, “Gangs wont go away, I’d say, yeah I know.” I made that claim to him several weeks ago in another post when I pointed out that organized crime is far older than 1920’s prohibition. So you see, Dave has these…glaring inconsistencies in his beliefs/views.

    As for the people agreeing, it is me, Drew and…wait for it…Michael. Michael is not a libertarian by any stretch of the word. I’d also argue Drew is probably more like James Joyner, a Republican with strong libertarian leanings.

    So I’ll finish this off by saying, Dave is stubbornly clinging to a view about drugs, that if we shifted to any other economic endeavor he would absolutely not hold. That is what I find so damn perplexing.

  • Shrinking profits will have absolutely no impact on gangs at all, ever,

    I’ve searched my posts and comments pretty carefully. I don’t think I ever wrote that. If I did, it wasn’t what I intended. What I think is what I have written: that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities and won’t go away if you reduce their drug profit margins. What they will do is turn their attentions to other illegal activities in which the profit margins are higher. Basically, I think that you and Michael are over-estimating the effect that legalization of Schedule I drugs would have on criminal gangs. I note that you’ve never produced any evidence supporting the idea that gangs will just go away if their profits are reduced, just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

  • jan

    ‘Fixing’ human behavior is not the same as attending to a flat tire, as there is usually multiple components innately involved as to why people act the way they do.

    We are complicated beings, with many hidden secrets as to why and how we think things through. And, simplistically applying one sweeping antidote, such as legalizing drugs, to rid society of gang activity, or, in the case of gun violence, taking away all guns, advocates of these solutions will probably be disappointed by the marginal results.

    Much like weeds in a garden, alternative behavior and/or evil doings will spring up, replacing a targeted issue with another equally distasteful one, which will then dominate differing conversations around the water cooler or on the internet.

  • I’ve searched my posts and comments pretty carefully. I don’t think I ever wrote that.

    What else does “legalizing marijuana will have no impact on drug cartels/gangs/etc.” mean then? You have staked out a number of positions and when somebody challenges them you ignore the challenges.

    What I think is what I have written: that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities and won’t go away if you reduce their drug profit margins.

    1. 60% is not a marginal change. Neither is 30%. Marginal changes are “small” changes, not big ones.
    2. All social organizations ultimately will have to bow, at least to some extent, to economic pressure and incentives.

    Let me run with 2 a bit. What 2 means is that drug gangs got into drug trafficking because of the money. Remove the money from drug trafficking then organized crime will look elsewhere to replace that revenue. Even if they can replace that revenue in total, it does not necessarily follow that the gang will retain its composition that it had when it was trafficking in marijuana. It will almost surely change. At the very least it will change. To deny that is, in my opinion, risible. That leaves one with discussing how the organized crime entities will change.

    What they will do is turn their attentions to other illegal activities in which the profit margins are higher.

    No. Organized crime is already doing this and it is drug trafficking. What they will do is switch to their second, third, etc. best options for making money. The idea that they have been ignoring illegal activities that have an even higher profit margin is highly suspect.

    I note that you’ve never produced any evidence supporting the idea that gangs will just go away if their profits are reduced, just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

    Go away? I don’t think anybody has said “go away”. I think the overall view of the legalization crowd is, “it will help reduce gang violence”. I don’t think anyone is saying it is a magic bullet; which I’ve said repeatedly.

    …just that you can reduce their drug profits by legalizing drugs which I don’t think anybody has disagreed with.

    Yes, probably you can. It is the basic concept of opportunity cost. Even if they replace the revenues it is far more likely that profits will go down. Why? Because by switching now, absent any legalization, would generate more profits if what you are claiming is true.

    You know its funny, not too long ago Dave you made a post/comment (I forget which) that pointed to prohibition as giving rise to organized crime. I replied that organized crime has a longer history than that, but that prohibition (alcohol) probably helped organized crime by giving them an enormous revenue source. In a way we’ve switched…or at least you have. Now you accept the persistence of organized crime, however you seem to be wedded to this notion that organized crime will always maintain their profit margins some how and failing that they still wont change their structure/size, even in the long run.

    …that gangs aren’t primarily economic entities…

    Everything people do…gangs, marriages, NASA, everything, is constrained by the amount of resources they can obtain. In essence, everything is constrained by economics, which is about the production, distribution, and consumption of resources. Modern neo-classical economics is focused on one method of production, distribution and consumption of resources–markets. But even absent markets, people will always be constrained by the amount of resources that are available to them. Gangs having a strong social element does nothing to change this. To put in stark terms: put a gang on a deserted island they would likely behave very differently than if you left them in their “natural” environment.

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